How to Survive Disneyland With Small Children
It takes more than wishing upon a star to be able to endure the madness of Disneyland, yet for some parents, taking their children to Disneyland may be seen as a rite of passage. Do you remember the first time your parents took you to Disneyland? Remember the wonder and awe you felt as a kid when you first stepped past those gates? Now, who doesn't want the same thing for their kids?
But let's face it—Disneyland is HUGE. It's crowded. It's confusing. And there are actually TWO parks! Let's not forget California Adventure! You can barely handle an outing at the mall on some days. How can you possibly last through a day—or even a week—in the Magic Kingdom?
The good news is that it is possible! It just requires some prep work and research (and of course, reading this guide). Here are my six best tips for surviving your little ones' first trip to the House of Mouse.
1. Go During the Off Seasons
A very common time to visit Disneyland is during the summer months when parents have the most time off. But this is a recipe for misery, considering that nearly EVERYONE takes the summer off. Expect to suffer through insane, two-hour lines that wrap back and forth several times. Watch as your children get intimidated by huge crowds that don't let up. And best of all, witness meltdown after meltdown from your little ones because of the sweltering heat.
Instead, avoid the summer -- and major holidays-- and go during the off seasons. According to Trip Savvy, the best times to visit Disneyland are:
- First full week of January through the middle of February
- Third Tuesday of February to mid-March (when spring break starts)
- Mid-April through the third week of May
- First Tuesday of September to the beginning of October
- Second week of November
When I went with my family two years ago to Disneyland, it was in April. Granted it was because we were celebrating my father-in-law's 70th birthday and it happened to be in April, but it still worked out great. We had skipped the spring break crowds but had also bypassed the Memorial weekend mob. With fewer people to deal with, lines are significantly shorter, and your little ones wouldn't feel stifled by wall-to-wall bodies of strangers all around them.
In addition, go on a weekday. We purchased the three-day pass and went from Thursday-Saturday. There was a noticeable increase in crowd size each day that we were there.
2. Bring Lots of Adults
You may think that you and your partner can two-man your little ones with no problem. After all, isn't that what you do on a daily basis? However, this is no regular trip to the mall or grocery store. This is freakin' Disneyland. Sure, you may still be able to go at it alone, but that can be incredibly stressful. Extra hands are always welcomed, especially when traveling with small children.
When my family went to Disneyland we went with not only the grandparents, but my brother-in-law, his wife, and their child. That's an additional four adults! With extra grownups we were able to do the following:
- Send someone to retrieve Fastpasses.
- Split up so that half the adults took the younger children to the "baby rides" while the other half accompanied the older child (my son) to the older rides.
- Take turns standing in line for the Jedi Training event for my son while he went on several rides.
- Ensure an adult stayed with a napping child while others took the remaining children on rides.
- Return to the hotel with the two younger children to call it a day, while the older one stayed out longer with the remaining adults
3. Download a Disneyland App
Let's say that your child needs to use the bathroom. But where is the nearest one? You don't have time to wander around looking for one and risk your child having a potty accident. What do you do?
Use one of several available Disneyland visitor apps. These apps offer a plethora of services such as locations to bathrooms and eateries, show times, and the all-important ride wait times. Disneyland has an official app, but we used the highly regarded Mouse Wait. Both are very similar and each has its own benefits.
For example, Mouse Wait uses crowd source information, which means it's more up-to-date in terms of wait times. However, you can store your Fast Passes on the official app, meaning you don't have to stuff a bunch of printed Fast Passes in your pocket and risk losing them. I'd recommend to download both and decide which works best for you.
4. Find a Kid-Friendly Hotel as Close to the Park as Possible
When traveling with young children, there's always a chance you may have to return to your hotel unexpectedly. It could be a severe diaper blowout, a need for a nap, or simply a desire to leave early. Whatever the case may be, staying at a nearby hotel allows a lot of flexibility. One parent can accompany a child back to the hotel while the other parent can stay behind with any remaining children.
Our hotel was a 10-minute walk from Disneyland's gates, which was a godsend for my pregnant sister-in-law. During the first two days she would walk back to the hotel with her toddler daughter to put her down for a nap and get some rest herself. By the third day my niece had her fill of the Magic Kingdom and called it a day fairly early.
Try to find a hotel that's within walking distance to the park. Of course, there are the Disneyland Resort hotels themselves but they are extremely pricey. Look at hotels near or along South Harbor Boulevard instead.
Furthermore, try to find a hotel that emphasizes kid comfort and fun. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Anaheim Theme Park hotel, which was incredible. Our room had a separate master bedroom and a twin-sized bunk bed in the main room. The bathtub was shallow enough to allow me to easily bathe the kids. However, the best part was the awesome outdoor mini-water park! It was so amazing, my kids thought that was Disneyland and were reluctant to leave the hotel to go to the actual park!
5. Have a Plan of Attack, but Be Flexible
The night before, discuss with the rest of your group where they'd like to go first. If you have several adults at your disposal, you can divide and conquer, then regroup later. I suggest getting to the park super early, and hitting the major rides or special events first.
For example, my son is a major Star Wars fan, so during our first day half the adults took him to Tomorrow Land. Meanwhile, my daughter and niece were only two years old at the time, so the other half of the adults took the girls to Fantasy Land. We spent the next day at California Adventure, where the girls had reservations at Ariel's Grotto Restaurant and met a bunch of princesses. My son hung out in Radiator Springs, which, by the way, looks EXACTLY like it does in the Cars films.
Of course, don't expect everything will go as scheduled. Naps will happen, rides may break down, and people may want to go on the same ride multiple times (I may have seen all the alternate versions of Star Tours thanks to my son). But the important thing is not to wander aimlessly around the park. Use the visitor apps to figure out your next move, if you wish.
6. Let Your Kids Rest When They Need It
Finally, don't forget about the well-being of your kids. As parents, you may want them to experience everything that Disneyland has to offer, especially since you don't know if or when you'll be able to return. But their bodies and legs are little, and will tire out much sooner than you will.
If they need to nap, let them nap. Find a comfy bench or even a shady patch of grass and let them sleep! If your hotel is within walking distance, consider taking them back to the room. Even if your child doesn't nap anymore, he or she may still need a break. Let them rest their feet for a bit by taking a snack break, or visit the gift shop.
Furthermore, there's no need for your kids to stay out late if they're exhausted. Sure, they'll miss the fireworks or maybe a parade, but you can always catch a daytime parade if you want. As for fireworks, if your hotel is close enough to the park and room is facing its direction, your kids may still be able to see it.