It seems organic to go over the parks in the order they were constructed, so we’ll start with the one that started it all. When I utter the words “Magic Kingdom” Cinderella’s Castle, visions of princesses and hordes of children in Mickey Mouse ears will most likely come to mind, correct? Well, there’s a lot more to it than that, let’s be honest. This is the home of the 3 great mountains, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It’s also home to The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and much, much more.

The layout for the Magic Kingdom is extremely easy to navigate. You enter the park on Mainstreet USA, which is basically just an avenue of shops and food stalls. Dead ahead is Cinderella’s Castle in all it’s majesty. There are spokes off the hub of Cinderella’s Castle that will take you to the various “lands,” Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland & Liberty Square. It’s very easy to start off at either Adventureland or Tomorrowland, which are on opposite sides of the park, and just loop around to the different areas.

One of the best tip I can give anyone going to any of the parks is to get there right when they open at 9 AM. This is especially important at the Magic Kingdom. It’s not because there’s so much to do, it’s because the “kiddie” ride lines will take ages once the families arrive. Last time I was there we were able to walk onto most of the rides in Fantasyland – Mad Tea Party (we even got a glimpse of Alice and the Mad Hatter riding), Dumbo, It’s a Small World, etc. By beating the families with small children, you have that much more time to invest in waiting in line for other rides. If you don’t want to embrace your inner child by riding even the teacups, then by all means you can just skip ahead to where you want to go.

It also should go without saying that FastPass will quickly become your best friend. It basically grants you access to quicker lines at all of the popular rides. You can get a FastPass for Space Mountain and wait in line for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, for example. By the time you’re done over on Buzz Lightyear, it’ll almost be time to to head Space Mountain. But be careful and see what time your FastPass is for. Sometimes you’ll get a FastPass for a few hours later, so keep an eye out if you’ve got other things scheduled that night. You can only get one at a time, as well.

The past 2 times I’ve been there, I’ve had 2 different plans of attacks. The first time, we went to all 4 parks in 2 days, while the last time we spent all day. The half-day route forces you to pick what’s important to you and you have to stick with that plan of attack. We easily got through the 3 mountains, Buzz Lightyear, The Haunted Mansion & Pirates of the Caribbean. But that was about it, aside from some shopping time. However, with a full day, we got through all that and then some. We even waited an hour or so to get pictures with the Disney princesses (we hit jackpot – Cinderella, Belle & Aurora).

A couple of things that shouldn’t be missed is the Main Street Electrical Parade & the Wishes fireworks show that follows right after the parade. Arrive early for prime, curbside seats for the parade, obviously. Send out someone to grab snacks while you wait. I know while we were waiting I went to Ariel’s Grotto to get my picture with her (side note: this, along with Mickey’s Toontown is closed for construction through 2013). It is easily the best parade. All the floats are lit up with LED lights. It’s just beautiful.

OK, so here’s the Must List for the attractions, at least from my point of view. Starting from the right side of the park and looping around:

In Tomorrowland, definitely do Space Mountain, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin & Stitch’s Great Escape. Astro Orbiter & the Indy Speedways are possibilities if you have time. Tomorrowland Transit Authority & Carousel of Progress are both total snore-fests, so don’t bother with them.

In Fantasyland, definitely do Mad Tea Party and Dumbo. Depending on your ability to keep the theme music out of your head the rest of the day, It’s a Small World is a classic. Mickey’s PhilharMagic would be a good cure if you do get the theme music stuck in your head, but it’s overall a good 3D show for the audiophiles. Everything else is optional, based on your love of certain classic Disney movies, like Peter Pan or Snow White.

There isn’t much in Liberty Square in all honesty. Definitely do The Haunted Mansion. The Hall of Presidents is a snore-fest, literally. Every time I’ve been there I’ve fallen asleep during the show. I’m just not a history junkie. It bores me to death.

Frontierland is home to the last 2 mountains, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. As far as Splash Mountain is concerned, you can expect gigantic lines if it’s an especially hot and humid day. It’s best to wait till it’s either raining (an inevitability in FL, there’s always a shower that passes through each day) or towards the end of the day when it’s starting to cool off if the lines are too long for your liking. You can also expect the FastPass times to be hours and hours from the current time if it’s really hot and humid. Country Bear Jamboree & Tom Sawyer Island can also be skipped.

Adventureland is home to what I call my Mecca – Pirates of the Caribbean. I would call it blasphemy if I didn’t go through it at least once. You also have Jungle Cruise and The Magic Carpets of Aladdin here. They’re fun if you have the time. The Enchanted Tiki Hut isn’t anything special, so it’s a skip from me. There’s also a pirate street show, but Captain Jack Sparrow sadly does not pose for pictures afterwards. *sigh*

If you’re doing a half-day excursion, at least do the 3 mountains and then go from there.

There’s plenty of shopping and dining throughout the park, of course. If you’re looking for a sit-down restaurant, definitely call ahead and make reservations for your restaurant of choice.

So, there you go. Nothing overly sentimental, loads of rides and tons of fun. Next stop, Epcot.