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A Pint-Sized View of Disney World

Our nine-year-old expert tells you the attractions not to miss

What's an American childhood without the ritual pilgrimage to Disney World, the magic mecca in Orlando. Sure, you can consult the many guides to Disney World that line the shelves of any bookstore. But all these tomes were written by adults for adults. Would you trust anyone over 13 to tell you about Space Mountain? To remedy these deficiencies, we sent Nicholas Bernstein, age 9, to check out the scene along with two of his cousins--Allison, also age 9, and Laura, age 8, for a kid's-eye view. Nicky's report:

First of all: Leave your parents at home. I'm not suggesting that you hop on a plane all by yourself, but if you can, go with your grandparents. The trouble with parents is that they are always telling you not to do this, not to do that, to stop fighting with your brother or sister, or to improve your manners. Grandparents, on the other hand, just let you have fun and they don't care so much what you eat. One day, for example, all we had for lunch were cookies-and- cream milk shakes.

My second piece of advice: three days is not enough. We left Wednesday and came back Sunday, so we had about three- and-a-half days to see stuff. We saw lots of things and went on lots of rides but not nearly enough. I'd suggest that you convince whoever is taking you to stay for five or so days. That way you get to try lots of things, go on your favorite rides more than once, and still have enough time for swimming and just goofing around.

Here's the best way to plan your day: Leave your hotel early in the morning. You want to walk through the gates just as the park is opening. That way you'll get to the best rides before long lines form. Plan on having lunch either at the park or back at your hotel. (The turkey dogs weren't very good.) Take a rest, read, or go swimming, then head back to the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, or wherever, late in the afternoon.

Now, here's what you must see. I've rated each attraction; is tops.

The Magic Kingdom

Space Mountain: This is a very scary, exciting, fast, and dark ride. The reason it's scary is that it's so dark inside that you can't see the track the car is on. You don't know where you're going--just like when I'm driving with my mom, but even scarier. I'd say kids eight and up would really like this, but younger kids might be too afraid. The line doesn't look long from outside, but it is. It moves pretty fast. Plan on waiting 25 to 45 minutes no matter when you arrive.

The Haunted Mansion: This ride is more fun than scary--although they do try to scare you. Hands pop out of graves, ghosts peek around corners, and there are lots of illusions. Kids 4 to 10 will like this. It's a long wait, usually about 25 minutes.

Splash Mountain: Be prepared for a 45-minute wait; this is one of the most popular rides in the Magic Kingdom. With scenes of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Brer Fox along the side, you race through swamps, caves, and bayous. The climax is a five-story drop into the briar patch. You get wet, but not that wet. Kids four and under might get too scared by the ending, though they'll enjoy everything else. It's a good ride, but not worth waiting over 40 minutes.

Epcot Center

Honey, I Shrunk the Audience: A short scientist wins an award for a shrinking invention. During a demonstration of his experiment, however, everything goes wrong. Instead of shrinking a family's luggage, he ends up shrinking the audience. Among other things, a scary cat almost eats you, and a snake slithers by. There are lots of special effects that make you think it's real. Good for all ages, including parents, though three-year-olds might get scared. Don't worry about long lines--over 500 people can fit in every 20 minutes or so.

The Living Seas: One of the most educational attractions in the park, but it's also a lot of fun. You learn about fish and manatees--a huge, endangered species that looks like a cross between an elephant and a whale. You see divers feeding all sorts of fish, including sharks and dolphins. Usually not much of a wait.

MGM Studios

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular: You should get here either before 11 a.m. or after 5 p.m., because even though the Stunt Theater can hold 2,000 people, it is almost always filled. The show is funny and exciting. The stunts are as spectacular as they are in the movies. Great for all ages, but boys will probably like this more than girls.

Disney-MGM Animation Studio: Walter Cronkite (I've never heard of this guy, but my grandfather says you can believe everything he says) and Robin Williams (he was terrific in Mrs. Doubtfire, which you can rent at Blockbuster Video) take you around the studios showing you exactly how cartoons are made. At one point, Robin Williams goes to Never-Never Land with Peter Pan. You see the animators drawing and lots of other neat things. It's interesting for older people (like my grandparents) but also not too complicated for younger people (like me). And there usually isn't much of a line.

The Making of the Lion King: You see who draws all the characters, see the people who become the characters' voices, and get a good idea about how the movie was put together. It's a lot like the Animation Studio, but seeing both gives you a much better idea of how it all works. Arrive 10 minutes before the show starts to be sure to get in. Good for all ages.

Star Tours: A robot takes you on his first flight but things get totally out of control. Your ship shakes, rattles, and rolls as you hurl through space at warp speed. You're attacked by meteors but you get back to your base safely. A super ride. Plan to wait about 20 minutes.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: Don't go if you get scared, but if you're up to it, it's great. You take an elevator up to the fifth floor of the Hollywood Towers Hotel and then things start getting weird. Before it's over, you're not sure which way is up.

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Updated on August 28, 1996