“If only I lived here…” That’s the hypothetical many of us imagine while touring the parks on a Disney vacation. We convince ourselves that if we lived in Orlando, visiting Walt Disney World would be different: the frequency, what we’d do, how we’d navigate. This always fascinated me. Growing up, I promised myself that if I ever became an Orlando local, I would document everything. What would I naturally be drawn to experience more? What would my priorities be?
This past year, I finally did just that: I lived in Orlando for seven months and logged everything I did inside the theme parks. Everything. Every show, every attraction, every character, every restaurant. I kept an enormous spreadsheet going continuously all year. Each time I visited a park, immediately upon returning home I updated the spreadsheet with what I did that day. Here are the top findings (though, I promise, there are many more numbers not included here). I hope you find them illuminating, provoking, and perhaps inspire you to do the same if you are (or ever will become) an Orlando local to discover your own habits.
12. Disney’s Boardwalk: 4 times
11. Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground: 4 times
10. Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa: 5 times
9. Disney’s Pop Century Resort: 6 times
8. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: 6 times
7. Disney’s Contemporary Resort: 7 times
6. Disney University: 11 times
5. Disney’s Animal Kingdom: 11 times
4. Disney Springs: 13 times
3. Disney’s Hollywood Studios: 17 times
2. Epcot: 20 times
1. Magic Kingdom: 47 times
Can you tell Magic Kingdom is my favorite? By a landslide, as much as I love the rest of Walt Disney World, nothing even comes close for me to Magic Kingdom. In my mind, it is the quintessential Disney experience and the essence of why people have a strong, emotional connection with the company. Magic Kingdom was my happy place, and the numbers confirm that blatantly.
The resorts that ranked in this top 12 were my go-to relaxation spots. Sometimes I would bring a book or computer and just lounge in their lobbies. The Contemporary is highest because of its excellent fireworks viewing. Pop Century is close because I stayed overnight; I considered every time I returned back to the resort as a separate “visit” in my tally.
I worked at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, though here clearly I just counted each time I entered the park as a guest, not as a Cast Member. The final count is actually higher than it would’ve been otherwise because it was simply so easy to experience a quick attraction or two before or after work shifts. It’s not my favorite park, but its accessibility made it silly to not pop inside here and there.
The many visits to Disney University are thanks to Company D (the Cast Member-only store) and a series of lectures from the Walt Disney World Amabassadors offered exclusively for Cast Members. I loved these presentations and jumped at the chance to learn more about varying subjects within the company’s expansive history.
I was surprised at how often I went to Disney Springs. Upon first visiting shortly after moving to Orlando, I remember distinctly thinking that I would probably not be back anytime soon. Obviously I was wrong, but the reason why I was incorrect became one of my most fascinating findings. I discovered that certain places change shape or have completely different meaning and purpose to a local than they do to a tourist. While Disney Springs may or may not be a must-do for a visiting family, it’s a natural (and free!) hang-out spot for a local Floridian. The movie theater, the shopping, and admittedly the Starbright Holidays drone show kept me coming back to Disney Springs much more than I anticipated.
12. Br’er Bear: 4 times
11. Br’er Fox: 4 times
10. Flynn Rider: 4 times
9. Rapunzel: 4 times
8. Kylo Ren: 4 times
7. Mayor Weaver: 4 times
6. Pluto: 4 times
5. Stitch: 5 times
4. Goofy: 8 times
3. Donald Duck: 11 times
2. Minnie Mouse: 11 times
1. Mickey Mouse: 19 times
Much in the same way certain locations came to have new meaning as a local, the more I met certain characters, the more a relationship would start to build, whether they remembered me or not. There are characters on this list that have much greater significance to me now than before living in Orlando. Again, I didn’t expect this to happen, but found it extremely cool. Pluto gives the best hugs. Kylo Ren is extremely intimidating, and as such makes for a fun memory with visiting friends and family that was just so different from any other character greeting. You never know what Mayor Weaver (mayor of Main Street, U.S.A.) is going to say, and his long tenure at the park makes him a delight to converse with.
For this list, I tallied anytime I had a significant interaction with a character, whether I formally stood in any line or not. For example, Br’er Fox and Br’ear Bear met in my work area at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and they occasionally playfully interacted with me on the job. Anytime this happened I marked a tally, even though I hadn’t gotten a picture or autograph. Same thing with Flynn Rider; having a full conversation with him from atop his float or stage during a parade or show counted as a legitimate “meet” for me, so I marked a tally each time this happened (which, rather awesomely, was more than once).
Inevitably, Mickey was the most-frequented character, though honestly I am shocked by how high the final count became. It seems that when living away from family, sometimes a chat with the big cheese is just what the doctor ordered. It’s also high because every group of visiting friends or family makes it top priority to meet him (and rightfully so).
10. Columbia Harbour House: 3 times
9. Everything Pop: 3 times
8. Capt. Cook’s: 3 times
7. Fountain View: 4 times
6. Tomorrowland Terrace: 4 times
5. Aloha Isle: 4 times
4. Backlot Express: 5 times
3. Trolley Car Cafe: 5 times
2. Pinocchio Village Haus: 6 times
1. Main Street Bakery: 15 times
Surprise: The straight-out-of-college local’s top 10 restaurants are all quick-service! Ok, so these definitely aren’t my top 10 favorite Disney eats, but when you’re not “on vacation,” you have to be conscious of not spending money like you are. I ate at a few table-service locations here and there, but they were different almost each time, so they didn’t rack up high frequencies on my spreadsheet.
A few items correlate with other categories; Main Street Bakery aided by my obsessive visits to Magic Kingdom, and Capt. Cook’s by my several lounge days at the Polynesian. Pinocchio Village Haus ranks (almost) king for my great love of pizza and the wonderful second-story balcony seating with a view of Fantasyland.
And that thing about making new connections with things because you can visit them more often? Totally the case with Trolley Car Cafe. I actually enjoyed standing in line inside there because of how fun the old-time Hollywood atmosphere is. The fictional fast pace of a trolley station and the real fast pace of a Starbucks works in tandem quite well. And that music…
My only disappointment with my dining choices was that I only used my 50% Cast Member discount for the Hoop Dee Doo Revue, in my opinion the best experience on all of Disney property, twice.
Since attractions are such a big deal and such a prominent part of the Disney vacation, I thought it best to analyze each of the top 10 individually. Spoiler: They’re all in Magic Kingdom. I realize that for statistics purposes, it would’ve looked better to have variety from every park to see the top contenders in each, but I also wanted to keep the spreadsheet honest and not skew it any direction just for the sake of the results. I’m just a Magic Kingdom guy, and these results for-sure show that. Here are my top 10 most-frequented attractions, followed by why I visited them so often.
10. Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress: 10 times ||
If you enjoy Disney history like I do, there are few attractions that match this in its significance to the story of Disney theme parks and its embodiment of who Walt Disney was as a person. It’s easy to overlook the importance of Carousel of Progress, but during its debut at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, people stood in line for hours to experience what was the height of Audio-Animatronics technology. I’m actually surprised its tally count didn’t end up higher on my list. That’s probably for its 20-minute length, which is a bit of a commitment. Nevertheless, it hardly ever has a line, and its sheer euphoria kept me coming back for comfort.
9. Move It! Shake It! Dance & Play It! Street Party: 11 times ||
This one was a surprise. This show is not particularly a favorite of mine, but my frequent visits to the Magic Kingdom and my often proximity to its performance space in the hub meant I saw it many times when I didn’t necessarily mean to. Whether I was having lunch outside at Tomorrowland Terrace, lounging on the hub grass, or waiting for Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire, I counted anytime I was in the area and the street party was taking place. I imagine this speaks the same for many people and the exposure that MiSiDiPi has: not necessarily planning on seeing it, but experiencing it nonetheless.
8. Wishes: 13 times ||
There’s little explanation needed for this one: The conclusion of a day in the most magical place on earth, and perhaps as classic Disney as anything can get.
7. Festival of Fantasy Parade: 13 times ||
Another one I’m surprised isn’t higher. To me, the afternoon parade (in any capacity) is one of the most special parts of the day because it offers that chance to see Disney’s greatest heroes in such high volume. Festival of Fantasy is among the resort’s most elaborate parades in years. My favorite spots to watch? Both are out-of-the-way and don’t require waiting forever. Firstly, just outside of any Main Street storefront, away from the huge crowd. I love being able to see people’s reactions to the parade with a backdrop as iconic as Main Street. The other, at the very end of the parade route just outside of Harmony Barber Shop. You’ll get great interaction with the characters since not many people are around and, once they cross through the gate, they have no one else to continue to wave to but you.
6. The Muppets present Great Moments in America History: 15 times ||
Considering this was only open the final three months out of my seven-month stay in Orlando, this probably would’ve ended up being even higher than it is had it opened sooner. The Muppets are easily among my favorite characters, and getting the chance to see them perform in person is the ultimate dream come true for a Muppet fan. This placed the intrigue for this attraction higher for me than Muppet*Vision 3D. It also helped that there are two different versions of this show, increasing its repeatablity. The continual thread for many of these top attractions is accessibility; you don’t have to camp out for a long time to see this show. There’s no formal queue, no FastPass… just show up. This ease of access paired with my love for Magic Kingdom entertainment marks a similar trend for most of these attractions that made the top of the list.
5. The Trolley Show: 19 times ||
Ah, The Trolley Show. Is there anything that defines Main Street, U.S.A. better than turn-of-the-century folks in top hats and frills lip-syncing to ragtime tunes? Sure, it’s kitschy, but you wouldn’t want it any other way. The high frequency is thanks to two things: The show changes seasonally, with five different themes throughout the year. (Even though I was in Florida just seven months, my first week in town was the last week of the spring show and my last week in town was the first week of the winter show. Score!) Additionally, the trolley stops four times as it makes it way down the street. Each time, it alternates between two different versions of its theme. So essentially, there are ten different variations of the show.
4. Splash Mountain: 20 times ||
This is just the best. Great story, great thrills, great detail, great music, and a sizable length. While Splash Mountain is easily one of the most popular and longest-wait attractions in the park, it’s relatively (but not always) easy to obtain a FastPass for it. Perhaps predictably, I rode this much more often during the warmer summer months, and rode it minimally when the whether got cooler.
3. Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover: 21 times ||
The go-to relaxation attraction and a perfect mid-day break, there are few things that match the PeopleMover. The necessity of a break in the middle of Magic Kingdom‘s bustle and the quick-moving line for this attraction brought it toward the top of the list.
2. Space Mountain: 29 times ||
Again, like Splash Mountain, this is among the resort’s most sought-after attractions, but even moreso than Splash, always, always, always (well, almost always, pretty much) has FastPasses available even the day before you want them. Because of this, riding Space Mountain became a tradition that began almost every one of my visits to the Magic Kingdom. Best spot? The back. Best track? The right.
1. Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire: 42 times ||
While tracking all of these numbers, I noticed two prominent trends: Favorites vs. accessibility, which we’ve already touched on briefly. An attraction might be one of my favorites on Disney property, but its consistently long lines and difficulty to obtain FastPass meant I only experienced it a handful of times (such as, for example, Toy Story Midway Mania). On the other end of the spectrum, an attraction might be quite easy to access, whether due to short lines or ongoing performances, but it didn’t rank among my personal favorites enough to experience it over and over again (such as, for instance, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room).
That being said, the reason I experienced Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire more than anything else in all of Walt Disney World while living in Florida is because it met both of those criteria. I’m a sucker for a good show (especially one with as majestic a backdrop as Cinderella Castle), and this one hits all the right notes. Figuratively and geographically, a castle show is the heartbeat of the park, and has a lot resting on its shoulders. It needs to accomplish more than what is expected from other productions. Put directly, the castle show needs to define what Disney means, and Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire does. (You can read more about how it accomplishes this great task here.) And then there’s its accessibility. Given its central location, how there is no formal seating area, and how it can be viewed from quite a vast distance, Friendship Faire, much like MiSiDiPi, doesn’t have to be a strategically planned part of your day to be experienced in full. Sure, there were plenty of times I secured a front-row place 20 minutes beforehand for photography’s sake, but most of the time, I walked up a few minutes before or just as it started. Other times I simply watched from afar or, again, in the blessed invention that is the hub grass.
Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire also has seasonal finales that change three times during the year… but, who am I kidding, I would have seen it just as many times if it never rotated. (Fall was the best one, though. Just sayin’.)
At the end of my seven-month residency in the most magical place on earth, I did a total of 740 experiences. This includes everything: all attractions, dining, characters, you name it (and it includes their repeats). I entered a theme park’s gates 95 times. Does every Orlando local frequent the parks like this? Certainly not. Even for Floridians who are theme park junkies, having permanent residency actually means they probably visit lesser within a seven-month span than I did. I intentionally took advantage of the parks because I knew my stay was temporary.
At the beginning of all this, what made me most excited was the thought that I was about to spend more time in Walt Disney World over the next seven months than I had collectively spent thus far in my entire life. That was an exhilarating prospect. Looking at these finished results, I can say I’m satisfied with how I maximized my time, many times at the expense of intaking other media. I kept up with very few television shows in Orlando, rarely read a book, and completely missed Stranger Things. Any free time when I would ordinarily do such activities was instead spent in the parks… because, well, why not? With the top contenders listed above, I grew to have special connections and fond memories. For the experiences I knew this would happen with, it was nice to solidify adoration for attractions I already loved. But what was even more fulfilling was making connections with the ones I never thought I would (at least in such a high capacity). Pluto. Trolley Car Cafe. Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire.
When I return not as a local but as as a tourist (whenever that may be), I will undoubtedly visit with a different perspective, though what that perspective will specifically entail remains to be seen… and piques my curiosity that same way that logging all attraction numbers for seven months did.
What do you think would be your most-visited attraction if you lived in Orlando?
(Images belong to author’s personal collection.)
Blake graduated Appalachian State University studying Electronic Media Production/Broadcasting and Film. He recently completed the Disney College Program and is currently interning with Elevation Church Creative in Charlotte, NC. Blake’s favorite Disney attraction is the hub grass. You can find him on Twitter @blake_242 or at BlakeOnline.com.