Children Visiting Disneyland for the First Time

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

Many parents eagerly prepare their children’s first trips to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. Today, Parenting Panelist Mary Kraemer (an avid Disney fan and travel consultant with CruisingCo/MouseEarVacations who loves to travel with her husband and children to Disney destinations as often as possible) shares fabulous tips for planning that first trip. In between Mary's words of wisdom, the Parenting Panelists shares their Top 3 must-dos for your child’s first trip to Disneyland:

Taking your child to Disneyland for the first time is an exciting (yes, MAGICAL) experience… for both of you. You’ll have a day you’ll treasure by keeping things as simple as possible.

Pack the necessities you’ll need for the day (and a sweatshirt for the evening), sunscreen, comfortable shoes (for you and your child), and a camera that has a fully charged battery (because you aren’t going to want to miss a moment of this!)

Adrienne Krock's Top 3 Musts
  1. Fantasmic! – Even if you saw it already at the Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Park's is better.
  2. Pirates of the Caribbean  – Again, even if you already rode it at the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland's is way better.
  3. Grand Circle Tour of the Disneyland Railroad – Board and disembark in the same place - and make sure you ride between the Tomorrowland station and the Main Street station.
Adrienne is a mom of three boys: 9, 12 and 15

But let’s get into the right mindset for your day. This is your child’s first day to experience Disney magic, so it’s important for you to consider things from your child’s perspective. Please don’t focus on "getting your money’s worth" by trying to see and do everything possible, because that attitude is just setting yourself up for stress. You certainly don’t want your child’s memory of Disneyland to be rushing around everywhere in a blur, with their parents stressing about getting it all done. So don’t.

Start your day bright and early; get to the park at opening (or, if you’re staying at one of the Disney hotels, for the Extra Magic Hour in the morning). Let’s face it; from a kid’s perspective (when you’re only about 3 feet tall), you get a much better view at the castle at the end of Main Street without wall-to-wall people in front of you! It’s so much better to enjoy Fantasyland, for example, when there aren’t huge lines for the rides, which is a plus for both of you. For the first hour or two in the morning, you have the fewest people in the park, and it’s such a pleasant way to start the day.

Elizabeth B's Top 3 Must
  1. Eat a Disneyland Corn Dog – They make quite a tasty lunch.  
  2. Watch a Parade. – Sit on the curb and enjoy a break while Disney characters dance and sing on by.
  3. Ride the Jungle Cruise – For us, it is always our last ride.  Float down rivers of the world, where you get to see exotic animals, and hear corny jokes.
Elizabeth is a mom of two young girls.

Take things slow and relax. Enjoy what you are able to see and do in a day. Let your child be your guide throughout the day. Tune in to your child’s perspective. For example, you might really want to have a photo of your child with Mickey from their first day at Disneyland, but your child might take one look at that gigantic dressed up mouse and dive under a chair in fear. Don’t push it and force your kid to pose with Mickey—do you really want the child’s first photo with the Big Cheese to show them teary-eyed and screaming in fear? It is probably safer to be a little distance away from a "rubberhead" (characters where you can’t see an actual person’s face) and get a feel for your child’s reaction. You might get your wish for that photo if, the instant your child sees Mickey Mouse, they can’t wait to give him a hug.

I think there’s nothing finer than strolling down Main Street toward the castle and going across the moat into Fantasyland. You’ll have several "visible" options such as King Arthur Carousel, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, the Mad Tea Party, the Storybookland Canal Boats, and the Casey Jr. Circus Train (these are all rides that are outside and visible, unlike Peter Pan's Flight, Pinocchio's Daring Journey, Snow White's Scary Adventures, and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, which have entrances to a ride that’s on the interior of a building).

Sonya Malott's Top 3 Musts
  1. Pirates of the Caribbean
  2. Space Mountain  – Check the height requirement
  3. World of Color at Disney California Adventure
Sonya is a mom with a 3-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.

Here’s where it means a lot to tune into your child, and know your child’s temperment. I would start with visible rides, so they’re excited about being at Disneyland and going on rides. For the first "inside" ride, I would go to Peter Pan's Flight and you’ll get a good sense of how your child will do with that type of ride. (It is probably the least scary of the inside rides, and its line tends to get long quickly, so if you can get it done earlier in the day, you won’t have a long line). If Peter Pan's Flight makes your child anxious or upset, I’d advise skipping the other inside rides of Fantasyland, and you might have to consider skipping other rides such as Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion later on.

There’s plenty for a young child to enjoy at Disneyland; riding the Main Street vehicles (such as the Omnibus,Fire Truck, and Horse-Drawn Trolley) is always fun. If you need a nice break in the afternoon, ride the train around the park, go on the Mark Twain Rverboat or the Columbia Sailing Ship. Go see Mickey and the Magical Map in the Fantasyland Theater, where you can sit and be entertained. Savor the coolness of the Enchanted Tiki Room while the birds sing and the flowers croon. Go for it; take the happiest cruise that ever sailed…in "it’s a small world"…and enjoy 15 minutes off your feet while your child is enchanted.

If your child loves to run and play, head over to Tom Sawyer's Island for some outdoor fun and explorations in the caves!

Laura Troescher's Top 3 Musts
  1. Disneyland Railroad – Or as we affectionately call it, "The Train." Walt's pride and joy. I can't ride it without picturing him sitting on the mini-train he built in his backyard, or his famous quote of his plan for Disneyland "...and it should be surrounded by a train." I feel like this is overlooked by newcomers. Please, please ride the train around the entire park once. Think about the way the park no longer fits neatly inside the berm. Think about the great, sometimes unequaled views you get of the park. Think about the shade and the cool breeze and the smell. Wave to the park guests on "it's a small world" and riding Splash Mountain. Enjoy the Grand Canyon and Primeval World. But, most of all, think about Walt. It was his park and his train and you are most fortunate to be in such a magical place.
  2. Turtle Talk With Crush – Best-kept secret! We've seen it with kids and without kids, and it never fails to make us laugh and be a true delight. My 5-year-old was a little shy to sit on the carpet but laughed his head off and came out reciting every joke word for word. The best part? Crush is hilarious for the adults, too. And it's particularly enjoyable on a very hot and sunny day. Find time to see Turtle Talk.
  3. Eat at a restaurant inside Disneyland or DCA, at least once – We consider food part of the experience so we eat every meal in the park (I know—you're thinking $$$, but we budget it in as part of our vacation). It's OK if you are venturing back to your hotel for more budget-friendly meals, but please eat at least one meal inside the park. Make a reservation at Cafe Orleans or Blue Bayou or Carnation Cafe—or just pop by the Royal Street Veranda window for a bowl of gumbo. The ambience is unmatched and the food itself is pretty darn good, too. An experience worth paying for.
Laura is a mom of two little ones.

If you are staying until the fireworks show, here’s another time when you need to know your children’s preferences. Do loud noises bother them? Then being close to the castle on Main Street is possibly not your best choice, but if you are farther away, closer to the train station, the sound is not so bad. Or you can use earplugs to help with the sound.

Tempting as it might be to dress your child in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, I advise not doing that because as soon as you get into the park,  and your little one gets away from you, and it’s hard to spot them in a crowd. It is also good to have a plan if you get separated from your child; show them how to go to the nearest ride, restaurant, or store, and tell a cast member that they are lost, and that you will be back together in just a few minutes.

Being at Disneyland is really exciting for a young child, and it’s up to you, as the parent, to make sure you take frequent breaks for the bathroom (or visit the lovely Baby Care Center, which has changing tables and adorable pint-sized potties), as well as eating regularly during the day (and there’s certainly no lack of options!).

Mary Kraemer's Top 3 Musts
  1. Indiana Jones: Temple of the Forbidden Eye
  2. Pirates of the Caribbean
  3. Peter Pan's Flight

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!


  1. By davidgra

    This really isn't a very useful column -- there are different "must-do" lists for different ages of children, as well as for children of different interests.

    If you child is under the age of three, then things like Space Mountain and Indiana Jones are completely out of the question, and even Pirates of the Caribbean can be too intense for some little ones. If your child's first visit is at age five, then you'll have an entirely different set of "must-do" activities than if your child is 10.

    The best advice for a child's first visit to a Disney park is to plan ahead -- look at park maps, talk about the attractions, and explain how things work to the child. Then let the child make some of the decisions about things they want to see and do.

  2. By Drince88

    I think I'd start with Small World as a first 'inside ride' before even Peter Pan to judge your young child's reaction - though it's tempting to do Pan first because of the way the line builds through the day.

  3. By Jimbo996

    While you are correct in saying that the child's needs should be the focus, the column does a disservice by giving us a Top 3 Musts. This doesn't exist for any child in general. And it is misleading to say a child would like to see Pirates that has lots of adult content, and Fantasmic when it is usually past their bedtime and takes lots of planning to arrange a showing (food, blanket, etc.). It just doesn't work out according to high expectations.

    Disneyland should not be treated as a once in a lifetime event. It is clearly a learning experience. Children are in it for the long haul (regular visits) and they are best serviced with short and tight schedules and plenty of breaks for rest and refreshments.

    "There’s plenty for a young child to enjoy at Disneyland"

    "Being at Disneyland is really exciting for a young child"

    Come on. The parents are more excited than the child. This will not end up well.

  4. By jmorgan

    What to do with your child on their first visit is entirely dependent on the child. Every kid is different. My son's first visit was when he was 6 and our first day at Disneyland was terrible. He hated it. He would not go on any ride. I got him on one dark ride and he screamed the entire time. He cried and was miserable the entire day. The next day started out even worst. My wife and I thought we made a huge mistake taking him. Then he started to climb some rocks near tomorrowland, and for the first time started to smile and have fun. I took him directly to Tom Sawyer Island and he had the time of his life. Turns out he did not understand the idea of waiting in line for a ride that was passive entertainment. I finally got him to ride Buzz and he loved that since he was interacting with it. My daughter on the other hand went on every ride starting at the age of 1, and loved sitting and watching on the rides.

  5. By Malcon10t

    My granddaughter is 2 and LOVES Fantasmic! It really is a must do for her. She started going to Disneyland at 5 mos. Every child is different. Every child will have their likes and dislikes. Heiress loves Fantasmic!, Monster's Inc (Monster ride!), and Mickey's Death Wheel. She hasn't not liked anything we have taken her on. She loves the shows, especially Playhouse Disney adn Dancing with Disney. And while she didn't score a point, she likes TSMM also...

    There is plenty for a young child to see and do, but the parents do need to be prepared to set the pace to the child.

  6. By Marceline

    Quote Originally Posted by Malcon10t View Post
    My granddaughter is 2 and LOVES Fantasmic! It really is a must do for her. She started going to Disneyland at 5 mos. Every child is different. Every child will have their likes and dislikes. Heiress loves Fantasmic!, Monster's Inc (Monster ride!), and Mickey's Death Wheel. She hasn't not liked anything we have taken her on. She loves the shows, especially Playhouse Disney adn Dancing with Disney. And while she didn't score a point, she likes TSMM also...

    There is plenty for a young child to see and do, but the parents do need to be prepared to set the pace to the child.

    Mickey's Death Wheel ? ! ? ! What Disney Park has that attraction ? I'm going to avoid that one.

  7. By Dave1313

    Quote Originally Posted by Marceline View Post
    Mickey's Death Wheel ? ! ? ! What Disney Park has that attraction ? I'm going to avoid that one.

    Alternate (unofficial! ) name for Mickey's Fun Wheel at Disney California Adventure. It's a Wonder Wheel type Ferris Wheel where every other car moves along a track as the wheel spins.

    Some suggest this is more scary than any other thrill ride in the Disney parks. (I'm not speaking from experience - the only time I went on I did the stationary cars on the perimeter that don't do any additional motion - probably more because the line was shorter than me knowing anything about the reputation at the time)

  8. By dsnyredhead

    I think parents really need to know their kids. Every child is different. If your child is upset by lots of motion, pick slower moving attractions or stationary ones. If your child doesn't like being in the dark too much, then maybe avoid the dark rides. We tend to try to get our son to try something different on visits to the park, although at this point there isn't much he hasn't either done or decided not to do. Do not push your child to do rides if they are apprehensive about it to begin with...again know your child. For some children, it might just be that they come out of the attraction loving it..for other kids, they may either cry or be very upset about being on it. My son loves the firework shows, etc but the loud noises from the fireworks sometimes scares him. Fire effects scare him as we try to watch from a little further away. He is nine and to this day, has never been on Haunted Mansion....he gets upset by loud noises and while I think he could handle the ride okay, the stretch room could cause a serious we don't push him to try it.

  9. By cheshirecatgirl

    My nieces, ages 3 and 5, do not like most of the dark rides because they are so loud. But they love all the roller coasters! I think meeting characters is still their most favorite thing though. And they enjoy the parades. We haven't stayed late enough yet for any of the nighttime shows. But yeah, every kid is different. I thought, when I first took my older niece, that she would love rides like Alice and Pirates, but she hated them. However she completely loved Gadgets Go Coaster!

  10. By candles71

    If it is too loud and not the darkness, talk to her about trying foam earplugs. They don't eliminate the sound, but they lessen it to a comfortable level. My youngest hated the vacuum, and ddn't like some of the rides. When we figured out they were too loud for her comfort, and started carrying the ear plugs she loved all the rides. Walmart carries them right with the ear/eye drops etc. DH has to have them per Osha for work so we are never without. At 11, fireworks are still too loud, but she is fine with the rides without them now. She digs them out when daddy fires up the chainsaw though.

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