Mom’s Guide to Visiting Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios with Preschoolers and Small Children

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Inside the Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios.
In Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios. Photo credit: Linnea Bailey

Meeting Ariel from Disney’s 2023 live-action film The Little Mermaid is a memory my children will carry with them always. 

This was our family of five’s first trip to Walt Disney World’s Orlando theme parks (Magic KingdomEPCOTAnimal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios), and we were at Hollywood Studios, lined up for the chance to meet the Disney princess. Ariel looked beautiful in her shimmery blue dress.

Within minutes, she and my kids (ages 4, 4 and 7) were engaged in a long conversation about the virtues of collecting rocks, shells and shark teeth.

Here’s what we learned from a day at Hollywood Studios, and everything you need to know to make a family trip to the theme park memorable.

Preschoolers can check out the stars wars shop at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
At a shop at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photo credit: Linnea Bailey

Journey to a Galaxy Far, Far Away at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

While our children haven’t seen the Star Wars movies yet, my husband and I are big fans — so we were most excited to see Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, an elaborately-themed land featuring attractions, entertainment, galactic dining and otherworldly shopping.

Designed to feel like the mythical Black Spire Outpost settlement on Planet Batuu, the kids most loved wandering through a street market filled with eccentric treasures. They giggled at the fantastical creatures that filled the shops and began their Jedi training with glowing lightsabers in Dok-Ondar’s Den of Antiquities.

While Disney offers Rider Switch — the chance for adults to go on a ride one at a time while the other waits with young children, without having to wait in line again — we didn’t mind skipping the Star Wars-themed rides. One day when all the kids have surpassed the height requirement, we’ll return to try the thrill rides Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Millenium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Tours — The Adventures Continue.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Across the park in the Animation Courtyard, the whole family can appreciate Star Wars Launch Bay, a walk-through interactive exhibition featuring costumes, props and the chance to meet iconic characters like Darth Vader, Chewbacca and BB-8. Chewbacca was our favorite!

View of Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photo credit: Matt Stroshane, courtesy of Disney

Visit Toy Story Land

Kids who love Pixar’s Toy Story movies will adore Hollywood Studios’ Toy Story Land, an 11-acre land designed to make guests feel as if they’ve shrunk to the size of toys. Movie characters like Woody, Buzz and Jessie make frequent appearances, and the land contains some of the best rides for young kiddos, such as Toy Story Mania! and Alien Swirling Saucers.

A new fan of rollercoasters, our seven-year-old shrieked with delight on the family-friendly coaster Slinky Dog Dash with her dad while her younger siblings and I shared an ice cream in the shade at Woody’s Lunch Box.

This experience of separating for a ride was drastically improved by Lightning Lanes (which replaced the prior FastPass system). Lightning Lane entry allows you to bypass an attraction’s line and join a separate (much shorter) line for certain experiences. Some Lightning Lane entrances can be purchased through the Disney Genie+ service, while others can be purchased individually.

However you buy them, I highly recommend Lightning Lane entrances. The ability to skip waiting in long lines is a major benefit when young children are involved.

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Preschoolers can dine with Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse at Hollywood & Vine in Hollywood Studios.
Visiting with Mickey Mouse at Hollywood & Vine at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photo credit: Linnea Bailey

Dine with Classic Disney Characters

We had a wonderful lunch at Hollywood & Vine, a casual Art Deco-designed “Cafeteria to the Stars.” A delectable buffet (with some of the best caramelized Brussels sprouts I’ve ever tasted), the gourmet lunch was just what we needed after a morning filled with activity.

Our kids were thrilled with the rotating parade of their favorite Disney characters who stopped at our table. Minnie and Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Pluto and Donald all stopped by in festive outfits to take photos and banter with them.

This was my first experience at a sit-down restaurant at Disney, and I thought it was an excellent option for families; not just because of the fun characters, but because it gave us all a chance to relax and recharge. The food was sustaining, with plenty of kid-friendly options for everyone.

Preschoolers will enjoy the kids’ dance party at Disney Junior Play and Dance! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The kids’ dance party at Disney Junior Play and Dance! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photo credit: Linnea Bailey

Party with Disney Junior Characters

My kids found their energy at the fun-filled party Disney Junior Play and Dance!

Our four-year-olds haven’t had much experience with dance parties, and yet they were some of the first to hit the dance floor for this bubble-filled celebration. With a DJ spinning tunes and Disney Junior characters such as Doc McStuffins, Vampirina and Fancy Nancy, this musical party gives kids an indoor break from rides to dance and sing along to some of their favorite songs.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Even Mickey Mouse makes an appearance at the party to show off his best Roadster Racer moves! While my kids didn’t know all of the Disney Junior characters, this show is definitely designed for their age group. Young kiddos will love it.

Watch the musical Beauty and the Beast at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The musical Beauty and the Beast at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photo credit: Linnea Bailey

Attend an Epic Stage Show

One of our favorite things we did at Hollywood Studios was attend multiple great live stage shows.

The classic performance of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast – Live On Stage at a covered amphitheater was spectacular, and provided a chance for us to feel as if we were watching the best parts of the Broadway show.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Make sure to arrive early for this show, as the outdoor theater is quite big. We were toward the back, and I wish we’d arrived earlier to score closer seats.

We thoroughly enjoyed For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, in which my kids belted along to Olaf’s “In Summer” and were thrilled when Elsa used her magic powers to create snowfall during a rendition of “Let it Go.” The show features two cast member emcees who are genuinely funny for adults, too; this is truly a show for all ages.

Also live on stage, the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular offers families the chance to learn how stunts are created, and the film and live-action extravaganza Muppet*Vision 3D features the Muppets, complete with 3D glasses for everyone.

Preschoolers can enjoy interactions with A discussion with characters like the Little Mermaid’s Ariel at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
A discussion with The Little Mermaid’s Ariel at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photo credit: Linnea Bailey

Meet Disney Characters and Go on Kid-Friendly Rides at Hollywood Studios

While the theme park’s stage show Voyage of the Little Mermaid was in the process of being reimagined as The Little Mermaid – A Musical Adventure (set to debut in fall 2024), we were still able to meet Ariel.

My kiddos love The Little Mermaid movies, and Ariel had a great temperament with young kids. Meeting her was one of the highlights of our Disney trip.

We all went on Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway as a family (a ride starring Mickey Mouse and his friends) and promised the kids that next time, we’d watch the immersive show Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, based on Disney and Pixar’s Cars.

I’ve heard that the thrill ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith is great for older kids, though it was closed for refurbishment when we were there.

Catch th evening musical show Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
The evening musical show Fantasmic! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photo credit: Linnea Bailey

Catch the Nighttime Musical Spectacular Fantasmic!

The first thing to know about the evening show Fantasmic! is that it is magnificent.

It’s a 30-minute show under the stars that encompasses special effects, pyrotechnics, high-energy music, stunts, fireworks and light projected onto a canvas of water. It’s incredible, honestly. Cast members climb on rocks and “sing” while surrounded by water, and Mickey Mouse makes magic as he battles Disney villains.

SheBuysTravel Tip: While Fantasmic! is an awesome show, the showtimes are fairly late (9 pm and 10:30 pm), so it can also be past bedtime for little ones. One of my four-year-olds loved it, while the other was ready to go back to the hotel. My kids made it through the show, though I think they’ll appreciate it more when they’re older.

Sights of whimsical creatures at the open air street market at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
A whimsical creature at the open-air street market at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Photo credit: Linnea Bailey

Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios Details

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is located near Orlando at 351 S. Studio Drive in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, 32830.

The park is 30 minutes by car or charter bus from the Orlando International Airport, the Orlando Brightline station and the Orlando Amtrak station. Parking is free for guests of Disney resort hotels (and select annual passholders); all other vehicles will pay a daily parking fee that starts at $30 per day (2024).

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you’re staying onsite at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel, you won’t need a car to get to EPCOT. It’s a huge perk of booking one of the Disney on-property resort hotels like Art of Animation, where we stayed. Transportation via Skyliner, bus and Monorail is complimentary, with private Minnie Van transportation available via Lyft in a whimsical red and white polka-dotted “Minnie” van (for a nominal fee).

We didn’t drive at all during our trip; we took a Brightline high speed passenger train from our home in South Florida to the station at the Orlando International Airport, then took the Mears Connect charter bus service to our Disney resort hotel (and then the reverse on the way home). I’d highly recommend it.

Linnea Bailey is an award-winning journalist based in South Florida. Her recent freelance work can be found in Southern Living, The Palm Beach Post, Florida Weekly, art&culture magazine, The Palm Beaches Blog and more. A former newspaper reporter, she now owns a communications company in West Palm Beach. Linnea is an active member of The Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), the North American Travel Journalists Association and the International Travel Writers Alliance.
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