Disney World with a Three Year Old

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This spring my husband, daughter, and I headed to “The Mouse House”, otherwise known as Walt Disney World. I took my daughter to Disneyland in California roughly a year before this trip, and while both trips were very fun, there was a tremendous difference in experiencing Disney with a two year old, as opposed to a three year old. I know many parents have to make the decision about when is the “right time” to take their kids to Disney, and I have to say that sometime between three and four years old there is a big change that makes the parks much more enjoyable for everyone.  If you want to check out other related posts from this trip:

Ten Tips When Taking Kids to Disney

Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Orlando Part 1

Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Orlando Part 2


At 3 you run right up to the castle!

There are many big changes from two years old to closer to three or four years old that make a big difference. In no particular order some of those are stamina, excitement about the parks and characters, less time messing with accidents and/or diapers, having them able to take a more active role in planning the day, but the biggest in terms of the Disney parks is height. Fortunately even infants can go on many of the gentle and slower rides, but unless you are a certain height, certain rides are understandably off-limits. My three year old is tall for her age at 42 inches, but she was able to do all of the rides at Magic Kingdom and Epcot except for Space Mountain and Mission Space.

That meant that in addition to all the nice and gentle “kiddie” rides, she was able to do Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Test Track, Soarin’, and would have done Splash Mountain if it hadn’t been closed for repairs. There is that very real risk that your kid won’t be mentally or emotionally ready for the big and fast or dark rides, but our kid loved all of it. Being able to experience those sorts of rides with her made the experience so much more fun for all of us. In my view, 40 inches is a very magic number in terms of a greater variety of rides being available to your kiddo. She was measured with a stick once to ensure she was tall enough, so both for safety and practical reasons don’t try and cheat the height requirements. Use this site to check the height restrictions for various rides.

At 2 we did the carousel

At 3 we did Test Track!

In addition to her being able to partake in a greater number of rides, she was also just able to get into the whole thing so much more. She got excited when the princesses came around during the princess breakfast. She knew their names and was thrilled to take pictures with them.

SPOILER: She was able to take a role in the new Storytime with Belle in Disney World’s Fantasyland and was genuinely amazed (as I was) when the mirror transformed at the beginning of the attraction.



C is the spoon and fork

She was also able to comprehend waiting in line, and did it several times up to 45 minutes long. Of course we used Fast Pass as much as possible, but some attractions like Storytime with Belle don’t have Fast Pass options, so your only choice is to wait. This is potentially easier with a three or four year old than a two year old as they are a bit more used to “taking turns” and being patient.


I’ve also been to Disney World with her (then) four and six year old cousins, and those were also great ages. While there is no wrong age to go to Disney World as they truly cater to all ages and abilities, I really think it makes sense to target at least the 40 inch requirement unless you plan to go so frequently that it doesn’t matter if it is the “right” age or not. I can tell you without a doubt that going at three was more fun than going at two, and that is saying a lot because we also had a blast at two.  I do want to point out that at three she had to have a ticket whereas she was still free at two, so having more fun comes at a cost.

What are your thoughts about the ages (or heights) of children and heading to Disney parks?

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  1. We took our kids when they were 4 and 3 respectively, and frankly they were just too young. Crying on Peter Pan etc. We went again last year when they were then 8 and 9 and it was an absolute blast, superb vacation. Personally I am not a buyer of Disney before the age of 6 or so. This year we did Universal when they were 9 and 10 and that was great too. At the very least, I would say it’s only going to get better for you. But I stick with the 6+ to really get value out of your stay

    • MilesAbound, no doubt a ton of it depends on the kids and their personalities, likes/dislikes, etc. I can say we had no crying and she was as excited to do the “big kid” rides as we were so three was so much more fun than two. Won’t shock me at all if six is even more fun than three, but three and 42 inches was pretty great!

  2. “I know many parents have to make the decision about when is the “right time” to take their kids to Disney,”

    My decision has always been “when hell freezes over” but a couple of years ago I figured it wouldn’t be fair to deprive my daughters of the Disney experience so I asked them if they actually wanted to go to Disney World. To their eternal credit they both just rolled their eyes at me.

    I know actual adults who visit Disney World even without children. I’ll never understand it. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

    • Larry, no destination is for everyone. I can say that my husband was a “rolls eye” guy about Disney until he went. We actually went pre-kids and he loved it. I think the unofficial “Epcot Beer Tour” helped sell him initially, but he did eventually appreciate the “magic” of Disney. Going during on off-peak time helped – I don’t think he would have felt the Magic waiting in endlessly long lines. 😉

    • My husband and I went to Disney World for a delayed Honeymoon and had the best time! He had life guarded there in college but had never been as a tourist (I’d been several times before as both a kid and adult to run one of the half-marathons). The price was less then a cruise, due to all the cruises’ hidden fees, and we got to have many wonderful meals thanks to the dining plan (Ohana was our favorite). As far as rides, we took advantage of the extra magic hours, and on our first night there we almost had the park to ourselves (MK was open until 2 or 3 am). We never waited more than 20 or 30 min for a ride and we even had time to walk around and enjoy the little archeticural and landscaping details in all of the parks. Our favorite night was going to the Dueling Piano Bar at the Boardwalk. Plus, going without kids, we had a lot of time to people watch and think about when we might want to take our kids (have to be to old for naps, diapers, and strollers because it was around that age that we saw the most meltdowns from both kids and parents). Dont knock it til you try it!

  3. LarryInNYC, it’s the same reason some people roll their eyes at Horse Racing, Camping, RV’ing, Skiing, Dancing, and even frequent travelling and credit cards. It’s not just “different strokes”….it’s that some truly appreciate and desire a variety of activities for their families. It’s no surprise that your own flesh and blood rolled their eyes and something you’ve expressed disdain for as they share your opinions subconsciously to an extent and don’t fall from the tree on what floats their boat. I’m sure if you listed your favorite things, some of us wouldn’t “understaind it”, Heck, I still can’t believe people watch Nascar or Golf on TV!

  4. We just came back from DisneyWorld last week. We did that for the second year in a row and our strategy is to stay no more than 3 days in Orlando and from there go to the beach. Thus, we go to 2 parks every year and we decide together with the kids which ones we are going. Last year we had a 3 year old and a 6 year old and we visited Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Epcot (using the hopper option). We had a great time but most of the time the kids were in a stroller we rented in the park and our little one was tired but having an amazing time since he was seen his favorite characters for the first time in his life. I feel that we spent too much time in the parks. We tried to go everywhere we could and that was a mistake. At the end of the day the kids were exhausted and we were as well. My 2 year old could not go to many rides because if his height and in some I went alone with the 6 years old and he cried a lot because he wanted to go with his older brother. This year we planned a little better. Since Disney was not new anymore to the kids we decided to stay in a nice hotel close but not in Disney. I used Hilton points to book 3 nights at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando and the choice couldn’t be better. We were less than 1 mile from Downtown Disney, we could basically walk to Hollywood Studios and we were less than a 10 minutes drive to Magic Kingdom. We decided to not get the hopper option and went on day 1 to Hollywood Studios (new park for us) and repeat Magic Kingdom on day 2. That was perfect!!! Kids loved the parks and we did not need to rent a stroller since they were ready to walk. Also, it was Star Wars weekend on Hollywood Studios and they were able to take pictures with all their favorite characters and go to all rides they wanted. We stayed there from 9AM to 6PM and went back to the hotel to enjoy the pool. Next day on Magic Kingdom kids were already familiar with the rides and chose the ones they wanted to repeat. My now 4 years old was just 40 inches tall so he could go to almost any ride he wanted and he had the time of his life. For the 7 year old he is more mature and also enjoyed the more challenging rides and also had an amazing time. By managing this way we could give them their time at the parks but also let us enjoy nice meals for dinner where they were not that tired and could also go with us. Overall, I highly recommend taking the kids when they are a little older than just 2 years old.

  5. There is no universal right age. You have to know your kids. We’ve been with our twins who are now almost 4 every year since they were born and they’ve had a great time. But your kids might be different. Any given 3 year old might either love or be frightened on any particular ride. Main thing is to prepare them – show them a video of the ride or something like that. If you want a roller coaster, don’t start with space mountain. Try Barnstormer. If they like that, try Big Thunder. If they like that, keep going.

    And Larry – yes – my wife and went by ourselves every year for about 10 years before our kids were born! But I also understand adults who don’t like it.

  6. Another factor is when you go. A ride that makes you wait 15 minutes can be great. The same ride with a 75 minute wait may be horrible. If you can go during an off-peak time, everything is better.

  7. I think it is great to go to Disney before your kids are in kindergarten because you can go at “off” times that don’t coincide with school breaks. Much better lines! We’ve done Disneyland three times with my four year old — once right before her 2nd birthday, once at 2 3/4 and once at 3 1/2. The 3 1/2 trip was definitely the best because she could ride so much more, but she got so much out of the experience every time. You definitely need to know your child. Our fearless 3 1/2 year old was determined to ride the new fast Radiator Springs Racers (similar to Test Track), but her friend who accompanied us could barely make it through Peter Pan because the dark rides really frightened him.

  8. Full disclosure, I am the antithesis of Larry. Big Disney parks fan, and all things Disney.
    I agree with Summer and the others on age. In my opinion, it depends on how often you may/may not go to a Disney park. If it is a once in a lifetime trip, then it is better to wait until six or older (ideally 7-9).
    If you may return periodically (every year, every three years, every five years, etc), then it doesn’t matter when you start, as each time the kids will be able to enjoy something new.
    At one, our daughter thought the leaves on the ground and manhole covers were awesome, and she thought the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (slow ride around the section of the park) was a fast roller coaster. By age three, she graduated to the smaller coasters and found the princesses and Winnie the Pooh pretty fantastic. Now at age seven, she does all the fast stuff she can get on, still loves the princesses, and can participate in much of the decision making.
    In the end, Disney parks are fantastic for all ages. JUST HAVE A PLAN! Disney is not spontaneous, and it takes a considerable amount of planning to prepare and know what to expect. It can be a loose plan, but a framework is essential!
    Good luck, everyone.

  9. Anyone who is a Disney hater either hasn’t been there or went at a very peak time without any planning. I am not a huge lover of all things Disney, but my kids absolutely LOVE Disney vacations, and that makes me happy. My three boys have been there at all ages, and for us, 3 1/2 was definitely the magic cut off. Times younger were just too complicated. From 3 1/2 to 5 they are so caught in the magic it is amazing. After 5, they still love it, but for different reasons.

  10. We own a timeshare with Disney Vacation Club so my kids have been at just about every age starting at 9 months old. The only truly horrible trip was when my 2nd daughter was 20 months old. Old enough to walk and run, but not old enough to understand that she had to wait in line. She was constantly bolting on us in lines, cried every single time we strapped her in the stroller for an entire week and was too busy to sleep as much as she need. She exhausted the heck out of us parents, but she still had a blast. Loved the characters, dumbo, the carousel and lots of other things. But when she wasn’t really happy, she was really miserable.

    Every other age has been awesome. We go again this November, my 7 year old’s 8th trip and my 3 year old’s 5th trip. Can’t wait.

  11. Also worth noting that there is a rather large increase in admission price for kids at Disney between age two ($0) and three ($80+).

  12. How about never? There are a million things you can do with your kids, that don’t enrich the Disney Perpetual Copyright Empire.

  13. Preach on Vicente. Wanna take my niece and nephew though, but since their school holidays coincide with that of all the other kids, and I refuse to go at peak times, I guess I’m in a Catch-22.

  14. We have Disneyland annual passes and my kids who are 3 and 5 have averaged 2 trips per month for the past 2 years. For both of them, the parks definitely got more fun just shy of the 3 year old mark. The official height for most attractions is 40″, but Disney inches seem to be just a little bigger than the ones on my tape measure. My just-turned-3 year old son is still too short for most of the “big” rides, but about 3 months ago he started really getting into the character interactions and enjoying many of the rides without height requirements that were just too scary or uninteresting before. Definitely agree – right around 3 is a huge turning point – no wonder that’s when Disney makes us start paying for them!

  15. FYI- The height requirement for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Test Track, Soarin, and Splash Mountain is 40 inches, not 42. Space Mountain, Mission Space, and Everest is 44.

    My 8 year old has been to WDW about 15 times and my 5 year old has about 8 trips under his belt. I think every age with kids at Disney is precious. There are things that I look back at from when my kids were 18-24 months and really miss. It was very, very magical with them at that age. Also keep in mind that kids under three are free. I had an annual pass the year that my older child was two and we managed to rack up four trips that year, two with Daddy, one with Grandma, and one with just the two of us. Between the free child, passholder hotel and food discounts, and a few really good airfare sales, those were some very affordable and very fun trips.

    If I were to pick the “perfect” age though, I would have to say 5. A little more mature, but still young enough to get into the magic.

  16. Love everyone sharing their different experiences!
    AMJ, you are so right. I think I had 42 stuck in my head since that was her height, but I have updated it that 40 is the magic required number for those rides. 😉

  17. I have a soon to be 65 year old brother who loves going to Disney World. He is a permanent Florida resident who lives about 90 minutes away. In the last year he has spent at least 15 days at Disney.

    I haven’t been to Disney’s Magic Kingdom since 1972. The first year it opened. I have no desire to go back. The coasters are too tame for me. I do love Epcot but haven’t been there since 1992.

  18. I reluctantly took the my wife and 10 year old daughter last year. Luckily we had the chance to go during off peak (first week of March) where the weather was nice and the crowds were at their lowest. We all had a good time, even me 🙂 However our travels are usually “been there, done that” and probably won’t go back again. There is just too much to see in the world to continually go back to the same place.

  19. I just want to say I took my son at age one and we are going back this year (he will be three and we will have a 2 month old as well). I’ve been to many places since having my son and Disney was by far the most enjoyable. I loved it. I always went as a kid but as an adult with kids you get so many perks. Its pricey to stay on site but very much worth it if you can afford it. Really there’s no other way to go. Play, have fun, eat, nap and then do it again. 🙂

  20. I know this article was posted quite some time ago but I also want to add we took our son for the first time when he was one. I’m a lover of all things Disney. When I met my husband he didn’t know what all the hype was about until I took him. We went several times together pre kids and even went on a Disney Cruise. I’ve been periodically my whole life my first trip was at 2. This trip with our son for his first birthday is so far my favorite trip. We had an AMAZING time. But it’s all about your personal preference, how you plan it and when you go. We stayed at The Poly and it never took us more than 5 min to be at the Magic Kingdom by boat! Big plus when traveling with a toddler & during the time frame to fit in as much as possible before a nap is needed. Our baby at one already had such a strong personality and loved Disney characters. It’s amazing how many rides a one year old can go on and he loved them all! I can’t wait to go again but now I’m expecting our second child so our next trip will most likely be 2016 when our son is 3 1/2 and our new little one with be turning 1. To each their own! It also helps if the reason you are going is for your toddlers our trip was planned around him at age one our joy was watching him. It also helped that my parents came with us so we were able to enjoy some adult things while he napped taking turns staying with him.

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