Travel Traveling with Children

8 Disneyland Tips for Families with Young Children

Visiting Disneyland with toddlers or small children? These Disneyland tips have helped our family have a good experience when we visit Disneyland and enjoy the most magical place on earth!

Looking for Disneyland tips for making the most of your Disneyland with toddlers trip? These eight simple Disneyland tips will make your day at Disney more fun for everyone!

A few weeks ago, we drove down to California for a quick weekend at Disneyland and the beach.

This was our fourth trip to Disneyland with toddlers and little kids (we went for the first time when Ella was about 10 months old), and I think we get a little better every time we go.

I would NEVER pretend to be a Disney expert.

There are whole blogs dedicated only to Disneyland tips or even just the Disneyland FOOD, and I don’t pretend to know even remotely all the tricks.

But here are my Disneyland tips that have worked well for our family:

Let every child pick 1-2 rides that are really important to them.

Each time we go, we have our girls choose the rides that are most important to them so that we make sure we get those in, no matter how crowded the park is (you can also look up beforehand what rides are closed (scroll down on that page to the section about closed rides) so your child doesn’t have their heart set on Splash Mountain only to discover that. . . no Splash Mountain for you).

Download the Disneyland app

This is the easiest Disneyland tip – the app is free and it shows the whole map of the park with the wait times at every ride plus what time FastPasses are being offered for at any given moment. So handy – I didn’t download it on this last trip until the evening, which was a mistake. This makes it easy to snag the rides that have short lines and know which ones to get FastPasses for.

Take your own snacks

Disneyland allows you to bring in your own food, which is awesome. We generally eat all our meals in the park and let the girls pick out one snack each, but it’s super handy to have some string cheese or applesauce pouches or something else so that we can make sure no one gets too hungry between meals or if a line gets too long. Disneyland with toddlers is

Give everyone a budget

We told each girl we’d buy them one snack, whatever they wanted. We also are not really souvenir people, so we told them if they wanted to buy something extra, that was on them. Ella got popcorn, Ani got cotton candy, and I can’t remember what Star picked. It was nice because they knew beforehand what to expect and there was no begging or complaining about it.

Strollers forever

Someday, we might go to Disneyland stroller free, and that will be delightful, but Disneyland requires SO. MUCH. WALKING. and so I feel like we are years away from going without a stroller. We took our double Britax stroller and it was great that all three of the younger girls could take naps during the day, plus it gave us a place to stash things.

Pack light

Even with a stroller, I like to pack as lightly as possible. We bring a few snacks, a couple of small water bottles we can refill throughout the day, and some diapers and wipes. It’s so easy to just load yourself down with stuff and it’s a pain to deal with.

Expect at least one meltdown per child

You want Disneyland to be this magical experience with your children, and it totally is. But it’s also such an exhausting day, with ten million stimulants, long lines, tons of walking, and a complete break from routine. I always have a better time if I expect all of my children to fall apart whining or crying at some point. Remember that you’re the grown-up and help them move on without losing your cool (easy to say, harder to do). There are meltdowns at Disneyland with toddlers and there are meltdowns at Disneyland even with my older children who generally are much better behaved.

Remember sunk cost

My personality is one where I always want to get my money’s worth. If it were up to me, we would sprint from one ride to the next in the absolute most efficient order so we could get in as many rides as we possibly could (which is why it was fun to go before any of my siblings had children). And we would be the first people in the gates and the last ones out.

This with small children? A recipe for disaster.

I try to remind myself that we’re at Disneyland to have a magical time as a family, and if that means we go back to the hotel for naps or leave while everyone is still pleasant or take a long picnic lunch and let the girls play with that massive water ball in Tomorrowland? So be it. You’ve already paid and you don’t get extra points for staying until everyone is sobbing on the way to the car. This past time, the three little girls were just DONE by 6:30 p.m. so Bart took them all back to the hotel, ordered pizza, and put them to bed, while Ella and I stayed and rode rides until 10:45. And everyone was happy.

And if you have advice about Disneyland with toddlers or small children, I’d LOVE it if you shared it in the comments!

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11 Comments

  • Reply Megan February 22, 2018 at 6:54 am

    We are going this fall and will have a 4 year old and 1 year old. Is your stroller side by side or one in front/back? Our double stroller is front/back but is kindof bulky.

  • Reply Sarah R February 22, 2018 at 8:44 am

    I love your tips – especially the snack one! We go to Disney World 3 times/year. We’ve been to Disneyland twice. I would say if you are trying to decide between a trip to Disney World and Disneyland, Disneyland is much easier to get around and see everything with small children. You can easily see everything Disneyland offers in 2-3 days, but it takes a full week to do Disney World!

    We use the rider switch pass often for rides where my younger child is not tall enough to go on. Your family requests this pass at the start of the line. Then one adult rides the ride with the older child and the other adult stays with the little one. When they are done with the ride, you meet back up, and then the other adult can go through the Fast Pass line with the older child to get on the ride.

    • Reply Janssen Bradshaw February 23, 2018 at 1:55 pm

      YES to the rider switch – those parent passes are the best.

  • Reply Elaine Doolittle February 22, 2018 at 8:45 am

    I’ve been to Disney World, but never Disneyland, but I imagine that they are pretty similar. Even as two adults, the APP was fabulous with the maps, fast passes, and restaurant reservations as well as schedules for nighttime festivities. Fast Passes and wait times were so helpful! If I remember correctly, you can line up the Fast Passes a week or more ahead of time. Some of them were already gone when I looked at them. Remember that for little ones, the giant characters can be scary. I’d also like to add that the shows are well worth seeing and give everyone a chance to sit for a while in air conditioning. The darkness might even be conducive for napping.

  • Reply Rachel February 22, 2018 at 10:20 am

    This is so great! We leave one week from today for our first trip to Disneyland with little ones. I’ve been a million times, but never with my kids. I need to remember that sunk cost point. I know I’m going to want to stay until the fireworks, but my kids are generally early to bed plus we will be two time zones off so likely we won’t make it that late.

  • Reply OregonMum February 22, 2018 at 9:22 pm

    We do yearly road trips from Oregon to DL with our four young boys ages 9-2, so that’s 10 trips with babies, toddlers, preschoolers and elementary age kids. And pregnant a couple times. My biggest advice for people planning big vacations there (not weekenders who can hop over fairly easily) is to go during the week during the slow season. The rides and character meets are what the kids want to do and going during the slow time means they can ride everything they want multiple times. It costs so much stinkin’ money to go, so go when you won’t spend half your day standing in line.

    Strollers for everyone! We average 6-8 miles per day and some days we did more. Any kid will get exhausted by that much walking. For our four kids we brought our single AND double stroller so the bigger kids could trade off. One night as we walked back to our hotel we had all three big kids asleep piled on each other in the double jogger.

    We’re one of “those” families that pack a soft side small cooler and gallon size bags of snacks into the parks. Food there is crazy expensive. We pack frozen uncrustable sandwiches, cheese sticks, applesauce pouches and of course stuff like trail mix, crackers dried fruit and emergency situation dum dum suckers. With a family of six (my five guys eat A TON) we can only afford yearly trips by driving 15 hours in one day, staying at cheap hotels and only eating out one-two meals per trip.

    It is such a fun place to take your children, but I really believe that you need to be properly prepared in order to not feel like it was a waste of money.

    • Reply Janssen Bradshaw February 23, 2018 at 1:54 pm

      Yes! I love all these tips. It’s not a cheap vacation by ANY stretch of the imagination.

  • Reply Jeanelle February 23, 2018 at 10:06 am

    Your sunk cost advice applies to all ages. I went once in early October and it was 106 degrees two of our four days. After riding Little Mermaid multiple times (free AC!) we (two adults) went back to the hotel and napped in the afternoon. We then went back to the park closer to sundown so we could enjoy the parks more and not have adult-level meltdowns. Managing/adjusting your expectations is key at Disneyland.

  • Reply This + That February 26, 2018 at 1:50 am

    […] Love me some Disney tips! […]

  • Reply Jodi February 26, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    Having a plan and reading tips makes SUCH a difference. We went last May, and I spent a ton of time making sure I was very familiar with everything. It was hands down the best trip we’ve had as a family, I loved it. Surprisingly, we stayed until closing time all 3 park days (with a day break after 2 days) and the kids did awesome. Thank goodness we had grandma with us!

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