Disney for the Very Young at Heart

A trip to Disney World may provoke many well-marketed scenarios: meeting Princess Aurora for the first time; sauntering through the castle on a perfect summer day; your child turning to you as fireworks dazzle the night sky saying “thanks for everything, mom.” However, those who brave Florida’s Disney World with very small children know that at any moment, the magic could turn tragic.

As veterans of two tours of duty, Matt and Tracy know there are several ways to keep the dream alive—for children and parents.

Fly, Don’t Drive

Driving from Toronto to Orlando will take you three days. Behind the wheel for at least eight hours each day, you will also have to take into consideration bathroom and meal breaks every few hours, as well as those emergencies that would make prospective parents think twice ( a three year old with stomach pains in a two hour traffic jam will leave you panicking, for example).

Granted, road trips can stretch your dollar, but when you consider gas, hotels, meals and incidentals, the savings are generally minimal, especially if you can take advantage of flight deals. Leaving from Buffalo, or any other American border city, could save a family of four hundreds of dollars.

Some may also suggest travelling by car “adds to the fun.” We found that such a long drive simply exhausted our children before they entered the gates. Spend your energy wisely – save it for the parks!

Have a Plan

If you haven’t been to the “House the Mouse Built” since you were young, you need to know something: it’s changed. A lot!

What once was a leisurely two day tour through Magic Kingdom and Epcot is now an epic journey through four sprawling theme parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney and more, notwithstanding the endless delights provided by a range of custom hotels like The Grand Floridian or The Yacht Club.

For the kids, Magic Kingdom is everything. We found that rides are fun but soon forgotten, yet experiences like lunch at the castle with Cinderella are worth their weight in memories. However, the rides you’ll want to plan for are famous for a reason: It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean and even the Haunted Mansion for the bravest of little souls.

Yet, our prize for the best “unexpected” delight was Mickey’s Philharmagic, a 3-D experience that took three years to make and had us checking our watches to see if we had time for seconds. There are other attractions appropriate for young children at Epcot, Disney Studios and Animal Kingdom and planning your route will help save invaluable time and energy.

Epcot’s Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure had our daughter begging for more, and the interactive Turtle Talk with Crush had even the grown-ups believing Crush was speaking to us from the deep. On your way through Disney’s Hollywood Studios, make sure you check out the incredible Muppet Vision 3-D experience as well as the Voyage of the Little Mermaid for a refreshing journey under the sea.

And if the thought of getting tied into one park for the day makes you a little nervous, the Hopper Pass is a convenient purchase which lets you move from park to park whenever you feel like revisiting a past attraction.

You Can’t Do It All

Much to the chagrin of list makers, you can’t do it all in one visit, especially with young children. In fact, there are large components of Disney World that are geared for much older teens and even adults – Tower of Terror, American Idol Experience, and the understated, yet hair-raising, Dinosaur.

Kids need times of rest and recovery from their overloaded senses, instead of being dragged from exhibit to exhibit, dispassionate and uninvolved. Surprising to us was that staying around the hotel and going for a leisurely dip in the pool or a free ride on the monorail was just as satisfying to our brood as exploring Ariel’s Grotto.

As well, depending on the time of year, excessive lines, frequent summer storms or intense August heat could prevent you from a couple of “must dos” the first time around. It’s better to take your time and maintain the right attitude rather than keeping a frenzied pace. Just keep telling yourself you’ll be back someday, and, if you set the right tone, your kids will want to come with you.

Take Some Time to be a Grown-up

Walt must have known that as much as we like to believe we’re young at heart, we still need to be treated like adults.

These days at Disney, there are endless activities for moms and dads. Don’t miss the Magnolia Golf Course near the Polynesian, the luxurious Grand Floridian Spa enjoyed by stars such as Paula Abdul, award winning restaurants like Victoria & Albert’s Chef’s Table, and a thriving night life filled with dance clubs and blues nooks.

These activities can be embraced during scheduled “nap times” or even while the kids are down for the night if you want to take full advantage of Disney’s convenient babysitting service. If you feel guilty enjoying the pleasures of the Kingdom without them, you can sooth your conscience by enrolling the little ones in the Mouseketeer Club, a sensational program for kids as young as four to be entertained with crafts and fascinating activities.

Those solitary moments of peace and quiet or an exhilarating date under the stars will leave you refreshed for another day of child-like activity under the Florida sun.

Anyone who has ever taken young children to Disney World knows the experience is unique. The excitement, the wonder, the belief in magic can never be replicated by any other vacation or perhaps by any other age group. Consider not just their limitations, but yours. With a little planning and patience, everyone’s dream can come true.