Are you planning a Disney World vacation with toddlers? One of the questions I answered most often when I was on the Disney Parks Moms Panel was what parks and attractions are best for toddlers at Walt Disney World. Is it worth it? Will they like it? I understand that concern. Walt Disney World costs mucho dinero, but we keep going back. Again. And again. I have traveled with 5 toddlers, and they’ve all been to Walt Disney World, but they did not love the same things. You know your toddler best, but I’ll tell you what my girls loved and why!
PLANNING FOR TODDLERS AT DISNEY WORLD
Walt Disney World has four theme parks, and I have traveled to each of them with all five of my girls while they’ve been babies, toddlers, preschoolers, tweens, etc. Many of my friends ask me when is the right age to take your children to Walt Disney World. I think every age is the right age. Yes, I drink the kool-aid. I love the toddler stage. Sure, sometimes it’s hard work, because toddlers can be demanding tiny humans. But toddler faces are the best when they’re experiencing magic first-hand.
Here are my recommendations for the best Walt Disney World parks for toddlers and the best attractions in each park.
MAGIC KINGDOM PARK
Like Donald Duck, this park is #1 for toddlers! The attractions and characters available for the little ones far outweigh the others. In fact, I often recommend visiting this park at least twice during your vacation.
Anything without a height requirement is fantastic for toddlers in Disney’s Magic Kingdom park. Fantasyland was designed for the littles, and there’s so much for them to experience. From character meet and greets everywhere, rides galore, an air-conditioned play area inside the waiting area for Dumbo the Flying Elephant, to a water play area in Storybook Circus, and the most amazing snacks, Magic Kingdom is a toddler’s dream land. Okay, it’s my dream land, too.
If you’re unsure what your toddler will like, start off with something tame, like “it’s a small world” or Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Once your child feels the excitement, then work them up to The Barnstormer. If they want something even more exciting, try Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Then you can try all the Mountains (Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) if they really love thrill rides and meet the height requirement!
I remember when Snow White’s Scary Adventures was still around and friends would start their toddler there, because it was usually a shorter line. Then their kids were too scared to try other things. No bueno. I would cry sometimes coming off that ride, and it had the word scary in it. I know you’re excited, parents, and they’re excited, too, but start them off slow.
As far as scary rides go, I would watch out for Pirates of the Caribbean (some kids don’t like the loud sounds like cannons shooting or the darkness), and Haunted Mansion (my kids are mixed, some love it, some don’t). Astro Orbiter makes me motion sick, but my more adventurous children love it. And just stay away from Stitch’s Great Escape.
Character Meet and Greets
There are so many character meet and greets here – and the key is air-conditioned meet and greets! Insert happy dance here. Mickey Mouse, Tinker Bell, Princess Fairytale Hall (with many Disney princesses), Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Daisy Duck, etc. When my kids are toddlers I’m willing to wait for pictures, because they are so excited to meet them. It melts my heart. Not all toddlers are the same though. Start with someone they recognize and see how they react.
Some of my girls loved fur characters more than face characters and vice versa. I also suggest trying a character breakfast. The character interaction is longer, and it’s another way to test the waters. Magic Kingdom park really is a 2-day park, and it’s my favorite, but I’m a kid at heart.
ANIMAL KINGDOM THEME PARK
This is my #2 park for toddlers, mostly based on the presence of animals and The Boneyard in DinoLand, U.S.A. The Boneyard is an open air play space where kids can run around in a playground setting designed to look like a fossil dig site. There are ropes, bridges, tiny slides, and more. There’s a dig site in the back where they can dig, dig, dig, dig, dig dig…the whole day through.
It’s a great place for toddlers to burn off some energy. All of my girls have loved exploring here, and it’s always the first thing they want to do. Slow your roll, kids, we have attractions to ride first.
Speaking of attractions, I recommend Kilimanjaro Safaris (a safari jeep ride where you can see tons of animals) and Triceratop Spin (a Dumbo-like ride). Watch out for It’s Tough to Be a Bug. It’s a 3-D movie, and I find it hilarious. Little children often do not. There are some creepy crawlies, and a giant animatronic bug that pops out.
Also take the Wildlife Express Train to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. My kids love train rides. They can meet Rafiki, head to the petting zoo at the Affection Station, learn about different animals, and take a walk on the outdoor discovery trail to see tamarind monkeys. This is a slower-paced activity.
Will your toddlers like the shows offered? That depends on the attention span of your toddler, but it’s worth a try. Festival of the Lion King is our family’s favorite. We enjoy the music, costuming, and huge floats of favorite characters from The Lion King. They’ll love the jumping Tumble Monkeys and be amazed by the fire dancer. Sometimes they even pick lucky volunteers from the audience to be a part of the show!
Finding Nemo – The Musical is also a fantastic show! However, it’s longer and did not always hold the attention of my little ones. With the release of Finding Dory, this may be of higher interest to toddlers now. I say give it a try, and if you notice your child getting antsy, there’s always an exit available. We’ve used the early exit before, and there’s no shame in that game.
Don’t underestimate the coziness of the tables at Animal Kingdom Lodge if you pop over for a meal there.
DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
Currently, there’s a lot of construction going on here. It’s kind of a hot mess. However, once Pixar Land is complete, I would say this park would be bumped up to the #2 spot. There are not a lot of rides currently for toddlers.
Toy Story Mania! and The Great Movie Ride are about all you’re going to find without a height requirement. I’m a little hesitant to recommend The Great Movie Ride, though. There are loud shooting scenes and one scene where an alien comes out of the ceiling. If you’re in the back, it’s not so bad. If you’re right under the alien, well…good luck. Sigourney Weaver isn’t saving you.
There are a lot of Disney Jr. characters to meet and the Disney Jr. Live on Stage show is always a family favorite! The show includes puppets of Mickey Mouse and his friends, Sofia the First, and Jake and the Never Land Pirates, and Doc McStuffins. Your kids will sing, dance, and love the bubbles and confetti that come out from the ceiling. Everyone sits on the floor and little children may not be able to see the puppets towards the front of the stage. We usually prefer sitting by the aisle in the back center of the room.
You can also meet Sofia, Jake, and Doc outside of the theater during the day. Want more characters? Across from Toy Story Mania! you can meet your favorite Toy Story friends like Buzz Lightyear and Woody in an air-conditioned building! Woohoo! They also recently added a Moana character Meet and Greet in One Man’s Dream.
If you have a tall toddler, they may be able to ride Star Tours. And if you have Star Wars fans, then they’ll love Star Wars Launch Bay. Chewbacca is quite the hit with the 4 and under crowd. Kylo Ren? Not so much. My daughter brought her Chewbacca plush, and Chewie gave her the biggest hug.
Kylo Ren sent my toddler hiding behind her daddy. At 4 years old, they can also participate in Jedi Training, but that’s getting into preschool age. If you are going to sign up for Jedi Training, get to the park early, as that’s usually the first thing people head to at rope drop. Rope drop is how we Disney freaks refer to park opening. Get to the parks before rope drop. Seriously.
There are also shows like For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage and Voyage of the Little Mermaid for all the princess lovers out there! If you have little fans of Anna and Elsa, Ariel, Belle, or Gaston, check them out. There is one scary scene in Beauty and the Beast, but it’s not too bad. No tears from any of my girls.
The Frozen Sing-Along Celebration is a good chance for kids to see Anna and Elsa on stage. They don’t appear too long though, and you won’t get any pictures with characters. It’s a funny show with current pop culture jokes and a chance for the audience to sing the songs from Frozen together.
I’m torn over which park is better for toddlers – Epcot or Hollywood Studios. With all the construction at DHS, I may have to give it to Epcot, especially with the addition of Frozen Ever After. I was heartbroken when Maelstrom left, but I have to admit, I loved Frozen Ever After. Get yourself a FastPass!
As far as rides for toddlers go, you can add Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros in the Mexico Pavilion, Living with the Land (I love it, but it’s a tad boring for some), Spaceship Earth and The Seas With Nemo & Friends.
If your toddler is tall enough, she can ride Soarin’. I would check somewhere else first, though. I remember one incident where daughter #2 was a toddler, and she barely missed the height requirement, so she couldn’t ride. Said daughter was extremely peeved and proceeded to voice her displeasure to everyone around her. She threw herself on the ground and had a massive tantrum. Not even the candy I had in my bag could stop it. Eventually the calming waters of Living with the Land pacified her, but there were many looks of concern from guests wondering whether they should call CPS on me.
There is plenty to explore and see in Epcot, and the opportunity to meet different Disney characters, including several Disney princesses in their countries. Many are not inside, however, so the waits can get hot.
The Character Spot is air-conditioned and your child can meet Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Goofy. Across the way right now is Baymax and Joy and Sadness from Inside Out. You can also meet Anna and Elsa from Frozen in their new home in the Norway Pavilion.
One of my favorite character meals is in Epcot, Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. I prefer it over Cinderella’s Royal Table for princess interaction.
Is Walt Disney World Worth it for Toddlers?
In my opinion, there is plenty and more for toddlers at Walt Disney World! That’s why we continue to spend our vacation dollars here, because I can be part of the action with my toddler. There are rides and attractions for my entire family to enjoy – together!
Some may say that toddlers won’t remember their vacations. This may be true, but I’ll sure remember that joy in my toddler’s eyes when she meets Mickey Mouse or shoots an arrow waiting for Merida.
Although we have been many times, we experience familia firsts EVERY time. As Disney’s Imagineers keep imagining, we’ll continue making magical memories.