By: Masae (parts written by her other half, Charles)
My parents took me to Tokyo Disneyland growing up in Japan. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up since my dad was finishing up his graduate program but my parents managed to take us to Disneyland on a yearly basis and it was something that my sister and I looked forward to. Whether you believe in brainwashing your child with Disney fantasy or not, there is something magical about going to an amusement park and just having a fun day with your loved ones. So when my daughter turned one this past March, my husband and I didn’t hesitate. On her first birthday, we took her to Disneyland. Even though our daughter will probably have childhood amnesia and not remember Disneyland at age 1, my husband and I invested in two annual passes to create fun memories for us and our daughter and to get as many adorable photos of Reagan to look back on when she is older. With daily adult tickets starting at $92 per person, it can get difficult to justify the cost-to-fun ratio, as well as how much you can maximize that ticket cost with a baby or a toddler. After all, you do have to somehow squeeze in feeding, changing, and napping in there. If you do go, here are some of my personal tips as well as recommendations that I have received from my fellow Disney moms (Since we live in Southern California, some of these tips may be more for the Disneyland in Anaheim).
1. Get Annual Passes – If you live in Southern California or plan on coming to the Anaheim area, I suggest getting an annual pass. It is a decent chunk of change, but here are three reasons why I am recommending the Disneyland Annual Passport. First, you get to come back (duh!). My husband and I chose the Southern California Annual Passport which means we do have “blockout” dates and can’t go on any of the Saturdays and the entire month of July but guess what!? Those are the days that we avoid anyway. Secondly, with a toddler it’s difficult to visit a lot of attractions in one day. At best we’ve done 5 rides plus a show and/or a parade, and that’s pushing it. With an annual pass, we don’t feel like we need to do everything in one day. If you take the feeding, changing, and napping into account, there isn’t a lot of time to see everything you want to see. The pass allows you to do different things each time you visit. Lastly, Disneyland offers payment plans to annual passes with a down payment. As a bonus, annual pass holders also get discounts at shops and select restaurants in the theme park!
2. Go on a cool day and bring water – The first time we took Reagan to Disneyland, the temperature went up to the 90’s. Not only was she uncomfortable from the heat, WE WERE UNCOMFORTABLE! Disneyland allows outside food and beverages (no glass bottle), so bring lots of water. One of the tricks I learned as a kid is freeze your water bottles. Bring those for yourself. You will thank me later for having that icy cold water and not having to pay $3 for Dasani.
3. Go during off-peak season – The best time to go is in January to February before spring break starts, on Labor day weekend in September *after* school starts, a few days before Thanksgiving, and a few weeks in December just before the holiday rush. You won’t have to wait in a long line for rides and as a parent, I love watching Reagan walk around and explore without worrying about her bumping into people. We have yet to use a leash or feel the need to since we often go on weekdays, although no judgement here if you need to! I also have taught Reagan to hold my hands if she wants to walk so this has helped as well. Off-peak season schedule.
4. Download an app called Disneyland Lines – If you have a smartphone (and if you don’t, what the heck?), download an app called DLR Lines (http://touringplans.com/disneyland-app). It is an app where people in the park report the posted wait time for the rides and the actual wait times. For instance, Peter Pan may have a posted wait time for 15 minutes but someone waiting in line may report actual wait time of 10 minutes or perhaps 20 minutes. This way you can better plan your Disneyland experience for the whole family, especially if you have an impatient toddler that cannot wait in a long line (if you don’t, please tell me your secret!) This application also allows me to check the overall crowd level as well as crowd level separately for Disneyland and California Adventure. For instance, there are weekdays that would fall under off-peak season, but because the Anaheim Convention Centers sometimes will have events, the crowd level will go from 1 out of 10 to 6 out of 10 (crowd level of 1 means empty and crowd level of 10 means crowded). In my past experience, anything above a crowd level of 5 on a weekday, I usually just stay home. This app also guides you on parade and show time for the entire day as well as when rides break down.
5. Make use of the Baby Care Centers – Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure Park both have amazing and clean baby care centers with a great staff. There is a nursing room with chairs for breastfeeding mamas, an area to pump privately, clean changing tables with disposable sheets on all of them, small toilets for toddlers who are potty training, feeding area with highchairs, a kitchen with a microwave and sink, and more. One of the things I love about this place is that not many parents know about this place and hence, it’s fairly empty. The place is nicely air conditioned and each baby care center has a main room with television playing Disney movies (of course), and tables and chairs for the kids to just hang out. The staff working there are extremely sweet and Reagan has received at least one or two stickers each time she has visited the place. It really makes diaper changing a lot easier (especially if you are by yourself). The stickers can also be used to write your child’s name and your phone #s in case if your child gets lost. Pro tip: this is also the place that Disney staff will take your child to if your child is ever lost.
6. Make a list of things to bring – Your list may differ from mine, but here are what I consider the necessities.
STROLLER and CARRIER Disneyland does rent out a stroller for $15 a day. The very first time we went, we brought our Bob stroller with us and use a bike lock. Then, as we went, we realized that we were the only crazy paranoid Asians locking our stroller (or rather, my husband was the crazy paranoid one). We have been going to Disneyland since March of this year and so far, the place is safe enough to leave your stroller unattended. Just park in a designated stroller area, take your valuables with you, and put something on the stroller that can be easily identified (maybe zip tie a luggage tag if you’re really that worried). Friends often ask me which stroller to bring, and I always prefer to bring my heavy-duty Bob jogging stroller over my Uppababy umbrella stroller because Reagan hates having to be buckled in each time she gets in and out of the stroller. We solved that problem when we got her a snack tray for the Bob and that is why we always bring the Bob. It’s also nice that the Bob stroller is big and sturdy and we pack many of our necessities. This allows us not to carry too many things and have our hands free. Another plus with a big and sturdy stroller is that it doesn’t flip backwards each time I grab Reagan out of the stroller even with all the stuff hanging on it. But as long as you have a stroller, you will be fine. Just bring one. It will help with your arms. And if you have one that can recline and your child sleeps in, even better. Check out Snooze Shade as well (SnoozeShade Plus – The Universal Fit Stroller Sunshade (UPF50+)). We haven’t needed to use this but I have seen tons of other families using this during nap time at Disneyland. As for carrier, we used to bring the Ergo but as Reagan got bigger and over the hot summer, we started to use the Baby Hip Nari Hugger Baby Carrier more often (here is my review on the hip hugger https://firsttimemommygroup.wordpress.com/mama-splurge/). Baby Nari Toddler Hip Hugger Carrier ~ Black, Denim, Pink, Beige, Brown
DIAPERS/WIPES I always bring extra diapers (currently 3) and wipes, but now I carry what I will use and if I need extra, I keep them in my car along with a change of clothes. This way I’m not carrying whole bunch of “I may need these things” and only carry what I need for the day.
SUNSCREEN I like California Baby’s Sunscreen Stick. It’s small enough that it doesn’t take much space or weight in my bag. Minnie ears and sunglasses optional.
HANDWIPES Bring hand wipes. Great for after touching handles and seats on the rides when you can’t get to a restroom.
BIB I always seem to forget this one but if you want the photos of your kid without food stains on the front of their shirt, this might help.
BRING LUNCH/SNACK Disneyland charges a lot for meals and snacks. I do love their Churros but healthy snacks can really help your little ones stay happy. And happy kid = happy mom. I always bring a collapsible cooler bag with slices of organic apples or pears from home (I soak them for 5 minutes in water with a little bit of salt to keep them from turning brown), string cheese (very handy), food pouches (easier than spoon feeding), animal crackers or cereal, and fruit strips. I use a Thermos for Reagan’s organic milk and water, and hers has Minnie on it because she *LOVES* Minnie. Right now if Disney puts Minnie on something, they can just take my money.
SOUVENIRS I have bought Reagan souvenirs from Disneyland but I have also bought Disney things from Disney Store on the web during their sale as well as from Target. Just keep it in a bag and give it to them at the end of your trip. I know it’s not the same since it wasn’t purchased at Disneyland but here is why I say this. For instance, Disneyland sells small handheld bubble guns (I believe the little suckers are priced at $13.99 inside the park; granted they do say “Disneyland” on them) but you can easily get them for $3.99 at Target. This also goes for all my daughter’s Minnie gears, etc. Try to buy them before you visit. You will definitely save few $$$.
CAMERA/EXTRA BATTERY My husband will bring the D-SLR but I usually just use my iPhone and take photos in HDR so it’s more clear. Bring extra portable batteries so your camera and phone will last all day (Anker® Astro Mini 3000mAh Portable Lipstick-Sized External Battery Backup Charger – Silver).
Some tips from the husband on D-SLR camera gear: Bring only 1 or 2 lenses. You won’t need all your lenses and if you go to Disneyland enough you can try different setups. I personally use either the Canon 24-105L as a walk-around lens plus a fast prime like a 30mm f1.4 or 50mm f1.4 for indoor shots without flash. Wider seems to be better than long lenses. Don’t bring an external flash or tripod, you won’t need them. Put UV filters on all your lenses and bring the hoods for bump protection. Bring a huge memory card and shoot in burst mode. Those precious moments go by quickly. When taking photos with characters like Mickey and Donald, set the camera to Auto/Program mode and hand it to the photographer’s helper. They will happily take photos with your camera. Bring a sling camera backpack that swivels from front to back easily, and if you have additional room you can put daipers, wipes, and other baby necessities so the wife doesn’t have to bring her diaper bag. If you’re in the market for your first D-SLR, I recommend the Canon Rebel T5i and a 50mm f1.8 lens as a great starter.
7. Baby/Kid-friendly rides – I encourage you to get there really early to avoid lines if you are planning to take your little ones to the typical Fantasyland rides. These rides generally do have longer lines in the morning (about 5 to 30 minutes wait depending on the crowd level) since most parents will try to squeeze these in before their kid’s afternoon naps. I noted few scary but kid-friendly rides with asterisks. My daughter didn’t care if rides were scary or not until recently (19 months). And just last week, she clung on to me when we were in Haunted House. Maybe because the Haunted House was decorated in Nightmare Before Christmas (I guess a bit more stimulating than the usual HH).
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Snow White’s Scary Adventure**
- Pinocchio’s Daring Journey**
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride**
- Alice in Wonderland**
- King Arthur Carousel
- Casey Jr. Circus Train
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Mad Tea Party
- Storybook Land Canal Boats
- It’s a Small World (pretty long ride. My daughter gets pretty restless towards the end with the repeated song…)
- Matterhorn Bobsleds (35 inch height minimum)
- Gadget’s Go Coaster (35 inch height minimum)
- Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin
- Mickey’s House (walk-through; character greeting)
- Minnie’s House (walk-through; character greeting, usually a long wait so anything less than 20 minutes is pretty good)
- Chip n’ Dales Treehouse (walk-through)
- Donald’s Boat (walk-through)
- Goofy’s Playhouse (walk-through; Goofy is often in front of his house for greeting)
- Disneyland Monorail
- Astro Orbitor
- Autopia (32 inch height minimum)
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyager**
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (love this game but tough to do with a toddler)
- Captain EO (3D film; Reagan didn’t really keep her 3D glasses but she really liked the songs and dance)
- Star Wars Jedi Training (a show near the main eatery that allows kids ages 4 and up to participate in training to become a Jedi. Even if you don’t have a kid that is at least 4, this is really cute to watch! Darth Vader and stormtroopers!)
- Columbia Sailing Ship
- Mark Twain Steamboat
- Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes
- Big Thunder Ranch (petting zoo)
New Orleans Square
- Disneyland Railroad (several different locations to get on and off)
- Pirates of Carribean** (suprisingly, this is Reagan’s favorite ride and will sing “yo ho ho ho paw-rate why me”)
- Haunted Mansion**
- Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (exit leads to character greeting)
Main Street USA
- Double Decker Omnibus
- Horse-drawn Streetcar
- Fire Engine
CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE PARK
- Golden Zephyr (not sure why, but this ride is ALWAYS down)
- Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (Reagan loves loves this ride)
- King Triton’s Carousel
- Toy Story Midway Mania (3D; my husband and I love this ride and we get pretty competitive)
- Mickey’s Fun Wheel (we actually tried the moving cart instead of the stand still and Reagan hated us after. It’s fun but she was definitely scared)
- Disney Junior Live on Stage! (one of Reagan’s favorite show. 23 minutes long and floor seats. Fake snow, bubbles, confetti, with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins, and Jack and the Neverland Pirates)
- Muppet Vision 3D
- Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
- Turtle Talk with Crush (not a ride)
- Sorcerer’s Workshop
- Disney’s Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular (40 minutes long; suprisingly, Reagan did great and loves the musical. But if you have a little one who can’t sit that long, I wouldn’t do the musical. Nicely air conditioned)
- Luigi’s Flying Tires (32 inch height minimum)
- Master’s Junkyard Jamboree (32 inch height minimum)
- Fracis’ Ladybug Boogie
- Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em’ Buggies (36 inch height minimum)
- Flik’s Flyers
- Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train
- It’s Tough to be a Bug!** (3D show)
I hope I got most of the kid-friendly rides/shows. If I missed any, sorry!
FASTPASS and Rider Switch Now… how do you get on the fun adult rides? When we were successful with Reagan’s napping we took turns. Utilize FASTPASS and utilize Disney’s “Rider Switch Service.” For instance, I can wait with Reagan while my husband Charles gets on Space Mountain. Once Charles comes out, he can watch Reagan, while I take the Rider Switch Pass and not wait in the line again. Ask a Disney Cast Member at the beginning of the ride for the Rider Switch Pass.
I hope this will help should you decide to visit Disneyland/California Adventure. Enjoy yourself and remember that Disneyland is the HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH! Don’t stress and if you feel like you are losing steam, walk over to California Adventure because that is the only place that serves alcohol (unless you have access to Club 33, in which case, you need to get me in). Carthay Circle Lounge, Al Fresco Lounge, Bayside Brews, Cove Bar, The Karl Strauss Beer Truck, Flo’s V8 Cafe, Wine Country Trattoria, Rita’s Baja Blenders, and California Adventure Draft Beer.
MASAE – FOUNDER OF FTMG / AUTHOR / ADMINISTRATOR
Born and raised in Osaka, Japan, Masae moved to Southern California at a young age. She always knew she would someday get married and become a mom. In 2012, her dream came true when she gave birth to a beautiful little girl. As a working nurse on a perinatal unit, she thought she had seen it all. Even her mom advised her to move back with her during the transition as a new mom. Of course, she immediately declined and went on with her confidence, experience, and knowledge. Around when her daughter was four weeks old and Masae running on few hours of sleep, she packed all their things and moved back to her parents’ place. She said “Only for two weeks.” Two weeks turned into two more weeks. That’s when First Time Mommy Group was also started. She added eight of her mommy friends with young babies (some she hasn’t seen since high school/college) and found an instant connections with array of topics that you come across as a new mom. It was her new haven and she leaned on them for support, encouragement, and guidance… and occasional, VENTING! What she learned as a new mom… “It takes a village to raise a child!”