Drama-free Disneyland ::  5 Tips for Keeping Your Sanity at the Happiest (and Most Stressful) Place on Earth 

Fast friends.

I think my partner and I made a “no Disney” pledge before I was even out of the first trimester. We aren’t big into princesses and the idea of spending our much-craved, much-saved for, precious vacation time around a million kids and families didn’t really peak our interest.  So how did we become people who order specialty ears on Etsy and plan Disney-themed outfits for 3, you ask?  Parenthood and real life happened. So like most well-intentioned-but-naive pre-parenthood pledges, we decided to eat our words and jump in the shallow end (for us this meant Disneyland not Walt Disney World) and go experience the magic with some of our closest friends. And while we aren’t bending over backwards to go back anytime soon, we did have a great time and learned along the way how to make the most of this type of anti-vacation. Here’s how to get in and out of the happiest (and most stressful) place on earth with your sanity intact. 


1.  Don’t count the 2-year-olds out. People always say “but they won’t remember it!” and I get that, but they will have more fun than even imaginable and photos will be their memories.  We definitely thought our daughter was too young, but taking her at 2.5 was a great decision. First and most importantly, they are free before age 3. Free is my favorite! With two-year-olds, it’s not about carefully planning rides, character events or FASTPASS. We seriously only rode two rides in two days. For toddlers, the magic is everywhere from waiting in line for an ice cream cone right next to Buzz Lightyear to dancing in the “street” as a car drives by carrying Minnie Mouse.  They are legit happy just walking around and waving to characters and sometimes even employees. Bonus tip:  my favorite Austin Moms Blog contributor gave me the tip to make sure and get an autograph book, and it was KEY to the success of this trip. Characters can be a little intimidating when you are under 3-feet tall, but the autograph book provides a much needed buffer and ice breaker.   Our daughter has memorized everyone’s autographs and looks through that thing at least once a week. Trust me, take the (free) toddler. 

Happy Princess Anna.
2.  California Adventure all the way.  There are two parks at Disneyland and our original goal was to go to each park for the day. We ended up staying at California Adventure both days. This park is typically less crowded and a little more low-key and much more our speed, especially with just one toddler. I will let you draw your own correlation, but I will go ahead and point out that California Adventure is also the only park that serves alcohol. And it’s home to the the Frozen musical, which isn’t to be missed.  Best case scenario?  Get a park hopper ticket and go to the main park for specific rides and then back to the California Adventure comfy zone. Is your kid a Cars fan?  Radiator Springs is so amazing after the sun goes down. 

3.  Bring your own stroller even though it’s a pain. My daughter is not a stroller kid, but we use our jog stroller (sidenote: best jog stroller ever) all the time, so I knew she would be most comfortable having her familiar space to rest and recharge. There are approximately eight million strollers (including a lot of rentals that all look the same) at theme parks, so knowing yours in a crowd is priceless. Our jog stroller has a huge basket, a huge sun shade, and multiple cup holders. You need all of these things as much as you need sunscreen and water. Don’t underestimate how much STUFF you will be schlepping even before souvenir shopping. Do I like airplane travel with a huge bulky jog stroller?  Not really, but it turned out to be a wise choice (See number 4).

Stroller nap FTW!
4.  Stick to your nap or rest/quiet-time plan. There are two things that are a given with kids at Disneyland: 1) they will have fun, and 2) they will turn into an overstimulated, tantrum throwing, cotton-candy-fueled hot mess at some point. That’s the name of the game here. Once you get into the groove of the day and the kids are having fun it will be so tempting to push them “just a couple more hours.” Avoid this at all costs, unless you enjoy blackout-crying and that fun thing where little kids magically make their bodies stiff and triple their weight when you try to pick them up off the ground. For us this meant watching for the exhaustion sweet spot and getting her in the (reclined) stroller right as she was ready to crash. Put the white noise on your phone, find a beer garden or restaurant, and welcome to the self-care hour of the Disneyland experience. A lot of people leave for downtime at the hotel and then come back, which is also a great option. You know your child, get them the recharge they need by all means necessary. 
5.  Set expectations and then lower them at least 3 times. We eventually settled on a goal of two things per day. Two. One show, and meeting one character. One ride and a parade. That meant anything we did over the two things was magical gravy.  Disney (especially once you arrive) is mesmerizing and it’s so easy to get wrapped up in wanting to do it all, but that’s miserable and stressful for everyone.  Wander around with the Disney app and the map and play it by ear part of the day and it will feel like such an adventure rather than a rigidly planned itinerary. 
Happy summer Disney travel!  What’s your survival tip?  


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