Avoiding the Disneyland Meltdown
With a 15-year old child on the Autism spectrum (as well as another 15-year old, a seven-year old and a toddler), 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 this picture, sometimes tantrums happen! Disneyland might be the Happiest Place on Earth – but not 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.
1. Be Prepared By Doing Your Pre-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 vacation by showing them YouTube videos of rides and attractions and the free Disney Parks vacation planning guide (see below how to get one).
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 planning is imperative. Don’t think of this pre-vacation planning as “spoiling” your trip – 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.
You’ll also 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.
2. 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. Try to plan your trip during a less busy off-season. How to know when the Parks will be busy and when it’s the best time to plan your vacation? See my posts about the Best Times of the Year to Visit Disneyland (and Why) as well as the Dates to Avoid Disneyland When Planning Your Vacation.
I recommend my partner Get Away Today when purchasing your vacation package. You’ll receive your tickets in advance and save time in line as well. Use the Promo Code REWRITTEN and receive an extra $10 off any 2-night or longer Southern California package. (Hotel and 2 ticket minimum purchase to qualify for the discount).
3. Bring Back-Up
An extra set of hands (or two) can be vital towards keeping everyone happy. Consider having additional family, friends or even the 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!
4. Have a Flexible Schedule
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 plan will help you pace yourself and make sure you can really fit it all in.
That being said, you’re schedule should allow for some flexibility. Plan in plenty of downtime. Alternate activities between rides, character greetings, meals and shows or parades. 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.
5. Tired Legs = Cranky Kids
If your child gets cranky with excessive walking consider bringing your stroller or renting one at the Park. Even bigger kids (who don’t usually nap) might find they appreciate reserving their energy or will take a cat nap if they are able to ride in a stroller.
6. Feed Me
Ever been “hangry”? Then you know what I’m talking about with the borderline anger that swells up when you’re overly hungry. You can bring food into the Disneyland Parks so pack a bag with healthy snacks. Hand them out 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 Eat Healthfully at Disneyland (and Still Treat Yourself!).
7. Take a Break
Take the day at an easy pace and add in plenty of breaks. This 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 because that is a recipe for meltdown. Even my anxious husband requires a 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 to see that I’ve included some restful places inside Disneyland and California Adventure to take a break. Here are a few additional break ideas:
- 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.
8. Avoid Pressure
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! 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 5 Helpful Tips for Calming Scared and Anxious Kids at Disney.
9. Don’t Skip Naps
If your child always takes a nap mid-day, be sure to make a point of sticking to that schedule. If you don’t want to leave the Park, head for one of the quiet resting spots so they can sleep. Naps in an amusement park are never quite as refreshing as one in a bed though, so you might want to get them back to the hotel for a more restful sleep.
Looking for more tips on Disneyland with toddlers? Read One Day Itinerary – Insider Tips for Disneyland with a Toddler.
10. Avoid the Shops
For my youngest son, he is great with all things Disney. But get him inside of a shop and the temptation for souvenirs can bring him to tears. For my family, we tend to avoid the souvenir shops. We usually pre-purchase souvenirs using the ideas in this post, Disney Souvenirs To Buy BEFORE Your Disney Vacation.
However 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 so they can get an idea of what things they’d like to purchase.
11. Consider DAS for Special Needs
Is your special needs child having a challenging time with the extensive queue waiting? Consider requesting a DAS (Disability Access Service) pass. See this post about Disneyland’s DAS with tips on making it work for you.
12. Find Other Things to Do
The distraction method is a great way to divert from a meltdown. Have a special stash of things just for this purpose. This fun World of Disney Eye Found It Card Game is perfect for waiting in line or at a restaurant. Small toy cars or bubbles are another treat that you can use for distraction before a meltdown.
13. Be On Alert for An Oncoming Disneyland Meltdown
There tends to be a build up of bad moods before the big meltdown occurs. Stopping and redirecting immediately if you see a change in attitude or if you sense that a meltdown is developing is crucial. There is no attempt to try and squeeze in “one more” event! Bail out of your schedule and seek out a restful spot immediately.
Disneyland Resort Spots to Rest and Recollect
When your kid is headed for a Disneyland meltdown, go immediately to one of these quiet spots at for a little decompressing. These would also be great places to sit with a child who is sleeping in their stroller.
- Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island has many shaded areas to sit, relax and people-watch from across the Rivers of America.
- Our daughter wanted to meet Tinker Bell in Pixie Hollow. We requested an alternative waiting area (instead of the noisy line in the sun). We waited as long as everyone else (about 30 minutes that day) but were given a shaded area where she could spread out and not have the noise or crowd.
- Next to the entrance of Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante is a covered walkway with tiled seating and a restroom nearby. It’s particularly pretty here in the evenings. The outdoor patio dining space is equally nice.
- The waiting areas at each Train Station have covered seating. Except for when the train pulls in, these are fairly quiet places to rest. The train is also a great distraction!
- Near City Hall in Toontown there’s a dining space that often empty and quiet.
- On the right hand side of Sleeping Beauty Castle is Snow White’s Grotto. The water-feature with the twirling fish is rather hypnotic! Toss some change into the Wishing Well.
More Place to Avoid Disneyland Meltdown
- At the Hungry Bear Restaurant, tucked all the way in the back is dining and resting spot overlooking the Rivers of America.
- Take a slow walk inside the coolness of Sleeping Beauty. 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.
- Take a trip around the Rivers of America on the Mark Twain Riverboat. Lots of benches in the shade and you’ll get a cool breeze across the water.
- Around the side of Harbour Galley is a quiet and shady dining area along the water. Kids enjoy watching the Splash Mountain riders drift by in their logs!
- Between “it’s a small world” and the Matterhorn (next to Edelweiss Snacks) is a quiet boat pier overlooking a lovely water feature. It has a covered awning and bench seating and is a perfect place to rest between rides.
- With its large size, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is ideal. The outdoor patio at restaurant Docking Bay 7 is pleasant and quiet.
DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE PARK
- The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail offers busy-body activities like rope swings and rock climbing walls. There are also a few restful benches under the trees.
- Rest yourself on one of the 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.
- In front of the Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! there are places to sit in the shade. Even better, in front of the shop by the exit of the ride there is an out of the way bench. After a while, you won’t even notice the screams!
- Walk Grizzly Trail behind Grizzly River Run for a quiet and cool pace and perhaps a refreshing mist from the water ride!
- In Hollywood Land, just outside of Monsters Inc. are benches under shade.
- Stop over at Sonoma Terrace for a snack in the covered patio that overlooks the Pier.
- The umbrella-covered tables in Paradise Garden Grill are an out-of-the-way locale for lunch.
- Just as you pass under the rock formation in Cars Land into the Pacific Wharf area there is a quiet shady space. You can rest here against the guard rails 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. Fortunately we’ve been able to avoid anything catastrophic at the Happiest Place on Earth but we live and learn through each situation.
The last time we had anyone in our group upset was because we didn’t plan our fireworks viewing area properly. When the lights went out and Guests rushed into our area to see the show, our daughter was pushed out of her spot and under a tree where she completely missed seeing Tinker Bell fly across the sky. She didn’t appreciate the tight quarters, the jostling or the blocked view. After the show, we were able to stay tight in our spot until the crowd cleared and we regrouped. After a rest she was ready for a few more rides before we ended our evening.
Having learned our lesson on that trip, we were able to choose a better fireworks location on our last visit where she had more space around her and an open view. 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. Read more positive parenting tips for calming toddler and preschooler tantrums.