Surviving Disneyland with Three Kids


Last year we were fortunate enough to be able to take the kids to Disneyland twice. For some, this probably doesn’t seem like much; I have friends who go every other month! But for our kids, more than once a year is a pretty major thing. And really, who am I kidding? For ME it is a pretty major thing!

We are definitely a Disney family. There is a certain nostalgia to Disneyland for me as it is really the only family vacation that my family took while growing up. Now I am lucky enough to take my own kids there, also. We usually do an annual trip the week of Thanksgiving with my parents, brother & his girlfriend, and my sister plus our family of 5.

What is so wonderful about going the week of Thanksgiving is that both Disneyland and California Adventure parks along with the Disneyland hotels are all decked-out in beautiful Christmas decor. They usually take down the Halloween decorations and promptly replace it with Christmas towards the end of the first week of November and it stays decorated until the end of the first week of January.  Christmas time (even in November!) at Disneyland is truly magical. I love the big Christmas tree on Main Street, I love the caroling, the Holiday parade, the Holiday music that plays throughout the parks,  the overall Holiday spirit that everyone has and of course, the very best part – the snow that sprinkles down during the special parades. It is truly magical! Oh! It’s a Small World. I LOVE the Christmas version of It’s a Small World. There is also all of the delicious special treats, too – which I may or may not still be working off…

With all of that being said, I am so used to going to Disneyland when it is decorated for Christmas that I actually haven’t seen it at any other time in probably about 12 years. What a tragedy! I’ve had so many friends go during Halloween time and absolutely love all of the decorations, the treats, the special parades & shows, and the Mickey’s Halloween party. We decided that it sounded like so much fun so we booked a last-minute trip for a few days at the end of October with the kids. We had SO much fun! We were in the park for 3 days and on the night of the last day in the park all 5 of us got all dressed up in our Halloween costumes so that we could participate in Mickey’s Halloween party. You should note that this is an extra fee per person but it is totally worth it. Everyone who attends gets usage of the park 2 hours before the party starts through the closing of the park and they shut it down to the public. With it being limited to those who purchased the party tickets that means that lines for every ride are shorter, food lines are shorter, and visibility for the parades and shows is way better. Everyone, kids and adults alike, get to go trick-or-treating at designated spots scattered throughout Disneyland where you can receive a ton of candy and/or healthier options like small bags of carrots, apple slices, goldfish, etc. They play great Halloween/spooky music, all the characters are dressed up, and it is a wonderful time!

Two trips in one year does not an expert make, but I’ve learned a few things that definitely help my family to make an easier, smoother, and more enjoyable vacation. Considering we have 3 kids that are 5 and under, we drive to and from Disneyland, and for at least one or two previous trips we dealt with major dietary restrictions while eating in the park – I’m sure some of this can help the majority of you to survive your future Disneyland trip!

The Prep/Packing:

Now, I realize I am neurotic. I can admit that. So this may seem a little OCD for some but it works for me no matter where we are going for a trip…

I make a detailed list of outfits and items needed for each family member at least 2 weeks prior. Creating this list gives you time to realize if anything needs to be purchased, cleaned, etc. I note every item I am packing down to how many socks and diapers per day.

  • In their suitcases I pack the kids things (as much as I can) the week of the trip – at least 2 days prior – and hide their suitcases and backpacks so they cant go through them.
    • I pack 2 outfits per day per child and 3 if there is a young toddler who has potential to soil them or if they’re more likely to make a mess eating.
      • One day outfit and one evening outfit (not a dressy evening outfit but something suitable for colder weather)
    • I pack 2 pairs of shoes
    • I pack undies for every day with 2 extra pairs just in case
    • I pack socks for every day
    • I pack pajamas for every night plus an extra pair just in case (I am weird and don’t like the kids wearing pajamas two nights in a row…)
    • I pack diapers, night-time diapers, and an extra pack of wipes for the hotel room
    • I bag their daily vitamins/nighttime gummies
    • I pack any accessories that they might want to wear; hair accessories, hats, etc.
    • The night prior to leaving I pack the last minute suitcase items; toothbrush, toothpaste, and hairbrush
  • Each child has their own backpack. In their backpacks I pack what they’ll need for the drive and for changing either at a potty-stop or first thing upon arriving at the hotel. I always pack surprises for them, also. This helps at those restless points of every car ride where you’ve hit your limit on what you can offer and what they’re interested in doing.
    • I pack their outfit for the day complete with underwear, shoes, and whatever accessories they may want re: MICKEY EARS!
    • I pack coloring books and crayons (just say no to markers in the car!) and the little activity packs from the $1 section of Target
    • I pack a surprise toy – think something small and fun and easy to open and NO assembly required.
    • I pack a special treat/snack – mostly for bribing purposes – and their thermos/sippy cups/bottles (which I filled the night prior)
  • I pack a “snack bag” and I don’t mean the tiny little Ziploc bags that no one uses. I mean a giant tote full of snacks that I have purchased or pre-bagged for the car ride, for refilling my diaper bag for the days in the park, and for the hotel room.
    • I pack individual snacks like pretzels, pirates booty, tortilla chips, and goldfish – all things that can be packed ahead of time
    • I buy individual bags of sliced apples, I bag mini carrots, string cheese, hard-boiled eggs, the little snack packs that have cheese/pretzels/grapes and the big containers of fresh fruit from Whole Foods. I bag these separately with ice packs and keep it in the fridge with their cups so that I can grab all of it right before heading out the door.
    • I pack extra bottles of the Vitamin Water (Kirkland brand) that my kids drink as well as extra containers of soy milk for the baby
    • I usually pack some type of treat, also – like gummy bears or the really yummy Unreal non-gmo chocolate candies
  • I pack the diaper bag making sure I have plenty of diapers, wipes, hand & face wipes, antibacterial soap, snacks, and an extra t-shirt for each kid just in case

All of these bags (minus the perishable snack-bag) get packed in the car the night prior with our suitcases and bags that we can pack, also. I always put the kids backpacks by their seats and the snack-bags centrally located.

The Drive:

With the car completely packed and ready to go, we get the car running before we retrieve the kids.

  • We wake the kids up around 4am and get them all buckled up in the car in their jammies making sure to grab their favorite blankets/lovey/stuffed animal
  • Once in the car we give the girls a children’s Dramamine to help the girls with getting car sick
  • We encourage them to go back to sleep which happens about 50% of the time ha!
  • We get on the road quickly and aside from a drive-through Starbucks (at which time I always buy a bunch of breakfast items, also), we do our best to note make any stops until the first potty-break. We usually can make it with just one stop, maybe two if the girls throw-up due to being car sick
  • At our stop or upon arrival to the hotel we quickly dress the kids in their outfit for the day and get them ready for a day at the park

The Parks:

  • First things first – we see any characters that we can right away so that the kids can walk around and stretch their legs and check it off of their list
  • We find the ride with the shortest line that everyone can go on and we head their first
    • Hot tip – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure in California Adventure seriously never has more than a 10 minute wait. We often do this first thing in the morning or any time where the kids are restless and don’t want to wait in lines or the adults are on a ride the little ones cannot go on. The wait is usually 5 minutes and super quick where you can get off and run back on.
  • We always get the hopper passes so we are constantly going back and forth between park. We’ve learned that keeping the most minimal amount of stuff in the stroller is easiest when going through security repeatedly
    • The double-stroller + skateboard seat attachment is normally packed with the diaper bag, the kids cups plus a few extra water bottles, autograph books, and pin lanyard. I wear a separate cross-body bag so that I can always have tickets, money, and my phone on me.
  • California Adventure has the kids area – Bugs land – which is great to let the kids run around when not on a ride.
    • Within this area there is a whole area – Princess Dot Puddle Park- that has spraying water and water fountains for the kids to play in, which I don’t love, but the kids do.
    • They also have “It’s Tough to be a bug” which is a little 3D film and live show for all heights + ages. It’s great for escaping rain, heat, or when you just need to sit and take a break but keep the kids entertained.
    • They have family bathrooms which are super handy, too, for when you’re just one adult + multiple kids all needing a potty-break.
  • California Adventure also has the Disney Junior – Live on Stage! performance which is great for children of all ages! It gives mom and dad a break to sit down and rest while the kids thoroughly enjoy their favorite characters from Disney Junior. It’s interactive and fun and allows the kids to get wiggles out.
  • California Adventure is currently showing Frozen – Live at the Hyperion which is a live play. Little ones (under 4) may have a hard time sitting for the full 45-minute show but there’s a lot of singing so it might keep them engaged. You can buy popcorn and snacks, which helps! Note that this gets packed! Get in line early.
  • Disneyland has a changing station on Main Street which is super handy for kids needing a potty break, a diaper change, a feeding/nursing area, and they even have diapers and wipes if you run out.
  • Both parks have lots of great parades and I suggest catching a few of them – but plan ahead. If you need to park a stroller and have a large group, seating is at a premium. Get a spot, park the stroller, and hang out reserving your spot! Also, DO NOT try to walk around Main Street during a parade with a stroller. You’ll do 5 laps around the park to get to one spot. It’s ridiculous.
  • The monorail is great if you just want to go for a ride but if you plan to use this to get from Downtown Disney to the park and you have a double-stroller THINK AGAIN. Biggest pain in the you-know-what. We skipped this after the first attempt and opted to just walk into the main entrance each time. Folding a double stroller + skateboard seat attachment with diaper bags, cups, blah blah blah? No thanks.

The Food:

  • We usually have a light breakfast in our hotel room in the mornings – usually something we have brought from home for this specific reason (muffins, cinnamon bread, dry cereal, fruit, hard-boiled eggs, etc.)
  • We will have a bigger lunch somewhere in the park and avoid expecting the kids to sit-down for a meal. We normally go with things we know the kids will eat without complaining like hot dogs, corn dogs, french fries, pizza, and fruit. I love that Disneyland now offers apple slices, Danimal yogurts, and mini bottles of water with their kids meals.
    • We do try to change-up what they eat so that they’re not consuming all fried food all the time. My kids are used to eating pretty healthy at home so this really impacts their system after a day.
  • Disneyland is super accommodating for dietary restrictions now – it is so helpful! For a few of our trips prior to this year, Hudson was on a gluten-free diet. We were able to find quite a few places in the park that served ready-made items like gluten-free pizza and pasta, gluten-free hamburgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches using Udi’s brand bread/buns, and even gluten free mickey waffles! Also, if you are dining at a restaurant in the park you can notify them ahead of time and they’ll accommodate your dietary needs.
  • We are really loving California Adventure and the variety that they offer for food, especially down by the pier.
  • Also – for adults  – they serve alcohol. Enough said
  • I pack a variety of snacks in the diaper bag every day so that we are not constantly buying food. I like to have healthier options to help off-set the not-so-healthy that we eat while there and it helps when hunger sets in quick (not just for the kids…)
  • Starbucks. Disneyland and California Adventure. That is all.

We have a couple of rules that the kids know about; 1) Everyone gets one souvenir/toy under $50 that they get to pick out. One. They can pick it out at any point in the trip but that’s all that they get.  2) They do not get ice cream, candy, and sugary treats every day. It’s just unnecessary. We usually go to Ghiradelli for ice cream once and we let them get one special treat from my favorite candy shop once. That’s it. Obviously these are our personal rules but we find it helps with not over-indulging them figuratively or literally.

As previously stated – I am no expert. But we’ve had great success based on all of the above, so I hope something of it is helpful. And don’t get me wrong – my kids don’t go without tantrums or sassy attitudes the whole time. After-all, they’re 5, 4, and 2 years old. It’s gonna happen especially when in a very overwhelming but very exciting environment. Thankfully all of them fall asleep at some point or another in the stroller or back at the hotel for naps which really helps on the long days.

If I come up with any new tips or tricks on our next trip, I will update accordingly! But in the meantime I hope you all find something useful out of this for your next trip, too!




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