Disneyland is a lot of fun with a baby or toddler. Seeing their eyes light up when they see the castle, ride Dumbo or Peter Pan, or take the train around the park is such a memorable experience. Over the past 16 years, I’ve been to Disneyland with a baby or toddler nearly a dozen times. Our most recent visit was just four months ago. I’ve taken babies as young as 3 months old. These tips will help you prepare so that you can maximize your happy memories and minimize the melt downs.
1. Get to the gates at least 30 minutes before opening time. This means leaving yourself enough time to park your car, take a shuttle, or walk to the resort to arrive 30 minutes before opening. It can take 5-10 minutes to park your car, plus 5-10 minutes to catch the tram and another 5 minutes to walk to security. During the busy season (summer, school breaks, Christmas season), you can get stuck in the security line for 15-20 minutes if you don’t get there at least 30 minutes before opening. Arriving early is especially essential if you are going to Disneyland with a baby or young child that has a hard time being in non-moving lines. You can ride 5-6 attractions in the first hour vs. 1-2 rides per hour later in the day. Disneyland Resort starts getting crowded by about 10-10:30 am.
2. Utilize Fast Pass and Rider Switch (aka baby swap) passes. Every ride with a height requirement has a rider switch pass. Find the Disneyland Cast Member near the Fast Pass Entrance Line and tell them you need a rider switch pass. They will usually want you to point out the baby/small child and those waiting. Then, after part of your group rides the ride, the person that waited with the baby takes the rider switch pass, along with up to TWO other people, to the Cast Member and either enters through the Fast Pass entrance or the Exit depending on the ride. That’s right, the Rider Switch pass is good for three people. This means that two older kids could ride the same ride twice in a row if they ride with the first parent and then accompany the other parent with the rider switch pass. You can even save the Rider Switch pass to use later that day. It does not expire like a Fast Pass does (but you must use it the same day).
Tips on Using Fast Pass: Many of the popular attractions have Fast Pass. Your park map lists which rides have them and they are listed on disneyland.com. Just use your park ticket to get one from the Fast Pass machine near the ride. The Fast Pass will tell you what time you need to come back and get in the Fast Pass line. You can hold a new Fast Pass every two hours OR after you use a Fast Pass, whichever comes first. This means if you grab a Fast Pass within 20 minutes of opening time, that ride will usually let you use the Past Pass about 30 minutes later and then you can grab another one for a different ride. This is a great way to ride a lot of rides before the crowds get huge. As the lines build and Fast Passes are claimed, the wait time before you can use the pass gets longer until it could be several hours later. On busy days, popular rides may run out of Fast Passes by noon (and the return time on these will be late at night).
An added tip, BEST TIP EVER according to my husband. Let’s say your kids don’t care about riding twice in a row and you want to utilize your Fast Pass and Rider Switch Pass to get on more rides, faster. In this case, don’t grab a fast pass with all of your park tickets, only grab enough fast passes for the people in your group that are riding in the first round, and then whoever is waiting can use the rider switch pass. Then, you will have some park tickets that have not been used for a fast pass ride recently and you can grab fast passes for another ride with those tickets and have the other part of your group use the rider switch pass for that ride.
3. Baby Care Centers are wonderful resources when visiting Disneyland with a baby or toddler. Even though all bathrooms (Men & Women) have diaper changing tables, the Baby Care Centers offer a nice, cool place to change diapers, breastfeed babies in a quiet, air conditioned room with nice chairs, high chairs for feeding, and a small shop to purchase formula, baby food, diapers, wipes and other baby items. There is one inside Disneyland at the end of Main Street, USA and one inside California Adventure next to Ghirardelli in Pacific Wharf.
4. Quiet places to take a break inside Disneyland with a baby:
Disneyland: Mark Twain Riverboat, bottom level of Hungry Bear Restaurant (nice, open, shaded area with lots of tables and chairs next to the Rivers of America), at the Wishing Well near the castle, on the Disneyland Railroad, and the benches near the Big Thunder Mountain exit.
California Adventure: Animation Building, the trail behind Grizzly River Run, the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail has a couple spots to rest in the shade that are out of the way, the lower deck of Silly Symphony Swings, or go through the entrance to the Grand California Hotel and rest in the beautiful lobby.
5. Use a stroller that reclines so baby can nap throughout the day. The Disney strollers are like jogging strollers which are in a semi-reclined, fixed position and do not recline back any further. For this reason, I prefer my own stroller. And having a stroller with a large basket underneath is very helpful for storing water bottles, diaper bag, jackets, etc. If you have twins and need a double stroller, use a tandem stroller instead of a double wide. Those pathways get tight sometimes!
6. Use a diaper backpack and bring plenty of snacks, bottles and pacifiers (if you use them), an extra change of clothes, lots of diapers and wipes, a small blanket, a sun hat, sunscreen, and anything else you think baby might need. We love our diaper backpack for traveling, especially when visiting Disneyland with a baby. They are much easier to carry around than shoulder bags, better organized, and have lots of pockets for everything.
7. Take an afternoon break at your hotel for a few hours if you want to enjoy fun in the evening. Babies and young kids need a break from the sounds, chaos, and stress of Disneyland. Even adults appreciate the break and feel rejuvenated and ready to enjoy the amazing evening atmosphere and night shows. We like to leave when the parks are at their peak crowd level and heat (in the summer), around 1 or 2 pm, and return around 5-6 pm. Before we head back, my husband or I buy pizza or fast food and bring it to the hotel room to save money and avoid busy dinner lines.
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