One Day in the Magic Kingdom
March 19, 2013 6:29 AM   Subscribe

We have exactly one day to spend at Disneyworld at the end of next week. We'll be taking our 4.5 year old to the Magic Kingdom. How can we make our visit enjoyable and not rushed?

We'll be on our semi-annual trip to Florida, to visit husband's extended family. Very early on Friday morning (Good Friday) we'll drive over from Sarasota and spend a day at the Magic Kingdom. We will be driving straight to the park. We fly out of Orlando on Saturday morning. Going to DW was a last minute decision, so we have planned exactly nothing. I'd really like to hit a few high points for the kid but am not looking to do as much as we can because I think we'd all end up exhausted and miserable. Obviously we are way too late to book character meals and whatever. Looking for links and tips for one day at the MK. I've looked at previous questions, and this one was quite helpful, but most trips assume more than one day.

We're staying somewhere a few miles away that evening, like a holiday inn or something similar. Not on-site, anyway.
posted by gaspode to Travel & Transportation around Orlando, FL (30 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 1. Be there at rope drop. It looks like MK opens at 8:00 AM (even though it opens at 7am for resort guests). Try to be there by 7:30ish. Next week is spring break, so the crowds are going to be incredibly crazy at all the parks, but MK stands the greatest chance of having a closure due to crowds, because it's so small and popular.

2. Head straight back to the new Fantasyland.

3. Uses Fastpasses as often as you can. Be advised that the cast members are strict now about only letting people use them during the hour that's printed on the ticket. You can't be late anymore.

4. I did a quick dining search for you and it looks like if you're willing to have dinner very late (9pm) you could do the character dining at Crystal Palace.

5. As soon as you see the ropes go up for the parade, SIT DOWN. Or grab a snack and sit down. These days (and it is especially true during spring break) people will wait 75-90 minutes for a parade to start so they won't lose their seat.

6. Have a good time.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:39 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've never been to Disneyworld, but I've done a heck of a lot of reduced-time trips to Disneyland, and here are some of the more random things I've done:

Keep track of the parade times and plan to be on the other side of the park. Not only do you avoid the parade traffic, the lines go down on a lot of the rides, and you can enjoy more.

Look for rides that have maximum value for time spent. The Disneyland Railroad always seemed like a boring idea, but getting to spend those 15 minutes just sitting down and looking at the park is surprisingly delightful. Whereas Mickey's Toontown was always too packed and not really filled with anything.

If there's a particular character the kiddo loves, find out if there's a photo/signing session with that character.

Don't ignore a ride just because it seems old-fashioned. If the line is short, go for it.

Always refer to the map. Toilets and snacks go a long way.

And if you don't think the kiddo'll throw a tantrum about it - think about renting a stroller. Not only is it great for when the kid's tired and doesn't want to walk, but it's also great for holding stuff.

And finally, pay attention to the weather. If it's rainy, take ponchos. If it's sunny, take a hat. Don't bother with umbrellas, because they'll just take up more space than you want to take up.
posted by Katemonkey at 6:39 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

We used Touring Plans for our trip, and loved it. You put in the places/rides you want to hit, and it tells you the best time to hit them. We also used the mobile app on our phones, and it made a trip to Magic Kingdom awesome.

You'll look at the wait time for a ride, and think "oh, they must be wrong", but then in 30 minutes, it'll be exactly what they said it would be at that time.
posted by needlegrrl at 6:50 AM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

There's also a free app called Undercover Tourist that has wait times for rides. We found it remarkably accurate.
posted by walla at 6:54 AM on March 19, 2013

Best answer: And if you don't think the kiddo'll throw a tantrum about it - think about renting a stroller. Not only is it great for when the kid's tired and doesn't want to walk, but it's also great for holding stuff.

Oh god THIS. Don't let the kid dissuade you. Tell the kidlet it's for Mommy's purse, then let him or her decide when to climb in instead of walking.

Remember that they designed and decorated most of the areas in Disney World to hold your (and your kid's) attention even if you're just standing around. See how many Mickey Mouse heads you can see from anywhere; make it a contest with the kid.
posted by Etrigan at 6:56 AM on March 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: We just did this with our 4 year old - it really is the perfect age, and your timing is also good for time of year - there won't be the insane crowds you see in the summer or over the winter holidays.

The best way to not be rushed, is don't be rushed. You don't have to do everything. If your kid wants to ride It's A Small World three times in a row, don't treat it like an imposition on seeing everything else, try to see it as, he/she found something they love and we can do this again!).

Get fast passes for the most popular rides (Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh are always close to an hour, for example), and use the time in between for whatever you are closest to. Character meet-and-greets can take the most time - the lines are long and except for some characters, the times are sporadic. So if your child has a favorite character and you think he/she would like to meet them, be prepared to treat that as another ride and budget 45 minutes. And with a child at that age, watch at least one show and parade. 4-5 is the sweet spot where they have the attention span to enjoy a parade and are still naive enough to be thrilled that the characters are waving right to them.

We also practiced standing in line with our son ahead of time, as a bit of a game. That way when we got there, the long long long lines were more of a familiar annoyance than an awful surprise (especially if his previous amusement waiting experience is the big slide at the playground).

Pack snacks (especially healthy stuff like grapes and granola bars, which are harder to find at the stalls), and be ready to need rain ponchos (they sell folded ones at the park but they're pretty expensive). This time of year it's easy to get a flash rainstorm that soaks everything and then vanishes as soon as it came, but the indoor rides keep going so it doesn't have to stop you.
posted by Mchelly at 6:59 AM on March 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

OK, it's going to be paaaaccckeeeeddddd. Once you understand that you'll be in wall-to-wall people, things will be better.

-Eat your meals at "off times." The lines for food can be insane if you're planning on the grab and go fast food type, and eating while every one else is off doing other things will help alleviate the crush of people issue.

-Be there as early as possible. Look at a map ahead of time, figure out what highlights are important to you and the kidlet, head to your number one priority first so you know you've got it done.

-The Peoplemover is a godsend to tired feet. Ride it toward the early evening and take the time to rest and soak in the atmosphere.

-Use Fastpasses as often as possible.

-At 4.5, kidlet is probably going to be tall enough for some stuff but not it all. Look at the websites ahead of time to see what stuff they are too short for so you don't end up wasting time and disappointing yourselves and kidlet in the process.

-Have a water bottle for each of you.

-Don't be afraid to just sit and enjoy the sights.
posted by skittlekicks at 7:05 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Get there at opening, head back to Fantasyland and hit the carousel and Dumbo ride. They've added another "round" of Dumbos so the line isn't as bad anymore. Plus, they give you a pager so your kiddo can play in the new playground there while you wait for your spot in line to come up. Do as much of Fantasyland as you can first thing, because that's the land that gets crowded first. Mickey's Philharmagic is a lovely lovely underrated 3D Movie that ties in lots of the modern movies.

If you want a pic with Mickey and Minnie, the Town Square Theater at the front of the park offers a pretty charming experience and I've found the lines there to be pretty short, since most people dash by.

I'll agree with Katemonkey and tell you to skip the parade. It's a lovely event, but not worth wasting the hours of park time involved with reserving the perfect spot. Plus the lines on the other attractions really go down during the parade. Hit up one of the castle shows instead. Same characters, similar cheesy music, all Disney magic!

And stay calm and smiling. Buy the kiddo a Mickey shaped balloon on your way out. My first trip was at 6 and I still smile at the memory of that balloon. Have a fantastic time!
posted by kimberussell at 7:06 AM on March 19, 2013

I second the recommendation for Touring Plans. They have some great one-day plans specifically designed for parents with small children, or you can make a personalized version for the stuff you/the kid want to see.

You have to pay for a subscription to Touring Plans, but it's pretty cheap, and it is worth every single penny.
posted by Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo at 7:08 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! Super helpful. Kiddo is a very girlie girl who *loves* the princesses and Mickey & friends. Is it even worth trying to do a princess character meet or will be we waiting on line for hours?

Can we bring our own stroller?
posted by gaspode at 7:13 AM on March 19, 2013

We got a stroller for my friend's 6 year-old. Best. Decision. Ever. In fact, we're going on Saturday and I'm thinking about a stroller just for all the crap we're using in the park (drink cups, bags, sweaters, sunglasses, etc.)

Here's a list of Disney World Apps. Some may be useful.

I'd hit Fantasyland first, then the more mild rides around the park, Haunted Castle, Pirates of the Carribean (same area), Jungle Cruise, etc.

Pace the long waits in line, with the easy to get into, air conditioned, sitting attractions, like the Hall of Presidents, Country Bear Jamboree and the Enchanted Tiki Room.

Tom Sawyer Island is either a hit or miss thing. I had a friend who LOVED it when she was young (it was free and you didn't need a ticket to get on it---I'm SO old!) My sister and I thought it was 'meh' but once, my Dad saw a rat on it, so I'm disenclined.

Don't have the expectation that you'll see everything in one day, that way lies madness. But have a bit of a list of things that make sense.

Stop frequently for hydration, snacks and general not throwing a tantrum because I'm hot, tired, hungry and over-stimulated.

Plan on a budget for crap you'll buy and discuss with your child beforehand. That way you won't be mauled to buy every stupid thing ever sold by Disney. "You have twenty dollars to spend, are you sure you want the balloon AND the rubber snake? Okay, but that's it, after your money is gone, it's gone. Right?"

There's a fruit stand in the Liberty Square, and carrots are offered as a side at most quick service stands. You can get roasted turkey legs in Frontierland (which makes sense) and Tommorowland (which makes NO sense). Pineapple spears are available in Adventureland. Fill up on the healthier stuff so you're not ravenously hungry when you pass the McDonalds fries wagon.

Wear sneakers with lots of cushion and support. Flip flops are an amature mistake. Wear shorts or capris, especially if you have thighs that rub together because 'chub rub' isn't a joke.

Have FUN!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:15 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You can bring your own stroller. Keep in mind that you'll have to leave it in a certain place outside of each attraction, and the cast members there move the strollers around to keep them tidy. So don't panic if you don't see your stroller right away.

If kiddo has a princess dress-up, let her wear it through the park if it's comfy enough. Cast members will start calling her Princess and the girly girls really light up.
posted by kimberussell at 7:20 AM on March 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

In addition to bringing your own princess dress-up, the Magic Kingdom now offers a 'princess parlor' where they do makeovers. If you're not averse to your kid being covered in glitter, she might enjoy it.
posted by nonasuch at 7:23 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: From memory, so I could be a bit off: When you first enter, you are very near one of the train stations. The patio on the second floor outside the train station is a great place to watch the parades (especially for short people), but you have to get there in time to grab a table and chairs and push them over to the side, overlooking the square (circle, really). If you're going to do any kind of souvenir shopping, that area is a good place - maybe one of you can save seats on the balcony while another shops? Could also be a good place to have a picnic lunch if you bring your snacks.

I had an app that let me know of waits, but remember that even the waiting at DW can be fun - there's so much to look at.

There is a short show that goes on outside the castle that's worth watching if you're a princess fan.

And omg, can't favorite the suggestion for fast passes enough.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:32 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Because conflicting statements were made above, I'll just reiterate what someone else said -- be prepared for the fact that mid-March to mid-April is one of the busiest times of the year to visit Disney World. It will be packed.
posted by BurntHombre at 7:41 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is it even worth trying to do a princess character meet or will be we waiting on line for hours?
Not hours, but an hour is definitely possible. There is an area set aside specifially to meet the Princesses, but if I remember right it's a little hard to find because they've relocated it while they are building a new one. It will be on the map, though. This site also has good info on where to find them.

If you can swing it time-wise and money-wise, there are also character breakfasts, including one at Cinderella's castle, where you can sit down and eat and the characters join you. Advanced reservations are required, but it shouldn't be too late to get one.
posted by Mchelly at 7:45 AM on March 19, 2013

If you can swing it time-wise and money-wise, there are also character breakfasts, including one at Cinderella's castle, where you can sit down and eat and the characters join you. Advanced reservations are required, but it shouldn't be too late to get one.

Like I mentioned above, it is months too late to get one. Next week, next to Christmas, is the busiest week WDW has all year.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:54 AM on March 19, 2013

Response by poster: Yes, i noted in my question that it was way too late for a character meal reservation at a reasonable time.
posted by gaspode at 7:56 AM on March 19, 2013

Best answer: What's likely to be the most challenging part for you is the most important thing - get there at opening! Don't sleep in and hit the road early. The first couple of hours you can bang through a bunch of rides. If the kiddo wears down, don't be afraid to leave early - a day at Disney World is exhausting. is your friend.
posted by Daily Alice at 9:00 AM on March 19, 2013

If it is important to your little one to meet the princesses, or a specific princess, a GREAT time for that is during the parades. We've found that the lines for the characters disappear during parades, and often use that to get to see princesses with my daughter.

That said, the Princess meet and greet in the Town Square theatre on Main Street has a rotating cast of princesses to meet, all of which are awesome and if your little one has any interest at all, is guaranteed to be a HUGE hit. Make sure you get an autograph book on the way in, my daughter still goes back and look through hers from years ago. The Town Square Princesses also have a Fast Pass option, which you may need to use.

FWIW: Touring Plans rates the day you're going to be there a 9.8 out of 10 for crowd levels at the Magic Kingdom. If I were you, I would simply try to enjoy the park at a slow pace, not try to have any must-ride issues, and just take it in. There are going to be more people there than you can possibly imagine, and it's going to be _ridiculously_ crowded. No, even more crowded than that. I would get there at rope drop, ride anything you hope to ride before 10am, and then just enjoy the rest of the day looking at stuff, because by noon it's going to be shoulder-to-shoulder.
posted by griffey at 9:20 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

yeah, forget my earlier comments about low crowds and easy reservations (sorry!) I somehow lost track of where in the month we are (I'm also in deep denial about passover cleaning). Still, I would keep to the notion that a successful day at Disney is one where your kid has a great time and you don't go too nuts. At 4.5 years old and on a first visit, they won't know what they missed. So long as you start with a checklist of the things you feel you must do, and don't let yourself feel like you're wasting time or money by letting her dance around the Tiki logs or staring at giant cranes eating popcorn by the trash cans during valuable ride time, you should be able to have a great day.

Plus if your little girl is still short or isn't into thrills, you'll buy yourself an extra 2-3 hours just by avoiding going to Space Mountain, Big Thunder Railroad and Splash Mountain (which I think may still be closed for renovations). Even with fast passes, those can be major time sucks.
posted by Mchelly at 9:29 AM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have a great trip!
We just got back from Disney with our 4-year-old. I didn't expect how much time she'd want to spend looking at the Mickey Mouse statues, topiary, etc. so give yourself some slack time to accommodate these unexpected treats!

We had plans to see more rides, but in the end, these little things created some great memories for her.

And the apps showing line times are so helpful.

have fun!
posted by smelvis at 9:35 AM on March 19, 2013

Best answer: Best advice I got was go to the left. One day was plenty for me and my (then) 8-year-old.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:17 AM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Stroller, stroller, stroller. We did this with my oldest when she was 5 (first trip) and for some reason, didn't with my youngest when he was almost 5. The difference in how long they lasted was huge. And water, and sunscreen.
posted by pearlybob at 10:25 AM on March 19, 2013

Best answer: Don't all wait in the bag check line together. Hand all the bags and the stroller to one person, while the other sails through the "no bag" line with your daughter and heads straight to the ride you want to ride most to get a Fastpass (if necessary).

You can only hold one Fastpass at a time. Keep that in mind if a Fastpass machine is only offering tickets for 6 hours from now. If you take it, you won't be able to get any more until that one expires.

Figure out where you want to eat long before you get hungry. Otherwise everyone will be cranky long before you get any food in you.

Snacks, water, sunscreen.

Shows like the Monsters Inc Laugh Floor or The Tiki Room are good places to cool off and rest your feet when you get tired.
posted by jrossi4r at 10:37 AM on March 19, 2013

Best answer: We did this 2 years ago with our 6 and 8 year old girls and it was totally doable.

I agree that being there at rope drop is essential for beating crowds, not to mention a great kickoff to the day.

Get a celebration button! It will get the kiddo some extra attention. We were given ours right at the ticket booth. Also, we bought our tickets ahead of time (at AAA) and didn't have to wait in line to buy.

If you go to Tinkerbell’s Treasures (the princess gift shop located in Fantasyland), you can ask for one of the staff to sprinkle pixie dust on your daughter’s head. She’ll get a kick out of it.

Mickey’s Philharmagic show and the fireworks at the end are two things I would not miss.

Instead of bringing an autograph book, bring a 5x7 or 8x10 photo mat and have the characters sign that. Then you can frame a photo of your day within the mat.

Have fun!
posted by yawper at 11:19 AM on March 19, 2013

Bring snacks and drinks (especially a water bottle to refill). You may want to get one meal there but often the lines are long, and the crowds are annoying, and the food isn't memorable. For us it's a wait of time. I'd eat breakfast on the way, bring snacks and a lunch, and once you leave sit for a nice dinner and hopefully she'll sleep on the way home after dinner.

We've been 3 times (for one day) in the past 3 years with my now 5 year old and 2 8 year old brothers. I DIDN'T love having a stroller. It can be a pain to park and push when it's really busy, and it will probably be really, really busy. Between me and my husband giving piggyback rides when he was wanted a break worked well.

(Highest Attendance:
Presidents' week in February
Mid March through Late April ("Spring Break")
Memorial Day weekend
Mid June through Labor Day
Thanksgiving Day and weekend
Christmas week through New Year's Day)

If you are techy and use your smart phone a lot I would say do the Disney line app. We do the one with the frog picture ( I can't remember the name) and it really has been great.

As for meeting up with a princess. Look up the schedule and plan a snack time then. Have one adult sit down on a curb with your daughter and the other adult stand in line. Just be there a little early. The line goes from nothing to huge once people see what is going on. (I just checked- the schedule is already listed) .

A couple fun shows to rest at are the Philharmonic and the Monsters, Inc.

Have fun!
posted by beccaj at 11:44 AM on March 19, 2013

Wear shorts or capris, especially if you have thighs that rub together because 'chub rub' isn't a joke.

Get some Body Glide stick (sort of like a deodorant stick) before you go. Usually available at sporting goods stores or on amazon. It's useful for chafe-prone areas as well as blister-prone areas like the backs of heels and on toes.
posted by Fleebnork at 4:51 PM on March 19, 2013

First, Fastpass. Despite what has been said, you can hold more than one Fastpass at a time. You just can't get a second one until either a) the first one has opened for use, or b) two hours have elapsed since you got it (the time is printed on the FP). I recommend downloading Disney Mobile Magic, a free app from Disney World that let's you see all the rides with available FP times, so you can make sure you're choosing one that makes sense. Often guests will enter the standby queue on an attraction with a wait that's posted at 40 minutes when a Fastpass is also available with a return time of 45 minutes later. By using the FP you can go experience a second ride or a unique experience (like the glass blower on Main Street) while the others are just in line. Those unique experiences often make the difference between a good day at the park or an average day.

Second, Child Swap. As the parent of a 4.5 year old you'll have to accept that they'll need some downtime alternated with activity to burn off energy. This is your chance to go on the rides either too scary or with height limits too tall for your child. Use Fastpass if you can and tell the cast member at the front you want to child swap. This way both parents get to experience the ride with minimum wait. Using the mobile app, you can time these for when your child is most likely to nap.

Third, I know you said Magic Kingdom, but I want to suggest you choose a park that does not have early Extra Magic Hours (EMH) that day (both the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Hollywood Studios do). You've already picked one of the busiest days of the year to attend. Even on moderate days, when you have a child, getting in at rope drop is vital to maximizing your time in the Magic Kingdom as you can do so much during those initial 90 minutes. However, if all the Disney World resort guests are in the park ahead of you (there are over 29,000 guest rooms eligible for EMH), you'll experience longer lines by the time you are allowed to enter. I suggest you try EPCOT. It absorbs large crowds better, the Flower & Garden festival will be going on, and there is actually a lot for a 4.5 year old to do.

Finally, a backpack with water, snacks, a few toys for the kid, and ponchos is a lifesaver. If it's raining (but not in a lightning storm) throw on those ponchos and go have some fun. I recommend stainless steel water bottles with a filter. You can fill those up from any water fountain or ask for a free cup of ice water from any food counter with a soda fountain.
posted by IndigoSkye at 5:36 AM on March 20, 2013

Response by poster: Finally getting around to updating this. First, thank you all so much for your advice. I marked as best answer those who had advice that we specifically used.

I deliberately left some stuff out of my question because I didn't want to sound super strident, but anyway, we are NYers, kid is totally used to crowds, standing in line, lots of walking, etc. And neither myself nor mr. gaspode are that into the whole Disneyworld thing, so we were definitely happy to go with the flow and do whatever she wanted to do.

Based on your advice and wanting to get there when it opened, we changed our hotel reservations and came into the Orlando area the night before. We stayed at a hotel that had shuttle service and got the first shuttle in the morning. Because we didn't want to hit breaking point and turn a nice day into a meltdown, we planned (and did) leave to get the first shuttle back to our hotel at 4.15. That left a decent amount of time to do what we wanted.

First surprise: it wasn't really that crowded. Or, at least it wasn't as crowded as I thought it would be, because I was envisioning Times Square on a busy day type crowded, and it so wasn't that. We got there, wandered in, picked up a fastpass to meet the princesses in the Town Hall theater and headed to FantasyLand. Looked around a bit and managed to wander straight on to the Ariel ride and then the Pooh ride. It transpired that most of what the kiddo wanted to do was ride the carousel and meet characters, so that's what we did. We did get her to wear her Cinderella costume and that was great -- she did get stopped and asked for autographs by employees which was very cute. And Cinderella (the "real" one) asked her to twirl with her, which pretty much made her day. All in all a very happy little girl.
posted by gaspode at 2:05 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

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