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