Did you know there's an entire blog devoted to picture of kids crying at Disneyland?
For being "The Happiest Place On Earth," you'll witness a lot of kid meltdowns there. And you can't really be surprised because after you spend all day in the hot sun, eating nothing but junk food, and being blasted with loud music, bright lights, you most favorite princesses ever are walking down the street but you can't touch them because there's a huge line, and you missed your nap, and tea cups made your head swirl. Well, I think we get it.
This past year our family got annual passports to Disney. We are Disney fanatics. After Rob's dad died, it kind of became an escape and we used it on an almost monthly basis from September through March. So now I consider myself a bit of an expert on how to do Disneyland with young kids and actually have a good time.
Here's the secret to getting the most out of Disneyland with your kids.
DO LESS OF IT.
I know that may sound like it doesn't make sense, especially after you just ponied up $90 bucks for a ticket. You may think you HAVE to get your money's worth now and so we are going to cram as much Disneyland into one day as possible. And all I can say is, I get that feeling. But don't do it. You want to get a FUN Disneyland experience. You want to be there after dark for the fireworks and World of Color. You don't want to be dealing with a nuclear meltdown at 6 O'clock and end up all fighting at the "Happiest Place on Earth" and then push a bunch of grumpy kids from show to show or ride to ride. So here are some of the tricks we use to make our Disneyland days, and we have had a lot of them, long, full days, how we make them enjoyable and workable with young kids. These tips are for everyone, even if you are only going for one day. Perhaps I should say, ESPECIALLY if you are only going for one day.
1. Keep Your Anchor Points The Same. If you don't have an established rhythm or schedule in your home, this might be a challenge. But for us, we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at pretty consistent times. We also have a very consistent nap/quiet time. These are the most dependable parts of our schedule, if we miss them or are late on them, all hell breaks loose. So even at Disneyland we stick to them. Breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time. Nap time is NOT missed, which brings me to point 2.
2. Definitely Take a Break from the Park. Not all young children will be able to take a nap after lunchtime. But even my kids who have outgrown naps still fall asleep at least 50% of the time on Disneyland days. Lunch is the perfect time to return to the hotel room, get a bite to eat in the quiet, draw the shades and take a snooze. It doesn't have to be as long as usual, especially if you are only there for a day. One hour will be perfect, and you really won't miss that much at the park I promise. What a nap ensures for you is being able to see some of the really fun nightly offerings with your kiddos. All we have to do these days is promise to stay at the park late if the kids take a nap and that's enough motivation to get them to sleep. This routine works best if you follow tip 3.
3. Get a hotel within walking distance of the park, and WALK THERE. Don't take a shuttle. Don't drive and park. These add TIME whenever you need to leave or return to the park. They can add an hour onto that afternoon nap. Get a hotel within 1/3 of a mile of the gate and you are golden.
4. Get to the park right when it opens. This is prime time. So many people seem to mosey through the gates an hour or two later. First thing in the morning is when it will be the most dead and the lines will be shortest, use this time wisely and try to get on as many rides as you can.
5. Whichever park is having it's Magic Morning with early entry...GO TO THE OTHER PARK! I know, that sounds confusing. You paid all that money, you want that extra hour, dangit! No, everybody else is thinking the same thing, and with the cheaper one park per day tickets, that is the park everyone will choose to go to so they "get their money's worth." We've experienced it time and time again. The non-magic morning park is the place to be. It is far less crowded for the first half of the day at least. I promise, the extra hour isn't worth it anyway as your access to the park is very limited.
6. Go in the off-season and on a school day. I know this is a no-brainer, but it really does make a huge difference. Kids have a hard time in lines, your stress level is higher when the park is at capacity. It is well worth your money to pull the kids out of school for a day or two and go then. I would be lying if I said this thought wasn't part of our decision to homeschool.
7. Set expectations early about all the stuff. Let your kids know long before you go (and several times) what they can expect as far as buying things go. Will you allow one souvenir? Will there be any snacks? You can set this up how you want. Some families have a certain "churro budget" and that's what they get at the park. We let the kids pick out a toy for their birthdays. We take snacks into the park and make it clear that we will not be buying any there (we occasionally do, but these are surprises and they are big deals.) We've already spoken about how excited we are for churros and cotton candy when we go this next time, so I am gearing up for knowing I will be buying that. On other trips when we've made it clear that nothing will be bought, or that the kids can "earn" mouse ears or something to that effect, we have had almost zero problems with them asking for things we can't or won't buy them. Occasionally Max will freak out as we pass cotton candy stalls, but that usually only happens when we've been late on getting lunch. Along with all of this, avoiding the stores is probably just a good bet in general.
8. Do a character dining experience. This is extra cash and if it is out of your budget then don't worry about it. But if you know your kids will want to see all the princesses or characters, it is worth it to see them all at once and then not have a freak out or stand in line later to see Mickey and Minnie. You'll be in enough lines. Don't stand in one for a picture.
9. Use the freeplay areas. It's tempting to just focus on rides, rides, rides at Disneyland. But these quiet areas where your kids can run and play will save both your sanity and theirs. Everyone needs some times rejuvenate and kids often do that through free play so make sure they get some of that at the water play area in Bug's Land, Wilderness Adventure Area, and Tom Sawyer Island.
10. Go see the shows! There are so many fun shows to see and not only are they fun, but they get you out of the heat, sitting down, not in a line, and give your kids a little time to relax and recover from overstimulation. Some of our favorites are the Frozen sing-along, Turtle-Time with Crush and all the other offerings in the Sorcerer's workshop, and Mickey's Magical Map.
BONUS TIP: A lot of following these tips has to do with your mindset going into all of this. Be aware, that you CAN NOT see everything at Disneyland in one day. We go for three or four days at a time sometimes and still miss things. My advice is to discuss beforehand what are the "must hit" rides and then make sure to hit those. After that, do what you can without running everyon into the ground. Go in with an attitude of having "enough" rather than one of "scarcity." Disneyland will be around for a long, long time. This is just one visit, and you want to remember it as a happy time even if you don't DO EVERYTHING!