WDW recommendations for young families

A few months back, a friend asked me for WDW recommendations for his upcoming family vacation. It will be the first Disney trip for his boys, who will be 8 and 6. Being the long-winded Disney geek that I am, I sent him a pretty comprehensive list. Since that time, others have asked me the same question. So I thought I’d publish my list here. The following was specifically for his family, but can be generalized to the 8-and-under set, though you might have to check the height requirements for some of the rides. That info can be found on the Disney World website. Enjoy!

Back when my boys were 8 and under!

Back when my boys were 8 and under!

WDW has changed a lot in the past year-and-a-half. Instead of paper FastPasses (which you would obtain on the day of your park visit and which would allow you a shorter wait time for certain rides), you now make FastPass+ ride reservations in advance. Those reservations are linked to your MagicBands, so there’s no more running around the park for paper FPs. I like the new system, though lots of people don’t. The main complaint is that you only get to make 3 FP+ reservations ahead of time. Once you use those 3, you simply go to a FP+ kiosk in the park and make another one. Once you use that FP+, you can repeat the process. So, here are my top recommendations for your fam:

Magic Kingdom

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: This is billed as a “family coaster.” The height requirement is 38”. It might be a bit much for mild riders, but you can check out a ride video and see what you think (just google “seven dwarfs mine train pov” and you’ll find a bunch of them). If you decide to do this one, book your FastPass+ on the first day you can, which would be 60 days pre-trip since you’re staying on Disney property. Actually, you should stay up late and book it at midnight on the 60-days-out point. This sounds like a joke, but it’s totally not. On our last trip, I tried to make a FP+ for this ride during the day (rather than staying up and doing it at midnight the night before) and it was booked up. Even if you’re not sure if your kids might want to do this one, but you think they might, book it. You can stand next to the ride and watch the outside portions of it and then let them decide (BTW, this tip came from my son). If they want to do it, you’ll be so glad you have the FP+ time reserved. If they don’t want to do it, you can change the FP+ to something else.
  • Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean: I’m lumping these together because a.) they’re my two favorite rides in the Magic Kingdom and b.) they’re both slightly scary. They’re not thrill rides at all, but some littler kids don’t like them. Again, google some videos if you’re not sure what your kids will think.
  • Jungle Cruise: this one is great for all ages!
  • Peter Pan’s Flight: if you want to do this ride, definitely book a FP+ in advance. The stand-by line is always super long.
  • it’s a small world: classic. If you can stand the song.
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh: cute, though I liked it better when it was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
  • Under the Sea: we love this ride! (Disclaimer: it’s based on The Little Mermaid, and my son is in love with Ariel. So I might be a bit biased.)
  • Dumbo: another classic. And it now has an indoor, air-conditioned circus-themed play area/waiting area, so it’s a nice break from the heat while you wait for your turn to ride.
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin: awesome ride/game in one.
  • Peoplemover: some folks find this boring, but my boys have always loved it.
  • I also love Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain, but I’m thinking they’re all a bit much for your kids’ ages. But I could be wrong, so maybe check them out online.
  • Festival of Fantasy Parade (daily at 3PM): if your family likes parades, this one can’t be beat! Grab a spot along the parade route about 30 minutes before it starts. Plop yourself down, let the kids play apps on your phones, and enjoy sitting still for a little while.
  • Main Street Electrical Parade (usually at 9PM, but this sometimes varies): another very good parade.
  • Wishes: the MK nightly fireworks. Breathtaking. For the most complete view of the action, watch it from in front of Cinderella Castle. For a different (and less crowded) perspective, watch it from behind the castle.

Epcot: this park has a “tiering system” for FastPass+. You can only choose 1 ride from Tier 1 when making your ride reservations. Unfortunately, both of the really stunning rides are in Tier 1, so you have to make a choice:

  • Soarin’ or Test Track? Both are completely awesome. Soarin’ simulates a hang-glider type experience over California. This ride actually makes me tear up, it’s that beautiful. Test Track is like riding in a convertible going about 60 mph. It’s super fun, but I usually make my Tier 1 FP+ for Soarin’. If you guys are really into cars, go for Test Track. (Slight word of warning: my son was scared of Test Track when he was little. Might be another one to google.)
  • Spaceship Earth: this is inside the iconic Epcot “ball.” If you want to go on it early in the day, make a FP+ reservation. Later in the day, the lines aren’t so bad for this ride.
  • The Seas with Nemo and Friends: super cute.
  • Journey into the Imagination with Figment: Also cute, in a slightly acid-trippy kind of way.
  • Living with the Land: in the same building as Soarin’, so we usually go on it right before or after that ride. It’s relaxing and educational.
  • All of the above rides are in the “Future World” part of Epcot. If you venture over to the World Showcase side of the park, there’s a ride in the Mexico Pavilion. It’s a cute one. I would also highly recommend the food (and margaritas) at the Mexico Pavilion – if you like that sort of thing.
  • Illuminations is the nightly fireworks show here. It’s good, but not as good as Wishes.

Hollywood Studios: This park, too, has a tiering system. This stinks for me, but is fine for you because your kids won’t want to go on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (unless they’re at least 48″ tall and quite bold). So, your Tier 1 option will be:

  • Toy Story Midway Mania: similar to the Buzz Lightyear ride at MK, but WAY better. This is another one to make your FP+ for at midnight the night before your 60-day mark.
  • Star Tours: if you guys are Star Wars fans, this is a total must-do.
  • The Great Movie Ride: We like this one. It’s getting an overhaul sometime soon, so it should be even better.
  • This park also has lots of shows, some better than others. For you guys, I’d recommend Lights Motors Action Extreme Stunt Show and Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular. There’s also a Beauty and the Beast show and a Little Mermaid show, if your boys are into such things. (My son wants to marry the Little Mermaid, so who am I to judge?) Oh, and there’s a relatively new Frozen sing-along that I’ve yet to see. I hear it’s good, but have resisted it. I’m feeling Frozen over-saturation these days.
  • The nighttime show here is Fantasmic, which is quite good. It’s only on certain nights, though, so if you want to see it, check the schedule ahead of time and make sure you get to the venue plenty early. It fills up fast!

Animal Kingdom

  • Kilimanjaro Safari: do this as early in the morning as possible, before the heat of the day makes the animals sleepy.
  • Dinosaur: this is not a cute, cuddly dinosaur ride. This is a dark, loud, rather scary dinosaur ride. My boys have always liked it, but some kids get really freaked out by it. Another one to research online if you’re considering it.
  • Triceratops Spin: similar to Dumbo, but with dinosaurs. The cute kind.
  • Primeval Whirl: this is a maybe. It’s roller-coaster-ish, but might work for you guys.
  • Shows: Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo are the two most popular shows in this park. We’re more into rides than shows, but FoLK is good. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen the Nemo show. I keep trying, but my son (who has seen it), says it’s long and boring.

There are character greetings in all of the parks. If you’re interested in any of these, you may want to make a FP+ as lines tend to be quite long. For example, meeting Elsa and Anna in the Magic Kingdom is another experience that requires making a FP+ reservation 60-days-out at midnight. Rather than burning a FP+ on something like that, we prefer character dining. Our favorites are Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort (just a short walk from Magic Kingdom) and Tusker House in Animal Kingdom. There you have it! Any questions, just let me know 🙂

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About HFBrainerd

Published novelist and Disney World fanatic. Thanks for coming along on this wild ride!
This entry was posted in Animal Kingdom, Disney, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Walt Disney World attractions and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to WDW recommendations for young families

  1. Pingback: Join me for some fun and shenanigans on The Disney Exchange! | Disney for Five+

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