I’ll admit it; I’m a wannabe. I want to be one of those parents who travels with their kids everywhere. I want to be that parent that takes their kids with them to places near and far, across mountains, and oceans. I want to have many stamps in my passport and I’ve fantasized having children with stamps in their passports too.
I have friends like that, well travelled with well-travelled children. They don’t feel like having kids is a reason not to travel. They haven’t “settled down” just because they have kids, they continue to see the world making the kinds of modifications necessary when travelling with young children. They might choose destinations safer to go to with unvaccinated young children or abandon the rugged backpacking excursion until the kids are a little older, but they still travel.
My husband and I just got home from a week “vacation” to Disneyland. As a wannabe, when we initially started discussing where we would take our family vacation, I went to bat for a trip to Hawaii. How you get from Hawaii to Disneyland is an example of something getting lost in translation, but whatever, it was better than not taking a vacation at all. As a former die-hard Winnie the Pooh fan, I figured I would have a great time.
Ultimately, I think I lost my argument on two counts. One, it is expensive for a family of six to travel to Hawaii and two, my husband is more conservative in his thinking about travelling with children. I know for a fact there are places he dreams of taking the kids, like Israel, and Europe, but I’m pretty sure my husband dreams of taking his kids there when they are older than 6, 4, 2, and 8-months. I think he also had a really hard time envisioning relaxing on the beaches of Maui while changing diapers. So, we set our sites on Disneyland and decided to use it as an opportunity to forego the usual birthday hoop-la and celebrate Olivia’s 6th birthday there.
A week before our trip, Brent and I got real with each other. “What are we thinking taking four kids alone to Disneyland without any help?” we wondered. It’s hard enough manning the zone at home let alone a theme park where little kids have been known to explode. We had some extra savings so in lieu of upgrading to the Grand California Hotel; we enlisted one of our beloved babysitters and her husband to come along.
We packed our mini-van full of snacks, luggage, and with our double-Bob secured on top, took to I-5. A few days later, our newly married, twenty-somethings, would fly down to meet us when we checked in.
In a nutshell, I learned a lot about myself on this trip and about going to Disneyland with young children. Here are my top 10 take-aways for 2012:
- Definitely splurge on hiring a few extra hands especially if you have as many young kids as we do and the cash to do so. We were able to spend the first night in the parks without the kids, getting all the adult rides out of our system. It was also a wonderful thing having our babysitters with us because it took a lot of pressure off of me. I felt like I could enjoy meals out more and could sit back a bit more than I would have if I had no help.
- All of the hotels across the street from Disneyland are about the same. I previously had stayed at the Best Western Park Place and it was a wee bit better than the Carousel Inn we stayed at. They all offer as many hardboiled eggs, red delicious apples, and donuts you can eat each morning. And no matter how hard they try to clean, the floors are pretty much always disgusting.
- Pack your own food for lunch; it will save you big time. Although, I did break down and supplement the packed lunches one day with some French fries for the kids. At $2.99 each, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Cotton candy was $4, and ice-cream bars were $4.50. Also, bring your own water, when we were hit with the random 100 plus degree heat wave, and dying of thirst, at $3 a bottle, it was cheaper to buy a 24-pack at the near-by 7-11 for $5.99.
- Have a game plan about how much you are going to spend on the kids. It was so nice to be able to email my parents network and hear how people planned that portion of their Disneyland experience. Ultimately, this went very smoothly for our family because we had a plan. There were no tantrums at all about toys.
- A 4-day park hopper for kids as young as ours was too much. We could have easily done better with two-days in the parks. On Day three, we experienced total kid/parent/babysitter meltdown. California Adventure was not so wonderful that day. Although, the Aladdin show was well worth the hour off our feet.
- Best rides ever: Tower of Terror at California Adventure (also known as Tower of Pee Your Pants, Tower of Joy and Happiness (if convincing your kids to come with you), or Tower of Curse In Front of Small Children), Splash Mountain (see picture of Georgia’s face), Soaring Over California, and on the hot day, Grizzly Rapids (California Adventure), we also endured the 80 minute wait to ride Radiator Springs Racers (but get a Fast pass for this or you too will watch grown men bitch and moan).
- First thing to do when entering the park (besides sending your fastest runner to fast pass the longest rides) is to get an autograph book (or bring one with you) for the kids to get the autographs and pictures with their favorite characters. We enjoyed taking pictures with most of our friends, except Minnie, who seemed to keep dogging us every time we got in her line (they would give us some excuse about Minnie needing to take lunch to Mickey or something like that).
- Bring a stash of your own glow-in-the-dark bracelets and necklaces. They cost $1 at Michaels but they’ll cost you $10 at Disneyland. I must say though, I do love my glow-in-the-dark Tinkerbelle pin.
- It is hard to be a two-year old sometimes so be prepared for seeing the best and worst of both kids and parents while at Disneyland. Our two-year-old, cried after every ride ended. She didn’t want to get off so we had to get used to explaining to her that rides end and we need to get back in line all while smiling at strangers as we lifted her over our shoulders as she screamed bloody murder.
- Disneyland this time of year is great. The lines are manageable and at Halloween time you get to see the Haunted Mansion decorated for the Nightmare Before Christmas. There is also a great Halloween party and fireworks show for a mere $50. Unfortunately, only one of our four kids was up late enough to witness it.
Now that I’m home, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. It was a privilege to be able to go anywhere with my family. On the last day in Disney, as I crossed the street to my hotel, there was a pregnant woman panhandling for money for her and her baby. It really hit home to me then despite the tantrums, the heat, the craziness of taking four little ones to the “happiest place on earth” that we are some of the lucky ones. I will never forget Georgia telling me how “terrible” the Haunted Mansion was and despite her terrified little face, her thrill at riding on Splash Mountain with us. I have built some lasting memories with my children and husband. It wasn’t a seamless perfect family vacation but then again, there’s always Maui in 2013. 🙂