Florida 2012 – day 7 – Magic Kingdom and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

Magic Kingdom! The day was finally here!

Okay, a bit of background to my prior experiences of the park, and Disney in general.

Back in the mists of time, when I was a kid, my parents used to take my sisters and I to Florida reasonably often. Probably, on average, once every two years until, at some point in my teens, we’d simply do road trips and wind up in all sorts of places. Now, on our Florida trips, we’d do various parks and a few other attractions.

Magic Kingdom, at that point in my life, is somewhere in my memory. I don’t really remember that much of it, at least not enough to remember what my opinion of it was. I do recall that I didn’t like Space Mountain as a kid, and actually went through a period when I went off roller coasters altogether. I do recall Epcot though, somehow with more clarity – maybe because it’s a different kind of park – and think I’ll always want to go there and see if it still holds up to this opinion of it.

I will, however, quickly mention Disney’s two other theme parks in Florida and our visits to them.

Hollywood Studios (or MGM as I think it used to be) was one we visited back in 2004, which we found decent. It had a good roller coaster in the form of the Aerosmith one (can’t remember it’s name) and Tower Of Terror was good. Other than that, I don’t remember that much. We must have been on Star Tours (old version, I think it’s been redone), but I do recall the Indiana Jones stunt show which was decent. But my most vivid memories are definitely the Aerosmith coaster (nice launch) and that Tower Of Terror was actually much, much bigger than I thought it would be.

Animal Kingdom we visited briefly back in 2006 – I say briefly as we took the hotel bus there, which got us to the Disney Transportation Terminal at 10, then we had to get another bus from there to Animal Kingdom so got there by 11, then had to leave at 3 to ensure we were back by 4. None of the rides were spectacular – even Everest, which was far worse than Mummy at US. Many things were fast-passed up for the day and it was amazingly crowded. Barely managed anything, though the shows were good.

Now though, we are about to visit Magic Kingdom. It’ll be my first time there in 15 to 20 years, and my wife’s first time.

I will go through a few things before we get onto the day itself though.

Firstly, I had wanted to ensure we would see the fireworks even if we didn’t do Magic Kingdom. The fireworks go off every night and are quite spectacular, and you can view them without going into the park – from any of the three hotels around the Seven Seas Lagoon. To this end, quite a lot of people simply go to the hotels near firework time, park up (you can do this free for a few hours if you’re not a hotel guest), grab a drink and watch from the balcony at the Contemporary hotel, or the beach at Polynesian or Grand Floridian. Now I’d got directions to the hotels, looked at firework times during the period we’re there, and basically thought “if we don’t get to Magic Kingdom, we can have a nice early evening at Downtown Disney then get to one of the hotels for the fireworks” – a nice little romantic evening. Of course, now we’d booked Magic Kingdom that wasn’t necessary. Also, prices for food at the hotels are HUGE.

Secondly, we were using tickets we’d bought a few days ago at Downtown Disney, for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Basically, during some nights in September and October (and possibly November too), the Magic Kingdom shuts at 6pm for regular guests, but is open until 12am for party guests. I’m unsure how they actually police this. But, in any case, the tickets for the party are limited, meaning that there are less visitors in the park and queues should be shorter. Also, there are “Trick Or Treat” stations dotted around the park, meaning that kids get to queue up for free sweets (oh alright then, candy) from their favourite characters. So, with less people in the park and kids off getting candy, there should be even LESS people queueing for rides!

The tickets were $60 each, plus tax, taking us up to about $64 or something like that. Expensive. But then, Magic Kingdom is the most visited park in the world, and there is actually a reason behind that. It also allowed us entry from 4pm, though some rides wouldn’t be open during the party period from 6pm (or indeed close earlier than that).

So we’ve got a bit of time to kill.

Now we’re in a villa. We’ve got this private pool, so we kill some time in that before showering (great having a bathroom with shower that opens up onto the pool) and deciding to grab a bit of late lunch at Friendly’s. Got to make sure we’ve got enough energy for Magic Kingdom, after all. It may be the wrong way, on International Drive, but we may as well. And it is a late lunch, as we drive into Walt Disney World as it’s approaching 4pm.

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Now, one common mistake is that people think Disney World is the park. It’s not. Magic Kingdom is the park. Disney World is the resort – or more rather, Disney World is the gigantic hunk of land upon which Walt Disney has built much of his empire.

You see, Disney World is HUGE. I’m not kidding there. IT IS FANTASTICALLY HUGE. Words cannot describe how huge this place is, but it is huge. H. U. G. E. Probably bigger than some cities. It contains the four theme parks, two water parks, several hotels, the Downtown Disney area, and I think there’s a golf course and a Nascar driving circuit in there, amongst other things. Not to mention all the facilities required to run these, the offices and so on. And that’s not all. There is at least one abandoned water park there which did open, but didn’t prove popular enough, and more than enough space to build anything the Disney corporation wants. Heck, they could probably fit the shuttle launching pad in there without much effort, and even their own international airport! In fact, there is a runway already there from the days when Walt Disney himself would fly over in a private jet to see how things were going. All this is connected by it’s own road system, with several entrances and exits from inside the Disney complex to “regular” Florida – there’s probably a good ten exits from the I-4 alone.

So we enter Disney World and follow the signs and turn-offs for Magic Kingdom, eventually coming to the infamous car park where you park in a specific lot, denoted by Disney characters. The trick, of course, is to remember which character’s lot you’re parked in, and hopefully where – ie near a sign. In our case, we’re put in Zurg, the evil heartless villain from Toy Story 2.

Now, remember what I said about Disney being huge? It extends to getting into the parks too.

We get a tram from our parking lot, which takes us all the way to the transportation terminal. Yep, a tram just to get out of the car park. From there, you need to get from the car park to the park itself. You’d have thought the tram would do this, wouldn’t you? No.

You see, Magic Kingdom is separated from everything else (bar the hotels) by a big artificial lake, called the Seven Seas Lagoon. It’s got a few islands on, and the Grand Floridian Hotel, the Polynesian and the Contemporary are on it’s west, south-west and north-east sides respectively, with Magic Kingdom on the north. There are two ways to get to the park from here – either by ferry over the Seven Seas Lagoon, or by a monorail which goes round it (which stops at one or two of the hotels). On this occasion, we choose the ferry.

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And a nice little ferry ride it is too, however the Grand Floridian is being expanded (I think) and the weather doesn’t really look that nice. A bit overcast really. Nevertheless, we get off the ferry and give our tickets to the ticket people, heading into the park. We do also receive a cool little candy bag for getting trick-or-treat candy in, which advertised Wreck-It-Ralph on one side and Frankenweenie on the other. I think we’ve actually still got these.

And into the park we go!

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Now, what I’m going to try to do here is talk about Magic Kingdom in a pretty detailed way. I want to review the park largely. For the other parks, we come back to them later in the holiday and so I’ll use that day to provide some more detailed thoughts on them, but we don’t come back to Magic Kingdom (not through not wanting to, you understand).

Upon entering the Magic Kingdom you are greeted with the “introduction” to the park, Main Street USA. You pass underneath the railroad and Main Street USA station and see the street in front of you, an authentic-looking olde-tyme American street with a road with rails for trams, sidewalks, buildings in smalltown style with their awnings, ornate columns and different colours all looking like something from over a century ago. And, whilst the street is a veritable sea of people, at the end of it all you can see the eponymous castle – the park’s focal point.

Now, as I said, we pass under the train station for Main Street USA. This is something I would like to do at some point – take a trip around the park on the train, but in our case time didn’t allow and I’m unsure it was open at this time anyway. In any case, Magic Kingdom does actually run authentic steam trains on the line around the park, which stops off at a few of their themed “lands”.

Main Street USA itself does have a number of shops, which we have a quick look in later. It does also apparently contain a working barber’s shop. The tops of the buildings are actually a case of forced perspective – as in Hogwarts at Islands Of Adventure, they are smaller than the bottom floors (which are usable), but the forced perspective of looking upwards makes you believe they are the same size. Many small signs exist on the buildings named after key Disney personnel over the years, family friends of Walt, or the fictitious companies Disney made up in order to buy the land (as apparently the state of Florida were unwilling to sell that much land to a single company at the time, or something like that).

So we walk to the end of Main Street and, turning left, see the big covered gate to Adventure Land.

Now, walking through, you can see how Magic Kingdom has progressed over the years, yet in some cases stayed the same. It must be pointed out that, for it’s popularity and the amount of attractions it has, the Magic Kingdom is actually a pretty small park. Hence, as soon as we walk through the gate (and the foliage obscures all hint of other lands from our vision), we pretty much immediately find ourselves in the midst of Adventure Land’s buildings and rides. In Islands Of Adventure, going from Jurassic Park to any other area for instance, has a large section where the two lands are essentially allowed to take over from each other, a transition of sorts. Not here – the transition is almost immediate by comparison. However, it is done as well as could be hoped for as the immediate foliage and buildings immerse us totally in the environment. Not a hint of another is allowed to exist, basically as if we’ve just walked through a magic door.

So, Adventure Land then. It’s quite nicely themed with all sorts of plants, trees and buildings giving it a very jungle-like setting. There are in actuality four attractions here, but we’re only interested in three of them, and even then only two of them right now.

The first attraction we come across is one we’re not interested in – a flat ride based on Aladdin. It’s a spinning ride that goes up and down slightly – standard kids stuff. The camel is a nice touch though, spitting at passers-by.

Our first attraction is the Swiss Family Treehouse – one of the attractions set to close at 6pm – or possibly earlier. Basically, it’s a giant tree with paths leading around it, into it’s boughs and through it’s branches. Only one path exists for us to follow, and we can see the rooms where the shipwrecked family inhabiting it have turned it into a home. There’s a library with maps on the table, a kitchen, a bedroom with an impressively large bed, and even water being pulled up by a pulley in little buckets from a stream up to the top of the treehouse. I do remember this from my childhood visits, and put bluntly – nothing’s changed. It’s an interesting diversion and that’s it.

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More substantial is our second attraction – the Jungle Cruise.

Now, the Jungle Cruise is one I remember vividly from going on it when it was dark, again in my childhood. Basically, the Jungle Cruise consists of us sitting in a little ship as it makes it’s way around various “rivers of the world”, animatronic animals around every corner. There are no drops, nothing that requires us to be strapped in (though we do have to remain seated) and, put bluntly, it’s the kind of ride that wouldn’t be built now unless someone adds a giant dinosaur and a drop (hello Jurassic Park River Adventure). But back when I came as a kid, and it was dark, they’d pump artificial mist into all the rivers. Suddenly the ride was exciting – I didn’t know what was round the next corner! It was genuinely spooky as the boat chugged along into the darkness – definitely spookier than the Haunted Mansion. I don’t know if this is a tradition that continues (as again, this ride closes early on Halloween events and it’s not dark yet).

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So, Jungle Cruise. We cruise along in our boat, seeing all sorts of animals and little sets. Go under some waterfalls. Through some caves. It’s better than the Swiss Family Treehouse, and again a pleasant enough distraction. Which sounds like I don’t like it, but I do. It’s just a sort of ride I’m not used to. Like Jaws used to be at Universal Studios, but without the shark, and with a more interesting backdrop. The ride attendant on it (every boat has one) has a script with plenty of jokes, and even though they’re not particularly good it’s just so wholesome and nice that you’ve got to crack a smile. Definitely one to recommend, so long as you haven’t been on a sugar binge.

After Jungle Cruise we commit the cardinal sin of heading straight past Pirates Of The Caribbean, Splash Mountain AND Big Thunder Mountain (having entered Frontierland – the area, not the old park in Morecambe, which looks suitably themed with old western buildings, rocks and trees) and head towards the riverboat. Sadly not functioning at this time, and it seems to have been rented out for a function.

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The riverboat was another one which I was led to believe would be closing early, which was why we headed towards it. Seemingly a paddle steamer, the riverboat takes you round the small lake in Frontierland, around Tom Sawyer’s Island (which is another attraction closed). Along with the train, this is one that I would have liked to do just to experience more of the park.

Onwards then to the Haunted Mansion, the first of the Magic Kingdom’s “premier” attractions. The queue for this ride winds around the mansion’s garden and graveyard, with lots of little details and memorial plaques to read, as well as cartoon busts. Upon entering the mansion itself we are led into a hexagonal chamber (I think it was) where our ghoulish narrator gives us some background story. The room starts closing in on us (in reality I think it’s just the roof being lowered) as we are all escorted from the room and into the “doom buggies”.

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Basically, the Haunted Mansion is a ghost train, but all the cars run through it at the same speed. This is no Ghost Train like the one at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, where the cars are dispatched individually and even have a few tiny lift hills and drops. In Haunted Mansion’s case the cars all follow each other like a chain, swivelling round at key points to get a better look at various scenes.

The ride itself still remains reasonably impressive, especially given it’s age. Whilst everything is still only static sets with some primitive animatronics, it’s still good fun to go through and see. There is, however, the ballroom scene which looks particularly good, which anyone who’s been on the ride will know. Basically, various ghosts dance in a ballroom. Somehow though it is managed in such a way that looks pretty realistic, and I have trouble seeing where the ghosts fit in and where the joins are. I’m sure if I looked at it long enough I could probably see. We do also get stuck as the ride breaks down, stranding everyone where they are. In our case we’re going through a graveyard and are entertained by a ghost popping up from behind a gravestone every ten seconds until they get it working again, about five minutes later.

So, Haunted Mansion then. A good ride, looks the job, but won’t set the world on fire. It is themed very well though, which makes up for any lack of terrifying moments of certain doom. So far, compared to something like Islands Of Adventure (which has a real mixed batch of rides), the three rides we’ve been on all fit firmly in the “pleasant” category. Which is nothing against Disney as hardened coaster fans aren’t their target market. However, we’re all Disney fans at the end of the day (like it or not, I know you’ve been impressed by the Lion King or other movies of theirs) and have an inner child that loves this stuff.

It’s been raining whilst we’ve been in the Haunted Mansion. Fortunately it isn’t any more, but it’s still looking decidedly overcast. We head over to Fantasy Land, which is in the process of having a bit of work done to it. In a boarded-up area we spot a new roller coaster being built, what we assume is the Snow White & The Seven Dwarves mine train, which is supposed to have a wobbling track.

Fantasy Land is home of the next ride we’re thinking of riding – Peter Pan. Trouble is, even though it’s a standard dark ride that simply takes you through key points in the movie and is quite old, it’s still the most popular ride in the park it seems. So we give it a miss. I vaguely remember it as a kid and don’t think it’s all that good, but a bit of nostalgia never hurt anyone.

Speaking of nostalgia, across the way is It’s A Small World, with only a 10 minute wait! This is still longer than most rides we go on during the evening, but we may as well. And, after the wait, we trundle off in our boat whilst the music plays, the sinister happy music that everyone must have stuck in their skulls at some point in their lives. I can hear it now, echoing in my head, the cheeriness of the children from around the world singing, singing, always singing “it’s a small world after all” over and over again for all eternity.

*ahem*

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It’s A Small World is a boat ride. There are no drops. We progress through the sets inside what is obviously a warehouse of some kind (just look up) which are full of brightly painted and extremely colourful wooden children singing and dancing. And that’s it. A word of warning to anyone remotely scared of puppets or wooden children – THIS IS NOT THE RIDE FOR YOU. Again, a welcome distraction and a ride that firmly fits into the role of pleasant once again. I can honestly say I’m enjoying this. All these pleasant rides are allowing my brain to zone out and appreciate the immersiveness. There is no narrative like on ET for me to criticise, instead there’s only the feeling of, well, just plain mellow. For some reason I can’t fault It’s A Small World – it’s obviously a family ride with no allusions to overarching plots, something going wrong, thrills or indeed spills. It’s just plain pleasant. And as the music bores it’s way into my skull I can’t help but sit back, relax, and let it do so.

Fantasy Land, meanwhile, is a bit disjointed by the construction going on, but it’s an adequate enough representation of a fantasy village. I did forget to mention Liberty Square earlier, which the Haunted Mansion is in (as well as everyone’s favourite, the Hall Of Presidents, where animatronic American presidents give you a brief history of the USA) looks pretty much like an extension of Main Street USA.

Also in Fantasy Land is Mickey’s Philharmagic, a 3D film (we’re given 3D glasses in the guise of opera glasses) which barely features Mickey. Instead, Donald magically takes command of the proceedings, Fantasia-style, and finds himself thrown into various cameos in Disney movies, including Little Mermaid, Lion King and Aladdin. Which actually work quite well, and I can honestly say I’d like to see this again as an extra on a DVD. It all ends when Mickey sees what’s going on and stops all this silliness, which hurls Donald into a tuba behind the audience (just look as you leave the theatre and you’ll see him). Again, a great distraction and is pretty fun, especially with the short queues we’re coming across. Not quite as short as most of the stuff at Islands Of Adventure, but so far, Swiss Family Treehouse had no wait, Jungle Cruise about 10 minutes, Haunted Mansion about 15, Small World 10 and Mickey’s Philharmagic 5.

Which is pretty good really. The park is quite full, but again – a lot of the kids are using the opportunity to do the trick-or-treating. And a lot of the adults too. Which brings me to Halloween, and BOY do the Americans love it. You’ve probably seen the pictures elsewhere in this page of the scarecrows in Main Street, and a lot of the park is also in a similar style. However, the main thing is that probably about half of the people we see are actually wearing fancy dress of all varieties. Obviously nothing too scary or explicit, but you’ve got pirates, a kid wearing a scarily authentic Buzz Lightyear costume and all manner of princesses and other Disney characters. And it’s not just restricted to the kids too! Yep, lots of adults and parents are wearing costumes too, and basically getting into the spirit of things with their kids – or even just by themselves, going to fill their trick or treat bags at the various character trick-or-treat stations.

We leave Fantasy Land behind and head towards the first of the two coasters we plan on going on – Space Mountain, in Tomorrowland.

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Now then, Tomorrowland is probably like NASA’s version of the future. Shiny white plastic-looking metal with flat surfaces and some arcing curves reminiscent of the space shuttle. I imagine it’s quite difficult to theme a “future” section of the park without it looking weird as science fiction tendencies change. Imagine if they had themed it with all the big glowy lights and 70’s computer consoles from the original Star Trek films. No, Disney have managed to theme their future streets quite well.

There are a few small rides here, and we do go on some of them later, but it’s Space Mountain we’re interested in.

Space Mountain then, a dark coaster set in a weird circular building with a spiky bit. Or something. In any case the building is unique and definitely impressive, though a short distance from the main bit of Tomorrowland itself. I believe there’s a service road in between. In any case, you go into the entrance and, once in there, there are walls displaying all sorts of cool-looking space scenes. The tunnel we’re in goes under the road by dipping down and then climbing back up, and there are a few primitive computer games to play in the queue.

Or at least there would be if there were a queue. No, we’re basically walking straight into the loading area (it is a bit of a long walk, nowhere near as long as Dragon Challenge though), which basically has the cars coming in through a tunnel on two different sides. Space Mountain actually seems to have two different tracks, at least starting off, so it can load two trains at the same time – just choose your side, Dragon Challenge style. I don’t recall any differences between the two. I do remember from my childhood that the loading area was open, allowing you to look up and, in the darkness if you’re lucky, make out the track and the cars going round against the starry background.

Space Mountain’s cars are sort of like a toboggan, or a weird shuttle or something. Only one person can fit in each car, but each train has eight cars following in quick succession. Once in, the train makes the necessary lining-up maneouvres and goes up the lift hill, in a set which shows an astronaut carrying out repairs to the space station we’re supposed to be launching from.

And then we set off…

For what can only be described as a family coaster, in the most family-oriented park in the world, Space Mountain is surprisingly intense. It’s not very fast – I believe it only gets up to about 35mph – but the sheer darkness and the force it has is exceptional. I did want to put my arms up but was extremely conscious that it’s dark, and I’m just registering bits of scaffold and track supports as they whizz by, and they do seem surprisingly close.

Space Mountain does last a while, at least compared to our coasters – and even other coasters in America. Which is good. It’s got various different bits but again is so dark that I can’t reliably tell what’s coming up much in advance, and also can’t remember what elements take place and when. The only real ones I remember are the part where we pass the lift hill (if you’re lucky you can see another train climbing it), a cool spiral towards the end, and the weird red swirly effect at the end which is a pretty cheap-looking effect, but you don’t really care. The only set we see is cool enough and, let’s face it, you don’t go on these rides for the effects. You go on them for the sheer pleasure of hurtling round corners at high speeds, and this ride definitely provides that. I do believe that the two trains exit on different platforms too, so I believe there must be two actual tracks. We exit through a moving walkway back to Tomorrowland, passing various recreations of future scenarios with a few random model spaceships, submarines and a few interior scenes.

Giving an overall opinion of Space Mountain then… definitely one of the better rides in Florida actually. Again, it’s surprising just how good it is, even for us hardened coaster fans. It’s a safe ride for kids – it should not be a “My First Roller Coaster” though, definitely not, and Big Thunder Mountain (which we come to later) is more suitable for that, but even that shouldn’t be a “My First Roller Coaster”. No, Space Mountain is a decent coaster which is, surprisingly, suitable for everyone that likes roller coasters. It’s definitely nothing like the Hulk, with all it’s inversions and the launch and all, but not a standard kids coaster that doesn’t tax the rider. I’d say it’s somewhere in between, possibly veering towards the more extreme range (but not by much) because of it’s intensity.

In the centre of the plaza of Tomorrowland are three other rides, none of which we go on. These are the Carousel Of Progress (I have no idea what this is but it doesn’t sound exactly thrilling), a spinny rocket ride (nothing special), and the People Mover – again, a ride which sounds so incredibly thrilling that we just have to… miss it.

But there is another section of Tomorrowland which contains three rides that we do go on – Toy Story, Monsters Inc and Stitch’s Great Escape.

Starting off with Toy Story, or Buzz Lightyear’s Star Command or something. I don’t care. I’m going to call it Toy Story. Set in Buzz Lightyear’s fictional universe (so a fictional universe INSIDE a fictional universe – that’s going towards Islands Of Adventure’s Jurassic Park for levels of weird meta), Toy Story is a shooty-uppy ghost train similar to Universal Studios’ MiB but with smaller cars that can spin on command, using a little lever. The ride itself doesn’t seem as good as MiB though I think we had more fun spinning the car rather than shooting things. It’s passable – not really good enough to recommend, and not bad. Decent enough time waster.

Monsters Inc proved to be the surprise ride in the area… even though it’s not a ride. Instead it’s a comedy show, with a lot of elements of it actually live. Kind of. With a small story set after the first film (where laughter is found to be more potent than screams in supplying the Monsters’ world with power), the movie characters put on a comedy show in order to make us laugh, thus supplying them with electricity. It is mostly CG (in fact, all CG I think) but the CG and voices are done live, presumably by people behind the scenes, supplying the jokes and interacting with the audience. And guess who they chose to be Randall (the villain) in their quick re-telling of the original movie’s story? Yep, me. Camera zooms in on my face and I’m asked to hide like the invisible villain Randall is, so I hide by ducking my head into my t-shirt, to which I receive the retort “that’s a stinky place to hide” (I only regret I wasn’t wearing my Wile E Coyote t-shirt, as they may well have said “are we allowed to show that?”). There are lots of other jokes and routines involving audience members, all family-friendly and decent. I’ve not seen any stand-up live (not that I remember anyway) but this is pretty fun. Definitely one of the park’s gems.

Finally in Tomorrowland we have… ExtraTerrorestrial!!! Sorry, Stitch’s Great Escape.

I remember this ride from back when I was a kid, with a very vivid imagination and fear of the dark. And this was not the ideal ride (not that you can call it a ride). Back then, a pre-show involved us going to watch some aliens try out a teleporter, and they would teleport one of their own into the middle of the room we’re in. We then proceed to the room which contains seats surrounding a big tube, which then strap us in. We then watch as a terrifying alien appears in the teleporter, before the lights go off and we’re lead to believe, through the use of alien drool and the seats moving with “footsteps”, as well as sound effects, that the alien creature is stalking us and about to eat us, before it heads back into the teleporter.

This is basically the same, but a bit more family-friendly. And with Stitch. The story basically says that Stitch has been captured and we’re supposed to help guard him, except we’re stuck in our seats. Which is useful when guarding a psychotic alien, apparently. Stitch comes along, lights go off and he’s stalking us like the alien from ExtraTerrorestrial when it was called that, except using Stitch sound effects and burping in our faces. A few minutes later he’s off again, leaving a sizeable chunk of the audience terrified and vowing never to watch Lilo and Stitch ever again.

So… these bits of Tomorrowland, what do we think? Toy Story – passable. Not impressive but a decent time-waster for all the family. Monsters Inc – pretty original and entertaining, one of the better things in the park. Stitch – God-awful and I’m actually surprised it’s still around as it is basically ExtraTerrorestrial, but with Stitch instead.

Now that we’ve got a lot of stuff out of the way, it’s off to Frontierland we go – and to Big Thunder Mountain!

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I’ll quickly mention that we’re skipping Splash Mountain, the log flume ride. I remember tiny bits of this from when I was a kid, and know it involves a drop down into the Braer Rabbit’s “laughing place”. A more adult-oriented ride I’ve never heard of. In any case, no, this isn’t a foray into the darker side of Disney, quite thankfully.

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Big Thunder Mountain, however, is a mountain. A desert-like, western-y mountain that’s nice and authentically desert-rust coloured. We enter through a wooden walkway and tunnel, descending deeper into the mine where the train leaves from. Now this is seemingly another coaster, like Space Mountain, that has two sides to it – though from what I recall they do all run on the same track.

Big Thunder Mountain itself is a mine train ride, but a very good one. Seating two to a row, two rows to a car and a fair number of cars to a train (as well as a mock train at the front), it’s a reasonably nippy coaster. Not as intense as Space Mountain, though if truth be told I think both coasters go at the same speed. There are a fair few decent bankings and a nice variety of moments, though we do have three lift hills to get us round the mammoth course. The main thing though is the theming, with us travelling through caves and over gorges and whatnot. Again, like Space Mountain this isn’t a “my first roller coaster” job – no, I think the park’s got a pretty standard kids coaster for that over in Mickey’s Toontown (which we didn’t go in), but it a good family coaster. Not as intense as Space Mountain, probably mainly due to the fact that we can see, but still pretty good.

We take a few more spins on Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, as well as looking around the park in general, up until the fireworks at 9pm. Magic Kingdom seems to be unsurpassed in the level of detail – as it should be, after the amount of years it’s been open and the rich Disney heritage it has to draw on. One of the things you may have heard of is that the park has several “hidden Mickeys” – tiny Mickey characters, or Mickey pictures or something – hidden around the park, and lots of people try to find them all. As it gets towards firework time we head nearer towards the castle, coming from Tomorrowland side, and generally enjoying the pleasant surroundings. Of course it’s currently not crowded – I don’t know what it’s like in the height of the season when it’s full of tourists.

One thing comes to mind – the Magic Kingdom is not as blatantly themed as Islands Of Adventure. Which is weird, but this is good as it gives Magic Kingdom a bit more freedom. In IoA, you’ve got “The Wizarding World Of Harry Potter”, “Jurassic Park” and “Marvel Superhero Island”, where everything is themed after that specific property only. Not so in Magic Kingdom – you’ve got Frontierland, Tomorrowland, Fantasy Land etc. The lands aren’t “set” to key Disney properties (there isn’t an Aladdin Land, for instance) but just a general theme, and then the properties they put in adhere to that theme.

As we move closer to 9pm we get in position in front of the castle for the fireworks. We manage to get a good place and, camera at the ready, start recording.

As does everyone else.

This is something I will note before we start the fireworks – people have brought their iPads (or whatever tablet they’re using). They’re using these as video cameras. Which is fair enough, they do have that functionality, and being able to use the tablet to view your pictures and videos, send them off to other people and just basically already have them on it is a good thing. But really, you’re bringing your tablet to a theme park? And then it hits me – I’m imposing what I think would happen in a UK park on this situation. I’m thinking they’re going to get stolen, or you’re going to have a load of prats stand in the shot and “photo-bomb” it or something. But nope – everything I see goes without a hitch. Plus, I guess, a lot of these people will be parents with their kids and loads to lug around anyway – a tablet isn’t going to take up much more space.

The fireworks themselves are pretty good. It’s odd to think that the Magic Kingdom puts on an elaborate, 15 minute display each night, and it’s instantly much better than what we saw at Universal Studios on our first full day. The display does change depending on whether there are any events going on or the time of year, but is normally the “Wishes” display – but, this being a Halloween event, we saw Hallowishes.

The lights go off, plunging the area around the castle into darkness, before the narrator from the Haunted Mansion ride starts telling a story. Not much of a story really, but basically all the villains from various Disney movies are popping up, doing a few lines and their song starts. Pictures are projected onto the castle and fireworks go off in time to the music, building as the songs all reach their respective crescendos, and the narrator cracks a few jokes as he goes (including some “scare-oke”, and just a few “tombs he dug up for the occasion”). The song list includes Crella DeVil, Heffalumps and Woozles, and one of my favourite pieces of Disney music, The Lion King’s “Be Prepared”.

Again, the fact that Disney put on a pretty huge firework display each night (okay, you’ve probably guessed that I’ve picked bits of the soundtrack from Wikipedia, which says that it lasts 11 minutes but I really think it was 15) means they must burn some serious cash on the display, but people love it. Again, even from outside the park, you’ll get people going to the hotels for a drink in order to watch them (we were going to do that). This is made all the more impressive when you consider Epcot do something similar with a laser show, which I also think is every night.

After this, we decide to make our way quickly towards Adventure Land and the last new ride of the night – Pirates Of The Caribbean (or just Pirates, as I’ll call it from here on in). We had left it this late in order to ensure that it’d be quieter, and so headed in unimpeded.

To get onto Pirates we head down into what seems like an old fort, into the caves and suchlike below. There is a tiny queue – a handful of families, amusingly dressed up as pirates themselves (with hats, hooks and the full lot). We get into our boat – which I think is the same boats as It’s A Small World, just with a different paint job and shell – and set off.

And find ourselves, basically, on It’s A Small World again – just with more elaborate sets in places (and also less elaborate in others). We pass through our cave of evil, with a Davey Jones projection chatting to us, before winding up in a pretty large set with Barbossa on the Black Pearl locked in battle with a Spanish fort (again, I assume), coming to rescue Cap’n Jack. There’s a few splashes in the water, from what we’re led to believe are the cannonballs, as we drift into the fort itself. From here on in we merrily meander our way through the local town, with the locals selling their women and suchlike, and Jack Sparrow appearing in various “Where’s Wally” moments – in a barrel here, in a barrel there… in fact I think in the main part, going through the town, I only saw him in a few barrels. Or hiding. I think he may have been hiding behind a post or something.

I did find it amusing, however, seeing the “new” animatronics for Jack and Barbossa. As you probably know, Pirates is an old ride and a relatively new film. Once the films proved a success Disney introduced the Jack and Barbossa animatronics, which really stand out against the old animatronics – simply because they look so much better. It’s a bit jarring seeing the quite realistic-looking Jack, a lot more animated, against the old, more static and clunky models.

Finally we’re led into the prison where various townfolk are locked up, trying to lure over the dog with the keys by dangling a bone through the bars, before we come across a room where Jack, once again looking very animated, sits on a throne surrounded by piles of jewels. I believe the message of this ride is not to get drunk and offer your women up for servitude, in which case you’ll be put in prison, but pirates somehow get away with it.

I guess it’s easy to understand how Pirates is one of Disney’s main rides – it looks the part. It does have the budget, it’s loud and it’s brash. It doesn’t do much – there are no drops and it is basically a reskinning of It’s A Small World – but it is endearing. Every kid dreams of being a pirate, after all. Small wooden doll harping on about community and how everyone is connected and lives in harmony – not so much. If anything, I would probably term it a “big boy” ride. And it has spawned a pretty successful film franchise (with a fifth in development). As a ride it is about spectacle only, which it manages pretty well. Jurassic Park River Adventure is as well themed and has a drop, which technically makes it the better ride, but somehow Pirates is just more compatible. Again, Pirates is more likely to appeal to everyone – it’s a family ride, whereas Jurassic Park isn’t quite – but again, somehow it’s just more pleasant. Sometimes it’s good to sit in a boat and watch a fantasy world go by, rather than having to actually deal with it.

We’ve got time to kill before the parade at 11pm so we do another turn or two on Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain respectively (Big Thunder Mountain was good in the dark, and a giant skull is projected onto the mountain itself) before heading back to Main Street USA and having a quick look in some of the souvenir shops (you can actually get a diamond-encrusted Stitch here – as terrible as Stitch’s Great Escape is as an attraction, you’ve still got to love the blue furball – but not for that price). There is a lot of stuff exclusive to the Magic Kingdom and I would like to spend some more time looking around this area next time we’re in.

We do also grab something to eat – we haven’t had anything apart from breakfast and the late lunch at Friendly’s, and it is about 10:45pm. So we find a small cafe place which still has a handful of sandwiches left and grab them. And pretty good they are too – very hefty, nice amount of filling and cheap (even if you don’t think of it as theme park food) for about $3.50.

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Then we stand by the side of Main Street to watch the parade.

There is very little I can actually say about the parade without repeating myself. This is not a bad sign – in fact a very good one, and I just can’t think of how to describe it. There are lots of floats in true Disney style, with just about every character you can think of represented in one way or another (though I’m unsure I spotted any of the traditional Saturday morning cartoons from my childhood – Rescue Rangers, Ducktales or Gummi Bears) – mostly in Halloween regala – this being the Boo To You parade. You will have to forgive the blurriness of some of the photos. Ones I particularly liked were Hook’s galleon, the Bear Jamboree and barn, and Goofy’s sweet machine (okay, CANDY) at the end – especially as we got handed an official Goofy-branded lollipop, which we’ve still got untouched. There’s also a large amount of dancers in between the floats, all putting on their respective dances as the floats pump out their own music for that section of the parade, and a huge amount of staff managing the crowds. There must be easily at least two hundred people involved in the parade.

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Now we’ve seen parades before. I think, actually, that Universal Studios has one – though to be honest I’m unsure what characters they’d put in it. I know Despicable Me is in there, but from there what do we have? Arnold Schwarrzeneger (as he will always be the Terminator, or the Governator) pretending to shoot people whilst giving out candy? There is the slightly embarrassing Marvel superheroes riding into IoA on their quad-bikes (Storm looks like she’s wearing an adult nappy). But the only other example I remember that I’ve actually liked (bar Animal Kingdom, which I barely remember any of) is from Six Flags Great Adventure, with a few floats – mostly of Warner Bros characters. Which was fair enough.

But I do like the Magic Kingdom parade – it’s good fun, brings everyone out and is pretty cheery too. From the park’s point of view it is a way to re-enforce their brand and also set them aside from other parks, so good business all round. Apart from paying for it. But then, as with the fireworks, it is something that people talk about.

As a finale to the day (it is now about 11:20 or something, and the park closes at 12) we do a fair number of repeat rides on Space Mountain, quickly heading out through the exit and then straight back in, until they close the ride (we give the attendant who’s just put the chain across the entrance a pleading “aww…” but she doesn’t budge, with her heart of stone). Great ride – definitely the best of the day, and one of the best coasters of the holiday – possibly even the best due to how surprising and fun it is. It’s not the most extreme but you definitely have a laugh on it.

So we head out, as does everyone else, but decide there is one thing we haven’t done yet…

The Monorail!

Okay, it’s a monorail. It goes through the Contemporary resort (takes us a while to actually get on it – standing room only, just like the trains over here) and takes us to the car park. Whoop-de-do.

So… what do we think of the Magic Kingdom? Very good. I would definitely do it again, but with some hesitation. We’ve visited during an event, where it’s going to be less crowded. What would I think when it was crowded (which, seeing as though it’s the most visited park in the world, would be quite often)? Would I be disappointed, or even annoyed? There are lots of things in the park I’d still like to do which we didn’t go on – I’d quite like to take a lap round on the train, enjoy the pleasant steamboat and explore Tom Sawyer’s island. But, even without these things, the Magic Kingdom is quite a park.

Somehow everything gels together so well in it. Yep, there’s a big part of Fantasyland missing as it’s being redone with a new ride being added. But we’re still immersed in the Disney experience, mainly because the park is pleasant and so are the people – even the visitors. There are a lot of families here, and they’re interested in making sure the kids have fun – which is always good to see. As the night drew on and darkness set in the kids were still energetic, and even though the weather wasn’t at it’s best nobody was gloomy.

The fireworks and parade helped set the park apart from others – they were long, but didn’t feel overly long – you got your money’s worth and lasted the right amount of time. By comparison, Universal Studios’ firework display at the end felt a bit like we’d been short changed (even though it was free). But the Disney experience works so well because everything is themed, but not specifically themed. As I said before, the Magic Kingdom is themed after the sort of places we want to explore as kids – the safe Main Street USA, the exotic Adventureland, the hardened Frontierland, the whimsical Fantasyland and the futuristic Tomorrowland. And Liberty Square, whatever that is. IoA appeals more to those who like the specific properties, hence it has to fit within those properties (Marvel Superhero Island may as well be called “comic book land”, and Toon Lagoon may as well be called “older comics and cartoons land”), whilst Universal Studios seems to lack a lot of theming whatsoever. Hence, I guess, when the Magic Kingdom is called the Happiest Place On Earth (it needs to be trademarked), it really does deserve that. Unless you’ve got the worst luck and come in heavy crowds or all the rides break, I challenge anyone not to leave with a smile.

As for the rides, they are the biggest challenge. They’re pleasant. They’re fun. They’re… well, different. Before we came here the Hulk would have been our favourite coaster in Florida. Nice, big, plenty of inversions, the launch etc. Now, Space Mountain is giving it a run for it’s money in our books. No inversions. Not really very fast (though it feels a lot faster than it’s official speed). No launch. It’s an indoor coaster, and one that’s not even as technically impressive as the Mummy. But, like a lot of the rides at Magic Kingdom, it’s more of a “feel good” ride. There is no situation, no story of mummies coming back to life or scientists trying to cure themselves or anything. Nope. Here’s a spaceship – off you go. It’s uncomplicated and simple.

Which, I guess, is what largely defines the Magic Kingdom – uncomplicated and simple. There’s a huge amount here that is suitable for everyone. And whilst Space Mountain is a ride that’s more “family centric” than the Hulk, that doesn’t stop it being fun. More extreme rides, like the Hulk, possibly try and throw too much at you at once.

The Magic Kingdom is definitely a park we’d do again. I’d be keen to perhaps do two days, to ensure we’ve done everything and have plenty of time to enjoy the park in a more relaxing way, as we definitely didn’t have time this time round. That said, Space Mountain did take up a lot of our time. It’s easy to see why the park is the most visited in the world – the location is right (Florida is now such a nice place) and the park and surrounding facilities are tailored towards families.

After the trip back to the car we head off back to the villa, with our minds firmly set on Busch Gardens the next day.

Previous – day 6 (Ponce Inlet, Daytona)

Next – day 8 (Busch Gardens Tampa)

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