What age is the best for a Disney vacation? We tell you why preschoolers give you the most magic.

Your Preschooler is Your Fastpass to Joy or How Disney thawed my Frozen Heart

Share this article!

When to take that Disney vacation

At what age do you take your kids to Disney World for the first time? Don’t wait until they are older. You’ll get so much more from the trip if you can see the experience through a preschooler’s undoubting eyes.

Most of my friends don’t go to Disney World, and they have no interest. They perceive chaos, crowds, and consumerism that goes against their parenting values or ideas of a relaxing vacation.

They would rather travel to far off destinations for the same amount of money that a Disney vacation costs.

I have noticed on Facebook that a few of my friends posted pictures of themselves at Disney World with disqualifiers like “Here we are at Magic Kingdom. We took the plunge. What were we thinking?”

But what if you’re just too cool for Disney World?

I get it, because I used to be one of those people. I clung to an identity of someone who was too sophisticated, too well traveled, too cool to go to Disney World.

Yeah, whatever.

We love our Disney vacation ritual of a Crystal Palace lunch.
Too cool for Piglet? No, just really hungry after a morning in Magic Kingdom.

I continued to carry those perceptions on our first few family trips. But having just returned from Disney World this week for the umpteenth time in the last few years, I realize I have truly changed.

Something started chipping away at my own jaded veneer. My kids.

Dipping our toes into the Disney World pool

We planned our first trip from a place of parental martyrdom with the intention of crossing Disney World off the list on the way to visit in-laws.

It was hot, crowded, and I was very pregnant on our quick visit to Magic Kingdom.

I found the culture of Disney World even more interesting than the experience of being at the parks—like a sociologist of sorts.

I was taken aback by so many people’s passion for Disney World: the customized family T-shirts, the honeymooners around us in bride and groom mouse ears, the Disney manicures, it was all very foreign to me.

Of course, my daughter, five at the time, loved every second.

Disney Vacation Princess Watching
My daughter still loved the magic on our Disney vacation when she was young, even if she wasn’t into princesses or dressing like one.

Never a girl that into princesses, she still found such joy in meeting Pooh, Piglet, and laughing at the bad jokes on the Jungle Cruise, and watching the parade.

My husband is the type of guy who will not wear clothing wth any visible logos. Our second trip fell near our ten-year wedding anniversary and it was our first as a family of four.

I pulled out two Disney Parks “Happy Anniversary!!” buttons (it’s the land of double exclamation points) for each of us and said with a straight face that we were wearing them.

This was a both a joke and a dare on my part. Show me how much you love me by abandoning your pride, I was saying with the gesture.

But after frequent trips over the last few years to review the various hotels (Read our reviews of the best Disney resorts and off property luxury resorts) and attend conferences in the area, the Disney bug started to bite me. (Read for more of our favorite tips to plan a stress-free Disney vacation.)

It was, at first, a relationship with a place, like visiting a family’s summer vacation home.

Who doesn’t have a soft spot for a warm place they travel to repeatedly if they had the luxury of doing so?

Disney Vacation Tips
Disney World showcases a friendly and casual hospitality that attempts to serve every family, particularly those with unique needs.

I observe that some people develop a deep connection to Disney World unlike any other place. When my path crosses with a true Disney fan, I discover there are often interesting details in their biography.


People have shared with me that it is a place that stood for something better in a childhood that was affected by divorce, death, or other family tragedy, an anchor for their families.

Disney World was a way of saying everything would be OK, an expensive instant therapy of sorts. It’s a really happy place intended to speak to everyone’s inner child.

Toddlers on a Disney Vacation
Even though my son won’t remember this moment, the photographs will show him they happened.

To be at Disney World is to be in an irony-free zone.

In 1999’s For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today, Duke Law Professor Jedediah Purdy described our emotional defenses of sarcasm as my generation’s downfall.

“Irony has become our marker of worldliness and maturity. The ironic individual practices a style of speech and behavior that avoids all appearance of naiveté — of naive devotion, belief, or hope.” -Jedediah Purdy

It is tough for those of us who grew up on diets of Seinfeld to be accosted with rainbow-clad dancers with jazz hands extended and shimmying. Even more, the dancers are most likely lip synching to music that involves all variations of the lyrics “Feel the magic,” “It’s a great day,” or “Let’s go feel the magic and have a great day.”

Disney Vacation at Cinderella's Royal Table
At three and four years old, most little boys still find the Disney princesses magical.

I used to think this was Disney World at its worst because it was so kitschy.

And then I started seeing Disney World through my son’s eyes. He was 18 months old on his first visit and is now five.

People often think preschoolers are too young to visit Disney World, but I think that is the most essential time to visit for parents to get the most of their investment.

Without artifice or cynicism, our children escort us to a place of authenticity where everything is accepted at face value.

We just returned from the Disney parks this past week on a big multi-generational trip.

We watched a three-year-old girl in the row in front of us sing to “Let It Go” at the Frozen Sing-A-Long with her whole body, using dramatic arm gestures fully engaged with the song.

Her dad, my family, and I watched her while tears trickled down our faces. She was embodying a joy that not all of us can emote without struggle.

Watching preschoolers queue to meet princesses with complete wonder and vulnerability will also make you teary. I never dressed my daughter up that way, and yet I still get so surprisingly emotional when I see these interactions.

Young children are our Fastpasses to a vulnerable place in ourselves where we accept the meaning of joy and hope at face value.

Meeting Disney Princesses on a Disney Vacation at Magic Kingdom
The pure sweetness of children meeting the Disney princesses will make you verklempt.

No one should be too jaded or immune.

Our family’s teens got misty eyed at the Wishes fireworks show at Magic Kingdom. When Jiminy Cricket tells us about the power of wishing and hope, we are all five years old.

This most recent trip gave me my epiphany. It’s not that Disney is too kitschy. It’s that we can become culturally too numb to accept such simple, joyful sentiments.

Maybe people seek not just a vacation from work, but a vacation from what we perceive as cool.

the best disney vacation tips
Parents get to share their children’s innocence and outlook in a destination designed to speak to everyone’s inner child.

When we came home and I unpacked, I found a Disney Parks button in my son’s backpack. It said “Happily Ever After.”

This time, instead of sneering, I told that part of my brain to be quiet. What’s wrong with happily ever after? Nothing.

Bring. It. On.

I told my husband I’d wear it next time. He didn’t flinch.

He told me, “You know, ‘I saw a family this trip whose t-shirts read, “I’m at my favorite place with my favorite people.’”

Irony be damned.

When you should take your family on a Disney vacation? What age is best?
Pin me for later!

5 thoughts on “Your Preschooler is Your Fastpass to Joy or How Disney thawed my Frozen Heart”

  1. I agree! Our oldest is almost 18 years old, our youngest is still a baby. We go to Disney world a lot. We aren’t local, but we have a hard time letting even 6 months pass by. It is magical for all ages.
    I’ve heard from friends that it’s “silly” to bring little ones, but trust me they love it too.

  2. This article is beautifully written and I adore the title. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Robin!

  3. We used to live in Florida and had annual passes to Disney World. We started going when my first daughter was one years old and second was 5 weeks old. I firmly believe 3 and 4 are the best ages to take children to Disney World. They know enough about Disney by that age, understand what they are seeing, and experiencing and get totally enthralled with the experience. It is the perfect age to BELIEVE. My kids are 5 and 6, and even though they still love princesses and Disney…as a parent, it is already losing its magic. There is a lack of enthusiastic excitement that I saw when they were 3 and 4, nervously meeting the princesses and shouting in joy at the parade. Maybe it is because we have experienced it so much, it has waned…but the truly magically experience of Disney is being able to watch a child who is 100% into the fantasy of Disney. Yes, they can be hassle sometimes at this age, but it is worth it. GO – the magic in your child’s eye will be gone soon…


Leave a Comment