Life is what happens whilst you are making travel plans.

rebecca spoon
Rebecca, 4.

If you wander around (virtually of course) any Disney or Orlando forum, it is a fair bet that you will come across one or two discussions on the best time to take small children.  This is understandable of course, as a holiday to Orlando involves slightly more than most “normal” holidays.

For a start, you have the lengthy flight, (if you aren’t lucky enough to live close) and who hasn’t had nine hours of their life ruined by a screaming child sat two rows back from you on a flight?  Then you have other factors to consider, like the temperatures, which can be oppressive, certainly in the summer, and then the long days of theme park touring, the large scary characters (and I mean the Disney ones, not the Americans!), and then all the mundane issues of strollers, getting the required formula and nappies!!

Bearing all that in mind you might not blame conscientious parents from delaying their first Disney trip until the kids are in college.  There are benefits to that of course, and as a father of two teens, holidays in Florida are totally different now, and I would suggest easier and more relaxed with two kids who can dress, feed and amuse themselves.

The balance to that of course is that you would miss out on what Disney arguably does best, and that is enchant and delight kids of any age.  I would even include very small children in that.  Of course, very young children won’t remember much of what can be a very expensive trip, but rest assured you will.  Add to that the magic of watching a child of tender years discover something for the very first time, and it doesn’t matter if your child is seven months or seventeen, there will be moments where you will declare the entire cost of the trip worth it, based on the one single experience you have just encountered.

When people ask the question about the best time to take a child to Disney, it is almost impossible to answer this.  This is for many reasons, the main one being that no two children are the same, even those from the same parents.  My two for example are very similar in many ways, but when it comes to try the big scary coasters for the first time, my youngest will always be the one leading the charge at the front, with my eldest needing lots of encouragement and about three trips to finally give it a go.

I absolutely appreciate that taking small children to Disney is a scary undertaking, and one that takes planning and a certain amount of sacrifice.  On one of our early trips, we made the mistake of booking the California Grill for an evening meal, with our girls just six and four.  We had attempted to make the evening as child friendly as possible by having a rest day at Blizzard Beach, without understanding that a full day at a water park for two children of that age is similar to an adult attempting the New York Marathon.  Suffice to say we left early, with two sleepy cranky kids, and two hungry parents who were not much different!

So the sacrifice element may be that you end up eating your evening meals early, and it may be that you don’t do many or any signature dining experiences.  However, this is worth it.  There will be time enough for that when the kids are older, or not with you at all!  The pay back is huge, and the photos and memories of your children hugging the life out of a character, with a look of complete belief and joy, will compensate you for the meal at Burger King rather than the Biergarten!

I have one such photo (well I have many, but this one stands out) of both of my girls stood with Belle in the perfume shop in France, and the look of adoration and disbelief on their faces is one of those aforementioned “the cost of the whole trip was worth it” moments.  They are both clutching autograph books, and looking up at her as if she was some sort of magical being, and of course to them, at that age, she was.

Disney is a master of demographics.  This being the black art of pitching their wares at different age ranges.  A quick look at the Disney web site will show you that.  They ask you what sort of experience you are looking for, and for which age range.  We have progressed from the hour long wait for Dumbo to the hour long wait for anything that goes fast and upside down, but we still wait for and enjoy many of the rides that the girls loved on their first trip.  Walt’s vision of a theme park where parents and children can have fun together is borne out every day in all the Disney parks, and this is one of the many reasons behind their enduring success.

Disney trade on nostalgia, both in terms of Walt’s view of his childhood Main Street, and the many different ways in which they encourage families to visit, such as Magical Gatherings in the past.  Multiple generations visit, ride and have fun together, year after year, and by all means if you have a definite vision of the experience you want to have on your child’s first visit then wait until they are that age.

emily and becky
Emily at 15, with Rebecca a grown up 13.

For me, having been lucky enough to travel with kids from the ages of two to sixteen, I can say that I have enjoyed every single one, each in a different way, with different experiences and magic.  I would urge you not to worry about when to take your children, but more, worry about when you can’t take them.  My girls have grown up in around five minutes, and all too soon they leave childhood behind.  We still love going, we still have fun, and it is still a magical place for us.  I am just delighted to have seen them enjoy Disney over the years, and in all the different ways Disney provide.

Don’t worry about the stroller issues, long flights, cranky meal times and tantrums for a Mighty Duck all the way up Main Street (this last one is from personal experience when my Nephew cried for half an hour in the Magic Kingdom for his Dad to get him a plastic Mighty Duck!), worry more about them racing towards GCSEs (significant exams in the UK), learning to drive, going to college and the dreaded boyfriends (or girlfriends!).  A few trips to Disney at any age, no matter how young, will give you a life raft of memories in the sea of madness that is parenting!

2 comments

  1. Great post.

    We took my daughter on her 1st trip when she was 4. Before the trip, I was hesitant thinking “Do I really want to cash in this ‘FIRST DISNEY TRIP’ chip so soon? It’ll never be her first time again.”

    My parents met us there, for a fantastic 3 generation experience. It was the best trip of our lives. And then I just found myself thinking, “I’m so glad we came now when she was so little … she’ll forget, and we can do this ‘FIRST DISNEY TRIP’ all over again! Yay!!” 🙂

  2. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Taking very small children is hard work but you reap the rewards in happy children and happy memories. Obviously its down to personal preferences, but how many peoples “once in a lifetime” holiday has turned into a Disney/Florida addiction? It certainly has true for me!!!

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