Yes, we took our 1 year old to Disneyland. No, it wasn't awful.
Do you remember your first trip to Disneyland or to Walt Disney World? For some of us, the answer is yes. If you were not a very small child at the time, you probably spent weeks in anticipation counting down the days before you first walked through those turnstiles and into one of the magical worlds that awaited you. For Others, the answer is no. You were probably very young at the time and have only pictures to look at to be reminded of your first visit to one of Walt Disney's Magic Kingdoms. I personally do not remember my first trip to Disneyland. My family and I had taken the trip from our Northern California home down to Anaheim many times over the years and I was a very young boy when I first saw Disneyland. I imagine that's why Disneyland seems so special to me, I literally have magical memories of Walt's park dating back for years and years.
Our eldest daughter very much remembers her first trip to Disneyland. We took her there to celebrate her 6th birthday and it was the first serious trip my wife (then girlfriend) and I took together as a family. With the exception of some extended family that accompanied us, it was essentially the first family trip we took together just the 3 of us. She had an absolute blast, as a 6 year old visiting Disneyland for the first time will often do. She was treated to fancy dinners, special 'Fantasmic!' seating, character dining and of course a visit to the Bibbidi-Bobbidi Boutique. A trip to Disneyland I'm sure she'll remember for years to come. We really thought that around 6 or so was the perfect age to bring a child to Disneyland for the first time. They are old enough to walk all day, can speak and listen well, they *usually* don't need to take daily naps and most importantly, they are aware of where they are at and what they are doing.
After our wedding, my wife and I honeymooned in Disneyland, another reason it is so special to me. When we were there, we had just had our youngest a few months prior, we started noticing all of the parents toting around infants and toddlers, and of course THE STROLLERS! So many strollers. We would look at each other and say "Nope! Not us." The thought of having to carry all of that extra stuff around the park for a few days, having to navigate through crowds pushing a stroller, the crying, the meltdowns, the nap breaks seemed like a daunting task. It's not that we didn't want our youngest to come with us at all, we just hoped we could wait until she was at an age where we could all have fun together.
We are however, a Disney family through and through. In January of 2017 with the Disneyland Resort bringing back "The Main Street Electrical Parade" nostalgia hit my wife and I like a goat with dynamite in his mouth. We knew we had to go back and by that time we had softened on the idea of bringing our now 1 year old with us down to Anaheim. So we decided to go ahead and make the trip. We packed the stroller, the diaper bag, the snacks, the blankets, the pack-and-play and loaded up and made our way south to Disneyland... And you know what? The trip was amazing.
Our youngest will no doubt fall into the category that I did as far as people who will not remember their first trip to Disneyland. My wife and I however will remember it for the rest of our lives. Yes we had a great time there on our honeymoon but as anybody who's made the trip without their little ones will tell you, a trip to Disneyland without kids is vastly different to one with kids. It was nothing short of magical to see Walt's park through her eyes as she ooohd and aaahd at things I had enjoyed countless times. Everything was new to her and although yes, she was very young, she was soaking it all up and taking it all in.
Despite our initial reservations, she did amazingly well. I don't recall any meltdowns aside from the occasional "I'm tired" or "I'm hungry" cry. Handling the stroller wasn't as bad as we anticipated and our daughter was able to ride a surprising number of rides at the resort. Her very first was "Snow White's Scary Adventure". We figured if she could handle the dark, scary sequences of that ride, we'd be alright for the remainder of the trip. After coming out the other side fine and dandy we proceeded to ride the rest of the Fantasyland dark rides. No problems, we're good to go. "On to Space Mountain!!"... ok, just kidding there. We ended up enjoying the rest of the trip as a family and had a wonderful time. She even rode "The Haunted Mansion", which I thought if any ride was gonna get her it would be that one, but she did just fine. Her favorite attractions ended up being "it's a small world" and "Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room". Especially Small World though, not everyone's favorite ride, but to a 1 year old the dolls, the colors, the lights, yes even the music delighted her.
So the trip turned out amazing and we can't wait to go back again. If I could give any advice to parents pondering the same question "What is the right age to bring my child to Disneyland/Walt Disney World for their first visit?" that my wife and I wondered, it would be this... Honestly, it's really up to you; and I know that sounds like a non-answer but when you feel like it's right, then it's right. One thing that did work for us was keeping our 1 year old as close to her schedule that she was on at home as possible. Yes the days are longer, but when it was her usual nap time, we took her back to the hotel to nap. We fed her breakfast, lunch and dinner at approximately the same time as she had at home and we let her fall asleep when she was ready for bed. It really helped us and her keep some kind of normalcy.
When all was said and done and we exited the turnstiles for the last time of our trip we looked back and realized what a blast we had. Most importantly though we will always cherish the wonderful time we spent together as a family and we'll keep the magical memories we created when we took our baby to 'The Happiest Place on Earth' for the first time in our hearts. Even if only 3 out of the 4 of us will remember it...