Friday, July 15, 2011

Travel Tips - Road Trips and Disneyland with your Infants and Toddlers

Planning a family vacation takes time.  I hope some of the information I share from our experiences helps you!

We go to Disneyland a lot because we are only a six hour car drive away.  Six hours in a car with a toddler in the back seat might sound horrible but by now we have a pretty good system.  This post will answer several of the initial planning questions I get asked most about our trips - where to stay, how to pack, and how to survive the drive.

Everything here is simply based on my own experiences and our vacation style.  You may not share my opinions and your comments are welcomed on this post.  Lets make this fun for everyone!

Where do we stay?

We've stayed at many different hotels in the Anaheim area.  Some really good, some decent, and some bad.  Instead of comparing every hotel, I'll share our short list of favorites.  I'm sure each hotel has more pros and cons but I'm only including the things that stand out most to me.

Pros: Starbucks in the lobby, walking distance to Disney
Cons: expensive room service with limited options for children, standard room is a studio

Our most recent stay was here.  We had a great view of Disneyland and were able to watch the fireworks from our room.  We spent a few afternoons at the pool.  They have a great play area for kids but my two year old daughter wanted nothing to do with getting splashed so we didn't get anywhere near the fun.  We walked to Disneyland a few times and decided we would much rather have driven because of the warm weather.  The walk is fine when the weather is nice!

Pros: multiple room suites are standard, complimentary cooked to order breakfast, nightly Manager's Reception with complimentary beverages and snacks
Cons: not realistic walking distance to Disneyland

The dining area is located in the center of the hotel.  The area features a large mountain lion on top of rocks with water falls.  The lion moves his head and occasionally roars.  My daughter was extremely amused by the lions each time we stayed at this hotel!  It definitely kept her in a high chair during breakfast when she was smaller!  I should also add that breakfast is wonderful here!  My daughter is an extremely picky eater and this hotel is a great option to avoid purchasing a large breakfast when you're not sure if you're kid will eat.

Cons: not realistic walking distance to Disneyland, standard room is a studio (suites are available for higher nightly rate)

Pros: magic morning early entry (on select days guests are eligible to enter the park before it opens to the general public), all three hotels open directly to Downtown Disney or California Adventure (SHORT walk to parks), magic of Disney extends to hotels (rooms, restaurants, etc), on site character dining
Cons: $$$ (remember that you don't have to pay for theme park parking when you can walk into the parks from your hotel - savings of $15/day), parking (long walk from your car to the hotel if you're not using the valet), standard rooms are studios

We are big fans of all the Disney hotels!  My very favorite place to stay is the Grand Californian Hotel because you can walk directly into California Adventure.  I have endless nice things to say about the times we've spent at all three hotels.  I'll spare you all the details but I would definitely suggest checking out the sites and deciding what is important to your family when you think of planning your Disneyland vacation.  Now that my daughter is older, getting on and off the tram to get to Disneyland from the parking garages isn't such a hassle.  It seemed we had so much more to carry when she was smaller (diapers, wipes, bottles, formula, baby food, etc.).  Staying at the Disney hotels allows you to avoid carrying everything with you into the parks because you can easily leave and walk back to your room. 

I'm dying to share park details with you but that will have to wait until tomorrow.  Let's talk about our next most frequently asked question...

How do we pack?

Keep in mind that we've been doing this with our daughter for almost two years.  Driving for six hours with her wasn't always easy.  I'm sure we were terrified the first time we attempted this.  I've learned a lot in the past couple of years!  The most important thing I do is start a packing list one full week before we leave.  It's so easy to forget things when you're packing.  In the past I would generally start thinking about everything we needed and then waste time trying to remember what I was sure I wouldn't forget!  I start a word document on my desktop and each night I add to the list.  I also run in and add things as they come up.  Don't leave the simple things off your list.  We once had to stop to purchase pacifiers.  Really, pacifiers??  How on earth could I forget such a necessity?  That list will save you time and money!

We always go overboard on buying snacks and drinks before we leave.  I generally have a small bag of dry snacks that I keep in front of me on the floor board while we drive.  This bag typically has granola bars, some candy, jerky, goldfish, and cheerios.  All these food items are out of their cardboard boxes and placed in Ziploc freezer bags to save space.  I always add a stash of plastic grocery bags here to serve as trash bags while we drive.  Don't forget your sippy cups, baby spoons, plastic bowls, straws, and wipes!  The bag I keep in the front with me is a great place for these items.  Sounds like a giant bag but I promise it's not.  Our cold food items are on the back seat in an ice chest.  We use a big rolling ice chest that later gets moved into our hotel room (see picture below).  We always bring plenty of water and Gatorade.  Trust me, you'll want those to throw in the bottom of your stroller when you go into the Disney parks.  Don't waste your vacation money on bottled water!  The items in our ice chest have changed drastically from the time my daughter was an infant.  Obviously this will be different for all of you.  I've recently been including baby carrots and cut celery in Ziploc bags.  Cheese sticks were a big staple for my daughter on our last road trip too.  Remember that most of the hotel rooms mentioned above have small refrigerators in the rooms so you can easily move all your cold items to the refrigerator during your stay and bring home the items you don't use.
It's silly for me to tell you what to pack. I'll only share a couple of things I've found very helpful.  If you're driving, you might want to throw in an umbrella.  You might not need it, but you don't want to have to purchase one when it starts raining.
If you are bringing pacifiers, it might be a good idea to bring along a pacifier clip.  I remember losing pacifiers or dropping them and not being able to get to a sink quickly enough!
Another helpful thing I've found is having a blanket with stroller ties.  This really isn't necessary for the summer months but as it gets colder, it's no fun picking up a blanket that has fallen off your cold baby in the stroller!  I made my own by sewing ribbons to the corners of a fleece blanket (see picture below).  Super easy to make or you could look online and purchase something.  You also  might want to consider a hat with ties.  I know my daughter never wanted anything on her head and I had a really hard time keeping her warm when we visited Disneyland in the winter.  I sewed ribbons to the hat she is wearing in the picture below.
While we are on the subject of making your trip easier with babies, don't forget a carrier!  It might sound like a good idea to simply carry your child around Disneyland or let her sit in the stroller.  Until she decides she hates her stroller and you are exhausted from carrying her all day!  Bring a carrier!!
If you will be using a stroller, it's a good idea to bring a bag that will fit in the bottom (in addition to your primary diaper bag).  You will likely be bringing a lot of stuff into the parks and it will all end up in the bottom of your stroller for storage.  Getting on and off the tram, monorail, and Disneyland train usually require you to remove all your items and fold your stroller.  This is so much easier when all of your stuff is in one bag.  We learned this the hard way.  The first and last car on the trams allow you to bring your unfolded stroller on the tram.  It's a great option but there is usually a longer wait if there is a big crowd.

The last packing tip I have is for visiting Disneyland in the warmer months.  Bring shoes suitable to play in the water.  California Adventure has a great water play area for kids.  Regardless of age, they must be wearing shoes at all times.  Our first visit resulted in my daughter ruining her little leather shoes.  
How do we survive the six hour drive?

My husband really dislikes it when I let our daughter eat in the car.  Like any other baby, she thought it was hilarious to throw food everywhere.  Luckily we're past that stage.  But for those of you that aren't, consider an art bib for your road trip.  In the picture below, my daughter is wearing a toddler size vinyl art bib.  It has sleeves and a couple of pockets on the front.  Perfect for baby food in the car!  The pockets caught most of the food she dropped and the front completely covered her and avoided any big baby food spills all over clothes and the car seat.  Definitely a must have!
We started using a portable DVD player with my daughter when she was pretty young.  She was fascinated by Harry the Bunny so luckily we were able to get a few good hours of silence during our drive while she was watching her video on repeat.  She is now really into the Disney Princesses and will watch most Disney movies start to finish.  Now that she is a little older I let her pick out the DVDs she wants to bring with us.  Then when we are in the car and she requests something we don't have, I gently remind her that she chose to leave that DVD at home.  No tears and she is learning about making choices.  The DVD player has been great in the car!  Don't be shy about bringing it into restaurants with you too.  We have been able to enjoy quite a few dinners simply because we had the extra entertainment on our table. 
Now that my daughter is able to use crayons and markers with out making a big mess I always bring a pad of paper and markers.  She loves to draw and it passes a lot of time while driving. 
Having a potty trained toddler has caused us to make a lot of stops!  It feels like she has to pee the second we drive away from a convenience store!  When you plan your trip, if you're driving, be sure to incorporate a couple of hours for unexpected delays and stops.  

The last tip I have in planning your trip is to get your kids excited about Disney rides and parades with YouTube videos.  We have found a video online for almost every ride.  Remember that these videos are uploaded from YouTube users so you might not see great quality videos.  My daughter can tell you about every ride at Disneyland just because she has seen them all online!  We've also found that she isn't hesitant or scared to try most rides as she has already seen what to expect.

Tomorrow I'll be talking about our favorite kid friendly things to do on our Disney vacations.   

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Excellent post and great advice! Always good to hear what others are doing and get ideas for when we travel. :)