Guest Author - Lorel Shea
Recently, my family traveled to Orlando and visited Walt Disney World. Our oldest was away at college, so our group consisted of my husband, myself, and our three younger children, ages 11, eight, and three.
We arrived in Florida, and before we even got to the Magic Kingdom, the kids were enchanted by the local flora and fauna. Dozens of tiny lizards (anoles, we learned) skittered here and there, and the hotel we stayed at was home to swans, ibis, and bitterns, as well as a variety of ducks. The plants all appeared exotic and wonderful. Gifted kids are learning all the time, and something as simple as a walk outdoors in a new environment can be educational.
We accompanied an older couple in a boat for, “It's a Small World” and my kids talked throughout the entire ride. They animatedly discussed the dolls, their clothes, and their situations, trying to determine what country each represented. “Look, it's India! There's the Taj Mahal! Hey, that's a wedding huppah, that must be Israel!” “I see Greece!” my eight year old crowed. She's a great fan of Greek mythology, and so that country has a special place in her heart. I was slightly embarrassed at the journey's end, thinking that the nice people in front of us must be upset that they got stuck sharing a boat with us. To my delight, the woman turned to me and thanked me! She said that she had no idea that all those landmarks and symbols were there, until my children had pointed them out. She told me that she and her husband had really enjoyed the ongoing conversation.
Some of the rides were a bit difficult for my kids. Many gifted kids have very acute senses and have “overexcitabilities”. Overexcitabilities can coexist or overlap with sensory processing issues. These children may easily become overwhelmed with excessive noise, a lot of visual stimuli, and/or crowded environments. Dark and extremely loud rides were very unpleasant for my daughter, while my son had a hard time with the motion of even the “baby” roller coaster known as Goofy's Barnstormer. My three year old, in contrast, appears to be a sensory seeking thrill rider, and she absolutely loved the Barnstormer! Every child is unique, but many gifted kids share some tyoe of sensory sensitivities, and it is important to consider this before you get to the park. Parents need to know the sensory quirks of each child, and determine in advance which rides are no-goes and which are likely to be well received. Otherwise, everyone arrives with conflicting expectations and time may be wasted waiting in line for rides that the kids really won't enjoy at all.
Good Magic Kingdom rides for the whole family which will not induce motion sickness or sensory problems include: It's a Small World, Cinderella's Golden Carousel, the Jungle Cruise, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Peter Pan's Flight. The carousel has beautiful white horses in graduating sizes, so tiny tots can ride the smaller ones and Dad can pretend he is riding a great steed! The Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin was my 11 year old's favorite, but it was a bit rough on my eight year old, who didn't like how dark it became. The Buzz ride features target shooting with guns built into the console of the ride car. Kids (and adults) who have good eye-hand coordination and enjoy zapping targets have a great time on this ride. The Dumbo and Magic Carpet rides are incredibly similar but with different “window dressing”. The Dumbo ride is more centrally located, and it gets a whole lot more traffic. These are fun and truly great for any age, but may bring on motion sickness in anyone who is especially prone to it, particularly if the driver is a little girl who enjoys making the vehicle go up and down rapidly!
The Magic Kingdom is an amazing place, and it is entirely possible to have a good time there without stepping on a single ride. There are performers out and about in the streets, and they can be very interactive. We saw a live pirate act in Adventureland, and a parade on Main Street. The closing fireworks show was spectacular. Characters strolled about and posed for photos and signed autographs. My kids, who enjoy “collecting” were very excited to get the signatures of various Disney pals. My girls stood in line for a chance to meet some of the Disney Princesses, and felt that the 30 minute wait was well worth it. We met Cinderella, Belle, and Aurora, and each actor took time to pose for photos and made appropriate small talk with the girls. Belle even recommended a classic book to my eight year old. I wonder how many gifted little girls find Belle enchanting because she loves to read too!
Gifted kids can really get involved in trip planning for Disney World. My son enjoyed mapping out a route for us, so we could go from one chosen attraction to the next without interruption. There are several guidebooks available that should prove helpful when planning your trip. The adult guides I consulted were Fodor's Walt Disney World and The Unofficial Guide. I found the Unofficial Guide to be incredibly detailed and well organized. For younger kids, I recommend The Birnbaum Guidebook: Walt Disney World for Kids. This book is filled with all sorts of information set up by location for all of the Walt Disney World parks. These include real kid reviews on various attractions, tips such as how to rack up points on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, and where to find specific characters. There are also areas for kids to write in their favorite attractions for each Disney park, and a special “scrapbook” style memories section in the back of the book, with extra pages for character autographs.