by Laura and Kevin Powell
Venture into the “big top” play area in the new Storybook Circus and ride the revamped Dumbo, the Flying Elephant ride. The whole experience is perfect for toddlers. Either grab a FastPass to ride Dumbo right away or get a pager (just like at restaurants) and enjoy playing in the new air-conditioned play area. With the addition of a second spinning Dumbo, lines are reasonable and the indoor play area (also known as a que lounge) is an added bonus and a positive waiting experience.
Belle from Beauty and the Beast is the focal point of a new interactive storytelling adventure, Enchanted Tales with Belle. It’s popular and no FastPasses are available, so plan to go there first. Lines can grow to more than an hour wait.
Be Our Guest Restaurant is a great place for lunch or dinner. It’s set in Beast’s Castle and offers amazing make believe moments and clever details to enjoy, such as snowflakes floating down outside your window. The French-inspired food is delicious. The restaurant has “fancier fast food” for lunch such as steak sandwiches and full-service table dining for dinner. Options for kids include meatloaf, mahi mahi, whole wheat macaroni with marinara and a carved turkey sandwich. Be Our Guest is the only restaurant in the Magic Kingdom where alcohol is served.
Be sure to go on the Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid ride. Guests take a simulated undersea adventure, riding in cars that resemble a clamshell. A larger-than-life Ariel greets you and sings throughout the ride.
Coming late 2013, little princesses will have the chance to meet up to four of their favorite princesses in their elegant chambers at The Princess Fairytale Hall.
At Epcot, children (40 inches or taller) will get revved up about the makeover to Test Track Presented by Chevrolet. Kids get to design a concept vehicle, take it for an exhilarating spin and then see how well the car performed when exiting the ride. Test Track goes up to 65 miles per hour on a mile-long track.
An interactive area after the ride lets you film a commercial, virtually race others and pose for fun pictures with cars. If you are traveling with kids who don’t meet the height requirement, they can enjoy the post part of the ride.
The theme park is one of the more expensive family vacation options, so plan ahead to make the most of your time there:
Stay at the Walt Disney World resorts. You can take advantage of the parks extra magic hours (early opening or late closing hours). The Disney Art of Animation Resort opened in April 2012 as a new budget resort at Walt Disney World. Located near Animal Kingdom and the Pop Century Resort, this resort features four themed and decorated sections based on Finding Nemo, Cars, Lion King and The Little Mermaid. The first three offer good-sized family suites with two rooms, two baths, one queen bed and one double bed, a pullout couch and a kitchen area with microwave and mini-fridge. The main pool at Finding Nemo is the largest of all the Disney resorts and includes a big splash pad play area. Two smaller pools are also on site: Little Mermaid- and Cars-themed to match. On-site dining is available cafeteria style at Landscape of Flavors. Suites start at $283.50 a night; standard rooms start at $112.50 a night. Go during “Value Season” for the best deals. More information at disneyworld.disney.go.com
Divide and conquer. Toddlers and younger children will find more to do at the Magic Kingdom, with attractions and rides including Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, Peter Pan, and The Little Mermaid. This age group also likely will enjoy a tour of the world in Epcot as well as the animals and a couple of the rides at Animal Kingdom. Most of the rides in Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are geared to older children. That’s where grandparents, family or friends can help out. When toddlers travel with older siblings, family or friends can help the family split up and let the older kids enjoy rides at their age level.
Get your FastPass first, as soon as you enter the park. The FastPass helps reduce long waits at the most popular rides and lets you enjoy other rides that have shorter lines while you wait for your ride window to open. Some popular rides might “sell out” of FastPasses on a busy day.
Wear good walking shoes. To feel better about eating those iconic Mickey Mouse ice cream bars, consider wearing a pedometer and counting your steps.
Be prepared to wait. Bring board books, a smartphone with child friendly apps, and plenty of snacks. Snacks can be expensive at Disney World, so plan ahead. If you are flying and do not rent a car, GardenGrocer.com offers grocery delivery services. Many of the resort cafes also offer power kids packs with yogurt, fruit, cheese, and goldfish to help keep the little ones full.
Consider making time for a treat as a couple. Splurge for a sitter and make reservations at one of the sit-down restaurants at Epcot and take in the evening fireworks. Remember to make reservations well in advance of your trip, as the most popular dining establishments can fill up months in advance. We used Kid’s Nite Out (407-828-0920) to book a sitter for our toddler. They were prompt, professional, and offered the flexibility to be back when you are done. ($16-$18 per an hour per 1 child).