I’ve been lucky. Of the many times we’ve been to Disney World, I’ve only ever had a single day for our trip once.
But since we’d been before, we didn’t feel a lot of pressure to tackle everything in the park. We had a couple of must-do experiences and the rest we left to fate.
I think it would be hard if your first trip to Disney was limited to a single day. The planning and the prioritization would be difficult to conquer.
For instance, is the fireworks show worth it? Or should I spend that time while everyone else is gawking at the sky trying to tackle the rides whose queues were too long earlier in the day?
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Why is Magic Kingdom so popular?
Let’s start with this: The Walt Disney World people are excellent at what they do. The Magic Kingdom may be the only theme park I’d pay to observe the behind-the-scenes operations.
Compared to the other theme parks I’ve visited, the Magic Kingdom customer service goes above and beyond. The science behind park operations is top-notch.
I understand that the Disney experience isn’t for everyone and you can always find guests who seem bound and determined to have a bad vacation just to prove the point.
But in my experience, if you go with an open heart and mind, your ticket to the Magic Kingdom will get you more than your money’s worth.
But it goes beyond excellence in park operations. Ultimately, Disney is in the nostalgia business.
Whether it’s classic attractions like Space Mountain or Haunted Mansion or a connection to Mickey Mouse and friends from your childhood, stepping through the gates of the Magic Kingdom is like taking a dip in the fountain of youth.
It’s the shared experience of generations of my family passed down from my grandparents to my children through me. I can tell them about riding Small World with my Nanny and Papaw back in 1979 when I was 5 and how we’ve done it again with each of them when they turned 5.
Soaring with Dumbo or over the rooftops of London on Peter Pan’s Flight is more than a fun ride, it’s the closest I’ll ever come to time travel. For that five minutes on the Pirates of the Caribbean, I get to remember what it was like to be the little boy afraid of the drop while my son held tight to my arm trying to overcome the same fear.
Disney is a cultural touchstone that connects many people to their childhood memories or family memories over generations.
And you know, even if you don’t have all those connections, it’s still pretty fun.
Can Magic Kingdom be done in one day?
My gut reaction is no, I generally prefer two days. However, if you simply don’t have the days, then the answer is what you make it.
The Magic Kingdom is quite a lot to do in a day and there comes a point when you push too hard that the day becomes more about the race from attraction to attraction than the experience.
Still, you can make choices. Do you have to see the Enchanted Tiki Room? In my case, yes. Do I want to wait 90 minutes to ride the Jungle Cruise? In my case, no.
Do you have small kids? Then Fantasyland and the princesses are going to be a big part of your day.
Are we doing character meet and greets? That will take a bit out of your day as well.
Do your kids not care a bit for the Hundred Acre Wood? Maybe you can skip the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and focus on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad or Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.
If your definition of doing the Magic Kingdom is to hit all or most of the experiences, then a single day won’t be enough.
If your definition is to catch the most popular attractions and the general gist of everything else, it will be all right.
I’ve got one day in the Magic Kingdom. What are things I shouldn’t skip?
Here’s our Magic Kingdom must do list:
6. Try a Cheeseburger Spring Roll
Located at a food cart at the entrance to Adventureland is one of the great culinary treats in the Walt Disney World Resort: the Cheeseburger Spring Roll. It has to be done.
5. Get Disney Genie+
At the Magic Kingdom, the Disney Genie+ is preferable to the Individual Lightning Lane. For a cost of about $25 per person (the prices change depending on the day) Disney Genie+ lets you use the My Disney Experience app to select two or three rides to skip the line once.
Pick rides with longer wait times like Peter Pan, the Jungle Cruise or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
You can also pay for an Individual Lightning Lane – at a separate cost – that allows you to ride one specific ride a single time.
There will be heavy competition, but if you can make the purchase for Tron – when it opens this spring – that’s something you definitely want to do.
4. Experience a character meet and greet
You can meet Mickey or Tinkerbell at the Town Square Theater or some of the princesses like Tiana or Cinderella at the Princess Fairytale Hall.
Also, Pete’s Silly Sideshow has reopened in the Storybook Circus part of Fantasyland. There you can meet Donald, Daisy, Goofy and Minnie.
3. Watch a parade
In 1979, I was mesmerized by the Main Street Electrical Parade. Over the decades since, my kids have all loved each and every Disney parade they’ve seen.
It’s worth it to get to Main Street early to claim a spot. But each of the parades begins over in Frontierland and moves through Liberty Square.
You can often find good spots in those areas without having to wait as long for the parade to arrive.
2. Watch for ticketed special events
Disney has seasonal events based on Halloween and Christmas as well as the famous Disney After Hours.
A Disney After Hours ticketed event gets you into the park a few hours after closing.
You get free snacks and can ride many of the most popular rides without having to get in a line at all.
The events may not line up with your Disney day. But if they do, it’s certainly worth reexamining your game plan.
1. Watch the fireworks at the castle
It’s not called the Magic Kingdom for nothing. This is where the magic is.
Fireworks are generally awesome and good fireworks are extremely awesome. Throw in an iconic fairy tale castle and seamless projections of dozens of the most popular characters in cinema history along with some of the truly great songs in movie history.
The last time we went to Disney, we invited another family to join us, a dad and his teenage girls.
It was their first trip to Disney and the younger of the two – who was almost 16 – had dreamed of seeing fireworks at the castle since she was a small child.
My family is lucky. We’ve been many times. I’ve watched the fireworks at Cinderella Castle more times than I could count over the decades.
The night I got to see them again through fresh eyes – through her – was something akin to seeing them again for the first time. When she teared up, so did I.
So, are the Magic Kingdom fireworks worth it?
What can I skip at the Magic Kingdom?
Keep in mind, these are things you don’t want to do if you only have a single day in the Magic Kingdom.
It’s not that these experiences are bad, it’s just that there are better ways to use your time.
5. Don’t waste your Genie+ selections
Don’t waste your selections on rides with traditionally shorter queues.
This includes the Mad Tea Party, It’s a Small World, Magic Carpets of Aladdin or Journey of the Little Mermaid or even Tomorrowland Speedway.
These typically have manageable wait times. Therefore, if you plan your day accordingly, you can get these done without using your precious pass.
4. Don’t go to the Hall of Presidents
Look, back when the park opened 51 years ago, animatronics that could speak and move and mimic the real presidents, this was the coolest.
Today, it’s an excuse to get into the air conditioning but at the risk of some jackanapes turning the whole thing into an exhausting political expression by booing or cheering for a particular president or two.
3. Skip Mickey’s Philharmagic
I really can’t believe Disney uses precious Fantasyland real estate for this.
Bring back Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride or the old Snow White’s Enchanted Wish. The magic of 3D doesn’t really do it for me anymore.
The air conditioning, however, is lovely.
2. Don’t wait long to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
The ride vehicles are uncomfortable, the queues are usually very long and the ride itself is very short.
There’s some cool stuff with the dwarves singing in the mine and the loop as you go around and you get a view of the castle.
However, if you have limited park time, there are other places where you can get more bang for your buck.
1. Don’t wait too long to get there
The best time to get real damage done in the park is at the rope drop. Early crowds are really focused on Fantasyland. Often, you can get more done in the first couple of hours than you can the rest of the day.
You want to open and close the Magic Kingdom. So if that means you need to take a break in the middle of the day, so be it.
If you’re staying on-site at the park, you can ride back to your resort to relax.
Otherwise, take a few relaxing laps on the monorail and rest for a bit in the air conditioning as you circle around through the Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian resort stops.
Why is Magic Kingdom sold out?
Coming out of the closing of the park, Disney instituted a reservation system.
This meant that in addition to park tickets, you had to have reservations that specified if you were going to the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT or Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s possible for capacity to reach its limit.
Why do they need the reservation system?
While the capacity of the park is reportedly 90,000 people, park operations have discovered optimum levels to keep crowd flow moving. Disney doesn’t want its guests standing in line.
First of all, it’s a bummer for the experience. But also, guests who spend two hours in standby lines for the most popular rides like Rise of the Resistance or Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind are not spending those hours buying popcorn, ice cream, drinks or merch.
Disney wants its guests to be mobile and happy. So on some of the most popular days of the year, you might see the park is at capacity.
Will the reservation system stay in place?
It’s hard to say. With the change in Disney leadership the system – which has proven unpopular with guests – may go away, but that doesn’t mean the park will no longer reach capacity.
It does mean that some late-arriving guests may be in for a surprise and forced to alter plans at the final minutes.
Do you think visiting the Magic Kingdom is worth it? Let us know in the comments!