We knew we wanted to do two Disney parks for our first trip for two main reasons. First, we were overwhelmed by all the options. Second, we worried more than two parks would run our boys ragged and detract from the fun of our trip. (Spoiler alert: We definitely had another park day in us though we would’ve wanted to break things up with something different for a day after two back-to-back park days. BUT we left on a very high note with three boys who absolutely loved our trip so I have no regrets.)
Initially we planned to go to Magic Kingdom first because it seemed the most, well, magical. We booked our park tickets and hotel through Jacquie, a Disney travel planner who came highly recommended to us by a friend. (I cannot recommend her enough if you’re overwhelmed by Disney! She was incredibly responsive and instrumental in making us feel more at ease and helping us narrow down a million and one lodging choices.) Jacquie recommended going to Animal Kingdom first as a way to “ease into” Disney (and also based on crowd predictions for the weekend) and this was the BEST recommendation. We learned so much about Genie+, Lightning Lanes and the best pace for our family during our day at Animal Kingdom and felt a million times more prepared going into a day at Magic Kingdom the following day. (I’ll definitely share more about Animal Kingdom in a separate blog post but there’s a lot more to share about Magic Kingdom so I wanted to get that out first while it’s still fresh in my mind!)
My Disney Experience App and Genie+
All of the technology associated with visiting Disney admittedly added to my reservations to book our trip. It seemed like a LOT to learn and very easy to mess up. Thankfully it wasn’t as tricky as I thought and I do believe it’s an important thing to embrace if you’re hoping to maximize your experience and avoid busy lines, etc. We heavily relied on the My Disney Experience app during our time at Magic Kingdom and Ryan and I both downloaded the app prior to our visit to give ourselves time to play around and familiarize ourselves with the layout.
I highly recommend the app because it will show you important things like ride wait times, height requirements, etc. and also allows you to pre-order food, access Genie+, virtual queues and more.
Within the My Disney Experience app, we did a few things to help streamline our experience. We bought Genie+ for our entire family and this was well worth it for us, as we knew our kids would get antsy waiting in long lines and we wanted to do as much as we could in one day without feeling stressed or rushed. I 100 percent credit Genie+ (and Ryan for navigating it) for allowing us to do as much as we did in one day because we had such minimal wait times at every single ride. Truly, we never waited more than 15 minutes for a ride all day long which was incredible because the standby line waits were 90 minutes for some of the more popular attractions. Genie+ was worth every penny.
Additionally, we purchased Individual Lightning Lanes (a cost above Genie+) for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train for me, Ryan, Chase and Ryder as well as TRON for me and Chase. We also nabbed the virtual queue spot for TRON (free but you have to do this early within the app) for Ryan and Chase. While it stinks to pay above and beyond the cost of a park ticket, we were told this would be very helpful in streamlining our day as we only had one day in Magic Kingdom and it definitely helped.
An Overview of Our Day
Here is an overview of our day if you’d like to see how we mapped out our time at Magic Kingdom:
That looks like a TON, right!? I promise you it did not feel like too much solely because we were able to walk on a lot of rides or use Genie+ to skip long lines. Had we been at the park during a more crowded time, I’m sure we would not have been able to do as much. (We booked a January trip and went to Magic Kingdom on a Monday in part because we were told it was a slower time.)
Also, keep in mind our itinerary for the day might be completely different if we went again because Ryan geeked out over Genie+ and basically road mapped our day on the fly based on wait times (again, you can view these in real time through the Disney app), Lightning Lane availability, advice from people we spoke to in the park that day, etc. Genie + majorly stressed me out so I’m so glad he leaned into this one for our family!
Our Day in Magic Kingdom: All the Details
Now for the details! I wanted to share a more detailed blog post about our day at Magic Kingdom for those of you out there who may be feeling like I did before our Disney trip: Excited about the idea of Disney but overwhelmed and almost frozen by all of the options, “Disney hacks” and the myriad bells and whistles you can include in your Disney vacation.
Worth noting: Our day at Magic Kingdom does not include any character experiences or special meals because they were not important to our kids. Our boys could not have cared less about meeting characters and food/unique dining is very low on their list of “fun” things (they’d much rather see + do + play) so please keep that in mind when reading about what worked well for our family as it might not be the same for you. I know characters are are a major highlight for a lot of kids!
Okay, now let’s dive in!
(FYI, I also shared a recap of our time at Magic Kingdom on Instagram if you’d like to see some videos of the rides, etc. You may see everything here.)
A Day at Magic Kingdom
One big thing we learned the minute we arrived at Animal Kingdom the day before we went to Magic Kingdom: The parks open before they say they will! We stayed on Disney property which meant we had “early entry” and could arrive at the park 30 minutes before it technically opens… BUT the main gates at the front of the park open even earlier than that, allowing visitors to enter the park and make their way to toward the rides to wait again a little deeper in the park. Lesson learned!
We stayed at The Polynesian hotel and opted to take the Monorail to Magic Kingdom. We boarded the Monorail at 7:20 a.m. and waited at the front of the park until they let us in at 7:45 a.m. (Early entry into the park for those staying on Disney property was 8:30 a.m.)
While we briefly waited, we talked with some Disney fanatics who were incredibly helpful to us when it came to creating a loose gameplan for the day. They told us to book it to Peter Pan if that was on our list for the day as most people were going to go to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train when the rope dropped within the park and Peter Pan wait times quickly become insane. (We also did not want to begin our day with a ride that Rhett could not do which would’ve been the case with Mine Train.) This recommendation was spot-on!
We made our way down a deserted Main Street (this in itself was really neat!) and waited with the other early risers at a rope set up to block entry deeper into the park.
The rope dropped about three minutes early at 8:27 a.m. and it was excited chaos as most people headed toward Mine Train and those with littler ones made a beeline for Peter Pan.
(Another quick note: We opted to check our double BOB stroller — it was free to check through American Airlines — and this monstrosity was worth its weight in gold for us. Even our big kids appreciated having a spot to rest during some of our longer treks across the park and you cannot beat the storage. We loaded it up with jackets, a blanket, snacks, water bottles, etc.)
Fantasyland (Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Small World)
I laughed when our family was the first group on Peter Pan and it kicked our day off on the best note because our boys loved it and it filled me with all kinds of nostalgia as I remembered loving the ride when I was a kid, too. As we left Peter Pan, the line was already starting to fill up with people so we were very glad we made it there as quickly as we did to begin our day. We then followed the advice we received from the couple we spoke with earlier and walked to Winnie the Pooh which was right nearby. We easily walked right onto the ride and Ryder and Rhett loved this ride, though it was admittedly a little young for Chase, our eight-year-old.
As we left Winnie the Pooh, we saw that there was no line for Small World and made the impromptu decision to board a boat! All three boys thought this ride was cool but it was a stand-out ride for Rhett, our three-year-old.
Adventureland (Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Magic Carpets)
Exactly at 7 a.m., before we even left our hotel, Ryan used Genie+ to book our family onto Jungle Cruise. (This is also when we booked the virtual queue for Tron.) Our timeslot for Jungle Cruise was approaching, so we made our way there next and walked right on! From there we walked onto Pirates of the Caribbean because, once again, there was no wait. This was our first major fail of the day as it spooked all three of our boys. (If your kids are not the bravest, I’d skip this one!)
After Pirates of the Caribbean, the boys were all about doing a not-too-scary ride in the daylight and pointed out the Magic Carpets so we waited about 5 minutes and did this one together.
Tomorrowland (Buzz Lightyear, Tomorrowland Speedway)
From there, we had our next Genie+ timeslot become available at Buzz Lightyear and this was a slam dunk ride for our boys! Each person is given a little blaster to shoot targets which was right up their alley. They loved this one enough for us to do again in the early evening.
Our next Genie+ timeslot had us walking the very short distance to the Tomorrowland Speedway which was the absolute favorite ride of the day for Ryder, our 5-year-old.
(Our younger two boys thought this one was beyond amazing but Chase wanted to “really drive” and thought this one was “only okay.”)
Fantasyland (Barnstormer, Dumbo, Carrousel, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train)
We then walked to Barnstormer which was a huge highlight for all three boys! It was a fantastic first rollercoaster and Rhett was thrilled to be able to do a “super fast big kid ride.” This was another ride the boys wanted to repeat in the afternoon.
After Barnstormer, Ryder and Rhett eyed Dumbo and wanted to fly high on the little elephant, so I took them on Dumbo (about a 10 minute wait) while Ryan and Chase grabbed popcorn and lunch for our gang. At this point it was about 11:30 a.m and we felt like we already did a TON in a way that felt manageable and not too crazy. The advice we received that encouraged us to arrive early and do as much as possible before 11 a.m. was spot-on because we were able to do a lot without it feeling chaotic since wait times were very minimal and we were able to walk onto so many rides. This admittedly might be a lot harder on a jam-packed park day.
After Dumbo, our boys pointed out the merry-go-round, so we waited less than 10 minutes in line and they all loved riding their respective carrousel horses.
A lot of Magic Kingdom is enjoying the magic of the day through your child’s eyes (and that certainly was the case for us!) but there are a few stand-out experiences that appealed to me as an adult. TRON was absolutely one of them. This ride was the coolest!!!
Chase and I rode TRON together (we used Individual Lightning Lanes for this) and it was one of my favorite experiences of the day. Chase was a little nervous at first because of the positioning of the ride (your stomach rests on a Lightcycle bike and locks your hips and legs into place) but it ended up being far and away his favorite ride of the day and the ride he continues to talk about non-stop. It’s fast (and short) but unique and smooth and easily one of the most fun rollercoasters I’ve been on in my life! Chase and I lucked into getting the first Lightcycles in the row and if it’s an option, I’d wait a little extra time for them because being at the front of the line was really, really awesome.
Fantasyland (Barnstormer) + Tomorrowland (Monsters, Inc. Show)
After TRON, Chase and I met back up with Ryan, Rhett and Ryder at Barnstormer (there’s a shortcut to Barnstormer from TRON which made this super easy) and we easily hopped on one of their favorite rides of the day for a second time using Genie+.
At this point we were ready for a show, so we used Genie+ again to book spots at the Monsters, Inc. show but we didn’t need to because it wasn’t full. The Monsters, Inc. show was another one Ryan and I agreed was equally enjoyable for adults and kids because it was legitimately funny and really cute! Ryan and Rhett were even selected to be on screen at one point!
Adventureland (Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse) + Frontierland (Thunder Mountain)
After laughing at lot during the Monsters, Inc. show, we made our way toward Frontierland because our next Genie+ timeslot on Thunder Mountain was approaching. We made a pit-stop to walk through the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse in Adventureland which I thought was more of a fun free-play area for kids but it was set up to more or less just walk through. (We’d likely skip this one next time.)
At this point, the on-and-off rain we experienced all day started to really pick up so we popped into a gift shop where the boys had fun browsing around (we did this a few times during the day and it was great for downtime/a little re-set) and Ryan and I took turns taking the big kids through the Lightning Lane to ride Thunder Mountain. Ryan and Ryder went first while Chase and I hung back with Rhett and by the time Chase and I went on the ride it was basically a water ride and we got drenched as the rain poured down on us the entire time!
A quick note: Disney offers a Ride Share option for those with little ones but this majorly confused us and Ryan and I opted to just use Genie+ and take turns going on rides with the big kids while the other pair hung back with Rhett. This worked really well for us and helped build in some quiet moments and mostly kept Rhett in the dark about the fact he was missing some of the bigger rides.
2-Hour Break at the Hotel
At this point in the day our kids were shockingly still going strong but Ryan and I figured everyone could benefit from a little downtime. We took the Monorail back to our hotel for 2 hours of chill time in our hotel. We half expected Rhett to fall asleep or at least rest but all three boys ended up wrestling and playing with their Hot Wheels cars the entire time. Oh to have the energy level of a child! Despite the lack of real rest, the free play time rejuvenated all of us and had us feeling all the more excited to return to the park in the early evening to repeat some of our favorite rides and grab dinner.
Tomorrowland (Peoplemover + TRON + Tomorrowland Speedway + Buzz Lightyear)
Tomorrowland was where it was at for our kids during this trip. Chase and Ryder had zero interest in Space Mountain when we told them it was a rollercoaster in the dark so we opted out of that popular ride and just repeated our favorites with one new-to-us ride sprinkled in.
Ryan and Chase made their way to TRON (Chase’s favorite and Ryan’s first time on TRON — they used the virtual queue for this) and I took Rhett and Ryder on the Peoplemover which was just a little gem of a ride. We loved this one so much!
It wasn’t fast and Rhett thought it was a train which lit him up inside! Choo, choo! Peoplemover circles around Tomorrowland and even takes you through a few of the popular attractions which only served to make Ryder and Rhett request another ride on Buzz Lightyear when we were done.
Since Chase and Ryan were still off TRON-ing it up, I took the younger two boys on Tomorrowland Speedway since they both loved it so much in the morning. (We waited 15 minutes.) They were psyched to repeat this one and we had a wonderful time “racing” other cars and laughing at Ryder’s crazy driving.
Once we were done, we met back up with Chase and Ryan for round two of Buzz Lightyear. If it’s possible, the boys liked it even more the second time around because they fully understood how the blasters worked and were better at aiming at the various targets.
Fantasyland (The Little Mermaid) + Ferry Back to the Hotel
At this point, we were ready for dinner and made our way to Main Street for hot dogs and ice cream. It was a great way to relax a bit before leaving the park. We ended up eating our ice cream and then making our way to The Little Mermaid in Fantasyland after realizing we missed that one earlier in the day and the app told us there was no wait.
It was a sweet little ride all three boys liked and I did as well as The Little Mermaid was my all-time favorite Disney movie as a little girl. With Ryder on Ryan’s lap and Rhett on mine, we smooshed Chase in the middle of our gang and were all able to be in one clam shell together on the ride which was cozy and wonderful and a great way to end our day at Magic Kingdom.
We debated staying at the park to view the fireworks show at 8 p.m. which I’m sure would’ve been amazing but we knew the best choice for our family was to head back to our hotel and watch the fireworks from the beach at The Polynesian. (We saw SO MANY people getting off the Monorail as we were leaving around 7 p.m. to arrive in time for the fireworks and felt like leaving when we did was absolutely the right decision for our boys.) At Chase’s request, we waited for the ferry to take the boat back to The Polynesian which ended up being such a good experience. Our driver was animated and hilarious and riding the boat back to our hotel through the calm water was lovely.
The Polynesian blasted music that corresponded to the fireworks from the beach which was such a pleasant surprise! We loved viewing the fireworks this way (I may have had a few emotional mom moments watching our boys during this show) and easily walking back to our hotel room to get the boys in bed versus battling crowds and trying to leave the park after fireworks was a huge perk of staying where we did during our trip.
What I Would’ve Done Differently
Our first trip to Disney World was, from start to finish, fantastic. That being said, of course it was a learning experience and there are a few things I would’ve done differently that I figured I would share in case they are of interest:
- Prepared for rain. As a former Florida resident I was kicking myself for not remembering it rains almost every day in Florida, at least for a little bit, and we were very unprepared for rain. (We didn’t even bring an umbrella.) Don’t be like us.
- Packed a cooler. Disney allows you to bring coolers and water bottles into the park which is great. We packed the shelf-stable snacks we brought on the plane with us and the oranges and bananas we bought at our hotel but it would’ve been so nice to have more nutritious and easily accessible food options we know our kids like on hand, especially by our second day in the parks.
- Considered adding another park day. We were very conscious of not wanting to do too much and overextend ourselves but we definitely had another park day in us.
- Bought the boys lanyards and a Disney pin or two before the trip. There’s this whole Disney pin collection thing we learned about at our hotel that our big kids thought was the coolest. It’s almost like a treasure hunt where you can swap pins at different spot all over Disney parks, hotels, etc. By the end of our trip, our kids were dying to visit all the “pin spots.”
A Few Things That Helped Make Our Trip Better
- Visiting Animal Kingdom first. There isn’t as much to see or do and this park served as the perfect intro to Disney World for our family. We had a blast and loved it but it didn’t feel chaotic. It also helped us learn how to best utilize the Disney app through trial and error.
- Embracing Genie+. Being married to someone who geeked out over Genie+ was immensely helpful. For some reason it majorly stressed me out (though now I’m way less intimidated) and I am very grateful Ryan fully embraced Genie+ because it made a big difference for our family and enabled us to see and do a lot without waiting in long lines or feeling rushed or stressed.
- Staying on Disney property. This is not a must do by any means but our boys freaked out over riding the Monorail of all things and loved it so much. You cannot beat the convenience of on-property accommodations and we liked having early access to the parks. Also, everyone working at our hotel (The Polynesian) seemed so darn happy.
- Utilizing help from Jacquie. Jacquie, a Disney travel planner, deserves all the credit for helping us feel less intimidated by Disney. She helped us select our hotel based on our desired room layout, convenience to Magic Kingdom and the deals/savings going on during the time we were hoping to visit. She can also help with dining recommendations and reservations, etc. and does not charge beyond what you normally pay through Disney for her services. She was responsive and knowledgeable and helped us feel less overwhelmed.
- A laidback attitude going into this trip. This was key. Absolutely nothing was a “must do” for our family and we tried our best to remain flexible, keep expectations low, let go of the desire for a “perfect” trip and pay attention to what our boys wanted to do, what they didn’t want to do, what they loved, etc. I think we achieved this in a major way and every single one of our boys said they loved our trip so much.
I really, really hope this blog post was helpful for anyone out there who might be considering a trip to Disney World and especially those who may wish to visit Magic Kingdom with little ones for the first time. It’s a LOT to take in but it’s also amazing and the whole experience was worth it ten times over. Our boys loved. We loved it. And we will remember it forever.