When the Magic is Too Much – Preparing Kids for Disney
Planning a family Disney vacation is full of anticipation and excitement. You save money and plan meticulously for months to have that perfect, magical experience. However, it’s often underestimated how quickly things can go from exciting to scary for the youngest Disney guests. Navigating four theme parks with a little one can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you don’t anticipate what may trigger a reaction. Here we look at ways of preparing kids for Disney vacations.
I’ve seen kiddos get freaked out by 3 main things:
- Mickey and characters (they’re bigger than you think!),
- Fireworks (sure they’re pretty, but man are they loud!), and
There are a few things that you can do in advance to prepare your youngster for the magical world of excitement that awaits!
Meeting Disney Friends:
Kids see Mickey, Minnie, and all of their favorite characters in movies and on TV, but it really doesn’t prepare them for how large they are in real life. One way to help prepare young kids to these large friends is to expose them to some local “life size” characters like at Chuck E. Cheese or mascots at any local sporting event. This is a great test run to see how a youngster can handle these larger than life characters. It’s also a way to help them sort through any anxiety they might have, so when they meet Mickey it won’t be so overwhelming. If they already love Chuck E. Cheese, then you can cross this concern off your list!
Another option, if mascots aren’t easily accessible, would be to watch YouTube videos of other family’s Disney vacations. You can easily search “meeting Disney characters” and get a slew of videos to watch to prepare your child for how big Mickey can be compared to the kids meeting him. You can also request for the Disney Parks to send you a free vacation planning DVD. This is another way to introduce your younger family members to the size of character, plus, it’s a DVD they can keep and watch over and over again!
The availability of characters is always changing based on new movie releases and a plethora of other factors. With the availability of the My Disney Experience App, it makes it even easier to see which characters will be appearing in each parks and the times they’ll be greeting guests. Some of the more popular characters even have FastPass+ reservation options! Don’t see the character you’re dying to meet? You can always pick a Times Guide at your Disney resort or the park to see if there have been any additions, or speak with a cast member and request that they call the Character Hotline to see if that character will be available in Walt Disney World during your visit.
Enjoying Disney Fireworks:
Preparing for fireworks is a bit easier. You probably already know by now if your child is sensitive to loud noises or is a firework fan or not. Both Magic Kingdom and Epcot have nightly firework displays that are pretty easy to plan around. If you’re in Epcot, you can easily avoid fireworks (if necessary) by staying the in Future World section, near the front entrance of Epcot, this is far enough away to diffuse most of the noise.
In the Magic Kingdom, however, there is no escape from the noise, so you may want to have a pair of earmuffs or headphones handy. These can be helpful to muffle the noise of the fireworks without having the leave the magic of the parks. If you’d like to enjoy the Magic Kingdom fireworks without the loud, explosive booms, try taking the ferry across the bay to the Transportation and Ticketing Center or to the beach at the Polynesian Village Resort. Both locations pipe in the music for Wishes and have a great view.
If your child is a fan of exploding thrills – then you may actually want to plan a head to get good seats for these shows. In my opinion, there’s really not a bad view of the Magic Kingdom fireworks if you keep to Main Street. My personal favorite is to jaunt up to the second level of the Main Street Train Station. The benches provide a great seat with an elevated view – plus, a quick escape out the gates once the fireworks are over and the crowds start to herd toward the exits. Epcot has some amazing venues all around the World Showcase – people start scoping out seats as early as an hour in advance! I like the view from Mexico, England and the Japan pavilions. Even better, pre-plan your dinner reservation for a restaurant on the lagoon and watch fireworks from your table!
Disney’s Hollywood Studios also has a regular nighttime show that features some fireworks, Fantasmic. For little ones afraid of loud noises, this show is also easily avoided. Since it’s held in the back of the park, behind Tower of Terror, you and your little ones can still enjoy the rest of the park during the show with minimal noise interference. For brave tykes who want to see Mickey in action in Fastasmic, I still recommend that you read up on the show and perhaps watch a YouTube video of it, first. This show features Mickey battling some of the great villains from Disney’s classic movies, but even with it’s happy ending, it could be really scary for the active imaginations of little ones.
Disney Thrill Rides:
Attractions can be some of the trickiest things to navigate with kiddos. An attraction that may seem pretty mellow to adults can really intimidate a kid. One thing that is universal is the Disney dark ride concept. This type of attraction takes place in the dark, escorting the guest through a variety of scenes and images to tell a famous Disney story. Pirates of the Caribbean – yep, a classic Disney dark ride! I bet you can’t wait to take your kiddo on it! But before you race to introduce your little buccaneer to those scandalous swashbucklers in the dark, I suggest you whet their appetite on some “mellower” options. Rides in Fantasyland like Peter Pan’s Flight or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh are great non-intimidating dark rides. Though these don’t have any scary scenes or big drops, they can still be a little daunting for a kiddo afraid of the dark. Try out one of these first, then move him up to bigger challenges, like Pirates of the Caribbean and Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin.
The last “big ones” in terms of dark rides are: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom, Dinosaur in Animal Kingdom, Tower of Terror and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster in Hollywood Studios. Though some of these attractions may not be options for youngsters due to the height restrictions, taller kiddos may still be intimidated by the speed or overall theme of the attraction. Splash Mountain is easy-going until that 50 foot drop! Let your youngster watch a few logs take the plunge and see if they want to give it try. Haunted Mansion may be filled with grim, grinning ghosts, but it’s dark and kinda creepy, your child may not be so eager to meet these friendly ghouls. Space Mountain is the most extreme in Magic Kingdom; it’s fast, dark, loud and full of laser images.
Even some rides in broad daylight may be a little intimidating. Before jumping in line for Big Thunder Mountain, try your child out on the Goofy’s Barnstormer in New Fantasyland. This is another situation where watching YouTube videos with your tot and gauging their reaction can help determine if a ride is too scary.
Prepare your little one for some rides that might seem scary. It’s Tough to be a Bug, in Disney Animal Kingdom, is fun 3-D attraction that introduces you to the amazing world of bugs. I’ve seen toddlers and adults alike freaked out by this show. If you or your child aren’t fans of beetles, spiders, or other creepy-crawlies, this might be a good attraction to avoid.
You know your child best, but start off slow and take a few spins on Peter Pan’s Flight before tackling Space Mountain. Be sure to grab the latest Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World to read up on all of the attractions, characters, fireworks and other tips to make sure you and your family are well prepared for the magic that a Disney vacation offers. Walt Disney World is full of magic which sometimes needs to be sipped and savored before it can be devoured.
What are some tricks that have worked for you? Do you have other tips that can help ease kids into the magic? Share your thoughts and comments below!
18 thoughts on “When the Magic is Too Much – Preparing Kids for Disney”
My kids love most all the rides and are afraid of very little. But “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” still freaks them out a bit even now, at 9 and 11.
The first time we took our kids, they were 8 and 6. They are pretty laid back guys, but It’s Tough to be a Bug had them both sobbing. They HATED it.
The soft foam earplugs you can buy also work well to help muffle the noise of the fireworks.
Great idea, Betsy! Those soft foam earplugs adjust for any ear-size and are easily stowed in a pocket, purse or diaper bag!
My kiddos are 5 and 7. We watched lots of youtube videos prior to our last trip to prep them, and they handled Splash and Big Thunder just fine. But Dinosaur and Bugs Life did them in…..we found that if we promised to cover their ears when they got scared, and they closed their eyes, they were ok until we could get out of whatever attraction we were in. The kids wanted to try Dinosaur but once you’re on there is no getting out! They never made it past the opening room scene at Haunted Mansion this time–they wanted out. But they loved it last time, 2 years ago! There is just no predicting how the kids will react. I think you have to just plan on being flexible 🙂
My youngest made it through Haunted Mansion once at age 6 (and was freaked out the whole way through) and wouldn’t make it past the stretching room at age 7. It’s incredible how much more immersive some of these can be for kids who are otherwise not that intimidated by things like (lightly) scary movies. Waiting until they’re ready is a good idea so that you don’t build up a traumatic memory that keeps them from trying when they’re older.
When we took my 6 year old for the first time he had (and still has) sensory issues. He is frightened of things (loud noises/dark/fast) very very easily. Before we went we watched YouTube POV (point of view) videos so he had a really good idea of what to expect when we got there. We let him make the choices then of whether he was ready for them or not. Also – cast members are great. He went on Imagination and Finding Nemo both of which scared him (fireworks at end of imagination and the angler fish in Nemo) so he was scared of Spaceship Earth. The Cast Members so us trying to coax him on and let him have a flashlight!!! It wasn’t enough to shine on anything and distract the ride but made him feel better. It was really nice of them.
Great point, Stephanie! Cast members at the attractions have probably seen it all when it comes to kid’s reactions. If you’re not sure your tots can handle an attraction, chatting with a cast member is always a good options to try! I also agree that with the prevalence of Walt Disney World vacation videos on YouTube, you can see and experience pretty much everything (those the little screen limits the magic). I highly recommend sitting and enjoying these videos it prepares your family for some attractions and helps builds the excitement of your vacation!
We have an autistic 9 year old daughter who is terrified of noise. She becomes highly agitated at the sound of fireworks. However, we discoverd that a pair of ear phones and a seat in Gaston’s is enough to calm her down. She’ll watch the fireworks from the windows without freaking out over the noise. Additionally, your observation about Pirates is dead on. A few years ago, we were at the park with our two oldest (6 and 3 at the time). We took them on Pirates for the first time and were shocked to discover their terror at the sound of cannons firing. Thanks for summarizing this information.
You are spot on with how scary Its Tough to Be a Bug and the dark rides can be! When my daughter was 3, Its Tough to be a Bug terrified her and after doing that attraction she refused to go on any other dark rides. On her next trip we brought a small flashlight for her to carry and turn on as she needed it – she didn’t use it much but it provided a lot of comfort and helped her be comfortable enough to do dark rides again (but she still refuses to do Its Tough to be a Bug at 9) 🙂
Another thing to keep in mind with kids is how much exertion there is in criss-crossing a park a couple times. If they’re not still in strollers, don’t be surprised if your kid is beat by 11am, so set your pace and touring plan routes to be as light on walking as you’re able unless they’re used to walking multiple miles a day.
Hi Matt, your wisdom is so true. I’ve been an audience to many parents trying to coax their kids onto the Haunted Mansion. Even though these ghouls are all in good fun, it can still be really scary to kids with active imaginations!
I’ve also heard stories from parents who convinced their child to ride an attraction they weren’t ready for in the “trust me, you’ll love it” way, and ended up with a terrified child who didn’t trust them for the rest of the trip. Pick your battles, parents, Child Swap can be your best friend in these scenarios!
Great article to help parents and grandparents prepare. One suggestion is to have another adult in your party get ahead to snap a photo as they are walking up to the character holding someone’s hand. This is the only way I got character shots on one trip because by the time they got next to Buzz or Mickey they had a grumpy face. I also love the old 90s video ( now on DVD). It’s a small world. sing a Long fun. They show the kids the characters along with teaching them songs to sing while waiting in line.
There was no greater way for me to have prepaired my kids than to let them watch each attraction on youtube first at home. The first time we went my girls (3 & 5 at the time) watched all the ones I was concerned about, and the had no problem with snow whites scary adventure, pirates of the carribean, or haunted mansion. But what I WASN’T prepared for was them being afraid of every attraction that we HADN’T watched on youtube. Voyage of the little Mermaid, Monsters Inc laugh floor and others had them afraid simply because they didn’t know what was coming. Little ones take huge comfort in knowing what to expect. Now my youngest is 4, and we will be watching everything we plan on doing before we go in the spring!
Went with my daughter aged 4, again at 5 and soon to go aged 6. Watched many Youtube videos which helped a lot. But the unexpected thing that worried her were the height restrictions – big height restriction = scary ride, and vice versa. So if she was only just tall enough to ride she refused point blank, but if she was easily tall enough she marched straight on even without knowing much about the ride. As she is pretty tall (52in currently) it gave her enormous confidence to go on all the big rides, much to my amazement. Result – favourite ride aged 4 = Small World, aged 5 = Tower of Terror!
She would also talk to other children of a similar size/age in queues (she’s the extrovert of the family), and ask them what they had enjoyed and what was scary. These opinions were always far more helpful than anything an adult could say 🙂
I don’t see mention of dark theaters. My nephew and DD both had issues waiting in dark queues (Nemo) or waiting those few moments when they dim the lights before a show starts (Mermaid in HS). The flashlight idea might be a lifesaver. Or have your phone handy with a quiet drawing app or something similar. Oh, and then there’s when there is sound in the dark. That put them over the edge.
We also realized very quickly that all indoor rides are WAY louder with a small child than you remember as an adult. Why oh why must everything be SO loud.? I will be keeping earplugs in my purse for DD.
Finally, a ride may sound appealing, but then they see a ride vehicle (Soarin) and flip out. It’s best to just scrap it rather than getting stuck on the ride with a tormented kid.
For all of these reasons, we’ve learned to start with the outdoor rides like Dumbo where they can see what they’re getting into before graduating to the indoor attractions. Then we start with things like Small World and move to darker and longer rides. Even standing in a longer outdoor queue (TSMM in DCA, Jungle Cruise) can help ease into the theming and atmosphere of a ride.
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I think what’s embarrassing is the fact that I, someone a couple years shy of 18, am still deathly afraid of sudden loud noises such as the fireworks, which will trigger a panic attack. Last year when my parents and I went to Disney World, we had to avoid Magic Kingdom completely because of the daytime fireworks (that happen 6 times a day!!). If one day in the future I happen to go back, is there any way of navigating through Magic Kingdom without having to always be in fear of that Royal Friendship Faire show?