Disneyland is a great experience for kids, but is it really developmentally appropriate for young children? Walt Disney loved kids and worked hard to create an experience that families can enjoy together, but there are a few flaws that can be very challenging for families with little ones. Nevertheless, the guest experience is always evolving at Disney and there are a lot of things you can do to make your trip a success. So pack your bags and your strollers, because today we are looking at tips for enjoying Disneyland with your little ones.
1. Stroller choice matters
I’m a huge believer in the cheap umbrella stroller; they are awesome. There’s no need to lug around a gigantic stroller on every occasion. However, it does have an important disadvantage for amusement parks…it’s difficult to take a nap in. Naptime is an important part of your little one’s schedule and if you skip it…well…you get your typical crying tired toddler after a day of fun.
When choosing a stroller for a day at the amusement park, you ideally want to choose one with a retractable hood that can shield your child from sun and chaos. It should also be comfortable, obviously. The easier it is for your little one to take a nap, the more likely they will do so. You’ll save yourself a lot of frustration later.
If you do decide to go with an umbrella stroller for all or part of your trip, make sure it is well fitting. Since it can’t be adjusted to lay the seat flat, simply lean the stroller back when they begin to get tired, making sure you hold on to the handle bars.
You can also choose to rent a stroller; Disneyland in particular has netted strollers that are flexible enough to comfortably take a nap and they (from my experience) having working retractable hoods (both of which are things you wont get at Universal Studios, just a heads up). And of course, if you have your own ideal stroller that stores easily, you can bring that instead.
Also another biggie, give your stroller a feature (such as a name tag) to distinguish it from other strollers. There will no doubt be another family with a similar stroller to yours parked in front of Small World, so make your chariot stand out!
2. Safety first
This might be obvious, but this is of high importance and I wanted to give specific examples of what you should be careful of.
One of the most important safety tips is an obvious one, belted out to you at the beginning of every ride (for good reason!). Keep hands, arms, feet, and legs inside the ride vehicle at all times. Young children are notorious for lunging out of, jumping up and down in, and reaching out of ride vehicles. Its is absolutely true that young children find it almost impossible to control these impulses, but it should be a general rule that anything that impedes your child’s safety must be prohibited at all costs. There have been many an unfortunate accident at amusement parks, many of which could be avoided by simple actions.
Here’s a question, which of these attractions do you think have experienced more rider injuries: Tower of Terror, Splash Mountain, or the People Mover?
Surely Splash Mountain with its terrifying drop, right? Nope. What about Tower of Terror, an elevator that plummets riders down? Not quite. Believe it or not, Disneyland’s past attraction The People Mover, gliding at a whopping 1.5-7 miles per hour, has had more unfortunate accidents, including a few resulting in death. Why? Overwhelmingly, most injuries were due to passengers not staying seated in their ride vehicles. You can research into this further but bottom line, kids must stay seated in the ride vehicle, period! When looking at props in rides, look with your eyes, not your hands. Store all belongings best you can before the ride starts, but if by chance you do lose something do not go back for it. Let a cast member know and most likely they can retrieve it safely. And more thing, prevent your child from reaching in the water when on a water ride. Whenever possible, seat your child the middle of your row or innermost area of your ride vehicle when boarding. Cast members don’t suggest these tips to annoy you or waste time; it is their job to maintain safety during guests’ day of fun. Please do them a favor and do your part 🙂
Another common safety concern is getting lost in crowds. For older children, create a meeting spot they should go to if they get lost. Although there is a designated building on Main Street, the castle is going to be the best choice. The way the park is designed is that all lands lead back to the castle, so no matter where they are this will always be the easiest landmark to find.
For very young children you have a variety of options, you just want to make sure your child is not more than a few yards away from you at any given time if they are out of their stroller. You need to need able to steer them in a safe direction at any time. And of course, although everybody has mixed thoughts on this one you may want to bring a child harness, which allows you to ensure their safety at all times, while giving them an opportunity to walk around. I personally think the child harness is a great idea, but this one is totally up to you.
3. Eating and drinking
In addition to the ever important naps, you want to make sure your child is getting their tummies’ needs met, right?
Luckily, Disneyland has done a darn good job of offering healthier options for visitors that want them, so you don’t have to settle for three helpings of chicken nuggets everyday. For young children, there are a variety of food places that have “meal packs” and toddler meals. You can also bring snacks with you to the park. For older children, kids menu options vary greatly from place to place. I recommend looking ahead to see what food places interest you, because food lines can get long and searching for food without some ideas can be a wild goose chase. Don’t do that to yourself! I do have a couple of blog posts about food at Disney, so definitely check them out for ideas!
I highly encourage you to bring bottles of water to the park with you, since 90% of the time the park is very toasty, and on top of that you are doing a lot of walking. Take frequent breaks for snacking, planning,and watching shows. If you notice your child is sweating profusely, red in the face, tired, irritable, or other unusual symptoms have them sit in a cool area and drink plenty of water. Disney is fun and who wants to take a break, but even at Disney you need to pee and eat.
Also know that there are picnic areas outside the park, so if you prefer to take a meal outside the park that is an option and a way to save money.
4. Illness prevention
Disneyland is a host for a variety of illnesses entering the gates everyday, so you want to prevent illness where you can.
The most important step? Hand washing and sanitizing, believe it or not. Bring a mini waterless hand sanitizer in your bag and sanitize every so often. Be careful not to over do it though, as that can also have repercussions against your health. I recommend sanitizing before meals and after rides where you are holding onto a bar or other object, such as Astro Blasters or Matterhorn. I’m telling you, it makes a huge difference!
If you have a baby or toddler who may be picking up food off the table during mealtime, squirt a little sanitizer on their side of the table and wipe the area with a napkin or toilette. Let dry.
For diapering, it is a good idea to bring a fold up changing pad to have as a barrier on the changing table.
5. Sunscreen and clothing
Be sure to apply sunscreen before heading out and reapply as needed. If anyone in your party has allergies and doesn’t do well with aerosol products, I recommend skipping the spray on sunscreen and going straight for the lotion. You are ideally looking for SPF 30 and up, and for babies they do have a special sunscreen just for them. I also really like the Neutrogena sunscreen, which is non-greasy and more comfortable to wear.
Southern California is normally hot, but prepare for heat, possible rain, and chilly evenings when packing your suitcase. Use a weather app to plan ahead outfits for the day best you can. For babies and toddlers, play clothes are a must, don’t make them sit in jeans all day. And yes, when eating at Disney they will get dirty, no surprise there. For babies this isn’t a necessity, but for older children it is best to wear socks and a comfortable pair of shoes for walking, skip the sandals and boots. For day packing do pack layers so that your little one can stay comfortable all day.
6. What to pack (that you may forget)
- ponchos for water rides
- swimming gear and flip flops
- amusement park bag
- activities for the kids (a plus if they’re Disney themed! I also have book recommendations in a separate post to check out:) )
- hand toilettes. Just trust me on this one
7. Services to take advantage of and misc. tips
- The Baby Center
- Disney wait time apps (check your app store)
- The First Aid Center
- Locker Rentals and Stroller Rentals
- Picnic Area
- Child Switch
- The Toy Story Parking Lot (if your hotel is a little farther from the park. My personal favorites in the area as far as distance/transportation goes are the Double Tree and Grand Californian. Double Tree has a shuttle every 10-15 minutes to and from the park pretty close by, and Grand Californian is literally attached to California Adventure and is the closest you can stay to the parks. Plus it is awesome, and expensive, but awesome. Paradise Pier is still going to be a bit of a walk, which can be difficult if you have sleepy little ones. )
- Character Meals (for pictures with the princesses, visit Ariel’s Grotto in California Adventure. For classic Disney characters and great food, go Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disney Hotel. Reservations are a must, just FYI)
- Buy your tickets ahead of time online
- Check height requirements online ahead of time
- Take advantage of Fast Passes!
And one final note, just know that there is so much to do at Disney, you’re not going to be able to do it all in one trip. Period. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself; prioritize which rides are most important to you and take some time to explore! There are so many special secret moments to be had, as long as your family is having a good time, your money has been well spent and your trip is a success!
Thank you for reading! I am definitely interested in reading your tips for Disneyland with kids, so do share any tips I missed in the comments below. The Disneyland Tip Jar will become a new series for the blog, so any ideas you have for future posts do share!