Disneyland with a Sensitive Child

updated Feb 2023
When you have a sensitive child, the world can seem like one giant danger zone. I honestly never know what is going to set off a fear for one of my kids and I’m often hyper aware going into situations that I think may trigger something. It’s the Happiest Place on Earth, what could be so bad? 

Sensitive child: Audrey
Tower of Terror in DCA before it was changed to Guardians. Candid moment taken by the ride!

This really does come down to the individual child. As it happens, I have the most sensitive two in our gaggle of kids. There are different sensitivities. One of my children is more sensitive to scary content and the other doesn’t like the sense of loss of control. It can be tricky to navigate and I’m sure you will figure out what works best for your sensitive child. Here’s what we have learned over the years.

sensitive child: EvanFirst is that there are some rides that are more “thrilling”. I was never prone to motion sickness, but I was frightened of fast/twisty rides, and the thought of going upside down terrified me. We just came home from Disneyland (kids aged 7 &10), and that was something both of my kids were worried about. This only applies to the Incredicoaster in Disney’s California Adventure Park. My daughter was nervous about it, but really wanted to try it, so she just decided she could handle it. My son (7) was a little more apprehensive. We told him we wanted him to try it once and if he didn’t like it, he didn’t have to do it again. He was still really nervous, but agreed to try it (with the bribe of a galaxy churro). And he LOVED it!

We were in a group where everyone could ride, so we wanted him to try it so our party could all stay together. It still took a bit of convincing to get him back on the second and third time, but each time his confidence grew, and now he is so proud of himself for conquering his fear! What it comes down to is knowing your child. I found that watching the rides helped. Seeing what was going to happen made it less scary for me. I like to know, and not be surprised. Many rides do not give you this luxury, which for some is the exciting part!

The biggest thing I’m sensitive to is scary things. So rides like Indiana Jones were my breaking point. For years, I refused to go on it, and instead went with my Grandma (aka my “Disneyland buddy”) on the Jungle Cruise. The best thing about Disney is that by every big or scary ride, there is a gentler ride. 

First time on Indiana Jones. They were scared but not screaming. Know their limits.

I was behind a parent and a girl about 7 years old in the Indiana Jones ride, and she was scared in the lineup. The dad asked me several times if I thought she would be okay, and I said I wouldn’t force it if she doesn’t like the line, because the ride is more intense than the lineup. He forced her on it and she spent the entire ride hysterically crying which not only ruined the ride for the two of them, but also the whole group of us that waited a long time to go on the ride. It was really upsetting for me as a mom to hear someone that upset! 

I remember going on Indiana Jones for the very first time when I was 8. I have never had a problem going on crazy roller coasters, but the very first part of the ride terrified me. Like, we are talking the first ten seconds. Barely on the ride. Of course, I was in the front. I rode the rest of the ride gripping the bar in front of me for dear life and squeezing my eyes shut as hard as I could.

I would have been 11 on that trip, and I can vividly remember the look of terror on Elisia’s face and her white knuckles holding on for dear life with her head down. When I disembarked and looked at the excited faces of my family only to burst into tears because I was so scared. It took me until our next trip four years later to get the courage to go on the ride again, and even then I didn’t have my eyes open until the very last time.

sensitive child: Haunted Mansion
This is Haunted Mansion Holiday, a less scary version of the Haunted Mansion.

One of the other rides we don’t do over and over (unless it’s Christmas time, when they make it wonderfully magical) is the Haunted Mansion. I know Walt’s original vision for the ride was a family version of a scary haunted house… and we’ve taken our girls each year on it, and tried to distract them in a good way in each area with silly things instead of scary things.

I do love that you get to sit in air conditioning, and it’s a nice break. But the beginning can be quite scary. The first bit deals with all of my very real fears, like things at doors and shadows. Once we get through that it can be fun, but definitely plan to have some type of distraction ready if you or your kid aren’t able to handle it!

Don’t forget that with all of the rides, there’s always an “out” before it’s too late. It’s literally called “the chicken door!” If you get to the beginning of the Haunted Mansion and your kid is really upset, tell a staff you don’t want to go on the rest of the ride. 

The beginning has you walk into a large elevator with a group of about 30 people. There is a ghost host that comes onto the speakers and gives a short but spooky story that ends in a shriek and a skeleton hanging from the roof. Fun for some kids but scary for others. Cast Members are incredibly understanding, so if you would still like to experience the ride, they should let you wait to the side with the party member who doesn’t want to ride. Once the rest of your party disembarks, they should let you and another party member get on the ride, while the non-rider joins the rest of the party.  I also just learned that you can ask to “by-pass” just the elevator part. Try it out and let us know in the comments how it worked for you!

You have a sensitive child so you figure, let’s head straight to Fantasyland, surely that is the safest place to start. You can be certain that Dumbo, Peter Pan, the Mad Tea Party, Alice in Wonderland, and King Arthur’s Carousel are safe, but there are some to watch out for! Neighbors of ours went to Disneyland for the first time with their 3 girls and the first ride that they went on was Snow White’s Scary Adventures. As the title says, it is indeed scary. It doesn’t end in a “happily ever after” like you would expect. The 2 yr old was so scared on that ride that for the rest of the day she cried before getting on any other rides in the park!

However, in 2022, Snow White had a glow up and is now “Snow White’s Enchanted Wish”. It’s much more family friendly, and while there is still the Evil Queen elements, not nearly as traumatic!

Sometimes all that’s needed is some maturity. Every time we go my kids are more and more brave to try new rides that they were previously afraid of. We talk about things ahead of time a lot. With YouTube, they can see a lot of things to get a feel for what they will experience. Our personal convo with our girls is that it’s all pretend. Not everyone would choose to say that, but it helps our girls.

sensitive child: Ava
I promise… she liked it!

I promise… she liked it!

This moment is forever ingrained in my mind. The whole way through the line up, Ava said she wanted to go on the rockets. I continued to check in with her and she kept assuring me that she wanted to try it. It wasn’t until the rockets started MOVING that she decided she didn’t want to do it. I felt like the worst parent in the world. She ended up LOVING it. Sometimes just walking them through their fear and assuring them that they are safe does the trick. 

Rides that can be intense are: *spoilers ahead*

In Disneyland:

  • Space Mountain (Completely in the dark, quite fast, can’t anticipate the turns.)
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (If you sit near the front of the train it’s a lot better for first timers; you can request this even if you’re put near the back. There is a part on the final climb where there is an “explosion” going on around you, so it is very loud.)
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds (Hello, Yeti! aka there are several strobe lights featuring an animatronic Yeti, as well as projections showing a Yeti following you.)
  • Haunted Mansion (Unless it’s Christmas time.)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (We have taken every kid, every age. There are two little drops in the dark, and the cannons can be scary. We don’t tell the kids that ahead of time… but if it’s your first time, it’s good to know! The drops are after the very beginning of the ride, once you sail through the bayou and see the talking skull above the archway.)
  • Indiana Jones Adventure (Skeletons, bugs, snakes, and things jumping out at you!)
  • Kid’s Rides in Fantasyland to be aware of:
    • Snow White’s Enchanted Wish (Better than it used to be!)
    • Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
    • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (You literally go through Hell!)

In Disney’s California Adventure:

  • Radiator Springs Racers (Should be fine… however it can be a little intense for kids under 5. We took a 3 year old last year and he wouldn’t go back on it. We think the main factor is when you’re that small you can’t see as well so it affects the enjoyment.)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! (Less intense than the Tower of Terror was but still not for everyone. If you don’t like the feeling of being dropped, that is really all this ride is; and it’s fantastic!)
  • Grizzly River Run (Big drops, although the kids all find this mostly delightful! Possibility of getting very wet. Pro tip: you can bring ponchos from the dollar store!)
  • Goofy’s Sky School (This one terrifies me… and I like extreme rides! Think “wild mouse” style coaster with a larger car. A lot of kids in our group really enjoy this one. The men typically do not however, due to the… um… placement and pressure of the security bars, if you know what I mean! 😉 )
  • Pixar Pal-A-Round (There are two options so pay attention to which one you go on… one side is fixed carts and one side is swinging carts… and you can have littles on that one, yikes! The swinging side is enjoyed by few. It’s like a ferris wheel on crack, because you have a track that you move along. I’m pretty sure I am the only person who actually likes this one. If you’re a thrill seeker, it’s fun and hilarious to watch everyone else freak out around you. The non-swinging is perfect for babes and scaredy-cats alike.)
  • Incredicoaster (This one is the most intense of all the rides in both parks. It is a fast roller coaster with one loop that goes upside down, and several drops.)

Also, be aware of the shows. Some can get pretty intense. In Fantasmic!, when the villains start to band together it’s a good time to distract your child if they might have an issue with this until after Mickey is triumphant. We reminded our son that the good guys always win. Here’s a shot of him once the Pirate Ghost Ship showed up:

He stayed like this for the rest of the show. There is also an intense fire-breathing dragon! But despite needing to be extra close to his dad, our son looooved it. 

Even with all of this to say, at the end of the day you know your child best. While some may not have issues with these things, other may struggle. In order for everyone to enjoy the Happiest Place on Earth it just takes a little bit of planning and forethought! Don’t worry. You got this!

Do you have a sensitive child? We’d love to hear from you what strategies did and didn’t work for you!

Have a magical day!
Danielle, Heidi, Elisia, and Erica 

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