When the global COVID-19 pandemic hit, nobody knew what the future held. Businesses, restaurants, attractions, beaches, and parks shut down overnight. Any kind of travel completely stopped. The world was filled with uncertainty that continues today.
Five months before the world was struck by this global pandemic however, we took Austin to Disneyland for the first time.
And let me tell you, Disneyland truly was the happiest place on earth for Austin! His face lit up the moment we got on the bus at the parking lot. The anticipation emanated pure joy throughout his whole body!
His little feet would tip toe dance with excitement as he walked up to the turnstiles. Watching your child experience joy like this is so life giving for us as parents. So we decided to make it a consistent thing…
Little did we know at the time…reliving this experience would be put on hold due to the need for social distancing.
As of now, Disneyland has been closed for almost four months, and despite listening to Disneyland music at home every day (no exaggeration!), we look forward to the day when the gates of the Magic Kingdom swing open again to celebrate the end of this pandemic.
Not knowing when this would happen…I had to improvise.
Embracing as much creativity as I could muster, I attempted to recreate Disneyland at home. If we couldn’t go to Disneyland, then I had to bring Disneyland to us! If Austin could experience even an ounce of the joy he felt while being in the real Disneyland, it would all be worth it!
Disneyland at Home Creation
This entire experience was meant for Austin (and maybe a little bit for me…if I’m being completely honest). As such, I needed to determine what Austin liked most at Disneyland. There was no need to spend my time and resources planning something that would make him shrug his shoulders and walk away from.
Planning It Out
Continuity and a smooth flow was important for our Disneyland at Home, so I decided to narrow down this creation to one park only. There was a brief thought of multiple turnstiles and park hopper tickets, but I decided not to bite off more than I could chew.
Austin is awestruck each time he steps into Cars Land. He is instantly transported into his favorite movie–taking a cruise down the road and waiting for his friends, Lightning McQueen and Mater to join him.
I had to try to recreate that wonder, so I chose to focus on his favorite parts of Disney’s California Adventure.
From there, I looked through the list of attractions on Disneyland’s website to determine which specific rides I wanted to attempt to recreate. It was important to consider characteristics of the ride like theming, movement, duration, and complexity. Then I tried to picture them in the actual allotted space of our first floor and backyard.
After assessing how much space we had in our home and how much effort I wanted to put into everything, I decided to create five rides from Cars Land and Pixar Pier, two entertainment attractions, two dining establishments, and a few extra touches in between. It was going to be a lot to undertake, but I was up for the challenge!
Once I narrowed down which rides (and corresponding lands) I wanted to create, I began gathering visual inspiration. I searched for images of the park from differing views showcasing specific details to determine how I could best recreate it.
If you can’t tell already, this project may have been designed just as much for my enjoyment as it was for Austin’s.
My love for Disney met my determination to make our Disneyland at home the absolute best it could possibly be (without buying tons of stuff). This experience was meant for memory making as a family! And was it ever!
Gathering and Creating Props
There were a number of signs and ride vehicles that I needed to make with crafting supplies. My crafting skill level is maybe a 1.4 (practically non-existent), but like I said before, I was determined and up for the challenge.
I used paint, markers, and crayons to draw on butcher paper and cardboard. With just these simple materials, I made a few signs and pairs of car eyes for Cars Land. All the while, looking back at the inspirational images I had found and trying to replicate them as best I could. For the specific visual things that I couldn’t create with my crafting supplies, I would find pictures to print off and cut out.
PRO TIP: I actually had Austin help me color the background of some signs. Since they were in the beginning stages, he had no clue what he was creating. He had fun coloring, while I spent more time prepping his Disneyland at home experience.
The rest of the props and decor were created from using items we had on hand around the house. I used everything from string lights to plastic cups to leather mats to balloons to empty milk cartons to stuffed animals.
I am convinced that over 50% of all the items we own were now in our main living space. The key was envisioning how to repurpose normal objects (even furniture) to build our Disneyland at home.
Our furniture was used as barriers between lands, fast pass lines, carousel tents, ride obstacles, and much more. I moved it around to generate a functional layout of our Disneyland at home ride locations and pathways.
One of the main tasks was finding objects that could be used as ride vehicles. I needed things that could move fairly easily with Austin in them or on them. I ended up with a variety of vehicles: ottoman, bike trailer, carry-on suitcase, and an inflated pool floatie.
Creating the Atmosphere of Disneyland at Home
Some people may stop there and be satisfied with the literal creation of Disneyland at home. But atmosphere is everything, especially with Disney!
Do you ever wonder why Disneyland feels so magical? Is it the smell of the bakery, the flashing lights, the laughter of kids from 1 to 95? Or is it the MUSIC?!
Everywhere you go in Disneyland, you hear music. Each moment and experience has a soundtrack that completes the magical feeling.
It was time for me to create playlists with Disneyland theme music to complete our magical land. I had general themed music for Cars Land and Pixar Pier in addition to the specific songs from each ride. The experience must be authentic!
On a couple of attractions, I wanted Austin to see EXACTLY what he sees at the real Disneyland. Luckily Youtube has a plethora of videos that came in handy. This brought the true essence of Disneyland into our Disneyland at home, yielding a perfect harmony.
Disneyland Rides & Lands
Alright, I’m sure you are wondering how this all actually played out.
Well…it was AWESOME!
Bo, Austin and I had a blast spending an entire day imagining we were at Disney’s California Adventure. It was full of fun and surprises just like a day at the park would be!
Here is an overview of the details for how it all came together:
Once Austin walked through the turnstiles, we walked down the main road in Radiator Springs at Cars Land. We went to Radiator Springs Curios to buy Mickey Mouse ears, a Cars Land pin, and pin lanyard for Austin to wear all day.
Since it was early morning, we headed to the Cozy Cone Motel for some breakfast pancakes. Later in the day, we returned to Filmore’s Taste-In for some healthy snacks to eat with our lunch. After finishing his lunch food, Austin even got to sit and watch a Disneyland parade.
- Mats and rugs with tape for roads
- Table, chairs, and tablecloth for backdrop
- Crafted signs around
- Disney Cars Mini Racers on road
- Orange plastic cups to create the Cozy Cone Motel
- Plastic plates with attached straws as gas cans at Filmore’s Taste-In
Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters
Once breakfast was eaten, we took Austin to his first ride of the day–Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. He climbed up on top of our ottoman and held on. As the music started to play, I pushed him around the floor trying to simulate the abrupt backwards and forwards motion the ride has with random spins for good measure.
Apparently it looked like so much fun, that even Bo wanted to go for a ride. It was exponentially more exhausting pushing him! Nonetheless, Austin still asks to ride the ottoman like we did for the “Luigi ride” that day. It was a hit!
- Pillows stacked as Luigi’s Casa Della Pillows [Tires]
- String lights hanging from our windows to our chair
- Printouts of tires taped to the wall
- Ottoman, tape, saran wrap, and Cars eyes to create the ride vehicle
- Image of Luigi’s on TV screen
Radiator Springs Racers
With one Cars Land ride down, it was time for the main event. We took Austin through the fastpass line (our garage) and helped him fasten his seatbelt in his race car. Once the seat belt check was complete, we were off!
I pulled Austin around our backyard like it was a racetrack. We held “tight around the corners” (as Doc says) zooming around Willy’s Butte, and made sure to slow down and admire the waterfall.
We pulled into our patio to watch a portion of the ride on our TV before heading through the doors to Luigi’s Casa Della Tires (aka our living room). That’s right people…we pulled his bike trailer inside! Go big or go home!
He got new tires at Luigi’s, and then it was back to the race track outside for the final round. Austin had a blast, but I was winded from running around the yard 5,000 times while pulling 30+ pounds behind me the whole way.
- Bike trailer and painted paper as car eyes
- Chairs with furniture cover on top of them as Willy’s Butte
- Garden hose hung over the fence for the waterfall
- Two TVs for playing parts of the ride in two different rooms
Toy Story Midway Mania!
Then it was time to move on to our Pixar Pier attractions. First stop was at Toy Story Midway Mania! This was the most detail oriented ride for me to set up. There were three different sections of the ride, each with a different game.
After going through his fast pass line, Austin put on his 3D [sun]glasses, boarded his ride vehicle and was ready for some games!
The curtains opened and Austin saw Woody sitting on the window sill ready for the first game. Austin threw craft pom poms at the cups sitting in the window sill and taped to the wall. While tricky at first, he finally made a few in the cups and scored 10,000 points!
Game 1 Materials
- Adult size sunglasses to wear as 3D glasses
- Carry-on suitcase as ride vehicle
- Plastic Cups & masking tape as targets
- Toy Woody on window sill for theming
- Craft pom poms to throw into cups
- Drawing board for points read out tucked inside cabinet
Around the corner of the kitchen island, we entered the second game. I pushed Austin through our kitchen while he tried to pull off as many balloons as possible. Letter blocks saying “great job” popped out in front of Austin to congratulate him on a game well-played.
My goal was to replicate the dart throwing, balloon popping game from Midway Mania. When I thought about the actual execution of it, I decided that darts might be slightly damaging to my cabinets. So I went with pulling balloons instead of popping them with sharp objects.
Game 2 Materials
- Balloons tucked into tops of cabinets
- Letter blocks balanced on edge of kitchen cabinet drawer
Now it was time for the third and final game. Buzz Lightyear was waiting in the pantry, as Austin rolled over. The bottom shelves were lined with empty boxes, plastic cups, and milk cartons. Austin had a bin of balls to knock down as many objects as possible. For my boy who loves to throw balls, this was his dream game!
We played a few rounds of this game before time ran out, and then the ride was over. Austin crushed Toy Story Midway Mania with 111,000 points! He returned his 3D [sun]glasses and exited the ride.
Game 3 Materials
- Empty boxes, milk cartons, plastic cups, etc as targets
- Balls to throw at targets
- Toy Buzz Lightyear for theming
- Printout of final score taped to fridge door
Jessie’s Critter Carousel
The next ride on Pixar Pier was one of Austin’s absolute FAVORITE rides! We rode this at least five or more times in a row at Disney’s California Adventure because Austin never wanted to get off, so I figured it had to be a hit.
Austin got to ride the rolling suitcase once again, but this time it had transformed into a horse. I wheeled him under the fitted sheet stretched over the backs of our dining chairs. He looked around and started pointing out all of the “critters” (aka his stuffed animals) with a smirk on his face as I wheeled him in a circle.
- Carry-on suitcase with horse head over handle as ride vehicle
- Fitted sheet stretched over chairs to create carousel tent
- Stuffed animals and toys as critters
The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
Our only Paradise Gardens Park ride was the final ride for our Disneyland at home day. Austin climbed into his pool inner tub, and Bo pushed him through the ride.
Austin slid through the hanging seaweed, and bubbles fell from above as he went under the sea! Not too long after, Ariel (aka me with a red shirt on my head…yup…not lying) showed up to sing with her fork.
Once the live performance was done, he transitioned into the other room where Sebastian was singing Kiss the Girl as Prince Eric (BO…oh yeah, I roped him into it too) and Ariel (me again) were floating in their boat. Then it was back out to the end of the ride, where Prince Eric and Ariel waved goodbye. And they lived happily ever after!
- Pool inner tube as ride vehicle
- Pink seashell paper plates as additional undersea decor
- Paper mache as hanging seaweed
- Balloons as bubbles
- Bubble machine gun to blow real bubbles in the bathroom (we cleaned the floor immediately after)
- Printouts of fish and characters from The Little Mermaid
- Ocean bath toys as undersea animals throughout the ride
- Blue yoga mat and rugs as water
- Two parents willing to make fools of themselves for the sake of FUN!
World of Color
The day was closed out by viewing World of Color. Only this viewing was for one person only–Austin. I had purchased glow sticks that I arranged on the wall of the shower to create the glowing ferris wheel (Pixar Pal-A-Round), and I threw the extra ones in his bathtub.
He came in and got to take a bath in the dark with all the lasers (glow sticks) while watching the World of Color show on his iPad. This was a moment that I was totally jealous of! It was so cool, in fact, that Austin requested to take glow stick baths every night for the next month.
- Printout of Mickey Mouse’s face for center of Pixar Pal-A-Round
- Glow sticks as spokes on ferris wheel and lasers in water
- iPad to watch World of Color
Make the most of it
This entire experience reminded us that you can create the excitement of travel and adventure in your very own home. Don’t let any outside circumstances steal the joy of experiences you can embrace as a family.
Camp out in your backyard. Watch a live Broadway show in your living room. Go fishing in your bathtub. Recreate Disneyland at home. The possibilities are endless, and your creativity can run away with it! Enjoy making the most of the time you spend together with your loved ones…even if it means traveling to your dining room for a safari themed picnic.
We always love to travel and explore new places. But for now, we are determined to find ways to embrace fun experiences within our own home while we are spending so much time in it.