Taking your Toddler to Disneyland

Recently my very dear friend Margie and I took our toddlers (under 2 years old) to Disneyland for the day.  We went on separate occasions about a week apart.  We discussed the experience, how to do it the ‘right way,’ and how to get the most out of the day.  Also of course, how to keep us and our little ones sane.  We both drove to Disney from Phoenix, which is about 5.5 hours away.  Here are some of our tips from how to get there, where to stay, and what to do while at the park.

For the drive

Margie: Leave at bedtime and drive through night.  Aspen sleeps so well in the car that is why we drive at her bed time.  If you have a baby that doesn’t I would not suggest it.

Heather:  This is what I was most worried about!  We left right after we got up in the morning and had breakfast.  My husband drove and I sat with Autumn and played with her during the day.  I bought a few new books, downloaded some baby playlists, and bought a new toy to keep her entertained.  We stopped for lunch, changed her diaper, and walked around.  She napped after lunch for a few hours, and then we were there.  We had very little complaining in the car.

For the stay

Margie: Stay at a hotel within walking distance so heading back for a major blowout and nap time is easy.

Heather: Yes, yes, yes.  Can’t agree more!  We both stayed at the Best Western right across from the park.  It’s definitely not a luxury hotel, but it is a place to sleep that is clean.

Margie: Keep nap schedule!

Heather: If you can get you little one to nap, good for you.  Autumn had so much sensory overload she didn’t nap at all, and stayed up way past her bedtime.  We tried hard to get her to nap, but here was 0 chance it was going to happen.

For the Park

Margie: Use stroller in park.  The park has great stroller parking areas and then it’s easy to carry food, extra clothing, water/juice.

Heather:  You can take any food and drink into the park you want as long as it’s not in a glass container, and it’s not alcohol.  We brought carrot sticks, raisins, cliff bars, peanut butter pretzels, rice cakes, and lots of water.

Margie: Stay in magic kingdom. Not worth wasting money on entrance to CA adventure with a baby.

Heather:  I didn’t go to California adventure, so I can’t comment on this.

Understanding the Baby Exchange

The baby exchange is a great way for the adults to ride adult rides while still entertaining your little one.  You walk up to the cast member who is at the front of the ride you want to ride, and let them know you are doing a baby exchange.  They give you a little slip and one parent stays with the child and the other gets to ride the ride.  The second rider gets to go through the fastpass line when the 1st rider is finished.  The baby exchange pass is good for three people.  If you want some good karma for the day, bring along some strangers and make new friends.

***PLEASE NOTE:  You have to show your child to the cast member, they won’t give you a pass without proof that you have a kid.  My husband tried to get an exchange pass while I was changing Autumn and they didn’t let him have it.***
Getting the Most Out of the Park

I followed this guide and found it to be very helpful and accurate (even though it is from 2012.)


Here are a few things to highlight from the above article.

  • They are stricter on fast passes since this article was published.  You have to go during the times allotted.  They will turn  you away.
  • If you plan to go first thing in the morning WHICH I HIGHLY SUGGEST plan to be at the park at least 30 minutes before it opens.  There will already a pretty big line to get into the park as well as a line at bag check.
  • Decide which ride you are going to get a fastpass for, and what ride you are going to go on first.  Do this before you get into the park.  Get the fastpass first and go directly to that first ride you want to ride.  For us we got fastpasses for Hyperspace Mountain, and hurried over to Star Tours and got on the ride with no wait.
  • You should get fastpasses for these rides: Space Mountain, Star Tours, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones.
  • When it gets to be around 11am or noon you should leave.  The wait times are just ridiculous.  We went to the hotel room from 12 to around 5.  Had dinner out of the park at 4:30 ish and headed back when we were done.
  • Download the Disney App to check the wait times for rides.  They are very accurate.
  • The Haunted Mansion may be too scary for your child.  Even though there are no height restrictions.  Autumn took a nap during it, but it is a lot scarier than I remember.

Other Randomness

Margie: The Tiki Room,  It’s a Small World and musical performances were Aspen’s favorite.  If your baby loves music hits those for sure.

Heather: Autumn wasn’t really interested in any characters or rides.  She did love the music, watching the rides from afar, and there were bubbles everywhere.  Her favorite thing was playing with the stone ball rotating in water in Tomorrowland.  Autumn was afraid of the Tiki Room which I was really surprised about.

Hopefully this gives you a few tips and tricks that will be useful for your visit.  If you have any other pointers please comment below :D.  Also, many thanks to Margie for contributing to this article!


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