I am so excited to share with you all of my tips and tricks as I planned our first family trip to Disneyland! We took 8 days, (2 driving from Oregon, 4 Park Days, 2 driving home).
Our kids were ages 8, 6, 5, 5, 4.
Our kids were ages 8, 6, 5, 5, 4.
Disney Day #1
I got shoes that wouldn't give them blisters, would give decent support and would stay on all day.
I loved these!
Disney Day #2
Disney Day #3
Travel Home #1
Not our first choice of a vehicle but we squeezed into our Aspen while our Suburban stayed home getting a new engine! Thankful we had a second vehicle to fit in. Better safe than sorry. We had to cut a few things lat minute like our umbrella stroller (we bought one down there and left it for others to use), we didn't fit as many groceries we were hoping to bring (made for more shopping down there and more eating out). Oh well.
Rest stops: We had two full days of driving. We stopped for meals and to stretch our legs, bathroom breaks etc.. I took the girls, Jeff took the boys. We made everyone try when we stopped. :)
Oh and did I mention that a three of our kids got the stomach flu at various points in our trip. That made for more bathroom stops. :( But we brought old towels, large bowls and of course our trusty old potty seat.
Let me tell you, that is one of the best things we could have brought. A few times we were driving through what felt like the middle of no where and we couldn't make it to the next exit. Life saver for sure!
As we drove in our air conditioned car I thought this was impressive until I later saw it read 105.
We enjoyed amazing views, listened to music with the kids and we were oh so thankful for our DVD player. We brought about 20 movies and let each kid take turns picking. Later into the trip Jeff and I decided to listen to one of our favorite shows (while streaming it through my phone), Frasier, by sharing ear buds. FYI, It is a great show for listening to and not necessarily watching. We have seen it many times and often had a mental visual. We would crack up laughing in the front of the car and the kids would be singing along to their movie in the back of the car. :)
You know. the essentials. :) Each kid had their own water bottle and of course we had our coffee creamer for morning and mid day stops. :)
One of the stops, on the side of the road, I encouraged the kids to scream as loud as they could. We wanted to get some of that energy out and well, why not? Nobody was around. They looked at me like I was crazy but we all screamed as loud as we could. Kind of a fun family bonding moment. :)
Because of our food allergies we brought breakfast food as room allowed. I packed things like GF donuts or muffins, and applesauce cups, peanut butter and bread etc.. We would sit in the dining area where the continental breakfast was served and bring down what we could have. If they had fruit, juice and other things we could have well, then it was a bonus!
We definitely planned our trip so we didn't have to rush. Having a handful of young kids, some with high needs made us realize we needed down time. So we had four days of Disneyland time. We spent three of the days waking up and getting to the park around 9am and staying until about 3-4pm which let us have afternoon naps, pool time and dinner in our hotel. Usually ordering take out or pizza. There were some awesome GF options around us!
One day we knew we wanted to stay late for the fireworks and so in order to do that we slept in, played in the pool and then went to the park later in the afternoon so we could stay until 10pm. Our schedule worked out great for us!
Sleeping in hotels can be tricky. We were still able to book just one room for all of us, (be sure to check if there is guest limit even for children before you book). We found our hotels on groupon and got great deals.
I asked for extra blankets and comforters and the three littles got to sleep like this while the other two girls shared a bed, and of course my husband and I shared one. So a double queen room worked out great for our trip down. We were only sleeping and then driving again.
Our hotel near Disneyland was great too. A little nicer and had two queens and a hide-a-bed. So similar to what we did on the way down, two older girls shared a bed, the three littles shared the hide-a-bed and Jeff and I had one. It gave us more room to spend our four days with a living room and two TV's etc.. I was happy with how it worked out.
I knew I didn't want to spend a TON of money on gifts bought from the parks. So before we left I went to the Dollar Tree. My plan was to let the kids wake up each day to new treats, it felt like Christmas morning to them! This saved me a ton of money and was fun for the kids. Bonus: It gave them something to play with while in the hotel each day. I also knew that because we brought them on the way down that we could fit them on the way back. :) I brought enough for each morning to wake up to. It helped build the excitement for Disneyland to get some even before we arrived.
In addition we let the kids pick out something special at the park before our trip was done. They picked out things like a stuffed animal, a watch, a doll, etc... My husband and I picked out a family gift, a Christmas ornament which we were able to use on our tree this last Christmas. :)
And of course these awesome coffee mugs as coffee is one of our favorite things. :)
Here is what we brought from home:
Piggy Banks. Kind of bulky to bring down but they loved them.
Tractors for the boys, Purses with a pen and notepad.
My son playing with his tractor. ( Not all of the toys were disney related :) I knew that the boys would love a vehicle to drive around the hotel room.)
Stickers and Giant Lollipops! (A treat for later as you will read further in the post)
Light Sabers for the boys and necklaces and giant erasers for the girls.
(The girls said they wanted light sabers instead.)
We brought a backpack for my husband to wear with our water bottles that we filled each morning and if needed at the park as well as a few travel friendly snacks. We ate breakfast at the hotel and ate one meal in the park each day (either lunch or dinner) and one meal at the hotel. I was impressed with the GF friendly food that Disneyland had and how they handled it with caution.
After a week of eating fast food, packed lunches and pizza we had one night where we booked a reservation at the Blue Bayou, a restaurant located in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It was dark and had a cool breeze from the water and amazing GF food! This was my dinner!
In anticipation for a long wait for the evening parade (finding a good spot early) I brought these from home for the kids to have. Thankfully none of them broke on the way down and the kids each got their own. Funny enough these cost me one dollar at home and smaller sizes of this same thing were sold for six dollars each! That would have been $30 if I were to buy them for the five kids! Which would not have happened. But it was a funny coincidence that I brought from home a popular treat that the park sold!
It was very hot on a few of the days. So we bought two of these frozen strawberry lemonade treats and of course 7 spoons. We all got enough of a treat and enjoyed them while we rode the train around the park. It was a nice refreshing, semi-healthy pick me up.
And this was an example of our unhealthy treats! A stand was selling these suckers in a bundle of, five! Perfect for our family. And the kids go crazy for cotton candy. So when we were starting to crash from a long day at the park we enjoyed these little treats.
We saw several parades and managed to get pretty awesome seats for all of them! I brought these glow in the dark bracelets and necklaces from home as well. They were for when it was dark and we walked home and for this evening parade. They were fun for the kids to put on while we waited for the parade to start and again a cheap treat to bring and make it extra special. Bonus: Another great way to keep my group together and not lose anyone. :) Can you sense that was a big worry for me? :)
We didn't have a huge plan for autographs other than if we ran into some of the characters and there wasn't a long line then we would try to get them to sign our books and take a picture. Funny enough we happened to see Minnie Mouse on the day we wore our Minnie and Mickey shirts. And we happened to see all of the Frozen characters while wearing our Frozen shirts. It made for some good family photos!
We brought our own books that I also found at the Dollar Tree, just blank books with Disney Characters on the front. Each kid had their own as well as their own pen (But we only needed one pen usually). I keep these all in a gallon zip lock bag inside the front of the backpack so they were easy to grab and pass out as we found a character.
We had the best luck! Almost all of the characters we ran into had NO Line or we were at the beginning and din't have to wait long.
I had no idea how our youngest son would respond to the characters but he loved interacting with them. Often being silly. A few of the characters were interested in his BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) and tried to sign to him. Kind of fun.
Oh my sweet girl had SO much to say to her favorite character, Anna.
She talked and talked and talked.
There was one character we HAD to see. My oldest daughter loves Ariel SO much she started crying when we found her. This was the one character we had to search for. We asked and ran to meet her hiding behind a ride. This picture is to be framed for her bedroom. She was SO happy!
Just as we walked into the gates for the very first time there was a show getting started with many of the characters from Mary Poppins and Alice and Wonderland. It was amazing to start our experience off with such a magical celebration. All of the dads, including Jeff (in his blue Mickey mouse shirt on the end) were invited to do a little dance. We giggled as we saw all of the dads dancing around in circles to the Disney themed music.I fell in love with Jeff all over again. He is such an amazing dad and the kids loved watching him perform. <3
Our girls got to sit next to Mary Poppins and watch the dad's dance around and listen to the characters tell jokes. Then it was their turn to dance. Oh such a wonderful start to our day!
I think on day one we felt rushed to get into a groove and not miss anything but as we got more comfortable we slowed down and enjoyed what was around us, like this beautiful water fountain.
Jeff and I joke that there is something magical about this place. The kids had the best behavior! Any meltdowns I anticipated were non existent. The kids stood in line very well (granted we had a special pass because of Annie's needs which was a huge blessing for the kids.) So we didn't have to wait long in lines. We did have an umbrella stroller, which allowed our youngest son to sit with one of us when he was too short for a ride. It gave him some shade and when his sister didn't feel good one day she was able to ride through the park in it. I would get one again. Because of our pass we were able to take it to the ride with us but I was impressed that I saw strollers parked everywhere and there seemed to be a pleasant honor system as people left them alone.
In addition to our backpack I wore an over-the-shoulder style purse with my wallet, keys, and passes in them as well as a pen and chapstick etc... I made sure to get one that zipped up so nothing spilled on the rides.
So many rides! However, my youngest son was ONE INCH too short for half of the rides. Boo!
So we tried to find one he could ride on in between each of the others.
We rode on boats and water rides, fast, and even a few scary rides and loved them all!
Our favorite was Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean!
The Cars Ride was my favorite. It really felt like we were in the movie.
I think Jeff may have enjoyed these bumper cars from A Bug's Life, more than the kids. :)
Some rides were slow and peaceful like this boat ride. Oh I have so many pictures of rides, too many to share.
We enjoyed some of the shows but left a few early. They were fun and in a building with AC but we wanted to soak up the park. This was a Disney Jr show and the kids loved it. My son in the picture is looking at the foamy bubbles they had come down from the ceiling.
I always take a ton of pictures. And I am so glad I do. We get to look back and see how small the kids were and some of our favorite memories growing up. I always get cute group shots but try really hard to get individual shots for each of the kids to have when they are older. Even working on this post makes me want to go back! I did try hard to take pictures with me in them. I tend to stay out of them as I am the one holding the camera but I am trying harder to include myself so the kids can remember me too. :)
I will end with this sweet photo of a mother duck with her five ducklings. The crowds filled the park on this day and yet everyone stopped to let them cross the road. :) A friend pointed out that she had five little ducklings as I have five kiddos. :)
I was impressed with Disneyland. The only other time I went was for Disney's 30th Anniversary when I was a teenager. Now as a parent I was able to go for their 60th Anniversary! So fun.
I hope this post was helpful as you prepare your own trip.
I wish we could go again!