Most Disneyland experts say the Southern California theme park is best for kids ages six and older. And, at least generally speaking, they’re not wrong—older kids are (a) big enough to go on more rides, (b) less inclined to complain about all the lines and walking, and (c) easier than 1- and 2- and 3-year-olds to ply with cotton candy or Mickey Mouse ice cream.
That said, especially in recent years, The House That Mickey Built has become much more welcoming to families with a baby or toddler. My wife and I experienced this firsthand when we visited Disneyland and Disney California Adventure last weekend with our three girls (ages almost eight, five, and one). Here’s a rundown of the three services we liked best.
1. Baby Care Centers
With nursing rooms, changing rooms, feeding areas, and enough spare diapers and wipes to go around, these facilities are like baby oases inside each of the two parks at Disneyland Resort. Both centers are staffed by “cast members” who direct traffic inside. Both are totally free. We used the one in Disneyland, situated at the far end of Main Street, near the Plaza Inn twice. The first time, my wife took advantage of a nursing room to feed the baby in a quiet place. The second time, I dashed in to stock up on supplies after inadvertently leaving our backpack at the (off-site) hotel.
2. Rider Switch
This largely secret policy ameliorates one of the most harrowing experiences in the park: waiting in the queue with a baby. The catch? You have to ask. Here’s how it works. Both parents wait in the queue. Parent No. 1 does the ride. Parent No. 2 waits with the baby. After the first ride, the parents switch places, with Parent No. 1 taking the baby and Parent No. 2 hitting the ride for a second go-around. For our fivesome, the real winners with Rider Switch were the big girls, who essentially got to go on rides twice after only waiting once. Siblinghood has its privileges.
3. Fruit Carts
My modus operandi at Disneyland is simple: a churro a day. For the littlest one, however, both my wife and I prefer healthier goodies. Thankfully, we were able to plan snack times around the nine fruit carts spaced throughout the resort. At one cart, we purchased a package of mango slices, a bag of red grapes, and a pineapple wedge; at another, we scored some yogurt and a few bananas. Granted, these healthy snacks—like everything inside Disneyland—were outrageously expensive ($2.99 for a bag of 40 grapes!). At least we were able to stave off guilt over feeding our kids junk.
Add to this trio other amenities such as companion restrooms, coin-operated lockers for storing extra gear, and stroller rentals, and surviving Disneyland with a baby or toddler is not only doable, but—gasp!—fun. As an extra incentive to bring a little one, consider this: Parents don’t need to buy park tickets for kids until they turn three. Park tickets start around $100. What the heck are you waiting for?
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com