Going to the grocery store with toddlers is a daunting and overwhelming experience for many, so you can imagine the level of anxiety that comes up for so many families when discussing going to Disneyland with toddlers. This is even further exaggerated if you have limited time at the parks.
To help make your visit to Disneyland with toddlers easier and more fun for everyone, we have outlined our top tips on what to do, where to beat the heat and what to do with kids who aren’t into the rides. Read on for all our secrets gleaned from many many many visits throughout the years.
If this is your first visit to Disneyland, make sure to read our post planning a trip to Disneyland before you go. For those of you who are bravely planning to do both parks, check out our recommendations for the best rides to do with toddlers at California Adventure.
The Best of Disneyland with Toddlers
Our Must Do’s
The problem with Disneyland is there are SO many amazing rides for kids of all ages that it is often difficult to narrow down your list or know just what you should budget in for your visit. For our family, we found that we had a few favorites that lasted from the early toddler years (2 years old) all the way up to elementary age. These are still our must do rides at Disneyland and we recommend you put them high on your list too!
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
This 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 almost always move quickly. As you walk inside the line area, it can be a little loud and jolting, but as you walk in a little further and the kids see Buzz Lightyear, they will be mesmerized. There is one potential scary bit towards the end. Zurg is big and loud, but overall for our super sensitive child, this ride always rated low on the scary meter probably due to the ability to shoot laser guns the entire time!
If I’m honest with you, this ride drives me bonkers because the lines are always ridiculous! But, the kids love it, so the parents suffer and stand in the line, every single time! The Astro Orbiter is a spinning rocket ships where you can 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
The absolute classic Disney ride, It’s a Small World, is by far most kid’s favorite ride at Disneyland. It is super cool inside on a hot day, the music is annoyingly catchy and the ride gives a great lesson about the rest of the world. Our son loves to point out where he was born (India), where his father was born (Ireland) and places we have traveled. It can get HOT in the line even if it’s not too long, so bring some water and snacks with you.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Dumbo is another all time favorite for the kids, but the parents hate the perpetually long line! However the ride has recently been revamped for the 2018 season complete with shade covers and numbers for which Dumbo you will be riding in.
This ride is similar to the Astro Orbiter in that it spins around and you can control how high to take your elephant. It is best to do this early in the day 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 could potentially be one of the most overrated rides in the park, but it’s perpetually long lines tell a different story. While this ride is in the dark, it 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 FASTPASS or single rider options. Go to this ride at the beginning of the day before it is too crowded. It is a fun ride, but if you don’t have time, don’t worry about it.
Mickey’s Magical Map
Mickey’s Magical Map show is fantastic and worth the effort. Visitors to Disneyland often miss out on some of the coolest experiences just because they don’t know about them. Don’t miss this one!
We love to see this show during lunch where we eat our packed lunch while watching the show. You don’t have to sit too close to fully enjoy it, so don’t bother lining up too early (unless it’s peak season and very busy). People begin lining up 30 minutes before the show starts.
Pirates of the Caribbean
This is a ride many parents skip thinking it will be too much for young children. Shockingly, we found this ride to be pretty tame in our scaredy cat child’s eyes. That said, the ride 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.
The highlight of any visit to Disneyland with toddlers is seeing the Soundsational Parade. Seeing your child’s little face light up when they see the characters come up the street is unforgettable. People start lining up any where from 30 minutes to 1 hour before the start time. Grab a spot on the curb on Main Street 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 the Lines Are Short
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 at the Star Wars Launch Bay while you wait.
The Adventures of Winnie the Poo
This 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
One of the most under utilized rides at Disneyland is the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes. This 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.
The silly jokes never get old for kids on the Jungle Cruise, which 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
If you are looking for your toddler’s first foray into roller coasters, head to Gadget’s Go Coaster in Toon Town. This 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
This deep sea adventure 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.
Fantasy Faire is a must for many little kids. This is where the littles can 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
We always love a reason to relax and watch a show. 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.
The Haunted Mansion can be a little scary for some kids depending on their age and how much they actually understand about the ride. 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 was also not that interested in doing it again too often. The best time to check it out is during the holiday season when it’s all decorated up!
To Rest Your Feet
Spending all day at Disneyland with toddlers requires some opportunities to rest your feet. There are several ride-on options up and down Main Street that are great for this, while also appealing to young kids. 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.
The 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. Or hop on and ride the entire length of the train for a nice long rest!
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
The 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
When it’s hot in Los Angeles, you can expect it to be even hotter at Disneyland. Unfortunately there are not many water opportunities here so you must find other ways to beat the heat during the summer. Some of our favorite ways to get out of the sun are below.
- 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! Also a Dole Whip is a nice treat!
- Star Wars Launch Bay is a great place to explore inside and away from the heat of the day.
- Head for the cold indoor rides like – It’s A Small World, Astro Blasters, Pirates of the Caribbean and Winnie the Poo are our favorites when we want to cool off quickly.
Let Kids Be Kids
Even though you are at the Happiest Place on Earth which is known as a kids heaven, there are times when kids just need to be kids. In those cases, there are a few great places you can take the kids to run off their energy!
Tom Sawyer Island
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 when you need a break. Take the small flat paddle boats (across from the Haunted House) across the water to your own island. 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!
Goofy’s Playhouse was a huge hit with our toddler son for many years. This 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!
If you can manage the climb up the stairs, Tarzan’s Treehouse is a great place to let 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 meeting and greeting all of Disney’s characters! Some of our favorites are below.
- 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)
- Star Wars Launch Bay
- 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 Fantasyland, especially if you have split up and have someone else waiting in a longer line for you or holding your place for the afternoon parade.
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 tended to avoid these rides even with an a 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 traditional and holiday fireworks show at Disneyland is actually quite spectacular and worth staying around for. 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 and if you are stuck for time but MUST do both parks in one day – we have you covered there too!
What are your top picks for Disneyland rides for toddlers? Share them with us below!
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