Disneyland with a 3 year old and 5 year old

I will be honest, I was a Disneyland grinch! We got a larger tax return than expected so we paid off some debt and decided we wanted to do a family trip. We haven’t done a trip of just us 4 for fun before. With nobody to see or special occasions. My husband was set on Disneyland, he wanted to just drive down there do 1 day at Disney and come back. For how expensive it is, I was like we could stay a week and do a million other things. But let me tell you, it was my favorite trip ever. It was so magical for my 3 year old and 5 year old. It made us so happy to see their faces light up seeing their favorite characters. To see them so excited on the fun rides.

So many people warned me that 3 years old was too young. That Disneyland was a lot of money and my daughter wouldn’t remember anything. Well Ben and I will remember. She definitely grew closer with her dad after doing some rides with just him. We were also lucky that she is just barely 40″ tall so she can ride most of the rides! FYI 2 years and under are free but we had to pay for Tempe since she is 3 and a half.

I am trying to help them remember by hyping it up before we went, taking a lot of photos while we were there, and talking about it with them now from time to time. We so want to go again!

Disneyland family of four

Disneyland with young children planning tips

Here are my 12 best tips for planning your Disneyland trip:

1. Hype it up!

Studies show, we get just as much enjoyment from the anticipation of something good as we do from the actual activity. We decided to go kind of on a whim so I didn’t get to plan it as well as I would have hoped. But it was still way better than I expected! I researched tons of blogs and Pinterest, asked all my friends for the best tips. I watched videos of the rides with my kids to get them excited. We told them about meeting all the characters. My son ended up getting ancy about it but it wasn’t bad. We were driving to California and he was saying “Disneyland isn’t real. Why aren’t we going to Disneyland yet?!”.

We drove to Disneyland and it was fun to watch all the Disney movies. I played ones that we were going to go on rides for!

PRO TIP: You can rent Disney movies from the library for free! 

I bought Mickey and Minnie Mouse Ear Headbands for us all from Zurchers ($8 a piece) a few days before. My daughter wore hers all the way up to our Disneyland day basically- the store, the library at home – she wore them 🙂

Next time I think I would announce it 2-4 weeks before hand and give them a little Disney gift every week to help get them excited. As well as have them help me plan out what rides to go on and what characters to see.

Disneyland with 3 year old

Disneyland with 5 year old

2. What to pack

California has really good weather almost all year round. It is really chilli in the morning and at night though. We went May 15th and got super hot, like sweating from noon-3pm. It rains often in California too so be prepared for that though rain will mean less crowds for you!

Everyone had a jacket/hoodie. I also packed the kids sweat pants they could slip on if they got too cold.

We wore outfits that would dry fast! Jeans really chaff and are hot to walk in all day.

Good walking shoes! We took over 20k steps and had to carry a child sometimes.

Do not get sick! I brought clariten because my husband and I get bad allergies. My son got sick after we got home from Disneyland which made me think – you gotta really take care of yourself before the trip! Emergency C really helps!

Sunscreen! Apply it throughout the day. Sunburns just really suck so don’t get one on the first day! As well as sunglasses and hats.

I used a little crossbody wallet that could hold my phone which stayed on my body all day. My husband used a fanny pack which held his phone, wallet, and our power pack to charge our phones. This is key! You want one that is ~5000 so you can get multiple charges. My phone died in the afternoon but we had the power pack to charge it on the go woo!

I would highly suggest everyone in your party pack a fanny pack or small backpack so they can carry their snacks, travel sized sunscreen, water, phone, wallet and power pack. We brought refillable water bottles and wish we would have had them on sling koozies or fit in the Fannie pack because we got thirsty waiting in lines. We typically left them in the stroller which has to be parked before you get in line.

If you don’t want to carry all that, you can rent lockers and come back to those throughout the day. I am all about saving time though so I didn’t want to do that. There is way too much walking as it is!

Disneyland with a 3 year old and 5 year old

3. Download the Disneyland Apps Now!

These apps are the coolest things ever! I have been to Disneyland a few times before, pre-app and even pre-fast passes. We are so blessed by technology!

The Disneyland Park App will have everything you need to know. You don’t need a paper map, those things are confusing. The park app allows you to see the wait times for various rides, where characters are, showtimes, where restrooms are and what food is near you. You can even order food from your phone! Saves so much time from waiting in line! The whole car ride to Disneyland I was planning out our day. I was checking in on wait times throughout the day to see when to ride what rides.

There is also the Disneyland Play app. You can learn more about the rides and pass the time in line. Our favorite was playing the game while waiting in line for Peter Pan. There were fun questions, charades, pictionary, we had to search around the ride for things and we got Tinkerbell to come to life in a real life lantern, with our game! I also downloaded several other Disney game apps and Disney movies on my phone in case we needed to pass the time which we only used a couple of times.

4. Get the MaxPass!

It is $15 per person and so worth it! You might be thinking what is the difference between a fastpass and a maxpass? Fastpasses are free. You walk up to a ride to check-in, then get a piece of paper saying a time you can return to hop to the front of a line for a ride. With a maxpass, you just check-in on your phone. It felt like cheating! We were back in Toon Town and I checked us in for Splash Mountain on the other side of the park. We rode several rides and ate along the way over to Splash Mountain.

The maxpass also includes free digital downloads of ALL your photos. Splash mountain costs $21 for the digital download. The maxpass is a steal. You get all the ride photos and character photos. Plus there are lots of photographers just walking around the park, just ask them to take your photo for you! They will give you a code, you enter it on your phone, then all your photos show up in the Disneyland App the next day.

Please note, not all the rides will let you fastpass so you just have to wait in line. Plus you can only get a fastpass every hour or two. All the fantasyland rides you have to wait. Here is the list of rides that you can get Fastpasses for:

Disneyland Park FASTPASS Attractions

  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
  • Haunted Mansion / Haunted Mansion Holiday
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
  • Space Mountain
  • Star Tours — The Adventures Continue
  • “it’s a small world” / “it’s a small world” Holiday
  • Fantasmic (does not affect obtaining ride FASTPASSes)

Disney California Adventure FASTPASS Attractions

  • Incredicoaster
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Guardians of the Galaxy — Misson: BREAKOUT! / Monsters After Dark
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • Soarin’ Around the World
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!
  • World of Color (does not affect obtaining ride FASTPASSes)

5. Stroller Pass or Rider Switch

This one I feel like is a bit of a secret that everyone needs to know about because it is so nice! We didn’t think our daughter was tall enough (or even that she would like) Splash Mountain. We fastpassed my husband and son to ride then asked the cast member for a stroller pass. He scanned a ticket for my son and I to go on next! You don’t have to waste a fastpass or wait in line again. Once my husband and son were done, I went on it with my son 🙂

6. Get there 30-60 minutes before the park opens with your tickets already bought

You have to go through security where they will check your bags and make you take off all your metal items. I bought my tickets on the Disneyland App so we just went on through to wait at the ropes for the park to open. Main Street opens up before the rest of the park and closes an hour after the rest of the park so you can also check out all the shops.

If you have a Magic Morning, use it! You get in an hour before everyone else on Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. If you don’t have a Magic Morning, go on a non-magic morning day. We just went for 1 day and didn’t have the Magic Morning so by the time we got in, Peter Pan already had an hour long wait time.

7. Food!

Disneyland has AMAZING food and treats! But very small portions and overpriced snacks. Cliff bars really helped fill us up! I also brought my kids uncrustables and some sweets to snack on. Use refillable water bottles, you can get free water from any of the restaurants. I hear the water fountain water is yucky so I never even touched it. A bottle of Dasani or smartwater is like $5 there so just bring your own water. We still felt dehydrated the next day so make yourself drink water often! You are walking a ton!

We decided to wait until 3PM to eat an actual meal since 11am-2pm is the busiest lunch time. I also thought that people would be eating or taking a nap so we could ride rides. But I was wrong, the afternoon had the longest wait times. 3pm was still busy for food but we ordered online from the Bengal Barbeque.

Our food critiques-

Bengal Barbeque – The bacon wrapped asparagus is a must! I didn’t care for the Jungle Julep but I am not much into fruity drinks I got a meal with the chicken skewer and vegetable skewer, rice and slaw. I was starving and it was just so  little of food. It was yummy, just not nearly enough to fill me up after a day of walking so I supplemented with a Cliff Bar. We got tiger tails for the kids. I was really disappointed with those. I thought it was going to be a melted cheesy bread or stuffed cheese breadstick. It was dry bread with dried cheese on it. The kids didn’t eat them.

Royal Hall -While we were waiting in line to see Belle, at the hottest time of the day, we got an Apple Freezie drink that was pretty satisfying and cooled us off.

New Orleans Cafe – Someone told me to make sure to get the Mint Julep so I did. It was pretty refreshing since it was a warm    day. It tasted like drinking spearmint gum with a hint of lemon. I also got the Mickey Beignets, which were sweet. They tasted like sopapillas and would be better with honey. You will get powdered sugar everywhere if you get those.

Critter Country Snack – My husband and son got churros. They were delicious but he said the banana pudding dip wasn’t         worth it.

Galactic Grill – We ate again around 8:30pm. I definitely needed something filling to keep going until the park closed. The specialty burger was so good, we got the meal and my kids loved the fries! This is the only place that had Mr. Pibb! I don’t why Disney doesn’t carry Dr. Pepper ahhh I totally brought in 2  cans for myself haha. The kids got mac n cheese meal which was delicious, but so small!

Goofy's Kitchen Dining Experience

8. Splurge on a Disney Character Dining Experience on non-park day

This was probably my favorite part of the trip! We drove to California from Utah Sunday and got in late. We took the next day to visit the beach and get into vacation mode. We got a reservation for Goofy’s Kitchen at 7:30pm. It is costly, $192 included tax and tip for the 4 of us, but it was so worth it. The food was amazing. The kids had a blast. We got tons of photos.

Every few minutes a different character comes to your table and spends time with you. We got to meet chef Goofy, Minnie, Mickey, Pluto, and Chip n Dale. Every 15-30 minutes they have a dance party! It was just so personal and fun. My daughter says Minnie is her best friend.

It is a buffet so we stuffed ourselves with prime rib, lobster penne, and my favorite mac n cheese pizza! You have to try it!!! They had great kids options like pizza, mac n cheese, and chicken nuggets. As well as a huge dessert and ice cream bar.

I am glad we got to go before our Disneyland day. It got us super excited for the park! Plus we didn’t have to worry about rushing over there on a park day. We spent almost 2 hours at Goofy’s kitchen.

9. Our Itinerary

We stayed at Stanford Inn, just a few minutes from Disneyland. We waited for the ART bus at 8am after our continental breakfast. We got to Disneyland around 8:30 and were waiting by the ropes by 8:50am. The park opened at 9am but it was a magical morning day so there were already wait times for the rides. A blog said to get on Peter Pan first so that was my original goal, but it was already an hour wait. We decided we needed to get on a ride fast so our kids would understand how it works and get excited for the day.

The ride times are the lowest early in the morning and before the park closes so get on your favorites first and do a ton just before you leave then take it easy in the middle of the day!

This map was super helpful because I didn’t know where to even start! https://ournextadventure.co/planning-trip-to-disneyland-rides/

Here is how our day went-

Fantasyland

It’s A Small World – 10 minute wait. My kids loved it! Disneyland has inserted Disney characters throughout the ride that you have to look for 🙂 Disneyland with a 3 year old and 5 year old

Dumbo – 40 minute wait. Of course my daughter had to go potty as we were waiting. Always ask before you get in line! Though everyone around us were hopping in and out of line, so it was no problem to take her and come back to the line.

Dumbo ride at Disneyland

Dumbo Ride at Disneyland

King Arthur’s Carousel – 5 minute wait. It is just a plain carousel of horses. My daughter screamed bloody murder when I tried to put her on it so we just didn’t ride it. The only ride she didn’t like!

Peter Pan – just because it seemed so popular. The wait time said 35 minutes but it ended up breaking down so we waited almost an hour. Luckily we had the fun Disneyland game app to pass the time. The ride is cute, but wasn’t worth the wait for us.

Toon Town

We headed back to Toon Town to visit Mickey and Minnie but the wait was almost an hour each. So we just let the kids play in the tree house and left. Since we saw so many characters the night before we didn’t feel too bad.

Then we waited to meet Belle at Royal Hall. I wanted to meet with at least one princess. The wait was about 30 minutes. We got our apple freezie from the stand next to us. Temperance thought she wasn’t a princess because she was wearing her peasant blue outfit ha.

Tomorrowland

This is now my favorite land! I just love how each land and even each ride, the cast members are dressed in matching costumes and act the part.

Buzz at Disneyland

Buzz Lightyear – FastPASS – 5 minutes. I almost wanted to wait in line since they have fun Buzz features while waiting. This was my favorite ride! You get to use a lazer gun to blast Zurg. It keeps track of your points too!

buzz at disneyland

Buzz at Disneyland

Finding Nemo – 40 minutes. This was a long, boring wait and when my phone died so we had to charge it. I did get our food ordered at the Bengal Barbecue for after our ride. I thought the ride was neat though. It is a very small space on the submarine so don’t get on it if you are claustrophobic. It does get pitch black in there too at times. The kids love it!

Adventureland and Critter Country

After eating at the Bengal Barbecue, we split up. Ben took Benny on Splash Mountain. Even with the Fast Pass they ended up waiting about 30-45 minutes. Tempe and I walked around, got a mint julep then rode Haunted Mansion with another Fastpass. She didn’t think it was scary! We met at the stroller and switched kids so I could take Benny on Splash mountain with the stroller pass. We still had to wait about 20 minutes but it was so fun! Ben and Tempe rode the river boat because Tempe was so excited when she saw it while we were waiting for them to get back.

On our way out we walked through Tarzan’s tree house. It was nice to give the kids a little play time.

Then we passed the tiki room as it was about to start so I said hey let’s just go in. I tried ordered some Dole whip on my phone since everyone raves about it. The order didn’t go through when I thought it had, plus I wasn’t wanting sweets anyways so we just didn’t get any. Dole whip is coming to a mall near us soon in Utah woo so I will try it then. My husband loved the Tiki room. It was a fun little show and great way to just sit somewhere air conditioned. The kids thought it was really magical. Definitely a younger kid thing.

Fantasyland

Tea cups for Tempe, waited about 15 minutes. Those spin really fast so don’t go after eating! Also, I would love to do those at night. They have the most beautiful, colorful lights and lanterns for that ride!

Tommorrowland

Star Tours – Fast Pass got on within 5 minutes. Another one that has cool stuff to look at while waiting in line though. I really loved this ride because it had some jokes in it. Tempe just barely made the 40″ cut off for it.

Toon Town

Went back to Toon Town to try and meet Minnie since my daughter loves her so much. The wait had died down to about 20 minutes the last little bit so we wanted to try. When we got there though she was gone :/ so we waited to see Mickey for about 45 minutes. There is a ton to look at in his house though and the movies are hilarious! All the diners there closed as we arrived at 7:30pm. All of Toon Town closes at 8:30.

Tomorrowland

Buzz Lightyear – we fastpassed this one again it was so fun!

We were starving again so we went to the Galactic grill. The burger hit the spot! By this time, almost 9pm all the wait times for rides were like 5-15 minutes!

Autotopia – we were not planning on doing this ride, but it was supposed to be a 5 minute wait (ended up being like 15 minutes from some breakdowns I think). Benny loved it! I rode with him while he drove. I got whip lash lol.

At the end of our Autotopia ride the fireworks started (9:30PM) so it was fun to watch from our cars. Then we got to see the grand finale as we exited.

Star Tours – fastpassed and got right on for the second time! It was a different show too!

Critter Country

Haunted Mansion – fastpassed. Tempe fell asleep on the way over (now after 10pm) and through the whole ride. Luckily she already rode it earlier with me. Benny was scared though! I didn’t want to end the night with him scared so we decided to go on Winnie the Pooh!

Winnie the Pooh- had no wait at all, we literally walked onto the ride and no one else was there. Tempe really enjoyed it!

Splash Mountain – had no wait either so we decided why not?! As long as you are in a ride line by closing time, they will let you ride it! My daughter actually loved all the critters. Though she got the most wet and it was cold after. So worth it though! My favorite photo of the day since it was just our family on the log.

I think we did pretty well for our first time as a family! Got to go on about 18 rides and eat several times plus see a couple of characters.

Meet Mickey at Disneyland

10. Souvenirs and what to buy before hand

I was actually surprised that most souvenirs were pretty affordable. I made the kids little autograph books from the dollar store, but you can get way nicer ones with photo holders and cute pens for just $10 at the park.

I bought our Mickey and Minnie Ears beforehand for $8 each from a party store. This helped to get excited for the trip. They have such cute ones in the park though just a little more expensive.

Also note, with younger kids they will probably lose their stuff – my son lost his ears at Goofy’s kitchen then also lost his autograph book.

I bought them each a bubble blower in the morning. Those were $25 each but oh so magical. It helped with waiting in line. They brought joy to so many other children. They also lit up in the dark! You could buy a bubble blower beforehand but it won’t be as cute or do as much. I wanted them to have something to remember our trip too.

I bought Disney themed glow sticks and necklaces from the dollar store which were fun for the kids at night.

I bought Disney Temporary Tattoos from the dollar store which we put on the night before the park.

The kids also wanted a light up balloon but I shut that down. They were cool, but those don’t last long and so expensive. If your kid is going to want a balloon get one from Walmart down the street the day before to tie to your stroller.

The only souvenirs that interested me were a Disneyland Hoodie and some pins. Photos were enough for me!

Don’t buy anything large until you are on your way out. You don’t want to carry that around all day.

11. Stroller Security

You are not going to believe me, but someone stole our stroller and backpack while we were on Haunted Mansion. Pretty crummy right! In some ways I wish we didn’t take a stroller because it took so much time to park it then find it after each ride. We also didn’t carry things on us that we should have (like drinking from our water bottles while waiting in line) because we could put it on the stroller. But it was way better than carrying our child around all day even though we still had to carry one around. Luckily nothing too valuable was in there, they got away with some soggy clothes, water shoes, water bottles and half eaten doughnuts.

I was most upset that the kids lost their bubble wands. I already ordered new ones so I feel better! The kids usually took it on the rides, but 1 their bubble solution was all out and 2 they would turn on the lights on the ride which was not okay.

They also took my Polaroid camera, I really should have carried it on me but it was so bulky and not water proof. I had 4-5 printed photos of our family though that are now gone. But jokes on them, it is almost $3 a print haha I am gonna get an Instax soon anyways.

So if you are gonna take a stroller, here is how you keep it safe! Even though this is the happiest place on Earth, people can still be jerks if there is opportunity. What is funny is that I know people without kids that take a stroller just to haul their stuff around. There are hundreds of strollers parked everywhere you just trust it is okay, but really it is just easy to steal. At least we had the sense to keep our valuables on us, I literally bought a new wallet for this reason.

You can buy a stroller lock or bike lock to chain up your wheels and even your backpack to the stroller. You are not allowed to chain it to structures or the fence though because cast members need to move it sometimes for safety.

You can attach a tile tracker. I actually have on and didn’t think to put it on there just because our umbrella stroller and stuff were cheap items.

You can put a lock your backpack zipper.

Mainly, just keep everything valuable on you at all times!

Also, your stuff might not be stolen. I talked to guest relations several times so far about this incident. It is very rare that items are stolen. Usually tired parents take your stroller to the parking lot out of connivence or a cast members moves your stroller for foot traffic.

This was my first time there with a stroller, if we do end up using a stroller again we will keep it safe and probably rent. I fear that renting has an even higher rate of someone taking it for their own use though. Then you have to walk all the way to the front to get a new one.

12. What we want to do next time

1 day was perfect for us. We were all so exhausted after! If we do more than one day we will probably take a break in between. We are sad we didn’t get to visit California Adventures because my daughter loves Frozen and my son loves Cars. We really are big Pixar fans! But it just would have been too much for us. The 3 day pass is nice because it is the best deal, comes with magic morning and you can do a day at California Adventures.

We would definitely carry our water bottles on us at all times and stay hydrated! As well as more Cliff Bars and FILLING snacks.

Next time I would just get snacks throughout the day (in addition to our cliff bars and own snacks). None of the food stops are filling unless you do a sit down restaurant. I would rather just get snacks and eat while waiting in line for a ride.

We would do Splash Mountain in the morning or at night. The wait was 2 hours without a fast pass in the afternoon, even with our fast passes we had to wait awhile.

Unfortunately Fantasmic was closed on the day we went. Everyone said this was the best show ever so I wanted to see it! The Alien Pizza Planet was also closed and that probably would have been the best meal for our kids.

We would go on a non-magic morning day. Middle of May was not that bad for crowds so I liked the time we chose to go. Most schools don’t get out until the end of May or in June. January and February are the least crowded but also the coldest so that would be hard with young ones.

I really want to do the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for Tempe when she is a little older and can remember it. It was so cute seeing all the little girls decked out as princesses everywhere!

I would ride the tea cups once it is dark! They look amazing at night all lit up!

I also want to get into Pin Trading! When I had to go see guest relations, the girl in front of me traded pins with them. It seems so fun to learn all the secrets from the cast members!

I would also stop by guest relations for a free pin, my kids were first timers and could have gotten cute pins in the morning! I also hear that you can get free stuff with them sometimes! They have pins for your birthday or celebrating an anniversary or even becoming a Disneyland Citizen by answering trivia. You get special treatment from the cast members for having these pins.

I want to make us matching shirts, make our own ears, or even dress up in costumes! I saw a lot of girls with Mickey Mouse ears made out of their hair buns. I could have had my undercut be Disney themed or even done my nails if we had planned our trip sooner!

I wish I would have taken more videos of the kids’ reactions to the rides and characters! As well as more photos around the park, not just in line or on the rides. The park itself is so magical and filled with fun details everywhere.

We are already planning our next Disneyland trip! We want to do 3 days at Disneyland next time, with one day at the beach and a character dinner still. One day in Disneyland for rides, one day in California Adventure, then one day in Disneyland for all the characters, shows, admiring the details and finding all the secrets!

I would love to hear your best tips in the comments!

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5/17/2019

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Disneyland with a 3 year old and 5 year old

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