Orlando… a day at the park
The Magic Kingdom
A group visit in 2013


The Park: Magic Kingdom

Located at: Disney World

Overview: The New Fantasyland is open! The New Fantasyland is open! The New Fantasyland is open!

That’s the big news at the Magic Kingdom… and, honestly, throughout Disney World and even Orlando. (You can’t miss the billboards.)

The expansion isn’t complete… with the new Seven Dwarfs mine cart roller coaster attraction still to come. Some things… like trying to get dinner reservations at the Be Our Guest Restaurant… are packed. But it is open, and most of it is easily accessible and available (and impressive).

Additions in the section feature new attractions (the Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid ride) and dining options (mentioned Be Our Guest already, Gaston’s Tavern is here as well). For those interested, Enchanted Tales with Belle is here in the new area, and Ariel’s Grotto returns.

For me this is an interesting area of the park.

In a way, it provides a bit of closure. The 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction hasn’t been around for quite some time. And though officially it closed less than twenty years ago, it seems to me like a long, long time that the attraction hasn’t been around since in my memories often the ride wasn’t operating during visits. I only recall riding it once, during my first trip to the Magic Kingdom in 1979. Once the ride had closed, but before the curtain dropped, there were character meet and greets done at the old 20,000 Leagues area. But this expansion of Fantasyland really closed it.

In a way, it provides a bit of recapturing Disney Magic for me. (*** WARNING *** WARNING *** WARNING *** This involves a much more personal viewpoint.) I grew up with a Magic Kingdom that included four lands… Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland and Adventureland. (Yes… yes… Main Street… Liberty Square… I know. Stay with me…) I liked Mickey’s ToonTown Fair during the times I saw it… but it always felt a bit off to me, as if built to get the parents and small children off to the side instead of being a major portion of the park. (And yet… yes… much more Disney than some of the carnival-like efforts in the Animal Kingdom that aren’t even remotely Disney to me.) This Fantasyland keeps some of that magic… new digs for Dumbo and Goofy… while placing them in a decidedly modern Disney local.

In a way, it provides a glimpse of the future. No, it isn’t Marvel or Pixar driven… and it doesn’t involve the purchase from George Lucas and company. But it does nod to the power of the strong, brilliant movie run that returned the name to glory and included Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King. You have Beast’s castle… a Little Mermaid attraction… and a theme built on these more modern classics. And better still, with the new Seven Dwarfs attraction coming and the ride queue at Winnie-The-Pooh still full, the nod to Disney history and legend is strong as well.

This truly is a Fantasyland… a real Disney expansion.

So anyway… yes… New Fantasyland is open. And that right now is the main difference in the park for us from other recent trips. (And, honestly, from all other trips.)

Rides we went on:

Mickey’s PhilharMagic
“it’s a small world”
Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Stitch’s Great Escape
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Tomorrowland Speedway
Peter Pan’s Flight
Haunted Mansion
Country Bear Jamboree
Splash Mountain
Pirates of the Caribbean

Events we saw:

Main Street Electrical Parade

Places we ate… or food we enjoyed:

Gaston’s Tavern
Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café
Aloha Isle

The best of the best: For this visit, I want to direct the spotlight at Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid. This is a terrific addition to the park, and a great piece of the Fantasyland expansion.

We are soon going to see a new roller coaster in the area… themed on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs… and the combination of this with Under the Sea really does hold the promise of an amazing transformation. Seriously… two brand new, major attractions… a dining option that is drawing stellar reviews (Be Our Guest)… and other assorted details, renovations and improvements that at another time, or in another property’s park, would be incredibly significant (improvements for Dumbo the Flying Elephant, the addition of Gaston’s Tavern with LeFou’s Brew). Terrific stuff.

The Under the Sea ride certainly isn’t beyond belief technology, but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s a very family friendly attraction, with features that are quite well done. As always, the Disney attention to detail is on full display throughout the experience. It more than exceeded our expectations.

Traditional treasures from the day were all great. Honestly, I look at the list of the attractions and shows, and there really isn’t a weak link on this visit. Awesome and classic and new and exciting from beginning to end.

You really need to know (and other observations): Two items here… (1) FASTPASS distribution, and, (2) lines/crowds.

First up… the FASTPASS.

FASTPASS tickets for Under the Sea were printed at a station next to Mickey’s PhilharMagic. And when I say “next to” I do not mean in the general vicinity of… I mean the line to get into PhilharMagic is a step or two away from the machines. It’s not simply near the attraction… it shares the same façade, and pretty much literally the same ropes and stanchions. Sweet and easy -- to get to one… either one… you have to step around the other.

If you took 100 people into the Magic Kingdom that had never used FASTPASS (but understood the “advance reservations” concept), told them the doors led to Mickey’s PhilharMagic and the machines distributed FASTPASS tickets, and then asked them what attraction they though the FASTPASS was for, I would be willing to place money on the wager that all 100 would tell you they were for Mickey’s PhilharMagic. Yes… all 100.

And this isn’t the only place where FASTPASS is a bit of a treasure hunt when it comes to matching attractions with distribution points. It happens in all of the parks. Sometimes the ticket distribution is in the general vicinity of the attraction… and other times it isn’t.

Ok… now… crowds…

One thing I’ve been wavering on in recent visits is ride lines. I used to feel like they were getting worse. Disneyland in 2005 was a really eye opener. And yet, I honestly haven’t been destroyed by them in the past few years, even when I haven’t utilized FASTPASS options.

I’ve been on weekends and holidays.

I’ve been during school vacations.

And the reality is, lines haven’t been too bad at the attractions. Most of the time we’ve found waits to be less than 15 minutes. Maybe one or two lines longer than that, but not many.

Our focus has been significantly different these days when compared to trips in 1997 or 1999 (and for me, earlier). It’s been more than a decade since I last tried to visit every attraction during a visit to Disney World. And, that is something I really want to work on during my next few visits in the future. But for now, my experience with lines has meant always getting to what I’ve wanted to see… or more precisely, to what we’ve wanted to see… and we’ve had terrific visits.

Ahh… but I’m also not crazy enough to think that even with holidays and school vacations involved that I’ve seen Disney World at its most nightmarish with lines. Still, even if the lines are there for New Year’s Eve and summer months… and those times that I have not visited… the reality is there are still places to completely feel the presence of other guests during each and every stop.

Parades and fireworks are the two biggees for this one. We’ll get to those in the “Special praise (or complaints)” section.

For this section today though, I want to mention Cosmic Ray’s.

We stopped at the Starlight Café for a really quick bite. That’s just the kind of mood we were in. (Keep in mind, I usually like using Cosmic Ray’s with a visit to see Sunny Eclipse coupled with a no frills but easy meal.) And… the crowd, line divisions, and service were frustrating.

It wasn’t bad. It was simply annoying.

Cosmic Ray’s is the largest counter service restaurant that I know of in any Disney park. It is huge, and boasts different locations (three of them, called “Bays”) for different items. For the most part, the adult items are not offered at every station. In other words… while for the most part desserts, meals for children, and beverages could be ordered at each register… if you wanted a burger and chicken nuggets, you should have to go to two different cashiers and place two different orders. Chili cheese fries only in Bay 2… Caesar salad with chicken only in Bay 3.

Got it? Ok…

It is certainly possible that in recent trips, mainly with Terry and I simply ordering as a couple (and often just splitting a single order), we didn’t need to go to different stations. But I seem to recall it not being busy, and at least once a cashier let us get something assigned to a different area.

This time though… busy… and the four of us actually revised our order so we only needed to place one. It’s a bit tricky… and I have seen comments in places from other visitors where they shared this frustration.

I’m sure it makes easier for the servers assembling orders in the back… with each bay creating similar plates over and over instead of a variety of plates item by item… but the service on this day wasn’t that fast, and I do wonder if it costs Disney a few dollars when people shrug their shoulders and just don’t order the extras.

Some unexpected fun we had (or special moments we experienced): This was a really nice day… straightforward and wall-to-wall fun, with a great, even pace to it. So I’m not certain there are many unexpected moments to truly focus on.

As such… we head to Splash Mountain for this one.

Kim wasn’t sure about the high-flying, big-dropping, thrill rides. Terry didn’t want her to leave without getting on at least one of the Three Mountains though, and she figured that the briar patch was her best bet.

It was.

And from that moment, my advice here is simple… don’t be afraid to try some different things. Yes… pay attention to signs and warnings, especially if you have a medical condition. That said… Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Stitch’s Great Escape, Splash Mountain and Country Bear Jamboree are four very different experiences. And with Disney involved, this is not a collection featuring a cartoon, spooky theater, flume, and puppet show.

Special praise (or complaints): Here’s an edited excerpt from day six

“As we hit Main Street and begin walking along the parade route… more than thirty minutes before the start of the parade… it becomes apparent just how many people are in the park, and that almost all of them agree with my can’t-miss assessment.

Now… I’m not heading down this path to be judgmental or even naïve. Instead, I’m just pointing out that overall, Disney does a pretty amazing job managing thousands upon thousands of people and keeping them from stacking up in ridiculous logjams. Think about this…

17 million visitors to the Magic Kingdom per year works out to more than 46,000 people per day.

Is that registering? One more time… 17 million visitors to the Magic Kingdom per year works out to more than 46,000 people per day.

Forty-six-THOUSAND each day. And I would bet that easily more than half of those people have some combination of the Three Mountains, new Fantasyland, and the Haunted Mansion on their minds today… huge chunks are planning to visit Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise… and virtually all of them want a parade and fireworks.

So with that understanding… how can it be that it never feels like several thousand adventurers have boarded Peter Pan’s Flight before you that day, but when the Electrical Parade steps off, those thousands are all around you?

I suppose I don’t have an answer either… but it sure feels like something Disney should be improving and not something that gets more difficult.

I have to be honest, I have not had troubles with Disney lines since 2005. It was during that family visit that I recall experiencing longer lines at attractions. Since that time… sure, there’s been a 30-minute ride here or there… for the most part it’s been less than 15-minutes at all but the biggees, and wise use two or three times of a FASTPASS has meant no waits there either. I would guess I haven’t waited more than a half-hour for any ride more than once per park on any visit since 2010.

And that isn’t a small sample. I’ve been fortunate to travel down to Florida with Tigg several times over the past four years. We’ve seen Christmas and Halloween special events… we’ve gone on holiday weekends and days celebrating a park’s anniversary… we’ve been during the day and evening, mid-week and weekends… we’ve been to all four of the Disney parks, and all but the Animal Kingdom multiple times in recent years.

Heck… today… we showed up well after noon. And by using FASTPASS for the new ride, we had visited three attractions in roughly the first 60 minutes. (Mickey’s PhilharMagic, “it’s a small world” and Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid)…

Normally you do need to stake out a place an hour or so ahead of time. I know that. If you want to be comfortable, have a preferred sightline, or get the kids right up front, even slightly over 60 minutes is cutting it close. But if you aren’t being picky… are willing to stand and stay to the back… look around for different places along the parade route… there is almost always a corner against a building or place near a fence that you can get into with the event just a half-hour away…

The parade was good, and worth the aggravation. But I’m sending a message to Disney… please, please, PLEASE work on this a bit.”

It is worth noting… when something happens just once a day, everyone shows up at that one time. And the Magic Kingdom has two terrific examples of this.

Putting a ribbon on the day: I don’t think we could have planned this day any better. We hit all of the attractions we wanted to see… managed to add in one or two that were on the possible list… and got the fireworks and Main Street Electrical Parade to close out the evening.

Good stuff.

But the Magic Kingdom is changing. Be Our Guest… I haven’t been… still requires incredible planning (and possibly even persistence depending on your approach and needs). The Seven Dwarfs will be bringing their mine and coaster to the property. The busiest theme park in the world is getting bigger folks.

While I tell you that… for now… places like Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom are one-day locations, the reality is that seeing everything in the Magic Kingdom (meaning all of the attractions without being selective and leaving some off the list) will require you to plan at least two full days. And even then… you’ll never see it all.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com