Tips for a Great Trip to California Adventure with a Toddler

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Tips for a Great Trip to California Adventure with a Toddler

Tips for a Great Trip to California Adventure with a Toddler

This guest post comes from one of our Facebook group moderators, Ryan, about his recent trip to California Adventure and how you can plan for success when visiting with a toddler.

On our most recent trip to visit Disneyland and California Adventure with our three-year-old son, we decided that we would do California Adventure on the second day. Our logic was that there were less rides overall, making that part of the day a little less hectic in terms of planning. If we were still a little tired from a crazy day at Disneyland the day before, it would be okay to make the day a little more chill.

Also, our son is straight up obsessed with Lightning McQueen and everything related to the world of Cars. So we knew as soon as we entered Cars Land, we were staying there for a long time. It’s our favorite part of the park anyway, so no problems there! We figured our son would enjoy this park more than Disneyland, as he loves almost all the Pixar movies featured at the park (we were right!).

Hotel and Rope Drop Plan

Once again, we left Hyatt House Anaheim around 6:45 am. We went through the initial security screening around 7:15 am and scanned tickets to officially enter the park around 7:30. We proceeded to the rope drop area we wanted, where they held the rope until exactly 8 am. Our rope drop strategy was definitely different from what a lot of people were doing. We figured most people would head towards Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout, or Web Slingers.

Tip: Save Money by Not Buying Passes if Your Child Can’t Ride Most of the Genie+ Rides

There were only two Lightning Lane (LL) rides that our son could do, so we decided not to buy a Genie+ pass for him. It’s important to note that you can still buy an Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) pass for a person who doesn’t have the Genie+ add-on. We planned on doing that for our toddler son (age 3) on both rides that offered it at California Adventure: Radiator Springs Racers and Web Slingers. Both rides were priced at $7 each for the day — a far cry from the $20 each we paid for Rise of the Resistance the day before.

We still planned on using our “Rope Drop Hour” strategy to knock out the important rides quickly, thereby freeing up a huge portion of the day. Once we scanned into the park, I purchased Genie+ passes for myself and my wife and began monitoring the ILL times for Radiator Springs Racers I bought these shortly after 8 for an 8:30 time. That gave us until 9:30 to scan into the ride.

Tip: Save Rides for the End of the Day that Might Make Someone in your Group Ill

I wasn’t planning on buying Web Slingers until the times went into the evening, as I wanted to see Avengers Campus at night. Also, I sometimes have motion sickness issues with 3D rides, so if that was going to be an issue with Web Slingers, which I had never ridden, at least it would be at the end of my riding day. Spoiler: I was fine.

The two LL rides that my son would have been able to ride were Toy Story Mania, which often has a high wait time, and Monsters Inc, which wasn’t as bad. Even though these rides were not close to each other, we wanted to knock those out first in order to justify not buying our son a Genie+ pass. The plan was to hit those rides then head into Cars Land and do Radiator Springs Racers before the end of our window.

Image of desert and road scene from Cars Land at Disney California Adventure, which you can visit with a toddler quite easily

Park Opens, Here We Go

The plan worked well. We were at the front of the rope drop queue but had to cut across the sea of people heading in the opposite direction as we headed to Toy Story Mania. We got there quickly and walked on right away by 8:08 am. Our son loves all the rides with shooting galleries, so this was a hit for him.

We quickly scooted over to the other end of the park to do Monsters Inc, taking care to make sure our son was facing away from where he could see Cars Land. This helped to keep him on track. We were able to walk right on to Monsters Inc by 8:25 am. Now it was finally time for Cars Land — something we’d hyped up to our son for a while.

Image of a family smiling in a picture with Lighting McQueen at Cars Land

Cars Land

He was instantly mesmerized. We purposely didn’t mention going on Radiator Springs Racers and what that entailed. We knew he would love it, but we weren’t certain he’d beat the 40″ height requirement, even though he’d been successful the day before on 2 rides at Disneyland. He’s pretty much 40 inches on the button at the moment. We figured if he was turned away, better for him to have no clue what he was missing. We would then just take turns riding it and go get a refund for his pass later in the day.

Thankfully, he cleared it, and we scanned in at 8:40 am, skipping a 90-minute wait. This absolutely justifies the purchase to me. We told him all about the ride, and he was so excited — especially when he got to ride in the Lightning McQueen car. Not going to lie: my wife and I both teared up on the ride seeing him enjoy it so much. So, before 9 am, we achieved our 3 main ride objectives!

We planned on spending a lot of time in Cars Land, letting our son take it in at his own pace. We figured we would try to do the two rides there if the wait times were under 20 minutes. Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters had a posted 20-minute wait, and our son seemed excited to check it out. The actual wait was 15 minutes, and we were on at 9:15 am. I ordered some bacon mac & cheese from the Cozy Cone while we waited in line. I put my order in for the 10 am window, figuring that was when we’d be out of this ride.

Tip: Eat at Cozy Cone

In my opinion, the Cozy Cone has always been one of the best places to eat in both parks. I ordered the peanut butter cheesecake churros later in the evening. I could live on Disney churros. So good.

After getting off the ride, we saw the main attraction for our son: Lightning McQueen. We knew that Cars characters had meet and greets at the Cozy Cone, but there was no information on which characters would appear or what times they’d arrive. We figured on getting some food and asking a cast member for information while we ate, but he was right there. My son nearly exploded with joy. It was only a few minutes to wait for his turn, and we got some great pictures with him. Highlight of the trip for us all by a mile. We learned that Lightning and Mater would be appearing in roughly 30 minute intervals, so we planned on catching Mater in the evening when we came back with everything all lit up.

After finishing with our pictures (which were all included in the price of buying Genie+), our son saw all the tractors on Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and asked to go on it. It had a posted 20-minute wait, but we surprisingly got on in only 3 minutes at around 9:35 am. So, we’d already hit 5 rides and met Lightning McQueen before 10 am without too much effort. Our day was significantly freed up now.

Image of a toddler smiling as he stands next to a Pixar tractor in Cars Land at California Adventure

Moving Through the Morning

At 9:20, I finally booked a Lightning Lane for Soarin’, which had pushed out to 11:55 am. That is the ride at California Adventure that will sell out the quickest, so once it started moving, I jumped on it. It’s important to note that, since my ride time was more than 2 hours away, I would be able to book another LL exactly 2 hours after the time of this booking — which would be before I rode Soarin’. I opted for this because I wanted to put Soarin’ in the middle of the day, since we wanted to eat a bunch of things and were on the other end of the park.

We headed over to Pixar Pier to get a corn dog, a num num cookie, and some of the Lunar New Year festival food and drink. The festival food looked really good in pictures but was a bit underwhelming in my opinion. While there, our son wanted to ride Jessie’s Critter Carousel and the Golden Zephyr, both of which had only a 5-minute wait. While we were eating and shopping, I booked our next LL at the 2 hour mark at 11:20 am, opting to book Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout for a 1:25 pm time. We headed in the direction of Soarin’, stopping to ride The Little Mermaid on the way. It had a posted wait of 20 minutes but only took 10 minutes.

Parents Taking Turns on Rides

All our LL passes would involve my wife and I taking turns on the rides, since they were all for things my son wasn’t tall enough to do anyway. Our hope was to do a couple while getting him to take a nap. My wife went to do Soarin’ first while I walked my son around the area. He fell asleep, as he often does when he’s with just me (I guess I have the magic touch). I found a quiet area in the shade near the ride while waiting for my wife, and we traded places. I scanned in pretty close to the end of my window, as the LL queue still took 15 minutes to get through.

Since our son was still asleep when I finished, we headed towards Guardians. I ordered some food along the way, which we picked up and found a spot at the tables in Hollywood Land. My wife stayed and ate, and I scanned in 5 minutes early for the ride. This LL queue also took 20 minutes to get through. We switched places as my son was waking up, so I decided to take him to the Disney Jr Dance Party at 2 pm while my wife rode Guardians. He wasn’t thrilled to be away from his mom, but he did have a good time seeing Mickey Mouse and Vampirina.

Shows Let You Rest and Beat the Afternoon Heat

Our plan was now to see as many shows as we could, which we figured he would like. This would also give us a break to sit. Absolutely factor this into your daily plan when visiting California Adventure (or any park) with a toddler. We saw the Spiderman stunt show at 2:45, which was very short, and Turtle Talk with Crush at 3. We spent a lot of time after that at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail play area. It cracks me up because it’s a bunch of kids running, climbing, and loving life, and all their parents trying to keep up with them and nearly passing out from exhaustion.

Thankfully, my wife is in much better shape than I am. She is a professional at keeping up with our son. We saw the Lunar New Year parade at 4:45. We wanted to save Dr. Strange until it got dark and everything was lit up. The line gets a little long to get into those evening shows. We saw the 6:55 pm show and waited about 20 minutes to get in. We didn’t mind, because we ordered a drink from Pym’s Test Kitchen — though it underwhelmed in my opinion. Also, our son had a new Spiderman toy that he was occupied with. He absolutely loved the show. We also saw many characters in Avengers campus, although a lot of them are on top of a building looking down from a distance.

Image of desert and road scene from Cars Land at California Adventure

Late Afternoon and Evening

Just before the parade, we rode the carousel, which had a 20-minute wait. While watching the parade at 4:45pm, I finally booked our ILLs for Web Slingers at 5:40 pm. Important to note again that you don’t get to pick your time for ILLs like in Florida. If you want to ride later, you just have to watch the times throughout the day. Web Slingers was a fun interactive ride. Our son loved shooting webs from his hands and put up a great score for a three-year-old! I went for it and definitely had some sore forearms afterwards. We had dinner at Pym’s Test Kitchen after, which was a great spot for food.

We had a bit of a hiccup when I booked the LL for Incredicoaster. The LL times were basically instant all day, so I booked it while at the parade, planning to go right after. My wife went on while I took our son to the bathroom, but the ride closed before I was able to go on. However, this converted my pass to a multiple experience pass. I decided to come back to the Incredicoaster near the end of the night while my wife and son went back to Cars Land to ride Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree again. That ride had a 5-minute wait at the end of the night.

I met up with them afterward, and we decided to do Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters again to end the day, waiting about 10 minutes. We considered jumping in line for Radiator Springs Racers again with a 60-minute wait but decided against it. That would be too long for our son, especially at the end of the night.

Final Thoughts on California Adventure with a Toddler

All in all, I consider our park experience to be exceptional. Even though this was a 3 out of 10 on the crowd calendar, the parks were by no means empty. Many of the wait times were at least 30 minutes, some as high as 90. We strategically used LLs and ILLs to save countless hours of wait time, never waiting more than 20 minutes — with the exception of Dumbo. To be fair, the ride said it had a 20-minute wait time. We used the time we freed up to eat more food, see shows, and shop, because I wanted to make sure Disney got ALL of my money by the end of the trip. At least I was able to save some money on the back end through my gift card purchases.

Hopefully, my experience shows that you can have a great trip to California Adventure with a toddler, finding plenty of fun things for them to do. You just need change your planning strategy to fit your family’s needs and wants. Disney can be a very challenging place, but when you stay flexible and execute your plan well, it truly can be the most magical place on Earth.

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