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!
12 Ways to Survive Disneyland with a 3 Year Old
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.
2. Plan For at Least 2 Days
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
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.
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
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
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!
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.
Visit the Disneyland Baby Care Center
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
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!
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
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
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!