Disney World Play Areas for Toddlers

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Kids need time for free play, even on a Disney vacation, just as surely as parents need to sit down and relax. Disney World play areas are elaborate and fun, but it’s hard to relax when children have so much room to roam–not to mention they’re usually hot, sweaty places. Animal Kingdom’s offering, The Boneyard? Might as well be in the actual desert digging up real dinosaur bones. Disney’s Hollywood Studios‘ play area, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure? Blades of grass really don’t provide much shade, even when you’re ant-sized. And the sprawling size of these areas means sitting down and relaxing is out of the question when your little explorer is on the go.

The Seas Observation Area - Natalie Reinert
The dimly lit observation area at The Seas pavilion is an ideal place to relax, while the fish do the entertaining.

I brought up a toddler with Walt Disney World as our backyard, and finding spots for him to play at the parks and resorts was much more fun than sitting at the tiny playground at our apartment complex. These are a few of our favorite places that let a kid shake off the structure of a theme park day, while the parents can put up their feet and relax for a few minutes.

EpcotThe Seas With Nemo and Friends. Although this pavilion opens with an dark ride attraction, its massive saltwater aquariums can be enjoyed at a slower pace–or no pace at all. Toddlers tend to love the circular observation area which juts into the main tank, and it’s often sparsely populated. This means you can settle down for a while and enjoy the dim light and air conditioning, while the little one makes fish faces through the glass. Don’t forget that you can enter The Seas through the merchandise location, bypassing the ride–just bear left as you approach the pavilion, and go through the sliding glass doors. This makes it an even more enticing attraction when all you want to do is relax for a little while without standing in another queue.

Disney’s BoardWalk Inn – the lawn. Just behind the hotel stairway down to the Boardwalk entertainment area, a wide grassy lawn with inviting benches beckons tired parents with revved-up kids. Sit back with ice cream or a refreshing drink from Seashore Sweets and let your toddler run on the grass without worrying about little knees scraped by the sidewalk. This is a great spot to make new friends–my son has joined pick-up football games, played along with girls practicing their gymnastics, and just plain run around like a crazy person while we adults relax on a park bench.

Casey Jr. Splash 'n Soak Station - Disney Press Photo
Water play areas such as this one n Fantasyland can absorb children for hours. Bring a change of clothes! Photo: Disney

Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom – water play areas. At each of these parks, you’ll find splash zones with fountains and plenty of opportunities to get soaking wet. Water play areas are pretty much irresistible for little kids, and usually an unwelcome surprise for parents who didn’t expect them. When our son was little, I always threw water shoes and a change of clothes into my park bag. Sometimes, an evening visit to Epcot consisted of dinner, Spaceship Earth, and a half hour kicking back on a bench while Calvin played in the water play area along the walkway to World Showcase. Plenty of fun for one night, right?

Magic Kingdom – the Dumbo waiting area. I’ll always miss the short-lived Winnie-the-Pooh playground, (replaced by Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) but this works as well. At the Dumbo the Flying Elephant attraction in Fantasyland, you can pick up a pager that signals when it’s your turn to queue up for the next elephant, and spend the waiting time in an air-conditioned circus tent, complete with an elaborate circus-themed play area for children. What happens if you just ignore your buzzer and let the kids keep on playing while you soak up some cool air? Probably nothing but a delayed elephant ride, and the free-play time is priceless–for everyone involved.

Train at Epcot - Natalie Reinert
No, it’s not baby jail – he has trains to watch! The model railroad in World Showcase fascinates small train fans. Note the little red caboose in the background.

Epcot – Germany’s model railroad. “The Romantic Road,” the sign calls it, and it’s love at first sight for tiny train fanatics. The model railroad, located just south of the Germany pavilion in World Showcase, is an elaborate set-up that climbs up a terraced hillside, with several pathways criss-crossing the landscape. Although the railroad area lacks a good place to sit, a parent with a train-crazy toddler can lean on the railing, sip a German beer, and let the trains work their magic. My son’s devotion to the train was such that we actually had to structure our walks around World Showcase to avoid it if we had actual plans for the day–he would happily spend hours running back and forth, watching the little trains make their way through towns, tunnels, and forests.

Those are a few of my favorite spots to give kids non-structured playtime. How about yours? Let us know in the comments!

Natalie Reinert

One of those Florida locals who can usually tell you if it's going to rain by the sun angle and the feel of the air, I'm an avid weather fan and a certified weather spotter for the National Weather Service's SkyWarn program. I tweet about Central Florida weather at @WeatheratWDW. As I work for Walt Disney World, please note all of my views are my own, and do not represent the views of The Walt Disney Company.

13 thoughts on “Disney World Play Areas for Toddlers

  • September 10, 2014 at 8:42 am

    We love the Boneyard at AK despite the need to follow our daughter around!

  • September 10, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Some of our favorites on our recent trip were the little play home in Innoventions West (next to the fire truck – also fun!), the sandbox at the Boneyard and the bizarre ‘tent’ full of chairs at the back of Storybook Circus. All of these areas were either completely or almost empty during our visits and gave me a chance to relax while the little fella used up some energy!

  • September 10, 2014 at 10:04 am

    Good suggestions Melanie! That Storybook Circus tent set-up seems to change too frequently for me to keep up with it!

    Frank, I agree the Boneyard is great, and so is Honey I Shrunk the Kids.. but sometimes I just gotta sit down and kids don’t always agree. 😉

  • September 10, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Thank you for a clever, quite useful article! Being able to sit for a few minutes and see our children and know they’re safe makes the whole family’s vacation go so smoothly.

  • September 10, 2014 at 10:36 am

    The maze in the UK / Epcot is a lot of fun for kids and there are benches for the parents to relax. Tom Sawyer Island is another great spot for the kids to run around.

  • September 10, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    The play area at the end of the Imagination ride, especially the music-playing floor, was a big hit with our toddler boys. The Dumbo waiting area continues to be a favorite for our now 4- and 6-year-olds. We’ve gone there several times without going on the ride at all.

  • September 10, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    I have to second the recommendation for the music-floor at the end of Imagination. My 19 month old and his 3 year old cousin had a blast there for well over 15 minutes.

    • September 11, 2014 at 9:20 am

      I can’t believe I forgot about this spot! I have spent hours in the Imagination pavilion, stomping on the music floor! My only problem with it is there’s no place for resting sore feet while the kiddo runs around like a crazy person – you just have to lean on that railing. Good call though! Go there!

  • September 10, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    My toddlers loved the monsters inc and cars playgrounds they set up for the flower and garden festival at Epcot. I wish these playgrounds were there all year round.

    • September 11, 2014 at 9:23 am

      World Showcase with a few grassy play areas and tables for adults to sit at would be an excellent place.

  • September 10, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    I’m not sure if it’s still there, but there was a small play structure under the tunnel near Splash Mountain. My daughter played there when she was 2 and we were waiting for the older ones to ride Big Thunder. My issue is that many parents just let their kids play and don’t really supervise. My daughter was getting pushed and shoved by some older kids.

    • September 11, 2014 at 9:22 am

      That’s true. This play area under the train bridge is good for kids too small for Splash Mountain – notice its height requirement is the opposite of Splash’s – but there is no supervision or Cast Members down there so you have to be self-policing. Not always easy.

  • September 10, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    One thing I wasn’t expecting at HS Honey-I-STK play ground was that the tunnels lead the children out to a completely different section of the playground. Almost gave me a heart attack as I waited and waited for my toddler to resurface, when my husband pointed across the playground and said, “oh, there he is…’. During flower and garden at epcot, my kids always enjoy the themed playgrounds they have sprinkled around.

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