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Planning a trip to Disneyland with toddlers or preschoolers? Parents of young kids always have a lot of questions about taking on the Disney parks, including what to pack, avoiding meltdowns and most importantly, what can little ones actually ride at Disneyland? Here is the helpful advice and insider tips you’ll need for a truly magical vacation at the Happiest Place on Earth!
Disneyland with Toddlers and Preschoolers
Traveling with toddlers and preschoolers requires special preparation. From picky palates, fussy schedules, strong opinions and short attention spans, kids aged 2-5 can be tricky travel companions. Disneyland is the optimal preschooler vacation destination, with shows, rides, food and entertainment that is geared directly to this age range.
As southern California natives, my family and I have taken day trips to the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks for many years. Yes, proper planning is key to a successful, tantrum-free trip!
If this is your child’s first trip to Disneyland, you’ll want to work out all the details before hitting the theme parks. Check out these top tops for taking on Disneyland with toddlers and preschoolers!
2021 Disneyland Reopening Update
Travel changed immensely over the last year and Disneyland was no exception. Some of the activities and attractions mentioned in this post might not currently be available, including some high-touch play areas and intimate character greetings.
Be sure to read this complete guide for Disneyland 2021 reopening. The post includes tips and pre-vacation details, including safety precautions, how to buy tickets and score reservations.
1. Prepare for a Successful Disneyland Vacation
Once you’ve decided to take your toddler or preschooler to Disneyland, there are a few necessary planning steps you’ll need to make.
I highly recommend AGAINST the surprise Disney trip for your preschooler. Many little ones need time to process change. Developing a vacation countdown is an important tool. A visual countdown calendar can help your preschooler understand and anticipate their trip. I usually print out a calendar page and let my son cross off days leading up to our vacation.
What to Do Before Your Disney Trip
Take a proper height measurement of your child wearing the shoes she’ll wear in the theme parks. Using this information, you’ll be able to review the theme park height requirements on the Disneyland app or website. This will help eliminate any woes in the Park when your preschooler measures too short to ride Radiator Springs Racers (which has a 40″ height restriction, by the way).
Involve your preschooler in the planning process. Watch Disney movies and let your toddler get familiar with popular characters. Show your child the photos of the rides on the Disneyland website. From there, your preschooler will let you know what attractions he’s most interested in. And at that point you’ll be able to roughly schedule out your trip days.
TravelingMom Tip: If you have a preschooler who is hesitant about new experiences, consider a search on YouTube to watch videos of some of the rides and attractions taken at the Anaheim theme parks. Your four-year old might be less nervous to ride Splash Mountain if he’s able to see that the ride is more than just that one, very steep drop that you see outside the attraction.
2. Stay on Schedule (with a Little Flexibility)
Disneyland can be a very overwhelming place with lots of noise, action and non-stop entertainment. You’re paying good money for this trip and you want to maximize it, right?
Just remember – the GO-GO-GO pace that adults often take on vacation usually won’t work for kids, especially toddlers and preschoolers. While adults can often push themselves more physically, it’s best to keep your young children on their usual schedule (unless you like temper tantrums).
Disneyland can be overwhelming with all the bright colors, lights and noise. Work in plenty of breaks throughout the day for snacks, sitting down, people-watching and general rest. Make sure kids are staying well-hydrated as well.
Create a Theme Park Strategy for Disneyland with Toddlers
Maintaining a general itinerary will keep preschoolers at a more even emotional state. Nothing will cause a meltdown faster than waking your preschooler early, keeping her up late, pushing back meal time and skipping nap time! Keep in mind any possible time zone changes during travel, as well.
That being said, in the weeks leading up to your trip, you can adjust your child’s schedule a little at a time. If you really want your child to make it to the 9 p.m. park closing, consider pushing back bedtime at home. This will get your child used to staying up later. Moving forward or backwards about 15 minutes per day for waking, bed, meal time and napping can help your children better adjust come vacation day.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’re looking to avoid crowds, early mornings at Disneyland are optimal. If you have an early bird preschooler, get to the Park at “rope drop” and immediately hit the most popular attractions with minimal wait times.
3. Pack a Proper Day Bag
Of course, Mouse Ears and coordinating Disney t-shirts are important for a fun day at Disneyland. But what else should you bring with you into the Disneyland parks?
Packing a well-stocked day bag for your preschooler will prevent you from having to make unnecessary trips back to the hotel room. I’d recommend a backpack that you can wear on the rides or hang on the back of the stroller. Here are a few things to include in your bag.
What to Bring to Disneyland with Toddlers
- An entire change of clothing including a shirt, pants, underpants and socks. Even preschoolers who are beyond having “potty accidents” might experience one because they’re too excited to take regular bathroom breaks. Also socks tend to get wet on rides that splash and nobody wants to schlep around in soggy socks!
- Snacks to fill grumbly tummies. Things like granola bars, dried fruit, cut veggies or crackers can be easily nibbled while standing in line. Don’t forget a few water bottles or juice pouches!
- Sun protection like a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen will protect skin.
- Tiny toys like a die-cast car, figurine or a bottle of bubbles will entertain toddlers and preschoolers who get fidgety while waiting in queue or at a restaurant.
TravelingMom Tip: Bring a stroller, even if you don’t think you’ll need one. Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure park cover several acres; that’s a lot of walking for little legs. Having a stroller will allow your preschooler to rest and even nap, if necessary. Plus the basket underneath is a great place for storage.
Ran out of something or forget it at home? Fortunately the Baby Care Centers inside the theme parks have replenishment, just in case. Items like diapers, wipes and pacifiers are available for sale.
4. Can’t Miss Disneyland Attractions for Preschoolers
Note: Some attractions mentioned may not currently be in operation at this time. Be sure to check the Disneyland website entertainment schedule ahead of your trip.
Now that you’re in the parks, what are the must-do attractions at Disneyland with toddlers and preschoolers? The first stop inside Disneyland Park should be Fantasyland. Most rides in this area have no height restrictions.
Themes are geared towards little ones, making Fantasyland a preschooler’s dream come true! Naturally it’s a small world and King Arthur Carousel are favorites. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself riding them several times during your trip.
The newly refurbished Snow White’s Enchanted Wish has a happier ending (albeit the potentially scary Evil Queen still remains in the ride).
From here, head into Toontown, a wacky and wonderful place for preschoolers! Kids can spot both Mickey and Minnie here at their respective houses. Kids love to play and burn off some steam exploring Goofy’s House or Donald’s Boat. If your preschooler is tall enough, Gadget’s Go Coaster is a thrilling first roller coaster!
More Must-Do Attractions at Disneyland
In Tomorrowland, most kids are thrilled to wield a laser and aim for target inside Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. Preschoolers who meet the 32″ height restriction will enjoy manning the wheel of their own Autopia car. (Mom or Dad come along for the ride – and to push the gas pedal).
In Adventureland, my preschooler is fascinated with animals on The Jungle Cruise, though most of the jokes go over his head! He also loves to climb inside Tarzan’s Treehouse and play in the “camp” at the bottom. Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room is a classic attraction. Grab a DOLE Whip from the stand in front before the show.
The Critter Country area offers the somewhat intimidating Splash Mountain but the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is perfect for babies and toddlers.
In Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge the height restrictions may limit the two major attractions to only older preschoolers. There are some frightening aspects that might make younger kids nervous so proceed with caution.
California Adventure Choices
Heading over to Disney’s California Adventure park, grab a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racers (if your preschooler meets the 40″ height restriction). All of the rides in Cars Land have a height requirement, so be sure to check before jumping into line with your little one.
The Pixar Pier area of this park caters to preschoolers with several rides that will delight including my son’s favorite, the Silly Symphony Swings. Toy Story Midway Mania is a must in this area as well. The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is a lengthy dark ride that virtually takes kiddos “under the sea”.
Make a stop in Hollywood Land for Monsters Inc: Mike & Sully to the Rescue!, a whimsical dark ride. The newly added Mickey’s Philharmagic is a music-packed indoor 4-D show that young kids love.
The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is a fantastic place to let your preschooler run around, climb the rock wall, ride a tire swing and scale rope ladders. You’ll have a hard time getting them out of here so set aside plenty of free time for play!
The grown ups and big kids want to ride. But the toddler is too short or the preschooler doesn’t want to go. The complimentary Rider Switch program at Disneyland is a way for parents to trade off on attractions. Read more about how this ride swap works along with potentially scary rides for little kids at Disneyland.
Show Time at Disneyland!
Note: At the time of publication, some of these shows and attractions were currently on hold at Disneyland. Be sure to check the entertainment schedule for the days of your vacation.
Shows and entertainment are family-friendly at Disneyland and they appeal to young and old alike. Disney Junior Dance Party is ideal for preschoolers with a lively cast of familiar characters from their favorite television shows. Kids are encouraged to stand up, dance and sing during the show.
Both my preschooler and older kids enjoyed watching the live stage show, Frozen – Live at the Hyperion. However, it is over one hour long. Fidgety little ones may become bored.
Everyone in my group loves the live show Mickey and the Magical Map. We’ve watched this colorful musical production several times. Parades like Magic Happens are another can’t miss, featuring many popular characters. Your toddler can wave hi to all her favorite characters from the comfort of her stroller!
If your preschooler can stay up late, World of Color is a beautiful show that features colorful projections on water that will amaze. Grab a FastPass early in the day for this one to assure you’ll have a good viewing area for the show.
TravelingMom Tip: When preparing for your vacation, find out from your preschooler which are his top 5 must-do attractions. Make sure to accomplish the top 5 early in the trip!
5. Food to Please Picky Kids
Not sure if the Parks will have dishes that your toddler and preschooler will enjoy? Worried that your child will be stuck on a diet of chicken nuggets and fries for the entire vacation?
If given a choice, my son would dine on Little Red Wagon corn dogs for every meal! Fortunately the Disneyland Resort has preschool palates covered with a good variety of dishes to please both kids and their parents.
From quick service dining, full-service and snacks, menus offer diverse kid’s meals that include baked chicken, pasta, bean burritos and fish. Dishes are often served with steamed veggies and fresh fruit.
Look for kid’s meals with the Mickey Check on the menu, identifying meals that are a healthier option. And of course there are locations that serve burgers, mac & cheese, peanut butter & jelly or pizza, if that’s what your kiddo enjoys.
TravelingMom Tip: If you don’t think your toddler will eat a particular food that comes with the meal, the Disneyland app mobile ordering system makes it easy to make substitutions. At full-service restaurants, ask a Cast Member what other options are available to swap out.
Mobile Ordering is a Game Changer
The Disneyland quick service restaurants are encouraging more use of mobile ordering. At this time, some restaurants are only accepting orders placed through the Disneyland app mobile order system.
This can be both convenient and pose potential issues when traveling with young kids. Mobile ordering is a great way to avoid long lines to place food orders. Simply place orders including special requests through the Disneyland app on your smart device. Guests can book all of their mobile orders early in the day and a push notification will signal when your ordering window is open.
For families with toddlers and preschoolers, parents should still pack in additional snacks. Disneyland with toddlers can be a long day and kids generally like to snack on their favorite meals. Not all restaurants are fully operating. Menus are somewhat limited. Bring in extra food. You’ll want to be prepared when your children need it.
6. How to Stay in Character
Meeting favorite Disney characters on vacation is often a highlight of a preschooler’s visit. We’ve all seen the Disneyland commercials with the big lovable hugs from Mickey, characters holding hands with children, skipping towards Sleeping Beauty Castle. Yes, I’ve seen all of these happen on previous Disneyland visits. It’s truly a magical moment!
Unfortunately at this time, socially distanced character greetings are the only way kids can see Disney characters. Meet n’ greets may have changed, but are no less charming. Character greetings are currently spontaneous and unscheduled. That means the times and locations for each character aren’t being advertised.
As you tour the parks with your toddler, you’re sure to see Mickey and friends near the Main Street U.S.A. train station. And Snow White with Dopey near the Carthay Circle fountain. Princesses can usually be spotted in the Fantasy Faire area. These physically distanced character sightings are ideal for shy or anxious kids to give a quick wave.
7. Keep the Magic Alive
Toddlers and preschoolers really soak up the Disney experience. Let your child dress-up in costume. Preschoolers will love dressing up like Princess Aurora or Spider-Man for the day. Just be sure to do a “test run” at home to make sure the costume isn’t uncomfortable or itchy. And definitely have your child wear comfortable shoes (NOT plastic dress up heels).
TravelingMom Tip: Bring a change of clothes for your toddler so they can change out of their costume if they wish.
Staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel
Consider staying on-site at one of the three Disneyland Resort hotels during your visit. You will be close to the parks, especially helpful if your toddler naps. Read these other valuable reasons to stay at a Disneyland Resort hotel. I often book an extra day just to spend time at the Disneyland Resort pool, to watch my preschooler zip down the mini-water slide again and again. There is no better joy than the smile on your preschooler’s face when he’s having the time of his life!
Check out the amenities of each Disneyland Resort hotel to find the best fit for your family. I’m partial to the Disneyland Hotel with the light-up, musical headboards. My husband likes the close proximity to the Parks at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. My preschooler, however, loves the rooftop pool with the big twisty slide at the Paradise Pier Hotel!
The downside to Disneyland Resort hotels is their high room rates. If this option doesn’t work for your budget, check out the Disneyland hotels located closest to the park.
Bonus Tip – Under 3? Your Ticket is Free!
That’s right! If your child is two years old, he can enter the Disneyland Parks at no charge.
For everyone else in your group who needs Disneyland tickets, TravelingMom recommends Get Away Today. Fully refundable tickets, deeply discounted prices and excellent customer service make Get Away Today the ideal travel agency to help you plan a magical vacation!
Let Your Toddler Lead the Way at Disneyland
As a final tip for a truly enjoyable Disneyland day with your toddler or preschooler, don’t be afraid to simply follow their lead. If your preschooler wants to ride Dumbo the Flying Elephant three times in a row, do it!
A Disney vacation is all about making special memories. Believe me, your child will be talking about their Disneyland recollections when you return home. When you follow your child’s lead, sometimes some really magical things happen!
What are your favorite tips for doing Disneyland with toddlers and preschoolers? Share with us in the comments!