Part 2 – Taking Your Toddler
So you’re going to Disneyland…with a toddler. Some people get overwhelmed by this. Some people avoid this. Some people may want to rip their hair out and cry all night just thinking about it. But they don’t know the truth: Disneyland is so much fun with toddlers! You just need to be prepared and know what to expect. With my tips you and your little one(s) will have a blast at Mickey’s house. I promise. (Well, I almost promise. I mean, my tips won’t keep you from getting the flu or getting lost driving in LA or falling in a really big hole…but I do have tips for those things too. Use hand sanitizer a lot, get a good map or GPS system and watch out for really big holes. There…now I promise.)
Here are some things to keep in mind as you plan your toddler’s trip to the Happiest Place On Earth.
Some rides have a height limit. Know them in advance and you’ll know what rides to avoid. Nothing is more disappointing than getting to the front of the line and not being allowed on. Measure your child with their shoes on and check their height against Disney’s restrictions. You can find them on Disney’s website or on Allears.com.
When you know what rides your kids can go on and what they are too short for, you can guide them accordingly. Are they too short for Soarin’? Don’t even mention to them that it exists. Just breeze past and head for a ride they can enjoy. No need to point out the “can’ts”.
2. Prep them for the trip
Watch Disney movies – Some suggested movies for toddlers to view before your trip: Peter Pan, Snow White, Cinderella, The Princess and the Frog, Winnie The Pooh, The Tigger Movie, Dumbo, Alice In Wonderland, The Little Mermaid, Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, Cars and (of course) Mickey cartoons like Fun & Fancy Free. Be careful, however, as nearly every Disney movie contains a villain and some form of a scary element. Disney Junior shows are great to watch too (Little Einsteins, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse) as California Adventure has a Disney Junior Live! show that toddlers love.
Print Disney Coloring Sheets – There are tons of sites online that have free printable Disney coloring pages. Just search “Free Disney Coloring Pages”. I made my kids a special Disney coloring book made up of a bunch of printed pages stapled together between two pieces of construction paper. This would be great for the plane or car trip to Disneyland also.
Make a Countdown Chain – Make a paper chain to countdown the days until your trip. This helps with the constant asking “Is it almost here?” also. You could make it simple (construction paper loops stapled together) or elaborate (each loop decorated with stickers and the number of days left). My kids took turns removing a loop every night until it was time to leave.
Introduce Your Kids to the Characters – Talk up the characters – especially ones your kids don’t know. Talk about who the characters are and what they are like. Let them know that they will get to meet some of them at Disneyland. Tell them how big they will be (not 4 inches tall, like on TV), that some of them will not talk (anyone wearing a costume head), and that the villains are not really mean like they seem in the stories. Even villains like taking pictures, signing autographs and meeting children. And get them excited to shake hands, give hugs and talk to the Disney characters.
Teach Them Character Tag Lines – Buzz loves it when three year old cutie pies shout “To Infinity and Beyond!” to him. Mickey will crack up if your kids says, “Hot dog!” in his best Mickey voice. If you teach your kids the tag lines of their favorite characters they are sure to get an extra hug, picture or laugh. Some tag lines to remember: Timon & Pumba – “Hakuna Matata”, Woody – “Reach for the sky!”, Goofy – “Garsh!”, Winnie The Pooh – “I’m so rummbly in my tummbly”, Evil Queen – “Magic Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?”, Jessie – “Sweet Mother of Abraham Lincoln!” and “Yee-Haw!”.
3. Bring snacks
This is something all parents of toddlers know. But for some reason when we’re on vacation we forget our usual routines. At Disneyland, unless you want a cranky kid or an empty bank account, you’ll need snacks. Lots of them. Your best bets are little packs of self serve snacks like Teddy Graham snack packs, granola bars, raisin boxes, fruit leather, or crackers in ziploc bags. Try to keep it healthy (carrot sticks, whole fruit, dried fruit, whole grain crackers, pretzels, rice cakes, nuts) so there are no tummy aches. Do your kids drink milk or water? Bring a full sippy cup and water bottle. Snacks will stave off grumpiness, tired afternoons and whiny kids wanting sweets. I brought a few Disney shaped snacks as well (fruit snacks and cheese crackers). They were a fun treat on the plane and at the park.
4. Bring a stroller
The average Disneyland guest walks about 9 miles a day. For short little legs, that’s a lot of steps. You’ll need a stroller.
Strollers are fantastic. They help your kids last all day, carry all your stuff, corral your kiddos, act as a natural crowd parter and save your back and shoulders from carrying kids around.
On our last trip we brought two strollers. One for our 18 month old (who used it all the time) and one for our 5 year old daughter. Most of the time one was piled high with our coats, water bottles and bags. But when our daughter was tired or whiny or just plain didn’t want to walk, it was nice to have her jump in and rest.
When it comes to strollers, however, take my advice. Leave the umbrella stroller at home. It’s not up to the job at Disneyland. Bring a stroller that has an big, easy-to-access basket, that is easy to maneuver, and that is easy to get your kid in and out of. Cup holders and shade awnings will be fantastic also.
5. Know the rides they’ll love
Before you leave, read through Disney’s list of attractions or take a look at their map. Know what rides are there and what your kid will enjoy. Play these up as you talk about the trip. Give them something to look forward to that you know will be a hit.
And when you get there, focus on these rides and experiences. Showing your kids a great time will help everyone enjoy their trip. If your kid loves certain characters, focus on areas and rides where they’ll get to experience that. If your kid loves playgrounds, make sure to spend time at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. If they love spinning, ride the Tea Cups for sure.
The key here is to do your homework. Know in advance what’s available and you can help your child have the time of their life.
6. Avoid scary rides
When my family traveled to Disneyland when I was in the 6th grade my parents made one detrimental mistake. The first ride we went on was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. With my 4 year old sister. She was so terrified on that ride she would not get on any other ride for the rest of the trip. My mom had to stay with her while my dad took my older sister and me on rides. My mom missed out on so much (so did my little sister!) because of a poor ride choice.
Scary rides just aren’t worth it. Here is a list of the scary rides of the toddler set:
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – Out of control car ride, scary characters in your face and a sudden explosion.
Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters – Loud and overwhelming – like being inside a video game. If your child gets sensory overload or is sensitive to sound and light, skip it. However if you have a Toy Story fan, they will love it.
The Haunted Mansion – Duh.
Enchanted Tiki Room – Angry Tiki god, darkness and a storm. Hold your child (and warn them) during the thunder storm/scary Tiki god element.
The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh – Psychedelic dream sequence and flood/storm. Kids love this but are startled that it is so scary.
Pinnochio’s Daring Journey – Yes, another Fantasyland dark ride. Puppet master Stromboli and Monstro the whale can be very scary.
Pirates of the Caribbean – Noise, darkness and fire. Also, there are a few drops in total darkness. You’ll need to hold your child tight (though they can’t technically ride on your lap).
I didn’t include any rides on this list with height requirements because, chances are, your kids are too short for the ones that would scare them. California Adventure actually has a ton of rides for toddlers (a bugs land is fantastic for little ones!) and none of them are surprisingly scary.
7. Give them a flashlight keychain & teach them how to make themselves feel safe
Having the ability to have light anywhere is very empowering to kids who are scared of the dark. And there are a lot of dark rides at Disneyland. Give them a flashlight keychain and show them how to use it if they get scared. Most likely they will never have to turn it on. Just having it in their hands makes them feel safer and more in control.
Along these same lines, it is really helpful to teach your kids to cover their ears if something is too loud or if the sounds are scaring them. Teach them also to cover their eyes of something looks scary. Have them practice in advance and tell them that doing this will make them feel safe.
8. Bring things to do in line
Sometimes lines are long. It is inevitable at Disneyland. Bring stuff to entertain your kids so even the waiting is fun. The Dollar Store is great for this kind of thing. Some suggestions: Bubbles, small white board for tic tac toe & hangman, Crayola mini coloring packs, Book to search for Hidden Mickeys, snacks, small Disney story books, sticker books, disposable camera so your child can play photographer (or kid version of a digital camera), or a favorite stuffed animal that only comes out while waiting in line.
Best New Find: Lots To Do In Line – by Meredith Pierce A fantastic trivia book. Find the ride you are waiting for and quiz your kids with her long list of ride specific look and find games. This would be a fantastic book to bring to the park with you. Find it HERE.
Kids love characters. Even when there is a line for photos and autographs. Take time to stop, wait and meet them. Your kids will light up and feel so very special when they get to shake the characters’ hands, give hugs and take pictures.
Don’t let the crowds and lines frustrate you. Focus on the joy your kids will experience. Even when my kids didn’t know what character was in the middle of the crowd of people, they still wanted to wait to get an autograph. These moments are what they remember most about our trips.
10. Go slowly and enjoy the magic
As adults we know how much things cost and we want to get the most out of our few days. But kids don’t work that way. Bugs and leaves and sparkles in the sidewalk are sometimes just as enjoyable as rides.
To enjoy your time, and help them enjoy their time, slow down. Enjoy the experience. Look around you. Marvel at the buildings, the castle, the characters, the balloons. Take your time walking around. Talk with your kids. Laugh and rest and be in the moment.
11. Sunscreen, water, sunglasses, shade, comfy walking shoes
Keep your kids protected and comfortable. Southern California is warm. Your kids will need to be protected from the sun. Make sure to sunscreen them multiple times a day. Have them drink water, wear sunglasses and hats and find shade to enjoy when you need it.
Disneyland is also very big. Even with strollers your kids will be on their feet a lot. Make sure they are wearing comfy clothes and shoes. Sandals may be cool but they won’t help your child’s feet much. Make sure your child has walking shoes on and clothes that don’t constrict or bind.
12. Consider naps
Sometimes kids just need naps. Whether it be in the stroller, on a shady bench or back at your hotel (this is why you need to stay in a hotel close by), sometimes naps are necessary. Yes, it may mean you miss an hour or two at the park, but your kiddos will be happier and more able to enjoy their time if they are rested. If this is what’s best for your kids, don’t feel bad about taking a nap break. Sometimes you may even need one too. And if you leave the park, no worries. Your ticket will let you back in later.
13. Bring post-its for the auto flush toilets
The toilets in Disneyland Resort flush themselves and they are very loud. If this scares your kids, bring a pad of post it notes. When you enter the stall, cover the sensor with a post it note. When your child is done open the door, let them walk out of the stall and cover their ears, then remove the post it. The toilet will not flush until the post it note is removed.
14. Hand Sanitizer
There are germs. Everywhere. Especially at Disneyland. Want your kid to come home sick? No? Then sanitize after rides, after potty breaks and before meals. There are not always convenient places to wash hands. Bring sanitizer. Kill those germs.
15. Extra clothes for wet rides/spills
There is a good chance your kid will get wet. There are wet rides, fountains, rivers and boats. Bring an extra set of clothes so getting wet isn’t a big deal. Extra shoes might help also.
There is also a good chance your child will spill ice cream, ketchup, lemonade or whatever treat they have. Or they may be so overwhelmed and distracted by the new environment that they forget to tell you they need to use the bathroom. Accidents happen, you know. Even at Disneyland. If you have extra clothes they don’t have to be sticky, wet or uncomfortable all day.
Disney has a Baby Care Station in each park. In Disneyland it is located at the castle end of Main Street, on the right (if you are facing the castle), by the Plaza Inn and the First Aid Center. In California Adventure it is located next to The Bakery Tour in the Pacific Wharf.
The stations include comfortable facilities for diaper changing, bottle feeding and private nursing areas. They also include toddler sized toilets for potty trainers, microwaves, high chairs for feeding baby and a place to purchase diapers, wipes, formula, baby food and other necessities.
On a hot day it’s quite a treat to sit for a few quiet minutes in the private nursing areas of the air conditioned baby care center. Just make sure you have a baby with you.
This is also where cast members will take your child should they ever, God forbid, get lost or separated from you. Which reminds me – teach them your cell #, write it on their arm or tuck it inside their pocket or shoe. If they show a cast member the number, they can call you.
17. Bring goodie bags for plane/car trip
The best way to start any vacation is with a few surprises. Pack a special goodie bag to bring out on the plane or in the car on the way to Southern California. You could include coloring books, puzzle or maze books, stickers, snacks and small figurines or toys. Most of these things you could find at the Dollar Store or the dollar spot at Target. A few special gifts for the trip get kids excited for what’s coming and keep them occupied while you travel.
Don’t miss the rest of the series!