By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2020, the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever.

Available on Amazon here.

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Your First Disney World Visit…Might It Be Your Only One?

By Dave Shute

(A slightly different version of this first appeared in WDW Magazine.)

Your First Disney World Visit or Your Only One from yourfirstvisit.netThis site exists to help first time visitors to Walt Disney World who may never return make great decisions quickly. The home page has a Summary of Instructions built to do just that.

And since I opened the site almost six years ago, the most controversial—and most misunderstand–instruction has been the third one:

“…if this may be your kids’ only childhood visit, consider going when your youngest child is at least 8 or 9, and your shortest child at least 48 inches tall.”

The Magic Kingdom from

It’s the “who may never return” words that drives this instruction: Will–or might—this be your only Disney Word visit?

So it can be hard enough to plan a first visit to Walt Disney World, and here I am asking you to figure out how this visit might fit into your other future vacation plans too? What’s up with that?

Well, if you want to have the best first visit, it really matters.

There’s an enormous Disney World fan community that can’t imagine going only once.

Yet plenty of families can’t imagine how they could go more than once.

  • Some just can’t see how they could afford a return visit.
  • Some could afford another visit, but have too many other vacation goals—Yosemite, New Orleans, Cleveland—to see how a return visit could fit.
  • Others could afford another visit, and could make the time…but just can’t say before they visit for the first time whether or not they’ll ever return. This group won’t know whether the value is there for a return visit until they go the first time, because—if you’ve never been there—it’s astonishingly hard to imagine the scope and fun of Walt Disney World.

If this might be your family’s only trip, and you want to see all the best of Walt Disney World…well, that has big implications for how old and tall your kids should be, how long you should stay, what you do each day you are there, when you should go, where you should stay, and all kinds of other issues.

Jess and Friends from yourfirstvisit.netFor now, let’s focus on how old and tall your kids should be.

If this may be their only childhood visit, wait until your youngest child is around 8, and the shortest around 48 inches tall.

Why? Because Walt Disney World is not designed for children.

It is designed for children and their parents.

Among Walt Disney’s frustrations that led him to the concept of Disneyland—which set the tone for all the other Disney parks that followed—was watching his daughters enjoy rides that were too dull for him.

That lead him to a park design that children and their parents could each enjoy together.

As a result, much of the best of Walt Disney World has a level of sophistication, and of physical and emotional demands, that will escape, or worse, overwhelm, children younger than 8 or so.

Disney World itself is only half of the equation—it requires the other half, your child’s mind, to complete the experience of the place.

The play world of kids is grounded firmly in what they understand of the real world, and a kid with an understanding of the real world below that of the typical eight year old just won’t get as much fun out of Disney World as a more sophisticated and experienced kid will.

Height is the second issue. A couple of Disney World’s best rides require kids to be 48 inches tall, and several more of the best require a kid to be at least 44 inches tall. Some of this is for safety reasons, and some is a way of marking that a ride just isn’t for the littlest kids.

Disney World Height Requirements from yourfirstvisit.netIf your kids aren’t this tall, they won’t get to enjoy these rides at all—and if they are tall enough, but aren’t mature enough, then they can ride, but may well not get Disney Word at its best.

Now don’t get me wrong—kids of any age can enjoy Disney World.

But if this may be your only trip, why not wait until they are old and tall enough to fully enjoy all of the best of Walt Disney World?

Santa Goofy and Friends from yourfirstvisit.netIn contrast, if this is just the first of several trips, then bringing younger and shorter kids makes much more sense. Having things go over their heads is not an issue, because they can see and fully get those attractions on a later visit, when they are older.

But little kids do bring along their own set of issues. You have to match what you do to their interests, stamina, and routine schedules…or tantrums may result!

This tends to lead to much shorter days, and fewer experiences per day, than with older kids. Not an issue if you can catch what they missed later on another visit…but frustrating to the parents—who, since the parks were designed for them too, will want to see and do more than their kids can take!

But if you push your little kids too hard…well, the most miserable people one sees in the parks later in the day at Walt Disney World are the parents of small children, and the second most miserable group is their kids…

If you don’t push them too hard, littler kids who will be returning are also easier to schedule for.

  • The first visit can be just a few partial days at the Magic Kingdom.
  • A later visit can add to revisiting the Magic Kingdom (your kids will never tire of revisiting the Magic Kingdom) mornings at Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
  • Still later visits can pick up the more sophisticated rides and shows at all the parks.

So a core question—one that really affects almost everything else—is whether or not you will be able to return.

And that’s why you need to think about this now.

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1 Jennifer { 12.22.13 at 8:28 am }

We had our first visit when my son was 6, and at that time he was tall enough for everything except the Rock n’ Roller Coaster (which did not break my heart, I don’t mind telling you ;-). What I wasn’t prepared for, and I think you have to experience it to really understand, is the sheer magnitude of the parks. If a child is even the tiniest bit prone to meltdowns, he or she is 100% guaranteed at least one or two as they WILL feel overwhelmed and overstimulated at some point. At 6, my kiddo had two and a half (he fell asleep on the bus before he could work up a good head of steam ;-), even though I tried VERY hard to pace ourselves and not over-tire him. The good news? No matter how dramatic the tantrum, you are NOT the only one in the parks dealing with that kind of situation and yes, I did find that comforting. You can be the best parent in the world, your child can be the best behaved in the world, and a meltdown can still occur. Disney is a LOT to take in!!!

2 Dave { 12.24.13 at 9:46 am }

Thanks, Jennifer–a thoughtful post!

3 Sass { 01.03.14 at 10:40 am }

My children both have yet to travel to WDW or even Disneyland, and my husband has never been. The first and last time I went to WDW I was 11, and that was almost 20 years ago. I was 23 the last time I went to Disneyland in 2007.

I completely agree with this information. We will likely go to WDW only once with our children (who are currently 4 and 5). Therefore we have resolved to wait until they are 8 and 9. We are considering a brief trip to Disneyland this summer as a “test run” and to introduce them to their favorite characters and scenes on a much smaller scale.

I recommend this site to anyone who is considering a trip to WDW because even though our trip is several years away, I love to browse it and tweak my itinerary accordingly. Every few months I check up here and the Disney site, as well as the DIS Boards, to see what has changed. I also greatly appreciate that you take the time to visit and write about surrounding theme parks, especially as we are hoping to visit the WWoHP on the final day of our Florida trip…in 2017! 😉 LOL!

Again, thanks for all you do.

4 Dave { 01.04.14 at 10:00 am }

Oh Sass, I’m blushing! Thank you…and if you can do it, a couple of days at DLR while they are young will be really cute…

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