Top Tips for a Family Trip to Disneyland

I grew up going to Disneyland every few years as a kid. My mom, aunt and Grandma would load us all up in a couple of cars, embark on an epic drive (this was before in-car DVDs and way before iPads!) We played the license plate game for eight hours…Once in LA we would go to Disneyland for a day or two, play in the pool, and then drive home again. It was always fun, and we were always eager to go back!

So, now as a parent myself, with IMG_6366two boys under three years old, it was time to take a family trip to Disneyland. We roped in three other families, and booked a hotel for early December. Half of us drove, and the other half flew. Cost-wise, driving our families in an SUV was about the same as flying. It takes longer, so you end up stopping for the bathroom, gas, lunch, ice cream, and the bathroom again. I suggest going midweek, (for a few reasons we’ll discuss later) and leaving early – like 6-7am. Then you arrive by early afternoon, have time to get settled, and leisurely make your way out for dinner. We left at about 10am, and while we missed the commute traffic leaving the Bay Area, we hit it in LA – which was NOT fun, as you can probably imagine.

I wanted to spend two days inside Disney – one in Disneyland and one in California Disney – but my husband insisted on three days!

The first day, a Thursday, all 15 of us (eight adults, and seven kids under six years old) gathered in the lobby of our hotel, and slowly made our way to the park. We decided on Disneyland for day one. We headed to the back of the park first, Toon Town, and then worked our way forward. Although it was slow going with 15 people, four strollers and three preschoolers who insisted on not riding in those strollers, we had a fairly successful day.

Top tips from day one:

  1. Go in a group – this allows you to divide and conquer. Inevitable, one of the little ones would be napping, when we got to a ride with a long line. This allowed someone to stay with the sleeping babies, and the rest of the group to enjoy the ride. This also meant that there were multiple adults in the line for the ride, when one of the kids decided that they really needed to pee!
  2. Bring extras of everything! I don’t pack light, never have never will. Along with a diaper bag under the stroller, I also have two hamster bags, which clip onto the side. These are easy to grab when you have to park the stroller and queue for a ride. I keep valuables in the one I take with me, as well as a snack for my big guy and a bottle/toy/pacifier for my little guy. I pack extra clothes for all of us, sort of, because you never know when a diaper is going to leak all over you, or someone might get a bit sick from the spinning tea cups, and you know…I also take extra baby food/formula etc. We always end up staying later than expected, and for little ones, food inside Disney isn’t always totally kid friendly.
  3. Hidden baby centers – we found these when my oldest was having a meltdown and we were trying to get away from the crowds a bit. All of a sudden we came across this magical little room which included changing tables, nursing chairs, a toddler size table and chair set, and SUPPLIES! If you lose your only bottle, drop that pacifier, or fail to bring enough baby puffs – these baby centers have it all, including formula, extra diapers, and more. For a fee of course, but much more convenient than having to trek back to your hotel right?
  4. Feeding the kiddos – There are so many choices for food within the park, from burgers and pizza, to kebabs, and seafood, but for a picky little one make sure to look for the snack packs on the menu – these include healthy options, like fruit, yogurt, applesauce, milk, water, crackers, and something sweet usually, like fruit snacks.IMG_6492
  5. Napping and quiet time – everyone needs some down time. We found a few great places to escape from the crowds. Tom Sawyer’s Island – although not really stroller friendly, it was great for my older one. You take the raft across the river, and the kids can run across barrel bridge, through caves, and climb over rocks. The Nemo submarine ride was relaxing and mellow. It takes about 10-15 minutes, it’s quiet and dark with soothing music. Two of the kids fell asleep while on this ‘ride’. On Main Street you can also find a small little cinema showing old Steamboat Willie clips. This is a great place to hide if it’s rainy, or super hot. It’s a small quiet and cool room with 360 degree screens. 


For day two we headed straight into Disney California, and under cover. It hardly ever rains in LA, so of course we were not prepared. We parked the strollers under cover, and sought out a ride that was indoors. After a little while the sun did return. We explored Bugs Land, which was great for the preschoolers and babies, and Cars Land was a huge hit for the two little boys in our group who are slightly obsessed with Mater and Lightning McQueen! The food options are different in the California side, there is a sort of food court area, which is great if you’re in a large group, and not everyone can agree on one place. There is also a winery/restaurant on site, one of the very few place within either park which you can buy alcohol.

Top tips from day two:

  1. The stores sell ponchos – they might be behind the desk so just ask. They cost $10 and worked great to cover the stroller and keep the kids, and all our belongings dry. It now stays in the trunk of my car, and has come in handy more than once when we’ve been out with the kids and caught in the rain this winter.
  2. Prepare for the sun too – along with slathering on the sunscreen and wearing hats, you might also want to bring some sort of sun shade for the stroller. A spare hoodie, or sarong both work great. Neither of my little ones will sleep if they can see anything remotely interesting, so we cover them, walk fast and hope for the best.

Don’t, just don’t do three days, especially if your last day falls on a Saturday!

IMG_6406We were the only crazy family in our group to attempt a third day, and we won’t be doing it again. Two days at Disney were plenty. Especially for two boys under three. It was two long days, late nights, and short naps. Our exhaustion combined with crowds three times that of the previous days, did not make for an enjoyable final day. Steering a double stroller and chasing a very fast little boy through crowds for eight hours is not my idea of fun. It was stressful, not enjoyable, and ultimately meant that we left early. Because the crowds were so insane we didn’t really get to do much, other than battle the crowds. We kept searching for a quieter area, but never really found it.

We will return, with some extra adults, for two days, mid-week, off-peak season. My son can’t stop talking about Cars Land. Now two months later, he is still asking every few days if we can go back to that place where Mater lives.

Have you been to either Disney Park in Anaheim? Can you share any tips which we’ve missed?

Stay tuned…We have a special guest post coming up later this week, from a mom who’s created a solution for entertain the kiddos in the long lines at Disneyland!


About Michelle Laker

A California native; I spent 10 years living, studying, working, (and falling in love) in the United Kingdom. I returned to the Bay Area in 2011, with my British husband in tow. I am re-adjusting to life in the bay, feeling more like an expat than a local. I have spent my career working with international student & families. I love learning about other cultures, languages, and traditions. My desire to welcome newcomers, and help you make the most of your new life in the Bay Area comes from the unforgettable memories (and mistakes) I made during my time in the United Kingdom. If you've just arrived, and don't know where to start, email me ( I am happy to help!

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