We all have sacred family traditions from our childhood that we still hold dear today. I bet for a lot of us, one of the most magical childhood vacations we think about is Disneyland. The rides, the characters we loved so much, the treats Mom and Dad made special exceptions to buy, and the endless laughter.
A Disney vacation is somewhat of an heirloom, being handed down generation to generation. I’m going to help you not only maximize the magic and warm memories to be made, but also help you make the best use of your time with this trip plan based on the age of your youngest children.
I spent several hours going through Disney maps, researching online what most people regretted about their Disneyland vacation (which rides they missed, which ones they didn’t know about and which ones they simply ran out of time for) and spent a few days in the park with my family to figure this out. That’s just the first step in your Disney planning process. But as you know, what one child wants to do isn’t always in alignment with what your other children want. A tween dying to ride Space Mountain probably won’t be up for Dumbo’s Flying Elephants for long. You can help bridge some of the gaps and unify the various ages of your kids by creating an educational opportunity they’ll love.
For example, Disney’s rides are generally themed around story books that inspired the Disney classic movies. Other rides provide educational opportunities to learn more about sea exploration with Jules Verne, or learn about the real life Blackbeard. Spark your older children’s imaginations by arming them with books that complement their Disneyland adventure, and give them an opportunity to show off their smarts. They’ll love explaining the real story behind King Arthur’s Carousel to your little ones. And if nothing else, older kids just like being right with insider knowledge!
Without further ado, here’s what I put together with Family Travel Forum editor, Susan Finch, for your Disneyland ride adventure.
The Books that Inspire Serene Disneyland Cruises for Babies and Toddlers
We generally don’t think of Disney as a place where babies can enjoy some rides too, but as a mother of a (at the time) 10-month old baby, I found Disneyland very baby friendly. Here’s a list of what your little ones can enjoy with the family. For our family, we had a few favorites that our littlest one enjoyed, as well as big siblings alike.
Get your family inspired to learn more about the Pacific Islands on your Disneyland vacation. The Enchanted Tiki Room keeps babies and toddlers mesmerized with a stunning audio-animatronic show with exotic birds, tikis and flowers. Grade schoolers can learn more about the Pacific Islands with the beloved, Island of the Blue Dolphins, unfolding the tale of a young Indian girl learning the art of survival after getting stranded on a remote Pacific Island. Disney also has a fun series to compliment the exotic ride. In 2016, Disney announced an original new comic series called The Enchanted Tiki Room on sale now in merchandise locations at Disney Parks. The five-part comic series features Tiki-inspired artwork and a narrative for your kids to relive the real-life ride.
Over at the Jungle Cruise, babies and little ones will love the leisurely cruise through a wilderness of wild animals and plants native to South Asia, Africa and South America. National Geographic features a kids series appropriate for various ages with plenty of photos and fun facts. For a family-friendly option that everyone can enjoy, try the Little Kids First Big Book of Animals and identify which ones live in which region of the world.
Families with 4th through 7th grade readers should check-out Mowgli’s Jungle Book featuring stories published from over a century ago. Ask your older kids to read aloud to younger siblings before the trip to prep their imaginations for the Jungle Cruise and beyond. And while we’re on the jungle theme, don’t forget about Tarzan’s Treehouse. Though not a serene boat ride, the tale goes that Tarzan’s parents built this from their shipwreck debris come to life at this playful display. Kids can climb the tree, explore the house and even play music at the Base Camp located at the bottom of the tree. Of course, the adventure book series of Tarzan compliments this attraction created by Edgar Rice Burroughs with 24 books to choose from.
And no Disneyland ride list would be complete without the family-favorite It’s a Small World. This 15-minute slow boat ride engages your child and fill them with joy as you travel the world to see it’s really not that big at all. The bright and glowing colors throughout It’s a Small World are as mesmerizing as the idea of the ride. Children will hear music, see traditional dress and culture from all 7 continents as you glide from one exhibit to the next. Add to the experience with Hello World, It’s a Small World, a fun book for young kids for ages 3-years on up created by the Disney Book Group. For ages 3 to 7-years, try Children Around the World for a colorful look at how children from around the world live to learn more about their language, clothing and schooling from different regions. Meanwhile, the he 7 to 10-year age set can red a Life Like Mine and hear from 180 countries with plenty of real-life photographs with lessons and insights from diverse cultures. This book goes beyond what school is like in other cultures, and touches on issues like the necessity for safe and clean drinking water and protection from the destruction of war.
Enchanted Disneyland Adventures for Kids Ages 2-4
Toddlers aren’t always the easiest crew to keep happy and entertained long enough to stop running off or teeter towards a melt-down. But Disneyland anticipates the ups and downs of childhood and is ready to step-in with plenty of tasty treats, characters who come by and say hello and fun rides. To start, everything on our 0 to 2-year list is also suitable and toddler-approved for this age group.
Everything on our infant to 2-year-old list makes the cut for this age group from Tarzan’s Treehouse to It’s a Small World. But our 2 to 4-year olds are ready for a little more adventure and stimulation on their Disneyland exploration. Disney World’s Pirates of the Caribbean got a reboot at Florida’s Disney World and may seem a little scary to little ones sailing through the dark. However, Disneyland’s version features a slow boat ride with catchy songs and captivating displays for children. With a never ending show of visual effects the Pirates of the Caribbean is the perfect smooth ride for the entire family to relax and enjoy together.
For a fun pirate themed read, The Pirate Cruncher offers a thrill-seeking tale for pirate lovers with a crew setting off for an island of gold with unexpected twists and turns. Spoiler alert! There’s a monster in this book, so may not be appropriate for especially sensitive kids. Older kids ages 8 to 12 can learn more about one of the most notorious pirates that continues to inspire legend. Who Was Blackbeard takes a look at the life of Edward Teach who sailed during Queen Anne’s War and later settled in the Bahamas under Captain Benjamin Hornigold who taught him all about pirating.
Next, hop aboard the Disney Railroad to easily navigate the busy theme park, or trick kids into getting a little rest and taking a breather. It stops through New Orleans Square, Main Street U.S.A., Tomorrowland and Mickey’s Toontown with trains departing every 5 to 10-minutes you’ll never have to wait too long to hop on. There are more train books to possibly list starting with the Thomas the Train series, but there’s actually a fun and informative Disney train book your whole family will love. All Aboard: The Wonderful World of Disney Trains explores how the idea of Mickey Mouse originated on a train ride and explores photo archives, artwork and the history of the Disney’s history.
No literary-inspired round-up would be complete without mention of the classic Winnie the Pooh. The Critter County Disney ride invites guests into an oversized beehive that sails through Hundred Acre Wood while playful songs entertain. Most families of young children are already in the know that The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh is a must-read for any family featuring all your favorite characters like Christopher Robin, Piglet, Roo and of course Pooh. Get older kids in on the action by learning abouts authors A. A. Milne and Ernest H. Shepard born in the late 1800s in England. Milne’s son, Christopher, had a toy bear, pig, donkey, tiger and (you guessed it) kangaroo that inspired the characters from this classic series.
Twain Riverboat is a gem for families of all ages. The 2 to 4-year age group will love floating down the water in this half mile journey, and the bigger kids will have a fun and educational experience as the riverboat takes you back in time to the old American frontier. Float past old cabins, charming Native American villages, wild animals and more! This 15-minute ride also offers up a great break for everyone to relax and enjoy their tour of the spectacular sights as you listen to Mark Twain tell you about a time long ago when new discoveries and exploration made up the American Frontier. There are so many amazing Mark Twain classics to choose from to compliment this trip. Start with our favorites: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
Keep with the educational boat theme with a ride on the full-scale replica of the original Columbia Rediviva (the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe in 1790). Fully-rigged, the Sailing Ship Columbia will take you along the Frontierland River in the same manner as they Mark Twain Riverboat but offers a little something special. You still float past the old cabins and charming Native American villages so you can enjoy some relaxation but underneath the deck is a wonderful surprise! Go ahead a journey below to find displays of the living conditions for 18th-century sailors. This museum will help kids explore some of their wildest dreams of what it means to be a sailor at sea long ago.
Pinocchio’s Daring Journey reimagines the classic film come to life. But before it was a film, it was a book! The Adventures of Pinnochio was written by Italian Carlo Collodi featuring a Talking Cricket and good Fairy. But the lessons are still the same for kids of all ages. You shouldn’t tell a lie! As you embark on this voyage your little ones will see vibrant and colorful displays that recreate scenes from the original movie. Kids will love this slow ride quest of Pinocchio’s pursuit to become a real boy.
Speaking of larger than life classics, King Arthur’s Carrousel is a sight to be seen. This handcrafted carousel was built in 1922 and has a little bit of Mr. Walt Disney himself still alive in it. It’s a classic ride almost like any other but with a special touch. When the carousel was originally purchased by Disney it had various animals on it from giraffes to deer but Walt wanted to make sure that every little boy and girl had a galloping horse to ride in Fantasyland and that’s just what he did. Additional antique horses were located and the ride was custom made into the amazing display that it is today. Kids ages 8 to 14-years will love diving into King Arthur: Tales from the Round Table unfurling the adventures of King Arthur pulling a sword from a stone to become king, meeting with the Lady of the Lake and gathering around the legendary round table.
Enter the mystical and upside down world of Alice in Wonderland with three rides. Start with the signature Alice in Wonderland ride with the book’s lively characters like the White Rabbit and Queen of Hearts come to life. Next, the Mad Tea Party reflects the kookiness and vibrancy of the famous Alice in Wonderland. As you step onto the platform you are transported to a world of color and eccentric decor. The great thing about this ride is you can control the spinning with a wheel located in the center of each cup. There’s even more Alice to explore at Disneyland. Running since Disneyland’s opening day, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride features a 2 person open-air vehicle taking you on an untamed adventure through the English Countryside with suspense and thrill around every corner. And while your kids probably know all about the original Alice in Wonderland story, but do they know Lewis C. Carroll actually penned four different classics? Pick-up the Alice in Wonderland Collection to read Alice in Wonderland, Alice through the Looking Glass, Hunting of the Shark and Alice’s Adventures Underground.
Like the magical world of Alice in Wonderland, the Peter Pan’s Flight ride is a must go for any little one who loves the magic of Peter Pan. This magical journey begins in quaint London and takes you to vibrant Never Land where you will experience scenes from the 1953 classic movie Peter Pan. The drama, excitement and moments of anticipation all leading up to a victorious celebration will captivate your toddler.
Peter Pan’s collectible pop-up book offers a dazzling and delightful compliment to this Disney ride for anyone, but older kids might like the hardcover edition featuring the classic tale by Agnese Baruzzi. Keep it as a collector’s item as a memento of your time at Disneyland while your kids dive into the world of Pan, Tinkerbell and Captain Hook. If your kids can’t get enough of Peter Pan, take them on the aptly named Storybook Land Canal Boats at Disneyland. This slow boat ride is a great mash up of some of the most popular Disney movies. While floating down river you will see miniature hand-crafted scenes from Frozen, Peter Pan and more.
If you have older kids, check-out my grade school and teen’s storybook Disneyland vacation.
What are some of your favorite interactive activities and storybook themed adventures at Disneyland? Let us know by leaving a comment below!
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.