Taking a large group to Disneyland requires preparation, skill and patience – but it can be done!
These 10 tips will ensure you all have a great time!
About a month ago I finally convinced Luke that it was time to take the kids back to Disneyland; see some of our highlights here! We came prepared with a few of our favorite tips for keeping kids together and happy, but quickly learned lots more about surviving at a giant amusement park with a party of 10! (Actually 11 since we brought our babysitter). Read on for the 10 things I’d do next time to make the experience even more fun (and less crazy)!
I’m by no means a bonafide Disney expert, but these tricks really made the trip enjoyable for us so hopefully they can help you too!
For reference, at the time of this trip our kids were 11, 9, 7, 5, 5, 3, 2, and 2 months. (And an apology for the crappy photos…I could barely keep tabs on my kids, let alone a nice camera 🙂
- If at all possible, I highly recommend bringing an extra adult helper with you since each grownup can only reasonably handle so many kids! We paid for our sitter’s tickets and food but didn’t pay her an additional wage. She was OK with this and we were happy! Which leads me to my next tip…
- Give each adult specific kids to be in charge of. I knew there was no way I could keep tabs on all 8 kids all the time without driving myself crazy, so we distributed responsibility: each of us was solely in charge of 2 or 3 kids. This worked out great…or at least it did after we lost Vivian and we started taking our jobs really seriously!
- Be sure every child has your phone number on them. We went the tacky way and just wrote my cell number on everyone’s forearm with permanent marker. But the last time we went, I ordered dog tags with my name and number on them and made bracelets out of them. Either way, it’s an easy way for a lost child to locate you. We just told all the littles, “If you get lost, find a mom with kids and ask her to call us”. Stressful situations can make even the smartest kids forget an important number, so be sure the older ones have it too!
- Few people know about an amazing picnic area just outside of the park on Disney property, right outside Downtown Disney. An easy way to find it is to go to the restrooms just left of the Disneyland main entrance, and then look left – you’ll see an entrance right there. It’s surrounded by bushes and kind of remote, a perfect place to let kids run around and enjoy snacks or a meal you’ve packed along with you (there are also lockers to rent there). For meals, we ate cereal and instant oatmeal at our hotel (a coffeemaker makes perfect hot water for oatmeal!), packed lots of sandwiches and snacks so kids could eat whenever they got hungry and then planned to just buy a few snacks and dinner in the park. MUCH cheaper than buying every meal there!
- Most people know about fast passes but here’s the lowdown if you’re not familiar: there are kiosks outside of the really big, popular rides that dispense “fast passes”, or tickets that allow you to enter a shortened line at a specified time. These are especially great on crowded days or when you have lots of little kids with you who won’t tolerate waiting in line for an hour. Be sure that the person getting fast passes has everyone’s admission tickets with them because you can only get one fast pass per ticket (wearing a lanyard is a great way to keep all the tickets handy and safe!).We also made use of ride switching which goes like this: Dad goes on a ride with big kids while Mom stays behind with the littlest ones. Dad asks for a ride switch ticket at the end of the line and then when he gets off, gives the ride switch to Mom who can then take up to 2 other kids back on the ride with her. We also figured out a cool loophole: we could get 9 fast passes for the 9 paid tickets we had, but on the big rides usually only 7 of us were tall enough. That left us 2 extra fast passes for some people to go a second time and if you get a ride switch, then you also save those fast passes for another turn! We got to do several big rides a couple of times using this trick
(another great reason to bring an extra adult: mom & dad can occasionally ride together).Lastly, make a basic plan and then be flexible. For example, look up the most exciting/popular rides and plan to go grab fast passes for those at the beginning of the day, then follow your route around the park, being prepared to make some changes depending on when your fast passes are valid. This will help you get the most out of the park instead of just wandering aimlessly.
- Give each kid some money and say no to everything else! We decided each kid could have $25 to spend wherever they wanted in the park and then we didn’t buy them anything else (except food). One kid blew his wad within hours the first day, another saved until she’d seen everything on the second day and another bought two churros and took the rest home! It kept kids from begging for stuff every minute of every day.
- We only stay at hotels that are within easy walking distance from the park. Parking and shuttles and everything else are just too big of a hassle. This makes it easy to take a child home for a nap if needed, run back for an extra set of clothes or, in our case, take one who was feeling sick back to rest!
- I love getting the kids Disney shirts to wear to the park to make the whole experience more magical and all-encompassing 😉 but the shirts at the park itself are pretty expensive (especially times 8!). The big box stores in Anaheim (Target & Walmart) have a great selection of cute Disney shirts for super cheap! We love picking them out the night before we head to the park.
- Even though your kids might generally be way too old for strollers, we always make sure we have one for any child under 8. At the end of a 12+ hour day on your feet, even the grownups are wiped out! I love having a seat for the 7 & under crowd to rest (and even my older boys try to use it at the end of the day). I’ll also add here that it’s best to not try to do too much. When I was little, my mom was a Disney freak, which meant 15 hour days, for 3 days straight. That kind of “fun” just isn’t possible with a huge group of little kids so we stuck to 2 days and didn’t get upset when we needed to go home a little earlier than anticipated. Which leads me my last tip…
- Unless you’re bringing a grandparent who doesn’t care about going on rides, or you only have very little kids, we’ve learned that it’s generally best to leave the under 5 crowd at home. Yes it’s fun to take the whole family, but the littlest ones can’t ride the really great rides and it didn’t seem fair to make the older kids wait while we switched parents. This is totally a personal preference and obviously if you only have little ones and you still want them to experience the magic, then do it! But for our family at this stage, it’s not really worth it to bring toddlers and preschoolers.
That’s it! We really did have a great time notwithstanding the chaos of so many kids and I can’t wait to use these tips on our next go around. The very best suggestion I can offer when doing Disney with a bunch of little rugrats is to realize that the trip won’t be perfect, but you can enjoy it anyway!