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Disneyland with a Toddler

Disneyland is the happiest place on earth for children of all ages, but what do you do when you're too little to ride the big kid rides, but big enough to recognize your favorite Disney friends?

Meet my niece, Cassie. At 1 and a half, she's 34 inches tall. She loves Nemo, Moana and Elsa and proving she's a big girl. Is she ready for Space Mountain yet? No, not even close. But that doesn't mean you're stuck in Fantasyland all day riding the tea cups. Here are some tips I learned navigating the Disneyland Resort for the first time with a little themeparker.

1. Do a height check before you leave. Luckily my sister already had a doctor's appointment for Cassie scheduled right before the trip. At 34 inches, Cassie officially passes the first height threshold, 32 inches, which is the minimum height for Mater's Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi's Rockin Roadsters at Disney California Adventure.

40 inches is the height that unlocks most of the big rides at the resort, like Splash Mountain and Space Mountain, but there's still plenty you can do at 34 inches.

2. Plan your Child Swaps. A Child Swap (or Rider Switch) pass is available at any attraction with a height limit. It allows one parent to ride while the other waits with the little squirt. Once the first parent exits, the second gets to board without waiting in the regular line, usually through the Fast Pass queue. Just because you can't ride something, doesn't mean you have to sit on a bench and wait. While Dad rides Splash Mountain, Mom and Cassie ride Pooh (next door). Then Mom rides Splash Mt. and Dad and Cassie meet Pooh. Generally, rides with height limits have something that doesn't require being tall not too far away.

3. Go with the flow. Traveling with a toddler is not the time to plow through with a "RIDE EVERYTHING!" mentality. If it's getting hot, go see the Tiki Room or hang out in the Animation Pavillion or Star Wars Launch Bay. If she needs to get out of the stroller and run, find a quiet corner in the back of a food court and let her loose. If she is having a good time with bright colors, ride Little Mermaid or Small World a few more times. The main thing to remember is to allow your agenda to be flexible. Nap time will come, and that's the perfect time for Mommy and Daddy to switch off riding Thunder Mountain.

Regardless of the age, a Disney vacation can be exhausting. Take your time, read your family's mood, and try not to be as scheduled as you (and Disney) may want to be.

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