Magic Kingdom for Toddlers
In many ways, the Magic Kingdom is the ideal park for toddlers. Of all the theme parks at Disney World, this one has the most rides either geared explicitly for small children, or aimed at the whole family, including youngsters who can’t handle too much thrill. Plan to spend at least one full day here, and in fact two days would not be unusual, if you’re catering primarily to toddlers.
An unnumbered list of “don’t miss” attractions might seem to make the most sense, since people differ so radically from each other that my experiences may not match your particular child’s preferences. But that would also neuter the utility of any list at all. Thus, here is my (admittedly highly subjective) list of rides for toddlers at the Magic Kingdom, presented in order of importance.
- It’s a Small World – a ride full of dolls of children, geared for children. Adults may cringe at the repetitive song, but kids love it.
- Pirates of the Caribbean – a favorite for many, but does include a scary drop in the dark. The catchy song here will make everyone hum for hours.
- Haunted Mansion – immersive and memorable, but may be too intense for some toddlers. Contains some of the best special effects in the park.
- Walt Disney World Railroad – everyone loves a real train, operating under steam power. May be used to transit from one side of the park to the other.
- Peter Pan’s Flight – a dark ride where the vehicles dangle from the ceiling. Be sure to use FASTPASS and avoid the long line.
- Tomorrowland Transit Authority – an open-air ride through Tomorrowland’s second floor. Never a wait.
- Mickey’s Philharmagic – an enthralling 3-D animated film recapping great moments and songs in Disney movies.
- Buzz Lightyear – a dark ride merged with a shooting gallery.
- Tomorrowland Indy Speedway – all kids want the chance to drive their own cars.
- Winnie the Pooh – a successful and cute dark ride with special car motion
- Country Bear Jamboree – a musical show with robotic performers.
- Barnstormer – a kid-sized roller coaster; height requirement of 35 inches.
- Dumbo – this spinner is a favorite, but always has long lines.
- Aladdin’s Flying Carpets – another spinner, but with much shorter lines than Dumbo.
- Jungle Cruise – the corny jokes on this boat ride may or may not be appreciated, but the robotic animals and colorful settings will please toddlers.
- Liberty Square Riverboat – a big sternwheel riverboat, with little action but great scenery and atmosphere.
- Swiss Family Treehouse – a walkthrough of an oversized treehouse, based on the Swiss Family Robinson. Tons of stairs, but good for kids with boundless energy.
- Snow White’s Adventures – a dark ride with modest success.
- Mad Tea Party – spinning teacups, at your own pace.
- Cinderella’s Golden Carousel – a standard carousel.
Older preschoolers may desire to take on the thrill rides: Space Mountain (riders must be 44 inches tall), Splash Mountain (40 inches), and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (40 inches). If so, move these rides to the top of the list.
Rides Not As Deseriable For Toddlers
At the other end of the spectrum are the rides you shouldn’t bother with. This list is also subjective, and refers to attractions that specifically toddlers may want to skip:
- Astro-Orbiter – another spinner ride, and this one placed intriguingly high in the Tomorrowland sky. But the line takes forever and barely moves, so ultimately the extra view is not worth the wait.
- Enchanted Tiki Room – robotic bird performers sing, but the show suffers from attempts to be modern and hip.
- Stitch’s Great Escape – too scary for young kids and too silly for older ones, this show occurs almost totally in the dark and will only appeal to a narrow range of kids.
- Hall of Presidents – stage show of robotic versions of the U.S. presidents. Most toddlers will find it a snooze.
- Carousel of Progress – a musical show with robotic performers, it’s historically significant and a show Walt Disney himself supervised, but creaky in the modern era and boring for some toddlers.
- Main Street Vehicles – streetcars and other vehicles, like an omnibus, that only travel up and down Main Street.
- Fantasyland Play Area or Donald’s Boat – these two play zones, ostensibly for little kids, have almost nothing to do. Might be worth a visit if you want to let your kids get wet in the ground-level jumping fountains.
It comes as no surprise that the rides to get busy the fastest in the morning are the roller coasters. Visit those either first or last, or use FASTPASS for them (see below). The Fantasyland dark rides get surprisingly busy even by mid-morning, especially Peter Pan’s Flight and Dumbo.
The rides will minimal wait times all day long include Tomorrowland Transit Authority, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Mickey’s Philharmagic, and Country Bear Jamboree. Slightly longer waits are typical at It’s a Small World and Jungle Cruise.
Be sure that you prioritize your choices. Many families ride only 10-12 attractions per day, so plan to spend a second day or to knowingly skip many.
There are two entertainment experiences toddlers will not want to miss at the Magic Kingdom. Unfortunately, both take place after dark, meaning either cranky children who stayed up past their bedtime, or missing a central part of the day so as to take naps and return for the nighttime offerings. The latter is the better choice. The Wishes fireworks show is impressively set to music, and is a real joy to behold. Views are best from Main Street or the lands surrounding the castle, but don’t be behind the castle. One caution: the fireworks are loud and may scare children unused to high-decibel sounds.
Taking place just before the fireworks (though sometimes after it for a second show, on busy days) is SpectroMagic, a nighttime parade where the floats are illuminated by colored lights. The parade route runs from Frontierland to Liberty Square, out to the castle, and down Main Street. Decent spots can often be found, even without much wait time, in Frontierland. Naturally, if there is a second show, visitors are much more sparse and good seats abound. Note that in non-peak seasons, SpectroMagic only runs on selected days of the week.
There are other entertainment options, most visibly a daytime parade and a show at the forecourt of Cinderella Castle. Both are perhaps best classified as “harmless.” If your toddlers really love Disney characters, they may well enjoy these musical romps. Shows also have a way of breaking up the day, so that the day doesn’t resemble a death march from one ride to the next, hour after long hour. But do not expect much from these offerings, and do not use a lot of valuable time waiting for a good seat (unless, that is, you’re looking for a way to take a break and stop walking for a while!)
If you’re looking for fast food (hot dogs, burgers, pizza), there are several choices with many service counters: Casey’s Corner in Main Street, Pinocchio’s Village Haus in Fantasyland, Cosmic Ray’s in Tomorrowland, and Pecos Bill’s in Frontierland. If your party wants to dine at a table-service location such as Tony’s or the Plaza Restaurant, there are child menus available, with four or five meals to choose from.
Many visitors seek to combine dining with meeting characters and taking adorable vacation photographs. Particularly renowned among the Character Dining is Cinderella’s Royal Table, a restaurant deep inside Cinderella Castle. Reservations are a must, and won’t be available unless you make them on the very day they open up, on a rolling 180-day schedule (simply call 407-WDW-DINE). The other Character Dining location is called the Crystal Palace, and while it also takes reservations, those don’t sell out quite so quickly.
In addition to the Character Dining mentioned above, you can find costumed characters that simply walk around (check with a Cast Member to locate the schedule for any particular character). Additionally, there are some structured character meeting areas:
- Meet Mickey – after touring Mickey’s house, parts of which are interactive, you can meet with him directly in the “Judge’s Tent.”
- Ariel’s Grotto – near Dumbo is a play area with fountains, and a secluded spot to meet Ariel.
- Toontown Hall of Fame – the central tent in Mickey’s Toontown Fair is part store, part character location (with a rotating crew of characters to meet).
- Storytime with Belle – in a secluded alcove between the castle and Tomorrowland, you can get almost personalized attention.
At all the character interactions, as well as key photogenic locations, you may run across park workers offering to take your picture and “put it on a card.” This is a free service and ideal for vacationers. On your first such encounter, you’ll get a card. On all future encounters, hand over the card and they’ll swipe it, making sure that whatever photos are taken get added to your account. When you return home after your vacation, you can view the pictures online, and order prints of any that you desire, with no pressure whatsoever.
Toddlers are naturally agape at the candy store on Main Street, and they have an entire section of the massive Emporium dedicated just to them, especially princess costumes. Additional princess-type garments may be found at a shop near the castle, and boys will relish the chance to explore the massive outdoor pirate shop at the exit to Pirates of the Caribbean.
Here are a few experiences that don’t draw nearly as many crowds, but may be of paramount importance to your particular toddler (pick and choose as your preferences dictate):
- Toontown Playground – true, it’s just a playground with a few slides, but kids love the chance to burn off energy. Standing in line all day makes kids naturally antsy, and this offers a perfect antidote.
- Tom Sawyer Island – technically this island is an attraction unto itself, but it’s so seldom used that it qualifies as a Hidden Treasure. Here you’ll find caves to explore, a rope bridge, a barrel bridge, and a wooden log fort of massive proportions. Another great place to let kids burn energy.
- Pal Mickey – this plush doll, sold inside the parks, not only talks, it interacts with its environment. By virtue of sensors in the walkways, it knows where it is, and offers advice and trivia related to its surroundings. Because the system is live and interactive, it may offer touring suggestions, like the 1:00 parade. It’s also a highly useful companion when you’re in line and looking for some entertainment.