Our Disneyland trip was just absolutely wonderful. I never would have dreamed of taking Simon to Disney so young. (I know he won’t remember it.) But my work conference was in Anaheim and I scored the Group Rate on a Disney Resort Hotel, so it seemed like the perfect way to blend work and pleasure. Having been there before, I knew where things were, and knew that it was all walkable and doable with a young one. I also knew that getting there would be the toughest part- two flights with a TIGHT layover (30 minutes) in a large airport (Dallas) and worried about Gabe making it alright with Simon on his own.
Let’s just say Gabe is a pro at getting shit together when it’s needed. I seriously left him a two page long list of stuff to do/pack before leaving town. He did it ALL. He did it all and arrived happily in California. As I was finishing my last work obligation, he texted me to say that Simon was napping peacefully in our room, and he was just waking up from a short nap himself. I was so excited to see them both.
When I arrived at our room, I picked up a Modelo at the hotel bar, handed it to Gabe and told him: “This can of beer cost $6.75 before tip, so we might want to make other arrangements.” He immediately set out to the nearest convenient store to get snacks and drinks for our room fridge. He reported that Simon was great on both flights, and that he managed to secure our carseat to the top of our (pretty solid) umbrella stroller, which made for easy carting of the boy who likes to march, hop, skip, jump and dance his way around the world. He just strapped the carseat on top of the stroller, put Simon in the carseat, and hauled him along. I was impressed.
When they woke up, we went to Rainforest Cafe, where food is so-so, but the surroundings are awesome to a two year old. While crouching down to listen to Simon’s impression of the rainforest-y place around him, a giant pretend snake came out of the ceiling. Simon tackled me out of fear and I rolled over on my ankle HARD. Wearing a dress, it flew up and I landed on my butt. Workers and Gabe all ran to my assistance, thinking I had been startled by the giant snake. No, just my large toddler tackling me. My ankle immediately swelled and throbbed. Right before heading out to a theme park attraction that I spent an UNGODLY AMOUNT OF MONEY on tickets for, the next day. After eating our mediocre/entertaining/incredibly expensive meal, we headed back to the hotel, where I iced and elevated my ankle, watched fireworks on the roof of the hotel, read books to the boy, and we all settled into sleep around 10:30.
Apologies for blurry phone pics.
Anyhow, the next morning we woke up at 6am, due to the eastern/pacific time change phenomenon and being in one hotel room all snuggly and close together. We couldn’t easily ignore his pleas to “Wake up mommy, wake up guys, it’s a new day!”
We headed out to Disneyland with my gimpy and swollen ankle. We got our tickets at the front desk, wrapped my ankle in a $5 ace bandage, and I used the stroller as a walker.
The monorail dropped us off in TomorrowLand. We were there early enough that the park wasn’t busy at all. (8:30ish) We headed through the castle to Fantasy Land, and found ourselves right in front of Peter Pan’s Flight, which was absolutely perfect because it is Simon’s thing: Peter Pan. I was worried he would be scared but he was totally stoked about it. Our wait was about 10 minutes and then we soared through the book that we read nearly every night (and certainly at least every day), Disney’s Peter Pan. He was so excited and it set the tone for our trip. After that we hit up some other rides in Fantasy Land that were incredibly toddler-friendly, and the lines were not long at all. There was a storybook boat ride, Pinocchio, and a carousel to name a few. After that we headed to Toon Town, which was pretty much MADE for toddlers. It’s all the cartoon houses, set up mostly like a playground to crawl on, push buttons, and basically make any neurotic mom follow their children around with hand sanitizer. There were cars in front of every house, and of course we had to sit for long bits of time in each one.
It seemed like everything we happened upon had a really short wait in the morning, and we just happened to walk into Mickey Mouse’s house when there was a 10 minute wait to see him, alone, in a room where they take your picture (and you can buy a 4×6 of it for ONLY $14.95?!?!?!). But, another Disney employee will gladly take your point and shoot digital camera and snap a few free shots for you as well. Simon waited as patiently as one could expect for a nearly 3 year old in a dark room before we met Mickey Mouse. And what did he say when he say Mickey? “Where’s Donald?” Mickey just shrugged.
Since we were at the park early and didn’t really eat breakfast, by 10:00 we were pretty hungry for a snack. The concessions of cotton candy and popcorn didn’t sound appealing at all, so we were stoked to find healthy snack options all around the park. At the “Filling Station” we bough hummus and pretzels, trail mix and apple slices with juice and water as a mid morning snack until the lunch places opened.
I was really surprised by all of the healthy options there were at the park in general. The adult meals are still over priced, but the toddler snacks are the way to go. Toddler snacks were $3.99-$5.99 a pop and included all toddler favorites: apple slices, string cheese, yogurt and whole wheat goldfish. We pretty much relied on those, our own packed snacks and whatever leftover crap-food we had to feed Simon along the way. He loved it.
Probably his favorite thing on this trip was this “pirate ship” that actually isn’t a pirate ship but it looked like one to him: The Colombia. It’s a replica of the first boat to travel around the world, and the trip took three years. Simon loved it so much.
We walked around a bit more after lunch and the pirate ship, and went on a Winnie the Pooh ride before deciding to go back to the hotel and try a nap. So glad we did that! When leaving the park, they stamp your hand with a stamp that’s blacklight sensitive, so you can get back in with your ticket later on. We were assured it wouldn’t come off with swimming or sweating, so we just headed back. Simon slept for a solid three hours while Gabe and I read books and relaxed on our patio and had adult beverages. When Simon woke up, we headed back to Disneyland to see what else we could find.
After walking around and riding some rides, we decided to go to Main Street, which had City Hall right there. And you could walk right in, ask questions and get them answered. At City Hall, imagine that! Anyhow, we asked, “Where’s Peter?” and they politely informed us that he would be performing in the night show: Fantasma, which was about to start in 15 minutes by the water, where our pirate boat was earlier. We headed that direction and found a good spot to stand. The show was amazing. Water, fire, dancing, characters, fireworks, the whole nine yards, and THEN, the pirate ship comes around the bend on the water and Peter and Hook are fighting in the rigging. Simon’s face was just amazed. We were so glad we asked about Peter Pan. Simon picked out his own Mickey Ears (pirates, though baseball and space man Mickey ears were choices #2 and #3). We headed home after that event, and Gabe even got to check out Star Tours while I headed back with Simon. Night time at Disney was DEFINITELY more crowded than during the daytime, so I highly recommend getting there early in the morning if you can. I think half price tickets are available for the night time, and the whole place seemed overrun with teenager locals when we were there at night. We still had a great time, just difficult navigating a stroller through the crowds.
After that big entertaining Fantasma event, we headed back to the hotel and fell into our beds to sleep wonderfully.
So tips for anyone taking a toddler to Disneyland from Day 1:
- Try not to be injured by your son before entering the park. Pack Advil, more than you think you’ll need.
- If you don’t see the characters you want to see, go to City Hall and ask where they are. Have your child ask. The people there are totally jazzed to help make your dreams come true.
- Buy Mickey ears, if nothing else.
- Take snacks, but also load up on the healthy snacks that travel well during the day. They “search” your bags but really only glance in them. We had snacks in our bags at all times and no one said a word to us.
- Try to take just one bag, use it as your purse/diaper bag, etc. and keep it on the stroller. We used a backpack (our normal diaper bag) that we could easily take off the stroller and carry if we had to park the stroller and ride something.
- Take your own umbrella stroller. I contemplated (and found an awesome place to do it) renting a stroller instead of taking our own. With Simon, we were SO GLAD we took ours. He’s capable of walking, but when he gets tired he would prefer to be carried. So having that stroller was AWESOME. Disney rents strollers, but only from a few locations, so you COULD find yourself needing a stroller and being far from where they rent them. They do look nice (we saw them all over) and they’re only $15 a day. But if you have a park hopper pass, I’m not sure if you can take them off the property. Airports will let you gate check a stroller and it was great rushing from one gate to the next on our layovers.
- Stay in a Disney Resort hotel, it’s worth it. They had complimentary swim diapers. Pack-and-Plays in every room. Lifejacket floats in the pools for the kids, all sizes. Pacifiers in the gift shop- everything you could imagine needing as a parent, right there on the property. It was worth every penny to know that it was all there, close, and we could easily access whatever we needed.
- The Disney Resorts offer guests early access to the parks, worth it to have shorter lines.
- Leave and come back. Napping was key to us enjoying and getting our money’s worth, and Simon was so excited to be up late after dark I think we could’ve been at the City Dump and he would’ve been entertained. But I like to think that it was money well spent.
- If you can manage a trip to California, I suggest DisneyLand with a toddler under the age of 5 and head to Disney World after age 5. We went to Disney World a million times as kids and it was always awesome, but so big. Disney LAND is much smaller and seems do-able with a kid still in diapers.
- Characters hang out close to hidden doors and bathrooms. Look for those, then walk about 50 feet in any direction. That’s how we found the Mad Hatter, Alice, Jake (Neverland Pirates), and Goofy.
- Even if you aren’t a Disney fan, be prepared to be impressed by the amenities and thoughtfulness of Disney staff and the place as a whole. It’s basically BUILT FOR people with kids and making their lives easier.
I think that’s all the wisdom I can offer from our first day at the parks. As exhausting as it seems it will be, if you manage to pack everything into one bag, and just wing it, in our experience, we had a great time. More on Day two, later.