(Originally posted: October 2020, UPDATED: JANUARY 2024)
Are you planning a trip to Disney World and wondering if your highly sensitive, sensory sensitive, or anxious kids will think “it’s a small world” is a scary ride?
Hopefully you can find your answer here!
Let’s jump right in and get into a thorough overview of one of Disney World’s rides–“it’s a small world”.
“it’s a small world” for Highly Sensitive Kids: a Ride Review & Rating
There are lots of things that you experience on Disney World attractions that could trigger a sensory overload meltdown in neurodivergent kids. It could be things like sudden noises, the overall volume level, being in the dark, being exposed to bright or flashing lights, or how fast something is.
These things can seem “minor”. But when it continues to pile up throughout the day, it can end up with your child just completely losing it. And while it’s not possible to avoid ALL meltdowns, the goal is to try to be well-informed beforehand so that we as parents know what experiences might be a better fit (or not) for our families.
If you don’t want to read “spoilers”, then STOP reading now. I honestly don’t believe in spoilers when it comes to highly sensitive kids. For the most part, the more they know, the better they can handle it. The reason for creating these reviews and ratings is to make sure there are NO surprises.
We want you to feel fully prepared and aware of what you are getting yourselves into.
But continue on if you’d like ALL details about “it’s a small world”, and want to know whether it would be scary or overstimulating for your sensitive or anxious kids.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.
“it’s a small world” Ride Info
“it’s a small world” is one of those iconic Disney rides that most people have heard of. It is found in the Fantasyland section of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom theme park. There are multiple variations of this ride across several Disney Parks around the world, due to its popularity.
History of “it’s a small world”
Originally, “it’s a small world” was created for the New York World’s Fair in 1964-1965, where it became a huge hit. From there, it was shipped to Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, where it opened on May 28, 1966. The Disneyland version of this ride is really considered the OG!
The Disney World version of “it’s a small world” was an opening day attraction at Magic Kingdom, officially welcoming guests starting on October 1, 1971.
“it’s a small world” Fast Facts
This is a slow-moving, smooth boat ride through different parts of the world. It features over 300 audio-animatronic dolls representing various cultures, with the timeless song “it’s a small world (after all)” playing repeatedly in the background in multiple languages.
The boats themselves consist of 6 rows, with each row accommodating about 3 to 5 people. There are no lap bars or restraints.
The length of “it’s a small world” is about 10-11 minutes long.
There is NO height requirement to ride “it’s a small world”. Which means everyone, including infants and toddlers, can go on this ride.
But I want to emphasize that it’s important to consider more than just height requirement when planning out Disney attractions. There are lots of other factors to take into account, especially if you have a highly sensitive, sensory sensitive, or anxious child. At first glance, you might be confused why ANYONE would think “it’s a small world” is scary or overwhelming. But let’s get into the nitty gritty and find out if “it’s a small world” would be a good fit for your family.
Sudden Noises 1/5
Your highly sensitive child may be scared of sudden noises. Thankfully, this isn’t a huge concern on this ride. “It’s a small world” is definitely more of a ride with constant noise as opposed to sudden noises. This is due to the repetition of the timeless song throughout the entire 10 minutes and 30 second duration. This is why I give this a just a 1 out of 5.
Noise Level 3/5
I like to differentiate between sudden noises and noise level, because noise level is more about the overall auditory volume on the ride. “It’s a small world” wouldn’t be what it is without the infamous song! From what I’ve seen, it is a “love it” or “hate it” situation from both adults and kids. If you’re curious, I personally love it and don’t mind the song being stuck in my head all day long.
But this is exactly why I would rate the noise level at a 3. It is not a quiet ride by any means. The song playing loudly on a loop might be too much for some little ears (or even some adult ones too, if you’re part of the “hate it” camp)!
It’s not uncommon for highly sensitive & neurodivergent kids to be afraid of the dark. Luckily, “it’s a small world” is not SUPER dark! Most of the scenes are lit brightly enough to see all the animatronics dancing and singing around you. Note that one section that features Australia, New Zealand, and the Polynesian islands had a bit of a darker color palette than the other sections. But overall, highly sensitive kids with a fear of the dark shouldn’t have a huge issue on this ride.
Bright & Flashing Lights 1/5
Bright and flashing lights can be problematic for those with visual sensory sensitivities. While this ride is VERY colorful and there are lots of moving parts, bright and flashing lights are not something to worry about on “it’s a small world”. There are no sudden transitions between darker areas and brightly lit sections. There are various spotlights and light effects used on the animatronics but it’s generally not too painful for sensitive eyes.
Many highly sensitive kids tend to be risk-averse. So, speed may be something that generates fear on Disney attractions. As mentioned earlier, this is a slow-moving boat ride. It moves at a pretty consistent slow pace throughout. There are really no major speed concerns here. Just watch for the loading and unloading area. It feels a little jolting when transitioning out of the water onto the the bumpy rollers, after a mostly smooth ride. And occasionally, boats may bump each other as you enter the unloading area, or if there are some backups. But really, no major speed concerns here!
Vestibular sensitivity is related to movement. If your kids are easily motion sick, dislike swings or slides at the playground, or experience dizziness, they might have an extra sensitive vestibular system. Do you relate to this? Then, your kids may dislike the sensation of dropping when experiencing Disney attractions. “it’s a small world” fortunately does not contain any drops. The ride moves through the different scenes without any drops or unexpected movements. It is very tame in terms of any “thrill” factor.
“Scary” Visuals 2/5
What is scary to one child isn’t always scary to another, so this is extremely subjective! But it is fairly common for highly sensitive kids to dislike visuals related to villains, conflict, or violence. There is NONE of that on “it’s a small world”.
The section featuring Australia, New Zealand and the Polynesian islands did have a variety of large tiki masks. This could be scary to some kids.
If anyone in your group has a fear of dolls (which is not entirely uncommon!), this would probably be their worst nightmare. My youngest is scared of moving & talking toys. He was definitely a little scared and overwhelmed on his first ride through of “it’s a small world”.
But besides that specific section and being fearful of moving dolls, the visual scenes overall are very pleasant. This ride is trying to promote a happy world where people of all cultures get along, so there isn’t anything overtly scary.
Proximity to Others 0/5
Crowds are often overwhelming for highly sensitive kids. On “it’s a small world”, there are several rows of seating on these boats. And they will seat your party together in these rows. So, there is a very low likelihood of being squashed in like sardines and having to be in close proximity to complete strangers.
Strong Smells 0/5
Disney is known to use the sense of smell to make their attractions even MORE immersive without you fully realizing it. In this case, I don’t recall any strong or unpleasant smells, so this shouldn’t be an issue even if your kid’s sense of smell is just as strong as your dog’s!
Some highly sensitive children are extremely uncomfortable getting wet or sitting around in wet clothes. The sensory input of getting wet, especially getting wet unexpectedly, could be too much. While “its a small world” is a boat ride, you will NOT be getting wet at all! My middle child was a little bit scared of getting splashed after having ridden Frozen Ever After. But after multiple reassurances and realizing that we wouldn’t be getting wet, he was fine.
How do we understand this rating? A LOWER score means LESS sensory overload. A HIGHER score means a GREATER likelihood of being overwhelmed and overstimulated. This creates a helpful data point for deciding which rides might cause sensory overload meltdowns in our sensitive kids.
“it’s a small world” is generally a good starter ride for families newer to the Disney Parks. It has a happy tone with all the colors and iconic design from Mary Blair. The music has a positive and uplifting message, though it can be annoying on repeat for some. It’s not at all dark, super loud, or startling. There aren’t any villains present. You can sit comfortably with your own travel party and there are no restricting restraints or lap bars. And because it doesn’t have a minimum height requirement, it’s great for the whole family to ride together.
I would just be mindful of the overall auditory stimulation, as it it truly is CONSTANT throughout the entire ride. There is also a lot of visual stimulation with all the dolls moving, dancing, and spinning. If any of your kids get scared by moving & dancing toys in the toy aisle, I would expect some hesitation and fear from them on “it’s a small world”.
Have you ever been on “it’s a small world”? What has your experience been? Let me know
If you need extra support and want to find community with other parents of highly sensitive or anxious kids going to Disney World, I encourage you to join my Facebook group!
You can ask all your questions and get feedback from a wonderful group of Disney-loving parents who are also looking to better manage the meltdowns and maximize the magic during their Disney World vacation.
Lastly, don’t forget to download your FREE copy of my must-have Disney ride planner tool! Use it so you can easily keep track of which rides you want to avoid and which you want to try with your highly sensitive kids. It will make planning your park days SO much easier!