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How to navigate Disneyland with young kids


Abbie at Sleeping Beauty's Castle Disneyland

Abbie at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle Disneyland. Credit : Donovan Whitworth

My family loves Disney! I was born and raised in Southern California and grew up going to Disneyland. When my oldest daughter turned 5, we purchased annual passes and I would take her sometimes as much as 2 times per week. Even though we moved to Australia in 2015, we still go back to California enough to justify holding annual passes.

Save the odd masochist, most people I know don’t enjoy standing in long lines. Unfortunately, Disneyland is full of them (lines, not masochists!). Luckily, for those with young children, many of the rides’ height restrictions don’t allow the shorter ones to go on many of the most popular rides, such as Space Mountain and Indiana Jones, allowing you to avoid waiting for those rides. That said, the most popular children’s rides can still have long lines. Here are my best tips for avoiding the waits and maximising your fun with small children.

Our family waiting for the tram to take us in to Disney's Anaheim Resort.

Our family waiting for the tram to take us in to Disney’s Anaheim Resort. Credit: Donovan Whitworth

1. Get a Park Hopper Pass

If you are visiting Disneyland and have more than one day, I recommend buying a multiple day Park Hopper pass. It allows you to go between the two parks throughout the day to minimise your time in lines and get the most out of the scheduled entertainment. Since Disney’s California Adventure is generally less crowded than Disneyland, I find it best to go on rides at Disneyland first thing in the morning and at the end of the evening, spend more of our midday ride time at Disneyland’s sister park.

2. Make the most out of non-ride entertainment

Both parks have plenty of shows, parades and exhibits — enough to spend an entire day of family fun without having to go on any rides at all. Show schedules for the Pixar Play Parade, Disney Junior Live on Stage!, Paint The Night Parade, Fantasmic!, and other shows are printed in the respective parks maps that you receive on entry.

Abbie and Ariel at Disneyland.

Abbie and Ariel at Disneyland. Credit: Donovan Whitworth

3. Follow a plan

If you arrive when the park opens, head straight to the most popular rides. You won’t find shorter lines any other time. For young children, start with Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan’s Flight, Dumbo and It’s a Small World. Most of the other rides in Fantasyland, such as Snow White’s Scary Adventure, King Arthur’s Carousel or Storybook Land tend to have manageable lines throughout the day, so you can save them for later.

My general strategy is to go to Disneyland as soon as it opens. Pick up a fast pass for Fantasmic! and Star Tours right away. Ride one or two of the busier rides in Fanstasyland, such as Peter Pan’s Flight or Alice in Wonderland, and then head over to Disney’s California Adventure park. Once there, we catch a mid-morning show at Disney Junior Live on Stage! Afterwards, we spend a lot of time at Disney Animation, which has fantastic interactive shows and exhibits for all ages, as well as the Animation Academy, where professionals teach you and your lot to draw your favourite Disney characters. We catch some rides in Bug’s Land before having a midday snack and heading back to Disneyland to catch an early afternoon parade and take advantage of the Star Tours fast pass that we picked up earlier.

We’ll then head to Mickey’s Toon Town, where we’ll let the kids play in the Goofy’s house playground, climb around Donald Duck’s ship, or meet Mickey and/or Minnie at their homes.

Mickey's Soundsational Parade at Disneyland.

Mickey’s Soundsational Parade at Disneyland. Credit: Donovan Whitworth

The late afternoon we generally use to recharge, have a meal, get some ice cream or just soak in the atmosphere. We use this time to go on some less frequented rides as well, such as Storybook Land, or, if we’re at Disney’s California Adventure, the Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.

Our next must-do is the Paint The Night Parade at Disney’s California Adventure. This parade is full of lights, music, dancing, electricity and special effects and we try not to miss it. If we picked up a fast pass for Fantasmic (shows at 9pm at 10:30pm), then after the parade we head back to Disneyland to watch that and the fireworks, which follow.

4. Take advantage of fast passes and parade times

If you spent the previous day following my strategy above, then you’ll have seen the parades, fireworks and Fantasmic!, and might be thinking that you missed out on the rides. But parade and fireworks show times can be the among the best times to catch up on rides, since a large population will be waiting and queuing outside to watch these instead of waiting for rides.

Read more:

The secrets of Walt Disney World Orlando

What else can you do with kids in Anaheim California?

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