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.
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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.
There are a number of hotels that work well for families with toddlers that are also within walking distance. I recommend looking for ones that have features like free breakfast, great pools, and in-room refrigerators. Room layouts that enable parents and young kids to have separate areas are great too. Quite a few area hotels have family suites.
The best walking distance locations are on Harbor Boulevard across the street from Disneyland’s pedestrian entrance (stretching from I-5 to Katella) as well as near the corner of Katella and Disneyland Drive (where guests can enter the parks via the Downtown Disney security entrance).
You can check out my top 17 recommendations for hotels within walking distance of Disneyland but here are a few I’d specifically highlight for families with toddlers and young kids for a couple of reasons:
- Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance: Large rooms that sleep 6 with a bunkbed in every room, amazing water park, spacious bathrooms with separate shower and tub.
- Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel and Water Playground: Pirate-themed water playground, microwaves and mini fridge in every room, family suites available.
- Fairfield Inn Anaheim Resort: Incredibly close walking distance location, standard rooms are either two queens or king with a sleeper sofa to easily sleep families, premium Disney themed rooms available.
- Hyatt House at Anaheim Resort/Convention Center: All rooms include den area & kitchen, included breakfast
2. Go in with a Plan
Thankfully, Disneyland doesn’t require as much preplanning as Walt Disney World, which is one reason I recommend it to families with little ones. But having a rough plan of some sort will make the day go more smoothly.
Although you may have seen headlines about lower Disney crowds in 2023, those only really hold true for Florida. Disneyland is almost always crowded – the local love there rarely ebbs! You need to plan to avoid lines and get meals at the right time because lots of waiting in line or hunger pangs aren’t going to end well with a toddler.
Use Disneyland wait time apps to watch for short lines. Mobile ordering a meal early is a must-do to make sure you have food when your child is hungry. I also highly recommend getting up and out the door to make rope drop when lines are shorter – your toddler is up at dawn anyway, right?
Be sure to check out all the latest tips, tricks, and new strategies for touring Disneyland in 2023 – I promise things have changed a lot if you haven’t been to the parks in a few years, especially since the closures!
3. Book a Character Meal
A great way to have your toddler see 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 sit down Disneyland dining options. Getting the character spotting experiences during mealtime saves you time in the parks later.
And bonus if you can schedule one for an arrival or a departure day in a hotel when you aren’t going into the parks. That saves you money on a day of park tickets and maximizes your park time.
See my complete guide to all character meals at Disneyland to choose the right one for your family. And be sure to set a reminder a full 60 days in advance on your calendar to book a reservation. These meals are increasingly popular and many guests book quite early.
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. It’s simply too much walking for even older toddlers and preschoolers in a single day. And strollers can also be an easy place for your little one to grab a nap in case you aren’t able to take a mid-afternoon break.
Disneyland rents strollers, but they are expensive and you cannot take them back to the hotels (even the Disney-owned ones!). They are also hard sided so they aren’t the most comfortable. Having your own is definitely the most flexible option.
Or at the very least, consider renting from a reputable stroller rental company if you can’t travel with your own (check out Anaheim area BabyQuip stroller rentals).
Disney implemented size restrictions for strollers several years ago and doesn’t allow push or pull wagons of any sort (except for certain approved special needs situations). Check out my guide to the best strollers for Disney travel to help choose both single and double strollers that work well for the demands and restrictions of Disneyland.
4. Look for Toddler Meals
Dining at a quick service location? Disneyland offers toddler meals at a couple of locations like Cafe Daisy in Toontown that are cheaper than even the regular kids meals. These meals often come with toddler-friendly mac and cheese that my kids have always enjoyed.
Toddlers often don’t eat a lot, so we’ve also found just having our kids share a meal with a parent (as long as it’s something they like) and maybe supplementing with a snack or two packed in our Disney day bag works well to save money too!
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, and that’s true to some extent. But don’t miss out on a visit to California Adventure, especially if your trip is longer than a single day. There’s so much to offer little ones there too. If you have more than one day, split your time between both parks.
Over in DCA, my kids as toddlers have always adored Cars Land. They have also been huge fans of the Disney Junior Dance Party in California Adventure at the toddler and preschooler stage. More recently, Pixar Pier has added plenty of familiar characters and toddler-friendly attractions. Even Avengers Campus can a hit with many kids of this age, especially if they’ve been introduced to a Marvel super hero or two.
See more of the best rides in California Adventure for toddlers and preschoolers for all the best options.
7. Schedule Free Play Time: Toontown, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island & More
Marching from ride to ride will wear out even the heartiest of toddlers, so give them time to engage in free play too. Thankfully, both parks at Disneyland have playgrounds and free play areas!
One of the best places to spend time in Disneyland park is Mickey’s Toontown. As of early 2023, it has gotten a major renovation and has a brand new family-friendly attraction you won’t want to miss either: Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. The renovated land has brought more crowds but also has added more space to explore and play. A lot of characters make appearances in Toontown, so it’s an easy place to get some photos with your toddler’s favorites.
Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island is another place for kids to roam. There are caves to explore and rocks and obstacles to scramble over. Because you have to take a raft to get there, crowds are almost always low. We’ve found a visit can offer a real break in the action if your toddler is overstimulated by people.
And if you are in DCA for the day, it has a play area all its own – Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. Kids can play on bridges and slides made to look like they fit right into a California national park scene.
My kids also enjoy taking a play break at the Kugel balls in each park (giant granite balls balanced on a thin layer of water they can spin). There’s one at Pixar Pier in DCA and one in the center of Tomorrowland.
8. Know Where the Characters Are Easy to Spot
Character time is a hit with most toddlers, and definitely well worth some time in the parks – especially if you aren’t planning a character meal or when ride lines are long.
The good news is that with a little preparation, you can easily see a lot of characters in a short period of time with your toddler and even snap some cute photos. Check the map in the Disneyland app and toggle to the dropdown at the top to select “Characters” and see the spots listed.
One of the best character meet and greets for toddlers in Disneyland park (and our family’s favorite) has always been in the very back of the park in Critter Country. There, you can traditionally 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.
Top additional character spots include:
- In Town Square on Main Street USA (sometimes on the train station platform overlooking the crowds)
- At Princess Fantasy Faire
- At Pixie Hollow in between Tomorrowland and Sleeping Beauty Castle
- On Big Thunder Trail
- On the terraces near it’s a small world entrance
- In Frontierland’s El Zocalo park
- In front of Carthay Circle theater surrounding the fountain in the square
- In Avengers Campus
- In the Animation Building in DCA
9. Go Before Your Toddler Turns 3!
Everyone likes saving money at Disneyland, and there’s no better way to save than not having to buy a park ticket for you little one! 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 value out of the park at that stage because they start to know the characters and have maybe watched a Disney movie or two by then. It’s a smart stage to plan a visit for the budget-conscious.
Bonus – if your child turns 3 during the trip, they are still free. As long as they are still 2 for the first day they enter the parks, they don’t need a ticket. I know a lot of families will schedule a third birthday trip for just this reason.
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.
Thankfully one of the scariest of them all – Snow White’s Scary Adventures – recently got a much happier makeover into the very well done Snow White’s Enchanted Wish. Even still, there is an evil witch in it that will probably frighten quite a few more sensitive young kids. Other attractions to look out for are Pinocchio and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (which – quite literally – includes a drive through hell).
I recommend starting in this area with Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland in Fantasyland to see how your child reacts to being in the dark before trying the ones with scarier scenes. Or start even more gradually with the very bright and happy dark ride Winnie the Pooh over in Critter Country.
11. Baby Care Centers Have Supplies in a Pinch
Forgot diapers or wipes? Or have a toddler who needs a bandage to make a scrape all better? 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.
In Disneyland, the Baby Care Center is located on the right at the end of Main Street USA as you walk towards the castle (just before Plaza Inn). And in DCA, it’s located just beyond Cars Land at the edge of what is soon to become San Fransokyo (formerly Pacific Wharf).
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. This strategy 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 for longer walks like from your hotel in the morning or for getting 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. This saves you a lot of time hunting for the stroller and strapping your kid in and out of it unnecessarily.
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, the winter holidays, or even long holiday weekends. Go during low season instead for a more relaxed experience.
My favorite times of year to visit with a toddler? The first week of December between Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays is usually a sweet spot. The Disneyland holiday decorations are up which is an especially magical time of year for little ones to visit. We have also loved late February or early March just before the spring break crowds arrive in full force.
Be sure to check out this guide to seasonal events at Disneyland to help you plan around special offerings.
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). Most hotels in the Disneyland area have really great pools and splash pads of their own, many of which are heated even in shoulder season months.
But you may want to pack a suit for the parks too when the weather is hot. Why? Toontown’s renovations brought some splash and play back into the parks. Donald’s Boat area now has water spouts (that operate depending on the weather) and the fountain in Toontown is a favorite for littles to use to splash around.
16. Understand – and Know When to Use – Disney Genie+
In 2021, Disneyland unveiled system for guests looking to shortcut long ride lines: Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane. It’s a bit complicated, so I’d recommend reading up first!
Most basically, Genie+ will cost you $25+ per person per day, but it will allow you access to shorter lines through the “Lightning Lane” for up to 20 attractions. Some of those include toddler-friendly favorites like Toy Story Midway Mania, it’s a small world, and more. For those rides, paying for Genie+ may well be worth it to avoid long lines.
Note however that many little kid-friendly rides like Peter Pan, Dumbo, or Winnie the Pooh aren’t on Genie+. And plenty of the attractions on the system are thrill rides that toddlers won’t be tall enough for or ready to ride.
As a result, families may not get as much value out of Genie+ with little ones. I usually recommend buying Genie+ for one day to hit the rides that do have it but using other strategies on other days and saving some money.
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 adult/parent and older children (up to a total of 3 people) do not have to wait in line again and are sent in through the Lightning Lane.
To use Rider Switch, be sure to take your whole party to the first cast member at the entrance to an attraction line before anyone rides. The cast member will add the timed switch pass to your park tickets/app. Note that Rider Switch can be combined with Lightning Lane, so if your party books an attraction with Genie+ or paid Lightning Lane, the first group doesn’t have to wait in much of a line either.
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 or ID temporary tattoo.
I know some parents with especially active toddlers will also bring a backpack leash to keep them close. No judgment! Do what you need to do to keep your kid safe.
19. Measure Up
In preparing kids for Disney trips, it’s important to remember that 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 though. Our little guy was tall enough for Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (32 inch minimum) by 18 months and we were amazed that my fairly 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 and a stroller cover when rain threatens.
And of course, don’t forget sunscreen and water (pack your own sippy cup or water bottle) for any time of year. Check out my other ideas for what to pack in your Disney parks day pack to make sure you remember the essentials.
Need a Babysitter Or Extra Pair of Hands at Disney Destinations?
Do you need a babysitter for a Disney date night or just some extra help juggling little ones while in the parks or at your Disney hotel? There’s now a nanny service for that!
Trips With Tykes recommends and partners with the trusted Disney nanny service Nanny-Land. Nanny-Land has experienced background-checked nannies at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, and Disney’s Aulani Resort. You can now even hire a nanny to bring along on your Disney Cruise!
Here are some examples of the type of services Nanny-Land provides:
- Gold Crown Nanny: Nannies with annual passes/Magic Keys who come with you into the parks for extra help.
- Silver Crown Nanny: Sitters for coverage at the hotels – great for a Disney date night or afternoon naps for younger kids. Many of these sitters are also fully trained to take kids to hotel pools.
- Knight Nanny: Special Silver Crown nannies who bring along a special themed educational activity for some extra Disney magic.
Find out more about Nanny-Land’s services here and be sure to use Crown Code: TWT for $80 in savings off the registration fee!
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Current Get Away Today Specials & Deals:
- California Resident Offer (ending soon!): Special 3 day tickets for residents of the entire state of California, good through September 28, 2023 (customizable for weekdays/everyday, single park/park hopper, and with/without Genie+).
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- 3rd or 4th Night Free: available at select Anaheim area hotels exclusively through Get Away Today bookings (can be combined with all ticket discounts).
More Disneyland vacation advice:
- Everything you need to know about Flying to Disneyland
- Complete Guide to Disneyland Character Meals
- Ultimate Disneyland Guide & Best Tips
- How to make Disneyland park reservations