Popular thinking is that a Disney vacation is perfect for families with kids, right?
Well, kind of. Disney World is perfect for school aged kids, but there is that delicate age between three and five when your children will be thrilled at the idea of Disney, and absolutely terrified (or too small) for many of the attractions.
Take, for example, Snow White’s Scary Adventures. While the Disney website lists this slow trek through dark corridors as “Fun For Little Ones” and appropriate for “Pre-schoolers”, almost every parent I know who has tried to coax a three year old onto this ride will tell you stories of wailing and crying and gnashing of teeth and leaving through the emergency exit. It’s dark. And scary. And has lightening and cackling witches. My three year old promptly declared that she “HATED MICKEY MOUSE’S HOUSE!” after her first run in with this ride.
If you have a preschooler who is afraid of the dark and too short for dang near everything else, allow me to point out to you all of the tried and true and actually appropriate for real preschoolers attractions at Disney World. I’ve broken the parks and all the preschool activities up into a four part blog series because there’s plenty of Florida fun and sun to enjoy.
We’ll start with the most preschool friendly of Walt Disney World’s parks, Magic Kingdom.
20 Things For Preschoolers To Do At Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
1. “It’s A Small World” – ride
While technically, most of this ride takes place in the dark, it’s not the same ominous darkness of the Snow White ride. It’s A Small World is a gentle, easy ride through hundreds of costumed dolls singing along to that song you will have in your head for the rest of the trip. Expect a long wait for this classic Disney ride.
2. “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” – ride
Disney does not list this roller coaster as a “pre-schooler attraction”, but I disagree. This was the very first “big girl ride” my daughter went on as a 4 year old, and she loved it. You do have to be 40 inches to ride – but my kid is pretty short for her age and met the requirements. This truly is a “fun for the whole family” coaster.
3. “Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel – ride
The carousel is located right between Scary Snow White and Scary Peter Pan, according to my preschooler. You’re no doubt familiar with the way a carousel works (horses go round and round and up and down), and this is no exception. It’s simple and fun and a welcome relief if you didn’t believe me and have a hysterical preschooler on your hands after a run in with the scary witch.
4. “Dumbo The Flying Elephant” – ride
Round and round and up and down, this time inside a Dumbo cart. My daughter will not go on this ride alone because it goes “very high”, but she loves going on it with someone else. Again, expect a very long line at this popular attraction.
5. “Country Bear Jamboree” – show
This is a musical revue in Frontierland that I have never, personally, seen. But you can’t possibly go wrong with 17 minutes of 18 dancing bears, right?
6. “Donald’s Boat” – free play area
Do you want to just sit still for a minute? Here’s a perfect place for you to take a break while your kids just run around and be kids. They can spin the Captain’s Wheel, pull the ship’s whistle to trigger the water spouts on deck and clang the ship’s bell. You will, however, be responsible for convincing them to disembark once you’re ready to move on.
7. “Jungle Cruise” – ride
Take a guided tour through the jungles of Asia, Africa and South America on one of the tramp-steamer boats. It’s a lot of sitting and looking at things your kids wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see, while the tour guide weaves an exciting tale for you and your fellow passengers. This is a big hit for kids who are crazy about animals (or watch a lot of Go, Diego, Go!)
8. “Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor” – show
This attraction is like an extremely kid friendly comedy club. There’s an interactive portion that allows viewers to submit their own jokes while waiting in line. The theater is dark, but the animated cast of Monsters Inc. quickly settles any nerves and encourages young audience participation Also? They manage to be kid-friendly funny without being lame, so your older kids shouldn’t be too embarrassed to laugh along.
9. “Pooh’s Playful Spot” – free play area
Another resting spot for parents and playground area for children. You will, inevitably, wonder why you spent so much money on a Disney vacation when your kids are this happy about a slide.
10. “The Barnstormer at Goofy’s Wiseacre Farm” – ride
Confession of a horrible mother and travel reviewer: I haven’t been on this attraction either. Yet. But the height requirements are even lower (35 inches) than the perfectly docile “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad”, so I’m adding it to the list of preschool friendly Disney World attractions with confidence.
11. “The Enchanted Tiki Room – Under New Management” – show
If you find yourself at Disney World in the middle of a typical Florida afternoon rainstorm, make your way over to the Tiki Room for the “singing bird show”, as my daughter fondly calls it.
12. “The Magic Carpets of Aladdin” – ride
This ride is similar to the Dumbo ride – up, down, round and round. However, the Magic Carpet seats four people and you can control the up, down and tilt of your own carpet with the joy stick. This is especially nice if you have a little one who is freaked out at the idea of going too high.
13. “Tom Sawyer Island” – free play area
This is one of the coolest and most underrated parts of Magic Kingdom. Hop on a river raft and visit Tom Sawyer’s island – exactly what you imagine a child’s dream adventure island to be like, complete with elaborate forts and underground caves. They’ll run, jump, climb and laugh. This is an excellent attraction if you have children of a variety of ages, because you’ll find them actually playing together. Sweet, sweet, parental bliss.
14. “Tomorrowland® Speedway” – ride
This is, hand’s down, both of my children’s favorite ride in all of Disney World. They get to drive a car. Period. Your preschooler may have to be accompanied by an adult, but even the little ones are allowed to control the steering wheel with proper supervision (you sitting beside them). The last time we hit up this ride, my daughter came away with an official “Tomorrowland Speedway Driver’s License”.
15. Daily parades
When you first get to the Magic Kingdom, it’s a good idea to find out the parade schedule for the day. Your park map will show the route so you can plan when to be where for a great seat. Pro tip: watching the parades from Frontierland provides a much less crowded view and you’re the first ones to get out and back in line after the parades are over.
16. Character greetings
The idea of having your preschooler meet their Disney idols is appealing to any parent – until you see the lines necessary for a quick hello. But let me assure you – it’s totally worth waiting in line. Send the rest of the family and older kids off on a “big kid ride” while you wait. Chances are, you’re preschooler will be just as happy with their brief meet and greet and autograph as everyone else is after a 30 second coaster thrill.
17. Shows at Cinderella’s castle
Again, check for the day’s show times when you get to the park. Then grab a snack or your lunch and set yourself up in front of the castle about 30 minutes before the scheduled start.
18. “Storytime with Belle” – character greeting and show
In the Fairytale Garden next to Cinderella’s Castle, Belle retells the story of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. A few lucky audience members are picked to play characters in the show. There’s a meet and greet with Belle after the show as well.
19. “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique” – special experience
Yet another confession: I am too cheap to have paid for this. Also, my daughter would not speak to me for a week if I made her wear a princess costume. If, however, you’ve got an extra $50 of vacation cash to spend and a little girl who loves the idea of a make over, than you might want to schedule some “salon” time for her.
20. “The Pirates League” – special experience
Similar to the Bibbidi Bobbidi experience, but with less pink, this “special experience” transforms kids 3 and older into pirates. There’s make up and eye patches and booty! Like the princess makeover, The Pirate League requests reservations and at least $50.
In addition to knowing about which attractions are best suited for your preschool, it’s a good idea to keep the limitations of a small child in mind when planning the rest of your vacation. For example, you may want to choose a Disney property hotel that allows for easy access for naps or afternoon breaks.
Stay tuned for the rest of the “Taking Preschoolers To Disney World” series, coming soon!
All photos by Britt Reints.