Out the other side of the train station in the Town Square, you’ll be greeted by your first few costumed characters and to a full view of Cinderella Castle, home to an unlikely jumble of princesses, at the end of Main Street, U.S.A. Like the first time you see the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House, there’s something seminal—oh, help us, dare we say magical?—about laying eyes on that Castle, and it can’t help but stir feelings of gratitude. This view is as American as the Grand Canyon.

Exploring Main Street: The original Main Street, U.S.A., was created as a perfected vision of Walt Disney’s fond memories of a formative period of his childhood spent in Marceline, Missouri, minus any churches. To impart a sense of coziness, designers built the Main Street facades at diminishing perspective as they rise. Other subtle touches: Shop windows are lower than normal to enable children to see inside, walkways are pigmented red to accentuate both unreality and safety (it alerts walkers of shifts in levels), and buildings on both sides inch closer to each other as you walk, subconsciously drawing your attention forward. All the “American” flags are actually missing a few stars or stripes so they can fly in all weathers without disrespecting the true Old Glory.

There are no big rides or shows on Main Street, just the park’s best souvenir shops—call it Purchaseland. The 17,000-square-foot Emporium, the largest shop in the Kingdom, takes up almost the entire street along the left. Crystal Arts may have a small glass-blowing demonstration going. In the middle of Main Street, the east side has a little side street, Center Street, for caricaturists and silhouette artists, a Disney World institution since 1971 ($10 for two copies). Center Street also used to extend west, across Main Street, but it was filled in decades ago to create a larger shopping area. (Disneyland, in Calfornia, retains both halves of its Center Street.)

If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a performance by the Dapper Dans, a real barbershop quartet that ambles down the street, or you’ll be glad-handed by old Mayor Weaver, who’ll remind you the election is approaching (“pull the lever and vote for Weaver!”); otherwise, you’ll hear recorded stuff from The Music Man. Those songs have a pedigree—at the opening ceremony of the Magic Kingdom, Meredith Willson, who wrote “Seventy-Six Trombones,” led a 1,076-piece band up Main Street. A few people attend the daily flag retreat ceremony in Town Square at 5pm—no characters, just a brass band (the Main Street Philharmonic) and a member of the military or veteran selected from the guests—sometimes it works to volunteer at City Hall right after opening. Many guests find the ritual moving.

Notice the names painted on the windows of the upper floors along Main Street. Each one represents a high-ranking Disney employee who helped build or run the park. Several, such as the one for Reedy Creek Ranch Lands, are winks at the dummy companies Walt Disney set up in the 1960s so that he could buy cheap swampland without tipping off landowners to his purpose. Everyone’s window relates in some way to his or her life’s work. Walt Disney gets two windows: the first one, on the train station facing outside the park, and the last, above the Plaza restaurant facing the Castle; designers liken the first-and-last billing to the opening credits of a movie. Notice that former CEO Michael Eisner, whose influence is generally resented, did not get a window.

A variety of free Main Street vehicles trundle up the road at odd hours and on odd days (you never know when) and you can catch a one-way, stop-and-go ride on one: They include horse-drawn trolley cars—only if it’s cool enough, and they wrap up by 1pm so as not to overheat the animals—antique cars, jitneys, and a fire truck. They won’t save time, of course, but you’ll remember them forever. Pause at the end of Main Street, where the Plaza begins, for that snapshot of a lifetime in front of the 189-foot-tall Cinderella Castle. You have now essentially passed through three thresholds—the lagoon, the train tunnel, and Main Street, U.S.A.—that were designed to ease you into a world of fantasy.

Navigating Main Street: Important services cluster around the square. To the left of the park is City Hall. If you forgot to make reservations for sit-down meals or schedule other activities, this is the place for that. Here, or in front of the Emporium, a cast member hands out free badges for guests marking milestones: “Happy Birthday!”, “1st visit!”, “Happily Ever After” (for weddings and anniversaries), and “I’m Celebrating” (for everything else). Wear a button and you’ll receive bigger smiles (and maybe treats) all day. If they’re not there, they’re always at the Chamber of Commerce in City Hall.

Main Street is the only way in or out of the park, which fosters a sense of suspense, but just as surely creates bottlenecks at parade time. If you need to leave the park then, cut through the Emporium or through the temporary bypass that opens on the Tomorrowland side. (While a new theater is being constructed on backstage space nearby, parade bypass traffic may be temporarily re-routed.)


Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.