Friday, May 16, 2014

Daily Ramblings - Surviving Disney with a toddler

Reading the park map, ready to roll.
Now that Owen is comfortable walking and exploring, Husband and I decided it was time to brave the crowds and take advantage of the So Cal resident deal for Disneyland/California Adventure.  I will admit that I was a little nervous leading up to the trip - How was he going to handle waiting in line?  Would he last the day without his usual 2-3 hour nap?  Would he decide to randomly run off into the crowds?  It didn't help that every time we checked the weather leading up to the trip, it got increasingly hotter, seeing as we're in the middle of an unreasonably warm May.  I was not relishing the idea of a crowded theme park in 100 degree weather, but off we went!

The good news is that we had a great time.  I'm not entirely sure what Owen thought of everything.  There were definitely moments when his eyes were bugging out at trying to figure out his surroundings.  Other times, he'd let out an "oooh" when something clicked in his head.  He had moments where he was analyzing his surrounds, other times when he was being a goofball (like when he decided to blow kisses to all the ladies in line behind us).  While we were mentally preparing ourselves for a tired toddler meltdown (and you will definitely see and hear the tired, over-stimulated, screaming toddlers around the park), he made us proud and was a pleasure to travel with.

Before we went, I consulted with my close friend and Disney guru (lifetime season pass holder) on the best way to handle the park with toddler in tow and was given some excellent tips and tricks.  After my experience, here's ten "Surviving Disney with a toddler" tips.    

Waiting in line isn't so bad
when there's so much to look at
1)  Get a hotel right around the park.  They may not be fancy but, for the main part, they're reasonably priced and comfortable enough.  We've stayed at the Camelot Inn and Suites before, and were at the Ramada MainGate this time around.  The hotels in the area will provide cribs free of charge, some have Disney themed rooms/suites that you can rent, and being walking distance from the main park entrance is great if you need to duck out for nap time or to grab a bite to eat off property.

2)  Travel as light as possible!  We took our stroller into the park (although baby wearing is also a great option), stuffed it with diapers, wipes, snacks, change of clothes etc.  Strollers at Disney are kind of amazing - they get left all over the place but nobody messes with them.  I still wouldn't recommend leaving anything valuable in there though.  We had a backpack to carry all essentials that we wanted to keep on us while in line (primarily consisting of the DSLR and some snacks in case Owen got hungry), but our hands were free otherwise.
3)  Bring more snacks than you think you'll need.  We tried to keep it to things that would survive the heat, with resealable packaging!  You can always make "snack packs" with ziploc bags.  In our case, we took popcorn, jerky, dehydrated fruit, raisins, and squeezable pouches.  You also want to make sure to bring plenty of water.  You'll be doing a lot of walking around the park and it is thirsty making.  You can ask for a cup of water at the restaurants, and there are also water fountains around the park (although be warned that it may be a little warm and cloudy looking).  While snacks and bottled drinks are readily available in the park, you will pay a premium and that can add up quickly.  I do recommend the fresh fruit stand by the Jungle Cruise, and anybody that's been will tell you to get some Dole Whip!

4)  Bring comfortable shoes.  This may seem obvious, but appropriate shoes are going to be important and, if you are going to be going for more than one day, I would recommend bringing more than one pair.  I actually changed shoes three times over the course of the two days and was able to escape the park without sore feet.  Definitely look for shoes with arch support and break them in beforehand.   We threw some band-aids in the backpack just in case.
Paradise Pier
California Screamin', ready to roll!
Astro Orbiter
Fist bumping a Storm Trooper
5)  Check height restrictions.  While there are plenty of rides that have no height restrictions at all, it is nice to know which rides with height limits are ok for your child.  32" is the lowest height restriction and Owen, at 32.5", was able to go on a whole set of rides seeing as he met that.  It wasn't always easy to get him to stand up straight so they can check him, but it was worthwhile.  The height restrictions are actually noted for each ride on the park map so you can prepare yourself that way, and hopefully avoid the meltdown that I witnessed from one kid, upset at being the only one in his party too short to ride Indiana Jones.

6)  Download an app.  There's a whole variety of apps out there that will give you approximate wait times for rides.  We used Mousewait.  Seeing as our plan was to limit waiting in line to 20 minutes if possible (which we figured was the upper limit on keeping Owen entertained in a confined space), this was a great way to see what rides were relatively free at any given time.  The beautiful thing about Disney though is that they do try to keep the lines interesting at least, so there should be various things to look at while you're waiting and you can turn that into a game to keep the little ones entertained. 
7)  Use FastPass wisely.  The rides where you can get a FastPass are clearly marked on the map, but keep in mind that the FastPass distribution isn't always right next to the ride.  The great thing about FastPass is that you can go do something else before your scheduled return time, thus avoiding lengthy waits.  There are some rides where the FastPass is really in demand (such as Radiator Springs in Cars Land) - FastPasses were sold out within the first hour and the line to even get one was over 25 minutes.  We actually decided it wasn't worth our while, so we skipped over it.  The FastPass we got for Roger Rabbit ended up being a happy accident because we rode it twice in a row, once by waiting in the regular line, then we immediately hopped back on with our FastPass.

8)  Single rider is a great option.  Not every ride offers single rider.  We used it for California Screamin' and Indiana Jones.  You get a ticket from one of the cast members, and they will direct you where to go (which in the case of Indiana Jones is actually through the exit).  When you get to the front, you wait until they call for a single rider, then you give them your ticket and go!  Both times I used it, I was on the ride straight away.  This meant that one of us could stay with Owen and do a toddler friendly ride in the meantime. 

Checking out Flik's Flyers
Owen rode the carousel three times while we were
taking advantage of single rider on California Screamin'
9)  Trade something.  You can trade both pins and Vinylmation figures in the park.  Pins can be traded with cast members, which I got to witness a couple times and it was very cute.  In our case, we had some Vinylmation to trade, which can be done at specific locations in the parks, and Owen had a good time picking his mystery box number, then carried around the figures he received in his trades.

10)  Take your time.  Gone are the days when Husband and I could go to the park and knock out everything we wanted to do in a morning.  You don't need to see and do everything to have a good Disney experience.  Pick a few things you'd like to hit and consider everything above that a bonus!  Don't forget to get a little down time for relaxation and take cues from your child.  Simple things, like watching the horse drawn trolleys go by on Main Street, or spending a little while cooling off in the theater, was time well spent.  In our case, sitting and watching the ducks for a while, then a short stroll, is what eventually got Owen to nap.  There is so much to do that it's impossible to do it all in a day. 
We probably won't be going back again for a little while, and there's no shortage of theme parks in So Cal that we might visit before heading back to the Magic Kingdom, but I left the trip excited to take Owen again.  I guess we did something right!


  1. I loved your trip pics and they were really good tips. I have been with a few toddlers and it can be an unplanned adventure, but you can definitely find ways to prepare!

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