A Disney World vacation with school-aged kids can be an enjoyable and memorable family bonding experience. As parents who’ve enjoyed Disney World with our own grade school children, my wife Jaimie and I created this ultimate planning guide packed with insider tips to maximize the fun for families visiting Disney World with kids aged 5-12.

From selecting the ideal resorts and rides to choosing dining options that maximize smiles, we’ve carefully curated recommendations based on our family’s many memorable visits to Disney World with our school-aged kids. This comprehensive guide overflows with practical advice so your crew can share similarly heartwarming memories that last long beyond your return home.

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1. Best Disney Resorts for Families with School-Aged Kids

Best Family Suites at Disney World - Living Room of a Finding Nemo themed suite

Cars suites at Art of Animation Resort | Image © Disney

When you plan a Disney vacation, choosing the right resort can make all the difference. Luckily, Disney World offers a variety of lodging options that are perfect for families with school-aged kids. We have explored nearly all of them and recommend the following resorts for young families.

Most Affordable Resort Options:

  • Disney’s Art of Animation Resort: Families can enjoy budget-friendly themed suites based on beloved Disney movies like Finding Nemo and Cars. These suites feature kitchenettes and fold-out beds, making them perfect for families.
  • Disney’s All-Star Resorts: Enjoy the magic at a more affordable price. These resorts, with their playful themes and brightly colored icons, are a fun and economical choice.
  • The Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort: For a unique experience, the rustic and outdoorsy vibe of these campgrounds combines Disney theming with affordable prices. The cabins offer homey amenities, perfect for a cozy stay.

Themed Resorts for Immersive Experiences:

  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge: Feel like you’re on an African safari with wildlife sightings right from your room. Deluxe rooms offer savanna views for an immersive experience.
  • Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort: Embark on a Caribbean adventure with vibrant, themed décor and rooms. The resort also features the Old Port Royale food court and exciting poolside activities.
  • Disney’s Pop Century Resort: A celebration of 20th-century pop culture, this resort provides whimsically themed accommodations at affordable rates.

Luxury Resorts for Lavish Stays with Kids:

  • Disney’s Beach Club Resort: Experience elegance with a New England seaside theme, complete with lush gardens, babbling creeks, and luxurious amenities like plush beds and marble baths.
  • The Grand Floridian: This resort offers opulent Victorian-style theming, a deluxe spa, and exceptional service, including monorail access to Magic Kingdom.

Best Disney Resort Pools and Waterslides for Kids:

  • Disney’s Beach Club Resort: Stormalong Bay stands out with a sand-bottom pool, shipwreck theming, a lazy river, and exciting waterslides. My kids think it’s the best pool at Disney World!
  • Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort: The Fuentes del Morro Pool brings a pirate adventure to life with kid-friendly slides and water features.
  • Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort: The Lava Pool offers family-friendly waterslides for endless fun.

2. Best Disney World Attractions by Age Group

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

For Younger Grade Schoolers (Ages 5-7):

  • Gentle Rides and Shows: ‘Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid’ and ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ at Magic Kingdom, and ‘Finding Nemo: The Big Blue… and Beyond!’ and ‘Frozen Ever After’ at Epcot captivate with their gentle nature and engaging stories. My daughter Ava is in this age group and absolutely loves anything related to ‘Frozen’!
  • Interactive Fun: ‘Toy Story Mania!’ in Hollywood Studios and ‘Kilimanjaro Safaris’ in Animal Kingdom offer perfect interactive experiences for curious young minds. My son Ben cherished the excitement of Toy Story Land at this age.

For Middle Grade Schoolers (Ages 8-10):

  • Moderate Thrills: ‘Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’ at Magic Kingdom and ‘Expedition Everest’ at Animal Kingdom are thrilling yet suitable for this age group. ‘Seven Dwarfs Mine Train’ also combines excitement with fairy tale charm.
  • Adventure and Exploration: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and ‘Slinky Dog Dash’ in Hollywood Studios are thrilling adventures. Ben particularly adores the latter.

For Preteens (Ages 11-12):

  • Heart-Pounding Thrills: For the thrill-seekers, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith’ and the ‘Tower of Terror’ in Hollywood Studios are must-dos.
  • Innovative Adventures: ‘Avatar Flight of Passage’ in Animal Kingdom and ‘Test Track’ in Epcot offer high-tech ride experiences. ‘Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge’ becomes increasingly appealing to this age group.

Favorites for All Ages:

  • Classic Attractions: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ ‘Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway,’ and ‘Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin’ cater to grade schoolers of all ages. The new ‘Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure’ attraction at Epcot is also not to be missed. It’s one of our family favorites!
  • Gentle Classics: ‘Peter Pan’s Flight,’ ‘it’s a small world,’ ‘Dumbo the Flying Elephant,’ ‘Prince Charming Regal Carrousel,’ and ‘The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ are perfect for younger or first-time visitors.

3. Disney World Dining with School-Aged Kids

Cinderella's Royal Table Restaurant Entrance

Cinderella's Royal Table

Dining at Disney World is more than just food; it’s an integral part of the magical experience, especially for families with grade school kids.

Character Dining Experiences:

  • Chef Mickey’s: Located at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, this lively buffet allows families to dine with Mickey and friends.
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table: Enjoy a royal meal in Cinderella Castle, featuring visits from Disney princesses. Epcot’s ‘Akershus Royal Banquet Hall’ is an alternative option for meeting princesses.
  • Garden Grill: This unique rotating restaurant in Epcot offers character interactions with Chip ‘n’ Dale and their Disney friends.
  • Tusker House: Enjoy an African-inspired buffet and meet Donald Duck and his Disney friends.

Dining by Age Group:

  • For Younger Children (Ages 5-7): Character dining experiences like ‘Chef Mickey’s’ and ‘Akershus Royal Banquet Hall’ provide memorable encounters. ‘T-Rex Café’ in Disney Springs offers a vibrant prehistoric atmosphere that kids love.
  • For Ages 8-10: ‘Be Our Guest Restaurant’ in Magic Kingdom offers an immersive ‘Beauty and the Beast’ experience. ‘Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater’ in Hollywood Studios features a unique ’50s drive-in setting.
  • For Preteens (Ages 11-12): ‘Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen’ in Magic Kingdom offers an adventurous culinary journey. ‘Via Napoli’ in Epcot and ‘Teppan Edo’ provide authentic global cuisine.

Balancing Quick Service and Table Service:

  • Quick Service Options: On busy park days, places like ‘Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn’ and ‘Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café’ in Magic Kingdom offer quick, satisfying meals.
  • Relaxed Table Service: Explore the out-of-this-world dining experience at ‘Space 220’ at Epcot or retreat to ‘The BOATHOUSE’ at Disney Springs for a leisurely evening dinner.

Kid-Approved Snacks and Treats:

  • Classic Disney Snacks: Enjoy iconic treats like Mickey pretzels, Dole Whip, and Mickey ice cream bars.
  • Unique Offerings: Discover whimsical snacks like churros, popcorn in souvenir buckets, and creatively themed cupcakes throughout the parks.

Practical Tips for Dining with Kids:

  • Advanced Reservations: Booking popular character dining and table service restaurants 60 days in advance is recommended. The Vacationeer can handle this for you.
  • Mobile Ordering: Utilize the My Disney Experience app for convenient quick-service ordering.

4. Stress-Free Planning for Disney Family Trips with The Vacationeer

Despite being Disney fanatics, we rely on The Vacationeer, a leading Disney travel agency, to plan and book our family getaways. Here’s why:

  • Time-Saving Expertise: The Vacationeer excels in handling the planning intricacies, which is particularly beneficial when traveling with kids like Ben and Ava.
  • Cost-Effective Solutions: They often uncover deals and discounts we might miss, ensuring we get the best value.
  • Insider Tips and Tricks: Their Diamond-level expertise offers valuable insights like the best spots to watch parades and the quieter times to visit attractions.
  • Stress-Free Experience: They manage everything from resort and restaurant bookings to transportation between the Orlando Airport and Disney World and payment plans, allowing us to focus on the fun, like Ava meeting her favorite princesses and Ben enjoying his favorite coasters.
  • It’s Free: Their quotes, consultations, and planning services are complimentary.

Ready for a magical Disney World vacation without the stress of planning? Connect with The Vacationeer and let their experts craft a personalized, unforgettable experience for your family. Request a free quote and consultation right now.

5. Disney World After Hours: Entertainment & Special Events

Disney Halloween Scarecrow

Halloween at Magic Kingdom

The magic of Disney World continues well into the night with a variety of special events and entertainment options. As a family, Jaimie, Ben, and Ava have found these moments often become the most memorable parts of our trip. You can make the most of Disney World’s nighttime magic with your school-aged children by following this guide.

Top Evening Shows and Activities for Families:

  • ‘Fantasmic’ at Hollywood Studios: Ben loves this nighttime show with its dramatic storytelling and special effects.
  • Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Campfire Sing-A-Long at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort: Enjoy classic Disney songs and roast s’mores under the stars in this intimate and engaging setting. Ava particularly enjoys the interactive nature of this experience.
  • Disney Movies Under the Stars: Various Disney resorts offer this laidback way to end the day, watching beloved Disney films outdoors – perfect for a family movie night.

Special Seasonal Events:

  • Epcot’s Festivals: The Flower & Garden Festival, Food & Wine Festival, and Festival of the Arts offer unique experiences with seasonal themes, perfect for learning about new cultures.
  • Halloween Festivities: Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is a must-do for families during the fall. The event features special parades, shows, and trick-or-treating around the park.

Holiday Celebrations:

  • Disney’s Holiday Overlays: Christmas at Disney World is truly magical. There are daytime and nighttime parties, events, parades, and performances. The hotels are decorated for the holidays, and Ava loves the Yuletide decorations. Despite the increased crowds, the festive season adds an extra layer of enchantment to our visits.

Tips for Enjoying Nighttime at Disney World with School-Aged Kids:

  • Plan Ahead: It’s important to plan for evening shows or events requiring reservations or special tickets.
  • Rest During the Day: As Jaimie and I can attest, a mid-day break at the resort helps energize school-aged kids for the evening festivities.
  • Pack for Comfort: It can get cool in the evenings, so bring layers for comfort.

6. Planning for Disney World with Grade School Kids

PhotoPass Photgrapher with Disney's Memory Maker

Image © Disney

Planning a Disney World vacation with grade school children like Ben and Ava requires strategic thinking. Here’s a collection of tips from various sections that my wife Jaimie and I have found invaluable in planning a seamless Disney adventure.

Advanced Preparations:

  • Dining Reservations: Book character dining and popular restaurants like Chef Mickey’s and Cinderella’s Royal Table 60 days in advance.
  • Use the My Disney Experience App: This app is essential for real-time updates, mobile food ordering, and checking wait times for attractions.

Practical Tips:

  • Stroller Rental: When visiting a large park with young children, renting a stroller is a convenient option.
  • Essential Packing: Comfortable shoes, sunscreen, snacks, reusable water bottles, and a first-aid kit for minor scrapes are must-haves in your Disney packing list.
  • Plan for Weather: The unpredictable weather at Disney World means bringing rain ponchos and layers for cooler evenings.

Customized Trip Planning with The Vacationeer:

  • Personalized Service: They will customize your vacation to suit your family’s needs, from resort selection to park tickets and dining reservations.
  • Expert Advice: Leverage their knowledge of the parks, attractions, and crowds to maximize your experience.

PhotoPass and Memory Maker:

Beyond the Theme Parks with School-Aged Kids:

  • Disney Water Parks: Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon offer wave pools, water slides, and lazy rivers for a splashing day of fun.
  • Disney Springs: With its many shopping, dining, and entertainment options, Disney Springs offers something for everyone. Best of all, Disney Spring is free to enter.
  • Resort Exploration: Discover unique themes and dining experiences at other resorts or enjoy your own resort’s amenities.

7. Navigating Disney Parks with School-Aged Children

My Disney Experience Screens

Elements © Disney

Efficiently navigating Disney World with school-aged kids can be a breeze with the right tools and strategies. Here’s a guide to help your family make the most of your time in the parks:

Utilizing Disney’s Mobile Apps:

  • My Disney Experience: Provides real-time wait times, dining reservations, and more. It’s an invaluable tool for efficiently navigating the parks.
  • Disney Genie and Disney Genie+ Services: These services within the app offer personalized itinerary planning and paid access to Lightning Lane entrances at popular attractions.

Lightning Lane Access:

  • Individual Lightning Lane passes: Consider these for ultra-popular attractions like ‘Avatar Flight of Passage’ and ‘Seven Dwarfs Mine Train’ for expedited access.

Managing Crowds and Maximizing Enjoyment:

  • Avoiding Crowds: Off-peak seasons, like January or September, can result in lighter crowds and shorter wait times for attractions. The weather is also more manageable than in the summer. See our Disney Crowd Calendar and Best Times to Visit Disney World for more.
  • Expert Strategies: Utilize The Vacationeer’s expertise for personalized crowd management strategies and optimal park schedules. Their insights can be a game-changer, especially during busier times.

8. Special Experiences and Childcare at Disney World

Disney World with Toddlers -- two excited children holding Mickey Mouse balloons | Image © Disney

Image © Disney

Disney World offers a treasure trove of unique activities and childcare options, enhancing your family vacation, especially when traveling with grade schoolers like Ben and Ava.

Unique Kid-Focused Activities:

  • Kidcot Fun Stops in Epcot: A delightful experience where children can engage in fun, educational activities while exploring the different pavilions of Epcot’s World Showcase. It’s an excellent way for kids to learn about various cultures in an interactive way.
  • In-Room Celebrations: Surprise your kids with themed room decorations and treats for an extra touch of Disney magic.

Childcare Services:

  • Babysitters and Nannies: Third-party services such as Kid’s Nite Out provide reliable in-room babysitting, allowing parents to enjoy some adult time, perhaps experiencing fine dining at Epcot’s World Showcase.
  • Supervised Kids’ Clubs: Available at select resorts, these clubs offer arts, games, and activities under supervision, giving parents a break while kids have their own fun.

First-Time Visitor Tips:

Ready to Maximize Your Disney Magic? Contact The Vacationeer

For a Disney World adventure with school-aged children, the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming. The Vacationeer, an Earmarked Diamond-level Disney Authorized Vacation Planner agency, is there to make your dream vacation a reality with:

  • Customized Planning: Tailoring every aspect of your trip based on your family’s unique preferences and the ages of your children.
  • Exclusive Deals and Discounts: Access to the latest promotions and offers, ensuring a magical and budget-friendly family vacation.
  • Expert Insights on Attractions: Recommendations for the best experiences suited to your kids’ ages and interests.
  • Personalized Itineraries: Collaborate with a dedicated Vacationeer to create custom park plans tailored to your family’s interests, whether it’s princess-themed days or action-packed itineraries.
  • Comprehensive Service: Managing every detail, from arranging Lightning Lane passes to booking character dining, for a seamless and stress-free vacation.

Don’t just dream of a perfect Disney World vacation—let The Vacationeer make it a reality. Their expert team will handle all the planning details, so you can relax and pack your bags. Their quotes, consultations, and services are all free, so you have nothing to lose. Click the link below to get started!