This week, Walt Disney World changed the way it opens Magic Kingdom each morning. The old “Magic Kingdom Welcome Show,” featuring old-timey performers and characters arriving by train near the theme park’s entrance has been abandoned.

In return, Magic Kingdom visitors can now enter early and wander up a less-populated-than-usual Main Street. Just before it officially opens for business, there’s a new five-minute show – dubbed “Let the Magic Begin” on the WDW website — on the stage in front of Cinderella Castle. That acts as the traditional “rope drop” moment and kicks off the day.

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Here’s what I noticed (and some answers to burning questions) during my first visit this week:

Getting in was a breeze. It wasn’t too crowded but I used the passholder express line anyway. Inside there were several clusters of folks taking official tours, and there were people milling about Main Street – not empty enough for a “wow, look it’s empty” type photograph.

Most of the stores along Main Street were open for business, but they were empty when I passed through. It would be a great time to browse in peace, and the shelves were extremely tidy, not the picked-over vibe you might see at end of day. There wasn’t much of a line for Starbucks, even though it was chilly. (There was a cart selling hot beverages – coffee and cocoa – closer to the castle.)

Folks with early reservations for Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table or the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique are directed to a stand on the “left” side of the hub.

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Ropes and cast members separate the hub from the spokes to Magic Kingdom’s lands. So, no, you can’t just wander back into Adventureland until the appointed opening time. Visitors did congregate at those entrances – particularly to Fantasyland (translation: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) and Tomorrowland.

At first, we could see through the castle entrance and watch the Prince Charming Regal Carrousel run, but later a curtain was drawn. It was curiously tantalizing.

The show includes a proclamation by a Fantasyland character, who introduces Mickey Mouse. He’s later joined by more than a dozen characters, including a handful of princesses. This is followed by Fairy Godmother on the balcony, the group chanting three magic words and a burst of daytime pyro.

Again, it wasn’t very crowded. When the show started, I was able to reach the front of the gathering with little difficulty. (Yes, there were kids on shoulders sprinkled about.) As Mickey & Co. said their goodbyes – he and Minnie kissed, kinda frisky for 9 a.m. – I went over to the Fantasyland spoke. It was very crowded, but I’m pleased to say folks moved right along and without trampling.

Earlier, I saw grown adults bolting from the ferryboat to the entrance. Later on, they were sitting along the rail near the castle. The new system will take some getting used to, but overall I was happy to have some elbow room that was difficult to come by for the old show, which ended and led to two bottlenecks underneath the train tracks.

It’s also a great new use for the expanded hub.

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I walked over to Mine Train, where folks were already lined up nearly to Storybook Circus. I counted about 300 people in line, but since FastPass+ reservations were gone for the whole day already, a rope drop rush might be the best option.

Onlookers have tied the new show and procedures with the refurbishment of the Walt Disney World Railroad, which was used in the “Welcome Show” and circles the park. That was scheduled to be complete by mid-March, but Disney has not indicated that the new process will end with the return of the rail attraction.

By Dewayne Bevil – Orlando Sentinel

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