Disneyland with TODDLERS!
Disneyland is coined as “The Happiest Place on Earth”… but with young children, it can quickly become the most exhausting, tantrum filled, stressful place on earth. The biggest and most frequent question I get is HOW DO YOU DO DISNEYLAND WITH SO MANY KIDS?! …And still have fun?? With four children and multiple trips, we’ve established some best practices!
I could write for days about everything we love to do at Disneyland… but as a fellow mom who just wants to get to the point, I’ve outlined this to make it quick and easy! This blog post is meant to be the ultimate quick reference guide! Please feel free to ask me more questions here in the comments if you want more details about anything!
1.Where to stay
We’ve stayed at so many places - from a Motel 8, to the Quality Inn, to the Grand Californian, we’ve stayed all over! But our favorite and most highly recommended place to stay is the Howard Johnson Anaheim! Whether you have kids or not, its the best location with the cleanest rooms and kindest service! The hotel is literally across the street and is the best priced hotel you’ll find that close to the park entrance.
Not only is it close, but its literally the perfect hotel for kids! They have a Water Park that is perfect for kids to run around in, and my kids literally picked going to the water park over Disneyland our first afternoon in Anaheim!!
The rooms are also family friendly - whether you book a large room with two queen beds, two adjoining double queen rooms, or the family suite with a king bed and bunk bed, you can comfortably accommodate a family of any size!
Being comfortable in your home is super important - when you have kids, you can’t just “stay anywhere”. We’ve tried that to save money, and it was miserable! Either we were so far that we had to walk over a mile or take the bus (which is super hard with a big stroller and lots of stuff), or we stayed a value locations and the kids couldn’t sleep because we were too crammed in or it was too noisy. Howard Johnson was literally perfect in every way!
I am so excited to offer a PROMO CODE to Howard Johnson for you! CLICK HERE and enter LNLR for 15% off, or LNAP if you’re an annual pass holder!
2.When to go
I always always always refer to the Is It Packed? Crowd Forecast calendar!
We will ONLY go to the park with this many young children when its “Hey It’s Alright” or “Ghost Town”. That translates to 5-25 minutes wait times in our experience! For us, going when its super packed just isn’t worth it! Once all of our kids are older and can easily survive long lines, we’d brave the busier days, but for now, the best way to maximize our enjoyment is by avoiding the heavier crowds!
3.What to eat
Disneyland App: If you haven’t already, download the Disneyland app! Now you can mobile order your food!! So you pick where you want to eat, pick a time window, and order your food in advance! Then when you arrive, you say “I’m here” in the app, and they’ll immediately make your food so its fresh! So easy and SO much faster!
Pack snacks - we love Bare snacks and healthy veggie/fruit pouches to help balance out the churro consumption!
Uncrustables - one way to save money is to pack your kids lunches! Water bottles - bring water bottles into the park! This saves SO MUCH money! We’ll bring in one Camelbak and get free ice from any food vendor, and then just keep refilling it with our own water bottles!
4. How to plan the trip
KNOW YOUR KID - go at their pace.
It’s better to do less but ENJOY it, than to push to do more and be miserable through it all!
One park at a time: We typically do one park per stretch of time - for example, Disney before naps, California Adventure after naps. The less time you spend walking from park to park, the more time you'll spend with your kids having fun!
Ride Early and Late: Get to the park early, especially if your kids are early risers! We find that the best time to ride rides are first thing in the morning and around 8-10 PM during shows (if your kids last that late, its awesome!)
NAP! (Again, know your kid) But I can say for our kids, a break and nap are a must! We've tried to power through, and it worked when we had just one kid or when they were under 1 and super go with the flow still, but with multiple young kids, keeping some part of our routine consistent really made a huge difference! Having the Howard Johnson so close to the park made it easy to walk back for a quick power nap! We missed the worst heat of the day and the heaviest crowds, and returned refreshed and ready to stay later!
Take a swim break: I know it sounds crazy to think your kids need a break from Disneyland, but they very well may need some other type of activity to break things up! This is why the Howard Johnson is a MUST for us - the kids were so excited to swim and have play in the water park!
Character Breakfast: If you want to meet lots of characters, we've always found that the Character Breakfasts are so worth it! Skip the multiple lines and tracking which character is where, and have them come to you! We always do Minnie's Breakfast at the Plaza Inn! The only character we waited in line for was Spider-Man, because that's our son's hero!! Other than that, we got all our character pictures done in one morning during breakfast!
5. Survive the lines
Some fun tips to survive the lines:
iTouch PlayZoom smartwatches - these were easy and affordable for the kids to wear - they could play simple games and take pictures together! I loved that it wasn't overly-absorbing like a phone or tablet, but was still something that kept them busy and engaged with each other!
Disneyland app - the MaxPasses are SO WORTH IT! You can get your FastPass directly on your phone without ever needing to walk to the attraction!
Go early and late - like I mentioned earlier, before 11 AM and after 8PM are the best times for shorter waits!
Make a list of the rides you want to go on and be realistic! Setting expectations that are attainable makes you feel much more successful!
Break up the waiting around in lines and ride the Disney Train around the park - this is a great way to take a break without your kids feeling like you’re taking a break! You can either use it to go from one part of the park to the next, or ride it full circle to get back to your parked stroller!
6. Juggle the height requirements
You can view the full height requirements directly from Disney here!
This isn't an all inclusive list, but here are some of our favorite rides with no height requirements:
Pirates of the Caribbean
Its a Small World
Buz Lightyear's Astro Blasters
Toy Story Midway Mania
Turtle Talk with Crush (this is in Animation Studios in Hollywood)
Winnie the Pooh
King Arthur Carrousel
Stroller Swap: We utilized the stroller swap to help us go on rides for our older kids that the littler ones couldn’t! So I took the older two on Star Tours, while my hubby took the little ones to the Tomorrow Land stage for a “Get Your Ears On” interactive performance! Then we switched, and while my hubby went on Star Tours with the older boys, I took the little two on Astro Blasters!
Single Rider: We personally don’t use stroller swap or single rider to go on “our” rides (Space Mountain, Guardians of the Galaxy, Incredi-coaster, Indiana Jones) because with four kids, its just crazy to be alone with all of them while one parents is riding a ride, and not nearly as fun for the kids to sit around for 15-30 minutes per parent. We go with our kids to do Disneyland for our kids - and its a lot less stressful when we remember that its their turn to enjoy the magic! We’re planning a separate trip for just my hubby and I to go on all of our rides!
7. Packing list
Here are some of the favorite things we packed on this trip!
Cubcoats - these adorable plush toys transform into the comfiest sweaters! You can see them in the pictures above! Use CAROLINA15 for 15% off your purchase!
Rags to raches - we LOVE this shop! Their Disney line is amazing! They also have a Star Wars line that we can't wait to get when we visit Star Wars Land in the fall!!
Hanna Andersson Pajamas - they make the cutest family pajamas, and my kids loved having special pajamas to wear!
Lindsays Ear Shop - this is the BEST shop you'll find on the Internet for custom Disney Ears!!! I got SO many compliments!
Target, Old Navy, Zara - these stores are great for affordable Disney clothes for the whole family!
iTouch PlayZoom smartwatches - we loved these for kid friendly and not overly obsessive entertainment. We didn't want our kids glued to a screen while in Disneyland, but these watches let the kids take pictures and stay entertained while in line!
Backpack style Diaper bag (We love Freshly Picked!)
Cute, neutral clothes for adults - I love wearing neutral clothes, like light denim overalls and a white shirt, so I can go with whatever fun Disney apparel my kids are wearing!
Bubbles - we got the kids the fun bubble wands from Disneyland that we reuse each trip! They’re refillable and keep the kids so entertained!
8. Most importantly… adjust your expectations!
The biggest theme of this “best practices” list we’ve developed is to adjust your expectations. Disneyland right now, with tiny little ones, won’t be the same kind of fun it was when you were in your early 20s juggling FastPasses! But it will be a NEW kind of fun!
If you want to go to Disneyland with young children, know that it’ll be a different experience and that’s okay! Fun and successful for them doesn’t mean it has to live up to your last favorite memory of Disneyland. Sometimes going on just 5 rides and running around toon town and eating churros is more than enough to spark the beginning of a magical love for Disneyland!
Go slow, follow their lead, and don’t worry about checking everything off of an itinerary!