I've learned a thing or two about Disneyland tips with kids after six years of being a Disneyland annual pass holder and visiting the happiest place on earth dozens of times with little kids. Whether I'm by myself or with my husband or other mom friends, one or two or three kids in tow, in shape or 11 months pregnant (ha), there are some hidden tips and tricks that will give you an even bigger bang for your buck, a smoother ride, a more flawless experience while visiting this magical kingdom with KIDS and BABIES.
We've definitely experienced those bummer days where we forgot something important, didn't check a vital website, or got stuck in the wrong line. But mostly we've figured out how to have a (pretty) perfect time at the happiest place on earth and we want YOU to have that experience too. We've worked super hard to round up our best kept Disneyland tips, secrets, and tricks so that you and your family can have the very best time going to Disneyland with kids!
Top 20 Disneyland Tips
If you read this and were like, “bummer, I don't have kids so I don't care!” you're in luck. We have a SUPER fun adult date night guide to Disneyland here, but keep reading too because some of these Disneyland tips apply to all ages!
- Go 1 hour ahead
- Buy early admission
- Bring two bags
- Don't forget a foldable stroller
- Lock up your stroller
- Use a baby carrier
- Get in line to the far left or right first
- Ride the busiest rides first
- Where to stay
- Favorite websites to reference
- Bring your own food and drinks
- Character dining
- Change and feed babies at baby care centers
- Buy souvenirs ahead of time
- Be prepared for any weather
- Bring backup chargers
- Best places for photo ops
- Use Fast Passes
- Utilize helpful apps
- Don't forget about Rider Switch
1 hour ahead
This may sound dramatic, but it takes forever to actually BE inside Disneyland from the time you pull up to the parking lot! So plan to roll into the Disneyland parking lot one hour before the park opens if possible. This will give you time to park your car, go potty (ALWAYS mandatory after the hour drive from our house!), walk to the shuttle, ride the shuttle, and get in line. By the time you do all of this, you'll wait maybe 20 minutes at the gate which is the perfect amount of time to get in first! Go to the resort that isn't offering early admission! Which leads me to my next optional but very cool tip…
Buy early admission
You can buy your way into Disneyland an extra hour early Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday by either purchasing a 3-day park hopper pass ONLINE (you have to buy in advance!) or by staying at one of the Disney hotels. The ONLY way to get into California Adventure early (Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Sunday) is by staying at one of the Disney hotels. We've stayed at the Grand Californian to get into the parks early and it's totally worth the cost IF you're on time. Line up at least 30 minutes in advance so you can actually enjoy the rides before the park gets crowded!
Bring two bags
This is one of my best tips for staying happy as the parent! Bring TWO bags – one large bag to keep all your heavy and non-valuable stuff in the stroller (drinks, snacks, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, etc) and one lightweight bag to wear in line just for your valuables like your wallet, cell phone, camera and whatever you must have in line to keep your kids happy. I like using a backpack like this or a cross-body bag like this that you don't have to fuss with a lot.
Don't forget a foldable stroller
Normally I'm a huge fan of the City Select, but it's not my favorite to take to Disneyland because of the trams. If you get lucky and can park at the Mickey and Friends parking lot, then you can wait in a slightly longer line at the very end of the tram to walk your stroller onto the tram without folding it. But if Mickey & Friends is full or closed off for whatever reason, you may be re-routed to the Toy Story Parking Lot where you'll get on a BUS, not a tram, and you must fold your stroller. It's way easier to have a stroller that folds easily like the City Mini!
I'm not saying you have to own one of these strollers, but if you have an option, it's a lot easier to bring something like a City Mini or the Yoyo Zen! Disneyland also has their own version of the city mini that they rent for $15 per day.
Lock up your stroller
If you're taking a stroller with you that would cost a kidney to replace and you don't want to worry about having it stolen, you can use a stroller lock! I've heard both sides of this argument – people who have taken Uppababy Strollers and Bugaboos into the park a million times with no issues, and I've heard people say their BOB was stolen.
We've had great luck so far and usually out of laziness I skip the stroller lock, but I totally get it if you want to err on the side of caution! **If you're going to use a stroller lock, be sure you only lock your wheels together, don't attach it to any Disney property or they might cut your lock! Also don't be shocked if they move your stroller. Disneyland cast members do this a lot, to keep things nice and tidy and make space for people to walk around while you're on rides.
Use a baby carrier
Trust me when I say that this WILL make or break your Disneyland experience if you have a baby with you! I always, ALWAYS bring either a Solly Baby Wrap or an Ergobaby carrier to Disneyland if a baby or toddler is with us. There's nothing worse than wrestling a wiggly baby in line and your arms dying until you get back to your stroller every time you stand in line for a ride. Plus if you're lucky, they might nap in the carrier!
Get in line to the far left or right
This is a tip I still remember from my first time at Disneyland when my parents took me as a little girl! Go to the FAR right or left when entering the parks for the shortest lines. The most obvious ones straight ahead of you (path of least resistance) will be the longest.
Ride the busiest rides first
When you go into Disneyland, go straight to Peter Pan since it's one of the most popular rides that does not offer fast passes. For California Adventure, go straight to Radiator Springs Racers and if you're wanting to ride it twice that day, grab fast passes first thing because they run out very early in the day, sometimes within the first hour of the park opening.
Where to stay
As I mentioned earlier, if you stay at one of the Disneyland hotels, you'll get into one of their parks early with extra magic morning! That said, they are significantly more expensive than other options and especially if you have small kids who need naps and you don't want to all be stuck in one room, it might be easier to stay off-site.
We've also stayed at AirBNB locations where you can pick a vacation rental that give kids and parents their own rooms, close enough to park free and walk, and go back anytime you need to take naps! They're usually way more affordable than Disney hotels too, especially if you don't want to sleep in the same room as your kids. You can use this link to get $55 off your first stay.
Favorite websites to reference
I never, ever go to Disneyland without checking two sites! First, the Annual Pass Daily Calendar to make sure our passes aren't blocked out! Once we took our kids to Disneyland without checking the calendar and it was a very expensive $300 day to get us all in.
Next, I check is it packed. This crowd forecaster is pretty accurate and helps me plan when to avoid the park on the “forget about it” days, and when to schedule it into our calendar on the “ghost town” days!
We love ridemax for planning out what rides we want to hit that day and in which order. Not a website, but I absolutely love the @magical_kinda_mama Instagram – she posts great tips and tricks daily for Disneyland!
Bring your own food & drinks
You're totally allowed to bring your own food & drink and that stuff is expensive in the park! Some of the food is amazing, and some of it is just overpriced and totally average. So if you're wanting to save cash, pack your water bottles, juice boxes, snacks, and even sandwiches before you hit the park, and just buy a treat like Dole Whip at the Tiki Juice Bar or a Matterhorn Macaroon from the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe (two obsessions I DREAM about frequently).
If you're going to eat a meal at Disneyland, our favorite restaurant is Cafe Orleans (get the Monte Cristo or the beignets, or both!) or for non-sit-down service and a quick somewhat healthy option, Bengal Barbecue is delicious (we love the chicken or veggie skewers!). I have such strong opinions about the best food at the park that I'm eventually going to do a post JUST on our favorite bites, because I could talk about it all day long!
If you've got a kiddo who's DYING to meet a ton of characters on your Disneyland trip, your best bet if you can afford it is to book character dining for breakfast or lunch. The characters will each come around to your table while you're enjoying your meal and you'll get a photo op with each one.
You can make reservations at any of the character dining locations online or over the phone up to 60 days in advance, but I've made them the same day as well. Then again, our passes are blocked out during holidays so it might be wise to call ahead if you're visiting during peak times!
Change and feed babies at baby care centers
Located at the end of Main Street USA in Disneyland or next to the Ghirardelli Shop in California Adventure, the baby centers offer everything you can imagine from diapers to wipes to formula to bottles to purchase just in case you forgot something vital! They also have nursing stations (most are private with curtains in between each station!), changing rooms, feeding areas, tiny potties for toddlers just learning to use the bathroom, and a main room with a TV and little chairs if you have an older sibling who needs to be entertained while you take care of baby. Disney thinks of EVERYTHING.
**they only accept CASH, but there are ATMs close by where you can get some if needed!
Buy souvenirs ahead of time
Souvenirs are soooo expensive at Disneyland that we've literally only bought two ever – one is shown in our video below! I never wanted our daughter to get in the habit of asking for something every time we exited a ride so we made it a huge, special treat when she picked out a souvenir.
If you're planning a trip to Disneyland, you can buy souvenirs ahead of time like Disney stuffed animals or Disney princess costumes and save yourself SOOOO much money. If you do purchase souvenirs at the parks, you can have them sent to will-call so you don't have to carry them everywhere or if you're staying at one of the Disney owned hotels, they can send your souvenirs to your room for free!
Ani's first trip to Disneyland – I bought her Snow White costume at the Disney store at the mall for way less than we would've paid at the park!
Another tip: if you have a little girl who is DYING to wear a princess dress to the park, but she doesn't do well with uncomfortable/itchy dresses, ShopDisney sells some REALLY comfy nightgowns that look just like the princess dresses that my girls LIVE IN. They want to wear them to school and church (ha!) and are way more doable for a marathon Disneyland day than a costume Disney princess dress. See more pics and full review in this post!
Be prepared for any weather
I cannot stress enough how important this guideline is to follow when at Disneyland! Bring a jacket, sweatshirt or blanket for everyone.
Once I skipped this rule, didn't check the weather, and it started pouring right as we entered Disneyland … $150 later we were all warm and dry in our matching Disney hoodies. #OOPS. Also, it gets chilly at night most of the time so something to warm up with is nice! Rain ponchos purchased ahead of time are way less expensive than at the parks! Blankets are nice for covering babes in strollers AND to save spots to watch parades or fireworks!
If you're not sure what exactly you should wear to Disneyland in the first place, here is a helpful post!
It stinks to run out of battery on your phone or camera, so pack an extra camera battery or backup phone charger! I also like a backup outfit for each of my kids. Sounds extra, but so helpful and a little lightweight tee and shorts or leggings can hang out in your big stroller bag for the day JUST in case of a mishap!
Best places for photo ops
Our favorite spots for taking photos are in front of the castle (duh), to the right of the castle, next to Walt and Mickey, or by Small World! At California Adventure, we love pictures in front of the platform that has the carousel and the Incredicoaster in the background, or in Cars Land in front of Flo's V8 Cafe. You can ask one of the cast members taking photos with their professional camera to also take a photo with your phone or your camera and they will! They're usually really nice and really good at it, too.
The most efficient way to do Disneyland with kids is using the Fast Pass system. You go to the ride you want, find the fast pass distribution machines, enter your park ticket or annual pass and it spits out a “fast pass” with a designated time for you to come back instead of waiting in a long line. Usually you can't get another fast pass until the return time for the one you just got, or 2 hours later, whichever comes first. As I mentioned earlier, some rides sell out of fast passes really early like Radiator Springs Racers.
The BEST way to utilize the fast pass system IMO is to use the Max Pass system. This is either a $20 per day per person upgrade, or you can add it onto your annual pass which is what we do. It's AMAZING because the second you're scanned into one of the parks, you can start uploading fast passes for each person in the park. Otherwise, you'll have to physically walk to each ride's fast pass distribution station and with Disneyland alone being 85 acres, I promise it saves you a LOT of time and efficiency.
One thing I feel like nobody talks about is that fast passes are really only useful when you have kids tall enough to ride the height-restricted rides, because almost ALL the fast passes are for rides with height restrictions (Star Tours, Indiana Jones, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain), except Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters and Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin – neither of which are my favorites haha, and Haunted Mansion which isn't height restricted but can be scary for littles! They did JUST add “It's A Small World” to the fastpass lineup recently, and that's sometimes helpful especially during the holidays when it transforms to “It's A Small World Holiday,” but often times the regular wait time for “It's A Small World” is only 5 minutes so the fast pass isn't even necessary!
In California Adventure however, you can use them to get World of Color tickets, Toy Story Midway Mania (ALWAYS a long wait) or Monsters Inc – a brand new addition to the fast pass lineup!
Utilize Helpful Apps
Disneyland has their own app which is great for wait times and fast pass information! Look at the map and tap on the actual ride you're interested in, and it will tell you what time that fast pass will send you back to get in line! It also has useful information like height restrictions, best ages for riders, what type of ride it is, and when it opens/closes. We also love the app called Magic Guide that gives you wait times at both parks. I find this one to be a little more accurate than Disney's app and the list feature is really nice when you need to make a quick decision where to go next!
Don't have a smart phone or traveling with grandparents who don't? You can find that same info on the board right outside the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe (where they have those dreamy Matterhorn Macaroons!), as seen in our video below.
Don't forget about Rider Switch
HACK: The golden nugget of Disneyland for families with different ages of kids, where one isn't tall enough for some rides, is Rider Switch. You can see all the attractions that offer rider switch on this page, but it's basically the rides with height restrictions so one parent doesn't miss out all day while watching the baby. One adult can take the kid tall enough on the ride, while the other adult waits with baby/toddler. Have your entire party go to the line (so they can see you do have a baby or small child) and ask a cast member for a rider switch pass, and the adult who waited can go on the ride with the older kid again. Unlike fast passes, you can use your rider switch at ANY time of the day.
Another Disneyland tip: if you have a party of 4, you can get 2 fast passes to one ride, and 2 fast passes to another, and use rider switch to essentially allow everyone in your party (except baby) to enjoy that ride. Remember, you can save them for when crowds get heavy in the afternoon and use the rider switch passes anytime.
In our video below you'll see Neil taking Ani on the Radiator Springs Racers ride by himself while I pushed Lyla around in the stroller and got muffins and juice for everyone. They gave us a Rider Switch pass so that I could go back with Ani and ride it.
Happiest place on earth
I hope these Disneyland tips help make the happiest place on earth just a little bit more magical with your kiddos! We created this video with Gray Anderson a few years ago to show what a day at Disneyland is like for our family! I get so happy every single time I watch it.