Every kid dreams of going to Disneyland, and my three year old is no different. After watching a Disney documentary on TV, she has been asking to “go to Cinderella’s house” ever since.
We knew this day would come, and, when looking into her pleading little face, Husband and I decided to take the plunge, scrape together our pennies, and finally commit to the idea. It was a daunting task — bags needed to be packed, tickets purchased and itineraries ironed out.
At a glance, planning a vacation for a destination that is a mere 40 minute drive away may sound like the death of spontaneity, but children (and adults for that matter) need routine and guidelines to make them feel safe and secure. Also, if you live in the Real World of Married Life and Parenting you’ll have realized by now that when you’re married with kids, spontaneity died a long time ago. That’s not to say it’s not fun, but that it’s now just fun based around nap time, potty breaks and administering snacks.
So here are a few tips I gathered from my research that will help anyone planning a Disney vacation with little ones.
10. Be mentally prepared.
The happiest place on Earth is also the most expensive. With tickets costing upwards of $92 per adult and $86 per child plus taxes and parking, be prepared to hand over at least $200 before you even you walk on through to Main Street. Having said that, though, this is a vacation, and like going to a foreign country, you need to convert the money into the local currency, and in this case, it’s Disney Dollars.
You paid for it, so make the most of your time at Disneyland by researching all the rides and attractions before you get into the park. The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2014 is a great planning guide that ensures you won’t be “the ones standing in a cloud of dust puzzling over the park map” once the gates open. With useful links to dedicated sites and even a crowd calendar and itinerary service (subscription required) that tells you approximate crowd numbers, average wait times and the best places to eat, this will definitely take a lot of the headache out of your trip
9. Load up on Disney OUTSIDE of Disney.
Dollar stores also have a huge range of Disney merchandise, so much that I wonder if Disney makes any money at all! Go crazy and get your kids coloring books (especially useful for long drives), stickers, character notebooks (for autographs), and fun tattoos. Don’t forget plastic tiaras, glow sticks and light-up toys – you will thank me when it gets dark and they want something illuminative to wave around while watching the parades!
If your child must wear character-inspired clothing, hit Target or Wal-Mart for Disney clothing that won’t break the bank so you can spend the difference on an ice cream sandwich or two.
If you’re really crafty, head down to your local fabric district and check out their array of (unofficial) Disney textiles for your little one to have a one-of-a-kind outfit! Look at this, made by my wonderful friend who is all sorts of amazing!
My 3 year old, like most kids her age, is impulsive. She lives in the moment, and if demands are not met within the nanosecond, the end of the world ensues in the form of whinging, wailing and running away.
For this reason we bought along her child safety harness. This is a bit of a controversial subject, as many (and I can guarantee you they don’t have kids) have very strong opinions about putting one of these on a child. I was that way myself. Before I had kids, I would never dream of buying one of these, but let me tell you – it can save your child’s life, or the very least, your sanity.
Child safety harnesses have come a long way since before I became a parent, and the ones on the market now are soft, stylish and look more like adorable plush animals than restraints. We chose to buy her the Goldbug Animal Harness because it has two buckles across the chest that ensures extra comfort and makes it harder to wiggle out of. This is oh so helpful when I had to tend to the littler one whilst parking a stroller. And the giraffe is so darn cute!
7. Give your child some (fake) ink
The feeling of losing your child, even for a minute is visceral. Buy yourself some peace of mind by putting a SafetyTat on them before you head in. SafetyTats are colorful temporary tattoos that you can write your cell phone number on. They are applied like stickers onto skin and are waterproof, lasting weeks after application, until you are ready to remove it. They’re fun to wear and could be the difference between finding your child within 5 minutes or five hours. Before going to the park, Explain that if you get separated, that the best thing to do is to find a cast member or another Mommy and show them your arm.
6. Buy mouse ears, but not the personalized ones.
Children are trusting, which is why we opted NOT to get her a personalized Mouse ears displaying her name, not until she is older at least. My three year old has a pretty good sensor around strangers, but a stranger using a nice tone, calling her by name can break down a child’s barriers very easily.
5.Travel in style.
A good double stroller is an absolute must. Even if your little one likes to walk and your baby is a very small infant, do not rely on them walking throughout the theme park or carrying them in your arms the whole day. It’s not going to happen, and it will turn you into a cranky, child carrying pack-horse.
We took our Graco Duo Glider along, and I highly recommend it. Being only about one and a half times longer than a regular stroller and about the same width, the Graco Duo glider doesn’t feel like you’re driving a monster through an already stroller-stuffed themed park. Unlike the side-by-side strollers which can be real road hogs, the tandem seating is slim and has an elevated back seat, so there are no fights between the kids about who gets the better view. The detachable feeding trays are great for snacks and both seats recline for the post-ride power naps. There’s also plenty of storage in the ‘trunk’ for all the necessities that come with lugging around two little humans
4. Smart storage.
The One Step Ahead Anti-Tip Stroller Bags were so very useful for us. Light and compact, this set of two bags attached neatly to the sides of our stroller (and is compatible with most strollers) and made things like diapers, wipes and bribes snacks very easy to access. Because they come in a set of two, one bag held baby essentials such as diapers, and a mini first aid kit while the other was full of snacks, small toys and distractions. These bags can be separated and the empty one can be easily folded up into a neat little square when not in use. Very cool.
The selling point for me was that it rested on either sides of the stroller, distributing the weight and ensuring that we didn’t have to dig out everything in the trunk when it came time to fold it up for shuttles. Have you ever had to unpack a stroller? It’s like moving house!
3. Strap that baby on!
Infants are curious and squirmy, so bring along your baby carrier to make sure that they can join in on the fun too! I gave myself a pat on the back for having the Baby Bjiorn on pretty much all day. For nap time my little one faced inwards and slept on my chest, and for rides she faced outwards and enjoyed the sights while keeping my hands free to wrangle my hand bag and hand sanitizer.
2. Hiding my hooters!
My baby is still nursing and I love the Hooter Hider nursing cover. It’s lightweight, comes in funky designs and even has a terry cloth corner to mop up any spills from you or the baby. The best thing about bringing this along with you is that it drapes over the stroller for extra shade and doubles as a blanket at night.
1. Reel in the knick-knacks:
Toys, sippy cups and other baby paraphernalia have a way of getting thrown from the stroller, and I have an inkling my kids do it to mess with me. Invest in the Bright Starts Lots of Links to keep all of baby’s stuff tethered so you don’t have to sanitize every 5 minutes. They’re also bright and textured, so they do double duty as toys
Disneyland is magical, but be prepared. No matter how much you plan, or how much you pack, allow some wiggle room. There will be meltdowns, there will be idle times waiting in line and you won’t get to do all the things you planned. But the payoffs are great – just make sure you pack some Advil and your sense of humor. Because when you’re toting around a three year old and an infant, one thing is certain: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail
Was this helpful to you? What can’t you live without when traveling with kids? Sound off in the comments!