Tip 1: Have a plan.
The best way to enjoy Disneyland with toddlers is to come in with a general plan. Disneyland Resort may not be as big as Disney World but it’s still a massive theme park, consisting of two separate parks and nearly 100 attractions.
You don’t need a step-by-step plan, in fact that probably will stress you out more, BUT you should know which park you want to go to first, if you’re park hopping, AND what rides you want to hit in each park.
Free Disneyland Ride Checklist
The Disneyland Rice Checklist includes every ride (for Disneyland Park and California Adventure Park) organized by “lands”. I personally like conquering each land before moving to the next land as opposed to constantly running back and forth. For the bigger rides that toddlers cannot go on, I also put a toddler-friendly alternative below in italics.
To use this free printable, simply hit the download button to print it and then take it with you to the park. You can highlight the rides you want to ride, make a plan based on lands, cross off rides you’ve done or whatever is helpful. There is also a note section at the bottom. Use this to write down entertainment times, places you want to eat, etc.
Also, I always suggest doing everything in one park first before moving to the second park. I don’t love park hopping back and forth with toddlers in tow. To decide what park to visit first, see which park is hosting extra magic hour and then start with the opposite park (assuming you don’t have extra magic hour privileges).
Tip 2: Download the Disneyland app.
Before you go into the parks, downland the Disneyland app, create an account and add a payment method. With the app you can use buy MaxPass and order food — more on both of those below. But the app is soo helpful in keeping your day flowing because it will show you ride wait times. The less time waiting in line equals less grouchy toddlers.
Tip 3: Buy MaxPass – yep it’s worth the money.
People always ask if MaxPass is worth the extra $15 a ticket. Absolutely. MaxPass includes FastPass, which allow you to skip the line, and you can make your FastPass selections on your phone. Every ride that utilizes FastPass is marked with a lightening bolt on my Disneyland Ride Checklist.
Another amazing part of MaxPass is the photos, especially if you’re doing Disneyland with toddler who want to meet characters. Disney has professional photographers set up all over the park, basically at every character greeting and iconic spot. Simply have them take your photo and then scan your tickets. All those photos are now connected to your MaxPass and are yours to download and print.
Tip 4: Utilize rider switch.
In addition to FastPass, every Disney ride with a height limit has rider switch available, which can be useful when doing Disneyland with more than two adults and toddlers who do not reach the height requirement. One party waits in line while the other party hangs with the toddlers. Then the parties switch, BUT the second party can now skip the line.
Use rider switch only if you don’t have FastPasses for the ride. FastPass is still the fastest way to get through a ride. But if you have mixed ages in your group, like an older child and a toddler, rider switch is a great tool because the older child can actually ride twice. Learn more about that here.
P.S. – Every ride that has rider switch is marked with swirl on the Disneyland Ride Checklist. All of the “big” rides also have single rider lines, which is another time-saving tip if you don’t mind riding alone.
Tip 5: Leave or rest in the afternoons.
Even in the off-season, afternoons at Disneyland with toddlers can be brutal. The lines are the longest, the temperature is the hottest, and every toddler is basically breaking down by this point. If you have a hotel, by all means go rest. But, if you’re stuck in the park, here are some of my favorite things to do to escape the afternoon madness.
At California Adventure
1 // See Frozen at Hyperion. Even if you’re not a huge Frozen fan, this show is top-notch, plus it’s air-conditioned. If you don’t care about a great seat, you can normally show up a few minutes beforehand. If you have Frozen fans in your party, I would line up 30-45 minutes before showtime.
2 // Grab a cocktail at the Grand California Hotel. Anyone is allowed to enjoy the restaurant, bar and lounge at the Grand Californian Hotel. The entrance to the hotel is located right behind Grizzly River Run. There is also lots of outdoor seating where you can just relax. This is great option if your child is napping happily in the stroller and you have some time to kill.
3 // Visit Animation Academy. Inside you can do Turtle Talk with Crush, which is absolutely adorable, take a drawing class from a Disney animator, or just sit down in the AC for a while. Don’t miss going downstairs to the Sorcerers Workshop where you can take a Disney personality quiz.
1 // Take the Monorail to Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney is always less crowded than the parks. Grab a snack (or a drink) and let the kids marvel at the Lego Store for a while. You can also just ride the Monorail back and forth if you want.
2 // Ride the Disneyland Railroad. There are four stations where you can board the Disneyland Railroad – Main Street, USA, New Orleans Square, Mickey’s Toontown and Tommorrowland. The entire trip takes 18 minutes, but you can stay on as long as you please. If you need a little pick-me-up, stop at New Orleans Square and grab some Mickey Beignets at the Mint Julep Bar. There is often live jazz in the patio outside so it’s another good place to rest for a while.
3 // Head to California Adventure. In general, California Adventure is less crowded than Disneyland, so if you can, spend your afternoon there and do one of the above suggestions.
Tip 6: Let the toddlers run free.
Even with all your FastPass, Rider Switch magic, there is a lot of waiting in lines so find some time to let your toddlers run free for a while. In Disneyland, head to Mickey’s Toontown. In California Adventure, do the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.
Tip 7: Watch a parade.
If you’re doing Disneyland with toddlers, watching a parade is a must! Toddlers LOVE parades, plus it’s a good chance to rest and take in some Disney magic. My favorite place to watch parades is near “It’s A Small World.” It’s normally way less crowded there than Main Street, plus you’re close to all the Fantasyland attractions. One adult can hold down a spot while the other takes the toddlers on some small rides.
Tip 8: Order food from your phone.
Use the Disneyland app to order food, including dole whip, right from your phone. Then, once at the restaurant, let the app know you’ve arrived and they’ll make your food. You’ll be notified when your food is ready and you can head straight to pickup. No more waiting in line!
Tip 9: Be stroller smart.
Strollers are a must is you’ve doing Disneyland with toddlers, but they can also be a hassle. Strollers are not allowed in any lines so I recommend using the strollers to move between parks and “lands” but then letting toddlers walk between rides in each land. If you have an older or more mobile toddler, I often don’t even use the stroller at Disneyland and instead use the Disneyland Railroad to move between lands. Leave the stroller parked at the Main St. Railroad stop and then hop on the train.
Tip 10: Stay flexible.
Your plans will go awry. That’s ok, just take a deep breath, grab a snack, and take a break. Some of my favorite times at Disneyland with my toddler was just sitting by the water watching the ducks and eating ice cream. Remember to be flexible and have fun! And here is the free checklist again.
Have questions? Comment below and I’d be happy to help!