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by Daisy Diva

Disney World can be a truly magical place for kids of all ages, but it can also be pretty terrifying for those under four feet tall.  And as much as I love the idea of waking my kids up one morning to the words, “Rise and shine!  We’re going to Disney World!” my toddlers needed to be prepped before their first big trip.  My kids were 4 and 2 when we went to Disney World for the first time, and I knew them well enough to know that springing a 7-foot-tall Goofy on them would be more than they could handle.  Here are a few of the things that I did that really helped my kids familiarize themselves with the Disney experience before we went.

I started by showing the kids some YouTube videos of people interacting with the characters.  I figured for my little ones, the characters would be the most intimidating part of Disney.  So we found some great YouTube videos of kids, teens, and adults talking with princesses and Peter Pan and clowning around with Buzz Lightyear and Woody.  Because I knew that we would be having breakfast with Pooh and Friends at the Crystal Palace and another breakfast with Mickey, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy at the Tusker House, I also found some really great videos of people eating and meeting the characters at both of those restaurants.  By the time we left, my kids understood which characters would talk and which ones wouldn’t.  They also weren’t surprised when Piglet was MUCH taller than them.  They weren’t scared at all, but I also found that watching the videos didn’t ruin the magic of the moment.  They knew what to expect without losing the excitement of the experience.  My two-year-old daughter literally squealed with glee each time a new character walked in the room!  And just look at the face of my sweet boy hugging Goofy!  No fear—just unadulterated joy!

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Since we were already enjoying our YouTube Disney experience, I went ahead and found some videos of some of the rides as well.  I think this helped as well.  The ‘dark rides’ did not frighten my kids at all.  They were totally prepared for some of the rides to be outside and while others were inside in the dark.  They loved every single ride they went on from Peter Pan’s Flight to Splash Mountain.  I really noticed with my 4-year-old son that this seemed to help with ‘the unknown.’  Several times while we were standing in a queue, he would say, “Oh, yeah, I remember seeing this on the video.”  Any anxiety he had about entering a dark room or new building was completely alleviated.

A fun activity that I did with the kids was Friday Family Movie Night.  Every Friday night for about 3 months before our trip we would watch a Disney movie after eating a meal that was themed around that movie.  I mostly picked movies that I knew went with a ride, attraction, or character that we might encounter while visiting Disney World.  I made these alien cupcakes for or Toy Story movie night.

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Take advantage of the free items that Disney itself offers to help you plan your trip.  You will be surprised how much your kids enjoy these!  My kids still ask to watch our Disney Planning DVD—which has lots of useful information as well as more footage of the larger than life characters and various rides and attractions.  This is a great way to build excitement while relieving some of the stress of just not knowing exactly what to expect.

Another free Disney item that is totally worth taking the time to request is the customizable maps.  You can go to Disney’s website, select any rides and attractions you are interested in from any or all of the four theme parks, and Disney will send you your own personalized maps for your trip.  My son LOVED pouring over the maps and finding each landmark from each park as well as our resort.

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The last thing I did was create a countdown chain for our trip.  Ours was a simple paper chain with a number on each day.  Each morning my son would remove a link of the chain, and we would look to see how many days were left before the big day.  This was just another way to keep him involved in the trip and in the know about when we were leaving.  This picture shows him still in his jammies with full-on bedhead taking off the last link of the chain the morning that we left.

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My most important tip for preparing your kids is know your kids.  Some kids don’t need any prep at all—they can jump into the Disney experience with both feet and never look back.  Others, like my oldest, don’t jump into ANYTHING with both feet and would have been completely overwhelmed and tearful without a little bit of preparation.  I am pleased to report that we spent four glorious days in Disney World without a single tear from either of our kids—with the exception of a brief, roughly five second moment when our son thought that he would not get to ride Splash Mountain due to lightening in the area.  (Never fear—we ran to get in line and the lightening stayed away long enough for him to ride.)  Be realistic with yourself about what your kids can handle and prep them accordingly.  But be warned—they may have such a good time that they will ask you every day when you are taking them back to Disney World.

To plan your vacation, contact Patricia at All For Dreams Travel.

I am a Disney-loving former second grade teacher turned stay at home mom of two kids whom I homeschool and the wife of a Disney-tolerating husband. (But I think I am slowly starting to convert him!) If I'm not at Walt Disney World, you can probably find me planning my next Disney vacation or day-dreaming about being in the Magic Kingdom. I also love monograms, reading, Sonic Cherry Limeade's, autumn, and teaching kid's church.