Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is one new attraction drawing families to Walt Disney World Resort. // © 2015 Walt Disney World Resort
Feature image (above): Sing-alongs and character breakfasts are among other entertainment options at the theme park. // © 2015 Walt Disney World Resort
At 4 and 6 years old, my sons are the perfect ages for visiting Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. They couldn’t wait to arrive at Jedi Training Academy at Hollywood Studios, ride the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom and experience a safari breakfast with Donald Duck and his crew in the Animal Kingdom.
As a mother, I love all the choices for kids, but there’s great sights to see as a parent, too. I looked forward to staying at the recently renovated Polynesian Village Resort — as someone who’s been to Bora Bora several times, I was curious to see how the over-water bungalows would compare.
Following is a rundown of these gems and more at Walt Disney World Resort.
Big Hero 6
In The Magic of Disney Animation attraction in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, be sure to visit the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology labs, where kids can explore recreations of sets from the film “Big Hero 6.” After that, my sons wanted to head to the garage workshop, where they met Hiro Hamada and the adorable Baymax.
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
Many travelers book Walt Disney World Resort hotels not only for cool extras (such as free transfers and airport pick-up), but also because the properties are constantly being updated to offer new experiences.
Nowhere can this seen more clearly than at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. All guestrooms at the recently relaunched resort have been updated. A brand-new children’s area called Lilo’s Playhouse is open, and there’s a new water play area just for the little ones and an additional seating deck for parents. Adults are also sure to love the array of on-site restaurants and character meals, as well as the colorful lobby that serves as a great meeting place.
My family and I stayed in both a standard room and an overwater bungalow. The latter accommodation was definitely worth the splurge. The two-bedroom, two-bath villas can sleep more than six people (we loved the hidden Murphy beds that have colorful fish designs and lights on the inside); plus, the units have a full kitchen and a washer/dryer.
But the best feature of the bungalow is the private overwater deck, complete with a plunge pool, tables and chairs and amazing views of the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks shows — corresponding music is even piped in. Needless to say, it’s a magical place.
Donald’s Safari Dinner
You don’t have to go all the way to Africa to go on safari and eat with the Disney gang. The new Donald’s Safari Dinner takes place at Tusker House Restaurant in Disney’s Animal Kingdom and is an all-you-can-eat buffet with kid-friendly meals, plus a taste of African cuisine. Disney characters stroll around the space, interacting with kids and posing for photos while everyone eats. If dinner is too much of a commitment, consider going for breakfast.
Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
You have not lived until you’ve experience thousands of young (and not-so-young) voices joining in unison to sing their favorite “Frozen” melodies while the show’s cast puts on a great performance. My boys are huge fans of the film, and this choral experience ranked high on their list of favorite attractions.
This entertainment option happens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios multiple times per day. Consider using a FastPass to join the fun without waiting too long.
Efficiency is a cornerstone of Disney, and the rollout of the new MyMagic+ makes the park experience digital and more user-friendly. First, FastPass+ allows guests to book three FastPasses in advance, helping them skip lines at attractions, character greetings, shows, parades and even fireworks displays.
The new all-in-one MagicBands wristbands allow guests to unlock their Disney Resort hotel room, link Disney PhotoPass photos to their Disney account and access FastPass+ reservations. Also, the My Disney Experience planning page and mobile app help families manage each day’s activities and events.
If families liked Fantasyland before, they’ll love it post-expansion: New Fantasyland is now twice its original size and has three times as many castles. Kids are transported to a French village to spend time with Belle; swim deep in the sea with Ariel; and fly through the sky on everyone’s favorite elephant, Dumbo. (There are now two Dumbo-themed rides and double the passenger space, plus a new circus section with monkeys, camels and other animals that squirt water on riders.)
New Fantasyland also features a plethora of fresh restaurants and shopping opportunities, as well as a new Disney parade.
Peter Pan’s Flight
This is one of the most popular rides in the Magic Kingdom, so parkgoers should expect the line to be really long. And if you’ve already used up your FastPass quota, not to worry — the queue was refreshed last fall and is now interactive, so kids are entertained while waiting to enter Neverland.
My boys loved visiting with Tinker Bell and the Darling family as the line snaked through their home. Other park rides such Dumbo and Winnie the Pooh were previewed during our wait, so we ultimately hit those as well.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Walt Disney World Resort has undergone its largest expansion since 1971, and of the many enchanting enhancements, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is arguably one of the most-talked about additions.
On this ride, children and adults are transported through the world of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” on mine cars designed as exact replicas of those in the movie. Children will feel like real-life miners as the roller coaster flies by diamonds, rubies and mythical forest creatures. And at the top of the ride, there are amazing 360-degree views of New Fantasyland, Disney World’s crown jewel.