The first in a two-part series. This post covers what we did and how we coped with teenagers and baby. The second part covers how much we spent and how we paid for it.
When the snow and ice on the roads, and frigid winter temperatures start to get to you, what’s the best thing to do? That’s right. Get out of town and go somewhere sunny! While a beach vacation wasn’t on the books for this winter, a girl trip to sunny southern California was. With my two girls and extended family in in tow, we boarded a plane to the Happiest Place on Earth. And with book-living, slightly nerdy types in my family, a trip to nearby Harry Potter’s Hogsmeade and Hogwarts at Universal Studios in L.A. was de rigeur. Disney, take me away.
I spent just about $1,450 for the trip for me, my teenage daughter, and baby J. Tickets to each park hover around $100 per person per day, so trips like these can never be considered frugal. Although I feel okay about spending this much, I’d like to try to do it cheaper next time.
For the first time we went with my sweet niece G, who received the trip as a birthday present. It was her first time at Disneyland, and a joy for us to experience that with her. My older daughter and I went a little more than a year ago, but I was pregnant at the time and could not go on any of the roller-coaster type rides with her. We made up for that this time.
We chose a low-visitor time of year. In early February, the holiday crowds have vanished and the spring break groups have not yet arrived. We were planning to go in mid-January, but our hotel was booked months in advance due to a conference, so we pushed the trip out a couple of weeks. You just never know, so be ready to be flexible.
We arrived in Anaheim on Tuesday night. After checking-in at the Candy Cane Inn, a well-reviewed hotel that is walking distance to the Disney entrance, and getting Subway for a quick dinner, we went to bed earlyish to be ready for the next day. On Wednesday we were up bright and early, but Disneyland did not even open until 10, so our morning and breakfast was leisurely. Around 9:15, with our day’s gear, stroller, hats, ears, cameras, water bottles, extra layers, and good walking shoes ready to get us through the day, we were off.
Day 1: Because it was a low visitor day, it was a breeze getting through the bag check security line, and since we had our tickets already, it was no trouble getting through the entrance gate. But wait! It wasn’t even 10 o’clock yet. How had they let us in? We found out as we walked in and down Main Street, to find ourselves smack at the end of a wall of people. We actually couldn’t go into the park past Main Street yet. Dum dee dum. But we could shop. 20 minutes later the crowd rushed the park and we made a bee-line for our first ride, the Matterhorn.
It was so much fun after not going on it the last year. We sat single file in the bobsled-type cars and 5 of us spiraled down the mountain with shrieks and laughter. The ride was fast and furious and a hit, even for those who weren’t sure they would like it. My aunt who does not stomach roller-coasters well, watched the baby for me. Off to a thrilling start!
Next we hit Fantasyland. Baby J’s first ride was Alice in Wonderland. She loved looking at all the bright figures and kooky action of Alice, the Mad Hatter, and all the characters inside the ride. This mama loved taking her. Her second ride was the Mad Tea Party teacups. One group rode a teacup and spun it as fast as they could. The baby and I rode our own teacup and cruised around the floor breezily. No spinning. She loved it. I loved it. The teenagers and grownups spinning with all they had loved it.
Early February is a great time to go. The crowds were very thin. However, fair warning, this also seems to be the time they do maintenance on some rides. Sadly, It’s a Small World and the Disney Railway were entirely shut down, among others. (Also, Star Wars Land is under construction, causing disruption to some rides.) On the plus side, the longest we had to wait for any ride was about 30 minutes (for Dumbo! – go figure) and we only got one FastPass to save time (for Indiana Jones Adventure) at the end of our second day. The lines were so short we went on rides multiple times if we all loved it enough. Baby J was able to go on several Fantasyland rides, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted House, and the Winnie the Pooh ride. There was plenty for her to do.
And it was really great to have so many people to help look after her. Also good for moms to note, there is a Baby Center with a quiet place to nurse and cushy changing tables. I ducked in there both days for some quiet time with my little lady. At the end of our first long day of Disneyland rides and frolic we hit dinner at Downtown Disney, where we toasted the start of an awesome girl trip.Then we headed back for the Main Street Electric Parade, which is at Disneyland for a limited engagement. The parade is a beautiful light display, highlighting some of the Disney classics. Everyone from Snow White to Pete’s Dragon made an appearance.
Day 2: Our second day at Disneyland was loads of fun too. More rollercoastering- starting with a rush to Space Mountain, now Hyperspace Mountain, and then a quick sidestep to Star Tours. Twice. We drove on the classic Autopia. And rode the Big Thunder Railroad twice. And most importantly, we challenged, and then rechallenged each other to a shoot off at Buzz Light Year Astro Blasters. Umm..I didn’t win. We ate at Downtown Disney again and made it back to the room in time for me to get the baby to sleep and pass out from exhaustion.
Day 3: With unabashed Harry Potter nerds in our family we were equally excited to visit Harry Potter Land at Universal Studios in Los Angeles. It was a 90 minute ride up in our rental car in Friday morning rush hour traffic, and less than an hour home. Pretty seamless. We got there in the rain and spent the morning slightly soggy. But you know what they say…rain keeps the other tourists away.
We headed straight through the entrance at Universal Studios, through Hogsmeade and into an amazing replica of Hogwarts to get on the Harry Potter Forbidden Forest ride first. We weren’t first, but the line was super short. As we made our way towards the depths of the castle where the ride starts, we passed through Professor Sprout’s greenhouse, Dumbledore’s office, the Portrait Hall, and the Gryffindor common room. It got darker and deeper.
As we neared the ride, we were informed that we could do a baby switch, head to the front of the line, and wait in a special baby switch room. A child swap, also available at Disneyland as a rider switch, is when one baby caregiver rides the ride, while the other waits with baby. When one is finished riding, the other caregiver is able to go to the front of the line to ride, rather than waiting in the full line again. Because of the sparse crowds, the rain, and the baby switch, our group was able to ride the ride 4 times without ever waiting in line before we decided we had gotten our fill. Awesome baby advantage!
Other than the baby switch on the Harry Potter ride, Universal Studios is not the most baby friendly place. There are fewer stroller parking areas than I was expecting, and where I would have wanted to keep the baby in the stroller to keep her dry, I had to carry her. Maybe it was just the rain putting a damper on everything? There were very few rides that she was able to go on, and it was lucky that not everyone in our group was interested in all of the thrill rides so they could watch baby J. There was a lower lot section of the park that required riding a series of 4 very steep escalators. I carried the baby while another family member wielded the stroller. It was safe enough, but still felt a bit sketchy, especially with the rain. The baby did ride with us on the Studio Tour, which was definitely worth spending the 60 minute ride-time. We were able to take her in her car seat on the tram, but someone should have mentioned to us about significant tram shaking! All of a sudden the whole tram was rocking and throwing us this way and that. Really! We had to hold her head and body while she was in the car seat to keep her from getting shaken baby syndrome. We were prepared the next time it happened. But really. Warn us people.
There were some great rides for teenagers and adults. The Curse of the Mummy ride flung us forwards and backwards. The Jurassic Park flume ride was terrific, and we didn’t get too wet! But did see an ‘allosaurus’ and t-rex up close and personal. We didn’t care for the Simpson’s ride much, but Springfield/Simpsons Land was pretty cool, even the nuclear plant melt down. Overall, it was really fun. My advice is wait until the kids are on the older side and like all the thrill rides before you bring the family to Universal Studios.
I was dead-tired every night of the trip. It takes a lot of work to travel with baby. Holding her lots. Packing her gear around. We fell asleep together on the bed as I nursed her each night. Luckily, I had lots of help from teenagers and grown-ups alike. It was really a great adventure for me, my teenager, and all our family. And what a treat to take baby for her first Disney trip.
As we flew home on Saturday, we were already thinking about our next girl trip and where that might take us.
Suggestions for Taking Babies & Teenagers
Baby Center at Disneyland: Our days included visiting the Disneyland Baby Center to nurse and change baby. This is a peaceful spot to feed baby, change a diaper, give her some undivided attention and take a load off. The rocking chairs in the nursing room are the most comfortable in the park.
Rider Switch or Child Swap: We were able to go on the Happy Potter ride to our heart’s content without waiting due to the Rider Switch and baby waiting room (and light crowds). Even if we only had done one switch, it would have saved the second parent lots of time, and moved both parents to the front more quickly. At Disney we used the Rider Switch on the Indiana Jones ride and three other family members were able to go twice in a row using the Fastpass line. It’s great to have someone there who will hold the baby when you want to ride (thanks aunt Kerry! and Mom!), but if you don’t, take advantage of the switch benefit.
Take family to help: As an older mom to an infant, this was a tiring trip. Hauling baby and her gear. Walking all day. Getting baby to sleep and then waking with her in the night. It can take a toll. Help from family was absolutely indispensable. My mom, aunt, and sister-in-law all pitched in to watch and hold her, as did the two teenage girls. This trip worked because everyone shared the load.
Take Breaks: We scheduled coffee breaks every afternoon for us older folks, and the teens got ice cream and other treats at that time. I took baby J to the baby center each day for some downtime. It’s a long physically active day. Taking breaks can make the fun funner. Plus, you never know what you might see or experience while you are laying low and staying in one place for a bit. Characters. Music. Special events. Anything can happen.
Baby Sleep: Don’t worry if your little munchkin does not get quite as much sleep as she does at home. Even though baby J’s naps were minimal and her nighttime sleep was an hour or two less than normal, my baby was mostly content, although she got tired of sitting in her stroller for three days. The sleep she missed in her 4-5 days on the road, she made up for when we got home. She slept in the stroller for naps during the day. At the hotel, I slept with her in my bed and nursed her if she woke up, although we did also have a port-a-crib. My system worked for me. I also brought all of her bedtime items, including books, lovey, binky, and white noise machine. Of these, the white noise machine was the most important. I highly recommend it for your travels with young kids. People could chat in the next room and quietly putter in our room and the baby slept right through it.
Give the Teens Some Freedom: Both teenage girls had their own money. It was great to let them peruse the shops and choose their own items with their own budget. They both bought clothes and candy. My niece carried her own granola bars and busted them out every now and then when she needed some extra stamina. The girls went on several rides by themselves together, and if they had asked, I would have said they could go explore some parts of the park on their own. At the same time, they were also really helpful with the baby and her gear. And they helped choose which rides and routes we wanted to take. Delegate responsibilities and freedoms to your teenagers as you feel comfortable. The more you do, the simpler and more enjoyable your trip will be.
The trip was not cheap, but it wasn’t outrageous as Disney vacations go. See what we spent here.