How Big is Too Big for the Stroller?

by Lisa Perkis, staff writer

Welcome to another installment of MousePlanet’s Parenting panel. This week’s question is something every parent has to deal with eventually on a trip to the parks:

How big is too big for a stroller? Does seeing a 10 year old crammed in a rented model drive you crazy? Do you still allow your 8-year-old in your double stroller? What is the age limit, or should people mind their own beeswax?

Mary Kraemer is a travel consultant with CruisingCo/MouseEarVacations. She loves to travel with her husband and four children and is an avid Disney fan who visits Disneyland several times a year—and Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line as often as possible. Mary writes:

Wow, this is a subjective topic! I’m a former stroller pro at Disney parks because my three younger kids are 14 months apart (a set of twins and one after). So, for years, we took a double and a single stroller to the park (our triple stroller was just too big).

I think the time to go stroller-free at the parks definitely depends on the child. My oldest child started going to Disneyland just before he was 3, and I don’t ever remember taking a stroller to the park with him. He has boundless energy, and didn’t really need the stroller to go places. At the time, I remember going to the park with friends who had a 5-year-old and I thought their child was far too old for a stroller.

With my three other kids, we took strollers probably until the youngest was 5. At that point, having the stroller was almost as important for its convenience of hauling around our stuff as it was for hauling around a kid with tired legs. I remember taking all three kids to Disneyland on my own, using just the double stroller (I’m pretty sure my kids were 4 and 5 at that time); the seats in that stroller fully reclined, so I could fit two kids onto one of the flat seats while another sat in the other seat. It was a lot more convenient to get all three kids from Point A to Point B than if we were walking.

But what is the magic age to shed the stroller? I think it’s really a personal decision. You know your child better than anyone else (although "anyone else" does seem to have an opinion about pretty much everything). If you child has some physical or emotional challenges, where using a stroller makes the difference between being able to go Disneyland or not, there’s no question!

As for rental strollers, I think it would be entirely appropriate for a cast member to refuse to rent a stroller if a child was large enough that their weight exceeded the stroller’s recommended capacity

MousePlanet reader Bill (who posts as Disneyland Dad on our MousePad discussion boards) and his wife live in Reno with their son, 12, and two daughters, 6 and 1. Bill writes:

We have an almost-18 month old and a 6 year old. While our stroller is meant for the 18 month old, she is getting more and more restless being in the stroller and needs more frequent breaks from it. When she takes a break and walks or is being carried, fairly often our 6 year old will sit down in it. Sometimes we find this easier than trying to push an empty stroller while holding both kid's hands.

I'm sure there are 100 different ways that parents find work best for them. Just as there are people with invisible disabilities that might not appear to need wheelchairs or ECVs, I think that people should not judge when they see a situation they feel does not necessarily warrant stroller usage. Sometimes we might see a older child get up from a stroller and run to an attraction or wherever and we think to ourselves "why in the world is that child in a stroller?" But we try to remember that we don't see the other 99 percent of the day or know the reason the child was in the stroller in the first place.

Elizabeth Peterson lives in Southern California with her husband and two kids.

When I started thinking about this topic, I laughed a bit because it kind of made me think of parents who are afraid their kid will never be potty trained or will never give up the pacifier. There is typically at least one no-nonsense parent in the mix saying something like, "Don't worry, Bobby won't be going to college with a pacifier in his mouth."

I pretty much feel the same way about strollers. You don't see many kids past toddler age in a stroller. There is either the self-inflicted pressure of, "I'm not a baby" or the embarrassment that others might think they are too big to be in a stroller. Besides, most kids are so excited to be in the Disney parks that they are on foot as much as possible and your stroller becomes a rolling storage container. I really think this is a situation that works out on its own.

I have two toddlers who are very much still stroller age so it's not like I can speak from direct experience. I can't say that I've ever noticed a kid who seemed too old or too big sitting in a stroller anywhere—Disneyland or the rest of the world. If I did notice, I think I might come to several conclusions including: 1) The kid needs to be in a stroller. Perhaps they have special needs or are injured. 2) The kid is tired and someone in their group has a stroller that the rightful occupant is not using and this kid jumped in.

If it's a private stroller, it's really no one's business. Heck, there have been times I wanted to flop into my kid's stroller, tuck a fleecy blanket around me and be pushed back to the Mickey & Friends structure. If it's a rented stroller, hopefully the renter would understand the weight limit and be responsible for any damage incurred by not following the guidelines presented upon rental. I don't see how there could be an age limit. Especially since age can have nothing to do with size. I've known big 2-year-olds who looked like 5-year-olds, and tiny 5-year-olds wearing size 2T clothing.

As we Parent in the Parks, we should all realize that there are many different choices parents make. We all try to do what is best for our families. What is right for your family might, upon a quick glance, shock and horrify a random observer. Unless a child (regardless of size or age) in a stroller at Disneyland has a direct impact on you, I think you should mind your own beeswax and enjoy your day at the park.

You can follow Elizabeth's adventures on her blog

MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry and wife Diane, "the marathon-running graphic designer who loves to garden and is a big Tinker Bell fan," are raising 10-year-old Samantha, who "shares her father's love of Disney and her mother's love of art," and twin 7-year-old boys, Casey and Alex, who "consider Mickey Mouse's house their favorite place."

How big is too big for a stroller? Sometimes on a hot August day of touring the parks, I’d like to be pushed around in a stroller myself. Back here on planet Earth, however, that’s not happening. When it comes to my kids though, there’s a whole different reality. I have a 10-year-old daughter and twin 7-year-old sons. The 10-year-old has been out of the stroller for three years now, but she lasted in a double until she was 7. If she wasn’t so tall, I might have squeezed another year out of the rental strollers. Let’s face it, she was happy and therefore we were happy. I had no problem keeping her in a stroller until 7-years-old just as I had no problem cramming the boys into a stroller this past September.

A trip to Disney is exhausting enough. We can get a whole lot more out of them during a marathon park day if they get to be pushed around in comfort. The Disney double strollers are big and roomy enough. One would assume this is intentional so that older kids can utilize them as well. Yes, these trips are about us grown-ups, but they’re really about the kids. If we keep going as much as we do, they’ll have plenty of years to walk around the parks.

I say, keep them rolling around as long as you can. We were with another family on our last trip. When we came to the stroller rental in the Magic Kingdom on the first day, the 6-year-old was adamant about not needing a stroller. He was happy to let his 5-year-old brother have a single all to himself. I’m sure you all know how long that lasted. By the time we made it back to Fantasyland, he wanted in. Hated to say, “I told you so!” but hey, I told them so.

As far as what people say or think, “Who cares?” This is my trip with my kids. As long as they can fit comfortably in the stroller and their legs aren’t hanging out causing possible problems to themselves or other guests, then I say let them be. Maybe my kid gets tired more quickly than yours; maybe he’s got problems with his legs. Or…maybe…they are hot, tired and over stimulated by the multisensory experience that is a Disney vacation and deserve a ride while they still can get one. We should all be so lucky.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting on the Parks section of our MousePad discussion board, and share your best tips for what you bring when you're at the Disney theme parks (link), or send your suggestions via e-mail (link). Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!

Next time: Breastfeeding at Disney parks: Where, When and How