Those who know my family well know that my husband and I have always loved to travel. And while some shy away from traveling with small kiddos, our 2-year-old son has been on 10+ trips in his short life, including two Eurotrips. It seems like each time we get home from a trip, big or small, he’s picked up new words and seeing his eyes light up while he experiences new things, cultures, and places makes any hassle we feel worth it.
Earlier this week we got home from 3 days at Disneyland and it was one of my favorite trips to date! Disney is somewhere I’ve always loved going, even as an adult before I became a mama, but I have to admit that even as a seasoned traveler, before our trip I was feeling a little overwhelmed with all of the “what ifs.”
One of the things that was bothering me so much before our trip was the fact that many of the tips or guide articles I was finding about Disneyland with kids reiterated something I constantly hear: “wait until they’ll remember being there.” In other words, don’t take your two-year-old (insert big time eye roll by me). Why shouldn’t my kiddo get to experience the happiest place on earth yet? Mickey and Minnie have been staples in our house for months and as soon as I told my son about our trip, he wouldn’t stop telling everyone (including complete strangers) that he was going to “fly to go see Mickey.” So off we went, and since it’s so fresh on my mind, I’m hopeful I can offer a few simple pieces of advice to make your trip with a young toddler a great experience for everyone!
Do Your Research
I can’t reiterate this one enough. There is nothing quite like trying to navigate a map and a stroller with a squirmy toddler through the crowds at Disneyland. Do your research in advance. My husband was making fun of me because I’d printed out a theme park map and was marking rides that my son fit the height requirement for that had good reviews to make sure we had somewhat of a plan.
Those lines for rides get long and windy and when you’re walking around, it’s a challenge to tell which line goes where, so having a loose gameplan of which rides/areas we wanted to hit helped make the most of our time instead of wandering around aimlessly.
This also applies for hotels and shuttles. I would guess (and being someone with a husband in the hotel business, he will probably love this guess) that there are 812 hotels within 1/2 mile of Disneyland. Stay at one of these. Please. Find one with a shuttle to the park. It drops you off right at the front gate, or better yet one that you can walk across the street and be in the park. Make your life easy.
Like any other tourist attraction, there are peak times in the park that are busier than others. Do some research before you book your flights to see if you can go during a time that may be an “off-peak” time, or in the middle of the week, etc. so that the crowds are more manageable.
Disneyland App & MaxPass
Using the Disneyland app during your visit is basically non-negotiable and will make your life so much easier during your visit (something I learned this trip first hand). The app shows live wait times at rides, where characters are in the park, restaurant and restroom locations, etc.
Start by purchasing your tickets on the app, which then will be right on your phone when you enter. Because we had a 3-day ticket, we got a “Magic Morning,” which allows you to go into the park an hour before it officially opens. One hour may not sound like much, but we were able to hit 3-4 rides in that hour that had lines later in the day of 45+ minutes a piece. Plus, with a toddler, it’s not like we aren’t all up early anyway.
Another feature available on your tickets is called MaxPass, which is an additional $10/day and it has two main features:
First, it allows you to make “FastPass” picks from your phone, which basically lets you walk right to the front of the line for rides. In the past, you’ve had to walk all the way over to the ride (which can take forever), grab a slip of paper with a number (think the DMV), and then come back to the ride later to skip the line. So being able to do it from your phone saves tons of time.
Second, and my favorite part about MaxPass, is the pictures! There are Disney photographers all over the park who will take your photo with their fancy high resolution cameras. Then they scan your phone and voila! The photos appear right on your phone. It. Is. SO. Awesome.
Two Words: Character. Meals.
Chances are, once you’re inside of the park and want to meet a Disney character, you’re going to have to wait in line for 10-15 minutes to see them, and that’s a best case scenario if you just happen to see Pluto in a random corner of ToonTown. Line wait times for Elsa, Mickey, etc were 30+ minutes around the clock.
One important thing to think about here is that after waiting in said line, chances are your little is going to get to the front and be absolutely terrified when they’re up close to a larger than life Goofy in a rushed environment… Thus the beauty of character meals.
There is a whole section on the Disneyland website that details your different options for character meals. As I mentioned earlier, my son is big time into Minnie and Mickey and could really care less about Moana or Peter Pan, so we planned accordingly by choosing a breakfast that guaranteed Mickey and his pals would be there. These meals give you a more private setting and instead of waiting in line, after line, after line to introduce your kiddos to their idols, the characters COME TO YOU! What a concept!
My son thought it was so awesome that he got to watch Daisy Duck walk around the restaurant for a couple of minutes before she came to our table and made a fuss over him.
These meals are a bit more expensive than regular dining in the park, but not a huge difference in price. It also gives you extra time in the park for rides, since you aren’t waiting in lines to meet your favorite characters. Win win!
Go With the Flow
As much as you plan and try to allocate your time in the park, your kid will have meltdowns. Disneyland is basically the epicenter for toddler meltdowns. Maybe he will freak out because you left his hat in the stroller or can’t find a concession stand that sells M&Ms (real life). Maybe he falls asleep in the stroller at 10 am instead of his normal 1 pm nap time, or maybe he only naps for 30 minutes instead of and hour – so what? Just because you’re at Disneyland doesn’t make him less of an emotional rollercoaster.
So if you take nothing else away from this article, take this: just roll with it and I promise you will have more fun then if you get stressed at every little thing. I continuously joke that vacation mom is way more fun than Denver mom and it’s so true. You’re there to have fun!
Getting to see Disneyland through my son’s eyes is one of my favorite mama memories to date. The excitement. The wonder. The awe.
And yes, I know he won’t remember this trip when he’s 20, but he has been talking about it all day, everyday since we got home with the same joy on his face that he’s had for a week. And for this mama, that’s a big time win.