The toddler years are great ones to experience Disneyland with your little one. I’ve been with both of my children in the 1-3 age range many times and it is truly a magical stage. That said, toddler travel comes with some challenges, even at the Happiest Place on Earth. Keep reading for my best tips from the travel trenches for making the most of a vacation at Disneyland with toddlers.
Plus, don’t miss your chance to take your toddler (or kid of any age) to Disneyland — with a totally free hotel night! I’ve partnered with the newest hotel in the Disneyland area – Country Inn & Suites by Carlson, Anaheim, CA – to give away a free night to a lucky reader below – either at the Disneyland location or at any Country Inn & Suites location.
20 Tips for Disneyland with Toddlers
1. Stay at a Hotel within Walking Distance
If you’ve read one of my many posts about Disneyland, you probably know how much I recommend staying within walking distance of the parks – especially if you travel with little ones. Being able to come and go as you please is so important. Don’t make yourself reliant on unreliable or full shuttles when you are racing for rope drop or if you have a cranky little one in need of nap time ASAP.
With land in limited supply around Disneyland, the opening of a new hotel within walking distance of the parks is big news indeed. Just last month, Disneyland visitors now have one more hotel option within walking distance of the main gate of Disneyland: the Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, Anaheim, CA. This hotel is located down Disney Way just a block and a half off of South Harbor Boulevard where the pedestrian entrance to Disneyland is located.
The new hotel has a lot of amenities families with little ones will love including complimentary hot breakfast, free Wi-Fi, outdoor pool, and even a view of the Disneyland fireworks. The hotel features a 24 hour fitness center (if you aren’t already worn out from all the theme park walking) and bar with light bites. And because the hotel is new, you can find spacious rooms with modern stylish furnishings too. For more of what the hotel looks like and has to offer, this video provides an excellent overview.
2. Go in with a Plan
Disneyland is more crowded than ever, so you need to plan to avoid lines because lots of line waiting isn’t going to end well with a toddler. Make use of Extra Magic Hour or Magic Morning if you have it, use lots of Disneyland wait time apps, and never ever miss a rope drop (your toddler is up at dawn anyway, right?).
3. Book a Character Meal
A great way to have your toddler meet a lot of characters in a short period of time with no lines is to book a character dining experience. These meals aren’t that much more expensive than other Disneyland dining options and getting the character meet and greet experiences during mealtime save you time in the parks later. (See my complete guide to all character meals at Disneyland to choose the right one).
4. Bring Your Own Stroller
Even if you don’t use a stroller much at home, you’ll need one with toddlers at Disneyland with the ground you’ll cover. Disneyland rents strollers, but they are expensive and you cannot take them back to the hotels (even the Disney-owned ones!) so having your own is the most flexible option.
4. Look for Toddler Meals
Dining at a quick service location? Disneyland offers toddler meals at locations like Village Haus and French Quarter that are cheaper than the regular kids meals – often with toddler-friendly mac and cheese that my kids have always enjoyed.
5. Take a Mid-Afternoon Break
The best way to do Disneyland with a toddler is to start early (they are up anyway!) and then plan a mid-afternoon break when lines are at their longest. Go back to your hotel (remember why I told you to book within walking distance?) and take a pool break or a nap. Then, your whole family can be recharged for evening fun and even perhaps push bedtime back a bit.
6. Do Both Parks
The conventional wisdom is that Disneyland park is the better fit for toddlers, but don’t miss out on California Adventure. My toddlers adored Cars Land and the new Pixar Pier has plenty of familiar characters (with even more to come soon). Plus, Disney Dance Party is in California Adventure and that is sure to be a toddler hit (see more of the best rides in California Adventure for toddlers and preschoolers). If you have more than one day, split your time between both parks.
7. Free Play in Toontown
Marching from ride to ride will wear out even the heartiest of toddlers, so give them time to engage in free play too. The best place for this is Toontown – Donald’s Boat has lots of features to explore, as does Minnie’s House when she’s not in residence.
8. Meet Winnie & Friends in Critter Country
One of the best character meet and greets for toddlers in Disneyland is in the very pack of the park in Critter Country. You can meet three characters toddlers know and love – Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, and Tigger – while needing to stand in only a single line that wraps through them all.
9. Go Before Your Toddler Turns 3!
Toddlers are totally free before their third birthday at Disneyland, so be sure to schedule that trip just before your child’s big day! I’ve found that 2-3 year olds can get so much out of the park because they start to know the characters, so it’s a smart stage to plan a visit.
10. Watch Out for Scary Dark Rides
The non-thrill rides in Fantasyland (often called “dark rides” because they are inside) may seem like the perfect options for toddlers, but the reality is that some of them will scare some toddlers. Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Pinocchio are particularly frightening, as is Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride for many. Start with Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland to see how your child reacts to being in the dark before trying the ones with scarier scenes.
11. Baby Care Centers Have Supplies in a Pinch
Forgot diapers or wipes? Make a beeline for the baby care centers (one in each of the parks) which will have the supplies you need. They even have small toilets for potty training toddlers to use more easily.
12. Pack Your Own Snacks
Toddlers will get hungry (especially while you are in line and can’t get to a snack stand) so pack some healthy snacks they know and love for emergencies. It will save you money as well as prevent the Dole Whip driven sugar overload meltdown mid-day.
13. Park Your Stroller Once Per Land
Toddlers will want to walk a bit and not be confined to the stroller full time, so we found the perfect compromise that also makes logistics easy. Use the stroller to get your child quickly from land to land. Then park it in one place in each land and allow your child to walk from ride-to-ride within the land.
14. Go at the Right Time of Year
The huge advantage of having a toddler is that you aren’t yet tied down by your child’s school schedule. Avoid school break periods when crowds are at their worst like summer, spring break, or the winter holidays. Go during low season instead for a more relaxed experience.
15. Pack a Bathing Suit
If you are headed to Disneyland during a warmer time of year, don’t forget a swimsuit (and swim diaper). The splash pad at Princess Dot Puddle Park in California Adventure is a great place for the little ones to cool off.
16. Understand – and Use – Fastpass (or MaxPass)
Fastpass is a great way to avoid lines for certain rides so make the most of it! Lines and toddlers don’t mix. So many people think that you have to pay to take advantage like you do at other theme parks, but Fastpass is totally free at Disney. Better yet is the new MaxPass, which does cost $10 a day, but totally allows you to get even more rides in without the walking to Fastpass kiosks to book.
17. Take Advantage of Rider Switch
Just because you have a toddler doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the thrill rides. Disneyland has a great program called Rider Switch that lets parents switch off caring for a little one and riding a one of the attractions with height restrictions. The second parent (or older children) do not have to wait in line again!
18. Plan For the Worst: A Lost Kid
No one wants to think about losing a child in Disneyland, but it does happen. For toddler too young to memorize mom and dad’s names and phone numbers, use a sharpie or label to mark contact information in your child’s clothing or use a child ID bracelet.
19. Measure Up
Some rides at Disneyland have height restrictions, so measure your toddler in advance of your trip to avoid disappointment – especially if you have a toddler with a need for speed! You might be surprised how much you can ride. Our little guy was tall enough for Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (32 inch minimum) by 18 months and we were amazed that my very tall daughter was able to ride Radiator Springs Racers (40 inch minimum) on a trip when she was 3.5 years old.
20. Plan for the Weather
Southern California weather can be a bit variable even though it is usually pretty pleasant year round. You may find your toddler needs a jacket in the early morning or evening hours even if you are in shorts midday, so pack appropriately and consider layers. Bring ponchos when rain threatens. And of course, don’t forget sunscreen and water (pack your own sippy cup) for any time of year.
Free Night Giveaway from Country Inn & Suites!
Want to win a free night stay at any Country Inn & Suites location of your choice, including the new Anaheim location within walking distance of Disneyland for your next Disneyland visit? I’m excited to be able to give one away to a reader! Giveaway ends at 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time) on January 31st, 2017 and is open to US readers 18 years and older.
HOW TO ENTER: To enter, visit the hotel’s page and come back and leave a comment on this post sharing what amenity works best for your traveling family and why.