Visiting Disneyland with a Toddler


Disneyland with a Toddler

We took Hudson to Disneyland for the very first time this past Sunday. I thought we would hold out until he was four or five–or at least asking to go–but I realized recently that I wanted the experience of seeing his reaction to it all, having not yet really been exposed to anything Disney.

I grew up in Long Beach, just 12 miles from Disneyland, so it was a familiar (and fond) part of my childhood. And over the holidays, looking through old photo albums and seeing myself there as a toddler made me start thinking about how I was looking forward to being on the other side.

Riding Dumbo at Disneyland
Custom made Mickey Mouse Ears
Disneyland with a Toddler
Disneyland with a Toddler

Here, with more than a few favorite family photos, are the top tips we came away with for visiting the park with a toddler (Hudson is 1-1/2, so I’m sure there are different tips to be gleaned for older children)…

Get there early. Even on a super-crowded day on President’s weekend, it mattered: the crowds really descended around noon.

Lower expectations about how much you can see or do. I had a few things on my wish list: I wanted Hudson to meet a character or two, ride Dumbo, get his own personalized mouse ears, and sit for a silhouette. And we had some preconceived notions of where to head (e.g. Storybookland, Casey Jr., Disney railroad, Tom Sawyer’s Island aka Pirate’s Lair, Autopia, the Tiki Room, etc.) Other than that, we were content to follow our toddler’s lead and skip the big rides this time. Everything was exciting to him–from the horses on Main street to the ducks hanging out around the castle–his excitement was enough.

Disneyland with a Toddler
Disneyland with a ToddlerDisneyland with a Toddler
Disneyland with a Toddler
Disneyland with a Toddler
Carousel with a Toddler
Carousel with a Toddler Carousel with a Toddler

Announce change when a ride ends. It may not be a magic trick for everyone, but it has worked wonders for us to have Hudson say “goodbye” to things (in all kinds of situations, actually). When something ends, when it’s time to leave a toy, etc., we say goodbye–or “all done.” I really think it gives him a moment to take control of the situation and handle transitions better. He did cry when Dumbo landed, but then we paused and waved goodbye to all of the elephants, blew kisses, and moved on. I’m amazed at how this changes his ability to do so. I loved how he kissed and hugged the horses on the carousel goodbye, above. Sort of gross–but so sweet.

Sleeping Toddler in a Stroller

Decide how you’ll handle nap time and lunch time before it’s upon you. Will you leave the park? Sit at a restaurant? We all sat for lunch and then had Hudson nap in his stroller; we used the time to walk through the park, back through downtown Disney, and back to the parking garage to get jackets and such for the evening.
(BTW: You can rent a stroller. Not really using one anymore? Hesitant to pack one but worried about walking all day? Disney rents strollers for $15/day and they looked like really nice, Disney-colored versions of the City Mini.)

Bring some snacks and a thermos–or even an entire lunch. (Along with diapers and sunscreen and those usual amenities toddlers require.)

Use the baby care center if needed. The Baby Care Center is located at the end of Main Street on the right (past the Corn Dog Cart). They have comfy chairs, changing tables, mini potties for potty-training tots, and helpful staff. You can also purchase diapers, formula, pacifiers, etc.

Visiting Disneyland with a Toddler

Visiting Disneyland with a Toddler
Visiting Disneyland with a Toddler

Take turns in line. The Disney cast-members are super friendly and accommodating. Don’t be afraid to ask if you and your toddler can come in through the exit once your partner gets to the front of the line. They don’t usually mind. Hudson and I went on Casey Jr. a second time while Aron braved the line for Dumbo.

There’s a reason why there’s never much of a line to ride Pinocchio in Fantasyland: it’s really dark and scary!

Walk from the parking garage. It’s a long walk, but it’s a pleasant one, and it means you don’t have to fold up your stroller to fit onto the tram.

Visiting Disneyland with a Toddler

We were able to get a table for dinner behind the parade route–just past the Penny Arcade–and then slip under the rope as soon as the parade began. We could have also stayed at our table. It was a comfortable way to watch the 6:30 parade and what turned out to be a highlight.

Use the park website. It will tell you about which rides are closed (sadly, It’s a Small World was being refurbished during our visit), height restrictions, dining reservations, hours, typical weather, events, how to use a Fast Pass, etc., and it was helpful in planning our day. I especially appreciated their tips on choosing which attractions are best for little ones.

And finally: Pay your admission and then do your best to forget about how much it costs. Even if you amortize each ride, it won’t add up, especially at this age when you might go on four or five rides, one being the carousel. Still, all studies show that money spent on experiences (as opposed to an object) bring the most happiness–so think of it like that! Just relax and enjoy the experience.

Visiting Disneyland with a Toddler
Visiting Disneyland with a Toddler

I thought it was pretty wonderful.

Disneyland at Night
Visiting Disneyland with a Toddler


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Let’s Discuss

  1. Thank you for sharing this! My little one is now 16 months and I have been fantasizing (yes, fantasizing) about the day when I can expose him to the magic of Disney. I, like you, kept thinking we would take him around 4 or 5 years old, but I honestly don’t think I can wait that long!

  2. Wow, can’t believe Hudson is only 18 months, he seems so much older! Or maybe my 3 year old is just really short? lol. Good tips, I like the one about not thinking about the cost, ha! We took our son to Universal Orlando twice, but had free passes, and in 4 hours managed to only make it on 2 rides, total ride time: less than 10 minutes! Oh well, hopefully he has those good memories. 😉

    Also, totally random, but I love your style! Where is your red shirt and backpack from? Thinking I need to invest in a backpack for when I have my second soon and need my hands free at all times!

    • Ashley

      Thanks, Shannon! Yes, Hudson is tall–his dad is 6’8″ so it’s no surprise Hudson is 90th percentile. He turned 19 months on the day we visited the park.
      The red shirt is from Zara–which I love for me and for boys’ pants–and the backpack was an Etsy purchase. Here’s a post with the link:
      My one wish is that the flap buttoned as well as buckled, or that the buckles were just for show. But I love that both Aron and I are happy to wear it.

  3. Beth

    My kids are old…like the youngest is 14…and we just love Disney! It is so magical! Thanks for sharing Hudson’s first experience! He is such a doll!

    • Ashley

      Thanks, it’s from the Ace hotel in Palm Springs. It took me a while to realize that the P.S. can also be Palm Springs. I thought it was so sweet.

  4. thank you for sharing this! your family is adorable, and your line-holding tip is great. my husband and i had debated whether or not our daughter is old enough for disney yet, or if it will be worth it… she is going to be two. we recently decided we are going to do it. i am sure we won’t be disappointed once we see how excited she is. it is such a magical age.

    • Ashley

      Thanks! I’m sure you’ll have a great time. I see you’re back east–will you be going to Disneyland or Disney World? I have to admit that I’m excited to return to Epcot one day…

  5. Hi Ashley,

    No worries about missing It’s A Small World! When my sister and I went as eight and four-year-olds (she’s younger) she cried throughout the ENTIRE ride. Dark water and tunnels don’t always mix. Oh, and it can’t have helped that our dad took us on the Pirate’s of the Caribbean ride that morning :)

    Looks like a wonderful trip!

  6. Karen

    I’ve been following you since my little guy was born, I think he is about 2 weeks older than Hudson. We live in OC so Disney land is a frequent destination. However, we have 2 older daughters, 14 & 7 , so our little guy isn’t the center of the show. :(. Thanks for showing me what a day at the park could and/ or should be for him! There is so much to do there, sometimes I forget! Gonna have to grab the husband and take him on a day that the girls are in school. Btw, we were also at the park the same day you were. Can NOT get enough of it! 😉

  7. cynthia

    I am about 5 months pregnant now and I am (ALREADY) dying for the say I can do this! I also grew up in the LA area (in San Diego now) and Disney has always been a big part of my life. :-) This post made me a little misty eyed.

  8. Your pictures are priceless and adorable! My daughter is 21 months and we’re going to DL for her 3rd trip this weekend. Each time hosts a different kind of magic as you watch them take it all in and experience it. I love it! You got some great photos and such fun memories!

  9. Amy Kim

    Thank you so much for sharing! We are taking our Zoey (she’s 2) to Disneyland in 8 days! Getting so excited!! Your pictures brought tears of joy to my eyes just thinking about experiencing the happiest place on earth with our little princess.

  10. Hi there! My friend Melissa Neff sent this post my way. We are taking our two- and four-year old to Disneyland for the first time this week! Thanks for sharing your tips! I enjoyed reading about your experience :)

    • Ashley

      I love Melissa! Have a great time at Disneyland–no doubt you will–I’m so glad you found the post helpful!

    • Ashley

      No doubt she will! Hope you have a great time–you’ll have to let me know if you come back with any other tips!

  11. thank you for sharing this! we are planning to go to DL with my 13 month old this weekend. these tips were really helpful and I love all the photos.

  12. Thanks for sharing this. We are making the trip with an almost 22 month old this year. I hope it will be worthwhile and I can have a fun filled day without crankiness. I wont be travelling with a stroller so might have to rent one. Are the condition of the strollers good over there? Comfortable?

  13. Deb

    Thank you SO much for posting this! We took our 1 year old last December and it wasn’t great (he wasn’t really interested). I want to go again this December with him but I’m having a hard time convincing my husband it will be awesome. Your blog is just what I needed to prove it!