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Family with Mickey and Minnie

Your bags are packed, your dinner reservations were made three months ago, and you just arranged a ride to the airport.  You are prepared for Walt Disney World!  What’s next?  Making sure your little ones are just as prepared and excited!  For young children, the idea of a huge, sprawling theme park with dozens of attractions, shows, characters, and restaurants may seem a little overwhelming.  Luckily, there are plenty things you can do to get them excited and prepared for a vacation of a lifetime.

1. Discuss and plan attractions together

Family on Phone

Image: Disney

Although parents may know their kid’s interests, it’s important for the little ones to feel like they are included in all the planning.  One easy way to do this is to spend time together using the Walt Disney World website or app and have them make a few choices themselves.  Of course, you don’t want to go overboard, but having kids pick two or three “must-do’s” will get them excited about going and make them feel like they had a part in the planning process.  Show them a list of attractions or characters in each park and let them pick a few that they are really interested in.  With FastPass+, they can also feel more empowered seeing their choice on the daily schedule.

An important step in this process it to not overplan or make too many promises.  Talk to a long-time Disney fan, and they will tell you how their favorite attraction went down without warning, or how a bad rain storm cancelled a character interaction. Unfortunately, uncontrollable circumstances will  always happen, so let kids know that not all of their plans will go as they expected.  If you have to, make an easy promise that you know you can keep.  For example, chances are you will always be within a few feet of an ice cream stand to buy a Mickey bar at least once on your trip, but you have no control of when Toy Story Mania becomes operational again.

Another important step for planning a theme park vacation with kids - always check the Disney website or app for important information. A ride everyone loves might be under maintenance the entire week you are there or a park is closing early so there wouldn’t be any fireworks that night.  Taking a few minutes to check the little details will save everyone a headache (or a meltdown) later.  And while you are online, make sure to check the height restrictions on some of the bigger rides.  As much as Little Johnny wants to go on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, there is no way he will grow three inches in one month, so it’s better to let them know in advance that he is a little too short than when he has to stand next to the dreaded height stick in front of the ride after getting excited to go on it.

2. Prepare for potentially scary situations

DINOSAUR Attraction

From the outside, Splash Mountain’s big drop may seem terrifying to non-thrill seekers, but on the inside it is has kid-friendly Animatronics and some cute songs.  Alternatively, from the outside Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s DINOSAUR looks harmless enough, but inside is a fairly intense ride that may frighten kids who are afraid of the dark, loud noises, and ferocious dinosaurs.  A good tool to combat this is YouTube.  Pull up a video of an attraction before you leave so a child could get a better idea of what they will experience.  For some, the video can reassure them that they are making a good decision.  Then, when they are riding the attraction, they know what to expect and can enjoy the ride instead of panicking.  And if they think the video is too scary, you know which attraction to skip.  Although some adventurous kids may love the attraction’s surprises, others may enjoy knowing what they are getting themselves into.  If they are still undecided, let them talk to the Cast Members standing outside of the attractions.  They usually do a great job explaining what the attraction is like in a kid-friendly way, and the conversation can be reassuring to kids who need that extra bit of confidence about going on.

YouTube is also great for preparing smaller children for the characters.  We have all seen a toddler cry as they approach Mickey Mouse.  The characters look a little different than they do on TV or in a movie, and sometimes their height and large heads can be frightening or unsettling.  Showing kids videos of their favorite characters dancing in a parade or in a show and interacting with other kids can get them used to their appearance and demeanor.  If they are still unsure, start with a “face” character like Peter Pan, Tinkerbell or one of the princesses, since they can talk back to the kids and interact with them a little more, plus they can get them excited in meeting other character friends.

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