Sep 1, 2012

The Magic Kingdom

This was my third trip to the castle.

The first was with my family growing up.  The three of us kids fought like honey badgers in the back of the station wagon for 1,200 miles from Iowa to Florida.  Dad was a factory worker, mom stayed home with us, so cash wasn't exactly raining down.  We did Disney, but camped in a tent at night and ate baloney sandwiches for lunch out of a cooler in the parking lot.

Vacation was the one time of the year we could eat sugary cereal for breakfast and drink pop at lunch.  We didn't do Coke or Sprite.  Too expensive, so mom bought the store-brand generic colas, drinks named Diet Dr. Thunder and Hee Haw.  If we didn't feel poor before, we did after sipping caffeinated beverages named after hillbillies.

I must have been too old for Disney that first visit, spent more time trying to figure out how the animatronics on the rides were engineered than feeling the magic.

The second trip to Disney was on the honeymoon.  It was okay, but not great.  Something was missing.

This third time was different.  The Magic Kingdom is complete and only sings when you bring a kid.  I'll share how this one went down.

If you're lazy and don't want to blow time reading, just watch the video and be done with it:

The shuttle bus from Pop Century to Magic Kingdom was a heap of humans.  Compared to the easy crowds of Epcot, this day was going to hurt.  Crowds kill vacation.

There was direct butt-to-butt (B2B) contact with a stranger on the bus, yuck.

Let Us In
We stepped out at 8:45 am, just in time for Mickey and friends to chug in and high-five us at the opening ceremony.  A restored antique steam train done right, Walt didn't cut corners.  I learned the trains at Disneyland in CA burn discarded cooking oil from the park fryers and smell of French fries.

The gate race felt like the opening mile of the Chicago Marathon.  A thousand-pack of people gunned past the blue-coned castle towards the tail end of the park.

Yes, man in white shirt, we're Iowans

We laid skidmarks towards Fantasyland for Peter Pan's Flight.  TripAdvisor gave it thumbs up and suggested loading early since it queues up quickly.  We rode it and shrugged.  Like Epcot's Soarin', it was another fail that the masses misdiagnosed as a winner.  I may have spotted Pigtails stealing an in-flight snooze.

The two girls ganged up and drug me to It's a Small World, the redemption was next door at Mickey's PhilharMagic.  Ten minutes of 3D eye candy as The Duck wrecked havoc in tune with Disney's most famous songs and animation.

The back acres of Disney are under construction to double the size of Fantasyland.  Let's hope a backhoe accidentally razes It's a Small World during the reno'.

We trotted over to Tomorrowland Speedway.  I was pleased to see the old gas cars are still puttering.  Most amusement parks have done away with these high maintenance rides.  Daughter was excited, in her words, "to drive a real car for the first time."  Pigtails was drunk at the wheel, seesawing the steering in an attempt to square the wheels between the center rail.  Her skill level was equal to a teen driving with iPhone in hand or an 80-year-old crocheting an afghan at the wheel.  Gift shops should sell whiplash neck donuts, Curls needed one.

Don't miss this one, we had fun.

Next we did Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, a digital interactive laughfest with Mike and friends.  Guests can text jokes to Mike beforehand, he runs a few of them during the show.  He had everyone smiling, recommended by B&P!

Space Mountain is compelling not for raw speed or hill plunge (taps out at 28mph), rather because most of it twists through the black.  You can't see the track ahead...try bracing for what you think is a coming right turn and BAM! banks left.  We did a FastPass to get through in 10 rather than 50 minutes.  With a little planning and befriending FastPasses, we didn't have to wait in line more than 15 or 20 minutes for any ride.

Pigtails wanted to ride Tommorrowland's PeopleMover.  It was a relaxing 10-minute loop that removed a load from our legs, moving briskly enough to cool us with breeze while boomeranging inside several rides, including Space Mountain.

Lunch at Pecos Bill
Stuffing the pie-hole at 11:30 means no standing in line.  If you lunch at noon, the line will be 20 people deep by then.  Works for dinner too, ready your forks by 5:30 pm and it's smooth sailing and lineless.

We ate at Pecos Bill Tall Tall Inn & Cafe, located near Frontierland.  Three of us split a veggie burger and fries, chicken Caesar wrap, apple wedges, large Coke and two waters for $18.  The veg' patty was excellent:  moist, flavorful and healthy.  The wrap was average, Coke was a good deal as far as Disney prices go:  $2.50 for 32 oz. (I was expecting $4+).

Taco salad was a popular choice, but the ravenous build-your-own topping bar was dangerous.  Reminded me of hungry koi fish fighting over dog food at the local zoo.

We nabbed a FastPass to Thunder Mountain before eating, timing it so we could step in line for a 5-minute wait by the time we put down our napkins.  We also had Splash Mountain turbo passes on standby, which stunted the line from an hour to minutes.

The Magic Kingdom has a crowd problem.  The intersection of Thunder and Splash Mountain is particularly chaotic.  While Disney commercials make you believe it'll be just your family and the happy rodent, the truth is you'll be smacked with 95 degrees and strangers sliding hot greasy arms against you .  This is why we only do a day at the Kingdom.  Where's the magic?

Tom Sawyer Island
I muttered in the middle of the above melee, "Forget this, let's find some quiet."  We had to hunt a little, but finally broke from the crowd for some peace at Tom Sawyer Island.  There's really nothing to do on the tiny island, but getting away from others was good enough for me.

Snack and Stroll

Mmm...appetizing, a glass box of slimy giant bird legs

TripAdvisor said the #1 gotta have-it treat at MK is a pineapple Dole Whip from the Aloha Isle stand.  The first time we did recon', a line snaked around the corner so we kept scooting.  Returned an hour later to scoop one up after the afternoon showers cleaned out the line.  The reviews where spot-on and not over-hyped:  this non-dairy, natural pineapple frozen treat was clean, refreshing and went down just right.

The Hot Poncho
While enjoying our treat, I noticed many people sporting pink plastic rain ponchos.  They didn't want to melt from the 1/1000 of an inch of wet that falls each day at 3:00 pm.  Something about wearing hot plastic on a humid day seemed off to me.  To cope with the silliness of it, I invented a new dance move call The Hot Poncho.

Whenever I'd see a pink poncho with legs striding by, I'd drape my body over Pigtails, blow hot breath on her head to simulate the steam/heat of being covered in unbearable plastic, then dance around yelling HOT PONCHO!  Curls laughed, so I moved over to her, wrapped sweaty limbs and huffed air to give her The Hot Poncho treatment. 

Next to the Dole stand is the Swiss Family Treehouse.  We climbed up and thought Disney looks like a tropical jungle from up top.  I'm not sure what crazy island the Swiss' landed on, 'cause their tree is made of concrete.

The Adventureland area was a little sluggish, Pirates of the Caribbean made for solid nap time.  I don't know how Disney manages to make robots dressed as pirates boring, but they do.  One of the robo-pirate's eyes was stuck shut, looked like it was trying to flirt more than kill us.  The Jungle Cruise yielded another yawner, made tolerable by a funny boat guide.

Dinner at the House
We walked over to Libertyville's Columbia Harbour House to do fish and chips.  Shared two orders and the counter tossed in a free fish fillet for Pigtails.  Stuck with water and the 3 of us dined for $16, nice.  Quality is similar to what you'd expect at Long John's.

Sun giving up, we rode Goofy's kiddy coaster near sundown, Pigtails thought she was taming the Millennium Force or something.


Strolled Main Street USA, girls spun cotton candy and me a plain latte.

A princesses trifecta was hanging in the Town Square Theater.  Jackpot.

The moon rose, which meant the eParade was ready to go.  Area thick with people, balmy and legs shot from 12 hours of walking.

The Best Part
My favorite thing about the Magic Kingdom has nothing to do with the rides or shows.  The gold star goes to the immaculate grounds and attention to detail of everything in the park.  Disney doesn't pave with regular old grass, but uses golf course quality bentgrass (expensive).  Every one of the thousands of shrubs and trees are carefully shaped and groomed.

The sidewalks are power-washed clean, you don't see chipped paint or litter on the ground anywhere.  The princesses have no tan lines, the street sweepers are friendly and high-five the kids.  I didn't see a burnt light bulb anywhere or frown from any employee.  Disney deploys an army of well trained workers to stay ahead of sloppy guests so everything is mint. 

This was reinforced as we stood in line for the shuttle back to the hotel.  10:00 pm and out of the park in the bus loading zone, we saw a Disney worker on his knees spraying a trash bin with degreaser and scraping off a small wad of Hubba Bubba.

You're unlikely to find another park in the world that will spend the time and money needed to take guests away from the grime of reality to a clean world of imagination.  Walt (OC)D. would be proud.

Magic Kingdom QuickReview:
+ The park is immaculate, not a cig' butt or untrimmed bush anywhere
+ Enough rides and shows to make all ages skip
+ Food was a better value than I expected
+ Our favorites:  Space Mountain, Mickey's PhilharMagic, Monsters Inc., Tomorrowland cars, Thunder Mountain, Frozen Dole Whips and the LED techno parade
- Entry fee is painful
- Horrific crowds trample the magic
- Despite positive reviews, several of the rides are sleeping pills:  It's a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Peter Pan's Flight and more
Magic Kingdom Final Score:  3.5 (4.0 sans smelly crowd)



  1. Kiera B9/01/2012

    Your review of the MK is spot on. I told everyone that leaving the park was similar to the varrazano bridge on marathon day but instead of 30K physically fit people all heading in the same direction- its a sea of fanny packs heading for 15 busses, 3 ferries and thousands of cars. I'm glad that you made do and enjoyed your day. Pigtails has the brightest, most sparkley, 'life is awesome' eyes- so it must be fun to help them light up. Looking forward to seeing more of your trip in future posts.

    1. Ha, like Chicago or NY 'thon, but with Hush Puppies sneaks rather than a set of Saucony Kinvaras.

  2. Great Review! Love Curls, so pretty :) Time for another guest post from her??? :):)

    1. Aw, why thank you, CIH! :) I'm working on another installment, to be posted in the near future...

    2. Agree, time to get on it, Curls!

  3. Pretty good review. Guess you missed the Haunted Mansion? That's always a fun one. My 6 year old boy LOVES pirates so he was crazy about the ride. . didn't you notice the excellent Jack Sparrows sprinkled throughout the ride? (they were very realistic looking). We did 2 days at the kingdom but I'd only do one next time we go (it is more crowded than the other parks and not nearly as much fun). I know you didn't go to Hollywood or the Animal Park but their rides are way more fun/interesting than Kingdom or Epcot (although I still love Soarin'). Next time you'll have to check them out. And I agree - the immaculate grounds, attention to detail and extremely happy/helpful employees makes Disney a stand out. We did a week with 5 adults and 6 kids (2 of which were infants) and it was an amazing trip.

    1. We did the Haunted Mansion, here's how it went down:

      FastPass not allowed, so we checked the line sign, it said 45 minutes. Forget that, so we came back later and was down to 30 min, pulled the trigger. Real wait was about 20 minutes, Disney pads the queue time so it ends up being less than what sign says. Got inside the ride, first part where they cram you in a room reminded me of an oversized thigh being jammed into too-small pantyhose. Too many people in the room, employee couldn't close the door, so the illusion where supposed to look like floor is dropping was ruined since back door was open and we could tell we weren't actually moving. Don't remember much from that point on, other than we liked the finish where the holographic ghosts are "flying in your lap" as you look in mirror.

      I'd like to go back sometime and do Hollywood and Animal Kingdom, we'll see.

  4. Just for the record...

    ...after faithfully stalking the Disney Mobile Magic app (for weeks!) to determine which ride queues had the longest lines, I convinced Beard and Pigtails that the minute we stepped into Epcot, we were to hang right and dart straight to Soarin' to beat the crowds. I was excited and had shared this "grand plan" for weeks, which in turn raised expectations for all. While B&P may not have put it at the top of their list, I loved it! While it's not the most thrilling ride in the park, I give Disney kudos for providing a unique experience - part ride, part movie. Can I just add that our wait for this one was a mere 2-min - spot on with the planning, Curls (whoop, whoop)!

    1. I'm not hating on Soarin', just thought it was limp compared to the reviews. Disney skimped and didn't do it in HD, appeared to have been filmed by one of those enormous circa 1983 shoulder-mounted VHS camcorders.

  5. There's nothing like seeing Disney with a kid that's there for the first time. We're lucky that we live here and can hit the park when it's not that busy. Last year we went the 2nd week of September and it was perfect.

    I completely agree about the Disney employees. I know a lot of people that have worked there. Even if they have days that they are bored or annoyed with the crowds, they never let it show while on the job.

    1. I read about the stealth suite hiding in Cinderella's Castle and Club 33 at Disneyland. Little Miss, keep those Disney connections going so you can hook me up with one of those. Either will work fine, I'm not picky.

  6. Great review! We used to go in the summer when I was growing up and I remember the crowds (and heat) being horrible. Now we go in January to run the marathon as a fundraiser for SLOS (my son's syndrome,) and it's wonderful then. Temperature is great and it's not super, super crowded. I think after spoiling myself with FL in January I'm going to have a hard time braving it in the summer. However, no matter when you go (like you said) the parks are immaculate and employees are great! Disney knows what they're doing as far as that goes!

    1. Disney + January + Marathon + Fit Crowd + Asics GT 2160s = Yes please.

      Readers, jump over to MH's beautiful family and blog.


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