Disney vacations with preschoolers can be a challenge for many reasons. Number one for your child (if not you as well), is finding appropriate rides. The little ones are likely to feel left out as they are relegated to “It’s a Small World” and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” while mom, dad, and older siblings take turns on the more exciting rides.
In addition, Disney’s parks are sprawling. Even with all the transportation options available, making your way from end to end is exhausting for their fast-moving but nonetheless tiny legs.
Worst of all is the worry that they’re just too young to remember the experience.
For families with kids of different ages and interests, the decision to build the entire experience around the youngest of the group is a precarious one. Fortunately, one park offers a little something for everyone – especially preschoolers:
Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Animal Kingdom is far from Walt Disney World’s version of your local zoo. This is a legitimate Disney park, worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. For families of preschoolers, Animal Kingdom should be at the top of the list, with its perfect mix of size, excitement, and memorability for the whole family.
Is Animal Kingdom Too Big for Preschoolers?
Strictly on paper, Animal Kingdom wouldn’t appear to be the first choice for a compact, easy-to-navigate park. At more than 500 acres, it is easily the largest of Disney World’s properties. However, much of that acreage is dedicated to the massive space housing the giraffes, elephants, lions, and other fauna within the Kilimanjaro Safari Experience.
Walking through the park itself is rather quick.
With the Tree of Life as a centerpiece, you always know where you are, and can gauge how far away a certain attraction might be. The different sections of the park are much closer than they appear, which my family found out first-hand.
In desperate need of a late-afternoon caffeine kick, my wife and I were faced with a daunting trek between Expedition Everest and the Starbucks in Africa. However, a helpful park employee let us in on a little secret. There’s a short path running behind the Tree of Life, connecting the two lands. Less than 10 minutes later, we were happily sipping a couple of Fraps. Our 4- and 7-year-olds barely noticed that we’d left the Yeti far behind.
Even when not traversing not-so-hidden shortcuts, moving through Animal Kingdom with a preschooler is manageable. This is thanks to the shade provided by the foliage lining the sides of most major walkways.
Does Animal Kingdom Have Rides for Preschoolers?
Of course, short distances between destinations are useless if your preschooler can’t take advantage of the rides awaiting them there.
Fortunately, a majority of the rides at Animal Kingdom were designed with preschoolers in mind. For example, Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, and the Kali River Rapids all have height requirements of 44 inches or less. This meant our 4-year-old could ride all the “roller coasters” he wanted.
What’s more, each of these rides was a favorite for everyone in our family. None of them were too “kiddy;” Dinosaur had us chased by a humongous carnivore, the Kali River Rapids dropped us down a waterfall, and Expedition Everest was more than enough for two TravelingDads:
Animal Kingdom Nails the Preschooler Experience
Animal Kingdom is sublime in its achievement of being memorable and exciting not only for preschoolers, but for older brothers, sisters, and parents. I have a feeling our 4-year-old will remember chasing the yeti or racing away from a dinosaur not because the ride themselves stood out – but because he had his older brother screaming and laughing right next to him.
Their universal appeal and ease of access mean these attractions can evolve with your little one; being their favorite not only in preschool, but up through adolescence and beyond.
You won’t risk letting your preschooler’s needs shape your family’s whole experience. Animal Kingdom has already done it – with no one over the age of 4 being any the wiser.