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The best age to take kids to Disney World is after the toddler stage

It might be the happiest place on Earth, but Disney World is also the most expensive place on Earth. I’m not ready to shell out thousands of dollars for my kids to have their own seats on a plane until they prove they can retain those memories.

My husband and I have talked about this extensively from the moment our first son was born. We are those parents, the ones who have been dreaming of a picture-perfect Disney vacation for years. We want to pull out all the stops — the hotel, the tours, the pictures with Mickey, the gear, the toys, the food — but we just want our kids to remember it.

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I thought this was common parenting logic. Unless you have a small bucket of money sitting around in your home (which your kids will probably flush down the toilet the moment they get their hands on it, literally and figuratively), taking a trip to Disney is kind of a big deal. Some families are never lucky enough to make the Disney voyage if they don’t have the extra cash to spare.

But on my Facebook feed, which every mom knows is a totally accurate predictor of reality, I’m noticing an interesting trend. Toddlers at Disney. Babies at Disney. Newborns at Disney. I “like” these pictures, and I try my hardest to understand, but I still don’t get it.

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Taking a baby and even a toddler to Disney is absolutely adorable — there’s no denying that. That shot of your 1-year-old posing with Mickey is extra cute, but it’s also a waste. No one’s going to remember it but you.

I crunched the numbers. Disney has quite a few magical family-of-four vacation packages, starting at close to $2,400. For the price of a used car, this vacation package will give you six nights and seven days in all four theme parks in a standard room for two adults, one junior and one child. And that doesn’t even cover the plane tickets — four round-trip tickets from my home in South Texas to Orlando, Florida, are going to run about $1,200. (A grand total of $3,600, not including food and souvenirs, for anyone who’s counting.)

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Of course, these estimations can vary greatly, depending on the park accommodations you choose and where you live in the U.S. In a 2012 article that compared the Disney trips of three different families, prices ranged from over $12,000 at the high end to $2,100 on the low end for a four-person vacation. Disney provides a handy dandy Account Budget Estimator so you can crunch the numbers for yourself. (For new parents who don’t have a heart of stone, there’s also an entire Disney information website dedicated to kids under 3.)

I know the parenting world is rife with judgment, which is why I’m trying not to go down the “vacation shaming” road here. I’m just trying to understand. The funny thing is that this isn’t even a case of being jealous of another family’s lavish vacation. My husband and I are in a good place financially, and we could afford to take a tiny toddler to Disney right now if we wanted to.

But it still doesn’t make sense. I have this Disney moment in my mind where I picture watching a magical world through the eyes of my children, most likely when they are at a fun and interactive age and are ready to travel in a few years. I don’t picture myself eating expensive food and buying overpriced Mickey toys for a 3-year-old who so desperately needs a nap and will probably wet his pants. (But what does he care? He’s not going to remember any of it.)

My perfect Disney trip with my kids is precious, and it certainly isn’t going to be cheap. They say you can’t put a price on love, but now I’ve got a pretty good idea of what that number could be: $2,000. As soon as my kids are old enough to remember, they’ll know that I loved them enough to take them to Disney.

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