This is part 2 of my Disney World Vacation Guide. Like part 1, this will be a little longer and focuses on the remaining 3 parks and the Disney Springs area.
First, up is the classic, ultimate park for a Disney nerd. Its got everything that you look for in a Disney park: a castle, fireworks, characters, Main Street, etc. If you can’t find something there for you, well then you are beyond help.
If you are going to WDW, definitely make sure you have set aside a solid day and half for the Magic Kingdom. There are so many rides and other things to do, that you really need the time if you even want to feel like you scratched the surface. Unfortunately, the FastPass+ system has made it so that even classically unpopular rides can have very long standby wait times. As a result, it can be tough to get a lot of rides in besides your FastPass rides. If you go early or stay late, you may be able to get on a few without a pass, but it does get harder.
From a food standpoint, I will say that the Magic Kingdom isn’t necessarily a foodie dream. That said, there are a few gems that are worth checking out for specific items. Don’t expect complicated or interesting, but you can find some well executed park classics and some inventive Disney themed options.
Rides in Magic Kingdom
The Magic Kingdom is home to so many of the quintessential Disney rides you can think of. Many of these are some of the campy, often-derided classics (think Carousel of Progress or the Tiki Room). On the other hand you get the new and extremely popular 7 Dwarves Mine Train. I will say there are no bad rides, maybe some that aren’t always worth doing, but none are bad. I personally like to make sure I do a mix of the bigger rides and some of the smaller ones to get the whole experience.
Obviously, you need to get a FastPass for the Mine Train Coaster, wait times can often end up well over an hour. As such, I always get one since its one of the few roller coasters that Rob actually likes. I will also generally get a pass for Space Mountain, although if you are patient you can often find a really short wait time there. Another ride that you NEED a pass for, if you want to ride it, is Peter Pan’s Flight. It is not an exciting ride buy its line is always very long.
Now that leaves you a lot of remaining choices to round out your FastPass selection. I will generally get Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean. I also like to get Haunted Mansion to make sure I don’t have to sit in a long line. If the weather is good, I will get a Splash Mountain. I do not like to use FastPass for Small World or Buzz Lightyear, you can often get on these if you are patient.
Now, there a lot of rides that I love that aren’t FastPass and are a lot of fun as fillers. Many of these are classics and not everyone likes them. I say they are fun so I always do them. These rides include the Carousel of Progress, Enchanted Tiki Room, People Mover, and Philharmagic. The nice thing is that these rides all make for a great break if you need some time to just relax and cool off.
Rides are not all that there is to experience in the Magic Kingdom. Make sure you pick up a Times Guide or look on the WDW app for the schedule of the various street shows and parades. Many of these are the hidden gems of the Magic Kingdom and are definitely worth taking the 10-15 minutes they may take. You will laugh at many or find yourself singing along to the many catchy tunes used.
One of my favorites is the Main Street Trolley show. It occurs 2-3 times every morning and is basically a mini parade. It features some of Disney’s parade performers, dancing to some classic musical songs (think Hello Dolly, Meet me In St. Louis, and Enchanted). Its fun and the songs stick in your head.
Another classic Disney favorite are the Dapper Dans. If you aren’t familiar, this is the classic Main Street barber shop quartet. They are one of Disney’s oldest traditions. We realized on this trip, that several of the performers have been doing this for several years and we saw them on multiple trips. They perform a little comedy bit on Main Street that is a good chuckle and they interact with guests during it.
Something Disney is well known for is parades. The Magic Kingdom has two that run every day. One is a fun interactive parade aimed at kids: the Move it, Shake it, MousekeDance It (yes that is right, pictures are below). It runs a few times over the course of the day and is worth a stop. A lot of the characters are involved and they have a little dance party things as part of the parade. The second is the Festival of Fantasy parade. This is the big afternoon parade that involves a very long list of characters and floats. This has quickly become a favorite after it was rolled out a few years ago.
One of WDW’s less well know daily events is one of my absolute favorites: the Flag Retreat. Every day, a guest with a military background is selected to be honored and participate in the flag retreat at 5pm. The Disney team makes a big deal out of this, the Main Street Band, Dapper Dans, and Disney Security team make this a great event. A couple of years ago, Rob actually got to participate and it was one of his best Disney memories. Its a moving event that is worth taking some time out of your day to watch.
Disneyland also performs the ceremony, which they run a little differently. The CA version brings a bit more of a community feel as they invite any veteran there to join in the event. When we were there, Rob met a number of people who went routinely just to participate in the ceremony.
Lastly, a trip to WDW would not be complete with out Magic Kingdom fireworks. The current show is called Happily Ever After, and I have to say it is great. I loved the old show, Wishes, but the new one really holds up and incorporates a lot of new elements and some classic ones that make it a great mix. What I really like to do is view the show from different locations; you can get such a different feel just by changing the perspective.
Magic Kingdom Dining
As I said earlier, the Magic Kingdom is not necessarily the park to go to for adventurous dining. For the most part, you will find things that have pretty mass market appeal. The quick service locations generally serve basics like chicken tenders, burgers, and hot dogs. The table service go for general standards as well. That said, the food isn’t bad and some of the places actually are very well executed if a bit basic.
One of my favorites is Sleep Hollow Refreshments. Its basically a single window and some tables, but they have a spicy fried chicken and waffle sandwich. It is easily one of my favorite lunch options in the Magic Kingdom. Columbia Harbor House is another good option focusing a bit more on classic American fish and sandwich options. Lastly, Pecos Bill’s is an option that provides tacos, nachos, and a really good southwest-style salad.
Snack-wise, there are two standouts that basically serve a variation on the same thing: Sun-Shine Tree Terrace and Aloha Isle. These two locations are known for their fruit soft-serve swirls. Sun-Shine Tree is home of the citrus swirl and the utterly adorable Orange Bird Mascot. Aloha Isle is home of the famous Dole Whip, pineapple swirl. These are basically the only snacks I really go for. You can easily find other options all over the park though like Mickey Pretzels, ice cream bars, popcorn, and churros (a Disney classic). Gaston’s Tavern is a good spot to go grab breakfast in the park if you can wait until after 9am and don’t want Starbucks.
Lastly, for table service meals, I highly recommend the Plaza restaurant. It serves what is effectively comfort food in a quaint setting just off Main Street. It is definitely not “fancy” food but its good and not overly priced. Other options include the Be Our Guest Restaurant, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and Liberty Tree Tavern. Be Our Guest and Royal Table are both great with kids given the atmosphere and character dining experience. A good option for a slightly more adventurous palette (at least by MK standards) is the Jungle Skipper Canteen, the food here is really good, but on a hot day can be a bit heavy.
Animal Kingdom is a park that for a while we had stopped going to. Recently, we have started going a lot more. After EPCOT it is probably the best foodie park. It has a number of good table-service options and some truly great counter-service locations offering a wide variety of styles. Theming wise, the park is also impeccably done (it can be a bit confusing to walk around as it isn’t quite as logical as MK or EPCOT. You can easily spend a solid afternoon and evening here, possibly even stretch it to a full day if you take advantage of some of attractions that are often considered “skippable”.
Rides and Attractions
I will be honest, on this trip we actually didn’t ride all that many rides in Animal Kingdom. Not because they aren’t good, but because we didn’t really feel like it. Animal Kingdom is actually a really good ride park. It holds the Kilimanjaro Safari, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, and Kali River Rapids. These are all great rides, although Rob is not a fan of Everest (or most coasters in general).
The other thing Animal Kingdom has is the World Of Pandora area. This area alone is an attraction in its theming but also holds two rides. I will say the area is actually pretty small but it looks so cool. The two rides are the real hit here though. The one is a boat ride that we haven’t yet done. The other is Flight of Passage and it might be one of my new favorite rides! It is basically Soarin’ on steroids. It combines a great cue/wait section, awesome ride vehicle, and 4D type inputs. Make sure you get a FastPass, wait times can be insane (like several hours).
One of Rob’s favorite things is that they now have a Kevin character (the big bird from Up) that wanders around. Its one of those pretty silly things that is just really fun. We also randomly happened upon a bird show by the Tree of Life all about Macaws. While I generally am not a bird fan, this was actually pretty cool. They get a bunch of the birds to fly in and then out which makes for a really impressive display.
As I said early, Animal Kingdom is actually one of the better foodie parks. The general theme provides an easy setting for a multi-national food experience and a large number of options exist. We have never been to any of the table-service options, so I can’t speak to them much. We will definitely be trying one next time though!
Quick-service dining at Animal Kingdom may actually be the best of the 4 main parks. You can consistently find really good options that go beyond standard theme park fair. There is some really good barbecue available at Flame Tree and Harambe Market. Harambe also has gyros and other food options worth a look. In the Pandora area is the Satu’li Canteen which basically does a customizable rice bowl meals. So plenty of great options! For a snack, check out Mr. Kamals which does specialty fries, one has a yogurt and sriracha sauce on it!!
Lastly, Animal Kingdom has some pretty good bar/lounge type places. We took advantage of the Nomad Lounge which is next to Tiffins (a table-service option that looked really good). Nomad had a really good beer list and some truly excellent small plates. We probably could have made a meal out of those alone! Another option is the Dawa Bar, which is an open air, quick-service type bar offering a mixture of beer and cocktail options. If you are into sweeter cocktails (they are all brightly colored), there is also an option in Pandora called Pongu Pongu.
Unfortunately, Hollywood Studios is still in a bit of transition period still with Toy Story Land now open and the Star Wars area still under construction. HS has also historically been a bit of a food dead zone, they are working to make that a bit better but its still coming along. Hollywood Studios is one of the better ride parks though, with a high concentration of more “thrilling” rides.
I won’t spend a lot of time on the park overall. We did get to ride the new attractions in Toy Story Land and Star Tours which is one of Rob’s favorites. We also really like to new Muppet’s area they have set up toward the back of the park.
Food-wise we tried out one of the new lounges. There is a beer focused bar next to the Sci-Fi Drive-in Restaurant, the Baseline. They had a very good selection of beers available and a very good German pretzel. The bar has a very nice outdoor seating area that looks over at the Muppet courtyard.
If you are looking for restaurants, we have tried Brown Derby on past trips and the food there was quite good. Its also got an associated lounge with a small patio seating area. We popped into the lounge at the 50s Prime Time Cafe which has a cool 50s home vibe to it. I will definitely have to go back next time. Otherwise, most of the quick service options are fairly standard. There are some good lighter options along the Sunset Blvd section.
If you went to Disney World more than 4-5 years ago, this was formally called Downtown Disney. I have to say, Disney made a massive improvement. The number, quality, and variety of restaurants is a huge step in addition to the new shopping options have made this a true Disney destination itself.
At this point, we have probably tried 6-7 restaurants there at this point. My favorites are easily Morimoto Asia, Wine Bar George, and Edison. Morimoto is one we have gone to several times, they have some great noodle bowl options and some great Korean BBQ ribs. It definitely has a modern Asian ambiance that fits well with the food. Its definitely a good fit for either a date option or for the whole family.
Wine Bar George has a really great wine list, its super extensive with a wide variety of styles and sources. The bar is fairly large and we have not had a problem grabbing a seat there thankfully. The bar staff there is super friendly and knowledgeable, and many of them have been there since the place opened almost two years ago now.
The Edison is one that we tried for the first time on this trip. It has a pretty interesting vibe, a sort of turn of the century industrial or steampunk kind of thing. They specialize in cocktails and elevated comfort food dishes. After 10pm it becomes adults only and turns into more of a bar with live music. Most of the restaurant is actually situated underground with some space at entrance level and a small bar.