Disneyland with a preschooler? 7 genius tips for avoiding meltdowns (and bankruptcy)

?url=https%3A%2F%2Fcalifornia times brightspot.s3.amazonaws.com%2F03%2F5b%2F3ee965bf4fca985fa7bde1622d16%2F18 kidtips

When you figure in the high cost, endless lines, height restrictions and miles of walking, does it ever make sense to take a preschooler to Disneyland?

Yes, as long as their adults adjust their expectations, plan carefully and slow waaay down. Because, let’s face it, most preschoolers are too young to understand what Disneyland is all about. It’s the parental (and grandparental) excitement and expectations that are really driving this visit.

Case in point: When we took my Seattleite granddaughter to Disneyland for her fourth birthday, her parents and I spent most of the time watching her reactions, which, I must admit, were pretty gratifying.

Following the advice of Disneyland enthusiasts and L.A. Times readers, we were right in front when the park opened its gates. We were making a beeline to Fantasyland when out of the corner of my eye I saw Minnie and Mickey Mouse waving by the train station. Ordinarily, with my teen (and now adult) kids, nothing would have deterred us from racing to our favorite ride. But this was my granddaughter’s first visit, and all she really knew about Disneyland was that it was Mickey Mouse’s home. How could we ignore this introduction?

So we turned, which was hard, since she was already laser focused on Sleeping Beauty Castle, but when she finally saw Mickey and his gang cavorting just a few feet away, she reared back and started shaking so hard I feared she was going into shock. She couldn’t approach them or even wave; she just stared and vibrated, like an awestruck cartoon character with her finger in a light socket.

I wanted photos, but her parents and I were so busy wiping away our tears we could barely hold the camera. It was a pretty intense start to the morning, and we had barely left the entrance.

“Going when they’re preschoolers may be the best time, because everything is a wonderment at that age,” said Kristen Carr, of Orange, a “Disney mom” of four (ages 10, 9 and 6-year-old twins) who podcasts, blogs and organizes Disney-related activities.

Don’t expect to go on massive thrill rides with preschoolers, Carr said, “but many of the rides feel very well suited for children 3 to 4. Some of my most fun memories are from when my kids were that age.”

Most of the 35 readers who responded to our question “What can you do with a preschooler at Disneyland?” agreed with Carr. Only four said taking preschoolers to Disneyland was a waste of money and time; the rest came down squarely in the plan-ahead-and-you’ll-love-it camp. We followed most of their top tips when we made this Disneyland pilgrimage and almost all were winners. Plus, we discovered rides and experiences at the park we’d never really noticed before.

1. Adjust your expectations

Focus on visiting just one park, and missing most of the big rides. We were in Disneyland from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m., but between rests, meals, more rests and endless lines, we only managed eight rides — the carousel, Storybook Land and Casey’s Railroad in Fantasyland, the junior roller coaster in Toontown (after an hour wait to visit Minnie at her house), the Thunder Mountain roller coaster, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (almost too scary), the Jungle Boat Cruise and the Winnie the Pooh ride, plus the Tiki Room, the Toontown playground and the parade.

But we had no meltdowns and she was smiling when we left. (Of course, she was also carrying a new toy purchased just before our departure, but you know, what are grandmothers for?) If the adults must go on a big-person ride, make sure you have someone in your party to take the preschooler to something they’ll enjoy — in my case, we bought a balloon, ate some pre-packed snacks and watched the parade (which she loved) while her parents waited 90 minutes for their first ride on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance (which they loved).

2. Get a stroller

OK, I wasn’t going to do this because I’ve always hated the herd of strollers blocking everyone’s path in Disneyland, but Carr said it was an absolute must, even for her 6-year-old twins, and most of our readers agreed. The kids start out strong, but when they get tired (which happens quickly for little legs), your choices are to carry them or try to find a quiet bench for a nap (good luck). So we rented a big-kid stroller ($38 for 24 hours), which was delivered to our hotel, and it gave us a place to stash our snacks, extra clothing, and a cuddly blanket so she could relax later in the day. Worth every penny.

Carr notes: If you don’t have your own, rent a good sturdy stroller outside the park; Disney’s are hard plastic and not very comfortable, she said. Umbrella strollers are too little for big kids and back breakers for whoever is pushing them. Plus, you won’t have to wait in line at Disneyland to rent and return a stroller. Our stroller was delivered to the hotel about 30 minutes before our departure, and all we had to do was leave it at the front desk when we returned that evening, which was a godsend since we had to walk back to the hotel.

3. Pack water and non-sugary snacks

You can get plenty of sweet stuff at Disneyland, “but a lot of sugar equals a lot of breakdowns” for little ones, Carr said. Bring a small cooler loaded with water, apple slices, carrot sticks, grapes and/or sandwiches, but also do yourself a favor, Carr said: If your child has a favorite snack they eat every day, be sure you pack some of that too.

4. Arrive early, before the park opens

In our case, that meant leaving our off-site hotel at 7 a.m. and running the gauntlet through metal detectors, bag searches and guard dogs so we could be at the gates when they opened at 8 a.m. People who stay in park hotels might be able to enter even earlier. The point is to get in early, before the crowds and head for Fantasyland first, which has the greatest concentration of little-kid rides but also the worst lines once the park starts filling up. Several Fantasyland rides, like Pinocchio, are too dark and scary for preschoolers, but once you get your fill of the sunnier ones, Carr said, you can stop mid-morning, have a late breakfast and plan out the rest of your day.

5. Download the Disneyland app

With preschoolers, I’m not convinced it’s worth the extra $35-$50 per person to get the Genie+ and Lightning Lane passes that let you skip the line at the most popular rides, but the free Genie app is mandatory for ordering food (so you don’t wait in yet another line to eat), keeping track of special events in the park and seeing what rides have the longest lines or are shut down. Pro tip: Bring a portable phone charger.

6. Prep your child for what to expect

We almost had a meltdown at the first ride, when my granddaughter thought the boat we were waiting for at the Storybook Land canal left without us. It took about four boats coming and going before she began to understand that their appearance was continuous and we would eventually get our turn to climb aboard. Nothing will truly prepare them for the experience IRL, but you can at least explain how the rides and lines work and show them some photos of what they’ll see.

7. Gird your loins and watch your spending

The nickle-and-diming at Disneyland is intense. Preschoolers want just about everything they see, and doting adults are eager to oblige, but between $30 Ariel bubble wands (which need refilling almost immediately), $20 Mickey Mouse balloons, $30 Star Wars stuffies and $50 sweatshirts, it’s easy to overspend. One of the biggest lures for little ones is the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where “magical makeovers for royalty-in-training ages 3-12” start at $100, a fee that includes a princess hairstyle, nail polish, sash, T-shirt and “shimmering makeup and face gem.” The prices go up from there, to nearly $500 for all of the above, plus a princess gown, tiara and satin hanger (every preschooler’s dream). There’s also the $80 Deluxe Knight Package, which includes a knight costume, gel hairstyling and a “mighty sword and shield.”

Here’s where advance planning can pay off, Carr said. She bought her daughter’s favorite princess gown online for a fraction of the park price, showed it to her the morning of their trip and let her wear that to the park. They still visited the boutique, she said, but only to get a free sprinkling of pixie dust (a.k.a glitter) anyone can request. I can’t emphasize this enough: Plan ahead for what purchases are a must ($6.50 bowls of Dole Whip are non-negotiable in my family) and let your children and accompanying adults know they can’t have everything they want.

Bonus: The lasting memories may surprise you

With two nights at an off-site hotel ($525), four admissions to the park (only $602, thanks to a short-time $50 deal for young children), meals, treats and souvenirs, our one-day visit in early February cost about $1,500, or $375 per person. That’s an eye-popping figure, but truth be told, we had a lot of fun, and if we’d curbed our souvenir shopping and been willing to spend nearly three hours driving home after a long day at the park, it could have been at least $300 cheaper.

Note this, because four months after our trip, I asked my granddaughter, “What was your favorite part about Disneyland?” Her answer was immediate: When the servers at Café Orleans brought her a tiny cake — basically three blobs of whipped cream in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head — with a little candle on top. We all sang happy birthday while she beamed and blew the candle out, and that precious moment came free of charge.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top