Friday, April 8, 2011

Where can young children get out and play in Disney World?

My family loves going to Disney World, but one of the "gotchas" about taking very young children is that it's too busy and crowded to let them walk on their own -- they get trampled (I've seen it happen!) or worse, they can get lost. That's why when we were in the Magic Kingdom, we made it a point to visit Pooh's Playful Spot in Fantasyland:

and the play area in Mickey's Toontown Fair, where the little ones could safely run around, go down slides and make new friends.

However, both of these play areas have closed as Disney World expands Fantasyland.

Cue sad face.

Going around the theme parks, it's not fun for a toddler or young preschooler to go from carrier to stroller to high chair to lap -- without ever getting a chance to release some energy, run around and play. In my experience, a kid who doesn't get physical activity during the day is a cranky kid who has a hard time falling asleep at night. And all parents know that isn't part of the recipe for a fun vacation.

However, my kids still get to enjoy physical play at these spots around the Magic Kingdom:

1. Tom Sawyer Island in Frontierland is a great place for kids of all ages to stretch their legs. The ground is uneven in some places, and there are stairs, so wobbly toddlers will need some help. However, there are bridges, tunnels and pretty views on the island (you take a pontoon "raft" across the river near Splash Mountain), so it's really fun to explore. My four-year-old loved the bridge made out of barrels and walked across it several times. He also loved the fort. My one-year-old couldn't walk across the barrel bridge but enjoyed the challenge of the stairs that are placed throughout the island.

2. There is a small playground under the train station in Frontierland where kids play. You have to walk under the train station to get to Splash Mountain, and the play area has a Splash Mountain Brer Rabbit theme to it. It's not very big, but it's in the shade. Score!

3. In Tomorrowland, the stage area (on the far side, near the railroad tracks) is often where characters will come out and start a dance party. If your kids like to get their groove on, just follow the music. Check the weekly schedule, available at your resort or near the entrance of each theme park, for times and locations of character appearances.

4. If your child is good with stairs, definitely climb up the Swiss Family Treehouse in Adventureland. The stairs are narrow, really allowing only single file, and are well-contained, so you don't have to worry about your child falling from the top of the tree. Once you've exerted yourself with climbing up, the stairs then lead you back down. It's so fun, your family might want to go back a second time!

There are places for little ones to play in the other Disney World theme parks too. We like the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids play area in Hollywood Studios:

The Affection Section petting zoo area in Conservation Station, Animal Kingdom, is a place where kids can walk around and touch goats, sheep and other animals:

The Boneyard, where kids can play in the sand and pretend to be paleontologists uncovering fossils, is another choice at Animal Kingdom.

All Disney World resorts have playgrounds in addition to their spectacular pools, like this one at the French Quarter (notice the Mardi Gras colors -- Disney thinks of everything!):

so families can let kids get the wiggles out.

It's fun to experience the magic of Disney World with little ones, who definitely have more fun when they get the chance to get out of the stroller and play. It makes for a better overall family vacation.

Disneyphiles, what are other safe places for young children to play?