Doing Disney with a preschooler can be a wonderful experience, if you know the insider tips for a smooth day! These are the top tips for taking a preschooler to Walt Disney World that you need to know before you go.
This post was originally published May 5, 2016 and has been updated and published with a new date.
Disney With a Preschooler
I’ve traveled to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland frequently with my preschoolers. Disney parks are always a fun and exciting family vacation!
There are things you can do before your trip and during the vacation to make your trip run more smoothly. I’m sharing my best tips on how to make the most of your travel with a preschooler at Disney World.
Why is Disney World a Good Vacation Destination?
You’ll hear it often – Disney with a preschooler is a great travel destination. But what makes Disney World one of the best places for a family vacation, especially with young children? These are a few reasons why Disney World is ideal for travel with preschoolers.
Disney is Familiar
Even if your preschooler has never set foot inside a Disney Park, there’s a certain familiarity if they know anything about Disney lore. The rides feature familiar themes from Disney movies and popular characters from shows offer meet ‘n greets.
Attractions Geared for Children
Throughout all four theme parks of the Walt Disney World resort, there are things to do that are preschool-age appropriate. Rides, live shows, parades, play areas, and nighttime spectaculars are all okay for young kids.
Restaurants and menus at Disney World are kid friendly. You’ll find kid’s menus in most, if not all locations. In addition, Disney parks chefs are well-versed in preparing foods for specific allergies, which is reassuring to parents.
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What Are the Challenges to Doing Disney with Preschoolers?
Just like any other travel destination, Disney World also has its challenges when it comes to preschool-aged kids. For most issues, there’s a Disney-related response that might help ease concerns.
Disney Can Be Overstimulating
To be sure, Disney World can be overwhelming for adults, not to mention children! There’s a lot going on at all times throughout the theme parks including bright colors, loud noises, flashing lights and long lines. Fortunately, Disney World has quiet resting areas in many places if your kid needs a break.
Also, the Disability Access Service (DAS) is excellent for families traveling with special needs, including autism. My friend Becca outlines how Disney Disability Access Service works on This Crazy Adventure Called Life.
Disney World is a Hard-Sell for Nervous Kids
If you have a sensitive child, you already know that new experiences can make your preschooler nervous. Changes to a usual routine are often paired with long and busy days. This, along with swift moving rides and strange foods may sour the perfect Disney experience.
Ready to plan a first Disney World vacation with a preschooler? I will discuss some helpful tips and advice in this guide on how to prepare children for Disney World parks to make the family vacation happy and magical for everyone!
Know What Preschoolers Like (and What They Don’t Like)
Preschoolers are notoriously opinionated (at least mine are!). But only you know your child’s likes and dislikes.
If you know your kid is terrified of characters, don’t force them to hug one. Same goes for forcing your preschooler onto a ride that they are afraid of. Your preschooler is going to have a rough day if they feel pressured.
When planning your Disney itinerary, be sure to ask your preschooler about their must-do list. If they have definite thoughts on what they want to see, do and eat on their vacation, make sure (at the very least), that those things happen!
Top Questions About Taking Preschoolers to Disney World
Does my preschooler need a park ticket? – Any child who is 3 years of age or older is required to have a Walt Disney World theme park ticket for entry.
What can a preschooler do in long lines? – Play Disney Parks in the My Disney Experience is an amusing way to pass the time. Find out additional things to do waiting in line at Disney with kids.
Do preschoolers need a MagicBand+? – Magic Bands are optional for all park guests but they do add value to the trip. Disney MagicBand+ can be used at park entrance in lieu of a ticket and for access into Lightning Lane lines. They also can be used for interactive play in designated areas throughout the parks.
Prep Your Preschooler for Disney World
One of the best things to do before a trip is to prep your small children. Share with them what they can expect on a Disney World vacation, using these ideas.
Disney Website – View the Disney World website with your child. This will give preschoolers an overview of the shows, rides and attractions inside each park.
YouTube Videos – If you personally don’t mind spoilers, watch on-ride YouTube videos. This trick has really gotten my preschoolers excited for our trips! Kids are then more familiar with how certain rides operate, along with being more comfortable and excited. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Seven Dwarves Mine Train with my son and Frozen Ever After with my daughter!
Watch Movies – Watch Disney movies to help get kids familiar with the characters they might meet and see on the rides. These are the Disney movies that are must-see before a first trip.
Schedule Disney World Trips During the School Year
If you wish to avoid the heavier crowds, ideally your Disney vacation should happen when most elementary-aged kids are in school. Midweek travel is best. Avoiding weekends, summertime and school holidays will help to minimize crowds as well.
Fortunately, most preschoolers won’t miss too much learning if you have to pull them out of school for travel. This definitely becomes a factor once children start elementary school and most educators discourage travel during the school year.
Pack a Preschool Bag for Disney World
What does a preschooler need for a day at a Disney theme park? I’ve included some recommendations in this article, as well as the link to my free packing printable with a Disney Packing List for Kids.
These are some ideas of what a preschooler will need for Disney days in the park:
- Extra pair of clothes, including spare underpants in case of an accident.
- Child-sized rain cover, for inclement weather or water rides.
- Sweatshirt, during chilly weather or for cool mornings/evenings.
- Portable games or activities, like this Disney Eye Found It card game.
- Wet Wipes
- Cooling towel
- Glow Sticks, bracelets or wands for nighttime. This makes preschoolers easier to spot in the dark!
- Hand sanitizer
- Bottled water, or water bottle for refilling.
- First aid kit with bandages, antacids for tummy aches and child-appropriate medications including pain reliever for headaches.
- Kid-friendly insect repellent, like these BuzzPatch mosquito stickers
Best Day Bag for Preschoolers at Disney World
My 4-year old likes to wear her own little backpack to Disney, filled with the day’s necessities. I bought this Skip Hop Toddler Leash and Harness Backpack for my toddler and she still wears it now as a preschooler.
The backpack has a removable harness so I can keep her close in lines and when she’s walking through the parks. It’s also particularly helpful in the airports!
Allow Enough Time for Everything at Disney World
With preschoolers, especially those who are walking much of the day, plan to work in breaks. Allow enough time and don’t overload your itinerary too much.
Disney World is a large place. That means things can take a little more time than you might expect. There are lines for most activities in the theme parks. Most everything from the restroom to the churro cart will have a wait.
Figure in enough time including walking from the hotel room to the bus stop or getting from the parking lot to the front gate. Even traversing from Pirates of the Caribbean to Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin can take longer than you think. Keep your preschooler in mind and don’t rush excessively.
Which is the Best Park for Disney with a Preschooler?
There are rides and attractions at every Disney theme park that are age and height appropriate for preschoolers. You definitely won’t go to any of the parks and not find something for your preschooler to do.
Some of the Walt Disney World theme parks offer more than others when it comes to preschoolers. Keep reading for an overview on each Disney World park including best rides, dining and shows.
Most Disney visitors would say that Magic Kingdom is the best Disney park for little kids. Most of the preschool-friendly rides are located here.
Magic Kingdom Park in Florida is also similar in layout and theming to Disneyland. Any Disney World trip with preschoolers should include a day (or more) in Magic Kingdom.
Traveling with a younger child? Read more about what toddlers can do in Magic Kingdom with tips on character greetings and rider switch.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
This movie-themed amusement park has family-friendly live shows and amusing dining experiences.
There are several preschool-friendly rides here, as well as Disney Junior characters meet ‘n greet locations. Preschoolers who love Buzz and Woody will adore spending time in Toy Story Land.
What about “Star Wars Land”? If you’re ready to explore Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, these are great tips for preschoolers at Star Wars Land. Read up on the ride advice, dining and the best souvenirs for kids.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Preschoolers who enjoy the zoo will love the animal atmosphere of this park. There are locations to watch animals like on the Maharajah Jungle Trek, Affection Section petting zoo and learn-more locations in the Conservation Station.
Rides like Na’vi River Journey in Pandora and Triceratops Spin are great for preschoolers. Shows like Festival of the Lion King are can’t miss!
With its two sections, Epcot is like two parks in one. Both Future World and World Showcase have fun attractions for young children.
My preschoolers enjoy rides like Frozen Ever After and Gran Fiesta Tour. There are also kid-friendly activities like Kidcot Fun Stops, a scavenger hunt in The Seas with Nemo & Friends and sipping soda from around the globe inside Club Cool.
Do Preschoolers Meet the Disney World Height Requirements?
Before your visit, measure your preschooler. You’ll want to check their stature compared to the height requirements of each attraction. Many rides do not have any height restrictions, but certain thrill rides do. Bottom line: Don’t promise a ride on Flight of Passage unless you’re sure your preschool meets the requirement!
Measure your preschooler while they are wearing the shoes they’ll wear on the trip. Sort the attractions by height on the Walt Disney World website or on the My Disney Experience app.
What Rides Can Preschoolers Do at Disney World?
Anything without a height restriction – As previously mentioned, the rides that your preschooler will be able to do depend upon their height. Anything that doesn’t have a height requirement is okay for children to ride, including babies.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant, “it’s a small world”, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Gran Fiesta Tour and Na’Vi River Journey are tame attractions that will likely please most young children.
All Disney World theme parks have rides for preschoolers – Some of the theme parks have more rides for preschoolers than others. Magic Kingdom has the greatest number of rides and there are a large number of rides here that are preschool-appropriate.
What to do with nervous kids – Keep in mind that just because your child is tall enough, they may still not want to ride. Not all preschoolers enjoy thrill rides or may be nervous about certain aspects, like the slightly spooky dark ride, Haunted Mansion.
This article offers more helpful tips for calming scared children at Disney.
How Rider Switch Works
Consider using Rider Switch for rides where preschoolers don’t meet the height requirement or simply don’t want to go on. Not all of the rides offer this, but you’ll see a list of the participating attractions on My Disney Experience app. Here is how Rider Switch works:
- Entire group approaches the Cast Member at the entrance of the ride. Tell them you’d like to take advantage of the Rider Switch program.
- The Cast Member assigns the family a Rider Switch pass.
- At least one adult will stay behind with the child(ren) that are not riding.
- First group enters the regular queue and goes on the ride. If they have a Lightning Lane reservation for the attraction, they will use that line instead.
- Family will meet up after the ride and adults will trade places.
- Second group (up to three people) will redeem Rider Switch to the Cast Member located at either the exit or Lightning Lane entrance to ride.
Other Can’t Miss Features at Disney World with Preschoolers
Outside of the usual theme park rides, there’s additional entertainment that’s perfect for kids of all ages.
Live Shows – Check the times of these amazing shows and work into your itinerary. Some of the shows offer walk-up viewing, like the Dapper Dans on Main Street in Magic Kingdom. Other shows have theater seating, like the Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom.
Parades – Depending upon the season, guests may need to stake out a desirable spot along the parade route. The parade or cavalcade is a great way for preschoolers to see and wave at Disney characters from afar!
Indoor or Outdoor? – Each theme park serves up a mix of both indoor and outdoor shows. Schedule the indoor activities when your family needs a break from the mid-day heat or rain. Be sure to work in some of these activities throughout your day.
Nighttime Spectaculars – Even more than the daytime events, the evening shows can be very crowded. For popular events like fireworks in front of Cinderella Castle, you’ll want to arrive early. Consider booking a dining package which offers a meal and reserved viewing location.
Top Disney Character Meet ‘n Greets for Preschooler
Meeting favorite Disney characters is a top Disney World activity for the whole family. When vacationing at Disney with a preschooler, character meet ‘n greets are an important part of the trip!
How to find character meetings – Each of the WDW theme parks have character greeting spots. Use the My Disney Experience to find the exact locations and times for characters during your visit.
What can characters do? – At this time, characters are available to sign autographs, give hugs, chat with guests and pose for photographs.
What characters can be seen? – Not all Disney characters are available within the parks, but many popular characters are!
For instance, at Magic Kingdom, guests can find Mickey Mouse in the Town Square Theater and participate in Enchanted Tales of Belle. At Princess Fairytale Hall, preschoolers can chat with Disney princesses including Cinderella and Tiana.
Preschoolers will adore the Disney Junior pals that meet in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Get up close with Doc McStuffins and Vampirina throughout the day.
Follow Your Preschooler’s Schedule
Is your preschooler accustomed to waking, eating and sleeping at a particular time? You might want to consider sticking to the same schedule, especially if your child is sensitive to change or if pushing back meals and bedtimes make them moody.
Adjusting to a Vacation Schedule – Disney World vacations can include early mornings and late nights. If you really want preschoolers to stay up later for the vacation, plan ahead. Start extending their bedtime by 15 minutes every night for the week leading up to the trip.
Time Zone Changes – One big thing to keep in mind is changing time zones. For my family coming from California and traveling to Florida, we lose 3 hours.
I prefer to keep my preschoolers on their own time when we go to Disney World. This means sleeping in and staying out late. If that works for your family, consider sticking to your own state’s clock to make time zone changes easier on your child.
What Other Entertainment is For Preschoolers at Disney World?
The Walt Disney World resort offers plenty of outside-the-theme-park activities for preschoolers to enjoy and play. When scheduling a first visit to Disney World, work in a few off days from the theme parks for this additional fun.
Disney Water Parks
Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon are the two on-site Disney World water parks. Each location offers enough activity for a full-day, with wave pools, slides and splash pads.
Disney World Miniature Golf
There are two mini-golf courses on Disney World property, Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf & Winter Summerland Miniature Golf. The whimsical Winter Summerland course is most appropriate for families with younger kids.
Many of the resorts offer catch & release guided excursions and dockside fishing. Rental equipment is available.
This mecca of shopping, dining and entertainment is ideal for a day of enjoyment. Families with preschoolers will appreciate the movie theater, Splitsville bowling, Coca-Cola Store. Restaurants like T-Rex and Raglan Road are great for young kids!
Free Preschool Activities at Disney World
Monorail Resort Hopping
Riding the monorail is no cost and a fun way for preschoolers to get an overview of the Magic Kingdom area. The monorail stops at the Contemporary Resort, Polynesian and Grand Floridian. Hop off for a Dole Whip or to walk the grounds and visit the resort playground.
A number of the Disney World resorts have playgrounds for preschoolers to burn off excess steam. You don’t need to be a resort guest to enjoy this perk! Expect to find the usual slides and equipment at Disney World Resort playgrounds, just like at the local park.
READ MORE about things to do on a non-park day with a preschooler at Disney World.
Preschool Disney World Dining
Some menus may not be appealing or are overly ambitious for young kids. Jambalaya? Monte Cristo sandwich? Chilled shrimp and noodles? Even macaroni that’s the “wrong shape” can turn a kid off from eating!
Your preschooler may turn up their nose at such nontraditional fare. But even the pickiest kid can find great bites at Disney. There are dining options for preschoolers at most of the Disney World restaurants. Here’s how to find the best preschool meals and snacks:
Table Service vs. Quick Service – Full service table dining takes a consider amount of time compared to quick service meals. If your preschooler can’t sit for long without getting antsy, consider eating mostly quick service.
To shave off even more time, use mobile ordering on the My Disney Experience at most quick service locations.
Choosing What to Order for Preschoolers at Disney World
Kids Menus – Many Disney parks restaurants and hotels offer a kids meal with childhood favorites like pizza, corn dogs, chicken nuggets and fries. If that’s what your preschooler likes, that’s what you should order for them (ie: a Disney vacation isn’t the time to press your kids to change their taste buds).
Healthier Options – Look for the Disney Check Meals for healthier options that include veggies and fruit. Using the mobile order options, it’s also easy to make modifications for water instead of soda and carrots instead of French fries.
Kid-Friendly Snacks – Snack carts around the parks cater to a kid’s tastes, including churros, cotton candy and popcorn. Soft serve cones, cream cheese filled pretzels and frozen Coke fill hungry tummies. There are, of course, healthier options too, including fresh fruit and chilled pickles.
Pack Your Own Snacks – Guests may bring in their own food into the Disney theme parks, which is great for budgeting! Consider balancing out purchased park snacks with packed items.
Share a Meal – If your preschooler has a particularly small appetite and you want to minimize food waste, consider sharing a dish. Items like the Three-Cheese Sandwich at Woody’s Lunch Box or the ribs at Flame Tree Barbeque are very sharable between an adult and child.
Character Dining Experiences with Preschoolers
Does your preschooler love characters? A character dining experience can be a memorable way to capture photos and collect signatures. Each preschooler will have personal time with characters that come directly to the table!
Each of the four Walt Disney World theme parks hosts their own character dining meal. Some of the restaurants at the deluxe hotels have them as well. These lively character meals are a great way to bypass the meet n’ greet lines in the parks, while engaging with favorite characters.
Disney World Advance Dining Reservations are a must when booking character dining experiences. Click through to the article to find out how to score those must-have reservations!
Strollers are Still a Good Idea for Disney with a Preschooler
Even if your preschooler hasn’t ridden in a stroller lately, the miles of walking and the hours of standing in lines will take a toll. Achy feet and tired bodies add up to cranky kids, so consider bringing a stroller.
Worn out preschoolers might even surprise you with a mid-day nap. You especially don’t want to be carrying an exhausted preschooler out of the park at the end of the night!
Even a small umbrella type is better than nothing. We personally have the Summer Lite 3D Stroller for my child. It’s lightweight and easy to fold, yet still reclines for naps.
Is Stroller Rental a Good Idea? If you’re traveling to Walt Disney World, I can highly recommend my partner Kingdom Strollers. They will drop off and pick up a stroller at your Disney World resort, airport or off-site hotel. Prices are at a discount and well worth it!
Disney Parks Areas to Play
There are play areas for preschoolers inside each of the Disney parks. Some have water features where kids can splash and play. Others are just places where kids can explore and roam free.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios:
- No dedicated play areas for kids, but the Disney Junior Dance Party will allow kids to get up & move.
- Casey Jr. Splash & Soak Station
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant (queue waiting area)
- Swiss Family Treehouse
- Tom Sawyer Island
Disney’s Animal Kingdom:
- The Boneyard
- Bruce’s Shark World inside The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilion
- Model train area in Germany
- ImageWorks, at the end of the Journey Into Imagination with Figment ride
- Advance Training Lab, at the end of Mission: Space
- Seasonal playgrounds during special events
Which Disney World Resort Hotel is Best for Preschoolers?
There are many factors when deciding upon a WDW hotel. Budget, themes, location, room size, swimming pools and amenities should all be considered.
Budget – Disney World resort hotels fall into Deluxe, Moderate and Value categories.
Disney Themes – Each resort features Disney theming, some more heavily influenced than others. While many adults would prefer the luxuriousness of the Grand Floridian, most preschoolers enjoy the over-the-top theming at the less pricey hotels, like All-Star Resorts!
Hotel Location – Disney World is very large and resort hotels are scattered in various locations. Most hotels require transportation to/from the theme parks. Figure out where you’ll spend most of your time and book a hotel in that vicinity.
Since Magic Kingdom is so popular with younger children, you might want to consider booking a hotel along the Monorail loop, like the Contemporary. Another suggestion is one of the hotels connected to the Skyliner, like Pop Century or Riviera Resort.
Room Size – Most resort hotel rooms are standard sized and basic. However there are family suites at the Art of Animation. These Cars, Lion King and Finding Nemo themed suites are ideal for larger families or those who enjoy extra space.
Choosing the Hotel That’s Best for Your Family
Special activities – Many of the hotels offer family activities, including crafts or learning opportunities at the resort. Look for movie night, campfires, and other Cast Member organized events throughout your stay. Some recreation activities are included with a resort stay and others cost extra.
Swimming Pools – For many youngsters, the hotel swimming pool is the best part of any vacation! All Disney Resort hotels have life jackets at the pool areas sized for your preschooler.
Choose wisely if a swim day is important to your family. While all Disney resort hotels have a swimming pool (or more than one), only the Deluxe resorts have water slides.
My preschooler absolutely loved his experience at the Beach Club. The lazy river and sandy-bottom pool at Stormalong Bay is a highlight here.
Resort Playgrounds and Places for Kids to Play
Preschoolers need to MOVE! Find play areas that will allow them freedom to run around a bit.
Allow about an hour in your schedule for kids to play freely. This might mean taking your preschooler back to the hotel pool for a swim. After some free play, your child will hopefully have more patience for standing in lines.
Mid-Day Break – Taking a mid-day break from the parks to return to your hotel for swimming or rest time is also a good idea.
Hotel Playgrounds – There are playgrounds at the Walt Disney World resort hotels where kids can play and you can kick back in the shade.
Q & A – Disney World with Preschoolers
These are a few additional things to plan when traveling with preschoolers at Disney World.
Can kids dress in costume? – Absolutely, any preschooler is welcome to dress in a head-to-toe costume within the Disney parks. I highly recommend bringing a change of clothes in case your 3-year old wants to change.
Read more about the best Disney outfits for kids, including tips for choosing comfortable walking shoes.
Can preschoolers do the princess makeover? – Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique is the makeover location in Magic Kingdom. This magical salon is for children aged 3-12 (park ticket required).
Preschoolers can choose to wear their own costume from home or purchase one with a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique package. Find out the best places to buy Disney princess dresses.
Where can preschoolers use the bathroom? – All restrooms are appropriate for young children to use. There are some shared family restrooms in certain areas. The Baby Care Centers also have small toilets that are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers.
Follow Your Preschooler’s Lead
It can be a challenge to follow a detailed touring plan with preschoolers. Don’t be afraid to ditch the schedule and let your preschooler take the lead on vacation!
Kids want to ride Kilimanjaro Safari three times in a row? Go for it! Enamored with Minnie Mouse? Get back in line for the meet n’ greet to let your preschooler say hello again.
When you let your kids take the lead at Disney World, sometimes really magical things happen!