Jen and I agree that one of our favorite places in the whole wide world is Disneyland. I’ve had an annual pass almost every year since 1995. I’ve been there on dates, I’ve been there alone, and I’ve been there at opening, and stayed until close. These days, though, I see the Happiest Place on Earth through the eyes of two little ones under 3, and let me tell you, it’s quite a different experience than what I had in my “former life.”
There are lots of great blogs that have written tips for surviving Disneyland with toddlers, so I thought I’d just tell you how my family rolls in The Park. Maybe you’ll find something useful for your next trip. And feel free to comment and share your Disney habits… we’d love to learn something new, too!
- The Baby Center – I didn’t know about this place until I had children. And it has saved my butt on more than one occasion. The Baby Center is located at the end of Main Street, down the little walkway after the photo shop. There are changing tables, a nursing area for moms, a few high chairs, a place to warm formula or food, and a table and chairs with books, in case your little one just needs a break in a cool room. And they sell diapers. And formula. So if you run out of size 4 diapers, you can go buy one for a buck and not have to jimmy a size 1 to your little one’s rump with packing tape. (Yes, I have done that. Don’t judge me.) Plus you walk in and feel like Mary Poppins will come around the corner and make everything better.
- Breakfast at the River Belle Terrace – We typically get up, get dressed, and go. Since we have Annual Passes and since our trips don’t include getting on popular rides (a tough thing to do with a 2 ½ year old and a 9 month old) we like to eat a nice, leisurely breakfast at The Park. The River Belle Terrace is between New Orleans Square and Frontierland, right on the water of the Rivers of America. We sit outside under an umbrella and the girls are entertained by the Mark Twain riverboat coming and going. It’s never crowded for breakfast and the food is good. I highly recommend also getting the cinnamon roll, which is big enough to share with a good friend.
- MouseWait – This is an awesome app for iPhone and Android that tells you up to the minute wait times for the rides, attractions, and restaurants of the Disneyland Resort. During breakfast I usually check MouseWait to see what wait times look like. Although, there rarely is over a 25-minute wait for It’s a Small World, King Arthur’s Carousel, or Winnie the Pooh. Those are our big three right now. I know, my life is thrilling. But remember that the crowd will grow as the day goes on, so if there’s something you really want to do, do it early to avoid a longer line.
- Lunch – Since we’ve usually had a late-ish breakfast, we can make it to a later lunch. I highly recommend trying to push your lunchtime to 1 or 1:30 if you can. Give your kids a mid-morning snack if need be. The lines get shorter and the tables more plentiful if you don’t eat between 11:30 and 1:00. I’m ok with having a burger at The Village Haus (an old standby for me) or sandwich at The Jolly Holiday Café on Main Street (Mary Poppins themed and darling) since we’ve had a larger breakfast. Plus, that opens up the conversation for a nice dinner. And I’m all about a nice dinner.
- Nap time – for us, after lunch is usually when the kids will knock out for a nap. I give them milk and recline the stroller and boom baby, they are usually good for a couple of hours. During this time, my husband and I alternate sitting in a shaded area enjoying a sweet treat, perusing the shops on Main Street, or sitting in the cool of the Disney Gallery, which has moved to the front of Main Street, near the entrance. This time could also be used for one of us to hit up a “big ride” by taking advantage of single rider lines, which are now available at Indiana Jones and Splash Mountain.
- Dinnertime – After naptime we usually hit up a few more rides or head over to California Adventure. But this all leads up to my favorite time of the day, dinnertime. With the little ones, we usually eat early, before the big dinner rush. I have two favorite spots for dinner right now: The French Market in Disneyland, and Storyteller’s Café located in the Grand Californian Hotel in Downtown Disney. The French Market is very nostalgic for me and they have awesome New Orleans-inspired food. There are plenty of tables, plenty of shade, and a live jazz band that plays every so often. It’s just a nice place to hang out for a while, sip a (non-alcoholic) mint julep, and let Mazie dance around to the music. Storyteller’s is awesome because it’s a regular restaurant with waiters and waitresses who bring you your food (a luxury for exhausted parents). Another great thing about this place is that since it’s not in the original Disneyland Park, they serve alcohol (also a luxury for exhausted parents!). Not that I’m a lush or anything, but it’s nice to sit in air-conditioning and enjoy a Magical Star Cocktail after a long Disney day. There are other nice restaurants at both parks (Blue Bayou, Wine Country Trattoria) that take reservations, so maybe think about dinner in advance and call Disney Dining at (714) 781-3463 either before your trip or in the morning to check availability.
- Jammies – When we stay at The Park for the long haul, we always bring jammies for the girls. After dinner we might hit up the Tiki Room or Ariel’s Under Sea Adventures, then swing by the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor or Ghiradelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop. After that, it’s straight to the Baby Care Center (yes, there is one in California Adventure, too, located conveniently right next to Ghiradelli) for diaper changes and pajamas. The girls are usually asleep by the time we get ourselves back to the car and then we effortlessly transfer them to their beds back home.
I know as the girls get older, we will find new ways to have a successful day at Disneyland. I really look forward to the day that it doesn’t take us FOR-EVER in the morning just to get out of the house… you know, the day when everyone can dress themselves and I heat up pre-made breakfast burritos from The Pioneer Woman and we can all eat in the car. Then we’ll make our first priority rides, rides, rides, and if these girls are anything like me, shopping, shopping, shopping!
For those of you already there, I suggest getting everyone up early, fighting traffic, and getting to The Park early enough for the Rope Drop. Run to the different lands and enjoy waiting 5 minutes for Space Mountain, or just walking right on Indy. And take a spin on the Matterhorn for me, will you?