Whether a friend has been to Walt Disney World a dozen times or it’s their first trip, I always like to give the same piece of advice (however cliché) – take time to smell the roses. Disney veterans know there are hundreds of amazing details that one misses by blowing through the parks, but I’m not even just talking about that.
If you are traveling with kids, I can’t stress enough how much more fun it will be for the whole family if you let the kids lead a little. Now hear me out — when it comes to rides, my kids know that we may pass certain ones in order to beat the traffic patterns, etc, and that they have to trust mommy and daddy. We don’t “let them lead” in that way. This generally works well, because we get to ride all they want when all is said and done.
In the afternoons though, when everyone needs a break from the go-go-go? That’s when we like to slow down. Let the kids stop and watch the monorail go by. Play in an interactive fountain. Eat a Mickey bar and watch the Fountain of Nations do its dance.
Sometimes All the freaking time though, the strangest same thing happens. Parents need to slow down. Kids need less stimulation, but don’t seem to need a break otherwise. Wouldn’t you know, Disney has just the solution for everyone. Fun, themed playgrounds! Here are some of our favorites:
Casey Jr. Splash n Soak Station and Dumbo’s Interactive Play Queue:
These are both located inside New Fantasyland’s Storybook Circus area. As the name suggests, the first is a water play area. The second is inside the Dumbo queue. As you wait for the ride, you are given a pager (like at a restaurant) and allowed to play until it’s your turn to ride. If the kids are enjoying themselves, though, it’s absolutely no problem for them to continue playing as long as they wish. In less busy times, we’ve actually played and ended up not even riding. My kids really enjoy both of these areas!
The Laughing Place
At the base of Splash Mountain, tucked away near the ride’s exit, is this little play area for smaller kids. It’s cute but nothing extravagant, which is honestly just what you need sometimes. Parents can sit and see the whole structure while even the smallest kids can enjoy some free play.
Ok, so this one isn’t a “little playground” and it’s pretty much the opposite of the sit-and-watch-your-kids-play adventure of The Laughing Place… but I’d be amiss without mentioning one of the most unique play ares in all of Walt Disney World. Rope bridges and caves await adventurers willing to take a raft ride to get there!
Space Base at Mission: Space’s Advanced Training Lab
Similar to The Laughing Place at the Magic Kingdom, this little play area is tucked away at the exit of the ride. Junior explorers enjoy climbing in several stories of tubes. This area may be especially useful for families with kids of varying ages, where older explorers can enjoy the simulator games nearby. We love it for the fact that a) not a lot of people see it in slower seasons and b) it’s air-conditioned and dark – a welcome break from the Florida sun, sometimes!
Flower and Garden Festival play areas
These are, hands down, our favorite places to play. It’s something we look forward to any time we’re traveling during the Festival. Throughout Epcot, playground companies come in and show off their latest trends – and Disney, of course, makes them look spectacular.
They usually include separate play areas for different ages, handicap-accessible areas and more. It’s like your favorite park, but with a beautiful view of Spaceship Earth or World Showcase Lagoon. Perfect.
DISNEY’S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure: Literally an attraction in and of itself, this is an adorable play area where guests get to experience larger-than-life objects as if they’ve been shrunk down to the size of an ant. Among the props are giant filmstrips (will your kids even recognize this?! ;), humongous legos, 30-foot-tall blades of grass, mazes and more. I have to admit – this one we shy away from until the kids are bigger, because it can be a nightmare to keep track of more than one until they can fend for themselves a bit!
DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM
On a scale similar to that of the HISTK Movie Set Adventure, this is another “playground” big enough to be its own attraction. The good news about this one though, is that it’s very spread out and much easier to follow your kids around! The Boneyard is divided into two main areas, one with slides and climbing apparatus and the other a very fun dig site.
AROUND THE RESORT
Each of the Disney resorts have play areas of their own too, many of which include playgrounds and splash pads or interactive water features. They’re generally very well-themed to the resort, and lots of fun!
I realize that it seems counter-intuitive to invest time and money into travel to Florida for a Disney vacation only to spend it on something you may be able to do at home. For us, though, the time all five of us are together and in no rush – nobody is at work, we aren’t squeezing a park into a million other errands, etc – is precious time.
Some of our best memories are made on Disney vacations, but they aren’t always on E-ticket attractions. 🙂
UPDATE: Many of you have found For the Love of Disney by coming across this page on Pinterest. I’m so glad you’re here – and so grateful to those of you pinning my images! 🙂
It seems I struck a chord with readers who understand the potential value in a little bit of downtime on a Walt Disney World vacation. If that’s you, you might also enjoy the series we ran on Great Places to Relax in each location. Check them out here: Magic Kingdom | Epcot | Hollywood Studios | Animal Kingdom | Resorts