Disneyland is a magical place that’s filled with fantasy and all-day fun! There are also long lines, big crowds and lots of stimulation in the way of bright lights and loud noises. All of these factors can sometimes result in a Disneyland meltdown. Follow these great tips for avoiding the major meltdown at the California Disney theme park.
This article originally published on November 10th, 2014 and has been updated and republished with a new date.
Avoiding the Disneyland Meltdown
We’ve all seen the videos online of kids at Disney having temper tantrums, right? These poor kids will lay right down on Main Street U.S.A. and have an epic meltdown!
Did you know that the Disneyland meltdown can be avoided or minimized? You can potentially avoid the tantrums, with just a little pre-planning and my tried-and-tested tips. Check out the list of quiet areas throughout the Disneyland theme parks where kids & adults alike can rest.
With a child on the Autism spectrum our family goal when going to amusement parks is to completely eliminate the dreaded Disneyland meltdown. My husband also has anxiety disorder, so a jam-packed theme park vacation can be a challenge.
For the most part, we’ve done pretty well when we follow this plan. But as you can see from the picture below, sometimes tantrums happen!
Disneyland might be called the Happiest Place on Earth. But nobody is going to have a magical time if you and your kids are stressed out! Keep reading for my best tips on avoiding the Disneyland meltdown with ideas for everyone from babies to adults.
Do Your Pre-Disneyland Vacation Homework
Kids who don’t know what to expect are more likely to suffer a Disneyland meltdown. I highly discourage the “surprise” vacation! Prep your children ahead of your Disneyland trip by involving them in the planning process.
Some families don’t want to watch anything or know too much about what they’re going to experience in person. But if you have a child who is prone to meltdowns, this sort of planning is imperative. Don’t think of this pre-vacation planning as “spoiling” your trip. Instead, consider it preparation that builds excitement for the real thing!
Be sure to read my tips for the best way to surprise your kids with a Disneyland vacation.
Understand Expectations Versus Reality
Everyone going to Disneyland wants to experience that magical vacation they’ve seen in the commercials. But even the most hard-core Disney fans know that not every trip goes as planned.
- You’ll want to prep your family on what to expect. Let everyone know that they’ll have to wait in line for attractions. Remind everyone that there will be heavier crowds than they might be used to. Talk about the noises and loud sounds they might experience.
- If you’re unsure how kids will react to certain attractions, watch rides ahead of time on YouTube.
- Make a list of the favorite things the family wants to experience during the trip and make those happen first.
Book Your Trip in the Off-Season
Nothing will induce a family to tears faster than long waits for everything! Tight, loud crowds tend to increase my blood pressure. So you can only imagine how stressful it can be for a child or someone with special needs. You know your child’s behaviors and what to watch for when traveling or straying from the usual routine.
If being around a lot of people and crowds is a problem, booking an “off-season” trip is imperative. How to know when the Parks will be busy and when it’s the best time to plan your vacation? See my post about the Best Times of the Year to Visit Disneyland.
Discounted Disneyland Tickets
My travel partners at Get Away Today offer both discounted Disneyland tickets and Anaheim-area hotels to fit any budget! Many hotels include exclusive discounts like free parking, complimentary breakfast or even free nights, just for booking through Get Away Today.
Disneyland tickets purchased now are good through January 12th, 2024. Purchase your multi-day tickets through Get Away Today now.
When you’re ready to book your Disneyland vacation, my friends at Get Away Today are ready to help! Mention code REWRITTEN to receive an extra discount off your SoCal vacation package of two or more days.
Have a Flexible Disney Itinerary
Having a loose schedule is important when planning out your Disneyland day. Before your trip you should know what attractions are must-do, where you’ll eat your meals and what shows you want to watch. Having a Disneyland itinerary will help you pace yourself and make sure you can really fit it all in.
That being said, your schedule should allow for some flexibility. Here are some ideas:
- Work in plenty of downtime.
- Alternate activities between rides, character greetings, meals and shows or parades.
- Ask your kids what they want to do next.
- Make sure children have enough active free time that includes some of the free play areas. Toddlers in particular need freedom from the stroller.
- Use Rider Switch when kids don’t want to go on certain attractions.
An extra set of hands (or two) can be vital towards keeping everyone happy. Consider having additional family, friends or your favorite babysitter come with you to Disneyland to help with the kids. Having people there to take turns holding toddlers in line and entertaining youngsters while you wait for a meal is invaluable to your own sanity!
Another option is to enlist Nanny-Land assistance. You can choose to have a Nanny-Land helper with you in the park or to watch children at the hotel room.
- Visit Nanny-Land to find out which nanny service works best for your family.
- Use code REWRITTEN for a discount!
Choose from these three nanny options:
- Gold Crown Nannies have an annual pass to help you and your family inside the theme parks.
- Silver Crown Nannies watch kids in the resort hotel areas, including the swimming pool.
- Knight Nannies offer unplugged entertainment in a hotel room for a creative and magical themed evening.
Making (and Breaking) Disneyland Plans
Whether it’s your kid’s first time at Disneyland or your family has been before, your dream schedule may need some on-the-fly adjusting.
If the sight of Mickey Mouse induces tears during your entire trip, planning a Disney character meal dining experience probably won’t be the most enjoyable activity. Sure, it’s sad to have to cancel. But shifting gears is better than stressing out a child who isn’t comfortable in the situation. And infinitely better than hearing them scream during the entire dinner!
Stay flexible with the Disney vacation itinerary and don’t be stressed out if you need to change up the schedule. Do what you need to do to avoid the meltdown rather than push the schedule at all costs.
Consider DAS for Special Needs
If your special needs child has a challenging time with the extensive or crowded queue wait consider requesting a DAS (Disability Access Service) pass. My friend Becca has an up-to-date article about Disneyland’s Updated Disability Access Service on her site, This Crazy Adventure Called Life.
What to Wear to Disneyland
While you might already be plotting Disney Bound outfits and cute clothes for your vacation, being comfortable goes a long way towards avoiding the Disneyland meltdown. Pack only the most comfy and appropriate clothing that you know your child will wear. Read more about choosing the best Disney outfits for kids.
- Don’t attempt to break in new shoes while on a Disney vacation. Ensure that shoes are broken in and comfortable.
- Consider the weather when packing with this free printable Disney packing list for kids.
- Itchy costumes aren’t going to win points with your child. Mouse Ears that pinch their heads can be headache inducing. Do trial runs with all outfits before you leave for vacation.
- If your child wants to wear dress-up, check out this review of the Best Places to Buy Disney Princess Dresses.
Tired Legs = Cranky Kids
If little kids get cranky with excessive walking consider bringing your stroller or renting one at the Park. Even older preschoolers who don’t usually ride in a stroller find they appreciate having the stroller when they need it.
As a rule, wagon strollers are not permitted inside the Disneyland park. However, families with a special needs child may be able to request wheelchair tags for their stroller wagons. Ask the Cast Member about this when discussing the DAS pass.
That said, toddlers may not like being constantly confined to the stroller all day. Make sure they are able to get up and walk frequently to avoid the Disneyland meltdown.
Our daughter happily used a Backpack with a Tether inside the Disney parks. It allowed her a small amount of freedom to walk. But she still remained within arm’s reach. Other guests won’t bat an eyelash so don’t be worried about using a leash with your kid at Disneyland.
Maintain a Meal Time Schedule
Ever been “hangry”? Then you know what I’m talking about when borderline anger swells up when you’re overly hungry.
Guests can bring food into the Disneyland Parks so it’s easy to be prepared with snacks. Pack a bag with healthy foods and water bottles. Hand out items frequently to keep blood-sugars level.
And while it’s great to indulge in some of the sweet treats available at the Disneyland Parks, know that a diet of sugar-sprinkles and carb-overload isn’t ideal all day. Check out my tips on How to Find Healthy Food at Disneyland.
Does this sound familiar – When you push, your kid pushes back?
You know your kid. If they really don’t want to do something and you press too much, you’re going to find yourself facing an epic Disneyland temper tantrum!
When kids are pushed to tears or upset about boarding an attraction, the Disneyland Cast Member may not allow the child to ride.
A Disney vacation is all about making magical memories together as a family. If your child is having a difficult moment, try taking the pressure off them to “Have a good time, or else”. Redirect when kids are having a tough minute and do something low key instead.
Build Up to the Thrill Rides
As an adult, you might not hesitate to start your Disney California Adventure day with Guardians of the Galaxy in Avengers Campus. But for a child, they may need to build up courage with less intense attractions.
Some kids who are scared or nervous lash out with a meltdown in a show of frustration. If you’re concerned that your child might not hold up well with new experiences, read these Tips for Calming Scared and Anxious Kids at Disney.
Don’t Skip Naps
If your child always takes a nap mid-day, be sure to make a point of sticking to your child’s schedule. If you don’t want to leave the Park, head for one of the quiet resting spots so they can sleep. Choose a stroller with a full recline feature, using the tips in the article Walking Outside With Your Baby.
Naps in an amusement park are never quite as refreshing as one in a bed though. You might want to get them back to the hotel for a more restful sleep. Choose an Anaheim hotel within walking distance for quick access. By the time you’ve walked back to the room, your child might already be asleep!
Looking for more help touring Disneyland with toddlers? Read One Day Itinerary – Insider Tips for Disneyland with a Toddler.
Get Enough Sleep on Vacation
Do you notice that your mood is often closely related to the hours of sleep you got the night before? When it comes to young kids and avoiding a Disneyland meltdown, you may not be able to go-go-go from rope drop to park closing.
Sensing that children won’t be able to hang as long as you wish inside the theme park? Retreat back to the hotel for bedtime and wake up more refreshed the next day to start over again.
Avoid the Gift Shops at Disneyland
For many kids, the sight of toys within the Disney gift shops is enough to induce a fit. My youngest son is great with all things Disney. But get him inside of a gift shop and the temptation for souvenirs can bring him to tears.
For my family, we tend to avoid strolling through the souvenir shops. We usually pre-purchase souvenirs using the ideas in this post, Disney Souvenirs To Buy BEFORE Your Disney Vacation.
If you do want to purchase souvenirs inside the Parks, here are a few words of advice:
Go into the shops with a plan. Does your child want a t-shirt or a hat? Are they going to buy a lollipop or a candied apple? Knowing ahead of time what they are specifically looking for will help them narrow things down. Kids can get so overwhelmed with the plethora of choices that trying to make a decision can really stress them out.
I’d also recommend waiting until the last day of your trip to buy souvenirs. Let kids look in the shops at a casual pace during one day of your trip. This way they can get an idea of what things they’d like to purchase.
Use Disney Genie+
The new “line skipping” Disneyland app works similarly to the Maxpass and Fast Passes of old. Guests may book access for use of Lightning Lane lines that speed up the wait times in queue.
If you’re visiting with a family member that just can’t do long waits in line, purchasing a Disneyland ticket with Disney Genie+ is a must. The cost is in addition to the regular park ticket – $20 per person, per day. But the ability to shorten wait times is well worth the additional charge.
The distraction method is a great way to divert from a meltdown. Have a special stash of things just for this purpose. I’ve included a few items to pack in your Disneyland day bag and bring to the parks:
World of Disney Eye Found It Card Game – Compact and perfect for waiting in line or at a restaurant.
Small toy cars or bubbles are a treat for toddlers that you can use for distraction before a meltdown.
Disneyland’s Hidden Mickeys – Give kids this book to hunt and find the iconic Mickey silhouettes all around the park.
Disney Play App – While I usually keep my kids off electronics on vacation, the Disney Play app is a fun in-park diversion. Family-friendly group games and themed activities to make magic happen within each Land.
The Great Disneyland Scavenger Hunt – When you need a break between rides and shows, try this book that’s filled with ways to spot delightful detail in the theme parks.
Stay Close to the Park Gates
Choose a hotel in close proximity to the Disneyland front entrance. If you have young children that require a daily break from the excitement, plan to return to your hotel room mid-day.
- If your kids are early birds, aim to arrive to the park entrance for Disneyland rope drop and maximize lower crowds in the morning hours.
- Disneyland Resort hotels have both indoor and outdoor spaces to relax and recoup. You don’t have be staying on-site to visit Disney’s Grand Californian, the Disneyland Hotel, or Paradise Pier Hotel.
- Maximize quiet time by closing the curtains and laying down in bed for nap time.
- Take a swim break at the resort pool to cool down on a hot day. The Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance is a favorite, with kid-friendly bunk beds in every room and an excellent water park.
Be On Alert for Oncoming Disneyland Meltdowns
There tends to be a build up of bad moods before the big meltdown occurs. When you can sense that your kids are having a hard time, stop and redirect immediately. This might include a change in attitude or you can sense that a meltdown is developing.
There is no attempt to try and squeeze in “one more” event! Bail out of your schedule and seek out a restful spot immediately.
READ MORE: Positive parenting tips for calming toddler and preschooler tantrums.
Other Things That Can Cause a Disneyland Meltdown
These are some of the factors that can increase tension and tears along with helpful solutions to minimize the meltdowns before they start:
Hot weather – Apply sunscreen frequently to avoid sunburn. Kids prefer a roll-on type versus lotion application. Use sunglasses when outdoors.
Loud noises – Disney parks are filled with sounds, often very noisy and overly loud. Children who are sensitive to noise appreciate wearing these Noise Blocking Ear Muffs. These headphones muffle sounds from fireworks, shows and general park noise.
Not tall enough to ride – Imagine the disappointment of your Cars-loving kid who is too short to ride Radiator Springs Racers. Follow the tips on this Disneyland height requirement guide to measuring children ahead of a trip.
Limited dining menu – For kids that are particular with meals, research a desirable menu item ahead of your trip. The Disneyland website offers links to all restaurant menus. If your child only wants to eat chicken nuggets and vanilla ice cream, you’ll know where to eat! In full service dining locations, guests can often make special requests for certain dishes.
Fussy baby – Retreat to the Baby Care Center (there’s one in each of the two Disneyland theme parks). There are semi-private rocking chairs for nursing or bottle feeding, high chairs, diaper changing tables and tiny toilets for potty training.
Take a Break
Take your Disneyland day at an easy pace and add in plenty of breaks. This can be as simple as sitting in the shade with an ice cream cone. Keep reading for the list of quiet spots in the parks to take a break. But if your child is inconsolable, taking a break might mean that you leave the Parks mid-day to recoup at the hotel for a swim or a nap.
If you have kids that are prone to meltdown you need to go at their pace and not the schedule you have set for the day. You just can’t cram too much activity into the day. That is a recipe for meltdown.
Adults need a time out too. My anxious husband requires a daily mid-afternoon break. We usually go back to the hotel for a few hours of swimming and snacks before going back to the park in the evening.
Keep reading for tips on restful places inside Disneyland and California Adventure to take a break. Here are a few additional break ideas:
Ride the Disneyland Railroad. It’s mostly just a relaxing overview of the entire park with one caveat. The train ride leaving Tomorrowland Station takes guests through Primeval World, a Grand Canyon and dinosaur-themed diorama. There are some moments including a volcano and dinosaur fight that might upset some children.
Take the Monorail loop. It’s a quiet ride with a great overview of the parks and Downtown Disney. Consider hopping off and walking back through this outdoor shopping district.
Wander through Downtown Disney. There’s plenty of places to sit in the shade here, wander through the shops or enjoy a snack.
Visit the resorts on property; inside Disney’s Grand Californian there’s a roomy lobby with cartoons and small chairs for kids to rest. Check out the walls inside the Disneyland Hotel (near Goofy’s Kitchen). Historical memorabilia and photographs are on display. Each of the hotels has their own restaurant. We like the outdoor patio at Disneyland Hotel’s Tangaroa Terrace, which overlooks the pool.
Disneyland Resort Spots to Rest and Recollect
Overstimulated? When you or your kid is headed for a Disneyland meltdown, go immediately to one of these quiet spots for a little decompressing. These would also be great places to sit with a child who is sleeping in their stroller.
Take a deep breath and make note of these restful locations within the amusement parks:
- Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island – Shaded areas to sit, relax and people-watch from across the Rivers of America.
- Tinker Bell in Pixie Hollow – Even if Tinker Bell isn’t greeting guests, you can still walk through the quaint and quiet area.
- Rancho del Zocalo Restaurant – The outdoor patio dining space is particularly pretty here in the evenings when overhead lanterns are lit.
- Train Stations – The waiting areas at each have covered seating. Except for when the train pulls in, these are fairly quiet places to rest. The train is also a great distraction!
- Snow White’s Grotto – Found on the right hand side of Sleeping Beauty Castle. The water-feature with the twirling fish is rather hypnotic! Toss some change into the Wishing Well.
More Place to Avoid Disneyland Meltdown
- Hungry Bear Restaurant – Tucked all the way in the back is dining tables and a resting spot overlooking the Rivers of America.
- Sleeping Beauty Castle – Take a slow walk inside the coolness of this castle walkthrough. If your child doesn’t like tight quarters or can’t handle the stairs, there is an accessible space to view the Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough on a high-definition screen. It’s a quiet location with little trinkets on display.
- Mark Twain Riverboat – Take a trip around the Rivers of America. Lots of benches in the shade and you’ll get a cool breeze across the water.
- Harbour Galley – Walk around the side of this restaurant for a a quiet and shady dining area along the water. Kids enjoy watching the Splash Mountain riders drift by in their logs!
- Fantasyland boat pier – Located between “it’s a small world” and the Matterhorn (next to Edelweiss Snacks). This quiet boat pier overlooks a lovely water feature with a covered awning and bench seating.
- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – With its large size and low-key mood, this Land is ideal for relaxing. The outdoor patio at restaurant Docking Bay 7 is pleasant and quiet.
DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE PARK
- Paradise Gardens Promenade – There are benches around the covered promenade underneath the Silly Symphony Swings. You’ll get a nice overview of the water. Though this area isn’t exactly the most quiet it does not have much foot-traffic.
- Grizzly Trail – This quiet and cool place behind Grizzly River Run serves up a refreshing mist from the water ride!
- Redwood Creek Challenge Trail – Play area offers busy-body activities like rope swings and rock climbing walls. There are also a few restful benches under the trees, water features and a shaded walking trail.
- Hollywood Land – Just to the right entrance outside of Monsters Inc. there are benches under shade.
- Sonoma Terrace – Stop here for a beer or glass of wine in the covered patio that overlooks the Pier.
- Paradise Garden Grill – Generally peaceful area, unless there is a special event happening.
- Cars Land – Just as you pass under the rock formation into the Pacific Wharf area there is a quiet shady space. You can rest here against the guard rails and watch the cars on Radiator Springs Racers. Or pull up a chair outside at Flo’s V-8 (you don’t have to dine here to sit).
Even the Best Laid Plans May Not Avoid Disneyland Meltdown
Sometimes despite our best efforts our kids sometimes do have a mini-Disneyland meltdown. In my personal experience we’ve been able to avoid anything catastrophic at the Happiest Place on Earth. But we live and learn through each situation.
Making your Disney day enjoyable is as much about doing your Park research as it is about knowing, listening and watching your child for potential break-down. Hopefully the tips in this article will help!