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Disney California Adventure with Small Children TRAVEL GUIDE

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Planning a visit to Disneyland with toddlers or preschoolers? Be sure to spend a day at California Adventure, its sister park, which is right next door! While there are some thrill rides for older kids and adults, there are plenty of attractions for the littlest visitors, too. And kids 2 and under get in free!

My husband, best friend, and I recently visited California Adventure with our 2-year-old twins and her 3-year-old boy. All of the kids—and the adults—had a blast. Here are 10 tips I’ve compiled on visiting California Adventure with small children:

1. Bring a lightweight umbrella stroller

The parking lot is quite a hike from the parks, so you’ll need to take a shuttle bus to the parks’ entrance. The problem is that you’ll need to collapse your stroller to board the shuttle. That can be pretty hard if you’re lugging a huge BOB double stroller, like we were. Plus, the shuttles get crowded, so there’s not much room on board. Therefore, I’d recommend taking a lightweight umbrella stroller that’s easy to collapse. I would not recommend trying to do without a stroller, since you’ll be doing a ton of walking in the park and your kid will need a place to nap. I also wouldn’t recommend renting a stroller from the park because it will be hard to pick yours out of the sea of matching strollers after you get off a ride.

2. Download a wait-time app

There are several free smartphone apps that list wait times for the most popular attractions at Disneyland and California Adventure. These apps are usually accurate, and a huge help. Using the app throughout the day can help you determine which ride to visit next based on which has the shortest time, or which ride to get a FASTPASS for if the wait time is long. I used the free VersaEdge Software app “Disneyland Wait Times” on my iPhone, and it worked wonderfully!

3. Don’t forget to pick up a map and entertainment schedule when you enter the park

With all of the chaos, it can be easy to forget to pick up a park map and entertainment schedule. Trust me, you’ll need these. The park is pretty big, so you’ll need the map to find your way around, and the schedule will give you times for parades, shows, character appearances, and other events happening around the park.

4. Get to Cars Land when the park opens

The most popular section of the park is Cars Land, based on the film Cars. Naturally, that section gets packed pretty quickly. There are three rides in Cars Land. The most popular one, Radiator Springs Racers, can have wait times of up to two hours. So, as soon as the park opens, head straight to that ride and get a FASTPASS, which will allow you to return during an hour-long time slot later in the day to skip the line. When we visited, the park opened at 8 am and by the time we got to the ride at 9 am, they were already out of FASTPASSes. So act quickly! Be aware, though, that kids under 40 inches cannot ride it, so you’ll probably need to entertain your toddler while your older kids ride with another adult. Younger kids, however, can ride the other two rides at Cars Land—Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Flying Tires.

Cars Land
Cars Land

5. Use FASTPASSes when you can

Speaking of FASTPASSes, use them! Be strategic about it, though, because you can only have one FASTPASS at a time. For example, if you get a FASTPASS for Radiator Springs Racers at 9 am that tells you to return between 1 and 2 pm, that means you can’t get another FASTPASS until 2 pm. So be sure to use the passes for the rides you really want to ride!

6. Visit “A Bug’s Land”

“A Bug’s Land”, based on the movie A Bug’s Life, has five fun kiddie rides for toddlers and preschoolers. Only one of them, Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies, has a minimum height requirement of 36 inches. If your kids are very little or easily frightened, I’d skip the 3D film and live show It’s Tough to Be a Bug!, which can be very scary for little ones. The description on the theme park’s website says, “This attraction features billowing fog, strange smells and sensations, brief bouts of darkness, and some unhappy bugs.” We were warned on the way in that our kids may get frightened, but we went anyway—and I had to leave with one of the twins only a couple of minutes into the show! Luckily, we followed the advice to sit in the seats all the way at the right of the theater, near the exits.

7. Watch the Pixar Play Parade

Our boys absolutely loved this fun parade featuring characters and floats from the Disney Pixar films Monsters, Inc.The IncrediblesFinding NemoA Bug’s Life, and Toy Story. Try to snag a spot about half an hour before the parade begins for the best viewing—your kids will be thrilled when the characters interact with them. In the warmer months, you may get sprayed with water. Click here for showtimes and to find the best viewing spot.

8. Catch “Disney Junior—Live on Stage!”

If your kids are Disney Junior fans like mine, this 23-minute, live stage show is a must-see. The interactive show features characters from Mickey Mouse ClubhouseSofia the FirstDoc McStuffins, and Jake and the Neverland Pirates. It plays several times throughout the day, and I’d suggest getting in line at least 20 minutes before showtime. Click here or check your park entertainment schedule for showtimes.

Disney Junior Live on Stage at Disney California Adventure
Disney Junior—Live on Stage!

9. Ride with your favorite characters

Several family rides feature popular characters from Disney  and Disney Pixar movies. They are all great rides that I highly recommend! They are The Little Mermaid—Ariel’s Undersea Adventure; Monsters, Inc.—Mike & Sully to the Rescue!; and Toy Story Midway Mania! Toy Story generally has the longest wait, so cross that one off the list first if you can. Since it involves shooting at targets, smaller children may not be able to operate the gun properly, but they will still enjoy watching you do it!

The Little Mermaid ~ ArielÕs Undersea Adventure, Ariel's underwater Grotto scene.
The Little Mermaid—Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

10. Meet and greet

Sometimes you can get so caught up in riding rides and seeing shows, you miss opportunities to meet and take photos with your kids’ favorite characters. But be sure to make time for it, because meeting the characters often ends up being the highlight of a kid’s visit. My boys still talk about meeting Woody and Jessie and squeal with delight when I show them photos of themselves with Lightning McQueen. Click here to learn where to find characters throughout the park, or check the information board when you arrive.

Remember, there is lots more to do and see than what I listed, but you won’t be able to do it all in one day. So decide ahead of time what’s most important for your family, and make sure to do those things first. Have fun!

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Wednesday 18th of September 2013

Thanks for the FASTPASS clarification, LB! Great to know!


Wednesday 18th of September 2013

You forgot to mention rider switch passes - that way both adults get to ride the ride without waiting in crazy long lines (as long as you get there first thing as you mentioned!). Also taking advantage of single rider isn't really a small children tip, but it will make the adult waiting with the kids wait for less time.

And you can have more than one fastpass at a time - you can get a new fastpass when your fp comes due OR 2 hours after you get it, whichever comes first. It will say on your fp ticket hen you can get another one

Great tips :D

Jennifer Marino Walters

Tuesday 17th of September 2013

Really, Linda? Thanks for letting me know! Every time we have gone they've made us, and everyone else, collapse our strollers and never told us we could keep it open in the front row. Maybe it was because the trams were full? In any case, I will definitely ask about that next time!


Tuesday 17th of September 2013

Not true that you have to collapse your stroller on the tram. You just go on the front row and they will let you keep your stroller completely upright no matter what the size.


Tuesday 17th of September 2013

Thanks for sharing good post. Visiting Disney California adventure toddlers really is fantastic post. I like it. Thanks a lot............

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