Flashback 1984...My son and I enjoying our very first Disney World trip. Come to think of it, this was also my daughter's first Disney vacation. I was 5 months pregnant with her at the time this photo was taken.
Over the past 30 years (WoW - reality check just hit me!) countless of other parents have struggled with the same question I had at the time...
How old should your child be for their first Disney Vacation?
The truth is, Disney is timeless family memory with kids at any age.
At the time my son loved Winnie the Pooh. Whenever Tigger came on the TV he would hold onto the coffee table and bounce like a wild man. Does he remember this meeting with Tigger, of absolutely not. The point here is I REMEMBER this moment, vividly. It's a magical mom moment for me and one I will never forget. I remember the way his face it up when we first spotted Tigger. I remember how he didn't want to let go of Tigger's hand. I remember the fit he pitched when Tigger turned to the next child waiting patiently in line.
So perhaps the question we all really should be asking is..."How long do we parents want to wait to share a Disney experience with our little ones?
For some families, Disney Vacations are a tradition. I've returned countless times with all three of my kids...the same way my parents brought me to Florida. Financially it wasn't easy. I scrimped, saved and worked extra jobs to manage it. To be honest, Disney was actually better, cheaper and easier when the kids were little because...
- Children under the age of 2 can fly for free seated on the laps of their parents.
- We'd take turns driving mostly at night for our Disney roadtrip vacations. There is far less traffic and kids can slept in their car seats.
- Children under the age of 3 get free admission into the Disney parks.
- Disney Parks are very stroller friendly
- New sights, sounds, smells, tastes and new experiences all encourage child development for little ones
- Easy access to Baby care stations in the Disney parks
- There are so many other new parents with infants that you never feel out of place.
- With little ones, you're not tied to a school calendar. Your family can travel during the low September season. This is when the best deals are usually available like free dining or Disney resort discounts.
- Infants are usually easier to feed with either breastfeeding or formula.
- Learning to travel when your kids are little helps to teach skills like flexibility, coping with changes and new environments etc.
The one tips that we learned the hard way during this first vacation with my son was with our accommodations. During this first trip, we stayed at a hotel outside of the park on International Drive in Orlando. It was too far away to leaving the parks for naps. We had to hunt down a quiet, shady spot in the park and hope my son would get some sleep. As this was before the era of cell phones, this also meant one parent ventured off to go on rides while the other twiddled their thumbs with a hopefully sleeping child. Not good!
During our next trip three years later with now THREE kids under the age of 4, we spent the money for a room at the Polynesian Resort. This meant we could get up early and take a break for lunch and naps. This made for a much better experience for everyone. I remember watching the fireworks from the beach at night with the kids all dressed in their pajamas. I remember how thrilled I was to walk a short way and simply lay them down in their beds. No fighting the crowds exiting the parks! Again, we timed our stay along with low season rates in September which made staying at a Deluxe Disney hotel with a great, easy location was far more affordable for us. We scrimped and saved in other ways on that trip. Now when I have clients doing the parks with babies and toddlers, I tell them it's all about convenient hotel location, location, LOCATION!
Some families may only be able to afford a once in a lifetime trip to Disney. If this is the case, then I would recommend waiting until your children are old enough to remember the experience but not too old that they have "lost the magic". Disney fantatic refer to this as "loosing their pixie dust". It happens right around the same time kids stop believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Chronologically speaking, this can happen between say ages 5 - 8 years of age.
Whether it's finances or the type of experience your family wants, some families may want to consider waiting for their once in a lifetime Disney vacation to be when your child stands 52 inches tall. This is when they can ride any attraction in the parks. Younger or shorter children may not be able to ride on the attraction that is their heart's desire. It's good to know Disney height requirements if this is something that is important for your family's fun.
For us, the perfect time for our first family vacation to Disney world was when my son was 10 months old. He was sleeping through the night, on a good schedule and we desperately needed a vacation before welcoming my daughter into the world. For your family, the perfect time for your first trip to Disney may be entirely different. The good news is, when it comes to Disney...there are no wrong answers!