One sometimes overlooked feature of the Disney World FastPass+ system is that members of a party do not all have to make the same FP+ selections. That’s great news for families with children of different ages or different interests.
Consider, for example, a hypothetical family of four with Mom, Dad, 10 year old sister, and four year old brother. Sis is a thrill ride enthusiast. Little bro is a few millimeters too short for some of the big rides. What do they do?
Your first thought may be “Rider Swap option” which allows families with small children to have each parent ride in relatively quick sequence, while the other hangs back and minds the youngster. The Rider Swap is indeed a terrific choice for families with infants. Real baby babies won’t much care what they’re doing as long as they’re fed, dry, and in the company of a loving caregiver. On the other hand, a sturdy, verbal, walking/running/climbing child, who just happens to be short, is going to want some more oomph in his vacation. He needs something to DO. Waiting around while Mom and Dad go on a visually enticing ride like Big Thunder Mountain with big sister, twice!, is no self-respecting preschooler’s idea of a good time.
An ideal solution would be for the family split up for a few activities, using their time and FastPass+ selections to ensure that each faction has engaging entertainment that doesn’t detract from the family’s experience as a whole. This means that the alternatives should be:
- Physically Near Each Other, whenever possible. This ensures that the family won’t spend more time walking to attractions than enjoying the attractions themselves.
- Rank Low on the “Universal Appeal” Factor. Some attractions (Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin or Kilimanjaro Safari, for example) hold near equal appeal for all ages. Try to avoid these as substitutions because these are the attractions the family should enjoy together.
- Approximate actual fun for the little kid. “Watching parent shop” is not typically fun for a preschooler.
Here are some good big kid / little kid attraction pairings to satisfy both ends of the spectrum.
AT THE MAGIC KINGDOM
- Big Kid Ride: SPACE MOUNTAIN. Little Kid Alternative: TOMORROWLAND SPEEDWAY. Here’s why: The Speedway has lots of appeal for small kids who will like the illusion that they’re really driving. (Put the child in the “driver’s seat,” while the adult controls the foot pedal.) Explain to the big kid that you’re not actually driving.
- Big Kid Ride: BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN RAILROAD. Little Kid Alternative: TOM SAWYER ISLAND. Here’s why: The Island doesn’t have a lot of pizzazz for a jaded older child, but this is one of the only places in the Magic Kingdom where a young kid can run around with few restrictions.
- Big Kid Ride: SPLASH MOUNTAIN. Little Kid Alternative: WALT DISNEY RAILROAD (boarding at Frontierland). Here’s why: A big kid may not get the appeal of riding in a big circle, but younger children may be amused by games like “find the deer” or “count the number of whistles.”
- Big Kid Ride: SEVEN DWARFS MINE TRAIN. Little Kid Alternative: UNDER THE SEA – JOURNEY OF THE LITTLE MERMAID. Here’s why: Even the Ursula in this ride is quite tame. There is little to frighten a tender soul, and little to engage an adventurous one.
- Big Kid Ride: STITCH’S GREAT ESCAPE. Little Kid Alternative: PRINCE CHARMING’S REGAL CAROUSEL. Here’s why: Frankly, no one should be ditching their family to experience the Stitch attraction, but if it must be done, send the littles to the lovely and peaceful carousel.
- Big Kid Ride: SOARIN’. Little Kid Alternative: THE SEAS WITH NEMO AND FRIENDS. Here’s why: Big kids will be fine viewing the Living Seas aquarium without any bells and whistles, but the cartoon enhancements in the ride may entice younger kids to be more interested. JOURNEY INTO IMAGINATION is another decent nearby alternative, but the darkness and loud noise in this attraction may upset the most sensitive youngsters.
- Big Kid Ride: TEST TRACK. Little Kid Alternative: The interactive area at the TEST TRACK exit. Here’s why: The Test Track exit zone features auto displays and several interactive video-game-like exhibits where kids can steer cars like in a giant video game. If your big kid has never seen an iPad or an XBox, he might be sad about skipping this area, otherwise he’ll be happy to leave this for the younger sibling.
- Big Kid Ride: MISSION SPACE. Little Kid Alternative: GRAN FIESTA TOUR, Mexico pavilion. Here’s why: The Gran Fiesta Tour is the sad, tired cousin of It’s A Small World, teens can easily take a pass. But you can make this fun for a little kid by making game of spotting all of Donald Duck’s appearances.
- Big Kid Ride: SUM OF ALL THRILLS. Little Kid Alternative: Anything else in Innoventions. Here’s why: Nothing else has a height requirement and there are engaging minor activities throughout, but perhaps the most appealing thing here is the open carpeted areas where a child can move around a bit.
AT ANIMAL KINGDOM
- Big Kid Ride: DINOSAUR. Little Kid Alternative: THE BONEYARD. Here’s why: It’s a great place for young kids to run/climb.
- Big Kid Ride: PRIMEVAL WHIRL. Little Kid Alternative: TRICERATOPS SPIN. Here’s why: “Dino Dumbo” is perfect for preschoolers and a snooze for tweens.
- Big Kid Ride: KALI RIVER RAPIDS. Little Kid Alternative: AFFECTION SECTION at CONSERVATION STATION. Here’s why: Hugging goats is all kinds of awesome when you’re in preschool.
- Big Kid Ride: EXPEDITION EVEREST. Little Kid Alternative: WILDERNESS EXPLORERS. Here’s why: Little kids get to feel big when they earn stickers for finding animals.
AT DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
- Big Kid Ride: ROCK N’ ROLLER COASTER. Little Kid Alternative: DISNEY JUNIOR LIVE ON STAGE. Here’s why: The “Disney Junior” part of the name says it all.
- Big Kid Ride: TOWER OF TERROR. Little Kid Alternative: FOR THE FIRST TIME IN FOREVER FROZEN SINGALONG. Here’s why: Young kids just won’t let it go.
- Big Kid Ride: STAR TOURS. Little Kid Alternative: MUPPET*VISION 3D. Here’s why: Little kids probably won’t understand much of this, but there are singing animals and limited options at DHS.
Also bear in mind that character greetings are plentiful throughout all the parks. If the younger child has a favorite character that does not interest the older child, then character greetings are terrific alternative activity.
What have been your experiences splitting up older and younger kids at Walt Disney World. What are your favorite alternative attractions? Let us know in the comments below.