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WDW Day Three: The Magic Kingdom Pt. 1

Friday, April 18th, 2008 marked the end of my Florida trip with the parents and a full day at Walt Disney World’s premiere theme park, The Magic Kingdom. As a lifelong fan of Disneyland in California, I always wanted to check out the Magic Kingdom just to see how it differs from its West Coast counterpart. It turns out that the two parks are very similar in the essentials, but they also have some marked differences — maybe its an East Coast/West Coast thing. Generally speaking, I’d say the main difference between the two is that Disneyland attracts a more laid-back, local crowd who are there for a pleasant day trip. On the other hand, the Magic Kingdom can be summed up more like an expensive, all-encompassing vacation spot geared toward (mostly out-of-state) families who desire a quintessential “Disney” experience.

We arrived at the transportation center bright and early for the park’s opening at 9:00 a.m. Taking the monorail though the Contemporary Resort, I got to catch a glimpse of Mary Blair’s massive multi-story Grand Canyon tile mural — an exciting, old-style way to enter the park. We arrived through the turnstiles and found that we had to wait in the front area for the gateway to Main Street U.S.A. to open. Before the opening there was a splashy musical number to herald the beginning of the day. It was cute and all, but this kinda underlines the differences between Disneyland and WDW. At times it felt like Disney was grabbing me by the collar and yelling “ARE YOU HAVING A MAGICAL TIME ALREADY? WELL, ARE YOU?” I like finding the magic on my own, thank you. Luckily there was a lot of magic to be encountered during the course of the day.

With the throng of morning visitors, we entered Main Street U.S.A. My, that area of the park is huge. I loved the ornate architecture everywhere, but at this point there was no time for dawdling. We made our way to the central hub, where I quickly snapped some photos of Cinderella’s Castle (also much larger than I imagined) on our way towards the Liberty Square entrance. It’s funny that they open the park in stages, but I can see where it helps in terms of crowd control. The bottleneck at the entrance was massive, but our group waiting to get through Liberty Square was much more manageable. Eventually the gate opened and we made a beeline for Splash Mountain to get Fastpasses. By the way, the Fastpass system was a huge, huge help in getting the most out of our trip. The first advice I’d give any Disney theme park visitor — use Fastpasses, and use them often! First thing out of the way, we dropped into Big Thunder Mountain next door for some morning thrills. This was a lot of fun, and we only had to wait for about five minutes to get on. The differences between the WDW and DL versions of the ride seemed pretty minimal to me; mainly the WDW queue is situated indoors and the trains pass by a large area with a fake prospector’s camp.

It was at this point that we took a walk around the river bend to ride on my all-time favorite, The Haunted Mansion. Walking along the nearly deserted pathway through Frontierland and Liberty Square was beautiful. I marveled at the buildings and theming, even telling my parents that I wish it was this empty all day. Approaching the Mansion, we walked right in with no wait. This was a great ride, although it was really dark and my eyes never adjusted to the change in light from the outside (the one bad thing about going during the slow time of the day!). The WDW iteration of the Mansion recently underwent some renovations — everything was in tip-top shape and I’d even say the experience is slightly better than the DL version. It seemed a little longer, and although I love the elegant exterior in Disneyland, the WDW Mansion exterior seems a lot more foreboding. I love the exterior theming, too — that little pet cemetery is the coolest! They even had a gravestone for Mr. Toad, whose ride in Florida was destroyed to make way for Winnie the Pooh.

In my singleminded quest to hit the most popular attractions before 11:00 a.m., the Pirates of the Caribbean was next on the agenda. Having heard that the Magic Kingdom version is widely considered disappointing compared to the Disneyland version, I literally walked onto the ride with lowered expectations. I thought it was pretty good — this biggest loss being the atmospheric intro via the Blue Bayou on the DL version. This was a huge loss since it bridges the gap between the real world and the pirate world. WDW’s Pirates also seemed shorter, but the scenes are presented in an order that makes more narrative sense. The Jack Sparrow audio-animatronic figures were impressive, but it bothered me that there were more than one. For some reason, I always thought of PotC as being a journey through several scenes taking place simultaneously, and having multiple Jacks popping up spoils the illusion. After the ride was over, we had a bathroom break and I took some photos of the great Spanish-style theming around Adventureland.

Further exploring Adventureland, we went over to the Swiss Family Treehouse. That’s one of the great things about the Magic Kingdom — some of the rides haven’t been updated in years! I enjoyed climbing through the unsullied treehouse (even as an adult, it’s fun). That in mind, we avoided the Tiki Room, now updated dumbed-down as The Tiki Room: Under New Management. I can’t stand the thought of my beloved Tiki birds having to deal with obnoxious newer birds. After the treehouse, we went over to check out the hoary old Jungle Cruise. It was another walk-on. This was relaxing and enjoyable, even if our skipper seemed on the blasé side. I liked the addition of a small dark part missing from the DL version. The Kiliminjaro Safari in Animal Kingdom, however, has rendered this quaint boat ride irrelevant.

It was getting time to head down to Splash Mountain and take advantage of our Fastpasses. We only had to wait in line for about five minutes. No matter where it’s located, this is one of my favorite Disney rides. It combines classic “Dark Ride” storytelling and log flume thrills so skillfully that one can enjoy it multiple times. This WDW version didn’t seem dramatically different from the DL version, with maybe not as many scenes containing audio-animatronic critters. It is better placed within the park, and for that reason alone I’d give it an edge over Disneyland’s.

Since the park was considerably less busy than I anticipated, we threw away the touring plan at this point and decided to truck over to Tomorrowland and get Fastpasses for the Buzz Lightyear ride (something I didn’t plan to go on). That done, we stopped in the hub and snapped some gorgeous shots of the Castle at midday. My parents were getting hungry, so we stopped for some hot dogs and fudge in Frontierland before riding on some of the less popular attractions. I wanted to check out the old Country Bear Jamboree, an attraction that hasn’t been in Disneyland since 2001. My parents and I have many nostalgic memories of this particular one, so it was a bit heartwarming to find the original still going — albeit a bit threadbare — in WDW. I even bought a souvenir pressed penny there.

I think at this point (around noon or so), the park was at its capacity. We ducked away from the crowds in the nearby Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square. This is another moldy oldie of an attraction, but I enjoyed it in all its patriotic earnestness. Basically its more like a Presidential Roll Call with speeches only by Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush. I loved noticing how some of the audio-animatronic presidents on display would keep moving or reacting even when the spotlight wasn’t on them (for some reason Ronald Reagan’s tapping toe stood out for me). That stage is getting awfully crowded — where will they put the next president, out in the audience? We also took a tour of the river in the Liberty Belle Riverboat, where I saw several fake deer and moose and a real alligator.

Yep, I’ve been going on too long on this baby — next time I will write about the conclusion to our Magic Kingdom day.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Flickr Montage

2 Thoughts on “WDW Day Three: The Magic Kingdom Pt. 1

  1. John H. on May 10, 2008 at 12:44 am said:

    These pictures are amazing — your enthusiasm is palpable in them. They take me back to how I felt when my family and I visited WDW at Christmas of ’82. Epcot was new and it was so exciting. I so want to go back again.

  2. Thanks, John. If you go back you’ll find a very different Epcot from the ’82 version!

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