10 Tips For Doing Disneyland With Young Kids
Recently, we took a trip to the happiest place on earth - Disneyland. My side of the family has always been a “Disney family”. We have taken multiple trips to Disneyland and one trip to Disney World. Experiencing Disney with young kids, however, is a whole new ball game. While it can be overwhelming and exhausting, a little extra planning can also ensure a truly magical vacation filled with fun memories you will never forget. I learned a lot about how to do Disneyland with children and I thought it may be helpful to share it with you. Read on to see my top 10 tips for doing Disney with little ones in tow.
Save money to experience Disneyland to it’s fullest
If you are someone who doesn’t live in the area or won’t be making Disney trips a yearly tradition, I would encourage you to save money and wait until you can experience it completely. Of course, everyone has different budgets and personal enjoyment preferences, which needs to be taken into account. What one person may place a high value on, another may find immaterial - but the important thing is to make sure you have the money to make Disneyland the trip that you want. If you go in with unrealistic limits or cut costs where you wouldn’t prefer to, then take some time and make saving a priority. Especially if this is a once in a lifetime trip!
Stay at one of the Disneyland hotels (or as close to the park as possible)
Before we had kids, we had no issue staying a little further away and waking up early to take a shuttle into the park. With young children, however, the closer you can stay the better. Letting our children sleep as long as possible, allowing them to wake up slowly, and starting the day with a wholesome breakfast before entering the park was essential for our little ones to have enough energy to last the day. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel and it was fantastic. It is literally steps to Downtown Disney and a short 7-minute walk to the parks. It was a non-issue if we forgot anything at the hotel and, if we were ever desperate to give our children a break, it would have been simple to head back for a short spell.
Go with extended family/friends if possible
My mom, dad, sister, and her husband joined us in Disneyland. Their presence made the experience so much more convenient. Having extra eyes to watch our kids and extra hands to help out as needed made the trip significantly more enjoyable. Extra caretakers meant that we could do most activities in shifts - everything from feeding the kids in the morning while others got ready, to switching off on rides when the kids weren’t tall enough. Every single activity became easier with more adults. It would have been a lot less fun if my husband and I had to ride separately while one person waited with our youngest.
Bring a stroller
My oldest, who is four, never rides in a stroller in our daily life. In fact, we have the City Select Double Stroller and never bought the second seat because she has never needed it. With that in mind, I was hesitant to purchase a seat or new stroller just for Disneyland, but I can safely say I am so thankful that I caved. I ended up purchasing the Summer Infant 3D Double Umbrella Stroller. This was a lifesaver. Letting my daughter sit in the stroller as needed kept her energy up by giving her the opportunity to rest and recharge. In addition, each day our two-year-old took his nap in the stroller while on the go. We pulled down the cover, told him it was nap time, and within 10-minutes he would be out cold. The stroller also gave us space to pack extra clothing, snacks, water, and purchases, as well as conveniently storing bags/purses as we walked through the parks. FYI - Disneyland has implemented stroller guidelines that prevent strollers with a footprint larger than 31x52” (79x132cm) from entering the parks.
If possible, pack all of your food needed for the day. If you are looking to save money, packing your own food would be the number one method - plus, the meal you would bring is likely as good as the meal you can buy. If you are like us, however, and just didn’t want to deal with the hassle of packing meals, don’t forget to pack small snacks. Having some snacks on hand that you know your children are going to eat will make many components of Disney more enjoyable. With the long lines for rides or shows, when you start seeing the behavioural warning signs (i.e., hangry), give them a snack! Fed children are always more content. Anything to hold them over until you can have an actual meal will do the trick. There are several grocery stores that provide deliveries to hotels for minimal fees, so stock up on your children’s favourites along with some healthy snacks and water to get through the long days. From our experience, even the adults were digging into the snacks.
“Be prepared” - Scar
As the villain in The Lion King once said, “be prepared”. Arrive in Disneyland fully prepared for the day. For us, that meant bringing a small first aid kit, sunscreen, hats, and comfortable shoes. You know your own children best, but other things to consider may be toys, activities, specific bottles, security items, diapers/wipes, potty training necessities, noise-cancelling headphones, etc. There is nothing worse than having a meltdown when it could have been prevented with some planning.
Bring rain gear and a change of clothes
As an extension to point #6, above, be prepared for a change in weather. Wet children tend to get irritated and are no fun. I would advise bringing rain gear and a change of clothes even if there is no rain in the forecast - being protected from the water on Splash Mountain is definitely worth it. Having the spare change of clothes in case of an emergency proved to be imperative for us numerous times on our trip for each child on different days.
Plan your “must do’s” well in advance
If you are going to invest in one of the more rare experiences, ensure you plan well in advance. The character breakfasts, dining packages, Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, special events, or any other Disney “add-ons” must be planned and booked well ahead of time. Most of the pre-booked experiences open up 60 days prior to your visit and they will fill up quickly. Decide what is a must-do for your family and prioritize booking those before it is no longer an option. My daughter was gifted the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique experience by her Auntie and Uncle and it was very much worth the price of admission. She was at the perfect age to enjoy the magic of the experience! She still talks about her princess makeover and how much she loved being a princess for the day. Also, for the daily recurring events such as shows or parades, decide early what you can’t miss out on and prioritize those early in your trip (this also includes specific rides). You may not get everything done, so make sure you can accomplish what matters most to you and your family.
Invest in the Maxpass
For $15 USD per person per day, the Maxpass was a game changer for us. Maxpass is an add-on to the Disney Fastpass ride reservation system. It grants users the ability to make Fastpass reservations from their phone, anywhere in the park. In addition, it provides access to PhotoPass downloads taken by Disney photographers throughout the park, or photos from select rides. With the Maxpass, we never waited in line for more than 20 minutes (except for Peter Pan which isn’t FastPass enabled). Most ride wait times were much less than 20 minutes, and since we were able to reserve from anywhere in the park, the Maxpass also prevented unnecessary walking/travel times. Bear in mind, the Maxpass is truly for ride lovers - the pictures are a nice bonus but not worth the $15 price tag alone.
Lower your expectations
Lastly, but probably most importantly, lower your expectations. We knew going into this trip that we would have to slow down with children. We were prepared to go back to the hotel for meals, breaks, and naps as needed. We went into the experience knowing that we would make breaks and meal-times a priority. We knew that someone would have to stay in the hotel once the kids fell asleep (by 8pm on most nights for us). We kept them on a schedule to make sure they weren’t over-tired and therefore cranky the next day. We had no unrealistic expectations that we would see it all or do it all. The only thing we wanted to get out of the trip was fun with our family, and I can safely say we accomplished just that.