We’d been going back and forth on when we wanted to do our first trip to Disneyland with both kids. We wanted to find that sweet spot with them: old enough to walk by themselves, be potty-trained, not need to take naps anymore, and be independent eaters, but at the same time be young and innocent enough to believe in all the magic and wonder that is Disney.
We finally decided that 6 and 4 were the right ages and took the plunge. It ended up being a really fun and memorable vacation for all of us!
If you’ve been contemplating your children’s first Disney trip, but want to make it as smooth and comfortable as possible for the whole family, check out these tips, rides, and attractions that have a little something for everyone.
DISNEY HOTEL POOL
As part of our travel package, we stayed at the Disneyland hotel, which boasts a large swimming pool. When we first arrived at the hotel, we were hot, tired, and cramped from our journey in the car.
Relaxing in the pool was the perfect way to unwind on our first evening before exploring the park the following day. Though there were already quite a few people in the pool, it’s so big that we were able to swim together with relative privacy.
There are different sections with various depths, the deepest being just under five feet. There are water slides for the kiddos as well as complimentary, first-come, first-served children’s life jackets available for use while in the pool.
DOWNLOAD THE DISNEY APP TO PLAN YOUR DAY
The very first thing we did the following morning was download the Disney app. This app is vital in keeping up on the movement of various Disney characters, the timings of shows and parades, and wait times for all the rides.
It gives you a roadmap of sorts for how you want to plan your day, what you have time for, and when you and the kids can take breaks. This was especially important as we only had a two-day pass–one day at Disneyland and one day at Disney California Adventures. Another perk of staying in a Disney hotel is that you can enter the park at the Magic Hour, which is one hour before the parks open to the general public. If this is an option for you, it really makes a difference and is totally worth the early wake time.
MEET PRINCESSES FIRST THING IN THE MORNING NEAR CASTLE
Since we have two young girls, we knew we wanted to make time for them to meet as many Disney princesses as humanly possible.
The app was extremely helpful in this, showing that Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, and Sleeping Beauty would be at the castle in the morning, not long after the park opened. We dutifully waited in line and got our time and photos with the princesses. The kids were thrilled (and I have to admit, so was I!).
I checked the app throughout the day and we were able to meet other various characters. Pumpkin and Peanut even got to be part of a group of Lost Boys and Lost Girls and play games with Peter Pan.
TAKE PHOTOS WITH AND MEET LIGHTNING MCQUEEN AND MATER IN CARS LAND
Located in Disney California Adventures, Cars Land is a mind-blowing life-size replica of Radiator Springs, with lots of detail from Cars. While exploring the “town”, who should arrive but Lightning McQueen and Mater! The kids were so excited and we truly appreciated the details that went into these autonomously driving characters from the movie.
We stood in a short line and when we reached the front, we took photos with the two famous cars, and later spent a good chunk of time exploring the rest of the film’s landmarks.
EASY RIDES FOR FIRST-TIMERS
Every family will have their own preferences for which rides they and their kids would like to experience. For those who may be going for the first time or have very young children, one ride (which we all really enjoyed) was Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, located in Disney California Adventures.
The ride is simple: it consists of clam shells which seat two, and you basically ride through a retelling of The Little Mermaid, depicted through amazingly detailed animatronics and songs from the movie. It’s a real sit-back-and-relax ride that really is a lot of fun.
PUMPKIN AND PEANUT RODE IN THEIR OWN COMPARTMENT LIKE BIG GIRLS–THAT’S HOW CHILL THIS RIDE IS.
Another ride that is similar to Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, but with more action, is Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, located in Tomorrowland in Disneyland. It’s similar in that you sit and travel slowly through the ride, but with a ray gun that allows the rider to shoot “lasers” at targets to help Buzz Lightyear defeat Emperor Zurg.
There’s lots of bright, action-packed scenery and storytelling as the ride progresses, and you can even check your score on your seat dashboard as the ride ends.
Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, located in A Bug’s Land in Disney California Adventures, is really tame, but great for very young children/babies, or those who may find the average ride a bit scary.
Riders will board a seat on Heimlich the Caterpillar (from A Bug’s Life) and take a relaxing ride through a garden with larger-than-life re-creations of veggies, fruits, and snacks, all while Heimlich narrates how much he likes to eat! Pumpkin and Peanut rode in their own compartment Like Big Girls–that’s how chill this ride is.
FROZEN LIVE! AT THE HYPERION
While rides and meeting characters are thrilling, watching a stage musical was high on my to-do list. The Hyperion Theater, located in Disney California Adventures, is the home of Frozen Live! at the Hyperion. This is a stage adaptation of Frozen, with all the film’s beloved characters. We had planned on being in the area of the theater around the time of the 3:00pm show, and entered the line less than two hours before showtime.
THE ENTIRE STORY OF FROZEN WAS ACTED OUT, SONGS AND ALL, WITH SUPERB SPECIAL EFFECTS, SOUND, AND EVEN SNOW OVER THE AUDIENCE!
We waited nearly that entire time outside in line with hundreds of others. Just when I began to wonder if this show would even be worth it, if my kids would even sit through it, the line lurched forward and theater goers flooded inside. Once we were seated, we waited about 30 minutes, in which the kids were actually enthralled by the size of the theater and the CG backdrop on display onstage. I was just happy to be indoors and sitting down after hours of walking and waiting in lines for rides.
We were not prepared for what followed. The entire story of Frozen was acted out, songs and all, with superb special effects, sound, and even snow over the audience! It was simply breathtaking. I never wanted it to end. Be sure to make time for this one.
CARS LAND DJ’S DANCE ‘N’ DRIVE
Returning to Cars Land in the evening, we saw on the app that DJ’s Dance ‘N’ Drive was going to start and headed over to Flo’s V8 Café. It basically consisted of a sound system and the arrival of DJ, the ultimate party car, accompanied by dancers.
Since it happens after sunset, the car is lit up bright while kids and adults are invited to dance along to upbeat pop music. It’s a cute way for the kids to unwind and have an interactive experience up close with one of the cars, while enjoying Cars Land after dark.
MAIN STREET ELECTRICAL PARADE AND PIXAR PLAY PARADE
Be sure to check the Disney app or park map for parade times. Disneyland hosts the Main Street Electrical Parade, while Disney California Adventures hosts the Pixar Play Parade. The former begins after dark, while the latter is in the early evening. Both are fun to watch for the whole family, displaying a range of characters from Mickey and Minnie to characters from Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc.
‘REMEMBER…DREAMS COME TRUE’ FIREWORKS AND WORLD OF COLOR
By the time these shows begin, your kids may be too sleepy to watch! On the off-chance that they’re still wide-awake, these shows are amazing and totally worth it. You will have to stand to be able to watch the fireworks show over Sleeping Beauty’s castle, but you’ll be able to sit down and relax during the World of Color fountain show in Disney California Adventures. Both shows begin after dark, but be sure to grab a good spot before they all fill up.
DOWNTOWN DISNEY DISTRICT
We spent our third day (after our 2-day park experience) in the Downtown Disney District. This area contains a variety of shops and restaurants to unwind from all the action in the parks. The walkways are full of flowers, fountains, benches, and sitting areas, with large speakers booming Disney classics.
Two shops worth checking out are World of Disney and the Lego store. The former is huge and chock-full of Disney merchandise, which is fun to browse or even try on. The latter has life-size Lego models of beloved scenes from Disney movies, such as Aladdin and Toy Story. It’s unbelievable to think how many Legos and how much time it would’ve taken to complete these models. Totally worth a look and don’t forget to take photos with them!
If this will be your first trip to Disney with your little ones, I hope these tips are helpful. These are but a very small fraction of what the parks offer. Just remember to relax and have fun–and don’t forget the snacks!
Have you taken your young children to Disneyland? What advice would you give to families taking their kids for the first time?