I often see people asking in forums about the right age to take their kids to Disneyland. I honestly don’t think there is a “right” age. There are easier ages than some, but never a “right” age. Disneyland is one of those amazing places that has something for everyone from babies to oldies (as long as they’re the type that love Disney, that is!).
I’ve been to Disneyland with my toddler, and next year will go back to Disneyland with my preschooler, so I’m right in this age bracket right now. If you’re weighing up whether or not to take a Disney trip, here is my 2 cents worth on why taking your toddler or preschooler to Disneyland is the best idea ever.
Anyone who says otherwise is a grinch. With young kids, Disneyland is all about the magic. Their favourite characters come to life, music playing seemingly out of nowhere, castles and fireworks. See? Magical!
Princess-haters, I don’t want to hear about it. Little girls outgrow their love of princesses very fast, so there is a small window of time that they are desperate to meet Aurora and Cinderella and co, and when they do, it’s the sweetest moment ever.
You share every moment together
Little kids are still at the age where they want to do everything with you, such as sit on your lap when you’re watching the parade, or hold your hand when you’re walking down Main Street. You really experience Disneyland together when your kids want to do everything with you.
The kiddie rides are more fun than you’d expect
Some of the best rides are for littlies, and you can happily ride the tea cups till you feel ill when you have a little one with you. I love riding the carousel or Dumbo the Flying Elephant with my daughter perched on my lap – I’ll be sad next time we go and she’ll want to ride them solo.
Relieving your own childhood
If you went to Disneyland as a child, or a similar amusement park, this will bring back memories of a carefree time of childhood before you were worried about if something was too daggy or uncool to be seen doing.
It’s the childhood you never had
If your childhood was spent yearning for Disneyland like mine was, it’s a chance to experience the Disney magic at all ages, starting from the very beginning.
They still want to be in photos with you
As my child gets older, the less she wants to be in photos I take, particularly with us. It’s so great going somewhere as photogenic as Disneyland with a kid who is either happy to smile or doesn’t notice the camera yet so you can capture their joy.
Nap time = parent time
When I went with my two-year-old, she fell asleep in the stroller at nap time and we wheeled her around Disneyland looking at things we were interested in that she was too young for, and also had a long lunch while she napped next to the table. Winning!
They rock a pair of Mickey ears like a boss
One of the best things about tiny kids is that you can dress them in anything and they don’t care. Pick out the crazy cutest disney-inspired outfit and matching headband and there’s your family Christmas card, done!
If you’re weighing up if your kids are too young for Disneyland or not, my advice is to just go!
Have you taken your kids to Disneyland or Walt Disney World? If so, how old were they?
We recently did the unthinkable — Disneyland with our 2.5 year old. And you know what? It was awesome. Hectic, crazy and overwhelming, but also totally magical. We had the benefit of the amazing Gina of In The Mouse House to book and organise the trip for us, and help us enjoy an easy and fun family vacation. We had so much fun that I wanted to share my top tips (a lot of these are thanks to Gina!) for getting the most out of Disneyland with a toddler.
1. Book a hotel near Disneyland. It does NOT have to be a Disney hotel. They are a lot pricier, and there are so many other budget but good quality hotels literally right across the road from the hotel entrance. We stayed at the Carousel Inn and Suites for a fraction of the cost and could not have been happier with our decision. Note: We did not use the pool, only because we didn’t have time in our schedule. If you’re traveling with older kids, choose a hotel like the Howard Johnson, which is a budget hotel with an amazing pirate ship playground in their pool.
2. Have a Disney vacation planner like Gina book the trip for you. Gina, as an authorised Disneyland travel agent, booked our hotel, park tickets, character dining (and could have booked more, like flights, if we’d needed it) at no cost to us. She also wrote us a day-by-day itinerary of how to best manage Disneyland with a toddler. For people who haven’t been before and have no knowledge of which rides are suitable and popular for different ages, this is an absolute must to take the stress out of each day.
3. Plan your time of year wisely. We went just before peak season, and every day the parks were absolutely jam packed with people by midday. Do not, unless you are totally insane, go during high season. Disneyland has a page on their site with details on the best times of year to go.
4. Plan each day. Our itinerary took the work out of it for me, and meant that we already knew which rides were suitable for our toddler, and in which order we should hit them up before the crows got too bad. E’s favorites were Cars Land in California Adventure Park (particularly the life-sized and moving Lightening McQueen and Mater) and Fantasyland in Disneyland. Her absolute favorite rides were the spinning tea cups and flying Dumbo. She wasn’t a fan of any ride that went through tunnels as she thought they were scary. High and fast spinning things, no problem.
5. Alternate lining up and riding with your partner. As the day went on and the crowds grew, there were huge lines for every ride. If your toddler is like mine, you’ll want to have one person lining up for the next ride while the other person is taking the child on the previous ride.
6. Arrive super early. You’ll enjoy the park the most even though it might be hard to fathom getting up that early for a theme park. How early? If you buy a three-day park pass, you get one “magic morning” included, where you get to enter the park an hour before the rest of the general public. The days we went, opening time was 8am, and magic hour was 7am. Before entering the park you need to go through security and line up in front of the turn styles, so arrive even earlier – at least 15 minutes if not half an hour earlier, especially for your magic morning hour. Seeing the park with almost no-one in it is eerie and peaceful at the same time. And yes, the only time in your parenting life you will refer to 7am as the “magical hour”.
7. Want to meet Anna and Elsa? They’re the current hot ticket, and we used our magic morning hour to arrive at the park at 6:30am and line up at the turn styles so that at 7am when the gates opened, were were able to walk (ok, run) to their “house” in Fantasyland and be first in line to meet them. Anna and Elsa were thankfully punctual and greeted guests from 7:05am, which meant that by 7:10am, we had met them and were on to the rides, while the queue behind us was already massive. Without a strategy like this, you will wait around two hours to meet Anna and Elsa.
8. Book character dining if your kid absolutely HAS to meet certain characters. We had dinner at Ariel’s Grotto and met all of the Disney princesses. We also breakfasted with Minnie and friends. It was such a wonderful experience for little E to meet her favorite characters in a setting like this — no lining up, just casual chatting and playing with the characters. It’s worth noting here that the character interactions were beyond my expectations. You expect the staff to be good with kids, but they were not just good, they were exceptional. E froze up each tim she saw one of her favorites come to life, and every single character took the time to chat with her and draw her out of her shell by asking her cute questions about her outfit, or a toy she was holding. It was the best three days of her life thus far.
9. Eat early or late. The best times to eat at a Disney restaurant are before 11am or after 2pm. During the middle of the day they get quite busy. The food at all the restaurants is pretty average, so I would also suggest bringing your own food if possible.
10. Take a break during the day. After your early morning, get your hand stamped and leave for a break or nap during the middle of the day.
11. Make time for the parade. It’s magical for kids to see (Gina advised us that near the It’s A Small World ride was a great vantage point for the parade, and she was totally right!). Disney has just added a Frozen float to the parade, so if you didn’t get a chance to meet Anna and Elsa (or didn’t fancy the line/early morning) you can still see them in the parade.
12. Use the “ride swap” for any rides you want to do that your kid is too small for. This means getting a fast pass when you get to the park (which tells you what time to return so you don’t have to line up), then, after you return during your time slot, one of you collects a ride swap from the attendants at the front of the queue and has the ride, while the other watches the child (our favorite was the Indiana Jones ride). Afterwards, the person who rides gives the ride swap pass to the other adult, who can then jump the queue. Yippee! Note: We tried to do to do this for the Star Tours ride, but when Alec got to the front and asked for the pass, they’d run out, so this is not a fool-proof plan.
13. Plan to spend one day at California Adventure Park and at least one at Disneyland. We didn’t do the park hopper tickets as we thought E was too little (and we were right! One park was enough per day for her.), but we did allow for two days in Disneyland so we could watch all the shows, take breaks, meet the characters, and not feel rushed. This was a great plan as we felt like we were able to see everything without rushing around like crazy.
14. Watch the shows! The calibre of the Disney performers is so high. Even the short musical performances are performed by extremely talented staff. Our particular favorites were the Aladdin mini show and the new Mickey and the Magical map show which featured several of the Disney princesses.
14. Get a PhotoPass when you enter a park. There are photographers all over the park who will take your photo with characters or in front of scenic points like the castle. Each time you’re getting a photo taken by one of the Disney photographers, if you give them your pass, all of your photos will be collected in the one place to buy at the end of your trip. They’re expensive, but if you use them a lot it’s worth the money to get your whole family in every picture.
15. Bring or hire a stroller. There’s a lot of walking and having the stroller gives kids a resting place throughout the day. You can park strollers out the front of the rides so no need to worry about where to leave it.
16. Feel the magic. The only way to really enjoy Disneyland is to ditch your usual cynicism and enjoy the best showmanship on the planet. Disney puts on a performance like absolutely no other — something even non-Disney-lovers like my husband can appreciate if they want to.
During the warmer months, a perfect family day trip is just north of the city at The Cloisters.
The Cloisters museum and gardens is the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to medieval European art and architecture. The building and its gardens are located in Fort Tryon Park, in north Manhattan, just a hop, skip and a jump away on the A train.
Take the subway to 190th Street station at the base of Fort Tryon. Directly outside of the station entrance is the Jacob K. Javits Playground, where we let Cheese run off steam before brunch. It’s a nice playground with swings, several climbing structures for children of all ages, and also space for scooting or basketball.
Inside the entrance to the park is an herb and flower garden. It’s a beautiful place to wander through, especially with the Hudson River as a backdrop, and another great place to let kids run around.
The aren’t a lot of food options in the area. Your easiest options are: 1. Bring a picnic lunch; 2. Buy a pre-made sandwich or salad from the Cloisters cafe; or 3. A sit-down brunch or lunch at New Leaf Restaurant.
We chose New Leaf Restaurant & Bar. Housed in a 1930s cottage, the restaurant serves modern American cuisine. On weekends, brunch is served from 11am-3pm. We were given a table on the bright, airy patio, surrounded by trees. Tres tranquil.
While the restaurant is large, it fills quickly, and by 12:30pm it was at capacity. As New Leaf does not take reservations for brunch, get there early.
The brunch menu is a pre-fixe at $19.95 for an entree, juice and tea or coffee. We ordered a croissant ($5) for missy E while we looked at the menu in more detail. Oddly, the croissant came with chutney. The croissant was absolutely delicious, while on the small side (kid-sized, one might say, except E demanded another, making it the most expensive croissants we had ever ordered). Our group ordered New Leaf Scrambled Eggs (goat cheese, scallions, roasted potatoes, field greens), the Market Omelette (tomatoes, peppers, onions and your choice of cheese, with herbed-roasted potatoes, field greens) and the Hanger Steak Sandwich (with salad and potatoes). The portions for the most part were large by New York standards, and we all struggled to finish our meals. New Leaf Restaurant, 1 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY, Phone: (212) 568-5323
A short stroll through beautiful Fort Tryon Park takes you to The Cloisters. We timed our visit so Cheese would nap in the stroller after lunch, so we were able to see most of The Cloisters before she woke up. Which was a good thing, as the museum is not so friendly for smaller kids. Babies in carriers and older children are the ideal candidates for this cultural experience.
Be prepared and you’ll still have fun: There are lots of tiny stairwells and no ramps or elevators. You can’t leave strollers unattended. No food/water anywhere except in the cafe (including the gardens). Within the gallery rooms, keep children close as there are lots of fragile objects around.
My favourite part of the Cloisters was the Unicorn Tapestry collection. These seven individual pieces are among the most beautiful and complex works of art from the late Middle Ages that survive today, woven from fine wool and silk with silver and gilded threads.
Spring is the best time to visit The Cloisters as the gardens are in full bloom. The famous garden you see in all the photographs is filled with bright flowers and a fountain — lots of engaging features for inquisitive children to explore.
The lower-level garden is home to plants one would have found in a garden in the middle ages, like herbs and vegetables. Miss E loved the garden, and I used the time to show her different plants and explain their purpose such as medicinal (like St. John’s-Wort, Hollyhock, MarshMallow, Meadow Clary, Liquorice, Comfrey, and Feverfew), magical (such as Bear’s Foot, Ragged-Robin, English Ivy, Cornelian Cherry, and Herb Robert) or for use in the kitchen (herbs like Winter Savory, Leek, Cardoon, Samphire, Chive, Small-Leaved Basil, and Red Valerian). As it was an herb garden and all the plants had such unique scents, I encouraged her to get down and smell the aromatic plants such as spearmint and lavender.
99 Margaret Corbin Dr,
New York, NY
Hours: Daily, 10am-5:15pm
Prices: Recommended $25 per adult
One of my absolutely favourite things to do is to just walk the streets of DUMBO. I did it a lot during winter with the Cheese to get her to nap, which wasn’t ideal, but it was still an amazing experience (even in the snow and sleet). DUMBO stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, and is a little old industrial neighborhood full of cobblestones, soaring bridges and, of course, stunning water views.
DUMBO was originally a manufacturing district, home to warehouses and factories that made machinery, paper boxes and Brillo soap pads. Interestingly, the cardboard box was invented in the Robert Gair building on Washington Street, which is now the home of Etsy.
The Big Easy is a decadent party town for adults. For families, on the surface NOLA looks pretty un-friendly. Unlike New York, there aren’t playgrounds on every corner. There are however a lot of fun and creative ways to entertain kids of all ages — we’ve done the research so you can take it easy.
Jackson Square This square is located in the French Quarter, with gorgeous architecture on all sides. It’s ideally located near the famous Cafe Du Monde (for beinegts) and the waterfront for strolling. It’s an oasis in the city with grassed areas for kids to run around, and musicians and artists edged around the square for additional entertainment. St Louis Cathedral looms over the square, creating a picturesque photo op. 700 Decatur St, New Orleans
Audubon Nature Institute The Audubon Institute is home to numerous nature attractions in New Orleans. The best value is to buy an all inclusive experience ticket. $39.50 Adult, $27.50, Child (2 -12), $27.50 Senior (65+)
Audubon Zoo As well as being home to animals from all around the world, the zoo houses a unique Louisiana Swamp Exhibit to give visitors a taste of local wildlife. Re-opening in March 2014. $17.50 Adult, $12 Child (2 -12), $13 Senior (65+)
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas See endangered African Blackfoot penguins and check out the new interactive Geaux Fish! exhibit, showcaseing Louisiana’s fishing industry. $22.50 Adult, $16 Child (2 -12), $17 Senior (65+)
Entergy IMAX Theater
Watch 3D movies on a day when it’s too hot for anything else. $10.50 Adult, $8 Child (2 -12), $9.50 Senior (65+)
Louisiana Children’s Museum
Enjoy the museum’s interactive exhibits like a room devoted to blowing bubbles. With 30,000 square feet of exhibits and programs kids of all ages will enjoy themselves. 420 Julia Street, New Orleans. $8.50per person, adults and children. LCM members and children under the age of one are admitted FREE.
New Orleans City Park
This 1,300 acre public park in New Orleans, Louisiana, is a short tram ride from the center of NOLA (which is a fun activity to do in itself). It’s the 6th-largest and 7th-most-visited urban public park in the United States, and jam-packed with fun for kids and adults. 1 Palm Dr, New Orleans, LA 70124
New Orleans Museum of Art and Sculpure Gardens
The five-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden holds more than 60 sculptures and is free to enter and wander around. The sculptures lie nestled among winding paths and a scenic lagoon.
This little cafe serving beignets and chocolate milk (plus cafe au lait for adults) is right next to a large playground and open 24 hours. Cash only.
City Park features three playgrounds for kid of all ages.
Carousel Gardens Amusement Park
The amusement park features 16 rides including the park’s 100-year-old namesake wooden carousel. The Carousel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. $3/person. Kids 36” & under get admission free. Check website for seasonal opening days and times.
City Putt City Putt is a 36-hole mini golf complex that’s open all year-round. Open Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday, 10am to 10pm (last rental at 9pm). Ages 13+ $8; Children (4-12) $6; Second round in same visit $4; Children (0-3) Free.
Featuring 25 larger-than-life charcters right out of popular children’s fairytales such as Peter Pan, Snow White and Cinderella. Kids can climb aboard Captain Hook’s pirate ship or Cinderlla’s pumpkin carriage. Open Saturday-Sunday, 11am-5pm; Tuesday-Friday, 11am-4pm. $3/person.
Train Garden Kids and adults alike will marvel at the model of New Orleans in the early 19th Century with replicas of streetcars and trains winding around it. 1300 feet of track carrying streetcars and trains like those that traveled the city in the late 1800s to the early 1900s, at 1/22 of their actual size. Open Saturday-Sunday, 10am-4:30pm. Adults (over 12) $6 Children (5-12) $3
A very happy Thanksgiving this year, surrounded by loved ones and friends, old and new. Thanks to our friends Dan and Sue for hosting and inviting us to their amazing expat Thanksgiving feast.
This year I am very thankful to our community of friends, for my family, and for how lucky I really am. I like to whine and complain a lot about things that aren’t perfect, but the reality is I’m so lucky. A supportive, loving husband, a healthy, beautiful little girl, living in New York City, and really enjoying an amazing life. So many blessings, so very thankful.
After lunch was some dancing. Cheese really loves dancing lately and was loving it.
We decided to fly to Hawaii for Christmas and meet my family there instead of flying back to Australia. I booked us a three-bedroom suite at a resort in Ko Olina, right on the waterfront.
The flight was brutal – 10 hours straight. Eloise napped just once and then was awake for 12 hours straight.
The resort and beach were so beautiful. Ko Olina was a little piece of paradise. We spent most days walking around the beaches, swimming in the ocean and pools.
We also did the toddler dolphin experience at Dolphin Quest. It was wonderful to meet dolphins with Eloise. It totally blew her mind. She was fascinated by them, and has been saying “dolph!” and pointing to pictures of them since.
One thing I really wanted to do was the Disney character breakfast at Aulani. It was so much fun! A decent buffet breakfast with a great omelet station, Minnie Mouse and Goofy wandering around to the tables for meet and greets and photo ops. Every so often, “Auntie” would strike up music and sing cute Hawaiian-y songs, handing out instruments and leading the kids in a parade around the restaurant. Eloise was in absolute heaven.
Alec and I had a few hours to ourselves one day so went for a drive to Mokule’ia Beach, where Lost was filmed. It was stunning – a pure white sand beach with almost no one in site for miles.
We also went on an easy hike one day with Tim and Michele up to Diamond Head. It had an amazing view of Honolulu.
I also got up super early one morning to see Pearl Harbour with Michele. It was a sobering experience to be there and see the sunken Arizona ship.
Even though I get really sea sick pretty much just by looking at boats, I thought it would be a fun idea to get on a boat and go snorkelling and whale watching. True to form, I felt ill the entire time, but we did see about 10 Humpback whales.
We went for a stroll through Waimea Valley. It was really beautiful – a little too manicured, but some amazing plants.
We also went on the Ranch and Movie tour at Kualoa Ranch, where a lot of movies and TV shows have been filmed. I loved the tour – especially seeing where Jurassic Park was filmed for the famous scene with the log below.
It was really strange being somewhere other than in Warwick Farm for Christmas morning. It was really lovely, but also really strange! My first Christmas not in Warwick Farm in my life so far. We had breakfast at the neighbouring Marriott resort, followed by present opening and relaxing.
What a wonderful trip! It was so great to see my family all together. Hawaii is paradise – can’t wait to go back again.