Planning a trip to Disneyland with toddlers can be overwhelming. After several years of attending as season pass holders, we have learned the ins and outs on how to get the most out of a visit. Find out all you need to know on how to avoid screaming meltdowns from you and your toddler! Also, check out why we think EVERYONE should go to Disneyland at least once!
Note that when we discuss Disneyland, all of these same tips are applicable to California Adventure as well.
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15 Insider Tips for Visiting Disneyland with Toddlers
01 | Go Early
Regardless of whether you are with toddlers or not, our recommendation is to always go early! Plan to arrive to the park approximately 1 hour prior to when you actually want to get INSIDE. From getting through the lines to pay for parking, parking, getting to the tram, through security and getting into the park, you are looking at anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hr.
Parking structures open 1 hour before the actual park opens exactly for this reason. We move quickly and it usually takes 30 minutes once we have parked the car. Remember to write down which level you park on – you would be surprised how hard it is to remember after a long day in the sun. And do not trust your phone since it is likely the battery will be dead by the end of the day!
If the lines are too long at the tram, you can walk to the park in about 10-15 minutes. Cross the road where the trams go and follow the hoards of people. You can enter the park in Downtown Disney if you already have your tickets with a much shorter line and you get to ride the Monorail first thing.
02 | Map Out The Best Rides
To maximize your time, plan in advance what rides you want to do with your little one. We recommend checking your child’s height against the popular rides you hope to cover during your visit so you will know in advance whether you can go on them or not.
Note, many of the rides at Disneyland are dark and have potential scary moments. To find out more about the rides we recommend for toddlers, read our ride guide for Disneyland and California Adventure.
For those interested in the new Star Wars section of the park, it is packed from the moment the park opens. Guests will line up and literally RUN to that part of the park. If you are up for it, jump in the line and head over for the shortest times of the day. Otherwise utilize Single Rider lines for the adults in your group.
03 | Utilize Fast Passes & Rider Switch Passes
Fast passes and Rider switch passes are invaluable if you want to hit the bigger, more popular rides. Toddlers aren’t usually able to go on the majority of the bigger rides, but as the accompanying adults you still might want to ride some.
You can only have one fast pass associated with your entrance ticket for a certain amount of time (typically 1.5 hours before you can get a second pass). Due to this, you need to plan a bit in advance of what your priorities are.
Tip: If you really want to go on a ride, even if there are several of you, you can always go through the single rider line. You won’t get to sit together, but you will get to go on quickly. This only works if your child is NOT riding the ride.
Rider switch passes are available for many of the more popular rides in addition to Fast Passes. This means that you can go through the single rider line and get a pass for another person in your party who can then go on directly after you get off. This is great if there are just two adults with children. As you enter the single rider line, make sure to ask the attendant for a rider switch pass. When you get off the ride, hand the pass over to your partner/family member/friend so they can go straight through. The other adult will stand to the side with the children waiting.
If you plan to do the bigger rides in the park, it is recommended to purchase a MaxPass in addition to your regular ticket. MaxPass tickets run out on busy days, so make sure to purchase as soon as you enter the park. (If it is not purchased with your original ticket, you must be IN the park before you can buy it for the day).
MaxPass is much like the Fastpass mentioned above except that you don’t have to run around the park looking for the Fast Pass lines. Instead you can order a fastpass for everyone in your party through your mobile phone on the Disney App. On crowded days or when you want to ride many of the more popular rides, this is great to have.
For those with toddlers not planning to do a ton of major rides, you can check out what rides are offered and decide whether you want to pay the extra fee for it or just plan on doing the smaller rides. I often do not recommend this to groups with only small children as you can easily get by with rider switch or single rider line.
05 | Download the Disney App
The Disney App is a great companion to have while visiting the parks. It is a big app, so make sure to download it at home before you arrive. On the app, you can store your park tickets, fastpasses through the Maxpass app, see photos that have been taken of you throughout the park, order food before you arrive to a restaurant and more.
One of the biggest perks of this app is to continually check wait times for various rides. However, our favorite aspect of the app is the ability to order food in advance. This comes in handy especially during long wait times. We love to browse the offerings of the restaurants near us while waiting in line, order and then pick up right away or at a specific time.
06 | Visit During Low Crowd Times
With the opening of Star Wars it is difficult to find too many low crowd periods, but if you do your diligent research and have a bit of luck on your side you can still visit on days that have the least amount of crowds. The first step is to check out the crowd prediction calendar for a decent estimate on crowd levels. It has been wrong before, but in general it gives a decent sense of how the crowds will be.
If this is your once and done trip, make sure to research the school breaks for neighboring states like Utah and Arizona. Their fall break is during October and can mean unexpected crowds.
If you have an option, weekdays are almost always better than weekends, with Tue-Thur being the best during the non busy times. Contrary to what you may believe, during the busiest summer months, going on a Saturday or Sunday can often be less crowded as people tend to fear the weekend crowds and stay away.
Tip: You can also get a sense of crowds based on the park’s operating hours. If the park opens at 10 a.m. you can usually expect it to be a bit lighter than when it opens at 9 or 8 a.m., but you also have less time to pack everything in.
Also, if you are a local and can manage a last minute trip, going on days when it’s a little rainy outside can mean an almost empty park. Don’t forget to pack the rain boots and poncho.
07 | Take Breaks to Let Kids be Kids
In parent’s effort to get their moneys worth while visiting the park, they try to do as much as possible in a short amount of time often forgetting that kids need to be kids. Luckily both Disneyland and California Adventure have spots that are perfect for letting kids run around and get some steam off. Our favorite places are Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland and Redwood Creek Challenge at California Adventure.
08 | Visit the Baby Care Centers
One of the best things at Disneyland and California Adventure is the Baby Care Centers located in each park. These centers have quiet rooms for nursing, toddler size toilets, changing rooms and emergency supplies if needed. In Disneyland, the Baby Care Center is located at the end of Main Street just opposite the Corn Dog stand. There is a kitchen, with a microwave, sink, filtered water and dish soap. There are also baby items like diapers and wipes, food and formula for purchase.
In California Adventure the Baby Care Center is located next to the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain near the Wharf section of the park. It offers much of the same services as the Baby Care Center at Disneyland with a private nursing area, toddler size toilets and even a family restroom.
Choosing which park to visit on a one off visit, really depends on you and your family’s interest. On our first visit, we went to California Adventure and loved it. Our son was too small for the main rides, but this actually made the park feel quite manageable. It is smaller than Disneyland, and the lines for the rides tend to be quicker for the most part even on busy days. We find that our experience at California Adventure tends to be more focused on rides rather than the “Disney Experience”. Don’t get me wrong though, you will still see characters (although very few if any princesses), musical performances and shows.
=> => => If your child is super into the classic Disney characters, princesses, and fairy tales, then Disneyland might be a better bet for you.
=> => => If you have only one day, the best is to choose just one park and focus on that.
Either way, if you have a limited amount of time at either of the parks, I recommend you read up on the rides/attractions to map out what you definitely want to see or do. Familiarize yourself with the layout of the parks, check height requirements and whether fast passes are offered for the rides you must do. See our posts for Disneyland & California Adventure with our favorite rides for toddlers mapped out for you.
If you really must see both parks in one day, read our guide on how to do both parks in one day. In general though, go to the park that doesn’t have magic hour first as it will be less busy to start off with.
10 | Don’t Try to Do it All
Visiting Disneyland with toddlers is exhausting and even more so if you are trying to pack in your days with everything available. Go to the park with the thought that you will not be able to do everything and instead make your list of what is most important. For some families this may be seeing the parade and other shows, while for others it will be riding rides. Regardless don’t try to do it all in a one day visit.
11 | Bring A Stroller (or Rent One)
If you have a little one younger than 4 (maybe even 5), bring the stroller. Sometimes it ends up being a pain, but it is also useful for when they are tired, or you are tired of carrying your bags. There will be lots of time standing in long lines, so letting the little ones rest their legs between rides will be much needed. I’ve seen many parents with strollers packed full of their belongings more than as child movers!
If you are concerned about bringing your own expensive stroller, you can rent strollers at Disneyland to use during your visit. They aren’t super cheap, but they do come with peace of mind knowing yours will not be stolen.
Instead of getting your stroller and parking it at each ride, you can park it once per land carrying just your essentials between rides in that particular land.
12 | Bring Water Bottles & Lots of Snacks
Disneyland and California Adventure both allow you to bring in your own food and drinks, so why not! Bring lots of snacks, fruits and even packed lunches. If you are in a pinch for time, stop by Subway on the way and grab sandwiches. The food at Disneyland and California Adventure is not always amazing and it is way overpriced, so this is one area that you can save some cash.
Also, bring refillable water bottles and/or an extra cup to share drinks or ice cream.
Tip: Most restaurants/cafes will give you a cup of ice for free if you ask. This is great on hot days to refresh and cool your water bottle down.
Eating at Disneyland
Eating at the park can be expensive and a bit of a disappointment. There are a lot of options though, which can be overwhelming when hunger strikes. Download the Disneyland app for ordering in advance and for up to date information on a variety of things throughout the park.
For kids, Disneyland offers a cheap (around $5) Kids Power Pack that includes yogurt, a banana, goldfish, carrots and apples. All things most kids will eat! At California Adventure they have a similar kids meal at the hot dog stand opposite Disney Jr Live. It includes a hot dog, choice of apples or chips and a drink.
If you have any particular dietary requirements, check out the offerings before arrival so you know what you can get and where. There are not a ton of vegetarian options, but they are becoming more common. DisneyDiva has made a good list of options for Disneyland. There are also a few vegan food options that can be found at both of the parks. And it never hurts to ask even if you don’t see something on the menu.
13 | Pack Extra Clothes
There are a few splash/water areas where kids can cool off at California Adventure, so it’s wise to bring a change of clothes, small towel and water proof shoes (kids must keep shoes on) if you are going there and plan to get super wet.
Regardless of the season, bring long sleeves or a hoodie. It can be very hot during the daytime, but cool down considerably once the sun starts to set, so plan for all types of weather.
If you plan to stay through the fireworks, bring your child’s pajamas and change them before you head to the car. More often than not they will be fast asleep before you exit the parking lot! Also, consider bringing noise canceling headphones for kids who are sensitive to loud noises. The fireworks echo quite a bit and sound much louder than normal.
—> Are you going with a group? Consider getting family Disney t-shirts to keep track of everyone and to commemorate this special trip!
14 | Watch Shows & Entertainment for Down Time
One of the best ways to relax during a long day at Disneyland, but still do things is to take advantage of the shows and entertainment options throughout the park. Some of our favorite ways to have down time while also seeing parts of the park is to ride the Disneyland Railroad train around the park. Kids will love this as you see different parts of the park that aren’t accessible in other ways; parents will love it because they get to rest their feet.
Another great option is to utilize the shows as times to relax. Some of our favorites are the Enchanted Tiki Room, Storytelling at the Royal Theater and Mickey and the Magical Map.
15 | Don’t Forget…
While the list of things to bring can become daunting, don’t forget to pack plenty of sun protection like hats and sunscreen. You will need these throughout the year. Anaheim is often a lot hotter and sunnier than other parts of Southern California.
Also, make sure to bring your power bank for your mobile devices. Trust me you will need it. Between taking photos, the Disneyland App and entertaiment during wait times, your battery will go faster than you think.
If you don’t have a battery pack, bring your charger and keep an eye out for charging outlets. Here is an amazing list of free outlets to charge your phone at Disneyland and California Adventure. Also, look in the plants as there are usually covered outlets there somewhere. The staff won’t always let you charge for free, but if you are just hanging out, they may not even notice!
When To Go To Disneyland with Toddlers
The best time of year to go to the happiest place on earth aka Disneyland (or California Adventure) is in either late January, early February or in September. During these times, most kids are in school after the summer and winter holidays, most rides are open and the weather is almost always nice. Outside of these times, you can expect the parks to begin getting busier as the Halloween decorations go up in late September and early October.
There are lulls between Halloween and Thanksgiving, but it begins to ramp up around Thanksgiving and doesn’t let up until the holidays are over in January. Early March can also be nice before those with early spring breaks arrive. Attendance numbers begins gaining towards April coinciding with California’s spring break and the Easter holidays. May can be acceptable, but once the summer starts, steer clear if you can help it. June is packed and July it becomes unbearable!
There is so much to share about making the best of a visit to Disneyland. For more detailed information on our favorite toddler friendly rides at both parks check out my post with recommendations for attractions/rides for Disneyland and California Adventure.
Have you been to both Disneyland and Disneyworld? Which do you think is a better park for toddlers?
We would love to hear your tips for visiting Disneyland/California Adventure with toddler, so please share in the comments.
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