Wondering what’s the best age to take your kids to Disney World? Cast aside that stress! There is something for every age at Walt Disney World — you just need to know where to find the highlights for every age group. Read on to discover tips for each stage in the most Magical Place on Earth.
Why There is NO Perfect Age to Take Your Kids to Disney World
Years ago I convinced my husband (who was very skeptical at the time) to take our then barely-1-year-old son to Walt Disney World for our very first family trip. 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.
For the Littlest Ones
Advantage: Kids Under Two Are Free
On that very first trip as parents, we found out that there are some definite perks when your kids are under two. The most obvious benefit to taking your tiniest Mousketeer is that they are 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. We had the Disney Dining Plan but did not need to purchase one for him.
Advantage: Enjoying “Firsts” in the Disney Parks
The other joys I found at the Disney parks with younger children were all of the “firsts.” Did you know that on Main Street, you can get your baby’s first hair cut at the Harmony Barber Shop? For approximately $25, that is an experience unlike any other. I can’t guarantee my little one remembers, but Mom sure does.
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. The best part of this was the leisurely atmosphere created by that speed. It encouraged us to relax 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. 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 was a wonderful time to introduce meet-n-greets with their favorite characters. We also watched our kids’ amazement at parades and stage shows.
Advantage: Finding a Great Character Meal
Dining at character meals is an easy way to see lots of characters without waiting in lines. My boys loved the parade through ‘Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. They could join in with Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Lilo and Stitch! This restaurant was also one of “go-tos” when my boys were preschoolers because breakfast is served family style.
Another gem for preschoolers is Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom. We loved interacting with Winnie the Pooh and friends. The space here is also large, light and airy, which we found helpful when rolling in a stroller.
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… Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy was recently added 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 blow off steam. Did you know that in Animal Kingdom, there is a full sized playground called the Boneyard? It was a great space to let my little ones run around, jump and climb! While rides and shows are so much fun, standing in line and waiting caused frustration in my kids. This playground at Animal Kingdom was a lifesaver that we visited twice in one day!
For the Elementary Years
Advantage: A Junior Planner
When my son outgrew the Boneyard, we found the unexpected benefit of having an elementary-aged child was his excitement in planning our Disney vacation. Leading up to one of our trips, my then second grader was able to research (look at the Disney website and “Mom-approved” Disney YouTube channels) and give input on rides and dining. He even helped pick out what Fastpasses we should get. Older kids offer a different sort of magic, but no less heart-warming.
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 six-year-old’s first ride on this icon was hilarious and he felt so brave when he was done!
Adavantage: 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! To learn more about pin trading, read here.
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 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.
For the Tweens and Teens
According to Disney Parks pricing, our kids turn into adults at age 10. (Well, at least they are more expensive to enter and eat at that age.) 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 WDW that aren’t for little kids. Did you know there is a Cake Decorating Experience for budding chefs at Amorette’s Patisserie in Disney Springs? (Only available for ages 10+.) Then, at 12 years old, kids are allowed in many of the amazing behind the scenes tours that Disney offers. This includes Backstage Magic at Magic Kingdom. Last summer we 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!
Advantage: Water Play
Pool time and water sports are also much easier for parents of tweens or teens. At age 12, kids can rent Sea Raycers from multiple marinas at Disney Resorts like Disney’s Beach Club Resort. 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 sports time) is always a hit in my family.
For Growing Up and Beyond
As tweens turn into teens and teens turn into young adults, the Disney vacations continue to evolve. 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 Disney offers a progressive meal for adults on the Monorail loop called Highway in the Sky Dine Around? This experience includes five courses at three different resorts, ending at Disney’s Contemporary Resort for Happily Ever After fireworks. The best age for this is definitely over 21 since alcoholic beverages are included at each stop. While I haven’t tried this yet, it’s the number one on my Disney Bucket list.
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.
*If you’re currently planning at Disney Parks vacation, check out the following…
- If your children are still in a stroller, before hitting the Parks this is a must read.
- If you are planning a trip with teenagers, head on over to read 13 Things You Must do with Teenagers at Walt Disney World.
Lauren Bruce spends most of her days surrounded by kids. At home there’s her own two rowdy boys. And at school, she meets with 400 kids. She’s as an elementary school counselor, constantly on the go! Lauren finds the family travel planning process oddly soothing. She’s always excited to talk to anyone and everyone about their trips. She takes every free moment (and lunch break) to plan her family’s next vacation. Lauren loves chronicling her family’s quest to visit every Major League Ballpark in the country (Go Phillies!). So far they have checked off eight stadiums and always have one on deck. Her other travel obsession is visiting the Disney Parks, which became easier when she convinced her husband to join the Disney Vacation Club. You can read more about Lauren and her family at www.expeditionfun.com.