Home » The 10 Things You NEED To Know Before You Visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom

The 10 Things You NEED To Know Before You Visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom

When we hear someone say, “I’m going to Disney World!” we usually think of one place in particular: Magic Kingdom.

Opened in 1971, five years after the death of Walt Disney, the Magic Kingdom gave the company a chance to do Disneyland bigger and better as part of an expansive travel resort. Cinderella Castle remains one of the most iconic travel landmarks in the world, and it is the primary thing we picture when we imagine a trip to Walt Disney World.

Maybe you’re planning your first Walt Disney World vacation, or it’s been a while since your last visit. Alternatively, maybe you’re a longtime Disney parks fan who has friends and family wanting to visit, and you wish there were some way you could quickly sum-up the key “need-to-knows” for an amazing Disney vacation.

This series is for you.

This guide is the second in a series starting here on Theme Park Tourist to share the basic facts you need to make the most of a Walt Disney World vacation. Our goal is to prepare you for what to expect, as well as help you avoid the snags that spoil too many potentially great vacations.

In our first installment, we focused on what you need to know about Walt Disney World overall—give that piece a read if you haven’t yet, as it covers some of the “big picture” facts about visiting The Most Magical Place on Earth.

Today, we’ll be zeroing in on the top 10 things you NEED to know before visiting Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World’s most iconic park…

AN IMPORTANT NOTE: We mentioned this in our first piece but take some time to research Disney’s latest pandemic policies. These are frequently changing, and many policies are still in place at the time of this writing, including mask wearing indoors, some social distancing measures, and most important, that you cannot enter a Disney park without a Disney Parks Pass reservation. You can find information on the latest developments in Disney’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic here at Theme Park Tourist and at Walt Disney World’s website.

1. It’s the one people (incorrectly) call “Disney World”

Magic Kingdom is definitely the park most people associate with Walt Disney World—it’s become a cultural icon for fun, magic, and family travel. What you may not know, however, is that it’s not the only thing in Walt Disney World—as a matter of fact, it’s only one of four parks and a wide range of other activities available at the Most Magical Place on Earth.

We covered this in detail in our first piece—Walt Disney World has a lot to offer! Magic Kingdom is definitely the resort’s flagship park, but it’s by no means the only one. The reason we mention this is so you don’t make a mistake common to many first time guests: don’t limit your Walt Disney World vacation to Magic Kingdom alone.

Magic Kingdom is an incredible place with so much to do, but you will be missing out if you don’t plan to visit Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom as well. The reason why?…

2. Magic Kingdom isn’t necessarily everyone’s favorite park

We said it: even though Magic Kingdom is an incredible park, that doesn’t necessarily make it Walt Disney World’s “best” park for everyone.

Don’t get me wrong: if you love Magic Kingdom and it’s your favorite Disney park, that’s awesome! There is so much to love about it, particularly the park’s wide selection of rides and incredible knack for making you feel like a kid again. There’s a false conception, however, that it’s the only Walt Disney World park worth visiting. That isn’t always the case. As a matter of fact, many Disney regulars prefer Walt Disney World’s other three parks over Magic Kingdom.

If Magic Kingdom is Walt Disney World’s most iconic park, why do some people like the other parks better?

It’s all about personal preference. There is something for everyone at Walt Disney World, and for some visitors, Magic Kingdom might not be the right fit. Some visitors prefer the high adventure and exploration feel of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Others prefer the thrill rides and immersive nostalgia of Disney’s Hollywood Studios (home to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge). Still other prefer Epcot’s completely unique collection of attractions and festivals celebrating science, history, culture, and culinary arts.

Magic Kingdom is definitely Walt Disney World’s most kid-friendly park, which is why many families focus on it. Both teens and adults who don’t have the Disney nostalgia bug may not enjoy it quite as much. Teens, in particular, tend to dislike Magic Kingdom unless they have really warm fuzzy feelings from visiting as a kid—our experience is they largely enjoy the other three parks more.

Whatever your family dynamic, include Magic Kingdom in your Walt Disney World experience, but don’t limit yourself only to it.

3. It’s not the same as Disneyland

We’ve actually dedicated entire articles to this subject: there are a surprising number of differences between Disneyland in California and the Magic Kingdom.

It’s true that Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom share a lot of similarities—Magic Kingdom was built off of the same general template as Disneyland, only expanded. Both parks have an iconic castle, a similar arrangement of lands, and many similar attractions.

The biggest difference you’ll notice visiting Magic Kingdom is that everything is, well, bigger. The extra space in Florida allowed Disney to build a bigger castle–so large, in fact, that it actually houses a restaurant and a secret luxury guest suite inside! Magic Kingdom also houses bigger versions of mountain attractions like Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, and a much larger Fantasyland section which was dramatically expanded between 2011-2014.

Disneyland definitely has a few things that Magic Kingdom does not: the Indiana Jones Adventure is a major one! Walt Disney World fans have hoped for Disney to bring this incredible ride to the east coast for decades, but it hasn’t happened yet (Fun Fact: the “Dinosaur” ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom has the exact same track). You also won’t find Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge or Fantasmic! at Magic Kingdom—at Walt Disney World, both are located in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Disneyland also has Mickey’s Toontown, which Walt Disney World replaced with New Fantasyland.

Other differences are that some guests prefer Disneyland’s version of Space Mountain which includes music and extra effects (as well as allowing two guests per row), and some prefer the dining choices at Disneyland over Magic Kingdom (such as the Blue Bayou restaurant, located inside Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland).

On the flip side, Magic Kingdom has many things Disneyland does not including the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Gaston’s Tavern, and some impressive table-service restaurants like Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest, and Jungle Navigation Co. Skipper Canteen. Once again, this is all personal preference. Just be aware the parks are different.

4. Arriving for opening gate is usually the best way to avoid long lines

Hate standing in lines? You’re going to want to plan for an early morning.

Multi-hour lines don’t have to be an inevitable part of visiting Walt Disney World—yes, there are certain times of year when heavy crowds are going to be inevitable, such as during major holidays and whenever school is out of session. However, on an average Disney day, crowds actually operate in surprisingly predictable patterns.

At the time of this writing, Magic Kingdom opens at 8:00 AM. Many families have understandable struggles getting their kids up early, are driving in from far away, or don’t take into account how long it takes to just get to the park gate (usually due to an inevitable stop at the Transportation and Ticket Center).

If you arrive early enough to be inside the park by opening gate, you are going to avoid a large portion of the crowds visiting Magic Kingdom and get a significant head start on the day. By the time most people start drifting in and crowds peak between 11 AM to 2 PM, you’ll have experienced a good range of rides already.

You can get a good gauge on what crowds are like right now both from our own reports on the park, as well as from sites like TouringPlans.com or even just using the My Disney Experience app. Crowds are usually lightest first thing in the morning as well as the last two hours of the evening since there is currently no fireworks show (that will change if the fireworks come back, though you can catch short lines during a fireworks show).

The attraction that usually sees the longest waits first thing in the morning is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. While you could start there, you might be better off hitting another high demand attraction like Splash Mountain or Space Mountain. The reason why is that most people tend to tour Magic Kingdom in a predictable pattern, usually starting at Fantasyland and traveling in a sort of reverse question mark shape. Just making the decision to break this pattern and go the other way or zig-zag around can help your chances of avoiding long lines.

5. The Transportation & Ticket Center can be a major time-suck

What is the Transportation & Ticket Center, and why do so many Disney fans consider it just the worst?

The Transportation & Ticket Center (TTC, for short) is the primary transportation hub for guests visiting Magic Kingdom, as well as the location of the Magic Kingdom parking lot. While functionally, it’s impressive, there’s one major problem with it…

It’s located across a lake from the actual Magic Kingdom park, almost a mile away.

The TTC can prove a significant time-suck on your magical morning, and for that reason, many guests might consider it the least magical place at the Most Magical Place on Earth. You can expect to spend about half an hour (or even more) passing through the TTC before you actually enter Magic Kingdom park.

Avoiding the TTC is extremely difficult: guests visiting via personal vehicles, non-Disney busses, shuttles from non-Disney resorts (including the Swan & Dolphin), and rideshare services all have to stop at the TTC. The only guests who get to avoid it are those traveling from one of Disney’s resorts. The Magic Kingdom resorts all offer either monorail or ferry service directly to the park, while other resorts offer busses right to the park gate.

What can you do about it?

If you aren’t staying at a Disney resort, your best bet is to simply plan extra time. Magic Kingdom is the only Disney park with this issue (the other three parks have parking lots that are much closer). Give yourself an extra 30 minutes minimum if you’ll be passing through the TTC. The monorail is usually the fastest route to the parks (some people opt to use the Resort Monorail if the Express Monorail line is too long). The Ferry usually takes longer but also is very relaxing. The bottom level of the ferry gets to disembark first.

6. Rides, rides, rides!

Magic Kingdom has an impressive array of rides—just under 30, more than any other Walt Disney World park! While areas like New Fantasyland and Adventureland offer some exploratory fun, rides are the primary attraction (no pun intended) for Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Because Magic Kingdom has so many rides, you’ll want a good touring strategy if you want to experience them all—you may even need two days, if that’s your goal. We talked about that somewhat already, but keep in mind, experiencing every ride may not be necessary if your family doesn’t have small children. If an attraction doesn’t sound like it appeals to you, don’t feel pressured to hit every ride. If you have enough adults in your party, it may also be worth splitting up if you have older kids interested in thrill rides and younger kids who only want to stay in Fantasyland.

Because of the abundance of rides, lines are a more significant issue at Magic Kingdom than they are at Disney’s other parks. While the many rides spread guests out more, it does mean you have to stand it line to enjoy most of the park’s best attractions.

Which rides are “don’t miss”? That’s going to depend on what you enjoy. Fans of low-key thrills will want to visit Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and possibly the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Adults and teens may enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin as well. Small children will find fun things to enjoy throughout the park, but they will most likely really appreciate Fantasyland the most and all the rides within. Peter Pan’s Flight remains one of our favorites.

Also, don’t discount Magic Kingdom’s hidden gems—some of its most innocuous attractions, like Tom Sawyer Island and the Tomorrowland PeopleMover are actually many guests’ favorites!

7. You may want to take an afternoon break to avoid peak crowds

For many families, one of the best moves you can make when visiting Magic Kingdom is to leave around mid-day for a nap. We’re totally serious.

This strategy may not work for everyone, but there’s a good reason why it’s a good idea to consider. Remember how we mentioned arriving at Magic Kingdom before opening gate? Crowds tend to peak between 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Lines swell to maximum size, kids might start getting fussy, and the days often get hot.

You have three choices during this tricky hours:

1) You can jump in one of those insanely long lines—despite the fact you will likely certainly find shorter waits at other times of the day.

2) You can use these hours to eat lunch and explore lower-demand attractions.

3) Go take a nap!

Taking an afternoon rest is a wonderful Disney tradition, and it’s one of the things that makes staying at a Disney-owned resort very appealing. You can just use Disney transportation to head back to your resort, take a nice break, then come back a couple hours later once the worst of the crowds are wearing off, then stay throughout the evening. Kids may fuss about leaving the parks, but a mid-day nap does many kids good, allowing you to come back to the park and stay much later than other families who will be exhausted by late afternoon.

When you come back, you get to enjoy the parks with less heat, less stress, and possibly with some slightly lower lines.

8. Overwhelmed? There are some havens to retreat to

For my fellow introverts and others who get overwhelmed by crowds, Magic Kingdom can seem a little intense. Finding a quiet place to catch your breath is a little easier at Walt Disney World’s other three parks, but it isn’t impossible at Magic Kingdom if you know where to look.

My favorite quiet getaway at Magic Kingdom is Tom Sawyer Island. It’s a little difficult to get to (the island usually opens around 11:00 AM and lines can form for people trying to get there via raft), but it’s worth the wait. Even on a busy day, it’s one of the most bizarrely peaceful places in Magic Kingdom (if you exclude Injun Joe’s muuuurrrder cave). I especially enjoy the docks around the island’s edge, some of which have seating areas and even rocking chairs. The one past Fort Langhorn on the left is particularly nice and offers unparalleled views of Big Thunder Mountain.

Some other nice retreats include the upstairs areas of Columbia Harbour House and Pinocchio Village Haus (these are currently closed due to pandemic measures but may reopen soon). Other popular quiet retreats include the Liberty Belle steamship and the path between Space Mountain and Storybook Circus. When Main Street Station opens up again, it’s a good choice as well.

Having a panic attack or feeling signs of heat exhaustion? Visit the park’s First Aid Station. The nurses there are super nice, and they have areas where guests can recoup, rehydrate, and recollect themselves.

9. The park has some great dining, but your choices may be limited

Food is part of the magic at Walt Disney World, and we aren’t talking about corn dogs, turkey legs, and churros. Sure, you can find all those things at Magic Kingdom, but the park definitely has more to offer.

For one things, Magic Kingdom has some gems for table service like Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and our favorite, Jungle Navigation Co. Skipper Canteen (where you can enjoy exotic food worthy of an adventurer with a side of snarky humor). The only problem is reservations for table service restaurants can be a challenge to snag when the parks are busy (or while capacity limits remain in effect).

That leaves counter service restaurants, and this is where we feel like the park falls a little short of other Disney parks. Most of the options are going to be variations on classic American fare like grill foods, New England stews, Tex-Mex, and New York Italian. There are choices and many of them are good, but you’re not going to find as much international variety as you do in Disney’s other parks. For many families, this will be a non-issue, but if you’re a foodie, do some research into menus ahead of time so you aren’t left hungry and frustrated in the middle of the day. Also make sure you have Mobile Ordering set up on your phone ahead of time as some locations are only allowing guests to order using the My Disney Experience app.

Have a sweet tooth? Don’t limit yourself to Mickey Ice Cream bars and churros. For a dessert upgrade, try a fruit & Nutella waffle sandwich at Sleepy Hollow or one of Disney’s famous Dole Whip floats at Aloha Isle in Adventureland (or it’s orange-flavored cousin, the Citrus Swirl, at Sunshine Tree Terrace)!

10. The Magic Kingdom resorts are all gorgeous

Remember how we mentioned it’s a good idea to take an afternoon break away from the parks? One of the ways you can do that is by hopping on the monorail to visit the Magic Kingdom resort hotels—Disney’s Polynesian, Disney’s Grand Floridian, Disney’s Contemporary, and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (that last one is only accessible by ferry).

The Magic Kingdom resorts are some of Disney’s most beautiful and elaborately themed. While they are all incredible places to stay at, you don’t have to be a guest to stop by. All four resorts have places where visitors can explore and relax, and they are also home to some outstanding restaurants like Kona Café (home of Disney’s famous “Tonga Toast”), Narcoossee’s, Artist Point (now a character dining experience), and California Grill.

Considering staying at a Magic Kingdom resort? Be aware, they tend to be Disney’s busiest resorts. They are farther from the other Disney parks, which could mean a stop at the TTC if you’re visiting Epcot. The trade-off is worth it if you love Magic Kingdom. All four Magic Kingdom resort also have incredible Disney Vacation Club villas, which can be rented through 2nd party sites at a fraction of the cost of regular Disney rooms.

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