A trip to Disneyland is supposed to be a magical experience. It can also be stressful and overwhelming if that trip includes navigating the parks with small children. Naps, feedings, and the always inevitable emergency wardrobe change add an additional level of complexity to enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth.
To help make your first or next trip with your little Mouseketeers easier I am providing my Top 10 Tips for Traveling with Small Children at Disneyland.
- Don’t Overpack
I know this tip sounds counter-intuitive when you have small kids. You pack everything but the kitchen sink in preparation for the worst. What I have learned over 7 years of Disney-ing with kids is that packing the basics and planning ahead will get you through the day. You know your child better than anyone so plan according to how many outfits, diapers, feedings, etc. they normally need during the day. Overpacking leads to more time in line at security as they go through every pocket of the diaper bag or backpack. It also leads to a heavier stroller you are trying to push through the crowds at the park. Not to mention if the bag is clipped to the stroller and too heavy, you will have a heck of a time trying to keep it from tipping over when you aren’t holding on to it. If you do run out of essentials like diapers, wipes, and clothes, Disney is here to help you out. Each park has a Baby Center (see my next tip for more information) and plenty of stores to purchase a new outfit if needed. Check out Disney Magic Diva’s packing tip for traveling with kids.
Diva Tip: Security into the park has specific lines for people carrying bags or who have strollers. If you want to make everyone’s lives easier have all pockets on your bags unzipped, bulky items already removed for inspection and minimal items in the basket under the stroller. Security will look at all areas that hold items. Being prepared will save you time and get you on your way much faster.
- Use the Baby Care Center located in Disneyland or California Adventure
I loved the Babycare Center when my girls were little. This location is just what the name implies a center that focuses on Babies. The Center is located on Main Street in Disneyland and next to the Ghiradelli Shop in California Adventure. This quiet, air-conditioned building is a great place to stop and take a rest with your little one. It has changing tables, toddler-sized toilets, high chairs, kitchen with sinks and microwaves for heating bottles or food. Additionally, it has a nursing room with chairs, vending machines with baby food, diapering supplies, over the counter medication, pacifiers, and sunscreen. This is also the location that Disney Security Personnel bring lost children to until the Adults arrive. Check out Jolly Frogger Divas less common tips for traveling to Disney World with kids.
Diva Tip: Be sure to bring your credit card with you if you need to purchase something. They do not accept cash.
- Keep drinks and snacks readily available
Kids can and will get hangry or thirsty at the most inopportune time. Pack a few single-serving snacks and a refillable cup in your bag for those moments when your child needs to eat or drink right that very second. We’ve been able to avert several meltdowns over the years while waiting in line by being prepared with a small snack. If you don’t want to bring snacks into the park, there are snack carts throughout both parks with healthy options like fruit and veggies with dip. They also typically have chips, pretzels with hummus, drinks and my personal favorite, Gluten-Free Tortilla Strips with Guacamole. For those with food allergies check out our articles from Allergy Mom Diva and Tiggerific Diva.
Diva Tip: Food and Drinks are not permitted on rides so be sure your little one has finished before you get to the front of the line.
- Pack zippered plastic bags in each size
Fact: you will find yourself swapping your child’s clothes because they are wet, sticky or sat in who knows what while exploring the park. The last thing you want is that mess transferred to everything else in your bag. To this day I still carry baggies for clothes. We’re way past the potty accident stage but my oldest gets soaked to the bone at least once during every trip thanks to Splash Mountain or Grizzly River Run. Our backpack always has a full set of clothes for each kid just for that purpose. Kids often don’t finish the snack or meal they insisted they needed to have. Bag up what’s left and they can eat it on the go-between rides. Most of the fruits and veggies that come with kids’ meals cannot be resealed, so we put them a baggie instead of risking them spilling out in the backpack.
Diva Tip: Small baggies are also great to put your phone or other important items in before getting on a water ride. You may be soaked but your items will still be perfectly dry and in working order! Cast Members at Splash Mountain will give you a Splash Mountain themed baggie as you come through the line. At the exit from the ride, there is a spot to recycle your plastic bag if you choose not to keep it.
- Sunscreen while waiting in line
When you’re on the go and rushing to your next ride, character meet and greet or parade you don’t want to stop and apply sunscreen. I’ve found that while waiting in long lines after you’ve gotten your spot for a parade or for rope drop is the perfect time to apply sunscreen to little ones. Everything going on around them provides the ultimate distraction and gives you the ability to get them protected from the sun without interfering with the days’ activities.
Diva Tip: If you use spray-on sunscreen, please be sure to step away from the crowds. Not everyone may appreciate receiving an additional layer of sun protection from your overspray. Have a member of your group hold your place in line while you step away with the kids.
- Plan bathroom breaks ahead of time
Again, you know your child best. Setting a bathroom break schedule is especially beneficial when potty training. Ride times can get long and what started out as a short wait may turn into a long one before you reach the front of the line. All restrooms at Disneyland and California Adventure have changing stations and some locations also have a family bathroom. Bathrooms are near most rides. Be sure to have the Disney app on your phone so you can find the nearest one before you need it.
Diva Tip: If you do need to step out of line be sure to let a Cast Member know. You will be allowed to get back in line with your group once you return. Sometimes you will be directed to come back in through the exit/special boarding area and wait there to be let back into the line to join your group.
- Take a break from all the excitement
Naps will be missed; meals may be early or late and the day may not go as planned. Kids will at some point during the day need a spot to rest little legs that are not used to walking so much or get out and stretch legs that aren’t used to being in a stroller. ToonTown is a great place to let the kids get their wiggles out. There is the ToonTown Park that is almost always in the shade and has benches to sit on. Right next to the park is Goofy’s House and Donald’s Boat. Both provide areas for children to play, climb and explore. Mickey and Minnie’s houses are also available to tour however, there may be a long line if the fabulous duo are at home and greeting guests. Be sure to check out the town fountain. If you step on the stones with the musical instruments, they will make noise.
One of my favorite spots to sit, rest and feed my girls when they were little was the area between the French Market and the Haunted Mansion. It is a great spot to cool off and people watch. This area is also one of the stops for the Disneyland Railroad. If you have a sleepy little one, take a train ride and let them snooze for a few minutes as you enjoy a trip around the park. Check out Tinker Belle Divas five things you may not have seen or done at Disneyland for more ideas on how to experience Disneyland.
Diva Tip: Smoking is no longer permitted in either park. The former smoking areas have been converted to seating and most of these areas are in the shade. The areas are located in New Orleans Square, behind the Matterhorn and by Big Thunder Railroad.
- Know the Parade schedule
Whether you plan on watching the parade or not, knowing the schedule is important. The main routes through the park will be closed off prior to and during the parade. If you need to get from one side of the park to the other, be sure to leave before they start closing areas off. Typically, 15-30 minutes before parade time, Cast Members will start roping off the parade route. All traffic will be funneled through certain areas and it will be very crowded. There will also be a mass exodus along the parade route as soon as it passes that section.
Diva Tip: If you are not interested in seeing the parade, this is a great time to get on rides that usually have a long wait. Most ride lines decrease during parade and firework times.
- Get a spot early for the parade or fireworks
Some parades and fireworks have special seating and you can reserve ahead, others do not. People begin lining up along the parade routes roughly an hour before the start time in order to get that perfect viewing spot. If you have small children, you will want a front-row seat. A lot of Adults will put children on their shoulders so they can see the parade which is totally understandable. Unfortunately, it also blocks the view of the people behind them. My two favorite viewing locations are in front of It’s a Small World After All and the loop at the front of Main Street. The parade will either begin or end at these locations. If you get to the front of Main Street early there are benches with shade available.
My new favorite spot to view the fireworks is in front of the Rivers of America. The same projections will be played across the buildings on the island as are used on the buildings on Main Street. You can also view the fireworks without being smack in the middle of the huge crowd in front of the Castle. They did this for the Halloween season and are currently doing this for the Christmas season. We watched the Fantasmic show and stayed right in the same spot for the fireworks.
Diva Tip: Get your spot early and then have one member of your group be the one to go get the snacks and drinks. Use the quick service app and get in and out of line faster! If you’re sitting in a reserved area be sure to let a Cast Member know you’re leaving and have your ticket for the special event with you. You’ll need to show that to the Cast Member to get back in.
- Use Fast Pass and Rider Switch
Fast Pass and Rider Switch have always been a must for our family. Fast Pass allows for us to know exactly what time we will be riding, and we can make sure littler rides have something to do at the same time. If my husband and oldest daughter are on Splash Mountain, I take our younger daughter on the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. We can usually go through the ride a couple of times while we are waiting for them to be done with Splash Mountain.
Rider Switch is a fantastic option for families with kids too small for the ride. One Adult goes through the regular line and lets the Cast Member know they need the Rider Switch option. They are given a lanyard with a card at that time. When the ride is over, the lanyard is given to the other Adult and that Adult enters through the exit or Fast Pass line depending on the ride and gets on the ride much quicker.
Diva Tip: Use this time to your advantage. Explore shops, sit down and grab a drink or snack. Plan your next rides or jump in line and meet a Character if there is a short wait.
I hope these tips make your next trip to Disneyland extra magical!
Do you have a favorite tip for traveling with kids? Leave your tips in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!
If you would like information on planning your first or 50th trip to Disneyland be sure to contact Patricia at All For Dreams Travel for a free vacation quote.