I’m feeling a bit sad as I type the last installment of How To Plan A Trip To Disney World because I have really enjoyed sharing Disney World with you through these few blog posts. If you missed the previous 2 installments, go back to Part 1 (how to prepare) and Part 2 (Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Downtown Disney) to catch up.
But before I break down Epcot and Magic Kingdom here are reviews of some
Chef Mickey at Contemporary: We loved this breakfast buffet; the food is good (especially the pancakes), but we were there to see the characters. This is the best part of a character meal because the characters come around to each table and spend a good amount of time socializing, signing autographs and taking photos. My daughter was excited to see Chip & Dale and Goofy while I loved seeing Mickey.
O’hana at Polynesian: This was one of our favorite dinners. The décor is great, the atmosphere is fun and participatory, but most of all the food is really, really good. Grilled meal is served all-you-can-eat family style and I think that my son tried to eat it all. I kept the grilled shrimp coming to the table. We all loved the bread pudding with bananas and caramel sauce for dessert.
Whispering Canyon Café at Wilderness Lodge: This was our first experience at Whispering Canyon, but it won’t be our last. The boys had the All-You-Care-To-Eat Canyon Skillet and wow that was a lot of food. My husband said, “That’s what a sausage should taste like!” We all had bottom-less milkshakes. The wait-staff have “stage names” and really get into character, so don’t be offended if they throw straws on your table or do something else kooky.
Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge: Part of the fun of eating at a resort restaurant is that you get to check out all the different resorts. While we were there too late to see the animals on the savannah, the lobby was awesome. And the food….the food! My daughter found a favorite dish in the Curried Green Beans, while my son had several helpings of FuFu and Potatoes with Afritude. My favorite dish was the Tunisian Couscous; I had never had couscous as good as this! I asked for the recipe. We all loved the Curried Coconut Seafood Stew and I have the recipe for that as well. We will be back to Boma for sure!
Alice in Wonderland Tea Party at The Grand Floridian: While not technically a restaurant, my daughter attended a tea party with Alice and The Mad Hatter. They played games, decorated cupcakes and drank tea. She said that she had a good time. While she was at the tea (parents weren’t allowed in; they gave us a pager in case of emergency) I roamed The Grand Floridian hotel.
EPCOT – FUTURE WORLD
Remember my failed quest to get FastPasses for Soarin’ in How To Plan A Trip To Disney World – Part 1? Not a great way to start the morning. Future World does not look like any other Disney park; there’s a lot of concrete and many of the attractions are in buildings. It took us quite awhile to orient ourselves to the park’s layout and my husband never figured it out; he was perpetually lost. The “magic” is not as apparent as it is in the other Disney World parks and it took a couple of days for us to warm up to Epcot, especially Future World.
RIDES & ATTRACTIONS
Spaceship Earth: This is the park’s icon, like the big hat at Hollywood Studios, Cinderella’s castle at Magic Kingdom and Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom. It’s enormous and quite awe-inspiring up close. There’s also an attraction inside about communication throughout the ages. It’s good and worth experiencing at least once.
The Seas with Nemo & Friends: Another Finding Nemo attraction! This is a very slow and harmless conveyor belt “ride” on a hunt for Nemo. Little kids will like it, but kids over the age of 10 may find it boring. Instead walk around to the exit and look at the aquarium, which is decent. I admit that we are a little blasé because Atlanta has the biggest aquarium in the world, but it was nice (and air-conditioned).
Turtle Talk With Crush: You don’t need to ride The Seas to see this because it is part of the aquarium. Crush is our favorite character in Finding Nemo and we loved watching him interact with the audience. I thought it was really funny and definitely something that you should experience.
Journey Into Imagination with Figment: A conveyor belt journey about the senses, we didn’t quite get this attraction. In my opinion, it’s not a high priority; experience this when you’ve seen everything else.
Living with the Land: It’s a slow boat ride to learn about how we use the land. My son would say a slow boat ride to hell; he was so bored. I don’t think it was that bad; the latter part in the greenhouse was interesting. I do agree that you should not stand in line to ride this; ride only if you can walk right on and you have experienced everything else in Future World.
The Circle of Life: The Lion King characters school us on ecology. Frankly, it could be more interesting than it is. See it when you have exhausted the rest of the park or while you are waiting for your Soarin’ FastPass time to arrive. Or skip it.
Honey, I Shrunk the Audience: We didn’t actually see this at Epcot because we have seen it many times at Disneyland. It’s a fantastic 3D film and definitely a must-see attraction.
Test Track: This was my son’s favorite ride and the rest of us loved it too. At first I was like, “Ho-hum; cute, but not exciting.” Then the ride kicked into high gear! It’s not scary, just fast, so most little kids should be fine. It’s a definite must-ride.
Mission: SPACE: I had read a lot of reviews about this ride and had mixed emotions. Specifically I was concerned about the spinning and confined space (I can be slightly claustrophobic sometimes). It seems that the spinning was too much for a lot of people so Disney made a non-spinning version and you can choose which version you want to ride; we chose the non-spinning version. We had a FastPass and made it to the instruction chamber without a wait….and then had to exit again because my daughter had to pee. Luckily they gave us a special “your-kid-had-to-pee-but-you-don’t-have to-stand-in-line-again” FastPass and we were back in the instruction chamber in no time. Many of Disney’s rides have this instruction chamber; “blah, blah, blah”—I was only half-listening because I was trying to psych myself out about the impending small imprisonment of my body in the spaceship cockpit. I should have had a clue when the announcer warned against claustrophobic individuals riding—about 50 times he said this! Still, I entered the chamber, sat down and began freaking out. My husband tried to calm me, but I knew I had but a split second before they locked me in. I didn’t look at anyone, say good-bye or give the kids an explanation; I just bolted. The rest of the family loved this ride and even rode it again the next day. The moral of the story is: this is a great ride and a must-do IF you are not claustrophobic. But if you are even slightly concerned about small spaces, do not ride.
Innoventions: My son was looking forward to seeing and playing with “the toys and tools of tomorrow” in the two Innoventions buildings, but in the end he didn’t think anything presented was very exciting. This is something that you can do at anytime, so experience all the popular attractions first and see Innoventions at your leisure.
Soarin’: Collectively as a family Soarin’ was our favorite ride at Epcot and we rode it twice. This simulated “flight” over California was exhilarating but not scary at all, so anyone can ride and everyone should; this is a must-do attraction at Epcot.
The only attraction we did not see was Ellen’s Energy Adventure. My husband wanted to see this film about how the world uses energy, but The Boy refused after experiencing Living With the Land and Circle of Life. If anybody can make energy entertaining it would be Ellen DeGeneres, but 45 minutes seemed like a long time. Perhaps we will see it on our next trip.
FOOD IN FUTURE WORLD
We did not eat at any counter-service restaurants in Future World.
Coral Reef Restaurant: I had read mixed reviews about this restaurant, but decided to give it a try anyway. The food was good, but the décor is dated and the lighting is very dark. The “entertainment” provided by the fish, sharks and rays swimming behind the enormous glass wall was nice. I would recommend dining at this restaurant if you want to have a table-service meal in Future World, but I think that we will eat all of our meals in World Showcase on future visits to Epcot.
SHOPPING IN FUTURE WORLD
We did not go into any shops in Future World; the place did not entice me to spend money. My daughter bought a Crush stuffed animal in The Seas gift shop.
EPCOT – WORLD SHOWCASE
RIDES & ATTRACTIONS
World Showcase is more of an experience than a place to seek thrills and it’s best toured at a leisurely pace to appreciate the architecture and nuances of each country.
We saw every attraction in every country that had one. The films in Canada, France and China were all very good and worth seeing. My family didn’t want to see The American Adventure film because they were more interested in learning about other cultures, but I felt that it would be unpatriotic to see everything but America. Although my daughter fell asleep and my son was protesting, it was a very well done multi-media presentation. The building that houses the attraction is beautiful and worth seeing by itself.
Tin Toy Stories (Japan): We almost walked by this exhibit space, but glad that we stopped in. We did not know that the tin toys popular in America during the 50’s & 60’s were a result of Japanese culture! It was a fun and interesting exhibit and definitely worth a look.
There are only two “rides” in World Showcase:
Maelstrom (Norway): Maelstrom, a Viking boat voyage, was strange to us. It might have been because the ride momentarily broke down, so the “story” was disconnected. But it’s a popular ride and is worth experiencing.
Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros (Mexico): It started out as sort of a Small World ride about Mexico and that would have been fine, but the screens interspersed throughout the ride showing the cartoon The Three Caballeros was bizarre. We won’t ride that again.
World Showcase has a lot of street performers and this is how you get the flavor of each country. We saw Mo’Rockin, an Arabic fusion rock band, in Morocco along with a belly dancer. Matsuriza, Japanese Taiko drummers, were fantastic to watch in Japan. My kids really loved watcing Dragon Legend Acrobats in China. While we were waiting for The American Adventure to start we saw Voices of Liberty, an Americana a cappella group, perform; they are very talented. I was bummed that I didn’t get to see The British Invasion, a 60’s British retro group, perform in the United Kingdom.
Illuminations is the big nighttime show at Epcot; it’s shown in the World Showcase lagoon. It was definitely worth seeing, but it’s not as spectacular as Fantasmic.
FOOD IN WORLD SHOWCASE
A family of foodies, we were excited to eat in the different countries in World Showcase. We had a few counter-service meals as well as a couple restaurant meals.
Tangierine Café (Morocco): My son had this for dinner one night. He had a full plate of lamb, couscous, hummus, tabouleh and Moroccan bread—and he loved it all.
Yorkshire Country Fish Shop (United Kingdom): Traditional English fish & chips, we ate this while waiting for Illuminations to start. It was very tasty and a good for a quick bite.
Yakitori House (Japan): Despite the lovely outside seating in a Japanese garden, this Japanese counter-service food was so-so; I don’t think that I would eat there again.
Teppan Edo (Japan): Similar to Behinana, this teppanyaki style Japanese restaurant was a favorite of the whole family. We enjoyed the entertainment provided by our talented chef and the food was very good. We’ll be back!
Restaurant Marrakesh (Morocco): Dinner in this restaurant was a real treat: beautiful décor, good Moroccan food and great belly-dancing entertainment. My son loved the lamb. We highly recommend this dining experience.
SHOPPING IN WORLD SHOWCASE
Most of the buildings in World Showcase are stores, so this is a place that you can really do some retail damage. Everything is authentic from that country; you can learn a lot just by browsing, even if you don’t buy a thing.
Our favorite store is in Japan; I think we stayed in there over an hour and even returned another day. It’s a huge store full of cool clothes, stationary, toys, food, decorative items and jewelry. We already love Japanese candy, so we went nuts when we saw the huge display of candy available for purchase. We bought so much candy and it was gobbled up in no time flat.
Epcot is huge, HUGE—so much bigger than the other parks. If this is your first time there, do not try to tour this park in one day or you will either drop from exhaustion or skip some really great attractions. We broke up our Epcot touring into two days – one day for Future World and one day for World Showcase. We actually ended up going back to Epcot a third time for a few hours; we rode our favorite rides again in Future World and spent more time in World Showcase.
If you want to ride the popular rides in Future World, it does require some planning during a busy season. Get there when it opens (this isn’t too hard because it doesn’t open until 9:00 a.m.) and go straight to Soarin’ for a FastPass. Then make the long trek to the other side of the park and ride Test Track and Mission: SPACE. You shouldn’t have a long wait for the rest of the rides and attractions in Future World. There are two big electronic boards on each side of the park displaying the current wait times for the more popular attractions.
World Showcase is pretty easy to tour in a clockwise or counter-clockwise fashion going from one country to the next. Most of the films in World Showcase are shown continuously throughout the day, so you will either walk right into a movie or wait a few minutes until the current one is finishing. The exception is The American Adventure, which is shown at specific times. For this attraction and other entertainment performed throughout World Showcase, pick up a Times Guide on your way in and try to be in or near that country during the correct time.
OTHER THINGS WE LIKED/DISLIKED AND FINAL THOUGHTS
The big fountain in Future World spouts water in time to music and changes colors at night; if you walk by quickly you might miss it, but it’s fun to stop and to watch for awhile.
After a few days at the park we can say that Future World is still not our favorite part of Epcot. While we loved Soarin’, Test Track and Mission: SPACE, we did not like the “feeling” of Future World; I think it needs a make-over. My son kept saying that it looked like “an 80’s mall” (never mind that he was born in 1995). We’ll be back to experience our favorite rides, but we won’t spend much time just milling about.
On the other hand, we really liked World Showcase and we’ll go back to eat in other countries, see the street entertainment and buy more Japanese Candy.
I saved the best for last; Magic Kingdom is our favorite park and to us, the epitome of Walt Disney World. While the rides, shows and parades are fun to experience, Magic Kingdom is really not about that. It’s just so magical! The moment I enter Main Street I start grinning from ear to ear and practically skip down the street.
RIDES & ATTRACTIONS
Since Magic Kingdom is basically a bigger version of Disneyland, I have experienced most of these attractions several times.
Walt Disney World Railroad: The main depot is on Main Street. The train makes a 20 minute loop with stops in Frontierland and Mickey’s Toowntown Fair. It’s nice to use for transportation to those lands or as a relaxing roundtrip ride.
Swiss Family Treehouse: Because we saw this when it was crowded, we couldn’t really stop to look at anything, so it wasn’t that fun. Tour this when there isn’t a line.
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin: This is a more fun version of the Dumbo ride. It’s a must-ride for my daughter and we all enjoyed it too.
Jungle Cruise: It’s dated, it’s corny, but it’s a classic Disney ride; I love it.
Pirates of the Caribbean: A few years ago this attraction was re-done to incorporate Captain Jack Sparrow. It was a good addition and makes a classic ride even better. This is a must-ride for us every time.
Splash Mountain: My family won’t ride this, so I haven’t ridden since I’ve been married, but it’s fun and you will get wet.
Big Thunder Mountain: This is my son’s favorite ride at Magic Kingdom; it’s thrilling, but there aren’t any big drops and it isn’t too fast. We must ride this multiple times. Here’s a video I shot on our last trip. As you can hear, my daughter will ride, but doesn’t really like it too much; most kids will do just fine. You can hear me scream “My ears!” as my Mickey ears were flying off.
Tom Sawyer Island: You have to take a short raft-ride to get to this island playground. My kids love exploring the caves and it’s fun for adults too. Go when you are tired of riding and need something different to do.
Country Bear Jamboree: I love this audio-animatronic show because it’s a classic, but my family is not impressed anymore; we haven’t seen it in years. See it if you have seen everything else or you have some time to kill in Frontierland.
Liberty Square Riverboat: This was my kids’ first time riding the riverboat. I think they enjoyed it in a quiet way, but won’t be asking to ride again soon. It’s a relaxing 20 minute ride around Tom Sawyer’s Island; good for when you need a break from the crowds and lines, but not a must-do attraction.
Haunted Mansion: Both of my kids love this classic attraction. It’s not scary, just fun.
It’s a Small World: Classic Disney; we can’t leave Magic Kingdom without taking this boat ride around the world. Of course we are singing the song for the rest of the day!
Peter Pan’s Flight: We love flying over London and Never Land; it’s always on our list of must-do attractions.
Mickey’s PhilharMagic: This is a fantastic 3-D movie and a must-see for everyone.
Snow White’s Scary Adventure: On this last trip we only rode because it was our second day at Magic Kingdom and there wasn’t a long line. It’s okay for little kids, but nothing special. I would put this on the “ride-if-we-have-time” list.
Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel: We haven’t ridden this in a long time because the lines are always long and I figure that we can ride a carrousel anywhere. Ride it if your kids are dying to, but otherwise wait until there isn’t a line.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant: It’s a classic Disney ride for sure, but I try to avoid it unless my daughter asks; since it doesn’t hold many people, there is almost always a wait.
Ariel’s Grotto: This is not a ride, but Ariel’s meeting place. It’s actually very nice and Ariel is really sweet. It’s a must-see if your child is a Little Mermaid fan. Look at a Times Guide to see when she starts taking visitors and be there 10 minutes before.
Pooh’s Playful Spot: A very cute Pooh-themed playground for kids to run around and parents to rest.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: We like riding Pooh, but there is always a wait.
Mad Tea Party: A classic and favorite Disney attraction for adults and children alike; we always ride the teacups. Be sure to ride with someone who shares your same tolerance for spinning; one of few arguments we had in Disney World was between my son and husband about how fast to turn the spinning wheel. My son thought that it should be a slow-spinning day after a big lunch at Whispering Canyon Café, while my husband wanted to go faster. On our second time around The Boy opted out and as you can see, it was my husband who wanted a slow-spin now:
Space Mountain: This is my favorite ride at Magic Kingdom! I’ve ridden many, many times, but the whole family as yet to ride together. When my son was 5 years old I made him ride it at Disneyland; I made him ride all the roller coasters before he decided that he didn’t like them—Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain and Matterhorn. He didn’t cry, scream or protest, but at the end of the day he said, “I don’t want to do that again.” On our first trip to Disney World he tried to ride Space Mountain for the first time in 7 years and just as we were about to board, there were technical difficulties—that was enough for him to exit out the back. On this trip I got FastPasses for the whole family, thinking that I could talk them all into riding with me. We almost made it to the front of the line when we saw the roller coaster go by; I had forgotten that the seats are for single riders. My daughter wouldn’t ride without someone holding on to her so she and Daddy exited out the back. I looked at my son and saw that look that he gets at the doctor’s office when he has to get a shot; I knew it was a wrap and we exited without riding also. Arrgh! I should have left all of them outside and rode alone as usual; next time I will make sure to get my thrills. Be sure to get yours by making Space Mountain a high priority on your must-see list.
Astro Obiter: My daugher loves this circling spaceship ride; she always rides with her father while I’m trying to ride Space Mountain.
Tomorrowland Transit Authority: Some people still refer to this as the old-school name of “The People Mover” and that’s all it does – moves a group of people through Tomorrowland. It’s a favorite for some, but boring to us.
Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress: We got tricked into this attraction; when we got our Buzz Lightyear FastPasses, we also got “free” FastPasses for this attraction as well. As soon as we sat down we knew it was a mistake; we were stuck watching a 20 minute audio-animatronics show about progress through the ages. My son was so upset that we wasted valuable time watching it and even more upset that he couldn’t get the catchy song out of his head for the rest of the day. Do not make the same mistake we did.
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin: This is one of my family’s favorite attractions at Magic Kingdom. Since this is more like a game than a ride, we compete against each other for the high score. Twice I was the champion. This is a must-ride attraction at Magic Kingdom.
Stitch’s Great Escape: Every review that I read about this ride warned that it scared small children, but did I listen?—No. My daughter was terrified. The rest of the family thought it was neither fun or nor amusing; it was just weird. We will never see that again.
Monster’s, Inc. Laugh Floor: This is an interactive comedy show and most of the family thought it was funny. All of us except my son, who was spotlighted in the audience to be an impromptu part of the show; he did not think that was funny. (But it was.) Go see this show for some good laughs, but be prepared to be the butt of Mike Wazowski’s jokes.
Mickey’s Toontown Fair: My daughter met Mickey in the Judge’s Tent and several other characters in the Toontown Hall of Fame Tent. We waked through both Mickey’s and Minnie’s Country Houses and had fun riding the kiddie roller coaster, The Barnstormer at Goofy’s Wiseacre Farm. It’s cute and a place that you must see in if you have little kids.
We did not see: Storytime with Belle or Dream Along with Mickey (we were never close by), Tomorrowland Speedway or Donald’s Boat (neither were appealing). My daughter did not do Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, a princess beauty salon.
PARADES, FIREWORKS AND NIGHTTIME ENTERTAINMENT
Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Street Party: This is not a parade, but an interactive dance party with some of the Disney characters. It’s fun to dance and sing along if you happen to be in the area of Cinderella’s castle when the street party gets going.
Celebrate A Dream Come True Parade: I’m trying hard not to impart my dislike of parades to my children, so I suggested that we find a spot and watch this parade (it helped that we waked into Magic Kingdom 5 minutes before the parade was scheduled to begin). I loved it! High energy but magical too, this parade already has loyal fans as I saw many people singing along; obviously they had seen the parade many times before. It’s worth seeing for sure.
SpectroMagic: I absolutely MUST see the SpectroMagic parade every time I am Disney! It’s my favorite thing! This is a newer version of The Main Street Electrical Light Parade that I saw so many times at Disneyland. While I like the floats better in SpectroMagic, I miss the music of the old parade. Either way, it’s magical!
Wishes: We were grabbing some food at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Café right after SpectroMagic and got a seat on the patio just in time for Wishes. It was perfect and we enjoyed the fireworks show very much. Stick around for Wishes after SpectroMagic.
In my experience most of the counter-service food in Magic Kingdom is nothing too spectacular, just the normal fare of burgers, chicken fingers, pizza, etc. However, we have had some good meals at a couple of the table-service restaurants in Magic Kingdom.
Liberty Tree Tavern: When I couldn’t get reservations for the Pooh character meal at Crystal Palace I reluctantly agreed to eat at Liberty Tavern. We had a very tasty lunch of traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and steamed vegetables. I would definitely eat here again and recommend it over the tasteless burger stands nearby.
Cinderella’s Royal Table: This was a special birthday splurge for my daughter’s birthday; she got all dressed up in her Cinderella outfit for the occasion. The dinner package included a photo with Cinderella, who was so sweet and talked to my daughter for a very long time.
Entertainment during dinner was provided by the Fairy Godmothers and Cinderella’s mice. Dinner was delicious, but personally I just was very excited to be in Cinderella’s castle! There were many adults in there without children celebrating anniversaries or another special occasion, so I’m not the only one who felt that way. This is an extremely popular meal, so if you are interested, make reservations very far in advance. It’s worth the splurge.
Aloha Isle: This is our favorite snack bar in Magic Kingdom; we never miss an opportunity to indulge in a cool, refreshing, tasty Dole Whip! The pineapple float is the best! After getting your snack, exit Adventureland over the bridge back towards the central hub; there are plenty of shady benches to eat your Dole Whip and you might be in time to catch a parade.
The shops on Main Street carry all kinds of Disney merchandise, but the one shop that you need to know about is The Chapeau; this is where you can buy Mickey ears and have your name stitched on the back. Ah, but we found a new, revoluntionary way to wear ears—design your own! To make your custom Mickey ears, you pick the cap, ears, patches, and embroidery color and style for your name; there are hundreds of combination limited only by your imagination. My daughter’s favorite character is Goofy right now, so she put a goofy patch on the front of a blue sparkly cap, hologram-like Mickey ears and her name embroidered in gold on the back.
TOURING TIPS AND FINAL THOUGHTS
Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain and many rides in Fantasyland are all very popular at Magic Kingdom. If you are visiting during a busy season, I would strongly suggest following one of the Magic Kingdom touring plans at touringplans.com or making a priority “must-see” list; even though it is not a large park and easily navigated, there are just so many things to do.
I suppose that you can tour Magic Kingdom in one day if you rush from ride to ride, but we like to take our time in this park so we usually reserve 1 ½ days; leaving us plenty of time to see our favorite attractions, but yet sit on a bench and leisurely eat a Dole Whip for as long as we like. Soaking up the magic – that’s what Disney World is all about!
I can’t wait for our next trip to Disney World. I hope that my blog posts will help you plan your own magical vacation. Leave a comment if you have a question or want to share your favorite Disney World experience; I would love to hear it!
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