Our family just recently returned from our son’s first trip to Walt Disney World. Heading into this vacation, there were many experiences I was excited to share with him, and I knew this would be an entirely different trip from those had when my husband and I visited as a couple. I expected that we would see less in order to accommodate nap time, perhaps spend a little more time riding spinner favorites like Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and likely never make it through a showing at the Hall of Presidents. I had also heard from other parents that I would see “The World” in a whole new way, and they were right.
I saw the entire resort in a way that I have not since my first visit as a five-year-old girl. There are many things I learned from my little guy, or maybe I should say re-learned. I visited the “most magical place on earth” as a child again, and I remembered how to appreciate it in the best way. Here are the 10 lessons my son taught me at Walt Disney World:
Never Overlook Fireworks
After many years of vacationing with my family, we had seen Fantasy In the Sky enumerable times. Fireworks began to lose the awe-factor. Instead, we used that time to fit in as many rides as possible on Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. Once, my husband and I began visiting as a couple, we often chose to (gasp) skip Wishes in favor of additional rides or an evening swim at our resort. Early in our recent trip we made a point to see the spectacular that is Happily Ever After, but on a subsequent visit to Magic Kingdom, we arrived in the evening with the intention of riding Splash Mountain and picking up a late dinner. As we made our way down the Main Street, U.S.A bypass, ventured through Tomorrowland, and crossed Fantasyland, my son looked up from his stroller and questioned, almost in tears, why we were not watching the fireworks. I had made a crucial error. In his little kid mind, you never skip fireworks because they are incredible and deserve to be watched. Always.
Food Is Not Important, Except Cookies and Ice Cream
Walt Disney World is a food paradise, and never more so than during the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival...throughout which my little guy took a two hour nap. This might not be true of every kid, but my son could have cared less about what we ate anywhere. That is, up until my husband purchased a Mini-Kitchen Sink from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor, or a giant chocolate chip cookie from the Boardwalk Bakery, or an Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor, or a Pineapple Dole Whip from Pineapple Lanai. Each of these had to be shared, and the Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich afforded me one of my favorite videos of the trip where I caught my son with two spoons in-hand squealing, “I can’t wait!”
Frozen Ever After is Incredible
While I am willing to admit that Frozen is a great film, I was among the group that was more than a little jaded about it making its presence known in Epcot. Then, once the attraction opened, I heard reports of a mediocre layover. The internet quickly decried its long wait times and declared its show scenes un-inventive. Well, those keyboard warriors clearly did not watch my son experience a beautiful ice palace, a joyful dancing snowman, curious trolls, or a giant snow monster. While I could have ridden the attraction with all the skepticism of an Epcot purist, instead I enjoyed my first voyage by seeing it through the eyes of my child. I was reminded of the Disney attraction that made the greatest impact on me during my first visit: Peter Pan’s Flight. A simple dark ride that brought a beloved film to life.
Getting Soaked is Awesome
To be fair, I have always thought getting soaked on the water rides at WDW is awesome. See the nearby photo for proof. Instead, this was a lesson I watched my husband learn. My other half has always despised getting wet on attractions and has reluctantly, yet repeatedly, accompanied me on two of my favorites, Splash Mountain and Kali River Rapids. On this trip, we very quickly learned that our son shared my feelings. He immediately placed the two aforementioned rides at top of his list, which meant my husband got to ride them multiple times. Much to my joy, I watched as my husband learned that when your child loves something, the sheer happiness it brings them makes you fall in love with it too. Not only did my husband not care about getting wet, he enjoyed it. He laughed along and posed for a selfie with us after we rounded the bend from Chick-A-Pin Hill.
Soarin’ is for Real
When I road Soarin’ Over California for the first time in 2008, I was enamored with the incredible technological marvel that it was, I was captivated by its music, and I was amazed by landscapes that I have never before seen in real life. When my son rode Soarin’ Around the World, he flew. I could not help but watch his face as we sailed over the whale’s splash in the initial scene. He clinched his eyes shut, leaned back and giggled as if the water was going to rush over him. He ducked, swayed, laughed and squeezed my hand in surprise throughout the entire ride. To him, that experience was as real as climbing aboard the Monorail. After we exited, there was no talk of how the ride system works, the new score, or CGI polar bears, he just wanted to fly again.
Never Leave a Fluffy Behind
When I visit Walt Disney World, I try to select souvenirs that are Disney Parks exclusive and will stand the test of time. I have many items that would be considered collectibles, and even the apparel I choose is picked with the utmost thought to its association with my favorite attractions and resorts. When my son walked into Big Top Souvenirs in Storybook Circus and spotted a gigantic stuffed pillow version of Pluto, he did not care that it was huge, impractical, widely available, or the umpteenth stuffed dog he would come to own. He just knew he loved that fluffy Pluto, and it needed to come home with us.
The Resort is Amazing
Without fail, we would arrive at one of the four parks and within an hour, my son would look at me and ask, “We go to our room now?” It was unbelievable that he could be in “kid wonderland” and be looking at me wanting to return to our hotel room. However, I soon realized that he was associating “our room” with anywhere at our resort, and this kid would have been content to spend the better part of each day in one of three pools/splash areas. While swimming has always been a favorite part of our WDW vacations, it took my little guy to remind me just how incredible the resort hotels are as a whole. The pull of park attractions and environments often leaves these amazingly themed accommodations to be a bit of an afterthought when they deserve to be a focal point.
Don’t be Afraid to Dance
I have always shied away from giving anyone a means for embarrassing me, and while I tend to be slightly less inhibited while visiting WDW, I certainly do not seek attention. Kids, on the other hand, do not care who is watching them dance in Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. For months prior to our trip, my son had been practicing his moves while listening to Tiki Tiki Tiki Room. I was so happy to see that when it came time for the birdies to sing, he was not nervous or embarrassed. He just enjoyed the moment. This was not the only time the rhythm got him. While visiting Disney Springs, saxophone street performer Don Black, was playing outside Uniqulo. My son wanted to dance, and he asked me to join him. Inspired by his joy, I danced in circles with him, and for the first time, I did not care who was watching.
There are SO MANY Pressed Penny Machines
Before we left on our vacation, we decided to make a little extra magic for our son with surprises from Mickey. One of the daily gifts was a bag of coins to use in the pressed penny machines. While I had noticed machines in many locations throughout the parks and resorts on previous trips, I had not taken note of exactly how many there are. To say there are as many pressed penny options as there are trash cans would be an exaggeration, but in the moment, that assertion did not feel far off. I loved watching my son try to turn the crank, but for a little kid with an unbelievable ability to spot what he wants, we ran through that money bag from Mickey pretty quickly!
Meeting Characters is Fun
As I have expounded on before, I was never one to spend time waiting in line for characters, but watching our son at our first Character Meet and Greet (Donald Duck in his Mexican attire) served to completely change my mind. In fact, by the midpoint of our trip, my husband and I did not hesitate about standing in full-on-Animal-Kingdom-hot-sun because we could not leave without having a photo taken with Launchpad McQuack and Uncle Scrooge McDuck, interactions that were just as much for our enjoyment as our little guy’s.
Whether or not you have the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World with a small child, I implore you to enjoy the parks and resorts with the unique wonder and amazement of a child. Dance, believe in the magic, relive your memories, have fun!
What was something surprising you learned from visiting Walt Disney World with a small child? Please let us know in the comments section here or on Facebook!
All photos are from the author’s personal collection.
To learn more about Kendall and read her recent posts for the WDW Radio Blog, visit her author page by clicking the link on her name at the top of this post.