A lot of parents struggle with the idea of the “right age” to bring their child to Disneyland. Their concerns are many and varied. If they’re too young, they might not remember it. A day out could lead to miserable meltdowns. Will they be able to go on many rides?
Will they be as terrified of meeting Mickey and Minnie as they were when they sat on Santa’s lap at Christmas? What if it’s a waste of (a lot of) money?
These are valid concerns, and should definitely be weighed against any visions you may have of you and your little one, laughing, hair blowing in the wind, as you soar on the Dumbo ride. That being said, with a little preparation, Disneyland can be a wonderful, magical experience for all ages.
The key to approaching it is being realistic with your expectations of the day and what your kids can personally handle. (And what YOU can personally handle is important too!) Every family is different and you’re likely to be the person who knows your kids’ limits and tastes best.
So what is the best age to take kids to Disneyland?
There is no one age that is perfect for the theme parks, so this list will help identify pros and cons about the age groups that will enjoy a trip the most. You’ll definitely want to think about some factors besides age, however.
Important Things to Consider
Party Size. Who will be in your party? Will there be an extra pair of hands on deck, or will kids outnumber the amount of adults?
Siblings. Do you have kids of different ages and heights? Do they share similar interests? Would there be conflict if an older sibling got to ride and the younger didn’t? Do you want to ride every ride as a family, or are you happy splitting up?
Budget. Younger kids cost less for both park ticket and food.
Attraction Types. Are your kids easily scared or exceptionally independent?
Daily Schedule. Naps, multiple parks, multiple days, and proximity to parks, will all affect your Disneyland plans and how much you’ll be able to enjoy the day.
Interests. Thrill-seekers, princess lovers, and foodies will all have a blast here, but doing different things. Have a toddler who doesn’t do well in the dark but adores Anna and Elsa? They still might get a lot of joy out of a trip to Disneyland, even if you decide to skip a classic like Pirates of the Caribbean.
There are good websites like this out there to research your specific needs. Although going to Disneyland is very different than Walt Disney World, many elements overlap.
The Rider Switch scheme may influence your decision to take a younger child: check here for important info on both height requirements (make sure to accurately measure your kid with the shoes they’ll be wearing) and how rider swapping works.
Toddlers: 18 Months-Three Years Old
This age hits the sweet spot. Old enough to experience the magic (even if they won’t remember it, you will) but young enough that park entrance is free. By this age, you’ll probably be able to leave the baby food jars and formula at home.
- Below, check out a video uploaded by a YouTuber discussing bringing a toddler to Disneyland:
If they aren’t toilet trained yet, parents rave about the baby care centers in the parks, complete with microwaves, high chairs, nursing room, toddler-sized toilets, and changing stations. A stroller at this age is a must, but can also be considered a plus: a place to store bags and jackets.
Many of the classic rides at the original Disneyland park have no height requirement, meaning babies in arms are welcome on them. Whether they’re on your lap or sitting in their own space, these rides are great for all ages of kids:
- Jungle Cruise (Adventureland)
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Critter Country)
- Alice in Wonderland (Fantasyland)*
- Casey Jr. Circus Train (Fantasyland)
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant (Fantasyland)
- ”it’s a small world” (Fantasyland)
- King Arthur’s Carrousel (Fantasyland)
- Mad Tea Party (Fantasyland)
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (Fantasyland)*
- Peter Pan’s Flight (Fantasyland)
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey (Fantasyland)*
- Snow White’s Scary Adventures (Fantasyland)*
- Storybook Land Canal Boats (Fantasyland)
- Disneyland Railroad
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin (Toontown)
- Haunted Mansion (New Orleans Square)*
- Pirates of the Caribbean (New Orleans Square)*
- Astro Orbitor (Tomorrowland)
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (Tomorrowland)
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (Tomorrowland)
Asterisks mark the ones that may be on the scary side, but you never know until you try. Some kids might adore dark and spooky Pirates of the Caribbean, but get scared by the psychedelic scenes in the relatively tame Winnie the Pooh ride.
That is a pretty sizable list of “to-do”s for a day at Disneyland, and that’s only including traditional rides at the Disneyland park itself. When you factor in meet and greets, parades, boat and horse rides, exploration areas like Tarzan’s Treehouse or Tom Sawyer Island, or shows like the Enchanted Tiki Room, there’s no shortage of toddler-friendly attractions.
Don’t discount “transport” options like the sailing ships, Monorail, or Disneyland Railroad, which is not only a great way of getting around the park without walking, but an attraction in itself. Going through the back of the park the train “goes through time” and your kid can see dinosaurs, the Grand Canyon, and more. Toddlers will think it’s just as great as any other ride, but at a slower pace with a much shorter line.
All in all, Disneyland is the best park for young children, while California Adventure is more suited to older ones. The under-three crowd is probably happy with the assortment of familiar characters and rides over in Disneyland. California Adventure does have Cars Land, the Little Mermaid ride, and the Frozen show, so if Lightning McQueen, Ariel, or Elsa are on your must-do list, it might be worth the trip to the other side of the resort.
However, the nice thing about the under-three age group is that most won’t have a good grasp of what there is to do at Disneyland, so they won’t realize what they’ve missed.
Rides at California Adventure that don’t have a height requirement include:
- Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue!
- The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
- King Triton’s Carousel
- Golden Zephyr
- Mickey’s Fun Wheel
- Toy Story Mania
What most parents love about taking children in this age to the parks is the sense of wonder that comes with experiencing it from their eyes. To a young child, everything is real. The magic, the characters, the parades. Just remember that younger children can get overstimulated pretty easily, and it’s wise to factor in naps or quiet time and snack breaks, as well as chances to run around and let off some steam.
Kindergarteners: Ages 4-6
While the toddler age group might have complete immersion in the magic of Disney, this older age bracket takes the cake for enthusiasm. Not only are they more likely to remember the trip, they’re likely to have favorite characters and get super excited about certain rides. They also come with less equipment but a stroller, while not essential, will probably come in handy for tired feet.
- Below, check out a video uploaded by a YouTuber discussing the best ages for Disneyland:
Rides are one of the best things about this age group: they’re not too old to find simple rides like Dumbo or “it’s a small world” boring, but they can also handle more intense attractions. The average 4-year-old is about 40 inches tall, making most kindergarteners able to go on the next tier of height-restricted rides. Keep in mind that not all kids will be emotionally ready for the more extreme thrill rides, of course. Some good rides to start with are:
Radiator Springs Racers: One of the best Disneyland rides for 4-year-olds and older, this is a really perfect first roller-coaster style ride, located in California Adventure. It’s thrilling but not too fast, and kids are in a setting they’re familiar with: a car. They’ll likely recognize the characters in this Pixar Cars-themed ride, and enjoy the aspect of racing against the other people on the racecourse.
Soarin’ Around the World: If a child’s head doesn’t reach a certain mark on the seat, they’ll have to be strapped in with an extra safety belt, but otherwise this is a soothing flight of a ride taking you across the marvels of the globe. You’ll skim the Pacific with your toes, reach out to touch the Eiffel Tower, and see wild elephants running across the savannah through the big IMAX-style screen. Both adventurous and more cautious children will love it.
Splash Mountain Walking around Critter Country, the sight (and screams) of the infamous SPLASH! can be seen clearly. Your child’s reaction to other people experiencing it will give you a good idea whether or not they can handle the drop. For all its shrieks, Splash Mountain is a mostly gentle ride with one major fall and a few smaller ones preceding it.
The songs and characters are engaging, although you might want to brief your child on the general premise of the movie it’s based on, Song of the South, as most won’t have seen it. Tip: you can request the seat in the very back of the log ride. It’s wide enough for an adult and a small child who is hesitant about the ride, and the place least likely to get soaked.
Other good attractions for kindergarten-age kids include:
Redwood Creek Challenge Trail Although this run-around area outside Grizzly River Run is for all heights and ages, the rope course and heights make it difficult to handle for smaller kids (tiny shoes can get caught in the ropes, and balance is tough even for adults). By 5 or 6, however, this is the perfect playground to get some wiggles out. You might even encounter Chip and Dale!
Frozen Live at the Hyperion Theatre A condensed version of the movie musical, complete with all the songs. You are guaranteed to come out with Let It Go stuck in your head, but your child will be in heaven and that’s what matters.
This age will see more awareness of the Disney parks, and that means asking for treats and souvenirs. Make sure you establish with your child what they are allowed to have in terms of special snacks or stuffed animals, so they know ahead of time and are less likely to be disappointed.
A greater sense of independence makes this a really fun age for trips to Disney. Not only will most kids this age be tall enough to ride all the rides (the exception is doing Autopia alone, as the foot pedal is far and difficult to push), but they can start to have some input in which rides they really want to go on and which they don’t.
If your child does okay with strangers and doing things independently, you can consider doing Single Rider. Basically, the single rider system is there to make the most out of ride space. For instance, if there are six seats in a Radiator Springs Racer car, but the party only has five people, a Single Rider will be put in to make the lines go as fast as possible. Using the single rider line cuts your waiting time down significantly.
Kids often feel extra grown-up when entrusted with that sort of autonomy, and as a parent you don’t have to worry; the Cast Members are very attentive about making sure children (age 7+) who use this system know where they’re supposed to be going and are belted in correctly.
This age is great for showing signs of interest in unusual or unique experiences like food. They might be interested in eating more adventurous things, and take a break from the ubiquitous chicken nuggets or mac’n’cheese. Would they enjoy sitting at a nicer table service restaurant and ordering something they’ve never had before? Disneyland’s casual family friendly eateries are great for that.
Teenagers have a bad reputation. They can be sulky and moody, and embarrassed to be seen with their family. Yet Disneyland could provide a really great bonding experience for this tricky age group, especially if you’re about to send a kid off to college or wherever they head next. Something about the atmosphere of the parks lets down barriers and everyone has a little more fun and joy about them.
- Below, check out a video a YouTuber uploaded in which they discuss the topic of taking a teenager to Disneyland:
Teens should remember that going with your family doesn’t mean losing independence; with the advent of the cell phone, letting your high schooler wander if they want to do a ride by themselves no longer means losing them for the rest of the day.
Try letting them plan the itinerary for the day and taking the lead on navigating through the park. By taking the parental hands off the wheel, your teen could really step up and surprise you by involving themselves in a very grown-up way. California Screamin’, Grizzly River Run, Star Tours, Space Mountain, and Indiana Jones are all great picks for high school-age kids.
The Best Age
… is honestly, any age. Every age of child is going to have ups and downs, pros and cons, grumpy moments, and minutes of pure joy. Temper tantrums can happen at any age, but so can wonder and magic.
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