Magic Kingdom With Young Kids: 5 Steps to Skip the Lines and See More of the Park
Set yourself up for success
1. Determine the best time of the year to visit the Magic Kingdom. In general, holiday weeks, spring break weeks and anytime the kids are off of school are peak crowd times at Disney World. They're so busy, in fact, that you'll probably want to avoid those particular weeks. Undercovertourist.com is an excellent resource for determining the high and low seasons at Magic Kingdom. My family's latest trip was during a busy week, however (March 17 to 22, 2013), and we had no trouble getting around the park using my plan.
Go on a light day
2. Pick the best day of the week to go to the park. We went on a Thursday, a relatively slow day at the park. There will be certain days of the week you'll want to avoid, such as Mondays, and if you're there on a busy day with Extra Magic Hours, the extra hour or so you get in the park may not help if the promotion draws a larger crowd.
Extra Magic Hours might influence your plan
3. Find out whether Extra Magic Hours are in effect. Extra Magic Hours are available on certain days of the week to guests of the Disney World Resorts, including the Value Resorts. For those looking to save money, I highly recommend the All-Star Movies and All-Star Music Resorts for families. Not only were they easier to get around than the Moderate Resort where we stayed (the wonderful but sprawling Caribbean Beach Resort), but access to food was much more convenient (and, in my opinion, the food was better, too). Extra Magic Hours let you arrive in the park an hour earlier than the general public or let you stay a couple of hours later in the evening. So, for example, the Thursday we chose also happened to be an Extra Magic Hours day, so we had two things going for us: We could get there an hour before the rest of the park guests and get a jump on things, and we were there on a semi-slow day. We hitched a ride to the middle of the park on the horse-drawn trolley as soon as we walked through the gates (yes, you can load a large stroller on the back pretty easily), and we were on our way to our first ride in New Fantasyland ahead of most of the pack.
4. Get to the park 15 minutes before it opens and have a plan. The park officially opened to the public at 9, and Extra Magic Hours started at 8, so that meant we should have gotten there at 7:45 a.m. It was more like 8:20 by the time our group of 7 rolled in with the three kids and a double stroller, but we were still in good shape time-wise. Getting there early, and having a plan and your own stroller (even for older kids!), is the key to doing what others cannot.
Follow this FastPass and ride order plan for young kids
5. Follow my FastPass strategy and recommended order of rides to minimize your time waiting in line! Here's where the magic happens, folks. I compiled this order of rides and attractions based on extensive Web research and personal experience. On a recent very busy week in March, it worked like a charm. You may want to modify it based on your children's interests and ages (my kids are 3, 6 and 7). I've included a brief description of each attraction, so if you don't like one, skip to the next or substitute another attraction in that area of the park. We got to 15 attractions in one day using this plan, with multiple bathroom breaks, a sit-down lunch and a table-service dinner at The Plaza Restaurant, a staff favorite that has great desserts and a yummy chicken strawberry salad. We even squeezed in a pirate makeover for my two boys at the Pirates League outside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Adventureland.
Remember, the order of this list is important, as it goes counter to typical foot traffic and puts you at long-line attractions first or at opportune times of the day. This list is primarily for kids with younger children, so if your kids are taller than 44 inches and love thrill rides, you may want to plan a second day to hit all the coasters, or swap out Splash Mountain, Thunder Mountain Railroad or Space Mountain for the Pirates League. Or, instead of going to New Fantasyland, skip it and plan to hit those three coasters during Early Magic Hours first thing in the morning.
[The advent of MagicBands makes it advantageous to set up FastPasses ahead of time and link them to your bands, so if that applies to you, substitute accordingly. Also, the new Seven Dwarfs ride in Magic Kingdom will require a FastPass; you may want to substitute that for Peter Pan's Flight or the Winnie the Pooh ride if your kids can handle a mild-ish roller coaster.]
Get there for Extra Magic Hours if possible, often at 8 a.m. (or 7:45 a.m., if you can swing it)
Head straight to New Fantasyland (back of the park)
- Peter Pan's Flight (for all ages and heights) - This vintage Disney ride is charming and gets a line going ride off the bat, so if it's less than 30 minutes long, get in it. It will not get better the rest of the day. Pick up a FastPass for the Little Mermaid ride next door before you head to the next attraction - it's at a kiosk close to Peter Pan but pretty far from the actual ride. [Kiosk locations may have changed since this article was originally written, so double-check those--or better yet, get yourself some MagicBands and set up your FastPasses ahead of time!]
- Enchanted Tales With Belle - Do not miss this fancy meet-and-greet with Belle, of Beauty and the Beast. There's no FastPass yet, so you must get there early. This was the highlight of my daughter's trip, and the animatronics and computerized special effects left even the adults' mouths open. There's a mirror hanging on the wall in the cottage of Belle's father's house that changes before your eyes into a sparkling passageway that guests walk through to a lovely room to meet Belle. Magical. To top it off, the kids each get a photo with Belle that can be purchased afterward.
- The Little Mermaid ride - Cute ride with a wait that can really stack up, so you'll be glad you have a FastPass, which lets you skip right to the front in a designated line during a designated hour of the day. Make sure you're getting in the right line, though -- it's a little confusing at this one. You're going to pass the FastPass kiosk for Winnie the Pooh on the way to the next attraction, so grab it in the same place you got the FastPass for Little Mermaid (you can't get them at the same time because you have to use the FastPass for one ride before the system will issue you a FastPass for another ride).
- Dumbo - Many sites tell you to hit this attraction first, as young children in particular love it, but we did it fourth because Disney has added a pager system that lets the kids run around in a circus-themed playground area before getting on the ride, so the wait's not as painful. Even so, we hardly needed the extra help because our wait was 25 minutes.
- Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride - If your FastPass isn't ready yet after your wait for Dumbo, it will be soon, so take a break and get a drink. Then you can skip ahead of a line that has probably reached the hour mark by now. [If your kids can handle a coaster, try the new Seven Dwarfs ride instead of this one; you'll need a FastPass for it and you'll have to make a substitution somewhere, so Winnie the Pooh is the one I'd skip. Some people would ditch Peter Pan, but I'm a traditionalist and can't do it.]
- It's a Small World - Classic ride that kids of all ages love. We waited a half hour in a fast-moving line. We went to nearby Liberty Square for a tasty lunch at Columbia Harbour, a nice surprise that was spaced out at private tables more like a sit-down restaurant. The original plan was to eat quick-service in the new Beast's Castle - but the line was horrendous the day we were there - for lunch! So if it's shorter, I say go for it. I'm sure the castle is spectacular.
- Haunted Mansion - In Liberty Square. Yes, I took my 3-year-old on this one, too, as all the rides so far are ride-able by kids of all sizes. She did fine. Of course, yours may not, so use discretion. There are lots of ghosts and goblins, but not much gore. Afterward, walk through Frontierland in the direction of Adventureland.
- Country Bears show - Right before you're about to cross into Adventureland, you'll hit the Country Bears. This is a good spot to sit down and relax before heading to the next section of the park. And it's quite entertaining for pretty much everybody, but especially if you like country music. When you leave, grab a FastPass for the Jungle Cruise on the way to the Pirates League.
- Pirates League - If you have boys (or even girls, as they also do a Mermaid makeover) who love pirates, this pirate makeover is a must-do. My son wore his pirate costume from Halloween every day until the sleeve actually wore off the outfit, so we had to do it. And for about $30 or so, it's worth the money. It does take about an hour, so if there's a Splash Mountain or Thunder Mountain Railroad somebody's dying to ride, this would be a good time, as those coasters are very close to this area. In addition to getting face makeup done by a very entertaining makeup artist who speaks pirate, a bandanna, a pirate sword, an earring, a special certificate with a unique pirate name, and a special gift from the "secret room," the kids can elect to dress to the hilt at additional expense. But with all the stuff we got for the base price, my kids didn't even ask for any extras! My daughter went to watch the bird show at the Tiki Room while the boys got suited up.
- Pirates of the Caribbean - Another can't-miss. The now-world-famous ride has Captain Jack Sparrow throughout, and my boys were thrilled. Especially now that they were dressed as pirates. And yes, the 3-year-old can ride this, too.
- Jungle Cruise - Using your FastPass, walk to the front of the line. Gotta love that FastPass; in our case the regular line was up to 70 minutes. We waited 10. It's now dinner time - we headed to the Plaza Restaurant. Many will enjoy dining at the new Be Our Guest restaurant or Cinderella's Castle, if you can get the reservation early enough. We chose the Plaza because it's cheaper and on the parade route. We actually got to watch the whole parade of Disney characters while we were waiting for our table outside the Plaza (of course, you need advance dining reservations for this one). If you can, send someone to Tomorrowland to get a FastPass for Space Mountain when you sit down to dinner. If no kids can ride that one (they have to be 44 inches tall), you might pick up a FastPass for the next attraction, the Buzz Lightyear ride.
- Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin - This was one of the best rides for the whole family, and the video-game-like action was all the rage for my boys. We loved it.
- Stitch's Great Escape/Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor - You'll probably be pretty tired by this point, so I say pick one or the other. We did Stitch because the line was shorter.
- Space Mountain - Good for a last thrill before heading home if the kids are tall enough, or to the Cinderella's Castle area for the Wishes fireworks show, if you can handle that much action for one day. We couldn't, so we called it quits at this point and started heading to the exits.
- Disney Princesses at Town Square Theater - If you didn't make it to Cinderella's Castle or any of the other princess character dining opportunities, your little girls might still be hungry for some royal meet-and-greets. So here's their chance, right before the park exit in Town Square. The wait may be 45 minutes or longer, but if you've got the energy, your girls can meet Cinderella, Belle, Aurora and maybe more. Then, if you've really got some troopers, you can stay for Wishes fireworks at 9 or 10. My 3-year-old had hit her breaking point by this time, so the All-Star Movies bus was a welcome sight.
Come back on your next day to hit Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain, thrill rides for older kids that are some of the best in the Disney parks. Tom Sawyer Island is also a wonderful exploring time for adventurers, and New Fantasyland has more hours of circus-like fun. There's an Aladdin magic-carpet ride in Adventureland for little ones, and Ariel's Grotto in New Fantasyland is also a great place to meet the Little Mermaid and get some good pics.
[Kiosk locations may have changed since this article was first written, so double-check those--or, even better--get yourself a MagicBand and set up all your Fastpasses ahead of time!]