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Magic Kingdom Rides


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The Magic Kingdom, of course, is where it all began. This was the first park built, and is the first park most people visit. It has the most rides of any park and some of its rides are among the best in the nation in their category. The park undergoes continuous renovation, but has retained the classic rides as long as they remain popular. Some of its rides, like Splash Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan's Flight, Thunder Mountain, and Barnstormer, have their own fan clubs. Others did have, and thousands of fans have never forgiven Disney for replacing Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Nautilus and Snow White. Given the long lines and time to eat, browse, watch the parade and see a few shows, if you wanted to ride every ride in the Magic Kingdom, you would need at least two days. But most people either focus on the rides for little kids, or the rides for teenagers and adults. It's hard to believe most of these rides are 40 years old and visitors who first rode them as preschoolers came back with their children and now come with their grandchildren. It's easy to scoff at the fairy princesses, cartoon characters and mass marketing, but somehow The Magic Kingdom has maintained its appeal to millions of Americans across three generations.

Rides Epcot Hollywood Studios Animal Kingdom Blizzard Beach Typhoon Lagoon Universal Studios Islands of Adventure

Most amusement parks have a train, but not one like the Walt Disney World Railroad. The trains constantly circle the whole park, serving as a very effective people mover (each train carries 365 passengers and the railroad transports 1.5 million people a year). You get a nice tour, moving through Main Street, Frontierland, Storybook Circus and Fantasyland. The ride includes woods, high bridges, and clearings looking down on various rides, lakes, rivers and mountains. The trains themselves are a thrill. Walt Disney was a train enthusiast. Disney scouts found this set of four steam engines hauling sugarcane in Mexico. They had been built in 1916 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia. Disney brought them to the U.S. and completely restored them. The passenger cars were custom designed and built. Having begun operation when the park opened in '71, the engines were reconditioned in 2001 for its 30 anniversary. Each train carries a crew of three. On a basic day, two trains operate, but as crowds increase a third can be added. The fourth engine is on standby. The Main Street passenger station is a replica of the one in Saratoga Springs, New York. The locomotives take on water every third trip around the park, at the back of the park at the old Toontown Station, which is now just a water tower stop.

With Splash Mountain, Disney takes the basic log flume and elevates it to a whole new level. You'll be singing or humming Song of the South all day after riding this. The narrative features Bre'r Rabbit, Bre'r Fox and Bre'r Bear in the classic Briar Patch story. That tangle of thorns at the bottom of the drop is the briar patch you and Bre'r Rabbit are being tossed into. This is a pretty long seven minute ride as you wind through three early drops, five caves, and the final five story drop everyone sees. All along the way are animatronic characters acting out the story line. You sit in eight person logs, with each seat holding two people. The front seat riders will get soaked, but the last three rows will only get mildly damp. We bought $7 Disney rain parkas several years ago and carry them folded up to use here, on the rafting ride in the Animal Kingdom, and on Dudley Dooright's Ripsaw Falls at Seven Islands of Adventure. Seen from the observation railing out front, this drop looks high and steep, but actually it isn't too bad. It's a 45 degree angle and you only hit 40 mph coming down. Try to ride this first in the morning, since from noon til 4 the line will be over an hour. Bring some sort of sealable plastic bag to keep cameras, watches and phones dry.
Big Thunder Mountain is a $17 million mine train roller coaster of the kind seen at Cedar Point, Kings Island and Carowinds. This is the best in the nation with its magnificent scenery (based on Bryce Canyon, Utah), length and theming. The premise is that Tumbleweed was an old gold mining town wiped out by a flash flood. But the trains used to transport gold down from the mines have been made into a tourist attraction. Meanwhile, various critters inhabit the canyon and desert. This may be the best job of creating an artificial landscape Disney artists have ever done --- the colors, rock striations and terrain are a beautiful capturing of the Utah badlands. This was the first ride to use Computer Assisted Design and Operation (CADO) and revolutionized the way amusement park rides are built and run. It's 4:00 long and derives its excitement more from the dark runs through old mine tunnels, along waterfalls and across high bridges than from steep descents, although there are numerous sudden dips and drops. If you're a hard core roller coaster lover, get a back seat, which is much more lively. Lines from noon til dinner average an hour or more so ride in the morning or use Fast Pass. Take a good look at all the abandoned mining artifacts you pass. They're real. Disney collectors spent a month touring antique shops in old mining towns and paid $300,000 for them.

Space Mountain has been renovated and is better than ever. It is now much darker inside and the old FexEx orange has been eliminated, since FedEx is no longer a corporate sponsor. Notice in this photo all you now see are blue and white. The seats have been reupholstered and are much plusher, which for most people will mean easier on the lower back. It's basically a 180 foot high roller coaster, somewhat similar to a Wild Mouse but with longer cars, broader sweeping curves and more gradual bottoming out at the base of drops. The cars only travel at 40 mph but the special effects make them seem to go twice or three times that fast. This is a great ride, a classic, and doesn't have many flaws. One is that since you're usually in pitch darkness and can't see your hand in front of your face, you don't know when a sharp right or left turn is coming, and can't brace. It thus tends to jerk you around a little. The other is that since in each car there are three seats one behind the other, a parent can't sit with their young child. If they get frightened this can be an issue. There's a great musical score.

Dark rides or walk through haunted houses are an old favorite of amusement parks and carnivals, and most communities now have versions they run in October for Halloween fund raisers. But Disney has taken this old favorite to unprecedented heights with the Haunted Mansion. It took 15 years of work and 100 patented innovations, plus some 1800s and 1900s magic tricks, to create. The result is a huge building you ride through in Doom Buggies. You see your share of set pieces : the cemetery with humorous inscriptions, various objects floating around the rooms you pass through, the hall with the mirror at the end reflecting back at you except that when you look up there's a huge chandelier and when you look in the mirror it's not there but you are, the ever expanding room, the footsteps preceding you up the stairs, and the portraits of ancestors whose eyes follow you as you move across the room. But that's just background. The stars of the show here are the 999 ghosts. Real ones. We learn that the mansion was abandoned and the ghosts have adopted it as a kind of retirement home. As they keep reminding you, there's room for one more. They walk across the room, dance, play the piano (left), talk to you and, in the famous final room, get in the car with you and sit down. There's a whole package of tools being used to create all this : holograms, lasers, 3-d projection, special lighting, multiple panes of glass, trick paints, infrared, ultraviolet and so on. Even though Walt had assigned the crew to work on it, when he saw the results, he wasn't sure he liked it. "I don't know," he said, "if people are ready for this yet." The original finally opened in Disneyland in 1969, and the Magic Kingdom version, which is much bigger and has more special effects, in 1971. When your Doom Buggy appears to stop partway through, it's not a breakdown. They're just loading or unloading a handicapped rider. Don't miss the Pet Cemetery. It's...uh...a scream. You need to ride this at least twice and possibly more, because there's much too much detail here to catch all in one trip. You'll spend your ride wondering how they're doing this. It's as much an old fashioned magic show as a thrill ride, although when you fall (are pushed?) out the attic window into the graveyard it can be pretty startling.

Pirates of the Caribbean was such a popular ride it spawned a series of movies and made a star out of Jack Sparrow and, in turn, Johnny Depp. First they had to create a movie script using the ingredients of the ride. Then, when the movies proved wildly popular, they had to redo the ride to match the movie script. The result is yet another mandatory experience for anyone over the age of eight. (There's enough darkness, cannon booming, flashes of light, fires, and the sudden drop over the waterfalls that younger children might be frightened). The ride was extended to 10 minutes to fit everything in. This is basically a boat ride through a cave. You enter through a medieval castle, go down a secret tunnel, and board a bateaux, a small sailing ship, with the intention of sailing out through the cave to the open sea. But then you learn the cave is really a pirate hideout, where they bring their treasure and keep their women. You find yourself coming between a pirate ship and a pursuing French Royal Navy ship. Then the ride takes you past one scene after another of pirates drinking, singing, chasing women, and otherwise cavorting, all done with animatronic characters and artful lighting. Blackbeard makes an appearance. Your boat encounters a waterfall and is swept over it. Fans of the movies will love it. Liberal groups did not. They demanded Disney remove the scenes depicting pirates auctioning off captured wenches, or chasing them with obvious intent. So the scenes were toned down somewhat. But you'll still come out singing Yo Ho Ho A Pirate's Life For Me for the rest of the day.

Peter Pan was the most important cartoon Disney made until the Pixar era. It was the longest full length animated narrative ever put on screen. It was the first panoramic screen cartoon (many theatres had to install the new screen just to show it). And it was the first children's film that directly confronted adult issues : growing up, loss of innocence, the need to make your own decisions rather than letting adults make them for you, and the presence of true Evil in the world. For kids growing up in the 1950s, when the film was new, it was an iconic event in their lives. For kids coming to it later, it remains a beloved creation worth watching numerous times.

The film made Disney a fortune and Walt loved it. He was determined that it would occupy a key place in his parks, and be one of their most special rides. The island of Neverland, Captain Hook's ship, and characters from Peter Pan to the Crococile are all beautifully done. But the two keys to the ride are the flying ships and the city of London. As you board your little two person ship you notice the track it runs on and the wheels it uses. What you're not ready for is as you enter the bedroom Tinker Bell sprinkles pixie dust over you, and the ship lifts off the track and sails out the window. As you climb into the night sky, lighted only by the moon, the city sprawled out below you is one of the great modelling jobs ever done. Buildings are lit up, boats move down the river, cars travel the streets with headlights and taillights on, the clocks in the Big Ben Tower keep accurate time, and even the shadows are perfect. It is worth riding once a year just to see this magnificent model city. Sailing into the harbor at Neverland is almost anticlimactic, but it's all there : Indian camp, Lost Boys, mermaids, Mr. Smee, the pirates, Skull Rock and the ticking clock. This ride draws the longest lines at Disney World, often reaching 2 hours.
Astro Orbiter is one of the great aerial rides in the country. It's a basic rocket ride which Disney has jazzed up by mixing in planets, asteroids, and moons, then giving riders a joy stick so they can direct their craft to climb or drop as they weave through the flying maze. Disney also lifted the whole ride atop a three story tower, which you take an elevator up. This puts you way above the rest of the park and adds to the adrenalin aspect. Rockets fly faster than you expect and the ride lasts 5:00. There's lots of screaming as people send their rockets into steep drops or climbs. Lines get up to an hour so try to ride before 11 or after dinner. Each rocket only holds two and there are only 12 rockets, so only 24 can ride each cycle. This, plus the small elevator, is what almost guarantees long lines. We recommend night rides because with the park all lit up the views are breathtaking. If you can time it right, this is a fabulous place to watch the fireworks display. A good strategy is to ride this while you wait for your Fast Pass time over at Space Mountain. The rockets can be a tight fit for anyone over 6-2 or overweight.
The Magic Tea Party is a beautifully themed version of the old spinning teap cup ride. Created in 1928, this was once a staple at every amusement park and carnival in the country. Lately, the ride has lost popularity, and this one and the one at Busch Gardens Williamsburg are the best two remaining, although Disney has them at all of its parks around the world. Basically, 18 round cars sit in three groups of six each. Each group sits on a round base which spins counterclockwiss while the overall platform spins clockwise. At the center of each car is a round handle. By turning it, riders can cause their car to spin counterclockwise. So each teacup can simultaneously spin in three different rotations. If you get dizzy easily, stay off this ride. Otherwise it can be a blast. Back when the ride was everywhere, it was a common assignment in Physics, Geometry and Calculus classes to graph movement of one rider through the three cycles. It demonstrates several mathematical principles. While you're waiting in line, you might study the ride and try to do that analysis. Ironically, while the teacups move in circles and The Scrambler (another popular ride) moves in sequential straight lines, individual riders chart the same paths. Sadly, this has the shortest ride cycle in the Magic Kingdom. Disney treasures this ride and keeps it in pristine condition.
Ah, the Potential! The Speedway was one of Disney's original rides. When it opened in 1971 it was spectacular, especially for kids too young to drive a real car. You steer a replica racecar around a half mile track themed with lots of Indy 500 scenery. In 1971 no one cared that the cars were tethered to a rail so even if little A. J. made a mistake, his car remained on line. And no one cared that the cars were slow. However, kids now are used to Go Kart tracks at amusement parks, where they steer on their own, make multiple circuits of a longer track tightly wound inside itself with crossings and doublebacks, and can go fast enough to spin the car out and bang against the guard rails. In the 21st Century, this ride needs redone, probably to a Cars theme. The track length needs at least doubled and Go Kart type vehicles installed. However, for grade school kids, this is still appealing. The line is horrendous; hundreds of kids race from the front gate to this ride as soon as they hit the park.
Every kid loves to climb. They especially love to climb trees. And the idea of a treehouse is Paradise. This is what gives the Swiss Family Robinson Tree its appeal. You climb up and up and up through the branches and along the trunk of a giant tree until you reach the world's greatest treehouse. You really are UP -- six stories. You're looking down on the river and the jungle, although if you twist around and crane your neck you can see over that to the rest of the park. There are six rooms of this treehouse to explore, all rich in artifacts of the family's year in the wilderness. It really helps to have read the novel and seen the movie Swiss Family Robinson, because Disney imagineers have captured every detail possible. You move at your own pace, but people in front of you will be taking photos and you'll be tempted to take some, too. Allow half an hour for the climb up and back down. In our 21st Century high tech world, much of the appeal of the Swiss Family Robinson is in their backyard, common sense engineering, the way they used what was available to construct clever devices. Even adults find themselves stopping frequently to admire one or another of these, from the water system to the security system and even to the way they attached the beams to the tree so as not to harm the tree. If it's not crowded, especially if you have kids along, you'll be tempted to pause at the top, sit down, lean back against the trunk or one of the railings, and enjoy a cool drink from your water bottle while you gaze out over the scenery below. In a day filled with crowds, noise, and whirling, splashing and speeding rides, this can be a leisurely, shady, respite. In exactly the opposite way from the Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain, this is the Disney imagineers at their best, creating a springboard for your imagination. If you were shipwrecked on an island, you could have done this, too....
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