how to do disneyland with babies and toddlers

So, you know how I feel about Disneyland. Home away from home. Heaven on Earth. All that jazz. Some people think we are crazy to make the trip as often as we do because of our small children- but there are tricks and things we have figured out along the way to make things so much easier.

Getting there:

We have both driven and flown, there are pros and cons to each option. Last time we went, we drove since it was cheaper than for us to fly now that Isabelle is over two. Not to mention, our airport is 2 hours away from us anyway… For us to drive it takes a whole day- about 9-10 hours including stops.  The key to car traveling is to be prepared. I started packing a few days in advance, but I started collecting crap for a few weeks before we left. Ten hours in a car is a long time to just “wing it” with your kids.

This is what my counter looked like the night before we left:

And that’s just the car crap. I used baskets for all the kids things’- I think bags work too but they are harder for me to see whats in there and get in and out of quickly. First bucket is snacks- I took most everything out of their packages and put them in ziplock bags for storage. Snapware is also great for things you don’t want to get squashed. I made sure we picked up some new snacks that Iz had never had before. New = fun. The “refill’ bag was extra everything- snacks, juice boxes and baby food for linc, diapers, blankies, wipes.. to keep in the trunk. Izzie’s bucket was all of her books/puzzles/toys to keep her entertained as long as possible. I started collecting crap from the dollar store and the dollar section of michael’s and target- things like sticker books, a squishy football, a halloween sack of stuff, pipe cleaners, colored pencils whatever could keep her happy… as well as some of her old favorite toys and stuff from previous disneyland trips. This bucket was kept under her car seat, at her feet. Lincoln’s bucket was mostly toys he had never seen before. You know, because his regular toys become totally boring after like five minutes. Baby puffs, milk, baby food, blankies, diapers, stuff to chew on etc. Also kept under his carseat. Both kids had an extra change of clothes and a pair of pajamas, just in case. The snack bucket was on the floor between the kids’ buckets. Are these baskets? Yeah probably. Baskets.
Tip: put a towel down on the seats before you install your carseats… keeps trip related spills and crumbs to a minimum. Our kids have a history of car barfing so its important to us to keep the barf off of the seats as much as possible. (Remember this. !) I sat in the front and was able to reach and pass things back when I needed to. We also had Jazz’s galaxy pad for Isabelle to watch a movie if we got desperate. There were definitely times that I had to crawl back there and sit between the kids to feed Linc or do stickers with Iz or whatever. Preparation is key here.
Other: Pack a handful of extra baggies. Small ones for snacks, larger ones for wet or dirty clothes, they come in handy. So does a roll of paper towels in the trunk.
Where to stay:
There are two choices here. You can either stay further away from the Disneyland and use the parking structure and tram service OR stay close enough to the park to walk to and from the entrance, which is what I TOTALLY PREFER. This is just my own opinion, but it is so so so so worth staying close to be able to walk when you have small kids. When you take the tram, you have to fold your stroller and take all the junk out of it before you get on, so when your kids are sleeping its such a bear to move them, and hold your crap, and fold the stroller, and open those stupid tiny doors. Once we stayed near the park there was no going back for me, we will do that from now on. If your kids are older and you no longer need a stroller, it might be worth your while to save some dough and book a hotel further away and pay for parking. However, there are often long lines for the trams late at night when it is park closing, or after fireworks, etc. Just keep that in mind. If you fly to the area, you may be able to skip renting a car if you stay close enough to the park.
Another totally awesome part of staying near Disneyland is the ability to leave and return to the park in the middle of the day! Clothes are wet from splash mountain!? Run home and change! Feet need some rest? Go lay down! Kids are having meltdowns? Family nap time! It was so much hotter than we expected when we recently went (hi it was september.) that a few times we returned to the hotel from like 2-5 when it was the warmest and also the busiest, had ourselves some downtime and then returned with a second wind to stay late for shows and fireworks. 
We always stay somewhere with a hot breakfast. Nothing fancy, but is a HUGE time saver and it saves us money once we are inside the park. For us, we don’t spend a ton of time in our hotel. We sleep there. Doesn’t have to have tons of amenities (though they are sure a nice bonus!) If you visit in the off season, you can often get a more luxurious hotel for a lower price. When we checked in, Jazz just casually asked if they had any complimentary upgrades available and THEY DID. It probably didn’t hurt that Isabelle was oozing toddler cuteness in his arms- but they gave us a suite at no extra charge. We had an extra room for Lincoln to sleep in where we could close the divider and stay up past his bedtime without waking him. Made the stay so much easier! The front desk ladies also remembered us when we returned three days later to stay again… and upgraded us again for free. They were so nice and helpful we brought them some disneyland treats from the bakery to thank them for our totally rockin’ room.
Hitting the park:

Before you head to the park, get all your shiz ready the night before- this is key. You do not want to be throwing random stuff into a bag for the whole day while your toddler hangs on the doorknob screaming because they are hungry for breakfast. Our stroller becomes like a mobile home on wheels- extra clothes, pajamas, food, drinks, toys, diapers and wipes, blankies, camera, wallet, blah blah blah. I could do a whole separate post about our stroller, because it is amazing and probably the single best baby item we have ever purchased. Well, definitely in the top three. Nah, its probably the best ever.
This is what we looked like wheelin’ in the gate. We call the grey and yellow bag the “disneyland bag” since it is huge. It doesn’t look that big, but it is HUGE. We fit everything for the day into that big bag. I couldn’t find a bag that fit all of my needs so I sewed one using this tutorial only I made it a little big bigger and the straps longer to fit over our stroller bar. When you approach the main gate, you have to have your bags checked. Having one big bag makes it a breeze to get through there, instead of unloading a purse, diaper bag, back-up bag, whatever onto the table. This also leaves our storage basket nice and neat- we usually throw a bunch of cold water bottles in there for the day. 
Inside my giant magic bag, I have several large ziplock baggies. One to keep stuff for Lincoln- extra paci’s, baby spoons, baby pouches and food, bibs etc. One for 6-8 diapers and a small wipe case and pad. One for Isabelle’s extra clothes and her blankie. One for snacks. One bag for grown up needs- my wallet, chapstick, sunglasses, bandaids etc. You get the idea. It was easy to keep track of stuff rather than dig through a giant bag for something small.
I’ve also done it the other way- bringing my regular diaper bag to hang off the stroller and using the Disneyland bag for stuff underneath the stroller. Harder to reach stuff and harder to keep track of. The nice thing about that though was that I could take my diaper bag with me if I needed to. 
Make sure to include: baby hats and sunscreen, blankies, hand sanitizer, bandaids and first aid stuff, ID for you and your kids, pajamas for night time, jackets in case it is cold. Snacks! Fun snacks for kids and for grown ups (although Churros are readily available). We take raisins, dried apples from costco, fruit snacks, bananas, pirates booty, crackers, licorice, and some other treats. Don’t forget to pack your camera! We also had a sling for Lincoln, though lots of people use Ergo’s or Baby Bjorns. Pack plenty of wipes- you will end up wiping down hands and tables and high chairs- all sorts of stuff. We go through them way faster than normal.
ALSO, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT. I see people all the time wearing cute summer wedges, or really funky flat flip flops. Dare I even say- high heels. Every thing has a time and a place, and for me- Disneyland means ugly shoes. Wear the most comfortable shoes you own. Make sure they are good and broken in. I always wear Nikes and my Dankso clogs, though I have a new pair of Allegria’s that I love love love. And all three pairs are not high on the cute scale. But I’ll tell you what, when I’m doin laps around the lady in heels sitting on a bench I do not mind the ugly thing AT ALL. We stand a LOT and we log upwards of 12,000 steps in a day…you can choose if they are going to be comfortable or painful. Just saying.
This post is so long so I broke it up.. next I’ll talk about how we navigate the park!

3 thoughts on “how to do disneyland with babies and toddlers

  1. This post will one day be helpful, but what I'm really thinking is why didn't I consult you on strollers?! I ended up with the city select but only after a hundred trips to buy buy baby and watching endless online reviews. Next time I'm in the market for a big baby purchase, I'm coming your way.

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  2. You should write a book on traveling with kids.

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  3. Have you seen the modern family where they go to Disneyland? Hilarious & your high heel comment reminded me of it. 🙂

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