Links to Amazon are affiliate links.
Zach and I visited Disneyland in California a few years ago and have been talking for awhile about when the best time to take the kids to Disneyland would be. Really so much of the decision in when to go is regarding their ages. We had a big talk about Kye and how he’s on that brink of starting to enjoy the magic of Disney for his siblings more than he really is experiencing the magic for himself.
It was important to both Zach and I to make sure Kye got to see Disneyland (especially Cars Land!) before that magic fully shifted. We made the decision to take the kids to Disneyland in 2018 due to Kye’s age and thought it’d be a well timed trip for the kids after everything our family went through regarding adoption and adding a new baby to the crew. Older kids sacrifice the most when adding a new baby and the older kids also walked that adoption path with us in a pretty big way!
Originally we planned to just take Kye and Britt to California. We planned the trip for Spring Break of 2018 when Tess would still be three and felt like it’d be better not to bring her rather than deal with lugging a car seat, having to find a hotel to accommodate three kids, and dealing with a younger child’s sleep needs etc. Kye and Britt are SO flexible and easy going at these ages that we figured we’d do one trip with just them and then once Tess and Spear were old enough to really appreciate it that we’d go back.
Then I found out that Spring Break is not only a super crazy crowded time to visit Disneyland (duh, it’s the same for Disney World ha!) but that they were also going through a big refurb during that time and converting a large area of Disney California Adventure to Pixar Pier. Zach’s favorite ride out of both parks was a roller coaster called California Screamin’ and it would be closed and rebranded into Incredicoaster.
We talked about it and debated it and ultimately decided to wait on the trip and go over Labor Day in September which was supposed to be VERY low crowd season and Pixar Pier will have been open for a few months by then so the excitement over it would have died down a bit.
When we decided to switch to September I just couldn’t rationalize not bringing Tess. She turned four in July. She is THE most flexible child we have. She loves Disney just as much as the rest of us do (if not more since she’s ALWAYS been a Disney kid since birth haha). She’s old enough to know she’s missing out. I just didn’t feel okay about not having her come.
Thankfully all of our airline tickets were free and we had plenty of points to cover Tess coming. And we were able to stay in the same type of hotel room we would have stayed in even if she hadn’t come. I’m SO thankful we decided to bring her!!! I can’t even fathom this trip without her there!
Ever since Zach and I went to California the kids always talk about wanting to visit. Britt talks about it on a regular basis and literally says it’s her dream to go there. We were SO PUMPED to tell them the news and it was SO hard to keep it a secret for so long! We had decided to take the trip over a year before actually traveling! We decided to tell them 2 weeks before we left and I’m super glad we did as I can’t imagine trying to pack and prepare without them knowing!!! Plus the anticipation leading up to the trip was SO exciting!!!
Here’s the video of us surprising them:
Valdosta has a very, very tiny airport. Like it only has a few flights a day and they only fly into Atlanta. It also typically costs $100 extra per ticket to fly out of Valdosta since it is such a small airport. But yall it’s SO worth it. It’s great because parking is free, security is a breeze, and you don’t have to worry about arriving two hours early for the flight!
However, the flight is often unreliable. We have a pretty decent rate of having flights delayed or even canceled when flying out of Valdosta. We have learned that booking the earliest flight of the day helps so we always try to do that when possible!
We flew out on Saturday September 1st and our flight was at 6:15 in the morning. We put the kids to bed super early the night prior and got them out of bed just in time to toss on clothes and head to the airport. We were all just SO PUMPED.
Kye is the only one of our kids who has ever flown and it was when he was 6 months old and went to Mexico with us on an Aflac State trip. (You can see his first flight here). Obviously being that little he doesn’t remember the flying experience at all so he was just as excited as the girls to get to fly on an airplane! Seeing them all so excited filled my heart with such joy!
The TSA agents are so great at Valdosta airport and saw the kids’ excitement and gave each of them a TSA badge sticker to wear 🙂
I packed a ton of snacks and breakfast items for the trip and left out a honeybun for each of the kids and Zach for that morning to hold them over until we got to Atlanta!
Another perk of the Valdosta airport? Getting to walk outside to board the plane. Can’t get a more perfect first flight picture than that!!!
Here we go!!!
Traveling with 5 people can be a tad tricky especially on a smaller plane where they are all two-seaters. We didn’t have any sort of designated plan for where we’d all sit and when we were waiting to board Tess said she wanted to sit with Kye so we rolled with it and Zach sat solo across from them while I sat a row behind Zach with Britt. I love that Tess is so brave and showed ZERO fear or concern about flying and I love that she always feels so safe and protected with her big brother!!! Not many four year olds would want to sit without Mommy or Daddy for their first time flying!
I also love that Britt wanted to experience it all with her mama. I know Zach didn’t mind sitting solo but I was glad that I wasn’t the solo sitter. I wanted to be able to sit with ALL the kids and see ALL their faces and reactions but it worked out great the way it did. Britt is our biggest reaction kid so it was fun seeing her excitement!
The flight from Valdosta to Atlanta is extremely short. Like 40 min total. So they don’t do any sort of cart service or anything but the flight attendant that morning was AWESOME. She made sure to find wings and a card for each kid and even filled up a little snack bag for each of them and labeled it with the info from their first flights. How thoughtful was that!?!
Of course I’m super prepared and the kids already had a snack bag for each of them in their book bags for the day and poor Kye I felt so bad when we got to Cali! He didn’t realize I’d packed their snack bags from home so the whole day he’d only been eating the treats from the airplane snack bag the flight attendant gave him haha He missed out on the good stuff 😉
So gorgeous seeing the sun rise from the sky!
The flight attendant came and spoke to me while in flight and let me know if we lingered when the flight landed that the kids could go meet the pilot and sit in the cockpit! How awesome is that?!?! It worked out so perfectly because we had a long layover in Atlanta and I knew by the time we landed in Cali we’d be in a hurry to get going so it was nice to be able to slow roll exiting the plane to allow the kids that special opportunity.
Kye was ALL ABOUT IT.
I think we’ll be in some trouble when she’s driving age hahaha
We had to have a discussion with Tess. I know she was tired but sometimes when she’s sleepy she can be rather rude. The flight crew was SO nice and she needed to at least thank them but instead she was not having any of it. I hate she missed out on such a neat moment!
Hello Atlanta! We purchased a double stroller for the trip which may sound crazy but our double stroller is MASSIVE and heavy and we didn’t want to deal with it or risk it being damage in the flights. Purchasing this one was actually cheaper than renting one at the parks would have been and it made walking to and from the hotel to the parks SO easy AND it was great for the airport too! Only having to watch out for one kid was much less stressful than if we were having to watch all three!
We have a Chick-Fil-A tradition when we fly into Atlanta. It’s def the jam for some travel breakfast! Tess was super upset that they didn’t have french fries at 7 am haha
We had a good hour or so before boarding so we let the kids play on their tablets and I took the girls to walk around a bit and see all the airplanes!
I love, love, LOVE the girls’ airplane dresses for their first flights!
I wished I had got the kids each a little camera for the trip, even if just a disposable one. Britt was so excited that her tablet takes photos and kept taking them of the planes and such and it would have been neat to have their perspective from the entire trip!
The flight from Atlanta to California was about 4 hours. So in kid time “two movies long.” We not only flew out of the small Valdosta airport but also decided it was well worth it to fly into a small airport near Disneyland. I did a TON of research and we opted to fly into John Wayne Airport which is only about 25 min or so from Anaheim (the town Disneyland is located in). Well worth it not to deal with renting a car or the nightmare of traffic out of LAX!
On the flight from Atlanta to Cali Zach and Kye sat together and I was able to sit with both girls since we had a three across!
Oh you know Mama hooked us ALL up with killer SNACK BAGS! Tess was SO PUMPED about snack time!
Movie on. Chocolate in hand. Wipe ready. haha
I personally try to only watch one movie on a flight and then take a break because watching the screen for too long causes me to get motion sickness. I felt like the kids may be the same way so I made sure to pack some other items for them. Tess was the main kid who enjoyed the non-screen time options. Especially the magic color books!
Both flights went SO smoothly. All the kids LOVED IT. Tess literally didn’t want to exit the plane when we landed in California. Future flight attendant? I’ve had multiple people ask about the kids and how they did and they never had a single fear or concern or worry. They were just excited and enjoyed the entire experience!!! We even hit some turbulence and they were fine…I think they probably all did so well because they don’t know any reasons not to do well. To them they were just pumped to fly!
With the time zone change we landed in California around 11 am. Our bodies were saying it was 2 and we hadn’t had lunch. We decided to just grab McDonalds at the airport and eat it while we waited on our luggage and our Uber!
We actually ended up doing a Lyft rather than Uber. This was our first time EVER using that type of service and since we have a Delta Skymiles Card they actually emailed each of us a $20 Lyft credit so we went that route! We knew having as many kids as we do (and as much luggage) that we needed to get a larger sized vehicle.
Again, this was our first time using a ride service so when our small SUV showed up we were shocked because we’d ordered an XL and the vehicle that arrived was for sure not large enough. We have since learned that you can choose which vehicle and can cancel if the assigned vehicle can’t work. We ended up just ordering a second vehicle. Zach and Tess took the first one and the big two and I waited for the second one!
On our WAY!!!!
Spear spent the week with G-Mama and Big Papa. He watched his first UGA game but we aren’t worried about him being a Bulldog fan…I mean with the name Spear we’re pretty sure he will be a die-hard Seminole 😉
The ONLY little hiccup we had our entire travel arrival day was the size issue on the ride service vehicle. Otherwise it couldn’t have been a smoother day. I assumed we’d arrive at the hotel and not be able to check in until 4:00 but by the time Kye, Britt and I arrived at the hotel our room was ready for us!!!
It was important to Zach and I to stay at a hotel that was within walking distance to the parks (we LOVED the experience of walking when we went a few years ago!). I did some research and we decided to stay at the Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance Hotel. I was drawn to their water park for the kids as well as their family friendly room layout. This hotel books up SUPER QUICK and WAY in advance. Even with our early planning the only room available with a bunkbed by the time we booked was a family suite with waterpark view. Y’all know we ain’t fancy. We didn’t need a dang waterpark view and I’m sure we paid more for it but when it’s all they had it’s all they had so we lived it up with our fancy pants room 😉
I made a little video of the room tour to give you a feel for the room!
The room was truly perfect for our needs for a week long stay. There is TONS of cabinet and drawer storage. The only downside to the room was that the entrance to the bathroom was only in the hallway by the door to the entire suite. I wish there was an entrance to the bathroom from the master bedroom because it was hard when the kids were asleep (both for their early bedtimes as well as when I needed to wake up earlier than them in the morning to get ready) to sneak to the bathroom from our room. Otherwise there isn’t a thing I’d change about the room!
The whole hotel experience was also wonderful. The staff was great. We always had a nice clean room when we came back to the room at nap time and they always did cute little things with the kids stuffed animals. They were generous with the bath products (5 people…we used up some STUFF) and were always super friendly and helpful in the lobby. We were BEYOND impressed and will 100% be staying here again if/when we head back to Disneyland! I can’t recommend it enough!
We brought our own blow up mattress because I wasn’t sure how the couch would be. We knew it was not a fold out (which I mean I wish it was…it would make sense in a family suite right!?) but we weren’t sure how comfortable it would be for the kids and didn’t want to risk them not sleeping well and we knew they sleep great on our travel air mattress (we LOVE this one!).
The couch did end up being comfortable enough to work for the kids so we used that during our sleep spot rotation! Yes, we rotated. The kids all wanted to sleep on the top bunk so pretty much the moment we walked into the room we wrote out a plan for which night which kid would get to sleep on the top, bottom or mattress/couch. It minimized any bickering and everyone had a couple nights in each spot!
I love love love the little table!!!
Oh you know Britt JUMPED up to that top bunk hoping to claim it as hers haha
The kids were SO EXCITED about the VIEW!!!
(and we could even see Disneyland across the street…we were never in the room for fireworks but I bet you can see them from there for sure!)
Our plan for check-in day was to get settled and unpacked and then hit the waterpark. We wanted to get the kids to be nice and tired for bed that night so they’d hopefully sleep until the California time to wake up the next morning. We had a SUPER late night the next night at the parks and I wanted as happy of children as possible!!!
So we skipped any sort of rest time or nap time and just put on our suits and headed DOWN! The weather in Anaheim that first week in September was AMAZING. It was warm enough for the waterpark but not HOT. Like I didn’t break a sweat or anything and really if you were in the shade it’d be chilly.
The waterpark had a great layout with a splash area and kiddie pool as well as water slides and a large swimming pool and hot tub. The ONLY negative was that the pool made me nervous since it was a legit pool with a deep end and everything. If that had a gate around it then we could have REALLY just relaxed and let the kids run wild in the whole area but with that pool being there I was nervous the whole time about the kids going over there. We made a hard rule right away that they had to check in with us if they wanted to swim and we’d go over and watch them in the pool.
Overall it worked out great and the kids LOVED IT.
While we were there I was on Instagram and happened to see that Princess Turned Mom was stayed at our same hotel…then I looked over and saw her with her family right near us. I totally told Zach and he was like “um who cares” haha. I was tempted to go say hey because I mean I know I LOVE it when I randomly meet a blog friend and I always tell people who DM me and say they saw me somewhere that they should have come up and said HI!!! So I should have gone up to her but I didn’t…I think it would have mortified Zach if I had haha
Waterslides for the WIN! SO MUCH JOY.
Tess hesitated about the waterslides until her big sister encouraged her and went with her. I just love seeing them together and to watch Britt being such an incredible role model and cheerleader for Tess! They have such a special bond!!!
She LOVED it!
Of course Britt made random instant friends 🙂
Kye wanted me to do the blue slide (which was the fastest and wildest) and so I had to have that cool mom moment right? We went together and raced and I screamed THE ENTIRE WAY. Zach was DYING cracking up by the time I got to the end and I was one and DONE on that beast!!!
A water park means chill time for Mommy and Daddy!
Can I just say though that we aren’t helicopter parents but that I also can’t FULLY CHILL. I just can’t. I have to have eyes on my kids. And with three kids to watch I don’t think I sat down for more than a few minutes. I just can’t.
We decided to walk over to Panera for dinner and we went nice and early because we knew we’d all be EXHAUSTED. It was 5:00 Cali time which meant it was 8:00 pm our time and our kids had been awake since 5 am. So they were BEAT. They begged to just go to bed and not even eat dinner but we really wanted to get them adjusted and the best thing to do when adjusting to a new timezone is to just GET THROUGH THE DAY.
Stay up until a normalish bedtime in your new timezone helps your body get set to that time. So we pushed the kids and did our walk to Panera and ordered them a little something for dinner to get their system on that routine.
My favorite Panera order: broccoli and cheddar soup with bacon turkey bravo sandwich
The jet lag kicked in and it kicked in QUICK. Yall these kids were like little miserable zombies haha They were SO DONE. Even when exhausted you gotta dance 😉
None of these are staged. Like this is legit how out of it they were haha
I was proud of myself for holding back on the purchasing of little gifts and things for the trip. The trip WAS the gift! I used to pack little prizes for the kids to open on Disney trips but once we started going more often we stopped doing that so I also didn’t purchase anything for the Disneyland trip. Although I couldn’t pass up one new pair of pjs for each kid for the trip. I got them all on clearance and it was just fun having one new thing for their special trip!
Not only did we have the kids stay busy during the day to help adjust but we also gave them Melatonin. Zach uses it pretty regularly to help him sleep (sleep struggles are a side effect of MS) so we bought a kid-friendly version (this one by Zarbees) to give to the kids. We only gave it to them that one night and it def helped them to sleep until a normal wake up time rather than being up at 3 am!
We finally let them go to bed at 6:30. They’ve never been so excited for sleep!
Yes the kids were beat but so were Zach and I and we all know a busy day for kids means an extra busy day for the parents! Zach and I got into bed as soon as we possibly could and were pumped for a LONG NIGHT of SLEEP. Whenever I change timezones I tend to sleep so easily and have slept for a solid 12 hours with no issues before so I knew I’d be able to sleep for close to 10 hours with no issues 😉
We were SO THRILLED to be in California and couldn’t have asked for a better first day and travel experience for the kids. Get ready for all the fun Cali posts ahead!!! Whoop whoop!