Ask a DisNerd – Toddling Through the Parks

Hello, everybody, and welcome to a special edition of “Ask a DisNerd!” Though normally posted on a bi-weekly basis, I’ve decided to answer this one off of schedule, because I think it’s such a good question to be addressed for families thinking of taking a trip to a Disney Park with little ones in tow. Confessions reader Lyndsey asks, “What are the best rides/shows/restaurants for families with toddlers? People say you shouldn’t go to Disney with toddlers and I have to believe there is a good plan for families with small children. Thanks!”

"I may be little, but I'm ready to find my way around a theme park!"

“I may be little, but I’m ready to find my way around a theme park!”

Lyndsey, this is a great question. Having been taking my daughter since she was 20 months old, I feel I have some answers for you. However, I feel I should note as well that what works for one does not necessarily work for others. This is just the opinion of one DisNerd (but others, feel free to join in the discussion in the comments section!).

To really answer the question, I’d start with the second part that’s more of a statement: “People say you shouldn’t go to Disney with toddlers and I have to believe there is a good plan for families with small children.” There is most definitely such a plan. It’s called going FOR the toddler. The instant you forget you’re taking this trip for them, you’re missing out on the reason you’re going. Your kids are going to move at a different pace than you. They may want to look at a fountain when you’re trying to make it to a ride, but remember: this is the first time they’ve seen that fountain. There’s childlike wonder in the little things that we take for granted; things that we only pay attention to after we’ve made it onto the newest ride.

My daughter's favorite attraction on her first trip may have been a cement slab in place for construction - but what fun it was!

My daughter’s favorite attraction on her first trip may have been a cement slab in place for construction – but what fun it was!

With that being said, remember they’re likely to be overwhelmed – I still can be myself when I walk through those gates! Great “first rides” would be Dumbo or It’s a Small World – rides that are relatively tame, but to a young one’s mind bursting with wonder and color. I learned the hard way after going with a friend and his three year old for the first time many years back that Pirates Of the Caribbean probably isn’t a great ride to start with on a child’s first trip! That comes later – IF you decide they’re ready for it. They may not be. The first trip we took, my daughter went on any ride we would take her on. However the next few times we went, she went on very few rides: It’s a Small World, Dumbo, Mad Tea Party, King Arthur’s Carousel and the Main Street Vehicles were some of the only attractions she’d be willing to go on. But that was okay. Mom and Dad may not have been able to ride everything they wanted to (Grandparents and single rider lines allow for some wiggle room), but we were able to have fun with our child, who absolutely loved meeting characters, watching parades and walking through stores. She was in her element, and we made some truly magical memories.

So what rides exactly would I say are good for toddlers? Having only been to the Disneyland Resort, I can offer up a short list from there. However, as I say, it’s different for all. Rides that may work (but not necessarily limited to) are:

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

It’s a Small World

Mad Tea Party

Casey Jr’s Circus Train

King Arthur’s Carousel

Peter Pan’s Flight (A great choice for a first dark ride experience)


The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Main Street Vehicles

Mickey’s Fun Wheel (Non-swinging gondolas recommended for first timers!)

The LIttle Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (Another good first dark ride choice.)

King Triton’s Carousel

Good shows include:

Mickey and the Magical Map

Disney Junior Live on Stage

Any of the street entertainment in Disney California Adventure

Soundsational Parade

Pixar Play Parade

As far as restaurants, the best I can say is it depends on your child’s taste, as well as how well they would sit in table service locations such as Carnation Cafe or Cafe Orleans. Also, if it’s their first time, I would recommend against making reservations for character dining until your little one has met characters. Some kids can be quite intimidated – add that to the child being strapped into a high chair as a giant fuzzy head comes toward them…well, it might not be so pretty!

This list is nowhere near complete – feel free to add yours to the list in the comments section!

For more great tips and ideas on this subject, I highly recommend the wonderful Babes in Disneyland blog!

Most important is, have fun! It doesn’t matter what age you take them. Just be prepared to compromise your expectations with your child’s experience. See it through their eyes instead, and I’m sure you’ll have a blast!

4 thoughts on “Ask a DisNerd – Toddling Through the Parks

  1. I agree with Craig! I’ve been taking my boys since the oldest was ten months and the youngest was 2 months! A lot of people say they do not remember (my oldest remembers things from when we went when he was 2) but I don’t think that matters. They have a blast in that moment! They LOVE looking back at photos of themselves as “babies.”

    I give advice to a lot of others when it comes to going to the parks with little ones. First is, go at their pace! (like Craig mentioned). It’s SO much more enjoyable for the kids and for you! Some of our favorite memories are of my son dancing to the jazz band in New Orleans square, taking a time out to listen to the ragtime piano at Coke Corner, and watching the marching band!

    Second thing that works well for us is to take a lot of breaks! Like Craig mentioned, the parks are overwhelming to kids. We like to take a break every 1.5-2 hours (even now and they are 4 & 5 years old). It gives us all time to eat a snack, hydrate, go potty, etc. And we ALL feel better after, even the adults. We realized we needed to do this early on with our kids, who are used to grazing all day. They get hungry and that equals cranky and melt downs. We take our own little convenience store with us! LOL. we have a small backpack dedicated to snacks. Plus a small, soft sided cooler for waters and fruit. I try to pack new and different snacks so the boys focus and eat, because a lot of times they want to go, go, go. Disney has never questioned us about our food. I have read though, that they don’t allow sandwich makings in, loaf of bread, jar of PBJ, etc.,but they will allow pre-made sandwiches in (something we have done a lot and saved tons of money that way)

    Third, and one of the most important things to me, is the baby centers! They have been such a life saver for my family. In fact, we still use them for the training toilets for my little guy who has a public toilet phobia. 😉 There’s one in Disneyland, on Main Street USA, next to the camera store and near the Little Red corn Dog Wagon and there’s one in CA Adventure in Pacific Wharf behind Ghiradelli. They have PADDED changing tables! A private nursing area (which I swear I lived in when we took my youngest at 2 months), high chairs, training toilets (mini flushing toilets), a microwave for use, filtered water with a great faucet to refill water bottles, sippy cups, or bottles, and they sell baby items in case you forget or lose something. And one of the best reasons why we like going in the baby centers is: they are QUIET!! It’s a little safe haven for us to escape the hustle and bustle of the parks if only for a couple of minutes. Plus, its warm in the winter and cool in the summer!

    We, personally like taking our own stroller. I know the stroller debate can be quite heated, but for us, it works. We like that the kids can fall asleep on the walk back to the hotel, and we aren’t stuck carrying them back all the way. We carry our snack bag and cooler in the stroller, plus sweatshirts and blankets. I have heard of items disappearing from strollers, or the entire stroller itself. We have never had that happen before. We clearly mark our strollers, so they are easier to find. Also, don’t panic if you come out and your stroller isn’t where you left it. A lot of times the CM’s move them to organize them more, so you just need to look around more. And NEVER leave valuables or something you cannot replace in the strollers! I have seen DSLR cameras hanging on strollers as well as purses and merchandise bags. It’s just not worth the risk. If you have something valuable, rent a locker =)

    So, go with the flow, don’t expect to get the same things done you used to get done before you had kids, and take lots and lots of photos! Taking you children to the parks is beyond magical. Seeing the joy in their eyes is worth every penny! Getting to see the parks again through your children’s eyes is an experience I hope I never forget because it fills my heart with happiness! Most of all, have fun!!!!

  2. You hit it outta the park! Disneyland for toddlers ? YES !!!!! We have taken both our grandsons at very young ages. Our youngest grandson is not 2 yrs. old and has been MANY times already. With other adults present, there is always child swap and Fast Pass helps. But BEST of all I get to look at rides, shows , even little cement slabs through fresh eyes . One of our trips through Small World Holiday, we sat in row in front of grandson and his parents, and we looked back the entire ride, watching him . And to hear a little boy , about 15 mos. old point , yelling Woo-Woo , Woo-Woo (what is calls Goofy) and start reaching for him, just made my day. What a topic ! I could talk this subject all day.

  3. Another great idea for going with toddlers (and younger,and older) is picture taking. We had our six month old dress as Minnie Mouse and started the day in Mickey’s ToonTown. It was off season, so it was very empty, and Minnie came out for a meet and greet and spent 10 minutes taking pictures with us. Later we were changing her in the stroller in Tomorrowland (we forgot about the excellent Baby Stations mentioned previously) and mommy ended up yelling “My child is naked in Disneyland!” awesome times.

  4. Just wanted to post a new question. Considering the caliber of films Disney is putting out(Tangled, Wreck-it Ralph, and Frozen), do you think we are seeing a new Disney Renaissance? If yes what other stories would you like to see them adapt?

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