Our kids are now 4 yrs old & 10 months old, and they’ve already been to Disneyland and/or Disneyland Hong Kong three times! If you count the times we did 2-Day passes, it actually amounts to five times.
We never meant for this to happen. I’m not Disney-obsessed. In fact, I’ve been known to even sometimes feign disgust over it’s overly sugary empire. But we do like amusement parks. And as it turns out, I must have a soft-spot for Disney. We went in college during Spring Break; Mike and I went to Animal Kingdom in Orlando when it first opened. And here we are, with kids under five who’ve already been three different times.
The first time we did it, I just wanted the older child to have a different experience in LA, to try something just for him. But then we got addicted to the wonder and joy it brought out in him. I actually cried the first time I watched him watch the parade. (I know; I’m ridiculous.)
So, here are a few overall tips for going to Disneyland and then, just to help me remember these trips, here’s what we did each trip. Maybe it’ll help you set your own expectations for your family.
Tips for doing Disneyland with an infant and a preschooler:
- Bring snacks. Disneyland allows outside food as long as it fits inside a reasonably-sized backpack or lunch bag, and it’s not in glass tupperware (exact dimensions are on their website). We never brought enough for an entire meal, but we’ve seen people who have. We usually just bring drinks, fresh fruit, and all the dry snacks. We have a child who is highly motivated by food, so meltdowns can be thwarted with the promise of a snack. We used that to our advantage.
- We took the biggest stroller we had. To L.A., we brought the double stroller; to Hong Kong, we only had an umbrella stroller. Big stroller means more cargo space, so we also brought a picnic blanket (to sit and watch the parade), food, diaper bag, etc. The double stroller also meant we had a place to put baby down when we weren’t ergo-ing here. For a long day at a place like Disney, it’s always nice to have that option. Please note you cannot take strollers in line, so if your kid falls asleep in the stroller, you can take advantage of that by waiting in line somewhere. There are plenty of designated spots for stroller parking (some more convenient than others). We often put a baby blanket over our stroller for easy spotting (there are hundreds of strollers!) and to keep it out of direct sun.
- We usually ergo-ed the infant on rides or when waiting in line. Disney has several rides where people of any height, including infants, can ride. There are others with a height limit. In those instances, you can do rider-switch where one parents waits with baby then gets a turn on the ride. We probably only used this option once or twice to be honest.
- We had a diaper bag full of stuff (extra clothes, extra diapers for the little one, etc), but I also brought a small cross-body purse where I kept my phone, a small bottle of water, snacks, and the iPad. That way I could just grab that bag for time spent in line. We mostly used MaxPass or FastPass for rides, but some rides like Peter Pan (which is the older child’s favorite and one we can all ride together) don’t have that option, so that means we will usually wait for at least 45 minutes. Having access to an iPad and snacks and re-hydrating during that wait helped us pass the time.
- Download the Disneyland App for the park you are visiting. It’ll tell you wait times and give you a map allowing you to make some decisions before arriving to the ride itself.
- Have a general plan. Check out the map, know which rides your kids can ride. Consider what you’d like to do, but be super flexible because…well, because KIDS.
- Get the MaxPass (usable on your mobile phone via the app) and use FastPass whenever possible. This will cut your wait times in over 1/2. It’s worth it.
MaxPass will give you a time slot when you can ride a ride via your phone. You don’t even have to go to the ride beforehand. You just show up during that window of time, and just walk right in. FastPass is the older version: you go to the ride, get a ticket from the ride telling you when you can come back. Obviously not having to go to the ride line twice is much better. You go through the same, shorter line, but it’s just two different ways of gaining entrance to that short line!
We LOVED the MaxPass. I’m lucky to have a partner who is a planner. He would get the MaxPass for us while we were on one side of the park, so that once we got to the other side, we’d just walk right into whatever ride he thought we’d enjoy. There were, of course, times when we didn’t get there in time, and we didn’t use all the MaxPasses we got. But Disneyland was also pretty great about having some flexibility and grace period if we missed the window by 10-15 minutes here and there. And we were comfortable with changing plans as needed.
- If you have other adults with you, consider riding an adult ride if you enjoy that sort of thing. Or, if you’re staying close by at a Disney resort, consider putting the kids to bed early, having grandparents or aunts/uncles watch them, and going back for night-time Disney which is magical in a whole different way! This isn’t always possible, but especially with several adults, it’s not impossible.
And now, so you have a realistic expectation of what you might get to do, here’s what I remember we got to do on our three different trips.
Disneyland: Summer 2017
(Kids’ Ages: 3 years+7 months and 2 months)
This trip we ended up getting a 2-Day Pass. We went almost all day on Day 1 and for a 1/2 Day on Day 2.
Day 1: (Hours stayed: ~12 hours!; Rides completed: 3??; Characters met: 4?; Rides waited for but not ridden: 2; Other experiences: 1 Parade & 1 Fireworks Show)
We went as early as we could, but it was still about 10:30am by the time we got into the park. We did stop to take a picture in front of the castle, but we basically went straight to the Peter Pan ride to beat the crowds and since it doesn’t have a Max or FastPass option. A potty-break followed and since Snow White & the Evil Queen were out taking pictures and the line wasn’t long, we stayed for a photo op.
We ate an early lunch somewhere nearby (but I can’t remember where or what.)
Then, we headed to Toon Town where the kid played on the play structures. This was our first time taking the kids to Disney, so we wanted to make sure to get those iconic photos. We got pictures with Mickey and Minnie Mouse and saw their little homes.
We then walked over to try and ride the Disneyland train, but after waiting over 40 minutes and not knowing when we’d get on, we gave up and comforted ourselves with ice cream and found a spot for the parade. (A note about the train: some people love it and say it’s a must-do. But no one is required to get off, so it’s hard to know how long the wait will be. We rode it on our second day and vowed it was not worth ever trying to do it again.)
We were about 45 minutes early for the parade, so we laid out our sleeping bag, ate some snacks, and rested. The parade was magical. Watching the older kid get so excited and into it was so awesome. I think this very well may be why I keep wanting to go.
Next ride was It’s a Small World. Kid loved it and sang the song long afterwards.
We then headed to Tomorrowland hoping the kid would ride the Astroblaster ride, but he was a little too afraid, so we had another snack from the restaurant there.
Then we rode the monorail to Downtown Disney to meet friends for dinner at the Earl of Sandwich.
We walked back to Disneyland for the fireworks which were awesome. What a magical ending to a magical, full, but exhausting day!
Day 2: (Hours stayed: ~5 hours; Rides completed: 3?, but we rode 1 ride 3 times!; Characters met: 5?)
This day, we stayed on the other side of the park: Adventureland/Frontierland/Critter Country, etc. The first thing we did was ride that darn train! There was almost no line, so we waited what we were told would be about 15 minutes, but it took over 40 yet again. But we did actually ride it this time. We did one whole loop + a stop getting off at Critter Country. Baby girl had a diaper blow out on the train, so I changed her diaper AND clothes on that train.
After getting off at Critter Country, we rode the Winnie the Pooh ride and then met all the Winnie the Pooh characters to take pictures with them (Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, etc….) The kid loved the Winnie the Pooh ride so much, and it’s such a “kiddie ride” with hardly any line, that we actually rode it three times that day!
Lunch was at the Hungry Bear restaurant.
We also rode the kid’s first “real” roller coaster: Thunder Mountain Railroad! I got to do this with him, and it was awesome. He was just 40″ which is the height limit.
We also had Dole Whip (yum!), and the kid & his dad rode the ferry to the Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island for some free play.
We left the park early that day, but we were all wiped out any way. The kid passed out in his stroller on our way out and napped all the way home.
Disneyland: Winter 2017
(Kids’ Ages: 3 years+11 months and 6 months)
(Hours stayed: ~12 hours; Rides completed: 14!!, but we rode some rides several times; Characters met: 0; Other experiences: some musical show at the Golden Horseshoe Restaurant)
We went back to Disneyland during our winter trip to LA and caught the park decorated for the Christmas holidays which is a special experience in and of itself.
We only went for one, full day and made a plan to have the older kid nap in a stroller, so he wouldn’t be so over-tired at the end of the day. We were warned about the crowds during the holidays (peak time!), and yes, there were definitely more people and waiting then we were used to, but between MaxPass and flexibility, we were able to make good use of our time. I mean, the kid somehow rode 14 rides!
After a quick pause to take a picture in front of the giant Christmas tree, our first ride was “Finding Nemo,” an underwater, submarine ride. It was different and cute.
Then, we successfully got the kid to actually ride “Astroblasters” (he was too afraid last time). Dad & son did some driving at “Autopia” which the kid loved so much, he did it again with me later that night after dinner.
While I grabbed a table and food with the baby in Tomorrowland, dad & son went on “Star Tours”. We got a rider switch for this but never ended up using it. I’ll just have to check it out another time.
Then we went on “It’s a Small World” and watched the parade.
Post-parade, we found the least-crowded, least-stimulating walkways and walked the kid around in the stroller and sure enough, he fell alseep! Parents got some caffeine and pastries while the child slept. He probably got about an hour’s nap and would’ve slept longer if we hadn’t tried to carry him into a line.
We tried to sneak him asleep into the line for “Peter Pan”. He woke up, though, and waited using the iPad for his favorite ride.
Between his nap and dinner get a little fuzzy. We rode “It’s a Small World” another time; Did we ride “Thunder Mountain Railroad”? We definitely saw that silly singing show at the Golden Horseshoe Restaurant while the kid snacked and we indulged in Dole Whip.
Dinner was at Downtown Disney again with the same friends and at the same place, always good to connect with friends and watch our kids play.
Then we took the Monorail back sitting in the first car which was a whole different experience! The Monorail dropped us off right by “Autopia,” so we did that again.
We wanted to watch Fantasia, but the kid was feeling strangely afraid of fireworks this trip (he seemed to like them last time), so instead, we did a few rounds of “Winnie the Pooh.”
After Winnie the Pooh, we were on our way out of the park when we saw the “Dumbo” had a short line. So we did “Dumbo” making it our 14th and final ride. Now, again, I don’t remember how we got to 14, but a facebook post from that trip says 14, and I trust that more than my memory 6 months later!
Disneyland for the holidays is beautiful and packed and can still be fun with some planning and patience!
Disneyland Hong Kong: Spring 2018
(Kids’ Ages: 4 years+ 3 months and 10 months)
When we decided to go to Hong Kong to introduce the family to the baby, we decided to go ahead and go to Disneyland in Hong Kong, too! We knew it’d be similar, but our cousins were willing to come along with us, and prices were better than in the states, so we decided to just do it!
We got a 2 Day Pass this time AND stayed at the Hong Kong Disneyland Hollywood Hotel between those two days. For dinner after the first day, we went to a Character Buffet with pretty decent food and where Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and Pluto come around to say hello to the diners! So fun!
Day 1: (Hours stayed: ~4 hours; Rides completed: 2; Characters met: 3 (but THE BEST ONES according to the kid; Other experiences: 1 Parade, Swimming at the hotel pool, & Character Buffet Dinner)
We went to Hong Kong’s Disneyland using public transportation. There’s a special train that takes you to the park, and it is adorable! Of course it is…it’s Disney.
We didn’t plan to take too long at the park. We just wanted to get there, do a few things, then check in to our hotel and use its amenities. Hong Kong’s Disneyland has a more developed Marvel Universe, and the older kid is really into superheroes, so we really focused on that for this day.
We arrived and went first to the “Iron Man” ride. Baby girl wasn’t allowed on, so dad & son went on this while we waited. Afterwards, we met and took pictures with Groot who happened to be out, and then we lined up to meet Iron Man himself. The kid was pretty hungry and impatient during the wait, but it was so worth it. He later said it was his favorite part of the day.
Lunch followed, and it was an Iron Man-themed lunch; we even splurged for the special Iron Man collector’s cup. After eating, we walked over to Adventureland because we heard Black Panther would be there. Sure enough, we were first in line to meet him, and it was such a cool experience. “Wakanda Forever!”
We rode the “Jungle Cruise” afterwards. And then it was perfect time to grab a spot for the parade, so we got ice cream and sat down. After watching the parade, we made our way to the hotel. The first thing we did at the hotel after checking in was put the kid down for a nap. He slept for over two hours!
Baby girl and I went for a swim, and by the time the oldest was awake, it was darker and chillier, and he didn’t want to swim. He watched me and dad swim while grandparents played with the baby. Then, we all showered and went to dinner with grandparents and an aunt.
Dinner was pretty good (sushi was available!), and all the little character-themed food was too cute. It wasn’t cheap, though, so I’m glad it was such a positive experience with each character taking the time to take photos with each table and etc.
We slept fairly well at the hotel (They provided a crib and guard rails for one of the beds), and it was just nice to be so close to the action!
Day 2: (Hours stayed: ~10 hours; Rides completed: 3-5 depending on who you are; Characters met: 1; Other experiences: 1 Festival of the Lion King & 1 Becoming Iron Man Experience)
This was Mike’s birthday! He got a pin that said “Birthday Boy” from Disney, but he didn’t wear it.
We woke up earlier than the park opened (didn’t open until 10am!), so we went to the hotel’s game room to play. It was a free space with games and toys and a perfect way to spend our time while Mike checked us out.
Then we rode the shuttle bus to the park, and I took the older kid to meet Iron Man again while Mike & baby waited for everyone to show up. Once everyone got there, and the kid & I had met Iron Man again, we had a loooooong lunch with the family. There were five kids and seven adults, so everything just took longer overall.
After lunch, some of the adults and bigger kids went on the Iron Man ride while the rest of us waited. Then, our child wanted to do the Iron Man experience where you are digitally made into Iron Man and then put into a video game where you can blast things, so Mike and baby waited with him while I and the rest of the cousins went to see the parade.
After the parade, we walked around hoping some of the kids would nap, but they didn’t. So we walked over to “It’s a Small World” and enjoyed the air conditioning of that ride. We were lucky enough to have a Priority Pass, so we didn’t have to wait too long.
Then, we all shared in an ice cream break!
Afterwards, we walked around again, trying to nap some of the kiddos, but only one fell asleep! We did walk through Toy Story Land which is unique to Hong Kong, and it is really well done and cool to just look.
We got to the Festival of the Lion King about 45 minutes before the show began, so most of us went in to wait and watch. It was a good show – a little loud but exciting and entertaining.
Then, most of us rode the Winnie the Pooh ride while one dad was on the train with a sleeping kid!
After Winnie the Pooh, one family went home, and the rest of us ate dinner together. After dinner, three adults left three kids with two adults to go ride a 42″ or taller ride: Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars. It was surprisingly fun, even after just having eaten dinner.
The kid wanted to ride Winnie the Pooh again, so everyone else left for home while we went once more on Winnie the Pooh.
We left at about 7:30, right before the evening lights parade began, and we made good time back to MongKok.
This was probably the least “efficient” day we’ve ever had at Disneyland, but we got such good quality time with our extended family and their kids. That was really the point any way, so all that time spent just walking and eating were the real highlights. Having the kids experience some new things in the midst of it all was just an additional plus!
If you’re heading to Disneyland with kids under five, best of luck with all the logistics and details and planning! We’ve enjoyed each visit we’ve made and have learned to be flexible and savor the small moments where they’re just captivated or delighted by the experience. And, trust me, they will be!