Disneyland is truly the happiest place on Earth.
I hadn’t visited the park since 1987, so I was excited to take the kids (4 and 5 years old) on their maiden voyage, but I had no idea how absolutely magical the experience would be. Watching the children’s hearts nearly explode with joy was the best part of it for me as a parent:
There were a few trying moments because the kids are still young, so we’re sharing a few of our tips for enjoying Disneyland with preschoolers in the hopes that it might make some of your first trip easier.
Planning Tips for Disneyland with Preschoolers
When to Go
- Go during the week. Every day at Disneyland is busy, which means long lines and wait times. We visited on a Thursday afternoon, Friday, and Saturday, and noticed a huge difference in the number of people in the park on Saturday as opposed to Thursday and Friday. Next time, I would aim for visiting even earlier in the week. Just be sure that you’re not going to miss out on any parades or shows that only happen on the weekends.
- Take advantage of Magic Mornings. The park opens one hour early on certain mornings. That extra hour is called a “Magic Morning” and happens only on certain days. When we visited, it was on a Friday and included in our 3-day passes. Definitely take advantage of that hour because you will be able to hit most of your kids’ favorite rides or the same ride twice or more. Be aware that people start entering the park about 30 minutes to an hour before the opening time and line up on Main Street for breakfast and coffee until they let visitors into the main Disneyland park.
- Avoid spring break weeks. I also would say avoid summer because of the crowds and lines, but in the end, whenever you go will be magical.
What to Wear
- Comfortable shoes. We got stuck without our room ready and decided to head straight to the park. My fancy shoes were killing my feet after our short visit to the park until our room was ready ended up lasting 8 hours.
- Sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses. Southern California is hot, hot, hot. We were careful to reapply sunscreen, but Hubby still got a little color. I forgot a hat, so am now the owner of a cute pink vintage Minnie baseball cap!
- Layers. In the mornings and evenings it can be chilly, even though most of the day will be warm.
What to Bring into the Park
- Pain reliever
- Snacks & Water
- Layers/Change of Clothes
Where to Eat
The number one tip I have on where to eat is to make a reservation. It doesn’t matter what restaurant you choose, but having a reservation will help you avoid a melt down from the kids while they wait for a table and their food by making things faster. You can make reservations online and by phone and in true Disney fashion, everyone is extremely helpful in helping you select, make, or change a reservation. Be aware that you’ll need to put down your credit card to hold a reservation.
Aside from that tip, we really enjoyed our experience at Big Thunder Ranch BBQ in Frontierland because it was casual (the food is served in buckets), outdoors, and the food was unfussy, but tasty.
What Attractions to Visit
Whatever rides you visit, make sure to get a FastPass for rides that will have long lines, like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
If you can believe it, our barely 40 inch almost 4 year old rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and LOVED IT. He was at the very front of the car and he had a blast! (My 5 year old daughter, on the other hand, was shaking and in tears).
- Any Fantasyland ride. All of the rides in Fantasyland are geared towards younger children or babies. If you have a girl who is into princesses, she probably won’t want to miss the Fantasy Faire for a dress up experience at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and then a princess meet and greet in the Royal Hall. My daughter wasn’t interested at all, so we didn’t visit it. Our favorites were the King Arthur Carousel, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Dumbo’s Flying Elephants, Mad Tea Party, and Peter Pan’s Flight. My daughter was frightened of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, so we didn’t even attempt to ride Snow White’s Scary Adventures. It’s a Small World and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland were closed for renovation, so they are first up on our list next visit.
- Pirates of the Caribbean in New Orleans Square. It’s a classic, and although it was dark, my daughter (who is the afraid-meter for all the rides) wasn’t as frightened of this ride as some of the rides in Fantasyland.
- Astro Orbiter in Tomorrowland. This is the older kids’ version of Dumbo’s Flying Elephant, with higher drops and a little rolling action.
- Splash Mountain in Critter Country. I’ve added this to the list, but really this ride is only for a very very brave preschooler. There is what feels like a straight drop and there are some drops in the pitch black. For a calmer, but still crazy ride, you could try The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The only reason I say crazy is it is a bit psychedelic and very colorful.
- Any Parades. They are absolutely out of this world fantastic and your children will love them. Get a seat on the sidewalk so you not only have a great view, but aren’t holding 40 pounds on your soon-to-be raw shoulders.
- Any Fireworks show, EXCEPT Fantasia. First, you need to get in place about 1-1.5 hours early for a good viewing spot at a time when your children are probably fading out pretty seriously. Second, the show is quite scary – even from an adult’s perspective. It’s extremely loud and has a lot of scary visuals. Both my kids were literally shaking and covering their eyes and ears. It was the only attraction at the park that we wished we didn’t attend.
- Enchanted Tiki Room in Adventureland. When you need time off your feet and out of the heat, taking a rest during the Tiki Room show is a very welcome break. I don’t think my kids understood the show, but they loved watching the animated birds and listening to the songs.
Expenses to Plan For
- Minnie or Mickey Ears. This is really unavoidable because the children will see them once they step inside the park and everywhere they turn.
- Glow in the Dark or Light Toys. Another “unavoidable” expense if you’ll be staying the park after dark.
- Mickey Balloons. You could probably put your foot down on the balloons because they aren’t as widely available. Plus, you can tell the kids that the ushers at outdoor shows won’t allow the balloons because you’ll be blocking other visitors’ views – which is totally true.
- Drinks & snacks. Although bringing your own is a great idea (which we did), you’ll end up needing more just to keep your energy up and stay refreshed.
- Souvenirs. It’s Disneyland. You have to buy into it whole hog! We made sure to get silhouette portraits at the Silhouette Studio done of the children since my brother and I still have our portraits from the early 80’s and I really wanted the same for my kids. We also brought home other little trinkets, like magnets and snow globes. And, shhhh …I went onto the Disney Store website after we got home and had a few extra souvenirs sent home that I told the kids we weren’t going to get while we were at the park.
Don’t forget to read Our Top Ten Tips for Disneyland with Preschoolers for ways to survive the Happiest Place on Earth as the happiest parent on earth.