Disney with a preschooler can be such a wonderful vacation experience! There are colorful parades and yummy treats. Just about everything in Fantasyland is perfect for little ones. And of course the familiar Disney Junior characters around the park are all ideal for preschoolers. On the flip side there is also the possibility of waiting in long lines, new experiences that could make preschoolers nervous, loud noises and strange food that might sour the perfect Disney day. These are the tips for taking a preschooler to Disney parks, including ideas for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Disney With a Preschooler
I’ve traveled to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland with my preschoolers and it’s always been a fun and exciting adventure! But there are things you can do before your trip and during the vacation to make the trip run more smoothly. I’ll share my 10 tips on how to make the most of your days taking your preschooler to Disney.
1. Prep Your Kiddo
Before your trip make sure to prep your little one with what they can expect on a Disney vacation.
- Order the Disney Parks Vacation Planning video on their website and watch it with your child. This will give them an overview of the shows, rides and attractions inside each park.
- Another thing you can do (if you personally don’t mind spoilers) is to watch on-ride YouTube videos. This has really gotten my preschoolers excited for our trips when they are more familiar with how certain rides operate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Seven Dwarves Mine Train with my son and Frozen Ever After with my daughter!
- Watch Disney movies to get kids familiar with the characters they might meet and see on the rides. These are the Disney movies that are must-see before a first trip.
2. Skip School
Pull your kid out of preschool for the day and plan your Disney vacation on a weekday. Ideally you should visit when most elementary-aged kids are in school. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday being the best. Avoiding weekends, summer and school holidays will help minimize crowds as well.
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3. Pack a Preschool Bag
Be sure to take in everything your preschooler will need for the day. My 4-year old likes to wear his own little backpack, filled with necessities. I toss in an extra pair of clothes, a few snacks, sunscreen, hat and sunglasses. If you are staying into the night, grab a few glow in the dark treats (like bracelets or wands) from the dollar store pre-trip for your preschooler to wear. Easier to spot them in the dark and they love the glow, of course!
I bought this Skip Hop Toddler Leash and Harness Backpack for my toddler and she still wears it now as a preschooler. The backpack has a removable harness so I can keep her close in lines and when she’s walking through the parks. It’s also particularly helpful in the airports!
4. Measure Up
Before your visit, measure your preschooler while they’re wearing the shoes they’ll wear on the trip. From here, check their height with the height restrictions for each ride. Don’t promise a ride on Splash Mountain until you can be sure that your preschooler is tall enough to ride! At Walt Disney World you can sort the attractions by height. Here is a list of the Disneyland height requirements.
What Rides Can Preschoolers Do at Disneyland?
There are rides and attractions at every Disney theme park that are age and height appropriate for preschoolers. You definitely won’t go to any of the parks and not find something for your preschooler to do. However there are some parks that offer more than others. Here’s a bit of a breakdown:
Disneyland: At the Disneyland resort in California, there are very few rides that preschoolers can’t do! Most of the rides in this park have no or low height restrictions so your preschooler will be joining you on rides most of the day. Outside of Fantasyland, Toontown is great for preschoolers.
Disney California Adventure Park: With the closure of a bug’s land to make way for the (yet unnamed) Marvel Land coming in summer 2020, there are fewer areas here for preschooler. However there are still quite a few rides and additional shows that preschoolers will enjoy, namely the Disney Junior Dance Party!, Pixar Pal-A-Round (Ferris Wheel), Little Mermaid and Toy Story Midway Mania. Even the Disney California Food & Wine Festival has fun treats for preschoolers.
What Rides Can Preschoolers Do at Disney World?
Magic Kingdom: This park in Florida is similar to Disneyland in that most of the preschool-friendly rides are located here. Read more about what toddlers can do in Magic Kingdom with tips on character greetings and rider switch.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Fewer rides and more shows that preschoolers will like here. Taller preschoolers at Disney can take a ride on the Slinky Dog Dash Coaster inside Toy Story Land.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Preschoolers who enjoy the zoo will love the animal atmosphere of this park. Rides like Na’vi River Journey in Pandora and Triceratops Spin are great for preschoolers.
Epcot: With it’s two sections (Future World and World Showcase), Epcot is like two parks in one. My preschoolers enjoy rides like Gran Fiesta Tour and of course, trying the soda from around the globe inside Club Cool.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
I’ve had the chance to experience Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland several times with my preschooler in mind. I’m sharing tips for preschoolers at Star Wars Land including ride advice, dining and the best souvenirs for kids.
5. Follow Your Preschooler’s Schedule
Is your preschooler accustomed to waking, eating and sleeping at a particular time? You might want to consider sticking to the same schedule, especially if your child is sensitive to change or if pushing back meals and bedtimes make them moody. If you really want them to stay up later for the vacation, plan ahead and start extending their bedtime by 15 minutes every night for the week leading up to the trip.
One big thing to keep in mind is changing time zones. For my family coming from California and traveling to Florida, we lose 3 hours. I prefer to keep my preschoolers on their own time when we go to Disney World. This means sleeping in and staying out late. If that works for your family, consider sticking to your own state’s clock to make time zone changes easier on your child.
6. Know What they Like (and What They Don’t Like)
Preschoolers are notoriously opinionated (at least mine are!). Ask them ahead of the trip what rides and shows are “must see” and make sure at the very least, that those things happen. Only you know your child’s likes and dislikes. If you know that your kid is terrified of characters, don’t force them to hug one. Same goes for forcing your preschooler onto a ride that they are afraid of. Your preschooler is going to have a rough day if they feel pressured. Check out this post with tips on what to do with nervous kids.
7. Preschool Dining is Easy
Jambalaya? Monte Cristo sandwich? Chilled shrimp and noodles? Your preschooler may turn up their nose at such nontraditional fare. But even the pickiest preschooler can find great bites at Disney.
Many Disney parks restaurants and hotels offer a kids meal with childhood favorites like pizza, corn dogs, chicken nuggets and fries. If you have a preschooler with an adventurous palate, consider a non-traditional kid’s meal item. Look for the Disney Check Meals for healthier options that include veggies and fruit.
Dining Options for a Preschooler at Disneyland
Some of my kids have been picky eaters and some have been more willing to try new things. Here are a few favorite kid’s menu options and snacks inside each the Disney parks, along with more ambitious dishes for foodie kids:
- Whole grain Mickey waffles for breakfast at Carnation Cafe
- Breakfast slider at Galactic Grill
- Kid sized cheese pizza at Alien Pizza Planet
- Pasta with marinara at French Market Restaurant
- Sustainable fish at River Belle Terrace
- Fried Endorian Tip-yip (chicken) with mac & cheese in Docking Bay 7 Food & Cargo (Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge)
Disney California Adventure park:
- French toast at Lamplight Lounge brunch
- Corn Dog from Corn Dog Castle
- Micro Burger at Flo’s V8
- Grilled Cheese Sandwich at Smokejumpers Grill
- Pixar Pier Frosty Parfait at Adorable Snowman Frosted Treats
- Pretzel Bites with cheesy sauce at the Cozy Cone Motel
Disney World Dining With a Preschooler
- Crepes de Cogsworth for breakfast at Be Our Guest Restaurant
- Tuna sandwich at Columbia Harbour House
- Tots and cheese sauce at the Friar’s Nook
- Sizzling Savanna grilled seasoned steak at Jungle Navigation Co. LTD
- Rocky Road milk shake at Golden Oak Outpost
Disney’s Hollywood Studio:
- Chicken noodle soup at 50’s Prime Time Cafe
- Uncrustables sandwich at ABC Commissary
- Cheese pizza at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante
- Macaroni & cheese at PizzeRizzo
- Chicken and cheese quesadilla at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater
Disney’s Animal Kingdom:
- Baked chicken drumstick at Flame Tree Barbecue
- Corn dog at Harambe Market
- Kid’s noodles at Yak & Yeti Restaurant
- All-beef hot dog wrapped in dough at Satu’li Canteen
- Malva cake sundae at Tamu Tamu Refreshments
- Turkey on Goldfish honey wheat bread at Electric Umbrella
- Empanadas con Queso at La Cantina de San Angel
- Chicken breast nuggets at Liberty Inn
- Sweet-and-sour chicken with rice at Lotus Blossom Cafe
- Pasta with marinara and meatball at Sunshine Seasons
Character Dining Experiences with Preschoolers
Does your preschooler love characters? A character dining experience can be a memorable way to capture photos and collect signatures. Each preschooler will have personal time with characters that come directly to the table!
- For a complete guide on Disneyland character dining experiences, see my friend Leslie’s post on Trips with Tykes.
8. Strollers are Still a Good Idea
Even if your preschooler hasn’t ridden in a stroller lately, the miles of walking and the hours of standing in lines will take a toll. Achy feet and tired bodies add up to cranky kids so consider bringing a stroller. Even a small umbrella type is better than nothing. You especially don’t want to be carrying an exhausted preschooler out of the park at the end of the night! Your preschooler might even surprise you and take a mid-day nap.
If you’re traveling to Walt Disney World, I can highly recommend my partner Kingdom Strollers. They will drop off and pick up a stroller at your Disney World resort or off-site hotel. Prices are at a discount and well worth it!
Preschoolers need to MOVE! Find play areas that will allow them freedom to run around a bit. Allow about an hour in your schedule for them to play freely. This might mean taking your preschooler back to the hotel pool for a swim. After some free play, your preschooler will hopefully have more patience for standing in lines.
- There are playgrounds at the Walt Disney World resort hotels where kids can play and you can kick back in the shade.
- Taking a mid-day break from the parks to return to your hotel for swimming or rest time is also a good idea.
- Click through to read more tips if you’re looking for additional things to do on a non-park day at Disney World.
- All Disney Resort hotels have life jackets at the pool areas sized for your preschooler.
- If you’re at Disney World, a day at the water parks Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach are fantastic for preschoolers.
Disney Parks Areas to Play
There are play areas for preschoolers inside each of the Disney parks. Some have water features where kids can splash and play. Others are just small places where kids can explore.
- Goofy’s House in Toontown
- Minnie’s House in Toowtown
- Pirate Island
- Water ball in Tomorrowland
Traveling with younger kids? Check out these tips for traveling to Disneyland with toddlers.
Disney California Adventure park:
- Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
- Pixar water ball in Pixar Pier
Disney’s Hollywood Studios:
- No dedicated play areas for kids but the Disney Junior Dance Party will allow kids to get up & move
- Casey Jr. Splash & Soak Station
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant (queue waiting area)
- Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (queue)
- The Laughin’ Place (near the exit to Splash Mountain)
- Tom Sawyer Island
Disney’s Animal Kingdom:
- The Boneyard
- The Seas with Nemo & Friends pavilion
- Model train area in Germany
- Imagination pavilion
- Space Place (at the end of Mission: Space)
- Seasonal playgrounds during special events
10. Follow Their Lead
It can be hard to follow a detailed touring plan with preschoolers. Don’t be afraid to ditch the schedule and let your preschooler take the lead. Kids want to ride Toy Story Midway Mania three times in a row? Go for it! Enamored with Minnie Mouse? Get back in line for the meet n’ greet and let your preschooler say hello again. When you follow your preschooler’s lead, sometimes some really magical things happen!
If you have an infant with you, be sure to read more about traveling to Disneyland with a baby.
This post was originally published May 5, 2016 and has been updated