Our BEST Tips for Disneyland with Kids – How to cut down on waiting, maximize your time, and have fun as a family! From great rides for littles to tips on waiting in lines, these are our best tips!
Disneyland is our family’s happy place.
We’ve gone for family trips the past few years, and it’s always full of new magic, new experiences, new memories, and so much fun.
Going to Disneyland with kids (especially little ones!) can sometimes seem overwhelming. And after food recommendations (like the best restaurants or the best snacks/treats), the biggest questions I get are all about how to do Disney with kids. I get it!
Whether you’ve got little tiny kids (or even teens), these are some of our BEST tips for Disneyland as a family. From how we skip long lines, to how we handle long waits, to how to get your Dole Whip faster (#priorities), these are our best tips for Disneyland as a family…
#1 TIP = USE THE DISNEYLAND APP!!!
Maybe my biggest tip for Disneyland with kids is to download and use the Disneyland app! It’s totally free to download and use and it’s 100% worth having on hand. You can use the Disneyland app:
- As an easy hand-help map (aka an easy way to find bathrooms, restaurants, attractions, and more!)
- As a digital ticket
- To check on wait times on rides anywhere in the parks
- Find characters close-by
- Make FastPass reservations
- Make and manage dining reservations
- Take advantage of mobile ordering for select restaurants
- See all your MaxPass photos
- See what times parades, special performances, and shows will take place
Both Michael and I keep the app on our phones. It’s a great way to get familiar with the parks and take advantage of short wait times. You can easily see what rides, restaurants, bathrooms, or shops are close by and see where ride times are short.
We have almost never waited longer than 30 minutes for ANY ride at Disneyland. Our wait times are almost always in the 10-20 minute range, and it’s largely because of the Disneyland app. (We also don’t like the Guardians of the Galaxy or Incredicoaster, so that helps!)
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MOBILE ORDERING (AKA GET YOUR DOLE WHIPS & FOOD FASTER!)
FOR MANY QUICK-SERVICE DINING LOCATIONS, YOU CAN PLACE AN ORDER ON YOUR PHONE (while you’re standing in line somewhere else), schedule a pick-up window, then simply walk up and pick up your food without having to stand in a long line. Corn dogs? Yep. Dole Whips? Yep! Lots of options to choose from. I’ve even gotten in the regular line at a restaurant, mobile ordered from my phone (while standing in line) and gotten my mobile order before I got to the front of the line.
THIS IS A GREAT OPTION FOR PARADES & BREAKS. Me and the kids stake out a spot, place mobile orders, and Michael runs to pick them up. Or, we know we’ll be close to the Dole Whips after we ride a few rides in that area, so we order them ahead of time. It’s GREAT to get to walk past a looooong Dole Whip line, pick up my ice cream, and get on with our day.
RESERVATION TIPS + MAKE LUNCH YOUR BIGGER MEAL
(See our favorite Disneyland & California Adventure Restaurants here.)
IF POSSIBLE, I SUGGEST MAKING LUNCH YOUR BIGGER MEAL. In our experience, it can be easier to get lunch reservations and popular table service restaurants, AND it’s a great chance to recharge and rest in the middle of the day. Plus, sometimes our kids are just BEAT by the end of the day and need something quick and easy rather than going through the process of a sit-down restaurant.
We typically try to ride as many of our top favorite rides in the morning, then make early lunch reservations or choose a quick-service lunch spot with good covered seating and take a longer break at lunch. Everyone’s ready to have a sitting break, eat a good meal, and recharge for a busy afternoon.
IF YOU *DO* WANT TO EAT AT A TABLE-SERVICE RESTAURANT, I SUGGEST YOU MAKE RESERVATIONS WHENEVER POSSIBLE. You won’t have to hang around waiting or hoping for a table, and you’re guaranteed a spot. (Especially great when you’re traveling with kids who are tired of waiting in lines!).
AT DISNEYLAND AND CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE, YOU CAN MAKE YOUR DINING RESERVATIONS 60 DAYS IN ADVANCE, and I suggest making them whenever you want to eat at a sit-down/table-service restaurant.
TWO OF OUR FAVORITE LUNCH SPOTS ARE French Market in Disneyland, and Wine Country Trattoria in California Adventure.
- FRENCH MARKET (walk-in, quick-service) has a great kids menu (our kids get the chicken, which comes with rice, a banana (or another fruit) and a GoGo Squeez applesauce on the side) and it’s right by the Mint Julep Bar, where you can pick up virgin mint juleps to sip along with your lunch.
- WINE COUNTRY TRATTORIA (table-service, reservations-recommended) is a restaurant in California Adventure with a gorgeous view of the pier and a delightful, relaxed atmosphere. It’s a GREAT place to cool down, unwind, and recharge.
CONSIDER A MAXPASS
One of our other big tips for Disneyland with kids is considering a MaxPass. A MaxPass is an add-on/upgrade you can add to your ticket. If you have the flexibility in your budget, I highly recommend it. The MaxPass has two main benefits:
- IT WILL GIVE YOU ACCESS TO FAST PASSES. Fast passes allow you to skip the long lines and get into shorter ones at popular rides! (So great + you can manage them on your phone without having to find a physical Fast Pass station).
- IT WILL GIVE YOU ACCESS TO A PHOTO PASS. At different locations around the parks, you can have a Disney photographer take your photo, scan your MaxPass, and the images will go straight to your account to download and print later. Also any photos taken on rides (like Space Mountain, Radiator Racers, the Incredicoaster, etc.) can be downloaded to your account. (Take a photo of the code on your ride photo so you don’t miss it, then type it into the Disneyland app to download the photo.)
We primarily use it for the FastPasses. I love that especially during peak times or special seasons, when certain rides are busier, you can get a Fast Pass to skip a long wait time at those attractions. (i.e. The Haunted Mansion at Halloween/Christmas + Small World at Christmas + busier roller coasters and rides throughout the year )
MAGIC MORNINGS – DO OR DON’T.
Magic Morning is an extra hour that’s open to guests at Disney hotels (Paradise Pier, Disneyland Hotel, and Grand Californian) or for certain ticket promotions (like getting 3+ day tickets). You have access to the park 1 hour before it officially opens for the day to other guests. It can be a really fun way to extend the magic of Disneyland with kids!
We’ve had mixed results with Magic Mornings, so I don’t have a strong recommendation either way. Here are some pros + cons to consider:
- SHORTER WAIT TIMES AT SOME ATTRACTIONS. Extra hour in the park usually means lower wait times at many attractions. Busy or popular attractions are usually people’s top choice for Magic Morning, so know you *may* still have to wait in a longer line during that time if you pick a popular attraction. That said, we’ve ridden popular rides multiple times in a row without any wait during magic morning before!
- AN EXTRA HOUR TO PLAY! Even if you don’t ride a ton of extra rides during that time, you *still* get extra time in the parks before they’re too crowded or hot. Our family tends to have the most patience and energy in the morning, so we’d rather go early and go home early than go later and stay later. Every family is different!
- NOT EVERY RIDE/LAND IS OPEN DURING MAGIC MORNING. At Disneyland, for instance, you can’t go into Tomorrowland (Space Mountain, Astro Orbiters, etc.), Star Wars Land, or Adventure Land (Indiana Jones, Jungle Cruise, etc.) during Magic Morning. So it’s not a *true* free-for-all extra hour. It’s an extra hour with some limits.
- SOMETIMES IT MEANS BIGGER CROWDS. Sometimes, if California Adventure is running Magic Morning, it’ll be busier overall that day and Disneyland will be less crowded (and vice versa).
All that to say, there are definite pluses and minuses to each option. If you only have 1-2 days in the parks, I’d suggest arranging your plans to take advantage of Magic Morning when possible. If you have longer, you may prefer to choose the opposite park. (i.e. If Magic Morning is at Disneyland, spend/start your day at California Adventure)
HOW TO CUT DOWN ON WALKING
One big challenge of doing Disneyland with kids is all the walking. We had the horrible realization the first time we went to Disneyland that we’d left our two trusty strollers at home in the garage instead of bringing them with us. (Me: 😱😵💀) Our kids were 3 and 5 at the time, and I was SURE we were in big trouble. You can buy umbrella strollers at gift shops at the hotels, and the parks offer stroller rentals, but we decided to see how long we could last without getting one.
We never needed one! Both kids ended up walking the entire trip, and we’ve never brought a stroller on any of our other trips. I LOVE not having to worry about stroller parking or tracking down our stroller, but if you do need one, feel free to bring one along! It can be a great option for storing snacks and jackets, taking naps, and saving little ones’ legs.
BUT BEYOND A STROLLER, YOU CAN CUT DOWN ON WALKING BY…
- WORK YOUR WAY THROUGH ONE LAND BEFORE MOVING ON. That way you don’t have to walk back and forth 1000 times. (Do ALL the Fantasyland rides you’re interested in, then ALL the Tomorrowland rides, etc…)
- RIDE THE DISNEYLAND TRAIN. My kids consider these all “rides,” so this is a great way to take a load off and rest your feet. The train takes you all the way around the park to the different stops–Main Street, New Orleans Square, Toontown, and Tomorrowland.
- TAKE THE MONORAIL. The monorail can take you from Downtown Disney outside the parks to Tomorrowland in Disneyland. It’s a great way to cut down on walking to get in or out of the parks, especially if you plan to stay on property.
- TRY THE TROLLEY. The California Adventure trolley is cute and fun and is a great way to cut down on walking. The conductors are always really sweet and friendly with kids, which adds to the fun!
- TAKE REGULAR BREAKS. Catch the free street or theater shows or watch a parade in the afternoon. Eat snacks on benches, or find a spot to perch and people-watch!
TIPS FOR TAKING YOUNG KIDS TO DISNEYLAND
WHAT’S THE BEST AGE TO START TAKING KIDS TO DISNEYLAND? Honestly, it varies so much child-to-child and family-to-family, I couldn’t begin to tell you what’s right for you and your family. We started going with our kids when Milo was 3 and we’ve had SO MUCH fun each time. (And it gets better every year!)
THE BEST RIDES FOR YOUNGER KIDS. There are a LOT of rides that work for all heights (meaning everyone from babies to grandparents can ride them!). You can get a full list of the rides for any height here. We love Jungle Cruise, Dumbo, Casey Jr. Train, Storyboats, King Arthur Carousel, Winnie the Pooh, Small World, Alice in Wonderland, and the Mark Train River Boat for the littlest littles. You can also go to play areas and walk-throughs (like character’s homes in Toon Town, the Tarzan Treehouse, the Sleeping Beauty castle, or Tom Sawyer Island.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF RIDER SWITCH. For rides you’d like to ride with bigger kids, you can do something called Rider Switch, where one parent goes on the ride with the bigger kids and the other parent waits with the younger ones. When the first parent gets off the ride, they can switch with the waiting parent and that parent gets to go to the front of the line. It’s a great option! See which rides participate in Rider Switch here.
USE THE APP TO FIND BABY CARE CENTERS & RESTROOMS! The baby care centers are a great resource for parents of babies and toddlers! There are nursing rooms, changing rooms, toddler-sized toilets, high chairs for feeding babies, a bottle warmer, and even vending machines stocked with diapers, wipes, sunscreen, pacifiers, and more. There’s one at the end of Main Street in Disneyland and one by Ghiradelli at California Adventure.
TIPS FOR WAITING IN LINES WITH KIDS AT DISNEYLAND
FIRSTLY, I RECOMMEND USING THE APP TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SHORT WAIT TIMES. I’ll say it one more time, but the app is a lifesaver when you’re at Disneyland with kids. We generally see which land has low wait times, ride as much as we want to there, then see what other lands have short wait times. But, since waiting is ALWAYS part of Disneyland, here are some ways to make waiting part of the fun.
LOOK FOR HIDDEN MICKEYS. There are “hidden Mickeys” throughout the park–on rides, in lines, in decorations, even on the trash cans! Looking for hidden Mickeys always keeps my kids entertained. It’s a perpetual game! (See a list of some hidden Mickeys here)
PLAN SNACKS FOR BREAKS OR LINES. We ride several things, then go get a treat or get out a snack and sit down for a while, rather than eating on the go. It gives us a break and something to look forward to! Or, you can save treats for long waits. It’s much more fun to stand in line if you get to eat some popcorn or bust out a granola bar!
PEOPLE WATCH OR PLAY I-SPY. Who has the best Disney t-shirt? Do you see anyone wearing orange? Who is the tallest person you see? How many people do you see eating cotton candy?
CATCH ONE OF THE FREE SHOWS. Several times throughout the day there are shows–street performances and games, stage shows, singing, storytelling, parades, and more. (Check the app to see what’s going on soon!)
PLAY “PICK 3.” We play lots of iterations of this game. “What are 3 favorite things so far today?” “What are the 3 songs you’ve heard today?” “What 3 characters would you want to meet?” “What 3 rides do you want to try this afternoon?”
PLAY A GAME. Rock Paper Scissors, “Double-Double-This-This,” stand-on-one-foot contests, staring contests, “guess what Disney movie/character/ride I’m thinking of…”, etc.
PLAN YOUR NEXT MOVE. Mobile order a snack for when the ride is done, make a dining reservation, select a Fast Pass, or look at the map to see what rides you want to do next. Kids love to feel in charge!
OR, TRY “NOISE BREAKS.”
If your child is getting anxious, burned out, or overwhelmed, taking a “noise break” with headphones, earplugs, or just finding a quiet place to cool down is a great way to help! There are lots of quiet places to cool down and calm down in the parks. Cast members can direct you to the closest one, but some of our favorites:
- #1 FAVE: GO TO THE ANIMATOR’S STUDIO IN CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE. It’s got THE BEST air conditioning in the warm months and has a bunch of fun movie clips and drawings to see. (Plus, some good cushioned seating!) For other options…
- Tom Sawyer Island (you ride a little barge to get over there. It’s peaceful and quiet and your kids can run around or you can find some shade to rest in)
- The area between Thunder Mountain and Star Wars Land
- Pooh Corner by Splash Mountain
- Over by Rancho Zocalo.
- Star Wars Land – There are lots of places by the new Rise of the Resistance ride that have benches to sit and not a lot of noise.
IN CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE:
- Redwood Challenge Trail (A nature-based playground and exploring area)
- In the Animator’s Studio by the Hyperion Theater.
- Paradise Gardens (Lots of seating, shade, and lighter crowds)
- The area next to the Monsters Inc. ride.
- Near the Grizzly River Ride. There’s shade, benches, etc.
BONUS TIPS: THINGS TO BRING WITH YOU
- Ponchos (in case it rains or you don’t want to get wet)
- Sunscreen (standing out in lines in the California sun can = sunburns!)
- Water bottles (you can fill them up throughout the day)
- Bandaids (There’s a first aid station in the parks, but it’s great to have some on hand for trips, bumps, or blisters)
- Sanitizer or Sanitizer Wipes (many restaurants have sanitizer out front, but just in case!)
- Snacks! It never hurts to have snacks on hand!