My “Tink” has been to Walt Disney World twice now, once for her first birthday and again at 18 months. Between her need for naps and my pregnancy on the more recent trip, she didn’t ride much so we haven’t yet personally experienced attraction meltdown.
However, I have done some research on this for the future. Beyond the Attractions: A Guide to Walt Disney World with Preschoolers (2011) has some great information on attractions that can be too much for little ones. The Unofficial Guide Walt Disney World 2011 (Unofficial Guides) is another good resource for parents. Arm yourself with some information and you can help keep your trip a positive experience for the whole family.
Tink has been on Pirates of the Caribbean a number of times but has never had a problem. However, if your child is scared of the dark, water, or pirate scenes, this might be one to walk past. We also didn’t have any problems on The Great Movie Ride, but I could see this being a little much for some children. On each trip, we’ll decide what is appropriate for the girls since what might not scare a one year-old could totally frighten the same child a little further down the road.
Keep in mind that Disney does a great job of making pretend things look realistic and children don’t yet have the capacity to separate reality and fiction. Also, many indoor attractions take place in the dark. This doesn’t mean you should avoid the parks with small children, but rather, simply be aware of what fears your child may have. Better to skip something this vacation instead of setting up a situation where they won’t go on a ride for many years. When I would go to WDW as a preschooler, my parents took me on Haunted Mansion, and it scared the fool out of me. It’s a little embarrassing to admit this, but I wouldn’t go on it again until I was in high school and could appreciate the details of the attraction.
For Tink’s first trip, we planned a couple of character breakfasts. I was thankful that she loved Pooh and Tigger, but during my Cast Member days, I saw quite a few kiddos freak out when such a large creature was coming their way. If you’d like to test your child in advance, take him or her to meet someone locally, maybe the Easter Bunny, a school mascot, etc. Then you’ll know their tolerance for characters. Some kids are okay with a little distance, so please allow them just to wave from a few feet away, if that’s what they are comfortable with. Forcing them to hug a character just because you’ve paid for breakfast or park tickets isn’t good for anyone. Most kids are okay with face characters, so if Chip and Dale are too much on a particular trip, why not look for Peter Pan or Snow White instead? (The only time Tink cried around a character was the Mad Hatter, but that was due to his obnoxious personality. Seriously, dude, sign the card and move on. Don’t harass my 12 month old baby.)
Please also be aware that some attractions are rather long and you are stuck for the duration. Ellen’s Energy Adventure in Future World at Epcot is 45 minutes long and has large dinosaurs. We skipped this one in October. I didn’t want to risk a freak out with nowhere to go.
It’s Tough to Be a Bug at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and The Voyage of the Little Mermaid at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are great shows, but they are little intense for small ones. If you try it, shoot for a seat near the far end of the row so you can make a quick exit if needed.
Fireworks can also be too loud for some children. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to try out the local 4th of July fireworks to see how your child reacts before waiting for a prime spot at Magic Kingdom.
And don’t forget that you can always use FastPass or RiderSwap to minimize wait times if the adults in the group want to trade off going on an attraction the children are too nervous (or too short) to try.
Cast Members are there to help, so feel free to ask questions before entering an attraction if you are unsure if it’s a good idea. They’ll also help as much as they can if you do end up with a meltdown, because as all parents know…kids will surprise you.