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I Used to Hate Magic Kingdom-- How Disney Made Me Fall in Love with Their Flagship Park Again

2. A return to childhood

Splash Mountain

Image: Disney

A fair amount of my bias against Magic Kingdom was fueled during my teenage years. Epcot stimulated my mind and taste buds, Disney's Animal Kingdom had the unpredictable elements of nature as well as the thrills of Expedition Everest, and Disney's Hollywood Studios seemed custom designed with adolescents in mind. In Magic Kingdom, however, there was not much for teens and young adults but nostalgia and a few thrills in Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and the noble (but somewhat failed) attempt to win young scare-seekers, the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter.

However, with age comes perspective. While I could always appreciate the sentiment of lifelong classics like Pirates of the Caribbean and even Peter Pan’s Flight, it wasn’t until I reached my thirties that I came to recognize one of Magic Kingdom’s superpowers—the ability to transport you back to the wonder of childhood.

All Disney’s parks do this to some degree but none quite like Magic Kingdom. Particularly if you grew up watching Disney films and visiting Disney parks, there is something beautiful about the way Magic Kingdom causes you to remember.

Space Mountain

You can watch the transformation of Tomorrowland from the peaceful tracks of the Peoplemover. You can taste fond memories in a giant rice treat at the Main Street Confectionary or smell them in the scent of a Frontierland turkey leg. You catch yourself singing along to “A Pirate’s Life for Me” or lip syncing familiar ride narration like, “Space shuttle, this is flight safety. Keep your hands on the handrail or inside the vehicle and remain seated while in motion. You are cleared for launch.”

No matter your age, Magic Kingdom has a remarkable ability to hit the rewind button in our imagination…

3. Through the eyes of a four-year-old

Boys laughing at Fantasyland

Image: Disney

The biggest turning point for me—and I would guess this may be true for many—was when I finally got to see Magic Kingdom from the perspective of a child.

We had the indescribable pleasure of celebrating our four-year-old niece’s birthday at Walt Disney World. This was quite a few years back—New Fantasyland was still under construction. We arrived before opening gate, where the family gave our little princess one of her first surprises from her “Magic Backpack” (a trick we’ve mentioned on Theme Park Tourist before). She watched the opening gate show with star-struck eyes, unable to stop gaping and smiling. I am not a particularly emotional person, but as the Main Street Railroad train rolled in with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and friends in tow, I actually caught myself tearing up.

I had not been on most of the attractions in Fantasyland since I was a kid. There were no words for how much fresh life was breathed into these attractions by the presence of my tiny niece. Every ride became an unprecedented adventure. Dumbo really got to fly. We really did ride rockets into space. We swayed on Mary Poppins’ Carousel and journeyed straight on ‘til morning on Peter Pan’s Flight. Even It’s a Small World suddenly seemed like a delightful picture of an ideal world where we all get along.

Taking a child to Magic Kingdom for the first-time changes everything if you have been a park skeptic. Yes, factors like the temperament of a child or crowd levels can affect this—we were fortunate to visit in the off-season. Even if you don’t have children of your own, take a moment on your next visit to watch some of the little ones and pay attention to their reactions. Kids have a remarkable gift for making the mundane seem magical again.

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