Our Disneyland Vacation Tips For Young Families

Whether you are venturing south to balmy Florida or west to sunny southern California, a Disney vacation is a must at some point in the life of your family.  I have done both Disney parks as a child, young adult, and as a mom.  You can move faster, get more rides in, and see the afternoon parades without little children.  However, there is something magical about seeing your preschooler’s face light up when he sees Donald Duck for the first time or hear your toddler daughter giggle on the Little Mermaid Ride or hear you first grader squeal with delight on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

We recently returned from Disneyland.  My husband and my parents along with my three children (ages 6 1/2, 4 1/2, and 2 1/2) spent three days at Disneyland along with a few extra days exploring southern California.  On our last night in our hotel, we put together a list of tips for future Disney goers.   These are some of the things my mom, my husband, and I came up with…

Bring in your own food!  Some theme parks are sticklers for bringing in outside food and drink.  Disneyland is not.  We saved a lot of money by making sandwiches. We even took jelly packets from the breakfast buffet in our hotel.  Both parks (Disneyland & California’s Great Adventure) have locker rental.  We paid $7.00 for the day which was well worth it.

It’s not a bad idea to rent a stroller.  Stroller rentalis $15.00.  We took a fold-up umbrella style stroller from home for our two year old.  On the last day we rented an additional stroller for our four-year old.  Instead of renting a locker we carried our food bag in the stroller. The only downside with putting a four-year in a stroller (and it might be unique to our four-year old) is it gave him something else to play with.  We constantly had to tell him to sit on it properly and not push it into people.  The extra “item” to juggle did try our patience at times.

Our lodging choice:  I would highly recommend the motel we stayed in:  the Staybridge Suites in Anaheim.  We were able to take a bus to and from Disneyland.  Busses ran every 20 minutes or so until 12:30 am. You can purchase bus tickets at the bus stop or at the hotel desk.  There was a big breakfast every single morning.  Some motels that serve breakfast have cramped eating quarters.  This was not the case.  It was a large dining room and lots of high chairs for little ones.  They also serve a light supper (such as meatball subs, hot dogs, and nachos) Monday through Thursday for two hours in the evening.  We saved money on dinners by eating at the motel.  Staybridge also had free laundry and a large outdoor pool and hot tub.

Leave enough time for Disney California Adventure:  This is the park adjacent to Disneyland that was built about eleven years ago.  We found it much less crowded especially in the morning.  We had little to no wait on rides until after lunch.  There are lots of toddler/preschool friendly rides.  If we had an extra day, we probably would have spent more time here.

Scheduling Naps:  We tried to get to parks between 9:30 AM and 10 AM and our younger two were “done” by 2:30 PM.  We often left, put kids down for naps, and returned after supper.  We were able to catch some of the night shows and go on one or two more rides.  We found lines for rides are still long even after 8 PM.  There is a “night life” at Disney and many stick around until the parks close. 

Make your own autograph books:  There are Disney characters everywhere (mostly on Main Street USA) and this was a highlight for all three of our kids.  Instead of spending extra money on autograph books, my mom made some with my daughters as a little craft.  She  used a foam notebook (could find at a dollar store or craft store) and the girls put foam stickers on it.  My oldest also used it as a journal of our trip.

And last always leave room for the “unplanned.”  In 2000 my husband (who was my fiance at the time), parents, brother, and my brother’s best friend spent four days at Walt Disney World.  When all was said and done we spent a night in a motel in Atlanta, did catapult jumps off one another in the pool, and watched the Stanley Cup finals.  I remember my brother saying that was just as fun (and memorable) as the four jam-packed days at Disney.  Your kids will appreciate the times sitting around the pool, going out to eat, coloring in the motel room, and going out for breakfast.   Leave room for those moments.

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What I have learned when flying with babies and toddlers

Let’s face it.  It’s not a picnic traveling by air with toddlers or infants.  Sometimes you are pleasantly surprised that the baby slept almost the whole flight. Other times it is nothing but chaos.  I clumisly entered through security with a rambunctious toddler and infant strapped to my back trying to unfold a stroller and the thought of  “Am I going to survive?” is on the edge of my brain.

I have been on countless flights with each of my children when they were infants and toddlers.  I have had positive experiences and not so great ones too.  Over the years I have learned how to make it more tolerable…and in some ways even enjoyable. These are some of the things I recommend.

1) Have everyone including yourself wear slip on shoes.  Everyone including infants will need to take off their shoes going through security.  It makes it go faster if you don’t have to untie and retie a bunch of shoes.

2) See if the airport has “family line” while going through security.Portland
International Airport created one not so long ago.  This line is full of people with strollers, car seats and crying babies.  You will avoid impatient non-parents trying to get through the line.

3) You may not have a choice in airlines, but Southwest is very family friendly.  On one flight my baby daughter was surrounded by four other babies.  Filling up sippy cups, heating up bottles, or passing out coloring books is common among the Southwest flight attendants.

4) Ask the airport about getting a security pass for a non-traveler.  I flew to Chicago with my kids (ages 3 ½ and 20 months at the time) and I was six months pregnant. I do not recommend it but I was desperate to see my Midwest family! My husband (who was flying out a week later) was able to walk through security with me and all way to my gate. He obtained a pass from the Southwest airlines check-in counter the morning I flew out.  Make sure your non-traveler has a picture ID.

5) Use a backpack as a diaper bag.  It’s much easier to strap your diaper bag to your back versus carrying it over your shoulder.  You’ll get through the aisles quicker.

6) Layovers can be a nice break.  If you are doing a four hour flight, a break in the middle can be enough time for your kids to get some energy out, go to the bathroom, eat a meal, or ride the moving sidewalks.  Many airports have kid’s areas
in the terminal with slides, toys, or things to climb on.

7) Pack lots of snacks.  Most airlines do not serve meals (unless you are flying internationally) or the in flight meals cost more than you are willing to pay. Pack brown bag meals.  It seems like everyone who flies nowadays gets off their plane hungry.  Pretzels and crackers don’t satisfy appetites.  Pack some sandwiches and fresh fruit in your backpack.

8) You don’t need a large stack of baby toys.  And when they drop toys on the floor, it takes effort to retrieve them.  When my kids were babies they would play with
snack wrappers or plastic cups.  Board books are better than toys.  They lie flat in your bag and do not make noise.

9) Don’t rely on Bendaryl.  It’s a sedative and while it may make your child drowsy, some kids fight sleep.  Instead of drifting off, they will reach that “overtired” state and become hyperactive. Then it’s even harder to calm them down. This is what happened to me when I tried Benadryl when my oldest was thirteen months.  If the flight is only a couple hours, you might consider “just getting through it.”  If you are flying internationally, you might want to have them take something, but please ask their doctor first.

10)  Stay calm. Babies and toddlers are smart and they naturally react if you are
tense.  If you speak to them calmly, reassure them, sing quietly (I have been known to sing Sunday School songs quietly to my babies on flights!), it helps tremendously.  Have a sense of humor about it.  While we all have dealt with stares and snide
comments, most people understand.  I remember the father of twins who made a bottle for me or the elderly lady who watched my kids so I could go to the bathroom.  If people are rude, don’t take it personally.  Of the problem goes beyond their impatience and you cannot fix it anyway. Remember you are creating memories and you certaintly will not be in this phase forever.