Our first full day at Disney was glorious. Although Magic Kingdom was the park I was least excited about (being full of kids rides and all) it ended up being the biggest surprise. I rode more rides and enjoyed myself more at Magic Kingdom and I did in any of the other parks. The excitement I knew from riding Thunder Mountain as a kid? Same as an adult. The joy I remembered from zooming around Tomorrowland on the elevated tram? Identical in every way. I felt like I had shed the last 25 years of my life.
We arrived at the Magic Kingdom about thirty minutes before opening, which meant we were able to watch the opening ceremony. Disney picks a family out of the crowd and brings them up to the Main Street USA Train Station, which overlooks the park entryway. There’s a short song and dance, and then the park opens for business. As with everything over the course of the next week, the kids ate it up with a spoon. Samantha and I had ended up right up next to the entrance, which meant we got to witness a Cast Member named Eduardo select a ‘Princess of the Day’ and an ‘Honorary Citizen’ of the Magic Kingdom from the children up at the front…all in a heavy New York Accent. I hope I never forget Eduardo, his bald head already sweating under the morning sunlight, as he regaled us with detailed facts about the park’s history (such as the price of tickets on opening day or how many miles of ketchup packets are consumed annually at the park). He also helped open the park by rubbing Cinderella’s Castle key three times (even though he swore he’d never done it before.) Oh, and he pronounced it “Dis-a-ney World”.
As the clock struck 9:00 AM, the park opened….slowly. Cast Members walked in front of everyone at a slow pace, holding a rope across the street as everyone flooded into the park behind them. What that accomplished was a prevention of over-zealous kids (and parents) from running, being uncourteous, or otherwise damaging the experience of others. When we reached Cinderella’s Castle, which was a hub for the rest of the park, we were free to roam where we wished.
Our first stop of the day was a surprise stop at Ariel’s Grotto. Samantha’s favorite Disney movie as a kid was The Little Mermaid, and I felt it would be fitting to enter the world by meeting her. The queue was minimal, since the park had just opened, and we admired the attention to detail in the line area as we breezed through. Our brief visit was lovely; she, too, saw we were on our honeymoon. She asked about our first dance and recalled how difficult it was for her to dance when she was learning how to use her…what do you call them…..LEGS! She congratulated us on being o-fish-al and hoped we had a splendid celebration.
Afterwards, we walked through Fantasyland to Frontierland. It was a real treat to experience a quiet, cool stroll through parts of the park that were familiar and parts that were brand-new to my eyes. The area dedicated to Beauty and the Beast is well done, with Gaston’s Pub and Beast’s castle in the distance. We walked past the carousel, already full of joyous children, and came across Peter Pan. The wait for that ride was already at ~30 minutes and I soon learned it was still one of the most popular rides at the park. Another favorite from my childhood, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, is sadly gone. We bypassed the Haunted Mansion and Liberty Square and headed for the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Thanks to Disney’s cell phone app, I could see the wait time was minimal.
It took about five minutes before we were on board the run-away train through the red rocks of Thunder Mountain. It was my favorite ride the last time I visited, and remains high on my list. I’m not a big roller coaster guy, but Thunder Mountain is very tame and enjoyable. Samantha enjoyed it, too, but just as we were getting ready to board she started freaking out a little. I soon learned that Sam got anxious just before getting on rides. This included our next stop, Pirates of the Caribbean, which is mostly tame but does have one small drop at the beginning.
Three-fourths of the way through Pirates, which had just recently been refurbished, the ride stopped. We remained stationary for about five minutes, listening to the pirate marketplace auction loop. I could hear crackling in the speakers as it went; it was clear that more work was still needed. I was pleasantly surprised at how they’d integrated Captain Jack Sparrow into the ride, though. Last time, the movies hadn’t been made yet. An animatronic Johnny Depp showed up a few times, adding flavor to scenes that have existed on the ride for decades. After exiting, we took advantage of some short lines at the Aladdin ride (magic carpets similar to Dumbo) and toured the Swiss Family Robinson tree house, based on another of Sam’s favorite movies in her childhood.
Satisfied, we trekked back over to the Haunted Mansion and took our first trip through the famous attraction. Here, we encountered the only person that was in a bad mood on our entire trip. The line was fairly short, and a lot of the queue area was walk-through instead of standing. A lady with a stroller was slowly reading some of the gravestones when the line kept moving forward in front of her. We moved a little closer to her, hopefully as a silent signal that the line was moving, when she turned to us and said, “Can you just back off? THANK YOU.” in a really disrespectful tone. I was stunned, but Sam replied with a very sarcastic, “Well, you’re very welcome!” As we weaved through the line, the woman continued a glacial pace as the line behind us backed up; she attempted to interest the child in some of the line ambiance, but the kid was disinterested. We kept a good distance back from her for the rest of our time at the Mansion. Interestingly, Sam encountered her again at Hollywood Studios a few days later as she rudely knocked on the women’s room stall doors, encouraging the ladies to hurry it up. I hope she found some better spirits during her trip.
After the mansion, we wandered around a bit. We bought mouse ears (classic for Sam, R2-D2 themed for me) and watched the mid-day parade for a few minutes. Feeling sufficiently prepared, we walked to Space Mountain and used one of our FastPass reservations. A few short minutes later, we were next in line to board the famous indoor roller-coaster. Sam had begun making a low, steady noise that indicated minor panic. It was too late now; we boarded the ride and I ended up in the very front of our rocket. Behind me, I could hear Sam freaking out. I shouted that I loved her as the ride began, though it did little to sooth her as the clickety-clack of the chain carried us into Tomorrowland’s most-famous experience. The ride itself was exhilarating; I’d ridden it for the first time a few years ago in California (thanks to some gentle persistence…I’m a total coaster coward) but this was the first time in Florida. When it was over, Samantha was still alive and well. In fact, she later mentioned that she was willing to ride it again but I declined.
It was now past lunch time; after checking the app for available options, we chose Tony’s Town Square Restaurant. I didn’t realize this was modeled after Lady and the Tramp. It ended up being a lovely, romantic lunch together. Sam got the spaghetti, but we didn’t share it. Alas. Afterwards, it was back to Tomorrowland to board a race car. The Tomorrowland Speedway dates back to the opening of the park in 1971 and features simple gas-powered carts on rails that you can somewhat steer around the track. It’s probably considered a has-been ride for kids today, but I loved getting to drive the same track I experienced with my Dad and brother all those years ago. Another oldie-but-goodie ride followed, the WEDWay Peoplemover. It hasn’t been called WEDWay in years, but, that’s what I still call it. It’s an elevated tram that takes you throughout Tomorrowland and showcases that section of the park. It’s very tame, but holds a lot of fond memories for me. We capped our day by taking a spin in the teacups (Samantha, anyway. The blood pressure meds I take for my migraines make me very susceptible to illness from spinny rides) and went through the Carousel of Progress…the latter I didn’t realize originated as an attraction at the 1964 New York World’s Fair!
We had dinner reservations at the California Grill, the restaurant atop the Contemporary Resort, one of the oldest hotels at Disney. It’s the one that the monorail drives through the middle of! We got fancied up and took a boat from our Lodge to the Contemporary, where we enjoyed a very fine meal complete with complimentary champagne (thanks to our honeymoon buttons) and a stunning view of the Magic Kingdom. We were encouraged to return to their viewing deck for fireworks later in the evening, so we took that opportunity to take the monorail around to some of the other resorts to look around. After seeing the ornate Victorian lobby of the Grand Floridian, we returned to view the Magic Kingdom fireworks from on high. It was the perfect cap to a wonderful day, a mixture of old memories and new ones.