Planning (and Surviving) a Disneyland Trip with a 3 Year Old!

“Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy” Walt Disney

By the time November of 2018 came, I needed a break! I needed some bonding time with my 3 year old. The year had been long. Work days had been long. Medical stuff we were dealing with had been unknown and full of stress and worry. I needed time to pause the world and reconnect with my little princess. I decided to plan a trip to Disneyland … during Christmas time! As excited as I was, I was also terrified! How busy is it going to be? I’ve always gone with such a big crew and had tons of help, could I really pull this off? I was determined to! Read on to see how I planned this trip around convenience and cost!

First you have to plan all the logistics. I am a firm believer in not paying more than you have to for airline tickets. Anytime I plan a trip I use the calendar most airlines offer to see the best deals and the best days to fly. Sidenote: I also ALWAYS choose direct when possible! There are to airport options close to Anaheim, the most popular LAX or the smaller Orange County, John Wayne Airport. A little known fact to those not familiar with the area, John Wayne is closer to Anaheim. Once I solidify my dates, I choose my hotel. I have my go to hotel in Anaheim, which is Hilton Anaheim. It’s not a themed or character hotel but it is very affordable and they have shuttles that take you to and from Disnland Parks all day. I did consider staying at a Disneyland Resort, but I couldn’t justify the extra spend. Maybe someday, but not this time.

Flight – check! Hotel – check!

Presley’s first driving lesson

Now, how am I going to GET to the hotel from the airport? I REALLY didn’t want to rent a car, I REALLY didn’t want to take Presley’s carseat. I like to use services like Lyft when I travel alone, but having to find one with a carseat sounded obnoxious! I located a bus service called Disneyland Resort Express! It was a giant coach shuttle bus that was the perfect answer! It was affordable and OH SO CONVENIENT! I wonder if this is a hidden gem because we were the only people on it. Our driver let Presley sit in the drivers seat while we waited to see if anyone else was going to show up.

Getting those things out of the way was the most important. Next was determining what types of tickets to buy. Did we want to do a park hopper pass to go between Disneyland and California Adventure or did we want to commit to one park a day? Did we want to spend more on a fast pass max? Knowing I was going at one the the busiest times of the year I opted for the park hopper and fast pass. Another sidenote: when you buy 3 days or more you get one Magic Morning Early Access. Apparently this is only when done online and NOT purchased at the gate.

Other logistics. A stroller is a must with a little one. There is a TON of walking and luckily Disneyland rents out strollers so you don’t have to travel with one. Locker rental! I rent a locker immediately. I take extra snacks, extra clothes, phone charger, etc that I store in a locker so I’m not stuck with it all day. Plus we buy a lot of souvenirs and we want to keep them safe and not lose them! Food! I highly recommend preplanning your meals. Up to 60 days in advance you can make your reservations.

Presley getting Minnie’s autograph before breakfast at Plaza Inn

I am a huge fan of Plaza Inn for breakfast. You are greeted by Minnie Mouse and throughout your entire meal your little one gets to meet other characters. Not to mention it’s nice to have a sit down place to eat. There are less expensive non-character dining options as well. Another one we did was River Belle Terrace where we had Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes and for an early dinner we did Carnation Cafe. Again with all the chaos that comes along with Disneyland, its nice to have a moment to sit and be served.

Presley meeting Eyore at breakfast – he is adorable!

Now for all the fun stuff! I am not a big planner on vacations, but with something like Disneyland you will want to know what is going on. Shows have specific times, there are parades, and other events you may want to plan around. Get the Disneyland app on your mobile device. It’s a must have to tell you what is happening where and when. Once you decide what the must do’s are then the rest of the trip comes together. Not all rides have fast pass options. This is important to know as well. A prime example: Peter Pan’s Flight is a popular attraction. Since there is no fast pass you may want to head straight over on your magic morning. The app will tell you how long wait times are, you can manage your fast passes, reserve dining, and check showtimes all from the app. Since you will be using your phone a lot (not to mention all the pictures you will be taking) you will want to bring a portable charger, like a Mophie Charger, with you.

Here is a list of things Presley and I did that I felt was well worth planning around:

  • Frozen – Live at the Hyperion (California Adventure)
  • Storytelling at Royale Theatre (Disneyland) – we saw Tangled and Beauty and the Beast
  • Sleeping Beauty’s Castle transform at night (Christmas only)
  • It’s a Small World light up (Christmas only)
  • Parade
Disney Parks Pandora Exclusives

For those of you who know me as a Pandora collector, one of the highlights about going to the parks is being able to buy Pandora Disney Parks exclusive charms. It is one of my favorite things to do. My favorite shop to visit is the one located in the New Orleans area called La Mascarade d’Orleans. I posted a video on my YouTube channel which you can watch here:

Presley in March 2018 after being transformed to Belle

Something we did not get a chance to do this go around was the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique – where they transform your Princess to a Disney Princess. We were able to get in when we went earlier that year. I’ll include a picture here from our previous visit.

Presley and I started each day when the parked opened and lasted until about 8:30pm each day! I couldn’t believe she lasted all day with no nap. We both had a blast and created so many fun memories with just the two of us. It is by far one of my most favorite Disneyland trips to date. I found her age at 3 years and 10 months to be perfect! She still talks about the trip to this day and asks when we are going back. Seeing Disneyland transform for Christmas has me pretty determined to see it at Halloween time. Maybe this year we will make another trip in the fall.

Below are some additional magical moments captured during our visit.

Starting Day 1!
It’s a Small World with a Santa Hat
It’s a Small World at night during Christmas time
Presley met Vampirina!
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle
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2 thoughts on “Planning (and Surviving) a Disneyland Trip with a 3 Year Old!

  1. My favorite type of vacation! I love Disney and planning is a must but it’s so great to enjoy spontaneous moments and down time too. Sounds like you did it all perfectly! Of course, Pandora shopping is a highlight too! xo


  2. I so enjoyed here your tips and recommendations about your Christmas time trip to Disneyland!!! It sounded incredible and smart tip about the locker. We have to do that, next time! Presley is such a beautiful Belle and AHHH… My husband and I really hope to visit at Christmas time. It looks so extra magical from your photos!!!

    You and Presley will love Halloween time. It is so much fun and the villains are out! Book tickets ahead for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party. There’s trick or treating for Presley and lots of cool characters that only can be seen at the party!

    I highly recommend the, Happiest Haunts tour too (when Presley is a little older). We loved it!


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