As it gets more and more expensive to travel during the school holidays, I know plenty of parents who take their kids out of school for a few days to visit Walt Disney World. While it’s great to spend time together as a family on vacation, taking kids out of school isn’t always an easy decision, and I know many parents look for ways to make their trip to Walt Disney World educational to compensate for the time their children are missing in the classroom. Similarly, I know a lot of homeschool families who use Walt Disney World as a learning experience for their children, and go on field trips to cover one subject or another. Walt Disney World can actually be a really educational vacation if you know where to look, so I’ve compiled this list of ways to make your trip to Walt Disney World educational, while still being a super fun family vacation!
Take a drawing class at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
Does anyone remember the drawing classes that used to be held at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the (now extinct) Animation Building? I used to love those classes; I’ve always loved to draw and loved learning the technical details on how to draw the Disney characters – I still have my drawings somewhere! For anyone else who really misses those classes, then I have good news for you – they still exist, you just need to head over to Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. The classes are held in the lobby from around 9am to 4pm daily, and are generally held about once every 30 minutes – however this schedule isn’t officially published anywhere and like just about anything at Walt Disney World, it could change at any time. Classes aren’t just reserved for those staying at the resort, anyone can come along and participate, so if you have a budding artist in your family, this would be perfect for them. Learning the intricacies of how to draw famous Disney cartoons is a fantastic way to not only encourage hopeful artists and animators, but also gives them a skill they can work on at home.
Talk to the Cast Members from around the World Showcase
As you stroll around the World Showcase at Epcot, you’ll notice that the Cast Members working in the different pavilions are actually from the countries represented! These Cast Members are members of Disney’s Cultural Representative program, which brings them from all over the world to work in the Walt Disney World theme parks and resorts representing their country (I actually used to work at the Rose and Crown Pub and Dining Room in the UK pavilion!) Chatting with these Cast Members is one of my favorite things to do in the World Showcase, and one of my sons favorite things to do too. We recently had lunch at the Tangierine Cafe where we started talking to one of the Cultural Representatives from Morocco; she shared with us stories from her country, her family, and answered all of my sons questions about Morocco (and there were a lot!) She gave both of my boys a certificate where she wrote their names in English and then in Arabic, and took pictures with both of them. We really appreciated her taking the time out of her day to chat with us, and we learned so much. Not only is this a great learning experience for children, but it encourages social skills as well.
Collect stamps in a World Showcase passport
Considering how much my 5-year old loves to collect stamps in his actual passport, when I first heard about the World Showcase passport I knew he’d love that too! This can be purchased from any of the stores in Epcot, and is a great way to engage kids as you explore the World Showcase. The passport comes with stickers for each country, and there are places for Cast Members to fill out information about the country. This can be done at the Kidcot stations in each country, and each Cast Member might write something different; some have stamps, some might write your name in their native language, and each page of your passport will look different. This keeps kids interested and engaged as you visit each country’s pavilion, it’s a great way to interact with the Cultural Representatives from each country, and makes for a great (and cheap!) keepsake from the trip.
Visit the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom or the American Adventure in Epcot
After a much longer rehab than was expected, the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom is finally back open. Regardless of the controversy surrounding the show and the addition of the new President, the show itself is actually a great way to learn about the Presidents of the United States. Having moved here from England 11 years ago, I’ve tried my hardest to learn all I could about the history of my new country, and the Hall of Presidents was actually one of the places I visited to learn more about the Presidents themselves! This attraction rarely has any kind of a wait, besides waiting for the next show, and is a great place to cool off if the Florida heat begins to get to you.
Another great show to learn about American history is in the American Adventure pavilion in Epcot. This show presents the history of America in a way that will keep most kids interested, and is a great introduction to the history of the country. The retelling of the history of the country is displayed through animatronics, film projections, and music, and since it only lasts 30 minutes, it should be short enough for most older kids to sit through. Again, this show rarely has a wait, and the lobby of the theater itself is beautiful, especially if you manage to catch the Voices of Liberty singers during one of their sets.
Ride Spaceship Earth at Epcot and the Carousel of Progress at Magic Kingdom
Spaceship Earth is one of my favorite rides in all of Epcot; not only is it one of the very few remaining original rides, but the narration of the ride is provided by Dame Judy Dench, one of my favorite ever actresses. The ride takes guests on a journey throughout history, right from the beginning of the Ice Age to ‘the future’ as we imagine it might look. I was once lucky enough to participate in a backstage tour of this ride and learned all about the animatronics used; the detail if you really pay attention is incredible! It’s a great overview of history that literally acts out some of the major advances in technology and the ways in which the world has changed over time.
In Magic Kingdom there is another ride that my family loves (this is literally my husbands favorite ride in all of Walt Disney World!) that is an entertaining insight into history. The Carousel of Progress features an American family and follows them through the decades as the world around them changes; from showcasing ‘new’ technology to talking about how things are progressing in the country. It’s a pretty entertaining show – with a super catchy song you might find yourself singing the rest of the day – and it’s fun to watch the family figure out how to use the new technology being invented. The Carousel of Progress was first debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair and is one of the only attractions in the park to have been personally created by Walt Disney himself, so it really is a piece of Disney history!
Dine with an Imagineer
I think almost every child has dreamed of working for Disney at some point or another, and no job is as coveted as that of a Disney Imagineer. If your child is looking into this as a career choice, then Dine with an Imagineer is an experience of a lifetime; a chance of chat and ask questions of a real Disney Imagineer over a delicious lunch at the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This experience is suitable for those 14 and up, and gives guests the chance to ask questions of a working Imagineer who can not only tell you more about their role and what it entails, but also how they got to be there, including previous experience and education, something incredibly helpful for those just starting out looking at college majors. For those looking to make their trip to Walt Disney World educational, it really doesn’t get any better than having your child talk to someone in the exact profession they want to work in, and this could be really beneficial for those looking to get into the field. This is only available certain days of the week and books up very quickly, so we sure to make your reservation early; packages can be booked online or by calling 407-WDW-DINE. If you’re looking for the Disney homeschool experience, this is really as close as you can get!
HORTICULTURE AND CULINARY
Ride Living with the Land (or take the backstage tour)
Living with the Land is a family boat ride found in the Land pavilion at Epcot that takes you through the Epcot greenhouses where various plants, fruits and vegetables are being grown. The boat tour takes you past a variety of different crops being grown in a number of different ways – everything from watermelons being grown in the shape of a Mickey head to the latest hydrophonics technology. Although the boat tour is an interesting ride, to take this experience to the next level you could look into a Behind the Seeds Backstage Tour. This tour is a walking tour through the greenhouses and even a fish farm, where you not only get a closer look at everything that is being grown, but get to ask Cast Members any questions you have about the produce – you might even get the chance to release ladybugs or feed the fish! The tour lasts approximately one hour and you’ll be on your feet the whole time so be sure to wear comfortable shoes. More information can be found by visiting here and you can book by calling 407-WDW-TOUR.
Take a culinary tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge actually offers two free culinary tours every day, and these tours are open to anyone, not just those staying at the resort. The first is the Culinary Tour of Boma – Flavors of Africa and Jiko – The Cooking Place. This tour usually begins at approximately 3.45pm every day, but if you’re heading over to the resort just for the tour, double check with guest relations that it is happening that day and that the time is correct as it is subject to change. Guests spend time at both Boma and Jiko with a Cultural Representative (a Cast Member working at Walt Disney World specifically to represent their country) who can answer questions about the restaurants decor and theme, as well as the food, and even questions about their own culture. You even get to sample a little of the food served at the restaurant! Not only would this be great for a child looking to get into the culinary field, but it gives an opportunity to learn more about a different culture, and try some new foods (this would also be great if you were thinking of booking a meal at one of the restaurants but not sure if the food will be to your taste – you can try it for free and see!)
The second tour offered is the Culture of Sanaa tour, which takes place over at Kidani Village, a short walk from Jambo House, the main building at Animal Kingdom Lodge. This tour offers the same insight into African food and culture, where the Cultural Representative talks about the African art work, and then proceeds into the restaurant where the chef talks about the food and offers samples of the famous bread service (Sanaa is actually one of my favorite underrated Disney restaurants!) It’s another great opportunity to learn more about the African countries, as well as trying some new food. This tour begins at 4pm every day but again, it is worth confirming this on the day just to make sure before you head over to the resort. Since both of these tours are free and only last approximately 30 minutes, they’re a great way to spend an afternoon learning something new and getting to sample a new cuisine – the perfect way to take a break from the parks!
Read the books the film characters are based on
A good number of the Disney characters that we know and love were around a long time before Disney, and many of them have their own original stories that give the background of the characters. Examples include Winnie the Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, many of the Disney princesses, and any number of the fairy tale characters you will come across in the parks. A great way to get ready for a Walt Disney World vacation is to read some of these books before the trip so that kids are familiar with the stories and know the history of the characters. Not only is this is a great way to learn more about the stories, but it also gives some familiarity to the characters before they meet them, and this might make younger kids a little less afraid for those all important meet and greets (read this post for more tips on how to make the most of character greetings with kids at Walt Disney World.)
Explore the Swiss Family Treehouse and Tom Sawyer Island
Speaking of classic stories, the Swiss Family Robinson and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are two classic tales that are depicted in the Walt Disney World theme parks, specifically in Magic Kingdom. The Swiss Family Treehouse is literally a tree house in Adventureland that your whole family can walk and climb through, with details like the living room, the crows nest, and the jungle lookout. It’s a great way to let little ones burn off some energy while still going over the details found in the books (and a good way for adults to burn off some of those Disney calories!) Tom Sawyer Island is an island in the middle of the Rivers of America, and accessible only by raft. The island has no end of places to run around and explore, and this is another great way to let kids run off some energy while they explore the various walking trails, forts, and caves on the island. Read the stories with kids before the trip and you’ll be able to point out various things from the books as you spot them at the theme parks.
NATURE AND WILDLIFE
Become a Wilderness Explorer at Animal Kingdom
Becoming a Wilderness Explorer was hands down one of my sons favorite ever things he has done at Walt Disney World – and for a little boy who visits the Disney parks about once a week, that’s definitely saying something! This amazing experience can be found at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and is free with park admission. Budding young explorers are given an activity book with different tasks to complete in order to earn their Wilderness Explorer badges, and each task involves finding out something new by observing the animals or asking Cast Members. Every Cast Member we came across involved in this activity was very knowledgeable and willing to answer any questions the kids had in their area of expertise. It’s a great way to get kids involved and learning as they explore the parks, and the things he learned have really stuck with my son, even at five years old! To find out more, you can read through my detailed post on becoming a Wilderness Explorer at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Take the Wild Africa Trek or Caring for Giants tour at Animal Kingdom
If your child is an animal lover then Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s backstage tours would be the ideal way to bring them closer to the animals to find out more about their care. There are two tours I would recommend taking at Animal Kingdom that would be both educational and interesting to kids on vacation.
The first is the Wild African Trek, a 3-hour tour suitable for children ages eight and up who are at least 48 inches tall. This adventure is the absolute best way to see the animals found at Animal Kingdom as close as possible – think crossing rope bridges over the Nile crocodiles and eating supper on the Savannah with giraffes and wildebeest a few feet away! The Cast Member guides are extremely knowledgeable about the animals you’ll be encountering, which would be great for kids who think they’ll want to work with animals one day. The Wild African Trek is a little pricey but very much worth the cost to get the see the animals up close with a guide at hand to answer all of your questions. Best of all – a photographer will follow your group to snap some great pictures, all of which are included in the price of the tour! Find out more here or call 407-WDW-TOUR to book.
The second is Caring for Giants, where you meet and spend time with the Cast Members who care for the parks herd of African elephants. The Cast Members will explain how they take care of the elephants on a day to day basis, which would be very helpful for those thinking of a career in animal care, as you observe the elephants from as close to 80 feet away (closer than you would normally get to them in the parks!) You can also learn more about the conservation efforts of Animal Kingdom, and all that is being done to keep these animals safe in the wild. The tour lasts approximately one hour, is suitable for children ages four and up, and you can read more here or book by calling 407-WDW-TOUR.
How have you made your trip to Walt Disney World educational? Let me know in the comments!