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Mike Scopa

Old Enough for Mickey?

Taking young children to visit Walt Disney World

Friday, January 21, 2005
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

I believe, and have experienced first hand, that children of any age can enjoy Disneyland as long as parents remember to follow a child's pace. That said, Walt Disney World is a very different place from Disneyland. For me, it's nearly impossible to compare the two as vacation destinations because each requires a different mindset.

As my husband and I have experienced, travelling with very young children can be quite a challenge. Mike Scopa shares some excellent advice for families planning to travel to Orlando and experience Walt Disney World.

– Adrienne Krock, editor,
MousePlanet “Parenting in the Park”

A few weeks back, a friend of mine told me that her husband had suggested taking their young family to Walt Disney World in 2005 for a nice vacation. She came to me for advice, and her questions made me do some serious thinking.

What are all the pros and cons on taking small children to Walt Disney World, and when is a child old enough to visit Mickey and friends?

In this session, let's look at some of these issues and toss around some thoughts on preparing for a trip to Orlando.

The Perfect Disney Age

I'm often asked, “What is the perfect age for a child to go to Walt Disney World?” I'm sure everyone feels I duck the question when I reply, “That depends upon the child.”

Let's face it: No two adults are alike and no two children are alike, either. When seriously thinking about bringing children to Walt Disney World for their initial visit, there is a lot to be considered.

I'm sure most of those running the show in Orlando would NEVER say your child is too young to visit the theme parks, but I think they are wrong.

I've often heard that Disney considers the ripe old age of 7 as the perfect Disney age. It's at 7 years old that the child's personality really emerges. Also, at 7 the child is very impressionable—and impressionable children are a much desired market for entertainment companies like Disney.

But I'm not here to help Disney; I'm here to help you.

I don't care what Disney sees as the perfect Disney age; I want to focus on your individual family, and your kids.

Disney shouldn't decide if your children are at that age, you should.

For our discussion today, let's define young children as being 5 years old or younger.

Kristen's Family

Let's focus on my friend Kristen and her family. If she does decide to visit Walt Disney World, she would go with her husband and their two children. At the time of this potential vacation, their older child will be just over 3 years old and their newest family member will be just 7 months old.

Kristen and her husband have not been to Walt Disney World in many years. I don't recall how long it's been, but I do know it's long enough so that it will seem quite different to them.

The good news is that they have visited Walt Disney World in the past and have some idea of what to expect. The bad news is that they have never visited Orlando with young children and may not fully grasp how to approach a Walt Disney World vacation with such a young family.

Many times a young family is drawn to Walt Disney World through marketing hype, as well as through conversation with friends and relative who have recently visited Mickey.

Sometimes the excitement of going prevents young parents from really sitting down and thinking about how to properly approach such a trip. Certain preparations must be taken to ensure that everyone—parents and little ones alike—really enjoy the adventure.

Let's look at all the components of taking young children to Walt Disney World and what young parents should be aware of when deciding whether to go or not.

Traveling with Children

Most visitors either fly or drive to Walt Disney World. If you have young children who have never flown before, do you have any idea as to how they will react on the flight? I've heard that young children who fly are prone to ear infections. I have no idea as to the credibility of such a claim. I also know those too young to pressurize their ears on their own can experience excruciating earaches, so at the very least, I would recommend feeding your children (especially infants and toddlers) to keep their jaws actively working to relieve ear pressure. In essence, make sure you are prepared to deal with any discomfort your child may have on the trip.

Before you travel with your children, call their pediatrician and ask for advice on what medicinal supplies you should pack.

If you fly, book a direct flight to Orlando if at all possible. Avoiding multiple take-offs and landings would appeal to most people with or without children, but especially with small children.

Regardless of whether you drive or fly, try to bring along some snacks, as well as something to keep your child occupied.

Finally, when traveling with small children keep in mind that small children have small bladders, so they may require frequent bathroom stops.

Where to Stay

It goes without saying that staying on-property offers so much for young families who need that mid-day break or prefer to be as close to the parks as possible.

Disney's value resorts, such as Pop Century and All Stars, offer small families very good accommodations at reasonable prices. These two resorts would be at the top of my list for young families.

If, however, a young family plans to spend most of its time at Magic Kingdom and prefers to be closer to it, then Port Orleans French Quarter may be the moderate resort best suited for all.

Staying on the property offers the parents the advantage of a short trip back to the room to rest, nap, or enjoy the pool.

If your children are used to a mid-day or early afternoon nap, you can maintain this routine while still enjoying your vacation.

This is not to say that a hotel room outside the Walt Disney World resort property wouldn't serve the same purpose. I'm sure it would, especially if you have a rental car, and the off-property hotel is very close by. The decision to be made is just how far you want to be from the theme parks.

I know I'd want to be as close as possible.

Park Touring with Young Children

I won't get into which attractions in which parks are the best for young children. Instead, let me point out a few things that young parents with small children should keep in mind.

Theme park attractions can be loud and dark. No one knows your children better than you, so you are best to judge which attractions your child can handle best. To help you, Brian Bennett put together a great Mouseplanet article on theme Park fear factor (link).

It is important to really spend time planning your itinerary for touring the parks. This means drawing up a plan that allows your family to properly pace yourselves in the park. Always understand that young children have only so much energy; don't want to burn them out. Plan your day accordingly, around their abilities.

Well before the trip, prepare your children for the theme-park characters they might meet. Chip and Dale are not nine inches tall but more like five and a half feet tall. Do your children know this? Will they be frightened by a huge Pluto? If possible, expose your children to life-size characters, Disney or non-Disney, well before the trip. And when a character appears in person, it would be a good idea for either mom or dad to hug that character. This may help ward off any fear that the children may have of the character.

Make life easier on everyone by supplying your own juice boxes and snacks for your visit to the parks. You can easily quench little thirsts and provide a snack in a flash.

Remember the medicines I mentioned earlier? Don't forget to bring it to the park. My wife use to also bring a supply of wet naps or wipes to the park as well. They always came in handy.

The first thing you need to do when you enter any of the theme parks is to find a park guide and take note as to the location of first aid and baby care center. Actually, it would help to know their locations before you get to the park.

Theme parks are pretty big and that means a lot of walking. Unless you like carrying your child a lot you may want to consider either bringing your own stroller or renting one at the front of the park.

If you decide to bring your own stroller, it should be as small as possible and easy to fold up. Parking lot trams are much easier to embark and disembark with smaller, folding strollers.

If your children are sometimes in need of walking on their own you may want to consider purchasing one of those harnesses or tethers that allow them to walk on their own without having to hold your hand. I've seen them many times and they seem to work well.

Parade watching may be a real challenge here because we all know that it's important to find a spot well before the parade begins. Will your children patiently wait an extended period of time for a parade?

Disney Dining

This is easy. Before your trip to Walt Disney World, know your children's dining habits and how well they do in restaurants. Of course Walt Disney World offers character meals and that means a different type of restaurant.

Sometimes children are too fidgety for restaurants. On a recent trip my wife and I were having dinner at Chef Mickey's and the couple next to us had a young child… maybe nine months old, who would not sit in a high chair and wanted to be held at all times.

The parents alternating holding this child and I dare say they did not enjoy their meal.

Do some planning before the trip and determine which restaurants may best suit your family.

Food for Thought

In doing research for this column, I poked around the Internet and read many forums and sites and one person made an interesting comment about why he will no longer go to Walt Disney World with children younger than 5 years old. He said he's seen too many “hollow-eyed parents pushing bulky strollers around the park with kids who won't remember one moment of the whole event,” because most of us don't remember much of what happened in our lives before we were 5. The person also commented that he didn't want to take the child to the park on the one day he decided to have a bad day no matter what.   Perhaps the most important thing for a parent is to recognize when your child is old enough to really appreciate a trip to Walt Disney World and more importantly, old enough to...

...Remember the Magic!

Next Time

I'm definitely overdue to discuss the new Magic Your Way ticket program. We'll look at the specifics and see how to make them work for you.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mike here.


EXPERT HELP

I would suggest checking out the following books for additional help:

The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids by Bob Sehlinger (Wiley; ISBN: 0764537261): Insight based on the experiences of many families who have contributed to the information in the book. [Purchase from Amazon here.]

Fodor's Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando with Kids 2005 (Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando With Kids) by Kim Wright Wiley (Fodor's; ISBN: 1400014018): A great guideline for parents who need help in the planning and preparation of a Walt Disney World trip with young children. [Purchase from Amazon here.]

Mouseplanet staffer Adrienne Krock has written a Parenting in the Park article on taking a 1-year-old to Disneyland. Some of what Adrienne says can easily apply to Walt Disney World. Her article is definitely worth reading (link).

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.

Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.

Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.

Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

You can contact Mike here.

OTHER LINKS

Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:

Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)

Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)

Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, “The Trip Planner” for more travel planning information.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”

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