Hi, I'm Michelle and I kind of royally screwed up a vacation to Disneyland.
Ok, hear me out: I really thought my toddler would enjoy it. As I wrote in my newsletter over the weekend (oh, you don't get my newsletter? You can sign up here), I made the terrible mistake of assuming that my child was essentially a very small clone of myself and would enjoy everything I do.
Well, lesson learned: you gotta ease your kid into it. You can't just jump on your favorite ride and think they'll be ok with it. Especially if you already know that your toddler is terrified of loud noises and enclosed spaces like elevators. Oops.
In all fairness to my husband and I, we've never really taken a family vacation before. We just didn't know a lot of things. And this trip gave us a chance to figure out how to make the most of even crappy situations. Midway through the second day, I wanted to cry; I felt like I wasn't having fun, like Forrest wasn't having fun. I felt really bummed. Instead of giving in and just calling it a bust and not trying, my husband and I talked it out: we came up with a plan to make our last day in the parks as fun as possible. And you know what? It worked. We really hit our stride.
So, that's a really long way of saying: we made mistakes; we learned from them; we learned how to have fun regardless.
This week, I'll also be posting my packing list dos and don'ts, so I won't be mentioning any tips relating to packing in this post. These, however, are my tips for making Disneyland a fun trip--something my husband and I didn't figure out until our last day (which really did redeem the whole trip).
1. Adjust your expectations.
First and foremost, a toddler cannot and will not experience Disneyland the same way a child, teenager, or even adult does. Toddlers, especially young toddlers, aren't great at drawing the line between reality and fake yet. To them, a lot of things seem "real" because they don't know any better. So when I took my son on Pirates of the Caribbean, he thought it was real. And terrifying. Can you imagine?
Toddlers aren't going to want to ride the big thrill rides, or anything extremely dark and loud. To start, stick with the classics: the carousel, It's a Small World, and the Dumbo ride are great. If your toddler is apprehensive, pick a ride they can watch for a while to get a feel for what's going to happen. Also, take advantage of shops, walkthroughs, and character meets. They'll have much more fun with those than most rides.
2. Download the Disneyland app.
This really was a lifesaver in the park. The Disneyland app is a place where you can buy and link your tickets and Fast Passes, link your Photopass for character meet and greets, and get a list of waiting times for rides, meet and greets, and restaurants. Seriously. It was great for planning which area to go to next to maximize our time. It's also how we ended up meeting Tinkerbell with zero planning and zero line; we were the first people there!
3. Establish a good routine.
The maximum amount of time Forrest (age 22 months) could handle in the park was... about 2.5 hours. Yeah, that's it. We got to the parks at 7:30, got in the gates at 8:00, and by 10, he was usually ready for a nap. We would walk back to our room, get him down for a nap, and then go to lunch. We would go back to the park from around 1pm to 3pm, then back to the room again for him to have some chill time: a movie, dinner, and milk, then bedtime at 5:30pm.
After that, our other family members would stay in the condo with Forrest while Danny and I enjoyed the parks. It was a perfect situation. We got time with our son in the parks and then time with just each other. This won't always be possible for us, but it worked this time. And, hopefully, you'll find a routine that works with you too. You know your child best and you know your child's routine--and for the best vacations, honestly, that should be maintained as much as possible to prevent tantrums.