Taking a trip to Disneyland with toddlers is a commitment. It includes lots of planning, figuring out how to attack, visiting the park daily, where to stay, and what to bring. But I’m here to break it down for you… We will determine which attractions to hit up, what to eat, where to spot characters, and what to bring.
Disneyland with toddlers is not too intimidating if you are ok with being flexible. I had big plans, but after the first hour, I saw that Sasha had different plans than I did, and that was ok. On our visit, Sasha was 2 and 4 months old, but this guide applies to all 1.5-5-year-olds. After that age, this guide may apply depending on the temperament and interests of your child!
Know Before You Go to Disneyland with Toddlers
If you remember, back in January 2016, I visited Disneyland for the first time. This was my first time at a Disney park in nearly twenty years, and I loved every minute of it. On that trip, the only planning I did was picking a date. Now things with Disney are a little different… parks require reservations ahead of time. (I hear the end of this is coming in 2024, but I’m not positive about the exact timing.)
My biggest suggestions when planning to visit Disneyland with toddlers
- Don’t plan too many park days without a break in the middle – built in pool/rest days are important & a great day to do a character dining experience
- Decide where to stay – more on this here (link coming soon)
- Buy your tickets ahead of time and make your park reservations in advance
- Character dining opens 60 days in advance
- Check the special events calendar, as this may impact park hours/fireworks shows.
- Unlike Disney World, fireworks don’t happen daily year-round at Disneyland (they do in the summer and at Christmas time)
- Decide if you’ll be taking a break in the middle of the day and if you want park-hopper tickets
- We did add on the park hopper option, left during the day, but stuck to the same park each day. More on my Disneyland with Toddler Schedule here. (link coming soon)
- Determine if you will be purchasing Genie+… more on my thoughts on this below.
I knew I wanted to come to Disney at least once with Sasha before she was three because she would be free. Disney trips are expensive, we all know it… so saving on her ticket was a huge win. So many people I know told me it was a waste to go now because she wouldn’t remember it. Well, guess what? I will ALWAYS remember this trip, so that was reason enough for me.
Rides with Toddlers
What rides can my toddler go on at Disneyland? This had to be my number one question when planning our Disneyland trip. I needed to know exactly what rides my child could go on. Below is a list of rides in each park area accessible to kiddos of any height. Sasha is 36″ tall, so her list was slightly more expansive.
The MOST special part about Disneyland with toddlers is when your child meets his or her favorite character for the first time. The way Sasha ran to Mickey and Minnie the first time she saw them and how starstruck she was with the princesses… things I will never forget.
Besides Mickey’s House & Minnie’s House in Toontown, there are many places to meet characters in the park. I’ll focus on the toddler favorites, but if you’re looking for other characters, leave me a comment, and I’ll let you know where to find them. FYI: Mickey’s house shows the wait to meet Mickey on the app. Minnie’s doesn’t.
Note: no characters offer meet and greets during the parades (except possibly Mickey & Minnie at their houses). Even the princesses aren’t available, because some of them are in the parade!
Main Street USA
The town square at Main Street USA is the first place you pass when you walk into Disneyland. It’s also te easiest place to spot Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, and Chip & Dale. Check the shady spots because these characters get HOT easily and always stop in the shade. They are nearly ALWAYS there… and if they aren’t? Wait fifteen minutes, and they’ll be back. The only time this may not be the case is if it’s close to the parade’s start or right after the parade.
You have to be quick if you see a line forming. The lines to meet these characters close quickly, and you’re stuck waiting for them. Sometimes Goofy, Chip, and Dale walk around, and you can stop them for a picture! There’s no line required. One of the spots they usually stand in (Disney Showcase) is right next to a cast entrance, so you can see who else pops out! We also saw Cruella come out of the Mad Hatter shop twice here!
I made a TikTok about this, but I found a secret spot where within the span of 15 minutes, we saw four characters. Now don’t laugh… basically, it’s right outside the bathroom right before you reach Alice in Wonderland if you are coming around the castle on the right. We saw Genie come from this way, got to ride the teacups, and then headed toward the bathroom. On the way, I walked alongside Alladin. Then when we got to the bathroom, I spotted Merida. When I came out, Belle was walking towards us so we stopped to talk to her. Then we spotted Captain Hook. Sasha did not like Captain Hook or Genie, but I got pictures with them!
The main place in Fantasyland to see characters is the Royal Hall. The best part is that wait times can be seen on the Disneyland app. Three princesses wait inside, and occasionally one will be outside. On our visit, Ariel, Aurora, and Elsa were inside while Belle was outside. The cast members greeting you in line will not tell you who’s inside, so prepare to be surprised!
Gaston also came out to visit Belle when she was greeting guests right outside of the Royal Hall. We got to watch them interact while waiting for the princesses. Often he is seen near the castle.
At various times throughout the day, you can meet Mirabel near the Big Thunder Mountain railroad.
As mentioned in my last post, right outside the Winnie the Pooh ride is a meet and greet for Winnie, Tigger, and Eeyore. This time, I actually got in line with Sasha to meet Eeyor, and she fell asleep. We got the picture while she was sleeping… then sat on a bench for five minutes. She woke up, so I got back in line. At that point, Eeyore was all done, and we waited five minutes for Tigger to come out. From there, we rode the Winnie the Pooh ride, returned, and got in line just as Tigger left and Pooh came out! Literally, all within a thirty-five-minute period. While we were waiting for Pooh, I ordered all of our lunches. (more on that in the next section!)
So when it comes to food, people have lots of different opinions! Some say bring your own food, and some say indulge. I say do a combo of both, especially when traveling to Disneyland with toddlers. I brought snacks for Sasha and ate breakfast at our hotel, but fed her lunch/dinner in the park. We also indulged in snacks throughout the park. She was super excited about the Mickey-shaped pretzel (worth skipping in my opinion) and loved the taste of Dole Whip from the Tiki Juice Bar in Adventureland.
If you are indulging, remember to order ahead on the Disneyland app at all Quick Service restaurants. You can select your arrival window (so feel free to order while waiting in the 20-minute line for a ride) and tap “I’ve arrived” when you arrive. This made it easy for us to order from 3 separate restaurants and sit and eat all together! We chose to do a lot of Quick Service instead of sit-down meals.
Here’s everything that we ate. I truly recommend it all:
- Churro (from the Churro cart outside of the Casey Jr Circus Train ride) with seasonal Guava cream cheese sauce
- Chicken Fingers & Tater Tots from the Red Rose Tavern
- Dole Whip from Tiki Juice Bar
- Kid’s Chicken Tenders from Stage Door Cafe
- Mickey Shaped Beignets (set of 3) from the Royal Street Veranda (great Mickey-shaped treat!)
- Lobster Roll from Harbour Galley (this is one of my surprise favorites!)
- Popcorn from the cart near Rivers of America
As mentioned above, we also got the Mickey-shaped pretzel, which I felt was too dry. I do not recommend it.
More on treats at Disney’s California Adventure Park here (link coming soon).
Below you will find everything I had in my backpack and belt bag throughout our trip.
AS AN AMAZON ASSOCIATE, I EARN FROM QUALIFYING PURCHASES. THIS INCLUDES SALES THROUGH AFFILIATE LINKS ON THIS PAGE.
- Water bottles- free to refill at all quick service restaurants, Starbucks, and water filling stations throughout the park (though these have the least tasty water in my opinion)
- Portable batteries – this is my favorite as it lasted three days in the park without recharging it.
- Snacks, snacks, snacks – this is a lifesaver in line. In the list below, you’ll find my favorite no-mess snacks linked.
- Diapers/wipes/change of clothes for your toddler
- Sunscreen – I also bring a beauty blender to rub this in on my toddler without pushing too hard
- Portable fan – this handheld one is amazing. This around-the-neck one is even better. California may not get humid, but it does get hot.
- Mister Bottle – this was entertaining and cooling
- Ears, hats, sunglasses – accessories
- Sanitizer – there are stations around the park, but if your kiddo needs a snack in line after hanging on a railing…. you’ll want to have this. Yes, I am speaking from experience…
Shop my full list here.
Genie+ at Disneyland is different than its equivalent at Disney World. When traveling to Disneyland with toddlers, Genie+ can be worth it. Genie+ is a system that allows you to get Lightning Lane + access for the next available arrival window for Lightning Lane entrances at select rides. You can book one at a time, all day long. Genie+ at Disneyland also lets you download all of the Photopass photos you take around the park. The best part is that you don’t have to buy Genie+ for everyone in your party!
In our case, I traveled with my mom and Sasha. Sasha did not require a ticket. My mom is not big on rides, so I knew she did not need Genie+. If I had decided to go on a ride without her, I could have used my Genie+ to get a lightning lane. I ended up doing this on our last night for Haunted Mansion and was able to bring Sasha along with me (since she didn’t have her own ticket).
I got Genie+ each day because I wanted access to the Photopass pictures! We could all be in pictures with characters and attractions and have them taken by professional photographers. Instead of paying for each picture I wanted to download, they were included!
If we had other older children in our group, I would have gotten Genie+ for them as well if I saw that the included rides were ones they wanted to ride.
Ok, this is the tough one…. the big question. If you are heading to Disneyland with toddlers, do you stick it out for the fireworks? My suggestion would be yes! On the first day, Sasha was asleep in her stroller. On our second day at DCA (more on this here), she was awake for it. And she stayed awake the third day when we were back at Disneyland. She loved EVERY single second of the show. If your toddler can handle it, stay! If they’re tired and can sleep in the stroller, stay!
Unless you somehow get access to the reserved areas in front of the castle, my tip is to go to the Rivers of America and watch the Wondrous Journeys show there! It was an amazing view & we could see the projections on the water, just as they do on the castle. Plus, you can see the fireworks and get access to an easy way out of the park after it all ends! While my mom held our spot in front of the waterfront, I ordered Dole Whip via the Disneyland app from the Tiki Juice Bar and ran to pick it up.
Disneyland with toddlers is a memorable experience. When planning, the entire process may seem overwhelming. Hopefully, after reading this guide, your worries have subsided, and you feel ready to tackle the world of Minnie’s and Mickey’s. If you still have questions, please do not hesitate to let me know in the comments below or by dm-ing me on social media.