As the prep work continues on my family’s DADVenture to Walt Disney World this fall, this post is going to focus some specific things we’ve been doing to get our little kids (5 and under) ‘ready’ for their first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth.
I have quite a few tricks that worked, and one that really didn’t.
With our kids being quite young, there’s always the fear that a trip to Disney World could end up being a expensive ‘bad choice’. So, we starting thinking – what can we do to make them as comfortable as possible with the new experiences they will have there.
TRY A SMALLER THEME PARK
Around us we have a few big amusement parks – Six Flags, etc. But the Littles aren’t worried about roller coasters and big bumpy rides. They’re going to Disney to see the characters they love – ‘come to life’.
SO, we found an amazing ‘test park’ for our kids. Edaville Family Theme Park in South Carver, Massachusetts was PERFECT for us.
They have an entire Littles-specific amusement park, a Dinosaur land AND THOMAS LAND!
That’s right, an entire section is all about Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends. (Can you hear the them song in your head yet? We’re 2, we’re 4, we’re 5, we’re 8……)
Edaville served beautifully as an introduction theme park for the Littles. They went on rides, they met characters they know and learned the joys of standing in line for a ride.
The theme park test? A big success. Look around your area for parks like this and let me know what you find, in the comments below.
Rides and lines are one thing, but having to interact with a five-foot mouse is a whole other experience. Not to mention Princesses, Pirates and Wookies!
I’ll talk more about my thoughts on the kids dealing with characters later on, but how did I test this out?
We went to the aquarium.
At our amazing local aquarium, they had a Christmas time meet and greet with the Bumble and Rudolph.
BIG costumed characters. You wait in line for your turn, 5 quick cell-phone pictures and your done.
But what about a longer interaction with characters? We went to a minor league baseball game.
Yeah, that’s right. We took our Littles to the Connecticut Tigers’ Disney Night this summer. The music between innings was Disney-filled and they did have characters walking around the stadium. Who did we see? Captain Jack Sparrow, Princess Tiana, Princess Anna, and (don’t call me a Princess) Moana.
My kids didn’t want anything to do with Captain Jack. No worries. They don’t know the Pirates movies at all.
My daughters were shy at first with the princesses, but eventually warmed up and took many pictures with the amazing ballpark staff (or maybe local actors) dressed up in the gowns. (Yes, my girls were dressed in Princess dresses, too.) My son (the oldest Little) didn’t really care for the Princesses, which kind of surprised me.
BUT – he did run right up to CT The Tiger (big masked character mascot of the baseball team) and took pictures, gave a hug and lots of high-fives.
A few years back we went to a Star Wars night at a local hockey team and my son and I went to meet a Storm Trooper – that did NOT go well. Curious how Galaxy’s Edge will play out with the Littles this fall.
So, find a local sports team and check their promotional schedule – look for any Disney or Star Wars nights – I bet them have them. They are a huge marketing win.
The character test? A decent success.
My kids love to eat. They have fantastic palates, and love fresh food – that’s what happens when you grow up on a farm.
I’ve had an ongoing battle with the folks at Disney about the kids’ menu rule in the Disney Dining Plans. This is a post I’ll dig more into soon. But the gist of the story is; we aren’t using the Disney Dining Plan.
We want our kids to enjoy food – all flavors, all styles, all shapes! I want them to have a sense of things they can be looking forward to enjoying. That’s where YouTube comes in and my hero – AJ of the Disney Food Blog. You have to read this recent People Magazine profile on AJ!
We’ve watched videos on snacks. Videos on character meals. Videos for the food at each park.
Each time we’re done watching a video I turn to my kids and ask them which of the foods they’re most excited to try out. They usually have a hard time picking just one! Some of the highlights from the Littles – Totchos at Hollywood Studios, Fresh Fruit (the baby can’t get enough) and my middle daughter is determined to chomp into a giant turkey leg.
The kids all agree on the Totchos (it’s why it’s on my Top 10 list of snacks we’re going to hunt down) and my wife even made Totchos for us recently.
Let the kids know there are more options than chicken nuggets and mac & cheese at the parks. Feed them like people!
The food test? Working great, so far.
Disney has a certain magic about it – we can all agree. A lot of places do the same ‘kind’ of things that Disney does, but NO ONE does it like Disney does. You may like your Minions, but give me Woody & Buzz any day.
How do we introduce the Littles to this kind of Magic? The friendly people in costumes at the baseball game were a nice taste – but it wasn’t truly Disney.
So, we found Disney local to us – how? Disney On Ice!
For Christmas, we took the Littles to go see Disney on Ice. They dressed up in their Disney best and off we went.
This edition of Disney On Ice featured 4 acts – Toy Story – they were life-sized and amazing!
And they sailed through a Little Mermaid section too. (So quick I didn’t even get pics.)
Cars – yeah they DROVE on ICE!! WHAT!?!
and Frozen – it SNOWED in the arena.
It was great. Mickey, Minnie and their pals were there, too – of course.
Some parts scared the kids (damn you Lotso!), but overall, it was a wonderful experience. A true introduction to the Magic.
Magic Test? Big Success.
BONUS TEST FROM DISNEY ON ICE – We got the kids to agree that all the merchandise looked like ‘garbage’ that would break when they got it home. YAY!
The Littles love Frozen, so they know they’re excited for the Frozen ride. They loved flying in circles in a bi-plane ride at Edaville Theme Park and are excited to know that the Magic Carpets, Astro Orbiter, Triceratops Spin and of course, Dumbo all resemble this ride.
It was suggested to me, to show the Littles full ride-thrus of some rides at Disney World, via YouTube.
The first they wanted to see was what they knew was Dad’s favorite ride (I went on it 5-times in a row at Disneyland and my wife and I enjoyed it 4 times on our Honeymoon at Disney World) – Pirates of the Caribbean.
So, we cued up the ride-thru.
No good. Not at all. The small drops elicited screams from the people on the ride on the video. Yikes. The video showed how dark it really is in there. Yikes. And oh yeah – they don’t like pirates! They literally ran out of the room.
This one blew up in my face. We shan’t be going on Pirates on this trip.
I decided it’s best to have them be surprised and get a tiny bit scared on a ride they’re already on (I won’t choose Haunted Mansion or Tower of Terror!) than have them watch these videos.
I know that Marshmallow will give them a jump on the Frozen ride, but I don’t want them to miss the whole thing cause they saw that part on a video.
(Same for Ursula in Little Mermaid or the dark tunnel on the Jungle Cruise.)
Ride test? Eh, talking them through things seems to work better for my Littles than the ride-thru videos do. Best to leave some things to the in-person experience.
There’s lots more to prep the Littles for, and I’ll talk more about it as the count-down continues to our visit to Walt Disney World.
What tricks and tips do you have for prepping your Littles for the voyage? Share your thoughts below, I’d love to see them.
Remember to enjoy the DADventure. And, as always, keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times.