Going to Disneyland (and California Adventure) with toddlers is exhausting and overwhelming for many. This is even further exaggerated if you have limited time at the parks. Our Disneyland with toddlers rides and entertainment guide with where to beat the heat, rest your tired feet and what to do with kids who don’t like the rides will help make your trip an amazing family holiday.
Our Must Do’s/Favorites:
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters is my son’s top ride at Disneyland and a must do on every visit. Your kids will love it I promise. And the line always moves quickly. As you walk inside the line area, it can be a little loud and jolting, but as they walk in a little further and see Buzz Lightyear, the kids will be mesmerized. (The only potential scary part is seeing Zurg – he’s big and its loud, but on the scary scale, this ride rates very low)
- Astro Orbiter are spinning rocket ships where you control how high you go. Lines tend to be long early in the day as it’s the first ride you see at the end of Main Street, but before parades it can be as little as 5 minutes. Up to 3 people can fit in each rocket ship.
- It’s a small world is by far most kid’s favorite ride at Disneyland. Its cool inside on a hot day, the music is annoyingly catchy and it gives a great lesson about the rest of the world. Our son loves to point out where he was born, where his father was born and places we have traveled. It can get HOT in the line even if it’s not too long, so bring your water and snacks with you.
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant is another all time favorite for the kids, but the parents hate the perpetually long line! It’s similar to the Astro Orbiter in that it spins around and you can control how high to take your elephant. Do it early or right before a parade. If there is a fireworks show, this area of the park will close early, so plan in advance.
- Peter Pan – This ride is in the dark, but is not scary for the little ones. As a bonus it’s enjoyable for the parents as well. The line is usually 30-45 minutes long (even on relatively quiet days) and there are no fast pass or single rider options. Go to this ride at the beginning of the day before it is too crowded. Its a fun ride, but if you don’t have time, don’t worry about it.
- Mickey’s Magical Map is fantastic show and worth the wait. You don’t have to sit too close to fully enjoy it, so don’t both lining up too early (unless it’s peak season and very busy). We typically go to the lunch showing and eat our packed lunch while watching the show. People begin lining up 30 minutes before the show starts.
- Pirates of the Caribbean is very dark, has loud canons and has a lot of skeletons and adult behavior depicted. Even with that, it is still a favorite for many kids and is always on our to-do list. The line goes relatively quickly and it is nice and cold once you get inside.
- Soundsational Parade is always a huge hit. Seeing your child’s little faces light up when they see the characters come up the street is unforgettable. People start lining up about 30 minutes before the start time. Grab a spot on the curb and send someone else in your party to grab some food to munch on while waiting. (Be aware the Corn dog line will be LONG, but it’s the closest food option if you are lining up off the Main Street roundabout).
If lines are short:
- Meet the characters from Frozen. The lines are never short here. If you want to do this, have someone in your party (very generously) wait in line while another person takes the kids off to the nearby rides. Lines can be 2 or more hours. Go early!
- Autopia is a great ride but the lines are often super long, so we don’t go on it unless it’s a slow day. Grab a fast pass if you really want to drive the gas powered cars. Get some lunch, watch the Star Wars show or hang out in Innoventions while you wait.
- The Adventures of Winnie the Poo is a cute psychedelic gentle ride for the young ones. It is tucked away at the far end of the park though so not a lot of people make it there unless they are going to Splash Mountain. The line tends to be short and mostly shaded which is nice on a hot day.
- Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes is so fun, but it’s not always open when we are there. It’s a great excursion around Tom Sawyer Island. Be aware though, you actually have to paddle! Life jackets and small paddles are provided for the children as well.
- Jungle Cruise is a great ride for toddlers. A boat takes you through a jungle with (electronic?) animals doing their thing. The only negative is the microphone volume is always SO high that it can hurt your ears/head after a bit. The kids don’t seem to mind though. The line is always long, but it is worth the wait occasionally!
- Gadget’s Go Coaster is a (very) short roller coaster for the kids to test out their adventurous side. The ride is SO short that even if they get scared, it is over before you blink. Because of this, we don’t wait in line unless it’s less than 20 minutes! (Currently closed for renovations)
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage is a fun ride, but might be a little scary for some people (and kids). You walk down into what looks like a submarine and are basically stuck in your seat until everyone is seated/exited which can be hard for those with claustrophobia issues. The first time we went on with a young toddler (2.5 yrs old) he was a little scared by the eels popping in at the windows. It’s dark and a little loud at times, but overall is not a scary ride. (Currently Closed for renovations)
- Fantasy Faire is a must for many little kids. Meet their favorite princesses and have their photo taken. The lines here get busy quickly, so if this is a must for your child, head here first or an hour before it closes (it closes well before the park, so check times at the info desk).
- The Royal Theatre is located across from Fantasy Faire and is a great open air tent where you can watch your favorite love story acted out on stage. They are strict about seating times, but it is open air, so you can always stand at the back behind the official barrier to watch a a show.
- Haunted Mansion can be a little scary for some kids. We prepared our son by watching videos online and telling him in advance it was all pretend and there might be loud sounds like “boo”. For the most part he wasn’t scared, but he’s also not that interested in doing it again.
To rest your feet:
There are several ride-on options up and down Main Street to rest your feet. The horse pulled cable cars, the old fire engine and old timer cars are all great, short rides up or down Main Street when you are tired of walking or just need a break.
Also, all of the trains are enjoyable for the little ones and great for Mom and Dad to get some down time from walking around.
- Disney Railroad is our favorite train in the park. It goes all over the park so you can hope on/off. Our son enjoys the section with the Grand Canyon and pre-historic area with dinosaurs which is between Toon Town and Tomorrowland. You can take your stroller and hop off at another section of the park, avoiding long walks.
- The Monorail is good for a break and if you want to go to Downtown Disney without walking the entire way.
- Casey Jr Circus Train is a short, silly train ride where you can pretend you are animals locked in cages. This ride takes you through the Storybook Canal area.
Don’t forget, you can also relax on a gentle boat ride around Tom Sawyer’s Island with the Sailing Ship Columbia or Mark Twain Riverboat. One of the boats has a canon blast which may startle some kids. It happens just past the area where the canoes are stationed. There are shaded sections as well if you need to get out of the heat.
To beat the heat:
- Mickey’s Magical Map Show (see description above)
- Enchanted Tiki Room is a great place to cool down while watching singing birds, flowers and tiki poles!
- Innoventions is a great place to explore. The best kept secret in Innoventions is the Honda developed robot ASIMO. Scheduled showtimes can be found on at the entrance or at the information desk. Captain America and Iron Man are currently stationed here with meet and greet viewings all day. And there are free video games that will keep the kids busy for hours if you let them. To top it off, everything is indoors and air conditioned! Strollers, food or open beverages are not allowed inside.
- A lot of the indoor rides are super chilly once you get inside – Its a small world, Astro Blasters, Pirates of the Caribbean and Winnie the poo are our favorites when we want to cool off quickly.
To let the kids burn off some energy:
- Tom Sawyer Island is a great place to let the kids explore and run around wild for a bit. It is also a good place to get away from the hordes of people for a bit. Take the small flat paddle boats (across from the Haunted House) across the water. You have to leave your stroller on the mainland, so take everything you may need. Once you have sussed the island out a bit, it’s a good place to relax and have your packed lunch. Watch your head in the caves!
- Big Thunder Ranch is open from around 10-5 and usually has dancing/singing performances, characters for meet and greet, goats to pet, and horses to check out. This is a large area where kids can run around freely. Check out the little house opposite the goats pen, where your child can sit down out of the sun to color some Disney character pages.
- Goofy’s Playhouse is a small little outdoor area where kids can run around, under and over things and pop down the slide. Inside they can sit in an oversized chair or play a silly piano.
- Donald’s Boat is somehow always on our to do list even though it’s very basic and simple. The kids can climb up top to peer over Toontown and steer Donald’s boat to safety!
- Tarzan’s Treehouse lets the kids walk and climb through for a visit with the family.
Help! My kid does not like rides:
If you child doesn’t love the rides, there is still plenty to do throughout the park from seeing shows to petting animals and of course meeting and greeting all of Disney’s characters!
- Big Thunder Ranch (see descriptions above)
- Soundsational Parade (see description under Must Do’s)
- Mickey Magical Map Show (see descriptions above)
- The Royal Theater is located across from Fantasy Faire and is a great open air tent where you can watch your favorite love story acted out on stage. They are strict about seating times, but it is open air, so you can always stand at the back behind the official barrier to watch a a show.
- Sailing Ship Columbia or Mark Twain Riverboat is not like other rides and even the fussiest of kids will enjoy this boat journey. (for more, see descriptions above)
- Donald’s Boat (see descriptions above)
- Goofy’s Playhouse (see descriptions above)
- Innoventions to see ASIMO, play video games and meet Captain America
- Frozen meet & greet (see description above)
- Fantasy Faire Meet & Greet (see description above)
- Character Meet & Greets – These happen all over the park. If you want to meet someone in particular, ask at the info desk off Main Street and they can give you exact times.
- Chip N Dale’s Tree House – A quick walk up the stairs to peek out and back down the ramp.
- Mickey’s House is worth a visit even if your kids are not into meeting the characters, they will have fun going through Mickey’s house where everything is oversized. As you reach the end where the line begins to meet Mickey, you can exit through another door.
- Minnie’s House is similar to Mickey’s House. Kids will enjoy running through Minnie’s house exploring everything. She is outside in the back waiting to meet you, but it is easy to skip past if that is not your child’s thing.
And Everything Else:
King Arthur Carousel, Mad Tea Party, Storybook Land Canal Boats are all tame, gentle rides for all ages. These are great to pass the time in Fantasy Land. Especially if you have split up and have someone else waiting in a longer line for you (i.e. for the Frozen meet and greet!)
Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride are all in the dark, are loud and have some scary characters, so we tend to avoid these rides even with an almost 4 year old. Alice in Wonderland is also a bit dark, but is a fun ride. The line is usually too long to wait though!The least frightening is probably Pinocchio. Try it out and see if you want to venture further into the fairy tale rides.
Pixie Hollow Meet and Greet is always packed and the line gets super hot. I only recommend this one if your little one is really into fairies and s/he *must* meet them!
(Note: Children under 40 inches can ride on all of the rides listed on this page. Check for specific requirements as some require the child to be at least 32 inches even with a parent.)
Into the Night:
If you have managed to stay all day, you will be rewarded with the amazing night performances.
The fireworks show is actually quite spectacular. The best place to view it is on the sidewalk right in front of the castle. However, you will need to get there early as it fills up quickly and it is hard to maneuver through. If you are near the castle the fireworks are not too loud, but if you are stuck near Tom Sawyer’s Island, the fireworks can be loud for your kids ears. We usually bring our sound cancelling headphones if we know we will stay for the show, just in case!
Fantasmic! is an excellent show which is mesmerizing for adults and kids. It does have a somewhat scary dragon at one point, but it’s easy enough to hide your child’s eyes and cover their ears for that short section. The only problem with seeing this great show is that you will not make it back to the castle for the fireworks show if you go to the first showing of Fantasmic!. If you can muster the strength and your little one is asleep in their stroller, go to the second showing of Fantasmic! which is much less crowded. Any spot along the river facing Tom Sawyer’s Island is good for the show.
Whew. If that doesn’t wear you out, then head on over to California Adventure for even more fun! But really, both parks have so much to offer that the more days you can go, the better for your sanity! Don’t try to see everything in one visit. Pick a few “must do’s” and enjoy the ambiance of being in the happiest place on earth. Don’t forget to check out our Disneyland & California Adventure planning guide before you head out.