What’s the Right Age for a Visit to Disney World?

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You can’t bring your baby to Walt Disney World! You get the cutest photos when you bring your baby to Walt Disney World! It’s too hard to travel with a toddler! My preschooler won’t remember the trip! Kindergarten is the best time for a Disney visit! Don’t go until your child’s tall enough for ALL the rides! Middle schoolers are too jaded for Disney! Teens have nothing to do in the parks! There’s no reason to go to Walt Disney World if you don’t have kids!

Any frequent Disney visitor has heard (and maybe participated in) vehement arguments about why a certain age is the best or worst time to visit Walt Disney World. As a person who’s been to Disney as a child, a young adult single, a young adult married, and as a parent of infants on up to teenagers, I’ve lived the gamut of pros and cons of Disney travel at various life stages. Let’s break it down:

Travel with an Infant

  • Pros:
    • Free admission for the child! Never underestimate the benefit of free park admission.
    • They’re portable. They’ll keep to your itinerary with no complaints.
    • Everything is new and interesting to them.
    • Nap requirements force you to take a break during the day.
    • Photo ops are extra cute.
  • Cons:
    • They won’t remember the trip.
    • Too short for many rides.
    • Some attractions have height requirements, forcing an adult to stay behind and watch the baby.
    • You need to tote extra supplies: diapers, wipes, bottles, etc.
    • Nap requirements force you to take a break during the day.

Travel with a Toddler (ages 1-2)

  • Pros:
    • Free admission!
    • They’ll likely “believe in” Mickey and friends.
    • They can express preferences about what they like. You’ll see real joy when they’re happy.
    • You can keep them safe/contained in a stroller during parades/crowds.
    • Several attractions are made with toddlers in mind.
    • Easily entertained by the little things: ducks, play fountains, giant lollipops.
    • Lots of kid-friendly food options.
    • Preschoolers are happy with simple rides.

    • Nap requirements force you to take a break during the day.
  • Cons:
    • They won’t remember the trip.
    • Some attractions have height requirements, forcing an adult to stay behind and watch the baby.
    • You need to tote extra supplies: diapers, wipes, bottles, etc.
    • Nap requirements force you to take a break during the day.
    • Potty training may make bathroom issues a priority.
    • Possible fear issues with characters.
    • Possible rebellion against the stroller.
    • Minimal patience for waiting in lines.
    • Too short for many rides.
    • Needs watchful water supervision.

Travel with a Preschooler (ages 3-5)

  • Pros:
    • Pays child admission fee and dining rates.
    • Will likely “believe in” Mickey and friends.
    • Often totally immersed in the experience. There’s no I’m “too cool” attitude.
    • Can walk some on their own, but you still have the stroller for breaks or to stow your gear.
    • Old enough for the Disney resort child care centers, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and Pirate’s League.
    • Lots of child-friendly food options.
  • Cons:
    • Possibly won’t remember the trip.
    • Possibly fearful of some experiences.
    • Not yet tall enough for some rides.
    • Needs watchful supervision in the water.
    • Younger children can best experience the Disney magic.

Travel with a Younger Elementary Schooler (ages 6-9)

  • Pros:
    • Pays child admission fee and dining rates.
    • They’ll likely remember most of the trip.
    • They’ll have stamina for a full day.
    • Most rides are accessible to them.
    • They’re unlikely to be jaded about the Disney experience.
    • They can assist with the planning.
    • They’re usually past the fear factor.
  • Cons:
    • School may limit travel dates.
    • Too old for stroller, but possibly still easily tired.
    • Perhaps still too short for some rides.

Travel with an Older Elementary Schooler or Middle Schooler (ages 10-13)

  • Pros:
    • Will likely be tall enough for every attraction.
    • Generally safe in water situations at pools and water parks.
    • They can assist with the planning.
    • Generally able to occupy themselves in lines.
    • Will often enjoy some of the more educational attractions at Epcot.
    • Easy to dine at signature restaurants.
    • Older children can start to go on some rides by themselves.

  • Cons:
    • Older children pay adult ticket prices.
    • Travel may have to be in peak season to avoid taking them out of school.
    • May be unwilling to share a bed with a sibling, making a larger room necessary.

Travel with a High Schooler (ages 14-18)

  • Pros:
    • They can enjoy many of the attractions on their own.
    • They may be able to participate in backstage tours with you.
    • Easy to dine at signature restaurants.
    • Easy to stay up late for fireworks, evening Extra Magic Hours.
    • Can stay up for the entire Halloween or Christmas party at the Magic Kingdom.
    • Ample free transportation means they can come and go at will.
    • Older children can participate in more activities.

  • Cons:
    • May think they’re “too cool.”
    • Sleep schedules not optimal for rope-drop touring.
    • Possibly expensive to feed hungry appetites.
    • May be unwilling to share a bed with a sibling, making a larger room necessary.
    • Travel may have to be in peak season to avoid taking them out of school.

Travel as a Young Childless Adult

  • Pros:
    • You can experience everything at your own pace.
    • Nothing is off limits.
    • You can travel light. No diaper bags or extra gear to tote.
    • There are plenty of opportunities for romance.
  • Cons:
    • Some attractions are better seen through the eyes of a child.
    • Possible awkwardness about hanging out with Mickey with no child in tow.
    • Disney is expensive. Budget may be an issue on a new worker’s salary.
    • Difficult to avoid children if you want quiet time.
    • Nightlife scene is relatively limited.

Travel while Pregnant

  • Pros:
    • Disney is a comfortable place for travel while pregnant. There are plenty of clean restrooms and nearby medical assistance.
    • There’s plenty to see/do while taking it easy (shows, spas, etc.)
    • Cute photo opportunities of Junior with Mickey before birth.
  • Cons:
    • Heat and walking require substantial stamina.
    • Some rides must be avoided due to intense motion.
    • You’re away from your own medical team.

Travel as Senior

  • Pros:
    • Easy to visit when crowds are low.
    • Disney is very accommodating for guests with medical challenges.
    • Spur of the moment trips more possible.
    • Can see the joy in a grandchild’s eyes at WDW.
  • Cons:
    • Heat and walking require substantial stamina.
    • Difficult to find quieter places without children.
    • Intense rides may exacerbate medical conditions.

Obviously there are good and bad aspects to Walt Disney World travel at any age or stage. For me, there’s no right time to go. Or to put it differently, there are many right times to go. I loved my Disney visits when my kids were toddlers and I love them now when they’re teens – even though the trips themselves are entirely different.

What have you found to be the “sweet spot” for Disney travel? Are there advantages or disadvantages that I missed? How have you coped with family members at different life stages traveling together? Let us know in the comments below.

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Posted on March 28, 2012

43 Responses to “What’s the Right Age for a Visit to Disney World?”

  • Love it! Great job! Thanks

  • For us, I think it is less about age and more about height. We just traveled to Disney with a 11,9,5,4 and 1 year old and all got something out of the experience. I had told the kids that we won’ go back until the 1 year old is 44″ so that way he can do all the rides and nobody gets left behind. I think the next tier is 40″ for most of the rides.

  • by Kathleen Mc on March 28, 2012, at 2:10 pm EDT

    Our sons are 5 1/2 years apart (currently aged 14 and 8 1/2) each was 4 years old at the time of his first Disney trip and for us (and them) that was a PERFECT 1st-visit age. There were completely caught up in the magic and characters but old enough that we didn’t have to deal with diapers or other baby gear. We just returned from our last trip (Feb 2012) and both boys (again, now 14 and 8 1/2) LOVED every aspect of the trip. I think that is the beauty of Disney: there is truly something for everyone of every age to love.

  • We are DVC members. My daughter is almost 6 and she has been to WDW 5 times. She doesn’t need a map in MK! Her first trip was the week after her first birthday. She doesn’t remember it – but I sure do. I think it depends on the child – some kids would be fine younger, others would be better older. But there is truly something for everyone.

    • by Erin Foster on March 28, 2012, at 4:58 pm EDT

      Great point. My girls don’t remember their first trips to Disney either – but I certainly do. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. And there’s also something to be said for setting the stage for future trips when your child is very young. I’d venture a guess that your daughter is so comfortable now because she had familiarity with the parks so early.

  • We went 2 years ago with our 7 and 8 year old girls. Everything was so magical to them and they were able to keep up…and go on all rides!

  • by Meredith McCutcheon on March 28, 2012, at 2:16 pm EDT

    For us, it’s not about the rides (you can go on thrill rides at any amusement park); it’s about the magic. We took our kids last year (they were 3 & 5), and we didn’t plan on returning for a few years. However, we decided that we are going to take them back this year while they are still young (4 & 6), just so we can have one more year when they will still be “immersed” in the entire experience.

  • We vacationed in Disney last May with three kids in tow. Our children were 3, 6, and 10 at the time and we found that everyone in our family had the time of our lives. Yes we had to take the older ones out of school but the parks were nearly empty and their teachers were very understanding (and a little jealous). No the baby won’t remember but that’s what pictures are for AND it gives us the perfect reason to go back in a couple years. ;)

  • Love that you put pros for each age group. I think the key when considering a trip is to know what works for your child, but especially when taking small children to research! I cautioned a friend taking a three year old not to take him on “It’s A Bug’s Life” and the very first thing the family took him to was that. He spent the rest of the trip terrified that the bugs were going to get him and wouldn’t go on any other rides.

    • by Erin Foster on March 28, 2012, at 5:01 pm EDT

      You’re right that a lot has to do with the temperament of the child, and his parents.

      My own parents made a similar mistake with my sister during my only WDW visit as a child. The very first ride we went on was Space Mountain. Sis was 5 years old and she was TERRIFIED. Even getting her on the carousel was a struggle after that.

      Start slow when exposing little kids to new experiences.

  • We took our twins for the first time when they were 5 and had a great time. We’ve been every year since and I think the trips get more fun as they get older. I love that they can do all the rides and stay up later for fireworks (which we didn’t even attempt on our first few trips).

    I do wish we had gone when they were just a little younger, just so we could have had a few more trips where everything was still real to them. But, I’m looking forward to taking my grandchildren when they are young!

  • I was 23 when I made my 1st visit to Walt Disney World in September 2004. I’m about 25 miles from Disneyland so I guess there was no rush. I always wanted to go to WDW but wasn’t able to until I was working. My family never seemed interested in going. And after I’ve made 9 trips, they still don’t want to go. I’ve enjoyed it every time and never get bored of it because I’ve been a lifelong Disney fan.

  • I just recently made an autograph book online that includes pictures of my daughter with the characters during each of her 5 trips (she is 5). For us it is a family experience and has been wonderful watching our kiddos “grow up Disney”. When people ask me about the best age for a 1st trip I try and list pros and cons. This piece is a great go-to for that question. Thanks!

  • Turns out one of my longtime suspicions is correct. To paraphrase Peter Grahame, the Golden Age of Walt Disney World is Around Seven.

    • by Erin Foster on March 28, 2012, at 5:03 pm EDT

      There is some truth to this. But I have to say that I’m finding another “sweet spot” now that my daughters are young teens. They often go off on their own together in the parks, getting some great sister bonding time in – and allowing my husband and I some quiet time.

      And we all LOVE comparing/sharing food at the signature restaurants. Our family trip to the V&A Chef’s Table is a memory I’ll cherish for a lifetime.

      None of that would have been possible when our girls were smaller.

  • I think every age is a great time to visit! We have taken all of our kids from the time they were 1 and every visit was great. They are now 18, 12, and 6 and Disney is still their favorite vacation spot! Just remember – you are on vacation, relax and enjoy it all!!

  • We have annual passes and twin 1 year olds and a 4 year old. The biggest problems are eating and patience for lines. The 4 year old is getting much better. I HIGHLY recommend bring your own food for 1-5 year olds as $6-9 plates as resturants just thrown on the floor or barely eaten by a small child is a waste.

    Also if you are *not* a season pass holder and have saved up to come out of town with really small children without extra family to babysit, be prepared to signifcantly modify your WDW experience because no 4 year old (tall enough) is going to wait 110 minutes for Soarin or PeterPan. They will however enjoy the different play areas.

    • by Erin Foster on March 28, 2012, at 5:12 pm EDT

      My kids have the exact configuration as yours. Twins, with a sibling three years older. When we made those early trips, we did often bring a sitter or grandparents with us. It does make a huge difference in everyone’s enjoyment.

      And you’re correct, it’s a different trip with small kids than with older ones. You’ll experience entirely different diversions and attractions, but it’s all good.

    • by Meredith McCutcheon on March 28, 2012, at 5:36 pm EDT

      Good points. I found, though, if you plan correctly and get FASTPASSES for these rides, you can still work them in to your schedule. Soarin and Peter Pan were my kids’ two favorite rides (ages 4 & 6), and we didn’t wait for them at all because we used FASTPASS. I think the key to touring with small kids is to use the FASTPASS system.

      • I completely agree. FASTPASS is the way to go. We fill the time between Fastpasses with the carousel and other less crowded rides, meals, potty breaks, running around time and stroller naps.

  • The baby/toddler won’t remember the visit, but you will.

    It’s very special to visit WDW with someone who does not need to suspend disbelief.

  • Any and every age if you have the right attitude. It doesn’t matter if you want to be there!

  • Last year took our 12 month old for 3N/4D and we are now counting down to our trip for 4N/5D when she is 24 months. Even with all the cons listed above, my wife and I loved our first Disney trip together. During nap and bed times, we would alternate staying in room while other parent completed their touring plan. For that reason, a deluxe resort room with a good view was very important. For wife an I, it is really all about those memories and pictures during those few hours all 3 of us spend together in the park and at character meals. Eveything else we do when on our own is still enjoyable and really just a bonus.

  • Great breakdown!

    However, as the mother of a five-month old I have to disagree a bit with the statement “They’ll [infants] keep to your itinerary with no complaints.” Between the very frequent feedings, erratic nap schedules, major diaper blow-outs, and general fussiness due teething, etc., I find that even brief, local outings can sometimes be rather stressful and don’t go as planned. Couple that with the sleep deprivation and, as much as I love it, a trip to WDW w/ an infant just wouldn’t be worth it or particularly enjoyable for me. Maybe my baby is particularly difficult! : – )!?

    Greatly looking forward to our first trip once the little guy hits three or four, though!

  • We are passholders and have been making frequent Disney trips since my youngest was 3-months-old and my oldest was 3. I can’t say what the “best” age for a Disney trip is but I have a strong opinion about the worst age, any time after your kid starts walking until they are nearly 3. My experience has been that kids at that age don’t want to follow your agenda and at the same time aren’t particularly interested in the Disney experience. It’s probably not too bad if you are only traveling with one kid but it gets difficult to keep the toddler entertained while you also make the trip magical for older kids.

  • In the 80s, my daughters experienced what I still consider their best trips to WDW back when they each turned two or three years old. Other parents scoffed at us, felt we were wasting money and that the girls wouldn’t remember the trips. I am happy to report that they still talk about those delightful early visits to WDW today. Perhaps this is in part because I loved watching the joy they experienced so much that I repeated favorite stories of our adventures over and over, and kept those memories alive. I just returned from my first trip with my grandchildren who were one, three and four. They thought every fairy was really flying and that the princesses were royalty. Every tiny detail at Disney was admired and appreciated by the trio. Although there are benefits to visiting Disney at every age, in my opinion, the magic of Disney is truly felt when you experience it through the eyes of a young child.

  • People don’t think like they should!!! The touring plans and unofficial guide attitude is very similiar to the freakonomics authorship (statistics models etc..) And reading it really puts into perspective the quantitative ways to judge things and therefore make better decisions.

    The first “assumptions” that people FORGET when thinking of the “Rationales” for going to Disney is: What are your alternatives!!

    People are always making comments that state a preference on whether or not to go to Disney based on things that can’t be changed like whether or not the kids are the “right” age.

    The question should always be: I am at XXXXX stage / situation in my life, should I go to Disney or somewhere else or stay home?

    The assumption that always rubs me the wrong way from all the disney haters out there is that you can only go once or once every 3 or 4 years or that it’s such a chore that you should just save it for a very specific time.

    That said: I love going to Disney with a baby!! That’s because we still wanted to take a vacation with the baby. And there’s no more baby friendly vacation destination than Disney. The hotels are very baby friendly; the parks have baby care; the plane and the park tickets are free for the baby (not so a major sporting event for example); and you can go places (even fancy places) with a baby at Disney and you don’t get the feeling that you and your baby are unwelcome.

    It’s not about whether Disney is better with or without a baby or small kids or grade schoolers / pre-teens /teens / young couples or whatever. It should always be about whether or not you want to go to disney “now” in your current situation or stay home or go somewhere else on vacation.

    For some reason, people always forget that with Disney.

    And for those who don’t like Disney, they should just consistently decide not to go. But they shouldn’t push stupid conventional wisdom like they’re not going because it’s not really the “right time” for the age of their kids or some such nonsense.

    Disney is great for all ages. The only real requirement is that you just have to actually like Disney stuff. Then, it’s best if you aquaint yourself with the unofficial guide and rise to the top of the heap, make the best decisions armed with awesomely specific knowledge, and avoid the pitfalls, traps, and stupidity that the sheeple make. That will go a long way to making a Disney vacation much better.

    • by Erin Foster on March 29, 2012, at 8:03 am EDT

      You’ve done a great job of articulating the mindset I’ve had for years.

      I have many friends who took their toddlers on elaborate European vacations and made fun of me for taking my kids to WDW. At WDW there were high chairs and cribs and changing stations at the ready – with three kids under age 5, that’s EXACTLY what I needed. I wasn’t going to go anywhere else.

      Now that my children are older, I do take them to Europe (as well as back to WDW) because they can take care of so many more of their own needs.

      My personal rule of thumb is that we were not going to take a plane ride of more than three hours until everyone could read their own chapter book.

      And you’re right, some folks will never like Disney. There’s no right age for them. For everyone else, every age is potentially right.

  • by SpenceMan01 on March 29, 2012, at 2:38 am EDT

    I figure that if you’re going only to do a one-off, “once in a lifetime” trip, wait until the kids are old (and tall) enough to enjoy the attractions, but still young enough that it’s still magical and they’re not jaded.

    If you’re planning on bringing them back later in their lives, I don’t think there’s a minimum age as long as you’re aware and ok with the caveats of traveling with a youngster outlined above.

    We took my daughter for her first trip in December, literally days before her third birthday (which was the day after we got back). It was the perfect mix of the Toddler and Preschooler groups in the article. She was old enough to “get” most things. She LOVED meeting the characters; the princesses especially. She got a TON of attention from all of the cast members, too. From a cost standpoint, it was great because we didn’t have to pay for park admission and ate for free from our plates (a real boon at the buffets). We had to manage naps, potty times and some strong-willed defiance, but I feel it was all worth it.

    She was super excited to meet Belle: http://img545.imageshack.us/img545/664/c3a12216842f486a84e19fc.jpg

    • by Erin Foster on March 29, 2012, at 8:05 am EDT

      That is the most adorable photo EVER. Thank you for sharing it.

      That picture alone is enough to keep me coming back to WDW for years.

    • Oh my! That picture brought tears to my eyes. Her expression is just magical!

  • I experienced Disney in many of the ways listed. I went numerous times to DL when I was very little. I still remember going on Space Mtn for the first time when I was about 7-8 with my dad- screaming the whole time and then begging to go on again.

    I went to WDW with my parents as a teenager and enjoyed it IMMENSELY. My brother is much younger than me, but I remember getting to do everything I wanted to do.

    My husband and I had our Honeymoon in Disney. Two adults, no kids having the TIME of our LIVES!! We met all the characters, including princesses for my husband and Dopey for me! I didn’t feel awkward at all meeting the characters!

    Now we’ve taken our son twice and are counting down to our third. First time, he was 5. Old enough to believe in the magic and enjoy many of the rides, but not all. My mom was with us that time so she was able to bring our son to other attractions while the husband and I went on some of the thrill rides. But we would have been happy to use the baby swap feature if we needed. Now he’s been on all the rides, including Space Mountain and Rockin Roller Coaster and loves them.

    We did wait to bring my son until he was at least potty trained. then we started saving up more seriously. We were also concerned that he be old enough to soak it in and enjoy it and know what’s going on.

    My husband and I have thought about doing Disney on our own, but at this point, it’s too much fun to watch our son have so much fun WITH us.

    The trip is what you make of it. Have fun!

  • by Lacee Gomel on March 29, 2012, at 9:53 am EDT

    Excellent discussion here, love it! I also agree that there is a sweet spot where they are old enough to enjoy it but young enough to not be jaded to it.
    I do disagree with one part of the original article. When you say that babies and toddlers are not old enough for many of the rides. They can actually go on anything that does not have a height requirement, basically they can do almost everything at Disney. And they are usually not old enough to be scared of anything, such as dark rides.
    It gets hard to wait for the “perfect age” when you have multiple kids. We have 4, and our first trip the older three were 4 years old, 2, and 6 months. People may think it is crazy to take a 6 month old, but we went in October (so it was not too hot) and he was fine. The trip was for our 4 year old daughter, and she LOVED every minute of it.
    I agree, haters gonna hate no matter what. But this is a very common question and I enjoy reading all of the comments :)

  • I agree with a lot of what people have said above. I might add that, you need to know your children and yourself. Some of us have no problem traveling with a baby, while others would. Some teens who have grown up with Disney still love it while others would rather head to Universal. It’s all about what’s best for YOUR family.

    We took our kids for the first time when the youngest was a couple of weeks shy of 2. It was great. She enjoyed a LOT of the attractions and she was FREE, from the tickets, of course, to the airfare. Also, she thinks she remembers it from all of the pictures. So when we returned when she was 4, she still “remembered” a lot of it.

  • Disney is great for any age but two factors answer this question. Money & Age Span. If you can only afford to go once and you want to make the most of it, don’t take little ones. They won’t remember it and they cut into the touring with naps. 6-9 is a GREAT age. Still young enough to appreciate the magic, old enough to really enjoy and remember. (Also, no nap & no stroller!) But when the age span doesn’t allow for the “perfect” scenerio, do what works and make a video for the little one. He/She will feel like they remember and you will get a kick out of seeing Disney through their eyes.

  • We took our boys for the first time in 2008 when they were 12 & 9. (My hubby and I had both previously been several times as kids and young adults, including our honeymoon.) Although I would have loved to have taken them when they were even younger – this was really our first opportunity financially to go. We had a wonderful time and still reminisce about the trip. I am thrilled that we are going again in 2 months (they will be 16 & 13) and are staying on site for the first time (first time for the kiddos and the parents). We have a feeling this may be one of our last opportunities for a big family vacation – so we are splurging on a deluxe resort and longer stay than last time. Everyone is excited!

  • One pro to having a small child along with a “ride-height” child is the rider-swap program (if they still do it, you walk up to a cast member at the ride entrance with the family and you are given a “rider-swap” fast pass) We went with an 8 & 2 year old. The 8-year-old was ecstatic that he got to ride all the cool rides twice in a row. Once with Mom, once with Dad…both through the FAST PASS line! He’ll definitely remember that trip!!

  • I try to tell all my friends who are disney rookies.
    Disneyworld is not for small children.
    End of discussion.

  • When people bring toddlers, we all suffer.

  • I think that the key is that going with different ages simply makes for a different style of trip. We’ve always travelled as a childless couple, so travelling with a fifteen-month-old will be something completely different. It won’t be the “let’s ride Mission Space until Becca needs to lie down” trip of yore, it will be the “let’s take in the sights and smells before heading back to the hotel for a nice, long nap” kind.

    Disney World is for small children – it’s for everybody – but staying in a busy, noisy park all day and ignoring bad behaviour or screaming at your kids isn’t. (Why do I always hear it in an English accent? Gargh!) People always notice those kids.

    It does just come down to basic logic (value = time spent enjoying yourself, not doing as many attractions as possible) and respect for people around you.

  • We have traveled to Walt Disney World when our daughter was one, two and three….she remembers things when she was 2!!…I really amazes me! I am SO glad we started taking her young!…You just have to go slow and low…go take breaks when needed AND only one park every other day!!…now we get to go with our 4 year old and an infant! Can’t WAIT!!