Arriving at the Magic Kingdom is a special experience to be savored. The moment has been orchestrated with care by gifted visual artisans. You may be tempted to rush off to your first ride. Don’t. You’ll be missing out on the beautiful “front door” of the Magic Kingdom in Town Square and Main Street USA.
If you arrive at least 15 minutes before the park opens (or “early opens” on Extra Magic Hours days), you’ll be treated with a unique welcome. The show takes place on the train station platform above the Mickey floral parterre. “Hello everyone, welcome to the most magical place on Earth!!!” the Mayor (or possibly the fire chief) of Main Street USA will heartily boom. The performers, dressed in costumes reminiscent of HELLO DOLLY, will sing and dance to songs like “Good Morning” (from SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN) and the theme song from the “Casey Junior” cartoon. The locomotive rolls into the station with a trainload of Disney characters and a lucky family of the day. The sign over the floral Mickey wisely advises, “Let the Memories Begin.”
Walt Disney had made dozens of films before he turned his sights on building a theme park in the 1950s. Naturally, he tapped the team that had helped him make movie magic. Their plans for the Magic Kingdom had a theatrical base from the beginning. They’ve even rolled out the red carpet for you — look down — the pavement is a soft red color! A small but not-to-be-missed sign sets the stage for the world you’re about to enter. “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy.” All the (Disney) World’s a stage – and you’re the stars!
As you move through the darkened passageways under the WDW Railroad, you see “coming attractions” posters for park attractions. Anticipation builds as you emerge into the sunshine and find yourself in a turn-of-the-last-century Town Square, and coming around the circle of Town square, you think, “There it is!” as the castle comes into view at last.
Town Square is anchored with a flag pole. Every afternoon, a Flag Retreat ceremony (including the Pledge of Allegiance and musical accompaniment) is held as the flag is lowered. A Guest Veteran is chosen at random to assist the Color Guard. Any veteran hoping to participate should stop by Guest Services upon arrival.
Guests Services is on the left side just inside the entrance (as is true inside all four WDW parks — it’s always on the left!) housed in “City Hall.” This is a great place to book or change FP+ as the kiosks there rarely have a line. You can also book dining reservations. Restrooms are adjacent.
Next door is the Fire Station. The sign over the door says, “Engine Co. 71” (1971 being the year the MK opened). Inside you’ll find the “recruitment center” for the Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom interactive role-playing game. Each guest receives a pack of cards and a map with instructions from Merlin to play the game throughout the park. The walls of the Fire Station are lined with glass cases full of firehouse memorabilia. Members of hundreds of local firehouses from across the country have donated patches to represent their home stations. Guests can ride a replica fire engine for the trip up to the castle Hub.
Also on the west side of Town Square, tucked in the corner, is the Harmony Barber Shop with its cheerful red and blue striped barber pole. This isn’t just window dressing — it’s a real barber shop. You may end up feeling glad if “haircuts” was one of the items you didn’t get accomplished from your Things To Be Done Before Disney list back home, because you’ll be making some fun memories here – possibly even be serenaded by the Dapper Dan’s. Don’t forget the “before” shot when in the chair. One of the specialties of the Harmony Barber Shop is their “My First Haircut” package (under $20!) which includes a keepsake certificate, a pair of first haircut Mickey ears, and what might be a head-to-toe plastering in Mickey stickers. In addition to the stickers, the smiling barbers have an arsenal of other distractionary techniques, bubbles, and toys. Reservations are a good idea (call 407-939-7529 up to 180 days in advance), but walk-ins are usually possible.
Town Square Theater is the large building on the opposite side of Town Square. Here you can meet Master Magician Mickey (he talks!) as well as a separate “portal” which takes you directly into Pixie Hollow to meet Tinker Bell with a showcase of her treasures. If the wait times are longer than 20 minutes or so, you might want to get a Fast Pass for these meet-and-greets. Characters are also usually greeting guests in the middle of Town Square near the flagpole and the Roy Disney and Minnie brass bench. (The statues make a good photo op, too.) Marie (from the ARISTOCATS) and Pluto are regulars, with Snow White and Mary Poppins occasionally popping in. Consult a Cast Member if you’re looking for a particular character.
Tony’s Town Square restaurant is located right next to the Town Square Theater. Tony is the restaurateur from LADY AND THE TRAMP – and the pair is featured atop a fountain in the middle of the restaurant. There are three seating areas – inside with black-and-white tiled trattoria floor where magical paintings are found on the walls; in the bright solarium with overhanging ferns, or at a table outside on the porch for great Town Square people watching. This is also a great place from which to watch the parades, especially in the evening. Take someone special for a kiss over spaghetti and meatballs, just like the Lady and the Tramp scene. Add fresh zucchini fries for a modern note, and end the evening with a pistachio crème brûlée and a cup of cappuccino. Don’t forget to look for pawprints of the two famous dogs, encircled by a heart, imprinted in the pavement, right outside the restaurant.
MAIN STREET USA
Of course, as you’ve explored Town Square, Main Street USA has been beckoning at the back of your mind. With Town Square at one end and the castle at the other, this is some prime Magic Kingdom real estate. Most guests would make it first choice for parade viewing (though the crowds drive many to choose Frontierland or Liberty Square instead). The Emporium is the flagship shop. If you’re looking for a specific Disney souvenir, they probably have it — walls of plush, racks of mugs, section after section of clothing, a whole room of toys, scrapbooking supplies, and enough hats to satisfy any mad hatter. Everything at Disney has a back story. According to a window in the Emporium, the proprietor here is “Osh Popham.” Osh is the owner of a general store in the Disney movie SUMMER MAGIC.
It’s possible to traverse the length of Main Street by walking through the rooms of the Emporium up into and out of Casey’s Corner counter service restaurant (great hot dogs with sauerkraut and corn dog nuggets!). This is a great option on a hot day or when you’re trying to exit the park and Main Street USA is very crowded. However, on arrival, you’ll want to stroll up Main Street USA itself and enjoy the detailed architecture and the Victorian curlicues and cornices with which it abounds. You’re likely to run into some of the friendly “Citizens of Main Street.” You may meet the charming Mayor Weaver, a socialite, a suffragette, and reporter Scoop Sanderson, among others. They will be more than happy to pose (often hilariously) for photos. Be sure to look up at the names on the windows on the second stories – these are the “credits” for the feature film you find yourself starring in — the Imagineers who made the magic. Walt’s window is at the hub, facing the castle, above the Plaza Restaurant.
Main Street Confectionary, on the right, has Mickey shaped treats, from lollipops to chocolates and rice crispy treats. Uptown Jewelers features Pandora charms and bracelets. You can get your Starbucks fix as well and move on to the Plaza Ice Cream parlor for hand scooped ice cream including cones with Mickey ears. Tables with gaily striped yellow and white umbrellas line the pathway outside – perfect for people watching, castle gazing, and a respite before you move forward into the park. Will you choose the future (to the right), the past (to the left), or fantasy (straight ahead behind the castle!)?