Are you worried you won't have fun at Disney with your baby? Are you thinking maybe you'll wait until they're two, three, five, or seven before you'll take them for the first time?
There's no need to worry, and there's certainly no need to wait. There is no better time to go to Disney with your child than right now. There are activities for all ages at the Disneyland Resort. My son went to Disneyland for the first time when he was 8 weeks old. I know what you're thinking, and, yes, he was the youngest baby in the park (that we could tell). Did we still have fun? Absolutely. Did he have fun? If sleeping on daddy's shoulder during Pirates of the Caribbean is fun for an 8-week-old, then he had fun. Though, honestly, I'm pretty sure I had more fun snuggling with him.
Our son smiled for the first time at Disneyland when he was 8 weeks old
Since then, we've visited Disneyland at least once a month for the past year and half. Each month our son is progressively older (obviously!), and each month he can do a little more each time we go. He's 21 months now and he's enjoying rides with minimal height requirements like Autopia and Mater's Junkyard Jamboree.
We all know that Disneyland has attractions for all ages, but what you really want to know is if you will still have fun. After all, you can't just hop on California Screamin' with your spouse or friends anymore. Now someone has to sit out to watch the little one. Will you ever be able to ride together? Do you now have to wait twice as long for all major attractions because someone has to sit out? Are you going to be hindered by having to lug a stroller around? The answers to all these questions are coming your way. So here's how to have fun:
1. Take full advantage of the Rider Swap feature
You may or may not be aware of the rider swap feature at Disney parks. It's no great secret, and many people do it, but just because you know about it or do it, doesn't mean you're doing it right.
If you aren't familiar with it, all you have to do is ask a cast member at the ride entrance how to obtain a rider swap pass. Some rides require you to tell the cast member at the ride entrance, while others won't be until right before you get on the ride. To make sure you don't miss the correct person, ask the first cast member you see and they'll give you further instruction. Sometimes, even if you were supposed to ask at the front, but they don't hand the passes out until the end, the end cast member will still give you the pass, but will tell you to ask at the front next time.
Now here's where it gets fun. The rider swap passes are good for you and two guests. (However, according to the official Walt Disney Worldpage, the pass is only good for you and one guest. I'm not sure if that's a Walt Disney World only thing, but when I was at Disneyland a month ago, I was pretty sure their passes said "you plus two guests"). That means one or two people can ride twice...without any extra FastPasses. That gives guests with small children an added bonus because...
2. You can work the FastPass system
Having a baby or small child can actually be an added benefit when using FastPasses. "How so," you ask? Because one adult can grab one FastPass, and the other adult can grab a completely different FastPass at the same time.
For example, when my wife and I first arrive for rope drop, we "divide and conquer." I head for Space Mountain and she heads for Indiana Jones. I get one FastPass for Space Mountain and she gets one for Indiana Jones. "But now you have different FastPass and can't ride together." Exactly. We weren't going to ride together anyway. Baby. Remember? So I use my FastPass to ride Space Mountain and grab a rider swap. She rides Indiana Jones and grabs a rider swap. Then we both get to ride both attractions, all on just one round of FastPasses for most guests. To make it even better, if I'm close enough to the front of the line, I can ride Space Mountain in under five minutes, get the rider swap for my wife, and use my FastPass for Star Tours instead.
This trick only works, at Disneyland, for parties up to 6 people. If the information online is accurate, Walt Disney World would work for 4 people max. Here's how to tweak it for four people. Two people get Space Mountain, the other two get Indiana Jones. The first two people ride Space and get a rider swap for the other two. Then the second two ride Indy and get a rider swap for the first two. As a bonus, one person from the party that rode first can also ride with those who sat out. Alternatively, you can split 3 and 1 and the process will still work. Any parties larger than these and you'll have to do it the old fashioned way where everyone gets the same FastPass.
3. Space Mountain's unique rider swap
If you're an avid Space Mountain fan, like me, you'll love this next one. Most rider swaps make you go through the FastPass line. The rider swap pass is basically just a FastPass. However, on Space Mountain at Disneyland, there's a special process. If you go through the FastPass line like normal, they probably won't stop you and let you know there's another way, but you can actually go through the handicap entrance.
Let me repeat that. At Space Mountain in Disneyland, the rider swap enables you to go through the handicap entrance. That's important because you walk right on the ride. No waiting. No lines. Walk in, get on. That means the wait for the person who sits out is 5 minutes max, and you can get on with your day. That's pretty awesome.
4. Strollers are great for storage
Another added perk for guests with small children that just makes your day that much better is the stroller. If you're thinking the stroller will be an added hassle, just the opposite is true. Yes, it can be a bit of a pain to fold up and put on the bus. If it bothers you, you can always do what we started doing and park in the Mickey & Friends parking structure off Ball Street in Anaheim and then walk to the park through Downtown Disney. No bus needed.
Strollers are great for things like coats, changes of clothes, snacks, souvenirs, etc. But I think my favorite thing to put in the stroller is cups of water/soda. I frequently find myself getting a free cup of water from any counter service place, drinking part of it, then setting it in the stroller for later. My wife and I have gone a couple of times without our son, and we have both missed the stroller! Without it, I have to carry my drink, and I have to carry my snacks. If it's cold, I have to be cold, or carry a coat when it gets warm in the afternoon. Strollers are so nice to have! We've thought about taking it anyway, but how weird would two people pushing an empty stroller be?
Note the water bottle in the front, and you'll see a resort mug at the top.
5. Enjoy the classic rides
You've read my tips on working the FastPass system so you can still ride your favorite thrill rides while at Disneyland with a baby, but that doesn't help you enjoy rides with your spouse. So short of inviting your friends or family to join you so they can sit out and watch baby, or leaving your little one with them at home, take it slow and enjoy the classic rides. Rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan, and Small World have no height requirement. Some of these rides are even great for getting baby to go to sleep. Without fail, my son fell asleep on Pirates or Small World when he was younger. We knew what rides to take him on when he needed a nap.
Taking a baby to Disneyland can be great. It doesn't have to mean the end of your fun and thrills, but rather can be a whole new adventure. My recommendation? Don't wait 2, 3, or even 5 years. Take your next trip when you want to go or when you can go. There will be something for children of all ages, and the added perks for you are pretty great as well. If you follow these tips to work the system at Disneyland, then you'll be able to get the most out of your trip even with a baby.
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