When considering a vacation to Disneyland with preschoolers, you might have questions and concerns. Namely, is there anything that preschoolers can ride or do at Disneyland? What should you bring with you into the Parks? And that all important question: What about meltdowns and how to avoid those? Our Day Trips Traveling Mom has been taking children to Disneyland for 18 years. In that time, she has collected many insider tips. Keep reading for all the advice you’ll need when visiting Disneyland with preschoolers!
Disneyland with Preschoolers
Traveling with 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 Disneyland together for over 40 years. Yes, proper planning is key to a successful, tantrum-free trip. Check out my top 7 Disneyland with preschoolers insider tips.
1. Prepare for a Successful Vacation
Once you’ve decided to take your preschooler to Disneyland, there are a few necessary planning steps you’ll need to make.
I highly recommend AGAINST the surprise trip for your preschooler. Many little ones need time to process change, and a vacation countdown is an important tool. A visual countdown 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.
Take a proper height measurement of your child wearing the shoes she’ll wear in the Parks. Using this information, you’ll be able to review the height restrictions on the Disneyland 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. Request a Disney Vacation Planning DVD (free via this link) and watch it several times as a family pre-vacation. From there, your preschooler will let you know what attractions he’s most interested in. At that point you’ll be able to roughly schedule out your trip days.
TMOM Disneyland with Preschoolers 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 before your trip. He 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 preschoolers. While adults can often push themselves more physically, it’s best to keep your preschooler on their usual schedule (unless you like temper-tantrums).
Maintaining a general schedule 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 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. fireworks spectacular, 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 preschooler better adjust come vacation day.
TMOM Disneyland with Preschoolers Tip: If you’re looking to avoid crowds, early mornings 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. If you stay at a Disneyland Resort hotel, certain days are granted “Extra Magic Hour” access. You’ll be able to enter the Park one hour earlier!
3. Pack a Proper Day Bag
Of course, Mouse Ears and autograph albums are important for a happy day at Disneyland. But what else should you bring with you into the 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:
- 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 preschoolers who get fidgety while waiting in queue or at a restaurant.
TMOM Disneyland with Preschoolers 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.
4. Can’t Miss Attractions for Preschoolers
Now that you’re in the Parks, what are the must-do attractions at Disneyland with preschoolers? The first stop inside Disneyland Park should be Fantasyland. Most rides having no height restrictions and themes geared for little ones, making this Land a preschooler’s dream come true! Naturally it’s a small world is a favorite. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself riding it several times during your trip.
From here, head into Toontown, a wacky and wonderful place for preschoolers! Kids can meet both Mickey and Minnie here on a tour of their respective houses. Then have preschoolers burn off some steam playing in Goofy’s House or on Donald’s Boat. If your preschooler is tall enough, Gadget’s Go Coaster is a thrilling first roller coaster!
In Tomorrowland, confident preschoolers may want to grab a light saber to participate in the Star Wars-themed Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple. Or just sit back and watch the live show – that’s fun too! 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 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. The Enchanted Tiki Room is a favorite as well. We often grab a Dole whip from the stand in front before the show.
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 restriction so be sure to check before jumping into line with your little one. My preschooler’s favorite area is ‘”a bugs land” with kid-friendly rides, a water splash pad and the cutest theming. Look for the Popsicle stick benches! He’s not a fan of the 3D film It’s Tough to Be a Bug! however. Some of the elements are dark and scary so be aware before taking your preschooler.
The Paradise 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 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!
Shows and entertainment are all family-friendly at Disneyland and they appeal to young and old alike. Disney Junior – Live on Stage! 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 my tweens enjoyed watching the live stage show, Frozen – Live at the Hyperion. However, it is 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. Mickey’s Soundsational Parade and the Pixar Play Parade are can’t miss, featuring many popular characters. Your child can wave hi to all her favorites!
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.
TMOM Disneyland with Preschoolers 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 Preschoolers
Not sure if the Parks will have dishes that your preschooler will enjoy? Worried that your preschooler 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! The Disneyland Resort has preschool palates covered with a good variety of dishes to please both kids and their parents.
From quick service, full-service, snacks and buffets, 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.
TMOM Disneyland with Preschoolers Tip: If you don’t think your preschool will eat a particular food that comes with the meal, politely request a substitution and see if the kitchen can prepare something in its place. On our most recent visit my niece was able to request tater tots instead of green beans with her fish dinner.
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 each of my Disneyland visits. It’s truly a magical moment!
Grab a Times Guide when you first walk in to the Park. That way, you’ll know what characters are meeting guests and at what times. Certain locations always have characters greeting guests, like the princesses at Fantasy Faire, Tinker Bell’s friends in Pixie Hollow, super heroes in Hollywood Land and the Radiator Springs residents in Cars Land. You can always meet Mickey inside his Toontown house. Read these other Sure-Fire Ways to Meet Mickey (and Other Characters) at Disneyland.
While there are some areas and exact times that certain characters meet n’ greet with guests, other characters at Disneyland just seem to pop up unannounced. On my last visit, my niece played hide and seek with Peter Pan and Captain Hook in Fantasyland. Cruella deVille reprimanded a group of teens for being “too boisterous” on Main Street U.S.A. and Evil Queen honored us with her presence near the Matterhorn Bobsleds. The Times Guide didn’t note any of these character meetings. Just keep your eyes open for favorite characters who might be wandering around.
TMOM Disneyland with Preschoolers Tip: If your preschooler is hesitant or nervous about character meet n’ greets, read more about encouraging kids how to be brave at Disney with specific advice for meeting characters.
7. Keep the Magic Alive
Preschoolers really soak up the Disney experience. Here are three ways to keep the magic alive for them!
- Let your preschooler dress-up in costume. Preschoolers will love dressing up like Princess Aurora or Spiderman 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!). If your preschooler can sit through a full salon experience, consider booking Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for a very special transformation.
TMOM Disneyland with Preschoolers Tip: Bring a change of clothes for your preschooler so they can change out of their costume if they wish.
- Book an Advance Dining Reservation for a character experience. Character dining allows your preschooler to personally meet with a variety of characters from her own chair! Read the character dining guide for more details about each option.
TMOM Disneyland with Preschoolers Tip: Know your child before booking a character meal. If your preschooler is scared to meet n’ greet with characters, she will not appreciate being approached by Goofy when trying to eat her dinner!
- Consider staying on-site at one of the three Disneyland Resort hotels during your visit. You will be close to the parks, and as a resort guest you’ll also be granted early admission on select days with Extra Magic Hour. 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!
TMOM Disneyland with Preschoolers Tip: 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!
Bonus Tip – Under 3? Your Ticket is Free!
That’s right! If your preschooler is two years old, he can enter the Disneyland Parks at no charge. Children under three are also free to dine from the buffets (with a paying adult, of course).
Follow Their Lead
As a final tip for a truly enjoyable Disneyland day with your preschooler, don’t be afraid to simply follow their lead. If your preschooler wants to ride it’s a small world three times in a row, do it! If they were too shy to give Mickey a hug the first time through the meet n’ greet, get back in line and let them try again.
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 preschooler’s lead, sometimes some really magical things happen!