Maximizing time in Disneyland with kids 5 and under


Mar 31, 2009
What do you all do to get the most time playing in Disneyland with young kids?
We just got back from 4 fun days at Disneyland with our 3 and 6 year old. On the average, we took in 4 rides per day from 4 hours total in the parks. I feel we are way slow so I'm wondering how do other families do it.

Our typical day went by like this:

9-10am Wake up and wash up
10-11am Breakfast
11-1pm @Disneyland
1-2pm Lunch
2-5pm Afternoon Nap
5-6pm Wake up and wash up
6-7pm @Disneyland
7-8pm Dinner
8-10pm @Disneyland

And of the 4 days, this is what we accomplished.

Day #1
Small World
Storybook Land Canal Boats
Magical Fireworks

Alice in Wonderland
Mad Tea Party
Tiki Room

Pirates of the Carribean
Haunted Mansion
Winnie Poo
Tarzan Tree House
Finding Nemo

Alladin Musical
Disneyland Railroad
Jungle Cruise
Magical Fireworks

Kayla's Mom

<font color=darkorchid>You are not alone!! I have
Apr 16, 2005
When we go to DLR with our daughters (ages 2 and 7), we spend the entire day in the parks. We get there at opening, our youngest naps in the stroller if she gets tired. For us it works, but I realize for others it's better to do naps back at the hotel. This is the way we have done it since both of our girls were babies.

We also use FP and child swap. :thumbsup2

Forgot to mention that we do go in the off season when the hours are generally 10-8. It's not like we have the girls there at 8AM and stay until midnight. :laughing:

Vacation Dad

Aug 30, 2007
Most of the rides for kids that age don't have fastpasses, so the other thing you can do is wait in line with the crowds. So the trick is to go when the crowds are smallest, and that means to be there before the gates even open. I know it is hard to do that when kids are little, but when you walk in the park and can walk right on some of the rides, your entire process for enjoying Disneyland changes. You can do more during the first hour or so that the park is open than you can do during 4 hours in the afternoon.


DIS Veteran
Sep 1, 2006
You committed almost all the cardinal sins. ;)

You slept in.

You ate meals at "peak hours".

You rode the rides with the longest waits, at the worst times. :goodvibes

No big deal. It's vacation, after all. You CAN do more, but it requires work and more of a "go go go" mentality. I go with my 3 and 5 year old kids all the time, and we can accomplish more than that in about 3 hours, but we're seasoned veteran AP holders. We live close, and go often. I've got all the secrets. ;)

If you really want to get a lot of "kiddie" stuff done, you have to be there EARLY. Like, at opening, or at least within the first hour the park is open. You can do a LOT of Fantasyland stuff quickly if you get there early. It takes usually about 2 hours for the park to "get going" in the morning.

We can usually knock out Carousel, Casey Jr. Circus Train, Teacups, Small World, Dumbo, and the BIG TRAIN before lunch. That's "typical" for us, in about a 2 hour time span.

LUNCH has to happen at later. If you go later than that, you end up spending a LONG time doing lunch. For us, lunch is a 20-30 min affair. Kids don't like to sit still that long, and if we are at the CS places WHEN THEY OPEN (which is 11am at DLR), you get your food FAST, no waiting in line, and you get your choice of table! We are always done with lunch by 11:30, then while EVERYONE ELSE is eating lunch, we are riding more stuff.

If we do dinner in the parks, we eat at 5 or 5:30, NO LATER. You can always get a snack later, but if you try to eat a meal later, more long waits, crowded restaurants, etc.

We never do parades. It's another good opportunity to ride stuff while everyone else is occupied.

But, to be honest, we rarely spend more than 3-4 hours in the parks, if that. We live so close that we can be home in 15 minutes, so I just leave when the kids have had enough.


DIS Veteran
Aug 18, 2007
Surely your 6 year old is tall enough for every ride with perhaps the exception of Indiana Jones in DL???? We generally visit in the off season when hours are 9am/10am-8pm ~ we go on many rides, some of them multiple times each day. We do not take mid day breaks. Take advantage of FP & Child Swap ~ is your younger child 40 inches??? If so he/she could've ridden most rides as well.

Better luck next time.


I am going to keep hunting
Jan 28, 2008
You committed almost all the cardinal sins. ;)
Haha, that was funny, but I was thinking the same thing ;) 100% you need to get there at park opening. The first few hours in the park are the best time to get on numerous rides, see characters and maneuver quickly without fighting crowds. An easy thing to do is to bring simple breakfast to eat in your room (oatmeal, cereal, granola bars and fruit) something easy that you can have and not waste morning time (or eat while you are waiting in line for the park to open).

Better luck next time ;) But like Brergnat said- it is a vacation, and I am sure you still had fun regardless!


Mar 31, 2009
Forgive our sins :worship:

Thanks for the tips. You've all confirmed my suspicion we should be getting up early and in right as the park opens. I know I'm being a little over-protective by letting my kids rest their little heads. I hate for them to get sick during or after the trip. And I'll admit even I enjoy sleeping in and the afternoon naps back at the hotel.

My 3 year old is just shy of 40" so that's why we didn't hit up any of the older kid rides like Indiana Jones or the Matterhorn. And I can't split them up because of insane jealousy would arise if my 3 year old found out I'm taking the 6 year old to different rides. We tried to do it all together as a family.

Despite our slow pace we all had fun. Can't wait until we go again. Next time, we'll try to make a Magic Morning or simply even getting to the park at normal open.
  • bumbershoot

    DIS Veteran
    Mar 5, 2007
    I know I'm being a little over-protective by letting my kids rest their little heads.

    My 3 year old is just shy of 40" so that's why we didn't hit up any of the older kid rides like Indiana Jones or the Matterhorn. And I can't split them up because of insane jealousy would arise if my 3 year old found out I'm taking the 6 year old to different rides. We tried to do it all together as a family.
    Stroller naps are basically all my dude has allowed (other than ONE nap on our May trip) since he was 3.5. And during that nap in May, it took DS so long to fall asleep that I had to wake him up only an hour later...I'd fallen asleep (I'm not a napper so that was amazing) and slept for only 40 minutes and was so groggy I felt nauseated (a problem with napping for me), so it just wasn't fun!

    Matterhorn is only 35".

    Did you measure the little one? Most people don't find that the sticks don't really measure up to real life measurements...normally it goes the other way (child is taller than the sticks show) but we've had opposite results sometimes so it is always worth checking. Different shoes also change his Crocs he's shorter than in his Stride Rites than in his Nikes, and all those are "shorter" than his old...I forget what brand, but those things popped him up like crazy. I NEVER suggest choosing shoes in order to get a too small kid to make a ride, but if you're going by barefoot measurement, it's worth it to know that they generally don't make a child go barefoot to measure.

    Also, your 6 year old doesn't mind that???? If DS had a sibling he would go bonkers, not being allowed on things he would want to go on. Of course, he already knows what he can ride and not, so that's a difference.

    Next trip, wake up and get ready, grab some little snacks...we like granola bars or Z-bars (kids Clif bar), some water, and GO. Get to the gates before opening, if the kids are still sleepy, let them rest in the stroller, the gates open, go go go. At the end of breakfast time, snag some of that meal or get an early lunch, THEN nap if you choose to return to the hotel. Get back (not bothering to wash up...they're just going to get dirty again, LOL), play some more, have some dinner either early or late, play...etc etc. Stroller naps at will (a 3 year old having a nap is a great time for a 6 year old to go on Space, BTMRR, Indy, etc), water OFTEN, snacks in air conditioned places...

    Even the Animation Academy has been a great resting place for us. We get to draw, have a free souvenir, and it's restful as well. :)

    Good luck on your next trip!


    DIS Veteran
    Jul 6, 2008
    My kids get their naps every day come he** or high water...or Disneyland. Disneyland = "No Nap Day!"
    They're amped up enough from sugar and excitement to skip a day or 3 of naps--plus it helps them crash in the hotel (read: unfamiliar surroundings) at the end of the day.
    What has helped us the most is always booking a walking-distance hotel. Just knowing we *could* go back due to meltdown/diaper blowout/forgotten item without too much time out makes the whole trip more calm.


    Oct 11, 2007
    Our kids were a little older than yours when we were there last year. It was off season & the parks opened a little later & closed a little earlier, but I can highly recommend getting up & getting to the park as close to opening as possible & eating an early lunch.


    A Brick in the Hub
    Nov 9, 2007
    We get there when the gates open and don't leave till 1am. My kids usually take a couple naps in the stroller, even the 10yo.

    We went in Dec 2007 and all the days were this way kids were 2, 10, 14. We had lots of help with the 14yo and she only slept 1 time in the Main Street Bakery.
  • kkmcan

    Official Mouse Fan
    Apr 23, 2003
    I agree with all of the above- get there at opening, bring your breakfast muffin, bar or whatever with you so you can walk to the gate and eat at the same time. Eat on the off hours and have a plan of what you are doing when.

    We don't have little kids but we still go back to the room to rest. I need it! I have to get away from the crowds, heat, noise etc for a couple of hours at least. Usually the kids watch tv, or play their nintendos and dh and I lay down to take a short nap. We feel so refreshed for the evening and give our feet a break.

    We manage to get done everything we want to plus a few extra rounds on our favorites all in a 3 day time span.

    It took us a while to get this routine down. Now after so many trips we know the plan of what we do when without writing it down.

    This is exactly what these boards are for- picking up touring tips to make the most of your trip!


    VGC Lover
    May 4, 2009
    We just got back from 6 days at Disneyland in May with our almost 2 year old and 11 year old. I have to say we are a bit more like you in the fact that we like to go slow and not make it to rush rush. For us we like to go for 5-10 days, whatever our job will allow, so that we can enjoy and not feel to rushed. I will say we do get up and get to the park by 10:00 (opening time when we go) and then we do rides for about 2-3 hours, once the park starts getting to busy we head over to Californain each lunch and do a few more rides. By then it is usually 3-4 we then usually get the baby to sleep in the stroller for an hour or two and keep riding the big rides, my husband and I switch off with our 11 year old. When baby wakes we do dinner, around 5-6, then head back out for the night riding. Since the baby doesn't take a long nap she usually goes down pretty good at 9-10 and is ready to wake around 8-9 in the morning.

    In regards to the your little one and your older child with the rides, my husband and I will split occasionally (not all the time) and I will go on a big kid ride with my oldest while my husband will take the baby on a ride for her (We will do splash and they will do pooh or something like that). Life is never fair and how fun for your older child to get to do the big kid rides too, soon your little one will be able to ride and the older sibling will be able to share everything they know about the ride. Good luck in the future - most importantly have fun whatever you do.:thumbsup2


    DIS Veteran
    Apr 6, 2008
    We have 2 kids, ages 5 and 8. Last summer we went to WDW and of course they were 4 and 8. They are not nappers, but they cannot go all day, every day in a theme park, even if it is Disney.

    I don't know how much time you have but here is our general plan.
    1. Eat breakfast quickly and before park opening. If your children can get by with doughnuts, fruit, muffins, etc...let them eat that in the stroller as you wait for the parks to open. It will save time and give them something to do.
    2. Get to the park before it opens. Try to be lined up outside the gates ready to walk in 30 minutes prior to opening. There will be a crowd of people there but that crowd will quickly disperse into the empty park.
    3. Do as much as you can before 11:00. The park is less crowded, your kids are likely more pleasant and it is cooler.
    4. Use fast pass. We don't use the fast pass runner because on many days my husband is at a conference, not in the parks with us. Every chance you can, pick up another set of fast passes. Collect and save for later in the day.
    5. Eat lunch at 11:00. If you can be there when they open, you will be one of the first people in line. You will have fresher food and a quieter restaurant.
    6. After lunch, take in a low wait attraction, possibly 2 if they are adjacent to each other. The key is to not push it right here. You want to do something but your goal is to be heading back to the hotel.
    7. Leave the park by 1:00 if you have plans to return for night entertainment.
    8. Back to the hotel by 2:00, swim for no more than an hour. Swimming is exhausting and this is enough for us.
    9. In the room by 3:30, eating a large snack or even another "meal", rest until 5:30.

    Anyway...I guess you probably get the idea! You want to avoid being in lines with the masses whenever possible.
    My other suggestion is to not burn the candle at both ends! On a day when we get to the park before opening, we might stay all afternoon to take in a parade or we might leave right after lunch and take a looong break if we are coming back for the nighttime fun.
    If we are out late one night, we sleep in the next day and use those days for leisurely character breakfasts, etc...

    Getting up early on vacation may seem to be kind of stinky but if you make the sacrifice, then you can get more done in the first two hours than you can in 5 or 6 at the peak of the day. With kids, it is totally worth it!


    DIS Veteran
    Mar 5, 2007
    Getting up early on vacation may seem to be kind of stinky but if you make the sacrifice, then you can get more done in the first two hours than you can in 5 or 6 at the peak of the day. With kids, it is totally worth it!
    My husband and son have finally fully come to understand that. Finally!