How I survived Disneyland with an infant and 3 year old
Growing up, my Dad took us to Disney World in Florida every other year. They are some of my most cherished childhood memories and I’ve always wanted that for my children too. We’ve been a couple times since Big Nugget was born, usually in December for the Christmas decorations, but this time we went with my husband’s parents and his sister and her family.
I researched like crazy for this trip because we would be there multiple days. Magic Kingdom Mamas is an amazing resource!
Here is what I learned this time around, my first time there with two kids. Hang on, it’s a doozy.
Taking advantage of the Fast Pass feature at Disneyland is such a time saver. There are stations near the ride where you scan your ticket to get assigned a time. Return at your assigned time, enter through the fast pass line and scan your ticket and you’re in! It’s free, convenient and a major time saver.
We learned this the hard way when we attempted the Roger Rabbit ride in Toontown without a fast pass. The app and the sign outside the ride estimated the stand by line at 20 minutes. We were stuck in line for over 45, for a ride that is not worth a 45 minute wait with 3 kids.
You can also pay for the MaxPass feature through the Disneyland app and get FastPasses through your phone without having to go to the ride itself. It’s $10 per day per ticket. We didn’t use it this time but will most likely do it next visit. It saves you from having to schlep to the ride twice – and gives you free digital downloads of your photo pass pictures that day.
I’m still nursing our Little Nugget and I’m always on the look out for good nursing spots. I have no shame feeding her where ever when she’s hungry but also don’t want to whip a boob out in the middle of Tomorrowland. I wore tops that allowed easy access and discretion, since she refuses to be covered while nursing. There are lots of great nooks and crannies that provide privacy and shade for you to feed your littles. Some of my finds:
Tomorrowland (Disneyland): Near the women’s bathroom next to the Autopia entrance.
Bugs Life (CA Adventure): Near the bathrooms
ToonTown (Disneyland): To the right of the character entrance, near the school entrance.
Fantasyland (Disneyland): To the right of the Matterhorn exit, under the monorail tracks
Frozen Live (CA Adventure): Inside the theater during the live performance (which is fantastic). Air conditioned and they sever beer in the lobby. Bonus.
Surviving all day at Disney means throwing your kids nap schedule into the wind. We brought our double stroller and our 3 year old was pretty good about taking her nap in the stroller while we walked the park – great time to hit up the adult rides – but the baby was a different story. She flat out refused to nap in the stroller so it was the Tula to the rescue.
My husband and I alternated wearing her and put her on whenever she seemed tired. 9 times out of 10, sleep is nearly instantaneous.
Family help – or single rider
Disneyland with kids is a game of divide and conquer. We had the luxury of having extended family with us so they could watch our kids while we snuck on to an adult ride. It was like having a mini date being able to sneak away without kids. At one point, we went on the Matterhorn while my sister in law took the kids to the carousel. Walking the short way between rides without a stroller was the oddest feeling ever.
If you don’t have a big group with you, don’t feel like you’re stuck on Dumbo and the carousel. You can do a lot of the “adult” rides as a single rider and the line for a single rider is usually WAY WAY shorter than the standby line. Look for the single rider entrance or ask a cast member at the ride entrance.
Each year we’ve gone, we’ve staked out a spot a hour early for the parade. Lay down a blanket and wait. It’s a great break in the day and we usually took the time to have the Big Nugget nap in the stroller. I like to be near the Matterhorn, across the street from the Alice in Wonderland restrooms – there is usually shade and a bench you can score.
This year we didn’t since we had such a big group. The great thing about Disney parades, they have the characters high up on the floats so even if you are far away, you can get a glimpse.
There seems to be a wide range of attitudes regarding snacks and food at amusement parks. I’m somewhere between the bring all the food you can person and the minimalist that will just buy what you need at the park. This time around, we brought Costco snacks which were helpful but it didn’t keep us from buying treats. Disney churros, Mickey Biegnets, turkey legs, Coco Rise Krispy treats – yes to all of it.
We refilled our bottles of water when we could but also bought a few along the way. The biggest ah ha moment that I learned is that when you are traveling with kids, buffets are your friends. We did a character breakfast and a birthday dinner – both buffets. It lets you get the kids fed quick which is a god send when you are dealing with tired amped up hungry little people.
We ate at Naples Pizza in Downtown Disney the first night and got in without a reservation (which I would recommend you make a reservation) and while we had to wait for food – the balloon guy helped pass the time. Even for the baby.
Staying in a single room hotel room with an infant and 3 year old is a special type of torture. Different bedtimes. Different sleeping situations. Different noises. It all makes for a rough few nights. We had the baby in a pack and play tucked down the small hallway near the room door. We ended up wrapping it in the hotel robes to block some of the light, blasted the noise machine we brought from home and moved the desk chair next to it so I could nurse her at night with minimal movement.
An ipad with headphones was a treat for our 3 year old but also kept her entertained quietly while we got baby sister down. We also brought our infant shower chair from home which made it easier to bathe her, especially since our room didn’t have a tub. I also brought extra outlet covers so that when we were in the room, the baby could crawl around without any worry. Especially helpful since she was constrained most of the day at the parks.
We stayed at the Disney Grand Californian and while you can’t beat the location, make sure you bring kid friendly soaps. It the one thing I forgot to pack and the hotel stuff burned their eyes and dried out their skin. We did love so much about the hotel. The pools were great. The sound proof windows were crucial since we were right next to CA Adventure. Big Nugget’s favorite part was how the hotel staff turned down her bed each night.
I used to laugh when people would talk about the Disney magic. But once you have kids, you know that it’s real. That doesn’t mean that I don’t get exhausted or sick of the walking or the crowds. I had to make an effort to be in a good mood some moments, remind myself to be grateful and be in the moment. Even if that moment is preceded by lots of other moments stuck in a line. Or frantically trying to get everyone out the door to take advantage of Magic Hour. But it’s all worth it when I catch that look in her eye.
Her excitement in meeting a character.
Her sweet innocence in waving at the kids in It’s a Small World.
The sheer joy and fear and adrenaline when riding her first roller coaster. It takes me back to my own childhood and those cherished memories.
I wish my Dad was still around so I could tell him, finally, I get it.
And thank you.