There are very few places on earth that can compete with the Magic of Disneyland in the eyes of your little ones. The amazing rides, fun-filled experiences, and something new and exciting to see at every turn. But let’s face it, as a parent it can be overwhelming to navigate if you’re a Disneyland rookie going for the first time in awhile, or if you’re a well-traveled guest but going solo with a few kids in tow.
I’ve done Disneyland alone with three young kids more times than I can count, and while it hasn’t always been all sunshine and smiling Mickey faces (what is with three small kids and their respective tantrum possibility?!), we’ve made memories that I hope they will recall well into their adult years. I know I look back so fondly on my childhood visits to The Happiest Place on Earth!
That said, we’ve put together five hacks for doing Disneyland with young kids. They are made up of my experiences and the experiences of my friends – all well traveled Disneyland pros. Collectively, we hope that some of these will make your next trip to The Happiest Place on Earth just that much happier!
Do Not Miss Attractions
It’s a Small World
It’s a classic; it’s air conditioned, and it’s a 10-minute break for parents to sit down. Enough said. But to kick it up a notch, when you get to the front of the line, kindly ask the attendant for the front row and tell them you don’t mind waiting for a round to get it. The smallest of guests will have a better view of the excitement and will be more able to enjoy and sway along to the classic It’s a Small World music.
Mad Tea Party
While it might not be a favorite to all parents (make sure not to dare this one after a large lunch) those who brave it, will be rewarded with front row seats to giggle, squeals, shrieks, and laughter. That’s all we’re here for after all…right? Do the tea cups you won’t regret it!
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
You’ll soar over Disneyland with a sweet view of Fantasyland. Your little one will laugh and giggle as they take the joystick and maneuver your own personal Dumbo up and down. Bonus points that the ride attendant hands out feathers (in keeping with the theme) as your pass onto the ride. The kids get a kick out of giving the little black feather back once seated and ready for takeoff.
Autopia (32-inch height requirement)
This ride went through a major overhaul some years back, but if you spent any time at Disneyland as a child, you’d recall some of the familiar course. Kids can ride shotgun, or take the wheel for even more fun. My little car lover was so enamored on his first time that for the entire ride he didn’t speak or attempt to grab the wheel from his sister (a miracle if you know two-year-olds!)
Gadget’s Go Coaster (35-inch height requirement)
With the lowest height requirement of all the rollercoasters at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park, this short and relatively moderate coaster is the perfect beginner thrill ride. Both my girls tackled it at three years old, no problem, and it wet their appetite for the bigger Disneyland rides. Just be careful, Gadget’s is a gateway rollercoaster…. next thing you know it, they’ll be dragging you on California Screamin’!
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
With its magical colors and whimsical scheme, this ride will delight the littlest of guests!
King Arthur’s Carousel
It is a classic ride that will ensure giggles all around. There is something magical about this Carousel. My kids could care less about carousels under normal circumstances but stick them on King Arthur’s Carousel, and they’re enraptured.
Disneyland Railroad (Temporarily closed)
A less frequented attraction, however, do not underestimate the 20 quiet minutes you’ll enjoy riding around outskirts of the park while your little one takes in the sights from nearly every Land, a scene from the inside of Splash Mountain, as well as a magical indoor escape back to the time of the dinosaurs!
The Royal Theater
Presenting Beauty and the Beast and Tangled, this is a no-brainer for entertainment. Kids are seated up front for a closer view of the short shows and cast members engage them in cheering for the hero/heroine and booing the villains. Bonus, the material is downright funny; kids won’t get it, Dads and Moms it’s meant for your enjoyment (clean, in true Disney style). Can’t beat that!
Character Meet and Greets
Find Disney Princesses at Royal Hall, Mickey and Minnie at their respective houses, and a slew of other characters around the park. The entrance to Disneyland and Mainstreet are always a good bet for finding characters to chat with, ask to sign your autograph book (be sure to pick one up in one of the gift shops!), and take a photo op.
Disney California Adventure Park
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (32-inch height requirement)
Cars lovers and any little boy alive likely will love taking a spin in their very own Mater around the Junkyard. My little guy alternates between giggles and shrieks the entire ride, and if that isn’t worth a trip to Disneyland, I don’t know what is.
Toy Story Midway Mania
Riders can shoot darts, paintballs, plates and more at targets as they are whizzed around a Toy Story themed maze. This one is fun for kids and parents alike as you try to get your best score by the end of the game.
Bug’s Land boasts several good tot rides but seeing the theme of my kids’ love for being flung around as fast as possible; this is their clear favorite. Climb into your own little carriage, and then be hoisted up to fly over Bug’s Land in Dumbo-esque style.
Again, this is a favorite for being taken up high in the air. The view over the Pier area is quite spectacular, especially during a good Southern California sunset. Bonus on this ride, it’s generally one of the shortest lines in the park based on my experience.
The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
It was so popular when it opened going on six years ago; it garnered some of the longest lines in the park. I remember waiting an hour and a half the week it opened at my newly potty trained two years old’s request. I was sure that if she made it through the 90-minute wait, she’d surely have an accident at the front. But, we made it! And in true little Princess fashion, she loved the ride! We’ve been back countless times since – with a much shorter wait, and much less potty training stress.
Disney Junior! – Live On Stage
This show, featuring Mickey and the gang, Sophia, Jake, and Doc is a favorite of toddlers and preschoolers, especially those who are Disney Junior fans. Little ones will be excited to engage in the interactive performance, and amazed as streamers, Gold Doubloons, and bubbles shower from the ceiling. It’s a great place for parents to sit down for a few minutes and rest in air conditioning on those hot days, too!
Baby Care Centers
All Disneyland restrooms have at least one, if not more, changing table, so there is never any issue finding a place to change a diaper. But, if you prefer a little bit more luxury than the standard cold stainless steel table in a bathroom, or if you’re looking for a quiet place to nurse or warm a bottle, enter the Baby Care Center.
It was something I learned from a long time Disneyland pro early in our Disneyland days with my first baby. Each park has a Baby Care Center, and while I always did quick diaper changes out and about at restrooms around the park, if we stayed late and wanted to change our little into jammies and brush teeth before heading home for the night, we always hit up the Baby Care Center. It was also a useful place when I had an older baby who had a hard time nursing out and about in the midst of the excitement of Disneyland.
Each Baby Care Center offers:
Private nursing areas (divided with curtains) with a comfy chair for mom
Changing room with padded tables
Feeding area with highchairs
Kitchen with microwave and sink
Main room with television, table and chairs
On-site shop offering formula, baby food, juice, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, over-the-counter medications and pacifiers for purchase
At Disneyland Park the Baby Care Center is at the end of Main Street, next to First Aid. At Disney California Adventure Park it is next to Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop and across from The Bakery Tour in Pacific Wharf.
One of the potential bummers of taking littles to Disneyland is that they may not want, or be tall enough, to ride the larger rides. But never fear, Dad and Mom can both have their fun on Hyperspace Mountain, and Babe can stay snuggled in her stroller for a bit.
Enter Rider Switch. If a child does not meet the height requirement or a guest does not wish to board a particular attraction, one adult can wait with the non-rider (or riders) while the rest of the party enjoys the attraction. When the other adult returns, they can supervise the non-riding guests, and the waiting adult can board the attraction without having to wait in the regular line again. Genius!
This began to come into particularly good use when my two older girls were tall enough for the big rides (and all they wanted to do was ride the rollercoasters!), but my little guy was still well under the height requirement. If we went to the park with my husband, we’d all wait in line together. Then I’d take one daughter and ride the ride. My husband would wait with our other daughter and our little guy (who couldn’t go). Once our ride was over, my husband wouldn’t get back in line; he’d just come straight to the front, hand me my son and hop on with our other daughter. It was a life saver!
It can also work if you’re meeting a friend and her kids at the park. Just wait in line together and then divide and conquer!
Rider Switch is available at select attractions at Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park. More detailed information and a complete list of attractions offering Rider Switch are available here.
Make Use of Technology
If you’re like me, then you like to have a plan, especially when toting multiple young kids through potential crowds with the most amazing stimulation they’ve ever seen all around them. I usually start our visit by asking each of my children for their one cannot miss request for the day. It can be a ride, show, or a character. Then I start scheming…
Enter the official Disneyland App, which puts useful information right at a guest’s fingertips. You can find attraction wait times, FastPass return times, maps, entertainment guides, character appearances, park hours and more.
At this point in my Disney-visiting career, I know the park layout fairly well as well as which attractions will likely be busiest. But I constantly check the Disneyland as plans change or for information to make the most of our visit.
I’m an early riser and generally happier in the morning; some might say I’m similar to a toddler in that respect. In any case, my children and I were all happiest on an early visit to Disney. There is just something magical about being there when the gates open up to let you on to Main Street and seeing everything all shiny and awaiting you. Lining up and then making a mad dash to our first agreed upon ride to try to be the very first guest on is always sure to get some giggles, and “Mommy! Run Faster!!!” as I’m pushing all three of them and all of our paraphernalia on our extremely wide double stroller.
To up the game on getting into Disney early, guest staying at any of the Disneyland Resorts may be eligible for Magic Morning, early admission to select attractions, stores, entertainment and dining locations in Disneyland park for one full hour before the parks open to the general public on select days. Full requirements and more information are available here.
One of the very best staycations we’ve ever had with our kids was a night at the Grand Californian. While my kids have grown up frequenting Disneyland, staying at the hotel closest to the Park and with its own private entrance to run in and out of was absolute magic for my kids. One of the best parts of our stay was waking up and using that Magic Morning hour to get tons of rides under our belts before we even had breakfast!
Disneyland is magical, and even more so when you see it through your littles’ eyes. I hope these five Disneyland hacks help you enjoy the magic when visiting with your little ones just a little bit more!
Mollie is a wife to a wonderful man and stay at home Mama to three beautiful and energetic little ones – two girls and a boy. She has lived in South Orange County for most of her life and enjoys crafting, running, clean and natural living, party planning, and being involved in her community and church. She believes that being a Mom was and is her highest calling and attempts to give her kids a wide array of different experiences. From soccer cleats to tutus, running races to enjoying the beach, she wants them to grow up with a childhood that impacts their lives for years to come.