Thanks to Walt Disney World for providing 2 complimentary media passes for the day. All other expenses were my own, and of course, all opinions are mine!
If you are thinking about taking your family to Walt Disney World, then I have a lot to say about just how wonderful it is to go all out, and to stay on property and go to every single park. We had that experience a few years back and it was some of the best money I’ve ever spent on a vacation. No regrets, whatsoever!
But that type of trip isn’t always in the cards. This year we really wanted to get to experience more of what central Florida has to offer, but I just couldn’t stand the thought of not getting to visit the most magical place on earth, even if just for a day. So we decided to dedicate one day to WDW and to head to my favorite park, Magic Kingdom. If this had been the very first time I had taken my kids to the park, I honestly would have been very stressed and overwhelmed to try to squeeze everything into just one day, but since it wasn’t their first trip here, I felt good about what we could likely see and do, with a bit of prep work on the front end, of course!
We were fairly relaxed on this visit, and were able to discover some lowkey (secret) awesome things to see and do here. Some of these suggestions can be found in the bazillion other blog posts out there about Magic Kingdom, but some of them we discovered on our own (which is not to say someone else hasn’t already written about it, but just that I didn’t read about it before we went). I hope these tips help anyone else who might be visiting Magic Kingdom during a low crowd time of year like we did (we were there 5 days after Thanksgiving).
The First Ferry
Arriving early is a tip that has been talked about over and over and over again online, but I just want to show you a few key examples of why getting to the park extra early is so great. We went on a day when the park opened at 8 am for everyone (so those aren’t magic hours) and that early opening was because the holiday party was happening that night which meant folks who hadn’t bought separate tickets to that event had to be out at 6pm. We were driving up to the WDW gates at 6:45 am and had the car parked by 7 am. We got an awesome parking spot, which we were so grateful for at the end of the day. We also got on the first ferry of the day and it looked like this:
I’d estimate that boat had maybe 30 people on it, total. It was AWESOME!!! Beautiful, unobstructed views were ours to soak in on the short ride, and there was no mad rush/stampede as we unloaded. There weren’t yet long lines to get into the initial gate and we had great spots by the rope drop. We even used the restrooms found by the front entrance of the park once we arrived (do that before you go through the admissions gate!) as that saved us some time once we were let into the park.
2. The Opening Ceremony Rocks!
If you have a good spot at the initial rope drop, you’ll also get to have a good spot at the place inside the Magic Kingdom where you have to wait again before the park is fully opened. We were not gunning for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train so we went to the left side of the castle, where there was a smaller crowd. We got to see so many Disney Princesses and of course, Mickey and Minnie before the park even officially opened. It was such an easy way to get to have a great Disney experience at the very beginning of the day. Don’t miss this, if at all possible!
3. The Fantasyland Strategy
Plowing through Fantasyland during the first hour the park is open is a very popular strategy, and yet I’m surprised by how many people don’t do it, or who opt to get in line for the mine train first and in so doing, miss out on a very empty part of the park (for the first hour, that is!).
Here’s our strategy. We did this exact same thing the last time we were here and it worked out great both times. Make an absolute BEELINE for Peter Pan. If you are near the front of the rope drop you’ll get to Peter Pan quickly enough to walk onto the ride (by the time you get off there will be a 20 minute wait, so it’s first thing or fuggedaboutit). Then march right across the street to It’s a Small World. NOBODY WILL BE ON THE RIDE YET!
Getting to ride this ride, pretty much all by yourself, just adds a whole other layer of magic to it. It’s SO cool, friends!
Once you are off this ride, hop right onto the carousel for a quick spin (both of the wicked stepsisters were riding it at the same time as us! So fun!), and then head over to Winnie the Pooh, where we were also able to walk right on, and then zip over to Ariel’s ride (yet another one we walked right onto!). We did FIVE rides at Magic Kingdom in the first 45 minutes that the park was open. It was some kind of awesome, friends!
4. Hang Out with Belle
If you have children in the age range of 3-7, you just really can’t miss this opportunity. Enchanted Tales with Belle is such a sweet experience because you get to play with a princess in a small group setting for about 10 minutes. You also get to see lumiere and the talking wardrobe and the special effects are so on point. This is a truly magical experience and it will make you feel like you are right inside a Disney movie.
5. The West Wing of Be Our Guest
I don’t mind telling you that I busted my butt to get my family reservations at Be Our Guest restaurant. It was something I wasn’t able to accomplish during our last visit 3 years ago, and so I was determined to do so this time around. I managed to pick up lunch reservations by checking daily (and borderline obsessively), including at 4 am two days before our trip (that’s when I snagged them). It was a delightful experience that I’m very glad we got to have, but I will say this: if you are only doing one day at Magic Kingdom and it is your first trip with kids, unless someone in your party is obsessed with Beauty and the Beast, don’t kill yourself for this reservation. Why would I tell you that after just admitting that I was obsessed with getting in? Well, it turns out that eating here is going to eat up more of your day than you might like. In our case, we had a noon reservation, and showed up right on time, only to realize that once you get in the castle, you still have to wait in another line. It took us 45 minutes to place our order, which meant that we rushed a bit through our meal because I didn’t realize that eating here would take so long. It is considered quick serve, after all.
Now with all of that said, should you decide to go for Be Our Guest and get one of those reservations, there are 3 dining rooms and one of them is the lowkey awesome one: The West Wing. It’s the smallest dining room, the darkest, and the most awesome by a long shot. If you can take a moment to relax while you are in there (and to block out the other diners) you will feel as though you are, in fact, dining in the West Wing of Beast’s castle, and it’s so, so cool!
6. Adventureland Chill Zones
Two spots in Adventureland are lowkey perfect for taking deep breaths and just basking in the awesomeness that is WDW. The first spot is the Jungle Cruise. You will be pummeled the whole time with super cheesy jokes from the captain of your cruise boat, but if you know it’s coming you can just lean into it and laugh along, because they are corny, but still funny. And the scenery is SO old school and reminds me of WDW as a child more than anything else in the whole park. It’s also relatively peaceful and quiet. Just a great experience! We used a fastpass to skip the lines and that was a good call.
The second spot is up in the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. On a low crowd day there won’t be any line and you can just walk right up and start climbing the stairs. You will be rewarded with a special view of the park and since there won’t be crowds around you, just kick back here and take it all in (pro tip: bring a Dole Whip with you…you can find it at a shop right next to the Tikki Room).
7. The Circus Tent Area
On the very edge of Fantasyland, serving as a sort of a buffer between that area of the park and Tomorrowland, is a Big Top area where you will find Dumbo’s Flying Circus, the Barnstormer (a great “first rollercoaster” and also my oldest child’s favorite ride in the whole park), and this gem:
It’s a splash zone and my youngest probably spent an hour here, splashing and running and laughing and having a blast. While big sister rode Barnstormer again and again and again (it’s a great ride for fastpasses later in the day!) she soaked in big fun while getting soaked. It was very quiet and chill, and that makes it another lowkey awesome spot on a low crowd day.
Right next to this area is a character meet and greet (Minnie, Daisy, Donald and Goofy) and I think, honestly, that it’s a spot many people just completely miss, because it is a bit tucked out of the way. We only had to wait 5 minutes to meet Goofy and Donald, and there was absolutely NO problem with my child being soaking wet. I’m guessing they are used to it! 🙂 In a place with very few hidden gems left, I’d say this is still one of them.
When we were down to our last hour in the park before closing, I asked my 8-year-old what else she wanted to do and she said, “Mom, I’ve done so many awesome things! I’m so happy! If it’s time to go home now then that’s ok by me.” That’s when I knew that we’d done our Disney day exactly right for our family. We hit it hard right at the start, found more opportunities to chill and relax throughout the rest of the day, and chose a time of year to come that allowed us to get on rides without too much waiting. It was quite a Mary Poppins day (practically perfect in every way)!
I would love to hear about any tips you might have to have a lowkey awesome day at Disney that incorporates some basking, some chilling, and some soaking in of all that magic! Leave a comment with your ideas! And if you are looking for other vacation ideas, be it in the Orlando area or elsewhere, that you can feel confident are good choices for the entire family, take a look at these top picks for sober travel destinations. I’ve reviewed the list and it’s got some really great cities you could explore that will be full of fun, but that you don’t have to worry will be too wild for the kiddos!