Friday, April 17, 2015

What No One Tells You About Disneyland with a Toddler (a.k.a. 10 Secrets to Disneyland Success)

First Disneyland trip was a total success!

There are actually quite a few things you have not heard about Disneyland with a toddler. Trust me. I got a little crazed in preparation for our one day trip last month. I read all the blog posts I could find. I went to Target and the Dollar Store and bought everything Disney themed I could find. I practically shoved Disney stories and videos and music down my two and a half year old's throat the month leading up to our Disneyland trip. I printed out a countdown, a combination of those found at Getawaytoday and 123Homeschool4Me, and we talked about Disney all day every day for almost a month. I knew I would be excited for my son's first trip, but I was extra excited (and more nervous) since it was also going to be my 33 year old husbands first trip too! My hubby doesn't like rides and amusement parks, so I had good reason to be nervous. I think that half of my fury in preparing my toddler for Disney was really my subtle attempt at preparing my hubby!

I added a few items to her countdown based on the books and Disney toys I bought. I had lots of fun with this!

Instead of giving you a boring hour by hour run down of what we did at Disney, I thought it would be sort of fun to capture the magic of our time at The Happiest Place on Earth by giving some tips to those of you who might be thinking of planning a first trip of your own with a toddler sometime soon!

Without further ado, here is:

10 huge secrets to a successful Disneyland trip with a toddler

1. Bring the grandparents! 

I was a little hesitant since my Dad can be pretty go go go (love you Dad!), but in the end this was probably the best thing we could have done (plus, who else do I owe my love of Disney and Disneyland to, but my mom and dad?!)! I wouldn't have thought much about the importance of bringing them, since we had always planned to go with my parents, but the benefits really hit home when we got to the first ride of the morning. A cute pregnant mother standing next to Phil and I, watching her husband and two kiddos ride the same rocket ride that Micah and Nana and Papa were on, smiled, leaned over, and exclaimed, "Oh! You have grandparents with you!? I am so jealous!" The pining, longing, already exhausted look in her eyes really drove the "don't you dare take a moment of today for granted" point home. And boy was she right! I do love Disneyland, but I have to admit that it was pretty nice sitting out and observing the Astro blasters and Dumbo rides of the day while Nana and Papa took Micah. Plus, there is no better way to beat the time spent waiting in lines than having a grandparent or two to entertain your little tike! A further benefit is that one or both might just hang back for a ride or two so that you and your spouse can enjoy a "big ride" like Indiana Jones (which was probably a good thing that my mom did just that since it may have been the ride that convinced Phil that Disneyland isn't half bad after all!).

We are just a bunch of wild animals after all!

Excited much on the first ride of the day?!

First ride of the day. Cutest Nana photo!

So nice to have Nana and Papa for these rides!

They even enjoyed the teacups together!

2.  Devote more time to Toontown and less to Fantasyland. 

This may vary depending on your child's temperament or exactly which toddler phase they are in, but my toddler was too scared of the big Fantasyland rides like Snow White and Pinocchio. Micah is definitely more into taking time to process things and so meeting characters in Toontown and visiting Minnie and Micky's houses were huge highlights. Toontown opens a bit later than the rest of the park and closes earlier too, so be sure to plan accordingly. My dad and I actually accidentally ended up waiting for two minutes at 8:58am to get in to Toontown to get a fastpass for Roger Rabbit and it was kind of a V.I.P. kind of experience since Goofy personally ushered the small group of us in. It was as if we were given royal treatment being the first guests to Toontown for the day. I had wished that we hadn't left Micah back in Fantasyland eating his morning snack, but oh well! The area has so many little houses, buildings and stationary toon cars that are fun to explore without waiting in lines or dealing with crowds. That is a huge reason why it is the best place to just hang out in with a toddler.

V.I.P. entry to Toontown (or so it felt)

Getting autographs already! (secretly we are developing print awareness and concepts of print. Yes, I'm a sneaky teacher!)

Mickey meet and greet #1

Minnie meet and greet #1

Micah and Mickey both love their tools!

So much fun in Minnie's kitchen!

3. Don't forget the bigger rides that are more than ok for toddlers! 
The Nemo Submarines and Tarzan's Tree were only a bit scary in parts, so over all Micah enjoyed them. Autopia, It's a Small World, the Jungle Cruise, the Tiki Room, the Disneyland Railroad, and the Monorail were enchanting, magical, and just right for all of our generations.  Anything transportation related or with singing was great. 

Ask any of the Disney cast members (employees) to take your photo and they will!

Total awe at the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

Loving the Jungle Cruise

4. Do not be scared of huge crowds around spring break. 

This is the second time in the last four years that I've gone on a spring break associated Saturday and crowds were not bad either time. This time especially was the least crowded I think I've ever seen it. My only guess is that the locals are staying home more since so many main attractions were closed (Splash Mountain, Winnie the Pooh, the Matterhorn, Peter Pan, Captain Eo, and part of Innoventions were all closed). This was not a problem at all for us though, since we really would have only gone on Winnie the Pooh and Peter Pan had they been open and we ended up not having enough time to do all the toddler friendly rides anyway. 

5. Don't let warnings of expensive food scare you from eating within the park.  

When you come from a big expensive metropolitan city like Seattle anyway, the prices of food in Disneyland don't seem all that bad. When you only have one day in the park, you might decide to just eat there to save some time and ride some more rides. We packed in a bunch of snacks, but also enjoyed lunch and dinner, a snack, and a dessert or two inside of the park.  My favorite spots to eat in Disneyland are Rancho del Zocalo in Frontierland, the fresh fruit stands in Tomorrowland across from the Captain Eo theatre and in front of the Tiki Room (We are talking yummy mango slices and pineapple spears!), the beignets and mint juleps in New Orleans Square, and the BIGGEST ICE CREAMS EVER in Frontierland at The Golden Horseshoe!!!

While Phil and Micah took their afternoon nap back at the hotel,
my parents and I enjoyed a few of the big rides...and a few treats too!

6. Let some of your normal routines go, but don't skip them all. 

We gave up our food routines and allowed for more snacks than normal, junkier foods than normal (think non-local, non-organic, non-grass fed chicken tenders and lots of catsup), and more sweets than normal (like the biggest ice cream you've ever, really!). We let bedtime slide an hour or two. But we did prioritize going back to the hotel for a nap in the middle of the day, which truly paid off! If you prioritize your normal nap time give or take an hour or so, you are likely to have a much better day overall with little to no meltdowns and only a bit of late night, past bedtime, whining! That nap allows your little one to re-energize and be ready to enjoy the Happiest Place on Earth for a lot more hours (to be honest, your toddler is not the only one who might appreciate the midday rest!). 

This picture does not do the size of that ice cream justice. Huge! Ginormous! Gargantuan! 

7. Planning ahead does in fact pay off. 

As I mentioned before, I got a little crazed about our countdown and everything Disney in anticipation. I felt pretty silly leading up to the one fun day, doing a Disneyland countdown, but in the end, I'm so glad I did. If you have a toddler that is really into understanding the way things work and what's going to happen when, then planning ahead is totally worth it, especially if you verbalize some of the plans and talk about what to expect. Yes, I made sure that Mickey Mouse brought a couple presents that Micah could use at Disneyland (a bubble whistle to use in line, a little autograph book that Micah loved using when meeting characters, and dollar store glow stick bracelets that were so much fun at night), but truly the best thing I did was actually talk to him about the characters and what the day would be like before we arrived. Yes, it is fun to have surprises, but it is also fun to not feel too overwhelmed and out of control, especially if you are someone trying hard to fight your way to a little independence in this world! 
*I found DLRPrepSchool to be one of the best blog posts to help figure out what to pack.
*I also totally got a kick out of this Buzzfeed Disneyland trivia!

We packed a bunch of snacks and took a few snack breaks throughout the day

8. There really are benefits to staying at a Disney hotel! 

This was really the first time I can remember staying at a Disneyland hotel and boy, did I enjoy it! Being close to Downtown Disney keeps you feeling connected to whole Disney experience and you get a little coupon book to use at a lot of the stores and restaurants. The hotels are also designed with children in mind, so there are little arcades and waiting areas that have kids adirondack chairs and Mickey cartoons playing so that when you are checking in or out, the kids stay entertained.  The room itself wasn't too unique, but even having a few framed art pieces and lampshades with Disney characters got our little one pretty excited! The thing that excited our "maximize your time and money" Papa the most, was the extra Magic Hour in the morning. We literally walked right on with no wait to five or six rides (including the usually long line rides like the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and Autopia)! And of course, the biggest benefit to staying in a Disney hotel is the ease and convenience of being able to take the Monorail back for a recharge/nap time midday (see #7).

So easy to get on the mom and I even scored the secret front seats too!
I know that non-Disney hotels have pools too, but this pool was just right!

Wouldn't you want to stay just for this awesome luggage tag they mailed to us before our arrival!? 

9. The character breakfast seems expensive and it is, but your toddler will love it! 

While the character breakfast sits at around $30+ per person (under 3 eats free), it really was a great opportunity to interact with the characters. While Micah loved his day at Disneyland, it would be hard to say he loved it more than his time spent hugging and dancing with Minnie, Mickey, Pluto, Daisy and friends at breakfast the next day. 
There are three different character breakfasts at each hotel and we chose the one right in our hotel, Paradise Pier, because it has a surf party theme and we knew Micah would love to dance. The dance breaks actually prolonged our breakfast too, which helped us all eat a bit more thus getting just a little more for our money. ;-) Again, every toddler is different, but it seemed like there was not a toddler in the room that was not enjoying the breakfast experience. The characters are all really good about making their rounds to each table in the restaurant at least once, but often more than once, throughout the meal. Even if your kiddo ends up being scared of the characters, at least there is a really good variety in food and might get just as excited over the Mickey waffles!  

10. It's worth it, even if your toddler won't remember!

Toddlers may not remember their Disneyland experience later on in life, but for all of us adults it certainly is worth the early trip since we will never forget the expressions on their faces and their eyes of true wonder and delight all day long. I hope our experience adds to yours and might help your own Disney preparation. Please feel free to pass the link on to your friends and family whenever they are headed to the Happiest Place on Earth with a toddler. Who knows, maybe these tips could have also be written for bringing a Grandparent to Disneyland too (...we know you loved the idea of nap time too Nana's and Papa's and Gramma's and Grandpa's reading this...we know it!).  I don't usually do thank you's in a blog post, but I feel like I need to send a huge thank you and shout out to my parents for taking us on such a fun, memorable trip and for being just as excited as I was. And to my hubby: thanks for putting up with me the last Disney crazed month and a half and thanks, of course, for putting up with all our future Disney trips too, since there will be many, many, many more! 
Have you done Disney with a toddler? What secrets and tricks did you discover? What would you recommend to other families? How about Disney with elementary aged kiddos? Now it's your turn to shed some Disney wisdom! 

Our cute family of 6! ;-)

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