You’ve got a friend in me, pal, and I am here to share the ULTIMATE GUIDE on how to survive and thrive in Disneyland with toddlers…and a sceptic husband.
Those who know me, know that it is no secret that I LOVE all things Disney. Specifically Disneyland. I was always into it even before I had kids. Disneyland has a way of igniting magic into even the grumpiest naysayers. The poor unfortunate souls as Ursula would say.
Trust me, I know, because somehow I married the most anti-Disney man out there. But the guy loves me and if anything, he listened to Olaf and realized that “some people are worth melting for” so we have gone to Disneyland several times.
Disneyland with Toddlers
We have two Disney loving kids, 3.5 and 5.5 years old, so it isn’t a hard sell. But the key to getting my husband to agree to go back (6 times in 5 years not to mention a trip to Aulani, A Disney Resort in Hawaii) and every trip being better and more magical? Planning, researching, preparation, and faith, trust and a little bit of pixie dust.
Our Disneyland trips have been so memorable, so fun and so special. I am talking few to no meltdowns…from the kids or the husband. Truly the happiest place on earth.
Why? Because if you want the best experience possible with small kids you just can’t “wing it”. So if you are on the fence or planning a trip to Disneyland, you are in luck.
Where To Stay
While staying at a Disneyland hotel is the ultimate goal, it can also come with an ultimate price tag. If it isn’t in your budget, you will find that there are so many good neighbor hotels right around the park. They all do their best to include the Disney flare.
My advice to you is to choose a hotel that is at least within walking distance to the park. This way you can come and go as much as you need. You can also save money by choosing a hotel that has a continental breakfast included.
Speaking of hotels, I mentioned to choose one within walking distance of the park. This is important because you want to be able to come and go as you please and get back to your room quickly for naps. This is the biggest tip I have for you.
If you take nothing else away but this, you are already in good shape. STOP FOR NAPS. There is a lot to see and do at Disneyland and I can hear you saying “but I don’t want to miss a thing! The tickets are expensive so I want to make the most of it”.
Just trust me here friends. “Ohana means family and family means nobody gets left behind.” Yeah, that is true Lilo, but you have never had to deal with overly stimulated, physically exhausted kids, melting down at Disneyland. You will want to run for the hills. Tired kids make life miserable for everyone. And it becomes less fun and magical for them the more exhausted they get.
Break up your day and make time for naps. When we go to Disneyland, we arrive at the park when it opens and we exit the park around lunchtime and head back to the hotel for lunch, baths and naps.
We then head back to the park around 4/4:30 just in time to catch some rides and find a spot for the early evening parade. I can’t tell you what a difference it makes. My kids aren’t sweaty anymore, they are fed and they are rested.
They are totally ready to go back for round two and they are able to hang until the nighttime shows. Don’t try the “I will let them nap in the stroller at the park thing”.
Stroller = Lifesaver
I will bring a stroller with an umbrella cover with me for as long as my kids will fit in one. Lines can be long, the weather can be hot and the park is crowded. The stroller gives my kids a chance to rest their legs, not get caught in the hustle and bustle of the crowds, stop for a snack, etc.
Finding a seat can be challenging in the park so you never have to worry about not having somewhere for your kids to sit. Plus, it is a spot to put all of your snacks, water, and belongings so you aren’t carrying them around all day!
A friend of mine told me about a stroller rental company a few years ago and I have utilized them ever since! They drop the stroller off at the front desk of the hotel and pick it back up for you when your trip is over.
They make life so convenient and we don’t have to check a huge double stroller in at the airport. Check out City Stroller Rentals Anaheim. You won’t be disappointed.
What to Bring to the Park
The cool thing about Disneyland is that they allow you to bring in outside food and water into the park. I always pack two backpacks.
Extra Set of Clothes
Hat (especially for the kids!)
Diapers, if needed
Wipes, regardless of what phase your in because duh – there is always a need
Two Bottles of Sunscreen, apply as much as possible because there is not a lot of shade in the lines at the park.
Portable Cell Phone Charger, because you’ll be taking photos all day and there will be nothing sadder than your phone dying right before Goofy walks by and gives your kid a huge hug.
Ibuprofen, throw a bottle in there my friend. You will thank me later.
Snacks, applesauce pouches, graham crackers, fruit snacks, etc.
Bottles of Water, there are several places to refill your water bottles throughout the park, but I usually bring enough bottles to last the first half of the day and then restock when we go back to our room for naps.
What to Buy Ahead of Time
So let’s just say the merchandise in the park can be pricey. When we have a Disneyland trip planned, we pick up $20 Disney gift cards at the grocery store during various trips to the store prior to our trip, so by the time we get to Disneyland, we have some good credit saved up.
I always let my kids pick out a few toys from the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney, but the rest I bring with me. I’ve scoured and found that the best Disney shirts and apparel can be found at Kohls and Target. I buy all of our outfits ahead of time.
There is a Target located about a mile from the park and they have awesome Disney apparel, hats, accessories, etc and for a fraction of the price at the park.
There is also a grocery store within a mile, where we stop to pick up waters, snacks, and food items such as lunch meats, pb&j, bread, microwavable food, etc. to keep in our hotel room. Don’t forget booze, because by the end of the day, you will need it.
While waiting for parades to start, you will see merchandisers walking down the street with glowing light up toys. Save yourself the $25 and make a trip to the Dollar Tree prior to your trip. and stock up on glow sticks, bubbles, etc and bring them with you to the park.
Do not miss the parades. Simply put, they are INCREDIBLE.
Ok, I am going to tell you a secret but you have to promise not to make fun of me. I cry during the parades. They are so well done, so fun, so magical, so interactive, so all encompassing of everything at Disneyland.
I find myself staring at my kids watching their faces light up while watching the parades and my eyes well up with tears. That is what Disneyland is all about! The magic!! But you know what isn’t magical? How early people start squatting on their spot for the parades.
If a parade starts at 5:30 you better hope you have found your spot no later than 4/4:30 or you aren’t going to see it. Parades are very serious business at Disneyland and for good reason.
Ok, the Disneyland app is amazing so make sure you download it prior to arriving at the park. Among so many other features like seeing ride wait times which is so helpful, you can see where all of the characters are in the park and literally hunt them down.
But the lines to take a picture with them are typically enormous. You could be standing in line for 30 minutes only for the appearance window to close and the character goes away. For this reason and also referring back to grumpy, dismay for lines husband, we always do a character breakfast on one of the days we are at the park.
Goofy’s Kitchen is our favorite, but Disneyland has several other character dining options to choose from. Is it pricey? Yes. Is it worth it? So much yes. You get to see and visit with so many characters at once and they come to your table and give you all of the time that you need with them to get the perfect photo.
Not to mention, it really isn’t that much more expensive than having a meal at the park plus the food is actually really good! Feed hangry family? Check! Get character photo opps plus autographs? Check check! Avoid long lines to get said photo opps and autographs? Priceless.
Don’t even give it two thoughts. IT IS WORTH IT EVERY PENNY. MaxPass is $10 per ticket per day per person and without it is seriously the key to Triton’s undoing.
“Disneyland MaxPass”, is a variation on their now classic Disneyland FastPass system. The MaxPass system allows you to book “reservations” for Disneyland’s most popular attractions directly from your smartphone.
Disneyland MaxPass is a paid alternative to the existing Disneyland FastPass system which currently requires you to walk to each attraction in order to get a reservation time for riding.”
Pro tip: If you are going to California Adventure that day, put in for your MaxPass reservation right when the park opens for Radiator Springs and Guardians of The Galaxy or you may not get on those rides at all. I have seen the lines at 480 minutes long. Do it right away!
And for Disneyland, go for Space Mountain first thing on the MaxPass or you will run into the same issue.
Know Before You Go
Pick up a map of the parks prior to your trip. Map out where you want to go and what you want to ride and what rides your kids fall within the height requirement. It will make your life so much easier having a plan so you don’t miss a lot.
If you have toddlers and small kids, you will want to head to Fantasyland immediately upon entering the Disneyland Park. These lines get ridiculous within an hour of the park opening. Unfortunately, Disneyland doesn’t offer a MaxPass reservation for any of the small children rides in Fantasyland.
Also, if you have a MaxPass reservation at 10 am for Radiator Springs, hit all of the other rides in Cars Land while you are waiting. Try to conquer each “land” before moving on the next. And furthermore, I highly recommend only doing one park per day if you have small kids. There is so much to do at each park that you need a full day at each at least.
Save yourself the money of a park hopper. Running in between parks with kids and a stroller is not an effective use of your time and will just give you anxiety.
Ready to rock Disneyland with toddlers?
After every trip I ask myself “how will we ever outdo that trip?” Somehow we always do.
I am not claiming to be a Disneyland expert. But I do know what has worked for my family from my kids being babies to present and that has been controlling the chaos.
So for now, here are the most important tips I have for you. Now you are ready to make the most of your Disneyland trip with toddlers. The Cheshire cat said, “If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which path you take.”
Well, you could go into your Disneyland trip blindfolded and just see what happens and will probably still have a great time. But if you follow my tips, I promise you that your trip will be that much better. Just remember: “All it takes is faith and trust”.
“We didn’t even realize we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun.” — The Pooh
Christina Jacobsen was raised in Reno where she attended Wooster High School followed by the University of Nevada, Reno. She graduated with a degree in Business Administration and Marketing. Christina is a licensed Realtor with Keller Williams Realty Sparks. She is very active in the Real Estate community. From the Board of Directors for the Women’s Council of Realtors as The Director of Programming and a member of the top 20% Associate Leadership Council at Keller Williams Realty Sparks. Above all, Christina is most proud to be mommy to Colin (5) and Olivia (3) and wife to Colin. She loves all things Disney, especially Disneyland, spending time with her family and working out.
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