Disney World is a bucket list destination for many families. However, especially with the changes due to COVID (no free fast passes, no dining plans, no free Disney Express from the airport, no free magic bands etc. ) it is an expensive holiday option. As expected, prices increase significantly during the school holidays, so should you go to Disney World with a pre-schooler? Is there any point making the trip when your child “won’t remember it anyway”? In our opinion, the answer is a great big yes!
I have never subscribed to the thought that you should only go on holiday when your child can remember it because children who have a range of experiences when they are young, often grow into more confident and outgoing people. Also, I believe that parents need fun experiences and memories too, it is not all about my child (just 95% about him!).
Jacob starts school in September, so we were thinking of all of the things that we needed to do before he goes, and Disney World was number 1. We took him up Disneyland Paris when he was 10 months old, so you could say that we are Disney nerds. We also got a great deal by booking when the USA was technically closed to foreign visitors, so we had various benefits thrown in for free. We chose Disney’s All Star Music Resort, one of Disney’s value options. However, booking such a big trip when my 3 1/2-year-old had not left the country in two years due to COVID was a little daunting.
So, why do we recommend Disney World with pre-schoolers? Here are our top 10 reasons:
They are at the age where the characters are real. This was one of our top reasons for taking him so young. Children realize fairly young that the characters are people dressed up, but not by 3. Chip and Dale really are big chipmunks, Donald is just a big, silly duck, and Mickey is a real mouse. This leads to the most glorious faces, faces of wonder and amazement, and they will stay with me forever. And the fact that we saw Mickey in multiple locations, in multiple outfits, just enhanced this delight. Chef Mickey was the favourite.
Meeting Chip and Dale, and loving life
The theme parks are not just about rollercoasters
Although the roller-coaster offering at Disney World has got better and better, there are so many smaller rides, character meets and shows to keep younger visitors occupied. Jacob loved the new Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios, and Fantasy Land in the Magic Kingdom is perfect for the pre-schooler. Even Typhoon Lagoon has a specific area for the under 5s. The Epcot Flower and Garden Festival was also on whilst we were there, at we enjoyed looking at the displays, and taking part in the 2 scavenger hunts that they had organized to coincide with the festival.
Enjoying the Flower and Gardens Festival at Epcot
Everything is new and exciting at Disney World with a pre-schooler
We spent hours riding the Skyline cable cars, we travelled on the ferryboats just for fun and the monorail was not just a form of transport for a 3-year-old, it was a new adventure. Even on the flight over, the fact that there was a TV in the seat was mind blowing. He might not remember these things specifically, but it is building his understanding of the world in the most fun way possible.
Finally riding in the Wreck-It Ralf cable car
Travel builds independent little people
It was so nice to see him go off and do things on his own, or with new friends. Obviously, the transition to school is a big one, but I feel that the confidence and independence that a holiday like Disney builds will really help that transition. The children’s area at Typhoon Lagoon, for example, has a tube ride that he got to do himself. No holding mummy’s hand, just some simple rules to follow and a very safe environment. We did it 30+ times, he loved the freedom and I loved watching him. Disney World is great at creating these moments for their younger guests.
Riding solo on the Typhoon Lagoon water slide
Disney World with a pre-schooler is educational
EPCOT, when viewed through the eyes of a 3-year-old, was a different proposition. When I went to EPCOT pre-Jacob, I went for the big rides and the food in honesty. But with a child in tow, you realize that it is a whole lot more! Living off the land had him amazed at new vegetables and edible flowers. Nemo showed him new sea creatures and made sharks a lot less scary thanks to an interactive play area. Figment taught him about the senses in an inclusive way and soaring had him asking questions about lots of places in the world. I could go on and on, I was amazed at the questions it made him ask, and what he remembered later.
Learning about how cucumbers grow on ‘Living with the Land’ in Epcot
You will re-embrace the ‘sleep when they sleep’ motto
It is knackering. There is no getting around it. It is tiring without a child, but with a child and all of their extra paraphernalia (a buggy at Disney World with a pre-schooler is an absolute MUST), it is even more tiring. I think knowing this and going in with minimal expectations about what you can ‘achieve’ on a daily basis is important. But, if you really embrace this, and plan in daily naps / downtime, it makes for a manageable holiday for you too. We managed one full day in the parks, out of 2 weeks. Every other day, we slept / rested / swam / watched films in the afternoons.
It is cheaper to go to Disney World with a pre-schooler
It goes without saying, that outside of school holidays, Disney World is cheaper. Our flights were cheaper, and they threw in all sorts of bonuses into our hotel package. The fortnight holiday cost was similar to a holiday to the Mediterranean in the summer. Granted we were not too extravagant with our meals, we only did one character meal, and ate breakfasts and some dinners in the hotel room, but you cannot deny the cost benefits of taking a pre-schooler in off-peak times.
Rider switch and single riders
Obviously, it is nice to do rides with other people in your party. But rider switch does at least ensure that you do not have to queue twice if you have a child who cannot ride. The family joins the queue together, but one adult and the child are quickly allowed to leave the queue and given a Lightning Lane for later in the day. This had the added benefit of leaving us as single riders, the golden ticket of queue jumping. For the immersive ‘Flight of Passage’ ride through Avatar’s Pandora for example, I jumped over 100 people due to being a single rider. Paul later skipped at 85-minute queue at midday with his Lightening Lane for this same ride.
Maximizing early starts
Young kids, especially mine, get up early. We found that this worked well to minimize queuing on the popular rides, as we entered the parks during ‘magic hours’. Magic hours are available for all Disney hotel guests, and you can enter the parks 30 min before official opening every day, when the queues are obviously the shortest. I did Rise of the Resistance in 30 minutes, whilst Paul and Jacob did Toy Story Mania twice and the Alien Spinners, all by 8.40am. The queues for Rise of the Resistance was 2 hours + by mid-morning when Paul used the Lightening Lane that we got using the rider switch. In Disney World, the early bird really does catch the worm.
I wanted to wax lyrical about the lack of crowds, but delayed holidays due to covid, plus spring break led to big crowds. I do not think this is normal, and it certainly did not get in our way, but when I have visited off-peak previously, Disney World has been a lot less busy.
In the interest of being unbiased, there are some downfalls of talking a pre-schooler to Disney World, so it would be a remiss of me to ignore them:
- It is a lot. They will be over stimulated, tired, and impatient. If your pre-schooler is anything like mine, this will lead to tantrums. The buggy, planned downtime, snacks, and a tablet were the keys to managing this.
- As mentioned, you will not achieve much. In 2 weeks, we did less that previous 10-day trips which we had also squeezed in Universal Studios and Coco Beach. We just embraced it.
- Evening entertainment is a battle. With the jet lag and busy days, we just could not get all the amazing evening shows done. We just picked the ones that were most important, or that we had not seen, and focused on what we could achieve. Older children would be more likely to be awake to enjoy the evening entertainment.
- In the Disney hotels, which I would definitely advise for convenience of location and transport, you have to share a room, unless you increase costs significantly by getting a suite. A lot of evenings we went to bed at the same time as Jacob, so lots of early nights. Older children would obviously go to bed at a more standard time.
Disney World with a pre-schooler, was an absolute joy, and I would recommend it to anyone. I will be making memory books, and watching the videos for many years to come.
Karen Beddow founded Mini Travellers in 2014 while doing what she loves most...going on holiday!
Mini Travellers is for parents looking for holiday ideas, destination reviews, days out and things to do with the kids. We also have family travel tips, activity ideas and all other things family holiday related. Take a look at some of our latest reviews for holidays and day trips in the UK.