Disneyland California​ Itinerary: Enjoy the best rides with your kids

The Happiest Place on Earth often invokes shrieks of excitement from kids and those of terror from the parents. The long queues, endless rides, hyperactive kids, meltdowns would give anyone a nightmare. And yet most of us happily sign up for it, probably because this is the one trip that kids would remember in extensive detail. Sigh! The stuff those cherubic smiles would make us do!

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The Happiest Place on Earth requires careful planning to max out the fun.

We chose to take my kids – a 6-year old boy and a 3-year old girl – for 2 days to Disneyland, California in February when winter was receding. But this 2-day itinerary required a lot of planning to max the fun for my kids. Do read the comprehensive Disneyland Hacks to help plan your trip.

We kept a day each for both the parks – we visited Disneyland park on Day 1 and California Adventure park on Day 2.

Day 1: Disneyland Park

The parks open at 8 am, that meant early admission was at 7am! We were staying at the Disney resort hotels that gave us one-hour early entry on alternate days for each park – called Magic Hour

I had absolutely no problem waking my kids at 5:30 am that day or feeding them breakfast. They were up, ready and raring to go the moment I said: “Wake up, it is Disneyland time” 🙂

We reached the gates 15 minutes in advance and to our disappointment, there was already a long line.

The morning jumpstart at Tomorrowland in Disneyland

Once you get in, everyone collects in a courtyard and the chains are opened at exactly 7 am. My husband and son had navigated their way to the start of the line. As soon as the chains were opened, they ran at top speed to Tomorrowland and further to the first and most popular ride, the Hyperspace Mountain – a roller-coaster that would happily send my son into an adrenaline rush and set the tone for the day.

Almost on cue, you could see Darth Vader and his crew come for their first appearance. My son and daughter squealed for completely different reasons when they saw him.

Since we were ready with the maps, we wasted no time in figuring out where to go for a specific ride. While the boys ran off, I took my daughter to the Astro Orbitor, located in Tomorrowland as well. The crowds were off to HyperSpace Mountain, and I found this ride mostly empty.

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How cool is this!

We got done in 5 minutes and stood in line for the next ride that we could all do – Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. Again, here we were quite ahead in the line. It turned out to be a good call, as HyperSpace mountain ride was opening late after 30 mins. As I saw the boys with long faces, my son jumped with joy as he saw me standing ahead in the line for the ride.

After the fun ride, the boys headed off to register for the show: Star Wars – The Adventure Continues. We registered for the last slot of the day. In this show, you are trained as Jedis and get to battle with Darth Vader in a theatrical performance. The biggest bang for the buck!

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What an adrenalin rush this was.

Then they continued with the Hyperspace mountain ride that had opened. By now the crowds had dispersed, and they were lucky with no queue for the ride.

While the boys were on the rollercoaster, my daughter and I headed out to Pixiehollow (right next to Tomorrowland) to meet Tinkerbell. Just as we came out we also saw Moana walking by. My husband had taken the Rider switch at HyperSpace mountain. He called me as soon as he was done and I was able to do the ride as well with my son!

In the first 45 minutes, we had done the most popular ride of the park twice over, met characters as well as booked our first show. We had set off to a great start.

Afternoon frenzy at Fantasyland

Next, we headed to Fantasyland. While I waited in line for Matterhorn Bobsled with the kids, my husband went and got the Fastpass for the Indiana Jones ride (Max pass wasn’t an option that week). Fastpasses generally give slots for 2-3 hours later. Matterhorn Bobsled was not too exciting for the kids and we headed to the very kiddie Peter Pan’s flight.

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My daughter couldn’t be happier meeting Tinkerbell.

While my husband waited in line for this flight, I took my kids to the King Arthur’s carousel. We also saw Cinderella walking by there and it made my daughter really happy.

Fantasyland is perfect for toddlers. But we found it also was the place with maximum wait times. Probably because by the time we reached there, the park had opened to all public and it was peak traffic time.  We did Dumbo-the flying elephant ride as well as the Mad tea party by splitting up.

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Round and round we go.

Taking it up a notch at Adventureland, Disneyland

It was time to head to Adventureland – to the Indiana Jones ride. We used the Fastpass to get ahead and while the boys took the ride and the Rider switch, the girls went and got the Fastpass to the Splash mountain.

We were back in time for me to go on the Indiana Jones ride and take my son again with me. My son was truly happy! Thanks to the Rider switch, he was getting to do all the cool rides twice over.

Cooling down with ice-creams and then in Critter Country

Once done with these rides, we walked into the Enchanted Tiki room and got our Ice cream floats, Dole Whip. We decided to relax a bit as we had been running since morning.

We then walked past the Disney castle and saw a couple of street performances. The customary shot in front of the castle had to be done as well.  Post this, we were eager for food.

Be ready to eat copious portions of french fried, pizza, burger. The food is ordinary, most people are just glad to sit down!

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What a cool ride!

In the late afternoon, we headed to Critter County: Splash Mountain – where the boys went ahead with the ride. My daughter and I headed off to the many adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Since my daughter is quite young, she got quite startled when the character came to meet her.

The staff is well trained to handle the kids and she was eating out of Pooh’s hand in no time!

After that, the mother-daughter duo sat back and chilled. There are so many nooks and corners in Disneyland that are so pretty. No ride to be done, just sit back and enjoy.

Last rounds in the evening with Star Wars show

By now, we were expecting kids to be tired and exhausted. Alas, they were happy and jumping. Surprisingly, so were we. In all this madness, the adults were having an unexpectedly good time too!

As the day began to wind down, we went to the Star Wars show that we signed up for in the morning. It was marvellous. The kids were given Jedi robes and light sabres and taught moves by older Jedis. Then they were taken to a spaceship temple.

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Channel your inner Jedi.

Disney being a pro that it is ensured that the kids got a full look and feel of Darth Vader coming out of the space temple with his evil sister.

True to the promise, each kid got a chance to combat with Darth Vader – from big ones down to the toddlers. Most kids were tense around Darth Vader but he had a sense of humor – it was so fun to watch!

Not all rides work through the year. Unfortunately, Thunder Railroad and Pirates of the Caribbean was shut during our visit. We skipped Haunted Mansion deliberately. Since we had managed to do most other rides, we decided to do the Hyperspace mountain again. The crowds dwindle by evening and move to other sections of the park. So, it was a breeze getting in and out of this coveted ride.

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A happy parade.

As the day drew to an end, we headed to – It’s a small world after all – for the ride and also because it is the starting point of the parade. The Parade is loads of energy and fun but can get boring if you don’t have a good spot. While we watched it for a bit, we decided to let up after 20 mins and headed back to the hotel.

The Disney tram inside the park got us to Disney downtown from where we could enter our hotel. We wound up a day with a wonderful Mexican meal in the downtown while listening to live music. We then went to our hotel and crashed in a matter of minutes – a day well spent.

Do read – Travel with your kids and make them love the world

Day 2: California Adventure Park

We slept for 10 hours straight without anybody moving the slightest. Again we were up at the break of dawn, looking forward to fun at California Adventure Park. Alas, this time the weather gods decided to play truant. It was drizzling with a forecast for heavy rainstorm!

But we had come prepared. I was armed with the best raincoats and boots for the kids that would keep them warm. We had also planned the day in a way as to watching shows or doing indoor rides for the time when heavy rain was expected.

The kids were bummed a bit but we decided to put our game faces on and head out.

TIP: Always check the weather before leaving.

Disneyland sells raincoats but those are flimsy. If rain is expected, I highly recommend taking your own gear. Lots of people stopped and asked us if we had got our stuff in the park as they were trying to find something sturdy.

Magic hour on alternate days worked out well as we could do the parks independently on separate days. The park hopper allowed us to jump parks should we want to but that need did not arise.

Again, like in Disneyland park, we got in during the Magic Hour. Fortunately, the drizzling had stopped. Lucky for us, the crowds were thin as people were expecting rain.

Crazy fun time at Cars Land in Disneyland

This time we started with the Cars Land – it was located at the back end of the park so we had a tough time running but the boys made it fast to the Radiator Springs Racer. This roller-coaster is the most famous ride of California Adventure park and the queues run into 2-3 hours of wait-time were really happy to get in quickly.

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It doesn’t get more fun than this car race.

The ride gives you the thrill of racing, being strapped to a car and going on a track. While the boys did the ride, I collected my Rider switch and headed to Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree with my daughter. We finished the ride and were able to make it back to Radiator Springs Racer in time for our turn. As expected, my son went with me and in the first 20 minutes, he was able to do the best ride twice over.

Our target for the day was done. We were lucky as it started raining soon after and they shut off this ride as it was in the open. We went on to Luigi’s Rollickin Roadsters.

Afternoon excitement at Paradise Pier

After finishing this ride quickly, we headed to Paradise Pier. Since it was raining, we decided to do the indoor ride Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. Thanks to the rain, there was no waiting.

After that, we did the Toystory Midway Mania – another indoor ride. Again, it was easy breezy. By the time we came out, the rain had stopped. We took advantage of the moment and the boys went to Jumpin Jellyfish. And I took my daughter to meet Woody who was standing close by.

Sadly, the Ferris wheel and few other rides were closed because of the weather. But we more than made up for it with no lines and increased ability to cover more ground. On popular demand, we decided to do another round of Toystory Midway Mania.

My husband and I decided to used this time to do an adult roller coaster ride – California Screamin.

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There is a reason why the ride is named Screamin.

Let me just say that the name conveys a lot. I could not walk straight for quite some time after I did this. I had forgotten the thrill of being on a roller coaster. I was screaming so hard that at one point my voice ditched me and not a sound came out at a steep drop.

Relaxing at Bugs Land

The rain picked up once again and we walked over to the Bugs Land. We started with Flik’s flyers. All of us could ride at the same time in a cute hot air balloon made of leaves!

Later, we walked over to the screening of the 3-D film – It’s Tough To Be A Bug. The kids were captivated by 3D and would cringe everytime a bug came close on the screen. It was their first-ever 3D experience and they thoroughly enjoyed it.The other rides were meant for toddlers and my kids were not keen on these.

An impressive performance at Hollywood Land

So we decided to go to Hollywood Land to watch Frozen Live. Even though we were one of the first few in line, it took a long while for them to open the gates to the theatre. It was especially tough in the rains not to mention the multiple pee breaks.

Once in, we had the most amazing time watching Frozen Live. The one-hour show was like a broadway musical. The kids were rooted to their seats.

I would highly recommend this show if any of your kids have jumped on to the Frozen bandwagon.

Fortunately, there were enough indoor options to keep kids dry and entertained. We had managed to do most rides earlier in the morning when it wasn’t raining. Also, most of the rides and the show could be done together as a family. After the Frozen show, we went to Monster’s Inc ride. Spoilt for choice, my kids did not like it much.

Winding down at Grizzly Peak

We decided to pig out on snacks and have a late lunch. We sat by the Pier and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee and kids ate fruit. After this much-needed break, we went to Soarin Around the World – our last ride for the day.

As we took turns for this ride with Rider Switch, I could not help but notice that how the weather had no impact on my little ones. Their energies were high and they had that naughty twinkle in the eye.

Once done, we caught food at Lucky’s Fortune Cookery that was serving Asian stir-frys and then washed off the taste with Ghirardelli Ice Cream Sundaes. It was the perfect way to end a long day.

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Family fun at Disneyland California.

We finished by early evening. The kids were feeling cheated – so we reasoned that thanks to the thin crowds and rain gods, we had got rides done a lot faster.

As we walked out tired, I wondered that this was by far the most fun vacation I have had with my kids. Our choicest memory!

Do read – Travelling the world with your toddler


This is a guest post by Sonal Sarin. 

An ex-Googler, Sonal loves to travel and dance. After working for more than a decade, Sonal is currently enjoying her time taking care of her family and basking in the Californian sun. Her favorite destinations so far have been New Zealand, Norway, and Greece.


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