A child of Generation X, I was raised in a wave of Boomer nostalgia. The televisions, radios and movies were inundated with the culture of previous generations. I absorbed it all, and it influenced me in ways that I couldn’t understand. It has also made me painfully aware of the swift march of time. I was four when I told my grandmother I didn’t want to grow up, I wanted to grow down.
What is the best age for Disney World?
It’s five. I went for the first time when I was five. I took the kids for the first time when they were five. Five is where the magic and the optimum experience meet. At that age, they believe in Mickey Mouse. They are amazed at the castle. At that age, they don’t usually notice the zip line as Tinker Bell flies through the night. To them, the Toy Story stuff at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the princesses are magical. Sure, the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean might be too scary at five, but that leaves milestones to conquer on future trips.
That being said, I don’t think there’s any wrong age to go to Disney. Go when you can and when it makes sense financially. Worry about the age of it later. I’ve loved Disney at every age. I loved it as a kid and I also love it as an adult. It’s also fun seeing it through the eyes of my children as they’ve grown up going to Disney.
What is the earliest age you can go to Disney World?
I say take an infant if you want. They won’t give you much of a reaction, of course, but you do you. Personally, the youngest we’ve taken our child to a Disney theme park was when she was one year old. She was old enough to watch Disney shows and chatter a bit. She was old enough to recognize Mickey and Minnie and the crew.
On that trip, we checked into a cabin at Ft. Wilderness with my mom and stepdad. On the first day, the whole family went to the Magic Kingdom. On the second day, my youngest stayed with Gammie and Poppie Joe so we could have park time with the two older kids. They ended up taking her to EPCOT and exploring that park.
Sure, most of her trip was spent inside a stroller and no, she won’t remember any of it. But we do. We remember her eyes lighting up and that wild baby smile as she took in the day-glow spectacle of Peter Pan’s Flight.
Some important factors to consider
Some people don’t think you should spend money taking a kid before they’re old enough to remember the trip. But it’s your money and your memories, too. Also, keep in mind, that if you’re trying to decide when to take a toddler, there’s a significant difference between just before they turn two and just after.
Before they turn two, they don’t need park tickets. More importantly, if you have a family of five, the two-year-old does not count for Disney resort hotel purposes. That means before my daughter Ainsley was two, we could stay in the value resort rooms that sleep up to four adults. But after she turned two, we had to get rooms rated for five adults – even with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old. It was a significant cost increase.
Is it worth taking a 4-year-old to Disney World?
Absolutely. Four is a great age because they’re able to enjoy more of the experience than when they were toddlers, but they are still completely enthralled by Walt Disney World magic. For example, Mickey and the princesses are real to them. Rides like Tomorrowland Speedway and Dumbo the Flying Elephant are amazing at that age, as is Journey of the Little Mermaid or the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Fantasyland was pretty much designed with that age group in mind. Height restrictions? Where we’re going, we don’t need any height restrictions. Of course, the park can be overwhelming as can the Florida heat. A midday break for nap time is probably a good idea. But we built great memories in the parks without kiddos at that age.
Which Disney World park is best for preschoolers?
I think it’s the Magic Kingdom. It has the most rides with pre-school-friendly height requirements. It has the best parades, the best character interactions and the most for a preschooler to do. Hollywood Studios does have some Disney Jr. characters for that age group, but it’s not enough to overtake the Magic Kingdom.
The animal exhibits in the Animal Kingdom are good for that age, too. But if that’s your focus, you’d probably be better off just going to a regular zoo. At least, it would be more cost-effective.
Is 12 too old for Disney World?
I don’t think so. My nanny would have visited at the age of 95 if she’d been physically up for it. A better question would be, is Disney the best resort vacation for a 12-year-old? If they’re super into thrill rides and roller coasters or Harry Potter, it might be Universal. Or if we take the question out of Orlando, it might be Six Flags or Bush Gardens or Cedar Point or Kings Island. Certainly, there are plenty of options to entertain older kids all over the country.
Still, Disney has Star Wars, Pixar and Pandora plus several awesome attractions designed for older kids. There are lots of attractions and food for your 12-year-old to love even if they think they’ve outgrown the Jungle Cruise. So is 12 years old too old for Disney? Not on your life.
Will your tween love Disney?
Ultimately, it depends on what they like and what they love. It’s also up to you and the experiences and memories you help create. But if they don’t, it won’t be because they’re too old. Sometimes our culture gets criticized for clinging a little too preciously to the totem poles of our childhood. I’m certainly guilty of it. I’ve got a few hundred dollars worth of Star Wars figures decorating my desk in my office.
And while I’m certain some people go too far in that – and I probably know some people in my life who think I go too far in that – I think it’s important to remember who we are and what we thought and felt and loved at each of our stages of life. How can I relate to my children’s experiences if I’ve forgotten what it was like when I was their age?
Will my teens have fun on a Disney vacation?
Of course, I haven’t met your teens but I suspect so. First of all, teens enjoy being allowed some freedom in the parks to tackle things at their own pace and current technologies allow parents to give the older kids a certain level of freedom within the park.
On a recent Disney vacation, we were joined by another family with two teenage daughters. They’d never been. To them, it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but I haven’t given up on helping them schedule another one day soon. Their list of must-dos was all the thrill rides in Disney parks. That included Smugglers Run and Rise of the Resistance in Galaxy’s Edge. They also wanted to ride Test Track, Soarin’ and Mission: SPACE in EPCOT. In Magic Kingdom, they wanted to ride Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
But in the end, what memory did they take away? It was at Cinderella’s Castle and finally watching the fireworks show they’d been dreaming about since they were little girls. Tears were shed. Some of them even came from the kids.
Is Disney really the most magical place on Earth?
Most magical? I don’t know, I love Paris and London and New York. Of course, they’re magical. There’s magic in the Great Smoky Mountains and the Gulf of Mexico. However, The magic isn’t in the place. It’s in you. You bring magic where you go. It’s just maybe that some places are better at helping bring the magic out of us than others. Disney is one of the places that brings it out for me and my family. Will it be for you? There’s only one way to find out.
What do you think is the best age for Disney? Let us know in the comments.