A few things we did that helped make our boys’ first trip to Disneyland a light one for all of us!
We did it. We finally took the 5 year olds to the “Happiest Place on Earth” and at the end of the day, we managed to stay pretty… happy!
That doesn’t mean that the trip was perfect. No way! But it actually turned out pretty well. In fact, I had a great time!
Now, I am a Disney dork at heart, so there’s that. I do really, really like Disneyland. I’m that kind of person. So let’s get that out front right here in the beginning, because I know that does make a difference.
But that’s also why there was a large measure of trepidation on my part when we considered taking the boys there. We had decided long ago that we wouldn’t take them until they were at least 5 years old so that they would be old enough to really enjoy it. Not to mention walk a million miles and wait in eternal lines. Not really. But you get the idea.
Still, the idea of taking two young, energetic boys to a theme park made me do some serious soul searching. And planning. Lots of planning. So that we might have the best possible chance of having a decent time.
I thought I’d share a couple of these things here. In case you ever decide to take rambunctious young’uns to a theme park. Or really, on vacation anywhere!
First, I set realistic expectations for myself.
This sounds like a no-brainer, but I really had to sit down with myself and be thoughtful about what I could realistically expect from a day at Disneyland with 5 year olds. I had to be thoughtful about how long I thought they would last in the park. I had to think of ideas and make plans for things like: being tired, being hungry, being cold, being grouchy. Let’s be real, all those things were going to happen. So, realistic expectations and a little more planning got me in a mindset from the get-go that kept me from having too high, unrealistic expectations, and getting disappointed.
Second, I prepared the boys for the experience.
Having never been to Disneyland before (or really any sort of theme park) the boys at the outset had no idea what they were in for. Weeks in advance we talked about what would be there. We talked about the different lands and what we would see in them. We watched a video someone took while walking around the park so that they could see what it would look like. We even watched a few videos of the rides, so that they would know what to expect. We talked about finding a bathroom, and where we’d eat, and what to do if they got lost, and we talked a lot about waiting in lines.
Third, I packed a backpack.
Some people get a locker and that works too. But my husband and I had comfortable day packs that we could carry things in and smooshed down enough to shove out of the way on the rides. Here are some of the items we carried and found invaluable!
- a change of clothes for the boys
- gloves (it was cold!)
- rain ponchos (and we used them!)
- lip balm
- hand sanitizer
- wet wipes
- small water bottle (we’d refill at the drinking fountains)
- and snacks… lots and lots of snacks… such as granola bars, nuts, chocolate covered raisins, beef jerky, popcorn, mandarin oranges… these were lifesavers!
Me and my trusty backpack on the tea cup ride!
Fourth, we had TWO RULES:
- Stay near. Number one for obvious reasons. Though the boys each carried a paper in their pocket with our cell phone numbers and we talked about them finding a Disney Cast Member to help them locate us if they did get lost. I’m happy to report, no one got lost.
- Be happy. Rule number two pretty much encompasses everything else. The couple of times I saw a frown start to emerge, or words became grouchy, I reminded them of rule number two, and they were able to turn it around pretty quickly.
Fifth, we practiced waiting.
Oh, the waiting! It is inevitable in a Disney theme park. And I didn’t want it to become the bane of our vacation. So, what to do while waiting?? I took a cue from Daniel Tiger for three ideas and came up with a few of my own.
Courtesy of Daniel Tiger:
- Play a game. There’s always rock, paper, scissors. But we also did “Guess the Disney Character” (where someone describes a character and the others have to guess who it is) and the Color Game (where we all look for something around us in each color). As a side note, I saw many families with older kids playing the app, “Heads Up” and having a ridiculously fun time!
- Sing a song. OK, maybe it’s not the best time to belt out a Disney song when you’re surrounded by a line of hundreds of people. But don’t think I wouldn’t do it…
- Imagine anything. This one is easy to do at Disneyland! Waiting in line for the submarines? Imagine what we would see if we had our own submarine. Waiting in line for Radiator Springs Racers? Imagine what our dream race car would look like and what it could do. You get the idea.
A few more we came up with:
- Eat snacks. Pretty much every time we got in a line, I pulled a snack out of my bag. Hey, we were walking for miles! It kept our tanks full, so no one got hangry, and kept the boys occupied for at least a couple of minutes. The chocolate raisins were a favorite.
- Look around. Just about every line at Disneyland has plenty to look at! I’d point out all the amazing things around us or play “I Spy” to see if the boys could find something I had found.
- Tell stories. This was by far the boys’ favorite way to pass the time. They’d beg me to tell a story the minute we got in a line (OK, after they ate the chocolate raisins). Usually, I’d just look at whatever ride we were waiting for and told that story. Peter Plan, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Cars. Yep, I told ’em all!
- Meet People. This wasn’t one I planned, but it ended up being one we did often. My boys are social and if there was a child in line around their size, they would strike up a conversation. We also had a lot of fun talking to several of the Disney Cast Members.
Still happy after waiting in line for Luigi’s Rockin’ Roadsters!
Sixth, we were clear about choosing one souvenir.
The toys. The shops. The light-up thing-a-ma-jigs! There are so many items and so many shops and for 5 year olds, it can be overwhelming. We told the boys before we even got there that they could have one special item, under a certain amount of money, that we would buy for them. Then, as we walked around the park and they saw things they liked, we would snap a picture with our phones so they could remember and decide which one they wanted later. And all those light-up-thingys? I brought a package of cheap glow bracelets from home and whipped those out when the sun went down. Voila!
Last, but certainly not least, we said, “Thank you!”
April Perry, co-founder of Power of Moms and former Disney Cast Member has the BEST idea about thanking the wonderful people who are working to make our day magical. Her family designed a little card that they hand out to workers who are going above and beyond to make their day fun. I thought this was a fantastic way to not only thank the cast members, but also to remind my little boys to be grateful for the amazing experience that they are having. I created our own little card and when we interacted with a wonderful cast member, we wrote their name on it and gave it to them.
Two of my favorite interactions was with train engineer Mark and bathroom attendant Stacy. When our Disney train pulled into the New Orleans stop, my boys spotted a train engineer at the side of the tracks and waved. He came right over to my boys and started talking trains. My boys were enthralled. While they were talking, I wrote Mark’s name down on one of the cards and had one of my boys give it to him as our train was pulling out. Mark may have put a big smile on my boys’ faces, but we put one right back on his.
Another day, I made a quick stop into the bathrooms in Tomorrowland. I noticed a cast member named Stacy dutifully emptying the garbage cans and wiping down the counters. There were a lot of people in the bathroom and no one was paying her any notice. Stacy had a blank look on her face, and I wondered if I could change that. I quickly wrote her name on a card and propped it up on a stack of toilet paper rolls on her cleaning cart, and tucked myself around the corner. But I couldn’t help but look! I peeked back around to see her holding the card and looking around. She caught my eye and the goofy smile on my face must have given me away. “Thanks!” she said, smiling wide. “Thank you!” I said, and tried not to skip out of the bathroom. That was one of the highlights of my day.
Oh yeah, and did I mention that one of the best things to do at Disneyland with 5 year olds, is to HAVE FUN! Once all the preparation was done, I tried to just fully immerse myself in the MAGIC of Disney and follow the wonder, laughter, and play of my little boys, who actually do that pretty well every day.
Me and the boys rocked out at Tarzan’s Tree House
That is how I not only survived, but actually had an absolute ball at Disneyland! Now that doesn’t mean we didn’t have any grouchy grumbles, or messy moments. They were there. But some realistic expectations, a little preparation, and a determination to have FUN really did pay off in making it an overall magical trip.
Do you have any tips for making Disneyland (or other theme parks) light?