By Jenna Gurka,
Growing up in Southern California, I was a frequent visitor to the Disneyland Resort. And despite having moved across the state, my husband and I would try to make a pilgrimage at least once a year to relive the carefree visits of our youth. We would geek out on the windows of Main Street, eat and drink to our hearts content, and soak in the excitement. Despite Disneyland being a place for children, we enjoyed not being shackled to a child so we could make our trip our own.
Our experience vastly changed when we had our daughter. Her first trip, at 4 weeks old, was a serious reality check, but after having been countless times (you don’t want to know how many times, it’s embarrassing), we have figured out how to have a great trip that caters to all members of our family. But before you go, there are a few things you need to understand that are crucial to enjoying your experience, whether you go with your family or even child-free.
Try to stay zen
Any Disney Park you visit will be full of people with their own agendas, frantically trying to make the most of a very expensive day. Yes, you also paid a lot to be in the same park, but trying to stay calm is essential. For our family, brunch with Bloody Marys is essential before getting to the park so that everyone (ie. my husband) is more willing to put up with a sea of strollers and grumpy park patrons. For me, it’s a quick yoga session to prepare for all the walking.
Know thyself, then plan around that
Do you not like crowds or heat? Maybe Disneyland during the summer isn’t for you. Try a weekday in November. There are plenty of crowd forecasters that can help you plan! But also be aware of shorter hours and limited shows during off-peak times. Sometimes it’s worth it to skip the crowds.
Make sure everyone has appropriate footwear
Nothing kills a great time faster than blisters. To avoid any painful rubbing, take this friction block with you. Since I discovered it, I am not goinf anywhere without it.
From 0 to 6 months
Set Realistic Expectations
Cut your baby some slack. They have no idea what is going on. They don’t know how magical the park can be, they don’t have the history with the park or the characters like you do. Don’t be disappointed if they don’t seem to care. As there isn’t much for a baby to do, prepare for an especially cranky baby if they are just learning to crawl or walk, since they are more concerned with practicing their new skill and may not take kindly to being confined to a stroller.
That’s not to say everyone can’t have a wonderful time. Don’t make the trip about the baby (that’s weird to say), as realistically they won’t even remember it. Instead, make the memories about you having fun as a new family. You aren’t banished to Fantasyland and ToonTown quite yet, so venture out! You’ll find you can bring a baby on a surprising amount of rides.
With only the two (or one) of you, you don’t have a lot of options as far as rides go. With an extra set of hands, you’ll get a bit of a baby break, and enjoy fully your visit. Disneyland offers a lot of options to help families visiting with bébé.
Fastpass+ is a good place to start. It allows you to reserve access to big rides, character greetings and shows so that you can bypass the normal line. Up to 30 days before your visit, you can reserve one Fastpass+ per day. When you arrive at the park and get your first pass, on the bottom will be printed a time after which you can return to a Fastpass+ kiosk for a second pass. You can use up to three Fastpasses per day. Nice when bébé is deciding to have a meltdown, and you need to get through a line quickly and straight to the distracting music and light.
The Rider Switch is also extremely useful. If you by chance are traveling in a bigger group, you can split into two groups with one group watching bébé first (Group 1) and the other group (Group 2) going ahead on the ride. Group 1 gets Rider Switch passes, which enables them to go check out another sight or attraction while Group 2 goes through the ride. Then, when the Group 2 finishes up and takes over bébé-watch, Group 1 uses their Rider Switch passes essentially like Fastpasses to bypass the normal line.
Clever readers are already saying to themselves: wait a minute. If a Rider Switch pass works like a Fastpass, and you only get a limited number of Fastpasses, why doesn’t Group 1 get Fastpasses for one ride and Group 2 gets Fastpasses for different one? That way, since the waiting group gets Rider Switch passes (which work like Fastpasses), everyone gets Fastpass privileges on double the normal amount of rides! Exactly. If you can split into more groups and have a mathematician in the family, you may be able to do even better.
Babies come with a lot of baggage, but try to keep it down. Once you park your stroller, you don’t want to leave valuables, so keep it to the essentials. I try to use a cross-body bag, and pack it with an extra outfit and a toy or two. I keep diapers in a diaper clutch in the stroller, if someone is desperate enough to steal those, then more power to them. An extra outfit is crucial, as we’ve had some diaper blowouts in the past, so I ALWAYS pack extra. The worst is having to buy an expensive outfit at the park.
Skip The Solids
If baby is just starting on solids and it doesn’t make up the bulk of their calories, I say skip it. It’s messy, comes with unnecessary gear and takes up a good chunk of time. I experimented with a pouch, but it was still so messy. Just stick to breastfeeding or formula, if you can. Though, if you are still exclusively breastfeeding, bring a small hand pump. It’s hard to get babies to focus with so much going on, which can lead to reduced feeds, which leads to engorgement, which leads to an unhappy mama. A small pump can help relieve your supply.
Walk And Feed
This is by far my favorite time saver. Faye would get so distracted, so I would slip her into the Ergo, throw a scarf over her to block out stimuli and pop my boob out. She can eat while we walk or wait in line. Two birds, one stone. She would usually fall asleep, so I could lay her in the stroller to finish her nap or she can sleep through a ride.
Utilize the Baby Care Center
The first few times we went, the Baby Care Center was invaluable. It has an area for nursing with rocking chairs and a killer changing room for BIG blowouts. It’s also a place you can buy forgotten items, like diapers, wipes, formula and food. It’s especially valuable of hot days when you need an air conditioned room to sit and take a break while feeding baby.
From 6 months to 12 months
Break Up A Long Day With Shows
Disney Junior Live on Stage is a MUST! It’s got snow, bubbles, confetti, puppets and music! It’s super fun, but I do think it’s a good time to split up if you have someone who wants to do an E ticket ride.
Resist Buying Toys
We’ve bought toys, but all the girl wants is a straw, or a glowing ice cube from the Mad T Party. A souvenir is great, but keep it classic and cheap.
Need advice to visit Disneyland with a toddler? Stay tuned, we’ll give advice on how to handle a walking baby at Disneyland in the next few days.
About the author:
Jenna Gurka is a lifestyle blogger based in San Francisco. Her site www.supermellowfuntime.com gathers posts about motherhood, style, DIY ideas, and much more. Check it out!