My family recently took a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. If you are a blogger and you go to Disneyland you sign a contract before hand promising you'll blog about it. So this is just a formality. Sorry to bore you with it. (And I am totally kidding Disneyland could care less about me and my blog, but one can dream).
I just love Walt Disney though, and greatly admire the gift of storytelling he had. He took a mouse and made him into a legend. He brought some of the greatest stories ever written to life through animation and song. Long after his death his creative influence and his desire to tell a story so that “six year olds as well as sixty year olds will enjoy it” still dominates the children’s entertainment industry. How can I pass up the opportunity to write about the greatest storyteller of all times? Actually, I’m not going to write about him but rather about my family’s trip to his “happy place” and some tips for keeping it that way.
14 Tips (+1) to Keep
“the Happiest Place on Earth”
My husband and I woke our boys early on a Sunday morning and took them on a surprise trip to Disneyland. For two months I researched and planned for our trip hoping this would give us better odds for the greatest possible happiness. Happy can turn ugly very quickly with three tired, hungry, or bored boys, ages 2, 7, and 10. I know because it happens every night during teeth brushing time at our house. All my hard work paid off, though, because we had the best trip I could have possibly imagined. Part of the happiness was due to my fore thought and planning and part was just sheer luck. Either way I’ll take it. Now take what you can from our experience and be happy!
1) A little bit of pre-planning goes a long way!
But just a little bit. Disneyland is one of those places its best to have a plan but not a schedule. I researched in advance the best way to use Fastpasses and Switch Rider Passes. I knew we would spend one day in Tomorrowland, Frontierland, and Adventureland, one day in Fantasyland & Mickey’s Toon Town, and one day in California Adventure Park, BUT I did not schedule out when we would do what. For one thing it’s nearly impossible to do this with the wait times and Fastpasses. For another you just can’t have a good time if you are trying to force your children into a schedule. So just go armed with knowing the most efficient way to use Fastpasses and Switch Rider Passes and let your day flow.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement of trying to milk your time for all it’s worth but it’s NOT fun. Once you get into the park if you have a propensity to stress out (like I do) tell yourself over and over to just relax, if your kids have never been there they won’t know the difference. If you are there for more than one day choose a two to three lands to focus on each day and plan your day accordingly. Also, it helps to know what your kids’ top rides or activities to do are so you can make those things a priority. Then everything else is bonus and it’s a lot easier to relax.
3) Going in the Off Season can be strategically brilliant!
We went during off season to avoid larger crowds and because we had Southwest vouchers that expired in March. It turned out to be a happy situation. In the off seasons (Jan-Feb & Sept-Oct) the crowds are somewhat less (and I say somewhat because there were still a LOT of people there, even midweek) but the park opens later and closes earlier. The week we were there Disneyland opened at 10:00 am midweek. This was great for us because we didn’t have to stress about getting up before dawn and dragging the kids out of bed. Disneyland closed at 8:00 pm midweek so we were forced to leave at a decent hour. We got lucky because Thing 1 and Thing 2 (10 and 7 years old) could handle going all day with these hours and when we got back to the hotel they even put themselves to bed! Pretty much that’s all the adults could handle too. We were blessed with more luck because Thing 3 (2 years old) took his regular nap at about 2:00 pm every day in the stroller. We just covered it with a blanket and let him snooze as long as he wanted to. The only sad part is that we missed the fireworks and some of the bigger shows because during the off seasons they only do them on the weekends. So if this is important to you make one of your days a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.
3) Waist Pouches for Everyone! (except my husband who is way to Dapper to wear one) AKA Fanny Packs. Yes, I’m an American. I gave adult sized fanny packs to the two older boys and myself. I packed the boys’ packs full of healthy snacks in the middle largest pouch. Then put their spending money for the day in the front smallest pouch. In the third medium pouch I put their Busy Book Journal that I made them with a pencil and a fruity chap stick. I also put a small hanging hand sanitizer on the main pouch zipper. This worked out so well. When they were hungry they had food, when they were bored they had something to do, and when they wanted to buy something they had money. The packs made them feel responsible and gave them some control. I can’t recommend doing this enough. In my pouch I carried my cell phone, money, my ID and credit cards, hand sanitizer, a sunblock stick, lip gloss (a girl's got to look pretty), a pen, a sharpie for autographs from characters, and gum. If I had a small camera I would have put it in there too. Hands free convenience that's what's important to me.
4) Give your Kids Money!
Our older boys knew they were going to Disneyland but they thought we were going during the summer time. We gave them opportunities to earn money for Disneyland. This was also a way to reward their good behavior. Thing 2 had also saved some Christmas and Birthday money for Disneyland so we made sure to bring that along for him too. Each day we gave them a bit of the money that they earned in their fanny packs to spend however they wanted. We did not give them all of it just in case they lost their pouches or the money somehow. If they wanted to buy something that cost more than what they had then we gave them that money at the counter. Each of the boys knew how much money they had to spend up front. They did the math naturally to figure out how much they’d have left once they spent it. Of course we double checked their work. Surprisingly neither of them spent all of their money not even by the last day. We also gave them pennies and quarters to use in the Penny Smashing Machines.
5) Be Aware of How Your Kids Experience Happiness!
This was a huge light bulb for me on the first day. Thing 1 just wanted to go on all the rides. As many as he could and he loved the wild ones like Space Mountain, the Matterhorn, and Scream. But Thing 2 didn’t want to have anything to do with them. Instead he wanted to shop. At first I was resistant, “Save your money, don’t spend it all on the first day” kind of thing. Then it finally hit me that shopping was part of the fun and experience for this kid. Every land we went into the first thing he wanted to do was shop. Once I gave into this I had a TON of FUN with him. Being a mom of three boys I never get to shop! All Thing 3 wanted to do was walk by himself, blow bubbles, and push his own stroller. He was completely happy doing this no matter what else was going on.
6) Pack these Crazy Items and you won’t Regret it!
· Mole Skin and a small pair of kiddie scissors (I doubted the need for this. After all I had Bandaids. But when a small little rock got in my sandal and gave me a blister the mole skin SAVED me! I will always have mole skin in my glove box now.)
· Johnson & Johnson Sanitizing Wipes (these were a bit pricey but so soft and easy on the skin. I liked them WAY better than the other cheap ones I bought. I like their smaller package too.)
· Lanyard (I wore one to keep our tickets and Fastpasses in. This was so helpful. It kept them safe, dry, and easy to reach. It was also easy to pass on to my husband when he went for the Fastpasses.)
· Fine Tip & Thick Tip Sharpie (Great for writing your phone number on all your children as well as getting signatures from characters. I’m sure there are other ways these could come in handy.)
· Liquid Bandaid (Use this to put over the sharpie writing on your child’s arm to create a DIY on the spot “If Lost” tattoo. It does double duty for cuts and burns.)
· Refillable Water Bottles (There are a few places in the park that offer filtered water. The LA area water is TERRIBLE. Both my husband and I got soar tummies from it. Not only is it an off color but it smells. It was so bad that even the coffee tasted like sewage. If you can’t find a place in the park that filters their water consider bringing your own bottled water into the park. I’ve heard that you can get filtered water at the Baby Care Centers at both parks as well as at Rancho del Zocalo, The French Market, and Tomorrowland Terrace restaurants, but I only learned this after our trip.)
· Grandparent with a disability (Takes up a lot of room but if you can squeeze one in the extra space is worth it. We managed to get both my parents in. My mom can’t walk long distances or do stairs because she has neuralgia in her feet so she got a scooter. Often times because of this we got shot up through the exit of rides directly in front. Bonus: If there was no one in the handicap line behind us we could go a second time by just asking nicely! We got to go on so many more rides because of this. My boys said that was the best part of having grandma around! J Grandma was happy to be so useful!)
· Back Pack (I kept all the things we didn’t need very often in the bottom of the back pack and put it in the bottom of the stroller. I stuffed it full of our sweatshirts when we weren’t wearing them. I do wish our back pack had more pockets than just two.)
· Ponchos (Thankfully we didn’t need these at Disneyland, but we did at LEGOland. They were small enough to put in the bottom of the backpack just in case. NOTE: If it is rainy AND windy the cheap’o one-time-use ponchos really don’t help much. You might want to get some heavier duty ones. I ordered mine off Amazon for a couple of dollars. The ones in the park are way expensive but seemed a little better quality than the ones I had.)
· Duct Tape (Do I even need to say more? I put it in the bottom of the back pack with the ponchos. It had cute mustaches on it. Mickey heads would be hard core!)
· A Clear Plastic Shower Curtain and some Large Binder Clips (Sounds crazy, I know, but when we were stuck in monsoon like rain and wind at LEGOland the shower curtain was perfect. I threw the curtain over the stroller cut a slit for the handles with my small kiddie scissors, and used my trusty duct tape (see I knew I’d need duct tape) to tape the ends of the slit so it wouldn’t rip further. Then I used the large binder clips to clip it to my stroller so it wouldn’t blow away. I did this all in a couple of minutes in a shop while my ex-military-MacGyver-A-Team, father looked on. I was so proud! I’d bring a second one next time just in case we needed to cover our whole group while waiting in line for a ride or parade or something. I bought mine on sale for $3 at Fred Meyers. Totally worth it! Just do it. You’ll feel so good busting this contraption out in front of your family while others are abandoning ship! You’ll feel like Alias on a mission in Disneyland!
· Two Extra Large Carabineers (I hooked one on each side of the stroller and put my camera bag on one and a hardy bag full of snacks on the other. This made these two items easy to reach.)
7) Buy souvenirs that you know your kids will want in advance!
Trust me your kids will want glow-in-the-dark wands and light up spinning mickey heads. As well as bubble guns and key chains. Consider buying some of these in advance through sites like The Oriental Trading Company. One light up spinning Mickey head costs around $12 in the parks. Online I’ve heard you can get them for about $1 a piece. I pre-bought some souvenirs and laid them out with their clothes the next day. The boys loved this and it was fun to spoil them without spending an arm and a leg to do it.
8) Make or Buy Matching Shirts & Hats!
My husband was not at all into this at first. Then he realized how much easier it was to spot our group because we all matched. I made most of ours. There are some super easy DIY Disney shirts out there. My favorite is the Hidden Mickey sharpie t-shirt. We got tons of compliments on these colorful shirts and we used them for character autographs too. I bought Perry the Platypus t-shirts at the Disney Outlet and retro-fitted mine so it was a more feminine cut. I even made Mickey Ears baseball caps for everyone. They were helpful too! My husband & dad were supper easy to spot because they had a black pin striped baseball cap with a silver Mickey head silhouette (See above photo. Classic, don't you think?). You could see it easily from way off.
9) Skip the Fancy Apps & Use the Disneyland Map & Show Guide!
This one is totally flying in the face of reason. For the most part all the apps I got were not helpful mostly because I couldn’t see them in the sunlight and they drained my battery. Plus they were cumbersome and I hated spending all my time looking at my phone. I found that aside from the wait times, which only the official Disneyland wait time app was accurate, the hard copy map & show guide had everything I needed and was much easier to use. But I'm a tech minimalist. I did like the Disney Inside Out App for its description of the rides and dining options, but I mainly looked at that prior to our trip and at the hotel. I took note on the ones I was interested in and circled them on the map.
10) Apps worth Downloading!
I like the Disney Memory Maker App which is a camera app that allows you to fancy up your pictures with a few Disney motifs. I also like the Radio Disney App which plays all Disney songs all day! Yes! These were fun for the kids as long as I had my charger to use with it. Also Disneyland Wait Times app is helpful. These were all for a Droid phone. You can search them at the Play Store.
11) Chill Out on the Picture Taking!
Sometimes us technology enriched beings can miss out on the memories because we are fiddling with the technology so much. I wish I would have just taken a solar charger or something equivalent
with me and only used my phone or at least a much smaller camera than my Nikon. The Nikon was cumbersome and in the way. I never had a chance to take the superb photos that I was hoping for and when I tried my family protested. Not a huge surprise since my boys NEVER like getting their pictures taken. By the middle of the first day I finally realized part of the reason I wasn’t having very much fun was because I was too busy trying to catch the perfect moment on camera. If you are someone who is not super into picture taking as a hobby just chill out! Don’t overdo it with picture taking. Instead choose to do a few key pictures and forget the rest or use the Photo Pass. Be like Mary with baby Jesus and try taking pictures in your heart instead! So old fashioned!
12) Enjoy some Special treats!
Our family does not eat sweets on a daily basis. We don’t drink juice or soda except on very rare occasions. Visiting “The Happiest Place on Earth” is one of those rare occasions. However, I also know that too many sweets can kill happiness real quick. My boys know that on a vacation we get one special sweet treat a day. Sometimes it’s a joint group decision what that treat will be other times it’s an individual decision. With Disneyland we found that maybe two special sweet treats was appropriate. We did so much walking and spent so much energy that we all needed a little extra sugar to get us to bed time. I found that my boys were not at all affected negatively by this, which was a rare and nice surprise.
13) Book Popular Restaurants as soon as you Possible!
We found out we were going to Disneyland during the off season about two months before our trip. I booked a table at the Blue Bayou as soon as I could and the ONLY table available during our trip was on Monday at 3:20pm. I took it. I then tried to book a table at the Big Thunder Ranch BBQ. No luck. There wasn’t even a table for two available at any time during our trip. When we got to the Blue Bayou there were several people who walked up to try and get a table but were put on a wait list with no guarantee that they’d get a table. You can book tables up to six months in advance at the restaurants that require reservations. You can do this online via the Disneyland website.
14) Make your Kids A Busy Book Journal!
Of all the things I made and prepared this turned out to be my very favorite. Not only did it keep the boys busy during down times, but it got a little reading and writing in during our vacation. And it gave them a great way to keep all their memories in one spot. They really got into this and it was fun to pick out little prizes for them along the way. I will be posting a small tutorial on how I did this book soon. So stay tuned!
+1) Save your back with a Backpack leash for your toddler!
So I'm sneaking this last tip in here real quick. I have some nerve damage in my shoulders and I have a toddler who likes to walk all by himself. We ended up buying a backpack leash/tether for him at Wal Mart half way through our trip. I had bought a tether for him before the trip but in an effort to save space it was one that just slipped on his wrist or his belt loop. It was a bad idea because he hated it on his arm and the belt loop was super dangerous. He would pull against it or get running and the tether attached to his belt loop would throw him off his center and he nearly hit his head on the ground several times this way. He seemed to like the backpack and it just looked so much more kid friendly. It really was a life and back saver. If you have an active toddler I highly recommend this purchase. It just gives you peace of mind in large crowds.
There you have it friends, every trick in my book for keeping the “Happiest Place on Earth” happy. Of course I’d love to hear what tips you have for living happily ever after at Disneyland so do share.