I took my almost 4 year old to Disneyland for the first time a week ago. It was super cute and so much fun and I’m so glad I waited until she was this age to take her. Much younger and she just wouldn’t have appreciated the magic as much. I needed to write something today, and someone suggested that I write about how to do Disneyland with a toddler. So, here’s me giving that a shot.
Some points before I start:
- I live 20 minutes from the park, this means I don’t need to pay for a hotel and can leave when I want. This might not be the case for you, so do what you need to in order to feel like you get your money’s worth. Tickets are now $100 a pop, even for a 3 year old, and that is not cheap, my friends.
- If you are planning a family trip, I do recommend the Disney run hotels. They are fabulous and cater well to families, even if they are on the pricey side. If you can’t afford that (understandably), the Howard Johnson is nearby and also fabulous.
Ok, Disney with a toddler.
- I made this trip about her. Because I live close by, I know I will be going back to the park with her and I’ve grown up going to Disney, so this trip was NOT about what I wanted to do. It was all about HER. The rides I chose, the characters we met, all of it was designed to give her the best possible first time experience I could give her. This might not work for everyone, especially if you have more than one child, or if you’re visiting from out of town and don’t know when/if you’ll make it back. In that case, I would pick one thing the child would really love and make sure that is on the agenda.
- Stroller. This is a must for a Disney trip with small children. There is a TON of walking and they get tired, fast. Let them ride in the stroller as much as they want to save their energy, hide from all the people, or get some shade. It will help a lot. It is also useful in the carrying of the things. I suggest two bags: one with important things like money and cameras and one with non-essentials, like a change of clothing or baby wipes. The smaller one with the important stuff can come with you on rides, and the other stuff can stay on the stroller and that way if it gets stolen, it’s not a big deal. For the record, nothing was taken out of our stroller, but better safe than sorry.
- Don’t skip the nap. Disney is exhausting and a tired child isn’t having any fun and is probably making you miserable. They cry more and whine more and generally bring everything down. Disney is the happiest place on Earth, so keep the peace by allowing the child to nap. I know it’s hard to leave the park, but if you have a hotel nearby, have one parent take the child back for a nap and then meet up with the rest of the family. If you live near the park, take them home. This also allows you to miss the afternoon heat and the toddler is up and ready to go for the evening parade and other fun stuff. Trust me, it will only make things run more smoothly. If you have an annual pass, consider just going home after a few hours. End the day on a high note, not a tantrum. Even with older children who don’t nap, taking a break around lunch for a couple of hours to unwind is not a terrible idea. Swim in the pool, have lunch, watch TV, whatever. Then come back for more fun with a well rested happy family.
- Understand that you won’t hit everything you want. Have a list of rides you think they will like, but keep the plan loose. There is a LOT to see and do and once you add in snacks and meals AND line times, the day goes really really fast. You will not be able to do everything, especially if you have a lot of people who want to do all the stuff THEY want. This is where having at least ONE thing for the toddler that you make time to do really important.
- Don’t force a ride. Seriously, it’s not worth it. If the kid really doesn’t want to go on it, don’t make them. It’s mean and Disney is the happiest place on Earth. Don’t make the kid cry.
- What to bring. Baby wipes, hand sanitizer, a change of clothes in case of an accident or a water ride, diapers if the toddler isn’t potty trained yet. Anything else is extra. Remember, this is for an older child who is no longer breast/bottle feeding. Younger babies will need more stuff. If you find you need something, they have stores there. Don’t try to haul everything around, it’ll just stress you out.
- They have baby centers. They DO! It’s the most amazing place. If you need to breast/bottle feed a younger sibling or just need some quiet time but don’t have a hotel or home to go to, they have baby centers in the Park. Ask at the front gate or any Cast Member. There are all sorts of things a mom could need in one of those places.
- Keep up on bathroom breaks. Don’t wait for the toddler to start doing their potty dance. That might be too late. There are bathrooms everywhere but if you don’t know WHERE you might not have time to find one. So, every couple of rides or so, just make a pit stop.
- Hydrate. They have bottles of water and if you go into a restaurant, they will give you a cup of water for free. Don’t forget to eat, too. There is so much good food at Disney, you won’t be without choices. There are carts that sell fruit and healthy muchie stuff, if you want to avoid sugar and fat.
- Have fun! Try not to stress. Go with the flow and just enjoy the wonder that is Disney. And remember, what works for my family might not work for yours. Do what DOES work for you, so you love Disneyland as much as I do.