Disneyland in one day for a 5-year-old
June 8, 2011 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Disneyland in one day for a 5-year-old. Help us get the most out of the day.

We're in Anaheim for two nights and have a mid-week day to spend at Disneyland. Any suggestions on an itinerary or key things to see/do with a 5-year-old boy? Besides comfortable shoes, any general advice?
posted by sisquoc15 to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Did you see this?
posted by rokabiri at 2:27 PM on June 8, 2011

Best answer: These types of guides are actually pretty useful. For example, this book offers "Revolutionary, field-tested Touring Plans that can save four hours of standing in line in a single day." Having read past editions of this, the book actually provides exactly that.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:28 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Fastpass! This will be completely essential if you want to see World of Color that night.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:32 PM on June 8, 2011

+1 to recommendations to Disney guide plans designed for this. Consider planning at least one meal away from the hotels or park because the food there is generally overpriced and awful--for adults, at least. Also, when the guides suggest gaining admission to the park at opening time, heed them. The park fills up rapidly as the day progresses, and the cool morning's walk and shorter lines totally justify waking up for it.
posted by Hylas at 2:34 PM on June 8, 2011

Keep him hydrated, lathered up with sunscreen, and then just go with the flow. It'll help to have a plan to keep him occupied while waiting in line so he's not fidgeting restlessly. Have a set location for him to meet you at in the event you get separated (ie City Hall. Maybe have your cell phone number inside his pocket so they can call you in the event he makes it there.) Get FastPasses for big-name rides like Indiana Jones, Star Tours, Soarin' Over California, and for events like World of Color, even if you're going mid-week. It's been really crowded lately due to construction and new rides opening. If you plan to go on water-centric rides like Splash Mountain or Grizzly Rapids, have a change of clothes ready for him (and a change of socks) so he's not squishing around the park in damp undies the whole day after.

If he likes Aladdin and can sit still for an hour or so, definitely hit up the Aladdin show in California Adventure.
posted by patronuscharms at 2:34 PM on June 8, 2011

Does he like rides? My 5-year-old daughter will only go on a few rides at Disneyland, so if you want to go on some of the coaster-type rides, you may have to either split up, or do the "baby swap".

If he can get picked for the Jedi Training Academy, it's fun for the kids and a great video opportunity for the parents.

Where we spend a lot of time is actually at California Adventure. I don't know how much a 2-park, 1-day pass is, but my daughter loves all the rides in A Bug's Land (bring a swimsuit, flipflops and towel and your kid can splash & play in the fountain there). She also loves the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, which has lots of great activities for kids.
posted by mogget at 2:37 PM on June 8, 2011

I went to Disneyland when I was 5. It was fun. The only things I remember are meeting Mickey Mouse (he was bigger than I expected), going on the "It's a Small World After All" ride and taking a helium mickey mouse balloon home. I'm sure we did a lot more than that, but I don't remember anything else, beyond the fact that it was a really really fun day with my family.

So whatever you do, he'll have fun. Unless you spend all your time in queues or running around determined to see and do EVERYTHING and getting a bit stressed about it. So avoid queues and keep the plan flexible. So you may not get to go on the new, cool rides etc. He's too young to understand what he's missed out on (give it a couple of years, and that will change!). So just focus on having fun.
posted by finding.perdita at 3:41 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not been in a few years, but based on both my childhood, teenage and adult experiences, a few easy tips:

Don't: spend your time stuck in queues, there are more than enough wonderful experiences for you and your child that it's a super waste of time. Off some of the queue filled rides are not open to little-uns, but the number of bored kids waiting for hotdogs or old rides like autopia.. Long queues destroy the magic of the place more than anything else, it's why Disney puts so much effort into mitigating them. Some queues are inevitable of course, but trying to mitigate them will make for a super fun day.

Do: take advantage of the characters wandering around the park.. The smiles on the faces of kids getting a hug from Minnie or buzz or whoever is always always radiant...

Do: fast pass anything that could benefit from it, these are magical words, the VIP of Disney land, totally worth the effort and those above have more information on good things to do it for.

Don't: shun the classics, The moving teacups, Its a small world, These kinds of rides are not so glitzy, but they are magical for a reason, they are great fun for everyone and (I guess?) less queue

Do: buy some momento's. Yes it's all overpriced tat, but my Disneyland toys were played with a heck of a lot after my first trip at 8 or so years old, because they were linked to my experiences.

Do: ignore anything I've just said that conflicts with your judgement. I am in mY twenties and have no kids, so you know far better than me how to look after a five year old,
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 4:00 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get there when it opens and take advantage of it being early and midweek. Lines should be relatively short all day midweek, but exceptionally short before noon.

Breakfast with the Characters at the Plaza Inn (Minnie and Friends) is something my 4 and 6 yr olds love. Anywhere from 6-10 characters (including Minnie Mouse, the hostess) will come by the table and actually spend several minutes "interacting" (characters with a mask on don't talk) with the whole family and signing autographs.

If you have to choose between DCA (Disney's California Adventure) and DR (Disneyland Resort):

- DCA will have many age suitable rides and likely less crowds (and World of Color! if he can make it to 8:30/9ish) and could easily take up the whole day.

- DR has the classics, and the real, unmistakable feel of being the original Disneyland (Small world, Tiki Room, Teacups, Jungle Cruise, and all of Fantasyland). That likely doesn't matter to a 5 yr old though.

If you've got a smartphone, get one of the apps (Disneyland Inside Out or Mousewait, both free) to track line times, and find your way around. even if you are familiar with the parks, these are great resources.

re: balloons... Don't buy a balloon until just before you leave, or you'll have to leave it with the ride op for every ride you go on. Might not sound terrible, but really a PITA.
posted by tdischino at 5:05 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

We took our son when he was 4 and 5. Note that he's a roller coaster loving kid, so may not like what your kid likes. We used the Unofficial Guide (linked above) to plan our visit. Even with a plan, it's important to take it easy and take breaks before you know you need one (y'know, the signs of impending meltdown and convincing him he needs to pee before you get in a line). Our son loved driving the cars at Autopia (you need to push the pedal but but he can steer), riding the rocket cars, the Buzz Lightyear ride, and his favorite was Star Tours. He was tall enough for Space Mountain and Matterhorn, but they didn't top Star Tours for him (he was so sad they closed it for renovations and doesn't like that it's now going to be 3-D). There are a lot of shops, so think about how you want to handle souvenir purchases ($$$!) and sugar treats to avoid arguments and whining there. We did California Adventure one time but he couldn't ride the rides he wanted to ride (the exciting thriller ones) and so we didn't have a great time there (they've added more stuff since then though).

Even though we had fun at Disneyland, when we went back to LA this year, he only wanted to go to Legoland because he knew he could go on every ride so we skipped Disney.
posted by girlhacker at 5:11 PM on June 8, 2011

Best answer: I worked at Disneyland in the stores for 19 months; most of my CA friends are Annual Passholders and I was one for a few years before I worked there. I also grew up going to Disneyland; my dad lives about fifteen miles north of there - when I was a kid I joked you could drive straight from his house to the Disneyland wall without making a turn, which is almost true. I also have the spiels from most of the attractions and the tram service memorized even though I haven't been there in years.


Do NOT tell him about every single ride/land/etc. - the park only exists to the extent he's told about it. If I had a five-year-old and 10 hours at Disneyland on a not-that-busy day, I'd expect to get through about two rides per hour, one parade, and, if he's in a great mood and had a nap, the fireworks.

You can see the fireworks from throughout Anaheim (I worked for the city for a short time; they have a dedicated complaint line for residents to grouse about this.) If your hotel is close, you can see them. Heck, I saw them once from a backyard in Fullerton. If it is 8pm and everyone's pooped, go back to the hotel and enjoy them in a less stressful environment, please.

Talk up Toon Town (which has few queues and lots of places to wander and around and explore.) Take advantage of the fact that on the train, you can sit very quietly for a while. Take a break halfway through - naps are your friend.

Be prepared for the possibility that your child is going to be terrified of the fuzzies - Tigger, Pooh, Mickey, etc. If they do have a hard time with the costumed characters, look for face characters - Aladdin, Jasmine, and the princesses are all people whose faces you can see, which helps the kids who are freaked out, in some cases. I have a friend who still found the characters disturbing even after we went and tried out to be Pooh on a lark.

Be aware that some of the dark rides are pretty freaking scary. My youngest sister was closer to 10 than 5 before she could handle Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and the queue for Sleeping Beauty. When she was 6 my stepmom had to escort her out of the queue backwards, because she was frozen in terror when she saw some of the stuff you had to walk past. I would not bring a child that young on Indiana Jones, for instance, even if he was tall enough.

Know how tall your kid is. DO NOT try and get around the height requirements.

Concentrate on keeping everyone's moods up and enduring - this is not the time to worry about how much soda costs, it's the time to worry about finding a quiet dark place to rest for a few minutes. There are a few good spots around corners - I like the stairs behind the stores in New Orleans Square, the benches on the walk between Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain, and the area between the castle and Main Street (either to the left or the right.)

You can enjoy watching people riding Splash Mountain from the area around where the french fries (at my last visit) are sold, by the Rivers of America. Their screams are a lot less intense than the ride itself.

When you first come in, visit Guest Relations and familiarize yourself with the location of the Lost Parents office. Have a lost kid plan in place. I second wearing VERY DISTINCTIVE not-Disney outfits, and being able to describe your whole party if necessary.

Take advantage of the home shipment service from the stores. It's expensive, but you do not want to be hauling giant stuff around the park. If you want to buy fudge, get it on Main Street - when I sold fudge in other locations, we got it delivered from there, and they went through it much, much faster.

If your child likes to talk to people or is a collector, buy a few cheap cloisonne Disney pins to trade with the Cast Members. They have special kid-only pin trading lanyards.

If it rains, look for the Rainy Day Cavalcade. Manage expectations about the parades and fireworks if it does rain, which it probably won't, but you never know. (That was the Christmas version, but it gives a good idea of what to expect.)

Try to eat inside as much as you can. The Blue Bayou is the only sit-down restaurant; get a reservation in the morning if you're into Cajun food. Otherwise I recommend the Plaza Inn (classic American stuff) or the Golden Horseshoe (burgers, etc.) Or, you can take a break and leave the park to eat at either Downtown Disney (Rainforest Cafe) or the hotels (my personal favorite is the Storyteller's Cafe.) A list of all of your options is here.

Be ready for crazy crowds, especially during parades and near the fireworks/Fantasmic/etc. It is best to cross parades before they start and get as far away as you can, but you can find designated crossing points in a couple of spots. As a former CM, I spend parade times riding the Haunted Mansion, and the fireworks in Space Mountain. Be aware that most people move very very slowly and without looking in these crowds.

If you want to save money on food, the Denny's across the street from the entrance plaza is pretty good, albeit a definite guest-oriented place. If you need to get away from tourists, go to the Denny's on Katella near Anaheim stadium, which is pretty quiet from 7pm till whenever the cast members are leaving the last shifts of the day.

(I could go on and on. If you have specific questions I can probably find the answers for you. Also read the trip info, bathroom guide, etc. on Mouse Planet. And get embroidered Mouse ears, they're the only souvenirs people keep for thirty years.)
posted by SMPA at 5:23 PM on June 8, 2011 [9 favorites]

I think you have to decide what "the most" is for the 5 year old. The highpoint of my daughter's first visit was meeting Mickey. She talked about it for weeks. All the rest of the day paled in comparison to shaking hands with a guy in a character suit. She liked the rides, the parade, etc. but that was the crowning moment of her existence.

She's been back since (she's in college, we live in LA), but the touch of Mickey's gloved hand was a truly magical part of her childhood. And I'm glad that we didn't have a timetable, we didn't try to rush around, and that we could enjoy her wonder and enchantment.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:33 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

At 5, you may consider him too old for strollers. Strongly consider buying or renting one just for the day anyhow.

It's an awful lot of walking for little legs, and a stroller provides a convenient place for him to conk out for a nap in the afternoon should he be the napping kind of child.
posted by Andrhia at 7:25 PM on June 8, 2011

Seeing Mickey these days is tough -- there's an actual 'attraction' with a line and wait times in Toon Town, all to shake his hand. The line is neat -- it snakes through his house -- but still. I've seen Mickey on Main Street only occasionally, and even then the line stretches 80 people long. If you want to see him, make it one of the first things you do. Mousewait (the iPhone app mentioned above) has Mickey under their list of attractions; it'll tell you how long the wait is.

Oh, and really really -- get there as early as humanly possible. I've been a few times recently, middle of the week, winter and spring, and it's been pretty much very crowded every time, especially by noon. Certainly don't let that scare you, but plan for lines.
posted by incessant at 1:25 AM on June 9, 2011

Keep in mind that it's summer, and they've just opened two new rides -- the revamped Star Tours and a Little Mermaid ride at DCA -- so it's likely to be pretty crowded. I agree with everyone's who suggested getting there as early as you can, as it will only get more crowded as the day progresses.

Idle thoughts about various rides:

Toontown has some nice interactive elements (doors that make noises when you open them, mailboxes that talk to you), and the walkthrough of Mickey's house is pretty fun (you can choose to wait and see Mickey at the end, but if the line is long you can bypass it). Gadget's Go-Coaster is a kid-friendly but VERY short rollercoaster; if the line is even moderately long it's not worth it.

In Fantasyland, the line to Peter Pan is almost permanently long; if you're excited about going on it, try to catch it right when the park opens and the line is still short, or alternately right after the fireworks show when the rest of the park is distracted. Mr. Toad, Snow White, and Pinocchio all have mildly scary or surprising elements to them, while Alice in Wonderland is pretty tame. Definitely hit up the Teacups, and perhaps the Casey Jr. train ride (it passes through the same landscape as the Storybook Land boat ride, but you're in a train which is more exciting).

If it's hot and you want to relax somewhere cool, try the Enchanted Tiki Room show or It's A Small World. Pirates of the Carribean is also cool inside and the line moves fairly quickly, but you have to go down a few dark drops at the beginning, which has been a sticking point for the little children I've known. Innoventions is an air-conditioned "technology showcase" that's kind of blandly corporate, but it has computer games that kids can play and some gee-whiz tech stuff.

Tarzan's Treehouse and Tom Sawyer's Island both have play spaces where kids can clamber around on things.

If your kid likes dinosaurs, you can get on the Disneyland Railroad in Tomorrowland, and it goes through a diorama of animatronic dinosaurs on its way to Main Street.

The World of Color show at DCA is the new hotness, but Fantasmic! is a really fun, really impressive show on the lake at Disneyland and well-worth seeing if you're around that late.
posted by brookedel at 6:13 AM on June 9, 2011

I've heard it said kids under age 9 can't truly appreciate Disneyland because they don't have enough experiences (with lesser amusement parks) to realize how superior the Magic Kingdom is. Much advice given about maximizing your Disneyland experience is geared towards adults and older kids who know all about what they're getting into, and want to arrive early (to avoid lines) and stay late (in order to see everything). But a 5-year-old? Just stroll down Main Street and around the castle, then limit your areas to Fantasyland and Adventureland -- don't try to do everything; unless that's the parents' goal, in which case you're going to have one cranky, tired child by the end of the day.
posted by Rash at 10:18 AM on June 9, 2011

Random update: my friends are at the park today, and as of 2 hours ago (about 2:30pm local time) the wait for Star Tours was 140 minutes long. Yesterday it was 3 hours long, and the line to get a FastPass was 30 minutes long. Many, though not all, local schools are out, and many teenagers, especially in Orange County, have annual passes, often ones that only let them in on weekdays. My church youth group actually held activities there in the mid-1990s because you had to pay for parking at the beach and everyone had a pass to Disneyland that included parking.

Anyway, this is actually excellent news. You shouldn't have a problem getting into many of the traditionally longer-wait attractions. During the soft opens for the Rocket Rods and Indiana Jones, the rest of the park was a comparative ghost town (though admittedly, I stood in lines longer than 3 hours for both of them.) Remember that you can access Space Mountain by going around the long way (by the stage and Autopia) or by taking the train in - you don't have to walk past Star Tours.
posted by SMPA at 3:52 PM on June 13, 2011

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