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Disneyland is all about imagination. The rides are creative and colorful- everything is designed to be magical and awe you! At Disneyland, you can be amazed nonstop for 14 hours or more! Recently, we brought our 4 year old to the park. I was expecting to endure boredom and crowds at the little kids' rides but to do it for the sake of my daughter. How wrong I was! I had a fantastic time and I can't wait to go again!! After 11am, the crowds were heavy but we always managed to find a ride with a wait of 20 minutes or less. Everything is very well managed at Disneyland, so that even though thousands of people left the park after the nighttime fireworks, we only waited ten minutes for the shuttle bus to the parking lot.
If you can wait till your child is 4 years old, it's a great age to bring them to Disneyland! They are old enough to go on the indoor, darker rides without being scared and they can even try a rollercoaster! Also, they are less likely to have huge meltdowns from overstimulation. Their imagination is in full bloom so they will be amazed by all the magic around them! Here is my advice on how to make the best of your day:
ABSOLUTE NECESSITY: Bring a stroller! And wear good shoes. You will be walking a lot! Without the stroller, it would have been a horrible day. Also, the stroller shields your child and protects them in the crowds.
Arrive at the park at 7:30am so you can take the shuttle bus from the parking and get to the gates at 8am. You can ride many rides at this time without crowds or long waits. The first 3 hours of the morning are the very best hours in the park!
Go straight to Fantasyland and ride on some outdoor rides. These are the least scary. Dumbo the Elephant or the Magic Tea Cups are good ones. And of course, the King Arthur Carousel and Casey Jr. Circus Train are harmless. Storybook Land Canal Boats is a mild ride that takes you on a boat past tiny villages set up on the banks. A few of these rides will introduce your child to the park and he/she will know from then on that there is nothing to fear about Disneyland!
Next, try some indoor rides. These are dark inside and filled with imaginative brightly-lit pictures. It is great fun to watch the amazement in your child's eyes. Our absolute favorite was the Alice in Wonderland ride. We could happily ride this one over and over. Skip Snow White's Scary Adventure because it's a waste of time- there's nothing interesting about it and it just shows you a scary witch over and over. Mr Toad's Wild Ride is another one that's not worth standing in line for. Peter Pan's Flight always has a very long line so if you want to ride it you might want to go there as early in the day as possible.
If you think your child will love meeting the Disney princesses, you might want to head to the Disney Princess Fantasy Faire and arrive around 8:40am. The Royal Walk opens at 9am and the wait is 45 minutes if you come later in the morning. When you pack for Disneyland, if you have a daughter, make sure to pack one of her Disney princess dresses because most of the girls at the park are wearing them and she will want to too.
After you've enjoyed some rides, a good place to get some downtime is the Disney Princess Fantasy Faire, a big shady pavilion. Small storytelling sessions with the princesses take place throughout the day and there is a show called the Royal Coronation Ceremony, which features some of the Disney princesses. Kids can interact with the show, dancing, circling the maypole, and collecting streamers that shoot out at the end. It's great fun and parents can relax for a bit!
Another great place to get some downtime is the It's a Small World ride. Because it's a longer ride, you can rest and relax for a bit. For eight minutes, it takes you past lovely singing characters dressed in traditional clothes from around the world. Kids adore this ride and the wait is short in the morning. It's a great place to cool off in the air conditioning too.
The main thing to remember with young kids is to schedule in downtime and food breaks. Make sure you have a mid-morning snack, lunch right on time, an afternoon snack, dinner right on time, and a snack before you leave the park. You could bring some snack bars and water so you don't have to stand in line to buy something for every snack time. At lunch I recommend eating at Plaza Inn Restaurant on Main Street. It opens at noon. It's a madhouse when you go to get your food- it's like a huge cafeteria with different stations. The food is good though- which is quite rare in Disneyland. Adults can share the chicken plate (fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans)- ask for two chicken breasts, and a side salad. The kid's pasta meal is great for kids and comes in a Mickey Mouse ears plate. If you sit by the window, you can all have some downtime while you watch the people outside. You will most likely see some Disney characters and princesses walk by.
Many people recommend the Dole Whip in Adventureland as a snack, but we didn't think it was that great. They didn't open until 10am, the line was long, the cup was almost impossible to hold making for a difficult time, and there was nowhere to sit to eat it because there was a long line for the Tiki room. I recommend bringing along your morning and afternoon snacks. There are plenty of mellow places to stop and eat them. The best is at the Plaza Gardens Stage just southwest of the castle. You can sit on benches by the stream or sit under the big jazz pavilion and take a rest. There are bathrooms nearby in the alley that leads to Rancho del Zocalo Restaurant. We even saw people taking a nap on these benches by the water!
Another thing to remember with young kids is to only choose rides that have a 20 minute wait or less. Once kids realize how fun the rides are, they are willing to wait. But not too long! Even in the busier times of day, you can usually find rides with a short wait. Another tip- avoid all shopping areas. If you want to buy a souvenir, have one of you go buy one while your spouse takes your child somewhere else. Meltdowns tend to happen in shopping areas. Every time my daughter wanted to go into one of the stores, I said "No, we're not buying anything" and steered her away.
So, here's the scoop on the rest of the lands in the park:
Tomorrowland seemed to be the most popular land and was incredibly crowded. You could barely walk in there! The rocket rides at the beginning of the land would be a good one for little kids so if you want to ride them, go there when you first get to the park. Tomorrowland has a splash pad where kids can get wet and cool off. Pack a bathing suit for your child if you want to go there in the hot part of the day (beware though, it's crowded).
Adventureland has a safari boat ride over luminous water through lush African jungle- The Jungle Cruise. I definitely recommend you add this to your morning agenda. It's fun to take a boat past monkeys and rhinos and tribal people on the shore! The driver makes silly jokes as you go along.
In Frontierland, skip the Mark Twain Riverboat. It's nice to look at from shore, but to ride on it isn't much fun. There's nowhere to sit and the railing is too high for little kids to see over. Plus the stuff on shore is boring. It wasn't worth fighting the masses to get on it.
New Orleans Square is the most charming part of the park. It made me want to visit the south! The French Market Restaurant here had live New Orleans jazz music at certain times of day and looked like a nice place to eat. There are bathrooms right beside it. This is a great place to take the Disneyland Railroad. The station here tends to be less crowded than the other stations. In the middle of the day, when there are crazy crowds on the walkways, you can find refuge on the railroad. It is like a ride because when you go underground there is a show with lit-up characters. The dinosaur one is great. Ride around the park twice and you will have had a nice rest.
Critter Country saves the day during the crowded hours from 2-5pm. We rode the Winnie the Pooh ride over and over. It has a short wait, and the line formed in a shaded area with trees and a stream. It was a great way to escape the heat! This ride is colorful and imaginative. And your child can see real Pooh and Tigger characters nearby. For dinner, a good place to go is The Hungry Bear restaurant. Here you are surrounded by nature! A huge river with lush trees! It's a great way to calm kids down and avoid the 5pm witching hour meltdown. The fried green tomato sandwich is fairly healthy and they have kids meals as well.
At this point your kids might be so used to rides that they are ready for some wilder rides! Pirates of the Caribbean in New Orleans Square was one of our favorites! It gives you two rollercoaster-like drops and takes you through gorgeous animatronic scenes of pirates on land. One of the Jack Sparrow characters looked so much like Johnny Depp it was incredible!
Fantasyland offers the Matterhorn ride that has a fairly small height restriction (35"). Toontown offers the Gadget's Go Rollercoaster (must be 35" to ride). It is a blast for little kids!
Toontown is where the very smallest kids have some attractions. There are playground-like things they can climb. Donald's Boat is basically just a stationary boat they can run around- they love this. They can climb up and down the Chip 'n Dale Treehouse, which is just one flight of stairs- boring. They can go in Mickey and Minnie's house. This land gets very crowded and hot because there's no shade, no river, and lots of asphalt. If you have toddlers, you could come here in the morning. It will be a bore for parents though!
The parade is a blast. It happens twice in the late afternoon, at 4:00 and 6:30. Try to arrive half an hour early somewhere on the route and get a good spot to watch it. This is a good time to buy a souvenir your child can play with while you wait. You will also need tons of sunscreen and hats or an umbrella to shade you. Kids will see their favorite princesses and characters dance to Disney numbers on huge decorated floats. The characters will wave personally to them. The parade starts outside It's a Small World and heads towards Main Street.
Once nighttime hits, Fantasyland becomes even more magical. The castle is lit. The Mad Teacups have rainbow-colored lanterns. Storybook Land Canal Boats have little lights in the miniature villages.
I recommend waiting for the Fantasmic show and fireworks, even if it's past your kids' bedtimes, because they are incredible! It's easy to kill time until they start because time goes so fast at Disneyland. The show is at 9pm and the fireworks are at 9:30. If you can find a few chairs on one of the restaurant patios overlooking the Rivers of America area (where the show is staged), this is the best way to watch Fantasmic. The show is scary, with the evil witch from The Little Mermaid and a giant dragon. But if you warn young kids beforehand and have them on your lap, it will hopefully be fine. While watching the show, I started to realize that the entry fee to Disneyland that seems steep is actually a bargain! Just the show alone would cost $80 anywhere else. The show includes fireworks as well as images projected onto giant water fountains.
After the show, you won't be able to find a spot to watch the fireworks because all the spots along Main Street are most likely taken. You will be ushered along by employees who don't let you stand in the walkways to watch. Try to find somewhere to stand if you can. The fireworks over the pink litup castle are beautiful!
The day we spent at Disneyland is such a wonderful memory. Me, the kind of person who thinks nature and natural things are better than high-stimulation consumer culture- well, I've been converted!
While you're in Orange County, check out Rainbow Harbor, a colorful spot with restaurants and walkways by the water.
Other amusement parks to enjoy are Universal Studios and Six Flags Magic Mountain, a true rollercoaster park.
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Exit Highway 5 at Harbor Blvd and go south on Harbor Blvd. Follow the signs to the Disneyland parking lot. Parking is $15 and a shuttle bus takes you to Disneyland.
Entry into Disneyland is about $80 for adults for one day and slightly lower for children. Different prices can be found depending on where you buy your tickets. Check online or at grocery stores.
This is an interactive map, you can zoom and move it.
Overall Visitor Rating: Unrated.