We just returned to Seattle from a week at Disneyland. For anyone considering a trip to Disneyland with a toddler, here are some possibly useful notes.

Hotel: if you can afford to stay at a Disney resort hotel, you can afford the Grand Californian. It is the only Disney hotel that is reasonably close to the parks (and has its own entrance to California Adventure), and looks to be the nicest of the three.

We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, which is probably close to a mile from the Disneyland park entrance (although you can take the Monorail, or use the Grand Californian’s entrance to California Adventure). The Disneyland Hotel has seen better days and isn’t nice enough to merit the extra cost. During our stay, there were only two working elevators which caused huge delays in the mornings, at dinner time, and in the evenings after the parks closed. The “magic headboard” was cool, but I don’t think it will be memorable in the long run. The swimming pools are very nice–especially the one designed just for toddlers, which is not even 12″ deep. James loved playing “whack-a-mole” with the water spigots, and even went down one of the water slides.

I can’t speak to the value of staying off the resort at one of the hotels with a shuttle, but I suspect you would save a lot of money and have a nicer hotel, with about the same walk to/from the parks (or the inconvenience of waiting on a shuttle). The hotels along Harbor Boulevard adjacent to the parks are probably the best bets, because you can just cross the street and be at the park main entrance.

Car: I occasionally hear people say they intend to come here without a car, which is insane. If you plan on staying for any length of time, you want a car because nothing outside the resort is within walking distance and there are no other transportation options. The resort is designed to keep you inside and overpaying for food. If you have a car, you can go to grocery stores, Target, restaurants outside the resort, etc. And if you get bored, you can go to the beach or Hollywood!

  • Toddler car nap route #1: head south on I-5. Take CA 133 South to Laguna Beach. Drive north on CA 1 to CA 22, then head east. Turn north on I-5 and head back to Anaheim. This will kill about an hour.
  • Toddler car nap route #2: head north on I-5. Take the 101 toward Hollywood. Exit at Silver Lake Blvd. Follow Beverly Blvd into Hollywood (via Highland Ave). Take the Sunset Strip down into Beverly Hills, and then skip over to Wilshire Blvd via Rodeo Drive (not the fun part, but a residential area with really nice houses). Wilshire takes you to 405 South, from which there are several options to return to Anaheim. This will take at least two hours, depending on traffic.

Food: yeah, it is overpriced. I can deal with that, and there are deals to be found (in particular, the Napolini takeout restaurant in Downtown Disney seemed reasonable). It was more difficult to handle the fact that every food item was full of chemicals and yuck. The apple packets in the kids meals had some kind of preservative, and even my bleu cheese salad dressing contained high fructose corn syrup.

Booze: it is surprisingly hard (if not impossible) to find alcoholic beverages at Disneyland, and surprisingly easy to find them at California Adventure (there is even a Karl Strauss beer truck that serves pints to go!). The best bar in the entire resort is Tiki Sam’s at the Disneyland Hotel–get the Cadillac margarita, rather than whatever $15 margarita is on the menu, because the Caddy is less than $10 and 2X stronger. Whatever you do, don’t buy beer or wine at the hotel convenience stores—a 12 oz can of Heineken will cost you $7.

Food and drink are good reasons to have a car—you can cruise to a local grocery store and stock up on treats for kids and grownups at half the cost.

Rides: they are fun. Go on as many as possible, because that’s why you came to Disneyland in the first place! Yes, you will often be waiting in line, but Disney does a fairly good job of keeping the lines moving and there is plenty of stuff to look at while you are in line. We found that James didn’t like rides with sudden movements or speed changes, and he also didn’t like the “dark rides” which were probably too loud. The tiny little waterslides on “Pirates of the Caribbean” scared him to death, but even after that, he still wanted to go into the haunted house (which we ixnayed because we were legitimately worried about scarring him for life). Here is a full list of the rides we went on.

  • Disneyland:
    • King Arthur’s Carousel:  James’ favorite ride. We probably went on it 5 times.
    • Storybrook Land Canal Boats: a 30 minute wait for a 5 minute boat ride. James liked it.
    • Mad Hatter Tea Party: James liked the lanterns more than the ride itself.
    • Autopia: James loved it. He giggled for the whole ride.
    • Pinocchio’s Daring Journey: James didn’t like this one so much.
    • Casey Junior Circus Train: it was alright, just a short train ride.
    • Alice in Wonderland: scared James.
    • Winnie the Pooh: scared James.
    • Pirates of the Caribbean: REALLY scared James.
    • Roger Rabbit: James didn’t like the ride but he did like the little village area around it.
    • Dumbo: James liked it enough to go twice.
    • Jungle Cruise: this would have been more fun if the guide hadn’t been extremely loud and annoying.
  • California Adventure:
    • Radiator Springs Racers: it doesn’t seem like the cars are going that fast when you watch the ride, but they haul ass. James was pretty scared but he didn’t cry until the VERY end.
    • King Triton’s Carousel: James’ second favorite ride. We went on it three times.
    • Turtle Talk With Crush: we left early. If James were a year older…
    • Luigi’s Flying Tires: meh.
    • Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train: meh.
    • Tuck & Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies (bumper cars): James LOVED it.
    • The Little Mermaid-Ariel’s Undersea Adventures: James liked it so much that we went twice.

City Stroller Rentals: Why lug a stroller through the airport when you can rent one for cheap? This was well worth the cost and much, much cheaper than renting a stroller every day at Disneyland.

Magic Hour: only Tomorrowland and Fantasyland are open during the Disneyland Magic Hour, and not all rides are available. On the California Adventure side, everyone rushes to the “Soaring Over California” and “Radiator Springs Racers” rides, so the lines are immediately one hour long at 9 AM. The trick is to wait until just before the park opens to the general public at 10 AM, and squeeze in after the early birds have already gone through the line.

Airport: we flew out of John Wayne rather than LAX. John Wayne is basically the Disneyland Airport, which means your flight will inevitably be full of kids. This can be both pro and con–it sucks if you can’t handle a screaming baby or two (or ten), but on the flip side, there is plenty of noise aboard the plane and nobody will hear your kid crying amid the din.

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