First-Time Visitor Tips for a Disneyland Vacation with Kids

Minnie Mouse's House in Mickey's Toontown, Disneyland

We want to share the most important tips for having a successful first time visit to Disneyland, to help you avoid the same rookie mistakes we made. A lot of these tips will also work for returning visitors who did not have a chance to figure out all of the ins and outs of the Disneyland vacation - trust us, it takes many visits. They include things that we wish we knew before we visited Disneyland the first time. Inexperienced, we failed to bring our own stroller, we bought all of our drinks at the parks, and we did not bring adequate clothing for the cold California evenings (not having been to California before, we were under the misimpression that it had a warm climate day and night).

1. Bring your own stroller if you have a child who is 6 or under or any child who still fits in a stroller and is not embarrassed to ride in it when tired. Why? First, because you don’t want to carry them all day! Second, because a stroller can hold all of your stuff, including multiple water bottles and blankets, so you don’t have to carry everything in a heavy backpack all day and night long. Instead, use a backpack only for your valuables and immediate needs, such as your wallet, phone, camera and hand wipes. Third, the kids will want to take a nap at some point or go to sleep in the stroller for the night – they get really tired even throughout the day. Fourth, they also get cold at night and the stroller provides good warmth protection.

Don’t make a mistake of having to pay for a Disneyland stroller rental at the end of the day, after you have already carried your child around the park.

Moreover, we do not recommend renting Disneyland strollers – the cost adds up quickly after multiple days, these strollers are not very comfortable for the kids, and they do not have enough storage room to hold everything you need to bring to the theme parks.

We also do not recommend renting third-party strollers – avoid sharing other people’s germs (or viruses) and wear and tear. Also, you may not have the ability to select a stroller that you want or one as good as the one that you actually own. Finally, save your money on stroller rentals and bring your own!

2. Buy a package of bottled water for your trip and bring at least 2-3 bottles per person each day. Even if you are flying in to California, there are many grocery stores, supermarkets (Target is nearby) and convenience stores around Disneyland, so go there and stock up on drinks and snacks. Most hotels have a mini-fridge in the room so you can even get milk, yogurt and string cheese.

3. Before you make your travel plans, check the Disneyland website to see which rides and attractions are scheduled to be closed during the time you plan on being there, so that you are not disappointed if certain attractions that you really wanted to experience are closed once you get there. Of course, unexpected ride closures can still occur, but these are generally temporary and will likely not affect you, especially if you are at Disneyland more than one day.

4. Understand if and when you can take advantage of the Extra Magic Hour or Magic Morning. They both allow certain guests to get into the parks one hour before park openings.

Magic Morning is available to any guest with a 3-day or more advance purchased park tickets or with a Southern California City Pass. Guests can only enter the Disneyland Park (not California Adventure), only on one morning before the park opening during their entire visit, and only on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. The Disneyland Park is typically more crowded on those days, because of the ticket holders who can use their Magic Morning pass on those days.

Extra Magic Hour is only available for Disneyland hotel guests. It is available every morning during the hotel stay. If you stay at a Disneyland hotel, you can enter California Adventure an hour early on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. This is especially valuable because you can ride Toy Story and Radiator Springs Racers, two rides with very long queues, before the lines for these rides get too crowded, and you can then get Fastpasses for the rides you want before the crowds arrive at the park, including Radiator Springs Racers, if you want to ride it again. You can enter the Disneyland Park an hour early on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

5. Keep kids well fed and hydrated throughout the day, with both meals and snacks, to minimize meltdowns and temper tantrums.

6. Have something to eat at your hotel before leaving for the park, even if it's just a light breakfast in your room, such as cereal, or a pastry and coffee. Even if you have a buffet breakfast reservation, someone is bound to get hungry and nervous by the time you arrive and get seated. Additionally, if no one is starving when you get to the park, you can go on at least a few rides when you get to the park, instead of having to go to eat first, while the kids are anxious to start experiencing rides.

7. If you have children ages 4 through 12 who want to participate in the Star Wars Jedi Training, make sure that you are at the Disneyland Park at park opening, and get in line right away to register for the Jedi Training. The line for the registration starts outside the exit of the Star Wars Launch Bay, right by the entrance to Autopia in Tomorrowland. The registration is not open during Extra Magic Hour or Magic Morning. If you don’t register first thing in the morning, your child will likely be unable to participate, or he or she is going to be placed on the wait list, and you will have to keep coming back to this area 15 minutes before each show to see if the child can move off the wait list. They offer 5 to 6 shows daily, so this is certain to ruin everyone else’s day.

8. Pack your backpack, diaper bag and stroller the night before, not in the morning. It is definitely worth taking an extra half hour at night to get everything packed, and to make sure that you don’t forget something important, even if you are tired from your theme park visit that day. Taking the extra time in the morning, when everyone is excited to get to Disneyland, is an additional stressor you don't need. Use our free theme park packing list as a guide what to bring.

9. Getting to the Disneyland Park at park opening, even during Extra Magic Hour or Magic Morning, is overrated. Sleep in, come after the early-morning crowds are too tired and gone, and go on the best rides later at night. You can ride most of the popular rides with a Fastpass and/or a Rider Switch Pass, or later at night, with very short wait times, and avoid the sun and heat. During popular times, Disneyland Park is open until midnight and California Adventure until 10 p.m. At night you can get the benefit of a longer time period of shorter lines than you can during the one to two hours in the morning. In the middle of the day, go on rides with lower wait times, use Fastpasses and Rider Switch for the other rides, explore Disney food, and see shows and characters. Almost every ride that has a long wait time has a Fastpass, with a couple of notable exceptions, such as Finding Nemo, Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan's Flight. However, we would not go early in the morning to the park just for these rides, as you can also find short wait times for these rides later at night.

One exception to this for the Disneyland Park is if you have a child that really wants to register for the Star Wars Jedi Training. If you miss this registration first thing in the morning, you will likely be placed on the wait list, and will have to come back to Tomorrowland before each show in order to check whether your child has made it off the wait list.

One exception to this for California Adventure is if you are a Disneyland hotel guest, and will go to that park on one of the Extra Magic Hour mornings. There will be very few people there during that morning hour, comparatively speaking, as only hotel guests can take advantage of that. If you want to ride Toy Story Midway Mania, Radiator Springs Racers, California Screamin’, or Mission Breakout multiple times, you can avoid the long lines in the morning, ride them again relatively late at night with little wait time (this park is typically not open past 10 p.m.), and still be able to get the coveted Fastpasses for the Radiator Springs Racers before they are gone, which you can use during the crowded middle of the day. After you use your Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass, you can get the Fastpasses for your other rides as well, except Toy Story – that you should ride at the end of the day, about 5-10 minutes before park closing.

10. Do Fantasyland rides in the morning or at night, (However, around 8:00pm, several Fantasyland rides close for fireworks.) and avoid them in the middle of the day, when they are most crowded and when standing in those lines involves basking in the uncomfortable sun and heat.

11. Know that the following Fantasyland rides are closed for at least an hour before the fireworks and during the fireworks: Peter Pan's Flight, Snow White's Scary Adventures, Dumbo, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough, Pinocchio's Daring Journey, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, King Arthur Carousel, Alice in Wonderland, the Monorail and Disneyland Railroad.

12. Know that the following California Adventure rides are closed an hour before the World of Color show and remain closed for the night when the park closes before 10:00, otherwise they are open between the two World of Color shows: California Screamin’, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, Silly Symphony Swings, Golden Zephyr, King Triton’s Carousel, and Jumpin’ Jellyfish.

13. Use Fastpasses whenever you can to skip waiting in lines. Fastpasses are tickets you can get for specific rides, which allow you to ride during a specific time period in order to avoid waiting in long stand-by lines. You have to scan your park ticket at the attraction's entrance in order to get into the Fastpass line. Most popular rides at both the Disneyland Park and California Adventure have Fastpasses, but you can only have one Fastpass at a time during any 2 hour period, or until your specific time period as provided to you on your Fastpass ticket, whichever occurs first.

14. Use a Rider Switch pass if you have a baby or a small child that does not meet a height requirement, or does not want to get on a particular ride. Rider Switch is available on rides which have a height requirement. Your entire group has to walk up to the cast member at the ride entrance, where you can obtain a Rider Switch pass. One adult waits with the non-riders, while the rest of the group goes on the ride. Once the group is done with the ride, the waiting adult, as well as up to two others in your group, can get on the ride without having to wait in the regular stand-by line again, or you can take advantage of the Fastpass twice. The Rider Switch pass is valid until the end of that day, so the waiting adult and the others going with that adult can ride the attraction at any time thereafter, before the park closes. The waiting adult has to surrender the Rider Switch pass to the cast member when he or she gets on the ride. Older or braver children can experience those attractions more than once, with each parent or other adult, and with no wait time the second time around.

15. Download the Disneyland app and check wait times for rides while you are standing in line for other lines, taking a break or eating.

16. Bring multiple different snacks regardless of how old your children are. During warm seasons, choose dry snacks and avoid anything that can melt.

17. Apply sunscreen before you get to the park and also bring it to the park to reapply as needed, especially on the face, neck and ears (unless you are going in the late fall or winter, when it is not always necessary).

18. Wear a hat during any time of the year except wintertime. Avoid getting an irritating scalp sunburn or a farmer’s tan.

19. Don’t skip taking pictures on the Photopass or throw away the Photopass provided by Disney cast members because you think Disney photos are too expensive. Getting the PhotoPass is free, and you can decide after your trip whether you want to purchase any photos. It is always good to have the option to get that one perfect family picture printed out that you were unable to get on your own camera. (For most annual passholders, PhotoPass is free.)

20. Bring a light jacket during the spring and summer months and a warm jacket during the late fall and winter. Don’t underestimate the fact that California nights can get very cold, even during the warmer months. You don’t want to catch a cold on your trip.

21. In addition to the jackets, make sure you have stroller blankets for the kids.

22. Carry Wet Ones or hand sanitizer in both your stroller and in your backpack (to wipe kids’ hands after they have touched every single thing while standing in the line to get on a ride).

23. Bring the dirty diaper bag dispenser and use these bags as trash or garbage bags. This way, you don’t have to keep walking through crowds over to the trash can every little while and possibly touching the germ-infested trash cans.

24. To avoid long lines, go on rides during the fireworks (if you are there on multiple days and have already seen the fireworks), and/or during the parades (if you are there on multiple days and have already seen the parade, or if the parade runs multiple times of the day).

25. See the parade while eating at a restaurant which offers views of the parade, or attend the last parade show available. If you decide to see the last available parade, you will be able to get a better seat and view of the parade without having to save a seat two hours ahead, as the parade-watching crowds are much lighter during the latter show. The last showing of the Main Street Electrical Parade can be easily and closely viewed by standing or sitting next to Alice in Wonderland or while enjoying a ride on the Mad Tea Party.

26. Make a reservation for at least one sit-down restaurant per day. You will need the break from the park hustle and from picking up and cleaning up the food yourself. Be served - you earned it.

27. Know the most popular rides at each park and plan to ride them with a Fastpass, using a Rider Switch pass, or during the least busy times of the day, such as late at night or during the extra morning hour.

In the Disneyland Park, the most popular rides are Star Tours and Space Mountain in Tomorrowland, Indiana Jones in Adventureland, Matterhorn Bobsleds and Peter Pan's Flight in Fantasyland (the only ride on this list without a Fastpass), Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland and Splash Mountain in Critter Country.

In California Adventure, the most popular rides are Radiator Springs Racers, Toy Story Midway Mania, California Screamin’, Soarin’ Around the World and Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT.

28. At the Disneyland Park, if you have little kids, go to Toon Town an hour and a half before Toon Town closes. Avoid midday at Toon Town – it is way too crowded. So, figure out what time Toon Town closes – it is always a few hours before the park closes and prior to fireworks – and it is usually between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., depending on the time of the year. Older kids can ride Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, and the small roller coaster, Gadget’s Go Coaster, both of which are in Toon Town, with little to no wait time at this time of the day, while the little kids visit characters and their cute little houses. Keep in mind that some characters leave Toon Town at 3:30.

29. At California Adventure, have one person get Fastpasses for Radiator Springs Racers first thing in the morning, while the rest of the group stands in line for Toy Story, and then have them join the Toy Story line. The Fastpasses for Radiator Springs Racers are almost certainly sold out by 12 p.m., so it is important to ride this ride early and/or to get the Fastpasses. Otherwise, you are looking at waiting in line an hour and a half to two hours. Fastpass distribution for Radiator Springs Racers is in front of the entrance to Bugs’ Land, not in Cars Land.

30. Ride Toy Story just before park closing or first thing in the morning, when the wait times are shorter (if you go there first thing in the morning, the wait time can be as low as 35 minutes). However, we found the shortest wait times to be during the World of Color show and just 5 to 10 minutes before the park closes. We love Toy Story, and try to ride it twice - both as our first ride in the morning and as our last ride, just as the park is closing.

31. So long as you get into a line for an attraction up until the minute before the park closes, you can ride it, even if you get on the actual ride after park closing. We ride Peter Pan just before park closing as well, although the Peter Pan line is known to be very long even then (up to 40 minutes still at that time of the night, which is actually less than if you get there first thing during Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hour - yes, all of the early crowds head straight to Peter Pan, and the line quickly gets to 45 minutes).

32. During the summer, when in California Adventure, spend time in Bugs’ Land where it is shady, ride Grizzly River Run to cool off, and play in the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail during the middle of the day, or go back to the hotel for a nap or swim (do this only during the hot summer days, otherwise maximize your park time). Another quiet and air conditioned spot that is not on most people’s radar is the Animation Building, which contains the Animation Courtyard, Sorcerer’s Workshop, and Turtle Talk with Crush, all interactive experiences. Anna and Elsa from Frozen are also there, available for photos and a character meet and greet experience. Frozen: LIVE at the Hyperion is a nearby show, replacing Aladdin, and is a great indoor show.

33. Spend a little more money and eat at Carthay Circle when at California Adventure – this restaurant has the best food found at the two theme parks.

34. Cove Bar at California Adventure is another spot with good food and a good view of World of Color, but you have to get into this restaurant at least an hour and fifteen minutes before the park closes. There is a long line to eat here and unless you are seated by this time, your wait could be for nothing, as they will not let you in simply because you are in line at that time.

35. Although it doesn't affect your ability to get other Fastpasses, you really don’t need a Fastpass for World of Color, unless you want to stand so close to the show that you can get wet from the fountains. Going to get this Fastpass first thing in the morning before it is out is a waste of time. You don’t get a seat to World of Color just because you have a Fastpass. Instead, you can get a good view of the show from just about anywhere in the Paradise Pier area.

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