From Mickey Mouse to the feel-good music in the air to fast passes to Dole Whip to the parades to each immaculate detail on every ride and building… Disneyland really is the Happiest Place on Earth for me. I know for some people it’s just a crowded theme park that sucks your wallet dry, but for me it holds nothing but fond childhood memories. I grew up with nearly annual trips to the park with my family or my BFF’s fam, so as soon as I became a parent I started daydreaming about taking my kids there. Last month when we finally bit the bullet and went, it was a dream come true… pure magic.
I hadn’t visited a Disney park since right after high school, so this trip was a long time coming for me! I kept putting it off because I didn’t think it would be any fun to go with a baby (and I’ve pretty much had a baby or have been pregnant with one for the past 5 years!), but boy was I wrong! We seriously had the BEST. TRIP. EVER. No joke. Every aspect of our trip was pretty much pure perfection, from on-time flights, to amazing weather, to happy kids, to magical Disney days. Something that made it even better was that my childhood bestie, Jessica, also came! We have so many memories from our trips there together as kids, so it was really surreal to be back there with her as adults with my kids. Amazing.
I’m stealing some of your pics, Jess (since I failed in the photo taking department)!
One of the most exciting things about this trip was that we decided to wait to tell the kids about it until the morning we left! I remember praying for my parents to do something exciting like this when I was a kid and it never happened. But, being able to do it for my own kids was even better! I was up late the night before sneakily packing our suitcases and loading the car up after the kids went to sleep and then I was too excited to get a good night’s sleep myself. In the AM, we had to wake Leila up to get to our plane on time. She was confused since we never have to wake her.
Me – “Hey Leila, it’s time to get up. We have a surprise for you. You’re not going to school today. Guess what we’re gonna do instead?”
Andy & I – “WE’RE GOING TO DISNEYLAND!!!”
I seriously was almost crying I was so excited. She was so caught off guard and still sleepy and foggy, so it took a couple minutes for it to sink in for her. I think she was in shock. And then she was bouncing around and so happy! It was amazing. And Landon was excited because she was excited, but otherwise clueless as to what “Disneyland” really meant. He was just happy to be going on an airplane!
Our flight down was perfection – on time, Roman slept pretty much the whole way, both big kids were perfect angels. We hired someone to come pick us up at the airport and take us to our hotel so we didn’t have to deal with shuttles or rental cars or figuring out where to go or any of that. Worth every penny in my opinion. We stayed at the Candy Cane Inn which is just a 5-10 minute walk into Disneyland. It was AWESOME. Amazing staff, beautiful grounds (for a small motel), free shuttle (for when we were too lazy to walk). Loved it. And SO worth paying a bit more to stay so close to the entrance.
We seriously packed SO much action into three days at the parks that it felt like we were gone for at least a week! And I chose not to even bring my fancy camera (so unlike me) because I really just wanted to live in the moment. So while I’m a teeny-tiny itty-bitty bit sad that I don’t have gorgeous photos to document our time there, I am SO happy for the memories we created as a family that will live in my mind forever.
Here are some of the stand-out moments from our Disney trip:
- My aunt drove up from San Diego to spend our first day with us. I still remember spending my very first day at Disneyland with her as a kid so it was extra special to have her there to witness my children’s first time.
- Going on all of my favorite rides with my dare devil daughter. Leila seriously loved them all and was pretty much fearless! She took the very front seat on splash mountain without a second thought and laughed the entire ride. The only ride that I saw nerves on from her was the Tower of Terror. Normally she would go on a ride with me and then go again on it with her daddy later and that was the only one where she said, “I don’t think I want to go on that again.”
- Character breakfast inside Disneyland at the Plaza Inn was amazing and worth every penny. The food was delicious and it was so nice to just sit there and have characters come to us instead of waiting in lines to meet them. Roman particularly LOVED grabbing their noses and holding their hands. 🙂
- I will never forget when Leila and Sleeping Beauty had a moment during the parade. Afterwards Leila and I looked at each other and squeezed and jumped up and down. I felt like a little girl again.
- The World of Color show at California Adventure was worth keeping the kids up until 10pm for! It was phenomenal (although Landon and Roman did end up sleeping through it).
- Mid-day escapes from the park back to our hotel for swimming and naps and pizza delivery was the perfect way to recharge for an evening of fun.
- Going on the Little Mermaid ride inside California Adventure all together as a family of five really stood out to me. It was the first time any of us had gone on that ride, we were all in one “shell” together, and I vividly remember looking over at my family in the dim lighting and seeing looks of awe and joy on each of their faces. I’ll never forget that. And I mean, it’s the Little Mermaid – she’s my girl!
- And the rest in what few decent cell phone (and Jessica’s GoPro) pics we got…
The whole crew on It’s a Small World!
Meeting new friends at the character breakfast..
Roman having fun at Goofy’s House…
Two memorable rides with my girl (crazy hair lady is me and fearless little girl with her hands in the air would be Leila)…
Break time at the pool!
Selfie time! Dumbo with Landon and Splash Mountain with Leila…
California Adventure at night = epic…
More fun in Toon Town…
Late night light up toys in Tomorrow Land!
Oh man, I wish I could go back right now! I think one reason it was such an awesome trip was because my husband and I had zero expectations for it and honestly, we were both dreading it in a way. We didn’t know what it would be like with three small people to manage in the huge crowds and hot weather. We didn’t know how we’d get to go on any rides with a 10 month old baby. We didn’t know if our sensitive 3-year-old would be able to handle all of the over-stimulation. In the end, having zero good expectations set us up for only the best. And we discovered that Disneyland is one of the most accommodating places for families!
Here are some of the tips and tricks that made our Disney trip with three small kids doable:
- Go when it’s less busy. We took Leila out of school for a couple of days so we could go after the Spring Break craziness was over. We never had to wait in line for longer than 30 minutes or so even though it did still seem a bit crowded at times.
- Use Fast Passes and Rider Swap. For rides that notoriously have really long lines (like Radiator Springs Racers in California Adventure), we would grab fast passes for right when the park opened. If you have a baby or small child that can’t (or doesn’t want to) go on a certain ride, you can tell the ride attendant that you want to do a “rider swap.” So, we could all wait in line together as a family and then Leila and I could go on a ride while Andy waited with Roman and Landon and then right after we got off, Leila could go on it with Andy without having to wait in line again. Pretty sweet!
- Take advantage of the Baby Center. Before this trip I had no clue that Disneyland had a designated baby care center with AIR CONDITIONING and private places to feed your baby and nice changing tables and high chairs and food and more! It was 90+ degrees when we were there and it was SO NICE to be able to escape somewhere cool and quiet with comfortable chairs to nurse Roman. And in the changing room they have tiny bathroom stalls with miniature toilets for newly potty trained toddlers. Landon loved those!
- Bring your own food. We actually packed like 1/2 a suitcase full of snacks for our trip (peanut butter, bagels, apples, beef jerky, nuts, granola bars). You can bring your own food into Disneyland, no questions asked, and you can save a ton of money by doing so. And snacking throughout the day helped keep all of our energy up.
- Stay somewhere with a FREE continental breakfast. Our hotel had a free continental breakfast each morning and while it wasn’t anything too fancy, it saved us time and a lot of money. We’d pig out on bagels, cereal, yogurt, fruit, juice and coffee before hitting the park bright and early. And we’d always throw an apple and orange in our bags for later on. 🙂
- Staying within walking distance is SO WORTH IT with little ones. Case in point: it’s 10pm and you have a toddler asleep in the stroller and you’re ready to go to sleep yourself. The shuttle doesn’t come for another 15 minutes. Sure, you can wait for the shuttle then wake said toddler up and risk an epic late night meltdown while dealing with folding and loading the stroller, but why bother when you can just forgo the shuttle and walk back to your hotel in less time than it takes for the shuttle to arrive?
- BYOS (bring your own stroller) and maybe rent one, too. If you have a child under the age of 6 at Disneyland, you’ll want a stroller at some point. Even our rambunctious Leila begged to ride in the stroller from time to time. After all, on average you’ll kill like 6 MILES walking each day at Disneyland! So, we brought one single stroller and had our Ergo carrier for our 3 kids. All three of them took turns in the stroller throughout each day and Roman spent a good amount of time in the Ergo. On the last day we paid $15 to rent a second stroller so that both big kids could be sitting whenever they wanted. It was totally worth it because we were able to cover a lot more ground with a lot less whines on that last day.
- Babies can go on a TON of the rides. I was surprised by how many rides Roman was able to go on with us! I thought we’d be much more restricted than we were with a baby. He enjoyed a couple of my favorites (Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion) that I didn’t think we’d be able to take him on.
- Download the TouringPlans.com App! I somehow discovered this app and it was such a huge help! It will tell you the current wait time for every ride at Disneyland. So, if you’re at the complete opposite end of the park from a ride you’re thinking about going on next, you can check the app before deciding if now is the best time. We’d scan down the list of rides in the app quite frequently and pick rides with smaller wait times. Loved it!
And my final tip of advice for anyone actually reading through all of this… if you’re anxious to go to Disneyland, but worried that your child isn’t the right age yet, just GO! THERE IS NO WRONG AGE FOR DISNEYLAND. Seriously, our 10 month old was in awe of the rides and the characters and all of the sights and sounds. He loved it. Our 3 year old loved the shows, our 5 year old loved the rides. As parents, Andy and I loved seeing our kids take it all in. There is something for everyone. After all, they don’t call it the Happiest Place on Earth for nothing. 🙂