My wife and I are notorious for always working so when it comes time to take vacations with our children, we don’t mess around. Our definition of vacation starts and ends with adventure and imagination so when you combine those two words in one sentence there’s no better place to start a creative, 36-day family road trip vacation than the best spot on the planet to create memories: Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando.
Park Hopper Pass is Handy
The Magic Kingdom is severely different than what I first discovered it as a young boy in the late 70’s. Back then you could see the park in a little less than
a full day and there was no Epcot, Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom. In order to maximize our limited time and the rides for this specific highlights of the various parks trip, Disney furnished us with Park Hopper passes, a smart option that gives you free reign to literally “hop” between parks for 1 to 10 days, depending on the number of days you plan to be at Disney. We also tapped into an incredible, free online resource I hadn’t been aware existed until this trip, the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (www.disneyworldmoms.com). (I was able to verify that yes, it’s perfectly okay to take a tripod into the theme park).
The Magic Kingdom
One of the biggest benefits about staying at a Disney resort is not only the free transportation to and from the parks but also that they exclusively feature what’s known as Extra Magic Hours. Each day, one of the 4 Walt Disney World theme parks opens one hour early or remains open up to 3 hours after regular closing time. In planning our trip to Disney we took into account the Extra Magic Hours and combined our parks to be sure that one of the two were slated for the Extra Magic Hours so on this first full day of Disney our designated parks were the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Arriving early, and especially extra early at the Magic Kingdom, is logistically speaking smarter for families with small children than staying extra late because for the first three hours you can get on rides with little to no lines and your children are not feeling worn out. We used this strategy to “attack” the rides we know are always packed first: Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain Railroad.
If you want to take your family’s iconic photo in front of Cinderella’s Castle, park opening time is also the one time to get a guaranteed awesome shot because the sunlight is perfect and visitors are not yet crowding into all your photos.
Character Lunch at the Crystal Palace
The Magic Kingdom has a number of theme-related and fast food style restaurants throughout the park but our favorite is definitely the Crystal Palace, which is right near Main Street and features character dining with Winnie the Pooh and his friends Eeyore and Piglet. The Crystal Palace has a buffet of “American”-style fare and also includes a variety of healthy menu items for the family, which is part of a major push at Disney parks.
Budget Your Time Around the Easy Best Rides
In my years of visiting the Magic Kingdom, I’ve always found that that the three easiest rides to get on are It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean and Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin. No matter what time of the year you visit you are almost never going to have to wait for more than 30 minutes or so on these rides so budget your time around them and be sure to take advantage of the Fast Pass option for the attractions that have longer wait times.
Disney Hollywood Studios
We devoted the second part of our day to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which we had yet to visit as a family and was overdue given our fanatical love of movies.
Back when I first visited this theme park in 1991, the Indiana Jones stunt show was packing the crowds (it still does) but today that incredible show has plenty of competition from a growing list of cool rides and shows that read like my personal list of Hollywood favorites: Star Wars (the Star Tours ride), Indiana Jones, The Twilight Zone (the Tower of Terror) and Toy Story.
Our Hollywood Studios journey began in the mysterious, dark hotel that is home to the “Tower of Terror.” From a nostalgia point of view this is probably one of my Top Five Rides in all of Disney because I adore The Twilight Zone TV show that the ride is based on. My kids watched every episode of the series during our summer road trip last year so they doubly appreciated the ride and wild, dark dips it takes you on.
The Star Tours ride is the newest attraction in all of Disney and suffice to say, if you’re a prequel Star Wars fan like I am you will not be disappointed. In this ride you take a digital 3-D journey with C3PO and R2-D2 aboard a Starspeeder 1000 that will have you gliding among the trees with Wookiees on Kashyyyk, kick up some desert sand in a podrace on Tatooine and helping attack the heavily defended Death Star! Along the way you will also encounter Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, Jedi Master Yoda, Admiral Ackbar, Princess Leia and even Chewbacca (who appears in a comical way).
The last ride we were able to do before our abbreviated visit to Hollywood Studios ended today was the Buzz Lightyear ride. This ride is actually very addictive and the kids, my wife and I agreed that as good as the Magic Kingdom Buzz Lightyear ride is, this version is better. Like the Magic Kingdom’s Toy Story ride it features a shooting game but this one seems more competitive. (There are actual web site postings about how to score more points in this game).
Photographing Cinderella Castle Fireworks
The best place to view the famous nighttime fireworks display is directly in front of Cinderella’s Castle. If you have an advanced consumer or professional grade digital camera I highly recommend you bring a tripod to the park because it’s the only way you are going to get these types of spectacular photos. I shot the two photos pictured here with my Nikon camera. To get these photos I set my camera to 100 ASA, F22 for 30 seconds on a tripod.
Where in the world is Papi?
271 miles from Miami to Orlando (possibly 253 miles)
States Traveled so far: Florida