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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Little-Known Disney: First in the Magic Kingdom

When you think of the Magic Kingdom, or Walt Disney World, for that matter, there are probably two key images that come to mind - Mickey Mouse, of course, and Cinderella's Castle.  Cinderella's Castle is iconic of Walt Disney World and one of the most photographed structures in the world.  Of course, at the end of Main Street, photos in front of the castle most always include strangers in the background, rushing into the park.

A few years ago, I discovered a 'secret' to getting a picture of Cinderella's Castle without a million people in the background - book an Advance Dining Reservation for breakfast in a Magic Kingdom restaurant before park opening.  This trick, of course, will work for all four parks, but early entry into the Magic Kingdom seems to be the most coveted.

There are two restaurants within the Magic Kingdom that serve breakfast, and both are character buffets.  Take note that all reservations for character dining restaurants now require a credit card to book, and if for some reason you do not show for your reservation, you will be charged $20 per person.

Cinderella's Royal Table
This restaurant is actually inside Cinderella's Castle and overlooks the Magic Kingdom.  It also gives you an opportunity to meet the princesses, as they rotate around the restaurant (now for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and interact with guests.  Of course, the unique atmosphere and character interaction come at a steep price.  Prepare to pay a set price of around $55 for adults, $35 for children (varies with seasonal demand).  There isn't a buffet, but a pre-plated all-you-can-eat meal brought to your table, consisting of traditional American breakfast foods.  The price also includes juices, milk, coffee, and soda, but cappuccino and expresso are an additional charge.  To help justify the cost, you will receive a complimentary photo package consisting of 4 4x6s and 1 6x8 of the photo you take with Cinderella when you enter the restaurant (so make sure it's pretty!). Princesses will receive a magic wand, and princes will get a souvenir sword.


Crystal Palace
This is the less-expensive way to gain early entry into the Magic Kingdom.  Crystal Palace is within an elegant exterior that actually connects Main Street to Adventureland thematically.  Here you'll dine with Pooh and friends.  I took a picture of the sign outside so that I'd remember the prices - when we went last (March 2012, college spring break), breakfast was $22.99 for adults and $12.99 for children - much more pocket-friendly than Cinderella's Table!  It's a buffet-style breakfast, again typical American fare.  However, the specialty here that you must try is actually on the children's buffet - Pooh's Puffed French Toast.  It is delicious!  I also highly recommend their breakfast pizza (also children's buffet).

Crystal Palace before park opening

Now, Disney suggests that you arrive at least 20 minutes prior to your reservation time.  Normally, this is a tidbit of information I choose to ignore, but when entering the Magic Kingdom before park opening, you're going to want to have plenty of time to take pictures in front of the castle and along Main Street.  To enter the park, simply go through bag check and security, then walk to the turnstile on the left-hand side which is marked "Dining Reservations."  If they are letting everyone through the turnstiles (which they typically do at Magic Kingdom in the morning for the rope drop show), then go to the opening at the left side of the train station where they have a rope, and the Cast Member will let you through with proof of your reservation.  I recommend printing out your reservation receipt and having that with you.

Once you get in the park, take your time!  Take more photos than you think you need, just in case some don't turn out the way you'd like.  This is an awesome experience, so take in the atmosphere and capture the moment!

If you are interested in gaining early entry at other parks, restaurants open for breakfast are Tusker House - Donald's Breakfast Safari at Disney's Animal Kingdom, Akershus princess dining at Epcot, and Hollywood & Vine Disney Junior character dining at Hollywood Studios.

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