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How to Survive Disneyland with a 3 Year Old

How to Survive Disneyland with a 3 Year Old

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My family loves Disney! We don’t have annual passes to the Parks or go every weekend, but we are Disney-enthusiasts!

We just got back from our second trip to Disneyland Resort with our baby and preschooler. Disneyland with a 3 year old was a very different experience than Disneyland with a toddler last year!

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12 Ways to Survive Disneyland with a 3 Year Old

Disneyland Resort with a 3 year old

My 3.5-year-old excitedly showed Mickey his little car and told him all about it! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

1. Best time to go to Disneyland

We went in May last year and the Disneyland Resort wasn’t too crowded and the weather was perfect.

We went in mid-June this year and it was much too warm in the afternoon and we ran into a lot of Grad Nights.

I’ve heard that the first week of December is a great time to go for discounted rates and small crowds.

I’d also recommend not doing Disneyland close to any other trips you have planned. It’s pretty exhausting for the whole family and you may need time to recoup afterward.

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2. Plan For at Least 2 Days

Photo of Disneyland Resort with a 3 year old in Cars Land

We love spending our 2nd day at Cars Land in Disney California Adventure Park! Photo credit: Julie Wirtz

I think you need at least one day in Disneyland Park and one day in Disney California Adventure Park.

If possible, 3 days is ideal so you can go back to your favorite park on the 3rd day.

Preschoolers don’t always move very quickly so having extra time will help keep a relaxed pace. This is a great way to make the most of Disneyland Resort with a 3 year old.

3. Watch Videos of Rides Before You Go

Riding Autopia at Disneyland Resort with a 3 year old

After watching a video, my son was determined to experience Autopia for himself! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

You might think your child will love Dumbo, only to discover (after waiting in line for 40 minutes) that they are scared.

Eliminate this stress and valuable time by looking at ride videos online. It’s also a good refresher for parents to see if a ride is too scary for their child.

I recently had a family member tell me they brought their terrified 3-year-old on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad because she remembered it being a cute train ride.

Watching videos is also how we discovered that our preschooler really wanted to do the Go Coaster in Toon Town.

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4. Have a Plan

Even if you aren’t normally a planner, creating a plan will help your day at Disneyland with a 3 year old go smoother than without one. See our Disneyland itinerary for toddlers.

5. Get to Disneyland Early

Riding the tea cups in Fantasyland at Disneyland Resort with a 3 year old

We headed straight for Mad Tea Party when we entered the Park and got right on. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Best practice is to get there before opening and use any Magic Mornings or Extra Magic Hours available through your hotel.

We got to the Parks within the first hour of opening each day and accomplished a lot.

When we first entered the park, we did all must-see rides that usually have a long line (we chose Pirates of the Caribbean this past trip.)

While in Adventureland, we did the Jungle Cruise and met Moana. Then, we headed to Fantasyland and hit up our favorites (including Dumbo, Casey Jr. and the Tea Cups) and ended at Toontown.

This was all before 11am on a very crowded June morning.

6. Bring Snacks and Buy a Treat

Photo of Dole Whip at Disneyland with a 3 year old

This Dole Whip Float hit the spot after riding on Jungle Cruise. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

My family definitely gets “hangry” if we don’t get enough to eat.

I always have snacks for every member of my family in my bag. I usually have trail mix, granola bars, crackers, food pouches and other items that pack well.

These are often snacks I always bring no matter where we are. They aren’t special.

However, Disneyland is full of special and tasty treats. We like to partake in these treats throughout the day. It’s a great way to distract preschoolers.

We love indulging with Dole Whip and churros!

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Plan One Sit-Down Meal Per Day

This meal doesn’t need to be fancy, but does need to be seated. We opted to do lunch one day at a table with an umbrella.

Being in the shade and refueling helped our moods so we could plan our next step.

We did an early dinner another day in a spot where we could see the parade. Sitting down helped rest our tired feet and gave us all an opportunity to hydrate.

I highly recommend enjoying a seated lunch or dinner.

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Visit the Disneyland Baby Care Center

The Disneyland Baby Care Center at Disneyland Resort with a 3 year old

My 3 year old enjoyed watching Disney movies in the air conditioned Baby Care Center. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

Disneyland insider tip: Even if you don’t have a baby, the Baby Care Center is a great stop.

Since it has A/C, it’s perfect for cooling down overheated kids in a quiet environment. They also have microwaves to heat up any food/snacks you bring into the park.

My favorite part are the bathrooms. They usually aren’t too crowded and they are perfect for toddlers and preschoolers who are potty training.

My son was a bit over-heated and started to tantrum. We brought him into the Baby Care Center while I nursed my baby and it helped improve him mood immensely!

Take an Afternoon Break

Anaheim Fairfield Inn Disneyland

We came back to the Anaheim Fairfield Inn every afternoon to rest and regroup.

It may seem counter-intuitive to leave the Parks in the middle of the day, but it can actually extend your day at Disneyland Resort with a preschooler.

I’d recommend heading back to your hotel around 2pm (or whenever your preschooler is starting to get overstimulated/tired.)

Back at your hotel, everyone can take naps, soak up the A/C or have pool time. Then, you can head back into the Parks around 5pm recharged and ready for evening fun!

We stayed at the Anaheim Fairfield Inn and it was fantastic!

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Watch a Parade

How often do you get to see a parade in your everyday life? Not very often. But at Disneyland, you can see several each day!

I’m usually too distracted by all the fun things at Disneyland to stake out a spot.

However, we usually work our way up to a decent place to watch the parades. Our preschooler loved to point out his favorite Disney characters as they ride by.

Get an Autograph Book

Waiting in line for Moana at Disneyland Resort with a 3 year old

We waited in line twice for Moana because we didn’t have the autograph book the first time we met her. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

It’s funny because I didn’t understand the draw of an autograph book until this past trip. At 2.5-years-old, my son had zero interest in autographs.

However, this year at 3.5-years-old, he couldn’t wait to fill his book with autographs from all his favorite characters.

In fact, he insisted we re-visit characters just to make sure they “drew a little something” in his book.

I happened to win a Mickey autograph book on Twitter a few months ago, so that’s what we used.

But, we saw lots of kids with little notebooks.

Last year, I brought a matte frame for characters to sign and framed a photo of us at Disneyland.

Bring an Extra Adult

Photo of multigenerational Disneyland trip with Preschoolers

We were so thankful to have my Mom join us for our Disneyland Resort adventure! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

If at all possible, invite another adult to join your trip.

We brought Grandma along with us and it was such a help!

You know how kids like to do the same ride over and over? An extra adult is perfect for taking preschoolers on additional rides.

You can also utilize Disneyland’s Rider Switch so your party won’t have to wait in line twice.

These are just some of the tips and tricks I’ve figured out on our most recent trip to Disneyland Resort with a preschooler. And I’m always looking for more tips and tricks.

Please comment with any suggestions you may have for parents bringing a 3 year old to Disneyland Resort!

More Posts About Disneyland

Goofy’s Kitchen Character Breakfast: Is it Worth It?
Disneyland Halloween Festivities for 2018
Disneyland with Toddlers: Tips + Itinerary
Best Disneyland Hotels for Families with Young Children
Ultimate Guide to Disneyland While Pregnant

Surviving Disneyland with a PreschoolerHow to enjoy Disneyland with a 3 year old, Disneyland tips for family travel[mailerlite_form form_id=3]


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Hannah Rooks

Monday 23rd of October 2017

Preschooler or not, I think that afternoon break is sooo important! We adults need a break too! :) Every time I've gone to Disney, we rush it all in one day and it is rough. Spreading it out and taking time for breaks would make the trip so much easier.


Monday 23rd of October 2017

Breaks definitely help ease the stress at Disneyland!


Friday 20th of October 2017

We visit Disneyland often and have been taking our oldest daughter, now eight, since she was an infant. He have lots of tricks to get through the days but the best thing to remember is that it's about the kids and we need to be flexible for a great experience!


Friday 20th of October 2017

Yes! Definitely take your cues from your child for a successful trip!


Friday 20th of October 2017

I think watching a parade with a kid this age is a great idea because they are very visual. The parade has so many exciting things for kids this age to see.


Friday 20th of October 2017

I love that families can stay in one spot and just soak in the parade. It's a great excuse to rest a bit.

Chanel van Reenen

Thursday 19th of October 2017

We are taking the kids to Disney for the first time in February. At that time my daughter will have just turned three and my son will be 5.5 These were AMAZING tips and I have definitely bookmarked so I can reference. Love the idea of watching videos of the rides!


Friday 20th of October 2017

YAY! You are going to have such a fantastic trip! The best piece of advice is to follow their lead. If they aren't interested in meeting characters, don't push it. If they want to ride the same ride over and over, let it happen.


Thursday 19th of October 2017

Great tips! Disneyland can be an overwhelming experience for first timers or when you are not prepared to face whats its like to. Every year I travel with my toddler's nephews and nieces - and its overwhelming but at the end its full of memories and laughs. Such a great place to spend with family! :) - Mariella


Friday 20th of October 2017

Yes, I agree it can be overwhelming. It's best to go there a bit prepared!

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