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10 Tips for Navigating Disneyland With Kids

By Brenda Ponnay

As a local Southern Californian, I’ve been to Disneyland quite a few times. Over the years I’ve developed some tips that I thought I’d share with you in case you might be planning a trip to the big mouse trap.

1. Go Early
For the longest time I didn’t think this really made a bit of difference. Why wake up at the crack of dawn and then push yourself to pound every minute out of your feet every hour of the day before the park closes? So I didn’t. I’d show up at eleven in the morning every visit and then would mutter to myself disgustedly that Disneyland was always so crowded. What’s the point in paying almost a hundred bucks a ticket if you only get three rides in? But then I read a few guide books and discovered that if you do show up early you can almost get the whole park to yourself for an hour. Most visitors arrive around eleven. If you arrive early enough, you can skip some of the entry lines (and security) completely. On our latest visit, we arrived earlier and skipped through the turnstiles. It was bliss!

2. Do Bring A Friend
Sure it costs more in absolute dollar terms but if you can buddy up your child with a friend to talk to while waiting on long lines, you’ll find that the kids will bolster each other if one is afraid of a scary ride. A friend might even encourage a timid child to try something new. Plus, taking a best friend to Disneyland is the best kind of memory making.

3. Eat Early in the Day
Plan ahead and bring your own snacks. There’s nothing worse than a low blood-sugar melt-down when you’re literally melting-down in 90-degree weather in a long, long line. Get Fastpasses and take advantage of your wait time by eating lunch early. Eating is boring for kids so make sure you get it out of the way before they are starving and their low-battery lights are flashing in the form of tantrums.

10 Tips for Navigating Disneyland With Kids

4. Do Fastpasses Early
If a line is longer than 20 minutes, take advantage of Fastpasses! They are awesome. All you have to do is find a Fastpass dispenser, stick your ticket in. A Fastpass will spit out of the bottom of the machine and now you are free to use your time for something else. Take in a side-street show, enjoy the scenery, rest on a shady bench…anything is better than standing in line. Especially when it’s time for lunch. Instead of waiting in line while you get hungry, eat lunch AND THEN wait in a much much shorter line. Fastpass holders get special treatment and you’ll feel like a million bucks as you whiz past everyone else to the front of the line.

5. Download the Mousewait Disneyland App
 The Mousewait Disneyland app is great for mapping out the park and seeing which rides have shorter lines. You’ll be surprised, funny things happen and sometimes  rides can go from 120 minutes down to 20 minutes if you keep an eye on them. And while we’re on the subject of apps and phones, it’s a good idea to make sure your phone is fully charged and your screen is set to dim because your phone will run out of battery and plugs are hard to find. If you have one, bring an extra battery charger or look for restaurants and bathrooms with plugs. Here’s a downloadable list of where you can charge your phone if you get desperate.

10 Tips for Navigating Disneyland With Kids

This might not work for all parents but I personally have a child who gets extremely timid at the most inopportune times, like right before we are about to get on the boat at Pirates of the Caribbean. She also is very strong-willed and if I don’t watch it, she’ll be the ruling the day like a tyrannical queen. I’ve spent many expensive days at Disneyland riding no rides and fuming because tickets are expensive and I sat around all day while my kid played with the magical moving water ball and climbed around Tarzan’s Treehouse.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love that there are many things to do at Disneyland besides rides. You can have a magical time and never step foot on a ride but personally, I want to get a few thrills in for my money.  That’s just me.

This last trip I took, a friend who has an “Everybody Rides All the Rides” policy and I listened to her explain over and over to her children that Disneyland is designed for kids. She calmly explained that she’d ridden all the rides before and she knew that everyone would have a good time. Sure enough, we took a few tear-streaked children on some fast roller coasters and they were beaming with pride and jumping for joy when we finally disembarked. Everyone had a good time no matter how convinced they were that that they would not.  Again, use this advice judiciously. At the end of the day, you are the expert of your own children.

7. Snack Often
See tip number 2. Hungry kids are not happy kids. Snacks are expensive though so make sure you bring things like non-melting granola bars, trail mix or lots of cash for vendors.

10 Tips for Navigating Disneyland With Kids

7. Be Aware of Merchandising. Fight it. Accept it.
Everyone is going to want a souvenir from Disneyland. It’s inevitable. Even if you just purged last year’s souvenirs yesterday and you swore you wouldn’t fall for any battery-operated, twinkle-glow-in-the-dark, sparkly rhinestone, mouse-ear-ed, princess, whatz-its…. you will fall into this evil trap. There is just something about being at Disneyland that makes you think you neeeed something from Disneyland to commemorate your visit, as if your credit card statement won’t be memory enough.

If you can’t fight it, accept it.  Set a budget for  snacks and souvenirs and let your kids know they are only allowed X-amount of dollars for each. It can be a teachable moment in mathematics! Sometimes mouse ears are worth more than cotton candy and sometimes they are not. Let them decide. Do remember that the lighted, blinking, super-fun, glow-in-the-dark souvenirs come out at night though so don’t blow all your money right away, early on in the day.

10 Tips for Navigating Disneyland With Kids

8. Rest and Recharge
Take advantage of shady spots and put your feet up. Enjoy the view. It’s going to be a long day and you’re probably going to be carrying a little person by the end of it, so pace yourself. Make a note of parade times and scope out a spot to sit long before the event happens. Take advantage of slow rides like It’s a Small World or those little kiddie rides in Fantasyland. Take in some seated air conditioning at Innoventions in Tomorrowland. These rides and attractions might be a little bit boring for grown-ups but they are great for resting. Enjoy your sitting time where you can get it. Your feet will thank you later.

I’m a coffee junkie and I take an afternoon coffee break every day but you might consider it too when you’re at Disneyland. There is nothing better to boost you through the afternoon than a 3 o’clock shot of caffeine. You can do what I did and make you’re own iced coffee gas-station-style with a $2.79 black coffee, a cup of ice and thirty seven creamers OR you can head back to Main Street for a ice-blended frappuccino at the brick and mortar Starbucks. Keep your eyes open for carts too. They tend to position themselves near Main Street as well.

10 Tips for Navigating Disneyland With Kids

10. Stay Late, Leave Early
Do blow your kids’ bedtime and stay for the evening fireworks. They are fantastic! Get yourself situated somewhere along Main Street so you can take in the whole show and not have to crane your neck around some tree or landscaping. But here’s the trick: Leave before it’s over. Leave before everyone else leaves. Even though Disneyland handles crowds better than anyone, there is nothing better than beating the mass exodus. The fireworks show lasts about 14 minutes, so I would recommend watching for 10 minutes and then get a head start on the exiting crowds. You’ll be so happy to be passing through those exit stalls before everyone else, you won’t even notice what you missed.

Hope that helps! Please share your been-there-done-that tips below in the comment section.

Here are our top picks for rides and attractions when visiting Disneyland, Disney California Adventure Park and Disney World in Florida.

About the Author

Brenda Ponnay

Brenda Ponnay is an author and illustrator who loves to craft and make big messes when she’s not working on her books. Whether it’s painting, baking, drawing, making castles out of card...

Brenda Ponnay is an author and illustrator who loves to craft and make big messes when she’s not working on her books. Whether it’s painting, baking, drawing, making castles out of cardboard boxes or just doing the laundry with flair, Brenda Ponnay has learned that what really makes her happy is being creative every single day.

You can read about all her crazy adventures on her personal blog: Secret Agent Josephine.

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The biggest problem we had at Disney was the kids wanting to buy so many snacks and souvenirs. Our solution was to let each kid carry spending money in their own little wallet. It came to about $20 a day for each kid. They could spend it on any toy or snack they wanted or save it towards a bigger item. If they didn’t buy a special snack they ate the granola bars and fruit that I brought, I didn’t want anyone hungry. I also bought a lot of Disney themed items before we left home and handed them out… Read more »