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Doing Disneyland with kids is not something I have experience with… until now. I never went to Disneyland as a child. Which pretty much makes me an alien among Californians. The first time I went was during my honeymoon: we were staying in San Diego/Coronado and decided to day trip up to Disneyland. I had heard talk of the “magic” of Disney with kids but getting to go for the first time as an adult was pretty magical, too.
After we had the boys I couldn’t wait to take them. And finally, after doing the juggle with life events and timing, we got our chance. We opted for a week in April to hopefully miss the crazy spring break crowds but still enjoy the nice spring weather. It was all in vain though because it was, in fact, super crowded (always is, I know) and the first day we were there it hit 96 degrees. But, even so, we had an amazing time and can’t wait to plan our next trip!
I did my fair share of research before we went but there is a definitely a learning curve to “doing Disney” with kids. Below is my brain dump of what worked, didn’t work and our experience getting our Disney on. When reading, keep in mind that my kids were 6 and 3.5 at the time of our trip and we had a bit of a challenge as Sully was having a PFAPA flare during our trip.
1. Do not over-plan
It is overwhelming to book a Disney vacation, that’s no secret. There is so much information and tips and forums and… well, you get the picture, out there that it’s easy to get caught up in the “having to plan every second of your trip to get your moneys worth” frame of mind. Relax. The magic of Disney isn’t reserved for those who over-plan.
2. The magic of Disney is literally everywhere
The most magical moments we had were at the most unexpected times. One of which was when we were walking around California Adventure and just happened to walk by as Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde came waltzing out of a secret door. The boys had a fun and super special few minutes with them as Nick playfully poked Sully to make him belly laugh. It was a really sweet moment and not one we could have ever planned or had the chance to experience if every second of our day was scheduled.
3. Book through Costco or a travel agent that can do it all for you
We got this idea from Heather. As first timers, I was a tad bit overwhelmed with everything that goes in to a Disney trip. Booking through Costco really was the way to go for us. It included hotel, tickets, and all the extras that we had waiting for us when we checked in. I think next time we’ll go through a local travel agent so we can still get the extras but support a small business owner in the process.
4. Don’t stress about the hotel selection
We chose our hotel blindly mostly because there are so many to choose from! We were ok with walking a bit to save some money on hotel costs and it turned out perfectly. The Holiday Inn was about a 10 minute walk from downtown Disney and with the double stroller, this was so easy. There’s also a really great splash pad, pool, and kids eat free at the restaurant downstairs. My only issue was that the room was super small which wasn’t a huge deal since we were hardly there.
5. You can save money on food, but this requires some forethought
Booking through Costco included character meal vouchers that we learned we were able to use the cash value at any restaurant or food vendor in the park which really helped the food budget. The adult vouchers were worth $49 each and kid vouchers worth $29 each. We were actually able to snag a reservation last minute at the Blue Bayou Restaurant and we used both of our adult vouchers on that. One kid voucher was used for a lunch at Carnation Cafe on Main Street and the last kid voucher was used at a churro stand on our last night there. All of that to show you that, yep, you can use them anywhere.
I set up a snack drawer immediately upon arrival in our room. I wish I would have gotten a better picture of it but there’s some video in our Stories Highlights on Instagram. It made it readily available for anyone who was hungry and super convenient to grab and go.
As for our other meals we did a combination of packing our lunches/snacks, eating at the hotel where kids eat free, and eating in the parks. We brought sandwich supplies and made one for each of us every morning to bring with us. We also packed a crapload of snacks for the boys (another reason for tip #8) because… snack-a-holics anonymous. I think it worked out pretty great! We saved money but still got to enjoy eating out too, win-win.
6. Find time to wind down
So, day 1 in the park Sullivan started a PFAPA fever flare. If you don’t know about his diagnosis, you can read more about it here. It was a bummer, mostly for him, who felt like crap the whole time. We had talked about doing a mid-day rest at our hotel but Sully’s fever cemented that decision. We were all able to get some rest time that really was key to making it until night time.
7. The Disneyland app is your friend
We used it for everything–to buy the MaxPass each day, get our FASTPASSes, see ride wait times, manage our PhotoPass photos, get restaurant reservations, see showtimes, find characters, and now you can order food to pick up with no wait times. It is such a great tool to use to manage your trip.
8. Bring the double stroller
We went back and forth on this because Harrison is six and, really, has no problem walking most of the day. We were so glad with our decision though because Harrison was the first one to pass out in the stroller each night on the walk back. There was no whining of sore legs or being tired. Both boys could take a rest whenever they wanted and it was seriously a lifesaver. Parking the stroller at rides was easy and it gave us a wide berth when going through crowds. Bonus tip: tie a big, bright bow on the handle of your stroller so it’s easy to spot when lined up with 100 others!
9. Bring a swaddle blanket to hold your spot for parades and shows
This is actually a tip from Heather but it’s genius! Use a swaddle blanket to lay out for shows and parades. It’s lightweight, easy to ball up and throw under a stroller or in a backpack afterward. Another plus? It doesn’t take up a bunch of space! Seriously genius, right?
10. Parents: get yourself a fanny pack
If you know me at all, you know my love of the 90s runs deep. I am so stoked that the fanny pack trend is coming back. Our parents had it right when they would wear one to every theme park, county fair, or event. Hands are free to wrangle kids (or drink a refreshing drink) and you can easily keep all of your belongings close when riding rides and walking 12 miles a day. You can get the one I rock here. Or other fun ones on my wishlist here, here, and here.
11. BONUS TIP!
There’s booze at California Adventure. We went during the Food & Wine Festival in April and it was amazing. You’re welcome.
I hope you find this post helpful! I am far from an expert but I really learned so much on my first trip with kids and can’t wait to go back to hone my “skills” next time!