How to get the most out of Disneyland with toddlers and preschoolers

Last updated on March 6, 2024

Meeting Mickey Mouse at Disneyland

There’s no doubt planning a trip to Disneyland can be overwhelming. There’s so much to see and do, and because it’s such an investment, there’s a lot of pressure to make the most of your time there. There’s nothing worse then dropping hundreds, or even thousands, on a trip only to spend the whole day in queues!

It’s even harder when doing Disneyland with toddlers or pre-schoolers and having to juggle their expectations, needs and wants. You’ve likely heard many parents talk about stressful family trips to Disneyland, filled with long wait times and exhausted kids – but with a bit of prep, there are definitely ways to avoid that, and create a magical day. It’s all about the planning.

We loved our time at Disneyland with children. We never queued for more than 20 minutes, the boys got to meet their favourite characters, and we even got a good view of the parade without securing a spot hours ahead. Sure, everyone was exhausted by the end of it, but the day itself was pure magic.

This post explains how we did it. It’s here to help you do the same and plan as perfect a Disneyland trip as possible. I’ve laid out all our top Disneyland tips for toddlers and families, including the best Disneyland kiddie rides, and lots of advice on how to visit Disneyland with toddlers and little ones under 10 who might be more scared of some of the bigger attractions.

As always, just let me know if you have any questions and want to know more about Disneyland for toddlers and small children.

We also have a dedicated guide to neighbouring Disney California Adventure with toddlers, and another to Universal Studios with toddlers if you’re heading there too.

How to buy Disneyland tickets

Disneyland pink castle

We bought our tickets through Undercover Tourist, who we found to be a little cheaper than some of the other options (although they’re all very similar). We also saved a bit of money by paying in dollars rather than pounds. See the latest prices here.

Bear in mind that you need to book your tickets AND then make a park reservation on the Disney site itself. Once you’ve done this, your tickets will be transferred to the app, and you can enter by scanning your app at the gate.

Kids under 3 are free at Disneyland, which is huge bonus of visiting Disneyland with a toddler.

Is it worth visiting Disneyland with toddlers or preschoolers?

Victoria and her family at Disneyland
I promise Otis was happier than he looks here!

Going to Disneyland is such a quintessential childhood dream that it’s become somewhat of a cliché. Can it really live up to the hype? And is it worth doing Disneyland with toddlers and little kids? To both those questions, I’d say a huge, resounding yes. I’m a Disney fan girl, and I think even naysayers would find it hard not to be impressed by Disneyland. Every detail is thought of, and Disney has come up with a perfect recipe for a trip you and your kids will never forget. If you’re thinking of going, I say do it!

Just remember to make a plan and read all the Disneyland toddler tips (which I guess you must already be doing if you’re reading this post!)

What’s the perfect age for Disneyland?

Meeting Winnie the Pooh at Disneyland

Everyone has a different opinion on the perfect age for taking kids to Disneyland, but I think any age upwards of two is a good time. Younger than two, and some of the magic might be lost on them. You can definitely do Disneyland with toddlers though, and this post has lots Disneyland tips for toddlers.

We went with Otis and Arlo when they were 5 and 2 (Arlo was a few days off his third birthday), and they were completely enchanted by the whole thing. They bought into the character meet and greets, and also enjoyed loads of the rides. They weren’t tall (or brave) enough for some of the bigger rides, but there was more than enough to keep them entertained. 

In an ideal world, I think the best thing would be to visit twice. Once when they’re really young and enchanted by meeting all their favourite characters. And then again when they’re older and can enjoy the whole spectrum of rides.

That perfect older age will somewhat depend on your child’s appetite for thrill rides. I went when I was 7 and 11, and it wasn’t until I was 11 that I rode the bigger rides. At 7, I was still little enough to be excited by all the characters. I know other kids aged 6 who were tall and brave enough to ride all of the attractions, so it really depends on the kid.

Bear in mind that Disneyland tickets are free for those under 3 years old. We went to Disneyland with a two-year-old Arlo, but it was just a week before his third birthday, which saved us a lot of money! Also, you don’t have to prove the child is under three, so make of that what you will!

Should you go to Disneyworld or Disneyland with kids?

Otis and Arlo in an attraction in Disneyland

I’ve never been to Disneyworld in Florida, so this post is all about Disneyland in Anaheim, just outside of Los Angeles in California. More specifically, it’s about Disneyland rather than the Disneyland California Adventure Park. Both are on the same site next to each other, but you need separate tickets for each one (or you can get a joint Park Hopper ticket). I’ve written a separate post for Disneyland California Adventure.

Disneyland is the original Walt Disney theme park, opened in 1955. It’s the only one that was designed and overseen for construction by Walt Disney himself.

We definitely plan to dog to Disneyworld in the future too!

When is the best time of year to go to Disneyland?

Victoria and her family at small world attraction in Disneyland

The dream is to go to Disneyland on a day when the weather is good (dry and not too hot), and the crowds are at a minimum. But neither of these are guaranteed and school holidays might mean your options are limited. We went at a weekend at a time that’s considered fairly busy and still only queued for 20 minutes max, so you don’t necessarily need to be put off by peak hours.

The main thing to look out for is special events as these mean almost guaranteed crowds. For example, Halloween and Christmas have big events.

In general, spring and fall are good times to visit outside of school holidays as the weather is likely to be good and crowds lower than the busy and hot summer months.

You can use this handy crowd calendar to see projected crowds and events for the dates you’d like to visit.

How to navigate Disneyland with toddlers and little kids

Disneyland is around 85 acres and the loop around the perimeter is around 1.5 miles. It would take around half an hour to walk around the whole thing if you weren’t stopping along the way or navigating crowds (unlikely!).

It’s split into nine different areas: Main Street, Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Mickey’s Toontown and Tomorrowland.

You could work your way around the lands methodically one by one, but wait times mean it might sometimes be a better option to jump between different lands on other sides of the park (more on how to plan out your day later).

Ride the Disneyland Railroad

To get around the park quickly and in a fun way, jump aboard the Disneyland Railroad, which does a loop around the edge of the park. There are even fun scenes along the way, including a dinosaur tunnel, with huge animatronic dinos.

There’s also the Disneyland monorail, but this is primarily to take people into Disneyland from the Downtown Disney District station just outside the main entrance.  Once inside the park, you can also take the monorail for a loop from Tomorrowland, which is a fun ride, but it’s not for getting around the park.

Bring or hire a stroller

Even kids as old as 5 or 6 might benefit from a stroller at Disneyland, and it’s obviously a must for Disneyland toddlers. It’ll give them a comfortable place to rest and save you from carrying tired little ones.

You can either bring your own or hire one at the main entrance. They have single and double strollers available. Be aware that the hire strollers have no cushioning like a normal stroller, so you could bring something like a cushion/blanket to make it more cosy. We brought our usual stroller with us and put both boys in it when they were tired. 

Bring a carrier for babies

If you have a baby or little toddler who needs to be carried, it’s worth using a hip carrier or baby carrier for the queues. You’ll need to leave the stroller at the entrance to the ride, so a carrier will help save your back. A hip carrier potentially has the edge as you won’t have to faff around taking it off when you get to the start of the line. But personally, I found baby carriers to be much more comfy, and also pretty easy to take one and off (my fave is the Ergobaby).

How to plan your time at Disneyland for toddlers and little kids

Walking around Disneyland with a toddler

The biggest question of all when doing Disneyland with preschoolers and toddlers is how to plan the perfect day, reduce wait times and fit in as much as you can without getting completely exhausted. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, as it depends on your priorities, but here are some general guidelines that will help you have the happiest Disneyland toddlers possible.

1. Make a priority list of your key things to do

With so much to see and do, it’s helpful to create a list of must-visit attractions so you don’t miss out on your family’s favourites. Perhaps rank them into two categories: “must-sees” and “nice to haves”. We did this and managed to fit in all of our must-sees and the majority of the nice-to-haves. I recommend not telling your children too much about the rides, especially the ‘nice-to-haves’ as that will help avoid disappointment.

2. Make a flexible plan

It’s good to have a rough itinerary for your day, but keep things flexible. Wait times vary throughout the day, so it might be useful to juggle things around. Plus, you might stumble upon characters, shows and other entertainment along the way. There’s no need to stick rigidly to your original plan – allow for some magic along the way.

3. Pace yourself

Remember that Disneyland can be overwhelming for young kids (and adults!), so take breaks, find shady spots, and enjoy leisurely moments to recharge. There’s always something to look at and be entertained by. Even sitting still at Disney is fun! A good way to break things up is by watching one of the shows. Or our kids loved the playground in Mickey’s Toon Town, which is perfect for toddlers and little kids.

4. Choose your first ride wisely

There are lots of different philosophies for which ride to go on first at Disneyland with kids, and it’s always going to be a gamble as you can’t predict for sure what the wait times will be each time.

Most often, people recommend either Peter Pan’s Flight or Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. This is because the queues for these tend to get very long later in the day. However, on the day we went, we walked straight onto the Runaway Railway as our second ride and only waited 15 minutes when riding for a second time later in the day, so I guess it’s partly down to luck.

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We chose Peter Pan’s Flight as our first ride because it has no lightning lane option, so we wanted to ride it when the queue was potentially at its shortest. We still had to wait about 15-20 minutes to ride it, but the queue was consistently at about 50 minutes for the rest of the day, so our choice paid off. It’s also a good introduction to Disney’s “dark rides” as it’s not scary at all, so you can gauge how your toddler responds and if they like them or not.

How to reduce your wait times at Disneyland with kids

Crowds at Disneyland
Waiting for the rope to drop!

One of the things that puts people off going to Disneyland with toddlers and little ones is the idea of having to wait for hours in queues and only getting to ride a couple of attractions. While this might be the case if you don’t plan at all, you should definitely be able to avoid some of this, especially if you invest in Genie+. Here are some key tips…

1. Get Genie+

You can upgrade your Disneyland ticket by using Genie+, a paid service (around $25 per person) that grants you access to the fast lane (lightning lane) on a handful of attractions. We did this, and I definitely recommend using it, as it saved us a huge amount of time.

Rides with Genie+ at Disneyland

These are the rides that have a lightning lane with Genie+. Some of them aren’t suitable for younger kids, but we used it for five of the rides with Otis, and it was well worth it. We used it for the first five on this list. Older kids or those more into fast rides could use it for the others too.

  • Autopia
  • Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters
  • It’s a small world
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
  • Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
  • Star Tours – The Adventure Continues
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Space Mountain
  • Splash Mountain

How to use Genie+ at Disneyland

You use Genie+ through the Disneyland app. In the list of rides, it tells you when the next lightning lane slot is available. For some rides, this will be immediately, while for more popular ones, you may have to wait much longer.

You can only use the lightning lane once for each attraction, and you can generally only reserve one lightning lane at a time. You have one hour from the start time of your slot to redeem the pass. And you get a barcode through the app, which you simply scan at the entrance to the lightning lane for that ride.

As soon as you redeem your pass, you can order another one for a different ride. Or you can also reserve another spot after two hours of reserving your first one, even if you haven’t redeemed the first one yet. This is useful when the spot you’ve reserved is hours later. This often happens later in the day as the park becomes busier. For example, at one point, the next slot available for Smugglers Run was about five hours later. If you’re not using passes early in the day, be sure to keep an eye on the wait times so you can potentially stack passes for later on.

2. Buy individual lightning lanes

There are two rides (Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad and Rise of the Resistance) that aren’t included in Genie+, but you can still buy an individual lightning lane pass.

These passes vary in price depending on the day but can be quite expensive, especially for groups. For example, on the day we went, an individual lightning lane pass for Rise of the Resistance was $25, so that would have been $75 for the three of us. We did find a loophole, detailed below, but I’m not sure this is legit, so it might not work every time!

Arlo was too young for Rise of the Resistance, so we needed to ride in two groups. I bought a lighting lane pass for myself and rode the ride first, and then Steve and Otis went on after me using the rider switch (see below). Because they were using rider switch, which uses the lightning lane anyway, they didn’t have to pay for their own lightning lane passes. We did this at Disney California Adventure too.

3. Use the rider switch

If you’re in a group where not everyone wants to/can ride a certain attraction, you can use the rider switch service. This is available on all rides and means that once one part of the party has finished riding the ride, the second part can jump directly to the lightning lane rather than waiting in the normal queue. It’s not as good as Universal Studios, where you jump straight to the front of the line, but it still saves a lot of time. And if there’s no lightening lane for that ride, you often get admitted almost to the front of the line.

4. Use the app

The Disneyland app is updated with live wait times for all the attractions throughout the day. This allows you to check that your next planned ride has a reasonable wait time or if something else has an unusually short queue.

The problem is it’s not always accurate. We found that the app always overestimated the wait time. For example, it said we’d need to wait 50 minutes for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Train, but it actually only took 15 minutes. The person at entrance to the ride also told us it was 15 minutes, so don’t always rely on the app when making your decisions and also check at the gate.

5. Use the single rider line

If, like us, you’re in a group where not everyone can ride all the rides and one person will have to ride alone when doing rider switch, the single rider line is a useful timesaver. By waiting in this line, you can fill empty seats left by other groups.

Rides with single rider lanes at Disneyland

  • Splash Mountain
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds

6. Get there for rope drop

Perhaps the very best way to get the most out of Disneyland with young kids is to get there for ‘rope drop’ when the park opens. Seeing as little ones tend to be early risers anyway, you may as well make the most of it!

The main entrance opens an hour before rope drop and you can then wait in front of the rope at the end of Main Street until it drops at 8 am. Everyone then rushes off to their first ride – it’s quite manic but also a fun spectacle to be a part of!

We found that for the first hour or two of the park opening, the wait times were fairly low for everything we wanted to ride on and we got a lot done in that first hour.

Remember that guests staying in the official Disney hotels are allowed to enter from 7:30am, so some queues do start to build from then. That’s why we waited 15-20 mins for Peter Pan even though we were among the first people to get there after rope drop.

7. Take advantage of your rider pass if an attraction breaks

If a ride breaks or closes for whatever reason while you’re in the queue, you get a lightning pass for a whole list of rides, including those that don’t normally have lightning lanes.

This happened to me when queuing for Rise of the Resistance. And it proved incredibly useful. Alice in Wonderland had a huge queue (50 mins), and the boys were desperate to ride it. We used the rider pass to get on that rather than wait for Rise to the Resistance to open again, which wasn’t certain to happen.

The best rides for little kids at Disneyland

teacups attraction at Disneyland

The best rides for kids at Disneyland depends on the kid and what they’re ready for. You’ll be limited both by Disneyland height restrictions and your child’s own appetite for rides. For the height restrictions, it’s easy to check these with the Disneyland app. For babies or those under 89cm, it’s best to filter the rides by ‘all heights’ to see what options are available to you. But just because a ride has no height restriction doesn’t mean it’s suitable for your child!

Watch out for dark or loud rides at Disneyland

You can also use the app to filter which rides are “dark” or “loud”. If you find your child has an aversion to one of these then you can use that as a guideline for which to avoid. But remember, not all the rides designated “loud” or “dark” are equal in terms of volume or light – some dark rides are really bright and lighthearted (like Winnie the Pooh) whereas others are dark and scary (like Pinnochio or Mr Toad).

To help, I’ve written a description of each Disneyland ride below, explaining what to look out for. And I’ve also written a round-up of the gentlest rides and ones that are a bit more frightening. Like I’ve said elsewhere, I recommend starting with a dark ride like Peter Pan or Winnie the Pooh and seeing how they respond to that. If they hate it, then perhaps avoid the others!

The most gentle rides of all for kids at Disneyland

None of these has height restrictions

  • Storybook Land Canal Boats
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Dumbo
  • Casey Jr. Train
  • Peter Pan’s Flight 
  • King Arthur’s Carousel
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Buzz Lightyear
  • Finding Nemo
  • Autotopia (32in/81cm and must be accompanied by an adult)
  • Jungle cruise
  • It’s a Small World
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh 
  • Mark Twain Riverboat

Disneyland rides that might be a bit scary for nervous/very little riders

These rides will suit braver/taller toddlers and pre-schoolers. I’ve listed the height restrictions for these if they have one.

  • Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway
  • Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
  • Pinocchio
  • Astro Orbitor
  • Chip ‘n’ Dale’s GADGETcoaster (35in / 89cm)
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (38in / 97cm)
  • Star Tours – The Adventure Continues (40in / 102cm)
  • Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (40in / 102cm)
  • Mr Toad

Disneyland rides for more confident or older children

None of these Disneyland rides are suitable for toddlers, but they’re worth bearing in mind if you have older kids or if the adults in your group want to ride them.

  • Indiana Jones Adventure (46in / 117cm)
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds (42in / 107cm)
  • Space Mountain (40in / 102cm)
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (40in / 102cm)

Descriptions of all the best rides for toddlers and little kids at Disneyland

Fantasyland rides for kids

Fantasyland is amazing for toddlers and little kids and has the largest amount of rides they can go on. It’s a perfect place to start your Disney day, making sure to walk through the castle from Main Street (everyone should enter Fantasyland for the first time through the castle!).

It’s a Small World

It's a small world attraction, Disneyland

Go on a whimsical boat ride that takes you through a miniature world of singing dolls dressed in traditional costumes from around the globe. The gentle journey is accompanied by the iconic (and alarmingly catchy) “It’s a Small World” song. It’s a timeless favourite for the whole family and one that suits all ages at Disney.

Peter Pan’s Flight

Peter Pan's Flight at Disneyland

This is one of Disney’s so called ‘dark rides’ which take you on an indoor journey through classic Disney scenes. On this Peter Pan themed ride, you board a pirate ship and fly over London and Neverland. It’s one of the gentlest of the dark rides and also the most popular. That’s why it’s often a good choice to ride first after rope drop. Plus, it’s a nice gentle intro to the dark rides.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

This iconic Disney ride lets you sit in and take control of a flying pink elephant, controlling the height as you fly around in circles. It’s very similar to the Astro Orbiter, so if you’re pushed for time, choose one or the other (the Astro Orbiter goes higher in the air). We did the Astro Orbiter with Otis and Arlo, but I remember loving the elephants when I was little! The only thing that might be a bit frightening on this ride is if your kids are scared of heights. If so, keep it on the lowest level and that makes for an even tamer ride.

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Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland attraction, Disneyland

This was one of my favourite ‘dark rides’ at Disneyland, largely because it’s one of my favourite Disney films. You ride on a caterpillar and go on a journey through the psychedelic madness of Wonderland. It’s a good one for toddlers and little kids, although the bit with the queen shouting might be a little scary (it only lasts a few seconds though).

Casey Jr. Circus Train

Casey Junior Circus Train at Disneyland, CA

Both our boys loved this, especially the two-year-old, who was giggling with glee! It’s a pretty gentle ride, based on the train from Dumbo, and is set to the excellent Casey Junior song. The train puffs, “I think I can, I think I can”, as it struggles up the hill, just like in Dumbo!

Storybook Land Canal Boats

Attraction at Disneyland Anaheim

Probably the most gentle ride of them all at Disneyland is the Storybook Land Canal Boats. Sail gently along a waterway as your boat glides past cute miniature scenes inspired by beloved Disney tales, including The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Frozen. The whole ride starts with you sailing through a whale’s mouth, the only “scary” part of the journey and one that delighted our kids (“he’s eating us”, they giggled!).

King Arthur’s Carousel

A photo of a carousel at Disneyland

Carousels are always a hit with our kids, and this one was no different, bringing plenty of squeals of joy and lots of pretty pictures.

Mad Tea Party

Mad Tea Party, Disneyland

Oh my, this one makes me dizzy nowadays (I used to love it!), so I left it to the boys. It’s a classic spinning tea cup ride based on Alice in Wonderland. You have control of the cup, so you can spin it as fast or slow as you like.

Pinocchio

A close picture of Pinnochio attraction in Disneyland

This wasn’t my favourite dark ride – it felt a little more dated than the others and was also quite a bit more frightening than Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland. Unless your kids are big Pinnochio fans, I think you can give it a miss. Our two-year-old was scared and I could see why as the imagery was pretty dark.

Snow White’s Enchanted Wish

This has recently been rebranded into a less scary version of the original, which was actually called ‘Snow White’s Scary Adventure’. We didn’t get to ride it as it was a low priority for us, and the queue was 40 minutes. But it’s said to be a cute one for Snow White fans. 

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

This has a reputation as the darkest of the dark rides in Fantasyland so we gave it a miss, especially as our kids aren’t familiar with the tale of The Wind in the Willows. It involves being run over by a train and driving into hell with pretend fires burning. Eeeek!

Tomorrowland rides for kids

Tomorrowland, Disenyland CA

Tomorrowland is Disney’s celebration of the possibilities of tomorrow in a retro-futuristic style. Our kids loved all the interplanetary design touches, and it has some great Disneyland rides for children. It used to be the home of Star Wars in Disneyland, but now there’s just one Star Wars ride here, while the others are in the newer Galaxy’s Edge area. It’s here you’ll find Space Mountain, one of Disney’s most popular rides, but not a good one for little kids.

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride at Disneyland

Our little ones are big Toy Story fans, so this was a huge hit. It’s one of Disney’s interactive rides, which gives an added element of fun. You get to help Buzz on a mission to defeat Evil Emperor Zurg, using your own Astro blaster to shoot targets and rack up points. We loved it!

Autopia

Autopia attraction in Disneyland

Autotopia is one of Disney’s classic rides and remains a favourite. Kids (and adults) get to drive their own miniature cars along a winding track, experiencing the thrill of being in control of the pedals while also staying on a designated path. Very little kids will be too short to reach the pedals (so their grown-up will need to do that), but they can still use the steering wheel to steer the car. It’s a bit jerky but not frightening in any other way.

Astro Orbitor

Astro Orbitor at Disneyland

This is Tomorrowland’s answer to Fantasyland’s pink elephants. It’s a classic spinning attraction where you sit in rockets rather than elephants. You have control of moving the rocket up and down, although all the rockets rise quite high to start with and stay at that level as a base point. This is different to the Dumbo ride, where you can stay at ground level throughout. It goes much higher in the air than the Dumbo ride too, so perhaps stick with Dumbo if your kids are scared of heights.

Star Tours – The Adventure Continues

We didn’t get the chance to ride this one, but it’s a 3D ride on a Starspeeder 1000 through the Star Wars universe. I think Otis would have loved it, but Arlo was a bit young.

Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

We didn’t quite make it onto this one, but I’ve heard great reviews. You board a proper submarine and join Marlin, Dory, and their friends on a journey underwater. We’d have loved to do it but sadly ran out of time. Next time!

Toontown rides for kids

El Capitoon, Disneyland

Toontown was my kids’ favourite area in Disneyland, and I was really impressed by the colourful cartoon realm. It;’s definitely one of the best areas in Disneyland for toddlers.

It brings to life the classic world of Disney animation and the traditional characters of Mickey and his friends. Think wacky angles, exaggerated proportions, and colours, and playful details galore.

It’s where you’ll find Mickey and Minnie’s Toontown Houses, where you can meet the king and queen of mice.

As well as some fun rides, it also has a fantastic playground at Goofy’s Playhouse and Donald Duck’s Boat.

Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway

Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railroad

This was Otis’ favourite ride at Disneyland. He loved it so much, we rode it twice. I think it was partly due to how zany it is – perfectly captivating his five-year-old mind.

You board a whimsical train and go on a wild ride alongside Mickey, Minnie and other classic Disney characters. It’s a state-of-the-art trackless ride, which makes it feel disarmingly random, but it’s actually controlled by a complex set of sensors. It feels like the carts are dancing (in fact, you take part in a Daisy Duck dance class at one point!).

It’s quite a manic ride, so it might be a bit much for the youngest riders, and our littlest was scared of the tornado scene (he opted not to ride it the second time).

Chip ‘n’ Dale’s GADGETcoaster

Dineyland Gadget Coaster

This is a fantastic entry-level rollercoaster. Both our kids were tall enough to ride it, but they did find it a bit too fast. I’m sure some 3-5-year-olds would love it, but ours aren’t huge thrill seekers. It has a height restriction of 89cm so won’t be available for some toddlers.

Adventureland rides and attractions

Adventureland and its ancient ruins and mystical creatures are a bit better suited to older kids who will enjoy the Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones rides. But the Jungle Cruise is suitable for all ages. For a time-out, the Enchanted Tiki Room show is always a winner.

Pirates of the Caribbean

Did you know the Pirates of the Caribbean movies are based on this classic Disneyland ride? I rode on it when I was 11, but we didn’t do it this time as we thought it might be a bit scary for Arlo (age 3). It’s a slow-paced boat ride but has two drops (one in the dark at 14ft), and some of the pirate scenes can be a bit frightening.

Jungle Cruise

Jungle Cruise is another ride that has a film based upon it! It’s one of Disneyland’s most beloved rides, taking you on a guided tour of animatronic animals and jungle scenes.  It has a notoriously pun-filled commentary.

Frontierland rides for kids

Frontierland is a rugged and nostalgic corner of Disneyland based on the bygone era of cowboys, saloons, and gold rush excitement. It’s wonderfully atmospheric, but there aren’t rides for little kids beyond the Mark Twain Riverboat. Older kids may enjoy the big ticket attraction, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Mark Twain Riverboat

The Mark Twain Riverboat, an iconic sight in Disneyland

The Mark Twain Riverboat is an iconic sight in Disneyland. You can take a ride on the impressive steam-powered ship, evoking the charm of 19th-century Mississippi River steamboats. Relax on the deck, listen to live music, and enjoy scenic views of Frontierland and New Orleans Square. It’s a nice gentle option, good for taking a relaxation break between other rides.

Critter Country rides for kids

Critter Country was very scaled back when we visited as Splash Mountain was undergoing renovation to be Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. Despite its reduced size, it was still a highlight for us as it’s home to Winnie the Pooh, our kids’ number one favourite Disney story. It’s also a beautiful spot, set alongside Disney’s Rivers of America where you can watch boats sailing by.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh ride at Disneyland

This was one of the rides our kids loved the most as they are huge Winnie the Pooh fans! It’s a super cute ‘dark ride’ where you sit in a honey pot and journey through classic Hundred Acre Wood scenes.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge rides for kids

We were all completely blown away by the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge area that brings the Star Wars saga to life. It really feels like stepping into a bustling spaceport on the edge of the galaxy. The level of production in the world and on the rides themselves is incredible.

Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run

Millenium Falcon attraction at Disneyland

On Smugglers Run, you get to climb aboard the Millennium Falcon and assume the role of pilot, gunner, or engineer as you join a daring 3D simulated mission alongside Chewbacca and Hondo Ohnaka. We took Otis on board, and he absolutely loved it, including all the immersive environments in the queue.

Although Otis rollercoasters a bit too much, he coped fine on simulators, so you may find this with your preschoolers too. It has a height restriction of 97cm and would probably be a bit too scary for little toddlers.

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is a groundbreaking attraction that places you in the middle of a climactic battle between the Resistance and the First Order. I didn’t get to ride it as it broke down when I was queueing (apparently, this is very common), but Otis and Steve loved it. It’s a trackless dark ride and does have a drop, but Otis didn’t find it frightening (as I said before, it’s the fast rides that scared him). Again, it wouldn’t be suitable for little toddlers and has a height restriction of 102cm.

How to meet Disney characters at Disneyland

Meeting Mickey Mouse at Mickey Mouse House, Disneyland

One of the things our kids loved most at Disneyland was meeting some of their favourite characters. It’s definitely a highlight of Disneyland with toddlers.

Luckily for us, our kids’ favourites are Mickey and Winnie the Pooh, both of whom were around that day. But do be warned that not all characters will be there, so try not to get them too focused on one. To be honest, I expected there to be more characters and opportunities to meet them.

For us, it often felt like luck that we happened upon a character, and we didn’t always manage to get an autograph or photo as the lines were a bit too long or the character was only doing a “walk around” and not stopping for autographs. This is understandable as otherwise they’d be standing there all day!

Here are some top tips for meeting characters at Disneyland:

  • You can meet Mickey and Minnie at their Toontown Houses. We queued for about 15 minutes to meet Mickey. They had entertainment in the queue area, so the kids enjoyed watching the cartoons.
  • On the app, there’s a map that has a list of characters and where you can find them in the park. It’s updated throughout the day, but we found not all the characters were listed, and we sometimes found ones that weren’t on the app. That said, it’s a useful tool for locating a few definites – just be sure to keep your eyes peeled for others.
  • The parade is a perfect place to see a whole bunch of characters at once. You don’t get to meet them or ask for autographs, but our kids loved seeing lots of their favourites, and it almost suited them better as they often found it a bit overwhelming meeting them face to face.
  • You can also book character dining experiences where you’re guaranteed to meet certain characters who wander around the restaurant and stop at individual tables. These are available both inside the park and at some of the official Disney hotels. You need to book the experiences in advance as they book up quickly (bookings open 60 days in advance). For many people, this is a Disneyland highlight, but we know our kids sometimes get a bit overwhelmed and shy around the characters, so we thought it might be a bit too much for them and probably wasn’t worth the money. Tickets usually cost between $60-$125 per ticket for adults and children over 3 years old). The Disney princess breakfasts are particularly popular.
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Other ways to have fun at Disneyland

Disneyland parade

Disneyland isn’t just about the rides. There are also plenty of other fun ways to keep entertained and have fun, and some of these will be the highlight for Disenyland toddlers and little kids.

Here are a few of the favourite shows and attractions for preschoolers and toddlers at Disneyland.

Shows

There are always shows at Disneyland, and they change fairly regularly. When we went, they were showing Tale of the Lion King as their big production, and Storytelling at the Royal Theatre, which recreates classic Disney tales. Past productions have included Frozen and Aladdin.

On a smaller scale, you can also catch live bands in locations around the park, as well as the classic Dapper Dans show with harmonies, tap dancing and vaudeville humour. Check the app for locations and the shows on offer that day. It’s a good way to take a break and recharge.

The Enchanted Tiki Room is another timeless favourite where you can take a seat in a Polynesian-inspired theatre and be transported to a colourful world inhabited by singing birds, crooning flowers and lively tikis.

Parades

Parade in Disneyland

The Disneyland parade is a quintessential Disney experience and one that’s unmissable, in my opinion. Watch as spectacular floats pass by with favourite characters and songs from Disney shows. We loved seeing Moana, Frozen and Coco-themed floats, and the kids were completely captivated. Some people secure a spot at the front hours before it starts, but we arrived just as it was starting and still got a fairly good spot (we stood on a bench next to Fantasy Faire Gifts). The parade happens twice a day.

Enjoy the playground

Goofy’s Playhouse in Toontown is a brilliant Disneyland playground for toddlers, perfect for burning off steam. It’s a fun oversized design where kids can climb, crawl, and slide to their heart’s content. And Donald Duck’s boat has a fun water play area.

Tom Sawyer Island is another good spot to play with caves, bridges, and secret spots to discover.

Fireworks shows

The fireworks shows don’t take place every night at Disneyland in California, so be sure to check out the entertainment schedule before you go. They have different themes and events throughout the year and typically last for about 10 minutes from 9 pm or so. It was at 9:30 pm when we went, which was far too late for our boys (especially as we needed to be up for our second day at Disney the next morning), but I did get to see them from the balcony of our hotel, the Howard Johnson Hotel.

Special events at Disney

Disney also puts on special events at different times of the year, including Halloween spectaculars and light shows. Check the website/app to see what’s happening when you visit.

More top tips for visiting Disneyland with kids

Captain Hook signing a book

Here are some miscellaneous tips that didn’t fit into any of the other headings! Just a few extra Disneyland tips for making the most out of your adventure…

Buy costumes, ears and bubble wands in advance

I made the mistake of promising my kids a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, only to arrive at the park to find they cost $35. I could have got them for much cheaper elsewhere. That said, the ones on sale in Disneyland are pretty cool, as they have all sorts of different themes. Otis chose the rainbow Pride ones, and Arlo got some that were themed on the Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railroad ride. There were some cake-themed ears I’d have liked too!

Likewise, with costumes and Disney-themed clothes, you could buy these in advance. And I recommend wearing them as it all adds to the excitement of a day at Disney!

Another thing we ended up buying at the park was a bubble wand, which is almost as ubiquitous as the Mickey ears. Try to buy one in advance as they’re pretty spendy! Also bring some spare bubble mixture as you’re bound to run out! Otis and Arlo had theirs on all day!

Use the app

Make really good use of Disneyland’s official app. It provides real-time information on wait times, show schedules, character appearances, and interactive maps to help you navigate the park efficiently. While we found it wasn’t always 100% accurate, for example, with wait times, it gave a good general idea and really helped us to make the most of our time.

Wear comfy shoes

Prepare for a lot of walking and standing at Disney. My legs were aching by the end of the day! I’d say that trainers/sneakers are a must. Don’t wear any shoes you haven’t already walked in and know are comfy in advance. Also, see our guidance above on using strollers, even for slightly older kids.

Get a Disney PhotoPass

The Disney PhotoPass service is brilliant as it means you have access to professional photos from your day. There are pro photographers stationed around the park (locations in the app), plus you’ll also find them at character meet and greets.

They’ll give you a card with a barcode, which you then link to your app, and the photos will instantly appear there. The same goes for the photos taken on rides. And you can download them freely. This service is included in Genie+, or you can pay for it individually. It works out much cheaper if you do it as part of Genie+.

Use the baby centre

Disneyland California has a baby centre at the end of Main Street. It’s a good place to feed and change babies/toddlers in private, and includes nursing rooms, changing tables, toddler-sized toilets, a feeding area with high chairs, and a kitchen with sink, microwave and bottle warmer.

There’s also a vending machine with lots of baby and toddler essentials, including formula, baby food, juice, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, pacifiers and over-the-counter medication. Do be warned though that on the day we went they had run out of diapers, so we had to leave the park to go and get some (we’d forgotten our own stash!).

Where to Eat in Disneyland with Kids

The Disney restaurants and snack stands are all part of the Disneyland experience. Here are some top tips for eating at Disneyland.

Order food in advance on the Disneyland app

Order through the app to avoid having to queue. We found this super convenient as it meant we could maximise our time elsewhere. You simply order online for a specific window of time. And then when you arrive at the restaurant during that window, you press a button saying you’ve arrived, and they prepare your order, ready for you. It’s a pretty efficient system.

Character dining

You can also consider making dining reservations for character dining experiences or themed restaurants. In the park itself, you can meet Minnie and friends at the Plaza Inn. Or if you’re staying in a Disney hotel, there are other options for hotel guests, including Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel and the Princess Breakfast at Disney’s Grand California Hotel and Spa. Check the website for the latest opportunities.

Table-service restaurants at Disneyland

If you want something a bit more formal, there are some Disneyland restaurants that you can book in advance for a sit-down dining experience. Here’s a list of places that accept reservations, including the Blue Bayou. Personally, I’d recommend just ordering through the app as it might be easier to have the flexibility with kids. You never know when hunger might strike.

The best food for kids in Disneyland

Victoria holding a Mickey-shaped beignet

Disneyland is well set up for kid-friendly menus, and we were pleased to see some healthy options too. We ate in Critter Country at the Hungry Bear and ordered the kids’ power pack, which included yoghurt, orange, crackers, carrots and milk. And later on, we had pizza from Alien Pizza Planet.

I also recommend trying some classic Disney snacks, including the Mickey-shaped beignets (we got these in the Hungry Bear) and the famous pineapple dole whip at the Tiki juice Bar.

See a full list of the dining options at Disneyland here.

Where to stay in Disneyland with kids

Bed at Howard Johnson hotel

There are official Disneyland hotels you can stay in, but these come at a premium. The key benefit is that you can enter the park 30 minutes before the rope drops, so you get to fit in a few rides before everyone else.

But don’t worry if you can’t afford an official Disney hotel. There are plenty of other options in walking distance. Plus, the Disney monorail and shuttle buses ferry people into the park from all around Anaheim.

We opted for the Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground, which is around an 8-minute walk from Disneyland. The retro mid-century modern hotel has recently been fully refurbished, keeping its classic turquoise and orange décor but updating it with a more retro-hip vibe.

We were lucky enough to stay in the hotel’s signature room, The House of the Future Suite, which is modelled on a house that was featured in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland from 1957-67. It envisioned the future in a classically kitsch Jetsons’ style. There’s only one of these suites, but it’s an icon for the hotel, and its 311 other rooms are influenced by it.

One of the highlights of the hotel is its waterpark, Castaway Cove, which is ideal for little ones with two gentle water slides, a drench bucket, water cannons and more. Plus there’s also a second pool, ideal for swimming. Both are good places to take a time out if you want to break up your day at Disneyland.

Check the latest prices and book here.

Buy your Disneyland tickets now

El Capitoon, Disneyland

We bought our tickets through Undercover Tourist, who we found to be a little cheaper than some of the other options (although they’re all fairly similar). We also saved a bit of money by paying in dollars rather than pounds. See the latest prices here

Bear in mind that you need to book your tickets AND then make a park reservation on the Disney site itself. Once you’ve done this, your tickets will be transferred to the app, and you can enter by showing your ticket there at the gate.

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New England travel guides

We LOVE New England and have loads of tips to help you make the most of your trip. And just let me know if you have any questions!

Itineraries: Boston to Maine road trip | New England road trip

Destination guides: Things to do in Boston with kids |Things to do in Portsmouth, NH | Best places to vacation in Maine | Things to do in Southern Maine | Things to do in Vermont with kids | Where to find the real Stars Hollow

Accommodation guides: Glamping in New England | New England family resorts | Maine family resorts | Vermont family resorts

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