Going to Walt Disney World for the first time or for the first time in a long time can be quite intimidating. Many save up for years and years for their trips, hoping to squeeze in as much as they can into the span of a few days. After months of planning (or maybe no planning at all), guests arrive and can become completely overwhelmed due to the great expanse of the resort property, unable to fit in all of their must-dos.
What is a guest to do?
As someone who has visited Walt Disney World numerous times over the past 28 years, and as someone who grew up during the age of the Internet, spending countless hours watching park videos on YouTube, reading blogs, playing with GoogleEarth, and looking at photo galleries of the parks and resorts, Walt Disney World has become a second home to me. While I still need to use the road signs to navigate how to get to the different resorts or parks (because let's face it--navigating the roads of Disney World can be pretty confusing), drop me into the theme parks and I could get you to where you want to go no problem, without the use of a park map. I remember when I was in high school, sitting on the bus with a kid from down the street and literally listing off for him, land by land, each of the attractions in the Magic Kingdom. I know, I know...it's a gift..and a curse...
Not everyone is an idiot savant like me, though. So for those of you who haven't been before, don't go very often, or don't go often enough to please you (like me), here is one of my tips and tricks to getting the most out of your time at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
Navigating the Magic Kingdom
The Magic Kingdom is the smallest of the four Walt Disney World parks, but can also be confusing due to the different lands that make up the park. Growing up, when we would travel to the Magic Kingdom, my parents always experienced the park differently than the rest of the guests and I never quite understood why: upon entering the park and arriving at the hub from Main Street, USA, we would always turn left, past the Crystal Palace and cross the arched bridge into Adventureland. This was somewhat backwards, although I didn't know it at the time, because the majority of guests, upon arriving at the hub, turn to the right and pass through the Tomorrowland Noodle Station into Tomorrowland. We would then experience the park "backwards," moving in a counter-clockwise fashion from Adventureland, into Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, Mickey's Toontown Fair, and ending up in Tomorrowland to finish off our afternoon before doing it all again in the dark of the evening.
This is actually backwards, not only in the American train of thought, but also in terms of how Imagineers designed the park.You see, the Magic Kingdom can actually be experienced as a trip through history, if guests move through the lands in a counter clockwise fashion (and bypass Tomorrowland). The trip through western history begins in Fantasyland, which is depicted as a European feudal village. The Enchanted Forest stands on the outskirts of the castle walls with a nearby kingdoms ruled from Beast's and Prince Eric's castles off in the distance. A family of dwarfs live in the center of the forest, mining diamonds as their income. However, enter the walls of the fortified city and you find yourself in late-medieval Europe where a festival is occurring. During the later years of the middle ages, (1200s-1400s), it had become very expensive for kings to pay feudal lords to defend the kingdom, as these warrior lords, known as knights, wanted increasing amounts of land and power in return for their military service. As a result, monarchs began to look outside the kingdom for paid mercenaries and internally at a conscripted peasant army to defend their landholdings. As a result, the aristocracy of Europe no longer had a purpose and instead used their fighting skills, such as jousting and horse riding, as well as their artistic abilities (gained from a lot of sitting around and doing nothing) to participate in festivals and tournaments. As a result, as guests wander through Fantasyland, they find themselves in the midst of a medieval village enjoying a late medieval festival, complete with tournament tents and experiences located along the castle wall. As guests wander westward through Fantasyland, they find themselves passing under an overpass a part of the Columbia Harbor House and are immediately transported into Liberty Square. The theming of this area is reminiscent of early New England, shortly after European colonists set up towns on the shores of North America. However, as guests continue west, they also move through history as the building facades subtly change into those from the 1700s. The House of Burgesses and Independence Hall stand on the left, signaling the start of a movement toward separation of the colonies from their British monarch, culminating in the village square, where a series of flags representing the new states, a Liberty Tree holding thirteen lanterns, and the Liberty Bell representing freedom, all stand, symbolizing the creation of a new nation. Continuing through Liberty Square, guests come upon the Rivers of America and the steamship, representing a push westward through Manifest Destiny, America expanding toward the western unknown. As guests stroll (or push their strollers) forward, they cross a small bridge beneath which runs a (usually) unnoticed waterway, signifying the crossing of the Mississippi River into the western territories of America, Frontierland. The buildings become more rough, the landscape more dusty, as guests continue through Frontierland, until they arrive at Big Thunder Mountain, where prospectors are mining for precious metals, something that occurred in parts of the United States like California, the Dakotas, and Nevada during the mid-nineteenth century. As the path turns southwest, guests pass into Adventureland, signifying the move America took southwest geographically into places like Mexico, Hawaii, and other Pacific locations during the latter years of the 19th century. Finally, as guests pass over the bridge from Adventureland back into the hub of the Magic Kingdom, they find themselves headed out of the park onto Main Street USA, a turn-of-the-century town during the Victorian Era of the late 1800s into the early years of the 1900s. Guests who then want to continue back up Main Street and into Tomorrowland can continue the story of history, into the future that was imagined and inspired by visionaries like HG Wells and Jules Verne.
While thematically and story-wise this journey through the Magic Kingdom makes the most sense, I've always found that going into the park in the morning actually slows my day down if I experience it in a counter-clockwise fashion. Most guests rush over to Space Mountain in Tomorrowland or the Fantasyland attractions such as Peter Pan's Flight or Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, while others simply head to the right because of the tendency to head right in America based on the hand most write with or the fact we drive on the right side of the road. This means that during the morning hours until about noon, the east half of the park (Tomorrowland, Storybook Circus, Fantasyland) are generally more busy, while the west side of the park (Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square) are generally less so (save for Splash or Big Thunder Mountains). As a result, I've found that I can get in some of my favorite attractions early without much of a wait, such as the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion, prior to enjoying my lunch at Pecos Bill's around 11:30. This then gives me the majority of my day to wait in line in Fantasyland and Tomorrowland for some of the more popular attractions before park closing.
This has generally been my experience. As a teacher, I usually travel during the peak times in the summer, and his is the philosophy I've generally taken on trips with my whole family and those with just my wife. However, I'm sure there are days where this would not work as well, such as the busiest days of the year.
Hopefully this helps someone!