I have been wanting to write an article about this for a long time, but it was only recently that I was able to go to Disneyland with all three of my children. We went for my husband’s birthday during August. It was amazing! There were a lot of new things I hadn’t seen or experienced yet, and my five year old was definitely in a state of wonder. I could go on and on about every fun thing we did, but the point of this post is to help you do as much as you can during your Disney day without causing the small members of your family to have a mental breakdown. So join me in my journey today as we discuss taking small children to Disneyland, California.
Pick a Park
There are two separate amusement parks, Disneyland and California Adventure. There are amazing things to do at both parks, but there is no way you can do everything in both parks in one day. One of the best ways to check out the parks is to visit Disneyland’s official website here. If you are headed on a family vacation just to go to these parks I recommend the 7 Day Park Hopper passes. They are the best value and you will have plenty of time to do everything in both parks. If you don’t have 7 days, then I would go with the 3-Day Park Hopper. If you are only going for one day, pick one park.
Get the Mouseaddict Wait Times App
Make sure you download this app ahead of time so you can get a general idea of what the wait times are and work on your options. You can also use it while you are in the park to determine wait times and chat with other people in the park on MiceChat. The best thing about this app is that it is totally free! Don’t waste your money on a different Disney app that has the same features.
Pack A Backpack
Include healthy snacks, sunscreen, water bottles, hats, a change of clothes for each child (just in case!), a pack of wipes, and diapers if you have a little one. I would also advise packing baby food, although if you forget you can purchase some inside of the park at any baby changing/nursing stations. You can also order a few Disney souvenirs online and put them in your backpack to give to your children once you get into the park. This will cut down on your overall cost since souvenirs are much more expensive at Disneyland, however there are some souvenirs that they only offer inside of the parks.
Before You Enter the Park
We have a family friend that is a Cast Member (Disney employee) at Disneyland and he gave me a great tip for families with kids. Before you go inside, take a picture of each child individually on your smart phone. This way you have a picture of your child in what they are actually wearing that day. That way if you and your child become separated, the cast members have a photo to look at. They can also use a photo from any of the professional photos they have taken of you at the park to distribute to employees in case of separation. It is not common for children to go missing inside of the park, but the company has procedures in line just in case it should happen someday. Disney take’s your family’s safety very seriously.
Free Family Photos
Anytime you see a cast member taking photos, you can also ask them to take a photo with your camera. Just make sure the settings are right before you hand it over. They will take a photo with their camera first, and then yours. If yours doesn’t turn out for some reason, you can always opt to purchase one. When the park closes the lines for the photo kiosks becomes insane, so make sure you go get your photos at least one hour before the park closes. Now they have a plastic card they can scan that will include all of your photos, instead of handing you individual cards for each photo they take. I thought that was pretty cool.
Eating Outside Food
The food at Disneyland can be pretty pricey, although compared with most other amusement parks, you definitely get a lot more for your money. If you want to bring your own food, they ask you to check it into a locker and go outside of the park to eat it in the picnic area. I have found that in general they don’t actually enforce this rule. I always pack plenty of snacks and bring all of our water bottles. This is so important because hungry children are cranky children. Make sure you pack healthy snacks because when you buy food, you are more likely to buy junky treats like ice cream or popcorn. They do offer fresh fruit at many of the snack stands at the park now, which is really nice. As a family tradition we pick up Subway sandwiches before we head into the park. Make sure you if you do this you get the condiments on the side or your sandwich will end up being very soggy (yuck!).
Eating Inside the Park
The first rule of eating inside of Disneyland is to eat during strange hours, that way when everyone else is eating you can enjoy shorter lines for rides. You can also get a free cup of ice water from any of the food places in the park where they have a soda fountain. Remember to stay hydrated! If you want to see a character the best thing to do is arrange one of the eating encounters so you can cross two things off of your list at once. Things in the park have changed and you cannot simply walk up to a character for a photo and autograph.
If you are interested in a quick and delicious dining experience I can personally recommend breakfast at Flo’s V8 Cafe in Car’s Land. The Brioche Banana French Bread is amazing!
For Breastfeeding Moms
Both parks offer rooms where you can breastfeed in private and also have changing areas where you can change and even wash your little one. They also have high chairs for you to use. It is a quiet place, which is nice if you have a child that is easily distracted at meal time. You can find these Baby Stations on your park map. These locations also sell baby food and formula, in case you run out or forget.
Meeting the Disney Characters
There are lines for even the most obscure characters in the park. So if your child really wants to meet a princess you need to look up times and places for appearances. The longest line in the entire park right now is to meet Princess Anna and Queen Elsa with a wait time of over three hours. One of the cast members noticed our daughters were dressed up as Anna and Elsa and asked if we were going to meet them. I told her no, we didn’t want to spend three of our hours in the park waiting. She told me that they would be on a float in the pre-parade, so the girls could see them that way. That is exactly what we did and the girls loved it! One thing you have to say for Disneyland is that their employees are extremely helpful and generally cheerful.
The Best Way to Ride- Combine FastPass and Rider Swap
We barely waited in line all day. We figured out that if we split up our tickets into two groups, we could get a “FastPass” for two different rides that we could ride within 90 of each other (you can only get one fastpass per every 90 minutes) and then the other half of our party could use the “Rider Swap” pass, which is for families with small children. The rider swap is for up to three people, including the one holding the pass. In other words it is for three riders total. The purpose of the rider swap is so that families that are taking small children to Disneyland (children too small to go on the adult rides) do not have to wait in the full line two times. You simply ask for the rider swap pass that comes on a lanyard you wear, wait in line (or in the fastpass line, if you have a fastpass), and then when you turn in your ride swap you get a ticket which allows you and two other people to go into the fast pass line immediately.
If you have bigger kids and the Rider Swap no longer applies to you, some of the rides have “Single Rider” options. Those lines are so fast! I saw many families with bigger kids taking advantage of the low wait times. The one draw back is that you don’t get to ride together, but you will get to go on more rides. The wait in the Single Rider line on the Radiator Springs Racers was about 5 minutes while the normal wait was an hour, just to give you an idea.
In My Opinion
Fantasy Land and the Matterhorn are overrated and have no FastPass options. They also have insane lines. Please don’t spend all day waiting in line to go on all of those rides. If you have smaller children pick the less popular, but just as awesome, kid friendly rides scattered throughout the park. Examples are the Winnie the Pooh ride, Gadget’s Gizmo Coaster, and the Astro Orbitor.
Disney goes out of their way to make sure there are things to do besides wait in line to go on rides. Make sure you take advantage of a few of these experiences. Our kids were able to dance with Phineas and Ferb at California Adventure, and our youngest daughter was able to attend the Jedi Training Acadmey in Tomorrowland. Seeing her battle Darth Vader in her little Jedi robe with her light saber and pig tales was something that none of us will forget. It was too cute!
I hope I have covered everything you would want to know about traversing the world of Disneyland with your little ones. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below.