The first time that I went to the Magic Kingdom I remember thinking how BIG it was. Everything was like Disneyland California only on a much larger scale. I still had all the Disney feels when we stepped out onto Main Street for the first time. Our family of 19 was planning our first ever trip to WDW in 2016 and we didn’t quite know what to expect. As we were planning that trip, my husband ended up having a work trip to Florida, which happened to land right around my 30th birthday. So naturally I volunteered to scout it out for our group trip ;-p.
To experience the Magic Kingdom for the first time on my 30th birthday was nothing less than magical. I came away with both things that I like better in WDW and other things I prefer in Disneyland. This is really why we recommend going to both! (We were amazed at WDW to discover how many people live physically closer to DL but had never been.)
To start, the biggest difference we noticed is that although the Florida parks have a much larger footprint, there are less rides in each park. Plus, no two rides are exactly the same, which I happen to really like. This makes each Disney resort unique but still gives you a sense of familiarity no matter which resort you go to.
Because Florida has more land, we noticed the rides all had bigger lineups, spatially. And with having less rides in each park, the lineups were also longer. But because there was more room for the lineups, a lot of the rides have interactive activities to do while people wait. Some of our favourite lineups were Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Haunted Mansion, and Peter Pan’s Flight. Peter Pan’s Flight wasn’t interactive, but it felt like you were walking through the movie. Every now and then Tinker Bell would appear. It was amazing!
There was a little interaction in the sense of certain walls changing when you walk past them and things like that. We were really happy that even though we had used FastPass for these rides, we also had an opportunity to go through the regular queues because they were all so different than what we had been used to. I’m pretty sure that I could talk you through every ride in Disneyland in detail, so it was incredibly fun to not know what to expect in WDW.
Ride Comparisons WDW vs DL:
Space Mountain – In Disneyland you are sitting side by side vs. WDW where you are single rider, more like the old Matterhorn bobsleds. Some of our group loved the WDW version but I didn’t feel like it was as fast. There also wasn’t as many dips, it was more turns. It honestly felt like Matterhorn but in the dark. It was the old-school roller coaster, so it had that jerky feeling as well. That’s probably why I didn’t love it. I don’t like super jerky rides. DL version is definitely a smoother ride.
Splash Mountain – This was a pleasant surprise for me. Splash Mountain is my favourite ride in Disneyland so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about the WDW version. Turns out I like it even more. I felt they did a better job telling the story. In DL it feels a little disjointed at times. The logs are also double seats instead of single seats which is brilliant with kids. At 5, my son still liked to have my husband’s arm around him. Super uncomfortable in DL when you have to lean over and hold the kid in front of you the whole ride.
I didn’t really get the story in WDW the same as Heidi. I think because Splash is one of the Mountains I can close my eyes and go through each and every part of the DL version, I found this a bit disjointed. But still fantastic!
Tomorrowland Speedway – In DL this is called Autopia. It’s one of the original DL rides. I prefer the California one because you are driving on streets and off road terrain… it’s just more interesting (as the parent along for a spastic ride). Tomorrowland Speedway was set up more like a race track. Still fun for the kids though because they get to “drive”. If you get caught in a famous Florida downpour, this ride shuts down until the rain eases off.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – Though I love the DL version, it was bigger and better in WDW in my opinion. No complaints here! The only thing I didn’t love was how far off the “beaten track” it was from everything else. In DL it’s really central, so we would pop on it 3 or 4 times in a day, especially at night. Even with 3 days in Magic Kingdom, I don’t think we ever got on it during the night. Right around this area was a really cute kids play place. It was in the shade, and was perfect for my eleven month old to play in. Because the Magic Kingdom is more spread out, rather than there being a kid’s ride to pop on, there were often play grounds that the littles could get some energy out on.
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin – In Disneyland this is knows as Astro Blasters. There were a couple of major differences. The guns in DL are smaller and easier to use… and we found the targets easier to hit in DL. WDW guns felt clunky to us, even our gamers had a hard time using them. But the actual ride itself was longer in WDW which we loved. The guns were terrible in WDW to the point where it wasn’t as enjoyable for me, who LOVES Astro Blasters.
“it’s a small world” – This ride is a favourite for our babies and toddlers but barely tolerable for the adults. The only thing that makes it somewhat interesting in DL is that they added Disney characters in their homeland. WDW is still the older version, so that was disappointing. Another plus in DL is that it’s normally really cold which is a nice break from the heat. For some reason the Magic Kingdom version wasn’t even that cold.
Jungle Cruise – This was very similar, with a few new additions. There’s a cave in WDW that was really fun. We don’t have that in DL. And of course the 8th wonder of the world… say it with me now… The Back Side of Water!!!!
Pirates of the Caribbean – This was another DL original ride that didn’t quite feel the same in WDW. The lineup was really cool but the ride itself was so much shorter! Still a good classic though. As an “A-Type” personality, the lineup drove me absolutely BATTY. They just kind of squish you into one another and you could end up with people that were way ahead of you or way behind you. I found it quite stressful because people would seem to be agitated if you listened to a cast member and moved up to fill in all of the spots like they asked you to.
Another major difference on this ride… it doesn’t have the steep drops! In DL there are a few spots where you go down because the entire ride is underground. Some of our littles found that to be quite alarming. So the lack of drops was nice in WDW for the little ones, albeit a bit disappointing for those of us used to the original.
Haunted Mansion – First off, WDW’s lineup for this was the one that drove ME batty. It wasn’t a lineup so much as a corral for people. Then, on TOP of that, once you go through the room that “stretches” you’re sent into a wedge as they try to funnel everyone into a single file lineup to actually load onto the ride. What we found was that if you weren’t in the right “spot”, people getting out of the room AFTER you were going onto the ride BEFORE you because they happened to have a better flow in their section of the wedge. Second, they don’t do Haunted Mansion Holiday, which is our FAVOURITE! Haunted Mansion meets Nightmare Before Christmas? Yes please! I actually have zero memory about the inside of this. But I do recall that the lineup was really interesting!
One of the best things about going to WDW was experiencing the new things. Just like it’s a big deal when people come to DL and experience the Matterhorn for the first time. There’s always a bit of excitement mixed with nervousness to see if a new ride will live up to our hopes. One new ride that pleasantly surprised me was Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I was expecting a kids ride and it ended up being more like a roller coaster. It was so much fun! I LOVED how the carts moved with the track, and we figured out if you lean into the turn you get more of a thrill (simple minds I guess).
Walking through the different lands in WDW was an interesting experience. Like I said, it’s so much bigger, and the layout is quite different. For the most part Main Street, U.S.A. felt the same. Cinderella’s Castle is HUGE compared to Sleeping Beauty’s, which fits the scale of the park. I loved walking through the walkway in the castle. (Sadly we couldn’t do that in 2016 as it was closed. Oh well… next time!) It felt magical. You will find Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique on the left, through the castle. The castle also features a restaurant, Cinderella’s Royal Table.
It doesn’t have as good of a flow as Disneyland has, in my opinion. Disneyland you can make a big circle, whereas I felt like we were doubling back a lot in WDW to get places. Although I wonder if this is more so because we were unfamiliar with the park. We went to Disneyland with my brother-in-law, and he was amazed at the “back” routes that we took (rather than returning to the beginning of the lands to travel around the park). We were going the way we knew, and I wonder if there are some short cuts in WDW that we weren’t aware of.
In DL, when you walk through the castle you walk right into picturesque Fantasyland. It’s all very central. WDW Fantasyland felt very scattered and spread out. The carousel was right there when you walked through the castle but somehow it felt smaller. Down in this area is also Mickey’s PhilharMagic, which was a really cute Mickey show!
On the far right you will find the Storybook Circus area. It has a larger than life feel, with big top tents. Naturally, this is where you find Dumbo the Flying Elephant. There are 2 of this ever popular ride with a big indoor play place as well. A great place to be with littles. In this area you will also find Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station. Disney wisely sells towels here. Great place to cool down if your kids are melting. The Barnstormer is also in this area. It’s a small (like really small) roller coaster. Cute area but we didn’t spend much time there. This area felt the least “Disney” to us DL natives.
In another area of Fantasyland is the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (can we get that in DL please?), The Little Mermaid ride (Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid) and a little Beauty and the Beast corner where you will find the Be Our Guest Restaurant. I liked the feeling of this area. It made me feel like I was in a poor provincial town. Then on the other side of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is another little pocket with The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Mad Tea Party.
And then in a whole other part of Fantasyland (see what I mean by disjointed?) is Pinocchio Village Haus (quick service restaurant that added to the storybook feel of the area), Peter Pan’s Flight and “it’s a small world.” In DL, “it’s a small world” is a large, grand building. You can hardly notice it in WDW.
Now you’d think this is all of it, but wait… there’s more. My FAVOURITE picture perfect place in all of WDW and maybe even DL too… Rapunzel’s Tower! Funny enough, there are no rides here. But the ambiance of the area is spectacular. You HAVE to visit the restrooms in this area (with a group of 19 I feel like we stopped at every one we passed). Never before have I seen SO many people taking pictures of a restroom. The walls are painted like the inside of Rapunzel’s tower. There is also a nice sitting area here. We stopped to have a light lunch/ snack. It’s such a lovely place to rest.
This area felt all new to us. (We have New Orleans Square in California, which happens to be my favourite area in that park.) Here you can hop on the Liberty Square Riverboat (like the Mark Twain in DL), visit The Hall of Presidents (even with 3 days in MK we didn’t end up seeing this, which I regret), and see the Liberty Bell. This is also where you will find the Haunted Mansion. There’s a little Muppet Show here as well, “The Muppets Present… Great Moments in American History.” It happens just about on the hour throughout the day. You can find the times listed in the park guide or on the app.
There was a really beautiful boardwalk that you can walk along if you need to escape the crowds for a minute. We were happy to find Country Bear Jamboree here. It used to be in Disneyland California, so us older 2 sisters remember it from when we were little (make that three!). It’s not the best attraction out there, but when it’s mixed with nostalgia it just seems better I guess. There is no Critter Country in WDW so you will find Splash Mountain in Frontierland, right next to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. There is a great little play place for those under 40″ kids that can’t enjoy these 2 rides.
When I think of Adventureland I automatically get excited for the Indiana Jones ride… oh wait, that’s only in Disneyland. But at least there’s still Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise. The Enchanted Tiki Room is actually really cool in WDW. The show itself is the same, but again, the line up is different. And of course, there’s Dole Whip, which you can get in different flavours! This is a novelty for us from the West Coast. We just have classic Dole Whip or a Dole Whip Float (no complaints, but different is fun).
Speaking of different, The Magic Carpets of Aladdin are unique too. Then there is the classic Jungle Cruise, which definitely helped make the area feel familiar. It was good to see the Swiss Family Treehouse. DL now has Tarzan’s Treehouse, so this brought back a feeling of nostalgia for me as well. We also just recently found out about “A Pirate’s Adventure ~ Treasures of the Seven Seas,” which is where you join Captain Jack Sparrow on an “interactive adventure.” My understanding is that you can get a FastPass for Pirates of the Caribbean by completing the quest!
This is the last of the lands in the Magic Kingdom (nope, no Toontown… you have to go to DL for that). Just like in California, this land is tired and frankly, Yesterdayland. I would love to see Disney use their creative ingenuity to re-imagine this area. Yes, Space Mountain and the Buzz Lightyear ride are fun, but I would love to see something new and exciting. Other than those two rides, there’s not much to see. The Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor was an interactive show, which was pretty great actually. Definitely worth checking out.
Astro Orbiter is great for younger kids and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover is good to sit and put your feet up for 20 mins. Oh yes! I loved the PeopleMover. Forgot about that bad boy. We also dragged our girls on the Astro Orbiter. It’s a lot higher than in DL because you go up an elevator! Our 3 girls were melting on the night we wanted to go, up until they got on the actual ride, and then (of course) they LOVED it.
This area also has the Tomorrowland Speedway, and when we went Stitch’s Great Escape was there. That was a weird one for me. It was more of an experience than a ride. Hard to describe. Think “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience!” but you’re facing inwards in a big circle. It had things interacting with you and things to watch. Meh. It’s listed as “temporarily closed” on their website, so we will see if they bring it back.
I absolutely loved the parades in the Magic Kingdom. When I was there for my birthday (we only had 1 day in the park) my husband and I weren’t going to watch the parade, but as we were walking by it drew us in and we ended up finding a spot to watch the whole thing. This is where different is a benefit. If you are a frequent Disney visitor you get tired (maybe it’s just me) of seeing the same parade for several years in a row.
The floats in WDW were completely different and there was a real fire breathing dragon which was spectacular. I loved how “steampunk” they made the dragon as well, lots of gears and interesting parts, and I loved how the legs moved with the wheels. Fun fact, it caught fire this year! But never fear, Disney was on it and nobody was injured in the process (well… nobody except the dragon.)
Another parade that happened to be there when we were was the Main Street Electrical Parade. This has been a long running parade and I distinctly remember watching it as a little girl in Disneyland. My favourite part was seeing the beautiful ladies dancing at Cinderella’s float with lights on their skirts. Yas. This. I was thrilled to share this experience with my kids and see their reactions. Disney tries to rotate these parades to different parks so currently it’s not at the Magic Kingdom.
Currently showing for parades at MK is “Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade” and “Move It! Shake It! Dance & Play It! Street Party.”
As a general rule, we found that WDW had a wider selection and higher quality of food options. As far as dining in goes, we only did one sit down restaurant, Be Our Guest. We made our reservation through the app 60 days prior to our trip. That’s the soonest that you are able to make a reservation. They have since changed it to 180 days ahead! Which is really crazy. You can book as many dining experiences as you want for up to 10 days.
Things book VERY quickly. Cinderella’s Royal Table will sell out in minutes. If you are staying on site you get a little bit of an extra window in that you can book 180 days in advance of your entire trip, not just 180 days out; so if it’s 190 days, you get a bit of an edge.
We decided on a mid-afternoon time. This was still considered lunch. For all of our varying budgets, the lunch menu had more affordable options. This is a great tip if you want to experience a sit down dinner on a budget. Both breakfast and lunch are generally at a lower price point. You are still getting all of the experience without busting the budget. They’ve also changed this since we’ve been there in that you can pre-order your breakfast and lunch items! They can be changed at anytime. This is great for someone like me that would look at the menu ahead and make a decision and look forward to it for months. But not for everyone.
Be Our Guest is everything we wanted it to be. The ambiance is spectacular, and the food is amazing as well. We had saved this for our last day as a celebration and it felt so special to dine there with all 19 of us. There are several seating areas. We were seated in the ball room, complete with beautiful chandeliers. We were able to take the kids around to the different rooms so they could experience it all. The Beast, as the host of the dinner, comes to take pictures with guests in the West Wing. Not only is the food amazing but the desserts are sold a la carte. They are small and around $5 each so we were able to try a couple of different ones. Try the “Grey Stuff”… it really is delicious!
A “do not miss” eatery is The Friar’s Nook (it’s across from the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, next to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh). Let me tell you it is at the top of my list to eat at next time! Loaded Buffalo Chicken Tots? Yes please! Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in Frontierland had a toppings station which is always a big hit with our fam.
This was definitely the thing that I researched the most before our trip… “what not to miss” food wise. My husband and I had a list of things (lobster mac and cheese anyone?), so when it came to food time we could go where we knew it was recommended. We also looked at the app ahead of time at the selections and the prices, so there weren’t any surprises. We take our food budgeting super seriously, so this was an important step for us. For our food budget tips, check out our post “Operation Food Budget” here from Disneyland. A lot of our tips apply in WDW as well.
Ask any Disney fanatic, and you’re going to get their “must try” list of snacks or food. In Disneyland, the options aren’t nearly as fun. In any of the WDW parks you’re getting a wide variety of foods. If you are into that, do your research before you go.
What to FastPass
Having to FastPass 180 days in advance was such a new concept to us. In DL you can’t MaxPass or FastPass until you’re in the park. This was a major challenge for us considering we hadn’t been to the Magic Kingdom before. Plus, trying to arrange over 14 days, which days we were doing what parks for 19 people. It was A LOT! So here is what we would recommend using your FastPass for (I believe you can only do 3 to start… we chose different ones for the 3 days we had in this park):
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train – this line never really dies down
- Space Mountain – always a classic
- Splash Mountain – this line gets quite long in the heat of the day
- Peter Pan’s Flight – long lines but worth doing standby as well at least once
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – worth a FastPass for sure
Due to the size of the park, leave a a little bit of time in between each FastPass since it is poor time management to be hopping from land to land just to hit one ride. This was the most stressful part for me (the official “FastPass-er” for the group of 19). I didn’t know how far apart these rides were, and what the most effective way to get them all done was. So I just made sure to spread them out by a couple hours. This gave us a direction to head in. We would then do the rides in the area before heading to the area where our next FastPass was. Don’t be afraid to pull out those maps to make sure you aren’t missing something.
As previously stated, we are definitely NOT experts when it comes to WDW. What we hope we can bring to the subject is how it feels to go for the first time. We are always learning and have been so grateful to connect with other Disney fans in this journey, particularly through Instagram. Head over to our Instagram, @stressfreemickey, to share some of your insider tips for the Magic Kingdom!
For our thoughts on the other 3 parks, check out Disney’s Animal Kingdom: First Impressions, Epcot: First Impressions and Disney’s Hollywood Studios: First Impressions.
Have a magical day!
Heidi, Erica, Elisia and Danielle