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Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom: Still the Happiest Place on Earth? Don’t Believe the Hype.

Author: Rachel McGrady-Hawley
Date of Trip: September 2016

“If you go on the weekend, they won’t miss much school.”

That piece of advice proved to be our down fall. We attempted a trip to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom on a HOT and sweaty Saturday in late September, 2016. This trip was a gift from my mother, affectionately known as Nana, and was meant to be the magical (or mythical?) once in a lifetime experience Disney is known for. We planned the trip according to a travel agent’s recommendations and thought we had all of our ducks in a row. We ran into a number of unexpected circumstances, however, many of which could have been prevented with some fore thought.

We went to the Magic Kingdom on Saturday because it was open late that day, until midnight. What we didn’t realize is that during Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (which runs on select dates beginning in September and running through October) the Magic Kingdom closes early, really early, on these party dates. That means people who DON’T wish to be escorted out of the Magic Kingdom at 7pm come on the days it’s open late. This includes all the locals. We also didn’t realize that we were coming during the final days of the Walt Disney World Electric Light Parade. You can’t announce an end to a nearly 40 year old tradition and NOT expect an increase in crowds, right? Apparently, no one told Mickey Mouse.

We arrived by shuttle around 9:30am, and we were greeted with some VERY LONG LINES at the bag check counters. I understand the necessity of having to inspect purses and backpacks in this day and age, I really do, but they also went to the added step of pulling out random individuals for an additional metal detector screening, of which I was one, which meant waiting in another line and I hadn’t even entered the park yet.

Eventually, we made it to the entrance line, the line just to get into the park. At this point everyone has a ticket or a “magic band” to scan that shows that they paid to get in. You get to scan your ticket or magic band in front of a Mickey shaped scanner and go happily about your day. It’s supposed to streamline the process. Unfortunately, every scanner was malfunctioning on the day of our visit. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Each scanner is manned by a “cast member,” or park employee. If there is a problem with the scanner, the cast member raises their hand and another cast member comes and resets the scanner with an iPad. Every single cast member had their hand up waiting for a reset, and there was only one cast member present with an iPad. ONLY ONE. This meant that by the time we finally entered the so-called happiest place on Earth, we were already frustrated. This is obviously not the way you want to begin.

We were able to see Cinderella make her grand appearance from her castle at 10am, but just barely. The horns were sounding the moment we got there. This meant no casual strolling down Main Street USA, and no browsing any of the shops.

Our next stop was Adventureland. We had a fast pass for the Jungle Cruise at 10:30am. We had three fast passes to use each day of our stay, and these fast passes enable you to pass the line at the attractions you select. We were encouraged by our travel agent to plan these fast pass attractions before we left, the problem was that we didn’t know which attractions would have the longest lines until we got there. Believe me, if I had known in advance that The Seven Dwarves Mine Train would have a two hour wait, I would have stomached the 30 minute wait for the Jungle Cruise. Our second fast pass was for The Pirates of the Caribbean at noon. For those of you that don’t know, the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean are right next to each other, but the fast pass times we were given for these rides was an hour and a half apart! Our last fast pass was for Splash Mountain at 3:30pm. Splash Mountain is around the corner from Pirates of the Caribbean (The Magic Kingdom is laid out in a near perfect circle, which made it easy to navigate.), and I was once again confused as to why these times were spread so far apart when the attractions are relatively close together.

After we used our first three fast passes, we had the ability to get a fourth. However the Wi-Fi was spotty the day of our visit, so we had to wait in line at a kiosk for our fourth fast pass. The irony of waiting in a line to bypass a line wasn’t lost on us. Also, the rides with the longest waits no longer had fast passes available, so our ride on the Mine Train has to wait for a possible future visit. I am also confused why, in a park with over two dozen popular rides and attractions, we were limited to only 4 fast passes.

On a positive note, I will say that having the 3:30 time for Splash Mountain worked in our favor. The 3:00pm parade was just making its way through Frontierland as we exited the ride. With its raised sidewalks, Frontierland IS the ideal place for parade viewing, and that is no joke. My kids had front row viewing for this parade just by exiting Splash Mountain and walking up to the street. There was no need to arrive 20 minutes early and save a seat. Later on, we tried to watch the 10pm Electric Light Parade on Main Street in front of Cinderella’s castle, and that proved to be a HUGE mistake, even with arriving 20 minutes early to save a seat. So when cast members tell you that there is better parade viewing in Frontierland, you can believe it.

We did not make our way to Tomorrowland until around dinner time, and the wait for Space Mountain was about an hour. We were told by cast members that the wait would go down after the fireworks when the crowd thins out. We decided to take a trip on the Tomorrowland Speedway while we waited. This is a sad experience with a happy ending. While waiting in line for the Tomorrowland Speedway, a group of 20 somethings cut the line in front of my nine year old daughter and knocked her $3.50 soda out of her hands (YES! They charge $3.50 for SODA!), causing it to spill. My nine year old began to cry, not a loud wailing cry, but the quiet-wiping-of-tears-which–is-somehow-sadder-to- watch type of cry. The cast member who was manning the line smiled when my daughter reached her and said “Let me make this go a little faster for you.” She let us go in the fast pass lane despite having used all of our fast passes for the day, which made my nine year old’s night. NO, we did not wave to the 20 somethings when we passed them inline, but I was glad to see that Disney World empowered their cast members to fix small things that are out of their control.

The 9 pm fireworks started as we exited Tomorrowland Speedway. Watching them from behind Cinderella’s castle is not as picturesque as watching them in front of Cinderella’s castle. However, we still enjoyed them. After the fireworks, we attempted to cross one of the bridges that run alongside of Cinderella’s Castle. DON’T DO THIS! These bridges are the shortest distance between Fantasyland and Main Street USA, but they are by no means the fastest route. Take the long way around, you will get there faster AND safer. We were stuck on this bridge for 20 minutes. It was packed with people all trying to leave after the fireworks, or get to Main Street USA for the last Electric Light Parade. Imagine people so thick on a bridge that they literally CANNOT move, because that is what it was like. There was only one cast member on the bridge directing the foot traffic. ONLY ONE! We were all hot, tired, sweaty, and, once again, frustrated. When the people behind us began to push, a gentleman in front of us pushed back, with his fist. A fight broke out on the bridge next to Cinderella’s castle in the happiest place on earth, and it wasn’t until security got there that we were finally able to get off the bridge. This was one of the WORST vacation experiences of my life.

We were able to ride Space Mountain after the Electric Light Parade. In fact, we were able to squeeze in Space Mountain, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, AND Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin before the park closed at midnight. We caught the last bus to the All Star Movies Resort at 12:30am (again, no browsing down Main Street USA, except for a brief stop to admire some window displays). On the bus, I said to my kids, “We just spent 15 hours in the happiest place on earth.” My nine year old replied, “If that was the happiest place on earth, how come no one was smiling? Seriously, no one was smiling.”

That summed up our Magic Kingdom experience, but if you still want to go:
DON’T go on a Saturday.

Bring plenty of water (It costs $3.00 per bottle. They will give you ice at any eatery that serves fountain pop if you ask, but who wants to wait?)
Get a Dole Whip Float in Adventureland. It’s dairy free and worth it.
Save two fast passes for the Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight. They had the longest wait times of all the rides all day long.
Watch the parade from Frontierland, I promise you won’t regret it.
See the Hall of Presidents; it’s 22 minutes of the BEST quality air conditioning in the Magic Kingdom.
And, for the love of all things Disney, STAY OFF THE BRIDGE!

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