Today I’m sharing a list of tips for taking toddlers to Disneyland.
We took Charlotte and Emmie a few weeks ago and had the most magical time ever. And while I realize that most people have the most magical time ever at Disneyland, I think Tyler and I just had tempered expectations. Toddlers are unpredictable!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about traveling with babies/toddlers, it’s that anything can go wrong at any time. Best to just keep your expectations low and be pleasantly surprised if/when everything goes right.
But our day at Disney was nearly perfect. I mean, of course, they got cranky towards the end of the day, but overall they were such troopers and so into everything. I had the biggest smile on my face the entire day watching them.
Both girls really impressed me on the rides. They were so brave! Even when I mistakenly thought Mister Toad’s Wild Ride would be appropriate for little ones, they both just clutched our arms, wide-eyed and silent. At the end, Char was like “mom that was a little scary” (lol my bad sis).
Tyler and I had both been many times growing up, and I even chaperoned a group of 20 six-year-olds once in my college camp counselor days. But this was the first time we’d ever gone together and obviously the girls’ first times too. So it was really special for all of us. I’ll never forget it.
Since it had been so long since our last visits, we didn’t really know where to start with planning a trip for toddlers. Leading up to the trip, I did a ton of my own research, asked for tips on Instagram, AND pestered my best friends via text into giving me their best advice. I just wanted to set us up for success, ok?
For today’s post, I basically compiled all of the advice we received as well as a few tips we picked up along the way. I am absolutely not a Disney expert, but I think this list is a really helpful start for anyone planning their first trip too.
(So to those with more experience–please feel free to add anything I might have missed in the comments. The more the merrier!)
Here is a list of tips for taking toddlers to Disneyland:
This was the number one tip we received, and for good reason! Genie+ costs around $20 extra but it ended up saving the day. The app lets you see how long the waits are for each ride, but with Genie+ you can actually reserve your spot in a “lightning lane” which moves much quicker than the normal lines. You can only have one reservation open at a time, but as soon as you check in for a ride you can use the app to reserve your next ride. We used this to skip the line for many rides throughout the day, so I thought it was worth every penny (especially with impatient toddlers in tow!!).
We got to the parking lot around 7:30am. It takes a while to shuttle in, use the restroom, and stand in the ticket line. It was around 8:15am by the time we were headed down Mainstreet, so I would have honestly gone even earlier actually. The first hour of our day was pure magic. The gates open at 7:30am and then they do a “rope drop” at the end of Main Street right at 8am.
Someone told me to also grab a Starbucks right away which I thought was genius. There’s one in Downtown Disney, and then the Market House shop on Main Street serves Starbucks drinks too.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to grab a family photo at the castle before it gets crowded. One of my most sociopathic traits is that I like to get pictures RIGHT AWAY on trips, etc because then I don’t stress about it the rest of the day.
Beeline it for Fantasyland right away and go on as many rides as possible before it gets crowded. This was the perfect way to kick the day off on a high note. The lines were minimal at that hour and the girls were on cloud nine as we rushed from ride to ride. Also, Fantasyland is a great place to start because there’s no height limit for most of the rides there.
If you have a Park Hopper pass: a lot of people told us to start with Disneyland for the reasons above. We made our way over to California Adventure in the afternoon and this worked out great. Also hot tip for parents: California Adventure serves alcohol whereas Disney does not, so better believe Tyler and I treated ourselves to some 3pm IPA’s.
Surprisingly, you are allowed to bring your own food and drinks in a soft cooler into Disneyland, so we brought plenty of water and snacks for the girls. The snacks came in handy a few times, but I wouldn’t say you need to pack a TON. Water is the most important thing, as it can get really hot in the middle of the day.
This was particularly helpful during Emmie’s nap. She went down around 1pm and the fan helped keep her cool while we walked her around. I’d also add here: portable sound machine for stroller naps. Ours is broken but it would have definitely come in handy.
I wouldn’t have thought of this, but I’m so glad someone told me to! I wore my trusty Lululemon belt bag all day and kept my keys, cards, and phone in it. That way, when we parked the stroller and got in line for rides I wasn’t panicking about leaving valuables in the diaper bag.
This is SO important. I was absolutely maniacal about applying and reapplying sunscreen on both myself and the girls all day, but I still wish I remembered to bring our hats. It got really bright and hot in the afternoon and it would have been helpful to have the extra protection.
Like I always say: the girls don’t need a change of clothes UNLESS I forget to pack one. You just never know–spilled food, potty accident if we couldn’t find the bathroom in time, etc. For what it’s worth, I think Zara has the cutest Disney stuff.
I love these Usborne sticker books for travel, and these came in handy while we were waiting for food throughout the day.
Park the stroller once in each land. This might be obvious but I still think it’s helpful. Just park it once and avoid loading and reloading everyone between rides.
We managed to skip this because the line was super long and Char was still high off meeting Mickey but we definitely need to do it next time. This is just to the left of the castle when you are heading towards Fantasyland.
Our best friends told us that we absolutely had to do this, and it ended up being one of the highlights of the day. There was a line though, and we almost didn’t get in actually. I’d recommend heading over 30 minutes early to grab a spot in line and have everyone use the bathroom close by. This was just the cutest little show–ours had Doc McStuffins and a surprise Mickey and Minnie appearance. The girls LOVED it and danced their little hearts out.
There are a few Baby Care Centers throughout the park. We actually didn’t end up using one but it’s still great to know about (especially for families with smaller babies!). The centers have nursing rooms, changing tables, toddler-sized toilets, kitchen sinks with bottle warmers and microwaves, and a vending machine with baby supplies, food, etc. Also great to know: if God-forbid your child gets lost, the staff is instructed to escort separated children to the nearest baby center. I only mention this because I actually got lost from my family at Disney when I was two years old–it’s one of my first memories, lol. So it happens, okay?
All of the gift shops have free “first visit” buttons behind the counter if you ask for them.
Perhaps most importantly of all, here are the main food recommendations I received: corn dogs (everywhere but specifically in California Adventure), Mickey beignets next to Pirates of the Caribbean, candy shop by Winnie the Pooh for caramel apples and baked goods, restaurants in Star Wars land, Rancho del Zocalo for lunch, popcorn and churros everywhere.
Helpful YouTube account: Provost Park Pass. We watched a few of his videos and learned a lot.
Someone suggested doing this and then researching which rides our kid can/cannot go on. I think this would be really helpful for setting expectations with slightly older kids. Char wasn’t really at the stage where she was begging to go on every ride, but I could see in a few years how important it would be to prep her for which rides she’s big enough for and which ones she’ll have to skip, if that makes sense.
This is worth saying one more time, I think. Keep your expectations low and go with the flow. My strategy with travel is usually something along the lines of “research, prepare, and then let it all go” which sounds dumb but hear me out: I like to have a general idea of what’s going on and what we want to do but in the moment we kind of just let the kids lead in terms of their energy/vibe. We never force anything because they can always pick up on it, know what I mean?
Okay I hope this was helpful!!
Like I said at the beginning of the post, please fill in the gaps where I missed anything important and add your tips in the comment section. I want this to be a really nice resource for anyone looking to plan a trip with their kiddos.
And, of course, thank you to everyone who gave me their advice leading up to our trip!! We had so much fun and I have you all to thank for that.
It’s a pre-weekend pick me up: just a little note with links to the latest blog posts, what I’m reading lately, and products I’m obsessed with. Think of it as a friend dropping off a surprise latte in the morning--you know?