FAQ Orlando

Travel Guide: Magic Kingdom survival guide

guests on Disney Magic Kingdom Tomorrowland Speedway

A 10-minute car ride could have a 60-minute wait on busy afternoons

April 2012: Orlando has seven major theme parks plus nearby Legoland and Busch Gardens, but everyone goes to the Magic Kingdom at least once. Consequently, the hours tend to be longer, as do the lines. No one wants to over-analyze a trip and time a visit with a stopwatch – well, almost no one – but the following suggestions should help alleviate some of the stress:

Read the general general park-touring tips.

Arrive early and/or stay late. Ride lines that queue 90 minutes long at 2 p.m. could be less than 10 minutes at 9 a.m. or a half hour at 11 p.m.

Pencil in boring rides for the afternoon or do your shopping. Adults can catch an uncomfortable nap around 3 p.m. by sleeping through The Hall of Presidents.

If visiting with kids, arrive early and do the “C ticket” Fantasyland rides first. They’re worth riding but not top-of-the-line attractions, and a 10-minute wait is justified, but not 45 minutes. Get a Fast Pass right away for Peter Pan or Pooh, ride the rest, and then use the Fast Pass.

Rides that usually have long wait times even if the line is short. Dumbo (Fantasyland), Aladdin’s Magic Carpets (Adventureland), and Jumbo Jets (Tomorrowland). Well, they’re all the same ride with different cars going up and down and around. Ride them early, late, or not at all.

Rides that usually have long lines. Jungle Cruise (Adventureland); Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain (Frontierland); Haunted Mansion (Liberty Square); Barnstormer (Mickey’s Toontown); all the Fantasyland rides; Tomorrowland Speedway, Space Mountain, and Buzz Lightyear (Tomorrowland).

• Rides that just opened always have long lines. Disney will be debuting a coaster-style ride based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and another based on The Little Mermaid as it slowly unveils its expansion of Fantasyland. Repeat guests consider a new attraction a must-see, and lines tend to be long for a few years, even if the ride doesn’t have the thrill of older existing rides.

Rides with short lines. WDW Railroad; Enchanted Tiki Room, and Swiss Family Treehouse (Adventureland); Country Bear Jamboree and Tom Sawyer’s Island (Frontierland); Hall of Presidents and Liberty Square Riverboat (Liberty Square); Small World and the carousel (Fantasyland); Tomorrowland Transit Authority, Carousel of Progress, Monsters Inc., and Stitch’s Great Escape (Tomorrowland).

Pirates of the Caribbean sometimes has a long line, but it moves quickly and is air-conditioned.

• Check ride wait times at one spot. Rather than walk across the park to Splash Mountain to discover a 90-minute queue, the wait time for all rides is posted at the end of Main Street across from Cinderella’s Castle. Disney also offers a phone app so you can check the ride wait times from anywhere.

Use the WDW Railroad for transportation. The train makes three stops generally. If the park was a clock with the entrance at 6 o’clock, the train stations are at 6 o’clock, 9 o’clock, and 3 o’clock, with the train operating clockwise. While most guests hit the front of Main Street only when entering/exiting, you often have to cross the entire park to use a Fast Pass. Bypass the crowd by hopping the train. The Frontierland trip around the back of the park even offers a few things to see along the way.

Use the Fast Pass system. Pick the healthiest, youngest member of the party, give him/her all the admission tickets, and send him scurrying across the park as soon as you’re allowed to get another Fast Pass – a small piece of paper that serves as a ride reservation and gets turned into a Disney employee at the gate. The general rule is a) every two hours or b) the effective time of your current Fast Pass if it’s less than two hours. Each Fast Pass has a printed time when you may return, and also the time when you’re eligible for another Fast Pass that may or may not be the same.

Escape the crowd when you eat. Fast-food restaurants are huge but sometimes have out-of-the-way tables. My favorite: Columbia Harbour House (Liberty Square). Most visitors don’t go up the stairs, so it’s less crowded and windows overlook the Haunted Mansion and riverboat. Second favorite: Seating areas for Pecos Bill (Frontierland) and Tortuga Tavern (Adventureland) connect, and a central area attracts fewer diners. Third favorite: Outdoors overlooking the castle at Cosmic Ray’s (Tomorrowland). While more crowded, the view’s cool. Best option to combine a meal with a break: Take a boat to the campground and eat at the buffet. (Free trip and getting there is fun.) The price is reasonable by theme park standards, they sell beer, and adults can fall asleep in a rocking chair while kids enjoy the playground.

Avoid the Magic Kingdom on Mondays in summer. Since Magic Kingdom is No. 1, many people hit it the first day of a weeklong vacation. In the off-season, Saturday tends to be busier as locals with season passes enjoy the weekend.

See the second parade. On busy nights, Disney runs the Electric Light Parade twice, like 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. The second parade is always less crowded, and the ride lines shorten a bit during the first parade.