I want to give you what I’ve had: The best dang Disney vacation possible.
Below you’ll find a list of my best suggestions on the things you “must do” at Disney.
But, I also know that some of my personal favorite memories weren’t on anybody’s must-do list. They arose in a moment of spontaneity and serendipity. There’s certainly no amount of planning or preparation that can make those things happen for you.
Of course, some moments were planned, such as a character dining experience or sharing a favorite attraction with friends and family.
So what are the must-dos at Disney? Just figure out a way to enjoy as much of it as you can. Soak it in and be in the moment. That’s when the magic really happens. With that said, here are my best Magic Kingdom tips:
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18. Get dining reservations
If you want to have a table dining or character dining experience, you want to have a reservation.
We’ve had wonderful meals and experiences at Crystal Palace with Winnie the Pooh and the characters from the Hundred Acre Wood.
But I think Cinderella’s Royal Table is the best character dining in the park.
When making a reservation, remember that if your time in the Magic Kingdom theme park is limited to a day and you don’t think your kids will need the extended mealtime rest, consider doing your character dining outside the park at one of the Disney resorts.
There are different ways to bring Mickey and some version of his friends right to your table.
Having an experience outside the park – and eating at quick service restaurants inside the park – preserves your in-park time at Walt Disney World for exploring attractions, shows, parades and more.
As a final note, if you have a meal planned with the main mouse, you don’t have to dedicate park time to waiting in the queue to meet him again.
Still, if you have more than one day in the Magic Kingdom, you’ve got more time to relax and try the in-park table service restaurants.
17. Use the app to know which rides to target
If you go by wait times using your My Disney Experience app, you might target the rides that garner most of your time. These include rides like Peter Pan’s Flight, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Jungle Cruise.
Obviously, get your Virtual Queue or your Individual Lightning Lane for Tron. Doing that early will help dictate where you go as well.
For instance, if your Tron time is close to the park opening, it makes sense to head that way at opening time and do as much damage as you can before and after your Tron experience.
Overall, if you’re going for the experience, my suggestion is to target parts of the park where you can get a lot done in a little time.
My family’s basic strategy is to hit Fantasyland and Tomorrowland hard early on. Then, we get a quick-service lunch, catch a couple of parades and wing it from there until it’s time for the fireworks.
16. Explore Main Street U.S.A.
For years, I saw Main Street U.S.A. as a preamble, something to get through before the real magic starts. Sure, there were some cool character meets and a few nice shops. But other than Casey’s, I didn’t really have much use for Main Street.
However, I’ve matured.
I’m still not big on shopping in the park. The idea of paying someone to allow me to visit their shops seems antithetical to what I’m there to do.
However, all the little Easter eggs and hidden Mickeys are fun as are a lot of the extra touches in and around the shops.
If you can, take a little time for Main Street.
15. Get the Cheeseburger Spring Rolls
Located in a cart near the entrance to Adventureland is one of Disney’s culinary delights: Cheeseburger Spring Rolls.
What are they? They are spring rolls filled with all the stuff you’d expect in a cheeseburger. Does it sound great? No. Are they great? Yes.
14. Go to a special event
Look, I hesitate to call this a “must” because it is only seasonally available.
But if you have the opportunity and the means to purchase tickets to one of the special events such as Christmas, the Not-so-Scary Halloween Party or an extended evening hours event, then it is a must-do.
Getting access to the park when it is less crowded and/or specially themed is one of the true gifts at the Walt Disney World Resort.
If you’ve ever randomly been in the park on a light day, which doesn’t happen much anymore, you know the joy of a lightly crowded Magic Kingdom.
It’s like the perfect day of golf or fishing. It’s a story you share for the rest of your life.
13. Approach the Magic Kingdom by land and by sea
It’s convenient, but not overly romantic.
Recently, however, we’ve stayed off-property and used the transportation center. We occasionally used the ferry boat and sometimes used the monorail. Both are superior modes of transportation to build the proper sense of magic and romance as you arrive at the park.
However, if you’re leaving the Magic Kingdom, take the ferry and watch everything fades quietly into the distance.
12. Skip Genie+
Time is of the essence.
In my opinion, the Magic Kingdom is the park in which Genie+ and the Individual Lightning Lane are the least essential. Do you want to ride Tron? Sure, pay for the Individual Lightning Lane. But you’ve got a pretty good chance at getting on without paying extra for the Virtual Queue.
As for the Genie+, the Magic Kingdom has several rides that ALWAYS have long wait times. If you can get one for those rides, it’s probably worth it.
But the problem, I think, is that the rides with the longest wait times are among the least essential in the park. Personally, I save my Disney Genie+ money for Hollywood Studios, EPCOT and Animal Kingdom. I think those parks are where you really need it.
11. Eat at Casey’s Corner
Casey’s is classic Americana with its baseball-theming and pin-striped piano player out front.
Not only was this my son’s favorite food when he was little, he thought Mickey’s name was “Hot Dog” thanks to the Mickey Mouse Club House theme song. But Casey’s is a theme park classic that Walt Disney himself insisted be in the park.
10. Get window seats at the Pinocchio Haus
There are a handful of tables in this quick-service restaurant that overlook the ride load and exit. The tables have a handful of signs for you to show the riders to try and get them to respond and the kids like to amuse themselves trying to get rider reactions doing things like the YMCA.
On our last trip, my kids took it a step further, waving their arms akimbo and swaying like one of those balloon men they use to attract attention at used car dealerships.
With each reaction, the silliness level at our table ratcheted up a notch until we were all in tears. My son went so hard that he banged his head on one of the restaurant’s sturdy wooden chairbacks and barely slowed down.
Maybe your family isn’t as silly as mine, but that 10 or 15 minutes of silliness will stay with us for the rest of our lives.
9. Get a Dole Whip
There aren’t enough perfect things in this world. Almost everything has a flaw if you look for it. But Dole Whip? It’s perfection.
8. Ride the PeopleMover
This is a throwaway attraction, really.
It’s an excuse to get in, sit down and ride without much of a wait time. But I come back for the views, man.
You get to see the park from an elevated position while whisking around on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, enjoying the slight breeze and shade. It’s frequently overlooked.
7. Go to the Tiki Room
I like the time machine quality of attractions like the Hall of Presidents, the Tiki Room and the Country Bear Jamboree.
Fifty years ago, these animatronics were mind-blowing to the first generation of Disney guests. I picture men in fedora hats and kids in Keds sneakers who were unable to wrap their minds around Abe Lincoln speaking to them.
I like the Tiki Room best because I think it’s the best show. The songs are great and the dad jokes hold up well. Also, the air conditioning is great, and you can step right out and join the queue for a Dole Whip.
We did catch the show when they switched up with the unpopular “Under New Management” version of the Tiki Room with Iago and Zazu. I didn’t dislike it. I’m a sucker for Gilbert Gottfried. But I’m glad they brought the original back.
6. Get the turkey leg
For years, I heard about the wonders of the Magic Kingdom turkey leg and resisted. What, I’m going to walk around the park eating a massive turkey leg off the bone like a caveman? What is this, a Renaissance fair?
Then, I broke down and tried one. Holy heck, these things are good.
Then I read about the absolute LEGEND mom who brings a loaf of white bread to the park, orders a single turkey leg, and feeds her whole family fantastic turkey sandwiches.
It’s 2023 and this mom is living in the 2100s.
5. See a parade
Disney does parades well. The Disney Festival of Fantasy parade, which runs multiple times a day, might be their best yet. It features dozens of characters on themed floats and a Small World-level earworm that will get caught in your brain.
Plus, there’s a fire-breathing Maleficent Dragon that is an impressive bit of machinery. Overall, the Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade is fantastic.
Still, I’m hoping the Main Street Electric Parade makes its return to Walt Disney World at some point. Sure, it’s cheesy. But it’s the right mix of nostalgia and entertainment.
Plus, I loved it as a kid and got to share it with my oldest daughter several times. For now, the younger two saw it in its last season, but I don’t think they remember it all.
I want Pete to say hello to them from atop Elliot the Dragon just as he did to me when I was a kid.
4. Ride Tron
The Magic Kingdom was in desperate need of more thrilling rides for teens and adults. They rolled out the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but it was mediocre at best.
But Tron? It creates a much-needed fresh attraction in Tomorrowland that provides legitimate thrills and at least competes with the best rides at the other parks.
Is it as good as Rise of the Resistance, Flight of the Avatar or Guardians of the Galaxy? No. But it represents a massive step forward in ride quality.
For years, the Magic Kingdom’s chief attraction other than pure nostalgia was the quantity of rides. Tron is a significant step forward in quality.
3. Interact with some characters
On her first visit to Disney, we walked my daughter Sofia right through the Cinderella Castle into Fantasyland where Peter Pan was skipping right past the Prince Charming Carousel. A few minutes later, Mary Poppins walked by.
She was hooked.
Over the years, we’ve met princesses and princes and all manner of Disney classics and rarities. Some of our favorite memories were built through character interactions.
She’s 18 now. But I promise you the idea of a trip to Disney without meeting some character would be unfathomable to her.
2. Ride one of the opening-day rides
If nothing else, Disney is a nostalgia merchant. Even when the park opened 50 years ago, it traded on a halcyon past that only existed in the pages of fiction and the imaginations of people like Walt Disney.
You don’t really get in touch with Disney until you step in the footsteps of generations of Disney fans who came before you.
This includes rides like Jungle Cruise, Tomorrowland Speedway, the Walt Disney World Railroad, the Haunted Mansion, Dumbo, Mad Teacups and It’s a Small World.
1. See the fireworks show
There is nothing in the park better than the end of the night, multi-media fireworks show onto and above Cinderella Castle. I have no idea that a fireworks show, even one aided by film clips and audio, could make me feel what I feel when I stand in front of the castle and take it all in.
We take things like this for granted. A Disney vacation is a precious thing in our family. We try to remind the kids that not everyone gets to go as much as they have, and they should appreciate their blessings.
We went once with some friends who had never been. One of the girls, who is old enough to drive, had dreamed of seeing the fireworks at the castle for as long as she could remember.
I watched the show that night through her eyes and realized it was the best dang thing Disney’s ever done.
Where is the best place to start in Magic Kingdom?
We almost always start with Fantasyland.
First, it’s where the Disney magic is. You walk right down Main Street to Cinderella Castle, passing through into the land of enchantment and wonder and nostalgia.
The morning has the highest concentration of rides with reasonable wait times. You can get a lot done.
Now, for the last 18 years, I’ve gone with small kids in the traveling party. They’re growing up now, so maybe our plan will change a bit, but I doubt it.
They’ve been raised on Peter Pan’s Flight and Small World and Dumbo and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and more recently, the Journey of the Little Mermaid.
That being said, the best place for me to start isn’t necessarily the best place for you to start. With Tron opening, there’s a real argument to be made for Tomorrowland, though the Virtual Queue means you don’t need to sprint to the newest attraction to ensure you get a seat.
With Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and more, there’s enough in Tomorrowland to keep you busy while you wait for the virtual queue for Tron.
Do you go clockwise or counterclockwise in Magic Kingdom?
My family goes straight down the middle, and then clockwise. After hitting Peter Pan, depending on the wait time, we work our way to the right through Storybook Circus and over to Tomorrowland.
Next to Fantasyland, Tomorrowland has the next highest concentration of rides. Plus, there’s a real benefit to getting there before the late-sleeping guests push the park to capacity.
From there, we cut across Main Street, scoring a Casey’s Corner hot dog or a Dole Whip.
The temporary closing of Splash Mountain and the opening of Tron has added to the imbalance of an already lopsided park.
There are eight to ten must-dos in Fantasyland and a good six in Tomorrowland. For us, Adventureland has two or three and they aren’t particularly wait-time heavy.
You can almost always get a good wait time at Pirates of the Caribbean as long as you’re patient. The Tiki Room is never that bad on wait.
We like Aladdin’s Flying Carpets, but it’s a want-to more than a must.
Frontierland and Liberty Square only have one ride each, and we’re not attached to the shows. My younger kids remain afraid of the Haunted Mansion so really, the only two rides we consider musts on the whole left side of the park are Pirates and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
What is your favorite must-do at the Magic Kingdom? Let us know in the comments!