Disneyland with toddlers: the do’s, the don’t’s, and the wish we had

Last week we made the 6 hour road trip to from our small Northern California mountain town to visit the Southern California area, most importantly Disneyland! It has been a dream of ours for awhile to take the the kids down south and Disneyland was so kind to host us. We left on Tuesday morning, right after Matt got off after working his usual night shift. We arrived at our hotel, Clementine Hotel & Suites, mid afternoon. This hotel honestly is the perfect location for couples and families, make sure to check out my previous blog here. Anyways, be an to Disneyland! We got settled in and relaxed while we began to prepare for the next day. Taking two toddlers to Disneyland can be a bit overwhelming to say the least. Our kids are three and one and a half, so I was a tad nervous. Although our kids are used to going on fun adventures, they had never been to a amusement park and we had never been to Disneyland as a family. I had no idea what to expect and even after doing some quick research, still felt like I was going into it all blind. That night we set our alarms so that we could get up early enough to get ourselves ready and grab any last minute things we needed to throw into our back packs. Coming from a family who hikes, we knew we each needed to have a backpack filled with necessities. Some we needed, some we didn’t, and some I wish we would have packed more of! We then woke up the kids about 7am and got them all ready to go. We planned on walking since our hotel was so close, only about a half a mile away. I had brought along our Delta Fold N Go stroller and let me tell you, so convenient and easy! We grabbed our stuff, had a quick bite, and set off on our grand adventure! We are used to walking a lot so we arrived at the front gate within 10 minutes, about a quarter to 8am. For those that aren’t familiar, Disneyland is open from 8am to 12am most days with the exception of some morning hours you can upgrade for or rides closing a few hours early for events and shows. If you are traveling with young children or even children in general, I highly recommend getting to the park right before they open up. It made the entire beginning of our day a breeze with less people, shorter lines, and less stress. We had park hopper tickets so we decided to do California Adventure first since both of our kids are huge Cars fans. The kids had an absolute blast and it was by far their favorite area at Disneyland. After some fun rides, we decided to hop on over to Pixar Pier.

Pixar Pier is a newly re-imagined boardwalk filled with Pixar stories and characters truly making for a magical experience for the whole family. With thrilling rides, delicious food, and fun games, it was a blast. Our first ride was Jessie’s Critter Carousel and McKynleigh did not want to get off. Saddle up and get riding with some of your favorite characters from Pixar’s Toy Story 2! Afterwards, Macyn jumped on over to place some games inspired by some of his favorite movies. Featuring Bugs Life, Toy Story, and even Wall-E, he walked away with his very own Bullseye. Before we left for the parade, Macyn was determined to go on the swinging gondola. Still not sure how he talked me into it! When we began to go up, we were amazed at the beautiful view over looking Disneyland and Los Angeles area. At 150 feet tall and being one of the only two Ferris wheels in the United States that combines fixed and sliding gondolas, it is a must go on while at Disneyland.

After our fun at Pixar Pier, we decided to catch some cool air and take a little sitting break at Mickey’s PhilharMagic located in Hollywood Land. This 12 minute, 3D show features the one and only Donald Duck as well as many other beloved Disney friends. With some of Disney’s most iconic songs such as “Be Our Guests”, “Part of Your World”, and “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” and 3D glasses, the kids loved feeling as if they were in the action themselves.

By the end of Mickey’s PhilharMagic, it was almost 12pm and we were all ready for some food. We decided to head on over to downtown Disney to try Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes, they offer a wide variety of burgers, sides such as fried pickles and sweet potato fries, good brews, and some of the craziest shakes! This throwback-style eatery was not only delicious but such a fun time for the kids. After a yummy burger, the kids shared a Bam Bam Shake featuring their favorite, Fruity Pebbles. It was topped whip cream and a cherry along with Strawberry Pop-Tarts, Laffy Taffy, and a Fruity Pebbles Rice Krispy Treat. Talk about YUM!

After lunch and walking around the downtown Disney shops, we walked through the gates to Disneyland! The kids decided Casey Jr Circus Train would be our first ride then Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. Personally, I was surprised how cool this was was and would rate it on my top favorite! It wasn’t long after both kids began to look tired. I looked down at my FitBit and was surprised we had already walked over 7 miles since arriving. This is why booking a hotel close to the park is so important especially when you have younger children. We made the quick walk back, laid the kids down at their usual nap time, and did some relaxing ourselves. It was convenient being able to just hop back over when they got tired not having to worry. After the kids woke up we decided to walk back over to the park but it began to rain. This was the only time during the trip I wish we would’ve paid for the shuttles. Walking back, even with it being a short distance, in the rain with two toddlers was not fun by any means. But after the rain let up, we headed back with the sunshine shining down again ready to finish off the amazing day. We stopped for a quick snack, a churro of course! Disneyland is known for some special, unique foods. Let me just say, I was not disappointed by any means! After going on some more rides, including my childhood favorite Dumbo, we decided it was time to head back. I won’t lie, I feel like even though at moments it was hard, our day went by in a blink of an eye. By the time we got back to the hotel, the kids were exhausted but wouldn’t stop talking about all the exciting things they did. Our hotel was a few building down from Cheesecake Factory so of course we had to go over for one last treat. We had planned on going to the fireworks but I won’t lie. Our kids are used to going to bed at 7:45pm and that day were so tired the both asked to go to bed early. All in all, Disneyland was a success. With toddlers it definitely can be challenging but oh so worth it. The smiles on their face as their eyes light up seeing their favorite characters come to life. The jumping for joy as Macyn went on his first ride and McKynleigh begging for another ride on the carousel made me realize our babies aren’t babies anymore. They are growing up and sharing special memories such as these mean the world.

As a parent, I won’t lie. There were a few tantrums and difficult moments. Even with my super mom brain, I forgot things and over looked others making it a little harder. Here is my list of Do’s, Don’t’s, and Wish I Had.

Do’s, Don’t’s, and Wish I Had:

Get to the park early. This made for the first few hours so much smoother. Less people, less lines and wait times, and over all easier with toddlers.

Pack snacks and water. With little ones, they are constantly hungry and thirsty. Lets be real, Disneyland food isn’t cheap either. Pack in all the snacks you can fit, they are perfect for waiting in line or in the stroller. My husband brought in his hiking backpack with the built in water container making it easier to drink here and there instead of having to take out a water bottle.

Get the MAXPASS. When we arrived and got our tickets, the first thing I did was purchase a MAXPASS for all of us. They are $15 per person, all all day, and can be controlled 100% through the Disneyland app. Schedule ride times ahead of time, link all your photos, and combine ride parties. It’s easy, fast, and makes the day go by so much smoother.

Bring a stroller for each child. If they are small enough to fit, bring a stroller no matter the age. With Disneyland’s new policy, we weren’t able to bring our wagon the kids normally use. Find a compliant double stroller or bring in singles. I made the big mistake of only bringing McKynleigh one and after Macyn had walked for an hour and a half, he was over it. You can rent them there but they are pricey and only count as one use so you can’t leave and come back.

Book a hotel within walking distance. I can not stress this enough, book close! It makes it so much easier with kids and the overall trip. I highly recommend Clementine Hotel & Suites for their bedroom suites and great amenities. They also have the shuttle run through out the day to and from Disneyland making it ideal for those who don’t want to walk.

Don’t hesitate to go back to the hotel. Most people want to spend the entire day at Disneyland which don’t get me wrong, me too! But with babies, toddlers, and younger kids, Disneyland is a lot of work and normally requires nap time. Our kids never nap in the stroller so having the option of walking back for nap time was by far the best thing we did while taking toddlers to Disneyland. It gave them a burst of energy and was great for getting back at it all afterwards.

Don’t stretch the day thin. I feel like when we went I had a certain expectation as to how the day was going to go and with toddlers, it just didn’t happen. That’s totally okay! Don’t try to fit so much in it becomes hard or upsetting for your kids. If they want to go on the same ride 5 times, let them!

Watch the weather. Don’t be like me and not check the weather that morning. I checked the day before and the weather showed clear. We end up in Disneyland with dark clouds above and a thunderstorm hit. I don’t know about you guys, but rain with kids can be a nightmare. My kids hated it and it was the longest half a mile back to the hotel, poncho or not.

Don’t wear sandals. Maybe for some sandals are okay, but I wore my Nikes and still ended up with blisters from all the walking. By the end of the day, we walked over 10 miles according to my Fitbit.

If you can, make it a 2-3 day trip. For us and Matthew’s work, this wasn’t an option. I wish it had been because I think we would’ve been able to experience more and not crunch as much in. If you could even do two days, one park each day, I think it would be ideal. More time to soak in all the magical moments, rides, and yummy food.

Reserve dining ahead of time. Reservations go really fast, some weeks in advance. I recommended booking one for the character dining option as not only is it fun for the family, but also give easier time one on one with the characters instead of standing in long lines. It’s not much more expensive and well worth it.

Buy gear before heading to the park. The night before, we ran to Walgreens down the road from our hotel to grab some drinks and fun snacks as a treat. While in there, I shopped around and found shirts, bags, and even mouse ears for way less than what they sell for in the park. I bought mouse ears for each of the kids, even though we ended up wearing them, for $6.49 each compared to $30 in the park. Little amounts like this truly do add up in the end.

Find a hotel with a kitchen. Now, your probably wondering why I say this and hear me out. Yes, Disneyland is all about splurging and eating fun foods. It can add up real fast though. I’ll be honest and say in just one day we spent well over $150 on food and drinks. Have fun food at the park but go back to your hotel and cook dinner. It’s a great, easy way to save a bit of money for other things while on vacation. Our hotel had a full kitchen with all the pans, plates, cups, etc we needed. It may not seem like much but even if you save $50-$75 by eating back at the hotel, that’s more in your pocket. (P.S there are grocery services at select hotels, including the one we stayed at. Drop your grocery list off before heading to Disneyland and they will shop, deliver, and put them away before you even return).

Park your car and walk. From the time we arrived in Anaheim till the time we left for home, we never once drove. There are so many restaurants, stores, and fun things to do all within a quick walk.

Use sunblock frequently. Probably a no brainer for most, but let me just say I was starting to burn every 45 minutes or so from being in the direct sun. Leave the sunblock in an easy to reach pocket and lather up in between every few rides so you don’t look like a lobster the next day!

Go at non-peak times. Technically we didn’t plan to well and went at the beginning of peak season. I would definitely recommend week days as they are less likely to be as busy and fall/winter/early spring. Summer and holidays are typically busy and a little harder with younger kids.

Make a list of goodies you want and stick to it! For some, you may not care and just go with the flow. I, on the other hand, love to plan ahead! Before we even arrived in Southern California, I had a list of all the famous foods and drinks I wanted to try, knew where they were. I also ordered them on the app to avoid lines. I highly recommend the Dole Whip, Mint Julip, Mickey Beignets, corn dogs, and churros. All are yummy, fun, and magical in their own unique way.

Our day at The Happiest Place on Earth, was just that, The Happiest! It was everything I had hoped for and I can not wait to take the kids back soon. They are getting ready to open the new Star Wars addition and boy does it look awesome! Growing up Disney was my obsession and I’m so excited to pass that on to my kids as they get older. I am already dreaming of Mickey Beignets and Sleeping Beauty’s newly renovated castle, I think another trip is definitely in our near future!

Thank you Disneyland for hosting us. This blog is sponsored but all opinions are my own.

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