Fear not, intrepid parent. Going solo at the Happiest Place on Earth isn't the worst idea you've ever had. With some planning, expert advice and a shot of courage, it could be one of your most memorable trips to Disneyland.
For Amanda Ficili, mother-and-daughter trips to Disneyland are great opportunities to bond.
"It was a little intimidating the first time because there's so much to see and do," said Ficili, of Mendocino. Ficili is one of two Disneyland specialists on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, and was inducted to the post in January.
Taking her daughter, Bella, to Disneyland by herself was easier than she anticipated.
Bella, now 5, seemed to take extra care to go easy on mom.
"It's become kind of a special little ritual for us," said Ficili, whose husband often travels to Southern California on business. "We always have lunch at Café Orleans together right at the beginning of lunch time before we start going on rides. And we always ride the tea cups together and buy girly things and just do the princess things that dad's not too keen on."
For their maiden excursion, Ficili purchased "CallMeCuffs," a temporary ID band pre-printed with the parents' contact information. She talked to Bella about the importance of staying close to her. If they got separated, she told Bella, she should find a Disney cast member who all wear name badges.
As soon as they got in the park, Bella walked up to a cast member and showed off her new ID bracelet, chattering excitedly about what she was supposed to do if she lost her mom. Even though mom was just two feet away.
"He was great," she said. "He just listened and gave her a round of applause for doing the right thing."
Disney staffers aren't the only kindly souls at the theme park. During a recent trip of my own with my two young children, I found that other families often take pity on the solo parent.
After wrestling (OK, folding) a double stroller to the ground to fit on a tram from the parking garage to the park entrance, another dad loaded it onto the tram for me while I shuffled my kids onto the bench seat. He held onto it as we wound our way to the front gate and set it up once there.
Another mom took our picture while we stood in line, and a different dad offered to carry a tray of food to our table at lunch.
"I feel like people who are there are trying to embrace the magic that is Disneyland," Ficili said. "That's another thing that makes it easy to go with my child by myself."
But if you are going to venture it alone at a theme park that attracts an estimated 12 million to 15 million people each year, you may want to heed some advice.
Like go during less crowded times of the year January, early February and right after school starts in September.
If you go during fairly busy times, go on a weekday instead of a weekend, said John McClintock, spokesman for Disneyland and senior publicist for Disney Destinations.
Avoiding the June 15 opening weekend of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure Park may also be advisable.
"We're planning for very large crowds," he said.
Other things to consider include taking advantage of the Fast Pass system, using early entry opportunities and hitting popular rides early.
"It's good to talk to your kids and find out for sure what they want to ride and plan your trip through the park accordingly," McClintock said.
If the kids insist on what is amusingly called (but not so amusingly executed) the "Dumbo do or die tour," hit that ride's slow-moving queue in the early morning, during a parade or after dark, McClintock suggested.
Disney parks also offer some reassurances for families when it comes to creature comforts and safety. There are baby centers at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, where parents can nurse babies or change diapers and where there are even, ahem, small facilities for tiny tushies.
At Guest Relations at City Hall inside Disneyland, free stickers for children with spaces for cellphone numbers are offered.
But one of the best resources for families is available even before hitting the park, according to Travelzoo's senior editor, Gabe Saglie: Disney's Moms Panel, which is made up of real-life moms (and some dads) who know the Disney World and Disneyland parks like their own living rooms.
"Through their website, you can get the panel to answer any question about your upcoming visit," he wrote in an email.
Once there, solo parents may want to consider staying at local hotels with shuttle services to the park, which also helps avoid expensive on-site parking and provides a shorter walk to the front gate. Planning some down time in the form of stage shows also is a must.
"Any single parent will appreciate a few minutes to sit down and take a breath," Saglie wrote.
Marianne Szymanski, of Milwaukee, has taken her two children to Walt Disney World on her own several times. For her, learning to navigate the small things such as finding a family bathroom, figuring out who will sit with whom on rides and knowing height restrictions on rides have made the trips easier.
"You're there to have fun, so don't make it stressful," she said.
That's the motto that I hummed to myself during our recent trip. Maybe we didn't go on all the rides, but the ones we did manage were fun. Especially on rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, where I sat in the middle of two children who practically climbed my rib cage every time our boat hit a bump.
And while the memories of children crying over souvenirs and fighting over PB&Js are not so quickly forgotten, the sweeter memories of faces covered in chocolate ice cream, peals of laughter on the rides and two children passed out in the back seat on the drive home will last a lifetime.
BIG DISNEY MONTH
June 15 marks the grand reopening of Disney California Adventure Park, as well as the launch of two new lands.
The town of Radiator Springs, inspired by the 2006 computer-animated hit "Cars," comes to life with three new rides Radiator Springs Racers, Luigi's Flying Tires and Mater's Junkyard Jamboree. The new land features eateries like Flo's V8 Café, Cozy Cone Motel and Fillmore's Taste-in. The 12-acre area also includes stores like Ramone's House of Body Art and Radiator Springs Curios.
BUENA VISTA STREET
Just past the new Streamline Moderne gates of Disney California Adventure Park lies Buena Vista Street, where interpretations of 1920s Los Angeles buildings will impart a nostalgic feel. Art Deco storefronts, Spanish-tile roofs, wrought-iron balconies and shade trees line the street. Also featured is a Red Car Trolley and a reproduction of Carthay Circle Theatre, where "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," Walt Disney's first animated feature, premiered in 1937.