If you've been waiting until your little one gets a little older before booking a trip to Orlando, don't. As the mother of an almost two year old, I can tell you that the theme parks through a toddler's eyes are truly magical and enchanting. Orlando's theme parks have created special areas for your wee ones to play and interact with their favorite characters. The best part of all: Admission is free until they turn three; if they happen to fall asleep before the fireworks—no biggie. Here are some highlights for toddlers at each of Orlando's theme parks. Have fun!
Use your FastPass+and head straight for the Kilimanjaro Safari. Your little one will love boarding the jeep and traveling through the savannah for a fun vocabulary lesson and up-close animal encounters with giraffes, zebras and elephants. Afterward, walk next door to the Wildlife Express Train for a ride to the petting zoo where they can visit with goats and pigs in the barnyard and even brush the animals' hair. In the heat of the day, take a seat inside the theater for Finding Nemo—The Musical, a colorful, 40-minute puppet show featuring live actors. Before calling it a day, head to DinoLand for the boneyard playground and the TriceraTop Spin ride.
Epcot is all about educating while entertaining. The Seas with Nemo & Friends and Turtle Talk With Crush are fun for all ages and are located inside a two-story aquarium for fun fish viewing. If older ones in your group want to ride Mission Space, hit the playground inside, or for TestTrack, let the little boys in your group climb in the Chevy cars at the ride's exit. On your way to the World Showcase, you'll find a splashpad on your right. While the adults are eating and drinking around the world, your kids can stay entertained at various "Kidcot Fun Spots" around the park along with special stops along the way. Mexico has a family-friendly boat ride featuring Donald Duck; Germany features an outdoor model-train exhibit; and Japan's outdoor landscape includes koi ponds and bridges fun for walking. For the little girls, make reservations at Norway's Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for dining with her favorite princesses. (And rumor has it, a "Frozen" feature is coming soon.)
Your kids can meet some of their favorite Disney and Pixar characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Get your FastPass+ for Toy Story Mania (as waits can exceed an hour), and fire away during this interactive ride that inspires a little family competition. Toddlers will love dancing along with Sofia, Jake, Doc McStuffins and Mickey and friends during the The Disney, Jr. Across the way is The Voyage of The Little Mermaid which re-creates selections from the Disney animated classic with puppets, live performers, special effects and movie clips. The Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground features small slides and tunnels, perfect for toddlers to let out a little energy in an awe-inspiring, larger-than-life setting.
Located about 40 minutes southwest of Walt Disney World is LEGOLAND, a great theme park for little ones. The new Duplo Valley just opened this summer and is designed especially for them with a splash pad, tractor and train rides, a large indoor playground and an outdoor playground complete with legos for plenty of building fun. Cypress Gardens is a lovely setting for a little toddler exercise along the lake and through majestic trees. The water park has a designated area for smaller children to splash and play. MINILAND houses entire cities made of legos, perfect for sparking a little imagination and inspiration for your little builders.
The monorail is the perfect way to start the day and is a ride within itself. Once you arrive at Main Street, make sure you toddler gets a hug from their favorite character. Stop by for a meet-and-greet with Minnie or walk inside the theatre to see Mickey. Your photo opp will be priceless. While the entire park has activities for little ones, most of the wee-size attractions are concentrated at FantasyLand. Hop aboard the carousel, spin in the teacups, fly with Dumbo (and play in the indoor playground there), and soar along with Peter Pan. Then head to It's A Small World, where your toddler is sure to be mesmerized by the dancing figures, and the song is sure to get stuck in your head. If 9 pm is too late for the electrical street parade, catch the street party that runs twice daily in the afternoons or the or the 3 pm Festival of Fantasy Parade.
Little ones will love the dolphin and sea lion shows at SeaWorld, or if you don't want to sit through a show, just watch these friendly animals from the viewing areas. Walk toward Antartica for the family-friendly ride and then cool off with the little penguins. Spend the rest of the day at Shamu's Happy Harbor. The playground includes a carousel, pirate ship, splash pad and huge climbing area along with age-appropriate rides.
Movie buffs of all ages flock to Universal, and there's something for everyone. You can relive your own childhood by taking a family ride on a flying bicycle with ET. Nearby is Fievel's Playland, which includes a ball pit, slides and a playground for little climbers. Check out a Barney show and play in the indoor playground, and then change into your bathing suits for some fun water adventures with Curious George.
This park adjacent to Universal Studios features eight themed islands, one of which is Dr. Suess Landing. In this whimsical world, your wee one can whirl through the pages of "The Cat in the Hat," get a furry hug from the Things, hop aboard the carousel or ride on the One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. A bookstore is on site to pick up a new favorite for your collection.