When envisioning a trip to Disneyland, you picture your toddler’s eyes widening with delight as they take in all the dazzling attractions and beloved characters. But the reality of chasing after an impatient, overwhelmed or over-stimulated little one can make even the “Happiest Place on Earth” feel anything but.

As parents to a high-energy 2-year-old, we’ve experienced Disneyland’s ups and downs firsthand. Over multiple visits, we’ve fine-tuned a strategy to maximize the fantasy while minimizing the meltdowns when bringing tiny tots. Follow our tested tips so you and your tiny Disney newbie can both make the most of the magic.

Plan Ahead

Book easier-to-manage weekdays if possible to avoid massive weekend crowds. Use online tools to set up a custom itinerary so you can preregister for spots on hard-to-get rides likes Radiator Springs Racers and Web Slingers. Pack a large backpack with toddler essentials – snacks, diapers, change of clothes, small toys. Purchase Disney gift cards beforehand that easily connect to wristbands for no-fuss purchases in the park.

Set the Stage

Prep your toddler for what to expect during your Disney days. Watch ride videos on YouTube together and read some Disney books to build enthusiastic familiarity. Make toddler-friendly packing lists so they get excited choosing their snacks and which stuffed animals to bring. Print out a simple park map they can decorate ahead of time. Manage expectations, emphasizing focus on their favorite characters more than rides.

Start Small

Arrive early on your first day to wander Main Street U.S.A. while lines are short and crowds are thin. Let your toddler set the initial pace, pointing out sights that catch their eye and high-fiving characters. Stick to gentle attractions like Jungle Cruise boat ride, dinosaur peek-a-boo at the Tiki Room show and It’s a Small World at first to ease them in.

Schedule Structure

Alternate periods of active exploration with downtime breaks. After an exciting hour meeting Mickey Mouse or in Fantasyland, head back to the hotel for a refueling nap, snack and swim. Use a tracking app so you know when to head toward your next Disneyland Fastpass booking. Over-plan activities because toddlers can’t last all day.

Roll with the Punches

When overstimulation hits, have an exit strategy. Seek out playground spots like Donald’s Boat in Toontown as pressure valve activities. Utilize Baby Care Centers as home bases for downtime – they have private nursing rooms, cribs for naps, cartoons playing and more. Bring along toddler favorites like light up toys or snack pouches to use as emergency distractions.

With the right planning and expectations, even little ones still struggling with basic patience and listening skills can totally enjoy all the Disney magic – and you can too! Stay tuned for more tips as we continue our adventures in Disneyland toddler-wrangling.