If you’re looking for a perfect family vacation and one filled with utter joy for your tot, go to Disneyland. Don’t wait for the perfect age, just go. We went at age 2 and 3 1/2 and it has been magnificent every time! So here are some fun tips and ideas for planning your memorable trips to the park. We don’t leave home on our way to Disneyland without checking the is it packed website for Disneyland. It will show crowd patterns annually and says they are very consistent with previous traffic flow. I have used this website and based my trips upon its predictions and it was spot on. Definitely look for “it’s a ghost town” or “hey, it’s alright” status to help you attain your ultimate goal of having a joyous good time!!!
We went Thurs. – Sat. this last trip on “hey, it’s alright” days and had a splendid trip. Only one afternoon did I feel irritated by people and it was at the hottest part of the afternoon and was pretty packed for a couple hours (it might have had something to do with attractions in the land we were in at the time because overall it was never really packed). But it seemed to diminish by nighttime and I felt better the colder I got. We determined that going on a Mon., Tues., Wed. would be much better (especially if the predictions are telling you so) this way it eliminates the people taking an early weekend trip and instead most people aren’t traveling.
I forgot to preface this whole blog post with a disclaimer that no one and I mean no one is paying me or gifting me for discussing my experience here. I simply like to share life experiences and help people have fun. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get back to it.
Now going with toddlers and babies requires some definite skills. The saying “patience is a virtue” is a very important one to remember, and thinking you can plan everything to a tee is just not in the cards. However, I advise you to plan for sure with long lists and research tons before you go, but know that you may have to throw your entire to-do list into the trash in a moments notice, so don’t cling to it and don’t obsess. Let your child do the guiding. After all, it’s really for them anyways!
I was going to have a rule this time “eat ice cream in the stroller only while moving to a new land” since the first year it took us an hour to eat an ice cream. But I ended up enjoying some soft serve ice cream in Toon Town without monitoring my schedule. I have to admit, once we changed our one day trip into a three day trip, I became the most relaxed traveler of all time. If you are hitting the park in one day you may feel pressured to see it all. Just make sure you have your top three rides and favorite shops hot on your mind and make them a priority. I recommend purchasing your merchandise steadily throughout your day. That way you are never burdened with too much to carry and you don’t buy things you don’t love because of the mad dash, late night must take something home craze. Make it meaningful and fun all day!
I like to shop in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo Boutique for my daughter right when you go through the castle. This Fantasyland boutique has all the princess stuff and makes it look amazing. But they usually close at 6pm and I missed it last time. So this time around, I visited it twice during the day to make sure we had the experience and I got my daughter what she wanted. I like to buy things in the other lands too to have a well-rounded merchandise experience. i.e. Pooh Bear bath toys in Critter Town, and fluffy princess clothes in Fantasyland! I know, I love merchandise. I was a mighty beast to tame in this department the whole trip.
I definitely did my research ahead of time and it helped me to get really jazzed about the trip and to stay pumped until we got there. I read a lot about seeing the princesses and where they are. I had never stumbled across Pixie Hallow before and it turned out to be my favorite place in Disneyland. Willow went nuts meeting Tinker Bell in her own little house. It was amazing because you absolutely know which princess you will be meeting. Had I not obsessed and done my research I would have gone another 7 years not knowing it existed. Yikes. Also, the Pixie Hallow inside area has great photo ops leading up to meeting her. Be ready to take pics in there. I wish I had taken more!
The royal palace was definitely something to do right away. It was our first event. I have to say there was something semi-creepy about meeting those princesses in these historical settings and one after another, but Willow loved it. I much prefer seeing them out around Disneyland or at Pixie Hallow. But in here you get to meet three in a row! We skipped the autograph book and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo Boutique makeover until she is older and cares about those things.
Typically Minnie and Mickey are near the front entrance to Disneyland. If they had been out there I would have prioritized them over getting to the Royal Palace. They are very popular and a must see. We saw them randomly the second day again in the front area. The Disneyland App has character status updates so you can find them throughout the park. They also have an app that allows you to see the wait times on rides, another huge perk to take advantage of. I never got a fast pass honestly because the waits were so easy and I had fun in line. But if you are doing it in one day, a fast pass will be your best plan.
One way to have a great time in line with your toddler is to purchase a battery operated bubble wand! We got an Ariel one and everyone had bubbles streaming out of their strollers. It was great in the lines to entertain kids and we also had yummy snacks to keep them occupied. We use an umbrella stroller so we don’t have to stress about where it is and what is happening with it. Many times people moved our stroller to the point that we thought it was stolen and each time we just shrugged and were like whatever. Um…if that was my Britax I would of freaked. So, it helps to eliminate stress having less stuff to worry about.
The only thing I cared about losing was my daughter. I always held hands unless there was a moment when I knew I could let go and not lose her in a crowd. I actually wrote our cell numbers on her ankle and told her many times during that day where we should meet if we got lost. I watched her like a hawk and even managed to save a different child from being swallowed up in crowds. I know I am not being a hover mom here, in Disneyland there is no time for negligence. It’s too easy to lose the most precious cargo of all time. Be safe, and don’t let kids lead other kids to rides and go on rides alone. They can’t understand how easy it is to get lost there.
We did get a locker the first day and it helped us to hold our merchandise and warm clothes for the night. I actually threw on a pair of jeans under my dress, switched to much needed converse (I hear by swear I will never wear sandals to Disneyland again. I mean it this time). I had a jacket for Willow and pants for under her princess dress (also, side note: I bought her Rapunzel dress at the Disney Store at home to save $40 dollars and to have the luxury of letting Willow walk in wearing it, this way we didn’t have to do a big costume change as our first activity there. Yes, she was bound and determined to wear one, obviously).
Okay, back on track. It would be much easier to fold a small blanket on your umbrella stroller and sit on it all day, wear a backpack and just put a long sleeve shirt and jacket and some light pants inside. This way you don’t have to go back to your locker. And if you wear contacts or glasses make sure you have them. Make sure you only go back to the locker one time. It can be faraway and add a ton of walking just to get one little thing you forgot.
Definitely get out and see the lands. But we skipped over Tomorrow Land until the third day. It has the least kid friendly stuff. Although the orbit ride and Nemo submarine were a big hit. The car ride wasn’t that much fun for us. Critter Country is my favorite place to relax and get out of the hustle bustle. They have the cutest Winnie the Pooh ride out there where you ride in a bee hive. We rode it many times. This is a good example of not sticking to a list, let your kid guide you!
The Hungry Bear Restaurant was a quick-serve place and really is quite and let’s you get a breath of fresh air. The food was yummy and bathrooms were right below. Very important with a toddler. We ate there a few times because it was so convenient. Haunted House and Pirates weren’t too scary for Willow so that was nice and they were right near Critter Country.
Willow is potty trained but still resists going a lot until the last minute so the first day all I did was check and hound dog for fear that we would have an accident. The next two days I put her in a pull-up diaper and checked frequently but without such fierce intensity and we had a much more chill and fun time. She never peed in it and I never had to worry. I just explained that we had to wear one because lines are long and bathrooms have lines too and if we are on a ride it will be tough to make it in time. Just in case. This helped her to understand why she needed one on.
We really enjoyed going out on the Mark Twain River Boat and we danced to some live banjo music while on the boat. This was a highlight for me! A very memorable moment on the boat. Willow really enjoyed exploring it. Even though I wasn’t sticking to my schedule anymore I had planted the seeds for what was exciting and important to me. It helped me to make decisions about where we should go and how to time things.
It’s a Small World and Tea Cups were very important to us as well as Pirates so we made them a priority and went when we thought it would be slow and made sure there weren’t gonna be traffic jams from parades getting back and forth between lands. We walked right onto the Haunted House in the evening. We found at around 8:30pm everything slowed down. We started to ware out but evenings and late nights are great times to ride your favorite rides.
Take your family pics right away and use the photo op dumbos and tea cups, etc. They are so dang cute! You will regret not getting your family pic in iconic spots because you didn’t want to drop everything and do it. Just do it!
I researched food and read that Maurice’s Cart was an amazing place to get yummy pastries and slushy lemonade. I found it fun to buy from the old village cart. We had lobster rolls in Critter Country, Corn dogs in New Orleans, Jambalaya in New Orleans, grilled chicken sandwiches and wraps at the Hungry Bear Restaurant, soft serve in Toon Town, etc.
I do regret not making a reservation at one of the fancier restaurants like the one in the Pirates ride. I was thinking “$30 a plate, really?” But in actuality we spent $16 a plate on the Jambalaya and quite honestly, I bet I would get a little more and enjoy the experience more if I had just splurged on one meal like that. Worth it! So maybe the character meals really are worth it! You tell me in the comments.
One fun fact is that Belle and the beast actually ride the carousel throughout the day. I was thrilled and so was my daughter. She was only sad because they rode the time before her but not with her. This reminds me, she cried when we ran to chase after Cinderella. I thought I could follow her or catch her but she was off to the ball, that was certain. So, if you see the characters racing from event to event and you really can tell that they are busy, don’t mislead your children into thinking you will succeed in catching them. It ends in heartache. Just wait until they are happily perched somewhere awaiting your arrival!!! Check the app.
We stayed at the Anabella Hotel which turned out to a have a beautiful pool in a lush setting. The rooms had little rooms for the children with their own daybeds and TV. This was a nice added feature. We were directly across from the park but somehow it still seemed like a mile to get in there. We had to go through the Disneyland Hotel parking lot and have bags checked to get into the Downtown Disney. Even though it was a long walk it was nice to not have to sit and wait for a shuttle and cram into it late at night. I recommend walking and staying here for sure.
I don’t really understand staying at the Disneyland Hotels if you’re not going to be able to enjoy the amenities during the day. I would prefer doing one of those hotels in Hawaii when you can’t go into the park. I just wanted something practical with a nice pool and a safe and decent place to sleep since I was going to spend zero time in my hotel. It was a perfect place for us!
Overall, a well planned and executed trip equaled unforgettable memories for life which I will be scrap booking soon. I know, I’m such a geek. The Southern California Pass was sooooooo worth it. We were going to just do one day and the night before in the pool my husband discussed the pass with one of the guests. He raved about it and the magic hour that you get on select days. We were sold on it and immediately extended our trip and viola saved $450 dollars!
There were a few times that I worried the magic would fade with that length of time in the parks, but it just kept coming back. I heard “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirates life for me” on the speakers in Downtown Disney and it was enough to completely fill me with nostalgia for the “real” Disney which made me change from wanting to try the other park that day. It was still hard to leave on the third day!
Please leave a comment or questions that you might have about your experience or for your upcoming trip! I hope this was helpful in some way for you while planning your Disneyland vacation.