What is the best age for Disneyland?

by Whitney Moss on December 2, 2011

in Momoirs of a Rookie Mom,Travel

When I tell people we visited the Magic Kingdom over Thanksgiving, they seem to be trying to gauge if their child is a good age for a first visit. My friend Mr. Honea, a father of two boys, who seems to be an expert on the place has a good answer. “Every age is a good age,” he says.

Here’s the one caveat I would make: It’s not so much about the age, but rather the disposition.

Call her crazy, but Scarlett is not wild about the idea of being strapped in an odd-looking car in order to enter a dark tunnel in which she has zero idea of what may happen to her. So that eliminates a fair amount of rides, even age appropriate ones like the classic Peter Pan (up, up and away!) and the (new-to-my-generation) Winnie The Pooh ride.

Here she is, approaching that nail-biter It’s a Small World.

The Tea Cups and Dumbo, rides on which you can see exactly what you’ve signed up for, offered pure delight. Autopia, another entirely outdoor ride, was named as the favorite of the day by both kids.

But no matter, this is only a problem if your expectation of the day is all about the rides. What I’ve learned from two visits to Disneyland as a parent, each with a differently programmed first-timer, is that there is much more to the park than rides. The place is truly magical.  Walking down Main Street feels like being in a Hallmark movie, everything sparkling and clean, and the gentle soundtrack of glee (but not Glee) wafting through the air.

Holiday time at Disneyland is extra super fantastic, marked by extra lights on Sleeping Beauty’s castle and truly fabulous parade. (My kids loved this parade so much, it was a little mind boggling.)

It’s a Small World was doing it’s holiday thang, as well, with seasonal decorations and music.

Character spotting is truly exciting for both adults and kids — except for Scarlett who cried for me to take her out of the place where she could view Snow White (who I thought she loved?!), Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty all at once. Her reaction didn’t surprise me, but it did disappoint me. I wanted to watch her delight as she realized that dreams do come true, or wishes taste like bubble gum, or that bubble gum never sticks in your hair when you’re at Disneyland, or something like that.

Ryan and I went in to the day with the intention of staying as long as the kids continued to be into it, possibly well after their bedtime, but at about 6.30 PM we could see that they were done.  We ate dinner on the premises, purchased the requisite t shirts, and headed home in the Ford Explorer (<— product placement!) we had borrowed for the week.

At the end of the day, it was a pretty joyful experience, especially for my non-anxious kid. The following morning, Scarlett bragged to her grandma about everything she had seen and done, with no mention of the times she spent shaking her head, “No,” or quaking in her boots. If you ask her if she’d agree that Disneyland is the Happiest Place on Earth, she might agree. But then again, she might say that the middle spot of Mommy and Daddy’s bed at 6 AM on Saturday morning is that place.

A few extra notes:

  • Lots of girls are wearing princess dresses around the park. If you think your child will be moping with envy over this fact (mine was), you may want to bring one.
  • We had completely decided to go to Disneyland and definitely would have paid for the tickets ourselves, but I did get invited to use media passes, so thank you to Disneyland for that.
  • When I sought advice online, I got my hands on this link which has some excellent tips for first-time visitors.
  • The food at Disneyland exceeded my expectations. I’m not saying I want to go there for dinner on a regular basis, but my kids got pizza with apple slices and carrots for lunch and then quesadillas or burritos with rice and beans for dinner. Just as good as they eat at home, I’d say, and I was totally happy with my food as well. My husband and I both had salads for lunch. His was of the general garden-variety and mine was asian chicken. Good stuff.

I’d like to keep going to Disneyland every other year as a Thanksgiving tradition, as we spend that week in Los Angeles visiting family anyway, or maybe every year as the kids start to get more out of it. Hello, Space Mountain?

Have you been as a parent? Do you WANT to go? Do you think your kid is ready?

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RookieMoms.com co-founder Whitney lives with her husband, son, and daughter in the San Francisco Bay Area where she writes about parenting, crafts, and activities that moms can do with babies in tow. She and Heather also publish 510Families.com, a site for East Bay parents and are the authors of The Rookie Mom's Handbook and Stuff Every Mom Should Know.

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