In today’s busy world, sometimes you may find yourself with a yen to head to Disneyland but no partner to accompany you. Should you worry? Of course not! Single parenting at Disneyland is a fun and rewarding experience for you and your kids. In all honesty, my husband does love Disneyland, too, but he works crazy hours so my daughter and I often fly solo. But my husband (sorry, honey) is not involved in this discussion. We are here to talk about easy ways to rock single parenting at Disneyland with toddlers and infants.
First of all, ask yourself these 5 Essential Questions to determine if your child is ready for Disney. There are tons of other options available if they aren’t ready yet.
Tip #1: Controversial but Hear Me Out
Maybe, just maybe, if you are flying solo and your kids are under 3 and just want to meet Mickey Mouse, you want to save some money. If this sounds like you, consider a hotel character dining experience. No lines for the characters (they come to you), plenty of kid-friendly food, and (unheard of, I know), free parking. Plus your little ones get to see their beloved Mickey or Goofy, and you may actually get to finish a meal. Oh, and you don’t need to pay theme park admission, and kids under 3 are free. If I haven’t convinced you yet that this may save your single parent Disneyland vacation, check out more on the perks of hotel character dining with your little littles.
Tip #2: Try to Find a Non-Peak Time
In other words, plan for a weekday (except Monday). Later this year in 2018, Pixar Pier will open and several other rides will have undergone renovations. I imagine crowds this fall may be crazy, but we have experienced the shortest lines in late January/early February, and in September when older kids are in school, but before Mickey’s Halloween party.
The Los Angeles Times has put together an excellent article about ways to minimize the wait time at Disneyland rides. Get to the parks right before they open–you know your 2-year-old is awake then anyway. Might as well wear them out for naptime, and the rope drop is an event in itself.
Tip #3: Bring a Backpack
I’ll be honest: I’m not an “adult backpack” person. I eschewed them for many years, probably because my back and shoulders still hurt from my 30-pound high school Jansport. Still, though, after my first trip solo with my daughter to Disneyland, I suddenly realized its value for theme parks. It can hold everything, I can still carry my daughter on my hip, everything is easy to find and accessible, and things don’t get lost in it the way they do in my voluminous diaper bag. I bought one at TJ Maxx before heading solo to Legoland with my daughter, and now it has become my “theme park bag.” I keep it stocked with diapers, extra pants, wipes, sunscreen, and cheddar crackers.
Oh backpack, how I’m glad you’ve returned to my life.
Tip #4: Take a Break
I know, you spent a lot of money on those tickets and you have dreams of your 2-year-old stretched out on a bench in Critter Country, passed out while you enjoy a rose gold churro. I would say the usual scenario goes more the route of a massive hangry meltdown while you’re waiting in the interminable line at Mickey’s House.
So, plan for a break. I would say if the park opens at 8, and you get there at 8, plan on leaving for or having lunch around 11 or 12. You can make reservations or not, stay in the park or head to downtown Disney or your hotel/vacation rental. Have a nice lunch, head back wherever you’re staying for a nap, then return to the park in the afternoon if you’re all feeling up to it. A well-rested, fed kid is a much happier kid, especially in the happiest place on Earth.
If you feel that where you’re staying is too far from the parks, I recommend heading to the lobby of the Grand Californian. You can take the monorail from Tomorrowland which exits close to the hotel, or there’s a direct entry from California Adventure (it’s across from Grizzly River Run). Why the lobby? There are several cozy nooks, a gigantic fireplace, soothing piano music, and a small TV playing classic Disney cartoons with little kid-size rocking chairs.
If you REALLY feel you need to stay in the park for your rest, ride the Disneyland Railroad or the Monorail around and around and around the park. You can sit, rest, and watch the day go by. You can hop on/hop off as you choose. The baby care centers are also good air-conditioned spots to sit and have a break.
Tip #5: Bring some sort of stroller/carrier
Honestly, if your kid is small enough, the baby carrier may be better. Strollers can be moved by cast members trying to re-arrange the flow of traffic, or (hopefully not) disappear. With the kiddos and water bottles and the inevitable 3 stuffed animals you’re buying, having a way to transport it all besides on your (poor, tired) mom shoulders does help.
On a side note, my daughter WILL NOT ride in a stroller. And she’s too big for a carrier. I just haul her around the parks in my arms. I figure it’s a form of exercise. And I envy those whose kids seem to rest peacefully in strollers.
Tip #6: Do Whatever It Takes Not to Lose Your Kid
It’s every parent’s worst fear: losing your kid. When there are two or more people looking out for your little one, it’s harder to lose them. When it’s just you, things happen.
Here is my sad story (which still haunts my dreams). My daughter and I were there on a busy day (silly me, not following tip #2), we had just gotten off the Buzz Lightyear ride for the third time and we were going to let her pick out one toy before we had lunch and headed home. In the mere instant of time it took me to take my eyes off her just to hand the cast member my credit card, my daughter disappeared. I panicked, then heard her crying, and my savior in a Green Bay Packers jersey carried her back inside the store. I LOVE Wisconsin for that and so many other reasons.
So don’t make my mistake. Write your phone number on their arm, bring out the baby leash, or use these excellent tips on what to do in case of emergency. Keep in mind that if you do lose your kid, cast members will automatically take any lost children to the baby care center in the park.
Tip #7: Consider California Adventure
I don’t know if this will be the case once the new Pixar Pier opens, but I LOVE California Adventure when I am single parenting at Disneyland. It’s smaller, quieter, more shaded, the rides for little ones are close to one another, and they have wine. OK, maybe you are not me and do not need the latter, but after a day flying solo with your kid at the Happiest Place on Earth, you deserve a little treat, too. Plus they have the excellent indoor, air-conditioned Disney, Jr. Dance Party. You can sit on the benches while your toddler shakes his or her sillies out and gets to play with Doc McStuffins. We’ve gone 3/4 times we’ve visited California Adventure. If you need a little bit more air conditioning, go see Frozen Live at the Hyperion. It’s AMAZING and doesn’t cost several hundred dollars like the new Frozen on Broadway.
When you are single parenting at California Adventure with toddlers, head straight to A Bug’s Land or Cars Land. Your toddler has to be slightly taller for most of the Cars rides, but the theming there is fantastic. Little ones will love the rides at Bug’s Land, but the “It’s a Bug’s Life” show may be too scary for them (there’s smoke, loud noises, darkness, spiders…).
Tip #8: Single Parenting at Disneyland with Toddlers–the Best Rides
So you know you need to visit Disneyland, you want traditional. Head first to Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. If your kid adores it, pick up a Fast Pass (you may only need one because kids under 2 don’t need a Disneyland ticket) for a later time, then ride the Astro Orbiter. Though the latter is rated for any height, I do hold on pretty tightly to my little one despite the seat belt. Mom thing.
After you leave Tomorrowland, head through the Sleeping Beauty castle to Fantasyland. Find anything that has a short line (it won’t be Peter Pan but this is pretty amazing if you don’t mind the wait). Leave the stroller in a designated parking zone (so a helpful Cast Member doesn’t relocate it), and walk around. We like the teacups, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Dumbo, and the Casey, Jr. Train.
If you still have time, either head towards Critter Country to ride Winnie the Pooh, or walk past It’s a Small World to Toon Town. You can visit Minnie and Mickey at their house, and Goofy and Pluto are often walking around.
I love taking my daughter on our single parenting at Disneyland adventures. Though we have had our good times and bad times, she and I have hit a winning combination of ways to make the day enjoyable. And that’s what it’s all about, right? Going to Disneyland with a partner, solo or on a multigenerational trip is meant to be fun. So do what you need to do to have fun along with your kids. All of you will be tired after the day, so have fun.