Oh, where to begin — or should I say continue — with Disney Social Media Moms Celebration… I’ve had another week to process everything, and I’m still overwhelmed by all of the insights and inspiration I gained there, I can’t believe it. I’ve decided to tackle all of the goodness by writing on the topic each Wednesday until I’ve covered everything educational and entertaining that I believe you’d truly want to know.
So, this week, let’s start by rewinding to February when I got the email letting me know I’d been selected to attend this invitation-only conference. I read it. And re-read it. And I got all teary. For two reasons, really. The first was entirely selfish. With this simple email, I was filled with a sense that I had finally built a strong voice and solid place in the strange, ever-changing world of blogging. The second was pure joy…which, in all honestly, was immediately followed by fear. Fear that the event hosts would realize that I’m not “Disney” enough to be included in an event like this.
Let me explain. Many of the people I know who were invited are true Disney-everything fanatics (think my talented blogging friends Robyn, the mom behind Disneyland Guru, or Cam, author of 101 Disneyland Tips). Me? I’ve taken one of my kids to the Magical Kingdom…once. And when, after much back and forth, we decided to go all in to the conference as a family, I was still quite hesitant.
It’s not that I don’t believe in the magic of Disneyland, and all the joy it can bring. I just didn’t know if our family was ready for it. Would the loud noises, larger-than-life characters, and busy crowds be enough to send my highly sensitive kids (and their similarly challenged mom) over the edge? Was it worth hauling a 2-year old all over the place in a stroller?
It turns out we not only survived, we truly had the time of our lives. So I’m here to share the hows and whys. Because I hope your family will get the opportunity to share in similar joy, laughter, and memory making.
Lesson #1: Spread your trip out over a few days.
This used to be counter-intuitive to me. I didn’t understand how if one day felt overwhelming, multiple days wouldn’t be total overload. But, it turned out that, for us, knowing we had tomorrow to repeat our victories or try things we’d missed out on kept us smiling.
Lesson #2: Plan down time into your schedule.
The best way to do this is to stay at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels. Being able to pop back to the hotel for an afternoon swim, some quiet, and a change of clothes made all the difference for us. Plus there’s Magic Hour each day, so one of the parks opens an hour early for resort hotel guests only. It’s a great way to get on those popular rides before the crowds storm the lines. If you don’t have the luxury of staying at a Disney property, create an escape by seeing a show (Aladdin and Mickey and the Magical Map were the two we planned on, but never ended up seeing for various reasons), taking a simple ride on the train or Monorail, or exploring over on Tom Sawyer’s Island (which we also missed, I’m afraid). Pink was constantly pulling the cover over her head in her stroller, and all of our kids covered their eyes and ears as needed. Others recommended noise-cancelling headphones to me, but, in our case, I knew the discomfort on the kids’ ears would have been more upsetting to them than the noise.
Lesson #3: Focus on your strengths.
If rides are your family’s thing, great. But if they’re not, figure out what makes your kids tick, and embrace it. Our kids love singing and dancing, so when we found opportunities for them to do that, everyone was happy. It’s a Small World was a favorite for everybody (even though be-bopping Pink was technically supposed to be seated the whole time). Cars Land was another area that we all loved thanks to the awesome sights and fun music. Thanks to our red-carpet experience as DisneySMMoms attendees, our kids also adored the private Sabrina Carpenter concert and rocking out to the DJ when they shut down Toontown(!!) for a private dinner party. Another cool thing to do is play around in the Attractions section of the Disneyland website. You can look for ride/entertainment/activity ideas sorting by thrill level, age, and height. In Pink’s case, darkness turned out to be a fear, so some of the most toddler friendly rides were out for her.
Lesson #4: Eat well.
While we decided to indulge in “vacation food” most of the time, it was great to hear from Tom Staggs, Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, that they’re constantly working to give choices to parents who want their kids to eat healthy food while in the parks. He also talked about their great approach to families dealing with food allergies. You simply alert the cast member when making reservations that you have an allergy, and they work with you to provide safe options. If it’s at a buffet, the chef will even escort you through the line! (What he didn’t warn us about was that if you have sensitive kids, you should absolutely NOT lunch in the area just outside of the Jedi Training Academy show. While some of the kids enjoyed catching a peek of the entertainment from a safe distance, all of our kids were jump-out-of-their-seats-and-have-nightmares scared when Darth Mal decided to dramatically jump on the railing beside us and stare us down.)
Lesson #5: Use the Rider Switch program.
If you have a little one who can’t go on the ride, no parent should be left behind. I was bummed thinking only Lenny or I would get to go on each ride with the boys. But Disneyland has a great solution for this. Cam, of Growing Up Goofy, outlines the process well, but the basic idea is that the adult in line asks for a Rider Switch pass. After riding, that adult gives the pass to the adult left behind and they get to go straight to the front of the line (or in the Fast-Pass line). We did this once on Radiator Springs Racers and it was really a great way to keep everyone (read: me) happy.
Lesson #6: Think like a kid.
As an adult, I think the rides are the most compelling part of the Disneyland experience. But for our kids, the Egg Hunt that was going on at the time was a huge hit. They ran all over the park looking for hidden eggs, and got a prize at the end of the day for finding them. That hard-earned prize was worth more than any other souvenir. Pin trading is another popular activity for kids who aren’t as inclined to jump from line to line. While I’d heard of it, I thought it involved Disney characters, which my kids are hesitant to approach. It turned out to be a very low-key, non-intimidating, but rewarding activity. It’s also fun to be able to buy pins as souvenirs, stocking stuffers, birthday gifts, etc.
Lesson #7: Listen to the stories.
One of the most magical things about the Disney brand is its beautiful storytelling ability. Look at each experience — a walk through a new part of the park, a go around on a ride, even a dining experience — as a story, and you’ll appreciate everything that much more.
Lesson #8: Bring a book.
I’m not talking about a tourist book (though of course you’ll want this one), I’m talking about a novel that your kids love. As soon as you hop in line, start reading aloud. Engage the kids in the story so they’re asking you “what comes next?!” instead of “how much longer?!” While we didn’t do this (a huge part of the conference awesomeness was a Fast-Pass badge and private parties in Cars Land and Toontown, which meant our line-waiting time was minimal), my brilliant friend suggested it and I love the idea.
Lesson #9: Look for hidden Mickeys.
I’d heard talk of this, but didn’t totally get it until Little, who has a great eye, started pointing out things even I didn’t see. Look carefully, and you’ll spot Mickey all over the place!
Lesson #10: Enjoy being surprised.
Who knows what your kids will fall in love with. I certainly didn’t think Pink would want to be thrown around on the laugh-(and bruise)-inducing Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree — time and time again. And I had no idea that early-rising Big would want to stay up late to fall in love with the parks at night, including the World of Color. Little? Well, yeah, I guessed he’d be happiest in the hot tub. This experience was truly remarkable. It made me realize that my mind is the only thing that’s been limiting our Disney fun through the years. What a gift for all of us to have discovered, embraced, and lived the magic — together.
If you’ve learned other tips to help kids (and moms) who are nervous about embarking on a Disneyland adventure, please share them in the comments!
Disclosure: I was honored to be invited to the 5th Annual Disney Social Media Moms Celebration held at Disneyland recently. While I paid a fee to attend the conference (as well as my extended stay and travel), it was enhanced with perks to give us an even more magical time. I am not compensated nor required to share my experiences. This post includes an Amazon affiliate link.