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June 1, 2014

Those Magic Moments at the Magic Kingdom!


It's in the name - Magic Kingdom. It's a place where magic happens every day, and people are willing to pay small fortunes for their fair sprinkling of pixie dust. All too often, in this time of hurry and conquer, we find ourselves overwhelmed with the mangle of Fastpasses, dining reservations and schedules that we fail to even take notice of the magic itself. The Magic Kingdom offers so much more than thrilling "mountains" and Jurassic turkey legs. During your visit, take some time to acknowledge all of the little magic moments taking place around you. These are the things that make your experience unique. These are the moments that make your memories magical! 


Some of the Magic Kingdom's highlights aren't scheduled or housed in dedicated buildings. Many of the greatest experiences are spontaneous, in fact! I'm often asked for tips and suggestions on the "extras" that Walt Disney World has to offer. There's so much that doesn't quite fit into the category of "attractions" per se, but that doesn't mean they aren't worthy of mention! To round out my review of the Magic Kingdom, I'd like to share some of my favorite magical moments around the Magic Kingdom with you! (As always, click any photo for full-sized image.)


The characters are a necessary evil. If you have youngsters (or if you're reliving your youth, like some of us), you can probably plan on spending some time character hunting. This is obviously not one of the lesser-known goals for Disney parks visitors, in fact - it has become quite a mission! You can even purchase a handy PDA designed to keep track of character meeting accomplishments! Character greetings are often staged in dedicated, pre-designated areas, at scheduled times of the day. This is the kind of thing you probably want to pre-plan or even schedule Fastpass for when possible, because lines can build up - especially for popular or rare characters. Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and any/all Princesses will consistently be busy. Mickey Mouse has recently developed the ability to speak and directly interact with guests, taking the character greetings up a notch. A quick PSA on character greetings... Please have your cameras, autograph books, etc. ready. Nothing is more obnoxious than the family that holds up the line because they didn't bother to get themselves in order during all that time in the queue. Please... be considerate! 

For the most complete and current listing of character greeting locations and schedules at the Magic Kingdom, I highly recommend checking with Kenny the Pirate.


If character interactions suit your fancy, you may want to consider Captain Jack Sparrow's Pirate Tutorial, near the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Swashbucklers, wenches and rapscallions of all ages will thoroughly enjoy the Captain's wit-drenched pearls of wisdom. You may even be chosen for a special pirate demonstration! 


What's that soaring over the Rivers of America?


 It's not Superman, or a plane... it's a bird. Before you yawn and scroll on... You don't have to be an Ornithologist to find amusement in the birds of Frontierland. Though you may want to watch your head, you can have quite a bit of fun just pulling up a bench in this area and bird watching. Naturally, the "don't feed the birds" signs around WDW go largely unheeded, so the Disney birds are exceptionally social little beggars. Bold may be the better term! I must admit that I've hit the deck a time or two to avoid being dive-bombed by the low-flying kamikazes. When not in flight, the Frontierland flock is well dispersed on the ground, on the rooftops, and even on birdhouses. While even I have slipped them a french fry here and there, I have to say that I am still a bit disturbed from the day I saw a man sharing his turkey leg with a very large bird. I think we should draw the line on sharing once-feathered edibles here. Is it just me - or is that just... unsettling? 



And, by the way... I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fabulous Disney ducks. They are not exclusive to the Magic Kingdom. You can find them just about anywhere on property. As a family of animal lovers, we always visit with and photograph the ducks when we see them. As a family of animal lovers, we also find it startling how often we see these poor little fellas getting terrorized. Folks, it isn't cute when little Johnny stomps, screams and chases after a duck with stampede force. Technically, you're on their turf... respect the ducks, and restrain your children. 
Earlier in this article, I mentioned spontaneous moments - and here's a fine example! The Dapper Dans, Main Street Philharmonic and other musical acts make sporadic appearances to enchant guests with their fanciful musical stylings. Performances aren't necessarily scheduled, and you never know what tunes you'll be treated to - from Dixieland to Disney favorites, and everything in between. While many of these performances take place on Main Street, spontaneous entertainment can spring up anywhere. The Disney-fied term for this? Streetmosphere!
   




My personal favorite? The Casey's Corner Pianist!


Aside from the random entertainment, there's something to be said for the scheduled shows as well... and there's plenty of those to go around! Dream Along With Mickey takes place front and center at Cinderella Castle. Join Mickey and his special guests on a mission to protect the castle, in this showdown of good versus evil. This is a cute, 20 minute performance that takes place 4-6 times a day (check schedules). Crowds can be pretty heavy in the primary viewing zone, so be prepared. 



 But WAIT - that's not all! Far from it, actually! Although you may not know it, Main Street U.S.A. is more than just a string of repetitive gift shops. If you stick around for just a bit, you'll see trolley cars, horses, and even dancing dwarfs and light-up caterpillars! Yes, you read that right... you see, Main Street is parade central, both day and night!


When the sun sets over the Magic Kingdom, the scene is optimal for the vibrant brilliance of the Main Street Electrical Parade! For more than 40 years, this lilting, jubilant nighttime show has been delighting audiences in both Florida and California Disney Parks locations. Over half a million lights sparkle and twinkle in perfect synchronicity with lively music, paving the way for a stream of floats, characters and dancers. I'm not the type who thrives on parades as a rule, but a Disney parade sets the standard! The Main Street Electrical Parade route runs from Frontierland, through Liberty Square, in front of the Castle and down Main Street. Sometimes, it starts in Frontierland - sometimes Main Street. Check schedules for current times and starting point. Most guests will consider MSEP a must-see. Considering that, it is advisable to stake out a viewing spot well in advance, especially when crowd levels are high. Like a moth to a mouse-shaped flame, my friends! On non-peak days, I have walked right in the front gate and had a prime spot instantly, but don't count on that as the norm. 



Although the lights are dazzling, don't discount what Disney can do by day, as well! The current afternoon parade at the Magic Kingdom is Festival of Fantasy. It's a perfect mixture of color, beauty, show and steampunk, if I had to put it into descriptives. This one really speaks for itself, so I'll let a few of my favorite photos do the talking. (Pssst... the upper level of the Main Street Train Station is an unrivaled location for photos!!)




The costuming in Festival of Fantasy is fantastic! Original, fun and lively!


The floats are always stunning in a Disney parade. Themed around beloved Disney tales and characters, they boast extravagant detail, color and engineering... along with a few familiar faces.





Not all of the characters are on the floats, however! If you're at ground level, keep an eye out for strolling and dancing characters! Do keep in mind... guest participation is not an option here. You are not welcome to go hiding under Dopey's coat or demonstrate your ballroom dancing skills. 




Arguably, the main attraction in the Festival of Fantasy Parade is Maleficent. This is the segment that everyone has been buzzing about since its debut. First, the build up... after the three good fairies go fluttering by...


Price Phillip must face down the fierce Maleficent, in dragon form!



And then.... 


Almost anti-climactic once the host and hostess mice make their appearance at parade's end, eh? And, by the way... see that swarm of people? Thousands of people essentially join in at the end of the parade to herd their way to the exit, so it may be a wise idea to step back and wait for the mob to die down. 


And, I'm not kidding!


Let's put that in panoramic perspective, shall we?


Another reason to love the sanctuary of the train station! 

Main Street isn't the only place where action happens though! Tomorrowland has a couple of noteworthy fun spots as well. Near Space Mountain, you can find the Incredibles Super Dance Party. The dance parties are a new-ish way to enjoy unique interactions with characters, without the queue lines. They're popping up more frequently at all of the WDW parks, and they really are a lot of fun - even from the "big kid" perspective. I have not yet attended the Incredibles Dance Party, but I was a frequent guest at Club 626, the original party taking place in this location. You never know who may show up to boogie with you at a dance party, so take a moment to get your groove on! Always an unpredictable experience!


 

Another spot we love in Tomorrowland has many hidden benefits. At the Space Mountain exit, you'll notice that this is not the usual gift shop. This gift shop doubles as an arcade. It seems that a majority of guests overlook the arcade, so there's rarely a mass of people or lines waiting for the games. Games range from arcade classics, to challenger racers, to family games, to simulators and more! Plus, you have the added benefit of air conditioning or shelter from summer showers, and a unique view of the train!




I'm not a big fan of the Magic Kingdom special events, in general. I know that a large number of park guests time their visits to coincide with Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, but I just don't find them to be worth the additional admission costs. My personal experiences have found there to be very little added value over any standard day's visit - with the exception of a few rare characters or characters in "exclusive-to-the-event" costumes. 
 


The atmosphere and decor changes seasonally, and this is always fun to watch when Halloween and Christmas roll around, but of course you can enjoy these things even without attending the after-hours shindigs. 

   


               



Of course, all of this is just the start of the fun you can have at the Magic Kingdom without even getting to the rides. Impromptu performances arise anywhere at a moment's notice, and many hidden gems await you. Speaking of "hidden"... have you discovered Hidden Mickeys yet? If not, there's something to add to your list! Find out more about this fanatical Disney obsession in my previous reports here and here. It's a challenging, free way to enjoy Disney from another angle, and it's fun for all ages. If you have some time and money to kill (as if!), consider one of the many behind-the-scenes tours available at the Magic Kingdom park as well. And... if you think all of this is impressive... just wait till I start covering the TRULY secret side of Walt Disney World - the resort hotels!

And just one final note on Magic Kingdom magic... call it a tribute, if you will. Up until recently, there was one exceptionally original experience hidden within Tomorrowland... if you can believe it, this remarkable little highlight was a trash can! Yes, you read that right - a trash can. Don't believe me? Well, how would you explain a child finding a garbage receptacle so irresistible that he had to hug it?


This is no ordinary trash can. PUSH (yes, he had a name) was like the Pied Piper!


You're waiting for the punchline, aren't you? Well, this is another one that I can't describe as well as demonstrate, so...


Get it now? PUSH was a phenomenal little surprise, and you never knew when he'd make an appearance. So, where is PUSH now? Sadly, he is a thing of the past - a shattering recent development that left many WDW loyalists heartbroken. Maybe we'll let you get away with the removal of Mr. Toad and Snow White, but our trash can? Now, that's crossing the line. Disney tried to deny PUSH's "retirement" when the #savePUSH campaign took to Twitter, but alas, as of February 10, 2014, PUSH is no more. For more info on the demise of PUSH, click here

Stay tuned, readers... Epcot is the next area of our Walt Disney World exploration!

In order to keep my blog honest, I do not accept pay for any event or attraction I review. If you enjoy reading my blog, please help it grow! Even a $1.00 donation goes a long way. Thank you in advance.