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When is my child old enough to go to Walt Disney World?

October 3, 2017, 7:51 PM · Visiting Walt Disney World is a rite of passage for many kids — and their parents. But when is a child old enough for a trip to Disney World?

Since Disney is built for fans of all ages, anyone can visit. So whenever you want to bring your child to Disney World, it's the right time. But what if you want that first Disney visit to be an extra-special experience for everyone in the family? What, then, is the best age for a child's first visit to Disney World?

Let's look at the pros and cons of visiting the Walt Disney World Resort with children of various ages.

0-2 years

Pros: You don't have to pay for them! Children under age three get free admission to Walt Disney World and Disneyland theme parks.

Cons: They will not remember even one moment of the trip — at this age, this visit is entirely for you, not them. And you will have to push or carry them everywhere, hauling a diaper bag throughout the parks like a Sherpa climbing Everest. At this age, kids are basically living, breathing, crying, pooping baggage. Okay, for some parents of older children, this might be one for the "Pros" column.

3 years

Pros: Three-year-olds likely will be out of diapers by now, though "accidents" remain possible. And kids this age will start meeting some of Disney's lowest height requirements for rides:

Cons: You have to start paying now, but Disney does offer (slightly) reduced admission prices and lower-priced kids' meals for children ages 3-9. While kids this age can walk for a bit, you'll likely still need a stroller to get through a full day in the parks. Also, a three-year-old likely won't remember more than a fleeting moment of your trip, at most. You're not really making memories yet.

4 years

Pros: You're still pre-school now, giving you greater scheduling flexibility (even though the "off-season" is becoming a rarity at Disney anymore.) This also is the youngest age at which most kids will be tall enough to ride most of Disney's iconic attractions.

Cons: If your child hasn't hit 40 inches yet, visiting the parks at 37-39 inches is just about the most frustrating time imaginable for a kid. That said, kids this age still probably won't remember more than a few moments of the trip years later.

5-6 years

Pros: Kids this age are more likely to remember their first Disney trip if it comes at this age or older. Potty training is a distant memory. With a little school experience, too, children are more likely to be able to handle lines and crowds with less hassle. Because they are less likely throw a fit than younger kids, friendly children this age are absolute magnets for character attention at meet and greets. They also likely will be tall enough to ride three more of Disney's most popular rides:

Cons: School schedules become an issue now, potentially limiting the times when you can visit and what offers you can take. Endurance remains an issue, too. Plan on investing time in naps, or pay the price later in the day with ultra-fussy kids.

7-9 years

Pros: You can ditch the stroller by now, making getting around the park much easier. Seven years old is is the minimum age that children who meet the height requirement can go on rides unattended, allowing your kids the opportunity for some "independence" while you take a short break. This also is your last chance at those child admission prices. Yet within this age group, your kids likely will be able to go on all the rides at the parks.

Cons: These are the transition years from toddler Disney to tweenager Disney, so they might proclaim themselves too old for some of the photos ops and experiences that younger children would embrace eagerly on a first visit.

10-13 years

Pros: They almost certainly will be old enough and tall enough for everything. Kids this age are ready for a little extra responsibility, too, taking some of the pressure off you.

Cons: You have to pay the adult price for them now. And when the Inside Out crew hits that "puberty" button, wow, family vacations can enter a whole new stage of drama.

14 and up

Fourteen is the minimum age to enter a park alone. But as high schoolers now, they've missed some of the magic of visiting Disney for the first time as a young child, by this age. Still, as a parent, you've also missed the hassle of diapers, strollers, and missed height requirements by waiting until your child is older to bring them to Disney.

When did you first visit Disney? What's your earliest memory of visiting? And if you are a parent who has brought your children to Walt Disney World, how old were they on their first visit? Did you wish that you'd waited until later... or come earlier? Please tell us about your experience, in the comments.

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Replies (18)

October 3, 2017 at 8:50 PM · We took our 18-month-old son to Disney World six years ago and he had some of the most epic meltdowns in the history of man. That being said, we were strolling through Hollywood Studios and here came Minnie Mouse after we rounded a corner, just walking by herself somewhere.

He leapt from his mother's arms and ran Chariots of Fire style into Minnie's outstretched arms 100 feet away. That's probably one of my favorite vacation memories of all time. He was too young to remember that but we will never forget it.

October 3, 2017 at 9:32 PM · So this is interesting given I was 10 my first Disney trip. However, my niece and nephews go through all these, the first two kids only months old on their first visits. However, you'd be surprised how much one remembers from 2 years old, especially meeting Mickey and others. Yeah, older may be better in some ways but a kid at Disney is always a fun experience and we have so many memories of them growing up via various visits. And seeing the wonder of a toddler to the sights is always an experience to cherish.
October 4, 2017 at 6:10 AM · I was 4 years old on my first trip to DL. Granted I mostly remember what I do because of looking at photo albums, what I "actually" remember experiencing was the Matterhorn. I distinctively recall being scared to death with my dad putting his arm around me to hold me in place. The flight from east coast to west I also recall fondly because we hit a thunderstorm. So I suppose it's the fearful moments that stand out at that age.

My first trip to WDW, I was 8 and it certainly was distinctively different. I remember almost everything from that trip but what stands out most was a ride on Mr. Toad. It scared the crap outta me! Geesh! Maybe Disney anxiety was the cause of my issues later in life! :D

First Epcot experience was 14 (1988) and it changed my life. At such an influential age, Epcot is exactly what I needed at that point. And most importantly, NOTHING traumatized me on that trip!! God bless you Epcot!

October 4, 2017 at 6:28 AM · One element that was not brought up . . I have a close friend who took his two children and they were about 5 and 3. The 3 year old remembers so much because they took videos of him meeting characters, going on rides, waiting for parades. So little David remembers a lot because his family loves to bring out the old vacation videos and rewatch his reactions. For some reason when Woody and Buzz came up to him--little David skirted around Buzz (Buzz giving a hilarious perplexed response) and David jumped toward Woody to give him a big hug.

When they are that young. . . TAKE VIDEOS. . . and that'll really help them remember so much of that magical day.

October 4, 2017 at 6:32 AM · I've been pretty satisfied with the way we have approached our Disney vacations since the birth of our son. We visited WDW once when he was 6 months old. Infants are pretty easy to tote around the parks (except when they're crying on the Carousel of Progress and you try to discretely leave the theater but end up e-stopping it while opening the exit door), and parent swapping policies make it easy for new parents to still enjoy many of their favorite attractions while providing adequate care for their child. Our son doesn't remember his first WDW trip at all, but our photos of us holding him in front of iconic backgrounds are cherished.

Our second trip as parents to WDW came when he was 2.5 years old to take advantage of the free admission policy. It was definitely more of a chore lugging him around the park, but he definitely remembers some of the highlights of this trip. As Robert notes, kids in this age range probably aren't going to be riding anything aside from omni-movers, boat rides, and trains, but his ability to walk around and explore definitely made this trip memorable.

We visited Disneyland and DCA just as our son was turning 3, so we took advantage of the free admission again while he was just tall enough to do a few of the smaller height restricted attractions (Gadget Coaster, Splash Mountain, and Zephyr). He also vividly remembers this trip, but because we went to both WDW and DL in relatively close proximity, the 2 vacations run into each other in his mind.

Our next trip to WDW occurred when he was 4, and he was tall enough to do virtually every attraction at WDW except Primeval Whirl, Space Mountain, Mission Space, and Rock 'n RollerCoaster. He remembers a lot of specific details about this trip, but if I had my druthers, it would have been better had we held off until he was a bit taller (was right at 42", which was a bit frustrating since some days he measured right at the line, and others did not), but it's difficult to predict how tall your child will be 6 months ahead of time when planning an Orlando vacation. We had planned the trip in the fall of 2014 after the opening of Diagon Alley (and of course he wasn't quite tall enough for Gringott's despite measuring at 42" at Sea World), so we planned around the parks more so than his age/height. It was a bit annoying that we still had to lug a stroller through the parks to give his little legs a break from time to time, but having the stroller was definitely easier than trying to carry him like a sack of potatoes when he conked out.

We're going back to WDW next weekend, and I think he'll be at the optimal age. He doesn't seem as thrilled about the Magic Kingdom anymore, but I think once we're there, he will embrace it one last time. However, he's super excited to do the big boy rides he wasn't able to do last time in addition to the new attractions that have been added since 2014. We're also making our very first visit to Legoland on this trip, which we had been avoiding because we didn't feel he was ever at the right age/height to enjoy the park on previous trips. We're not bringing a stroller this time, so we may end up slowing down at the end of long days, but it will be liberating not having to deal with the hassle this time.

In the future, we're long-term planning to visit Disneyland/DCA and the other SoCal parks in 2019 (after SW Land opens) along with another possible Orlando trip in the fall of 2019 or spring of 2020. We haven't decided how we'll approach future trips as he gets into his teens, and I don't think it's really worth it at this point because the parks are likely to continue to evolve, and there's no telling what our son will be interested as he gets older.

I think if you have the means, taking a trip during each one of these distinct age groups is best, because it's exciting to see how you child grows and evolves in their relationship to the parks and attractions (our son is decidedly a thrill seeker). However, lacking means, I think holding off until your child is old enough to at least ride most of the WDW attractions (at least 44", tall enough for Space Mountain or better 48", tall enough for everything at WDW) and can walk through the parks on their own without the need for a stroller is probably the way to go. Depending upon if you have a girl or a boy (or both) may also affect what age is optimal if you're only going to visit WDW once during your child's formative years (0-13).

October 4, 2017 at 8:48 AM · 14 and up -- Time to switch to Universal Studios!

:-D

October 4, 2017 at 10:15 AM · Whatever the downsides of taking younger kids, 3 and under, is more than redeemed by the sheer joy of watching them BELIEVE everything there. Thoughts of my 2.5 year old daughter waiving at the Princess float, and thinking they were waiving back, makes me misty to this day, haha.

If you're a Disney-loving adult, the right age to take your kids is every age. You can bask in the wonder of the little ones; share the thrills of elementary school kids as they get to ride the "adult" rides for the first time; and join with your aging kids as they start dissecting the design and the mechanics of rides.

At bottom, take them as early and often as you can, because there's going to come a day where they won't want to go anymore (until, if you're lucky, they have kids of their own and invite you to tag along ;))

October 4, 2017 at 10:58 AM · Russell, I think we're gonna need the long version of the COP story. Time for a "what's your most embarrassing theme park mistake" thread!
October 4, 2017 at 10:57 AM · 8 years old is perfect age to get an Annual Passport. They are safely at the height limit for most rides and can walk on their own without strollers.

3 years old can still get in free if they look young enough with stroller.

4 to 5 is the worst time. May still need stroller, but can't go on many rides with height limits. Must buy tickets since it's harder to fool the ticket taker. My kid finally stop requiring the stroller at 5.5 years old.

Overall, 3 to 5 years is perfect for girls since they are princesses. Took many pictures with dresses from Disney Store like Snow White, Minnie Mouse, Ariel, and Elsa.

October 4, 2017 at 12:53 PM · We live in the UK but my 5 year old has been to WDW in Florida twice and Disneyland Paris twice. My 2 year old has been to WDW once and Disneyland Paris once. Both of them can remember quite a lot. My 2 year old met Snow White and got a kiss on the head. She still remembers it. Both of them still like to act out meeting the characters and make me and their Mum queue to “meet” characters and get our photos taken. They also act out Small World all the time and unfortunately still sing it practically every day. They also like to sing and act out the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and the Star Tours ride. Even if they don’t remember it in a few years we have beautiful photos and precious memories of them meeting all the characters. So I would say go at any age. When we went to WDW last year our 1 year old was grand, our 4 year old was the one kept having meltdowns but that was just because every ride we came off and into a store he wanted a toy in every shop. I don’t think Disney should end all rides in a store but that’s an argument for another thread I’m sure.
October 4, 2017 at 1:22 PM · Up to the age of 4 or 5.5 yo (depending on the individual maturity, there is no strict rule),
the general advice is NOT going to any park, day-long. The span of attention at that age is max. 4-5 hours. After that amount of time, the kid should be in a calm environment where he/she can play on it's own. (Like simply on turf with a ball, a playground, poolside, whatever.)
Dragging the young kids day-long through a crowded park, would classify as torture...
Most parents however, do this, just because it's THEIR (expensive) visit, and they don't care about the kid's emotional welfare.
Cheers
October 4, 2017 at 1:37 PM · "Missed some of the magic?" I didn't visit a Disney park until my mid-30s (Epcot, Tokyo DisneySea, and Animal Kingdom, in that order) and I felt it was adequately magical. Admittedly, it was a different kind of magic than for small children -- I was enthralled by the theming rather than the characters, and since I was travelling solo, I absorbed it at my own pace rather than sharing with family.
October 4, 2017 at 1:40 PM · I know a lot, most, people will jump all over this but I felt that the best age to take my children was when they were old enough to not be a disturbance to everyone else. There is nothing worse then trying to have a good time and having to put up with somebodies screaming princess or pirate. You are taking you children to the parks to enjoy themselves and create memories well guess what so is everybody else and if little Timmy or Tammy aren't old enough to behave all you did was ruin everyone's day. We didn't take our children until the youngest was 9 and even then we maybe should have waited a couple more years, he's on the Autism spectrum and it wasn't always fun.
October 4, 2017 at 1:45 PM · 3!
October 4, 2017 at 2:05 PM · I would agree with you Herwig, but every kid is different and for many, every day is different. Some kids will take in as much as they can handle, and just nod off to sleep when they're over-stimulated. Those same kids may exhibit that same behavior for 3 straight days on a trip, but then all of a sudden wake up on the wrong side of the bed on Day 4, and completely flip the script. Some kids may go 7 days until they flip, but there's no way for a parent to know until it happens. Unfortunately, the cost, and necessary advanced planning for a WDW vacation does not allow for the level of flexibility most kids need, and after all, many attraction at WDW are geared towards that age group where kids are predictably unpredictable. What's a parent to do when they've pre-paid $200+ for an evening ADR at Cinderella's Royal Table, and their children go ballistic at 10 AM after riding Space Mountain? I'm sure there are parents out there that are selfish, and would drag their kids because, "doggone it, I paid for this trip, and we're going to get our money's worth", but I think most parents are faced with this situation, and don't really know what to do. It's a tough call, but I think it really depends on your kids. It also doesn't help that a WDW vacation has to be planned months in advance, and you're trying to predict how your children will react months from now to stimuli they've never experienced before. Kids change fast, and in other ways are slow to change, but predicting the mindset of a child visiting WDW for the first time 6 months before you arrive is like trying to pick the Powerball.

Same for Vaughn - I think every kid is different, and the only people that know what's right for them is their parents. My nephew is on the Spectrum, and his parents have been struggling with how to take family vacations. The see how easy it is for us, and don't want to deprive their younger child not on the Spectrum of the experiences that many kids his age get to have just because of his brother. It's tough, but I don't think there's any set age, and only the parents can really make that determination on a case by case basis. There's a joy to taking your children to WDW multiple times as they grow up because their perception of the parks will change each time, but parents should never force their children into situations they cannot handle.

October 4, 2017 at 2:20 PM · Delivery and then go......i thought that was the norm :)
October 4, 2017 at 7:07 PM · Russell, some advise you can pass along to your nephew's parents, this not from experience but from my sons counselor, include him in the planning. Our first trip to WDW with our sons was a surprise trip, we broke his routine and he didn't have a good experience. The next year we went to Niagara Falls and the to Lake George in New York, we included him in all of the planning and but for a few minor melt downs it was a good trip. Our last trip to WDW was in 2013 he was involved in all decisions, even thou the final say was ours and we had a great time.

Our next trip will be most likely at Easter in 2019, he'll be in grade 12 and we took his older brother to WDW when he was in grade 12 so fair is fair. I don't know how your nephew is affected, our son was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome which is also called 'high functioning Autism' but we found that taking an old Game Boy we had at home or putting some games on a phone kept him occupied during the line ups.

October 5, 2017 at 4:44 PM · Money Saving Tip:

My husband took the 6 and 8 year olds to the park, while I took the 3-year-old and younger sibling to Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs) where they rode the tiny train and little carousel, played in the Lego store, bought a few toys in the giant Disney store, posed with the Winnie the Pooh bench group, and THOUGHT They'd been to Disney world!

So much easier on Mom - no crowds, no hassle and almost no cost! (the 2 rides, lunch and a few toys). We spent hours moving slowly around at their pace, and they felt completely immersed in Disney World.

Now they tease me about it but it was really economical compared with paying for me and the 3-year-old to basically watch the older children and the husband go on rides since she was too small and the baby couldn't go on any. And the important point is: they had a fantastic time and were completely happy and satisfied with their "Disney World" trip!

It's even easier to do today because you can add in the free "Cinderella and Prince Charming first dance" every afternoon at the Grand Floridian where your little princess can join in their parade, dance and get pictures! Free and open to anyone.

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