Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Toddler Travel: I'm Going to Disneyland!


Alright, toddler friends -- we've talked about good toddler pit stops on the drive from the Bay Area to LA, and we've talked about entertaining your toddler en route, so now it's time to get to the good stuff: keeping your toddler happy at the Happiest Place on Earth.

I asked my readers for their best tips, tricks and secrets for a successful Disney visit with a toddler, and dozens of you offered up some brilliant ideas. Thanks so much to everyone who shared! Here's a compilation of the responses, which will no doubt be a handy mousekatool for your next trip. Happy toddling!

A quick note: if you plan to do any Disney shopping before you go -- princess dresses, books (I like The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2014, which you can get in paperback or for your Kindle), videos for the drive (gotta make sure they know all their characters!), mouse-shaped waffle irons, Goofy hat antenna toppers -- you know, all the important stuff -- it would be AWESOME if you'd start with this link to Amazon's Disney Store! Thanks!
  • Karie Y.: Oh, where to about at the TRAIN! If you ask, and your LO is patient enough because you will most likely have to wait, you can ask a cast member to ride in the Lilly Disney caboose car or up front with the conductor. And, speaking of the train, the Tomorrowland stop is the WORST place to get on the train. It is usually full by the time it leaves Toontown (the stop prior) and very few people get off at that stop. If you want to see the fun panoramas in between Tomorrowland and Main street on the train, I recommend just getting on the train at main street and just going all around the park.

    Next, download one of several Disney apps that give you wait times for rides so you can better plan your time in the park. There is also an app for finding characters, but that one is based on guest sightings and not official Disney times/locations. But, it's good if you are trying to find a rare character.

    Visit the Grand California Hotel in the afternoon. They have a huge fire place where they read campfire stories to kids (I believe they post times in the lobby or as concierge). Great place for a break and the bar is right around the corner for the parents to enjoy a refreshment as well!

    Peter Pan is the longest line in Fantasy land (ALWAYS!)'s a tip to get on the ride in 10 minutes or less without knocking down the gates first thing in the morning. During the fireworks show, they shut down most of fantasyland, but, they create a "wait" line right in front of the Mad Hatter store for the Peter Pan ride. If you go there BEFORE the fireworks start, you can watch the fireworks and then once they are over, a cast member walks the line right up to Peter Pan. It's a win-win!

    If you are going at Halloween time, I have heard the trick-or-treating is a MUST. it is an extra cost to attend (around $50 per person, I believe). But, there are limited passes handed out so it's less crowded and ALL of the villians are out at that time. I was told to bring a VERY LARGE bucket because they give out a TON of candy. So much that you will not need to actually buy Halloween candy to pass out at your home!

    Ok, final tip...if you want to see Mickey (for photo purposes) you need to get to Toontown about 30 minutes after the main gates open. They open Toontown later. Walk directly to Mickey's house (gotta keep the LO focused here!) and walk through the house to the back where you can get a photo with Mickey. We were one of the first people in line and we only waited about 5-10 minutes (this line can get up to an hour long). They send you in to see Mickey in small groups of about 3-4 families at a time. However, once you are IN the room with Mickey, you can stay as long as you want to take as many photos as you want (hence, why the line can be so long). I have much, much more, but I have already given away too many secrets! LOL!
  • Susan P.: Also don't forget to ask to be a Captain on the Mark Twain for a chance to blow the horn & get a certificate.
  • Kathy T.: My son loved staying at the Howard Johnson hotel on Habour. It's a close walk to the park and it has a very awesome water park. The water park was more fun than Disney for him. He also loved the tiki room and small world. If your child is bothered by loud noises bring ear protection for the fireworks and world of color. There are some great websites that can help you pick the best time to go, there are a few times of year when there are less crowds. If you have food allergies, disney is very accommodating, just call ahead and talk to the chef. There are quite a lot of gluten free options, including gluten free buns, bread, pizza and pasta.
  • Nicole M.: I was there on a spur of the moment trip with my 18 mo old son in Nov. 2011 and had a great time. A Bugs Life at California Adventure was a perfect spot for him in terms of rides. There is a fantastic mama lounge at the end of Main Street. It's a clean, quiet spot for nursing, diaper changes, wardrobe changes, etc.
    • Susan P.: Also a microwave and highchairs to feed your little ones! AND a sitting area with Disney movies playing so that older siblings can watch while you are taking care of the small one.
    • Alicea H.: Yes the Mother's lounge is great and cool on a hot day or warm on a cold day. It's small and first come first serve though.
  • Perla G.: Best piece of advice that I heard for Disneyland (and it completely works) is to get merchandise in advance from Target, Walmart, Toys r Us etc. get toys, costumes, books, cars, stickers etc. when you are in the park and they are throwing a fit bc they want a new toy pull out something you brought from the store and they will be happy! Great way to save money. I bought my daughter a princess dress and a few stuffed animals. No fits! Bought an "autograph"/notebook in advance too for signatures. Also second staying close to the park. Works great for nap time!
    • SV Toddler note: If you do plan on buying Disney merchandise, videos, etc. in advance, it would be great if you'd buy via this link to all things Disney!
  • Kristin G.: If you have a little girl that loves princesses than the Ariel's Grotto breakfast is worth going to. The princesses come to your table and take pics. Its worth it since it can take an hour or more to wait in line to see them. Bring a stroller with extra cargo space. The stroller is useful no matter what age you have. If you go to magic morning ( you can go an hour earlier) rush to ride dumbo or peter pan. Those two have the biggest lines. Newborns or toddlers can go on a lot rides. (a lot of people don't know about that) Bring tons of snacks and drinks. Its super expensive for even a Capri Sun. Even though a hotel says "we are only 1 mile away from the park" that mile is a really long walk when you have been walking all day at the parks. The closest hotel is best if your not driving. Even if its a little more money.
  • Mary M.: We stay at the Embassy Suites Anaheim - Orange when we go to Disney Its much less expensive then any of the Disneyland hotels and the suites are super convenient for families! They have shuttles to Disney but we usually drive over it's less then 10 min. Also they have a real breakfast on site non of that continental breakfast crud lol
  • Bria P.: Look into Rider switch pass it's hard to explain), Plaza Inn breakfast reservations for before the park opens (we have the most awesome pics of us on Main Street alone)
  • Amanda S.: Disney doesn't usually discount their tickets but I know AAA offers 2-3 day park hoppers with FREE parking ($20/day). They also have travel advisers who can book your trip for you with discounts on all hotels, rental cars, and packages that usually have extra discounts or early entrance, breakfast with Mickey, Minnie, etc. 
  • Sara H.: We stayed at the Marriott Maingate. It was nice because they have suites, which meant we didn't have to sit in a dark room when baby went down. They also had a tiny kitchen and hot breakfast which was nice for a toddler. It was also an EASY walk to the park, and they had a small play area as well on site. Some other tips: 
    1. Take a large stroller. Even if your kid doesn't use it much anymore, it's great to have a larger one to carry stuff. Also, kids get more tired than they think, so ours liked having a larger stroller to spread out in when she got tired. 
    2. Take a change of clothes for your kid. Inevitably this will be the time you have a diaper blow out or your kid spills all over themselves. 
    3. Before you pick a hotel Google map the TRUE distance to the park from the hotel. Many say walking distance, but the walk could be over a mile. 
    4. Disney has awesome baby rooms, one at each park. They are clean, have changing tables, and even quiet, comfy places to nurse. 
    5. BE REALISTIC. Disney is expensive, but a small kid doesn't understand that. You may not get the dream response you envision. Your kid who loves rides at a local park may be scared by the larger rides there. Your kid may cry every time they see a character (mine did). Enjoy the time you are there together, but be realistic that your small kid may not really appreciate where you are. Take your kid's lead and it will be more fun and relaxing.
  • Nick D.: I was going to say the same as #4 on Sara's list. We had a major diaper blow out while at California Adventure and the staff at the baby care center was VERY helpful. They helped clean him up and bagged his badly soiled clothes for us. We had to buy him an entire new outfit at one of the local gift stores! Always an adventure.
  • Amanda L.: We didn't bother with a stroller with my son who is three but after lunch we rode the train for an hour so he could pass out. He (and the grandparents!) got a great nap and we were able to stay all day in a good mood.
  • Melissa W.: Ramada Inn Maingate at the park is a great place to stay, they have updated their rooms and now have suites! They offer breakfast and is a short walk to Disney, plus you save on parking at Disneyland!
  • Susan P.: The rented strollers don't recline so if you are wanting to take naps in the park be sure to bring your own stroller. Also a good place to hide and get SOME peace and quiet while baby is napping is just to the left of the baby care center behind the corn dog stand...If you choose to sit here to get away from all the noise I recommend bringing a book or magazine to help pass the time.

    Pin trading!!
    I only trade with the Disney Crew Members but it can be like a scavenger hunt for little ones to keep an eye out for staff wearing pins and then they get to trade pins to try to collect new sets! it really is quite fun!!

    We stay at the Best Western Plus Park Place Inn & Mini Suites. It is right across the street from the park which after a long day is a blessing. They offer a hot buffet breakfast in the morning at Captain Kidd's Restaurant (eggs, sausage, bacon, waffles, etc.) We then take some bread, cream cheese, Jelly, peanut butter, fruit & Yogurt (from the breakfast) into the park with us for lunches and snacks.

    Ariel's Grotto also offers the World of Color Dining Package which gets you designated seating for the World of Color show. Also The Plaza Inn Restaurant on Main Street takes AAA discount so be sure to show them your card (the chicken is Dynamite!!) I also highly recommend getting lunch at the Big Thunder Ranch BBQ. It is all you can eat and if you bring your own containers for food you can take what left overs you have with you for dinner (for you or the little ones)

    Remember to stop at City Hall & get a button if it is your little ones first visit or any other celebrations.
  • Nicole L.: I just came back from Disneyland and did NOT take my 2yo this time around, but was gathering data all the while:
    1. If you are going with a little one, definitely purchase the 3-day park hopper pass. That way you don't feel like you're losing out if you have to cut a day short, or if you need more flexibility to return to the hotel for naps or a rest, etc. Or shell out the extra $ to stay at a hotel near the park. Totally worth it to have the option to go back and rest. And bring a grandparent and/or extra pair of hands. That way you can always send them back to the hotel while you stay and play!
    2. FastPass is the way to go if you're going to do any rides. Research ahead of time which ones do and do not have, and make a plan of rides you want to hit up. Plan to go to the non-FastPass ones first thing in the morning before the park is too crowded. Pinterest has lots of suggestions on how to do D-land with little ones.
    3. Bring snacks, hats, sunscreen, and light jackets (depending on how long you'll plan on being there). Also a change of clothes if you're going to do any water rides.
    4. My biggest tip is to not try to push your kid to do too much. Disneyland is an overwhelming place for even adults. Respect nap times and keep normal snacks/meals, if possible. Accept that you may miss a lot of the things you were looking forward to seeing for your own nostalgic self, that there is a grown-up version and a wee kid version of the experience, and they're very different. Dland is NOT the happiest place on earth around nap time!
  • Melissa S.: This is going to be long...
    1. Before you go, search the app store for apps called "Disneyland wait times." The one I have on my iPhone was totally up-to-date and accurate and gave wait times for every ride in Disneyland and California Adventure. Very helpful in trying to figure out what ride to go on next. 
    2. California Adventure is geared more to slightly older kids, and I'm less familiar with that park. We went there during the Christmas season, and they did a very cool light show in the evening. When we went, we made a dinner reservation at a restaurant that included reserved viewing space for the show. (I don't know if this applies for other times of the year or not.
    3. We love to go at Christmastime! I think it's especially fun to visit the park at this time of year because the holiday decorations are so great. The Haunted Mansion and It's a Small World are all decked out with decorations, and Main Street looks beautiful.
    4. My toddler's favorite rides at DL were: King Arthur's Carousel, It's a Small World, Dumbo, Astro Orbiter, Autopia, Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, and the train that tours around the park. If you need a break, there's also a little playground area in Toon Town
    5. If you plan to watch the parade, avoid Main Street. Try to find a spot closer to It's a Small World (where the parade starts).
    6. If you plan to stay for fireworks, same thing. Avoid Main Street! Head over to It's a Small World, where it will be less crowded but you'll still have a good view. Once you're over there, you can ask a cast member if they have any tips on where to stand. 
    7. Bring a good stroller (or rent one at the park). It's a lot of walking for little ones, and it's nice to have somewhere to keep all your stuff. And my son had no trouble taking naps in the stroller because he was so wiped out!
    8. We have stayed at the Grand Californian, and that was super convenient. That hotel and a few others include early magic hours, where you're allowed into one of the parks an hour before general admission. It's not as important when you don't plan to go on any of the big kid rides, but still nice to get in before it gets more crowded. Plus, it made it easy to retreat to the hotel for nap time, where we could all recharge our batteries. 
    9. If character dining is something you want to do, make a reservation way in advance! They can get booked up quickly.
  • Alicea H.: There is no ice on site for coolers, so pack snacks accordingly. In a pinch, you can go to first aid (I had to keep pumped bm cold). They gave me a plastic baggie of ice.

    Don't stay "on property". The walk in to the parks is long. Stay somewhere on Harbor between Disney Way and the freeway. Ramada Maingate is a 5 min walk to the front gates and has a grocery store, laundry facility, and pizza joint on site. It's also right next to a Denny's.

    Toddlers can go on a majority of the rides in both parks, with an adult. If you want to break them in gently, start in Bugs land. Heimlich's choo-choo is great. Use fast passes as much as possible. Don't waste your early day time waiting for Snow white, Casey Jr, or Pinnochio...they'll be close to line free later in the evening. Don't forget Pooh's ride by splash mountain!

    If you are in line before the park opens, hang around the turnstiles marked Early Morning hours. About 4 mins before the gates open, they switch that entry to general you can get a front of gate spot in line.
  • Megan F.: If you can get an early entry pass, take advantage! We used that to take my niece to see the princesses first thing in the morning while my husband took our son on a few of his favorite rides. Grand California hotel is great since it's connected to California Adventure and Downtown Disney so u can go back to the hotel throughout the day. And we order room service sometimes, large portions and cheaper than eating in the park. And for character breakfast Goofy's Kitchen is my fave.
So there you have it, folks! Toddler X and his parents will be journeying to Disneyland in the very near future, so we'll add our own tips and tricks to the list when we get back (and no doubt use many of yours while we're there!). If you have any other ideas you'd like to share, please feel free to write in the comments or message me on Facebook. 

Happy mousekatoddling!

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