Preparing preschool-age children for their first Walt Disney World vacation can be a daunting task. It's difficult to strike the balance between over-preparing them (and by default, spoiling some surprises that await them at the parks) and overwhelming them with an overabundance of new and stimulating experience once you arrive. In the opinion of most early education experts, it's better to err on the side of overplanning when preparing your child for travel.
It's easy to forget that just about everything about Walt Disney World will be new in the eyes of young children. Preparing them for a stay in the resort is vital—and, quite frankly, complicated enough to warrant an article devoted to this aspect of traveling with kids. But when parents dream about sharing their love of Walt Disney World with their children, it's more than likely visions of the theme parks that dance in their heads.
A dear friend who works with preschool students suggested showing some vintage Disney Sing Along Songs to my children before taking them to Walt Disney World for the first time. Initially, I rolled my eyes in disbelief; weren't those Sing Along Videos a very 1980s fad?
I am now a believer.
After a little bit of searching, I found four Sing Along DVDs through the Disney Movie Club for around $5.00 each. I figured I would gamble $20; it was worth the modest investment.
Back in the Day
To begin with, it was a blast from the past for me to watch these videos initially created in the late 1980s and early 1990s. How quaint to remember a time when all the Disney classics were not available on home video and these Sing Along Songs were the only means of viewing vintage Disney animated clips in your home. It was also fun seeing the older Walt Disney Home Video introductions and logos. The titles I selected were totally unfamiliar to me. They are original live-action programs produced at Disney theme parks. They feature children interacting with costumed Disney characters, eating at Disney restaurants, experiencing Disney attractions, and playing at Disney resorts. All in all, they offer a perfect introduction to the Disney travel experience.
Sing Along Songs: Disneyland Fun
Released in conjunction with Disneyland's 50th Anniversary celebration, this program is really a re-release of a 1990 video filmed at the Happiest Place on Earth. Disneyland is, or course, similar to the Magic Kingdom, so I thought this would be a useful introduction for the kids as we prepared for our first visit when they were a year-and-a-half old. It was a truly inspired choice. For the kids, the video offers a chance to see real children interacting with the characters—and for adults, the video is fun for two reasons:
- It reminded me that Disneyland is truly one of the most photogenic places on earth
- The late 1980s fashions and hairstyles are a hoot. Keep your eyes peeled for a Debbie Gibson look-alike, a camcorder the size of a small suitcase, and some really sharp pastel-colored oversized shirts. There are a surprising number of scenes featuring Roger Rabbit who, at that time, was a big new star in the Disney stable.
The first three selections introduce Main Street and the characters. They also help children envision what it will be like to enter the Magic Kingdom. "Whistle While You Work" is sung by the characters as they prepare the park for a day of guests. It's lots of fun and the kids—now 3 and a half—still squeal when they see Pluto on a ladder and Donald messing up the plush Mickey Mouse toys at the Emporium. "Step in Time"offers a brief depiction of guests racing through the park immediately after the rope drop. The next number, "I'm Walking Right Down the middle of Main Street U.S.A." is my personal favorite for several reasons. It is a wonderful song, capturing the charm of Main Street and that sense of anticipation as you approach the other realms of the park that beckon from the Hub. It also features a lovely Mary Poppins and a piano playing Mickey at his feistiest.
"Follow the Leader" features a safari clad Donald Duck and a group of young children exploring Adventureland attractions like the Jungle Cruise. "The Great Outdoors"—once featured in the "Vacation Hoedown" version of the Country Bear Jamboree—features everyone's favorite bruins on Tom Sawyer Island. A collage of thrill rides is set to the tune of "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah"—with some truly disturbing rap-inspired additions—taking kids on all the Magic Kingdom mountains. "Rumbly in My Tumbly" is a great introduction to the concept of Disney character dining as Pooh, Eeyore, and Donald make appearances at various restaurants throughout the park.
"It's a Small World" features all of Fantasyland, giving youngsters a great feel for attractions like Dumbo, the Flying Elephant, "it's a small world," the Mad Tea party, and once again the concept of walkaround Disney characters interacting with children. "Making Memories" (a classic Sherman Brothers tune from Epcot's Imagination pavilion) takes place on the riverboat and throughout the park. "Grim Grinning Ghosts" features Disney villains at the Haunted Mansion. A word of warning about this one: my kids were spooked by this song until just this past summer. "The Character Parade" is a montage of various daytime parades, including the 35th anniversary Disneyland parade that was recycled and used at Walt Disney World's 20th anniversary (longtime Walt Disney World visitors will recognize the Mardi Gras theme and giant character balloons).
This video ends with a pretty version of "When You Wish Upon a Star" accompanied by Disneyland's incomparable fireworks. As a bonus, Mickey shoots fireworks out of his hands in a way that reminds me of my all-time favorite: the "Sorcery in the Sky" fireworks that once sparkled over the Chinese Theatre at the then Disney-MGM Studios.
As a parent, I would highly recommend this very affordable DVD for its entertainment value, its glimpse into Disneyland's past (the Skyway and the Peoplemover are both featured), and for its usefulness in preparing young children for the wonders of the Magic Kingdom.
Sing Along Songs at Walt Disney World: Campout
This little video is a treasure trove of historical footage of Walt Disney World's past as well as a wonderful introduction to the wonders of the Walt Disney World resorts. Set in and around Fort Wilderness, this program features a likable group of kids, the classic Disney characters, and tons of footage of beautiful Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon.
We begin the fun at Fort Wilderness itself. The characters and kids arrive aboard one of the old double-decker busses that used to circle Epcot's World Showcase. It pulls up in front of Fort Wilderness, complete with the original logo featuring Mickey toting a musket. The gang sings "Comin' Round the Mountain" before setting up camp to "The Bare Necessities." For people who think of Walt Disney World as nothing more than theme parks, these scenes help underscore the sheer scope and size of the Disney property.
During the next two numbers, Goofy, Chip, and Dale take the kids on a bike ride around Fort Wilderness while Mickey and Minnie take a group to—are you ready for this?—Discovery Island. For Walt Disney World historians, this is a rare treat. From the appearance of Wilbur from of The Rescuers to the interactions between the animals and the children, this glimpse into Disney's past is fascinating. The boat ride is also fun and helps prepare young children for those shuttles between resorts and theme parks. My boys still wave to the captain whenever we watch this program
Other highlights include "Oh Susanna!" featuring those rascally Country Bears who harass poor Donald Duck as he tries to prepare a cookout. "Don't Fence Me In" and "Turkey in the Straw" involve a picturesque hayride and some square dancing with the Hoop-Dee-Doo dancers. The kids themselves get into the act when they put on a show in venerable Pioneer Hall; this section includes a fun nod to the original Mickey Mouse Club with the inclusion of the "Talent Round-Up" song.
The nostalgic highlight for me, however, is "By the Beautiful Sea." The kids ride a variety of water vehicles, including those fun little Ski Jets. The scenery around Bay Lake—including the Contemporary Resort minus the Michael Graves addition and Bay Lake Tower—are breathtaking. The real find, however, is the inclusion of extended scenes at River Country. How fun to relive those wonderful memories of years gone by when this was the one and only Disney water park. It's great to see River Country in its prime as opposed to those sad glimpses one sees nowadays when riding the boats to Fort Wilderness.
This video is also highly recommended for its nostalgic factor and for its useful introduction to the resort world of Disney. But buyer beware: there's are two truly disturbing renditions of classic songs on this DVD: the Johnny Mercer classic "Jeepers Creepers" and the John Denver classic "Country Roads." Both songs are fine, of course, but the renditions here make me grateful for the invention of the fast forward button on the remote.
Sing Along Songs at Walt Disney World: Beach Party
This is our least favorite of the four Mickey and friends Sing Along Songs videos; that said, there are some fun numbers and great scenery to justify the modest investment.
The theme here is beach party, so the kids are a little older and the music a little more pop/rock. The first number, "Celebration," is fun as it was filmed on the old backlot of the Disney-MGM Studios. Sharp-eyed viewers will note the Residential Street (with the Animation Studios in the background) as well as the New York Street.
The majority of the musical numbers are filmed at various water parks—Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach—and provide a good overview of the activities available for children. "Surfin' Safari" at Typhoon Lagoon is especially fun, and includes a nice little nod to Coco Beach's Ron Jon Surf Shop.
"A Pirate's Life" was filmed at Epcot's World Showcase Lagoon, directly behind the American Adventure. A scurvy crew of pirates, including Captain Hook and Mr. Smee, encounter a group of boys and attempt to throw them off the ship. Luckily, Peter Pan arrives to save the day. Later, a lovely little rendition of "Part of Your World" is sung by Ariel herself on the sands outside of the equally lovely Grand Floridian Beach Resort. Two Hawaiian themed numbers, "The Hukilau Song" and "Pearly Shells" were filmed at Disney's Polynesian Resort and feature performers from the nightly luaus.
A little more dated and a lot more corny than the other videos in the series, this one comes with a partial recommendation. It does provide children with a wonderful preview of the Disney World resorts, but the musical numbers are just not as entertaining. Still, for $5.00, we're glad we bought it.
Sing Along Songs at Disney's Animal Kingdom: Flik's Musical Adventure
As the title indicates, the latest addition to the Sing Along Songs library (and by latest we're talking the late 1990s), "Flik's Musical Adventure" takes guests through the Animal Kingdom. The songs are not as familiar as those featured on other Sing Along Song volumes, but the production values are high, the original animation of Flik top-notch, and the kids an engaging lot. With the exception of "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" and "It's a Bug's World," both of which are unwatchable, it's an engaging little collection.
Standouts for children include "On Safari," which introduces young explorers to the wonders of the Kilimanjaro Safari. My friends found it invaluable for preparing their older children for this remarkable attraction. "Walk the Dinosaur" helps kids envision the DinoLand related adventures that await them at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and "Asia" shows off some of the park's most stunning animal residents.
The last two numbers—"He Lives in You" from the Broadway production of The Lion King and "The Circle of Life" from the original film and the stage production—were filmed at the Festival of the Lion King stage show. They offer a tempting taste of the wonders that await guests at this truly remarkable live production.
Sing Along Songs at Disney's Animal Kingdom: Flik's Musical Adventure earns a partial recommendation. I'm happy we didn't pay full price for this DVD, as the kids seldom request it. Nonetheless, it has helped them envision the sights and sounds of Disney's Animal Kingdom and has definitely heightened their anticipation for their first visit to this park next year.
Preparation is Key
Most children love surprises, some more than others. A visit to Walt Disney World is sure to hold countless surprises for its youngest visitors. Some advanced knowledge, even if they do give away some of the particulars, helps prepare children for the often overwhelming adventures that await them at Walt Disney World. I would highly recommend the videos in the Sing Along Songs series as a gentle introduction for preschool aged children, especially because the videos feature interactions with characters and introduce the concepts of attractions, shows, and fireworks.
When young children are prepared for the wonders that await them on their first vacation, they are more relaxed and more receptive. As a result, the memories created for them—and their parents—are more likely to be positive and reassuring. And after all, memory-making is one of the primary joys of travel.