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Disneyland with Toddlers: Tips + Itinerary

Disneyland with Toddlers: Tips + Itinerary

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Are you going to Disneyland with toddlers and want some helpful tips and a realistic Disneyland itinerary? Keep scrolling to find out what it’s really like to do Disneyland with a 2 year old or 3 year old.

This post about Disneyland with toddlers contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

We had an amazing opportunity to go on our first trip to Disneyland last week! We went with our friends (one of whom is an employee) so we were able to explore the parks for free and get amazing discounts.

Next time we might not be as lucky and I kept that in mind while writing this blog post about Disneyland with toddlers.

Find the BEST Disneyland Resort deals here.

The awesome part about Disneyland with toddlers is that they are free all the way until 3 years old. That means they enter the parks for free and also can eat for free.

Disneyland has typical children’s meals (pizza, nuggets, etc) but they also have several healthy options (grilled chicken, veggies, etc).

And you can get milk almost anywhere you go (which made our 2 year old very thrilled!)

Before our trip, many people told us to wait until our son was at least 5 years old. I’m glad we didn’t listen because we would have missed out on being able to take our time and do Disneyland with a 2 year old at a toddler’s pace, complete with schedule down time, i.e. nap time.

Our trip was surprisingly low stress and a lot of fun.

[irp posts=”6077″ name=”Best Disneyland Hotels for Families with Young Children”]

Tips For Lowering Stress at Disneyland with Kids:

USE THE DISNEY PHOTOPASS SERVICE

The Disney PhotoPass photographers will take photos with your own camera/phone, but they will also take photos with their camera and post them so you can decide if you’d like to purchase them.

If you purchase after you see the photos, it’s about $40/day. The nice thing is you can share an account with everyone in your group and it’s the same price.

This service was especially handy when I was away from my husband (who has a nice camera) and wanted to get a few photos with characters when the lines were short.

If I were to do Disneyland solo with the kids, I would just use the Disney PhotoPass Service and my iPhone for simplicity.

STAY ON PROPERTY (OR REALLY CLOSE BY)

It was imperative that we had the option to go back to the hotel to nap in the afternoon. With all the excitement of Disneyland with toddlers, it’s easy to stay up late each night.

It may seem like you are wasting money by not being in the park the entire day, but overtired toddlers (and frustrated parents) don’t make for a happy trip.

Staying close to the parks is my secret for enjoying Disneyland with toddlers.

You can get deals on Disneyland Resort hotels and Good Neighbor hotels here.

Disney's Paradise Pier hotel was perfect for traveling to Disneyland with a toddler

The view of Disney California Adventure Park from our room at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

We stayed at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel (we got a great rate) and the hotel was lovely!

If your toddler typically takes short naps and you are staying off-property, you might consider napping in the lobby of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, the dark Animation Academy at Disney California Adventure Park, or in the stroller.

Personally, I also needed some quiet time where I could rest before continuing the day at Disneyland with toddlers.

DO THE DISNEYLAND CHARACTER MEALS

I’d recommend doing Disneyland Character Dining on days you will not be in the park just so you aren’t cutting into park time. These are great to do on travel days to extend the Disney experience.

Some characters (like Stitch) only seem to be available at Disneyland Character Meals. Others have really long lines to meet them in the park, so this will save you time. And time is crucial when thinking about Disneyland for toddlers.

UPDATE: As of July 2018, some character meals have changed. The princess lunch at Ariel’s Grotto is no longer there. The new character breakfasts are Donald Duck’s Seaside Breakfast and Mickey’s Tales of Adventure Breakfast Buffet.

Goofy's Kitchen is a fabulous character meal at Disneyland. It's the only character dinner available at Disneyland. | disney for toddlers

We visited Goofy’s Kitchen on our first night at Disneyland with a toddler and it was so much fun! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

[irp posts=”8867″ name=”Goofy’s Kitchen Character Breakfast – Is it Worth It?”]

PLAN ON SOME SIT DOWN MEALS

Disneyland trips with toddlers can be exhausting.

Sitting at a restaurant provides a great break from all the activity of the park and can help toddlers (and parents) recharge after the Disneyland activities.

You can make reservations for restaurants up to 60 days ahead.

We appreciated being able to sit down, eat a more substantial meal and re-hydrate while talking about what we were enjoying most about the parks. It also gave us time to clear our heads and think realistically what our next steps should be.

LEARN ABOUT MAGIC HOURS/MAGIC MORNINGS

Because we stayed on property, we were able to enter the parks a full hour before the general public using Magic Hours, meaning the Dads were able to do some of the crazy busy rides in under 5 minutes (which were later hours long lines).

Many of the multi-day passes include one day where you can use Magic Hours. They alternate between Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park, so make sure you know which park has them each day so you can plan accordingly.

Magic Mornings and Magic Hours are great ways to get into the parks early to get photos at Disneyland with toddlers! | disneyland for 2 year old

We used one Magic Morning at Disneyland with a toddler to head straight to Cars Land to get photos with the characters. Photo credit: Disney PhotoPass

We took full advantage of Magic Hours at Disney California Adventure Park and our toddler was able to get photos with all the Cars characters, do all the Cars rides he was tall enough for multiple times and head to “a bug’s land” inspired by Disney•Pixar’s A Bug’s Life all before the park opened to the public. It saved us a lot of time!

There were so many Disneyland rides for toddlers in this area!

RESEARCH RIDE REFURBISHMENTS BEFORE YOUR TRIP

Especially if you go in the off-season, several rides will be closed do to refurbishments. When we went, the Disneyland Railroad and the Disneyland Monorail were both under refurbishment.

I knew this ahead of time, so I didn’t plan on using either of these for transportation or for down time at the park. It also gave us a heads up that my husband’s favorite rides were going to be closed.

Photo of the Disneyland Railroad, With its turn-of-the-century architecture and lush gardens, the Main Street station offers the first point of entry for those who wish to soak up the scenery on a grand circuit tour of Disneyland park aboard one of the trains of the Disneyland #disney #disneyland #disneylandrailroad

We were bummed to find out the Disneyland Railroad was under refurbishment on our trip to Disneyland. Photo credit: Scott Brinegar/Disneyland

As kids get older and have favorite rides they look forward to, it’s nice to be able to manage their expectations and let them know if their favorite ride will be unavailable so they have time to process.

Thankfully, there weren’t any other Disneyland rides for toddlers under refurbishment during this trip. But, I did show my son videos of the rides. Read more about 7 Ways to Prep a Toddler for Disneyland in this post.

TRAVEL WITH ANOTHER FAMILY

I can’t tell you how much easier it is to travel with another family whose kids are the same age as yours. We were able to switch off nap duty so the Moms could stay in the park one day and the Dads could the next.

It also meant that Moms could take the kids on Disneyland rides for toddlers while the Dads did Disney FASTPASS® Service for other rides and vice versa. Plus the kids were able to play in line together to help pass the time.

UPDATE: The new MAXPASS is worth looking into as a FASTPASS alternative.

We met Oswald at Disney California Adventure while wandering Disneyland kid-free. It was one of the many Disneyland activities we did!

My friend and I ran around Disney California Adventure one afternoon while the boys were napping. Photo credit: Disney PhotoPass

LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD

There are so many fun things at Disneyland at California Adventure for toddlers that it’s easy to want to do it all. But that can totally backfire on you.

If your child seems scared of Mickey Mouse, it might not be worth it to wait in line for a photo (where your kid may be crying or nestling into your arms).

Same goes for Disneyland rides for toddlers. If your child is afraid of a certain movie, character, or type of ride, don’t force it. The goal is for your child to have a fun time.

My son LOVES trains and didn’t mind the wait to get to ride one. He also loved “it’s a small world” and it was such a special experience for both of us because he was really awed by the ride.

I pushed him to do Flik’s Flyers inspired by Disney•Pixar’s A Bug’s Life ride, even though he said he didn’t want to, and it ended up being one of the only rides neither of us enjoyed.

LEARN ABOUT RIDER SWITCH (AKA STROLLER PASS)

If you have a small child who is unable/unwilling to go an a ride, you can get a Rider Switch pass so both adults can go on the ride on after another without waiting in line again. This is a great way for both adults to go on favorite rides.

This would probably be most helpful if you had an older child because then the older child gets to go twice.

Because I’m pregnant and couldn’t go on some of the rides, we never needed the Rider Switch pass, but I can see how this will be very handy in years to come.

UPDATE: See how I used the Rider Switch in my post How to Survive Disneyland with a Preschooler.

Radiator Springs Racers is a perfect ride to use the Rider Switch or Stroller Pass when exploring Disneyland with toddlers

We used the Rider Switch pass to enjoy Radiator Springs Racers at Disneyland with toddlers. Photo credit: Disneyland PhotoPass service.

DOWNLOAD THE DISNEYLAND APP

This Disneyland app saved us so many times! Not only does it give you the wait times for the rides, but it also tells you where characters are, where the nearest bathrooms are, where restaurants are and serves as the portal for your Disney PhotoPass service.

The app helped us feel organized when navigating Disneyland with toddlers.

UPDATE: Disneyland just debuted their new Disneyland Play App as a fun way to enjoy your time waiting in line for rides.

PACK A BATTERY-POWERED CELL PHONE CHARGER

We got so much use out of this battery-powered cell phone charger. Because you may be splitting off from your group or using your phone to take lots of photos and videos, your battery might drain more quickly than usual.

This is also the case if you are constantly pulling up the app or letting your kids watch videos/play games on your phone in line. We let our son watch a lot of videos while waiting for Disneyland rides for toddlers.

[irp posts=”3710″ name=”What to Take to Disneyland with Babies”]

SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

The most heartbreaking thing about visiting Disneyland with toddlers was seeing parents yelling at their crying kids. Most of these kids looked exhausted and possibly hungry.

I know first-hand how stressful it is when your toddler is not on best behavior when you are doing something special. This is why it’s so crucial to set realistic expectations for your trip.

We went in knowing this trip was primarily for our toddler and it was a scouting trip for future trips to Disneyland.

We set realistic expectations for our trip to Disneyland with a toddler

We headed straight for the castle one Magic Morning so I could get a photo of my son’s first trip to Disneyland! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

With that mindset, it was easy to tell ourselves that we’d had enough each day and we would do the rest another time. We also knew that the nighttime parades and fireworks would probably not be in the cards for us this trip because it was past bedtime.

Our main theme was this was a fun trip and if someone wasn’t having fun, we needed to change what we were doing.

MAKE A SCHEDULE

Disneyland is not a good place to “wing it” when traveling with a toddler.

Ask everyone in your group what their priorities are. I made sure that my husband had time to do some of his favorite rides from his childhood, that we hit up the classic photo spots, and that our 2 year old got to go on lots of Disneyland rides for toddlers!

It’s really nice to group the rides/attractions by section of the park. That way, you can park your stroller and walk around and do everything you want in that area and move on to the next.

Ok, now that you know some of my tips, let’s get on to how to plan your day. Here’s what our Disneyland with toddlers itinerary looked like:

Disneyland with Toddlers Day 1:

"it's a small world" at Disneyland is the perfect Disneyland rides for toddlers

The first ride we did at Disneyland was “it’s a small world” and it was one of our favorite Disneyland rides for toddlers! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

AFTERNOON AT DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS

  • Arrived at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel in the afternoon
  • Walked around Downtown Disney® District and had a light meal

EVENING AT DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS

  • Did the 5:30pm Goofy’s Kitchen character dinner at Disneyland® Hotel. The restaurant was pretty empty since it was early and there was no wait for our photo with Chef Goofy and we got to see all the characters pretty quickly
  • Entered Disneyland Park and did “it’s a small world” and the Casey Jr. Circus Train and caught part of the parade. It was a great way to familiarize ourselves with the park and we got our first taste of Disneyland churros. We only did this because we had free entry into the parks. Normally, we would have gone back to the hotel to rest.

Disneyland with Toddlers Day 2:

Meeting Mickey Mouse is one of our favorite Disneyland activities when exploring Disneyland with a toddler

We saw Mickey Mouse twice and shared that we were pregnant! His reaction made our day! Photo credit: Disney PhotoPass

MORNING AT DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS

  • 8am Reservation for Surf’s Up! Breakfast with Mickey and Friends at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. In hindsight, we should have saved this for the day we flew home because it meant we missed the Magic Hour and didn’t arrive to the park until 9:30am, when things started to get busier. UPDATE: The Surf’s! Up! Breakfast with Mickey and Friends is now Donald Duck’s Seaside Breakfast.
  • Headed to Disneyland Park and did the following rides in this order:
    • Moms and toddlers did Storybook Land Canal Boats ride while Dads did Matterhorn Bobsleds (5 minute wait)
    • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage inspired by Disney•Pixar’s Finding Nemo. This was a deviation from our itinerary and it put us across the park, but my husband really wanted to do it. Flexibility is also important when doing Disneyland with toddlers.
    • Silhouettes on Main Street, U.S.A. For $10, you can get a silhouette cutout of your child and it’s finished in mere minutes. We did this right before our lunch reservation across the street.

AFTERNOON AT DISNEYLAND WITH  TODDLERS

  • Lunch at Carnation Cafe
  • Moms took toddlers back to hotel for nap time while Dads did the following:
    • Space Mountain
    • Star Tours—The Adventures Continue ©Disney/Lucasfilm Ltd.
  • Moms and toddlers joined Dads after nap time for the following:
    • Jungle Cruise
    • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

EVENING AT DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS

  • Dinner at Café Orleans This was my favorite restaurant! I had the beef crepes and pureed peas and shared a Monte Cristo sandwich. Both were excellent!
  • Then we headed to Toon Town
    • Mickey’s House and Meet Mickey We did this twice within 15 minutes and got Disney PhotoPass service photos with two different Mickeys!
    • Chip and Dale’s Treehouse This wasn’t as fun as we anticipated.
    • Goofy’s Playhouse This is an indoor and outdoor play area with a padded floor. Great for kids to run around while parents sit down.
  • We did “it’s a small world” again There was no line.
  • We grabbed churros on our way out of Disneyland Park, making sure to leave before the parade began.
  • Shopping in the Downtown Disney District
    • Purchased Disney souvenirs and Minnie Mouse ears at World of Disney store
    • Grabbed treats at Häagen—Dazs.

Disneyland with Toddlers Day 3:

The princess character lunch at Ariel's Grotto is a perfect meal at Disneyland with toddlers

Our whole family was impressed with the princesses at Ariel’s Grotto character lunch. Photo credit: Zoe Wilson

MORNING AT DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS

  • Arrived at Disney California Adventure Park during Magic Hour at 8am
  • Headed straight for Cars Land and parked the stroller so we could do:
    • Disney’s PhotoPass Service photo with Red
    • Dads tried to do Radiator Springs Racers since there was a 5 minute wait, but the ride closed when they got in line.
    • Moms and Toddlers got in line for Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters and Dads were able to join us before our turn. The boys loved it so much that we hopped right back in line.
    • Disney’s PhotoPass Service photos with Lightening McQueen, and watched Mater arrive.
    • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
    • Disney’s PhotoPass Service photo in front of Cars Land sign
    • Dads used Disney FASTPASS Service to get tickets for Radiator Springs Racers. Timing was for after dinner.
  • Grabbed the stroller and went to “a bug’s land” inspired by Disney•Pixar’s A Bug’s Life
    • Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train: This is a very short ride, but the toddlers loved it.
    • Flik’s Flyers inspired by Disney•Pixar’s A Bug’s Life: We should have listened to the toddlers saying they didn’t want to do this ride.
  • Disney’s PhotoPass Service photo in front of Mickey’s Wheel
  • 11:20am met Princess Ariel and enjoyed the Character Lunch at Ariel’s Grotto.
    UPDATE: As of July 2018, this character meal is no longer offered.

AFTERNOON AT DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS

  • Dads took toddlers back to hotel for naps while the Moms did the following:
    • Disney’s PhotoPass™ Service photo with Buzz Lightyear
    • Learned to draw Sulley at Animation Academy
    • Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! inspired by Disney•Pixar’s Monster’s Inc.
    • Disney’s PhotoPass Service photo with Oswald
    • Red Car Trolley
    • Disney’s PhotoPass Service photo with Walt Disney statue and Newsboys
  • After naps, the Dads and toddlers joined us:
    • Disney’s PhotoPass Service photo with Goofy
    • Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! inspired by Disney•Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. again
    • Pixar Play Parade inspired by all your favorite Disney•Pixar’s films. This was fabulous for adults and toddlers alike!

EVENING AT DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS

  • Dinner at Wine Country Trattoria
  • Shopping for sweatshirts since Anaheim gets chilly at night!
  • Headed back to Cars Land
    • Adults used Disney FASTPASS Service for Radiator Springs Racers while I watched the toddlers
    • Watched Radiator Springs light up
    • Disney’s PhotoPass Service photo in Cars Land
  • Then we headed back to the hotel in time to watch the World of Color show from our hotel room

Disneyland with Toddlers Day 4:

Toon Town has lots of Disneyland activities for toddlers and is full of Disneyland fun!

The cars in Toon Town were one of my son’s favorite Disneyland activities. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

MORNING AT DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS

  • We grabbed coffee at Starbucks inside Disneyland Park and took advantage of the Magic Hour at 8am
    • We waited 40 minutes for Peter Pan’s Flight
    • No wait for “it’s a small world”
  • Then we headed to Toon Town which opened at 10am
    • My husband did the Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin ROGER RABBIT Character© Disney/Amblin Entertainment, Inc. while I took my toddler to sit on all the cars in Toon Town.
    • We got in line to see Minnie in Minnie’s House and get photos (line was about 15 minutes long)

AFTERNOON AT DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS

  • We had a late check-out of Noon, so we went back to the hotel to pack up and check out. Then we grabbed a taxi so we could get In-N-Out on our way to our other hotel (Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel was sold out for our final night).
  • After my toddler’s nap, we took the free shuttle to the parks and went to Disney’s California Adventure Park
  • Animation Academy: learned to draw Winnie the Pooh
  • Turtle Talk with Crush inspired by Disney•Pixar’s Finding Nemo
  • At this point, my toddler was exhausted, so we took the shuttle back to the hotel and ordered room service for dinner and called it a night.

And that’s our full experience of Disneyland with a two year old.

We had such a fun time that we are already trying to figure out when we can go back. If anyone has tips for doing Disneyland with a newborn/infant and toddler, please let me know!

More Posts about Disneyland

Best Disneyland Hotels for Families with Young Children
What I Pack in my Diaper Bag for Disneyland® Resort
7 Ways to Prep a Toddler for Disneyland® Resort
Disneyland® Resort Character Meal Review
Anaheim Fairfield Inn at Disneyland® Resort Hotel Review
Disney’s Paradise Pier® Hotel Review
How to Create a Mickey Mouse Collage Picture Frame
How to Survive Disneyland with a Preschooler

Trying to figure out how to master Disneyland with a toddler? Get my tips for making Disneyland with kids stress-free and full of magic! Click to read more or pin to save for later. www.marcieinmommyland.com #disney #disneyland #disneysmmc #disneylandtips | Disneyland with Toddlers featured by top Seattle family travel blog, Marcie in MommylandHeading to Disneyland with a toddler? Get my detailed itinerary for making the most of your Disneyland vacation with toddlers and preschoolers. Click to read more or pin to save for later. www.marcieinmommyland.com #disneyland #disney #disneysmmc #disneylandtips #disneylanditineraryPictureExploring Disneyland with toddlers for a first trip to Disney with kids

 
 


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Sanna

Friday 23rd of November 2018

Thank you so much for the helpful tips. Im going to disneyland next month and worried about what i can and cannot do with a 2 year old toddler and pregnant me. Your plan seems realistic and easy to follow. When I come back im going to post my experience so other parents can have an idea about what to expect when traveling with a toddler.

marciecheung

Saturday 24th of November 2018

Yay! I'm so glad my posts are helping you plan! It's totally doable and it's all about managing expectations. Have a magical trip and can't wait to hear about it!

adriana

Wednesday 18th of July 2018

Love your pictures! Such great Disney tips - it's such a fun time but so many things to remember!

marciecheung

Friday 20th of July 2018

Hah! Yes, lots of details!

Maegan

Wednesday 18th of July 2018

You have the best Disneyland tips!! I am so excited to put them in to practice someday with my kiddos. My family loves to travel in the off season, so the heads up about the ride refurbishment is very helpful!

marciecheung

Friday 20th of July 2018

Yes, it makes sense that they close some rides during the off-season. It's really nice that they say which ones are unavailable ahead of time!

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