Castles, princesses, pirates, flying elephants, and of course, the main cheese…Mickey Mouse! There’s nothing more “Disney” than spending a day at the Magic Kingdom. This is the classic Disney park, what a lot of people refer to when they say “Disney World,” and it’s the east coast’s version of Disneyland.
Stroll down Mainstreet USA until you get to Cinderella Castle and from there the themed lands of Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland fan out around you.
The Magic Kingdom is home to so many nostalgic Walt Disney classic attractions (Pirates of the Caribbean, Enchanted Tiki Room, Haunted Mansion, It’s a Small World) AND shows and rides centered around more current favorite Disney and Pixar movies.
I’ve spent so many days of my childhood (and now adulthood) skipping around the Magic Kingdom that I pretty much know all the ins and outs. What’s a don’t miss? What can you skip? Which Fastpasses should you get? Where are the best places to meet characters? And eat?? I’m going to give you the whole scoop.
What this post is NOT: This post is not a guidebook with descriptions, pictures, and videos of every single thing there is to do in the Magic Kingdom. Disney’s website does a great job of showing everything the park has to offer. Additionally, if you search YouTube for an attraction’s name (i.e. Seven Dwarves Mine Train) you will find a TON of videos offering ride along point of views (great for deciding if your kid will be up for it).
What this post WILL BE: This post will (hopefully) read like an insanely knowledgeable BFF/tour guide that knows all the ins and outs of spending a day at the Magic Kingdom. What not to miss, what to skip, all the tips you need to know.
Before You Arrive
Download the My Disney Experience app: This is an absolute must. Pretty much everything you do throughout the day will revolve around this app. Make your Fastpass+ reservations on it throughout the day, check wait times, look up character locations, mobile order your dining, etc. Really you should do this a couple of months before your trip to make your Fastpass reservations, but if you haven’t at least make sure everyone in your party has a profile and is linked together (with your park tickets) before you arrive.
Tickets: Don’t wait until you arrive to purchase your tickets. You’ll have to wait in line and you’ll end up behind the morning rush (meaning long wait times for you). You can purchase them as part of a vacation package, or in the My Disney Experience app.
Fastpasses: Make your Fastpass reservations before you arrive. Disney resort guests can reserve them 60 days in advance and everyone else can reserve 30 days in advance. I’ll get into more detail about Fastpasses down below.
Dining Reservations: I usually recommend booking one sit down meal per day (it’s a nice break from the heat) and you should book it in advance. I don’t like to book breakfast, because I hate to give up that time first thing in the morning to ride while the lines are short. Late afternoon/early evening is my favorite.
Make your “must do” list
I can give you a generic “don’t miss” list of best attractions and experiences (and I will), but so much of what you’ll enjoy most depends on your interests and personality. So do your research, read all of the things, and then write out your own hit list. Try and make it realistic (30 things may be a bit much) and spend your day prioritizing what’s on your list. Here’s some inspiration to get your list started:
Most Popular Magic Kingdom Attractions: Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise.
Essential Magic Kingdom Experiences: Eat a Mickey Mouse ice cream bar, watch Happily Ever After (fireworks and castle projection show), meet Mickey Mouse on Mainstreet, take a picture in front of the castle, buy some mouse ears to wear, wave to your favorite character during the afternoon parade, eat a Dole Whip.
My Personal Favorites: Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Nutella and fruit waffles at Sleepy Hollow Refreshments, taking a spin on the People Mover, Peter Pan’s Flight, Big Thunder Mountain, meeting Rapunzel in Princess Fairytale Hall, riding the tea cups, the Enchanted Tiki Room, browsing through the Emporium for some new Disney style, walking through the castle to see the Cinderlla mosaics inside, listening to the Dapper Dans on Mainstreet, pin trading, riding It’s a Small World.
Kid Favorites: Pretty much all of Fantasyland (Peter Pan’s Flight, Seven Dwarves Mine Train, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, It’s a Small World, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Mad Tea Party, The Barnstormer) any and all character meet and greets, Buzz Lightyear’s Spaceranger Spin, Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor, Jungle Cruise, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Festival of Fantasy parade.
Biggest thrills: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Seven Dwarves Mine Train
Nostalgic attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World After All, Haunted Manion, Enchanted Tiki Room, Carousel of Progress, People Mover.
Arriving at the Magic Kingdom
Alright let’s get down to it! If you’re staying at a Disney resort and taking Disney transportation (bus, boat, monorail) you’ll be shuttle right up to the entrance of the Magic Kingdom. If you’re driving and parking a car ($25/day for non Disney resort guests), you’ll actually park at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), go through security there, and then take a ferry or monorail across the lagoon to the Magic Kingdom. Allow plenty of time for this.
If you’re coming by bus, you’ll go through security once you arrive at the Magic Kingdom. If you’re coming by monorail, you’ll go through security at the resort BEFORE you get on the monorail. If you’re coming by boat, you’ll go through a separate security once you arrive.
They really try to spread out the security check points so it’s not one massive line where everyone merges at the front gates, but still factor it in when you’re deciding when to leave your hotel/when to arrive.
The next line you’ll go through is at the ticket turnstiles to actually get into the park. Lines aren’t usually too long, but don’t expect to just walk right in (especially in the morning).
Whatever the published opening time of the Magic Kingdom is, they actually let people through the turnstiles and onto Mainstreet USA ONE HOUR EARLIER. So if the park is supposed to open at 9, they start letting people in at 8. You can go all the way up to the castle, but you can’t enter any of the lands where the actual attractions are. Starbucks and a few shops will be open. They finally realized that all of those people standing in line for an hour outside waiting for it to open could start spending their money if they were waiting inside instead ; )
Once they let people in the park, most people will walk up towards the castle and get in line at a rope that’s near their first attraction. So if you’re going to Mine Train first, you line up at a rope just to the right of the castle. If you’re going to Space Mountain first, you line up at the rope for Tomorrowland, etc. If you’re going to Hall of Presidents first, you line up at the rope for Liberty Square. Just kidding. Don’t do that haha. There are usually cast members holding signs and directing you to the line up spots for the most popular attractions.
The rookies are the ones standing around trying to take pictures in front of the castle. The real pros trade off standing in the rope drop line and standing in the Starbucks line with a partner.
A few minutes before official opening time, there’s a show at the castle stage (there’s always a bunch of people standing around there too). It’s a “good morning and welcome to the Magic Kingdom” kind of show with quite a few characters and a countdown and some fireworks that signal the opening. That’s when the “rope drops.”
Seasoned Disney veterans refer to the process of arriving early, being near the front of the pack, speed walking to the most popular attraction and being close to the first people on it as “doing rope drop.” If you get there early enough and you’ve got a plan, you can ride Seven Dwarves Mine Train AND Peter Pan’s Flight (two of the rides with the longest wait times throughout the day) while the newbies out front are still clapping for the castle show. By the time they make their way to Mine Train, the wait will be an hour plus and the park’s only been open 10-15 minutes.
Whew! Is your blood pumping yet? Haha So what’s the best strategy for spending a day in the Magic Kingdom? If the idea of needing a “strategy” freaks you out, don’t worry you don’t NEED one. It’s a-ok to just go through your day as it comes and make your plan as you go.
But if you don’t want to spend hours waiting in line, you at least need some kind of plan. At least for the morning.
Your Game Plan
So much of your game plan first thing in the morning will depend on what Fastpasses you can get in advance. I mentioned before about booking Fastpasses before you arrive (read everything you need to know here), but the gist of it is: 1) they’re free, 2) they’re basically a reservation that let’s you skip pretty much the whole line, 3) you absolutely should make it a priority to book them ASAP (60 days in advance for Disney resort guests and 30 days in advance for everyone else).
Here’s a quick rundown of which Fastpasses I would choose (and skip):
Great Fastpass Picks
Seven Dwarves Mine Train
Peter Pan’s Flight
Good Fastpass Picks
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Enchanted Tales with Belle
Okay Fastpass Picks
Pirates of the Caribbean
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Under the Sea-Journey of the Little Mermaid
Any character meet & greets
Skip These Fastpass Picks
It’s a Small World
Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor
Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Mad Tea Party
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Mickey’s Philhar Magic
You can book THREE Fastpasses in advance and once you use those, you can start booking them and using them one at a time (in the My Disney Experience app).
Try and book your three Fastpasses as early in the day as possible (but not tooooo early). I would go for:
Fastpass #1: 10AM-11AM
Fastpass #2: 11AM-12PM
Fastpass #3: 12PM-1PM
Picking these times (or close to it) will: 1) let you take advantage of shorter wait times at attractions as soon as the park opens without using up Fastpasses, and 2) let you get through your original three Fastpasses as early as possible so you can start booking and using them one at a time. If you’re finished with your Fastpasses by 1PM, it’s possible to get in an extra 5-8 Fastpasses after that! If you’re really working it ; )
Try to fit in as much as you can in that first hour or so the park is open (and before your Fastpasses start). It’s the shortest lines will be.
Obviously, you’re not going to “rope drop” an attraction that you already have a Fastpass for later (unless you’re wanting to ride twice!)
Here’s what MY rope drop game plan would be if I was taking friends/family to the Magic Kingdom (assuming everyone can ride everything AND I would get my ideal Fastpass times):
Fastpass picks: Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Space Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight
Rope Drop: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain (pack the ponchos for Splash!).
Now, if you’re traveling with little kids, your punch list is going to look a lot different. You’re likely going to pick Fantasyland Fastpasses and head there first thing to do everything else.
Once you use your last Fastpass (3rd), you can start booking one at a time to use as you go in the My Disney Experience app. The most popular rides will probably be sold out by that day, but you can usually grab passes for rides like Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Buzz Lightyear, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, Mad Tea Party, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Dumbo, It’s a Small World, etc. Even if the wait is only 20 minutes, a Fastpass means you’ll walk right on.
The rest of your day will play out differently depending on what’s on your “hit list.” But here are some general breakdowns that might be helpful when you’re planning (especially if you’re needing something to do mid afternoon that will give you a break in the AC, or at least not be a super long line):
Attractions with moderate or low waits: By midday, these attractions may not be walk ons, but they don’t often have super long lines.
Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Swiss Family Treehouse, Haunted Mansion, Liberty Belle Riverboat, Prince Charming Regal Carousel, It’s a Small World, Mad Tea Party, Dumbo, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid. Barnstormer, The People Mover, Astro Orbiter.
Show-style attractions where you can almost always walk in and sit down: Enchanted Tiki Room, Country Bear Jamboree, Hall of Presidents, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, Monster’s Inc Laugh Floor
Favorite spots to get off your feet or get away from the crowds: Walt Disney World Railroad, People Mover, Liberty Square River Boat, Tom Sawyer Island, Swiss Family Treehouse.
Character Meet & Greets: The Magic Kingdom has some of the best character meet and greets INSIDE. There are actually five indoor meets that even have Fastpass: 1) Mickey Mouse in Town Hall, 2) Tinker Bell in Town Hall, 3) Cinderella and Elena in Princess Fairytale Hall, 4) Rapunzel and Tiana in Princess Fairytale Hall, and 5) Ariel in her grotto. I wouldn’t necessarily use up one of your three advance Fastpasses on a character meet and greet (unless you’ve got a mega fan), but they’re often available same day after you use your original three. Also, all of the above meet and greets are air conditioned so even if you have to wait 30-40 minutes midafternoon, you may not mind. There’s also an indoor meet and greet for Minnie and Daisy (one line) and Goofy and Donald (another line) that’s indoors in Storybook Circus.
Other than that, the character meet and greets are all outdoors. If you (or your child) would really like to meet a certain character, I recommend finding them on the My Disney Experience app, seeing what their meeting times and location are and then arriving about 10 minutes before their scheduled appearance. When a character is meeting out in the open (let’s say Alice is standing in front of the tea cup ride), the line gets the longest when people actually SEE HER. People may not have it on their list or even know it’s an option, but when they walk by and see her, they’ll get in line to meet her and that’s when the line gets long. If you plan ahead and get to the location BEFORE the character arrives, you’ll be at the front of the line. The app usually has a pretty good description of where the character will be, but if you don’t know EXACTLY where, go to that general area and ask a cast member where the character meets. They’ll be able to show you the exact spot. 5-10 minutes before they’re scheduled to come out, there will usually be a couple of people milling about waiting and you just form a little unofficial line. These people that are there waiting early are always super pleasant, it’s the stroller brigade that shows up once they see the character that can get a little wild, but by that time there’s always an attendant there to show everyone where the line is.
Live Entertainment: There’s quite a bit of live entertainment scheduled throughout the day. Most people just stumble upon it, but it’s all actually listed in the app or in the times guide (a paper guide that you can get with your park map). The Dapper Dans on Mainstreet are a real highlight.
Festival of Fantasy: The afternoon parade is usually a real highlight for kids. It usually starts about 3 PM (check on the app or times guide) in Frontierland (back by Splash Mountain) and comes up by the castle and down Mainstreet. Most people stake out their spot along Mainstreet, so if you’re trying to get a spot closer to 3, go more towards Frontierland.
Happily Ever After: The nighttime fireworks spectacular is just that. Spectacular. It’s just as much of a castle projection show as a fireworks show though so you really want to watch it from Mainsteet USA or the hub around the castle. It gets pretty crowded, so if you want a spot around the hub, definitely stake it out in advance. You can usually get a pretty good spot further back on Mainsteet (and it doesn’t feel quite so scary crowded) if you just get there 10-15 minutes in advance.
If you’re really sensitive to crowds (I am) or just want an amazing experience, I would recommend booking a dessert party. They sell a limited number of seats each night to a dessert party at Tomorrowland Terrance (right of the hub in front of the castle). You check in before the fireworks show and eat yourself silly at the buffet (they have more desserts than you can imagine plus a few savory snacks and different drinks, but no alcohol). There are two tiers. One includes table seating on the lower level where you eat and then watch the fireworks from your table. The other one is a little cheaper (maybe $20/person) and you eat at a table and then when you’re ready they escort you to a private viewing area down at the hub grass to watch the show. I’ve done this one and I really liked it. About 2 minutes before the show was supposed to start, we left our table and they took us to the viewing area and we were able to walk right in and have an amazing view. Some people sat on the grass, we leaned against the back railing, and there was plenty of space to move around. They even had a Photopass photographer there to take your picture during the fireworks. It’s not a necessity, but I really enjoyed it for the price and there was enough food to double as dinner.
Snack stands: Snacking is just naturally part of the theme park experience so you’ll find no shortage of snacks at the Magic Kingdom. Popcorn and ice cream carts (both have cold bottled drinks) are pretty much everywhere, but there are some specialty snacks stands that are actually pretty famous. Aloha Isle and Sunshine Tree Terrance in Adventureland are where you’ll find the Dole Whips (and other fruit flavor ice cream swirl treats). Sleepy Hollow Refreshments in Liberty Square is wehre you’ll find the nutella waffles. The Lunching Pad in Tomorrowland has the Mickey soft pretzels. There’s a churro cart near Storybook Circus and a mac and cheese stand in Fantasyland (Friar’s Nook). The My Disney Experience app has menus for every. single. snack. stand. Wow.
Counter Service Dining: This is where the majority of guests are going to chow down. You stand in line, order, wait for your food at a counter, and find your own table. Most of these places are indoors (blessed AC) and have a LOT of seating (however at prime hours ~ mostly around lunch ~ they can get pretty crowded). Most of them have mobile ordering available through the My Disney Experience app. You can also look at menus in the My Disney Experience app. My favorites are Columbia Harbour House (they have a lot of fish and shrimp options as well as “healthier” fare), Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Café (for burgers), Cosmic Ray’s (for general variety), and Casey’s Corner (for hotdogs although most of their seating is outside).
Table Service Dining: If you want a proper meal at a table with service, you need to make a reservation before you arrive. As soon as possible actually (like, a lot of people make them six months in advance).
Cinderella’s Royal Table (dining with the princesses in the castle) will cost you a pretty penny ($62-$75/adult), but it also completely books up six months in advance. It’s the holy grail of dining in the Magic Kingdom.
Be Our Guest is the newest hot spot. It’s counter service for breakfast and lunch (you still need a reservation) and a prefix sit down dinner (with the Beast). I think lunch is the best value (a la carte menu with items ranging from $8-$19) whereas breakfast entrees are all $29 (and I’ve never loved the food for the money). Dinner is $62 for your appetizer, entrée, and dessert. The inside of the restaurant is truly amazing through and if you’re a Beauty and the Beast fan, it’s definitely a must do. Side note: you can’t go inside to look around if you don’t have a reservation.
I really like Crystal Palace for a character buffet (Winnie the Pooh and friends) and they do breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Liberty Tree Tavern also has an all you can eat family style “Thanksgiving” meal for dinner and ala cart for lunch.
Skipper Canteen is good if you want more exciting fare, Plaza Inn is the best place for a low key meal, and I would honestly just avoid Tony’s Town Square.
Miscellaneous Things to Know
Extra Magic Hours: If you are staying at a Disney resort, take advantage of Extra Magic Hours to ride the most popular attractions with little or no waits. They’ll either be an hour before the park opens or up to three hours after it closes (it’s only one park per day so check the schedule).
Photopass: Disney’s PhotoPass is a photography system that allows park guests to pose for pictures with the entire family. A network of Disney photographers is spread throughout the parks ready and willing to take photos of your magical vacation. Photographers are set up to take pictures in the most popular photo spots and with characters too. Have them take your photo then scan your Magic Band. You’ll be able to view all of your photos (including your ride photos) in the My Disney Experience app. You can pay a one time price to be able to download all of your photos (it’s called Memory Maker and it’s $169 if you purchase more than 3 days in advance of your trip, $199 once you arrive) or you can purchase them individually. Even if you are not interested in purchasing the PhotoPass package, the photographers are always more than willing to take pictures of your family using your own camera or phone.
Package Pickup: If you go a little crazy with the souvenirs and you don’t want to carry them around all day, you can have your packages sent to the front of the park and held until the end of the day. And if you’re a Disney resort guest, you can have them sent to the gift shop at your resort.