Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What Attractions Will a Young Child Enjoy? Part I: The Magic Kingdom (MK)

I am a firm believer that one is never too young (or too old) to visit WDW. Contrary to what many people believe, there are plenty of attractions that are great for young kids. A few days ago, Touring Plans featured a post about what age is an appropriate age to let older kids go off and do their own thing at Disney. I'm going to focus on the oppposite end of the kid spectrum - toddlers/preschoolers. I'll assume for purposes of this blog series that a preschooler will be okay doing anything that we did with our two-and-a-half year old son (they may actually be able to do more, being restricted only by height requirements for certain attractions and/or any parental intuition regarding fears). And, to be honest, we did most of these attractions last year when our son was only one-and-a-half, as well as quite a few of the key attractions when we took him right after his first birthday.
I've got to start somewhere, and the Magic Kingdom (MK) seems like the logical place to start - if you were going to Walt Disney World for just one day, this is the park you'd most likely visit. Plus, it's the park you would probably think has the most toddler-friendly attractions. I think that's fairly accurate, but as you will see over the course of this series, there are plenty of toddler-friendly attractions at each of the Disney parks.
There are several distinct sections of the Magic Kingdom: (1) Main Street USA; (2) Fantasyland; (3) Liberty Square; (4) Frontierland; (5) Adventureland; and (6) Tomorrowland. There are fun things for toddlers in each of these areas, but some have more than others, so if you are pressed for time (i.e., you've got to work in a nap time), you may want to focus on those sections of the MK that have more toddler-friendly attractions (e.g., Fantasyland). I've thought about several different ways to go about discussing this topic and have decided to simply discuss things in the order in which we did them on our last visit. Consider it our personalized touring plan (which, by the way you can actually create at Touring Plans). And, it actually works out that our touring plan took us through each of the areas separately, so you'll find this review of attractions generally discussed by area as well.

First recommendation: Get to the Magic Kingdom before it opens (hey, if you've got young children, you're probably up that early anyway...). Not only will this give you head start on riding a certain key rides (e.g., Dumbo) before the lines get too long, but you'll be able to watch the opening ceremony before rope drop (when the park officially opens to guests). Remember to allow yourself plenty of time to get over to the MK - if you're driving, you'll have to park at the Ticketing and Transportation Center and take the ferry or Monorail over to the park. If you want to get to the park extra early, consider booking an early dining reservation at the Crystal Palace.

Once you enter the park, hustle as fast as you can straight down Main Street (there aren't really attractions here per-se, mainly just restaurants, shops, etc., so you can come back to check these out later). Make your way underneath Cinderella's Castle and immediately get in line to ride Dumbo. In terms of the attractions you'll be able to do with small children, this one is going to have the longest line, so if you can cross it off your list before the line gets too long, you will be in great shape.
Whew. Now that you've gotten Dumbo out of the way, you can slow your pace down a bit and enjoy Fantasyland, where you'll find the most options for kids. You might want to consider riding Peter Pan, and Winnie-the-Pooh, as the line for both of those rides tends to get long as well (as does Snow White's Scary Adventure, but we have skipped this attraction for fear that it might actually be a bit scary for a small child). Note, however, that you can get Fast Passes for Peter Pan and Pooh, and generally if you get one for Pooh, you also receive a bonus to watch Mickey's Philharmagic right after you ride Pooh. We've done that twice and it works out well. Also in Fantasyland, you've got it's a small world. The line has not been that long on our last two visits (first week of May) so it's easy to ride this attraction several times if it becomes one of your kid(s)' favorites (it is for our son, who has been singing the song ever since we got home from WDW). We probably rode small world six times over the day and a half we spent at the MK. You should also be sure to ride Prince Charming Regal Carousel, and let your kid(s) have a go at pulling the sword from the stone.
 And, last but not least in our tour thru Fantasyland, is the Mad Tea Party (aka the Tea Cups). My parents claim that I couldn't ride these as a child because it made me sick. Either I've outgrown that, or it was simply a story they made up to keep from having to ride the Tea Cups themselves! We rode the tea cups twice on our last visit and actually enjoyed them - a lot of fun for kids to control the speed and direction of the spinning, etc. Note that that there will soon be many more attractions once the Fantasyland Expansion is completed over the next couple of years. Can't wait! Also of interest to all the parents out there with little girls - the Bibidi Bobidi

We generally head thru Liberty Square to Frontierland after finishing Fantasyland (you could either head in the direction of Liberty Square or in the opposite direction toward Tomorrowland). There's frankly not a lot to do in Liberty Square unless you are dining at one of two table service restaurants (Columbia Harbor House or Liberty Square Tavern). The Haunted Mansion is, in my opinion, probably a bit too scary for a small child. And, I'm guessing the Hall of Presidents would not hold a small child's interest. You could ride the Liberty Square Riverboat, though. I'll admit that it's been many years since I have ridden this, but I could see the 17-minute cruise being enjoyable for a small child.

Likewise, Frontierland generally has attractions geared more towards an older crowd (i.e., they've got minimum height requirements, such as Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Railroad). However, one kid favorite in the area is the Country Bear Jamboree. There's also Tom Sawyer Island, although we have not done that yet with our son (it was closed for refurbishment on our recent trip). Note that the minimum height requirement for both Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Railroad is 40 inches, so older/taller younger kids may be able to ride if you think they'd be up for it. Splash Mountain is pretty tame except for the very big vertical drop at the end. Big Thunder Railroad is more of a standard twist and turn type of roller coaster.
One advantage of heading from Fantasyland on thru to Frontierland is that it places you in one of the best spots in the park to grab a quick lunch. Just at the far end of Frontierland and as you enter Adventureland you'll find Pecos Bill's Tall Tale Inn and Cafe (burgers, sandwiches, salads), the Golden Oak Outpost (delicious chicken and fries - one of our QSR favorites) and, if you're lucky, Tortuga Tavern (quick Mexican fare). This will put you in great logistical shape to start the afternoon in Adventureland.

There are several very kid-friendly attractions in Adventure land including the Jungle Cruise (you might send someone on ahead before eating lunch to get Fast Passes as the line can get long for this one), the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, The Enchanted Tiki Room (we have not done this with our son as it has most recently been closed for refurbishment as a result of a fire, however, this has led Disney to return the attraction to something closer to its original state). Adventureland also contains two of my childhood favorites - the Swiss Family Treehouse (loved the book and the movie, too!) and Pirates of the Caribbean - still one of my absolute favorite attractions in all of WDW. You'll have to decide for your own on Pirates - we took our son on it when he was one, but later decided that maybe it might be a bit too scary, so have not taken him on it on our latest trips. My wife is kind enough to let me ride it though while she watches or son. :) Luckily it's always been a short line on our recent trips. I always remember it being long as a kid and truly thought that the queue was one of the best parts of the ride. Now you just breeze right through to the boats. You'll also find the Pirate League makeovers here, too (separate reservation and fee required).

Oh, and don't forget to stop by Aloha Isle as you leave Adventureland to savor the famous Dole Whip - a delightfully refreshing treat. Or, if that's not your thing, grab a Mickey ice cream bar as you make your way across the hub in front of Cinderella's Castle and over to Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland has a number of kid-friendly rides, including Tomorrowland Indy Speedway (minimum height of 32 inches if accompanied by an adult and 54 inches to ride alone) and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. We also did Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, but it was not at all amusing, so don't waste your valuable time here... Stitch's Great Escape is considered intense and has a minimum height requirement of 40 inches, while Space Mountain has a minimum height requirement of 44 inches, so neither of these would be appropriate for young children. We have not taken our son on the Carousel of Progress or Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover yet, but both of these would be good for small children. Lastly, there's the Astro Orbiter. To be perfectly honest, I've never been on it, but it seems like it would probably be okay for younger kids - kind of like a Dumbo/Magic Carpets of Aladdin type of ride.

Finally, there's the Walt Disney World Railroad with its Main Street station. And just to the side of that, next to Tony's Town Square Restaurant, is the Town Square Theater on Main Street, where you can now find Mickey and Minnie (since the closing of Mickey's Toontown Fair to make way for the Fantasyland expansion). Note that if the line is too long, you can now get a Fast Pass to get your photo with Mickey and Minnie, which is great news - we actually found that to be the longest line we waited in on two of our recent three trips!

Well, that pretty much covers it for the Magic Kingdom (minus parades and shows, which we will discuss in a later post). As you can see, a toddler/preschooler can actually do most of the attractions at the MK. Happy Planning!

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