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When we head down at spring break, the girls will be 6 and 10, which are great ages for Disney, and the baby will almost be three. I know a lot of people think it is too much of a hassle to take toddlers and preschoolers to Disney, but we think the opposite. We have taken both of the girls to Disney when they were under the age of 5 and the trips have always been wonderful. At that age, the magic of Disney is even more MAGICAL. The entire line of Disney parks really does cater to kids of all ages.. even toddlers and preschoolers.
Little kids love meeting the characters and taking in the sights. The other thing that I really love is that the rides geared towards younger kids, as well as many of the characters (like Winnie the Pooh or Eeyore) always have shorter lines. Not to mention that many of the rides (like the Jungle Cruise or Pirates of the Caribbean) are great for adults but have no height restrictions, which means the entire family can ride. Disneyland has a list of height requirements for each of the rides and you can see how few rides are actually off limits to the little guys!
The key to a drama-free trip with preschoolers is being prepared. One of the biggest things you can do is expect anything. Chances are that not everything will go as planned. You may end up waiting in a line longer than you expected, someone will spill their Dole Whip, or trip and skin a knee while running over to see Lightening McQueen. Things happen (even at Disney) and in order to keep everyone on track you want to be prepared in order to prevent little things from becoming big disasters.
To ensure that everything goes smoothly I pack a bag for each of the kids for their time in the parks. It isn’t as important with the older kids, but for the toddler I find most of these things are essential.
Here is what I include:Stroller/Ribbon: Bringing your own is my preference (since we always drive down it is easy to bring our own) but if that isn’t possible, there are strollers for rent. The problem with rented strollers is that they all look the same. In either case you will want to tie a ribbon or something around the handle to make it easy to find amongst the crowd. Sometimes cast members will move and arrange strollers, so it may not be where you left it. It is much easier to pick out a ribbon in a sea of stroller handles.
Water Bottle: You can get water for free at the parks (from soda fountain locations or from drinking fountains near the rest rooms). Instead of constantly being begged for a drink, I keep the kids bottles full of cold water.
Sunscreen: Even in the winter, you can get a sunburn from the Southern California (or Florida) sun. This is always a good thing to pack.
Diapers/Wipes: Even if your child is potty trained a change of underwear is a good idea. Accidents happen, (especially if you get caught in a long line) and having a pair is always better than not.
Change of clothes: I pack an extra pair of socks, pants, short sleeve and long sleeve shirt and sweatshirt. Depending on the time of year the weather can go from warm to cool. Having clothing you can layer is a great idea. Plus, if a slice of pizza ends up splattered on the front, your child won't have to wear a dirty shirt for the rest of the day.
Towel: I bring a towel instead of a blanket since it does double duty. If the baby falls asleep in the stroller I can use it for shade, if they get wet on a water ride, they can get dried off, if they want to sit on the ground while waiting in line or at one of the shows, they can sit on the towel. If it gets cold they can use it as a blanket.
Tattoo (or permanent marker): Nothing will make your heart sink faster than losing sight of your child at a crowded amusement park. Rest assured that Disney parks have AMAZING protocols in place for lost children. But to make it easier on the cast members (and give you piece of mind) you may want to get a child contact information tattoo.. or just write your cell phone number on your child's arm in permanent marker, especially if they are too young to know their own phone number. (You can remove the writing at the end of the trip with nail polish remover)
Autograph Book: Often kids will get scared when meeting costumed characters for the first time. Having an autograph book is a good way to of give them a chance to connect with the character without having to hug or touch them. My kids like to just hand over the book and let them sign. it is less scary than having a giant mouse give them a hug. Especially If your older kids have autograph books, you want to make you have one for your preschooler… even if they don’t want to meet characters. You may also want to include a few crayons in your bag, so they can color in the book on their own.
1st Aid Kit/BandAids: Disney does have first aid stations in the park, but for simple ‘owies’ like skinned knees or little cuts (even imaginary ones) you won’t want to trek across the park to find one. Having bandaids in your diaper bag can quickly fix the ouch!
Snacks: Nothing makes a cranky toddler happier than a handful of fish crackers or fruit snacks. You want to pack things that are easy to eat, and tend to be okay in the heat unless you also want to bring a small soft-sided cooler. I tend to just bring things like pretzels or crackers and avoid the need to keep them cool.
Books: Giving the kids distractions while waiting in ride lines or for meal service is important to preventing meltdowns.
Souvenirs: Disney can be overwhelming to a toddler since they will want to get their hands on everything they see. Store after store filled with surprises and treats that they will want RIGHT THAT SECOND. Unlike older children who more easily understand “we will get something later” smaller kids don’t understand delayed gratification. That is why I tend to pack a few small souvenirs for every day of the trip. Not only is this a great way to encourage and reward good behavior, it is also a fun distraction. The other benefits of bringing your own vs. buying souvenirs in the park is getting exactly the characters your kids want. If your child loves Tow-Mater, but you are in the middle of Princess territory it may be tough to find the exact souvenir you are hoping for. Having small toys picked out and hidden away in your bag (to pull out as a surprise) is a great trick, plus you will save a few bucks. It is easy to say ‘no' to the souvenir stand when you know you have a hidden surprise in the bag!
Medications: (If necessary) If your child takes any medicines during the day, don’t forget to bring them!
Rain Jacket or Parka: (Optional) Check the weather forecast for the day.. Even if it only calls for a 10% chance of rain, you would rather have some protection from the rain than not!
If you are still nervous about traveling with preschoolers, Scholastic has put together this Ultimate Preschool Travel Guide with some fantastic advice about the dos and don’ts of traveling with young children. Scholastic is a leader in children’s literature, and if anyone is familiar with keeping children happy, it is them!
And if you are looking for other tips and tricks for Disneybl.. make sure you don't miss these previous posts: