There comes a time in every Walt Disney World vacation when you find that not all members of your group want to do exactly the same thing. Maybe Mom wants to shop while the kids want more time on the rides. Maybe little brother wants another turn on the Teacups, while big sister wants to cool off on Splash Mountain. Maybe Dad wants to go for a swim, while big brother wants to sleep in at the hotel. Many of these situations involve parents and children with differing vacation wants and needs. Would everyone have a better time if kids and parents spent some time apart?
When children are small, splitting up is not an option; you know can’t send a four-year-old to explore Tomorrowland on his own. And when you’ve got high school seniors, you may be grateful that they want to conquer the Tower of Terror without you. But what do you do in the intermediate years? How do you know when it’s OK to give your child some time alone at your hotel or in the theme parks?
Is there an official policy?
Yes. The Walt Disney World website states:
“Children under age 14 must be accompanied by a Guest age 14 or older to enter the following Walt Disney World parks and locations:
- Magic Kingdom Park
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park
- Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park
- Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park”
Further, once you’re inside the parks, there is an additional rule that, to board an attraction, children under age 7 must be accompanied by a person age 14 years or older.
[Note: These rules were put in place in March 2013. If you were allowed to go solo yourself at a younger age long ago, be aware that policies may have changed.]
In practical terms, what does this mean?
Once you’re in the theme park, you can split up from your kids, if you and they are willing. Your eleven year old could go to Space Mountain alone while you have lunch at Cosmic Ray’s.
On the flip side, Disney wants to avoid having really little kids on rides alone. If your five year old wants to spin on the teacups, someone age 14 or older will have to go with him. Once the child turns seven, you can watch from the side.
There are all sorts of ways that you could fudge this. For example, you could enter a theme park with your 12 year old and then exit the park yourself. However, the rule is in place for everyone’s protection. You don’t want to risk being absent in an emergency situation, nor do you want to risk permanent expulsion from Disney if something goes drastically awry.
How does Disney know how old my child is?
When you buy WDW tickets online, or when you link them to a MagicBand or to a hotel reservation, you also have to link the tickets to a specific person, with their name and age.
Those rules seem pretty basic. What else should I think about?
When deciding whether to give your child time alone at Walt Disney World, either sending a 14 year old to the park solo for the first time, or letting your tween explore the park while you are elsewhere on site, there are a number of questions to ask yourself:
- How mature is your child?
- During the COVID era, how good is your child about mask compliance, social distancing, and taking directions on related topics?
- Has your child been alone before in public (going to the mall, going to the movies, etc.)?
- Has your child navigated alone before (walking to school, biking into town, etc.)?
- Does the child actually want to have alone time?
- Can your child read a map?
- Has your child had self defense or “stranger danger” training at school?
- Do you and your child both have access to a cell phone and do those phones have good reception at WDW?
- Has your child been to WDW before? Are they familiar with the surroundings?
- How far away will you be?
- How long will you be separated?
- Will your child be with siblings/cousins/friends? What is the maturity level of those individuals?
- If siblings are together, do they get along well?
- Can your child be relied upon not to lose things like money or park tickets?
- What time of day is it?
- Does your child understand the Disney transportation system?
- Does your child behave well at home?
- Can your child ask for directions from an appropriate source?
- Is your child able to identify cast members?
- Have you established contingency plans in case the unexpected occurs (a ride breaks down, a phone doesn’t work, etc.)?
- Does your child have any medical issues that need monitoring?
- Are there weather issues that might impact your child (impending storm, etc.)?
- Does the child understand your rules about food consumption?
- Does the child understand your rules about purchasing merchandise?
Can I leave my child alone at the hotel?
The rules around leaving a child alone at your hotel are less codified.
As for what the law allows, I have found that Florida has no legally mandated age for leaving a child unsupervised at home or elsewhere, though there can be consequences if things go wrong when your children are alone. (I’m not a lawyer. If you need more information, please consult a professional attorney.) But just because it may be technically acceptable to leave your child alone in a hotel, that doesn’t mean this makes sense for your personal situation. As with most parenting decisions, this really boils down to a judgment call.
There is obviously a huge difference between letting a 13 year old stay in your room for 15 minutes while you go get a cup of coffee at the hotel restaurant and leaving an eight year old alone in your room while you go off for a lengthy dinner at a theme park.
Some things to think about as you decide what your family rules should be:
- Has your child been home alone before?
- In a hotel, what floor are you on? Where are the fire exits?
- Does your child understand when, and when not, to open a hotel room door?
- Does the child understand how to call you from a hotel phone or other non-cell phone? Do they have your cell phone number memorized?
- What is the cell service like in your hotel room?
- Does your child understand how/when to call 911?
- Does the child know how to contact the hotel front desk?
- Does the child know what to do if something unexpected happens? (Power outage, hotel staff knocking on the door, etc.)
- Does your child have your hotel and room number information memorized?
- Does the child understand your rules about water safety?
- Does a child alone in a hotel room have sufficient material to be entertained in a contained environment (engaging TV, books, snacks, etc.)?
- How many children are together? Is this size group a pro or a con?
Yikes, this is a lot!
Yep, this not a one-size-fits-all topic. The answers to these and a multitude of related questions will influence your decision on whether to allow your child some time alone at Walt Disney World. For some families, a child as young as seven or eight might be ready to go on a ride alone. For other families, a 16 or 17 year old might still need watchful attention at all times.
How can I help my child get ready to have alone time at Disney World?
In between constant supervision and a totally solo trip to the parks, there are a number of intermediate steps on the road to a child’s independence at Walt Disney World. Here are some milestones along the way (assume all Disney’s official park age rules are followed):
- Allow your child to go into a public restroom while you wait outside.
- Allow your child to go on a ride alone while you wait nearby and are visible (Dumbo, Teacups, Carrousel, etc.)
- Allow your child to go on a ride alone while you wait nearby and are not visible (Small World, Buzz Lightyear, etc.)
- Allow your child to get food at the pool snack bar on his own while you are on a nearby lounge chair.
- Allow your child to go to another area of a theme park while you are also in the park.
- Allow your child to set and follow through on a specified meeting time and place in the park.
- Allow your child to stay in the hotel room during the day while you are in another part of the hotel.
- Allow your child to stay in the hotel room in the evening while you go to a restaurant at a different hotel.
- Allow your child to return from a park to your hotel on their own, or vice versa.
- Allow your child to go to a park on their own for a few hours during the day.
- Allow your child to stay at a theme park in the evening while you return to the hotel.
Each of these steps gives a different degree of freedom that may feel more or less comfortable given your unique situation. You can use them as building blocks on the road to theme park independence. At each step, stop and assess how comfortable both you and your child are with more separation. If there is any anxiety, then take a step back or wait until your next trip before trying again.
In every case, be sure to discuss contingency planning with your child. For example, several of the restrooms at Walt Disney World have multiple entrances. Would your seven-year-old know what to do if she accidentally chose the wrong one to leave through? If a ride breaks down and someone is delayed or a cell phone battery fails, do you have a fail safe meeting time and place? A few minutes of advance planning can go a long way to making sure everyone has a positive experience.
My child is not ready to be left alone and I’d like to have some adult-only time at WDW, what are my alternatives to leaving a child alone?
If you’re planning adults-only time, Disney does have childcare available.
Another alternative is to travel with friends, grandparents, or other extended family. The adults can take turns having alone time and with supervision of the children.
What have you done with your own children?
While each family is different, I personally started letting my daughters go alone into a restroom or onto a ride when they were about eight years old. At 11 years old, my twins stayed alone in our hotel room while I went to the resort’s quick service restaurant for a few minutes.
At 14, my older daughter (a veteran of many, many Disney World trips) was allowed to explore Epcot alone for a few hours during the day. Later that year we allowed her to leave the Magic Kingdom and take the monorail on her own back to our room at the Contemporary, texting us all the way.
When she was 17, my older daughter took a full trip to Disney World with two 18-year-old friends (and no other adults) for high school spring break. A few years later, her sisters and a much larger group of companions went to the parks and stayed in a hotel room on their own, but due to the different circumstances, I was nearby in case of emergency.
While these milestones worked for us, other families might consider our timetable to be too restrictive or too permissive.
Tell me what works for you…
First published February 8, 2021. Updated June 28, 2021.