When Is The Right Age for a Child’s First Trip to Disney World?
One hot topic I see on Disney message boards is the issue of when you should take a child to Disney World for the first time. Conventional wisdom among travel guide writers is that the best age for a first-time visit is around seven or eight years-old, putting a child a few years past naps and little kid crankiness, but old enough to ride most everything in the Magic Kingdom and elsewhere and still young enough to believe in all the wonderful things that surround him. I think this is good solid advice, but many of us don’t want to wait that long because we love going ourselves, or we have younger children who are going on the trip as well. Here’s a few questions to determine your child’s readiness for a trip to the World and tips to get a child of almost any age prepared for his big adventure.
- How does your child handle a lot of physical activity? Disney World is huge. I’ve seen rambunctious teenagers limping back to their room after a day in the parks, so for little kids, it’s an even bigger challenge. Most kids are active, but will benefit from a little bit of training beforehand. A few months before your trip go for a family walk every night. Not only will it get all of you in better shape for your vacation, it will provide family bonding time.
- Potty training? Okay, I know this sounds lazy, but if you have a partially potty trained toddler right before your trip who’s still having accidents and resisting using the toilet, consider stopping the potty training (unless the child objects) during your trip so you don’t have a lot of accidents.
- Since this is all new, your child will likely resist certain rides, some of which won’t appear frightening to you. Never force a kid to ride an attraction that he’s afraid of. It’s rare that a parent puts a scared child on a ride and ends up with that kid saying he wants to do it again and again. More likely, you’ll end up putting him off of the rides he does want to visit. If you’re worried about how your child will react to certain rides, watch clips on YouTube. There are videos of almost every Disney World attraction you can imagine. They really do help.
- Is your child ready to sleep in a different environment? The first night of your trip is not the time to find out.
- I think this is a big one that is sometimes overlooked: How does your child react to crowds and noise? Disney World is a very stimulating environment. Some kids, particularly those with sensory issues, find it overwhelming. If your child has difficulty with this type of environment, go during the slower times of year and consider avoiding parades, some character dining experiences, which can be loud, and fireworks. You may want to limit your park exposure the first few days or visit a quieter park, like Animal Kingdom. Gradually let your child become accustomed to his surroundings. By the end of your trip, he may feel perfectly comfortable. Keep in mind that Disney offers Guest Assistance Cards for children with diagnosed disabilities who have difficulty waiting in line; Disney will not ask you what your child’s needs are, but you will need to go to Guest Services with your child when you enter the park to pick up the pass.
- Is your child old enough to wait in long lines? Even adults have difficulty; consider these tips to make waiting easier.
- How will you tell your kids? There are two schools of thought. Some parents surprise their children the day before the trip. This is great because it avoids the constant question of “how many days until Disney?”, but some kids don’t like to be surprised and frankly, even those who don’t mind will be difficult to put to bed once they’ve found out they’re going to Disney World in the morning. If your kid doesn’t like surprises or you can’t wait to tell them yourself, there are lots of fun ways to let them know, such as on their birthday or Christmas. Consider making a countdown chain or having a family Disney night where you plan together and maybe watch a favorite Disney movie. Older kids can help make a scrapbook for the trip. The possibilities for counting down your trip and savoring the excitement are endless.
Whatever you do, keep it all in perspective. There are going to be crazy moments: Expect them and laugh at them. I can almost promise that the good will far outweigh the crazy. A trip to Disney World seen through the eyes of your child is a very special experience. Enjoy!