We took our toddler son to Disney World for the first time and we chose Animal Kingdom as his first park. This was for a few reasons…
I had been to all of the parks before and this one has always been a favorite. I know that the Magic Kingdom has more activities for children but we wanted to save that one for when he is a little older and can appreciate the “magic”. Animals are exciting for him at this age so we opted to explore that more. And as a bonus, Pandora world has recently been added and we really wanted to check it out – our first date back in 2009 was to see the Pandora movie!
Top Toddler Attractions
Or should I say, the toddler attractions that we had time to check out! They were top on our list but everyone is different. It is important to read into this how our toddler got on with these attractions and you should do what is best for your family and children’s interests.
Finding Nemo the Musical was the first thing we did. We did not get to the park until later, so toddler was already a little tired. This was the perfect musical for him to relax and engage. It was a broadway level performance with magical puppets. If you LOVE Finding Nemo like we do then this is for you. “Fish” is one of his favorite words right now and there were plenty in this show.
Tip: Go in right before the show starts. You will not have to wait in line and can find some empty seats people left when they initially filled in the benches. If you have an eagle eye you can spot holes as you enter the auditorium and can either split up for the best view or squeeze in. We found an empty row right in front and did not wait!
We rode the Pandora River Ride three times! Needless to say our boy loved it. Even though he was very fussy during the long wait time, we took him on it multiple times.
Tip: Get a drink or snacks and bring them with you in the line. This one is a wait! 80 minutes the first time. In the evening the wait time went down to 20 minutes. Either get a fast pass for this one or ride it later in the evening (right before closing time) if you want to skip the wait.
The African Safari is really an experience. Our toddler was more interested in the truck we rode on than the animals. It was hard for him to focus on spying them outside the ride we were in.
Dino Ride This one was a bit scary for him. He loved the dinosuar cars we rode in but was very concerned when they lifted us up in the air.
Dinoland USA was our favorite! It is a huge play area with dinosaur bones, slides and caves to explore. Our boy had the freedom to run around and explore without restrictions.
River Show of Lights was the Animal Kingdom’s equivalent of the light parade from the Magic Kingdom. As most all of the park had closed everyone gathered on the riverfront for an epic show.
Tip: Find a seat early and then have a member of your party go out to grab popcorn, drink or ice-cream.
Other rides and attractions are good for young children as well but we opted to spend our day the way listed above. We would have liked to try the Lion King show but opted for Nemo as we only had time for one. We also wanted to check out a Bugs Life but I remembered that one having seats that poked you while you watched and it is a bit too loud and dark for a toddler. Note that there is no longer a train in this park. They removed it October 2018 as we found out when we were looking for it.
Bringing a Stroller
If you choose to carry your child or let them walk you have to go at their pace. This can be enjoyable for them as it is their time to enjoy a place geared towards them as most public establishments are not very child friendly. There are dance parties and animals all through the parks as well as the occasional character run in. However, if there are events you need to hurry to, such as the River Lights Show, then it can be quite the workout to carry a toddler through the crowds across the park. This may require upper body strength as well as cardio.
I am not going to say that toddler meltdowns happen with one and not the other because they happen no matter what. This is just because he is at the stage where he wants to communicate but doesn’t yet know how. He may want to get out when the stroller is stopped or cry out because something fell on the ground. Or if he is walking he may see something interesting to him and go towards it without your knowing what he is wanting.
Toddler can nap or ride when they are tired of walking. If you bring a comfortable enough carriage for them, then you will not have to worry about finding a place for nap time.
It does not bear any weight or require a human workout. Without the stroller you will find that you have a child who demands to be picked up constantly. You either give in or have him cry on the ground. It happens and with a stroller in place he can cry there and learn the lesson that he cannot always get his way.
You have peace of mind and can be hands free. When your child is in a containment on wheels you know they are not darting into a huge crowd or cutting through an attraction line while you quickly reference the map.
Children can snack. You will always have a safe place for them to eat lunch without having to search for a highchair or booster seat. If your stroller comes with a tray attachment then you do not have to worry about table germs or them touching their food to public seats and tables before eating it.
It does not allow for free exploration. It is important to us that our child get to explore his curiosities. If he hears music we want him to dance. If he sees a character we want him to interact. Even something so small as picking up leaves and feeling the texture can be an interesting experience for him. So much of this is missed if he is bound to a stroller.
Most rides and shows required stroller parking anyway. You are not going to be using the stroller but to move between locations. Lines for attractions such as Pandora will take over an hour and require that you are stroller free.
Child may want to escape the stroller and it will be a constant battle. I know every time we stopped walking he wanted to GET OUT.