Big Family Disneyland Hacks

We moved to Los Angeles when Jack was four, but we didn't make our first family trip to Disneyland until his sixth birthday. We really think that's the ideal age for the trip. At six our kids are old enough to be familiar with the characters, but not too old to hug them. They are tall enough for all the rides, and brave enough for the Haunted Mansion.

Jack's trip started a tradition of going for each kid's sixth birthday. This weekend, we took a belated trip for Gus's sixth birthday which was in November, but we delayed the trip a bit because of the birth of baby Louise.

That was our fourth trip, and each time the family has been a bit bigger. So, here are some things we've learned over the years about bringing a whole bunch of little kids to Disneyland . . .

1. Get There Early

We get to the gate before the park opens. Always. On crowded days, we can sometimes ride as many rides that first hour as we can the whole rest of the day.

We also always take advantage of being there before everone else to get Fastpasses. Little kids don't love line time. Planning ahead can minimize it.

2. Save the Stroller for Stuff (and Toddlers)

If you have a sleeping baby in a stroller at Disneyland, you pretty much get to spend your day going on a walk at Disneyland. I don't know about you, but I don't think that sounds very fun. If you WEAR baby, she can still sleep, but you can join in the fun. Babywearing works GREAT at Disneyland, and (even though I have some issues with babywearing) I always do it. But it can be frustrating if you don't have the lowdown.

Your best bet is a buckling-type carrier with baby in front. That gives you the most ride options. There are some rides that will allow soft carriers, or babies in back, but not all. So if, like me, you DO NOT LIKE WAKING UP SLEEPING BABIES (sorry, was I shouting?) just start them off in an Ergo or Bjorn in the front (I borrowed one before I owned my own). You'll be able to take them on just about any ride without a height requirement in either Disneyland or California Adventure, and that's a lot of rides.

The only exceptions I'm aware of are a few spinning-type rides like the Rocketships in Tomorrowland and the Teacups. Those rides require baby to be "sitting" on the seat. (Seems less safe to me, but I'm not in charge.) I really don't mind skipping those myself, but you can also just plan your spinning for in between naps.

Disneyland isn't particularly rollercoaster-focused, so there are quite a few major attractions you can go on while wearing a baby.

3. Divide and Conquer

Extra grownups or teenagers are a big help. We always have my parents with us (which also helps us with details like "buying tickets to Disneyland"). But even with just two grownups, we can split into groups of "tall enough" and "not tall enough" for a particular ride. The big kid group goes on the ride, the grownup with the little kids gets a "rider switch pass" from the ride operator. This allows up to three people to return to the ride anytime and go in the Fastpass line.

scarves are great for nursing under
AND helping little kids not get lost in a crowd

big kids at Space Mountain
While big kids are riding one thing, I take the little kids on something else. Disneyland is great for having different level rides close to each other. If you're too short for Indiana Jones, you can go on the Jungle Cruise, if you can't go on Space Mountain, you can go on the Submarines. Then, once baby wakes up, we switch. Someone else wears the baby, and I take a couple of people with me and go on the tall people rides. In between, we usually go on something all together.

It's not fool-proof, of course. Cars Land (so, so cool!) and the Aviation land in California Adventure have no little kid rides, so I ended up just wandering around and going in gift shops with Frankie and Lulu.

Next time I'll just take them to A Bug's Land where the little kids rides are while the big kids are doing rides in those areas. And I got a phone call that Lulu was missing me just as I was about to get on Luigi's Flying Tires, but everyone said that ride wasn't so great anyway (maybe they were just being nice?).

4. The Tiki Room

Oh Tiki Room, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways . . .

  • Great for quick naps (for me)
  • Baby-wearing friendly
  • Air-conditioned
  • Secret bathroom
And I am going to take a moment here to publicly admit my love for robot birds (draw what conclusions you will) and that oh so catchy song.

4. Don't Get Lost (unless you do)

I've mentioned this before, but it's so great that I'm going to mention it again. We write our cell phone numbers on little kids' arms. So if they get lost, a friendly grownup can just call us.

We didn't end up losing anyone at either day at the theme parks, so that was nice. I did NOT write phone numbers on kids arms on Thursday night when we went to dinner in Downtown Disney . . .

They say you're not supposed to leave children unattended in the Lego Store. But if you DO, they give them free Legos. I'm just sayin'.

5. Dress for Success

This has very little to do with being a big family, but it is so, so fun for the kids to dress up at Disneyland.

Nana outfitted the kids for the Disneyland day for this trip, but in other years we have just let the kids wear things out of the dress up box.

I sewed that Dorothy costume
for myself in high school
The people working at the park all greet the kids by their character names (even non-Disney characters like Dorothy!).

Frankie in a Tigger costume was a big hit with cast members and tourists alike. A BIG hit. At first it was making him super-duper mad that people kept calling him Tigger. ("NO. Me a FRANG-kee!") But he eventually got on board.

And we always tell them at the front gate that we're celebrating a birthday. Then they give us a birthday button with the child's name on it. And all day, everyone wishes him a Happy Birthday!

Dressing up and/or having a birthday button also seems to make it more likely they'll get picked to participate in the shows.

6. Stay here

We live about an hour away from Disneyland without traffic, but there's almost always traffic. It's really awesome to get to stay in a hotel walking distance to the parks, to help with point 1. We stay in the 2 Bedroom Family Suite at the Camelot Inn and Suites. The Disneyland resort hotels don't offer any two bedroom suites, and it would cost six times as much for adjoining rooms there.

It's no frills inside the rooms, but Tudor-cottage-themed on the outside, so my kids think it's plenty fancy. And nice hotels make me nervous anyway. Plus it's got a little kitchenette so we can have breakfast in the room.

And there's a heated pool. Perfect for February!

And that's it. Thanks Nana and Grandad! Anita's sixth birthday is next up, we'll see you then Disneyland . . .