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Touring The Magic Kingdom

Getting to the Magic Kingdom can be a less than magical experience, especially if you are staying off property and want to arrive early, as I recommend. The following tips will help you arrive with minimal frustration. Once you’re there, follow the appropriate touring plan for a hassle-free visit.

Note: The park opens an hour early to Disney property guests for “Extra Magic Hours” (EMH; see Chapter One) at least one day a week. By the time it opens to other visitors on these Early Entry EMH days, it is already crowded. I strongly advise visiting on another day of the week if you are not eligible for Early Entry or choose not to take advantage of it.

 

Getting to the entrance turnstiles
if you are staying on property

Guests staying on Disney property have a major advantage over those staying elsewhere because they can take Disney transport directly from their hotels to the MK turnstiles. Grand Floridian and Polynesian Resort guests can hop a resort monorail or a boat (the boats are usually slower), while guests of the Contemporary Resort can take a resort monorail or a special walkway to the Magic Kingdom; the walk takes about 10 minutes. The other Disney properties (except Fort Wilderness and the Wilderness Lodge) provide bus service directly to the entrance turnstiles (see “Caution,” below). Fort Wilderness and the Wilderness Lodge provide boat service to the entrance turnstiles but bus service only to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) across the Seven Seas Lagoon from the MK. Ask your hotel Lobby Concierge how long it will take you to get to the Magic Kingdom entrance.

Caution: WDW buses that arrive prior to one hour before the park’s official opening time will drop you at the Transportation and Ticket Center, where you will be stuck waiting with all the off-property guests for the monorail and ferry to begin running. Ask the bus driver where you will be dropped before you board to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

Getting to the entrance turnstiles
if you are staying off property

You cannot go directly to the turnstiles, but will enter the MK by way of the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), where the parking lot is located. Once you’ve parked, you will hop a tram to the boarding area for transport to the MK. Your choices are the express monorail or the ferryboat. (Note that the ferries don’t always operate in the afternoons during slower times of the year.) The monorail is a few minutes faster (the trip takes four to five minutes), but it often has a longer wait than the ferry (which takes six to seven minutes). If the monorail entry ramp is packed with people, take the ferry if it is in or approaching the dock. Also take the ferry if a magical approach is more important to you than a speedy one. Budget a total of 15 to 25 minutes for your entire trip from parking lot to entrance turnstiles.

In the early morning hours when you’re striving to arrive early, the ferries and express monorail from the TTC often do not even begin to operate until 30 minutes before the official opening time. That happens to be about when the Magic Kingdom begins to admit guests at the entry turnstiles! Message: WDW clearly favors its resort guests at times like these.

Insider tip #1: During slow seasons, guests staying off property can sometimes gain the Disney resort-guest advantage. Drive early to the Contemporary or another monorail resort and tell the parking lot guard that you’re having breakfast at the hotel. Then eat an early breakfast (especially if you haven’t eaten already), leave your car in the lot, and walk (about 10 minutes from the Contemporary) or ride the hotel monorail (budget 10 to 25 minutes) to the MK entrance. If you decide to try this strategy, be sure to make dining reservations before your arrival. WDW hotel parking areas are gated to keep out non-guests. The guard may check your name against the restaurant’s reservations list before letting you in. Don’t be too disappointed if you can’t get in. WDW employees (cast members) who are off duty and visiting the Magic Kingdom often park their cars in a lot at the Contemporary Resort to the left of the guard gate and close to the walkway to the Magic Kingdom. During busy periods, the guard turns them away from this lot, presumably to keep it clear for Contemporary Resort guest use.

Another option for off-property guests is the bus. Some public and hotel shuttle buses make regular runs to the TTC during MK operating hours.

Insider tip #2: If your admission ticket allows you to switch from one WDW theme park to another without penalty and you’d like to combine a morning visit to the Magic Kingdom with an afternoon visit to Epcot, you have another transportation option. Park your car in the morning at Epcot. Then take the Epcot monorail to and from the MK via the TTC. Allow about 20 to 30 minutes one way. You’ll save yourself the considerable hassle of having to retrieve your car from the MK parking lot and re-park it at Epcot. And when you leave for the day, your car will probably be more conveniently located than it would have been had you parked it at Epcot in mid afternoon.

How early should you arrive?

Whatever your mode of transport, plan to arrive early in the day, preferably before opening time, so that you can experience the major rides and attractions with minimal waits. If you are a Disney property guest, plan to arrive at the entrance turnstiles about 30 minutes before the official opening time (or at least 75 minutes ahead if you’re an EMH Early Entry guest). If you’re not staying on Disney property, plan to arrive at the Transportation and Ticket Center 50 to 60 minutes before the official opening time if you already have your admission tickets, and an hour or more before the official opening time if you have to purchase your tickets. If you follow this advice, you will be able to ride at least two and possibly four or more popular attractions before the lines become long. But don’t despair if you aren’t an early riser; the touring plans below can be picked up any time of the day. Just be aware that you will have to make some hard choices about what to skip.

Note: If you are visiting on or near a major holiday, add 30 minutes to each of the above times.
Tip: If you have young children, make a dining reservation (on a non early-entry day) in the MK for breakfast at 8:00 a.m., then enter Fantasyland with the touring plan at 9:00 a.m. when the park opens.
Entering the Magic Kingdom

After passing through the security checkpoint, survey all the entrance turn­stiles on the left and right sides to spot the shortest lines. A turnstile is “green” (admitting guests) if a cast member is standing next to it. If the morning lines are long at all entrance turnstiles, line up in an outside queue. Sometimes an attendant will open up a nearby turnstile at the last minute, and you may be positioned to move with other excited guests to the new and shorter queue.

Have your admission ticket ready (plus your hotel room key for Early Entry privileges). If you don’t have a park Guidemap and Times Guide yet (they are available at the WDW hotels), pick them up as soon as you can. Sometimes they are piled on the entry turnstiles for entering guests, or pluck one from a container on the walls beneath the arched walkways under the Main Street train station. Otherwise, you can pick them up at City Hall to the left of Town Square or at the counters of the stores and outside merchandise stands along Main Street.

What you ride first will depend on your interests. I recommend Dumbo the Flying Elephant for parties with preschoolers (although older children may also place this ride high on their lists). For others, I recommend Space Mountain or Splash Mountain. If it’s a tie between Mountains, head for Space Mountain first.
Getting to the ‘Mountains’

Two fascinating rituals occur each morning at the Magic Kingdom as visitors to the MK attempt to be first in line at two of the park’s most popular rides, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. When the park opens on non Early Entry days (usually 30 minutes before the official opening time), or if you arrive near the official opening time on any day, you’re admitted through the entrance turnstiles and onto Main Street. The rest of the park is roped off and will not admit guests until the official opening time. Some otherwise sane folks gather at the rope at the end of Main Street with impatient anticipation of that exhilarating first-of-the-morning ride on Space Mountain. Others line up at the ropes to Adventureland giddy with anticipation of the Splash Mountain expe­rience. By the time the overhead welcoming announcements end and the hapless Disney cast members begin to pull the ropes back, the nervous excitement of the early morning crowd has reached a fever pitch.

Now there’s no holding back. The stampede that ensues can be unstoppable, despite Disney’s best intentions. Make no mistake about it, these are no walks in the park. In fact, if you are walking to either Mountain, prepare to get bumped and jostled. Parents with strollers, beware! Wild-eyed and breathless Mountain junkies of most ages (anyone who can jog or run) will be hurtling by you. For the safety of everyone, parents with strollers or those in wheelchairs should stay at the fringes of the frantic rush. On a crowded day, inadvertent jostles and sometimes collisions between people are not unusual. Folks may drop sunglasses or caps, stop to retrieve them, and risk a rugby-style encounter from behind.

These morning races are unique and memorable, and you can enjoy them firsthand even if you just walk fast. However, don’t overexert yourself in the excitement. You have a long fun day ahead; don’t spoil it with an untimely injury or exhaustion. Even if you are not among the first in line, you won’t have a very long wait if you head to the Mountain of your choice first thing.

Note: On Early Entry days, Splash Mountain may be closed till the park’s official opening time and Space Mountain will often be open.

Tip: WDW periodically attempts to control these morning dashes. You may be instructed to walk briskly behind a Disney cast member to the Mountain entrances. If you encounter this method of crowd control, follow instructions but be prepared to dash with other excited guests when the entrance is in sight. Even Disney can’t always prevent these last-second dashes.

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