Magic Kingdom Overview

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Magic Kingdom, the most visited theme park in the world, is the original of the Disney World theme parks, opening on October 1, 1971, concurrently with Disney’s Polynesian Resort and Contemporary Resort.  It is based off of Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California with Cinderella’s Castle at the center instead of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.  Walt Disney was inspired to create Cinderella’s Castle for Disney World after falling in love with the Neuschwanstein Castle in southern Germany.  Magic Kingdom was built to be a larger, improved version of Disneyland.  Unfortunately, Walt passed before its completion. His brother, Roy Disney, opened the park in his place.

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Magic Kingdom technically sits on what would be the second story of the grounds.  On what would be considered the first floor is the utilidors, the complex set of tunnels that are housed underneath the park.  These were built after Walt Disney, at Disneyland, saw a cast member from Frontierland walking through Tomorrowland, destroying the theming illusion Walt had wanted to create.  With the utilidors, cast members and VIP guests, can easily maneuver unseen through the parks and pop up in their respective locations.  It also houses a barber shop, cafeteria, and other cast member amenities.  The company had originally wanted to place utilidors under all the parks but due to zoning restrictions, they weren’t able to do so (it was not a financial decision, despite much reporting).  Epcot houses a partial set of utilidors, the only set the company managed to get up before construction was shut down by local government officials. 

Because the park sits above ground, the trash system is quite impressive, believe it or not (not where you thought I was going with that, right?). Many of Magic Kingdom’s trash cans (placed every 50 ft after they studied guests’ trash habits) are actually connected to another underground tunnel system designed specifically for the trash. When guests drop their trash into the cans, it goes directly to a different part of the park (in the back) that separates trash by item. So if a guest didn’t recycle a water bottle, it will still be recycled. Walt was very much into taking care of the environment and this is something that allows his legacy to be carried on. Cool, right?

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Guests can access the park directly via the resort bus transportation system or taxi/rideshare drop-off points.  Guests staying at the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Contemporary, and Fort Wilderness, can access the park via boat or monorail, where available.  Guests with cars must park at the Transportation and Ticket Center, about a mile away and across the Seven Seas Lagoon.  From here, guests must transfer to the park either via monorail or boat. 

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The Magic Kingdom is built as a wheel, with Cinderella’s Castle sitting in the center and the lands branching off.  When walking up to the castle, the first “land” you are exploring is Main Street U.S.A. built to reflect early 20th century, small town America, and the kind of town Walt experienced growing up and idealized.  The street leading up to the castle is a forced perspective; the castle itself is actually very small.  See, when buildings reach a certain height, they are required by Florida state law to have blinking lights on them to alert airplanes of their presence.  Walt didn’t want anything to destroy the illusion of the magic of the park.  So they created a small castle and built Main Street U.S.A. as a forced perspective.  The second stories on the buildings are shorter than the first and the third stories are shorter than the second, thus creating the illusion that you are walking towards a large castle.  Main Street U.S.A. is full of shops and restaurants to experience from The Main Street Emporium housing all kinds of Disney merchandise, to The Plaza Restaurant serving a delicious PB&J milkshake, to a working barber shop providing haircuts for free for guests.  If you notice a distinctly sweet smell while walking down the street, it’s not the shops baked goods you smell although they certainly smell heavenly on their own.  It’s the smell of baked goods and sugar being pumped through the street vents, drawing you into the stores.  You should definitely stop into the Main Street Bakery for a cake pop; you won’t regret it.  You will also find tributes to key people involved in the creation of the Magic Kingdom and Disney World.  Their names are cleverly disguised as company names in the windows of the street.

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Directly to the left once you exit Main Street U.S.A. is the bridge to Adventureland, a land honoring the adventure that is exploring other lands.  You will see influences of other cultures all over the world.  Here you’ll find classic attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean, Enchanted Tikki Room, and the Swiss Family Treehouse.  This is also the land where you’ll find the famous Dole Whip!  Do not miss this classic treat.  Tortuga Tavern, a seasonal quick service, is also located in this land.  It’s my favorite quick service restaurant in Magic Kingdom.  It’s only open during peak season though, so if it’s open during your trip, make sure to stop by.

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Right above Adventureland on the “wheel” is Frontierland, inspired by Walt’s love of cowboys and the “Old West.”  Frontierland features two of the “mountains:” Splash Mountain, classic log flume ride and Big Thunder Mountain, a roller coaster type ride.  During peak seasons, using a FastPass for Big Thunder Mountain is usually a good idea.  Tom Sawyer’s Island sits right across from the mountains and is accessible by a quick boat ride.  This island attraction is great for the outdoor adventure kids who like running around and exploring.  Frontierland also houses the Country Bear Jamboree but for the love of modern day America, skip this one. 

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Moving around the wheel brings you to Liberty Square next, a tribute to colonial America, and an exclusive land to Disney World.  Liberty Square houses the Liberty Square Riverboat, featuring a half mile boat ride around the Rivers of America, the Hall of Presidents, a cute outdoor Muppet show, and the Haunted Mansion. It also has one of my favorite stores, the Christmas store!  Disney ornaments are my favorite Christmas tree decorations.  They’re beautifully done and I try and pick up a new one every year.  Liberty Square is also home to Sleepy Hollow Treats featuring the famous waffle ice cream sandwich treats!

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Next up is Fantasyland, including New Fantasyland and Storybook Circus.  Fantasyland is set up carnival style and features some of the most classic rides in Disney history including Cinderella’s Carousel and it’s a Small World.   Originally in Storybook Circus’ place was Toontown, opened in 1988 as Mickey’s Birthdayland to celebrate the 60th birthday of Mickey Mouse.  This area was closed in 2012 and reimagined as Storybook Circus.  It houses many of the original concepts in new forms such as a child’s water play area and a Goofy themed mini coaster.  New Fantasyland also opened in 2012, the largest expansion any of the parks had seen to date.  A new Snow White themed coaster was built, a Beauty and the Beast themed story time attraction was added, as well as a ride featuring Ariel, a near exact replica of the Disneyland version.  The Snow White themed coaster, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train has some of the best animatronics I’ve ever seen and always has a very high wait time.  If you can get a FastPass for this attraction, do it!  Be Our Guest restaurant also opened in conjunction with New Fantasyland; you can find my thoughts on this restaurant in my dining post.  If you’re walking through this area, make sure to stop and pick up a LeFou’s Brew from Gaston’s Tavern.  It’s amazing and a must buy for me every visit.  You can also find many of your favorite Disney characters throughout all of Fantasyland and Storybook Circus including Winnie the Pooh, Ariel, Rapunzel, and Daisy Duck, just to name a few.

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And last up on the Magic Kingdom wheel is Tomorrowland, my personal favorite land.  I find myself always spending the most amount of time in this land.  Originally built to the theme of an Intergalactic city imagined from the 1950s, today the theme works like a working city of space.  Space Mountain, an in-the-dark roller coaster, Tomorrowland Speedway, Astro Orbiter, and the People Mover, an easy ride around the land, serve as the transportation of this city.  Depending on the time of the year, you’ll most likely need FastPass for Space Mountain if you don’t feel like waiting.  Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor serves at the city’s entertainment and is one of my personal favorite attractions; it’s hilarious.  Buzz Lightyear’s themed ride acts as the city’s law enforcement center.  Finally, the Carousel of Progress, a Walt Disney original, acts as the city’s cultural center and historic preservation.  Within Tomorrowland there are a few quick service options, including Cosmic Rays, a smoothie stand, and a place directly under the Astro Orbiter where you can purchase an iconic Disney Turkey Leg.  Fun fact, Cosmic Rays the largest quick service location in Tomorrowland is the second busiest quick service food location in the world (the actual world, not Disney World).

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At night, you watch a beautiful castle projection show and a fireworks show, each put on every night. It really is an amazing way to end a classic, Disney day.  Magic Kingdom is the heart and soul of the Disney World resort.  While it’s not my personal favorite park out of the 4, it is my favorite for connecting to the rich history the Disney company offers and some of Walt’s own personal creations.  Make it your first stop on your Disney adventure.

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