In today’s post: Find out the best age to take your kids to Disneyland, plus tips for traveling to Disney with kids of all ages.
Here’s something that won’t surprise you: taking the family to Disneyland is EXPENSIVE. When you’re spending hundreds of dollar per person just on park tickets (not to mention food, hotel, and travel), you want to make sure your trip is magical. And if you’ve never been before, or haven’t been with kids, it can be hard to know whether your kids are the right age for that magic. Since we’ve visited Disneyland a number of times with kids ranging from a few months old to teenagers, I’m going to give you my take on the best age for taking kids to Disneyland, which really is the Magic Kingdom if you do it right. Plus I’ll give you my best tips for your first Disney trip with kids of various ages!
Note: My experience is at Disneyland, not Walt Disney World, but the tips below should apply to all Disney theme parks.
The Best Age to Take Your Kids to Disneyland
Let me just start off by saying there aren’t many “bad ages” for a Disney trip. Disneyland is fun, and Disney does a good job catering to all ages, so you can certainly take kids of any age and have a good time on your Disney vacation. However, how old your kids are when you go will definitely affect how much they (and you!) enjoy the trip. If you’ve ever been in a long line at Disney with a small child who’s begging you to go back to the hotel so he can play in the pool, you know what I’m talking about. (“I just spent hundreds of dollars to get you in here and now you’re going to enjoy it if it kills us all!!”) When you’re making an investment in a Disney trip, it’s worth considering when it will be the most fun for your family – especially if the trip is only going to happen once. The tips I share today should help you make your family vacation to Disneyland as magical as it can be!
The Magic Age for Disney
The “magic age” for taking your kids on a Disneyland trip is when they are in elementary school, specifically between about 7 and 12. I think this is the best age for a couple of reasons:
- Most elementary school age kids are better at handling lines than younger kids. It’s almost impossible to ride anything in Disneyland anymore without at least some time in line, and during peak season (summer or Christmas) you need to plan on LONG lines. I’m pretty sure nothing can ruin the Disney magic faster than a little one that just can’t handle 30 minutes or more waiting in line. There will be tears. And they might be yours. Kids over 6 or 7 are much more adept at managing lines without making you wish you’d never heard the word Disneyland.
- Most 7 year olds are tall enough to meet the height restrictions for nearly any attraction, meaning they (and you) don’t miss out on any of the fun. Sure, Disney offers rider switch on some attractions, meaning that you can hang out with the baby or toddler while Dad rides the attraction, and then you guys can switch and you can ride. But let’s face it: it’s WAY more fun to just be able to ride things together. Older kids are also less likely to be frightened by rides, which means fewer tears inside the Haunted Mansion or when you get wet on Splash Mountain. NOTE: On our last Disneyland trip, our 8 year old daughter rode everything other than Guardians of the Galaxy (Tower of Terror). It was great!
- With slightly older kids instead of toddlers and preschoolers, you won’t spend the whole trip stuck in Fantasyland or Toon Town. Those are the two areas of Disneyland that cater to the toddler/preschooler set. Some of the rides are cute, but these two areas get SO CROWDED that you can begin to feel like you might be trapped in that sea of strollers for the rest of your life. Ride lines stay fairly long because some of the rides load so slowly (I’m looking at you, DUMBO!) and most of the rides are too short to make them feel worth it. Kids at the “magic age” will be more interested in other areas of Disneyland, which will work in your favor – especially first thing in the morning when lines in Tomorrowland or Adventureland are fairly short because everyone else is headed to ride that flying elephant!
- Finally, 7-12 is the best age for Disneyland because those kids are still young enough for Disneyland to feel truly magical and like a real adventure. They’ll enjoy just about everything: the rides, the shows, the parades, the characters, the pin trading, the hunt for the perfect souvenir, and the super cute Disneyland treats. And when your kids are having a magical time, YOU will have a magical time! Sitting next to my kids while they laugh their heads off riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is one of my favorite things in the whole world.
Other Ages at Disneyland
Ok, so maybe 7-12 is the best time to visit Disneyland, but what if that’s not practical? Or what if you have multiple kids at all different ages? The good news is that you can still have a great time at Disney. Here are my tips for making the most of a Disneyland trip with kids of all ages.
Babies at Disneyland
People often ask: should we take our baby with us to Disneyland? My answer is this: If you have someone you can leave the baby home with, leave the baby home. A baby won’t especially enjoy or remember any of the trip, and having a baby along just makes everything more complicated. However, you certainly shouldn’t decide against Disney if your other kids are at a good age to go just because you also have a baby. You can make it work! Consider these tips:
- Disney is pretty stroller friendly. They have strollers available for rent there, or you can bring in your own (just be aware there are now size restrictions on strollers). There is “stroller parking” outside attractions where people leave their strollers while they are on rides, and in our experience strollers never get stolen, and the baskets underneath are a handy place to stash snacks, etc. Just don’t leave valuables in a stroller and be aware that during busy times of year it can be quite a hassle to push a stroller through the crowds.
- One thing that’s nice about Disneyland is that it has plenty of bathrooms that are always clean! Most bathrooms have changing tables, and there is also a Baby Care Center with nursing rooms, high chairs, and vending machines that sell all sorts of baby supplies like diapers and formula.
- There are plenty of rides that you can take a baby on with you. I have fond memories of snuggling up with a baby on Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Just be prepared to split up on the rides that don’t allow babies.
- It’s probably easier to take a baby to Disneyland than it is to take a toddler, especially if your baby is fairly content in a stroller. So if you have older kids who are at a great age for Disney, it might be better to go while your baby is still fairly young.
- If you can bring along a grandparent or other adult who can help care for your baby while you’re at Disneyland, do it! This might be the best possible solution: you can go as a whole family and bring baby with you on the attractions she can ride, and then let grandma sit in the shade with the baby while you ride other attractions with your older kids.
- For lots more info on babies at Disney, check out this post.
Toddlers at Disneyland
Twelve months through age 3 is the age I’d be least likely to take a child to Disney. If there’s someone you can leave your toddler home with while you go, I’d recommend doing so. Yes, the toddler will have fun on some rides and will enjoy the character meet and greets, but I don’t believe many toddlers will have enough fun to make it worth both the cost and the hassle of dealing with a 2 year old in long lines. But if you’re going to do it, be aware:
- You’ll have a better trip if your are prepared with a great attitude and an inexhaustible supply of snacks. Disneyland will let you bring in just about as much food as you want as long as you don’t try to bring in a large cooler, ice (ice packs are ok) or things in glass jars. Teddy grahams and fruit snacks will go a long way toward helping your little one handle standing in lines.
- Disneyland used to have a few play areas, like you’d find at the mall, scattered throughout the park, but most of those have been removed. If you’re looking for a place where your toddler can take a break from the stroller and run around for a bit, Toon Town in Disneyland is probably your best best. Tarzan’s Treehouse is also fun for toddlers – just be prepared for a lot of stairs. Also plan to visit the Disney Junior area in Disney’s Hollywood Studios – there’s a fun show and dance party that toddlers will love.
- If you’re bringing a toddler to Dinseyland, try to book a hotel right across the street so you can bring the little one back to the hotel for a nap during the hot afternoon hours.
Preschoolers/Kindergarteners at Disneyland
Kids ages 4-6 can have an absolute blast at Disney, or they can spend the whole time begging to go back to the hotel pool. You know your children best, so consider how you think they’d handle the lines and stress of a long day at the park – and remember that spending a full day in a crowded park is tiring. Some things to consider when bringing a preschooler to Disneyland:
- Some four year olds will be tall enough for almost all of the rides, but might be too scared to ride many of them. Sometimes kids at this age prefer spending time looking for characters and watching shows. Will you be disappointed if your Disney trip is character heavy and light on the rides? Or will it still be fun because your child is having fun?
- Plan to set expectations for what you will buy in advance, and review those expectations every day as you are walking into the park. There is SO MUCH to buy at Disneyland that your five year old can absolutely drive you nuts asking for treats and bubble wands and Mickey balloons. Pro tip: you really DON’T want to have to hang on to a Mickey balloon all. day. long. If your child knows in advance how many treats they can expect each day you won’t have to say no nearly as often.
- Disneyland and California Adventures both have exploration areas that are GREAT for kids this age. In Disneyland, take a ferry over to Tom Sawyer’s Island when your preschooler needs some time away from the crowds to run around. In California Adventures, visit the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail area, which has lots of stairs and bridges and tree house type attractions to explore, as well as a small slide and creek. Just be aware that one part of the Challenge Trail does have a height requirement. Also be aware that you will need to follow small children around both of these areas to keep an eye on them (older kids are usually ok to roam on their own in these areas while you have a sit down in the shade!).
Teenagers at Disneyland
Some parents wonder if Disneyland will be fun for teens or if they’ll think it’s boring. In general, I think there is a lot for tweens and teens to enjoy at Disney.
- Disneyland has more thrill rides than ever before. The Incredicoaster is a pretty legit roller coaster, complete with a super fast start, some good drops and a full loop. Guardians of the Galaxy is GREAT for teens – in fact, it’s too scary for most kids that aren’t nearing teenager age. Even some of the rides that aren’t scary are super fun for older kids, like Toy Story Midway Mania and Web Slingers (the new Spiderman ride), where you can compete to score the most points.
- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is a relatively new area in Disneyland that teens will LOVE! It’s designed to make you feel like you are actually on a planet in the Star Wars universe, complete with fun themed dining options, shops where you can build a personalized droid or light saber, and two very cool Star Wars rides.
- Disney is a fairly safe environment with LOTS of very helpful employees, so it’s a good place to give teens some independence. Splash Mountain is fun, but it’s even more fun without your parents. Letting the two oldest kids go ride a few attractions on their own or even letting the teenagers stay late at the park while you take the younger kids back to the hotel for bed is a good way to make the trip feel more exciting.
More Disneyland tips
I hope this post helps you decide on the best age to take your kids to Disneyland! If you’re looking for even more tips to make your trip as magical as possible, check out these posts: