Planning Is the Key to Covering the Disney World Waterfront

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- I admit, I'm not one for crowds or lines, so visiting Walt Disney World during one of the busiest times of the year was a bit scary, especially during the resort's heavily promoted 25th Anniversary celebration.

But I was egged on by my kids, who could not imagine bypassing Disney while in Florida, and we ventured into the Magic Kingdom for a one-day visit on Dec. 26.

Much to our delight, and thanks to some tips from Walt Disney World's guest relations department, we were able to see almost all the attractions and do all the rides desired before collapsing, satisfied, at the end of the evening.

All it took was a little planning and a little patience.

We arrived at the Magic Kingdom about 15 minutes after the 9 a.m. opening time and parked so easily we wondered if local stores were attracting the crowds with post-Christmas sales.

But, as the shuttle approached the monorail, we saw the masses.

Still, Disney efficiency did not let us down. We watched one packed monorail depart but were able to make standing room on the second.

Including getting our tickets, taking a bathroom break, stopping to buy film and walking time, we were at our first choice of ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, by 10:30.

Luckily for us, the crowds seemed to be headed elsewhere. We did the ride twice by 11:05.

After visiting the Pirates shop, we split into two groups. My husband and 12-year-old daughter went to visit the Swiss Family Treehouse while my 9-year-old son and I did

the Adventureland scavenger hunt.

We were starting to get hungry, so we caught an early lunch at the cafeteria-style Pirata y el Perico; it was starting to get crowded even though it still was before noon, but we snagged a table without too much effort.

After lunch, we headed to adjacent Frontierland.

Discovering that the noon-time crowd at Splash Mountain meant a wait of two hours, we passed it by and went on to Big Thunder Mountain, where the wait was a more reasonable 45 minutes.

Again we split up, my husband and son doing the mountain and my daughter and I enjoying a more quiet interlude with a raft ride to Tom Sawyer Island (which I had never visited and found a pleasant way to enjoy some downtime, without crowds).

At 1 p.m., the crowd at Splash Mountain thinned a bit, people evidently taking a lunch break, so my husband, who considered the ride a must, stood in line while I took the kids, who were less inclined to take the plunge, back to Adventureland for the Enchanted Tiki Birds show.

We reconvened at 2:30, in time to position ourselves to view the parade at 3 p.m.

We never watched it before from Frontierland, where it begins, and although the curb was overflowing with people, we found the viewing great and also enjoyed sharing a smoked-turkey leg and lemonade purchased nearby.

Since we were starting to tire, we decided to take the train across the park to Mickey's Toontown Fair.

Refreshed from the short break, the guys tried the Barnstormer at Goofy's Wiseacres Farm roller coaster while my daughter and I checked out the souvenir stands.

We passed up meeting Mickey at his Country House because the line was long.

Heading into Tomorrowland, we all enjoyed riding the race cars at the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, although we had to wait about a half-hour.

The kids wanted to repeat it, but the line had grown, and we persuaded them otherwise.

By 4:15, we were starting to weaken but were not too tired to do the attractions that drew the smallest crowds -- Take Flight and Walt Disney's Car-ousel of Progress.

Thankfully, both involved more sitting than action.

My husband and the kids also decided to do the Timekeeper while I took a much-needed coffee break.

By 6 p.m., I was exhausted, despite the coffee, and I alerted the gang that we had made a dinner reservation for 8:15 at an Epcot restaurant and needed to go there.

But the kids had not yet done the Haunted Mansion.

So we dashed over to Liberty Square, taking a few minutes to view the impressive Disney holiday light displays and to get a close-up look at the 25th Anniversary candy coating on Cinderella's castle.

At the Haunted Mansion, the line was longer than we anticipated, but we got through by shortly after 7 p.m.

Leaving the park was the first time we really were struck by the crowds.

Main Street was a sea of people, jam-packed with those arriving and exiting.

And the shops were crowded.

Despite the lines at the rides, we had been unaware of the sheer numbers of people, for the most part, until that point, caught up instead in the Disney "magic."

We had managed to hit nearly all the high points we wanted -- except for the rides in Fantasyland.

And we all agreed you can do the Magic Kingdom in one day, even at its most crowded, and still have a great and pleasantly exhausting time.

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