When I envisioned Summer’s early years, I always pictured lots of travel. She’d grow up on sandy beaches and knee-deep in snow, forever chasing a new adventure while eating whatever food was available without complaint. I had high expectations for a highly adaptable kid, and I was going to get as many flights in as I could before she turned 2 and trips became double the price.
And then 2020 threw us all a massive, coronavirus-shaped curveball, and my globetrotting toddler fantasies evaporated.
It’s been 3 years since Summer was born, and aside from a few flights from Toronto to Vancouver and back as a newborn to see family, we haven’t ever taken a proper vacation together (like so many families these past few years!) When we booked this Garrison family Disneyland trip in the early Autumn (a tradition from our own childhood that I have been so eager to pass on to Summer) we were convinced COVID was only going to get better. As cases grew we became less and less confident in our decision. I already had one “Summer’s first Disney trip” cancelled in March 2020, and by the time the holidays rolled around this past year, I had resigned myself to another cancellation.
And then, after spending Christmas Day together, one by one my entire family tested positive. With the worst having already happened, and our chances of contracting or spreading the virus again so low, we decided to move forward with the trip after all. And gosh, what a trip it was!
Taking Summer to the Happiest Place on Earth (for me that means a both California itself, and Disneyland within it) was nothing short of a dream come true. All of the magic that I’d been so lucky to experience in my childhood came to life all over again seeing it through her eyes. All of that said, there were quite a few things that were different due to travelling with toddler in COVID times, and I wanted to share some of the tips and tricks we picked up along the way:
Personally I find travelling with a kid Summer’s age fairly fun, and a lot less stressful than the unpredictable baby on a plane phase. Summer was so excited to fly, and she did incredibly well on our flights. Some simple things that helped were:
- Choosing a flight time where she was well rested. Summer does NOT nap on the go anymore, so we try to plan travel around nap time vs. inclusive of nap time. Our flight down was first thing in the morning and couldn’t have been easier – we just ran around the airport before boarding to burn some energy, and then she sat and watched a movie almost the entire time without moving. The flight back we flew late afternoon when she usually naps, expecting she’d pass out from exhaustion after 4 days of swimming, sunshine and Disneyland. Unfortunately she did not sleep, and ended up begging to get off the plane and into her bed by the end of it. Lesson learned!
- Packing new and exciting snacks is a great way to keep your kid occupied on the plane once they get sick of watching movies / screens. Raisins, fun granola bars, cheese strings and fruit roll ups are a couple of our travel favourites, plus a lollipop for emergency meltdown moments (they keep Summer busy for the longest time!)
- Packing a few “gifts” is a toddler travel tip passed down from a dear friend of mine, and it really works. Basically the trick is, wrap up (or just pack up) a few exciting new toys, like little books or trinkets from the dollar store. It doesn’t have to be a big investment – mostly it’s about giving them something NEW. When Summer is getting testy / bored on a flight, this has been a surefire way to calm her down and gain more calm time.
- I can’t offer a super helpful take on travelling during COVID times – because we had tested positive so close to our trip, and had passed the 14 day recover time, we were not required to test on either side of the border. The rules on this are constantly changing, so I recommend checking both the Canada website and the website for the country you are travelling to, bu at the time we flew, we needed a positive test result and doctor’s note confirming we had recovered.
For those who don’t know, I’m a Disneyland fanatic. As in, I have the castle tattooed on my body and I have been to the parks 25 times so far (I’m turning 32, if that puts it into perspective). Taking my own child to experience the magic has always been on my bucket list, so making this trip happen was a BIG deal.
- Plan for breaks! This was a major learning curve for me, because I like to do Disney all day with no resting whatsoever (fyi my feet STILL hurt from this trip weeks later). Summer still naps, so late afternoon she crashed pretty hard and refused to sleep in the stroller. It was really helpful to travel with the grandparents because they were more than happy to take Summer back to our hotel room for a break while my sister and I rode as many adult rides as we could fit in. If you’re traveling solo and taking turns isn’t an option, I’d recommend taking an extra day in Disneyland (there are a lot more rides for toddlers in Disneyland park vs. California Adventure Park) so you don’t feel too rushed trying to get to everything when your kid is exhausted.
- Make sure you pack masks for your kiddos, as they do need them for some of the indoor rides if they’re ages 2 and up (this may change, but for now it’s quite seriously enforced at the park)
- Do your shopping outside the park to avoid wasting time once you’re through the gates. Almost every store on the Disneyland property stocks the same items, save for a few specialty shops, so I recommend hitting up Downtown Disney in the evenings after the park is closed (World of Disney has the most choice anyway!) I found it particularly hard to find clothing in sizes for toddlers this time around, especially matching stuff with adult sizing, but the Disneyland hotel gift shop was actually a hidden gem full of kids sizes and styles I didn’t see anywhere else.
- We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel this time around because it was such a special trip for us all (and it’s nice to be “in the magic” at all times with kiddos) but honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it right now. A lot of the perks that come with the price were on hold, such as early park entry for hotel guests, and a lot of the services were really lacking (we had cold water for showers most mornings!) In the future, we’ll likely save money staying at a nearby offsite hotel, but we did really love the Disneyland hotel pool, so no regrets!
- Overall, if you are a big Disneyland fan like me, I’d suggest lowering your expectations for a visit right now. Unfortunately it felt like so much of the experience has been impacted by budget cuts and staffing issues. We had quite a few extremely negative encounters with “cast members”, many of the shows weren’t running, and a lot of the special little details from past visits were missing. Despite the changes, remember to be kind! Everyone is doing their best with the current situation, and kindness goes a long way, especially at The Happiest Place on Earth!