Planning a trip to Disneyland with toddlers? Find out my top tips for traveling Disneyland with a toddler and check out my totally doable itinerary.
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My family has traveled to Disneyland with a toddler several times over the past 3 years and we’ve learned a lot every trip on how to make it easier on ourselves without sacrificing any of the magic!
The first time we took our oldest to Disneyland as a toddler, I was a bit overwhelmed because I had never been to Disneyland before and wasn’t sure what to expect.
Everyone had told me to wait until our son was 5 years old (that always seemed to be the magic number) and I started worrying that the whole trip would be a disaster.
I’m so glad I didn’t listen to them!
Going to Disneyland with a toddler is such a magical experience! And I’m proud to report that both of my kids do actually remember bits and pieces from their trips and their entire faces light up when I show them photos and video from our trips.
But most importantly, I have those glorious memories of them meeting Mickey Mouse for the first time, going on their first Disneyland ride, and enjoying their first Disney treat and those memories will stay with me forever!
So, let’s dive right in with my top tips for Disneyland with a toddler:
What You Need to Know About Disneyland with Toddlers
The awesome part about Disneyland with toddlers is that they are free all the way until 3 years old. That means they enter the parks for free and also can eat for free at all sit down restaurants.
Disneyland has typical children’s meals (pizza, nuggets, etc) but they also have several healthy options (grilled chicken, veggies, etc).
And you can get milk almost anywhere you go (which made our 2 year old very thrilled!)
If your toddler is still in diapers or you are potty training, you will want to take advantage of the Baby Care Center, which also sells toddler items.
Additionally, Disneyland has some of the best shows, parades, and experiences for toddlers.
My kids especially enjoy the Frozen show at the Hyperion Theater in Disney California Adventure as well as seeing Beauty and the Beast and Tangled at the Royal Theater in Disneyland.
There’s so much to do in Disneyland with toddlers! Keep reading for my tips on how to manage the Parks with toddlers.
Find the BEST Disneyland Resort deals here.
1. USE THE DISNEY PHOTOPASS SERVICE
Disneyland has photographers stationed around the Parks at character meet and greets, in front of the castle, in front of holiday decorations, and in various spots.
The Disney PhotoPass photographers will take photos with your own camera/phone (free to you,) but they will also take photos with their camera and post them in an online gallery so you can decide if you’d like to purchase their photos.
The best way to get the PhotoPass photos is to buy a MaxPass. It’s $15/day and gives you all the photos.
Only one member of your group needs to get one and you can all either link individual PhotoPass cards to the MaxPass or screenshot the same PhotoPass card to all use.
This service is especially handy when I’m away from my husband (who has a nice camera) and want to get a few photos with characters when the lines are short.
If I were to do Disneyland solo with the kids, I would just use the Disney PhotoPass Service and my iPhone for simplicity.
2. CHOOSE A HOTEL CLOSE TO THE DISNEYLAND PARKS
If your toddler needs to nap in a bed or crib, you will want to stay close to the Parks so you can easily pop back to your hotel to nap in the afternoon.
While you can easily do a stroller nap in the Parks, it’s nice to take a break from all the excitement.
If you aim to get there for opening (or even earlier for Magic Mornings) and want to stay for the fireworks, it’s a very long day.
It may seem like you are wasting money by not being in the park the entire day, but overtired toddlers (and frustrated parents) don’t make for a happy trip.
Staying close to the parks is my secret for enjoying Disneyland with toddlers.
You can get deals on Disneyland Resort hotels and Good Neighbor hotels here.
We’ve stayed at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel twice and the hotel was lovely! It’s quiet and if you get the theme park view, you can see all the festivities at Disney California Adventure including their World of Color show (from the comfort of your hotel room!)
We also really like staying at the Anaheim Fairfield Inn, which is across the street from the entrance. I know other families love the Marriott Courtyard Theme Park Entrance because of the awesome water park they have.
If your toddler typically takes short naps and you are staying off-property, you might consider napping in the lobby of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, the dark Animation Academy at Disney California Adventure Park, or at the movie theater on Main Street.
Personally, I also need some quiet time where I can rest before continuing the day at Disneyland with toddlers. The break does wonders for my attitude!
3. DO THE DISNEYLAND CHARACTER MEALS
I’d recommend doing Disneyland Character Dining on days you will not be in the Park just so you aren’t cutting into Park time. These are great to do on travel days to extend the Disney experience.
Some characters (like Stitch) only seem to be available at Disneyland Character Meals. Others have really long lines to meet them in the park, so this will save you time. And time is crucial when exploring Disneyland with toddlers.
We’ve done a lot of Disneyland character meals and Goofy’s Kitchen is one of our favorites! They offer both character breakfasts and character dinners at the Disneyland Hotel.
If you really want to splurge, the new Princess Breakfast Adventures is amazing! It’s $125/person, but kids under 3 eat free and the experience itself is just so special. You can read my full review here.
4. PLAN ON SOME SIT DOWN MEALS
Sitting at a restaurant provides a great break from all the activity of the park and can help toddlers (and parents) recharge after the Disneyland activities.
You can make reservations for restaurants up to 60 days ahead.
We always appreciate being able to sit down, eat a more substantial meal and re-hydrate while talking about what we are enjoying most about the parks. It also gives us time to clear our heads and think realistically what our next steps should be.
On our last trip, we actually booked the Breakfast in the Plaza character meal as our sit down meal one day. We got to the Park early and did a bunch of Fantasyland rides, then headed to have breakfast with Minnie and relax while meeting tons of characters.
And over in Disney California Adventure, the Lamplight Lounge is my pick for a relaxing meal. They have an outdoor space with comfy chairs where you can seriously “lounge” with your toddler while watching the rides and eating yummy food.
Plus, they have light up drinks my toddler loves!
5. LEARN ABOUT EXTRA MAGIC HOURS/MAGIC MORNINGS AT DISNEYLAND
When you stay on property, you are able to enter the parks a full hour before the general public using Extra Magic Hours, meaning you can often do some of the crazy busy rides without much of a wait.
Many of the multi-day passes include one day where you can use Magic Mornings (which is exactly like Extra Magic Hours but with a different name.)
These early entrance tickets alternate between Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park, so make sure you know which park has them each day so you can plan accordingly.
The first time we went, we took full advantage of Magic Hours at Disney California Adventure Park and our toddler was able to get photos with all the Cars characters, do all the Cars rides he was tall enough for multiple times and explore another area all before the park opened to the public. It saved us a lot of time!
There were so many Disneyland rides for toddlers in this area!
6. RESEARCH RIDE REFURBISHMENTS BEFORE YOUR TRIP TO DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS
Especially if you go in the off-season, several rides will be closed do to refurbishments. When we went the first time, the Disneyland Railroad and the Disneyland Monorail were both under refurbishment.
I knew this ahead of time, so I didn’t plan on using either of these for transportation or for down time at the park. It also gave us a heads up that my husband’s favorite rides were going to be closed.
As kids get older and have favorite rides they look forward to, it’s nice to be able to manage their expectations and let them know if their favorite ride will be unavailable so they have time to process.
Thankfully, there weren’t any other Disneyland rides for toddlers under refurbishment during this trip. But, I did show my son videos of the rides.
Read more about 7 Ways to Prep a Toddler for Disneyland in this post.
7. TRAVEL TO DISNEYLAND WITH ANOTHER FAMILY
I can’t tell you how much easier it is to travel with another family whose kids are the same age as yours.
For our first trip to Disneyland with toddlers, we went with another family and it was so helpful! We were able to switch off nap duty so the Moms could stay in the park one day and the Dads could the next.
It also meant that Moms could take the kids on Disneyland rides for toddlers while the Dads did Disney FASTPASS® Service for other rides and vice versa. Plus the kids were able to play in line together to help pass the time.
It’s even easier now with the MaxPass, because you can get your FASTPASS directly from the Disneyland app.
8. LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD
If your child seems scared of Mickey Mouse, it might not be worth it to wait in line for a photo (where your kid may be crying or nestling into your arms).
Same goes for Disneyland rides for toddlers. If your child is afraid of a certain movie, character, or type of ride, don’t force it. The goal is for your child to have a fun time.
My oldest LOVES trains and didn’t mind the wait to get to ride the Casey Jr. Circus Train. He also loved “it’s a small world” and it was such a special experience for both of us because he was really awed by the ride.
On the flip side, I’ve pushed my youngest to meet Minnie Mouse when he was “in a mood” and it had disastrous results! I should have listened to him.
9. LEARN ABOUT RIDER SWITCH AT DISNEYLAND (AKA STROLLER PASS)
If you have a small child who is unable/unwilling to go an a ride, you can get a Rider Switch pass so both adults can go on the ride on after another without waiting in line again. This is a great way for both adults to go on favorite rides.
We used it a lot on our most recent trip to Disneyland with a toddler and 5 year old because our oldest was tall enough to do more rides than our youngest.
What’s awesome about Rider Switch is that your oldest gets to go twice (once with each parent!)
Let’s just say it came in handy when doing Star Tours a bunch of times!
See how I used the Rider Switch in my post How to Survive Disneyland with a Preschooler.
10. DOWNLOAD THE DISNEYLAND APP
This Disneyland app saved us so many times! Not only does it give you the wait times for the rides, but it also tells you where characters are, where the nearest bathrooms are, where restaurants are and serves as the portal for your Disney PhotoPass service.
The best thing about the app in my opinion is that you can mobile order your food at quick service restaurants! So, no more waiting in line for food with a cranky toddler!
You can also search for dining reservations. We’ve made reservations at some great restaurants with just a few hours notice.
The app helped us feel organized when navigating Disneyland with toddlers.
On a side note: Disneyland also has the Disneyland Play App as a fun way to enjoy your time waiting in line for rides.
11. PACK A BATTERY-POWERED CELL PHONE CHARGER
We got so much use out of this battery-powered cell phone charger. Because you may be splitting off from your group or using your phone to take lots of photos and videos, your battery might drain more quickly than usual.
This is also the case if you are constantly pulling up the app or letting your kids watch videos/play games on your phone in line. We let our kids watch a lot of videos while waiting for Disneyland rides.
If you end up forgetting to bring one, there are Fuel Rod stations set up all over the Parks. What’s cool about buying a Fuel Rod is that you can swap them for fully charged ones.
Note: Fuel Rod swaps are currently free however there is talk of charging $3 in the near future.
You just won’t want to be without your phone at Disneyland. There are WAY too many cute photo ops and you will seriously cry if your battery dies.
12. SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS WHEN VISITING DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS
The most heartbreaking thing about visiting Disneyland with toddlers the first time was seeing parents yelling at their crying kids. Most of these kids looked exhausted and possibly hungry.
I know first-hand how stressful it is when your toddler is not on best behavior when you are doing something special. This is why it’s so crucial to set realistic expectations for your trip.
During our first time, we went in knowing this trip was primarily for our toddler and it was a scouting trip for future trips to Disneyland.
With that mindset, it was easy to tell ourselves that we’d had enough each day and we would do the rest another time. We also knew that the nighttime parades and fireworks would probably not be in the cards for us this trip because it was past bedtime.
Our main theme was this was a fun trip and if someone wasn’t having fun, we needed to change what we were doing.
I’m happy to report that we’ve kept this mindset each trip and I think that’s why Disneyland is still one of our favorite family vacation spots!
13. MAKE A SCHEDULE OF YOUR DISNEYLAND VISIT
Disneyland is not a good place to “wing it” when traveling with a toddler.
Ask everyone in your group what their priorities are. I make sure that my husband has time to do some of his favorite rides from his childhood (or the super scary ones I won’t do.)
For me, I always have my list of classic photo spots and characters I want to get family photos with.,
And for our kids, they always want to do lots of Disneyland rides! So, we alternate who gets to pick the ride (or my husband and I each grab a kid and we do whatever rides they want for a set time frame.)
It’s really nice to group the rides/attractions by section of the park. That way, you can park your stroller and walk around and do everything you want in that area and move on to the next.
Best Disneyland Rides for Toddlers
One of the biggest misconceptions about Disneyland is that “there aren’t many rides for toddlers.”
That is simple malarkey!
There are so many Disneyland rides for toddlers that we never get to do them all in one trip. Let me break it down by Park:
DISNEYLAND RIDES FOR TODDLERS
- Alice in Wonderland
- Astro Orbitor
- Autopia (must be 32 inches tall)
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
- Casey Jr. Circus Train
- Disneyland Railroad
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
- Gadget’s Go Coaster
- “it’s a small world’
- Jungle Cruise
- King Arthur Carrousel
- Mad Tea Party
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (my kids think this one is weird)
- Mark Twain Riverboat
- Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run (must be 38 inches tall)
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey (my kids hate this ride)
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
- Sailing Ship Columbia
- Snow White’s Scary Adventure (my kids think it’s super scary)
- Storybook Land Canal Boats
DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE RIDES FOR TODDLERS
- Golden Zephyr
- Jessie’s Critter Carousel
- Jumpin’ Jellyfish
- The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
- Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters
- Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
- Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
- Pixar Pal-A-Round (the swinging ones can be a bit intense)
- Toy Story Midway Mania!
DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS ITINERARY DAY 1:
Ok, now that you know some of my tips, let’s get on to how to plan your day. Here’s what our itinerary looked like on our most recent trip to Disneyland with a toddler this past summer:
MORNING AT DISNEYLAND WITH A TODDLER
- We headed straight for Starbucks on Main Street USA to fuel up for the morning.
- Then, we went to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to go shopping, try the green milk, and do the PhotoPass photo ops.
- Next, we went to Fantasyland to ride the following rides:
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant (20 minute wait)
- Peter Pan’s Flight (30 minute wait)
- Casey Jr. Circus Train (5 minute wait)
- “it’s a small world” (5 minute wait)
- Then, we walked over to Toon Town to do the following:
- Met Donald Duck in Donald’s Boat
- Gadget’s Go Coaster (20 minute wait)
- We tried to Meet Mickey, but had to bail to get to our lunch reservation
AFTERNOON AT DISNEYLAND WITH A TODDLER
- We had lunch reservations at Cafe Orleans
- Then, we headed to Main Street Cinema to cool down and let our toddler take a stroller nap
- While our toddler napped, we headed back to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge to create custom lightsabers in Savi’s Workshop and build our own droids.
- Then, we picked up food truck snacks and walked back to our hotel to cool down.
- We had groceries delivered to our hotel room and we snacked a bit before heading back to the Park.
EVENING AT DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE WITH A TODDLER
- Because we had Park Hopper tickets, we headed into Disney California Adventure and went straight to Jessie’s Critter Carousel (15 minute wait)
- Then we got churros
- We walked over to The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventures (10 minute wait)
- Dinner consisted of sharing a turkey leg and corn on the cob
- We did a quick walk through Cars Land
- Headed back to the hotel at 9pm and watched the fireworks from the parking lot of our hotel
DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS ITINERARY DAY 2:
MORNING AT DISNEYLAND WITH A TODDLER
- We arrived right when the Park opened at 9am and rode the Red Trolley to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle
- Did Peter Pan’s Flight (30 minute wait)
- Got in line for Autopia, but bailed to make our character dining reservation (they told us to head straight to the front of the line after breakfast)
- We had a 10am reservation for Minnie and Friends – Breakfast in the Park character meal
- Went back to Autopia and actually got to ride it
- Looked (and found) sunscreen at a shop
- Used Rider Switch so our oldest could do Star Tours
- Enjoyed the A/C of Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
- Headed back to the hotel to cool off and nap
AFTERNOON AT DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE WITH A TODDLER
- Went straight to Bing Bong’s to get slushies
- The kids played in the water on Pixar Pier for 45 minutes (it was SO hot that day)
- Headed to Cars Land and rode Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree twice (10 minute wait each time)
EVENING AT DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE WITH A TODDLER
- We grabbed quick service food and brought it over to eat near Tale of the Lion King (special summer show)
- Watched Tale of the Lion King
- Rode the Golden Zephyr (no wait)
- Rode the Emotional Whirlwind (10 minute wait)
- Walked back to hotel around 9pm
DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS ITINERARY DAY 3:
MORNING AT DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE WITH A TODDLER
- We got to the Park early and did an 8:30am family photo shoot with Adam & Claudia Photography
- By 10:30am, we were at Starbucks in Disney California Adventure
- Headed to Cars Land and rode Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters twice (30 minute wait and 20 minute wait)
- Enjoyed Mickey’s Philharmagic show
- Shopped at a few of the boutiques
AFTERNOON AT DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS
- We had a 1pm lunch reservation at Riverbelle Terrace (the food was so good!)
- Grabbed a Dole Whip
- Headed back to the hotel for nap and to play at the hotel pool
EVENING AT DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS
- Headed into Disneyland and the whole family rode Gadget’s Go Coaster (no wait)
- We finally met Mickey Mouse in his house and got photos
- Grabbed dinner at the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country
- Whole family rode Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
- Headed back to hotel
DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS ITINERARY DAY 4:
MORNING AT DISNEYLAND WITH A TODDLER
- We took advantage of Early Magic Hour and headed straight for Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters (no wait)
- Then we did the Astro Orbitor twice (5 minute wait each time)
- Walked onto Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
- Autopia (5 minute wait)
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant (5 minute wait)
- Walked onto Mad Tea Party
- Rode Alice in Wonderland twice (5 minute wait and 10 minute wait)
- Hit up Starbucks
- Shopped and interacted with characters in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
- Then we walked over to Disney California Adventure for our 11:30am brunch reservation at the Lamplight Lounge.
AFTERNOON AT DISNEY CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE WITH A TODDLER
- We watched my husband ride the Incredicoaster
- I went to guest services and bought my first Disneyland Annual Pass (squeal!)
- Shopped at World of Disney in Downtown Disney
- Headed back to the hotel to cool off a bit
EVENING AT DISNEYLAND WITH A TODDLER
- We went straight to the Royal Theatre where the kids watched Beauty and the Beast
- Then, we headed to meet princesses (and it was the most special princess meet and greet ever!)
- Walked around Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge one last time
- Headed to Disney California Adventure and got quick service dinner from the Cozy Cone in Cars Land
- Met Mater
- Met Spider-Man
- Met Captain Marvel (who had my oldest run back to Spider-Man so he could play an epic game of tag!)
- Rode Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (no wait)
- Shopped a bit in the stores at Cars Land
- Grabbed a huge loaf of Mickey sourdough bread
- Headed back to the hotel
And there you have it! To read more of my Disneyland posts, click here.