Disneyland with a Toddler
For most little ones, Disneyland is an enchanting place! Toddlers delight in the rides, the brights lights and color and the unique sounds throughout the Parks. For other young kids, Disneyland can be an exhausting overload to the senses with large (sometimes frightening) characters, swift moving rides and too many things they are unaccustomed to. To be honest, I could be describing the same toddler – depending upon if they’ve napped or had a recent snack!
Taking on Disneyland with a toddler requires a bit of upfront planning. You’ll want to make a solid plan before your trip, find out what attractions are “must-do” and how to balance the day when you have older kids. Keep reading for my 14 tips on doing Disneyland with a toddler.
1. Make a Solid Plan Before Your Trip
As the parent of a toddler, you might want to consider a Disneyland visit when many families can’t go – when older kids are in school session. If you are planning a first Disneyland vacation, read up on those tips to get the basics on everything you’ll want to cover beforehand. To minimize crowds and wait times, avoid traveling during “peak season” (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, Summer). Aim for a trip mid-week, as a Wednesday is considerably less crowded than a Saturday.
I highly recommend NOT surprising your toddler with a Disney vacation. Little ones need time to adjust. Check out the Disneyland vacation planning videos. Watch YouTube videos of the rides. Create a countdown calendar. Print out this checklist of the must-watch Disney movies to see before a Disneyland trip that will help toddlers gain character recognition. The more prepare your toddler is about the vacation, the more they’ll know what to expect!
Purchasing Discount Disneyland Tickets
When purchasing Disneyland tickets, keep in mind that children under three do not require an admission ticket. Two-year olds and under receive free entry, hurray!
For everyone else in your group, you’ll need Disneyland tickets, so here’s how to get them at the BEST prices! My trusted travel partner Get Away Today is also the only place you’ll find completely refundable Disneyland tickets. Use promo code REWRITTEN to receive an extra $10 off any 2-night or longer Southern California vacation package (hotel and 2 ticket minimum purchase to quality for the discount).
2. Size Toddlers Up to Know What They Can Ride
Measure your child’s height before your vacation. You’ll want to know ahead of time which Disneyland rides have height restrictions. You don’t want to promise a ride on Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land and then find out that your toddler is too short! Click through to the post for tons of details on Disneyland height requirements and how to properly measure your toddler.
3. Which Disneyland Rides Are “Must-Do” with Toddlers?
Know ahead of time that you won’t be able to see or do everything. If you know that your toddler is going to love “it’s a small world” then make sure that happens. Just realize that if your toddler falls in love with a particular attraction, they might insist you all right it again and again!
Read up on the rides on the Disneyland website to know what is most appropriate for your toddler. This interactive list from the Disneyland website shows which rides and attractions are well-loved by most toddlers. You’ll also want to download the Disneyland app to your smart phone before your trip. This app will help you navigate the parks and filter the toddler-friendly attractions.
Most toddlers are early birds, which is an advantage to your family at Disneyland! Read more about how to make the most of your first two hours at Disneyland. You’ll be able to take on Fantasyland with lighter crowds than those who arrive in the afternoon! For more specifics on what to see and do, click through to the one-day itinerary with toddlers at Disneyland.
4. Bring What You Can From Home
You can purchase quite a bit inside the Parks but it’s going to come at a premium price. So make sure you pack enough diapers, wipes and snacks for your trip. Bring a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen for each member of the family. Check out this post on what to bring to Disneyland (and what to leave at home). Here is a kid’s Disney packing list as well!
5. Wary of Characters?
Some toddlers are frightened when they finally see their favorite characters in the Parks. After all they are used to seeing these guys tiny on the television screen or on the pages of a book! Now Mickey is larger than life and that could be very unnerving from some kids. First try looking at the characters from afar. Talk aloud with your toddler, noting how the other people are interacting and how friendly the character is. Only if your child is willing should you try to approach the character.
There is no point in pressuring your toddler to try and get their picture with Mickey if they are terrified and crying – this will only make them more tense for the rest of the day. Only book a character dining experience if your toddler is happy meeting different characters. Check out this article from TravelingMom about the Sure-Fire Ways to Meet Mickey (and other characters).
6. Let Toddlers Stretch Their Legs
While it’s important to keep kids safe, toddlers also need to get out of the stroller and run around. I’ve always used a Toddler Backpack with Tether to keep my toddler within arm’s reach. She’s able to walk alongside me while still staying close.
Make sure to fit time into your schedule and let little ones burn off excess energy. Hit one of the play areas in the Parks or an open area where they can walk. At the Disneyland Resort, kids can climb up and down the stairs in Tarzan’s Treehouse. In Toontown, Goofy’s Playhouse has an indoor/outdoor play yard. Pirate’s Lair at Tom Sawyer Island has a wobbly rope bridge that toddlers enjoy.
In Disney California Adventure park, the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is the ultimate outdoor play area. Slides, stairs and rope ladders will keep active toddlers busy. The stairs alongside Paradise Gardens allow toddlers an open space. In the afternoon, consider taking a break back at the hotel for a swim (followed up by a nap!).
7. What to Do When You Have Older Kids?
It can be challenging to please everyone when you have a toddler as well as older children in your group. With two or more adults, you might want to split up during the day to make sure everyone gets their fair share of entertainment.
There are often toddler-friendly attractions to enjoy near the thrill rides. For instance, while my older kids rode with my husband on Radiator Springs Racers, my toddler and I visited with Mater and Lightning McQueen. Consider taking advantage of the “Rider Switch” service that allow parents (and older siblings) to take turns riding certain rides that aren’t intended for small children, without standing in line over again.
See a Cast Member at the entrance for instructions on how the process works. And if you have both a toddler and a baby with you on the trip, get the details on what to do at Disneyland with babies.
8. Take in the Entertainment…But Know Your Audience
Fortunately a large amount of the entertainment available at Disneyland is appropriate for the entire family. My toddler son adored Mickey’s Soundsational Parade when he was a toddler. He happily sat in his stroller and clapped and waved to the characters on the floats. It was adorable to see him enjoy himself so much!
It’s important to know that there are things at Disneyland that may scare kids. Read the details in that article before adding those attractions to your itinerary at Disneyland with a toddler. Though I love Frozen: Live at the Hyperion, I know that at only 2-years old, my toddler is probably not ready to sit through a 60-minute stage show. The show also has some dark elements that might frighten young children. Know your child. It’s also helpful to review the Disney Parks website entertainment sections before planning what shows to watch with your toddler.
What Disneyland Entertainment is Best for Toddlers?
These toddler-approved shows and entertainment options are perfect for the youngest kids!
- Royal Hall inside Fantasy Faire, the place to meet three Disney princesses
- Dapper Dans and Disneyland band (let your toddler out of the stroller to dance along)
- Main Street Cinema (indoor classic cartoon viewing with standing room and floor seating only)
- Tinker Bell in Pixie Hollow
- Storytelling at Royal Theatre (a brief but lively stage show)
- Magic Happens Parade
- Evening fireworks spectacular (if your toddler can stay up late!)
- Meeting Mickey and Minnie at their respective houses in Toontown
Disney California Adventure Park
- Disney Junior Stage Show (indoor live show with favorite toddler characters from the TV shows)
- Anna & Elsa’s Royal Welcome meet ‘n greet
- Turtle Talk with Crush (chat with the turtle from Finding Nemo films)
- World of Color nighttime water show (standing room viewing, bring a front carrier if you have one).
Are Disneyland Special Events Good for Toddlers?
The Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disneyland Halloween Party is an awesome fall special event. This nighttime party is great fun and a way for families to dress in costume, collect candy and take part in unique entertainment. But is Oogie Boogie Bash good for toddlers? What about the other nighttime special ticketed Disneyland events?
Children 2 and under do not need an entry ticket. Toddlers will be able to participate in most of the activities but keep in mind that younger kids are also likely to fall asleep early. This mean toddlers are missing out on a majority of the entertainment. And as parents, you’ll be in charge of pushing around a sleeping kid in a stroller through the night.
Before purchasing these special event tickets, ensure that you’re willing to sacrifice the evening by using Rider Switch to maximize your time and money. Hiring a babysitter or bringing another adult (grandparent?) on the trip to stay with toddlers at the hotel room might be even better!
9. Nervous on Rides?
When I took my now ten-year old to Disneyland for the first time he was only 15-months old and the unfamiliar motion of the rides made him tense. Again, there is no reason that children should be pressured to ride if they are scared. Read my article Helpful Tips for Calming Scared & Nervous Kids at Disney for more tips about making your children comfortable with trying new experiences in the Park.
If Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Toddler-Friendly?
Naturally this new area at Disneyland is a hot ticket. From obtaining a boarding pass for Rise of the Resistance to piloting the Millennium Falcon, grown ups and big kids love Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Before you completely skip over Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge with toddlers, read more about was is (and isn’t) little kid friendly here. I wrote that post with young children in mind so there’s lots of advice on the rides, Oga’s Cantina, dining options and where toddlers can run around.
10. No Nap!
In an effort to avoid the Disneyland meltdown, plan the day around your toddler’s usual schedule. I’d recommend hitting the toddler favorites first thing in the morning. We like to get to Fantasyland first and circle this intimate area with our 2-year old just after the Park opens. From there we will stick to one Land at a time so there isn’t a lot of walking and crossing the Park.
Once nap time arrives, the adults or older children in our group take turns on a few of the thrill-rides while someone waits with the toddler. We choose to let our kids nap in their stroller. But I’ve found that stroller naps are never quite as long or as “effective” as a real nap. You may want to consider taking your toddler back to the hotel for a proper nap time.
11. Hunger = Crankiness
We all know that a hungry toddler is a cranky toddler! Bring with you plenty of healthy snacks from home for your toddler to nibble on throughout the day. Fresh fruit is available for purchase in the parks. You can also bring in a sipper cup and request ice water from any counter service restaurant for free.
12. Use a Stroller at Disneyland (Even If You Think You Won’t Need One)
Disney days can be long and toddler legs can only take so much walking! It’s also nice to have the storage basket underneath the stroller to hold diapers, snacks and souvenirs. I bring a lightweight blanket or swaddle cloth to drape over the stroller and use as a sun shield during nap time.
At the end of the night your toddler may fall asleep. After a long day in the parks, the last thing you’ll want to do is carry your heavy kid back to the car or hotel! If you are traveling and don’t want to pack a stroller you can rent one at the Parks.
13. Map Out the Bathrooms at Disneyland
Especially important if your toddler is potty-training, you won’t want to be in a Land without knowing where the closest bathroom are! Both men’s and women’s restrooms have diaper-changing areas (bring a cushioned, wipe-able Portable Changing Pad). Both California parks also have a Baby Care Center. There are teeny-tiny toilets and clean changing tables. You can purchase extra diapers and wipes here if needed.
14. Go With the Flow!
One of the most important things when bringing your toddler to Disneyland is to remember to “Go with the flow!” Make happy memories, take lots of pictures and simply have a great time. If you find yourself or your toddler getting stressed out, take a break. Go back to the hotel, go swimming or have a snack. It’s the happiest place on Earth for a reason. The point of going to Disneyland with toddlers is to make magical memories you’ll remember forever!
This post originally published Oct 27, 2014 and has been updated and republished.