Disneyland! Every kids dream! But what about parents? Are you the type of parent that gets excited too or do you dread Disneyland with younger kids in tow? The crowds, the expense, the wrangling of children, the waiting in line. It can be a lot when you’re trying to care for younger children who you can’t expect to patiently stand in the sun for 25 minutes while waiting in line for It’s a Small World. Try catching a toddler who can easily run under the chains as you awkwardly attempt to weave through people who think you’re cutting in line. That’s always fun!
I was one of those people who had all these visions and opinions about how life would be after kids before I had them. One thing I always said is that I wouldn’t be caught up in the Disneyland hype until all of my children were old enough to enjoy it once or twice, but that was all we’d do. Skip ahead and we didn’t make it very long. Our family went there to celebrate my sons first birthday and have been there several times in the year since. We’ve been able to learn a thing or two about navigating Disneyland with babies and toddlers so I’m excited to share some tips.
While I’m trying to gear most of these tips towards parents of babies or toddlers, I also included some more general tips because let’s be honest the day is going to be a little crazy and a few tips to help it go smoothly will create a much better experience for everyone.
Try to get a hotel within walking distance
If we’re staying in a hotel we always do our best to get one within walking distance, especially with younger kids who can’t handle a full day as well as older kids might. Or maybe it’s just us parents who can’t handle a full day with smaller kids. It’s exhausting. It’s totally worth a 10 or 15 minute walk to not have to park AND because you can go back to the room for a few hours during the day without having to go to the car. When my son was younger and a good nap was key to everyones sanity we would go for a few hours, come back in the afternoon for a nice nap and then head back around dinnertime to finish off the day.
Parking: be early or late
If you’re hoping to get there right when they open plan on pulling into the parking garage at least half an hour early. If you show up a few minutes before Disneyland opens you’ll sit in line to park for a good half hour or more on most days and then wait in line for tickets and then again to get in. Do yourself a favor and get there a little earlier if you’re wanting to be one of the first ones in.
What works best for us, since we’re only a few hours away and can go every couple of months, is to actually get to the park a few hours after opening. We usually plan to get there a little after noon. We like to stay late for whatever parades or fireworks might be going on so we aim to get there early afternoon. With a toddler in tow it’s really hard to do a full day open to close so it works out pretty well for us. If you’re local and can go often or if you’re spending a few days there you might consider this too.
What to bring
It’s hard to find a balance of bring prepared, but not bringing way too much. We’ve really scaled down because it’s a pain in the butt to deal with several bags of stuff.
Here’s our basic list now that we’ve been able to go a few times with our son:
- water (sippy cups & cups for the adults too)
- a few small toys that won’t be missed if lost
- sleep aids (we bring my son’s elephant and a pacifier to help with stroller naps)
- diapers to get you through the day plus one more
- change of clothes
- small blanket
It sounds like a lot, but it’s a lot less than we used to bring and we can usually fit most of it in a backpack.
Small bag for valuables
Because you’ll have to ditch the stroller pretty often make sure you have a bag you can comfortably wear/carry that can hold anything important. While I’ve never had any issues with people taking things from our stroller we make sure to have a small backpack and throw all of our wallets, phones, etc. in that bag along with water and a few snacks to keep my son happy we’re waiting in line. Like I said no one has ever messed with our things, but if someone did by chance accidentally take the wrong stroller you want to make sure you don’t lose anything important like car keys or wallets.
Tram or no tram?
I hate taking the tram. There, I said it. I know it’s supposed to be helpful, but if you have a stroller it’s a pain. It’s maybe a 10 minute walk from the parking structure to the entrance so we just walk most of the time. If you take the tram and you have a stroller you’ll either need to fold it down (and find somewhere to put all the stuff you strategically stuffed in there) or you’ll have to wait in the stroller line for a seat in one of the two stroller rows per tram. It can be a really long wait. So if you can make it, just walk. Usually there will be arrows showing you the way to the parks, but if not just ask a cast member by the tram and they’ll be able to tell you the way.
Stroller AND carrier
Obviously Disneyland is geared towards kids so it’s pretty stroller friendly. There are designated stroller parking areas all around the park since you can’t take your stroller on a ride or even in line for the rides. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time in lines consider bringing a carrier to wear your baby or toddler! Those 45 minute waits can get rough when you’re holding a baby or trying to keep your toddler from running off.
When my son was younger he spent most of his time in the carrier because we were always having to park the stroller and take him out to wait in line for rides. We still bring a stroller because carrying a baby around, even in a carrier, all day can be exhausting and it’s really useful to hold all the extra junk you end up bringing.
If you have two people and can pack really light you might be able to get away with just a carrier and one person carrying a backpack with the baby/toddler essentials! But for us it’s easiest to just have a stroller and a carrier to switch off. Plus at the end of the day when you’re exhausted the stroller is nice.
The carrier we love now is the Lillebaby Airflow because it’s a light weight material that’s similar to mesh so it doesn’t get too hot. We also have a Zobo 2x double stroller since we often have my son and nephew with us.
Disneyland is exhausting. For everyone. Because of this we never had too many issues with getting our son to nap. When we used wear him a lot he would nap really well and it was so easy because we could be in line for a ride or even on a ride and he would just nap. Now that he prefers not being strapped to us he’ll nap a little here and there in the stroller which works fine. If your kid needs to nap in the stroller try to plan some shopping or just walking around for that time since you won’t be able to wait in line for any rides with the stroller.
Baby friendly rides
I love seeing which rides my son will like each time we go. We went for the first time when he was one and he didn’t really care about anything. Since then he reacts differently to different rides. Right now we’re in a general “every ride makes him cry, but he still asks to go on” phase. Some safe bets for younger kids are It’s a Small World, Jungle Cruise and most of the rides in Fantasyland. We also have done Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion a few times, but now that he’s a little older he seems scared of them.
Did you know that there’s a baby center in both Disneyland and California Adventure? There are changing tables, high chairs, nursing rooms and even tiny toilets for cute little toddlers. It’s always very clean and the attendants are really friendly. It’s a lot easier than trying to wrestle a diaper onto a baby in the stroller or even on the tiny changing stations in the regular bathrooms.
If you didn’t know there was a Disneyland app you should be really excited! It’s available in the Apple app store as well as Google play. You can see park hours, event times (parades, shows, etc) and even wait times for rides. We use it constantly when we’re in the park to see which rides have the shortest wait.
Safe places to get the wiggles out
When you’re a toddler Disneyland is a lot of sitting and waiting. I’m an adult and it’s even a lot of waiting around for me. I know my son needs to run around and get his energy out a few times throughout the day so over time we’ve found some of the better places to do this.
The places we usually stop are the play area in Toon Town, although you need to watch out because it can get pretty crowded with older kids who aren’t so careful and my son has left in tears a few times. Also the area in front of the Fantasyland Theater (before you get to Toon Town) is usually open for running around and so is the area by the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride. Neither of these are really made for playing, but they’re generally less crowded so it’s safe to sit to the side while my son moves around and is able to get some energy out.
- Cream cheese pretzels are available at one of the carts by It’s a Small World. So good. We always get one to snack on before getting in line for the ride.
- Kids under 3 are free! I don’t believe in lying about your kids age to get them in for free, but I do support going as many times as possible before then!
- Vegetarian food favorites: Caprese sandwich or grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup from Jolly Holiday Bakery and Vegetarian gumbo from the Royal Street Veranda.
- Is It Packed? is an awesome website that gives you an idea of which days are less crowded. So far it’s been pretty spot on for us.
- Glow sticks can be fun if you plan to wait for a nighttime parade. People can start saving spots up to 2 hours before they start so once it starts getting dark the kids are usually beyond antsy. One visit the little girl next to us gave my son a glow stick and it kept him happy while we waited.
- Don’t forget to check out the candy kitchen in Pooh Corner. We love their caramel apples. There may be other places in the park to get these treats, but we always go to this spot since it’s never too crowded.
- Take a picture of your car and the nearest parking sign so you remember where you parked.
I know a lot of people avoid Disneyland with younger kids, but I really do think it’s fun. We do our best not to have any expectations on going on a ton of rides and just kind of enjoy the entire experience even if we only get on a few rides and just spend the rest of our time just kind of walking around looking at all the fun decorations and people watching.
Have you braved Disneyland with a little one? Do you have any additional tips that I missed?