If you couldn’t tell by the title I went to Orlando for my two week holiday last month. I bet a lot of you are thinking, “Lucky bastard!” But I can imagine those who have experienced the wonders of Orlando will probably be interested in my experience, curious as to whether I had a good time as I’m sure they did, perhaps even wondering if I did, or attended, the same attractions as them.
I don’t wish this, and my following articles (because this was a massive holiday and I did a lot of shit, so naturally I need a load of articles to get across my stay in Orlando), to be me going “Hey, look at me, ain’t I awesome because I went to Orlando? Bet you wish you could’ve gone [insert smug-face].” That’s not the intention. Instead I just want to have fun with this and share my experiences because I genuinely want to share all the fun times I had with my partner with you guys.
Plus, I’m a critic, and I like to review things. So it seems natural to review my stay in Orlando. Yes, that seems completely random since I don’t normally talk about this kind of thing (and I don’t intend on becoming a glorified travel guide) but considering a lot of the attractions and places I visited were based around films and television programmes it seems fitting that I should talk about them on my site. I mean, I do normally talk about films and such, so this would simply be a unique expansion piece.
Anyway, I’ve delayed enough. My first topic on the list will be my visit to Walt Disney World‘s most popular theme park, Magic Kingdom. In many ways Magic Kingdom is the main park within Walt Disney World as it serves as the heart of the park (although it is featured at the very top of the massive resort).
For those of you who don’t know Walt Disney World is freaking huge, and I’m not exaggerating. When I first went there with my family back in 2008 I was stunned at how massive this place is. Let me put it in perspective, ahem, it has its own motorway to get from place to place. Yeah! It has multiple parks, each with their own resorts for the guests to stay at, two water parks, and two major transportation systems to get guests from place to place.
Unfortunately I didn’t stay on Disney because it’s far too expensive. I did it once when I first went and it was certainly an experience I won’t forget, but to get people past the usual scares of holidays to Orlando it’s not as expensive if you try different options. It’s only more expensive usually because people stay on the resorts and those hotels are really pricey. If you stay on International Drive for instance (like me and my partner do) you get a cheaper deal and your in the heart of Orlando.
International Drive, for those who don’t know, is a long road running through Orlando filled to the brim with hotels, local businesses, and entertainment, which means you won’t be short of food and places to keep yourself busy. But of course the painful thing is getting to the different parks which are stationed at the different ends of International Drive. Not to worry because it’s quite easy once you know what you’re doing.
Uber is the easiest option, because let’s face it, the taxi’s in Orlando are far too expensive. Unfortunately Uber is painfully restricted by its dependence on Wi-Fi, and its many glitches within the system (which caused us many problems throughout the holiday, to which we got stranded at one of the parks and had to pay $30 to get back to our hotel via taxi). Plus, at select hotels you can get free transportation to the Universal Orlando parks, along with paid transport to Disney, granting you multiple days transport to their parks to which you can chose the dates and times.
Anyway, Magic Kingdom. You’ll usually end up at the Transportation and Ticket Centre in order to reach Magic Kingdom (although you can access Epcot this way too) by passing through a security check (this is something you’ll have to get used to, America is thorough when it comes to searches, as well as making sure all your details check out, particularly when it comes to your finger prints being scanned upon entry to every park across Orlando).
Then you can either ride the Monorail or the Ferry to get to Magic Kingdom. Both means of travel are fun to do, but I guess it all depends on your preference, particularly when it comes to how fast you want to get to the park. With this in mind I would probably recommend the Monorail above the Ferry, but I will admit I like using the Ferry because it’s a fun little ride and it’s nice to slowly sail up to Cinderella’s Castle. Plus they play plenty of songs from your favourite Disney classics to get you into the Disney spirit.
Upon arriving at the Magic Kingdom you are blown away. It’s an impressive spectacle that must be experienced first-hand. Although I do always find the entrance area to the park rather at odds with the usual themes of Disney, to which you’re surrounded by an old American setting where everything is all yee-old America, hence the areas name “Main Street, USA”.
The high-street is filled with shops either side selling all kinds of Disney merchandise from clothing, ornaments, jewellery, and even food products. There’s also a really nice ice-cream parlour at the end which me and my partner would always go to (the smell inside the store just puts you in the mood to have something sweet and tasty). And ahead of you is Cinderella’s Castle in all its glory and from there the world is your oyster.
I will admit that me and my partner don’t do all the rides and attractions at each park but we do enough to get plenty of enjoyment, and obviously indulge enough to deliver useful information. I will say now that the Disney Parks are by far the most busiest, even on a quiet day and the queues will always be fairly long, if not painfully long. This is why it pays to use the Fast-Pass system which is included on certain entry cards (usually ones that allow you access to the park for a week or longer, or the special cards distributed for resort guests).
If you are fortunate enough to have Fast-Pass then I implore you to use it because it will really help. The best place to use Fast-Pass is Magic Kingdom because you can book three rides at the beginning of your day. How this works is you pick a ride you want to Fast-Pass and then book the time that suits you (thus allowing you to jump the longer queue for a more convenient queue that grants you priority to getting to the attraction sooner [making it a massive perk]), granting you an hour leeway to ride the attraction, and then you can book another ride as long as it doesn’t clash with the previous booked ride.
You can have three rides to begin with and once you have ridden those rides you can then proceed to book one ride at a time according to the times available later on in the day (but I will warn you that as the day goes on the times become less accessible so choose your rides carefully). This process will allow you more time to enjoy the rides, but of course there are certain attractions which are practically walk-on rides due to their nature, or you can enjoy the multiple shows and parades throughout the day.
Starting off in “Adventureland” you have the Jungle Cruise which is a fun little toured guide through the jungle, and depending on the driver can depend on how funny your trip is. This is a simple ride where you just sit back and enjoy the puns from the driver as you travel through a mocked-up jungle excursion filled with animatronics to fit around the hilariously (and often badly) written guide. Unfortunately this one usually has a long wait time and quite frankly as fun and relaxing as this ride can be it’s kind of not worth the long wait.
The highlight of “Adventureland”, and the attraction we solely come into the area for, is none other than Pirates of the Caribbean. Now, this ride has certainly changed over the years, mostly to accommodate the massive increased popularity of the attraction due to the live-action films which were originally based upon the ride itself. Many would assume it was the other way round but nope, the first film, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, took inspiration from different aspects of the ride and its theming, and history is history.
Now the ride features aspects from the film, including a warning from both Davy Jones and Black Beard, to Captain Barbossa trying to siege Tortuga in pursuit of Captain Jack Sparrow (the infamous protagonist of the film series). Of course Captain Jack Sparrow appears too, appearing throughout the ride as an animatronic, almost like a “Where’s Wally” aspect adding greater depth to the ride as you keep an eye for him, as well as listen out for aspects of the ride that have been especially crafted to include his infamous character.
Beyond that it’s just an enjoyable little boat ride into the world of Pirates, accompanied with a little dip into darkness, and some iconic scenes including “We Want the Red Head!”; a little moment where some Pirates are auctioning for a pretty red-head, as well as the odd remnants of the original ride which bear scenes that influenced the original live-action film such as a pirate sleeping with pigs and pirates trying to make the guard dog hand over the key to their cells.
We usually bypassed “Frontierland” as we had no interest in doing Splash Mountain, a water ride based upon the little critters from Song of the South that holds a massive drop towards the end (to which me and my partner aren’t a massive fan of) and we kept forgetting about Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Though I am glad we got to ride it on our last day as its such a fun little mini-coaster. The runaway train travels through a series of dangerous mines, swerving at fast speeds around the twists and bends around the western-themed area. What more can I say? It’s a fun little ride!
Again, like “Frontierland”, we mostly bypass “Liberty Square” because we only go there to do Haunted Mansion, another attraction which inspired a live-action adaption. It’s fair to say that the Eddie Murphy film didn’t do full justice to this iconic ride, with the film merely dissecting the ride’s most memorable moments and then trying desperately to build a narrative around them. The ride itself isn’t entirely terrifying but it can become unsettling with implied imagery that’s subtle and not so subtle.
For the most part it is a bit of fun, but the ride does try hard on scaring you, particularly through the creepy narrator throughout who takes you deeper into the ghoul infested mansion, even tempting you to join the palace of the dead through his means of escape from the land of the living (a not so subtle moment towards the beginning of the ride in which we see his strung-up suicidal corpse).
The most creepiest moment I found was the woman that chopped off her husbands head, shown through the portraits having his head disappear as you pass by and then her holding an axe with a chilling smile. Overall, it’s put together really cleverly with its combination of practical effects and projection work, giving the full illusion that you are surrounded by the dead. I particularly love the clever trickery used within the dining room where you see ghosts dancing, flying around, playing the piano, and coming out of the portraits, whilst constantly fading in and out of existence.
Onward to “Fantasyland” where one of our favourite attractions lies. This area is positioned behind Cinderella’s Castle and has seen much development since my first visit back in 2008. It now has an area dedicated to Beauty and the Beast , to which you can even visit The Beast’s castle and Gaston’s tavern, a The Little Mermaid ride, and a circus area filled with small rides for children and lots more goodies of Disney merchandise.
This area holds two of Magic Kingdom‘s biggest attractions, i.e. Peter Pan’s Flight and It’s a Small World. Although I don’t understand the appeal for these rides personally. The very theme for It’s a Small World makes me gain a headache and Peter Pan’s Flight is a massive joke of a ride. Fair enough it’s short and sweet for the kids and kind-of captures the spirit of the film (if half-arsed) but I expected more for such a wonderful classic, especially when it taught us to believe, a massive symbol of Walt Disney World. But for some reason the queue is always extremely long so there must be some kind of appeal for it I guess.
Anyway, onto the highlight of this tour of Magic Kingdom. Mickey’s PhilharMagic! Honestly, this ride sort of tricks your expectations because you go into it expecting one thing but end up receiving something entirely different, and this bit of trickery is the best part because it grants you one of the greatest shows Orlando has to offer. You expect to be indulged with a musical show from Mickey Mouse, entering a theatre where he’s about to perform with a magical orchestra but the show hits a massive speed bump when Donald Duck hasn’t actually prepared the orchestra.
Instead the grumpy-old duck is fast asleep and is woken up at the last moment to prepare the show (after Goofy mistakenly opens the curtain prematurely). Things go crazy from there when Donald doesn’t heed Mickey’s warning about touching his Magic Hat, thus mucking around with the orchestra without any control. After his temper gets the better of him the orchestra turns on him and the dimensions splinter, sending him on a long wild chase for the Magic Hat through famous musical numbers.
We have “Be Our Guest”, “The Sorcerers’ Apprentice”, “Part of Your World”, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”, “You Can Fly”, and last but not least, “A Whole New World”. It’s very clever how these seamlessly unconnected Disney properties merge together so seamlessly, having Donald comically interact within these different iconic musical numbers and getting himself into further trouble in search for the Magic Hat.
Then of course there’s the brilliant 3D throughout where it literally feels like you can reach out and interact with the show. On top of this there’s the 4D elements of smells, air and water being sprayed at you just to make the show feel that bit more special. Not only is this a really fun show to experience, clocking in at 12 minutes long, it’s just breath-taking experiencing all these wonderful songs that we grew up with on the big screen.
Me and my partner love this show because we both love Donald and we love the songs and it’s stayed true to what made it an instant classic to my 14 year-old self back in 2008. Mickey’s PhilharMagic is just a timeless classic that can be re-experienced over and over and it will honestly remain just as fresh, exciting, funny, and magical as your first viewing. Also it’s always thrilling to see Mickey take charge at the very end and then see Donald’s misfortunes be rewarded with him being fired into the wall behind you.
And we come to the end of our tour of Magic Kingdom with the final area of the park, “Tomorrowland”. This is definitely our favourite area of the park because not only does it resonate with our interest with science-fiction (or my partner’s keen fascination with space in general) it also holds most of the rides we really enjoy going on.
Although I was saddened to learn that Stitch’s Great Escape! was sadly closed down by the time we arrived this year which is a massive shame because I absolutely adore Lilo & Stitch (I ended up getting myself a massive Stitch plushie [I don’t care how old I am!]) and really loved that ride. Luckily everything else that we love about “Tomorrowland” was still there. We have Tomorrowland Speedway which serves as a really easy to control racetrack where you drive patrolled go-carts.
This racetrack is themed like a proper racetrack and you basically do one massive lap of the course before returning the cart at the end. It’s not as fast as I would like it to be, and the stirring is quite stiff at times which results in a bumpy ride as you bounce off your guide post practically the entire journey. Nevertheless, it’s still enjoyable to do, just don’t expect to speeding around the track free style like I originally thought otherwise you might in for a little shock (and slight disappointment).
Then there’s the gentle Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover which takes you on a relaxing tour around “Tomorrowland”. You even get a narrator talking about the different attractions, along with sections specially put together for the attraction to give you some brief insight into the area’s development and Walt Disney‘s interest with technology and building a brighter tomorrow, showcased perfectly through the original blueprints for Epcot and its themes of technological advancement and clean energy. If you want to chill out for a bit whilst still taking in the sights this ride is definitely recommended for you.
Next up we have Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, another fun attraction within Magic Kingdom. It’s something the whole family can enjoy in fact. The aim of this attraction is simple, sit in your little space-buggy and listen to Tim Allen‘s iconic Disney Pixar character Buzz Lightyear as you prepare to fight against his sworn enemy, the Evil Emperor Zurg. Basically it’s a shooting game and the person who has the most points wins at the end.
You can then judge your score against the points system and see just how well you rank up next to Buzz Lightyear and the rest of the Space Ranger’s. I will add though that I personally find this particular ride to be less than satisfying because it seemed like no matter how much I tried I just wasn’t racking up the points as well as my partner did and this was mostly due to the difficult aiming system, usually because I lost track of my red dot so I couldn’t see where I was in conjunction with the many targets I was trying to desperately hit.
That, and the ability to turn your craft manually often made things more difficult, if not unfair for one of the places depending which way the craft was facing. Overall, it’s a fun ride but I just don’t think it’s perfect and can often lead to unfair matches which obviously takes the fun out of the competition. Although it was hilarious when the ride broke down on us and we could keep playing in the meantime, to which we ended up getting scores beyond what you normally possibly could within one run through.
Last, but certainly not least, we have my personal favourite ride, Space Mountain. Now, my partner has been on this ride but she didn’t like it. Which is fair enough because this shouldn’t be ridden by the faint hearted, especially if you don’t like fast rides that travel in pitch darkness. Yep! This ride is a high-speed coaster that travels around a darkened room and you can’t see a sodding thing, which in my opinion makes it all the more better. You’re constantly whizzing by not knowing what the hell is in front of you as you suddenly accelerate, turn sharply, drop, or shoot up whilst whopping through the entire experience.
It’s an utter blast, and certainly a massive adrenaline rush. Every time I stepped off this bad boy I was left pumped and ready to do it all over again. But sadly this is one of the most popular rides at Magic Kingdom, next to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (which I still haven’t ridden due to the ridiculously long queues it produces), thus it nearly always has a long queue.
If you’re lucky you can catch it when it’s only 30 minutes, but even then you’ll be stuck behind all the people mucking about with the entertainment within the queuing area, thus not paying attention to when the queue has actually moved, and this will ultimately make your wait-time even longer. I definitely recommend Fast-Pass for this one so that you can jump right past all the inconvenience and enjoy this brilliant adrenaline fuelled masterpiece even faster.
To end off your day at Magic Kingdom I would definitely recommend waiting around for Happily Ever After. I’m sure you’ve heard of Walt Disney World‘s infamous firework displays, well this is the latest show. Happily Ever After replaced Wishes: A Magical Gathering of Disney Dreams earlier this year and I was quite sceptical because Wishes was a fantastic show to experience due to its magical and heart-warming nature. But man! Happily Ever After really does well at not only succeeding Wishes, but also outshining it.
The unique thing about Happily Ever After is it incorporates so many new elements to make this brand-new show even more special and magical. Instead of just concentrating of pyrotechnics, the show deals with projection mapping, lasers, and searchlights in order to tell a fun journey upon Cinderella’s Castle, thus making the fireworks a neat little spectacle in the background to accompany the new format.
And with many classical characters and songs playing and interacting on Cinderella’s Castle throughout the show, you just find yourself drawn into Disney’s magic, turning your adult-self into a kid again ready to tuck into more wonderful narratives by the infamous company. Seriously, I spent the first viewing astounded, jumping up with pure excitement as I saw all my favourite characters, and all the mesmerising songs I’d grown to love over the years, projected beautifully onto Cinderella’s Castle. By which point my partner had to calm me down as I was constantly pestering her as she tried to record the show.
I will say though that Happily Ever After isn’t on every night depending on the time of year (e.g. evening events such as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party during September and October) and when it is on it’s extremely popular so if you want a good viewing spot, get to Cinderella’s Castle early because people will start grabbing their spot 2-3 hours prior to the show’s starting time of 8:00/or 9:00pm. We found that if you stood at the beginning of “Main Street, USA” you not only got a decent view from afar with minimal people in your way (plus plenty of breathing space because the inner area can become very claustrophobic) you also had easy access to the exit upon the show’s conclusion. So something for you to ponder on.
And that’s my tour of Magic Kingdom. I hope you enjoyed this article. Say, I was aiming to do something different and I hope it paid off. Please share and comment because your opinion is very important to me and I really want to know if this idea was interesting to you guys, and if it was please share some of your experiences at Magic Kingdom or send in questions if you’re interested in going. Of course this is only the first Disney Park on my list and there are two more to go, plus a water park, and a shopping area. Then there’s Universal Orlando and Halloween Horror Nights. So stay tuned.