Published: December 16, 2013
Because the Magic Kingdom was the first, and for more than a decade the only, theme park at Disney World, many people who visit the park have no idea that its official name is actually "Magic Kingdom." They just know the park as "Disney World." This leads to some rather unfortunate exchanges between visitors (or "guests," as Disney so diplomatically calls them) and employees (or "cast members," again in Disneyspeak). Someone will come up to an employee at Epcot or one of the other Disney theme parks and ask how to "get to Disney World." Rookie cast members inevitably point out that "you're already here!" Old-timers, though, understand: let it go, and dutifully instruct the confused tourist how to get to the Magic Kingdom.
The Magic Kingdom was Disney's second theme park, following the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Walt Disney hated all the tacky development he'd seen spring up across the street from Disneyland in the late 1950s and early 60s — the motels, diners and roadside attractions with their oversized signs and often tasteless design. He wanted his company's future developments to be kept far, far away from all of that. In addition, Disneyland had given him a taste for creating public spaces, and he decided that he wanted to build something far greater than just another theme park.
Disney started thinking about what would become the Walt Disney World Resort in the early 1960s. After researching sites in New York, St. Louis and elsewhere in Florida, Disney's friend and consultant Harrison "Buzz" Price (who found the site for the original Disneyland in California) recommended a 30,000-acre site southwest of Orlando. That would provide the space Disney wanted to create an "Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow," [EPCOT] a modernist planned community that would include abundant hotels and recreation facilities, including a new, larger Magic Kingdom theme park, all of which could be built miles away from any tacky outside development. Walt Disney died in 1966, before any of the Orlando plans were completed. His idea for the "EPCOT" community eventually transformed into a theme park of the same name. Walt's brother Roy saw the first phase of the resort — the Magic Kingdom and several surrounding hotels — to completion.
From the Magic Kingdom parking lot, the actual park sits across the massive “Seven Seas Lagoon,” a small lake. That means you'll have ride a large ferryboat or monorail train before you can reach the entrance to the park. And that's after riding a tram from your parked car to the "Transportation and Ticket Center," where the monorails and ferries depart for the Magic Kingdom. So get there early!
On your way across or around the lake, you'll see the massive Cinderella's Castle that dominates the park's skyline. Inside the park, the castle stands at the end of Main Street USA, the entrance promenade into the park. Directly in front of the castle stands "the hub," a circular plaza from which the parks' themed lands spread out, like spokes on a wheel. The Magic Kingdom includes five themed lands: Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fanstasyland and Tomorrowland, in addition to Main Street USA. (If you've visited in the past, you might remember a sixth land, Mickey's Toontown -- previously known as Mickey's Starland and Mickey's Birthdayland. Whatever the name, that land now has been closed and incorporated into the park's newly-expanded Fantasyland.)
By the way, that lake you cross or go around on the way to the Magic Kingdom? Like the park itself, that's man-made. Walt Disney wanted a convenient way to "hide" all the maintenance and support personnel and the equipment needed to run the park. So he and his designers came up with the idea of building the park atop underground tunnels, where electrical equipment, storage rooms, costume departments, garbage disposal facilities and other support facilities could be kept. Unfortunately, the water table is too high in this part of Central Florida to allow for digging tunnels. So Disney's crews built the support facilities above ground, dug the Seven Seas Lagoon in front of them, then used the dirt from the new "lake" to cover the support tunnels. The Magic Kingdom stands atop those support tunnels, which visitors can glimpse by booking an extra-cost "Keys to the Kingdom" backstage tour of the park.
The Magic Kingdom hosts several special events throughout the year. These events require a separate admission ticket, and park closes earlier than usual on the evenings these events are held. They include "Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party," a massive trick-or-treating party in September and October; "Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party" in November and December; and "Night of Joy," a Christian music event in September. These events are aimed more at locals, as they are held at times when relatively few tourists are visiting the parks. But if you do happen to be visiting during these events, note that the park will close early and you'll need to buy an extra ticket if you want to stay late into the evening for the special event.