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Disney 101: What is the best age for young children to visit Walt Disney World?

28 August 2009 by Walt Disney World Recreation Examiner - Peggy Macdonald

Q: What is the best age for young children to visit Walt Disney World?

A: It depends upon the comfort level of each individual child, but families visit Disney with kids of all ages.

Although some people advocate waiting for that first magical trip to Walt Disney World, taking younger children has many benefits. First of all, children under three gain free admission to all Disney World theme parks and water parks. Also, a one-year-old will not argue with siblings or adults about which ride to go on next.

My son was 14 months old when we first took him to Walt Disney World. Aside from pulling my hair when we waited in a long line for the Dumbo ride, he enjoyed the long day at the Magic Kingdom. Having just started walking a couple months before our trip, every step was an adventure. For a curious one-year-old (or a baby, for that matter), rides are not even a requirement for endless amusement at the Disney parks. One of my son's favorite activities was dancing to the beat of drums activated by his steps in front of the Adventureland totem poles (see photo above). Crawling around Chef Mickey's restaurant with Goofy following quickly behind was another exciting adventure.

First picture with Mickey Mouse. (c) 2009 Peggy MacdonaldAn added bonus of traveling with babies and toddlers is that Disney World cast members and characters show them an extra bit of Disney magic. Mickey Mouse visited the Magic Kingdom's Baby Care Center--located near the Crystal Palace restaurant--and took the time to let my son sit on his lap. Over several subsequent trips with our annual passes, Mickey soon became his favorite character.

The first time my son expressed a preference for a Disney ride was actually before he was able to speak (except to say Muh-muh, which later became Mummy). He used a special all-purpose baby word to indicate that he wanted to go on Small World, a favorite with children all over the world since it debuted at the 1964 World's Fair.

Disney World did more than motivate my son to articulate his concerns, however. Over his toddler years, he would learn his colors from the stripes on the Walt Disney World monorail. He gained an appreciation for world cultures before he had even entered preschool. A frequent diner at 'Ohana, "Polynesian" became one of his first words. One of the only times my son cried at Disney World was when we tried to skip the educational movie that follows the Maelstrom boat ride in the Norway pavilion at Epcot.

One of the benefits of living in Florida is that Disney World has become an extension of our backyard, a place where regular trips with family and friends provide a temporary escape from the burdens of domestic drudgery and hectic work schedules. Following Walt Disney's original intentions for Disneyland, Disney World continues to provide Americans and travelers from around the world with the chance to enjoy family togetherness.

Nap time is essential at Disney World. (c) 2009 Peggy MacdonaldThe key to having a pleasant experience at the Disney World parks is preparation. Parents of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers should bring a bag or backpack with at least one change of clothes; diapers, wipes, and diaper rash ointment; pacifiers; disposable diaper changing pads; bibs; formula if babies are not breastfed; juice; sippy cups; baby food; containers with snacks such as Cheerios or Goldfish; hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen; and several toys. Guests who forget an item can purchase it at the Baby Care Center (each theme park has one) or at a gift shop. Healthy snacks such as fresh fruit, yogurt, and milk are available for purchase at the theme parks. Don't forget to pack a camera and a video camera, and take a cell phone to keep in touch with other members of your party.

Children will inevitably make a mess, so take several changes of clothes instead of getting upset when an accident happens. When a child becomes fussy, it is the parent's job to remember that it is nap time. Do not let your child scream in her stroller. Remember that Disney World can provide too much stimulation for young children at times. Disney also offers many creative ways to help a child fall asleep. At the Magic Kingdom, try the Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland. Sitting in a darkened, air conditioned theatre with music can be just the trick a tired child needs. At Epcot, place your child in her stroller and take a ride on Friendship I, the boat that ferries guests from one side of World Showcase to the next. The vibrations on the floor of the boat are sure to put a young child to sleep in his stroller (this is easier than holding the child and trying to place him in his stroller after he falls asleep). Whichever theme park you visit, be sure to take a standard reclining stroller. Umbrella strollers and the strollers Disney World rents do not recline, which makes nap time challenging.

Another advantage to traveling with babies and young children is the savings in food costs. A kids' meal can cost more than $5 at the parks, whereas there is no additional charge for sharing your meal with a young child. Nonetheless, it is wise to bring healthy snacks and juice boxes in order to avoid feeding your baby or toddler french fries or carbonated beverages. Disney World has taken steps to make its children's meals healthier in recent years. Parents now have the option of ordering grapes, apple sauce, or carrots instead of french fries; most restaurants also offer apple juice or milk instead of soda. Avoid the temptation to splurge on environmentally unfriendly water bottles. Disney World restaurants serve ice water for free. Simply ask for a cup of ice water instead of bottled water, which requires a great deal of energy (and plastic) to produce.

No matter what age your child is when you take that first trip to Walt Disney World, be sure to attend to his or her needs and the entire family will have an enjoyable, memorable vacation


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