Let me preface this by saying that even though I've been to Disney World and Disneyland numerous times, I do not profess to be an expert. I've been to Disneyland in California probably over 50 times. I went once as a kid, and the rest as an adult. And it's only because I used to work for a Disney office in California and we got in for free. And I'd go with every single friend or relative who came to visit me. And with local friends. And I sang in the Disney choir for their Christmas shows. And every time I went, I had a different experience.
I've been to Disney World in Florida 5 times during my childhood, and 8 times as an adult (2 of those times were with our kids). So around 13 times total. My husband and I got engaged in front of Cinderella's castle on September 15, 2003.
Here we are meeting Mickey, the morning after we got engaged:
Oh, and I guess I've been to Disneyland Paris once (on our honeymoon) and Tokyo Disney once (during a work trip).
The castle in France:
Ok, so I've been a lot, but not nearly as many times as a lot of super-fans (or Diznoids) have been. One question that I've been asked a few times, and I see this question asked all the time on the internet, is what is the ideal age to take a kid to Disney?
And there will be as many different responses to this question as there are fish in the sea. But if you are bored and are still reading this, I'll tell you my opinion.
My first answer would be--every age is the ideal age. Because the Disney parks have something for all ages. We took our oldest son when he was 4 years old, and he had a blast! We went off-season (during September), the parks were not crowded, he loved the characters and the rides. We were having so much fun watching him have fun that we didn't even try to get on some of the more intense rides by ourselves that he couldn't get on at the time. I figured, heck, I'll be back again and I'll return to those rides.
Our oldest son on his first trip, age 4:
Two years later, we found ourselves back at Disney for a family reunion trip. Our younger son was only 2 years old at the time, and if weren't for the family reunion part, we probably would have chosen to wait a year or two to bring him to Disney World. But even at 2, he had a blast! He was still in diapers, and wasn't tall enough for some of the rides, and he was afraid of the characters...but despite all that he had fun and still talks about the trip now. His favorite things were the slow boat rides (it's a small world, the boat ride in Mexico, the boat ride in The Land). At EPCOT, he loved the special playgrounds set up for the International Flower & Garden Festival and the fountains. My son was still napping, but we just pushed him in his stroller to a quiet place in the parks and let him sleep while we traded off with our other son on rides. (This doesn't work for everyone; some people prefer to return to their hotel in the afternoon for nap/pool time). Disney has baby care centers in each park, making it easy to change diapers, feed, etc.
The afternoon nap:
Our older son was almost 6 years old on his second trip, and he enjoyed an entirely new set of things on this trip. Since his prior trip to Disney World, he had discovered Star Wars and was able to participate in the Jedi Training Academy at Disney's Hollywood Studios this time around. And he was now tall enough to go on more rides, like Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain (his favorite).
The Jedi Training Academy:
I haven't taken older kids yet, but I've been myself as an older child and as a teenager, and there is just as much stuff for that age group. When I got older, I got into the more extreme rides (Rock n Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror) and I appreciated the World Showcase part of EPCOT more.
Disney does a great job of changing things up and offering new attractions so that even the adults will want to keep returning. Even since our last trip in 2010, there are a few new things added that we haven't seen yet (the new Star Tours, new interactive queues in Space Mountain and on the Pooh ride). Fantasyland is currently being remodeled and will open with some new rides and features starting in 2012. And we have never been during the Food & Wine festival in the Fall, we've never made it to the Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) during September or October, or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP) in November/December. Each of those events have their own unique set of activities that are not present during other times of the year.
OK, so going back to the original question...what is the ideal age to take a kid to Disney?
If you know you can only go one time ever, either due to financial reasons, or you think that once is all you'll ever want to go....I would say the ideal age is 4 1/2 - 5 years old. Why?
Because at that age, they are typically not yet in public school, and you can go during an off-season time. Hotels are cheaper, crowds are smaller, the weather is (usually) cooler. Going during an off-season time and waiting in smaller lines is a great way to see the parks.
Also, at this age, they are still small enough to get a huge thrill from seeing the characters in costume. Yet they are probably tall enough to go on some of the milder thrill rides.
And they're not in diapers, so less to pack!
But again, I think every age is a good age. (And no, I don't work for Disney now, but after writing this I should, right?)
So...if you've been to Disney before, what do you think is the best age to go?