Guide to Disneyland When You Have Young Children

Guide to Disneyland When You have Young Children


As a SoCal mom, I’ve spent way too much time at Disneyland. Sure, I’d love to go to Disney World one day, but Disneyland is the original, the park Walt Disney himself strolled through, and the one that is only a short drive from where we live. Which made it oh so easy for my husband to convince me to take our kids to Disneyland 7 times and California Adventure once. Let’s not think about how much that cost now…though, thank goodness kids under 3 are free.

After 8 trips, I’ve learned a lot about how to prepare to go, how to get around, and what my family likes.

Dressing For Disneyland

Located in Southern California, the weather is generally nice. But, having gone literally every season, I’ve learned a little about how to dress.


Winter is kind of a joke here. Some years it doesn’t even get sort of cold until February. But, for us, anything below 70 degrees can be considered cold. That said, the early mornings and nights are when it gets really cold. The middle of the day can be a tad warmer, if the sun is out, but your best bet is to at least dress in layers, especially since the indoor rides (and their lines) are heated and, if you’re waiting for a long time, it can actually become quite warm. Though if you come from a colder climate, it’ll probably be pleasant during the day. At night it can plunge down into the 40s. And sometimes it rains. If we’re lucky.

Spring and Fall

Spring and Fall are a lot alike here. It’s warm during the day and cooler in the mornings and at night. Layers are a good option or dress for warmer weather (70s-80s; yes, even in November) and bring a warm jacket. Also remember that if there is a nighttime show or parade, you won’t be moving around as much, so it may be a little harder to keep warm.


Summer is just hot. It has gone over 100 degrees here, especially from July-September. It’s hot during the day. It’s hot at night. Well, if you’re lucky, it might cool down to the 70s. Dress for hot weather, but carry a lightweight jacket or sweater because the indoor rides are air conditioned and, when you’re standing in line for 30+ minutes, it can actually get a tad chilly.

Preparing To Go

If you’re going with young children, you will want to familiarize yourself with the park and figure out a master plan. The Baby Care Center is on Main Street right next to City Hall. Every bathroom has a baby changing area. Every land has at least one bathroom, but sometimes you’ll find yourself a bit of a walk away from one. The signs for them are also different depending on which land you are in, so be sure to consult a map.

When we go, I have a plan, but I keep it flexible because, you know, kids. They see a ride and they just have to go on it.

The first time we went, it was the middle of summer. I planned out our day by going around the park one way and going on all of the outdoor rides while there was still a chance of 70 degree weather. By the time we were finished with them, it would be lunch time and we could go back around the park in the afternoon to go on all the indoor rides and keep cool periodically. Since then, we still use this as a guide, but our son has his favorites that we must go on as we see them, sometimes twice. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters is a real favorite even though he has never sat long enough to watch Toy Story in its entirety.

But do keep in mind that some rides have FastPass, some rides have hours long lines, and Fantasyland is definitely best done first.

What To Bring

You have young children. Think about what they usually need when you go out for a day. Snacks? Drinks? Change of clothes? Diapers? Whatever it is you usually have, bring it. Just don’t overdo it because you’ll get stuck lugging it around all day. But do bring a stroller. We always leave our diaper bag with the stroller, but I bring a small bag I can easily carry to hold my phone, keys, and wallet when we go on rides. We have never had a problem, though they often shuffle strollers around, so don’t expect it to be in the same place you left it.

The snacks and drinks are pricey in the park, so, if you can get away with it, bring your own snacks and drinks. Though my family can attest that the popcorn is really good and they usually have cute souvenir buckets, for a price, of course. If your child is prone to getting messy or spilling said snacks all over themselves, a change of clothes will come in handy.

If you’re staying for a nighttime parade, bring a big blanket. It’ll be your territory, so don’t bring a small one and try to squeeze a family of four onto it. I haven’t been to a nighttime show, so, unfortunately, I cannot give you any pointers. For the fireworks, you might start off sitting, but they will have you stand and squish together. Now would be an excellent time to have a stroller where you can put the kids and they’ll have plenty of space and won’t get stepped on. I wish I were kidding about that.

Don’t forget wipes. Even if you don’t have a baby, wipes are incredibly handy. They’re great for cleaning hands in a pinch and for wiping down tables and seats. Certainly, there is an excellent cleaning staff, but sometimes you just want to snag that table before it gets cleaned, especially if it’s noon and everyone in the park is starving. You’ll have to wipe it down yourself.

If you have a stroller, tie something to it, something bright and easy to see. When your stroller is in a sea of them, it’ll make it easier to find yours.

Sunscreen is a must, but, I have to admit, when we were there this past Spring, we weren’t actually in the sun for too long. Many of the lines were sheltered and a good portion of them were routed indoors if they could be. So, we didn’t use any. Because we were hardly ever in the sun. Wow, Disney really does think of everything!

Navigating The Park

If you’re parked in the Mickey and Friends structure, you will be taking the tram into Downtown Disney. You’ll pass through security and then get in line for the tram. Every row on the tram has its own line. If you have a stroller, you will likely need to fold it. But, if you wait at the very first or last lines, they usually have an area just for strollers so you don’t have to fold it.

When you’re in the park, watch out for people and strollers. They won’t always be watching out for you. Have a good idea of the layout because it’ll help you determine where to go next without having to cross the park multiple times. There are apps to help you find where you want to go and that also list the current wait times for the rides. We haven’t used it, but I’m sure it’ll be handy.

Why do Fantasyland first?

Only two of the rides here have FastPass (It’s a Small World and the Matterhorn Bobsleds) and many of the lines are agonizingly long if you wait until mid-morning to get into them. I recommend jumping over here first. The longest lines tend to be Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Peter Pan’s Flight, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Snow White’s Scary Adventures (don’t ask me why scary is in the name. I haven’t been on it since it scared me when I was a little girl!).

This is followed by Alice in Wonderland, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and Casey Jr. Circus Train. Their lines can be 40+ minutes, but that’s usually in the afternoon. Casey Jr. Circus Train can go a lot slower if one rather than two trains are running.

View of a castle from the Storybook Land Canal Boats

The Mad Tea Party (spinning tea cups) and King Arthur’s Carrousel move mass numbers of people at each turn, so their lines tend to be shorter. It’s a Small World also moves at a good pace, but the line can be a little long, especially when it’s hot in the middle of the afternoon (the whole ride is slow and air conditioned, so it’s a good place to cool off!).

Outside Fantasyland

Outside of Fantasyland, many of the rides with the longest lines have FastPass, including: Indiana Jones Adventure, Star Tours, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, (Hyper)Space Mountain, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin (warning: this one jerks around a lot, enough to make me question the sagacity of taking my almost 1 year old on it, especially since there is no lap sitting allowed), and the Haunted Mansion. Some of these rides also have a single rider option, where the line is usually much shorter, but this option isn’t always available.

Some rides you just have to wait, such as Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (which can get really long, especially by the afternoon, but they put up several umbrellas to keep the line shaded), Gadget’s Go Coaster, the Jungle Cruise, and Pirates of the Caribbean, but, most of the time, they keep moving. I think of them as more of a shuffle-stop-walk kind of thing where the stop part is usually just a few minutes.

“Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!” They actually do say this.

Be sure to know what your children might enjoy most, check to see if it has a FastPass option, and check to see if it is in Fantasyland. Let this help inform where you go and when, but be flexible.

And if you need a break, the Monorail and Disneyland Railroad  are good options. The Monorail will take you to Downtown Disney, where you can get a stamp to re-enter the park, but you have to get off when it returns to the park. If you need a longer break, you can stay on the Railroad for as long as you want, but it is open and not air conditioned, though you’ll get an interesting time travel experience, which is great if your little ones like dinosaurs. You can get on at Main Street, Tomorrowland, New Orleans Square, and at the border of Fantasyland and Toon Town.

My best tip here is: eat during off-peak times. The lines will be shorter and you’ll be practically guaranteed a seat. Have lunch at 11am and then go on the rides that usually come with a longer line while everyone is having lunch. Have dinner at 4pm, go on a ride during dinnertime, and then nab a good spot for the nighttime parade (FastPass is available for the show) or fireworks.

For the nighttime parade and fireworks, you’ll want to secure your spot at least 2 hours ahead (2.5-3 hours on peak days). Not joking. Yes, that is an insane amount of time to wait when you have young children. But, odds are, they’re tired from a long day of fun. Or tantruming. Tantrums are unavoidable, especially if your child is tired. So take this time to wind down a little and maybe enjoy dessert. Or one adult can hold down the fort while another takes the kids on a last ride.

Also, random notice, but I have never seen an ant in the park.


First of all, dining in the park is expensive.

Second, if you do plan on dining in the park (don’t forget, there’s also Downtown Disney and picnic areas are available outside the park), there are two kinds of experiences you can have:

  1. Quick service: this means you either order at a window or take plates from various stations. Either it’s like ordering at a fast food place or you essentially serve yourself. Tables are on a first come, first served basis and these places can become crowded around peak meal times.
  2. Table service: this is like a typical restaurant. You can make reservations at these places, which can come in handy if you plan to eat at peak meal times.

A Few Things to Note

The Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square is definitely an experience. It’s in the same building as the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and the boats actually pass right by diners. Though, because it’s essentially in, and part of, the ride, it has dim lighting. Though it is an experience and can be fun, especially if you order drinks that come with light up cubes in them.

The Galactic Grill in Tomorrowland is a Quick Service dining option, but, if you’re a Star Wars fan, definitely look at the show times for the Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple (or sign up your child if they are between 4 and 12). There’s a stage here for the show. If you plan on watching it, make sure you arrive early as the seats with a good view fill very quickly.

Sign up your 4-12 year old so he or she can experience a lightsaber fight with Darth Vader or the Seventh Sister.

If you’re interested in character dining in the park, it is available at the Plaza Inn on Main Street for breakfast only. We haven’t done this yet, but it always seems like fun whenever we pass by.

If You’re Looking for a Snack or Turkey Leg…

Stop by one of the carts/kiosks. These are located all over the park and usually open around 11am. You can find:

  • Churros
  • Fruit
  • Lemonade
  • Popcorn
  • Pretzels
  • The famous DOLE WHIP at the Tiki Juice Bar in Adventureland
  • Assorted snacks
  • Turkey legs
  • Bottled beverages

Leaving the Park

I know. That’s exactly what every kid wants to hear. But it has to be done. And it is not fun.

If you don’t want to stay for any of the nighttime activities, just before they start is a great time to leave. Everyone is staying, so it’ll be easier to make it out of the park alive.

If you do stay, there are lots of helpful cast members everywhere to help direct you. But, basically, you are cattle and just have to follow the crowd. While you’re probably tired and just want out, so does everyone else. It may be hard, but just be patient. Walk slowly and watch out for anything with wheels. It’s really easy to be clipped by a stroller and, if you’re pushing one, watch out for the people in front of you. There will be light, but it’s still night, so it’ll still be a little more difficult to pick out people’s feet and legs. You’ll probably get rammed more than once, too. But walk slowly, follow the crowd, and be kind.

Okay, you’ve made it out alive. There’s some breathing space. Now you just have to get back to where you parked or the hotel you’re staying at. Wherever you entered is probably where you want to go. There are signs for hotel shuttles or they’re probably close enough to walk back to. If you park in the Toy Story lots, be sure to look for the buses that will shuttle you back. For the Mickey and Friends parking, you have 2 options: walk (about 10 minutes, half of it through Downtown Disney) or fight your way onto the tram. Good luck! We usually decide to walk.

Enjoy your trip to Disneyland!


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