72 hours in Disneyland with kids

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

How to maximize three magical days at Disneyland Resort with your family

Disneyland Resort is in our family’s blood. We’ve taken countless trips with the kids to “The Happiest Place on Earth” over the years and it never gets old surprising them with a trip to Disneyland. On a warm, early summer morning in Seattle this past July, we woke the kids out of their slumber to surprise them with those five happy words: “We are going to Disneyland!” They rubbed their sleepy eyes and tumbled out of bed, put on their clothes, and stumbled out the door with excitement. So begins our typical long, three-day weekend jaunt to Orange County

If your family is ready to plan your visit to Disneyland Resort, the first step is finding an Anaheim hotel. We prefer to stay at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels, or you can choose from countless nearby, including “Good Neighbor Hotels,” such as the Sheraton Anaheim Park. I recommend purchasing your Disneyland Resort tickets in advance, either directly from the hotel, or adding it to your vacation package. Make sure you have three full days to explore and purchase Disneyland Resort three-day “park hopper” tickets. These park hopper tickets will provide you with access to both Disneyland Resort and Disney’s California Adventure Park. Now let’s get you started to help you plan your 72 hours in Disneyland Resort with kids, Hip Travel Mama style: 

Day 1: Disneyland Resort 

10:00 a.m. Check in. Drop your bags at the hotel or check in the night before to get a full first day in at Disneyland. We typically grab coffee and a mid-morning snack in downtown Disney and head into the park. Make sure to grab a few bottles of water, as it can be pricey in the park.   

11:00 a.m. Explore Disneyland Resort. We start with the Disneyland Resort first to hit all of the nostalgic rides, sights, sounds, and smells of Disneyland we remember as a kid. It sets the tone for our trip and brings us back to our childhood as we walk through the main gates and hear the whistle and sound of the Disneyland railroad, recalling the first time we walked on Main Street U.S.A. Typically the park is busy at this time of day, so head to the FASTPASS station at popular attractions like Space Mountain or Splash Mountain. Note the time on your ticket and return at that designated time. This allows you time to explore the park while you wait and skip the long lines. I find the Disneyland Wait Times app on my iPhone is helpful to see how long the wait times are at each ride. You can download it in iTunes

1:00 p.m. Lunch at the Little Red Wagon. I’m not one for carnival food, but there is something magical about these tasty golden corn dogs tucked away at the end of Main Street before you reach Sleeping Beauty Castle. 

2:15 p.m. Mickey’s Magical Map Show. It’s worth it to purchase reserve seating for this show. The show is about 22 minutes and includes six Disney production numbers, featuring amazing performances and Disney songs from Rapunzel to Jungle Book. The show explores Mickey’s curiosity and inspires families to take a “Journey to Imagination.” Check the Disneyland schedule for show times.   

3:00 p.m. Break time. By this time of day, we are ready for a break, so we head back to our hotel and get in a quick nap, a workout, or a swim in the pool to cool off.  

5:00 p.m. Dinner at Tortilla Jo’s. This Mexican restaurant in Downtown Disney has great food and margaritas and they even make homemade guacamole tableside. The main dining area can be a long wait, so we have found good luck skipping the lines and heading to the bar for outside seating. 

Dinner at Tortilla Jo’s in downtown Disney

7:00 p.m. Disneyland Soundsational Parade. Don’t miss this energetic parade that starts on Main Street U.S.A. and ends at “It’s a Small World.” Make sure to grab a curb early, as the streets get crowded.    

10:00 p.m. Watch the Disneyland Fireworks. Nothing is more magical than ending your first day at Disneyland Resort watching the fireworks explode over Sleeping Beauty Castle. The best viewing in our opinion can be found about halfway down Main Street. This also allows you to get a head start on the crowds exiting the park. 

Day 2: Disney’s California Adventure Park 

7:00 a.m. Breakfast at the Storyteller’s Café at the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. Dine with Chip ‘n’ Dale and other furry friends as you enjoy a good breakfast before heading into the park. The Grand Californian also has its own private entrance to Disney’s California Adventure Park, helping you avoid long lines at the main gate. 

8:00 a.m. Explore Disney’s California Adventure Park and Get FASTPASS tickets for Radiator Springs Racers. I’m often asked by parents if it’s worth it to splurge for a Disneyland Resort park hopper ticket and spend some time at Disney’s California Adventure Park. I always respond with, “YES!” Experiencing Disneyland Resort without a visit to Disney’s California Adventure Park is like skipping a chapter in a good book. It has its own special Disney magic.

If you haven’t visited the parks lately, Disney’s California Adventure Park has recently undergone a huge renovation and now includes the historic Buena Vista Street and legendary Cars Land. Here you will find endless rides, such as California Screamin’, as well as Pixar character favorites, the outstanding World of Color night show, and so much more. 

As soon as the park opens (some mornings the park will open earlier so check the Disneyland Resort Calendar for park hours), head over to the FASTPASS station for Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land. The wait time at this ride averages more than an hour and a half, with passes selling out quickly. Arrive as soon as the park opens and hurry over to get your FASTPASS tickets for the day. While you wait for your return time, you can explore the amazing world of Cars Land. 

12:00 p.m. Lunch at the Cozy Cone Motel in Cars Land. You will find many cone-shaped treats at this fun snack shack in Cars Land. Try the Chili Cone Queso and a soda in an orange traffic cone. 

Stop for a tasty cone treat at the Cozy Cone Motel

1:00 p.m. Explore California Adventure Park. There are endless rides and attractions for all ages to explore. Some of our go-to favorite rides and attractions for the whole family include Toy Story Midway Mania, Soaring over California, the Little Mermaid, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, and the show “It’s Tough to Be a Bug.” With our older daughter, we go big on the thrill rides, such as California Screamin’ and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Let loose and have fun! 

3:00 p.m. Stop on Buena Vista Street to watch the Newsboys perform. The beauty of the new Buena Vista Street at the entrance of Disney’s California Adventure Park is that it is always changing. Sit on a park bench and watch Buena Vista Street’s characters come to life as they break into song and dance near the Carthay Circle Restaurant. 

4:00 p.m. Afternoon break. 

6:00 p.m. Dinner at Naples Italian Restaurant in downtown Disney. This is one of our other favorite restaurants in downtown Disney that serves great Italian food. The wait can be long at peak times in the evening so expect to wait for a table. 

9:00 p.m. Stop for a churro on your way to the World of Color show. No trip to Disneyland Resort is complete without a stop at a churro stand. Savor the warm, sweet cinnamon pastry and head to the World of Color show in Disney’s California Adventure Park. This magical water light show is stunning. Grab your tickets in advance to secure a spot in one of the color-coded sections, or book reserved seating for a front row seat to all of the fun. 

Day 3: Explore The Disneyland Resort at your leisure

Viewfinder Tip: Don’t overschedule and do too much. Your best memories will come when you savor each magical moment as it comes.

By day three, our schedule is a little more flexible and laid back. I recommend your family do the same. We typically make a list of the rides we missed and spontaneously drop into a show to sit and relax. We then pick up some souvenirs and explore the myriad of Disney-themed gifts in the gift shops. 

You will never be able to ride every ride and see everything you want at Disneyland Resort in 72 hours. You and your kids will be exhausted after pounding the pavement for three days and it is important to take daily breaks or stop for ice cream when you get tired. Remember, you will return again and savor more Disney memories that will last a lifetime! 

What’s your favorite thing to do at Disney with your family?

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Hip Travel Mama

Anne Taylor Hartzell, a.k.a. Hip Travel Mama, ended her time as an Expedia Viewfinder blogger at the close of 2015. Anne is a nationally recognized family travel expert, inspiring families to share travel experiences and explore the world
 together. Hip Travel Mama is a frequent broadcast media expert, has appeared on the TODAY Show, USA Today, CNN.com, Conde’ Nast Traveler, and more than 30 broadcast TV outlets across the country. With more than 16 years experience as a brand ambassador for companies such as Expedia, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Disney, Kimpton Hotels, Bing, Farecast, and others, Hip Travel Mama helps brands inspire and engage influential travelers via broadcast media, social media and the blogosphere. Her blog, HipTravelMama.com, provides inspiration, travel tips, hotel and destination reviews for families. Connect with Anne on Twitter @HipTravelMama

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