Magic. A word closely associated with the Disney© resorts and one I admit to scoffing at a time or two. Once you take a toddler to Disney, you realize MAGIC is the perfect description. Seeing Disneyland through my (almost) 3 years olds eyes for the first time, made it into one of my most memorable vacations.


I was warned (looking at you dad) children under the age of three are too young to enjoy Disney, but I found that not to be true. You do have to manage expectations (we will not be seeing the fireworks extravaganza at 10PM). You can have a wonderful, dare I say magical, trip with your little ones.


I started by researching our best ticket options. Kids under three are FREE. Yes, you read that right, FREE. I only had to purchase tickets for myself and my parents.


When to go?

You can check crowd predictions using this smart phone application or if you are like me, you will go when your family and spouse can get some time off (and during the non-blackout dates for using the discounted tickets). We found the mornings to be the least crowded and we were able to ride a lot of the rides multiple times without waiting in any line. If your kids are anything like mine they are up early anyway, plan to head straight to the park when they wake and enjoy crowd free park time until around 11AM.


Military discount Ticket options.

 I bought three day park hopper passes for myself and my parents from our Local Information Ticket and Travel (ITT). My spouse was going to meet us the last day there so he purchased a one day ticket through ITT – then tried to change it to a one day park hopper pass at the park- which made it MORE EXPENSIVE than the three day park hopper pass (so make sure to ask about all process and options). The ticket attendant at the park was so kind and let us exchange the one day ticket for a three day ticket, but lessoned learned. Make sure to talk with the ticket seller to ensure you are getting the best deal.


Be prepared

Have a daily plan and know your child’s height. My little one is 38 inches so the 40 inch minimum height limit for many of the rides prevented us from riding. I knew which rides these would be in advance, so we didn’t waste any time (or toddler angst) pining or waiting for rides she couldn’t ride. I also know my daughter does not like the dark and loud noises (I brought these noise cancelling headphones we also use for seeing daddy at work) and kept them in my bag just in case. This meant we avoided some of the rides like Snow White. I checked out the rides here and used this fantastic daily plan made just for toddlers.


Snacks and knickknacks are the best ways to distract from waiting in line! I had food pouches and other munchies for distractions (do not forget granola bars for the adults too). I also brought glow sticks and other small toys to avoid spending an arm and leg on toys inside the park.

If you want to eat your meals in the park make reservations. All that will be left, if you wait until they day of, will be terrible times for a toddler to eat. No one likes rushing through a meal with a grouchy hungry toddler at 8PM. We ate at Goofy’s Kitchen and Ariel’s Grotto. The adults enjoyed Ariel’s grotto more because handling a buffet with two small children while characters are dancing around meant none of us ate much at all. This site had a great breakdown of each restaurant.  We ate our other meals outside of the park around 5: 30 PM and had NO wait and it was more reasonably priced.


Bring help

If you can bring a set of grandparents with you- do! You will be able to purchase a discounted ticket for them through ITT as well. The Disneyland smart phone application is like having a personalized Disneyland tour guide. It shows where each character is in the park and the wait times for all of the rides.


Finally, have realistic expectations and have fun! Expect a few tired meltdowns as the kids will be overwhelmed from all the fun and most likely less sleep. It’s too exciting to sleep in! I thought Disneyland with an 8 month old and almost 3 year old (we were there for her birthday) was a blast. If you can make it happen, I believe you will have a wonderful time!

Please share your favorite Disneyland photos or memories in the comments!


About the Blogger: Briana Hartzell is a Navy spouse, mother to two beautiful girls (3 years and 6 months), a former full time USAA employee and a graduate of Texas A&M University. Briana writes at Being Briana, a blog focused on the joys that military life and parenthood can bring.


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Occasional Visitor

Hi Brianna.... thanks for the article.... all very good points!


we took our 2.5-year-old (at the time) for a day last March and it was uber-memorable!  It was her first time, and my first time in probably 20 years.  I became convinced we needed to go more often and my wife agreed!  We're currently planning our trip(s) for this year and I've been debating buying an annual pass as I/we hope to spend more than just one day, on multiple visits throughout the year while the pass is valid.  


My question is this.... I'm no longer active, nor reserve... not even sure I'm still in the IRR!  I'm just a veteran, wondering if there are any discounts available on daily or annual passes for me and my family to go visit the happiest place on earth!  I didn't think I could use any of the MWR or ITT resources on any base... so I figured I'd try my bennies with USAA.... signed on and performed a search for Disneyland.... your article was the first thing that came up.


Given your background and experience, do you have any idea?  Thanks for your time, and I hope you get back to Disneyland with the kids soon!

Regular Contributor

So good of you to write an article like this.  People don't know what they don't know, and if they have never undertaken an outing like this with a toddler without some planning, things could get out of hand quickly.  Your writing is a pleasure to read and I hope you will post others like it as your  situation allows.

Briana Hartzell USAA

Thank you @LibEngineer! Vacationing with a toddler is so much fun- with a  little preparation! We are taking a road trip for spring break next week with our almost 2 and 4 year old, I will share if I have any lessons learned there either. Thanks again for commenting and participating in community!