The Best Attractions at WDW (According to a 3 Year Old Girl)

by on July 17, 2012 41 Comments

Filed under: Trip Planning, Walt Disney World (FL)

The best attraction at Walt Disney World is an unwinnable debate. The answer is different for everyone, and everyone’s answer is correct because it is a matter of personal preference. Of course, if you believe many of the hundreds of Disney message boards (please don’t), there are only a few opinions that matter. One of the viewpoints that is rarely considered is that of the small child, which is odd because there are certainly a lot of small children patronizing Disney World.

The star of this column of her favorite rides?

My feeling is that small children (under five) are not fully represented because they do not often have a voice. They cannot visit message boards, and their righteous indignation only lasts until nap time, so they are often forgotten when the value of an attraction is considered. I have decided to employ my three and a half year old daughter to help change that and help show a different perspective on some Disney World attractions.

As those of you with children know, it is next to impossible to get an accurate answer to any question out of a three year old. The child’s current mood, the order of the choices, and a thousand outside influences all make the answer highly variable. To combat this I asked her many, many different times over the course of two weeks and supplemented the questions with pictures, videos, and The Unofficial Guide: The Color Companion to to Walt Disney World (yeah, that’s a plug…buy it!). The result is a ranked list of attractions that I feel comfortable saying represent her favorites. The exact order may be a little different, but I am not sure I could form a fully accurate list of my favorite attracions either.

Honorable Mentions

As much fun as it would undoubtedly be to go through every single attraction, you would probably get bored with a 10,000 word blog post. So, in order to control my wordiness, here are the attractions that she likes that finished just outside the top 20: The Enchanted Tiki Room, Living With the Land, Journey into Imagination, Festival of the Lion King, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tower of Terror, Gran Fiesta Tour, Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, and TriceraTop Spin. All of these are attractions that she is very willing to go on, but are not among her favorites.

I should stop and mention two things: firstly, my daughter is over 40 inches (opening her up to quite a few more attractions). She also is afraid of just about nothing, hence Tower of Terror being present on this list.

The Top 20

20. The Barnstormer– I would say this is actually one of my daughter’s favorite rides, but it was under refurbishment for so long that it has been over a year since she has ridden it (almost 1/3 of her life). It is a perfect starter coaster and it would be further up this list if she hadn’t almost forgotten about it.

19. Tomorrowland Speedway – This ride is loud, smells funny, loads very slowly, and takes up a lot of prime real estate…so why is it still there? Oh yeah, because for a kid getting to drive a car is awesome!

18. Mad Tea Party – Spinning around quickly for two minutes? Yep, sounds like a kiddy favorite.

17. Disney Junior Live on Stage – Since this was made for the little ones, it is no surprise that my daughter loves it. Any kid that watches the Disney Junior shows (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Little Einsteins, Handy Manny, and Jake and the Neverland Pirates) will go crazy for this.

16. Voyage of the Little Mermaid – Yes, my daughter is princess obsessed. This one was always going to be a favorite, as are all of the meet and greets (which were not considered for this list). As far as my 3 year old girl is concerned, there can not be enough opportunity to meet a princess.

15. Finding Nemo: The Musical – Another stage show! I’m not sure how these three ended up together, but this one surprised me a little. Not that she does not like it, but I did not think it would beat out Ariel. Nemo is my favorite stage show in Walt Disney World, so maybe there was some parental influence here, but I can see the child appeal with the great songs, dynamic puppets, and familiar story.

14. The Jungle Cruise – Butterflies reaching 12 inches in length (and up to 1 foot), elephants that don’t pack their trunks, 2 head for 1 sales, the back side of water! You can see the child appeal here I’m sure.

Yes, somebody loves this

13. Dumbo – A child favorite and recently given a new location in Storybook Circus (which we have not seen yet). My daughter always likes to ride Dumbo, although it is not her favortie spinner (keep reading).

12. Mickey’s PhilharMagic – For whatever reason my girl is not big on the 3-D movies at Disney World. I don’t know if it is the darkness, the glasses, or her father reciting all the lines to Muppet*Vision (sorry, everyone around me), but this is the only one she really, really goes in for. Probably because she knows all the characters and songs, but she also enjoys trying to grab Ariel’s gems (not a euphemism…she’s 3!).

11. Kilimanjaro Safaris – Animals and lots of bumps. What else do you need?

10. The Magic Carpets of Aladdin – When the Carpets get knocked (and they do a lot), they get knocked as a kiddy ride (as if that is a terrible thing to have in a theme park). Well, it is a kiddy ride because kids like to ride things too. When my daughter starts complaining about Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster being an “adulty” ride that messes up the aesthetic on Sunset Boulevard, I will start listening to the kiddy ride argument.

9. Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage – I am pretty sure this show was made for little girls. It is a princess story with lots of beautiful songs trimmed down to about 20 minutes…perfect.

8. it’s a small world – Yes, it is repetitive, but my 3 year old is also capable of watching the same episode of Doc McStuffins 8 times in one day.

7. Peter Pan’s Flight – Another classic that proves that what was good for the kids 50 years ago is still good.

6. Prince Charming Regal Carrousel – This is probably the least “Disney” ride at Disney World, but my daughter can not resist its charm. Even though it is aimed at boys now (it’s Prince Charming’s Carrousel…see, now boys love it) she is still always up for a horse ride.

5. Soarin’ – The first of the surprises in the top five, although less surprising when I thought about it. You see, my girl got to ride it on our last trip and rode it four times in one day. She can recognize the music immediately and now associates the smell of oranges and pine with this attraction.

4. Toy Story Mania – This was the most surprising entry to me. Not that she does not love Toy Story, but she has never gotten the hang of the firing mechanism in this ride. She can do it, but not really aim so well. I guess it is fun even if you are not winning (I wouldn’t know).

3. The Seas with Nemo – Actually, my daughter loves this whole pavilion. The Nemo ride, Turtle Talk with Crush, and what is left of the aquarium can entertain her for about 90 minutes on any given day. I know it is not what it once was, but that does not make it a waste of space.

2. Splash Mountain – The last top 5 surprise is another not quite kid ride (has a height requirement). She was actually not sure about this the first time she rode, but has since fallen in love with the characters and music. I am still not sure if this is really her second favorite, but it is what she said.

You won Pooh!

1. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – Unlike number 2, I am positive this is my daughter’s favorite attraction. She has been saying this is it since she was one and a half, and that was before she knew who the characters were. It is a very well done ride and I wish more people would get over their sadness over Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and appreciate Pooh for what it is…a 3 year old girl’s favorite ride.

So there you have it. What I find interesting about this list is that some of the widely mentioned “best” attractions are still here (namely Splash and Soarin’), yet some of the lesser mentioned attractions are here too (like Nemo and the Carrousel). If you wondered who could possibly enjoy the Magic Carpets, now you know…it is there for the kids. The top five also come from three different parks, dispelling the notion that only the Magic Kingdom is child friendly.

A few parting notes: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was under refurbishment the time we visited after my daughter crossed the 40 inch height line, so she has yet to ride it. Other than that she has done just about every ride and show available so if something didn’t make the list she probably just doesn’t like it.

I would love to hear in the comments below what your children’s favorites are. Disney parks are certainly not just for kids, but we can not forget about them either.

Posted on July 17, 2012

41 Responses to “The Best Attractions at WDW (According to a 3 Year Old Girl)”

  • by Andrew Drummond on July 17, 2012, at 9:29 am EST

    This was a great article. I’ve had enough trouble getting an opinion out of our 7 & 8 year olds, that I can only imagine how hard it wazs to do this.

    But it’s very interesting…

    • I agree with that assessment. My 3yo daughter puts the “clams” at #1, in fact, that is what she wakes up asking to do every single morning. She also really loves the Disney buses and Magic Express! LOL.

      I didn’t see the carousel listed on there….my preschooler also loved that ride as well as IASW. Loves the dolls and the music. At three, I am surprised they can ride Splash. My 3yo is way to small.

      • HA! My daughter also loves the Disney buses and begs to stand up and hold onto the pole, even when the bus is empty.

  • I have a 4.5 year old who is scared of EVERYTHING. We got her on Splash Mountain last year, and she was MOSTLY fine, but whimpered a little after the drop and said, “I don’t want to ride this anymore.” WDW is a totally different experience when you have to consider what could potentially be scary to a major scaredy cat. Example, she doesn’t like Peter Pan’s Flight because it’s scary. We’ve semi-convinced her that she’s a big kid now (as opposed to last year!) and she can ride Splash Mtn again and not be scared. We’ll see what happens when we are actually in line…

    • My 5 yr old is also afraid of dark rides. Her favorite thing is to watch the show in front of the castle. She thinks she likes the fireworks, but we always have to move away because they are too loud. The only “ride” she ever asks to go on is small world. Not sure why she likes that one its a dark ride too, but I guess all the dolls win out to the darkness.

  • Splash Mountain is my 6 year old daughter’s favorite ride. She rode it first when she was 4 1/2. Funny thing is that my 10 year old son won’t go on it. The drop freaks him out too much! 🙂 lol

  • I’ll trade you my 6 yr old boy for your 3 yr old daughter!! He hasn’t done 1/2 of these rides cause he doesn’t like dark rides!! We’re working on it…….slowly. And WOW on getting her on Tower of Terror! My daughter will be 9 in August and she still won’t ride it with me! But she too loves Soarin and Splash Mountain, although i think that has more to do with the fact that she is finally TALL ENOUGHT to ride them (she’ll be 9 soon and is only 46-1/2″ ). Have to ask…..what does your daughter think of Astro Orbiter?

    • Yes, my girl is a champ. We’re pretty lucky with that. As for Astro Orbiter, she’s okay with it but she would pick Dumbo or the Carpets any day. I think the extra speed and extra height of the rockets freaks her out a little bit.

    • I had to laugh. My daughter was 4 and just met the height requirement. There was a 9 or 10 year old boy who was scared and said they didn’t want to go on. She look at him and said, “Why are you crying, it just goes up and down?”

      She also has no fear and would go on everything. Her favorite however; was Pirates. We went on it 8 times in a row.

  • For our two-year-old girl, it is a tie between Living with the Land and it’s a small world for the best. She also thought that the Gran Fiesta Tour was funny, but mostly because she’s a Donald fan. All three of them are boat rides….hmm….

  • “…the order of the choices…” Love it! I thought that only happened with my kids. I find that the last choice is usually the one they go with. So if I have a preference of the choices I’m presenting to them, I put my favorite last, so we’re both happy. 😀
    Nice article. Thanks!

  • My 3 year old BOY would have a very similar list- minus Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid and add Buzz Lightyear ride (that is what he calls it) in Magic Kingdom at #1.

  • This is great! Thank you! I am working on our touring plan for September. My daughter will be almost 3 1/2. I am not sure about how she is going to do with rides – we have been to kiddie amusement parks and she likes those. So i dont think that dumbo and flying carpets will be an issue…but other more theme rides or with more drops… Are there any suggestions about good rides to start with to gauge how she is going to handle rides?? tia

    • The first ride for both of my kids (my son is 1) was it’s a small world. If she is scared of that you are in trouble 🙂

      After that I would list the MK themed rides, in order of scary factor (least to most), Winnie the Pooh, Jungle Cruise (unless fake animals are a problem), Peter Pan (is dark), Philharmagic (splashes some water and is “in your face”), Pirates, Haunted Mansion.

      Small world and Pooh are great intros. They are indoors but have almost no scare factor. Nemo at Epcot is the same if you happen to start there. In general, the way I get my kids to ride so much is to accentuate positives; the silly, partying ghosts in Mansion, the animals in Pirates, etc. Good luck!

      • I agree with this list, I wouldn’t say the particular order but those are definitely my 2 year old’s favorites. We went when she was 2 years 3 months old and it’s all she has talked about for MONTHS. My daughter LOVED the scary rides (weird I know) I attribute this to her love of villains. She likes the witch in Snow White just as much as Snow White. The very first ride we ever rode (my husband’s idea not mine) was Snow White’s Scary Adventures and the first thing she said when we got off was again mama again! The Haunted Mansion and The Enchanted Tiki Room both ended up being her favorite because of the scary elements for her. I’m pretty sure my daughter is rare for her taste in rides though!

      • I suggest you get the unofficial guide with kids. I read the description of every single ride on our first trip. you know your child best. If they get scared on 1 ride it can ruin a trip.

  • Until our trip this past April, my (4 years old) daughter’s HANDS DOWN favorite ride was it’s a small world. She still loves it, but now that Goofy’s Barnstormer has opened back up, this is her favorite – by far! She also adores the Kilamanjaro Safari.

    Won’t do Tower of Terror with her until she doesn’t freak out on Splash Mountain or Haunted Mansion.

    She loves the shows and her favorite varies between Beauty and The Beast and Find Nemo.

    The Tomorrowland Transit Authority is a favorite – we ride it multiple times every trip (she’s 4 and has been to WDW 4 times). And I think she likes the Astro Orbiter more than Dumbo or the Magic Carpets – though she does love those too. She likes them being up high

  • Awesome post! I agree with much of it, although our daughter (currently 3) wouldn’t go on half of that stuff. I think small world, which I personally loathe, was the first ride that she legitimately enjoyed — even Pooh freaked her out between the darkness, the loud noises, and the unexpected (for her) twists and turns. She will be celebrating her 4th bday on our next trip, and I’m hopeful that she will be as adventurous as your little girl! She has told us that she’s a big girl now and won’t be so scared the next time we go and has proudly taken in a few carnival rides since our last trip, but for our last trip, when she was almost 3, we pretty much just did slow boat rides and met princess after princess after princess. Still had a blast, but I’m looking forward to her becoming brave enough to do some of the bigger rides!

  • From my 6 year old son, who was there two years ago: Toy Story Mania, Buzz Lightyear (Space Ranger Spin) and “Pirates” are his top choices. He also loves Tomorrowland Speedway, Philharmagic, some of the attractions at Innoventions and The Boneyard where he can spend an hour just digging in the pit for fossils and running around without waiting on a line!

  • My four year old son has the same exact top 5 in that order but he might substitute Big Thunder Mountain in place of Nemo… love this article!

  • My daughter loved It’s a Small World, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story Mania. She was 3 when we went last fall and wasn’t anywhere close to the 40 inch mark. She is kind of a scaredy cat. My son who is the total opposite loved Tower of Terror, Expedition Everest, Rockin Roller Coaster, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, etc. He was almost 6 when we went last year and over the 48″ mark, so he was able to ride everything. We’re hoping to go again this fall, my daughter will be 4 but I still don’t think she will have hit the 40″ mark unless she grows an inch in the next few months!! Great post!

  • Question to all, really… At what age did your children first reach 40″?

    • My daughter hit 40″ right before our trip last year. She was 3 years, 9 months.

    • My daughter was exactly 40″ on our last trip (I mean exactly, supervisors were called to check heights in some cases). She was 3 years, 4 months. My kids are pretty tall though, my son is 13 months and is 31″

    • Our daughter hit 40″ at 3 years, 2 months. She was able to ride Space Mountain last year at Disneyland. She is tall for her age and completely fearless.

    • LOL….my daughter was about 6 yrs 4 monhts old when she was finally tall enought to go on Soarin’. (truthfully, I think she was still only 39 3/4″, but because she LOOKS like a 6 yr old, no one questioned her) My son is still on the short side, but in relation to his sister, a bit taller. He hit 40″ just before his 5th bday. They get it from their dad.

  • My daughter is now 9 and has been going to WDW since she was 2. Her choices have changed nearly as often as her socks. Now her little sister is only 3. She’s been twice, both times when she was two. Her favorite ride, bar none was Aladdin’s Magic Carpets. It was a game for her to try and get me wet and make us go up/down. Her expression was pure delight. I videoed that little face the first time and I still love those reactions. After all, that is why we go to Disney.

  • When my daughter was 3, we visited Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Sea World for a full day each. After the trip, the ride she remembered most and voted her favorite was the Monorail!! We could have saved a lot of money on tickets!!

  • I normally try to avoid reading your posts (for obvious reasons), but given that you outsourced this post to your daughter, I decided to give it a read. Much better than the normal drivel!

    One thing worth noting–you mentioned, “She also is afraid of just about nothing…” Well, duh. If I had to live in the same house as you, I’d be pretty fearless, too!

  • I will say this coming out now is so timley, we just planed our 9-2013 trip and our daughter will be 3 at the time of the trip. So having all of this info is great!!

  • Don’t forget to let your child enjoy the resort! When we took our daughter when she was five years old I asked her months later what her favorite thing was on our trip: the bunkbeds in our cabin at Fort Wilderness! She also enjoyed her scooter (we brought it with us) out on the paved roadway that ran between our cabin and her grandparents RV. I said, how about rides? She said the boat from Fort Wilderness to MK!! We could have spent the week in Fort Wilderness and never wasted a dime on parks! haha 🙂

  • You are lucky to have a tall 3 year old. My daughter was not 40″ until 4 1/2! glad to hear she liked all the “big kid” rides at 3!!

  • Great article Brian! My kids would like to add one to the list, Club Cool at Epcot. Our house is full of healthy snacks, natural cleaners and organic toothpaste. To my kids, a buffet of free soda? Heaven!

  • by Heather Louise on July 21, 2012, at 12:29 am EST

    Great article. I managed to traumatize both of my older daughters on their first trips to Disneyland. I have one last chance to redeem myself with our youngest daughter on her first trip to DWD; she will be almost 2 1/2 when we are there in September. Thank you for the very helpful hints. They are much appreciated.

  • Love the list! Our 3 year olds must be pretty similar because many are my son’s favorites too! We go again in a couple of weeks and he’s over most height requirements now, so can’t wait to see what he thinks of the big rides. Some of his favorites that didn’t make your little girl’s cut are:

    ~Buzz Lightyear ride in Tommorowland
    ~Monster’s Inc Laugh Factory
    ~Journey to Imagination (EPCOT)
    ~Turtle Talk w/ Crush (EPCOT)
    ~Spaceship Earth (EPCOT)
    ~Boneyard (Animal Kingdom)-Not really a ride but he spent hrs. here
    ~Muppets (Hollywood Studios)

  • This looks vaguely like what I liked as a 3 year old girl visiting (based on what my parents have said and the home videos) but there are some new attractions that didn’t exist when I was a kid that I think I would have liked (toy story mania!) and some that I really liked as a kid that are gone (20,000 leagues was actually my absolute favorite, I wish they had turned this into a Finding Nemo ride instead of scrapping it). So my former 3 year old self’s top 18 (I couldn’t think of 20 and these are in no particular order) would be Maelstrom, 20k leagues (gone), mr. toad (gone), space mountain, muppets, honey I shrunk the audience (gone)charming’s carrousel, DUMBO, IASM, pirates, jungle cruise, tiki room, jamboree bears, tea cups, haunted mansion, splash mountain, magic kingdom railroad and indiana jones stunt spectacular.
    Rides that left me traumatized were definitely snow white’s scary adventures and thunder mountain (no idea why, but the videos of me after this ride are quite funny). Looking at this list it is painfully obvious that kids and adults do not necessarily share tastes in entertainment (IASM makes me want to rip my own ears off) but I think I did almost all of these rides in my most recent trip, so Disney must have figured out some common denominator between their child and adult patrons.

  • Thanks for this post! We’re taking our 2 1/2 year old there this coming weekend and can’t wait!