The Magic Kingdom is known for its magical lands filled with enchanting stories of love, adventure and triumph. Yet anyone who has stayed to see the nightly fireworks show Wishes! knows that it can also be known for something far less whimsical – overcrowding. Whether it be throngs of guests going in every direction at the end of Main Street USA after the Main Street Electrical Parade has made its round, or the slow mob that marches out of the theme park after the nightly fireworks show, it has become a nearly untenable mess. One so detrimental to guest experience and flat-out dangerous that Disney has gone out of their way to solve this problem in a multitude of ways. The latest of which is a complete transformation of the Magic Kingdom Central Plaza, lovingly referred to as the “hub.” And though there is still a lot of work to be done, we have gotten our first glimpse of what these changes shall mean for the Magic Kingdom, its guests and also importantly the cast members who every day must deal with what has been a frustrating problem with no easy fix. With that we present to you, the opening of Plaza Garden West, and invite you to join us on a journey into the future of the heart of the Magic Kingdom.
FastPass+ Fireworks Viewing West
Despite the obvious need for better traffic control and capacity improvements that necessitate much of the of the “hub” redevelopment, it is plain to see that one of the main drivers of this entire project is to give FastPass+ users another sought after amenity. And what better than to give Disney guests the chance at a reserved, premium experience for viewing the highly popular nightly fireworks show. But of course as this isn’t a true expansion but rather the aforementioned redevelopment one must consider that to get something we must naturally sacrifice something else and the question then becomes, was it worth it?
For many the answer will be a clear yes. The convenience provided by Fireworks Viewing West and FastPass+ means they will be able to sit on an AstroTurf garden, lined with slim concrete pathways and beautiful fencing fit for a Magic Kingdom plaza and watch on as fireworks illuminate the sky above Cinderella Castle. It is an experience to be sure as families gather in faux grass (which although not much softer than concrete) does provide for a bit of nostalgia amongst the concrete suburbia that most of the Magic Kingdom falls victim to. Is it the absolute best view of the fireworks with lighting poles that often protrude into one’s line of sight of Cinderella Castle – no. But for many families this combination of convenience and more-than-good-enough firework viewing, along with the slightly different and less crowded experience will more than make up for the shortfalls.
For others like myself, the original question I posed continues to tumble within my mind. For while the lighting poles won’t be a deal-breaker for most guests, it is far from ideal. They obstructed my view of portions of up to a third of the castle and when viewing projections on the castle during Celebrate the Magic the experience just doesn’t cut it for me knowing I could have found a spot around the “Hub” more centered and with no such visual clutter. This I experienced while standing near the back of Fireworks Viewing West, had I been sitting or closer to the castle within the same general area the obstruction would have naturally moved higher and higher onto the castle. For Wishes! the latter is less of an issue because while the Castle is a centerpiece it is much less of a focus. But what happens when the next fireworks show arrives and melds together more projection mapping technology alongside the exploding balls of color in the sky? Then this line of sight issue only intensifies. Again deal-breaker for most, absolutely not but for me I rather sacrifice the crowd levels for a better view of the show nearly every time and that is what I’d continue to recommend for most who don’t fall into the prior noted set of guests prioritizing convenience over quality.
Invariably I find myself again wondering whether it wouldn’t have been best just to forego the Firework Viewing pads altogether, leaving the Cinderella Castle Moat intact, the bridge at the end of Main Street USA into Magic Kingdom’s Central Plaza in its original setting. Is it worth losing the extended vistas with flowerbeds and natural grass in favor of the truncated versions and a simulated grass plaza during the day that turns FastPass+ exclusive by night? Though I can’t resolutely say no, for I have yet to experience it enough to make that determination, my inclination is that the “hub” redevelopment would have been just fine without these FastPass+ viewing areas and seen most of the benefits of this new expansion with just the additions of the outer “hub” pathways and other accompanying thematic changes. Those latter changes are what will bring awe to Disney fans young and old and for me the most redeeming qualities of this change to the Magic Kingdom Central Plaza and it’s where we turn our attention to next.
Plaza Garden West
Everything you thought you knew about the Magic Kingdom’s Hub, you can toss out the window, because this place feels radically different. I’ve already explained how sometimes changes can lead to a mixed bag of results such as at Fireworks Viewing West but for the Plaza Garden West that includes portions of an outer “hub” ring of pathways, the results are as splendid as they are different. There is little question as to whether this part of the development is more beautiful than what was there before and functionally it means guests have more options through which to traverse to and from their favorite Magic Kingdom lands. The walkways are wide and lined with beautiful brown colored lamp posts that hide speakers that play the sounds of Main Street USA with the utmost clarity imaginable. Their light leaves a soft glow on the paths and invites one to step closer as they can hear the sound of rushing water from the glorious water fountain that is surrounded by statues of Goofy and Donald Duck. The large trees that once were a feature of the Magic Kingdom’s “hub” have now made a return as well in the planters alongside this outer ring providing a sense of grandeur to the area. The ability to move freely without feeling overwhelmed in the all-too-often crowded center of the Magic Kingdom was liberating and frankly a necessary change for the Magic Kingdom. These changes can be seen in our photos but one has to experience them for themselves to truly feel the difference that they impart upon the complexion and character of Magic Kingdom’s core.
While last night was a mixed bag of emotions and thoughts for me as Magic Kingdom was thrust into a new era, I was left with the excitement for what lay ahead for Magic Kingdom’s Central Plaza. In the coming months we shall see this opening duplicated once Plaza Gardens East is ready for its debut. We shall witness the area neighboring the “Partners” statue that features Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse get its enhancements that are currently underway. The rest of the outer “hub” ring will come to fruition and new Castle Spires shall bookend the sides of Cinderella Castle. As a fan of Disney and the Magic Kingdom, I like many of you await these changes with deep anticipation and ponder what it means for the future of the theme park so many of us have grown up with. After all Magic Kingdom’s Central Plaza is where many of Disney’s greatest fans gather to share a night under the stars together and dream of a better tomorrow.