Discover the world through travel & beyond!

Disneyland with Kids – Tips to Maximize Fun and Minimize Stress

Travel Mamas sometimes receives compensation and/or hosted travel and sample products related to blog posts. This story may include affiliate links for which we receive a small commission at no extra cost to consumers. As an Amazon Associate I earn money from qualifying purchases. Be sure to check with businesses and locations regarding travel restrictions and safety precautions before visiting.

Disneyland with kids is the most magical experience…if you do it right. There’s really nothing more amazing than seeing Disney’s original park through the eyes of a child. Disneyland is the Happiest Place on Earth but it’s also easy to overdo it. You don’t want your family to wind up exhausted, overwhelmed, and cranky while exploring theme parks. Follow these expert Disneyland with kids tips to maximize fun and minimize stress during your Disney vacation in California.

Disneyland with kids
Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

This story is brought to you in partnership with shopDisney, the official site for Disney merchandise.

1. Rank rides and shows in order of importance for your family.

Between Disneyland and its sister park, Disney California Adventure, it’s not possible to experience everything in one day, or even in one vacation. Therefore, you have to prioritize. Brainstorm with your family about the rides, shows, and other attractions that appeal most to everyone. Make a list of must-do experiences followed by second-tier attractions, things that would be nice if there’s time, and what can be skipped.

The earlier you enter the parks; the shorter lines tend to be. Therefore, plan to hit popular rides like Space Mountain or Radiator Springs Racers first. When traveling with different age groups, top picks will vary greatly so get ready to compromise. Not sure which attractions to put at the very top of your list? If traveling with young children, then be sure to read our picks for the best Disneyland rides for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Meanwhile, those traveling with bigger kids and teens should take a look at the scariest rides at Disneyland.

Matterhorn Bobsleds and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage at Disneyland theme park
Matterhorn Bobsleds and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (Photo credit: Joshua Sudock, Disneyland Resort)

2. Group attractions together.

The big-ticket rides are spread throughout the various lands at Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure. Rather than running from one roller coaster to another, pick one popular ride and then plan out from there. So, if the Matterhorn Bobsleds top your family’s wish list, then plan to hit up some other Fantasyland attractions right afterward like Peter Pan’s Flight and Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Alternatively, since the Matterhorn is also very near Tomorrowland, you could group this with rides like Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage instead. Then decide which nearby land contains the next bunch of attractions that appeal to your family and move on to those. Believe me, you’ll be doing enough walking without crisscrossing lands unnecessarily.

Dumbo the Flying Elephant
Dumbo the Flying Elephant (Photo credit: Travel Mamas)

3. Develop a schedule but make room for magic.

When planning a trip to Disneyland with kids, develop a schedule before you enter the parks. You don’t want to waste precious time staring at park maps and arguing about what to do next. But it’s equally important to live in the present moment and soak up the fun. The first few times I went to Disneyland as a new mom, I had scheduled every moment to make sure we maximized every minute. This left me feeling uptight instead of joyful. Take time for more mellow activities like watching the Dapper Dans perform on Main Street or exploring Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer’s Island with your kids. Everyone will be happier if you do.

Princess Tiana at Disneyland
Princess Tiana at Disneyland (Photo credit: Christian Thompson, Disneyland Resort)

4. Let your child become a princess, pirate or other Disney character for a day.

Childhood doesn’t last forever so lean into the wonder of Disney by indulging your child’s fantasy of being a princess, pirate, or other Disney character while at Disneyland Resort. Purchase costumes and accessories from shopDisney before your vacation. Got a mini Aurora or Moana at home? Browse the Ultimate Disney Princess Celebration collection now! This summer is The Ultimate Princess Celebration, which honors values like kindness, courage, and standing up for what you believe in. Get in on the fun with Disney Princess dresses, accessories, and toys from shopDisney. Learn more about this exciting celebration!

Sleeping Beauty costume for kids available from shopDisney
Sleeping Beauty costume for kids available from shopDisney (Photo credit: Disney)

Take a look at other Disney costumes, too, from Star Wars to Toy Story and beyond for boys and for girls at shopDisney. Everyone is a kid again when they’re at Disneyland, so be sure to get Disney clothing like themed t-shirts, hats, and dresses for parents, too. Buying Disney gear in advance from shopDisney saves time and money during your vacation.

“Believe...In Holiday Magic” Fireworks Spectacular at Disneyland
Fireworks Spectacular in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (Photo credit: Joshua Sudock, Disneyland Resort)

5. Pace yourselves.

Many families want to squeeze as much fun as possible into their Disneyland vacation. They arrive at opening time in the morning and only leave after the last firework has burst over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Especially when visiting with kids, this is sure to lead to a meltdown from at least one family member. Instead, pace yourselves.

If you want to be there early in the morning to take advantage of the shortest lines of the day, then consider skipping the evening entertainment. When visiting Disneyland with teens, you might plan to arrive in the afternoon and stay until closing time. Or, get to the parks as early as possible and then head back to your hotel in the afternoon for naps or a swim before heading back for some park play post-dark.

Jessie’s Critter Carousel in Pixar Pier in Disney California Adventure
Jessie’s Critter Carousel in Disney California Adventure Park (Photo credit: Joshua Sudock, Disneyland Resort)

5. Consider visiting just one theme park per day.

Park hopper tickets allow guests to visit both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in one day. This is helpful if you only have one day and you have lots of must-sees spanning across the two parks. It’s also handy if, for example, you want to spend the morning at Disneyland and then enjoy World of Color at Disney California Adventure.

I, however, like to spend at least two full days at the Disney theme parks every time we visit Anaheim. Then we can dedicate one day to Disneyland Park and another day to Disney California Adventure. We save some money by choosing single park passes and we spend less time hiking from park to park. Plus, we feel less pressure to do everything all at once. Instead, we focus on the excitement of each park individually.

If you’re staying at Disneyland Resort hotel or a Good Neighbor Hotel that offers early entry, then stick to that one park. But, if you’re not taking advantage of Disneyland Magic Mornings, choose the park that does NOT offer early entry because it will usually be less crowded.

Radiator Springs Racers is a popular FASTPASS ride at Disney California Adventure
Radiator Springs Racers is a popular FASTPASS attraction at Disney California Adventure (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

6. Use the Disneyland Mobile App and FASTPASS to save time waiting in lines.

Over a dozen Disneyland attractions typically offer FASTPASS, while nine rides and shows at Disney California Adventure offer this option. You can pick up a paper FASTPASS from distribution kiosks in front of designated attractions or purchase Disney MaxPass from the Disney Mobile App once inside the parks to streamline wait times. Then simply return to the attraction at your designated time to use your FASTPASS and bypass the queue. Karee with Our Woven Journey says, “As magical as Disneyland is, spending the day standing in long lines with energetic kids can zap the patience out of the most loving parent. When you use MaxPass, not only will you avoid worrying about losing your passes, but also you can request your next FASTPASS from wherever you are in the parks.”

For the time being, Disney has suspended use of FASTPASS and MaxPass at its California theme parks. Thankfully, other Disneyland Mobile App features still provide great ways to improve your Disneyland vacation. The Disneyland Mobile App can save your family valuable time in the parks. Use the app to check wait times for all attractions, order food in advance from select restaurants, and even save your spot in line for attractions.

Make sure to wear the right shoes at Disneyland with kids
Make sure to wear the right shoes at Disneyland with kids (Photo credit: Kylie Gibbon, Visiting Dordogne)

7. Wear comfortable shoes.

Of course, you want everyone in your crew to be comfortable at the Happiest Place on Earth. According to Kylie Gibbon with Visiting Dordogne, “Disneyland is huge and you’ll be doing tons of walking. In fact, my family clocks over 20,000 steps per day when we visit! Therefore, it’s super important that everyone wears appropriate shoes. Don’t wear anything uncomfortable or that is likely to give painful blisters to your family members’ feet. Ideally, the top pick for footwear for you and your kids are worn-in, sturdy trainers or cushioned walking sandals. Flip-flops are too flimsy and heels are an obvious no-go.”

Strollers make naps a cinch at Disneyland with kids
Strollers make naps a cinch at Disneyland (Photo credit: Debbie Fettback, WorldAdventurists.com)

8. Prioritize sleep at Disneyland with kids.

Nothing leads to family arguments and amusement park tantrums faster than lack of sleep. That’s why families should stick to healthy sleep routines during a Disneyland vacation. Depending on their age, children need eight to 13 hours of sleep per night (and even more for babies and toddlers). Just because kids are having fun, it doesn’t mean they need less sleep. Therefore, you might plan to turn in at a decent hour and wind down with bedtime stories like you do at home, especially if you plan to get up very early.

If you have a child who still takes naps, then build these respites into your schedule. Some kids do best with stroller naps while others prefer taking a snooze in a crib back at the hotel. Read additional travel sleep tips for children to make sure everyone is well-rested and ready to play!

Balloons for sale at Disneyland with kids
Balloons for sale at Disneyland (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

9. Bring or rent a stroller.

Make your life easier by renting or bringing a stroller on your Disneyland vacation. Debbie Fettback with WorldAdventurists.com says, “Even if your children can walk during adventures near home, Disney is a whole other level of stimulation and tiredness. A stroller is helpful when experiencing Disneyland with kids, even up to age 6 or so. If you have older kids or you are visiting Disneyland with a large group, then you will get more out of your day by using a stroller for younger children. Little ones can comfortably nap in a stroller while other family members take turns enjoying rides and attractions. Additionally, a stroller is also a good place to store easily replaceable items while on rides.” Fettback also recommends marking your stroller with a balloon or bow to make it easier to find in the sea of strollers in the theme parks.

Frozen - Live at the Hyperion
Frozen – Live at the Hyperion (Photo credit: Scott Brinegar, Disney)

10. Take a break with indoor Disney performances.

Nicole Hunter with Go Far Grow Close recommends taking a break from the bustle of the parks when crowds are heavy in afternoons. She says, “When you have had enough of lining up and dodging crowds, this is the time to go see one of Disney’s incredible live musical theatre extravaganzas. Not only will you enjoy an incredible production, but also you can rest your feet and cool down or warm up, depending on the weather. You should consider lining up 30 minutes to an hour before shows at the Hyperion Theater to be sure to get seats.”

The Hyperion Theater at Disney California Adventure Park seats nearly 2,000 people and showcases Broadway-caliber performances. Also at Disney California Adventure, young children adore the indoor Turtle Talk with Crush and Disney Junior Dance Party. Over at Disneyland Park, all ages enjoy the 15-minute Tiki Room show featuring animatronic singing birds. Bigger kids might also appreciate the technology of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln in Main Street USA.

FASTPASS ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland
Rider Switch attraction, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Photo credit: Joshua Sudock, Disneyland Resort)

11. Use Rider Switch.

With the Rider Switch system, you don’t need to skip thrill rides just because you’re visiting Disneyland with children. According to Disneyland.com, “With Rider Switch, one adult or supervising Guest (14 years or older) can wait with non-riders while the rest of the party enjoys the attraction. Then, they simply switch roles to allow the supervising Guest to experience the attraction without waiting in the regular queue again.” Rider Switch is allowed on 10 rides at Disneyland Park, and on another 10 rides at Disney California Adventure. See a list of participating rides or check with a Cast Member to see if Rider Switch is available for your desired attraction.

About Rider Switch, Kris with Nomad by Trade says, “Best of all, the adult riders get to bring two other riders with them so older kids may get a chance to ride twice in a row if they want. If the line is long, then the parent and kid waiting outside may even have time to hit a different ride or grab a snack.”

Sunny day at Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure
Sunny day at Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure (Photo credit: Christian Thompson, Disneyland Resort)

12. Stay hydrated for safety’s sake.

With all the excitement of a visit to Disneyland with kids, it can be easy to forget to drink enough water. But walking, standing, and riding all day can lead to dehydration especially on hot, sunny days. Dehydration can become dangerous quickly. Steer clear of sugary drinks, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol because this can worsen dehydration. Instead, stick to low-sugar rehydration drinks with electrolytes or good old-fashioned water.

Claudia Laroye with Claudia Travels recommends packing your own refillable water bottles. She says, “It’s the eco-friendly way to keep the family hydrated and cut down on disposable waste at the park. Disneyland makes staying hydrated easy by locating many water bottle refill stations and fountains throughout the park.” Take a look at this helpful map of drinking fountains at Disneyland Resort, which is also viewable in the Disneyland Mobile App.

Carthay Circel Restaurant at Disney California Adventure Park
Carthay Circle Restaurant at Disney California Adventure Park (Photo credit: Christian Thompson, Disneyland Resort)

13. Book special meals in advance.

Interesting dining experiences are one of the joys of a Disneyland vacation. You can book dining experiences up to 60 days in advance, and you should. Sometimes a quick corndog is all your family craves but for table service meals, reservations are highly recommended. You could dine “under the stars” while watching Pirates of the Caribbean boats sail past at Blue Bayou Restaurant in Disneyland, enjoy a fine dining experience at Carthay Circle Restaurant at Disney California Adventure, or listen to mariachis while munching tacos at Tortilla Jo’s in Downtown Disney.

Mickey-shaped waffles are a hit with kids at Disneyland character breakfasts
Mickey-shaped waffles are a hit at Disneyland character breakfasts (Photo credit: David Nguyen, Disneyland Resort)

Some of my favorite memories of experiencing Disneyland with kids have taken place during character meals. These special meals give children a chance to pose for photos with classic characters like Goofy, Pluto, and Minnie Mouse or princesses like Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White. Kids can get autographs for their Disney autograph book from less common characters like Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, too. Be sure to dress children up as their favorite characters for the best photos and most memorable experience! Read my review to learn more about Disneyland character dining and decide which meal works best for your family.

Disney's Grand Californian Resort & Spa lobby
Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa lobby (Photo credit: Disneyland Resort)

14. Choose the right accommodations for your family.

Accommodation options abound near Disneyland. From budget motels to Disneyland Resort’s upscale themed hotels, you’re sure to find a place that fits your family’s style and budget. A fabulous hotel pool adds even more magic to Disneyland with kids. Take a look at the best hotels near Disneyland with pools to see what I mean!

Staying on property at one of Disneyland’s three hotels creates an immersive Disney experience and comes with perks like early entry to the parks with Extra Magic Hour. My favorite is the Disneyland Hotel with its classic Disney styling and handy location near the Downtown Disney Monorail stop. Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa is the fanciest of the trio with its exclusive Disney California Adventure entrance and impressive lobby designed like a U.S. national park lodge. Meanwhile, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel boasts a beachy California setting and fireworks views from its rooftop pool.

If you’ve got a large family, you’re traveling with a big group, or you just want lots of space to spread out — then maybe a vacation rental home is more your style. Decide for yourself by browsing through vacation homes near Disneyland.

Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel pool
Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel pool (Photo credit: Disneyland Resort)

15. Build excitement before visiting Disneyland with kids.

Did you know that people often actually enjoy the anticipation of a vacation more than their actual travels? To spread out the joy of your Disneyland vacation, build excitement before leaving home. You can create your own countdown calendar, download a free Disney countdown printable, or buy one from shopDisney. Parents can also up the happiness by choosing a unique way to tell the kids they’re headed to Disneyland.

In the weeks prior to your Anaheim getaway, celebrate all things Disney at home. Ask for your children’s input regarding Disney restaurants and rides so they feel ownership of the trip. Let each family member choose one (or more!) Disney movie to watch together per week. Read Disney books to your kids at bedtime, too. And try on those Disney Princess gowns and other Disney costumes so your kids will be ready to strut their stuff at the parks. You could even host a family Disney fashion show one night!

Crystal Cove Beach in Orange County, CA
Crystal Cove Beach in Orange County, California (Photo credit: focqus, Depositphotos.com)

Join the Ultimate Princess Celebration!

Disney Princesses teach valuable lessons, like Tiana who demonstrates the importance of working hard and following your dreams, and Merida who shows that bravery pays off. The Ultimate Princess Celebration honors values like kindness, courage, and standing up for what you believe in.

World Princess Week takes place during the last week of August. As part of the celebration, shopDisney features digital experiences where guests can earn courage and kindness badges. Participants can also post photos or videos dressed up as their favorite Disney Princess for a chance to win prizes like gift cards. One day during this celebratory week, kids will be able to meet with Disney Princesses via Zoom. There will even be Princess Art-of-Animation drawing classes on shopDisney.com!

Courage and Kindness with Disney Princesses

Learn more tips for your California vacation.

Disneyland is located in California’s beautiful Orange County. Take a look at the best things to do in Orange County with kids.

What would a trip to Southern California be without a beach day? Here are the best beaches in California.

San Diego is just 95 miles from Disneyland, making it a great addition to your holiday. I lived in San Diego for many years and I’ve got the inside scoop on all there is to do in San Diego with kids.

Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse and dreamed up Disneyland while working and living in Burbank, California. Explore 13 things to do in Burbank, the Media Capital of the World.

Expert Tips for Disneyland with Kids

Keep these tips for visiting Disneyland with kids.

For future reference, save this list of Disneyland with kids tips. Simply pin the image above to Pinterest. We hope you’ll follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

Who is your favorite Disney Princess or character? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: I will receive compensation from shopDisney.com related to this post. This story contains affiliate links for which Travel Mamas earns a small commission at no extra charge to readers.

 

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Wow these are great tips for taking kids to Disneyland. I especially like the fast pass to jump to the front of the lines. With or without kids!

  2. Stephanie says

    I think everyone loves Disney. It is such a great experience for the whole family!

  3. Mary Beth says

    Love these Disney trip tips!! Looking forward to all the magic!

  4. Neely Moldovan says

    We are taking our kids to Disney next summer so this is super helpful!

  5. These are all amazing tips! We’re planning a trip to Disney now that everything is finally safe, and we can’t wait to go. I’ll be using these tips.

  6. Nice! Disney is so much fun, but it can be stressful if you don’t have a plan in place. I can’t wait to use these tips. We’ve missed Disney.

  7. I love these tips. I have wanted to visit Disney for so long. I’d love to go the next time I’m in the States.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      I hope you can visit Disneyland someday soon, Kuntala! It really is such a magical experience, no matter your age!

  8. Ntensibe Edgar says

    Hhhhmmmm….I don’t have a favourite Disneyland character. I’d love to visit Disneyland. There’s a lot of familiar names here….

    • Colleen Lanin says

      I have so many favorites! Merida, Sneezy Dwarf (because I sneeze a lot!), Dumbo, Flynn Rider…I could go on and on! 🙂

  9. Ivan M. Jose says

    I couldn’t think of a Disney character that is my favorite. Just the same, it’s my dream to be able to go to Disneyland and take my kids there.

  10. Emman Damian says

    It’s important to rank the rides which you want to try. Also, save some time by being strategic. The closest ones should be bundled together. Use a map so you can plan accordingly.

  11. I have been to Disney World many times, but I have never been to Disneyland. I’d love to get to California soon.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Rosey – It’s so fun to visit Disney Parks in different locations and notice the differences and similarities! I hope you can visit Disneyland someday soon!

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.