We have taken two trips to Disneyland with the kids since becoming parents. The first time was February 2017 when the kids were almost 3 and almost 1. This trip was pretty impromptu and stemmed from my need to get out of the house after my first 6 months at home with the kids. I needed an escape to the ultimate family-friendly resort. We went into the park for one day, stayed in a hotel off the property, went on four rides all day, and had a magical time! Our second trip was this January. We gave the kids a Disneyland vacation for Christmas and planned it for months. This was to be THE Disneyland trip for the bucket list. We filled ourselves with expectations for this trip and in-turn set ourselves up for A LOT of disappointment and frustration. There were also plenty of great memories but Rob and I left feeling disappointed and confused about what went wrong. Through these two experiences and a lot of conversations with other parents that have been to “the happiest place on Earth”, we’ve had some realizations about visiting Disneyland and I wanted to share in hopes of helping you avoid the mistakes we made. So here are our top five tips to help you make the most out of your Disneyland vacation with young children!
1. Our number one piece of advice = Zero Expectations!
- One of the hardest things about Disneyland and anything that is expensive, is dropping all that money and still not letting yourself have any expectations. As soon as we have expectations we are disappointed and with this last trip the expectations had been built WAY up for all of us. We had been reading Disneyland blogs about which rides to go on at which times, what food to eat to maximize the experience, and how to take advantage of a rainy day at Disneyland… “get on all the rides because the park is less crowded”. We were setting ourselves up for failure before we even got there.
- Now, the park will be amazing. It’s Disneyland. You can expect that… but how your family will behave, what the weather will do, how the crowds will be, how your family will behave in the weather and with the crowds… all is beyond your control and cannot be predicted. This is not to say that there won’t be lots of good moments, there absolutely will. But, there will also be a lot of hard moments, just like we have at home with the kids everyday… but now they’re in Disneyland, and they need to go potty, can’t have something they want, need a nap terribly but are overstimulated and can’t or won’t sleep, you get the idea. The trick isn’t to strategize to avoid these situations, just expect them, understand them, and roll with them. There will be bad moments but that doesn’t mean you or your family are doing anything wrong. They’re totally normal. Everyone else in the park is having them too.
2. Know your family and don’t expect them to be something they’re not.
- Disneyland is tiring and only exaggerates the challenging emotions, especially on days two, three, and beyond. We were all overstimulated at points throughout the trip and we knew getting naps in would help, but how? For us, staying in the park and having Bridget nap on me in the carrier worked best. We could just go with the flow and if she napped she napped and if she didn’t, no big deal. On our third day the rain was REALLY bad and we were all tired so cutting our afternoon short to get a nap seemed like a good idea. BUT we made the mistake of EXPECTING that they’d actually nap because they were so tired. They didn’t and Rob and I nearly lost our minds. We were EXPECTING them to fall asleep and when they didn’t we got frustrated. When they got up to play we got agitated. And the more worked up we got the more they misbehaved. We know our kids struggle to nap when they’re overstimulated. If we’d have just let the kids relax and play and not gotten frustrated, it would have never gotten to that point. Lets review: no expectations and know your family.
- More on both of those plus RIDES! So I LOVE going on rides. And I really wanted to take the kids on more of the rides than the previous trip because they were older and wouldn’t be as scared of the rides like last time. To be fair, we did get on more rides than last time but not all of the ones we EXPECTED to. Kellan is super cautious and sensitive and we KNOW that about him, but we still hoped that maybe he’d go on a few more of the bigger rides. The first day it took us 30 minutes to convince him to go on Winnie the Pooh. Once we got him on and he realized it wasn’t so bad, getting on the rides got easier but always requiring a pep talk. There were very few rides that I really wanted to go on, but the one at the top of my list was Soarin’ Over the World. Bridget and I waited outside to take advantage of the Rider Switch service when the boys were done. Rob and Kellan got all the way to the boarding station and the safety warning came on and warned the riders that they should exit now if they were afraid of heights. Kellan decided that he was and demanded to get off the ride. So no Soarin’ for us… which was fine but those darn expectations set us up to be disappointed again. Recap: Know your family. Have no expectations to get on anything in particular. Have pep talks with your kids to prepare them for anything that might make them nervous, and it’s ok if you miss a ride.
- If your child doesn’t like strollers elsewhere they will not like strollers at Disneyland. We love our Joovy Caboose stroller in theory. Both kids can ride in it together and it’s fairly compact. One problem, Bridget refused to ride in it… especially when it was raining and we had the rain cover on it (which was the entire plan for surviving the rain at Disneyland). The whole week prior to the trip she refused to sit in it with the cover, but we mistakenly assumed she’d sit in it when we were actually there. Not so much. She wanted me to carry her everywhere. We compromised with me carrying her in the Ergo but it was another battle of wills for awhile that caused some rough moments. On that note, if you have a strong willed toddler they will still be strong willed at Disneyland. That you CAN expect.
3. The more hands on deck the better.
- This is a piece of advice I cannot speak to from experience, but I have repeatedly heard from other parents that traveling with grandparents or other adults makes a huge difference because you have more help with the kids and get more of a vacation than you would otherwise.
4. Have a game plan with the adults in your group and communicate expectations for the day with them frequently.
- Everyone gets tired at Disneyland and Disneyland as a parent is work. Rob and I found ourselves off our parenting-game a lot of the time because we were exhausted and then we’d get frustrated with each other when we didn’t read each other’s minds. If we would have given each other more pep talks and communicated those darn expectations we could have dodged some stressful moments.
- I also think that giving each other and ourselves lots of grace, understanding that we are both stressed, tired, and overstimulated too, would have helped us enjoy our trip more.
5. Finally, take advantage of the ultimate family-friendly vacation.
- On both of our trips, we loved having our parenting needs catered to. I was still nursing Bridget on our first trip to Disneyland and possibly my favorite thing was going and feeding Bridget in a private comfortable rocking chair or changing her diaper on a lined, cushioned changing table at the Baby Care Center (at the end of Main Street). Being a breastfeeding mom is hard! I was not good at using a cover so having a place to go and peacefully feed her was such a relief and made me feel valued. Fast forward two years to the last trip, and we visited these centers in both parks again, but this time to use the toddler potty because Bridget was potty training. They also sell formula, baby food, and pretty much anything else the parent of a young child might need. If you have a little one, you must check it out!
- One of our favorite things about visiting Disneyland is the food. We plan our day around what food we want to eat. And those plans often changed, but it didn’t matter because everything is great! Yes, it is crazy expensive… but it is also delicious. And, it’s so kid friendly! So enjoy! Also, download the Disneyland mobile app before your trip to get all the info for the days you are there, plus you can order food from any of the restaurants and pay on your phone while you are on a ride, walking from land to land, or escaping the rain like us! Then you pick it up when it notifies you that your food is ready! This was really helpful and alleviated a lot of the stress of our trip!
- Finally, you are paying for the magic of Disney not a particular ride, parade, or individual experience. Just being in the park is like no where else on Earth. You’ll get on rides, and see a parade or show, and have tons of great experiences. Just expect nothing. Let it come to you and see the magic of Disney through the eyes of the your kids. Those are the priceless moments that make an amazing Disney trip.
I hope our tips and thoughts help in your future Disney adventures. I’d love to hear what you think and if you have any advice of your own. ❤️