Grandparent and grandchild walking along Main Street in Disneyworld Magic Kingdom.
These travel tips will help you have a memorable Disney World vacation with your grandkids. Cedric Angeles; Stylist: Melanie Pace; Hair and Make-up: Patricia Lejeune

Disney World: A Grandchild's Delight

Talk about the "circle of life." Years ago I took my sons to Disney World for some of the best vacations of their childhoods. Now I was taking my 8-year-old granddaughter, Catherine, there for a special treat. Of course, my boys — Catherine's dad and uncle — tried to map out every detail of the itinerary for us, wanting us to do exactly what they had done so many years ago. But I worried that a little girl who loves Belle and Ariel wouldn't be as delighted as my sons had been in the Haunted Mansion or the Tower of Terror. Grandma was right on one count: The Haunted Mansion left Catherine in real-fear tears. But when it came to the Tower of Terror, I was the one screaming while she begged, "Please, Grandma, let's do it again."

Subscribe to the AARP Travel Newsletter

AARP MEMBER DISCOUNTS SEE MORE

We started out, as most visitors do, on the Magic Kingdom's Main Street. Though the quaint shops selling snuggly replicas of every Disney character were an immediate lure, Catherine agreed we had not come to shop. At least not at first. So we headed off to check out the classics: Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room — and the Pirates of the Caribbean, which now includes Captain Jack Sparrow. Thank you, Johnny Depp.

The Magic Kingdom has been updated in other ways, too. Fantasyland, which houses Ariel's Under the Sea attraction, is adding new features inspired by more recent Disney movies. Other attractions reflect Pixar favorites, such as Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, to which my granddaughter, a huge fan of Toy Story, gave a thumbs-up.

What was most striking about the park to me, though, was the bevy of pint-size Belles and Jasmines, from toddlers to tweens, dressed in princess costumes complete with hair and makeup. The transformations occur at one of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques, where "fairy godmothers" (makeup artists and hairstylists) turn little girls into their favorite Disney heroines. Catherine had her appointment at the boutique in the Cinderella Castle; she chose to be a Disney Diva instead of a princess — and left with a pink fall woven into her red hair, and a light coating of pop-star makeup.

In advance of our trip, Catherine and I had decided that, in addition to the Magic Kingdom, we'd visit some of the other parks. Each one was more fun than the last. At Hollywood Studios we took a class in animation drawing and experienced Toy Story Mania! — an interactive ride that's coupled with a video game — one of our favorite attractions. At Epcot we went international and had French crepes for lunch and Chinese food for dinner. Near the Morocco Pavilion, Catherine had henna applied to her hand. Not sure if her mother would approve, but what happens at Disney stays at Disney — well, that is, unless it takes a couple of weeks to wash off.

The Animal Kingdom was all new to me and definitely has its appeal: yes to the Kali River Rapids, a fun water ride; yes to the tolerably scary Dinosaur ride; absolutely no, thank you, to the Expedition Everest roller coaster. Best of all was the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction. During the bumpy 20-minute ride along a dirt road into the bush, we seemed to get excitingly close to lions, hippos, rhinos, elephants and crocodiles.

Then Grandma gave in, and we made some time for shopping. After much consideration, Catherine settled on a headband with glittery Minnie Mouse ears and a floppy Pluto for herself, and a Dumbo Baby for Mom, which I somehow suspect will end up on Catherine's bed, too. She selected other plush toys for her 3-year-old cousin and a baseball cap with discreet Mickey Mouse insignias for Dad. And she told me after we watched the Magic Kingdom's nighttime illuminated parade that she also wanted one more thing: a promise that we'd go on a vacation together next year because "Grandma, it's been awesome!"

— Myrna Blyth

Travel Tips

  • Take along an autograph book and let your grandchild get signatures from the life-size Disney characters who stroll around the park.
  • If you're going with a little girl, bring your own princess costume so you won't have to buy one at the pricey Disney boutiques. Shop for one on eBay or at a yard sale. Cinderella won't mind at all.
  • Try to stay at a Disney resort. Even the least expensive rooms come with perks, such as extended park hours and free airport transfers. Plus, you can easily get back to your air-conditioned room or hotel pool to beat the heat.