Disneyland With a Toddler
Before your trip, here are a few ideas and additional posts for Disneyland tips with toddlers about what you should plan ahead of time.
- Be sure to read this post about Disneyland with a Toddler – it will give you lots of practical advice for your day!
- Planning to stay at a Disneyland Resort Hotel or at an off-site hotel?
- Packing a diaper bag – what to bring with you and what you can buy in the Parks.
- What are the best outfits for toddlers to wear in the Disney Parks?
- Bringing a stroller? How about a front carrier to hold your toddler when he’s sleepy? I definitely recommend bringing BOTH because you’re going to be exhausted at the end of the day too!
- Will your Disneyland trip include children of various ages? See how you can accommodate all ages at Disneyland on this TravelingMom post.
- Some of the tips in this post about taking toddlers to Walt Disney World are valid at Disneyland as well.
Disneyland With a Toddler
This is a one-day Disneyland itinerary with a toddler. I’ll outline what things you can see, do and eat in a single day at the Disneyland park with your toddler. You won’t be able to do EVERYTHING (you’d need more than a single day for that!). But these are the essentials that your toddler will enjoy!
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Extra Magic Hour and Rope Drop
Most toddlers are early birds, which will make it easy for you to get to the Park before opening. Have a quick breakfast at the hotel or do what I do with my toddler – Give her a granola bar or dry cereal and a cup of milk, and let her nibble in the stroller while we’re walking to the gates!
Guests staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours to enter the Parks one hour before official opening. Not all attractions are open but Fantasyland is! And Fantasyland is the perfect place to start with your toddler. Note that there are specific days that the Disneyland Park is available for Extra Magic Hour so check at the hotel for the schedule.
If you aren’t staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel, you’ll want to take advantage of “Rope drop”. This happens in the 30 minutes before the Park opens officially. If you arrive during this time, you may be able to enter onto Main Street U.S.A. before the rest of the Park opens. There are often character greetings and the shops are open for browsing.
Toddlers are fickle little people. Some toddlers LOVE the characters. And some toddlers HATE the characters! I recommend letting your toddler watch from afar at first and judge from there if you really want to do the character meet n’ greets. There are plenty of characters around the entrance and hub of Main Street U.S.A. and if you’re there right at rope drop, you’ll be able to meet with Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald and more.
Check out this TravelingMom post with tons of tips on how to meet characters (with practical advice from a mom whose toddler is scared of Mickey!)
The first two hours inside Disneyland are important to maximize! Many vacationers will sleep in and arrive to the Park later in the day. It’s good to be an early bird and take advantage of the lighter crowds during those first few hours. I recommend hitting Fantasyland first with your toddler. Walk straight down Main Street U.S.A., across the Sleeping Beauty Castle drawbridge and into Fantasyland!
Most of the rides and attractions in the Fantasyland area are toddler appropriate (save for the Matterhorn Bobsleds, which have a 42″ minimum height requirement). I’ve included all of the attractions here with key notes for taking your toddler –
- Alice in Wonderland -Most toddlers enjoy this ride
- Casey Jr. Circus Train- MUST DO
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant – MUST DO
- “it’s a small world”- MUST DO
- King Arthur Carrousel- MUST DO
- Mad Tea Party-Can take Toddler but they might be scared (fast moving)
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride-Can take Toddler but they might be scared (dark elements)
- Peter Pan’s Flight-Most toddlers enjoy this ride, however it is dark inside
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey-Can take Toddler but they might be scared (dark elements)
- Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough-Most toddlers enjoy this ride (lots of stairs to climb, which toddlers usually enjoy!)
- Snow White’s Scary Adventures-Can take Toddler but they might be scared (dark elements)
- Storybook Land Canal Boats-Most toddlers enjoy this ride (slow boat ride, storytelling & miniatures)
Lunch with Littles
Most dining locations offer toddler meals on their menus. And of course you can always request an extra plate and feed your toddler from your own meal. Feeding your child who has not yet turned three at a buffet location is free. I have more dining tips for little ones at Disney on this post.
I’m not a fan of full-service dining with a fidgety toddler. When toddlers are hungry they want to eat NOW! Also, my toddler tends to eat quickly and then clamor to get out of her highchair. This means I’m usually having to rush my meal or take it to-go!
One of the best time savers with toddlers at Disneyland is to use their app for mobile ordering food. Simply order from your phone, click the button when you arrive and pick it up at the counter! So easy when you have hungry littles and don’t want to stand in long lines for food.
Character dining can be hit or miss with a toddler. If your little one loves the characters, then yes, by all means book one of the character meals. But if your toddler doesn’t like the characters, I’d definitely skip the pricey character dining experiences.
Here are my favorite places to eat for lunch with my toddler at Disneyland:
- French Market in New Orleans Square- outdoor covered patio dining with roast chicken, meatloaf and corn chowder. The restaurant often offers live jazz music.
- Red Rose Taverne in Fantasyland-indoor dining. My toddler liked sharing the flatbread and fries.
- Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country-outdoor covered patio dining with chicken nuggets on the kid’s menu.
Disneyland With a Toddler Requires Play Time
Toddlers can only take so much of being strapped into a stroller. They need to get out, run around and play a bit (best to do right before their regular nap time).
There are places for you to let your toddler walk (like Main Street U.S.A. and the plaza near “it’s a small world”) that aren’t too congested. Other areas like New Orleans Square and Tomorrowland tend to be very crowded and it’s easy to get separated. Here are a few places to let your toddler out for free play.
- Mark Twain Riverboat
- Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island
- Tarzan’s Treehouse
- Toontown Play Areas including Donald’s Boat, Goofy’s Playhouse, Minnie’s House and Mickey’s House
Do NOT skip the nap! I repeat, do not attempt to skip sleep with your toddler! It’s tempting to want to power through your Disneyland day but you’ll pay for that skipped nap with tantrums and meltdowns!
You have several options for nap time, whether it be returning to the hotel, finding a quiet location or letting your toddler stroller sleep (my personal choice).
Toddlers Love a Parade
Depending upon the season for the year, there are several can’t miss Disneyland parades. Check the schedule before your trip to know which is gong to happen during your visit (past parades have included Mickey’s Soundsational, Pixar Play Parade, Paint the Night and Christmas Fantasy). Toddlers will love the vibrant colors, familiar characters and dance-able tunes. I keep my toddler in her stroller and roll it right up to the curb during the parade. This allows her a front row view to the show!
Dinner at Disneyland
As dark falls on the Park, thoughts turn to dinner. As I noted at lunch, I recommend sticking to quick service locations. These are my favorites:
- Plaza Inn on Main Street U.S.A.- Both indoor and outdoor dining. The fried chicken, veggies and mashed potatoes can’t be beat and the large platters are perfect for sharing.
- Rancho del Zocalo in Frontierland – Outdoor dining. I love the atmosphere here at night, with the beautiful colored lanterns that hang over the dimly lit patio. The Mexican food offerings are good. Just be sure to check the menu before sharing because some of the items are on the spicy side.
Other Must-Do Toddler Attractions
Any ride or attraction that does not have a height restriction is a-okay for your toddler! Rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion do not have a height restriction but use your best judgement before bringing your toddler aboard. Skittish little ones who do not enjoy the dark aspects or “spooky” elements likely will not enjoy these attractions!
I’ve noted the following attractions that are must-do with your toddler-
- Disneyland Railroad
- Enchanted Tiki Room (snacks are allowed inside!)
- Jungle Cruise (there is a loud gunshot during the ride; the Cast Member “Skipper” will alert you to cover your ears)
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (let her wield her own “blast” gun!)
- Finding Nemo Submarines
If your toddler doesn’t mind the noise and can stay up late, the fireworks spectaculars at Disneyland are amazing. Another excellent nighttime show is Fantasmic! I recently viewed this show with my toddler and have a few pointers. You’ll need to collect a FastPass ticket for Fantasmic! early in the day to have standing room viewing. Note that you’ll be arriving to your designated location about an hour early and standing to wait for the show. That’s a LONG time to hold a squirmy toddler. By the time the show came my arms were spent!
I highly recommend booking a Fantasmic! Dining Package in advance. You’ll receive a meal at one of the designated locations and a seat to watch the show front and center. I’m totally doing this next Disneyland trip!