10 Tips for Taking Little Kids to Disneyland

First, thank you so much for all of the feedback, support, and information you sent after yesterday’s homeschooling post. I feel like it was surprisingly cathartic to admit that I’m freaking out about it and after the dust settled Kyle and I were able to have our first solid discussion about homeschooling without me panicking and pacing. I need to digest and dig through some of these resources, but I’ll definitely keep you guys in the conversation as we make a plan for next year. I have to say…I’m feeling pretty good either way right now!

And now, from our recent Disneyland trip…

10 tips for taking little kids to Disneyland. See the full list here:

1 /// Be prepared and pack in advance.
I’m not exactly sure what happened on this trip. Before a Disney trip, I always make a chart with all of our names at the top in separate columns and activities (sleep, bathing, food, entertainment) on the other side so I can go through and list what we’ll each need. If that sounds nuts, you might not have little kids. Anyway, I did that for this trip and I filled in each of the boxes and I checked everything off and somehow we packed the minivan and forgot to take most of my clothes, Eva’s inhaler, my laptop cord, any cold medication, most of Calvin’s toys, and our Disney lanyards. We did however take ski pants and 5 boxes of instant miso soup. I don’t know why.

Total cost of our lack of preparation was pretty high. We had to purchase three lanyards because we wanted to introduce Eva to pin trading ($75) and we bought a ton of cold medication and other remedies when we all caught a virus ($40). We also bought a poncho during a surprise cloudburst ($12) which is annoying because it’s our fourth Disney poncho and we actually have matching Disney rain jackets because we’re dorks. Blah.

2 /// Don’t overplan.
I had a vision of being able to get lots of work done, see lots of the updates that have happened, and take lots of photos of Eva looking adorable in all 6 of the Disney princess dresses we brought. I got almost no work done, breezed through most of the updates with no time to really look, and Eva wore a couple of dresses but insisted on clothes underneath them because (A) it was freezing and (B) she wanted to wear ALL of her Disney themed clothing at once. I have absolutely no adorable posed princess portraits from my list of must-have adorable posed princess portraits, but I do have a bunch of pictures of Eva looking like her normal Eva self wearing her princess clothes over her regular clothes.

Princess dresses. 10 tips for taking little kids to Disneyland. See the full list here:

3 /// Research the food before you get there.
This is a big one for us, of course, because we’re an allergy family but I feel like it’s important for any family with small children. There’s a ton of information about park food out there and if you have any questions you can call the Disney dining hotline and either they’ll give you answers or they’ll point you in the right direction. Even if you just do it for budget purposes, it will keep you from being surprised when you fly through your food allowance quickly.

4 /// Go to a character breakfast.
Eva has been to Disneyland twice and each time we’ve scheduled a character breakfast. For both trips, it was one of the best moments. The character breakfasts seem expensive, but the fact that you can get into the park a bit early if you schedule your meal early is a little fun AND you don’t have to chase all of those characters down or wait in long lines. That in itself is huge when you’ve got little kids. Plus, you will easily spend at IHOP what you pay for the character breakfasts, so unless you’re truly eating cheaply by toting your own cereal or bagels, it’s almost silly to eat anywhere else. So far we’ve only done the one at Plaza Inn, but I’ve heard great things about the others and we’re planning on expanding our horizons.

Character breakfast. 10 tips for taking little kids to Disneyland. See the full list here:

5 /// Do attraction prep if you can for toddlers and preschoolers.
We let Eva watch some of the ridethroughs on YouTube before we went because we knew she probably didn’t remember a lot from her first trip to Disneyland (when she was 13 months old). Because she had seen the ridethroughs, she was more excited for the rides. We also listened to a lot of the music which was awesome until we realized that It’s a Small World would be closed and we had listened to that song two hundred times for no reason. I will say that she still had a bit of trouble with some of the bigger attractions (Pirates of the Caribbean is not her favorite) and no amount of Grim Grinning Ghosts would get her to take a step into The Haunted Mansion, but it helped with the others.

6 /// Your baby doesn’t really need to ride the attractions. Really.
This weird thing happened where all of my family got together to ride The Haunted Mansion but somehow Eva fell asleep and stranded Kyle outside of the ride while I took Calvin into the attraction so he could get the chance to see it. I was a little worried that the screaming would startle him, so I used his Davy Crockett coonskin cap to muffle his little ears. Turns out he got too relaxed and he both fell asleep and filled his diaper up as we made our way to the ride. Finding myself in the queue with a smelly baby, I told everyone they didn’t have to ride with us and then he and I took a doom buggy all through the ride while he snoozed and I gagged on the poop smell getting caught in the concave vehicle. Totally could have missed that one.

7 /// Take ambient noise if you have a napper
The first time we took Eva to Disneyland, we were absolute slaves to her nap schedule and running back to the hotel mid-day to put her down tops my list of bad memories from that trip (lots of screaming and us being frustrated and just bad bad bad). Calvin is a little younger, but he also suffers from the second child situation of me not having time for his nap schedule so he sleeps wherever I put him. On this trip that included The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and lots of little naps in the stroller. He’s not the heaviest of sleepers so I bought him a padded set of headphones and turned ambient white noise on whenever he was sleeping. I swear, it bought us a solid 45 minutes at a time. Added bonus: when he seemed a little overstimulated, I put his headphones on and turned on his Dean Martin. I don’t know why, but this boy adores Dino.

Baby headphones. 10 tips for taking little kids to Disneyland. See the full list here:

8 /// Close the parks or open the parks but don’t do both. Ideally, don’t do either.
Kyle and I are diehard park goers. If the park is open, we’re on property. Unfortunately, that’s just not reasonable with kids. It was frustrating, but we agreed not to push them on this trip so we got to the park late on one morning and left early one of the other nights. We also took the opportunity to close the park on our own while my parents watched the kids, just to have a bit of time to run around and be us. Which reminds me…

9 /// Get away from your kids if you can.
This is tough for us – tougher than you’d think. I don’t really like being away from my kids and I just have to say that even though it sounds a little…well, smothering. I like my kids being within arm’s reach, partially because I like to know they’re ok and partially because I miss them like crazy when they aren’t around. So, when my parents offered to put our kids down while we went back to the parks, I had to practically be peeled out of the hotel room. The result was three hours of park time in which Kyle and I got a refresher course on exactly why we’re happy we married each other. It was awesome and we came back recharged and ready to deal with all the little frustrations of parenthood. If you can swing it for a few hours, go for it.

10 /// Lower your bar.
Here’s the biggest one: lower your expectations, especially if you are (A) a die-hard Disney person, (B) are on the fringe of not being able to afford a Disney trip, or (C) have never been to Disneyland. For whatever reason, those three groups seem to consistently end up being the most frustrated/angry/sad at the parks because I think they come loaded with expectations and when they can’t quite ride everything or someone cuts ahead of them in line it’s like the sky is falling in.

With kids, you will be disappointed over and over. Rides will not get ridden. Fastpasses will go unused. You will spend an hour waiting in line to take your kid on an attraction and the second it’s over, they will scream and cry because they want to go again. For little kids, there will be a whole lot of sitting and sleeping and probably a fair share of whining. It’s OK. Drop that bar right down and settle for the first ten minutes of happy that you get that day and then everything else will just be cherries on top. I guarantee you’ll leave with happier feelings about your trip.


Bonus tip:
I never knew why they put the Voyage of the Little Mermaid into Disney’s California Adventure until this trip. Some people like it, but it’s a little cheesy and not that long and it doesn’t have a lot of the spark that other attractions have. Well, it turns out that they put that one in there because there’s almost never a wait and your preschooler will want to ride it over and over again and you’ll take her because there’s no wait and thank-you-Disney it will get her off your back about Dumbo. It’s my new favorite ride. Especially when other people are riding it and I’m sitting in front of it with my feet up holding a Starbucks.

IMG_3138Want more tips? Check out our Disney page.



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  • Reply Hope at Disneyland

    I’m really happy to read that you had a better trip this time around despite the fact that you got colds and that you forgot some important items. I have yet to go to Disney with little ones full time, but I do agree that you’re probably on their time so you should definitely lower the bar and just enjoy it for what it is. Eva looked adorable in her princess dresses and Calvin was such a cutie in his Davy Crockett hat. P.S. Calvin has good taste in music. I was wondering what his little ears were listening to. 😉

    February 18, 2014 at 7:42 pm
  • Reply Arcelia

    thanks for the advice, we are planning a trip for next month and this sure helped! (:

    February 18, 2014 at 8:10 pm
  • Reply J. Humenay

    Awesome tips all! Having been a ‘tag along’ with little kids in the past (as young as six months and up to 2 years), you’re right on target. I really had to change my Commando touring style to not go crazy, but it taught me to slow down and I was able to enjoy the park differently with the little ones in my friend’s lives. 🙂 I can’t say I lowered my expectations- but it was clear that they changed in a big way! Now I have a ‘kid friendly’ set for laid back touring time, a solo set for when I’m on my own, and a friends/family set for when I’m with company.

    February 18, 2014 at 11:44 pm
  • Reply Eve

    Missed this post a few months back, and it was right when I went to Disneyland for the first time!! After a frustrating morning of travel and parking, we got to the parks late and lines were already insane. There was a 10-minute wait for Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and my husband and I were pleased as punch to get on it, ride it, and feel happy that we had actually ridden something without wanting to pull our hair out. Even though it’s clearly a ride for kids, we had a blast. I recommend it to everyone for its low-stress awesomeness!

    May 21, 2014 at 11:31 pm
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