Children Under 5: On the East Coast

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

Wondering what your little ones will enjoy? Our Parenting Panel shares their experiences just for you. What attractions and shows were your family’s favorites for children under 5? Last time we focused on the Disneyland Resort on the West Coast and this time we’ll hit Walt Disney World on the East Coast.

Chris Salata, also known as GusMan, is a Disney-inspired author and photographer, and loves to help people get the most out of their Disney vacation. Chris writes:

I know that many ask questions about how old should your kids be before taking them on a Disney vacation, mainly so that its not a wasted trip. I know that some say that anytime is a great time to go. With my son doing three trips before his second birthday, I have a slightly more liberal view of minimum ages for a family vacation. Truth be told, there is so much you can do as a family, you just may not realize it at first.

Some of our favorite attractions with our youngest are obviously on the calmer side. Even as he grew, though, he was not really a big thrill seeker. He did not like dark rides and he was not too much for surprises either. With that said, here are some of our family's favorite attractions during the time my son was young:

MuppetVision 3-D / Mickey's Philharmagic: Something of a tie, but what made these items a big hit for my son was the idea that they were his first 3D adventures. Who hasn't seen kids and adults alike reach out for different parts of the film as they appear to come right at you. These were a big smile maker for my son and still are some of his favorites today.

Carousel of Progress / Spaceship Earth / Living With the Land: I grouped these together since my son loved the idea of it being a ride that you can take a rest at the same time and the scenery changed along with the story. I think the first time he rode Spaceship Earth, he was not too keen on the darkest part, but he turned out liking it a lot. For Living with the Land, he loved finding the hidden Mickeys. Of course, who doesn't like singing at Carousel of Progress.

Jungle Cruise / Kilimanjaro Safaris: Now, I know that you cant really compare the two directly, but when you are 4 or 5, animals are animals and he loved every minute of them. I think to this day, Kilimanjaro Safaris is the reason why he likes animals so much, especially giraffes.

Monorails / Boats / Buses: To a 4 year old, these are not just ways to get somewhere, they are an attraction unto themselves. He loved to watch the scenery go by, no matter what the mode. To be honest, I was glad that he liked riding the vehicles since it made the wait for them all the much easier for all of us.

Anything Interactive: For my son, things such as The Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure (now known as Agent P's World Showcase Adventure), and Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom would be things that my son could do for hours. He was a very interactive child and these things set his imagination free. The nice part about the parks is that I think many more of the queue lines are becoming interactive so if you have a young one that thrives on such things, the wait of many attractions will seem to go by quicker.

Parades / Shows: My son loved the parades as it gave him a nice break and he just could not wait to wave to Mickey and the gang. He also really enjoyed the Festival of the Lion King, even wanting to see it more than one time. For these attractions, he loved the showmanship and presentation more than anything else. He also loved the music, which to this day he likes to listen to when I play it around the house or in my office.

Like anything else, knowing what your child likes will play a role in what attractions you can enjoy as a family. What is good for one might not be good for the other. Remain flexible and watch the cues your child gives you when talking about what to do next. The best part is, you get to enjoy some of these classic attractions through the eyes of your kids – and that can be a magical experience.

Jen, also known as *Nala*, is an engineer, a Disney fan, and a MouseAdventure fanatic. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two future MouseAdventurers, ages 3 and 5. Jen writes:

Our Walt Disney World trips with our young kids have taught us to appreciate an entirely different side of the parks. Since WDW is so large, and our kids have new interests every time we go, we discover more favorites with every visit.

Favorite Experiences:

As I mentioned last time, playgrounds are a top choice for preschoolers, and this is no different at WDW. Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Playset at Disney's Hollywood Studios is a huge play area with all kinds of "oversized" objects to climb on, and the Casey Jr Splash 'N' Soak station in the Magic Kingdom is a great place for the kids to cool off on a hot day.

At WDW, however, I'll add character meet-and-greets to the list of favorite attractions, for the simple reason that we can reserve a Fastpass+ return time and avoid standing in long lines. My 3-year-old daughter would happily use all of her Fastpasses at the Magic Kingdom to see Anna and Elsa, Tinker Bell, and Ariel. Epcot has the Character Spot, where kids can meet Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy.

One character-based attraction deserves a special mention: Enchanted Tales With Belle at the Magic Kingdom. Children (and even some adults) from each group are chosen to play roles in the Beauty and the Beast story (and every kid who wants a part is given one), after which they get to act out the story with Belle herself. There are special magical elements that make this a "can't miss" for families with little kids.

Favorite Shows

Disney Junior - Live on Stage! is a Disneyland Resort favorite, and young fans of this show can also find it at Disney's Hollywood Studios. WDW has so many kid-friendly shows to choose from, but my two favorites are at Disney's Animal Kingdom: Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo - The Musical. Both shows feature bright colors, lively music, and familiar characters.

Favorite Attractions (Because WDW is so big, I'll break this one down by park.)

Magic Kingdom - Dumbo the Flying Elephant: Magic Kingdom is often the favorite park of little kids with good reason. Dumbo wins at Magic Kingdom simply because of the new circus-themed play area. When you enter the line, you are given a pager that will buzz when it's your turn to ride, and the kids can play while you wait. There is even a special smaller play area reserved for toddlers.

Epcot - Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros: A narrow win because the line is rarely long, the ride is gentle, and kids can be entertained by Donald Duck and his amigos while hopefully learning a little about Mexico.

Disney's Hollywood Studios - Toy Story Mania. This is a favorite ride on on the West Coast, as well, but it wins at WDW because of Fastpass+. It's interactive and kids love the familiar Toy Story characters, even if they aren't old enough to understand the game element. And parents get to play, too!

Disney's Animal Kingdom - Kilimanjaro Safaris. While my adventurous 5-year-old son named Expedition Everest as his favorite ride, Kilimanjaro Safaris is great for all ages. I haven't yet met a little kid who isn't fascinated when they see real live elephants and giraffes wander casually by the ride vehicles.

Walt Disney World provides many Character Spots for guests to meet some of their favorites, like Winnie the Pooh, in person. Photo by J. Jeff Kober

MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry, his wife, Diane, Samantha (15), and twins Casey and Alex (12), live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:

It’s certainly been a while since I even had to think about things at Walt Disney World for the under-5 set. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what it’s like though. Walt Disney World is a perfect place for a 4 year old, if you pick and choose and handle things carefully. My kids began their Disney tenure at 4 years of age. My daughter was an older 4. My twin boys had just turned 4 the week before our first trip with them. There was a noticeable difference in their experiences however. My boys were a bit more scared of things at barely 4 then my daughter was at nearly 5.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was an instant hit with my daughter. It was her very first ride on our very first day. I’m pretty sure we rode several times that day. In sharp contrast, when my boys turned that corner out of Rabbit’s Garden, and Owl’s house began to “shake apart,” they nearly had a heart attack. I think they might have actually had one in the Heffalump and Woozle room. They just didn’t know what to expect and were a bit over stimulated by the whole experience. We thought our trip was doomed. If they couldn’t handle Pooh, what could they handle?

That day we weaned them back with Peter Pan's Flight, "it's a small world," Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin and the Jungle Cruise. Once they accepted the fact that nothing in these rides was actually going to come alive and attack them, they did just fine. As soon as we got over that hurdle, Pooh soon became a life-long favorite. Don’t push it though. I convinced my 5-year-old daughter to go on Splash Mountain with me by bribing her with a set of Disney Princess pins and scarred her for life when we went over the falls. Maybe scarred for life is too drastic, but it was years and years before she would even think of going on any ride with any sort of drop. It’s a fine line to walk on when it comes to the Disney rides and attractions. Of course, there’s always more to Walt Disney World than rides.

My kids were huge on characters. On day one at Disney, they were fascinated with just seeing the characters. That had us waiting in lines to meet and get autographs, dining at character meals, sitting waiting for parades and live shows to start pretty much all the time. My boys were thrilled just spotting them even if they weren’t going to wait on that particular line. It was almost like a “character hunt” with them. They even loved going up to the window at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom to try and see the Pooh characters walking around in the restaurant. Spot as many as you could in one day and you had them pretty much satisfied.

Of course, never underestimate the power of the pool at Walt Disney World. I realize that you paid a lot of money for park tickets and, darn it, you’re going to go to the parks and get your money’s worth. But your kids are going to want to go back to the pool…a lot. Take them back to the pool for a big chunk of time in the middle of the day. It’s too hot for them in the parks anyway during the midday hours. Besides, a Disney resort pool isn’t your average hotel pool. They’re all pretty awesome, especially Stormalong Bay at Disney's Yacht and Beach Club, the Nanea Volcano Pool at Disney's Polynesian Resort and Ol’ Man Island at Disney's Port Orleans Riverside Resort. Enjoy them. The parks aren’t going anywhere. Pull up a chair, get a drink with an umbrella in it, and relax poolside. Some of my best memories and most relaxed Disney moments happened by the pool.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!