Disney with a Toddler

A whole new world of Disney fun, that's right... I'm talking all about Disney with a toddler!

This is a question I tend to get almost everytime I open up a Q&A session on my Instagram: How to manage Disney with a Toddler. Read on to hear about our own toddler experiences at Disneyland....

A whole new chapter of magic
Ben's first trip to Disneyland was at 5 1/2 months old. Some people to say "why bring them so young when they won't remember anything?' Well as his mama, I'LL remember the experience. I still remember how visiting the parks was truly a whole different experience with a baby. We were clueless, packed up our entire house (literally with 15 bags), and a totally overwhelmed. We went from veteran Disney goers, to a whole new territory of Disney parenthood. But despite all the differences, it was truly the most magical moment bringing our son to Disneyland for the first time (and many others after). It's definitely a whole new ballgame. You can read about our first visit with our little one  here: PART I and PART II and our tips and tricks for Disney with a baby HERE
In his first year, Ben ended up visiting the parks four other times, the first at 5 1/2 months, again at 7 months, 9 months, and finally at 11 months old. It was definitely a learning curve to navigate the parks with a baby and definitely learned A LOT in the first year. We became pros at the baby care centers, finding the best spots for a naps, and discovered the joy of a whole new side of Disney with a child. And just when you think you've got it down, your baby enters toddlerhood!

Welcome to the happiest place on earth, Toddler Style!
There's just something that "clicks" when your child turns one. Their sense of wonder, curiosity and amazement about the world around them just goes up tenfold. Not only that, but you're also most likely dealing with new mobility like walking and climbing. And of course, the favorite "I'm independent now, mama!" kind of toddler mood.
The new milestones and behaviors that come with toddlerhood definitely lead to more interesting, but still absolutely memorable Disney trips. Our park days have definitely changed a bit since visiting with an infant. Some things that worked before, might not work anymore. Scheduling can change, new senses and awareness can lead to new fears or excitement. There's a whole new "Disney" to explore with a toddler. Read on below for everything we've learned so far in visiting the parks with our tot!

Tips & Tricks

Diaper bag essentials
Disney with a toddler means being ready for all sorts of situations, so here's what we bring in our own diaper bag:
- Diapers and wipes
- Extra set of clothing
- Snacks. Usually some crackers, an apple sauce pouch or puffs. We like to use the self feed snack containers like THIS ONE to let Ben enjoy snacks at his own pace without having to hand him each one by one
- Sippy Cup. Ben loves his Munchkin 360 Miracle Cup
- Antibacterial gel
- A few small toys that can help distract them while waiting in line or during down times
- And iPad loaded with education or toddler based games (BabyFirst, Smart Shapes, just to name a few)
- Sunscreen. This one is important since the SoCal sun can be pretty harsh
- A blanket for when it gets chilly at night

If you're a family planning to visit Disneyland soon be sure to check the park's new regulations for larger strollers. Most single seat strollers are fine, but push/pull wagons are restricted, along with strollers exceeding the size o31" (79 cm) x 52" (132 cm) are no longer allowed in the parks. Check out the stroller rules HERE

Disneyland App
If you haven't done so already, download the Disneyland Mobile App today! This is the ultimate resource for everything at the parks. From your digital park mark, wait time guide, bathroom locator, dining/menu/reservation finder, PhotoPass card and viewer. Best of all for a busy family with a toddler on the go? Mobile ordering! It makes it so that you can view participating restaurants on the app, order from the menu and stroll up to the mobile pick up area and pick up your food without the wait! It's amazing and our new go to way of dining around the parks.

Ben is literally half an inch away from the next level of height requirements at Disneyland. Until he reaches the next milestone, here are a few attractions he has experienced and are "Ben Approved!"

-It's a Small World
-Any fantasyland ride with exception of Snow White's Scary Adventures (I still get spooked on this ride)
-Pirates (I hold onto Ben tight during the drops, but I think he actually likes them LOL)
-Haunted Mansion, we've only done the Nightmare before christmas version since it's brighter and a little less spooky
-Winnie the Pooh
-Astro Blasters
-Finding Nemo Subs
-Disneyland Railroad
-Tiki Room
-Character Meet & Greets with the "fuzzy" costume characters. Ben isn't too fond of the face characters like princesses or anyone that looks too real, lol. It triggers stranger danger for him
-Nighttime entertainment. He's seen Fantasmic and the fireworks. So far, he hasn't been phased by the loud booms or music.

-Monster's Inc
-Jessie's Critter Carousel
-Animation Academy experiences
-Redwood Challenge Trail
-Character Meet & Greets

One of the greatest parts of toddlerhood? The ease of finding something to eat! No more formula, or baby purees to worry about. You've officially graduated to the kids menu at most park restaurants! This was one toddler transition that we absolutely love since we no longer have to lug around a cooler of baby foods or haul powdered formula for milk. We can easily pick a place to eat and select something off the kids menu or share a meal with Ben now! And since you're at Disney, you know you can always find something kid friendly on the menu.
*I will note that Ben is a pretty good eater. He usually likes to munch on the same meals we eat or is happy with the kids meal options. If you have a picky eater, I'd suggest looking at the menus before your trip (on the Disneyland App) to make sure there's something that your little one will enjoy eating. Disney is also great at accommodating to food allergies or restrictions. They always have alternates for gluten free, dairy free, etc. Just ask the CM helping you!

I've complied a little list of some of our favorite food spots with kid friendly options that have been Ben approved!


Jolly holiday: Mac n Cheese, Turkey sandwich or Grilled cheese. 
Plaza Inn: Fried chicken meal or penne pasta are hits!
Red Rose Taverne: we've only done breakfast here but the scrambled eggs and pancakes are great breakfast that Ben really enjoyed!
Rancho del Zocalo: chicken and rice meal. It's a small serving of a scoop of rice and bits of grilled chicken.
Tropical Hideaway: Ben LOVES Dole Whip and tolerated the beef bao bun. He wasn't into the chicken bao or the veggie option. 

Lamplight Lounge: mac and cheese. I don't know what they put in this particular mac n cheese but its AMAZING. I'm about to order this for myself the next time we're there.
Flo's V8 Cafe: another great spot with a variety of kid's items. Ben loves the thick cut fries here and mac and cheese option here.
Paradise Gardens and the restaurants int the back of the pier: Ben loved the spaghetti and meatballs at the pasta location, along with the chicken skewer as well.

**All Disney kid's menu meals generally come with a water or milk drink option, as well as a fruit or applesauce pouch. Some locations also offer smaller side portions like fresh fruit, veggies or fries.

MILK NOTE: The milk that is served at Disneyland is low fat milk, so just a heads up for any tots out there who are used to drinking whole milk. Ben didn't seem to mind the difference.

Diaper changes & the Baby Care Center
Another great thing about toddlerhood? Less dirty diaper breaks. When Ben was an infant, we were changing his diaper every hour since he'd cry the second he'd be wet. It got better as he got older, but now that he's into toddlerhood we've found that we aren't needing to stop for changes as much anymore. So another "plus" to the newfound toddler life at Disney.

Just because we aren't stopping for as many diaper or feeding breaks anymore doesn't mean our love for the beloved Baby Care Center has stopped. We love popping into the centers because it's still the best place to cool off, take a break and find a comfy place to change your toddler. We're not quite into potty training mode yet, but they have small toilets for you kiddo to use if they need it. Talk about perfect!

*You can find Disneyland's Baby Care Center at the end of Main St, right around the corner from the corn dog stand. In DCA you can find their center right to the side of Ghirardelli.

Naptime & Go Time
We've noticed that with toddlerhood comes less nap time. When Ben was a baby he's knock out a few times during our trips, usually just napping peacefully in his stroller while we strolled. Now that he's older, Ben typically only takes one, if we're lucky, two naps a day. Although this isn't necessarily a bad thing when you're at Disney! With less nap time you know that that also means... more "go" time, meaning your toddler wanting to explore or get their energy out around the parks.
Below are a few areas that we've personally found to be good areas that are less crowded, generally a little more quiet and more relaxed for your toddler to nap at or run around/play a bit without having to worry about large crowds or a busy atmosphere:

- Hungry Bear Restaurant: this place is a gem! Not only do they serve up the yummiest funnel cakes around, but there's always plenty of seating, especially if you head to the lower level downstairs. It's another great, shaded and not too busy place to rest up, recharge or have an area to unwind at.

-Benches around the castle/front of town square A win/win here. If you can snag a seat on on of the benches, you not only get a stellar view, but it ends up being a rather comfy area to try and wind down for a nap. Depending on what time of day (non parade or fireworks prep time) the area can be less crowded and a general pleasant area to take a break at. Ben has also loved walking around the little garden areas catching the ducks waddle by!
Ben loves playing around the Hub/Castle and Town Square  areas! He loves looking for those adorable Ducks of Disneyland!
-Star Wars Launch Bay: It's all indoors, dimly lit and has benches around the attractions to take a nice needed break. There's also a ton of open areas for your toddler to explore around, it's carpeted, so little walkers won't have to worry about hard flooring. It's also never overly crowded in there, so it makes for the perfect getaway on a busy day.
Love Launch Bay's wide open spaces for play around or wind down in!
Small World Terrace/Walkway: As long as it's not a busy time like when the parade is happening, the elevated area right by It's a Small World is another gem! It's an open area so you can find a spot to park your stroller and relax. Ben has also loved this area since it's pretty open to walk and play around.

Toontown: Goofy's House: On one of our recent trips we stumbled upon Goofy's House and were pleasantly surprised that it housed a nice open area for your kiddos to play around in. There's also some seating for you to kick back and watch as your little ones play around with the fun musical piano and magical furniture in there!

Disneyland Railroad: Okay, so this one is more for if you're toddler needs a nap. If your little one is like Ben and loves the movement of a moving vehicle the train is where it's at! Ben was getting super fussy due to an overdue nap time and we decided to take him on the train. Not only was he enthralled by the train, but the second we started moving? OUT LIKE A LIGHT! We *almost* stayed on the train for a second grand circle tour round to keep him asleep, but he was so relaxed, he stayed asleep even when we got off and moved him to his stroller.

Paradise Gardens Area: Located all the way in the back of Pixar Pier, the paradise gardens area of the park is never overly busy and there's plenty of covered or shaded seating for you to have a breather.

Animation Building: Now I'm not just saying this because this was our wedding venue, but it's also a great spot to cool off, the screens play classic Disney and Pixar animated clips and it's the most fun way to kick back from the hustle and bustle right outside. There's sofas within to lounge in, too! *It can get a bit crowded in here during a busy day, so keep that in mind.
Showing him where mama & dad got married. Another wonderful spot for kiddos to run/crawl around in or an air conditioned room to chill out in.
Redwood Creek Challenge trail: A quiet area nestled in the Grizzly Peak area of the park, right across from the rapids ride. It's a beautiful area with lots of shady areas and benches if you need a little break. There's also lots of play areas for older children, but there's also a smaller palyground area for your younger toddlers to play around in.

Carsland (back of Flo's): What's better than relaxing while watching Cars zoom by? This is a favorite spot for Ben to just run around since the pathway here can be less busy than most areas, plus there's plenty of bench seating or actual seating at Flo's nearby.
Ben LOVES watching the Cars zoom by!
How to manage lines, meltdowns, and keeping your child entertained:
With newfound toddlerhood, mobility and freedom, comes the oh so tremendous.... toddler meltdown. And boy oh boy can these be epic. It's a combo of your little one wanting to be independent, but not yet fulling knowing what to do. This can result in some unpleasantness like tantrums, yelling, crying... if you're a parent, you know the drill.

So what do we do when Ben starts to let his inner dark side show? Distraction! We tend to bring small toys he can hold like his favorite toy car, and it keeps him busy for the most part. We also load up our phones or bring an iPad with fun educational games and videos (BabyFirst, Smart Shapes to name a few) that we can bust out when we're in dire need of some help. And the surprising MVP of Disney distractions? The bubble wand. Yes, you know how you're walking through a disney park and suddenly bubbles just magically appear? That's from one of these babies and they're a lifesaver!
The beauty of Disneyland though? You're at the most kid friendly place on earth, so a tantrum isn't looked down upon here because the kid two strollers/tables/peole ahead of you in line is probably doing or will do the same thing eventually.

Best tip from experience
Here's my #1 tip for any parents bringing a toddler to the parks: be flexible. As a parent to a toddler, both PB and I had to be super aware of Ben and everything he was doing since he's completely on the go now. One second he'd be holding our hands walking down Main Street, the next he's jetting off the opposite way. Since Ben always wants to try things on his own, it means extra patience when it comes to letting him explore and on the other end, patience to wait out a meltdown.
We also noticed that with the newfound toddler self awareness and semi-independence makes it where Ben has started to show us more of what he likes and doesn't like. For instance we've learned he likes the "fuzzy" costume characters like the Fab 5, but dislikes Princesses and face characters. Ben is wary of carousels, even though he loved them as an infant. He would rather be on the ground trying to walk rather than cruise in his stroller, too.
All in all, Disney with a toddler brings about a whole new world of magic. Yes, there's a whole new set of challenges, but it just means the payoff of our Disneyland says are even sweeter! The wonder in Ben's eyes when he started to recognize familiar things, like the moment Ben understood Carsland was home to CARS, his latest obsession. To watch as he starts to wave along to people when we're on the train, or hi-5 a character during a meet and greet... or the way his little face light up with amazement is priceless. There's also the joy of watching them take on milestones like their first wobbly steps, recognizing their favorite character, starting to dance or clap along to parades and music... it proves to be the most magical time and more!

So enjoy all the new wonder, the magic and the fun with brining toddler to Disney! As always, thank you so much for reading along, until next time... take care! 💜

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