Disneyland in One Day with Toddlers {Part 1}

The last time, I went to Disneyland was when I was 3 months pregnant with my son. That was about 4 years ago for my birthday. My hubby and I would go all the time before kids. We’d go for a day date. We’d go for a couple hours (when we were pass holders) to ride our favorite rides and then have dinner. It’s one of my favorite places to go. My hubby even proposed to me in the Blue Bayou restaurant 10 years ago (so it holds a really special place in my heart).

On Saturday, my hubby called me while in Long Beach, CA for work and said, “Pack your bags Babe. We’re going to Disneyland on Sunday to surprise the kids!”


My mind went a million different directions at the same time. Automatically to the worst possible scenarios. Like: my son is going to run away from me like he does sometimes at the grocery store; and, I’m not going to be able to find him in the sea of people. Or my kids are going to throw tantrums a few hours in, which will make it a nightmare experience causing us to have to leave the park (meaning, we spent a good chunk of money for nothing). You know where the mom brain goes.

But, I took a deep breath and told myself, “I am going to think positive thoughts and do this!” So, I got excited! And I packed our bags in less than an hour, loaded everything, got gas and became Disneyland bound!

I called my hubby while on the road and gave us a pep talk, “Babe, we have to go into this thinking it’s going to be a way different experience than when we use to go all the time. We gotta be realistic. You know our kiddos aren’t going to wait in a line that’s more than a 30-minute wait.” He agreed.

So, without anymore pre-story, here is How to Do Disneyland in One Day with Toddlers:

How to Do Disneyland in One Day with Toddlers (Part 1)

Disneyland in one day

  1. Drive Down the Night Before. I highly recommend this. Unless you live 10 minutes away, then you may skip this step. But, we live 2 and a half, maybe 3 hours away. I didn’t want to have my kids go through 6 hours of driving in one day. No way. That would have been so bad. So, drive down the night before, book an affordable hotel (you’re just sleeping there – we booked our hotel on Expedia while eating dinner in Long Beach), wake up when you usually do, buy the tickets at the hotel (we got a really good deal for 3-Day Park Hopper tickets and got to skip the ticket line), and head to the park.
  2. Have Breakfast in Downtown Disney. We stopped for smoothies at Jamba Juice for breakfast. It will save you money while in the park. And you want to start your day with fueling your body with healthier stuff. We added energy-boosts to my smoothie and my hubby’s smoothie for obvious reasons. If you didn’t pack your bag with snacks and water before driving down, buy some here (having snacks and water while waiting in line is a lifesaver).
  3. Change Your Mindset. Go into the experience knowing that you are not going to ride all the main rides. Maybe two of them (with fast passes). But the rest of the rides are going to be those kiddy ones, you have never ridden in your life (or maybe you did when you were little; but, I have never ridden Dumbo and Casey Jr. before). You know your child and his attention span or how long he can wait. So, be realistic on the line waits for your child or children. My kids are 3.5 and 1.5 years old. I knew that 20-30 minutes is all my kiddos could handle. And I had to become okay with that. And really, we aren’t there for us, we are there for the kids to experience Disneyland for the first time.
  4. Grab a Showtime and Map Brochure. This will let you know when your kiddo’s favorite characters are out and about, shows (you will need one or two of these for rest time), and rides that have height requirements (surprisingly there were not very many height requirements, I really thought my daughter and I were going to have to go sight seeing while my hubby and my son rode a ride).
  5. Ride a Ride in Fantasyland. We went straight to Fantasyland to scope out the area. We wanted to get the kiddos on a ride right away. So, they knew what to expect. It’s their first time there. They don’t know that you have to wait in a line to ride a fun ride. So, set the expectations early. We rode the Dumbo ride first. The wait was 25 minutes. The kids were a little squirmy, especially my daughter because we had to hold her. But, this is when you use your distraction skills and point at all the amazing things to look at around you. “Look, there’s Dumbo. That one is wearing pink.” Or, “Hey, I like this song. Let’s dance to it or sing the words.” They play music throughout the park. Or “Let’s play iSpy.” Or “Here have a snack.” After the ride, my kiddos were so excited and wanted to ride another one. I could only imagine what they were thinking, “What?! We wait in a line to ride something awesome. Ok, let’s do that over and over again!” The second ride was the Casey Jr. Train (which was right next to Dumbo). The kiddos really loved it.Casey Jr. Train Disneyland
  6. Take a Bathroom Break and Have a Change of Clothes.  There are bathrooms right next to the train ride. So, we took the opportunity to take my son (to avoid him peeing in his pants while in line for the next ride) and to check my daughter’s diaper. We had a change of clothes in the backpack in case a pee or poop crisis happened. It’s life. It happens. So, being prepared is a good idea. Then, we went in line for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (which is creepy and I don’t recommend it). Pre-kids we didn’t think much of the ride. We just remembered it was fun riding the little car that whips around corners (which our kids like being twirled around). But, going through the ride we were thinking, “What the heck Disney!” Mr. Toad goes around London causing mayhem, goes to a bar, gets drunk, crashes into explosives and dies and goes to Hell and meets the Devil. What?! So, that was a little traumatizing. But, my kids survived.
  7. Have Lunch and watch a Show. After ride #3, my kiddos were a little cranky (it was around nap time). I will say, my daughter did sock me in the eye a couple times (she gets a little mean when she’s tired). That was our cue to find a place to sit and watch a show (like Jedi Training) and eat. Don’t worry, I don’t have a black eye 😂. It was 15 minutes to showtime. That gave us time to eat our food while sitting. And then the show started. The kids were excited to see Darth Vadar. The show was a good 20 minutes. So, we had 35 minutes of sitting and resting our legs.Jedi Training Disneyland

I am splitting this post into Part 1 and Part 2, so it’s not a novel to read. So, today, I shared what to do to prepare for a one day trip to Disneyland and what helped us make it to lunch time. Tomorrow, I will share my Fast Pass tips, character meetings, dinner recommendations, shows and how to ride more rides in a short amount of time.

So, for today, just remember: get your kiddos use to waiting for a ride by picking rides that are 30 minutes or less, distract them by playing games, singing, dancing and/or eating snacks. And, if your kiddo is cranky give them food and watch a show to rest.

Read: How to Do Disneyland in One Day with Toddlers (Part 2)












  1. says

    Multi-tasking is key and you nailed it, Lu 🙂 I like the idea of driving down the night before – time saver for sure!
    I also heard about the Hopper tickets being a great way to cut time in half…great post girl! Excited to read Part 2!

    • says

      Thank you Amy! Park Hopper tickets are awesome, if you want to visit both parks. They’re not necessary though. There are great characters and shows in either park. Let me know how you like Part 2!

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