All thoughts and opinions in this post on traveling to Disneyland with toddlers are my own. Not one bit of this trip was sponsored and I received NO compensation from the places or companies mentioned.
This post does contain affiliate links. Busy Toddler is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read more about these links in my disclosure policy.
It is the Happiest Place on Earth – and it still can be with toddler!
Traveling is a big deal. Traveling with toddlers is an even bigger deal. Traveling with toddlers to Disneyland….that’s kind of the Holy Grail of travels.
But it can be done. Thousands of parents make this pilgrimage each year and you can too!
You can have a magical time at Disneyland with toddlers
There are so many tips and tricks out there for taking toddlers to Disneyland. I must have read 100 blog posts just like this in anticipation of our big trip.
I took all that information – along with my own know how and my own discoveries – to send my family of 5 on a magical trip to Disneyland.
RELATED: This was our family’s first airplane ride too! Check out our plane ride activities.
What’s the make-up of my family?
At the time of our trip, I had a 26-month-old, a 3.5-year-old and a 5-year-old. We were in for some fun!
TIP 1: WE WAITED TO TAKE THIS TRIP
Disneyland is expensive and a trip a year is NOT in the cards for us. A trip every OTHER year isn’t going to happen with our brood so….
We waited until our two oldest were likely to remember this trip and keep these memories.
We waited until our two oldest were tall enough to ride most of the big rides (this is 40-inches-tall).
We waited until all three were in the “Disneyland magic” window – where they believed wholeheartedly in all the magic around them.
Could we have waited another year for our youngest to be a little older? Absolutely.
But for us, that would make him “too old” but “too short” – meaning old enough to know he was missing out on some of the rides but not tall enough to go on them.
Waiting for him to grow tall enough would have pushed our oldest son out of the “Disneyland Magic” window that we wanted to capture for him. So…we made that concession. It was a balancing act for us to find just the right window.
TIP 2: MAKE SURE YOUR KIDS ‘KNOW’ DISNEY
For almost the full year before our trip, it was “Disneyland prep” at our house.
Part of the magic of Disneyland is seeing characters and movies come to life – but if a child hasn’t seen Dumbo… then the ride is a fun flying elephant instead of the magical moment seeing Dumbo come to life.
This doesn’t mean I had my kids non-stop in front of the TV watching Disney movies!
But it does mean that when we had a choice between watching Trolls for the 12,000th time or Peter Pan, Dumbo or Alice in Wonderland – we chose the latter.
And don’t forget that Disney-prep doesn’t mean just movies.
There’s a lot of music magic in Disneyland so grab a Disney Spotify or search Disney songs on Amazon and YouTube.
My daughter was over the moon excited to see the Tiki Room in person and it’s all because of the song. She listened to it on repeat for months – seeing it in person was a dream come true for her.
TIP 3: PRINT OUT A MAP BEFORE GOING
I actually cheated on this one and had a real map from Disneyland for my kids to pour over for month. If you have friends visiting the park before you, ask them to bring you back one.
If not, print out a map from Disneyland.com – print it on legal paper if possible – so your kids can start to get a feel for the park.
My kids poured over that map for months – especially my two oldest kids – and by the time we got to Disneyland, my five-year-old knew that map as well as we did.
Anticipation is a big part of going to Disneyland – the build up, the excitement… seeing, knowing, and hearing the names of the rides and attractions only heightens that.
TIP 4: WATCH RIDE VIDEOS ON YOUTUBE
Disneyland is a big unknown to littles.
Littles like routine. Littles like the known. Littles like a world they can count and depend on.
Telling them about the rides and the magic is one thing.
Showing them is another.
We found lots of first-person videos of ride and let our kids watch them from time to time. Instead of ruining the surprise, this actually built up the anticipation.
My 26-month-old went into Disneyland with ONE GOAL: Riding the Gadget Go Coaster. He never would have known about that or been excited for it without that YouTube video.
It changed his entire perspective on Disneyland. Instead of “this is something Mom and Dad are excited about”, HE was excited about it too and knew WHAT he was excited for.
NOW LET’S GET INTO LOGISTICS.
When I was planning our trips, I found a lot of tips online. I didn’tfind a lot of brass-tacks-let’s-get-the-facts information on how to take a family of 5 to Disneyland. I wanted to publish a post with ALL the information.
HERE IS EXACTLY WHAT WE DID ON OUR TRIP TO DISNEYLAND WITH TODDLERS.
HERE IS HOW WE MADE THIS TRIP A SUCCESS – from packing, to traveling, to where we stayed.
[The following section contains affiliate links. Busy Toddler is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read more about these links in my disclosure policy.]
LOGISTIC 1: PACKING FOR THREE KIDS
I planned ahead. Like REALLY ahead. I didn’t leave packing to the night before – I worked on this for weeks.
I put every outfit in a bag…
For each of my 3 children, I made a separate zippered-plastic bag for each day they’d be on vacation.
I had 12 bags total – 4 bags per kid.
Each bag contained: 1 shirt, 1 pants, 1 underwear, 1 pair of socks. In each of my daughter’s bags, I included her hair tie and bow.
On the outside of the bag, I labeled the day of the trip / week they’d be wearing that outfit.
I had specific outfits for our days and certain days we would match or coordinate (I know…I had to though. I couldn’t help myself.).
With this system in place, my husband could get the kids dressed without question. This task didn’t need to default back to me and could be done while I showered or got ready.
It made for easy packing and easy mornings in the hotel. There was no guessing.
We also had a small backpack for each kid and packed as much of their clothing bags into their back packs. This meant our family of 5 went on a five-day vacation with only carry-on luggage.
Almost everything they needed for the trip (outfits, pajamas, and sweatshirts) were in those bags.
NOTE: For my daughter’s precious “Big Bunny” – we used a bungee cord to tie her to the backpack and keep her safe in the airport.
LOGISTIC 2: GETTING FROM THE AIRPORT TO DISNEYLAND
In so much of my research for our trip, one piece was always missing: how do you get your family with small children FROM the airport to Disneyland?
I found a few options:
- RENT A CAR – This didn’t work for us because we didn’t want to rent car seats (so expensive) or travel with our car seats (we couldn’t carry three car seats on an airplane and we did not want to check them because of how easily they can be damaged.).
- TAKE A DISNEY BUS – A really popular option. Buses do NOT require the use of car seats and is cost effective vs renting a car and renting car seats. Since we were landing at LAX, however, the bus takes around 1 hour 30 minutes to travel to the Disneyland and is on a set schedule. After an already long day of flying…. We weren’t jazzed about that option (and weren’t jazzed about the kids being without car seats).
- RIDE SHARE – A great option if you’re sans kids, but California law requires children under 8 to use a child restraint system as well as children under 2 to be in a rear-facing car seat.
HERE’S HOW WE TRAVELED TO THE HOTEL
We found a car service (Saferide Transport) that could pick us up from LAX and take us to our hotel WITH CAR SEATS.
Saferide offers infant car seats, convertible forward facing seats, and backless boosters.
Although it was more expensive (about twice the cost of taking the Disney bus), we were thrilled with this option. While our two-year-old and 3.5-year-old sit rear facing at home, the forward-facing seats were a better option for our family than no car seats at all.
We did check the installation of the car seats thoroughly, and needed to top tether the seats as both our arriving driver and departing driver had not completed that step of the installation.
I have reached out to Saferide to let them know about the top tether but at the time of publication, I have not heard back from them.
CAR SEAT DISCLAIMER: Using rental car seats or car seats that are not your own is something you should research. In this situation, we had to weigh our options and this was the best choice for our family. Make the right call for your family.
LOGISTIC 3: HOTEL STAY WITH A “LARGE” FAMILY
Finding a hotel for a family of 5 is NOT the easiest task.
I was looking for:
- A hotel in walking distance to the Parks (under .5 miles)
- A room that can sleep 5
- A free breakfast
- **Pie in the sky dream: a room with two areas so the kids can sleep while we are awake
I FOUND IT!!
We stayed at the Desert Palms Hotel & Suites. I cannot sing their praises enough!
The hotel is located directly behind Cars Lands – it’s a fast walk to the park – and it has a great, free morning breakfast.
We chose a 1-bedroom suite with a bunk bed. There was a king-sized bed in one room and an interior door separating us from the “kid room”.
The “kid room” was a double bed bunk bed that sleeps 4. We had two kids on the bottom bunk and one up top. It was PERFECT.
For nap time and night time, the kids could sleep without my husband and I having to either sleep too or make no sudden movements. It was absolutely what our family needed.
RELATED: One of my blog friends does a rental house for her Disney trips with four kids – learn more here.
LOGISTIC 4: A ONE TO ONE KID TO ADULT RATIO
With the ages of our kids – and not all kids being able to do all rides or being able to ride unaccompanied – we needed an extra set of hands.
We needed a 1:1 kid to parent ratio not our usual 3 kids to 2 parents.
On some rides (like Autopia), each kiddo could have their own car rather than trying to share the steering wheel.
For bigger rides, like Thunder Mountain Railroad, our 26-month-old couldn’t go with. We used the “Rider Switch” program – one adult walked around with him, while the other adults did the ride with the bigger kids.
Then we’d switch…and the older kids would go back on the ride with the adult that had originally stayed behind.
RELATED: Learn more about the “Rider Switch” program here – trust me. You want to know about this.
My Dad came with us for 2/3 of our trip and my sister-in-law came for the last bit. It was the best having them there for the memories (and we never could have done it without their help).
LOGISTIC 5: DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
Think strategically and don’t wing this. Take the time to really think it through and make a clear “game plan” for your time at Disneyland. Pre-plan each day.
Standing in the middle of Main Street with hungry kids, packed crowds, trying to figure out where to eat for lunch is NOT the Disneyland memory you want to have.
Go into Disneyland with game plans: ride plans, meal plans, rough timelines, priorities. Planning ahead is EVERYTHING.
OTHER TIP FOR DISNEYLAND WITH KIDS
- Take a picnic! One of our days, we bought sandwich supplies from a CVS the night before and made our lunch. We stored the sandwiches in a locker (these lockers are a blessing) and ate at the picnic tables on Tom Sawyer’s Island. I can’t recommend this plan enough.It’s a little bit of the home routine brought to the park, and a chance for the kids to unwind and run free. That part of the park is always empty – take advantage of it!
- KNOW YOUR CHILD’S HEIGHT. If you have a child wanting to do big rides, don’t let in the park be the first time you check their height. Make sure to know the height requirements for each ride and where your kids measure up.We went so far as to make a Disneyland height stick – you don’t need to go that far…but we did and everyone knew exactly what they could and couldn’t ride on. No surprises.
- Bring a good stroller – but maybe not your nice one from home.We didn’t want to bring our fancy City Select Stroller – it’s heavy, big, and expensive. I knew we’d be parking the stroller lots and I didn’t want to leave it all alone (even at Disneyland).
I also didn’t want to gate check that nice stroller onto the airplane.
INSTEAD: We bought this pop-up double umbrella stroller for the trip and it was a blessing. The perfect size, just the right storage, easy to push (even for my 6’4 husband!). We would have been lost without this!
- If you have kids wanting to do Splash Mountain…take our word for it: bring ponchos. We brought ponchos in case of rain but ended up using them on Splash Mountain (except on this first trip down – oops). I have done Splash Mountain more times than I can count…and I’ve never seen waves soaking people like I did on this trip.
- Really think your timeline each day: If you wear the kids out on day one, skip naps and stay up late…how will the following days go? Don’t go for broke the first day! We stayed pretty much to our normal daily schedule with the kids and came back for naps each day in the afternoon and were back for bed (a little later than normal) at about 8 pm.
Our last day was when we went wild and skipped naps, stayed late, etc. because we didn’t have anything the next day to be ready for (just the plane ride home). It was OK for the kids to be absolutely wiped out the next day.
- DOWNLOAD THE DISNEYLAND APP. I couldn’t love this app more and it is PARAMOUNT to a successful day at Disneyland. You can plan your day better knowing exactly what the wait times are for each ride.
Disneyland with toddlers is totally doable!
We had a magical time at Disneyland. It really is the Happiest Place on Earth!
But the key to Disneyland with toddlers is planning: plan ahead. Talk to friends. Google lots. Get yourself oriented before you leave and be ready for the time of your life.
What’s your favorite tip for doing Disneyland with toddlers?