This thread is more or less a "helpful hints" when it comes to taking toddlers to Disneyland. Be it first time parents, grandparents, aunts uncles... this is meant to help out a bit. This is not a commentary on parenting. If anyone wishes to comment on parenting there are plenty of other threads and boards where such discussions are welcome. I know a lot of people are probably wondering how a guy under 30 can author a thread like this. Well... my wife and I have 4 little ones. We have a 5 year old, 4 year old, 2.5 year old, and a 4 month old baby. We are that family most people stare at in public. The large family with a bunch of little kids that looks like a train wreck between a circus troop and a safari expedition at a local daycare. So here are my tips, hopefully others will chime in as well.
The Backpack- My Father taught me many years ago about the value of a good backpack. In my case it is a beat up old Army surplus bag, a canvas make from WW2... and it is commonly called the "Mary Poppins" bag (nicknamed that by a fellow Skip actually!). Be it day trip or week long vacation I can not stress enough how valuable a backpack is when you have a toddler, or worse a herd of them! This does not mean you need a giant backpack. Remember unless you have a stroller, you have to carry what you are taking! The bright side is that if you are taking a lot of snacks then your pack will get lighter as the day goes by. Also big backpacks are a real hassle to remove from strollers, or worse to walk through a crowd with.
Snacks- One thing about toddlers, while all kids are different, toddlers tend to be experts at snacking. Disney has some snack food, but it is usually expensive. Like I said every kid is different but here is my recommendation. Hit up the local store and stock up on the basic snacks your little one likes. I would also recommend possibly a pack of juice boxes, and some small water bottles. Space is usually pretty precious, so the best way I've found is always to bag everything in small ziplock bags annd toss out those big bulky cardboard boxes. It makes life a lot easier when you have a little one who suddenly has the urge to snack or drink while in a 30+ minute line. Security checks usually don't care if you bring in snacks when you have a little one. If you are overly concerned just pack them at the bottom of the bag until you get through the gate.
Clothes- Two things. If you can get away with matching clothes, bravo, at best matching colors or a similar color works really well. When they are all wearing the same it makes it easy to spot them in a crowd. AND it makes it easier to describe them if they somehow get lost! Clothes are obviously cheaper outside the park, if you are potty training you really want to bring spare clothes! About the only store to carry small sizes inside Disneyland is Clothiers... keep that in mind in case the worst happens (as it usually does at this age.) If it is going to be a night trip you will also probably want jackets. Sometimes it is better to have 2 backpacks that way the second one can easily be tossed in the locker and the "essentials" will be safe in the one to be carried in the park.
Strollers- This is usually a question mark, and it honestly depends on the little one. If they are used to taking naps and you are nowhere near the hotel then this is likely the best alternative. Also if you are staying late, and can't physically carry the kid, then a fold up stroller will save you! Some have giant scary strollers, the same rule of backpacks applies to strollers. The bigger they are, the harder they can be to maneuver through crowds or fold up if you plan on taking a tram. If you are flying in from out of town here is a very simple trick. Buy a small foldup one at a local store, (usually about $12-$15) after you land. Use it at the parks, then drop it off at a local Goodwill when you leave. This ensures someone else will be able to use it, and you can use it as a tax write off as well! Park rental strollers are currently $10 and I do not believe they are allowed in the parking structure. Another issue people run into is trying to park a stroller on busy days. So, if you think you will use it I'd recommend one, but if it is a short trip or if they don't usually need one then it may be easier without it.
Backpack carrier- This is another option. One thing to remember is that you generally need to remove the child while in an attraction vehicle. The constant in/out can be cumbersome so it is a tradeoff between finding stroller parking, or constantly removing the little one every time you make it to the front of the line... honestly I would recommend a stroller over using this. If you have a baby then a front carrier is much easier, and in that case you are not required to remove them!
Wrist straps and backpack straps- Again depends on the child. Personally I am not a big fan of them because in a large crowd they can make everything really really difficult. Some individuals like the added comfort of knowing the little one is "strapped in" but I have seen adults trip over a such straps when a child went running, and the outcome wasn't too pretty!
Things you definately want to pack, camera, extra clothes/diapers, snacks, drinks, batteries (for camera), suntan loation, spray bottle.
So this covers the basics. I will go over a few other helpful things like autograph books, places to take them to let them rest, and places to take them to wear them out... in future posts. If anyone else has advice in the meantime please feel free to post.
This thread was inspired by everyone who continually looked at my wife and I with bewilderment and asked..."How do you two do it?"