By Emily Harrington
My expectations were low. Very low. I packed and mentally prepared like I was going to war. This trip would be all about the kids. We were doing it for them, and we would just suffer in silence. Or maybe murmured expletives. We were going to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (MK) if it killed us. Not to mention, we went during the busiest week of the year—spring break.
Here’s what I learned along the way. I hope this helps other families leave MK in one piece.
What is that?
- The Magic Kingdom is one of the theme parks within Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. In a world of high-tech animation, MK seems almost primitive and simplistic in its atmosphere and ride technology. It’s charming in its old-school style. I think that’s part of the appeal—it’s classic. And nostalgic. You’ll see rides that you rode on as a kid! Most of the rides use modest animatronics. Think costumed robots. On the other hand, MK is technologically advanced in so many other ways—specifically logistics.
- FastPasses are electronically preloaded on whatever you use to enter the park. This may be a debit card looking ticket, or it may be a bracelet if you are staying within a Disney resort. Every visitor is given three FastPasses per day that put you in a different, faster ride line. We (illegally) traded FastPasses after swapping bands since our baby didn’t use his. Once you are done using your FastPasses, you can go to the various kiosks (edit passes here, too) in the park and load more for whatever is available. Since these are last minute additions, the pickings are slim. You see, if you are staying at a Disney resort you have the added benefit of booking your FastPass rides six months in advance. Yes, six months! Think of everything you plan for the park (and anything associated with Disney) six months ahead of time. This six-month advantage gives you better opportunities for better rides at better times. By taking advantage of this system and arriving to the park when it opened, we barely waited for anything. Really. The popular ride when we went was the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The wait for this ride was 170 minutes without a FastPass. My husband and son went in and came out in 12 minutes with their passes! Like I said before, I had LOW expectations for the trip. I literally thought we would be in lines the entire time. It wasn’t like that at all. If you take advantage of the FastPass options and plan accordingly, you’ll be good.
- My Disney Experience App is a key tool to survival. Download and familiarize yourself with it before your trip. The app shows wait times for the various rides. It also shows you where you are in the park because of the connection it has with your phone’s GPS.
- MagicBands are color coded devices in the form of a bracelet. They act as a key to your room, a credit card to bill things upon checkout (there’s a pin associated you’re your set of MagicBands), theme park ticket and your FastPasses. They are super cute, too. I, of course, chose pink! They are rubbery and waterproof. They communicate to the rides you are on! In some ingenious way, an element of the ride is personalized with your name or the state you are from because of the technology in the bands. Crazy. At the end of your trip the park even sends you video/pictures from some of the rides you were on. My son watched (and made everyone else watch) him and his dad on one of the rides 250,000 times. Not kidding.
- Rider Switch solves the problem of a child not meeting the height requirement, or a guest does not wish to board a particular attraction. With Rider Switch, one adult can wait with the non-rider (or riders) while the rest of the party enjoys the attraction. When the other adult returns, they can supervise the non-riding guests and the waiting adult can board the attraction without having to wait in the regular line again!
What should my day look like?
- First, book your FastPass rides before lunch with a little lag time in between. Start your FastPasses around 9:30 a.m. You have an hour window to use each FastPass.
- No matter what it takes—GET TO THE PARK BY THE TIME IT OPENS. I don’t care if you don’t have time to brush your teeth. Just get there. Before your FastPasses start, do all the popular rides that you don’t have FastPasses for—or maybe you just like a lot.
- Do FastPass rides. Reload FastPasses at kiosks for evening time.
- Eat lunch. OK, the food is bad, bad, bad. At one point I had macaroni and cheese that was almost unrecognizable. You can order hot dogs and chips, hot dogs and fries, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and hot dogs. The good news is—you can bring food and drinks in the park. We braved the park food as packing a cooler was just a bit ambitious for us. People did it though. There was a nice grassy knoll to eat a picnic on, too.
- Go back to your accommodations and rest. Everyone We were under-the-covers snoozing by 3 p.m. These are early mornings and late nights, so NAP for your sanity.
- Go back to the park after nap. Do your evening FastPasses. Eat dinner. Position yourself for the 9 p.m. fireworks show. Everyone must be inside of this white line that is painted on the streets of the park during the show. This means everyone is vying for these spaces. It can get a bit crazy. So, just be prepared to throw around some elbows. You are going to get the feels, though, during the show. You are so tired and dirty and happy you made it through the day, you might even shed a tear. After the evening shows a mass exodus occurs. Thousands of people will walk down Main Street to get in line for either the ferry or the monorail. It becomes a game—what mode of transport will get you to the parking lot faster? I’m a ferry girl myself.
What should I bring (in your backpack NOT a purse)?
- Antibacterial hand sanitizer and wipes. The park is pretty clean. However, anywhere with that many people is going to have some nasty going on.
- We brought a double stroller. They do, however, have double and single strollers for rent—$15 and $31.
- Snacks and water.
- Glow sticks for the evening. We stocked up at the dollar store.
- Autograph book and Sharpie for meeting characters. I only saw Alice (from Wonderland). So, we didn’t do the autograph book thing. Now, we did go to Chef Mickey’s Fun Time Buffet on the morning we left. This restaurant came from two friend references. It was very expensive, but it was very worth it. First, the food tasted so good after all of the nasty park food. Second, you get to have face time with each of the classic Disney characters—including Mickey. They each come right to your table, and you get to take as many pictures as you want with your own camera.
What should I do six months before? YES, I SAID SIX MONTHS BEFORE.
- Take reservations for restaurants through the Disney website with a grain of salt. We called restaurants directly like T-Rex at Disney Springs Marketplace, and we were able to get a reservation two weeks out. All, and I mean all, reservations from 6 to 9:30 p.m. were unavailable two weeks out through the Disney website. This goes for food in the park, too. There are some nicer sit-down restaurants in the park. Make reservations if you want something other than hot dogs.
- Book FastPasses if you are staying at a Disney resort. You are allowed to book FastPasses only three months out if you staying somewhere else.
- Wear tennis shoes.
- Wear layers.
- Wear lotion sunblock. Reapply. My older son broke out in a splotchy, swollen rash after MK. This was with a hat and spray sunblock on. So, beware. Florida sun is no joke.
- Bring stuff to decorate hotel windows. Yes, people do this! When we walked around our resort, guests had decorated windows with dry erase markers and other Disney paraphernalia. I felt like I had made a misstep when we walked past window after decorated window, and I had no clue that people do this.
- Have souvenirs delivered to your room if you are staying at a Disney resort so you don’t have to carry around the park.
- You’ll see a lot of little girls walking around in princess dresses and updos. They just came from the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. If you have a little girl who wants to do this, but you have a male sibling that you need to occupy, keep in mind the salon can turn little boys into knights, too.
- Use the baby care center. It was time to feed our baby. I saw a placard in the bathroom that advertised a baby care center for feeding, diapering, warming bottles and nursing. We made our way to the building. It was one of the weirdest places I have ever seen. A woman dressed up in old-fashioned prairie garb policed the area. I told her I wanted to nurse my baby. She drew back a pocket door to reveal a dimly lit room with a dozen or so recliners. Moms pumped and nursed and got a freaking break! Other rooms held changing tables, high chairs and low tables to feed little ones. You can also buy anything you may need for your kids that you forgot. Visit a pharmacist at the first aid station for any ailments, too.
- Write your phone number on their arm. Put your kid on a leash. (I surprisingly only saw two people do this. A big kid pulled his grandpa from his harness like a dog sniffing out a squirrel.) Do whatever you must do to keep track of your kids. When the mass exodus took place after the fireworks, people funneled into lines for either mode of transportation. While waiting shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other people just trying to get home, a man started yelling, “Owen, Owen! Has anyone seen a little boy with a black Under Armour sweatshirt?” He continued down the throngs of people while frantically asking about his son. I would have thrown up. Keep your eye on your kid. In two seconds you can lose them in the crowds. Also, have everyone wear bright shirts. A lot of people had cutesy matching shirts. Do that if you want—just make them bright. My husband was wearing orange one day and green the next day, and I found it was so much easier to spot him.
- In addition to bright shirts, have something on your stroller that makes it easy to see among the sea of strollers.
- If you bring a car, take pictures of where you parked.
- Make sure your kids are the right ages. I would not bring a kid here that wasn’t old enough to understand and appreciate the “magic” that is Disney—unless they were a sibling. In that case, I would—we did. There is even a little kid spot to chill and play on. These soft structures are a perfect respite if they are too little for a ride, but they are too big to just stroll all day. It’s just too much work and too much money to bring a kid there that wouldn’t enjoy themselves. Same goes for tweens/teens. I think they would be bored. There aren’t many intense rides—at all. With that said, on day two of our adventure we discovered you only had to be 40 inches to ride the wilder rides like Thunder and Splash Mountain. It hadn’t even occurred to us that our son would be able to ride these rides. We discovered he is maybe 39 ¾ inches. I figured this out after a worker scolded me for pulling on his head to help him hit the mark on the measuring stick. Another grandmotherly worker gave my husband a wink while letting them through to Splash Mountain. In retrospect, I would have put some extra padding in his shoe. Seriously. It’s not like they are going to fly out or anything. Keep that in mind if your kids are on the cusp of the height requirements. We also figured out on our second day that our entire family could go on some rides together. If there is no height requirement, any age can board the tame rides like Small World.
The thing is—Disney has their stuff together. The processes are efficient and refined. You can tell they’ve been doing this whole theme park thing for a while. If you prepare a bit, you’ll have a better experience than if you went in winging it.
PLUS all of the workers and fellow guests we encountered were super nice. I saw some epic kid tantrums, but most of the parents seems relatively collected. I only saw one parent lose their stuff. A dad’s son kneed him in his man parts, and he pushed his little boy down to the ground—hard. He kind of held him there, too. It was really upsetting. Other than that foul episode, parents seemed to keep it surprisingly together.
The trip exceeded every low expectation we had. Parents and children alike had a great time. By the time we left, we were thinking about our next Orlando trip. Disclaimer: We are not lifers. We are not huge Disney people. Our Christmas cards do not and will not feature us at MK. However, we are proof even disbelievers can change their minds with the help of a little Disney magic.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.