At times it can be the hottest place on earth, the most crowded place on earth and the most expensive place on earth, but for the most part it always ends up keeping its reputation as the happiest place on earth.
We took our (nearly) 3-year-old son to Disneyland for the first time this past August. It was hot as heck but the crowds seemed less suffocating than I’d remembered. Maybe this was because school had just started, or maybe it was because everyone had already done their Disneyland visit. Either way, it was nice.
We were ambitious and tackled both Disneyland and California Adventure over a 3-day visit. We packed enough in to last us for the next 5 years at least. Disney “experts” claim that the best ages for kids to visit the Park is between 8-12 years old but I’m here to contest that there is in fact still lots of good stuff to do with toddlers and preschoolers. Here’s a brief lowdown on a handful of rides (through the eyes of my 3-year-old, Graham):
Dumbo: Still and forever always a hit.
It’s a Small World: Ehhh…Graham was on the fence and I still think it’s creepy.
Jungle Cruise: Total winner.
Tarzan’s Treehouse: Loved it, and no line.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride: Graham could’ve done without it but I still remember it as being one of my childhood favorites.
*Peter Pan: Scary. He was also nearing naptime, may have been pushing it.
*Pirates of the Caribbean: “I want to hide!” (under the seat)- Graham.
*Finding Nemo’s Submarine Voyage: “Never Again!” –text from my mom, who accompanied Graham on the ride.
Tom Sawyer’s Island and Pirate Lair: We could’ve stayed there for half the day. Graham loved exploring the winding trails, rope bridges, pirate caves and treehouses.
Mickey’s Toon Town: Again, could spend half the day here.
Cars Land (California Adventure): Awesome.
Bug’s Life Land (California Adventure): Awesome.
* These rides were deemed (again by the experts) “preschooler-friendly,” and since on any regular day, Graham adores aliens, finds monsters intriguing and insists on wearing a Batman costume to bed, I thought he would love the rides. But for him, it was the idea of riding in a dark space that he didn’t like (even Nemo has a storm sequence). But other kiddos may love the rides. Hit or miss. Always fun to find out 😉
The Disneyland railroad is a great way to break up the day. When the kids start hitting the wall, hop on the train for a circuit or two. It travels the perimeter of the Park and is a great way to scout out any more “lands” you’d like to check out before leaving. Take heed however: there’s a dinosaur scene that has scare potential, although my son loved them (Friendly orange clownfish: Scary. Flesh-eating T-Rex: Fun).
One thing I can’t recommend enough: Get your child an “autograph book” (they sell them at any souvenir store). Graham loved spotting all the big Disney characters and walking up to them, book and pen in hand, and watching them sign away. He still likes to go through all his autographs, and it’s a cute souvenir you can keep for a long time. I think I may still have mine somewhere.
A tip on planning:
Per advice from the Disneyland Guidebook I studied before our trip, it’s a great idea to map out the attractions that you hope to see, rather than aimlessly wander the Park. There’re about 11 or so “touring plans” in the book (field-tested and created to avoid the longest lines), each geared toward one or two-days trips, and some specifically written for families with small children. The clip-out touring plans rip right out of the book and, though I didn’t follow them to a T, they were extremely helpful.
A tip on lodging:
If you can, try to stay as close to the Park as possible. (You can opt to stay at one of the Disney Hotels in the actual Park, such as the Grand Californian, but that can get pricey). If you’d rather save your money for souvenirs, then book at one of the many accommodations surrounding the perimeter of the Park. It was so nice to be able to walk across the street to get to Disneyland. You avoid the trams (which seem like a good idea until you have one or more fussy, overtired and screaming toddlers), and just walk back to the hotel for a nap. We were also able to see the nightly Downtown Disney fireworks from our deck.
Whew! That said, we had a wonderful trip and, although after travelling with a toddler, you always come home feeling like you need a vacation after your vacation, it was so fun and we can’t wait to go back!