Thursday, March 27th, 2014
“Would you like me to sign your book?” my 4-year-old says, speaking for the Cinderella figurine in her hand. “Oh, yes, please, this page right here,” I say, handing her a block, which represents my autograph book, and a teeny Lego, which is “my pen.” Phoebe and I are playing “meet the characters,” a new game she created, because, as you might guess, our family just returned from Disney World. I love how she brought the magic home with us.
This was my third trip as a parent to Mickey’s world, but Phoebe’s first. Each of my older two daughters, Lucy, 8, and Eleanor, 6, also first visited Disney World as preschoolers, so I can say from experience, it’s a perfect time to go. This time, Disney invited us down to experience what’s new for its youngest park-goers. Here’s what not to miss:
Character Dining! Your little guy loves Jake and Doc McStuffins? He can meet them both (and get his autograph booked signed!) at breakfast or lunch at Disney Junior Play ‘n Dine at Hollywood & Vine inside Hollywood Studios. Princess Sofia and Handy Manny are there too, and the food is scrumptious (divine French toast). My advice: Book early for 8 a.m., so that you can then hit up the awesome rides for preschoolers in the morning before the park fills up. Extra character dining advice: Kick off trip with a character meal on the day you land. This is a great way to get into the vacation spirit, and it’s easy to pop into another resort after you check-in, no ticket to the parks required. During our first visit, we loved Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner at the Grand Floridian Hotel. My daughter got to hug Cinderella within hours of our arrival in Orlando! After that: Go to bed early! You want to be at the park before it opens the next day!
Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland! As soon as the park opens, stroll directly to Fantasyland, located right behind Cinderella’s Castle. It’s preschooler heaven and you want your preschooler to experience these attractions when her energy is high and crowds are low. Enchanted Tales with Belle, Under the Sea—Journey of the Little Mermaid, and Princess Fairytale Hall are the three we did first with our princess-crazy girls. However, we also adored Goofy’s Barnstormer Rollercoaster and the famous Dumbo—the Flying Elephant, both of which are in the new Storybook Circus area of Fantasyland. The old-fashioned carnival atmosphere is a blast. Insider secret: If your little one is feeling overwhelmed, take advantage of the Baby Care Center, located by The Crystal Palace. They welcome more than infants! Cool off and recharge with the helpful staff.
Magic Kingdom’s Parades! My fave two: The Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade is brand new for 2014 and happens each afternoon. Frozen’s Elsa and Anna lead the way! Hello, Frozen mania! Plus, you’ll see Maleficint’s fire-eating dragon and Mickey and Minnie in a hot-air balloon. The evening event is the Main Street Electrical Parade, which showcases lights on every float, costume, and character. Of course, the only way your preschooler is going to enjoy this nighttime spectacular is to carve out downtime in the afternoon. Plan to see this attraction on a day when you do a morning at the park, the afternoon by your pool (or napping in your room!) and then return after dinner.
Any ride on a boat! It’s old-fashioned magic. You sit down in a boat, which is floating (in water, inside!) and you’re moving through a river into a completely different world. These attractions are transporting for preschoolers, and if you’re a grown-up, you also know that they’re high-load rides, which is code for “the lines move fast.” Boats can hold lots of people, while other rides have cars that hold up to three passengers. Top boat picks: “It’s a Small World” at Magic Kingdom and at Epcot: Grand Fiesta Boat Tour, Maelstrom and Living With The Land.
Hollywood Studios! The park may be famous for the Tower of Terror ride for big kids, but Hollywood Studios definitely knows how to enchant smaller ones. Besides the Play ‘n Dine character meal we attended, we went to Disney Junior Live on Stage. This 25-minute show (check your day’s schedule for times) features all the big players from Mickey Mouse’s Club House, Jake, Doc, and Sofia. Next, go see Voyage of The Little Mermaid and ride Toy Story Midway Mania! The Toy Story attraction ride is super popular, so you may want to do that when the park opens or use a FastPass+. Finally, don’t miss the amazing Beauty and The Beast—Live on Stage. It’s like going to a Broadway show that’s 25 minutes long, the perfect length for a preschooler (and perhaps for you!). You get all the dazzle of costumes, song and story without an intermission.
My husband and I loved watching our girls get their autograph books by their favorite characters, but make sure you also savor downtime—like finding all the hidden Mickeys in your hotel, swimming in your resort pool (the Art of Animation pools rock!) or just chilling in your hotel room with your new Frozen toys. We bonded as a family, and I’m so glad we didn’t overschedule our days. We’ll definitely go back, and in the meantime, we’ll keep playing “meet the characters” at home.
PS Magic Kingdom won our 2014 FamilyFun Travel Awards!
And print out our packing checklist for little kids for your next vacation.
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