Tips for Parents of Toddlers on Disneyland and California Adventure

Disclaimer: These are my opinions and impressions. Please verify all height and child size requirements with the operator of the attraction. Ultimately you know your child best and you know what will and will not work for him/her.


I’m not a Disneyland lover, nor am I hater of Disneyland. These tips are based on a recent trip to Disneyland. Take them with a grain of salt and lots and lots of water 🙂


My childhood was more about Legos than Mickey Mouse, so I have no attachment to Disneyland. I don’t hate Disneyland, but I don’t love it either. These tips are based on my observations and experiences in going to Disneyland and California Adventure with a toddler.

Warning to those whose kids are less than 40 inches tall

If your kid is less than 40 inches tall, then we have to talk. Actually, we should talk if your child is under 4 too. I’m talking to you in a parent-to-parent way. It’s your choice to take it or leave it.

We went to Disneyland a while back when our son was around 3. It was a miserable experience. He couldn’t stand by himself in line, so we ended up having to carry him in all the lines. Then when he got to see Micky (at one point), he freaked out. We spent lots of money on a very miserable experience.

If your child is too small, you would be better served by going to a place like Gilroy Gardens.

Additionally, 40 inches is the bare minimum for lots of fun rides. If your child is too small, you’re setting yourself for misery and lots of expense. Now if this is a trip down memory lane for you, then that’s fine. Admit to it, accept the misery and enjoy the happiest place on earth.

General Tips

  • Never leave home without a stroller. Regardless of his view of being a ‘big boy’, our son was in the stroller for most of the trip. This is not surprising considering the amount of walking we did (my Pedometer++ showed me that I logged over 20,000 steps on our day in Disneyland). I was thankful that for the most part he stood in the lines by himself.

  • Never leave home without your refillable water cup. I’m referring to the ones that give you unlimited soda for the day. They’re made of hard plastic and have a convenient handle that can strap right on a stroller handle. We have such a cup from Gilroy Gardens and it helped us on the trip in 2 ways:

  1. Everywhere we went we could get free ice and water (and this cup can hold LOTS of ice and water). This was extremely helpful for all that Southern California heat, and our son drank cold water from it all of the time.
  2. We saved lots of money by not getting any soda (besides the health benefits of drinking water).
  • It is very difficult to find discounts for Disney tickets beyond the expensive Disney packages. We found a $3 per ticket discount at the Cleaver Brothers’ Discount shop. I’m not sure how the Cleavers managed this, but my resourceful wife could not find any other place for daily ticket discounts. The shop (off Katella Ave) was very non-pressure and the staff were very knowledgeable. In fact, this is the place where I got the FastPass strategy of using the MouseWait app (see below).

FastPass Tips and Tricks

I would love to see the queueing theory behind Disney’s implementation of FastPass. Regardless – it is very useful for popular rides that have long lines.

Basics of FastPass:

  • It is free (yes I know…it is shocking to get something free from Disney)
  • You can get a FastPass for each of your entry tickets only once per hour (except for nightly show…see below).
  • The FastPass machines for a particular rides will be geographically close to those rides. So you may be walking back-and-forth between the attraction that you want to go to right now, and the one that you want a FastPass for. So a parental divide-and-conquer approach might be useful.
  • Use your phone’s timer to countdown the hour until the availability of the next FastPass.
  • The night shows (like Disneyland’s Fantasmic) require a FastPass but they do not count in terms of the hourly limit of FastPass. So if you’re interested in any of the night shows, you should immediately get a FastPass when you arrive at Disneyland or California Adventure.
  • Sometimes waiting for FastPass is not worth it. We had this experience in Carsland where we rode the Radiator Spring Racer ride twice while a family using the FastPass did only once. Of course this depends on time of day, etc…
  • Disney has a FastPass app for Disney World but not for Disneyland (who knows why). So the next alternative is to use the MouseWait app. It is a bit cheesy (yes – pun intended) but useful for determining the attractions with the longest wait times. By knowing this, you can determine your FastPass strategy.
  • FastPass recommendations:
  • Space Mountain
  • Runaway Railway
  • Hollywood Tower of Terror
  • Star Tours
  • Roger Rabbit was definitely not worth it for a FastPass (in fact, most of Toon Town is questionable as an attraction)

Additional Impressions while running around with a 40″ tall child

California Adventure


  • The attractions mentioned in the FastPass section above detail the Disneyland rides that will work for a 40″ child.
  • Not much shade: Disneyland is ridiculously hot. To me it felt like California Adventure had more shade than Disneyland, but this might have had more to do with the larger crowds in Disneyland.
  • Constantly get ice water and drink lots and lots of water.


Have fun and enjoy and make sure to wear really good shoes…and drink lots and lots of water (I may have mentioned that already).