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- Magic at Any Age
Are you wondering what the best age for Disney World is? A lot of people ask this question (understandably) before dropping the money on a Disney vacation. People want their kids to be old enough to remember the trip, but young enough to find it magical. The answer is it definitely depends on your kids and the parks you want to visit. No matter what age your kiddo is Disney has something for them. Even little ones will be awed (and kids 2 and under get in FREE). Here are our tips for Disney by age group so that you can have a blast at the most Magical Place on Earth.
Walt Disney World with Babies and Kids Under 3
Years ago I convinced my husband (who was very skeptical at the time) to take our then barely-1-year-old son to Florida’s Walt Disney World for our very first family vacation. My relatives thought I was crazy to want to have to clean sippy cups in the bathrooms and change diapers at the Magic Kingdom. “He won’t remember anything,” they said. But after the very first walk down Main Street, I knew we made the right decision.
Now having been multiple times and taken our boys through different childhood stages, I have found that there is NO perfect age to take your children to Disney. Every stage offers different advantages in the Disney Parks, and magic abounds at each one.
Advantage: Kids Under 2 are Free
On that very first trip as parents, we found out that there are some definite perks when your kids are under 2.
The most obvious benefit to taking your tiniest Mouseketeers is they get into Disney World for free! Free to enter and free to eat (when sharing from your plate). This made meal times much easier with a little one in tow, and I didn’t feel like we were wasting money.
TravelingMom Tip: Another reason to take little ones to Disney World now? Kids under 2 don’t need to wear masks under Disney reopening rules.
Advantage: Enjoying “Firsts” in the Disney Parks
The other joys I found at the Disney parks with younger children were all of the “firsts” like that first photo with Mickey Mouse or the first time riding a carousel. The pictures I have of all the “firsts” are priceless. I can’t guarantee my little one remembers, but Mom sure does.
TravelingMom Tip: Harmony Barber Shop which is closed temporarily due to the coronavirus pandemic offers a “first hair cut” experience complete with pixie-dust!
Advantage: Appreciating a Relaxed Pace
The other benefit of traveling to Walt Disney World when kids are small is the relaxed pace of the trip. We started early and needed to take a break in the day for naps, but we knew in advance we wouldn’t see or do everything.
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The best part of this was the leisurely atmosphere created by that speed. It encouraged us to relax and soak up the ambiance.
Advantage: Rides with No Restrictions
WDW also has a number of attractions with no height requirement. Cue it’s a small world soundtrack. On that same trip, we had not only our 1-year-old, but his great grandmother. (These are the best rides at Disney that work for little ones and grandparents.) Of course we all went on it’s a small world. The memory of watching my grandmother delight in my child’s wonder was priceless.
For the Preschooler Set
When my boys were both preschoolers and Disney Junior had taken over the TV, our experience changed. We discovered this age at Disney is a wonderful time to seek out their favorite characters! At all four theme parks there are a number of experiences like stage shows that highlight well-known characters and are the perfect length for the preschool set! Mickey’s PhilharMagic at Magic Kingdom and Muppet Vision 3D were two favorites in my family.
Advantage: Finding a Great Character Meal
Dining at character meals is another great option to make sure you see some famous faces. My boys loved Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Topolino’s Terrace-Flavors of the Riviera at Disney’s Riviera Resort.
Another gem for preschoolers is the Garden Grill Restaurant at EPCOT. In addition to characters in their cutest farming outfits, this rotating restaurant’s changing scenery kept my kids entertained throughout the whole meal.
TravelingMom Tip: Character dining is currently modified to adhere to physical distancing guidelines.
Advantage: A+ Preschool Rides
Rides like the Gran Fiesta Tour at EPCOT became quick favorites for us during this stage because it featured Donald Duck, was completely out of the sun and usually had a minimal wait time. Unlike other theme parks, Walt Disney World has a plethora of rides for the under 5 crowd!
During these years, we forgot about the thrill rides and focused on all of the attractions that were perfect for them (not too scary and a minimal height requirement). And… don’t miss Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This is a must-do if you have little ones who love “Cars.”
Advantage: Taking a Break to Let Loose
When my boys were small, they also really needed to have room to wander around at their own pace. Did you know that in EPCOT, adjacent to The Seas with Nemo & Friends, there is an aquarium? This is the perfect spot to allow your preschooler to be self-directed as you watch their excitement.
While rides and shows are so much fun, standing in line and waiting caused frustration in my kids. Places that allow free roaming were lifesavers! At Animal Kingdom the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and the Maharajah Jungle Trek were two places we could let my kids explore however slowly or quickly they wished to go.
Best Age for Disney: The Elementary Years
Advantage: A Junior Planner
As my son got older, we found the unexpected benefit of having an elementary-aged child was his excitement in planning our next Disney vacation.
Leading up to one of our trips, my then third grader was able to research (look at the Disney website and “Mom-approved” Disney YouTube channels) and give input on resorts, rides and dining. Older kids offer a different sort of magic, but no less heart-warming.
TravelingMom Tip: Bring the magic home with this fun Disney gear for back to school.
Advantage: Introducing Thrill Rides
If your elementary-age kids are adrenaline seekers like mine, Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom or Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios might be their favorite attraction.
Our photo from our 6-year-old’s first ride on this icon was hilarious and he felt so brave when he was done!
Advantage: Elementary Pin Trading
If scary drops aren’t their thing, pin trading around the Disney Parks and through Disney Springs is a great activity for the elementary set. My boys have loved collecting and trading pins.
They might not care about which ones are “collectors” or what’s a good value, but for my Star Wars loving fellas, the hunt for Yodas and Chewbacas was tons of fun!
TravelingMom Tip: Here’s how pin trading works now at Disney World.
Advantage: Extra Resort Add-Ons
This age is also great for exploring some of the “extras” offered at the Disney Resorts. When we stayed at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, our kids both made their own Mickey Tie Dye t-shirt (for approximately $20). This was a great activity and Disney souvenir all rolled into one! They were allowed to pick between a regular or Mickey-head design and select their own color palate.
We all loved creating these custom shirts and interacting with the cast members. Many of the resorts offer this option. If you’re interested, the front desk should have an activities calendar with all of the extras listed.
Best Age for Disney World: Tweens and Teens
According to Disney Parks pricing, our kids turn into adults at age 10. (Well, at least it costs more for them to enter the parks and eat.) The price hike and changing interests of pre-teens might deter some families, but with older kids comes more adventure!
Figuring out what to do at WDW with each new age my boys reached showed me that magic isn’t just for little kids.
Advantage: Only for Older Kids
I have found hidden gems all over Walt Disney World that aren’t for little kids. Did you know you can play FootGolf at Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course? My kids are drooling over this sport that looks like golf but is played by kicking soccer balls into holes.
At 12 years old, kids are allowed in many of the amazing behind the scenes Disney World tours. This includes Backstage Magic at Magic Kingdom.
We previously took the Walt Disney: Marceline to Magic Tour (approximately $50 per person) and it was worth every penny. Walking through the park with a guide and being allowed into restricted sections truly made us feel like we were VIPs!
TravelingMom Tip: Tours are temporarily unavailable due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Advantage: Water Play
Pool time and water sports are also much easier for parents of tweens or teens. At Blizzard Beach Water Park, Mom and Dad can rent a Polar Patio and relax while the teenagers are sliding down Summit Plummet!
TravelingMom Tip: Another reason Blizzard Beach Water Park is a great choice for older kids is that many attractions have a minimum height requirement of 48 inches.
I recommend building in some time outside of the Orlando parks for water fun! No matter how much my kids swim at home, pool time (or water park time) is always a hit in my family. Here are TravelingMom’s recommendations for the best Disney resort pools.
For Grown Ups and Beyond
As tweens turn into teens and teens turn into young adults, the Disney vacations continue to evolve. There are even plenty things to do at Disney World for adults. But as Walt said, “Adults are only kids grown up anyway.”
Enjoying signature restaurants on Disney property like California Grill (Our favorite! Although my oldest still won’t eat sushi) or booking spa appointments for some scheduled relaxation is a great way to enjoy having older children at Walt Disney World.
Advantage: Dining Experiences
Did you know that there are a number of lounges at Disney Resort Hotels perfect for a late night cocktail? With subtle nods to Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorites is the Enchanted Rose at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
Magic at Any Age
Revisiting all of these memories has left me so thankful that we were able to experience each stage (so far) at Disney and enjoy what was different on each trip.
There is no perfect age, but every time we are able to be at Walt Disney World IS perfect because we’re together, spending time just having fun. And full disclosure: even if my husband and kids don’t want to, I still ride it’s a small world every time we go.