By Tiffany Rudd
Since this was our first trip to Disneyland with our kids, we learned a lot about how to make the most of it. We talked to lots of friends who had been before, searched the internet for tips, and learned a lot along the way. I'm excited to share my best tips with you! Oh, and if you have older kids, you should definitely check out Deborah's top tips for Disneyland with Teens.
#1 Build the Excitement. Since our kids had never been to Disneyland before, we really wanted to make it all as exciting as possible. We started our countdown 10 days before (see that post and print your own countdown here), and made the most of those 10 days. We let our older kids look at maps online and plan what things they wanted to do first, we made lists with our 2 year old of all the princesses she would meet and what she wanted to say to them, and our 1 year old even slept with a small stuffed Mickey. We were all super excited to say the least!
#2 Invite Grandpa & Grandma. I realize this may not be possible for everyone, but if it is at all possible for you, I highly recommend it! My parents came with us and having them there made it even more enjoyable. They were great to take the toddlers on younger rides while my husband and I went with the bigger kids on the rides with height restrictions, they stood in line for fast passes while we rode other rides, and most importantly, they are part of all of those fantastic memories.
#3 Skip the early entrance. If your kids are early risers, this doesn't apply to you, but since my kids normally get up at 8:00, getting into the park early wasn't a great option for us. We talked about it beforehand and realized that waking the kids up early and dealing with meltdowns throughout the day just wasn't worth it, even for shorter lines.
#4 Choose your first activities wisely. We started each day with one or two things we wanted to make sure to do first, so that we didn't run out of time and miss them. You can often catch shorter lines on these things first thing in the morning too. We were able to see the princesses in just a few minutes on our first day by heading right over there.
#5 Plan around your kids' favorites. For our girls, stopping to see all the princesses was a must and for our 7 year old, Jedi Training was the, "coolest thing ever!" We talked beforehand about having a positive attitude about each other's favorites and making them a priority. The girls cheered while Cameron fought Darth Maul and, even though he may not admit it, Cameron had fun meeting the princesses too. All of these things took time away from what my husband and I may have chosen to do, but I'm so glad we did them.
#6 Plan a fun way to preserve memories. There are so many ways to do this. I know some people collect pins or magnets from their Disneyland trips or keep signature books. This time we decided to have the characters sign photo mats. We are going to add a favorite picture from our trip and display them in the kids' rooms to remember our fun vacation.
It was seriously impressive to watch some of the characters sign while in costume!
#7 Put a clear limit on spending. As part of our 10 day countdown, each of the kids were given a Disney gift card to use to buy toys/souvenirs. I bought the gift cards at Target with my REDcard, which meant I got them for 5% off (every little bit of savings helps), and it was great to have a preset limit on spending. They knew that when the money on the card was gone, they were done shopping. They each chose carefully to get what they really wanted with this money, and we did't have to deal with them asking for "just one more thing."
#8 Take advantage of PhotoPass. All over the park there are photographers ready to capture your memories. I generally choose to pass on things like this that cost extra money, but in this case I'm so glad we didn't. We left our nice camera at home and didn't worry about it getting stollen or broken. We took a few photos on our phones, but most of the time we just handed over our PhotoPass card and let the professionals handle it. It cost us $70 to download all the photos they took (well over 100 photos) and I felt like it was well worth it. We never could have captured moments like the one above between Anniston and Ariel while also enjoying the moment, pushing two strollers, and wrestling with a 1 yr old.
#9 Take single strollers. We debated beforehand whether to take a double stroller or two single strollers, and I'm so glad we decided to take two. They were so much easier to get on and off the shuttle we took from the hotel to the park, easier to maneuver around the park, and made it possible for us to split up occasionally. The older kids even took a turn or two in a stroller to rest their feet.
#10 Don't sweat the small stuff. Vacations with little ones means the occasional tantrum or grumpy moment, missed naps, and adjusting plans based on their needs. It won't always be perfect, but most of the best memories aren't. My mom made these super cute Minnie Mouse dresses for the girls and I was so excited to get a picture of the two of them with her. Of course, Anniston screamed like crazy and wouldn't get within 10 feet of her. So, we don't have a picture of her with Minnie, but we do have the memories of her reaction and how immediately afterward she talked on and on about how much she LOVED Minnie Mouse. :)