Don’t Let Myths Mar Magic of Mouse’s House
published in The (Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel
A visit to Orlando’s kid mecca has nearly become a rite of passage. Little pals at my daughter’s school and all over Fort Wayne bond over stories of screams on Space Mountain, squeals in Cinderella’s Castle, and other adventures with Mickey and the gang at the Magic Kingdom.
Parents share similar stories – only theirs involve the screams of exhausted children standing in yet another line, or squeals of protest from little ones who really, really, really need just one more sweet treat – pretty pleeeeeeeease.
I approached our trip with trepidation tempered by a determination to have fun for my daughter’s sake. She was 7, old enough to keep up and enjoy the rides, young enough to qualify for a kid ticket. (Nine-year-olds magically become adults in Disney’s world.)
My determination came in handy on the flight home, but my trepidation was unwarranted. Thanks to some Internet research and the advice of friends, our trip to see the big cheese was a breeze.
We spent all of a June weekend in the Magic Kingdom seeing and doing everything. We were pleased to find the following warnings to be more myth than truth – though when weather and children are involved, of course, there are limited guarantees!
You have to arrive at the park hours before it opens.
Our first day, we showed up 15 minutes before the gate opened at 9. We pulled into a prime spot in Pluto, hopped on a waiting tram, stepped immediately onto the monorail and moseyed right up to the ticket counter (see myth No. 2). More tired on Day Two, we got there about an hour later and found a bit of a wait here and there. Being a little early is better, but beating the sunrise is unnecessary.
You have to buy tickets before your trip.
It does save you a stop at the ticket window if you buy a four- or five-day Park Hopper pass online. But single-day and two-day tickets have to be purchased at the park. We spent only five minutes buying our two-day passes, which leads me to the next myth …
The Park Hopper passes are the only deal.
They are a good deal if you plan to spend four or more days going around the World. Plus, they don’t expire, so you can use extra days next year. But if this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip (at least until you have grandchildren), investigate a two-day ticket. The savings are roughly proportionate, and the initial outlay is much smaller. You won’t find two-day tickets mentioned anywhere, so be sure to ask at the ticket counter.
You have to make meal reservations for Cinderella’s Castle the minute your child is born.
I hear Cinderella’s breakfast gig is tough to get into, because she makes a grand appearance. But we were saving money by staying at a villa equipped with kitchen, so we caught up with the princess at her show later on. Instead, we asked about dinner reservations when we arrived Saturday morning at the guest relations booth. There were a number of late-lunch or early-dinner times available. We opted for a 4:30 slot (5:30 Indiana time).
A reservation in the Magic Kingdom does not mean they hold a table for you. It means when you show up at the establishment, you’re in line for the next available table. So while we were escorted promptly to our table, those dining at more popular hours were forced to cool their heels.
You cannot bring your own food into the park.
We weren’t entirely clear on this point, so we were a bit concerned when we came to the gate where all bags are searched. But everyone around us seemed to have the same idea, and no one batted an eye at our granola bars, fruit, water, yogurt, snack mix and crackers. Our dinner at Cinderella’s Castle was the only meal we purchased at the park in two days.
You have to claim a spot on Main Street by 6 for the 9 p.m. SpectroMagic Parade.
If you are bound and determined to be in the front row, seated on the curb, you may want to show up early. But because those in the front are sitting on the curb, you can snag a piece of real estate behind them closer to 8 and still see the show. Just don’t watch from right in front of the castle – the fireworks are shot off behind and over it, so you’ll be too close to see a thing.
The only way to stay is to choose a Disney resort.
We were thrilled with our villa. We did have to rent a vehicle to get to and from the park, but it was painless and pretty cheap after some shopping around. It also enabled us to get to the grocery, which saved a ton compared with dining out. Our villa had a full kitchen, as well as a washer and dryer, handy for wet towels and suits after our trips to the pool. Plus, after spending the day in crowds and close quarters, we liked having room to spread out and separate bedrooms. We were just 10 minutes from Disney’s parking lots.
Follow the herd to the monorail when you get off the parking-lot tram.
We happened to notice some park-goers boarding a ferry off to the left. It was free, deposited us at the gate just like the monorail, and it was a much more pleasant ride, offering breezes and beautiful views of the resorts.
During our trip, we did discover that several pieces of advice rang very true. Pay heed to these tips for a much better experience:
Use the Fastpass.
Because we had a game plan for rides based on pointers from the Internet, we hit Buzz Lightyear and Space Mountain first without standing in a single line. After zipping through Tomorrowland, we got a little cocky. Then we came to Thunder Mountain. No line was visible from the entrance, so we strolled on up. But under the hot pavilion, the line snaked up, down, around and behind walls. That was enough – we became Fastpass experts, timing our passes and waits so we could do one after the other.
Have a plan.
You can spend a lot of time milling around in the Magic Kingdom. Better to make use of the schedules so you can catch the parades and shows in between rides. Show up early for live events so you can claim a shady spot. If you’ve brought your own food, waiting in the Fairytale Garden or along the parade route is a good time to eat.
Send your souvenirs to the gate.
Who wants to carry around plastic bags full of Disney gear from line to ride to restaurant? Simply ask the cashier to have your bag sent to the front of the park. At the end of the day, take your receipt to the counter on the lower floor of the train station and pick up your package.
Go with the flow.
If it rains, hit the Tiki Room, the Haunted Mansion or another indoor attraction. If you’re tired, hop on the Liberty Ferry or the Walt Disney World Railroad for a short respite. Bad weather and sore feet are inevitable. But so are magical moments. Look forward to many!