How to Pack & Prepare for Disneyland with Toddlers
Ryan turned 3 over Mother's Day weekend, and we celebrated with a family weekend at the Ritz Carlton Rancho Mirage. (More on that later this week!)
We decided to continue the 3rd birthday celebrations at the happiest place on earth last week, so I wanted to share my do's and don't's, tips and tricks, and how to prep and enjoy Disneyland with your babies.
Now I'm not going to say If you follow everything in this blog, it'll be smooth sailing because your patience will be tested at least once or twice. (It's inevitable when you combine routine changes, skipped naps, hot days, and long lines...)
I hope this blog is a helping guide to make your trip go a little more smoothly and be a lot memorable!
If you're local, you need a Disneyland annual pass
We've been making good on using our annual passes to Disneyland and have gone five times this year. I keep saying, "we've become pros at it" because we kind of have.
We have the Southern California Select Annual Passes which have quite a few restrictions (namely that they are only good for weekdays and exclude most of the summer), but they work perfectly for us!
We did the math, and the passes were worth it after just two trips. It's an especially good deal when you consider that kids under 3 are free, so you can get by on an annual pass for just mom and dad!
You should also look into the MaxPass which is $10 per day/ticket and lets you schedule FASTPASSES right from your phone, letting you by-pass some of the longer lines. You also get access to PhotoPass for free downloads of your photos at the park that day.
I absolutely loved the PhotoPass feature. I was able to enjoy the moment with my kiddos while someone else handled the photography. (It was also nice to be IN the photos for a change.)
My top tips for bringing young kids to Disneyland
1. Use the Baby Center
If you're a new mom or nursing mama (and even if not!) make sure to check out the amenities of the Baby Center. There's a private room with comfy chairs for nursing or pumping, a changing room with changing tables and sinks, a kitchen for preparing bottle and meals, a seating area to feed in high chairs, and they even sell the necessities like diapers, wipes, etc, in case you find yourself short.
2. Pack Warm Clothes & A Camera
It can get a little chilly in Anaheim in the evenings, no matter what time of year it is. Pack warm clothes and a blanket to bundle up your kids in the stroller. (You'd be amazed at how hard it can be to find a sweater at one of the shops when you really need one!)
I also recommend packing your own camera (the good one, not the smartphone one) for your first trip. It's painful to lug it around on every trip, but it's worth it to bring it on baby's super special first Disney visit. And, don't forget to ask for baby's first visit pin and have a pair of personalized Mickey ears made to save as special momentos for your first timer!
3. BYOS #1: bring your own stroller
The plastic ones they have available to rent are not comfy, and it’s impossible to take a nap in.
If you have two littles, I highly recommend the UPPAbaby G-LINK (that's an affiliate link). This awesome stroller stores all the snacks and extra things you'll need to pack, it's lightweight for a double, and the boys love being side by side.
4. BYOS #2: Bring Your Own Snacks
You'll want to pack ample snacks and water... because we all know kiddos want to eat all the time!
My boys love to have their favorites on standby and it makes me feel better knowing they will eat the foods they love. We typically hit up the stores for bananas, string cheese, muffins, bread rolls, and granola bars.
5. Avoid surprises as best as you can
Before our first visit, we would watch YouTube videos of some of the rides before we went, so the kids would be excited but also know what to expect. Some rides may seem like they'd be harmless but can be scary for your little.
On this last trip, we went on Mr. Toad's and I hadn't been on in a while apparently because I didn't remember how dark and scary it could be at certain points! Well, Ryan was terrified after and he rode with his uncle. It took some calming down and convincing after that to even get on his favorite, It's a Small World. But, surprisingly, they both enjoy the Pirates of the Caribbean ride which can be too dark and scary for some kids.
If you can, you should also try meeting characters in costumes before your trip. The characters can look big and scary to someone under three-feet-tall, so be sure to let your baby dictate the interaction. The Disney Cast Members are great at reading the kids who are into it and the ones who aren't.
6. Bring a companion
If you have two littles like me, definitely take another adult with you! My sis has been my go-to Disney buddy, but we also go with Daddy or my brother, too. It makes for a different experience and new memories made every time... and they're able to offer a helping hand, which is key with two!
7. Make dining reservations
We typically load up on snacks and do a dinner reservation at a restaurant for each trip. If it's a last minute trip or we didn't make time to make a dinner reservation, we love the Disney corn dogs at the cart near Main Street across from the Baby Center. Yum yum!
8. Stick to your home routine
As much as you're able to... stick to your home routine! Don’t try to power through naps or there will be meltdowns all around.
Since we have annual passes, we don't feel guilty about leaving a park early, so we like to do half-day trips. I send Ryan to school for a half day, use the morning to get ready for the trip, and then pick him up and hit the road. The kids get a good nap on the drive to the park, so they are rested and refreshed when we arrive.
Sometimes, we like to stay up a little later to see the last parade which usually ends around 9-10pm. We pack the boys' pajamas, wash them up before we leave, get them dressed, and plunk them in their car seats in their PJs for a snooze on the way home. We find the kiddos sleep better this way whereas when we've brought them home to start a sleep routine they are overly exhausted and not happy about it.
9. Set realistic expectations
This is the big one! Set your expectations before you go, for both you and the kids. You won’t be able to do everything between the lines and the mood you (or the kids) may be in at any point in the day. You’ll only be setting yourself up for disappointment if you think you’ll be able to do everything.
We've also instituted a "one toy a trip rule". I use this one to keep my boy Ryan behaving well during the trip. He knows he will earn one night at the end of the night if he is good. (Shhhh, I buy a toy every time whether he is good, or not so good, but he doesn't know that yet!)
We typically get on 3 or 4 rides and try to watch at least one parade. This last trip, we watched two parades and my typically impatient boys surprisingly enjoyed most of it and sat through on their best behavior.
One of my secret weapons to get through the parades and lines is a Mickey lollipop. I don't often give my kiddos pure sugar treats, but it does work wonders to calm them down for a few minutes while you wait your turn.
I'd love to hear from moms who have done Disneyland and stayed at the hotel overnight with their littles. How did it go? What did you do to prep for it?
Post in the comments or join us in the Happy Mom Tribe!