Wednesday, March 20, 2019

California Spring Break: Disney and Days 1-3

You guys! I've been to the west coast and back and I've missed you! Thank you so much for your recommendations on my last post, I wrote all of them down in the little spiral notebook that lives in my purse and we did many of them!

Ready to go! 5 carry-ons, 5 personal items, 1 bulldog who will sleep in the overhead compartment

It was such a wonderful trip. I adore California. I love the coast. I love that I get to be on the beach but it's not hot and no one expects me to get in the water. I wore jeans and a tee and often a jacket, with bare feet buried in the sand, an umbrella overhead, kindle in my hands, and my kids digging holes all around. It was beachy perfection. I miss it and am sad I must work for a living in an office that is neither on the beach nor in California.

But first up- we went to Disneyland!

Our flight out went great. It left about 3:30 our time and landed in LA about 4:50 California time thanks to the magic of westward flight. The big kids sat together in the row in front of James, Cora, and me. Everyone had snacks in their bags and the in-flight entertainment system ensured that no one talked to me while I watched A Simple Favor (a movie that should have been good, but seemed like it couldn't decide what kind of movie it wanted to be) and then The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (fast forwarding all the Frodo parts, of course). The kids were total pros with their carry-ons, amusing our captain who commented on their confident marches up the airplane aisle with their rolling suitcase and backpacks. We bused over to our rental car company, tetris'd our luggage and children into our small SUV, and headed out to Anaheim! Stopping first for dinner at a brewery because it was like 9 p.m. Fort Worth time and we were very hungry.

Next stop was the Disneyland Hotel! Our home for the next two nights. It had the usual great Disney service and I think a lot of nostalgia if you knew enough about Disney to recognize it. Mostly we just checked in, got our welcome packet and tickets, and headed straight to our room.

It was a small regular room (no fancy suite this time and man, did we miss it; we are too many people to sleep within 5 feet of each other and share the same bathroom, though obviously we survived), but the headboard lit up and played music and was a HUGE hit. There were little mickey shapes everywhere- the handles on the sink, the sconces, hidden in the carpet pattern, etc. which was very cute. Most of all it was there and it was close and we were so tired (I think it was about midnight central time) that we all fell asleep quickly.

Monday morning was Disney's California Adventure! A sister park to Disneyland, the two park entrances face each other across a little courtyard, so unlike at Disney World, everything is very close together. We walked over from our hotel, passing first through downtown Disney (you go through security there, so once you get to the park entrances, you're just scanning your ticket, which is nice), and heading in with absolutely no expectation of how things would go, except my realizing I should have listened to the advice I gave everyone else in my family to dress warmer than I thought necessary (I was cold all day, but it was our only grey day and I'm pretty sure my suffering is why we had spectacular weather the rest of the trip.)

And the day was great!

Other differences we found from Disney World is that Disneyland does not do advance fast passes, does not require things to be as planned out, is not as otherworldly and pristine, does not do as many photo opportunities on and off rides, and does not use Magic Bands. Honestly, I missed all of those things.

I've thought about it- and I don't want to sound too negative, it's a great duo of parks and we had a great time, but I think particularly when we aren't experts in the park and when we don't think we'll go often (or maybe even ever) again, it is SO nice to be able to have things planned out more in advance. The logistics and planning- something I thought would be such a downside to Disneyworld (remember, I never wanted to go there in the first place and was pretty eye-rolly about the fact James felt it was so important)- was actually SO great because someone else can do it and then you just get to follow the plans and their careful reservations and enjoy yourself!

At Disneyland you grab your Fast Passes as you go, so not knowing anything about the park made that a little more complicated in judging which rides to grab vs. others and how to order them to avoid walking 10 miles a day which we totally did. I also missed the magic (not a pun, they are MAGICAL) of the Magic Bands and having everything linked to a single bracelet. I missed all the in-ride photo ops since my favorite pics from Disney World are of the kids screaming on rides. I missed the more spacious layout of Disney World; at Disneyland everything is closer together, which I think could be a plus, but on a crowded day in March felt very much like a minus (omg so many people; I will never ever regret taking the kids out of school for that week in November for our big Disney adventure).

This sounds overly negative - we had two super fun days in these parks, and we particularly loved California Adventure and would totally go there again on another trip to LA, I think I just had super low expectations of Disney World that were utterly blown away at every park during all 6 days we were there, and average expectations of Disneyland that were generally met.

Also, and this is definitely not the park's fault, Cora is no longer into princesses as of the Monday morning we woke up at Disney. She'd packed her princess dresses on Sunday and declined to wear them on Monday. On Tuesday, when we were in Disneyland, she turned down all princess meet-and-greet opportunities. It was shocking and honestly, a little sad. I was never pro-princess to begin with, but she loved them so deeply and so truly for those few magical years, that I found myself mourning that chapter and SO SO thankful we went to Disney World when we did. Even Landon and Claire both commented later how they missed seeing Cora talk to her princesses like they were both real royalty and also her best friends. I think her awe and wonder during those meet-and-greets was an essential bit of magic to that DW trip--something unique to Disney that we didn't experience this time around--that no other amusement park experience can recreate, so I feel very lucky to have had it. I mean, I cried when she met her first princess and her face lit up. It was ridiculous. I think of it all the time and smile.

But if princesses were out, pin trading was IN, and the kids found at least a few of the pins they'd used last time (Landon had been way into it and still had all of his; Claire had been somewhat in and found a small stash; and Cora hadn't traded anything and had apparently given all her pins to her siblings). This time they were all obsessed- even Cora, who couldn't have cared less last go round, was a pin trading fool this trip. And because we'd done Disney before, and many of the rides are similar, we totally let them guide the day, which meant James and I got to hang out alone together a lot while the kids traded with every employee who wears a lanyard at Disney.

And in between pins were the rides. No characters, no parades (I couldn't get anyone excited about it, and we loved the parades last time!), so it was all rides. And the rides were great! But we didn't have the rides + magic I think we all got to experience last time thanks to the our princess-loving magic-believing 4-year-old in Florida and the general novelty of the first go-round.

But on the upside, the benefit of increasingly bigger kids is that they want to ride all the rides together, leaving you and your husband to have frequent dates in the car behind them.

So, now that it sounds like I've knocked it, I'll tell you we had a great time and the Incredicoaster at California Adventure Park is the best roller coaster I've ever been on. We all loved it. Even Claire, who cried during her first upside-down-loop experience at Hollywood Studios loved it and rode it twice.

Cora, sadly, was 1" too short and we had to eat our feelings while the big kids rode with dad. She was absolutely devastated. Next time Cora, next time.

The Pixar Ferris wheel is awesome. You think you're on a normal ride and then bam- your cart flies out over the lake. It was totally a favorite and I could have ridden it lots of times.

We loved Toy Story Midway Mania, Goofy's Flight School, the Golden Zephyr, Indiana Jones, more Incredicoaster, Radiator Springs, other rides I can't remember, and then, in what we assumed was a short sing-a-long, the Frozen show at the Hyperion theater BLEW US AWAY. Even Landon who was skeptical that his presence was necessary at this intermission in the fun he was having, sat slack jawed for the entire hour of this Broadway-like recreation of the movie. The sets were awesome, the singing was awesome, we really loved it.

And we finished it just in time to run over for our Tower of Terror Fast Pass. This was the only ride Cora did not enjoy last time (I mean, she was 4 years and 1 day old), but she loved it this time around.

We had plans to stay for the nighttime show, but after walking 22,000 steps and 9 miles, we decided to call it a day. We ate pizza in Downtown Disney and headed back to the hotel where James and I desperately wanted to lie down, but we supported our children's dreams by taking them down to the pool instead. I drank hot tea and wore pants, long sleeves, and two jackets, and they had the entire pool to themselves because seriously it was cold outside and no one else thought swimming was a good idea.

On Tuesday we were up early, left our bags with the bellhop, and headed into Disneyland Park for the first time. We ran straight to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad because it was one of our very favorites from Magic Kingdom and it did not disappoint. We enjoyed it so much- and the line was short enough at that early hour- to ride it immediately again.

I love that ride and riding it with Cora is the best.

After checking off our favorite coaster, we headed to Plaza Inn where we had breakfast with Minnie and Friends.

This was great- great food, great location, and the only characters we interacted with the whole trip, so I'm glad they were put right in front of us while we plowed through our fourth plate of mickey waffles. We met Minnie (of course), Rafiki, Captain Hook, Dale, Eeyore, the Fairy Godmother, Pooh, and we should have met Tigger but he hadn't made it over to us and we were ready to ride rides again. But it was a great character breakfast, even if I had to know the actual cost since there wasn't a prepaid food plan to allow me to pretend all our meals were free.

After brunch was Matterhorn Bobsleds (so fun!), Storybook Canal Cruise, the Carousel, Snow White's Scary Adventure (more dark/creepy than hands-in-the-air fun, which is true for several of the Disneyland rides), the Mad Hatter Tea Party (only the girls; our boys have weak stomachs), and Buzz Lightyear's Space something. We enjoyed everything, but it was getting super crowded and we couldn't really even see the rides in front of us, it was more navigating off our app and doing whatever didn't require an hour of waiting. We'd already done a lot of the rides at Disney World, so unless we loved them, we skipped them this time around (It's a Small World, Peter Pan's Flight, etc.) just because the waits were long and we were happy to take this whole day a lot slower.

We ended the day with Autopia and that was super fun for the perfect screen shot it provided of each of our children. We had Landon, tall enough to ride alone and old enough to handle that power responsibly- driving confidently, following all directions, and coming to a smooth stop at the end.

Claire, who was thrilled at being tall enough this time to reach the gas pedal, and then immediately hesitant to press it very hard until I finally put my foot on top of hers and pressed it down to the floor.

And Cora, commandeering the steering wheel from her dad, and unable to reach the pedals, but skeptical enough of their speed to press her own little foot on top of James's to make sure they were going as fast as possible.

We headed out after Autopia, totally exhausted in a way that made me wonder how we did 6 days at Disney World, and ready to eat a non-park-meal and switch to a far cheaper hotel that didn't have $20 cotton candies and pretzels around every corner. (Kidding, but only a little.)

We strolled through Downtown Disney, treating the kids to ice cream at Salt & Straw which was AMAZING, and letting everyone pick out one souvenir from the big Disney store. Claire and Cora both got necklaces and Landon decided to reserve his treat for Legoland. These eminently reasonable decisions took 95 hours to make, so I think we finally actually left our hotel around 7 p.m. We stopped for dinner on the way to our other hotel, and checked in just in time for bed. Which is good because the hotel (actually, motel) was kind of gross with very thin walls, but we had a white noise machine and the room had a bunk bed and two queens and whatever it was $100 with breakfast included. The kids thought it was great.

And so that was Disney on Days 2 and 3. Day 4 was our "down" day with plans to head down the coast, stopping in beach towns, and relaxing along the way to Carlsbad. It didn't quite go as planned as we ended up in a car accident 1 mile from our first planned beach stop, but we'll get to that in the next post...


  1. Cliffhanger! Hope everyone was okay!

    (I'm exhausted just reading about Disneyland.)

    1. Ha, everyone was fine! It was a hassle and a story, but no one got hurt!

  2. So interesting to hear about Cora's princess switch! Our oldest is 5 and still in that phase and your description of the sudden change of heart has me rethinking my (inner) eye-rolling at the constant princess enthusiasm. Turns out, I need to remember the "everything is a phase" mantra more often than I thought since you're right, there are magical moments that come from it.

    Also, could you share what your carryon luggage is? I'm in the market!

    1. Yes on the princesses, it came as such a shock to me that (1) she dropped them (she still plays with some of her princess type toys at home, but it's more using them as people figures than princesses and she doesn't dress up at all); and (2) I was so nostalgic about it! It was a really fun little interval in our lives with her :).

  3. BTW, I did find the links to the kids' carryon, so I'm just wondering about you & your husband's bags and if you would recommend them. I've never tried hard sided suitcases, but after the last couple of damaged soft-siders, I'm rethinking that!

    1. Oh great! The kids carry-ons are from Target and they've been great. I mostly just wanted something light, inexpensive, easy to return if needed, and available in a variety of colors so everyone could pick a different one. James and mine are Delsey Helium Shadow 3.0 from eBags. It doesn't look like they're available anymore, but they've been great too. The kids are traditional open halfway to two equal sides whereas ours opens on the top (more like a soft side suitcase) and I can't decide which I like better, so it's worked out well to have a bit of both :).

  4. How did Miss Maggie do with Tara? I'll bet she was beside herself with joy at the return of "her pack"!

  5. Bummed you were too exhausted for World of Color! Next time...It does help knowing the parks so well that we know what to ride and when to ride. Also the short cuts to get to said rides. DL is going to implement the Magic bands in the next year or two which the locals aren't too thrilled about feeling it will make your "magical day" more contrived. Looking forward to your next post about Legoland and San Diego!