While planning our first vacation to Walt Disney World, I spent several months reading The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, which I still believe to be the best book available for planning a trip to the World. One of the aspects I love most about the book is that it tells you in the ride description if a ride is likely to scare your child. Want to know if a ride is going to make your three year old cry for the rest of the day? Then take a look at the ride description and search for special comments such as, “Terrifying to many young children.”
To prepare our kids for some of the rides that we considered borderline, we also checked out videos on YouTube made by other Disney guests. A quick search will take you to a decent quality upload of nearly every ride in Walt Disney World. I also use these videos to prepare myself for riding a frightening ride with my children. For example, I knew when to anticipate the final drop on Splash Mountain and hold on tight to my six year old. I knew when the darkness would both begin and end on Maelstrom and was able to talk my children through it.
Even with all of this preparation, there have still been a couple of occasions where one or both of my children have been frightened by a ride or attraction. In general, it helps to keep in mind that some rides are frightening because they are dark and/or incredibly loud. These are often not the rides you would anticipate to be frightening for any other reason. Also, the occasional restaurant may be upsetting to small children for the same reason. There’s nothing like a three year old screaming in a dimly lit restaurant full of tired park-goers! You may wish to also watch out for the following…
- Jungle Cruise – While this ride at first appears to be a benign classic, the jungle tour guides are a little overzealous yelling into their mics and kicking the side of the boat. My kids were not fans.
- Splash Mountain – Everyone knows to watch for the drop at the end, but my daughter was a bit worried for poor B’rer Rabbit. Let your kids know that it will all Zippity Do-Dah be alright at the end!
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – What could be scary about Winnie the Pooh? How about Winnie the Pooh’s bad dream? My son was terrified of what is best described as the “trippy” part of this ride for a long time. Distract your kids during the somewhat frightening black light section by pointing out their glowing laces or the white fuzz you didn’t realize covered your shirt.
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic – While this is one of my favorites, if your kids are frightened by 3-D, simply have them watch without the 3-D glasses. Be prepared also for loud noises and water squirting at you from the seat in front of you.
- Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor – My kids were just a bit afraid of Roz the first time we enjoyed this attraction, so be prepared that not every little one is okay with this grumbly, growly monster.
- Tomorrowland Transit Authority – Probably the most easy going attraction in all of Walt Disney World, Tomorrowland Transit Authority also contains a section of total darkness – seriously complete darkness – so if your children are afraid of the dark you’ll want to skip this ride.
- The Seas with Nemo and Friends – Children who are fine watching Finding Nemo might not enjoy seeing Bruce the shark and his buddies close up. The part that gets my daughter every time? That frightening fish from the dark drop-off. We just close our eyes until he passes.
- Living with the Land – Once you get through the thunderstorm section, the rest of this ride is fun and fascinating, especially for budding scientists. Just prepare your kids that it ends quickly and the rest of the ride is storm-free.
- Journey Into Imagination with Figment – While this ride is one of our absolute favorites, there is a moment where a loud noise blares and a serious blast of air hits you from behind. It comes at the end of the tour after the “open house” through Figment’s place. To avoid the full force, sit in the front of the car.
- Maelstrom – My children made it through the entire ride, waterfalls, trolls and all without being scared, only to be mortified by the movie about Norway. The film is large, it is loud, and it opens with vikings running and yelling. Simply take your children straight out the exit doors following the ride rather than taking a seat.
- Festival of the Lion King – There is a portion of this otherwise jolly show that, like the movie, becomes a little dark and foreboding. If you sit in one of the higher bleachers your child is less likely to be frightened.
- Kilimanjaro Safaris – The safari is meant to mimic a real safari complete with poachers to chase. If your kids are frightened by the road that has “washed away” and the poachers who “have been spotted,” be sure to remind them that it is all just good old Disney magic.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Fantasmic! – Watching some of Disney’s most notorious villains come alive on a wall of water in the dark of night can be terrifying for some kids. If your child is afraid of Disney villains or the dark, consider skipping this show.
- Jim Henson’s Muppet-Vision 3-D – This really fun movie comes with the same warnings as Mickey’s PhilharMagic. If your kids don’t like 3-D, you may want to pass.
- Playhouse Disney Live on Stage – While it seems as though nothing about Playhouse Disney Live on Stage could be frightening, my daughter was frightened by the number of kids they packed around us on the floor of the theater. If your little one doesn’t like crowds, try to get in line at the last minute so you can sit near the back where you’ll, quite frankly, have a better view of the characters anyway.
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid – Just like Nemo, not every little Disney fan is ready for Ursula live in front of them and larger than life. In general, this show is quick and painless with fun effects (bubbles!) and great music, but if Ursula is on the “must avoid” list, then stay out of the water!