How Young is too Young to Visit a Disney Park?

by Lisa Perkis, staff writer

Welcome to another installment of MousePlanet’s Parenting panel. This week’s question is a common one for parents, especially those who are excited to share all that wonderful Disney Magic with their children:

How young is too young for a visit to the Parks?

Elizabeth Peterson lives in Southern California with her husband and two kids. You can follow Elizabeth's adventures on her blog (link)

I don't think anyone is too young for Disney Parks. That's the amazing thing about Disney, there truly is something for every age and accommodations to make it easy to bring babies. My child's first trip to Disneyland was when my son was 19 months old and my daughter was 1 week! Considering children younger than 3 are free, it's great to take them when they are young. There are so many rides that are easy to take babies on that having them with you doesn't necessarily keep you from doing anything. The Baby Care Center makes it really easy to change and feed your babies. The other really nice thing is that if the adults want to go on a ride that babies can't go on, you can switch off and not have to wait in line twice. Just tell the cast member that you want a Baby Swap Pass that allows one person to stay with the baby while the other person rides and then the other person can "cut" the (line using the pass) without having to wait from the end of the line. Many Disney Parks restaurants allow children younger than 3 to eat for free, which is a really nice feature.

Now that I've said all that, I think I would need to put this one asterisk on my posting: If you are traveling a great distance and may not be able to make the trip again for a long time, it might make sense to wait until a child is older. Although it is wonderful and easy to have babies and toddlers at Disney Parks, they may be too young to remember their visit. I grew up in New England, my first visit to Disney World was when I was 5 and I still have awesome memories!

Jenny is an at-home mom and former theme park employee (not Disney). She has two kids, 4 1/2 and 3, who have visited Disneyland once a month since they were just weeks old. Jenny posts on MousePad as KoalaGurl.

My easy answer: No child is too young for Disneyland. The question should really be when are parents ready to bring their children to Disneyland, and what do they want to get out of the trip. I love Disneyland, so it is probably no surprise that my kids' first visits were at 6 months and 6 weeks. Being local, day trips are quite easy for us—our typical trip has us leaving the house around 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., returning home by 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.

In the beginning (say 0-4 months), going to Disneyland is purely about me. I enjoy it, and my kids probably enjoyed the fresh air, music, and sights. Somewhere around 6-12 months, my children began to bop to the music in “it's a small world,” and became curious about those big fuzzy characters. Around this time, they started enjoying some of the outdoor Fantasyland rides as well—Dumbo, Casey Jr. and King Arthur Carrousel. From 12-18 months, Disney trips became a little more difficult as it was a period of "I don't want to sit in the stroller all day." While the kids loved the rides, I spent more of my day scoping out places my kids could get out of the stroller and burn off energy: the toddler playground in Toontown, the floor of Innoventions, the floor inside the Animation Building at DCA, etc. At around 18-24 months, the kids seemed to really enjoy Disneyland. The Autopia became a big hit, as did some of the dark rides (Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, and luckily Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean were favorites for my kids.) Just before the age of 3, both kids truly understood and could ask to visit Disneyland. Now at 3 and 4 1/2, they love the place and are excited to be moving onto some of the "bigger" rides. Soaring Over California is a definite hit for both kids, and my eldest loves Splash Mountain. It makes me realize how lucky we are to have experienced so much at Disneyland in just a few short years. We still have many "milestones" to go: bringing a friend, going on a ride alone, going in the parks alone for periods of time, and eventually driving themselves to Disneyland. I have so many memories myself of Disneyland, from the time I laid out my clothes for a trip when I was 5, to the first time I drove myself down. There is something to get out of Disneyland, at any age.

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.” Chris writes:

As usual, this is a tough question and the only real answer is: “It depends.” I’ve read many reports in guide books and online about 18-month-olds being totally fascinated by the lights, colors, sounds and wonder of a Disney park. Yet, I’ve had meltdowns with my 7-year-olds, who are clearly old enough to be there. My friend Alex brought her 3 1/2-year-old daughter on a trip with us this past September. While little Lia certainly had a great time, Alex truly felt that her daughter would’ve had the same amount of fun at their local Chuck-E-Cheese. Not that Disney World can be compared to Chuck-E-Cheese, but she just felt that Lia didn’t “get it.” She didn’t realize the enormity of it all. I think most children Lia’s age would’ve had the same reaction.

My daughter’s first trip was at 4 years and 8 months. She was pretty grown-up for her age. Because of her Disney-obsessed father, she was very familiar with the characters and movies, and was completely amazed at every turn. It was that pure “I’ve been mesmerized by Disney magic” look in her eyes that made that first trip so memorable.

My twin boys were a young 4 on their first trip. They turned 4 in July and we went in August. They definitely had a blast and loved the characters and many of the attractions. However, they certainly seemed a little less prepared and able to cope with the heat, the crowds and exhaustion than their sister was on her first trip.

So once again, it depends. It depends on your child. You should be able to gauge your child’s ability to appreciate all that a Disney trip offers. I honestly think my boys could’ve waited another year, while that first trip with my daughter was spot on. I will go on record as saying that I never had any intention of bringing an infant or a toddler with me on a Disney trip. I’m not knocking those people that do. It’s just not my idea of fun for either of us.

Nothing can compare to your child’s first magical Disney moment, but a little common sense and preparation can really go a long way. Take your child to a local Six Flags or amusement park for a day and see how they handle all the stimulation. When you’re at Disneyland or Walt Disney World, be smart. Get them out of the heat of the day. Give them a nap. Swim in the pool. If you sense the magic fading, react calmly and change the scenery. Simple things like that should keep the magic flowing for children of any ages.

MousePlanet columnist Lisa Perkis says her proudest accomplishment in life is being a mom to Emma, 15, and Charlotte, 12. She has also taught preschool for 19 years in her hometown of San Diego. She and her family visit Disneyland as often as possible and have had annual passes for 12 years. Lisa writes:

Since my kids both visited Disneyland before their first birthday—my youngest at 3 weeks old—one would think I agree that any age is a great time to visit the parks. And mostly I do—at least for our family, who lives close enough for frequent visits and will not be disappointed if only a few attractions can be experienced in a morning before heading home. Charlotte’s first visit to Disneyland was spent on a nice shady bench across from the Baby Care Center wrapped in a blanket in my arms as daddy and big sister (2 years old) made a trip around Fantasyland and other favorite attractions. She did ride the Jungle Cruise that day, but didn’t show a lot of interest in the ride as she was fast asleep. I'm glad that my girls have been able to experience Disneyland at every age so far in their short lives, but I realize that many families can't pop up to the Park at a moment's notice and I am fully aware how fortunate we are to have annual passes. On the other hand, for our first visit to Walt Disney World as a family we waited until the girls were fully mobile and capable of a full day of park fun before we attempted a trip—Emma was 11 and Charlotte was 8. Since vacations to Walt Disney World are few and far between for us, we wanted to make sure the girls would not only remember it, but be able to fully participate in all the activities and attractions.

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!