Disneyland with my kids has been on my vacation list for years. I was waiting for them to be the right age so we could take a family vacation. I decided that this was the year for us! Admittedly, my toddler Sabrina who is 1.5 years old, was the one I was most concerned about while planning our Disneyland trip (my kids are 8, 5 and 1.5 years).
I knew my older 2 boys would have a blast and were tall enough for most rides. I was nervous that Disneyland with my toddler was a bad idea – but boy, was I WRONG!!! I think Sabrina had the MOST fun out of all of us.
In this blog post, I share my pre-planning tips, suggested itinerary and some hidden gems that will make your Disneyland California trip more memorable, for the whole family. Disneyland is the ultimate destination for families with toddlers!
How to Avoid Standing in Line
There are 2 ways to minimize the wait time for rides at Disneyland with your Toddler: Genie+ and Rider Swap
Should you get Genie+?
Yes, you should get Genie+ to go on the most rides in a day. If you have small kids, pay the extra $20-$30 fee to avoid standing in lines. I think this is ESSENTIAL with small kids. I can’t imagine my kids standing in a line longer than 20 minutes. They would have a tantrum. Genie+ is similar to the old Lightening Lane, or Fast Pass. You book the ride in the app at a specific time, and then go through a shorter line.
Swap places with your partner using Rider Swap
This is one of my BEST TIPS. There were rides that both my husband and I wanted to do, along with our older 2 boys, but Sabrina was too short for them (like Indiana Jones). Disneyland accommodates families like this! When you get to the ride entrance, ask the attendant for “Rider Switch”. How it works: Parent A stays with the toddler, and Parent B goes on the ride. Parent B finishes the ride and stays with Toddler, and Parent A can go on the ride without standing in line. It essentially holds Parent A’s place in line!
Enjoying your trip with Disabilities
Disney California is such an inclusive park. If there is a person in your party who has a disability like Autism, Type 1 Diabetes, are in a wheelchair or others, you can get a special pass to bypass the line. Similar to Genie+, you book the rides in the app, and can prebook 2 times to return to a preselected ride. My husband is Type 1 Diabetic and it was so helpful for our family. You meet with a Disney associate, and can be given a DAS pass. Learn more about the process here.
Consider your Flight Arrival Time and Jetlag
What time you arrive and the jetlang will directly impact the enjoyment of your Disneyland visit. Here’s why – if you have a good start to the vacation where the kids are well rested, then they will have a lot more energy at Disneyland and avoid meltdowns!
When booking a flight with toddlers, I always try to fly direct. There’s so many things that can go wrong with connecting flights, late planes, missing the connection, lost stoller and baggage. I don’t want to risk any of that, especially when spending so much money for the Disneyland tickets!
Arrive at your hotel in the evening before bedtime. That gives you enough time to settle into the hotel, have a good dinner, and keep with your toddler’s bedtime routine. You’re going to be up early on the day you go to Disney, so getting into bed early matters for both toddler and parents.
Planning your must-do’s and nice to do’s
Depending on how many other kids you have, make a list of the family’s interests and which rides you absolutely must go on.
Some of my Must-Do’s from home
– My 2 older boys LOVE Buzz Year and Spiderman. I knew that was a must to go on any Toy Story and Spiderman
– When I was a kid, I loved the Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World (This is a family vacation, not just for the kids! You’re allowed to have fun too!)
– My kids love the Disney movie songs and dance to them all the time at home, I knew they would love the parade
– Sabrina loves Elsa and Anna. I wanted her to meet them
– I wanted to get a memorable family picture in front of the Disney Castle with minimal other people around
Use the Disneyland App to Plan your Day
I also used the Disneyland app to become familiar with the theme park and look at the rides, and height restrictions. This app is a MUST to make the most out of your day. What I used the app for:
– Food – Order food on the app so you don’t have to wait in line (they can be SO long)- Navigating around the park – Finding the rides (duh!), washrooms, water refill stations- Plan which rides to go on – Look at the wait time for the rides to maximize your fun- Booking attractions directly in the app – Book Genie+ or DAS for the rides. At Disneyland California Adventure Park, you can book tickets to see the shows
What to bring from home for Disneyland for toddlers
I brought a double stroller (since I have 3 kids), snacks, steel insulated water bottle, bubbles, stickers, comfortable shoes, sunscreen, clip on fan, and a hat from home. We all know that toddlers are so picky and could melt down at any minute without their favorite waterbottle right?
Disneyland does have strollers that you can rent, but they don’t have a lot of storage available. We have a double stroller that I absolutely LOVE! It’s easy to maneuver and has good storage space underneath and pockets on the back of the stroller. The additional benefit of the double stroller is that we also clipped on a standing board. All 3 of my kids could ride the stroller when they were tired. The double stroller reclines ALL the way back, which was SO KEY. My toddler and kindergardener napped at the same time.
Clip on fan
It was 95 degrees both days at Disney. I bought these inexpensive clip on fans that are USB chargeable. They lasted the entire day on the charge! I clipped it to the child safety bar on the stroller for Sabrina and one to the handle where we pushed them from. If you get these in advance, they are much cheaper than the fans sold at Disneyland.
Before you depart from home, grab their favorite individual sized snacks from the grocery store. When you arrive, you’ll be tired and want to rest. Plus, what if the local store doesn’t have the kids favourite snacks. For peace of mind and ease, I brought these with us in our checked baggage. I personally don’t buy a lot of the small chip or cookie bags for the kids because of the packaging waste, but I know that my kids need their own snacks and it would stay fresher for longer. We bought mini oreos, small chip bags, bear paws, etc. I put these all in a packing cube and stowed them under the stroller for easy access
Steel insulated water bottle
8 months of the year, California is so hot that you cannot be without a waterbottle. Bring a steel insulated bottle for the kids and yourself. There are tons of water refill stations. If you can, freeze a few water bottles (especially in the summer months) and bring them because the water isn’t that cold from the refill stations
You’ll definitely want to avoid sunburns, so bring SPF 50+ sunscreen and a good hat. I prefer a hat that also protects kids ears and neck like this vs a baseball cap
I grabbed some stickers and bubbles from the dollar store. There will be times where lines are long or you just need a few minutes to decompress. Having a small distraction for your toddler at Disneyland will help keep them busy and give you a few minutes to yourself. Grab some glow sticks for night time fun too!
Tips for the night before and morning of visiting Disneyland with your Toddler
Once you get your toddler into bed, take a few minutes to prepare. Lay out clothes for the next day, pack snacks, freeze water bottles.
I set my alarm to wake up 45 minutes before everyone else. That gave me time to quietly and quickly get ready, pack breakfast and lunches, extra clothes etc. We did not eat breakfast at home. My goal was to get there as early as possible. The kids ate bagels as we walked from the parking garage to the security checkpoint.
It will take you about 30-45min from the time you enter the parking lot to the time you arrive at the entrance of the Disneyland park. Take this time into consideration for your arrival time. I wanted to get there for rope drop (which is when they open the park early, at 7:30am). We didn’t get to the park until 8am
You are allowed to bring snacks, lunch and water into the park. However, there is a security check before entering the park. You’re required to take everything out of the stroller and open all bags.
To take the tram from the parking lot to the parks, you also have to fold the stroller and remove all your contents. By chance, I brought a large IKEA bag. It was easy to shove all the smaller bags in this and the fold up the stroller because you also have to manage your kids and get them seated on the tram. If you have a double stroller, the first and last cart of the tram are where you want to sit. They are bigger and can more easily accommodate the large stroller.
Once you’re in the park, walk past all the gift shops. You can visit these when it gets really hot, or in the evenings. We first snapped a quick picture at the castle because there were not many people, and then headed to the rides
The best value food options are at the Downtown Disney District. We got an express dinner at Napoloa restaurant. I think this was the best value for pizza as each slice was $8 in the park. Plus it gave us a break and chance to unwind
Safety First, Magic Second
Give your kids a pep talk about the importance of staying together and not wandering off. There are SO many amazing attractions that will catch their eye. I re-iterated how busy it was and that I need them to “touch the stroller” at all times. With Sabrina, I kept her strapped in the stroller as much as possible.
Before you enter the park, take a family picture so you know what all the kids are wearing in case they get lost. We never want this to happen, but we have to be prepared. When I was a kid, we went to Disney World with my best friend’s family and she got lost (we found her!). It happens to great parents.
After we entered the park, I told my kids what to do if they get lost. I told my older kids to look for people who worked at Disney and pointed out where they were standing or what kind of outfits they wore. With Sabrina, I kept her inside the stroller for almost the entire time we were walking. She only got out to eat or get on a ride.
The best rides at Disneyland for Toddlers
Before heading to Disneyland, measure your toddler’s height. There are some rides with no height requirement and others with 32” height minimum. My 18 month old toddler, Sabrina was over 32” inches tall. There are a TON of rides you can do with your toddler, but I am going to list my favorite ones that the whole family enjoyed
Fantasyland: Filled with heartwarming rides for the entire family
Fantasyland is right behind the Disneyland Castle and has rides centered around the classic Disney movies like Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Snow White and more!
It’s a Small World
It’s a Small World was hands down our favorite ride as an entire family. Take your toddler on a mesmerizing boat journey through a world of singing dolls dressed in traditional costumes, promoting a sense of unity and harmony among different cultures. Sabrina thought all the dolls were real and waved to every little doll.
Note: We visited It’s a Small World last because there is a 9pm show that is casted on the exterior of the show. Stay in that exact spot! At 9:30, it’s a perfect spot to see the fireworks.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride lets little ones take flight on their very own elephant, giving them a sense of freedom and excitement. When you get off the ride, there’s a dumbo you can take a photo with.
Peter Pan’s Flight
In Peter Pan’s Flight you sit in a boat and fly through the sky around Neverland. It’s whimsical to fly through the stars! It is set in the dark, so if your toddler is afraid of the dark, skip this one.
King Arthur’s Carousel
King Arthur’s Carousel is a traditional merry-go-ride. Toddlers love sitting on the horses that move up and down. There is a strap to prevent your toddler from falling off, but we also stood beside both our toddler and 5 year old, just in case.
Adventureland: Discovering the World Together
Adventureland is themed around the jungles of Asia and Africa, filled with outdoor adventure.
Aboard Jungle Cruise, families embark on a riverboat journey through lush jungles, encountering animatronic wildlife and humorous skippers. It was so fun to see all the different animals and lush greenery on this boat.
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is another boat ride, but it’s indoors. If your kids are afraid of the dark, you may opt to skip this, but all 3 of my kids loved it. Funny enough, Sabrina fell asleep because of the gentle swaying of the boat. There are 2 very small drops that were fun for the kids. We saw Captain Jack Sparrow and other pirates and animals.
Mickey’s ToonTown is centered around Mickey, Minnie and all the classic characters like Goofy and Donald Duck. I wish we had more time to spend at Mickey’s ToonTown. This was our last stop at the park.
Note: Mickey’s ToonTown closes for the daily fireworks and re-opens 30minutes after the fireworks end. Since there is an excellent fireworks viewing spot at It’s a Small World, which is right next to Mickey’s ToonTown, there were hundreds of families waiting to re-open the rides and the lines were very long. I would not recommend leaving Mickey’s ToonTown for 10pm like we did.
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway was an absolute MUST on my list. It is a new ride and as an adult, you can appreciate all the new technology. As a child, they go on an adventure with off of Mickey’s pals with lots of twists and turn.
Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
Although my kids are less familiar with Roger Rabbit, they enjoyed steering the cab. Kids love rides where they can mimic driving, right!?
Tomorrowland was one of my kids favorite parts of the entire park!
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
In Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters we hopped into cool spaceships that are equipped with 2 laser blasters. Our mission was to help Buzz Lightyear defeat the evil Emperor Zurg! My kids LOVED this! You aim and shoot at targets all around you, racking up points as you go. At the end, you compare your score with my family. It’s a total competition between friends and family to see who can be the ultimate space hero. My kids were addicted to this ride and rode it 3 times!
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
Step into Nemo’s Submarine and go on an underwater adventure with Nemo and all his buddies! Disneyland has set up this ride so you walk through a narrow spiral staircase onto a very real submarine. This ride takes you on a submarine tour of the ocean, and it’s like you’re right there in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. The whole gang is there – Marlin, Dory, Crush, and more! This is a very mild ride. You sit in your submarine seat and look through the windows on the submarine, where you get to see all the colorful marine life swimming by. This is a great ride to do when it’s hot outside and your toddler needs less stimulation as it’s a very easygoing ride (that’s also air conditioned!)
32″ (81 cm) or taller and accompanied by another rider 54″ or taller
At Autopia, kids become a little race car driver. Kids get behind the wheel their own cool ride and cruise along the tracks. The kids have to steer and hit the gas pedal – they are in control! Don’t worry, there’s a guide rail to keep the car on track. My kids loved this ride. My toddler was not able to reach the steering wheel or pedal, but still enjoyed the little car. Both my 5 year old and 8 year old sons had such a blast. They LOVED this ride and rode it twice because they felt in control of the ride. Both my sons had a hard time pushing the weight of the pedal to make the car move. I recommend an adult sit alongside the kids.
Character Encounters that Spark Joy
One of the most delightful aspects of Disneyland for Toddlers is the opportunity to meet beloved Disney characters up close. Toddlers’ faces light up as they come face-to-face with Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and all their favorite characters from classic Disney movies. These magical encounters create cherished memories that will be treasured for a lifetime. You will see lots of characters walking around the park. In some cases, the staff will ask you to make a short line to meet them. At other times, the characters will be walking to another part of the park, and will not be able to stop. In those cases, tell your toddler a story like “Jasmin had to hurry to buy lunch for Apu” to avoid disappointment.
Sabrina really loves Elsa and Anna. I initially thought all the Disney Princesses would be at the Royal Hall. But, Elsa and Anna are at Disneyland California Adventure Park. I wanted her to meet the princesses at the park, but the line for Royal Hall was so long and hardly moved. We stood in like for 10 minutes, but since Sabrina is just a toddler, and met Jasmin walking around the park, we decided to spend our time elsewhere. If this is priority for your toddler, head here early in the morning upon park entry.
The Disney Parades make the movies come to life!
One of the most memorable parts of Disneyland for toddlers is the parades. You get to see your favorite characters on the most beautiful floats, with coordinated dances. Check the timings of the parades. When we went there was a 3:30pm and 6:30pm parade. I remembered a night parade when I went at Christmas time, but that doesn’t run all year. The parade happens on Main Street. If you want a good spot, arrive 30 minutes early and save your spot. We picked a spot, then my kids went to the bathroom with my hubby while I saved the spots.
There was a good mix of the classic Disney characters from my childhood, but also the new movies like Moana and Elsa. My toddler loved this part and waved to ALL the characters and danced to the songs!
Disney does Fireworks Like no one Else!
The Disneyland fireworks can be seen from a few different spots in the mark. You can catch them from Main Street, or behind It’s a Small World. It was. along day for the kids as we were there from almost open to close, but I loved the magic of the fireworks. My toddler also loved them as they play the music movie songs during the fireworks show
Play Areas help toddlers burn off their energy
Disneyland offers more than just rides for toddlers! There are play areas designed to let toddlers burn off some energy as your toddler will be sitting in a stroller for the majority of the day. Plus, these areas are great for older kids too! Both my 8 and 5 year enjoyed the play areas.
At Disneyland, head to Mickey’s ToonTown for an interactive play area in Goofy’s Playhouse. There are slides, a house and lots of area to climb, jump and run. A lot of time, toddlers at Disney are constrained to a stroller. This is a great way to let them loose. I let my kids play here for 30 minutes. My main focus was the rides and characters since they can go to a play gym at home, but it was a nice change of pace for them.
Take lots of breaks
Disneyland has a Baby Care Centre for nursing, changing diapers, warming formula, and even a little toddler toilet if you’re potty training. I took a nice break in there to nurse Sabrina. It welcomes both mothers and fathers. The nursing area is sectioned off with lots of privacy. It’s also one of the only places you can charge your phone.
Do Toddlers Enjoy Disneyland?
Yes, Toddlers love Disneyland! Disneyland is a world of pure magic and wonder, where imagination runs wild and there are no limits! There’s so many Disneyland Rides for your toddler! It’s such a cool place with attractions that’s just right for our little adventurers. You’ll meet lovable characters, go on gentle rides, and watch the most mesmerizing shows.
So, if you want to plan a family trip that’ll be etched in your hearts forever, a Disney Vacation is the ultimate place to have a magical adventure for toddlers, young kids and adults!
Drop in a comment below if you have more questions or message me on instagram. Stay tuned for part 2 of the best rides at California Adventure park, and how it compared to Disneyland for our family!
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