Since my son was born, I have been looking forward to taking him to Disneyland (not an exaggeration). I have such fond memories going there as a child that I couldn’t wait to share these memories with my son. With a 2 ½ year old son and a 3 month old daughter, my husband and I went back and forth debating whether our son was old enough to enjoy it. We knew of course my daughter wouldn’t know the difference between being worn walking around Target in Phoenix versus being worn walking down Main Street in Disneyland, so we weren’t too focused on her (sorry Layla!).
We decided to go for it (trying to be more adventurous in 2018) and it was one of our favorite vacations we have ever taken. Below are a few tips and tricks we learned along the way. Of course, our trip may have been a fluke and it could be a disaster next time we go, but for now I have nothing but positive things to say about traveling to Disneyland with the littles.
We were nervous as to how our son would be seeing the characters walking around Disney (after all a few months before we left he was scared of the Arizona Cardinal we saw at the football game). A friend had recommended watching YouTube videos of people meeting characters at Disneyland. This was such a great idea. We would watch small 1-2 minute clips of random people on YouTube (sounds weird typing it out) meeting the various characters at Disneyland while they were on vacation. I really believe this helped my son to not be scared of the characters and helped him learn who the different characters were (at least the main characters). He was so, so excited when he met the characters in real life at Disney.
Stay at Disney.
If funds allow it, I highly recommend staying at a Disneyland Hotel. There are a few hotels on the Disney property, however we stayed at the Disneyland Hotel because I felt it was more of the classic option compared to the other 2 Disney hotels. I am so glad we did! In my opinion, I would rather visit Disneyland one less day and stay at a Disney hotel because I think the value of staying there is worth that much. We would randomly be on our way to the pool and would see Goofy just walking around. My son was able to walk right up to him and give him a big hug. How fun is that! Everything is Disney- the pictures in the room, the soaps, the rugs, everything – and I think that’s what made it so much fun.
Another benefit to staying at Disney is you get free magic hours at the Disney parks. This means you get to enter the park an hour before the public. This was a great time to hit super busy rides and take advantage of the fact that kids wake up at the crack of dawn!
Consider Timing and Shop Around When Booking.
The time of the year you visit Disneyland plays a huge role in your experience. You are clearly going to have a different experience if you go during the week in January compared to if you go on the weekend during spring break. If you are traveling with a little one who has a short attention span, gets hot and cranky easily – then plan accordingly. Set them up for success. We went at the end of January so the weather was perfect and the crowds were minimal. Also, shop around if you are price sensitive. There are quite a few packages out there where you can save money by bundling (or is bundling just a word you use with tv and internet?) Anyways, we ended up getting a travel package through Costco (of course Costco has travel packages, because they have everything and are amazing #notsponsored). By doing this, we saved money, avoided having to rent a car (since a bus picked us up) and had great customer service.
The neat thing about Disneyland is you can bring your own food and water. We would get up early, get the kids ready and head out to the park. We would pick up breakfast and coffee on our walk over so everyone was full and ready for fun when we got to the park gates. However, instead of having to continuously wait in line to buy snacks/drinks throughout the day, we brought our own. We brought a couple good water bottles and filled them up at any of the restaurants in the park. We brought granola bars, trailmix, ziplocks of dried fruit, etc. that way our son could snack when we were waiting in line or walking around. This helped save money as well as take care of any sudden starving children.
We didn’t want to spend all of our money on a ton of overpriced crap at Disney (sorry, that’s kind of harsh, but you know what I mean). Before the trip, I went to the dollar store and got a bunch of different fun toys to bring with. I got glowsticks for the kids to have when we walked around the park at night (so we didn’t have to buy the ones there) and bought bubbles and fun necklaces. I brought them into the park with me and gave them to my son when he was getting restless. He was 2 – he didn’t know whether the toy was from the dollar store or Disneyland, all he cared about was the fact he had a cool, new toy. By the way – I did let my son pick out one souvenir – so I wasn’t a total scrooge!
Also, we only stayed at Disneyland for 2 days so this wasn’t necessary, but if you didn’t rent a car and are staying a few nights you could always amazon prime snacks/toys directly to the hotel. This would allow you to not have to worry about bringing food/toys on the plane.
One of our favorite activities was the character dining. I can’t recommend this enough! The first night we arrived, we got in too late to go to the park. We booked an early dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen and it really got us in the “Disney” spirit.
We also ended up booking another character dining experience at Paradise Pier. We booked the latest lunch reservation available that way we could go straight to the hotel for a nap afterwards. It was so nice because we got some one-on-one time with the characters since we were one of the only ones left in the restaurant for that last reservation! Be aware that you can book reservations months in advance so this will probably be one of the first things you book once you decide on visiting Disney.
Don’t have expectations.
We found that it was best to have no expectations when traveling to Disneyland with a toddler. Don’t have a long list of all the rides you are going to ride and what time you will eat and every corner of Disney you will conquer. You will be disappointed. Visit Disneyland thinking you will be riding the monorail for 4 hours straight and be ok with that. That isn’t in fact what we did, but those were our expectations so we were beyond excited when our toddler loved all the rides.
Plan to go back to your room in the middle of the day to take a nap. While you can rally all day and hit all the rides, your toddler can’t. Part of setting realistic expectations for us was only visiting one park. We were only in California for 2 days so while we could have pushed to cover both Disneyland and California Adventures, we made the decision to only visit Disneyland (to cut costs and to not be pressured to cover Disneyland in 1 day). It was the best decision for our family during the season we were in.
Other Food for Thought.
- If you are traveling with a nursling, Disney also has a feeding room (so I’m told) at the front of the park. I heard it’s an awesome, quiet place to visit. I’m not bothered by nursing in public so I just fed my daughter wherever we happened to be in the park, but I heard the feeding rooms Disney offers are outstanding.
- If you are traveling with an older and younger sibling (of which one can ride some rides and one can’t), look into ride sharing. Too much information to go into here, but look into it – its awesome!
- Be sure to have the Disneyland app downloaded to your phone and have your tickets synched up to the app. Through this app you can check out wait times, bathroom locations, show times etc.
Take these thoughts for what they are worth. They worked for our family at the stage of life we were in at that time. Who knows if our son will remember the trip because he was so young, but you know what, we really don’t care. It was one of our favorite vacations and we wouldn’t have traded it for the world! Feel free to leave any questions or comments below – we are happy to share our experience with you!