My friend Mike is what I’d call a true Disneyland expert! He’s been there many times and plumbed the park for all kinds of fun experiences. He’s written many posts on this blog over the past year (see my Disney page for all of them), and he’s back at it today with a new post for you! So, Disney fans, here’s Mike:
One question I often get from parents is this: “When is the right age to take my child to Disney for the first trip?”
There are many factors to consider. I have gone on trips with children as young as just a few months and nearly every age up. There are certainly challenges and opportunities at every milestone. So let’s consider a few of the types of trips you might consider for the differing age types.
Before Age 3
Pros: Children before the age of 3 are free in terms of park admission and character dining. So that a huge savings and a pretty good reason to make a trip. Next, kids in this age group will be delighted by almost everything. The sights and sounds, balloons and lights. That will make for pretty amazing memories (and photos) for Mom and Dad.
At this young age, they have the ability to show unbridled enthusiasm for some of the most spectacular wonders they have imagined. That can come in watching a parade or meeting their favorite Disney princess. This is truly a once in a lifetime trip in that regard.
Cons: You have to be on guard against heat and dehydration. Nap time and early bedtimes most likely need to be adhered to. Lastly, while they will be outstanding lifetime memories for you, your child will probably only recall them for a few years after (if that).
Best Resorts for this age: I think getting back to your room as quickly as possible is your biggest asset. With that in mind, consider the Grand Californian Hotel that comes with access right into Disney California Adventure if you’re traveling to Disneyland. If in Florida, you might consider something on the monorail like The Contemporary.
Experiences to Consider: Bring a grandparent so you can enjoy some adult time!
Ages 3 to 8
Pros: A lot of firsts can be experienced when your child visits Disney at this age. Their first “thrill ride,” first time making the plan, first late night with Mom and Dad. These trips are especially fun when based around a milestone like a birthday or a holiday.
You can add some special magic by going to a restaurant that might make your child light up. Places like Chef Mickey’s or Goofy’s Kitchen might be the highlight of their trip. Although kids are not free, they probably still don’t eat a ton, so you can save money by sharing meals at non-buffet meals. Young ones of this age probably still get very excited to see characters and get autographs.
Cons: You may still need nap times. If they don’t do naps at home anymore, seriously consider extended pool time during mid-day. Disney is a place of heightened emotion and this age group can suffer from mental breakdowns if parents don’t help them with a bit of rest during the day. This age will start the “I wants…”. They will want every piece of overpriced merchandise and treat that their little eyes spy.
Best resort for this age: You mostly want a great pool, so if you’re in California consider The Disneyland Hotel or the Howard Johnson. If in Florida, nothing beats The Beach/Yacht Club, though you might consider Coranado Springs as a budget-friendly alternative.
Experiences to Consider: Character meals might be both fun and a huge time saver. Disney offers childcare at some of their resort, might be an option for adults who would like a nice meal. This is prime real estate for Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.
Ages 9 to 13
Pros: Kids are becoming way more adventurous at this age. All rides are probably on the table, and more meals will be too. They might enjoy their first exotic cuisine done Disney-friendly. Staying up even later, might make it to park close even if Mom and Dad barely do. This is also a good age to have one-on-one time. Maybe split up a bit and try a Dad & Daughter ice cream date (or whatever combo works best). It’s amazing how much your kids will open up while in a relaxed atmosphere.
Cons: Welcome to adulthood…at least according to Disney ticket prices. They start charging your kids as an adult at age 10 (I won’t be surprised if that goes to 9 soon). Kids probably eat like kids but are charged like adults as well at character meals. Also possible for some maturing kids to begin the eye rolling phase when it comes to family photos in front of the castle or meeting costumed characters.
Best resorts for this age: Pools still play a major part but now you also need space in your room as your kids are getting a bit bigger. Paradise Pier has big rooms and nice sized trundle bed for one child, a good choice for Disneyland. At Walt Disney World, consider the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the animals outside a Savannah view rooms will still be impressive. Alternatively, Royal (Princess) Room at Port Orleans might be fully appreciated at this age.
Experiences to consider: This might be a great age for afternoon tea at the Disneyland Hotel or Grand Floridian. Ditch the character meals and try to go somewhere “exciting,” like the Blue Bayou inside of the Pirates of the Caribbean or Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue out in Florida.
Ages 14 to 18
Pros: Time to get a bit crazy with your kids. Ride those thrill rides, eat a bunch of snacks, stay up super late and then pretend you’re keeping pace with your teenagers. It’s also a good age to challenge your kids a bit. Get the guide to Hidden Mickey’s book and see who can find the most. See who can get a Disney princess to sing with them while taking a picture.
Your teenagers have developed plenty of interests, so play to those. If they love art, take them to do a character sketch at the Animation Academy. If they’re into sports, go down to Walt Disney World during Spring Training for the Braves. Disney offers a little something for everyone. This is a great time to give your kids some independence. Maybe split up after lunch and meet back for dinner (no judgments if you go back to the room for naps).
Cons: Might try to be “too cool for school.” So don’t force anything, but genuinely enjoy things and let Disney chip away at their defenses. May not let you go on some of the “kiddie rides” anymore. But dang it, Peter Pan is a delight! Teenagers might also want to sleep in and missing park opening is my big Disney park sin.
Best resort for this age: They probably want to be in the park all day. If you’re in California, maybe try the Candy Cane Inn for the deluxe continental breakfast or a good neighbor hotel with suites for the extra room like the Staybridge Suites. In Disney World, save money and do an All-Star resort or Pop Century. If you want extra room, get two value rooms or possibly a cabin at Fort Wilderness.
Experiences to consider: This might be a great age for a dessert party prior to the nighttime spectacular. All you can eat desserts and reserved seating might be a dollar and time value for your teenagers. Also, consider a Universal Studios for a day (Hollywood) or two (Orlando). This might be a great add-on to a Disney trip to go and see the wizard (Potter that is).
Pro: You’ve got a family that represent two or more of these age groups and you get to experience Disney through all of their perspectives. With any luck, the older kids are helping with younger kids. If you’re even luckier, the younger kids’ enthusiasm fills the entire family with the wonder of Disney magic. You get to do a little of every type of ride and experience the parks have to offer.
Cons: You will need to be strategic, like Batman strategic. Don’t only play to the youngest or the more vocal older kids will probably be in a bit of misery. Imagine seeing Splash Mountain but you’re on Winnie the Pooh for the 4th time. Divide and conquer might the rule of the day. One parent with some kids, another entertaining the rest of the family. Meet up for meals and make some swaps. Might be a great trip to bring Uncles and Aunts on for the extra hands.
Best resort for these ages: This is where I’d play to the youngest in the group. If you have an infant, stay close by. But ultimately, a Family Suite might be best. All on-site properties have one or two bedroom suites at Disneyland, talk to a travel agent about what is best for your family. At Disney World, Art of Animation is filled with family suites and they will probably be perfect for everyone.
Experiences to consider: This might be the perfect time to go during a holiday. A Halloween party at Disneyland will have a little something for everyone. Walt Disney World also does Christmas Parties that could be a great family memory for all ages.
Pro: You’re an adult, but you haven’t grown up inside.
This is your first trip to the park or first trip in way too long. Don’t tell anyone, but this is the absolute best. You can do anything and you’ve probably loss your cynicism to actually try everything. Go with your best friends and spread the magic. Become an Instagram star for the next few days and buy some mouse ears.
Cons: The only con is you will continue to wish you were 7 and could have someone else paying for the entire thing. Oh, and it’s harder to fit three of you in one Doom Buggy on the Haunted Mansion.
Best resort for this age: At Disneyland, you want to stay Grand Californian but the Hilton will do nicely so that you can save a few dollars. At Walt Disney World, the Polynesian Villages are preferred but you can be happy at Pop Century (so retro) if you don’t have to share a bed.
Experiences to consider: Do yourself a favor and have an overly nice dinner. The Chef’s table at the Napa Rose in California or Victoria & Alberts in Florida. Also, go when seasonal events are occurring like Food & Wine (either coast) or a Run Disney Event and earn a medal!
What age did you bring your kids to Disney for the first time? What plans do you have for your first trip?
For more tips on saving money in Disneyland, please see our Disney page.
Mike Rinehart is an independent travel agent affiliated with MEI & Mouse Fan Travel. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MikesTravelThoughts/ Or request your free no obligation quote on your next Disneyland, Disney World, Aulani, Disney Cruise (and any other cruise line) vacation by emailing him at [email protected]. Mention “The Coupon Project” and receive a free gift with your completed booking.