For some little ones, Disneyland is an enchanting place! They delight in the rides, the brights lights and color and the unique sounds throughout the Parks. For other 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!
Here are my top 14 ways to have an enjoyable time at Disneyland with a toddler.
Have a Plan
Avoid traveling during “peak season” (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, Summer) to minimize crowds and wait times. Aim for a trip mid-week, as a Wednesday is considerably less crowded than a Saturday. I recommend that you purchase your tickets ahead of time at Park Savers (affiliate link). You’ll save time at the gate in the morning & a few dollars off each ticket. Keep in mind that children under three do not require an admission ticket. Two-year olds and under receive free entry, hurrah!
Size them up!
Measure your child’s height so you can know ahead of time which rides have height restrictions.
Figure out before your trip which rides are a “must-do”
Just 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 it might happen more than once if it’s a ride they fall in love with and request you ride 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 site shows which rides and attractions are well-loved by most toddlers.
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).
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 these posts about the Sure-Fire Ways to Meet Mickey (and other characters) and How to Encourage Shy Kids to Be Brave at Disney.
Let them stretch their legs
Make sure to let little ones burn off excess energy by hitting one of the play areas in the Parks. 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. On a hot day, toddlers can splash at Princess Dot Puddle Park in Disney California Adventure Park.
Big and Little
It can be challenging to please everyone when you have a toddler and older children in your group. With two or more adults, you might consider splitting up during the day to make sure everyone gets their fair share of entertainment. On our last trip while the two big kids rode with my husband on Radiator Springs Racers, Dillon 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 a special pass. Be sure to read this TravelingMom post Tweens & Toddlers at Disney – What You Need to Make Everyone Happy.
Take in the entertainment…but know your audience
Dillon adored Mickey’s Soundsational Parade on our last visit. 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. He also loves seeing his favorite characters in the Disney Junior Stage Show. Though I love Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, I know that at only 2-years old Dillon’s probably not ready to sit through a 40-minute stage show. The show also has some dark elements that might frighten young children. Know your child and review the Disney Parks website entertainment sections before planning what shows to watch with your toddler.
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 you have a little one with you, plan the day around your toddler’s schedule. I’d recommend hitting their 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 criss-crossing the Park. Once nap time arrives, the adults or older children in our group take that time to hit a few of the thrill-rides. We choose to let our little guy nap in his 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.
Hunger = Crankiness
Bring with you plenty of healthy snacks from home for your toddler to nibble on throughout the day. You can bring in a sippy cup and request ice water from any counter service restaurant for free.
Use a stroller, even if you don’t think you’re going to 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 to drape over the stroller and use as a sunshield at nap time. At the end of the night your toddler may fall asleep and after a long day, the last thing you’ll want to do is carry your heavy kid back to the car or hotel! We live close by the Parks and always bring our own stroller. If you are traveling and don’t want to pack a stroller you can rent one at the Parks.
Map out the bathrooms
Especially important if your toddler is toilet-training, you won’t want to be in a Land without knowing where the closest potty is! Both men’s and women’s restrooms have diaper-changing areas (bring a cushioned, wipeable changing pad). We love to make a stop inside the Baby Care Center. They have teeny-tiny toilets and clean changing tables. You can also purchase extra diapers and wipes here if needed.
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, have a snack or simply take the Grand Circle Tour on the Disneyland Railroad around the Park.
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