My husband and I have been big Disney fans for a long time, so we definitely looked forward to taking our little one down to Anaheim as soon as possible. What we did not look forward to was standing in lines for hours and finding ourselves with a cranky toddler.
(Trips With Tykes uses affiliate links. See our full disclosure policy here.)
Luckily, there are ways you can plan your Disneyland trip to minimize wait time and frustration, but you need to plan ahead. Here are my tips for planning an efficient and joyful trip to see the Mouse in California.
1) Arrive Early
I can’t stress this tip enough. The lines are shortest first thing in the morning. If you want to ride several of the low capacity rides that younger kids love (Dumbo, Peter Pan, and Finding Nemo Submarines), you need to be in the park as soon as it opens. I recommend lining up at the gates at least 15-20 minutes before opening time, but ideally even earlier on holidays or summer weekends.
2) Get Ridemax
Ridemax is a software program that helps you minimize wait times. It is a great deal at only $14.95. You put in the attractions you want to ride, and it generates an itinerary for you with the shortest wait time. It may sound a little OCD, but planning is everything when you have a young child. You download Ridemax to your computer, but they now have a web-based version that you can run on your smartphone in app-like fashion. Ridemax has been around for something close to a decade now, and my family and I have used it at both Disneyland and Disney World for many years (both pre- and post-kiddo).
3) Use other apps
Back when I originally wrote this post in 2012, wait time apps were a pretty new trend. The market has exploded since then, and Disneyland even unveiled its very own app in 2015. Figure out which app will work best for you in my guide to 7 apps for Disneyland. Be advised that cell and data reception for many carriers within the park is notoriously bad, so you may have trouble accessing apps at times. Unlike Walt Disney World, Disneyland still doesn’t offer free WiFi in its parks.
4) Take Advantage of Early Entry Options
If you stay at one of the Disney hotels, then you will be able to access one of the two Disneyland parks one hour early during the entirety of your stay. These “Extra Magic Hours” are crucial for beating the notoriously long lines that Disneyland has had the past few years. Disneyland park currently holds Extra Magic Hours on Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and California Adventure is open for early entry on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
Not staying at a Disney hotel? Don’t fret! What many people don’t know is that you can purchase some tickets that include early entry access even if you aren’t staying at a Disney hotel (not true for Disney World, but Disneyland is different). This service, called “Magic Morning” is included on all 3+ day tickets. The catch is that Magic Morning tickets are only good for a single day of early entry into Disneyland park only (not California Adventure). But they are still a great bonus, especially if you are already saving a ton of money by staying in an off-property Disneyland hotel.
(*Extra bonus: If you purchase your multi-day Disneyland tickets through Trips With Tykes partner Parksavers, you can get a discount plus all the same ticket features and options available on tickets sold at the gate – including Magic Morning).
5) Study the map
If you don’t know your way around Disneyland already, study the map before you go. My family saves lots of time just knowing our way and taking advantage of shortcuts.
6) Bring a good umbrella stroller
My daughter quit riding in a stroller well before her second birthday, but I’ve found that a stroller is invaluable even for older toddlers. You will do more walking than you can imagine and if you want the little ones to keep up and get a rest, a stroller is very necessary. Disneyland rents strollers, but they are expensive, bulky, and easily confused in a sea of strollers that look the same. More importantly, you can’t take them out of the park to walk a sleeping or tired child back to your hotel — often the longest walk of all. Look for a stroller that is nimble enough to scoot through crowds, but large enough to be comfortable and to carry a few items too. We regularly have used our Maclaren Quest, but an even more compact option is the gb Pockit which has a super-compact fold perfect for hotel shuttles or a plane ride to Southern California.
7) Use Fastpass
If you go to any theme park, you may be familiar with passes that let you cut the line for certain high-demand attractions. Some theme parks charge for this service, but Disney does not. So, why not take the most advantage of it to shorten your wait times? Here’s a great summary of how Fastpass works. If you use Ridemax, it takes advantage of Fastpasses as well. Disneyland does enforce the time windows on the Fastpass tickets, but you usually have a 10 minute grace period or so if you are running late. One of my most favorite hacks that saves even more time if you have young kids too small for some rides is to use Fastpass in conjunction with Rider Switch.
Hope you have a blast at the happiest place on earth and please share your Disneyland tips in the comments.
(Last Updated: June 11, 2016)
For even more Disneyland tips, follow my Pinterest Board devoted exclusively to Disneyland travel: