Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Magic Kingdom - Park Strategy



We’re going to be looking at park strategies for all four of the parks at Walt Disney World.  My previous strategy guides assumed that you wouldn't be staying on property or purchasing Lightning Lane Multipass (LLMP) or Lightning Lane Single Pass (LLSP).  But so much of the best strategies involve these options, so instead I'm going to talk about what the best option is for each particular park.  Since Early Entry is available to all on property guests, this also changes traditional rope drop strategy. We'll also talk about what you can do if these options aren't available to you.  Today we’ll be discussing Magic Kingdom. (Updated July 5, 2024).


Magic Kingdom attractions:

Highest wait times – Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain, Tiana's Bayou Adventure

Moderate wait times – Pirates Of The Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Haunted Mansion, it’s a small world, Astro Orbiter, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh, Tomorrowland Speedway, The Barnstormer,  Under The Sea: Journey Of The Little Mermaid, Enchanted Tales With Belle, pretty much any meet and greet

Lowest wait times –  Mickey's Philharmagic, Dumbo The Flying Elephant, Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, Swiss Family Treehouse, The Magic Carpets Of Aladdin, Tom Sawyer Island, Liberty Square Riverboat, Country Bear Musical Jamboree, The Hall Of Presidents, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Walt Disney’s Carousel Of Progress, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover

N/A - Tron Lightcycle Run (more on this below)

Best Strategy - Lightning Lane Multipass

Alternate Strategy - Extended Evening Hours


In some ways, Magic Kingdom is the easiest park to strategize around and in some ways it’s the hardest.  There are easily more attractions at this park then at any of the others, probably combined.  That leads to a more spread out crowd throughout the day, with more moderate wait times as opposed to some really busy attractions and some empty ones.  Our recommendation is to spend two days in Magic Kingdom.  If you choose not to (or are unable to do so for any reason), our STRONG recommendation is to purchase LLMP.  I would recommend it even over a two day visit, as it allows your trip to be much more relaxed.  More than any other park, the experience of being there is worth a great deal at the most visited theme park in the world.


This guide will be written with a two day plan in mind, in addition to the other caveats mentioned above.  Guests staying on property will have access to early theme park entry; in the case of Magic Kingdom, only the “right side” of the park is open during these hours (Fantasyland and Tomorrowland).  That leads to a backlog of guests on that side of the park and rules out rope dropping Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Also of note - traditional meet and greets are back and those lines tend to be long.  I'm leaving them out of the strategy guide, but you can substitute them for attractions you don't have any interest in, or try to fit them in where you can.  A lot will depend on the makeup of your party - if you have little girls, meeting princesses should be a high priority!  Also, as of now, meet and greets are NOT part of LLMP, meaning that you have to wait in standby for these.  If these are a priority for you, make sure you devote enough time to them.  

Another note on Early Entry - while valuable, as it is everywhere, it is actually the least valuable tool available to you for Magic Kingdom.  For one thing, Magic Kingdom often opens the latest of any of the parks.  The later a park opens, the more people will be motivated to be there at park opening (or in this case, Early Entry).  The advantage won't be as large as it is at, say, Animal Kingdom, which often opens the earliest.  Also, as mentioned, only half of the park is open for Early Entry.  That means nothing in Frontierland or Fantasyland can be done before the "regular" rope drop at park open.  Conversely, this means that normal rope drop IS a viable strategy for this park, more than any other in this day and age.

On your first day, let's say you don't take advantage of Early Entry.  In that case, I would start by going left into either Frontierland or Adventureland. Thrill Data suggests that the big rides in these areas have comparable wait times at park open.  I would book a LL for Jungle Cruise before you arrive (or Tiana's, if you go to Frontierland first) and work your way around from there.  Let's say you book Tiana's first (which has a virtual queue for now, but that should change soon).  In that case, I would rope drop Jungle Cruise, possibly with a LL for Pirates early in the day so that you can hit those in order, then wait standby for Big Thunder (shouldn't be too bad in the morning) and then hopefully your time comes for Tiana's.  

That’s a lot of activity early in the day, so I would suggest slowing down a bit here and going back through the less crowded Adventureland and Frontierland attractions, including both the Country Bear Musical Jamboree and Enchanted Tiki Room, as well as Magic Carpets Of Aladdin and the Swiss Family Treehouse, if that interests you.  This may seem like a lot of walking back and forth, but those two lands are actually quite near each other and there are a couple of good cut through paths (including a convenient bathroom stop near the Treehouse).  Also, your opinion may differ, but I say it’s never too early for a Dole Whip, and Aloha Isle is nicely placed right near the Magic Carpets for a delicious snack.


There are a few choices here as far as what to do next.  I generally would head into Liberty Square if the wait times for Haunted Mansion are reasonable.  That one is kind of hit and miss, so you don’t want to wait forever, but as a classic Disney attraction, it’s a must do.  If you’re feeling patriotic, you can also take in the Hall Of Presidents while you’re in that area.  Also, if you continue east from the Haunted Mansion, you can make a stop at the very tip of Fantasyland and visit the Rapunzel bathrooms.  It might seem odd to factor this into your day, but trust me, this is a worthwhile place to stop and, um, go.  If we’re anywhere near Fantasyland when we have to use the facilities, this is our place.


We haven’t really discussed meal options and that’s beyond what I wanted to talk about in this post.  But Magic Kingdom typically doesn’t have great table service options, though there are some decent quick service ones.  For table service, there are three area hotels that are just a quick monorail ride away that offer some great variety and run the gamut from casual to upscale.  For me, this is the best choice for a sit down meal, but as always, this is subjective.


In any case, based on what we’ve accomplished so far as well as stopping off for some breaks, we should be well after lunch by this point in the day.  I would start making my way over to Tomorrowland here, as many of these typically have somewhat lower wait times.  You should be able to knock out Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Carousel of Progress, Tomorrowland Speedway and the PeopleMover rather easily.  Astro Orbiter is a difficult one to figure and often has higher wait times than you might expect for a ride of this type.


The one big one we didn’t mention in Tomorrowland yet is of course Space Mountain.  If you weren't able to obtain a lightning lane for this one, you might catch it at a good time here.  If not, I would save this one for the end of the night (still night one here).  Also, if you don’t have the time to get to all those Tomorrowland attractions above (or want to redo any of them), Tomorrowland is a wonderful place to be after dark. The atmosphere comes alive and it’s a lot of fun to look at everything from the height of the Astro Orbiter or the comfort of the PeopleMover.  Tron Lightcycle Run and its futuristic canopy add to this picturesque area.

I haven't mentioned Tron Lightcycle Run yet specifically.  Much like Guardians at Epcot, at this point you can only ride Tron in two ways - one is by purchasing an Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) and one is by taking advantage of the virtual queue.  Our strong recommendation is to use that latter option - it's free, and while the competition for getting a slot is greater, it is certainly doable.  With no standby option, there is no real need to strategize for this attraction at this point - whenever you get your return time, you have an hour to get there and do it.  


Magic Kingdom has always been known for their nighttime spectaculars including fireworks over Cinderella Castle and Happily Ever After is possibly the best they've ever had.  Make sure you plan at least one night here to watch this show - it is the true definition of spectacular.  People will begin staking out spots early but if you don’t want the absolute best view, you should be able to arrive within a half hour of show time and still enjoy it.  I would try to get a spot towards the Tomorrowland side of the park.  This can be a great view, but also serves the purpose of positioning you on that side to be able to run (or at least walk quickly!) back to Tomorrowland to ride Space Mountain.  If you’re standing on the other side of the hub, it will be very difficult to work your way back to this side of the park when the majority of guests leave as soon as HEA ends.




If you’ve taken our advice so far, you’d now be at the point where you’re back at Magic Kingdom for a second day (hopefully after a restful night of sleep in your hotel!).  Day two will largely be about tackling Fantasyland.  Once again, on property guests will have an early advantage, so if eligible, this would be a good day to do that.  There are only a few rides that the majority of people will head to first.  One is Space Mountain, which we should have taken care of already in the previous day.  The others are Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan's Flight.  Peter Pan is the better choice here - fewer guests will head that way, and Seven Dwarfs is a much more pleasant and less stressful experience at night.  I would make a pre-arrival LL for either Peter Pan or Space Mountain, then rope drop the other one during early entry.


The caveat here is that Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is the other attraction currently offered via Individual Lightning Lanes (ILL), discussed in more detail here. As such, even if you purchase Genie+, SDMT is NOT included.  There is a case that can be made for showing up to early theme park entry if you're staying on property and then following (or leading?) the large crowd of people over to Seven Dwarfs.  For this to be worthwhile, you'll need to be at the park quite early.  Say official park opening time is 9:00.  This would mean early entry would start at 8:30.  You want to be at the park somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes before even THIS time.  If you're not at the front of the pack, rope dropping Mine Train will be a big waste of time where you could be knocking out a bunch of other attractions.

Many of the other Fantasyland attractions have low to moderate wait times, so we don’t need to strategize a particular way through this area.  The attractions are largely close together and suitable for all ages, making this one of the most popular sections of any land in any Disney park.  Stop by Gaston’s Tavern for a cinnamon roll and thank me later. 


You’re probably in the vicinity of lunchtime by now, so you have a few options.  If you still have a lot of energy, this is a good time to go and revisit some of your favorite stuff from the prior day.  This is one reason we recommend starting on the other side of the park for your first day – if you had started in Fantasyland on day one, you’d probably get through fewer attractions and have more to do the second day.  I’d rather make sure I did everything once and then double back.  Attraction closures and bad weather can also be a factor here.


If you’re beat after walking around Magic Kingdom (and other parks) for days, this is actually a good time to take a mid-day break at your resort.  Wait times always higher in the middle of the day and it can be a good time to recharge the batteries.  I would recommend being back in the park for dinner or after dinner, depending on what you have planned.  That sets up your strategy for the end of the night.  Maybe you loved Happily Ever After so much the first night that you want to watch it again - totally understandable!  The better option, though, would probably be to wait until HEA begins, and THEN go finally visit Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  Most guests will be in the hub for the fireworks, and this can be a good time to get on popular rides.  If not, there’s always the trick of getting in the line right before park closing – it serves a similar purpose, though by then, more guests will be coming over from in front of the castle.

The exception to the Mine Train rule would be during party season.  Since the park closes early before the Halloween and Christmas parties, there really is no "end of the night" for day guests.  In that case, rope dropping Mine Train might be your only good option, but the lower crowds on these days should offset a lot of the hassle and make it worth your while.

As stated earlier, Magic Kingdom is a park best accomplished in two days.  If you decide to do it in one day, LLMP will be your friend. It might be a lot of crisscrossing the park, but you will accomplish a lot by using that paid service.  There aren’t as many headliner attractions here to draw huge crowds but there is a LOT to do so anything you can use to help make your day less stressful would be a plus.  Magic Kingdom is supposed to be the most “magical” of all the parks, so you want your day to be as relaxed and fun as possible.


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