When you toss out the idea of taking your toddler to Disneyland people either tell you it’s the greatest experience or not to do it (at any cost). Just like any vacation with kids there’s a lot that plays into it, but I’m here to share some of my tips and tricks I learned along the way to make Disney with a toddler the most magical experience possible.
Most of us here in Arizona make the short 6 hour drive to Anaheim. While road trips aren’t always easy with a toddler, I found these things to be helpful:
- Plan for the drive to take much longer than 6 hours. There’s no sugar coating it, it will just take longer.
- Plan to drive around naptime so your toddler still gets his nap (you and I both know their sleep is precious).
- Bring easy to eat/non-messy snacks for the car.
- Pack a couple of their favorite toys for in the car (these double as entertainment for in the hotel room)
- Look at your route in advance and plan a stop for lunch with a place for your toddler to get out and run around. From Phoenix we usually stop halfway, in Blythe or Quartzite for gas and a bite to eat.
- Blythe is a little bigger and has more kid-friendly options (Both Carl’s Jr. and McDonalds have indoor play areas for kids).
- We did not find an indoor play area in Quartzite, but found a town park with playground equipment just a mile or so from the Interstate.
- We usually end up stopping for a full hour (or a little more) with time to eat, play and change diapers.
While I normally advocate for staying in a rental (like a VRBO home or an AirBnB) with Disneyland we actually like staying in a hotel better simply due to location.
- Pick a hotel within walking distance. The Disneyland Hotels are walkable, but there are also an array of other (and more budget friendly) hotels within walking distance. Our most recent one was a closer walk from the park gate than the Disney Paradise Pier Hotel.
- Plan to come back during the day for naps. Before we leave for the morning, I make sure the shades were drawn, lamps were off, air was on, and our sound machine was plugged in and ready. My son fell asleep in the stroller on the walk back each day, so this made the transfer to the bed that much easier.
- Have a plan for the sleeping situation. If your toddler will still sleep in a pack n play, bring one! Unfortunately our toddler won’t any longer, but there are inflatable toddler beds you can buy or plan to share a bed.
- Remember those toys from the car? Bring them into the hotel so they have a few things to play with while in the room (you know, besides the phone and the safe).
- Check ahead of time to see if your hotel has a microwave and/or mini fridge. I brought bowls and spoons and instant oatmeal to heat up quickly in the room before we headed out to the parks for the day. Things like granola bars and fruit work really well for quick breakfasts and snacks, too.
At The Parks
- Use Is It Packed to find out how crowded the parks will be on the days you’ve chosen to go. On our recent trip we planned to hit Disneyland on the two days it was least busy. We went to California Adventure on the most crowded day for Disneyland.
- Bring a stroller or rent one. This seems silly since you will spend so much time waiting in line, but the parks are big and require lots of walking. Your toddler can chill in the stroller as you go from ride to ride. Plus it can double as a nap spot if you don’t make it back to the room for one.
- Bring two bags – one to keep in the stroller to hold diapers, wipes, snacks, sweaters, and anything else non valuable (I use a backpack). The second one should be small and will be carried with you while you wait in line. I like to use a cross body bag. I put my wallet in there, plus snacks and small toys to keep my little guy entertained.
- Bring lots of snacks! I like anything that is small and comes in a personal sized serving, things like: raisins, cheddar bunnies, fruit snacks, crackers. You can also prep small ziplock bags with things like freeze dried fruit or other favorites.
- Small toys for in line are a must! Cater to what your kiddo likes – for us this was lots of hot wheels cars, a small pad of paper with stickers, and a couple random Target dollar spot toys. I usually carry about 4 cars with me in line, with a few new ones still in the package in the diaper bag in the stroller (just in case any got lost or he needed something new).
- Don’t stress about getting it all done. We prioritized rides that we knew our toddler would love, then went from there. Look ahead at what rides your child can ride based on height (and interest!). You’ll be surprised how many rides little ones can go on. The are lots of toddler friendly plans out there so you can plan your day accordingly. We like the one from Disneyland Daily.
- If you’re kids like the characters, consider booking a character meal. This is a fun thing to do on a non-park day – this time we did Mickey’s Surfs Up Breakfast in the morning before we drove home. There’s lots of kid friendly foods, kids under 3 eat free, and the characters come to your table to say hi and take photos. I was surprised how much my son loved it!
Is It Packed? (Mentioned above)
Disneyland Daily (formerly DLR Prep School)
Magic Kingdom Mamas on Instagram – Lots of tips for mamas of babies & toddlers
Disney Hungry on Instagram – All about the food at Disneyland