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Disneyland is so magical, and any kid can enjoy it, whether 2, 10, 30, or 50 years of age. As a parent though, one challenge you may face is how to gear the trip between kids of different age groups. It can be hard to figure out how to find that balance between your toddler who is still limited by height restrictions and your teen or tween who is bored with all the “kiddie rides.” We have done several trips with kids of all ages and we have shared some tips in the past. With spring break and summer vacations on everybody’s mind, I wanted to bring back this post about how to plan your Disneyland vacation when you have kids of all ages.
Since the Goof was born, and until we had the twins, we only took 2 trips (out of 8) that we did not have older children with us. So, through the other 6 trips, I have learned a lot about how to make sure everyone has a great time, even when they have different interests because of their age, personality, or just because.
To start things off- get your kids excited about the trip. Spend some time learning about the lands and rides and find out what they are most excited for. You might be surprised to learn that your teenage daughter doesn’t want to do the thrill rides, or your 10 year old son may actually be looking forward to meeting the princesses. You never know. Remember to let them tell you what they are excited for and what interests them, as well as trying to get them revved up for everything else.
Once you know what each kid is excited for, be sure to prep the older ones for the fact that they will have to endure “kiddie rides” or things that may not interest them. When the Goof was 10 months old (his first trip) he was more than happy to people watch while everyone else did big ride after big ride and then just see the characters. But once he hit 17 months, and was on his second trip, that had changed. Our niece (who had gone with us both times) was 10 at the time, and was not the happiest to have to go on kiddie rides. Between her and another friend who was with us, we found it hard to convince them that we needed to do stuff to entertain The Goof as well. But stick to your guns. It isn’t fair for your youngest to have to sit in a stroller all day while others do rides.
Find rides that everyone can enjoy. There are several rides that are exciting for everyone that have no height limit, or a very small height limit. Once the Goof hit the 32″ height limit, we could do a lot more rides than before. Some rides I have found that everyone seems to enjoy, no matter their age are Autopia (32″ HR), Tea Cups, Disneyland Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion (though scary for some), Peter Pan, and Buzz Lightyear.
Over in Disney’s California Adventure, all ages seem to enjoy Talk Turtle with Crush, The Golden Zephyr, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (pictured above-32″ HR), Toy Story Mania, and more!
So there is plenty that everyone will enjoy! Not to mention all the shows and parades, and of course- CHARACTERS!
Have a game plan. Almost every “big ride” has a smaller ride near it. Use the parent swap. If you have 2 older kids and 2 parents split in half so everyone rides once on the big ride. While others are on the big ride, have those “sitting out” take the toddler or younger children on one of those small rides. While others rode Splash Mountain, the Goof and I did Winnie the Pooh. While people in our group did Star Tours, others took him on Buzz Lightyear. It made it so nobody had to just “sit out” and also, it was fair for the older kids. They each got to go on the big ride, but both had to take a turn on the other ride (which sometimes they didn’t mind depending on the ride). Also in your game plan should be to mix it up. Mix in bigger rides with smaller ones. That way nobody feels like a chunk of their day was spent doing things they didn’t want to do or didn’t enjoy. I tell you more about combining parent swap with fastpasses in this Disneyland 101 post.
If your teens are old enough, responsible enough, and you feel comfortable enough with the idea- why not let them head out on their own? Make sure they are armed with a park map, cell phone, and a meeting time. This may not be a good option if the park is crowded, but during the off season, you might feel comfortable with this. (For the record- our niece and nephew were not sent off on their own. They were not old enough with Spring Break crowds.) If this is not something you feel comfortable with- why not do a morning where one parent takes off with the teens and does a lot of big rides while the other stays with the smaller/younger children. Then switch off in a few hours.
Be sure to get in everyone’s favorites. Our nephew LOVES Star Wars. So we made sure not to pass up a picture with some stormtroopers. (Side note: Our niece would be so embarrassed if she saw I was posting this picture with her eyes closed) Our niece, however, loves Tower of Terror so we made sure she got to do that ride a few times.
Finally- try and do things everyone will enjoy the majority of the time. For our family, that was a lot of the shows. Fantasmic, World of Color, the Parades, and yes, even the Disney Junior Show was enjoyed by everyone. Focus on things everyone loves and can do, with the things you do separate being little extras.
And my little bonus tip for those wanting to wear matching shirts– your teens and tweens may feel too cool to dress in matching shirts like we did 2 of the days we were there this Spring. So if this was on your Disney ideas list, be sure to talk to your older kids about it. If this is really important to you, it might need to be a compromise- 1/2 of the days wear the shirts, 1/2 the days just wear Disney inspired shirts, etc. Whatever it is, make sure you both have agreed to it well in advance. A fight the morning you are heading to the park could ruin your trip.
Do you have any tips on how to make it a magical vacation when traveling with kids of all ages?