I held up my 3-year-old son to take in one last scene of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park as our boat drifted off its coast, saturated by an orange Florida sunset. As we sailed past Walt Disney World's resorts and tropical skyline, the crystalline image of Cinderella's Castle faded into a distant, colorful glow.
Since our visit to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park, my son Joe pleads daily to browse through our Walt Disney World photos and screeches to a halt in front of any willing audience to sing a baritone version of “It’s a Small World.”
When I ask what Joe’s favorite ride was at Magic Kingdom Park, one day he’ll say, “Pirates!” The next day he’ll say Dumbo. And he still randomly recalls scenes from his favorite rides such as the Haunted Mansion.
“Remember how that ghost was on top of our car at the end?”
At just three years old, Joe is already an ardent adventurer. Before entering the gates of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park, he could count on every finger with how many times he’s been on a plane or traveled from home. But the truth is, every day is an adventure in the life of Joe. Like all young children, he finds windows of entertainment anywhere. He can throw rocks in the water all afternoon. He can play with his cars for hours, leaning in until his nose grazes the wheels, squinting in examination as he cautiously rolls them back and forth. Yesterday, he squealed in delight running after discovering his evening shadow.
It makes me question, “When did this wonder ever leave us adults?” Luckily, this childhood wonder that we’ve left far behind is ignited again at Walt Disney World. We have just as much fun as our children.
A Walt Disney World vacation is one of the best family bonding experiences. The magic of your children’s favorite characters coming to life and the whirl of attractions you experience together is unforgettable. After a Walt Disney World visit, any of your preconceived doubts about this perfect vacation vanish. Maybe you wondered what would happen after your children tasted a little of the magic - would they go back to the simple stuff? Yes they do - immediately and more refreshed and happy! The magic is just part of their lives forever. And most importantly, they don’t forget.
Perhaps the biggest lure for us at Magic Kingdom Park was the abundance of toddler and preschool-friendly rides. I found out quickly that Joe preferred the slow-gliding cart or boat rides that move through animated scenic attractions. He enjoyed soaking in the alluring view without the stimulation of bumping, driving or soaring. Every child is different – your child may prefer the opposite. You too will figure out what rides child enjoys most early on in your park visit and you can plan your subsequent rides accordingly. Below are five of our favorite toddler and preschool-friendly rides we experienced at Magic Kingdom Park.
Where: Magic Kingdom Park’s Fantasyland
Age Interest: All Ages
Thrill Level: Slow Ride
Time: 10 Minutes
We burst into Magic Kingdom Park with It’s a Small World as our first choice ride. When visiting Disneyland as a child, “It’s a Small World” is the ride that stuck with me. Perhaps it was the universal theme of harmony combined with the innocent, catchy song sung by the child dolls around the world. I was eager for Joe to set sail on our world travel.
As we began our journey through the vibrant glow of singing dolls amidst rolling hills, castles, jungles, and oceans, Joe’s jaw dropped and his eyes lit up. The song seamlessly transitioned as we were transported through seven continents all aglow with enchanting dolls dressed in their culture’s vibrant attire and singing and dancing in unison to “It’s a Small World.” This is one of those rides you can go on back-to-back and visit multiple times during your park visit, finding fresh insights and allure each time.
Where: Magic Kingdom Park’s Adventureland
Thrill Level: Slow Rides
On our first day in Florida after traveling from our home in Colorado, Joe peered out our moving car at the lush green tropical landscape and said, “Momma, we’re in the jungle!”
“Yes,” I said. “Just like the Lion Guard.” (A Disney show he watches almost daily).
Fast-forward one day later and we’re in the real jungle! The Jungle Cruise boat ride sprawls through an exact re-creation of South America’s Amazon, The African Congo, The Mekong River and The Nile River all while we riders ogle at playful elephants and native tribes, and tunnel through dark caves of gold statutes. Through the dense tropical forests, roaring tigers, lions, swimming hippos, and creeping crocodiles sprouted around our boat as we traveled through the jeweled waters and rushing waterfalls amidst massive statutes.
The boat drivers are full of comedic stories, interlacing a castaway tale with the beauty of the jungles. This was one of my favorite rides. It’s the most serene spot in the Magic Kingdom.
Thrill Level: Slow Rides, Small Drops
Time: 9 Minutes
The renowned Pirates of The Caribbean Ride is everything a child expects it to be: a thrilling, dark world of pirate treasure, pirate ships, and sly pirates. You feel like an intruder as pirates sing and celebrate around you.
Once you step aboard the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, you’re no longer at Walt Disney World. This ride transports you into a foreign, long-forgotten world of unruly pirates singing, pirates dancing, pirates hiding and pirates feasting.
My favorite part of the ride was after a light waterfall glide erupted us into a dark, turquoise lagoon of lawless lurking, locked up and on-the-run pirates. We then slowly spiraled around Captain Hook’s massive pirate ship as he called out to us, spotted Captain Jack Sparrow hiding amidst angry pirates and then later spotted him dining in a cave amassed with gold trinkets and treasures.
Where: Magic Kingdom Park’s Liberty Square
Thrill Level: Dark, Slow Rides
A flood of Magic Kingdom visitors will list the Haunted Mansion on their Fast Pass and return to the ride again the same day because it’s that good. Obviously, there’s the chance some small children might be unsettled at this dark, alluring mansion ride, but 3-year-old Joe was fascinated!
The ride unfolds as a scary movie, with a suspenseful buildup. At the beginning of your journey, you huddle with a small crowd for a few minutes locked inside a room in in mansion’s entryway as a spooky voice narrates your awaited journey. Once in your cart, you glide around the shadowy corners of the mansion, spotting just glimpses of eerie figures and shadows until they emerge in full-ghost form at the end feasting around a large banquet hall table and dancing. Then you see masses of ghosts flying, and even witness one riding on top of your car as you coast by a mirror. Just like that scary movie, you zoom to your escape in your buggy cart through the mansion’s dark chambers, finally emerging into daylight. Only this time, you’ll be left wanting to reenter!
Where: Magic Kingdom Park’s Tomorrowland
Height: 32 inches or taller
Thrill Level: Accelerates at 7 miles per hour
Race track length: .4 miles
I think this ride would be the most fun with friends or family racing next to you in another car. Otherwise, it’s completely exhilarating just for your child to be driving a mini car on a race track! The speed is slow enough that your child won’t get overwhelmed, but the driving does take a little precision to not zigzag. I might recommend this for children slightly older than Joe. Joe loved the ride, even though he did ask me a few times to take the wheel because he couldn’t keep it straight the whole time. Fortunately, a guide rail is underneath the cars and the cars have bumpers so you can never get off course.
Joe is in love with Disney’s Cars movies and Lightning McQueen so this was a glimpse into a moment where he really was a race car like his favorite characters, pressing on a real gas pedal and steering his way to victory as announcers in the background cheered him to the finish line.
Where: Walt Disney World Resort, Magic Kingdom Park
Time: 12 minutes
Time: 3 p.m.
Where: Magic Kingdom Park Age Interest: All Ages Time: 12 Minutes The Festival of Fantasy Parade is at the ideal time (scheduled late afternoon) just when you need a break from your attractions. The parade is a perfect dose of fantasy at the perfect length of time - only 12 minutes long - and includes all of your children’s favorite Disney characters on floats and dancing through the street: Elsa and Anna, Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, Ariel, Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Daisy and so much more!
Joe was probably the most fascinated by an enormous swaggering fire-breathing dragon, but his excitement swelled as he screeched, “Mickey! Minnie!” and jumped up and down, waving to his favorite characters who waved back to him from their hot air balloon.
I loved the parade’s upbeat music and dancing. It’s everything that I envision of Walt Disney World: an uplifted place of fantasy and wonder where characters come to life.
Ah, the indoor shows! So cool and relaxing with little to no wait times! Walt Disney World must have done some precise research on child attention levels because these shows were the perfect length of time. During every show, Joe was intrigued, laughing and engaged. Below are three of our favorite indoor shows we saw.
Where: Magic Kingdom Park’s Frontierland
Height: Any Height
Time: 16 Minutes
Soon after we sunk into the dim cabin of Grizzly Hall, hillbilly bears filled the five stages with swanky, silly country music that had us and the entire audience clapping with them.
Joe was especially intrigued by three talking animal heads mounted to the wall. I would often turn my gaze to him and he would still be fixated on that moose, buffalo, and deer on the wall who recited jokes back to the audience.
The singing bear characters were as finely tuned as their songs. The depressed bear wallowed in a sad piano song, the disheveled bear croaked a tune with another layer of hillbilly twang, the sweet lady bear charmed us from her swing above and then every stage lit up, filled with the entire cast of bears who sang in unison with their feet stomping to their fiddles and harmonicas.
Every bit of the show was funny and real – you almost forget the bears aren’t alive!
Time: 22:48 minutes
For those of us who would rather be educated than entertained, a show that unites both your forgotten presidential history and entertainment awaits you inside the Hall of President’s theater.
If you do end up waiting a few minutes before show time, you actually have something to look at inside the Hall of Presidents: real artifacts of former Presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.
Then spark your patriotic memory during the show that features the men who led America. The wax presidential figures look eerily human-like and bring the presidents to life in the same form, same voice to deliver the same address they delivered long ago.
The show speedily spins true tales from the first president to the latest, while honoring each wax-figured president at the end as the spotlight shines on each one announcing that president’s name.
The seats are cushioned, the theater is large and cool and we enjoyed every bit of this breather after zipping from ride to ride.
There’s nothing like the sprinkle of island magic that you get from the Tiki Room. You’re not sure what to expect when you sit down in the tropical straw hut.
Suddenly, a couple of sassy birds take the spotlight and chirp jokes until it blends into songs and a colorful cast of over 225 birds and other Audio Animatronic performers join in.
Even the wooden statutes behind our heads with faces on them were singing along to tropical songs.
An intriguing and well-choreographed show!
Where: Magic Kingdom Park
When: 10 p.m.
When faced with the choice of whether to go to bed or venture to the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular Firework Show, choose the latter.
Located in the hotbed of Magic Kingdom Park, crowds gather around Cinderella’s Castle to embrace a 12-minute charming splash of colorful fireworks perfectly orchestrated with Disney character voices and music.
“When You Wish Upon a Star” floats through the air, rattling off the coast of Magic Kingdom Park, where onlookers gather from all corners to gaze at the deeply touching display of magic, sparking a sense in all of us that anything is possible – the founding theme of Walt Disney World.
The firework show is punctuated by an unforgettable grand finale of colorful explosions in the sky as the castle’s dancing lights swirl and breathe to the music and then suddenly everything is dark and elated cheering erupts across the island.
This will rival any firework show you’ve ever seen and it’s well worth staying up for.
When your time at Magic Kingdom Park is done, it doesn’t mean the full Disney experience is. Especially when it comes to souvenir shopping.
An endless array of shopping and dining options sit on the borders of Walt Disney World. We spontaneously chose Disney Springs – a sprawling destination of shopping, exquisite entertainment and decadent dining with panoramic views of the tips of Walt Disney World’s parks, surrounded by Florida’s tropical waters, where voyagers travel by boat to take in the skyline and hop from shop to shop.
The access inside Disney Springs is complimentary and hosts buzzing venues such as boutique apparel and accessory shops, Disney toy stores, food and spirits shops, art and collectible stores, dine-in theaters, Cuban cafes, seafood cafes, sushi restaurants, bakeries, Gelato shops, and so much more. You can indulge in entertainment such as Cirque Du Soleil stage shows, live concerts, an indoor interactive theme park and waterside stage shows! We witnessed children dancing in the street to Disney music, sampled chocolates, breezed through our favorite stores (Sanuk for me and the giant Lego store for Uncle Andy) and purchased souvenirs for Joe.
The toy stores are massive and feature an unimaginable assortment of Disney merchandise! I highly recommend carving out at least one afternoon or evening shopping and dining at Disney Springs. It’s low-key, at-your-pace experience and you’ll find the perfect Walt Disney World souvenir.
Whether you end up visiting Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park or another Walt Disney world park, you’ll end up in the same place. Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park is infused with child-like marvel and magic. It's a trip back to childhood for adults and a trip of a lifetime for children.
That evening as our family sailed away from Magic Kingdom Park’s island, Joe embraced me and said, “I love Disney World.”
I knew after those words, all of the travel to Walt Disney World had been worth it. We will always feel a strong pull to Walt Disney World - it’s where fantasy comes to life. Now back in our regular life, our days are filled with more hope and excitement because we know those magic moments await us again and again.