taking a toddler to Disneyland

Everything You Need for Disneyland with a Toddler (& Nothing You Don't)

packing for disneyland with toddler

Earlier this week, I shared my three tips for making Disneyland with a toddler just a little more enjoyable. (At least, what I will remember for next time! You live and learn, after all.) Now, it's time to talk about what, exactly, you should pack. 

When we first started planning our trip, I downloaded every Disneyland packing list I could find. I devoured packing lists. I read blog post after blog post. I made lists. I bought clear plastic containers at Wal-Mart to pack snacks and more in. I organized and fretted and bought extras. 

Here's the truth: we didn't touch maybe 75% of what I packed. It was just extra. Totally useless. We didn't need it. Maybe in an emergency, we would have needed it, but realistically, in the park, I wouldn't have access to my two plastic tote bins of medical supplies, band aids, life vests, and more. I would only have what was in my very stylish fanny pack and the stroller. 

This leads me to a very stark reality: everyone overpacks for Disneyland. We all do it. Realistically, if you go in the summer (and, if you can, do try to avoid it), it's going to be too hot to wear anything cute and you're going to sweat all over it anyway. Even more realistically, bags get searched going into the park area, so the more bags you have, the more you get searched. 

While going through security one day, the guard complimented me on the fact that I only had my fanny pack and Forrest's small backpack (which is actually a leash, but we'll get to that); little did he know that, originally, I had planned on bringing a cooler, a backpack, and way more crap... only to narrow it down after one very long day. 

The truth is, Disney makes everything available to you. At a price, of course. But what you gain is the ability to spend less time dealing with all the stuff you brought into the parks and more time just enjoying life there. 

With that in mind, this is my list of the essentials you need for Disneyland. 

  • Water. If you're driving, buy a Costco pack before you head down. If you fly, get an Uber to Costco in Anaheim and buy a pack there. Put as many bottles in the fridge as will fit.
  • 1 small bag. I'm talking small here. I bought this fanny pack (or bum bag, if you're British and think I'm very gross) before we left and I don't regret it. I looked extremely frumpy, but I was hands free. It had enough room to hold my ticket, my debit card and license, my cash, sunscreen, lip balm, and a few extra hair ties. I can also use it for hiking in the future.  
  • Sunscreen. Seriously. Just buy 3-4 bottles of sunscreen and take at least one in the park every day. I saw so many sunburned children and it broke my heart. Reapply every 90 minutes. 
  • Two snacks. Not a box of snacks. Not every snack ever. TWO SNACKS. Every day in the park, I packed my son a fig bar (his favorite) and a packet of applesauce. He always ate both, plus other snacks that we bought ourselves. 
  • For younger children: a bottle & formula; a water cup; diapers; and a pack of wipes. I bought travel packs of wipes to keep in Forrest's backpack, which we used as our "diaper bag." 
  • A "safety harness." Some people let their young toddlers run freely in the park because, ultimately, it is safe. However, Forrest is a runner and if I set him down, he would be halfway across the state if I let him. This is why we use a leash. This is the one we have. It gave Forrest some freedom in the park, without me having a panic attack that he was running straight at a pretzel cart. 

That's it. That's all you need. I know, right? Michelle, where's the Motrin? What about the band aids? A first aid kit? Ponchos? Jackets? Changes of clothes? Girl, leave that in the hotel room. If you really need it, you can go get it. If it's urgent, Disneyland does have first aid centers where you can get band aids. If you have small children, they have fully stocked changing rooms in the Baby Care Center on Main Street USA. You don't need to bring your whole kitchen in the park. 

3 Tips for Taking Your Toddler to Disneyland

disneyland with a toddler

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. 

Planning my First Solo Disneyland Trip

As I've already written, I'm taking my toddler, Forrest, to Disneyland in t-minus 9 months. This is the very first time I will have planned a trip to Disneyland on my own--including hotels, travel, and buying tickets. It's kind of a scary and overwhelming undertaking when I think about it. 

Planning my own vacations is one of the first "adult" things I've done: doing all the packing, planning, and paying myself is a new experience. Throw in the fact that I'm now responsible for a small human in the process and I feel very, well, grown up, for lack of a better word. 

Planning this trip on my own is also a little bittersweet at the same time. Even though my parents are thinking of coming along (what kind of grandparent doesn't want to be present for a grandkid's first Disney experience?), it's the first time that I won't be with them the entire trip--and, of course, things will be different. However, I'm realizing more and more that being a parent is about establishing my own way of doing things and letting go of the way I'm used to things being. 

I'm so excited to share this experience with Forrest though and to make our own memories and figure out our own way of doing things at Disneyland! Being a parent is challenging, but the prospect of these kind of trips, both big and small, makes it all worth it. 

Taking a Toddler to Disneyland

It's pretty well-established that I love Disneyland. I went on my honeymoon to Disneyland. Danny and I went to Disneyland the Christmas before I got pregnant with Forrest. I've been to Disneyland at least 6 times now and I always leave crying because I'm not 100% sure when I'll return. 

I even wanted to go to Disneyland in August, when I was pregnant. As a reminder of what I was like in August, my arms and hands were so swollen from preeclampsia that my hands would go numb and I couldn't bend or feel my fingers all day. And yet, I wanted to tromp through Disneyland just one more time

Danny and I have decided that we do want to take Forrest to Disneyland next June. The most often heard reason for not taking a toddler to Disneyland is that they "won't remember it." That's absolutely true. Forrest also, however, won't remember our music time in the morning, the books I read to him, the times I sing and dance with him or play with him. He won't remember any of that. But does that mean it's a waste and he won't enjoy it? 

The logic fails there. And trust me, I used to repeat that too. "Why take a child who won't remember it?" But I get it now! He won't remember it, but I will--and that doesn't mean he won't have a blast. 

I'm so excited to be planning this trip--although it's also totally overwhelming. Which is why I'm opening things up to you! If you've taken a toddler to Disneyland, share your best tips and tricks! You can comment here or send them to me on Twitter