Taming the Beast: Taking the Scare Factor Out of Walt Disney World
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Combine huge characters, loud noises and indoor attractions with a preschooler's overactive imagination, and suddenly Walt Disney World can be the scariest place on earth.
Unless you want to restrict your vacation to riding Dumbo the Flying Elephant and the Mad Tea Party teacups, some tips are necessary to help your children enjoy "the World." While your 5-year-old won't necessarily be ready for Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, preparation can open up a "World" of opportunities for your family to enjoy.
During a recent trip, my oldest son, age 4, started to get the worries about any indoor ride or show, prompting my youngest son, age 2, to get scared as well. But with a little Pixie Dust and a lot of work, we were able to enjoy almost every no-height-requirement attraction and had a wonderful time with minimal drama.
Do Your Homework
Before you leave for Disney, give your child a head start about what to expect. The free Vacation Planning DVD gives glimpses of several popular rides, shows and parades. We watched the video together, talking to my sons about rides I knew they would enjoy and reminding them that wilder rides like Space Mountain would wait until they were older.
The Disney Sing Along Songs video series often feature favorite attractions as well. I was lucky to find an older video, Disneyland Fun, at a yard sale; we were able to explore Tom Sawyer Island, the Jungle Cruise and the Haunted Mansion from the safety of our playroom. The more recent video, Flik's Musical Adventure at Disney's Animal Kingdom, shows a tour of the entire park, prompting my preschooler to veto Dinosaur, but helping him to bravely try the It's Tough to be a Bug! 3-D movie.
Once the boys were familiar with several attractions, we pulled out our maps of the four theme parks from our last trip. As they pointed out each site, I read the description of each from my PassPorter, focusing on Allie's Kid Tips at the end. We made a list of things to try, separated ones to think about, and put others in a "when I'm bigger" category.
Start With the Familiar
My children have been surrounded by Winnie the Pooh since their birth, so it was easy to transition from nursery décor to Magic Kingdom fun. The Teacups recall other spinning rides, so we were able to remind them of their previous successes before they got worried. The Playhouse Disney and Voyage of the Little Mermaid attractions at Disney-MGM Studios offered live performances of shows they knew. Once the boys made it through the first 3-D movie, getting them into others wasn't much of a struggle. After Dumbo, the Magic Carpets of Aladdin and TriceraTop Spin were welcomed as well.
When visiting characters, we started with the cuddly and familiar. Character meals, like our breakfast with Pooh and friends at Crystal Palace, are excellent opportunities to meet characters in a relaxed setting. Sometimes it's the sheer size of the character that is frightening. Our youngest son was happy to meet heroes and villains alike as long as he was being held by a parent and was eye-to-eye with the characters.
Add Some Fairy Dust
Prior to our visit, my 4-year-old son was so excited about riding Pirates of the Caribbean. He learned the song from a Disney Sing-a-Long video and would turn a ruler and a cowboy hat into a pirate costume. But walking down the dim and somewhat eerie entryway made him change his mind -- he was terrified!
I pulled him aside and brought out a special light-up necklace (bought at home). The soft light of the "bravery medal" did the trick, as he was able to hold it during dark portions of the ride. And he loved Pirates and immediately wanted to go again!
I also purchased Pooh and Lion King squeezable flashlights for the trip and a small clip-on light for our backpack. Having access to a light is invaluable if you get caught in an unexpectedly dark area (as we did for 10 minutes on Spaceship Earth at Epcot). Discount stores offer a variety of inexpensive light-up jewelry, especially during holidays like July 4th and Halloween. Small tubes of bubbles or a small toy can help distract children during the potential worrying time before a ride or show. Parents may also want to consider buying a magic wand or a stuffed "hero" to provide "extra bravery."
Save It For Another Trip
The Great Movie Ride at Disney-MGM Studios is a pretty tame attraction to most, but my 4-year-old just couldn't deal with it after a few doses of the Alien preview in the queuing area. The Barnstormer at Goofy's Farm had a frightened crying child ahead of us in line. Rather than push our luck, we opted to leave those attractions before riding.
Although these were rides we knew he would eventually enjoy, sometimes you have to follow your child's lead. Some rides we opted to skip altogether; I just don't think our children would be interested in anything titled "scary" or "haunted."
By using a combination of Fast Pass and the baby swap, my husband and I were able to enjoy more mature rides like Mission:SPACE and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The other parent would occupy the boys by visiting characters or getting a snack.
Eventually these same scared preschoolers will become teens who can't get enough of Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. So if your child gets too worked up about a particular attraction, save it for another trip -- you'll have a perfect excuse to return to Walt Disney World!
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View all 2 comments in forum thread rowan on January 18, 2006 @ 6:19 pm
Thanks for these tips. We are taking my 2 and a half daughter and my five month old duaghter in April and have been worried about this very topic. I will be trying your ideas.
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Updated 06-07-2011 - Article #684
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