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Disneyland Advice, Pt. 1: Rides for Small Kids
Our family has had annual passes to Disneyland for most of
the past eight or nine years. (We live close enough to the park to hear the
fireworks show.) So I have become something of an expert on the place. As our
kids have grown up going to Disneyland several times a year, I have watched
them go through different “ride phases.” I have also gone with several friends
over the years that had small kids, so I have a good sense of which rides are
ideal for each age group. So for part one of my Disneyland recommendations, I
will focus on the “kiddy” rides. In each category, I’ve ranked them from top to
bottom according to personal preference and what I have observed with kids. I've also included a list of books at the end for further information.
Indoor Kid Rides
Let me start with a quick warning. Many of the indoor kid rides are dark, and they can sometimes get very dark. My kids, and others I have seen, went through a phase between about the ages of two to five where they were afraid of a lot of these rides. When they are very small, they are apparently not aware enough to be scared. By about six, they seem to outgrow the fear. So be prepared for some potential crying with two to five-year olds, or play it safe and stick with the outdoor rides for a while.
Note: I use the shorthand name for each ride: Peter Pan instead of “Peter Pan’s Flight,” Snow White instead of “Snow White’s Scary Adventure,” etc.
1) Peter Pan – This is the best of the several slow moving, indoor rides where you look at robots and animated scenes from a Disney movie. In most of these rides, you travel around in a little car looking at stuff for a couple of minutes. Peter Pan, however, does a great job of giving you the sensation of flying. You sit in a pirate ship that is hooked to a track above you, so you are basically gliding on a swing. You then get an “aerial” view of Neverland at the beginning of the ride followed by various scenes from the movie. Once kids get over their fear of the dark, they generally love this ride. This is why it is usually the longest line of any of the kid-oriented rides. (Sometimes, it is one of the longest lines in the entire park.) So if you have small kids, and you arrive early, you should make a beeline for this ride. Just go straight through the castle when you enter the park and it is your first ride on the right.
2) Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters – This ride is unique because you get to “shoot” targets with a little gun as you go. It’s filled with visual effects based on Toy Story 2, and there are targets all over the place to shoot and earn points. Right in front of you, there is a number indicating your score as you go. I basically stink at it, but it’s still a lot of fun. Length of line varies. If it’s crowded, Fast Passes * are available.
* Fast Passes are little tickets that can shorten the time that you spend waiting in line. Right next to the entrance for some rides, there is a machine where you insert your park ticket (or annual pass card), and then a paper pops out indicating a time later in the day when you can come back and ride. (It gives you a window an hour long, such as 4:30 – 5:30.) When you come back at that later time, there will be a fast pass line you can enter that is much shorter than the regular, stand by line. You can come back at any time between the beginning of your window and the closing of the park. To help you decide if it is worth getting a Fast Pass, most rides will tell you how many minutes the stand by line will take. Usually, the actual wait is a little shorter than the time listed.
3) Roger Rabbit – This is found in “Toontown” in a far corner of the park. Unlike the other indoor rides, the car has a wheel that you can use to spin yourself around in circles. The visual effects that are based on the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” might be the best of any of the indoor kid rides. Also, there are cool things to look at while you wait in line. This is a good thing because the line can sometimes get a bit long, although Fast Passes are available.
4) Alice in Wonderland – This is similar to other indoor kid rides, and it has some cool looking animation and effects from the original Disney animated movie. The car that you are riding in also goes outside for a little bit and drives down a track that looks like a bunch of leaves. Line is generally a little longer than Mr. Toad (see below) but not as long as Peter Pan.
5) Mr. Toad’s Wile Ride – This is based on an obscure Disney movie called “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad” in which the main character is a toad that can’t drive too well. So you basically drive around a winding track either (virtually) running into things or almost hitting stuff. It’s fun to look at, and the car has a little wheel that small kids can turn and feel like they are driving. The ride does get dark and loud, however, and, believe it or not, it ends with the car going to hell (literally). Small kids might get a bit scared (along with some “sinful” adults.) Line is generally about half as long as Peter Pan, and it is found right next-door.
6) Winnie the Pooh – This relatively new ride has some cool visual effects, and it gets a little dark once or twice. Small kids, however, will not find it as scary as some of the others. It generally has a very short line, partly because it is located in “Critter Country” way off in one corner of the park.
7) Small World – People generally have a love/hate relationship with this ride. Small kids in particular will often like it a lot, and it is not dark or scary at all. As kids get older, however, they might mock it mercilessly. You ride a slow moving boat through scenes of little kids in different parts of the world singing the same song over and over (and over) again in various languages. There are some fun things to look at, and they recently added various characters from Disney films that are located in their corresponding parts of the world. So if nothing else, it could be used as a geographic learning experience, and if you get bored, you can always play a game called “find the Disney characters.” It’s one of the longest rides in the park, and because the boats keep coming, you don’t have to wait for too long to get on. (It’s also a nice way to cool off on a hot day.)
8) Pinocchio – This is in the same vein as the other movie rides. It can get a bit dark and scary, so small kids beware. Line is generally very short.
9) Snow White – It has the shortest line of any in this category, most likely because it is probably the scariest of any of them. The ride almost seems like it was only half-done. You see almost nothing but the scary parts of the movie, and then suddenly, the ride is over.
Outdoor Kid Rides
1) Dumbo – For a few years, this was both of my kids’ favorite. Because it is outdoors, you and your kid(s) will see what is coming. You basically sit in a Dumbo and fly around in circles a few times. It has a handle that you can use to move it up and down, which kids generally love to do, and at most, it goes about twenty feet into the air. On crowded days, the line can sometimes get a bit long.
2) Casey Junior – This is a little miniature train ride. It goes fast enough to be fun for little kids, but not so fast that it scares them. You also go through an area where you can see all sorts of miniature buildings and settings from various Disney movies. (See Storybook Land below.) For years, we never missed a chance to ride this one. The line is about as long as Dumbo.
3) Jungle Cruise – As the name indicates, this is a boat ride that goes through areas designed to look like the jungles of Africa and Asia. As you go, you see all sorts of robotic animals: tigers, lions, hippos, elephants, gorillas, etc. As an added bonus, the boat is driven by a guide who tells all sorts of sarcastic (often bad) jokes as you travel. So if your kid is an animal lover, don’t skip this one. The line is generally not too long.
4) Autopia – On this ride, you drive a miniature car around a track. At the most, it maybe goes ten miles per hour. You can steer the car, but there is a big speed bump thing in the middle of the road that keeps you going in basically the right direction. So if you let your small child drive, it can get kind of bumpy. The driver also controls the speed with a gas pedal, so kids can’t go on their own until they are tall enough to reach it. But even if they cannot reach the gas pedal, kids love the sensation that they are actually driving. Lines tend to be long, but you can get a fast pass.
5) Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage – Technically, this ride is underwater. They try to make you think that you are deep underwater, but if you move up close to the window, you can see the surface just a few feet above. Still, it has some cool scenery, especially when you go into a dark cave and see all sorts of animated Finding Nemo characters swimming around and talking. Because this ride is still relatively new, lines can get long. If your kids are Nemo fans, go early. Fast Passes are not available.
6) Tea Cups – If your kids like to get dizzy, this is the ride for them. You spin around in a teacup, and if a strong enough person is in there, there is a wheel in the middle that can be spun in order to make the thing go faster. When I was a little kid, we used to love going on this thing with my dad. But if you have issues with nausea, you might want to send someone else to do the spinning. Lines are generally not very long.
7) Merry-go-round – With small kids, you can’t really go wrong with this classic. My roller coaster riding kids still like this one on occasion, and there is rarely much of a line.
8) Storybook Land – Very small kids might love this one. You ride on a very slow moving boat looking at miniature buildings, trees, and scenes from most of the major Disney movies. You also get to ride through the mouth of a whale (from Pinocchio), and a pilot/narrator describes everything in a good, cheesy, kid-friendly style.
Other Kid Friendly "Rides"
Finally, there are a few other kid-friendly attractions that don’t quite fit the ride category. First, there is a train that circles Disneyland. This can a nice way to get around the park, especially when your feet start to hurt. And between the Tomorrowland and Main Street stations, you go through a tunnel where you see scenes depicting The Grand Canyon and Dinosaurs. My kids still love the Dinosaurs, just as I did when I was young. Second, either a big Steam Ship called the Mark Twain or an 18th century sailing ship goes around the “Rivers of America,” where they have some fake animals and scenes from Western frontier life. (Or at least Disney’s version of it.) And third, the island that those big boats go around is a big playground based on a “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme. (It used to be called Tom Sawyer’s Island.) You take this riverboat raft over there and stay as long as you want. There are caves, little buildings, and bridges to climb all over. (There is also a bathroom just in case, but no where to get food on the island.) It closes shortly before dark, so get there early if interested.
For part two, I will rank and review more adult-friendly rides, including Disney’s versions of roller coasters.