While the flip answer is, “any age,” I totally understand what this mom wants to know. “If I’m spending a ton of money on a once-in-lifetime trip, at what age are my kids going to get the most out of this adventure?”
The “AGE” question is the most frequent one parents ask, and it is important because you have to really know yourself and your child to get it right. You also have to factor in that you may have a child who is ready and another who is not. Here are the pros and cons of traveling with each age group.
Disney is full of babies, so if you bring one you will not be alone. The main reason people bring little ones is because, THEY ARE FREE! Children under three are considered “Mickey’s guests.” They don’t need a ticket, feeding them is relatively cheap because you can bring in your own food or let them eat off your plate, they don’t need fast passes and you can wheel them about in your own baby stroller from home. In addition, little ones can go on many attractions, especially at the Magic Kingdom. Make no mistake, there is LOTS for babies to do.
If your budget allows, vacationing with a baby or toddler gets even easier if you can stay in one of the resorts close to the Magic Kingdom, such as The Contemporary, The Polynesian or The Grand Floridian. The key to having a good time with a baby is keeping to the baby’s schedule, not yours. My best advice here is PROTECT THE NAP! Leave the park at noon to get your baby into bed, park the stroller in a quiet corner and let him or her nap in the shade, or let the child sleep on your shoulder while you ride the Monorail for an hour. Again, PROTECT THE NAP and you will not regret it.
Disney with a baby is laid-back and calm. Your baby will be stimulated by the sites of the parks, the parades and thousands of others milling about. They will not be bored, but babies also can’t go all day. If you are a person that wants to go park-opening to park-closing then bring a grandparent along to ensure the baby’s schedule is maintained. And for all that is good in the universe, PROTECT THE NAP!
This is the age where Disney is real. Kids are really meeting characters from their TV screens. They are seeing a real castle, and there are real ghosts in the Haunted Mansion. At this age, Disney can be really fun and you will enjoy watching your children’s faces and you will take at least 1,000 pictures on your iPhone. At this age, you will look at your spouse and say, “We are amazing.” Then five minutes later your darling Peter or Wendy will have an absolutely fit because you refuse to purchase an $18 fan that sprays water.
Around age five, your child might be ready to try more thrilling rides. The Barnstormer is a great first roller coaster for this set. However, DON’T make the mistake of coercing them onto any attraction. If their joy is found by collecting autographs from every character in the park, then go with it. One bad ride experience, can spook them for the rest of your trip.
There may also be a few rides your child may not be tall enough to ride, and in this case check if a Rider Switch is available. (A Rider Switch allows parents to take turns riding an attraction. The family waits in line, but only one parent rides while the other stays with the child. When the rider returns, the parents swap jobs and the second parent gets a turn. Make sure you check that Rider Switching in available before you get into line.)
It’s still a good idea to return to your resort mid-day. The afternoon is often a crowded time of day at the park. Skipping it and taking a swim and a nap is a really good idea. Return to the parks in the evening once you refresh and take advantage of shorter lines and spectacular fireworks.
Ages 9 and up
Reality sets in and your child will either love Disney or think they are too old for it and beg you to take them to Universal. You can keep them engaged by involving them in the planning of Fast Passes and dining reservations. Let them run the show for a little bit, and let older kids go off on their own and meet up with you every few hours. Hopefully when you see them in the queue for Space Mountain they’ll admit that they know you.
What’s exciting about having tweens and teens at the park is that they are old enough for all kinds of behind-the-scenes adventures. Additional costs apply, but I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to actually hike the African savannah at Animal Kingdom or see the Magic Kingdom’s underground tunnel system.
Unlike other vacation spots, Walt Disney World is set up to entertain children of all ages. Cast members have seen it all. They are ready for whatever feeding, sleeping, and entertainment schedule you want. You are not at the mercy of the grown-up world. Embrace that Disney wants your kids there and they will do almost anything to make it fun for you. Take advantage of your child’s important status and enjoy.