Does taking a 1-year old to Disneyland sound impossible? We thought so, too. Originally from San Diego, my family and I spent quite a few weekends at Disneyland. As an adult, I still love going there. In fact, Jacob and I spent part of our Honeymoon at Disneyland. Now that I’m older, I hate the crowds, so I like to plan a trip during the week while school is in session. Our Honeymoon was the last time we’d visited Disneyland and Jacob and I were missing it a little. But after having a baby, I wasn’t eager to dive into that adventure. It would be too complicated: How would our painstakingly fine-tuned naps and bedtime routine work out? How would I feed her? Where would I change diapers? Where could I privately nurse my easily-distracted baby? And would it even be worth it in the end?
Since Julia was born on Jacob’s birthday, I wanted this first double birthday to be extra special. It had to be a Disneyland birthday. I went into mega-research mode, determined to make this work and found out so much about traveling to Disneyland with a baby. We did ultimately have a great experience and I’m so glad we decided to take Julia on this trip at this age. After all, when is your child going to be so easy to manage (not walking yet) and so full of wonder and awe again? If you’re on the fence about it or just need some good tips on what to do once you get there, read on!
Where to Stay?
If you have a huge budget that enables you to splurge, I would recommend staying at the Grand Californian, which has its own entrance into California Adventure and Downtown Disney. If you’re able and willing to spend about $1,000/night on a room, a one-bedroom suite would allow you to put Baby in the separate closed-off living room. But let’s be realistic here…
Most of us are on a smaller budget and need to get more creative. While the hotels on the park property are conveniently located, I recommend renting a vacation home nearby. This may sound extravagant, but trust me, it is a lot cheaper and much more convenient in the long run. I highly recommend Anaheim Vacation House. They have several different sized properties close to the parks. We rented a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath townhouse within walking distance to the park (although we ended up driving each day) and only paid $235/night. We had grandparents come with us and were able to split the cost, making it so affordable. The townhouse came with everything we needed: high chair, booster seats, pack n play, stroller, and fully stocked kitchen. We slept in the larger master bedroom and were able to tuck the pack n play into the walk-in closet, with the door left open. Julia usually sleeps in her own room, but the strange place spooked her a bit so we just kept her nearby. Side note – be sure you check in as early as possible to familiarize your baby with the house and bedroom.
We were able to eat dinner at the house each night and have a normal bedtime routine for Julia. At a nearby grocery store, we picked up a birthday cake and a giant cupcake to use as a smash cake for our little birthday party. It was nice to unwind and relax in a large space after a long day.
Nursing and Baby Care in the Park
At this point, Julia was still nursing, but not as often. She was eating baby food, but she needed to nurse 2-3 times a day still. Whenever we hopped on a dark ride, I made sure we sat at the very back. We nursed on Pirates of the Caribbean, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, and Haunted Mansion. Julia wasn’t distracted by any people around and it gave her a chance to rest and snuggle a bit.
There are also Baby Care Centers in both Disneyland and California Adventure. These centers are great! They have private rooms to nurse, a changing room with multiple changing tables and sinks, a feeding area with highchairs, a microwave in the kitchen area, and small shop to buy supplies you may have forgotten or run out of. They even have tiny toilets for toddlers and small children to use (no toilets for adults here). In Disneyland you can find it at the end of Main Street between Plaza Inn and the First Aid center. In California Adventure, it is located near the entrance of Cars Land, between the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop and Sarge’s Surplus Hut.
Napping on the Go
At this age, naps on the go were still a possibility and Julia was able to comfortably nap in her stroller for at least an hour a couple times during the day. This gave us the opportunity to pass the stroller off to Grandma to sit on a bench in the shade while Jacob and I went on some big kid rides. It was the beginning of February, so it wasn’t too warm. But any warmer, and it would have been too uncomfortable for Julia to nap outside. We have a great stroller (Britax Affinity Stroller) that can recline almost flat, has a large canopy and air ventilation. We probably would have had to add a clip-on fan if it got too hot. Yes, they exist just for strollers! Our backup plan was to head into the Grand Californian Hotel and rest in their lobby – it’s very quiet and large.
We wanted to have some very memorable moments, so one of the things we planned was a Character Breakfast the morning of the birthdays. There are a couple of restaurants that do this; we chose Disney’s PCH Grill. They have the Surf’s Up! Breakfast with Mickey and Friends. You can take a picture with the characters when you walk in and they also come around to your table. Julia really loved this! Whichever restaurant you decide on, make sure you make reservations well in advance as the spots fill up quickly.
Another lifesaver for us was baby food pouches. Whether you make your own baby food or buy it from a store, I recommended the pouches for meals on vacation. If you make your own baby food, you can buy reusable pouches that are easy to fill and wash. I haven’t used these WeeSprout pouches personally, but I’ve heard great things about them!
I hope I’ve given you lots of useful advice. The important thing to remember is try to be flexible. Things are not going to turn out perfectly, but if you prepare well and expect some hiccups, you can make some really great memories.