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The most-visited theme park in the world (19.3 million visitors in 2014), the Magic Kingdom, opened on October 1, 1971, and is more than twice as large as the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, although it has about the same number of attractions. Of the four parks in Walt Disney World, the Magic Kingdom is the one most people envision: Castle, Main Street, Space Mountain. It’s also the first one tourists visit.

The park almost always opens about 15 minutes before the posted opening time (the “rope drop”), when there’s a cute musical show in the train station above the entry plaza. Characters sing “Good Mornin’” while Mickey and his pals arrive spectacularly by train to greet them and open the park for the day. The hour or two after this are the most fruitful of the day, with short lines. Closing time (often preceded by a 10-min. fireworks show) varies, usually from 7 to midnight. Near closing time, if you are allowed to get in line for a ride, you’ll be able to ride. Hours change almost daily, and Disney transportation runs an hour before opening to an hour after closing.

Keep your ticket card/room key/MagicBand safe. You’ll need it throughout the day.

Getting In
The proof that you’re about to experience a fantasy realm comes in the effort required to enter it. Designers wanted arrival to be a big to-do. Many guests brave three forms of transportation before they see a single brick of Main Street. Disney bus riders are conveniently dropped off by the front gate. Guests who drive take the parking tram to the Transportation and Ticket Center. (If you park in Aladdin, Woody, or Jafar, it’s not too far to walk.) From there, a mile away, the Magic Kingdom gleams like a promise from across the man-made Seven Seas Lagoon, but you still have to take either a monorail (after a 2009 accident that killed a pilot, guests are no longer permitted to ride in the cab) or a ferryboat to the other side. Transit time is more or less equal. I recommend doing one in each direction—the gradual approach of the boat is probably the most exciting for your morning glimpses of that famous Castle, and the monorail is probably better at the end of a long day because you’ll have air-conditioning. Ferries are named for execs who helped build Disneyland and this park. For getting off quickly, I prefer the bottom deck. Whatever you choose, considering crowds and queues, bank on about 45 minutes to enter or leave the park, and even longer at closing time when the hordes stream out of the gates and clog transportation in a popcorn-fueled death march. “Stay close,” mothers whisper to their children when they see it.

Upon alighting, submit your bags for a hasty inspection and go through the ticket checkpoint. Take the requisite photo at the Floral Mickey in front of the train station, where the “population” sign indicates the rough number of guests who have come here over time. Then head through the tunnels of the mansard-roof train station. There, by the right-hand tunnel, you’ll find the only place in the park to rent strollers and wheelchairs. Note the stylized paintings of the big attractions, done like old-fashioned travel posters. They are a tradition in these tunnels.

Strategy
If you have little kids, troop without delay to Fantasyland, because the lines get heavy there. On hot days, schedule Splash Mountain Fastpasses for the peak heat of afternoon, when you’ll need the cool-down.

The Best of the Magic Kingdom

  • Don’t miss if you’re 6: Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  • Don’t miss if you’re 16: Space Mountain
  • Requisite photo op: Cinderella's Castle
  • Food you can only get here: LeFou’s Brew, Gaston’s Tavern, Fantasyland; Citrus Swirl, Sunshine Tree Terrace, Adventureland; Pineapple Float, Aloha Isle, Adventureland; Mickey Mouse ice cream bars (available at carts throughout the park)
  • The most crowded, so Fastpass or go early: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Splash Mountain, Peter Pan’s Flight, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Skippable: Swiss Family Treehouse, Tomorrowland Speedway
  • Quintessentially Disney: The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, “it’s a small world”
  • Biggest thrill: Splash Mountain
  • Best show: Wishes fireworks
  • Character meals: Cinderella’s Royal Table, Cinderella Castle; the Crystal Palace, Main Street, U.S.A.
  • Best shopping: The Emporium, Main Street, U.S.A.
  • Where to find peace: The Fantasyland-to-Tomorrowland railway-side trail; the park between Liberty Square and Adventureland