Planning a family Disney vacation is full of anticipation and excitement. You save money and plan meticulously for months to have that perfect, magical experience. However, it’s often underestimated how quickly things can go from exciting to scary for the youngest Disney guests. Navigating four theme parks with a little one can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you don’t anticipate what may trigger a reaction. Here we look at ways of preparing kids for Disney vacations.
I’ve seen kiddos get freaked out by 3 main things:
- Mickey and characters (they’re bigger than you think!),
- Fireworks (sure they’re pretty, but man are they loud!), and
There are a few things that you can do in advance to prepare your youngster for the magical world of excitement that awaits!
Meeting Disney Friends:
Kids see Mickey, Minnie, and all of their favorite characters in movies and on TV, but it really doesn’t prepare them for how large they are in real life. One way to help prepare young kids to these large friends is to expose them to some local “life size” characters like at Chuck E. Cheese or mascots at any local sporting event. This is a great test run to see how a youngster can handle these larger than life characters. It’s also a way to help them sort through any anxiety they might have, so when they meet Mickey it won’t be so overwhelming. If they already love Chuck E. Cheese, then you can cross this concern off your list!
Another option, if mascots aren’t easily accessible, would be to watch YouTube videos of other family’s Disney vacations. You can easily search “meeting Disney characters” and get a slew of videos to watch to prepare your child for how big Mickey can be compared to the kids meeting him. You can also request for the Disney Parks to send you a free vacation planning DVD. This is another way to introduce your younger family members to the size of character, plus, it’s a DVD they can keep and watch over and over again!
The availability of characters is always changing based on new movie releases and a plethora of other factors. With the availability of the My Disney Experience App, it makes it even easier to see which characters will be appearing in each parks and the times they’ll be greeting guests. Some of the more popular characters even have FastPass+ reservation options! Don’t see the character you’re dying to meet? You can always pick a Times Guide at your Disney resort or the park to see if there have been any additions, or speak with a cast member and request that they call the Character Hotline to see if that character will be available in Walt Disney World during your visit.
Enjoying Disney Fireworks:
Preparing for fireworks is a bit easier. You probably already know by now if your child is sensitive to loud noises or is a firework fan or not. Both Magic Kingdom and Epcot have nightly firework displays that are pretty easy to plan around. If you’re in Epcot, you can easily avoid fireworks (if necessary) by staying the in Future World section, near the front entrance of Epcot, this is far enough away to diffuse most of the noise.
In the Magic Kingdom, however, there is no escape from the noise, so you may want to have a pair of earmuffs or headphones handy. These can be helpful to muffle the noise of the fireworks without having the leave the magic of the parks. If you’d like to enjoy the Magic Kingdom fireworks without the loud, explosive booms, try taking the ferry across the bay to the Transportation and Ticketing Center or to the beach at the Polynesian Village Resort. Both locations pipe in the music for Wishes and have a great view.
If your child is a fan of exploding thrills – then you may actually want to plan a head to get good seats for these shows. In my opinion, there’s really not a bad view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks if you keep to Main Street. My personal favorite is to jaunt up to the second level of the Main Street Train Station. The benches provide a great seat with an elevated view – plus, a quick escape out the gates once the fireworks are over and the crowds start to herd toward the exits. Epcot has some amazing venues all around the World Showcase – people start scoping out seats as early as an hour in advance! I like the view from Mexico, England and the Japan pavilions. Even better, pre-plan your dinner reservation for a restaurant on the lagoon and watch fireworks from your table!
Disney’s Hollywood Studios also has a regular nighttime show that features some fireworks, Fantasmic. For little ones afraid of loud noises, this show is also easily avoided. Since it’s held in the back of the park, behind Tower of Terror, you and your little ones can still enjoy the rest of the park during the show with minimal noise interference. For brave tykes who want to see Mickey in action in Fastasmic, I still recommend that you read up on the show and perhaps watch a YouTube video of it, first. This show features Mickey battling some of the great villains from Disney’s classic movies, but even with it’s happy ending, it could be really scary for the active imaginations of little ones.
Disney Thrill Rides:
Attractions can be some of the trickiest things to navigate with kiddos. An attraction that may seem pretty mellow to adults can really intimidate a kid. One thing that is universal is the Disney dark ride concept. This type of attraction takes place in the dark, escorting the guest through a variety of scenes and images to tell a famous Disney story. Pirates of the Caribbean - yep, a classic Disney dark ride! I bet you can’t wait to take your kiddo on it! But before you race to introduce your little buccaneer to those scandalous swashbucklers in the dark, I suggest you whet their appetite on some “mellower” options. Rides in Fantasyland like Peter Pan’s Flight or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh are great non-intimidating dark rides. Though these don’t have any scary scenes or big drops, they can still be a little daunting for a kiddo afraid of the dark. Try out one of these first, then move him up to bigger challenges, like Pirates of the Caribbean and Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin.
The last “big ones” in terms of dark rides are: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom, Dinosaur in Animal Kingdom, Tower of Terror and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster in Hollywood Studios. Though some of these attractions may not be options for youngsters due to the height restrictions, taller kiddos may still be intimidated by the speed or overall theme of the attraction. Splash Mountain is easy-going until that 50 foot drop! Let your youngster watch a few logs take the plunge and see if they want to give it try. Haunted Mansion may be filled with grim, grinning ghosts, but it’s dark and kinda creepy, your child may not be so eager to meet these friendly ghouls. Space Mountain is the most extreme in Magic Kingdom; it’s fast, dark, loud and full of laser images.
Even some rides in broad daylight may be a little intimidating. Before jumping in line for Big Thunder Mountain, try your child out on the Goofy’s Barnstormer in New Fantasyland. This is another situation where watching YouTube videos with your tot and gauging their reaction can help determine if a ride is too scary.
Prepare your little one for some rides that might seem scary. It’s Tough to be a Bug, in Disney Animal Kingdom, is fun 3-D attraction that introduces you to the amazing world of bugs. I’ve seen toddlers and adults alike freaked out by this show. If you or your child aren’t fans of beetles, spiders, or other creepy-crawlies, this might be a good attraction to avoid.
You know your child best, but start off slow and take a few spins on Peter Pan’s Flight before tackling Space Mountain. Be sure to grab the latest Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World to read up on all of the attractions, characters, fireworks and other tips to make sure you and your family are well prepared for the magic that a Disney vacation offers. Walt Disney World is full of magic which sometimes needs to be sipped and savored before it can be devoured.
What are some tricks that have worked for you? Do you have other tips that can help ease kids into the magic? Share your thoughts and comments below!