Insider Tips for Navigating Disneyland with Kids: A Stress-Free Family Adventure
Disneyland is the 'Happiest Place on Earth' for a reason: it’s chock full of feel-good family fun for all ages and nostalgic memories that will have the whole crew grinning from Mouse-ear to Mouse-ear.
But for a truly magical experience, it pays to pre-plan your Californian adventure. Here’s our top insider tips for a stress-free family time at Disneyland.
Don’t know the difference between Genie+ and Extra Magic Hour? Disneyland has a language all of its own however once you know the lingo, you’ll be navigating your way around like a Disney Cast Member (aka staff member).
Disneyland Insider Tips
Don’t just wing it, have a game plan to make the most of your time at Disneyland Resort by pre-booking your park tickets, onsite restaurants, airport transfers and accommodation.
With 17 themed lands and areas to explore, both parks are jam-packed with rides, attractions, dining and experiences.
There’s something for all ages and stages. Older kids will want to check out the new Avengers Campus and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, while littlies (and nostalgia buffs) will love original 1955 rides such as Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Mad Tea Party and Peter Pan’s Flight.
There’s also fan faves such as Indiana Jones Adventure, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Incredicoaster, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! and Soarin’ Around the World.
Before You Go
For Aussie travellers, a multi-day Park Hopper Ticket – only available through travel consultants – offers the best value as it allows you to visit Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park in one day.
Make sure to book park reservations for each date you plan to go as you’ll need both your park ticket and the reservation to bounce between the two theme parks.
To visit both parks, choose one park to enter first and then you can enter the other from 11am daily.
Disneyland Resort is located in Anaheim in Southern California – just a 45-minute pre-booked Karmel Shuttle ride from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
Where To Stay
To immerse yourself in the Disney experience, stay at one of the three onsite hotels: Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.
My top pick is the 5-star Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa for its direct access to California Adventure Park, however, there are hotels available for all budgets.
Many nearby Disney-approved Anaheim accommodation options, known as 'Good Neighbor Hotels'– also cater for families with larger or conjoining rooms and kid-friendly amenities.
Ask your Flight Centre travel expert about the latest Disneyland hotel deals as many Anaheim resorts often have family packages on offer.
Another top reason to stay in a Disneyland Resort hotel? Guests can take advantage of Extra Magic Hour and enter theme parks 30 minutes before it opens to the general public.
Get the Disneyland App
Disney has a treasure trove of tips and tricks available for park-goers to optimise their trip and the best tool is right at your fingertips.
The Disneyland app has everything you need for a stress-less visit – from park maps and ride updates to mobile food ordering plus all the entertainment info to plan your day ahead.
The hands-down best feature is the real-time wait times for all rides on a map – a priceless tool that you’ll use over and over again on your Disneyland trip.
We also love the mobile order function for food – order while you queue and pick up at your preferred time after the ride – a lifesaver to skip the line and feed hungry kids on the go!
How to Get Around
With Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park located side by side, it’s easy to get around and between the two parks on foot.
If you have little ones, you can also bring or hire a stroller. Use the handy map and location services on the Disneyland app to navigate around the theme parks with ease.
There’s also the Disneyland Railroad, which stops at select attractions, and the Disneyland Monorail, which zips between two stations in Disneyland Park.
In Disney California Adventure Park, hop on the Red Car Trolleys, running continuously between four locations.
Want to go hands-free and save your phone battery? Ditch the ticket for a MagicBand+ wristband that allows you to simply tap for entry into parks and Lightning Lane entrances and offers enhanced interactive capabilities with light, vibrations and sound at select attractions.
Managing Queues With Ease
Along with the Disneyland app to keep an eye on queues or join a Virtual Queue, park-goers can make use of other tools to jump the line or minimise wait times for popular attractions.
The Disney Genie+ service is a daily paid ticket upgrade that allows you to skip the queue for your choice of rides and attractions and grants access to select Lightning Lane entry arrival times for different daily attractions.
You can add Disney Genie+ to your ticket purchase before you go or via the app on the day of your visit.
While it’s an extra cost (from USD$25 per ticket, per day), Disney Genie+ is worth the price to fast-track family access to rides and streamline your Disneyland experience.
You can also purchase individual Lightning Lane entries for the most popular attractions that are not available via the Disney Genie+ service or older kids can use the Single Rider line.
For must-do rides, such as Radiator Springs Racers, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance or the new Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, this is definitely the way to go.
If you’re keen on meet-and-greets with Disney, Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar characters, use the Disneyland app map and click on the ‘Mickey Mouse’ icon to find out when and where daily Disney Character Experiences are happening.
You can also tap into the app’s complimentary Disney Genie service to create and customise a daily schedule to plan entry to attractions and add parade and entertainment times.
I highly recommend booking a Character Breakfast to see your fave toons, especially if you have tots in tow.
Make a reservation at Plaza Inn at Disneyland Resort, Storyteller’s Café or Napa Rose restaurants at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa or Goofy’s Kitchen at Disneyland Hotel for a yummy brekky with beloved Disney characters.
Disney Dining Reservations
Onsite dining at other times also fills up fast. Book your reservations online to schedule time to enjoy a family meal together at popular eateries such as Blue Bayou, Lamplight Lounge and Napa Rose.
For eating and drinking on the move, you’ll find healthy grab-and-go options at carts around the parks plus quick-service outlets.
The Disney-themed snack food is also a highlight of any visit – try Mickey Mouse-shaped pretzels and ice-creams, Dole Whip, churros and Minnie Mouse toffee apples for starters.
Where to Have Some Family Downtime
Now that you have a plan of attack for a big day at Disneyland, there’s also plenty of ways to take a break during a full-on day of fun.
Enjoy sit-down experiences and shows, such as Tale of the Lion King, or choose a relaxed ride such as Jungle Cruise, "it’s a small world" or Disneyland Railroad to give small legs a rest.
There’s also the Downtown Disney District shopping, dining and entertainment precinct outside the parks where you can sit and take a moment to regroup amid lush greenery.
If you’re staying onsite, you can always retreat to your hotel room for a nap, refresh with a swim in the many themed pools or watch a movie (Disney, of course!) together and return to the theme parks ready to experience the night-time spectaculars and Disney after dark.
The Walt Disney Company marks its 100th anniversary in 2023 and as the founder’s original theme park, Disneyland Resort is the celebratory hub.
Throughout 2023, Disney100 introduces a host of shiny new rides, attractions and experiences, making it the ideal time to visit the House of Mouse. Even the iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle is clad in platinum for the momentous occasion.
Mickey’s Toontown reopens with new additions Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway Attraction, CenTOOnial Park and Chip ‘n’ Dale’s GADGETcoaster.
There’s also new night-time light and sound spectaculars: Wondrous Journeys, encompassing all 60 Walt Disney Animation Studios movies, and World of Color – One, showcasing Disney’s storytelling legacy, plus a daytime parade, Magic Happens.
Disney100 merchandise is also available, from platinum Mouse Ears to matching family clothing and accessories, for a special souvenir of your Disneyland trip.