Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Oh, so magical

I know some people haven't had the greatest experiences at Disneyland. Not so for us. It was truly the happiest place on earth for us and we have been having serious Disney withdrawals every since we got home.

What we rode:
  • Pirates of the Caribbean - This was our first ride of the day because we happened to notice that the wait time was surprisingly short, just 25 minutes! Last year, I don't think we saw it less than 75. I wasn't sure how Em would do on this one because it can be a bit scary. She clung pretty hard to my side the whole time and cried a little bit at the beginning, but almost as soon as it was over she started exclaiming "That was fun!" Aside from one pretty dramatic drop at the beginning, the rest of the ride just has scary music and it's very very dark. It was a ride that everyone enjoyed and despite the slight fright, I wouldn't have any qualms about taking her on it again.
  • Jungle Cruise - This was her favorite last year, so we hit it again and she still loved it. We enjoy the tour guide's cheesy jokes and she enjoys all the animals.
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage - Last year this was closed so it was high on our list for this year. We probably waited longest for this one (30 minutes, I think), but it was a great ride! It was much longer than we expected. I get annoyed when I wait 30 minutes for a 2-minute ride. Not this one. It was so cool! I can't figure out how they did all the digital effects under water. We saw all her favorite characters and scenes from Finding Nemo. I would just say this isn't for anyone who is even slightly claustrophobic.
While we waited in line, these two demonstrated where Em gets her cheesy grin
I hate that my eyes are closed in this, but I love that Em and Hans were sitting the same way.
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant - She wasn't a fan last year. This year, she couldn't stop laughing. We took it all the way to the top which even scared me a little! I think she could have gone a couple more times, but we didn't have time. The lines are short, though, so if your little one likes it, do it multiple times!
  • King Arthur Carousel (again... four times) - I don't have much to say about this one. She's just obsessed with carousels. She may have stayed there all day if we let her.
Haha love that expression

  • "it's a small world" - Well, you'll be singing it for a week. But it's a fun ride! Very smooth and slow, lots of cheery music and bright lights. I think any age could go on this one and enjoy it. There's so much to look at! We jumped on right as the parade was ending and we didn't have to wait in line at all. Score!
  • Winnie the Pooh - We totally didn't have time for this ride, but knew Em would be devastated if we missed it. I think it's a bit of a silly little ride, but it's a hit with Pooh lovers. No lines, short ride, easy-peasy.

What we did:

  • Met Snow White and Mary Poppins and Bert - Em's absolute favorite right now is Mary Poppins, so this was our first planned stop in Disneyland. I used an app (below) to see where she would be and when. We just happened to luck out and see Snow White on the way! Em was totally in awe of Mary Poppins, especially her umbrella. It was seriously one of the highlights of the day. I don't suggest chasing all the characters around the park all day, but if you have a few favorites, it's well worth seeing the look on your child's face to meet them.
She could hardly contain her excitement
  • Enchanted Tiki Room - We knew from last year that this is another one of those great little places to rest your feet and escape the heat. There's usually not much wait and it's a cute little show. Em was totally captivated by it. It's cheesy and silly, but fun.
  • Paint the Night Parade - This was probably our favorite part of the day and we didn't quite play it right. People started staking out spots THREE HOURS before the parade! I saw that and thought "oh, that's crazy, I guess we'll just skip it." WRONG. It is worth waiting three hours for. If you have enough adults, have someone stake out a good spot while the rest of you go ride rides. Read a book. Doze. Take shifts. Who cares. We stumbled along the route on our way to "it's a small world" just as the parade was starting. This is where Em is so lucky to have a tall daddy. He put her up on his shoulders and I think she had a pretty good view of the parade. I inherited my height from my mother, and neither she nor I saw much of it from our spot way in the back. Well, we could see the tall floats and they were spectacular. But we missed out on all the dancers on the ground. There were so many fun characters and the amount of lights that went into these floats was incredible. There was great music and just this amazing atmosphere. It's a do-not-miss part of Disney. Note: It has two showings, with a later one starting at 10:45 pm. We actually saw the start of it again as we were leaving and it was definitely less crowded. If you can hang that late, that might be a good way to see it.
This Mickey was my favorite
  • Fireworks - Wow. Disney pulls out all the stops for the fireworks show. We actually came out of "it's a small world" right as the fireworks started right above our heads. That was so cool! We got off the ride and just sat down right there to watch it. It was a pretty cool spot because the fireworks shot off from two locations, one in front of us, and one behind us. Em didn't know where to look! If you can, get a spot in front of IASW because they also have a slideshow and music that coordinates with the fireworks. It was truly magical and a wonderful, wonderful end to the trip.
This one turned out a little blurry but it's too cute not to share!

What we ate:
  • Surf's Up with Mickey character breakfast - Some close friends of ours visiting Disney earlier this year and recommended that we try a character breakfast. We balked a little at first because it's a little pricy, but when this friend recommends something I almost always listen to her - she is spot on. And once again, she wasn't wrong. This was totally and completely worth it and one of the highlights of our trip. We picked the Surf's Up with Mickey at PCH Grill because it's the only one that guarantees an appearance from Mickey (Em's other current favorite). We made reservations a month in advance and still had to wait half an hour. Our reservation was for 9 am, maybe if you make it for earlier they won't be running so far behind. The food was pretty good (and abundant) but having so much one-on-one time with a wide variety of characters was priceless. Em barely ate because she was beside herself with excitement. She kept running back up to Mickey and, I'm sure, spoiling other people's photos. And she totally monopolized Stitch for dancing time. Oh, and bonus? Under three eats free with their parents at buffets!

  • Cafe Orleans - Last year we went into Disneyland with zero plans and just kinda winged the whole thing. We ate where ever happened to be closest and some of it was good and some of it wasn't. This year we looked at menus and made reservations in advance. I have heard so many things about Disney's famous Monte Cristo and was dying to try it. We narrowed it down to Cafe Orleans and Blue Bayou. Friends told us that the experience at Blue Bayou is beyond compare (you're actually IN the Pirates of the Caribbean ride!), but we learned that they two restaurants share a kitchen (so the food is the same), but Cafe Orleans is cheaper. Plus, we learned BB doesn't serve the Monte Cristo for dinner, so that sealed the deal for us. And oh. my. gosh. Totally worth it. I would go back to Disney just to eat that again. Hans and I split the Monte Cristo and a bowl of gumbo and both were incredible. I was so glad we made reservations because I could see the lines at most other restaurants were running about a 45 minute wait. I feel this restaurant may have ruined me, because I'm not sure I'll ever go anywhere else at Disney on future visits.
General Tips:
  • Take a nap! We picked a hotel close to the park (A Sheraton where my dad was able to hook us up with a good rate from his corporate account) with the intention of making a stop back in the middle of the day. Sure enough, our toddler got hot and cranky around 2 pm. Rather than push her, we took her back to the hotel where she knocked out for two hours (so did the parents and grandparents, too, for that matter). When she woke up she was happy and energized and ready to go the rest of the night. We made it all the way until 11 p.m. (yes, you read that right!) before leaving the park that night. There's no way we could have done that without a solid nap. So we missed a couple hours during the middle of the day, but I think that was also a time when it was hottest and the lines longest. I really enjoyed being in the park after sun-down and watching other parents drag their cranky, crying kids home around 7 p.m. If you can swing the nap, it's a good way to have the most quality time at the park.
  • Bring snacks and water - I heard conflicting things about whether you can bring these into the park. For the record, we had no issue. The first day we only took six water bottles and that was not enough. The second we did six in the morning and six in the afternoon. It really helped not having to spend $4 on a bottle of water in the park. I also packed beef jerky, raisins, fruit snacks, grapes, applesauce pouches, and pretzels. Any time Em started getting a little fussy in line, I gave her snacks and she was happy again! Worked well for adults, too.
  • Bring plenty of sani-wipes or hand sanitizer, an extra outfit, sunscreen, hats - I feel a little silly listing these because I'm sure you've thought of it, but a reminder can't hurt! It's hot. Bring gear. And germs everywhere! And the extra outfit is in case your little one gets wet, which there are some possibilities for. You don't want them to be in wet clothes all day.
  • Bring a stroller and mark it - The kid got tired sometimes and it was great for her to be able to sit down. Plus it allowed us to get from one place to the next a lot faster. And the biggest plus for us was having a place to put all our snacks and gear and stuff. Be aware where the stroller parking is for each ride, otherwise you may come out and find your stroller has been moved. We marked ours with the big flower sash from Em's flower girl dress and it really helped me spot where our stroller was in the long line of strollers.
  • Download apps - I downloaded two apps that really helped during our trip. This wait time app ( was pretty accurate and helped us figure out which rides to hit when. The map feature on it helped, too. I also downloaded the official disneyland app ( and that told us where and what times to find characters. The only drawback was that service in the park is terrible, so my battery ran down really badly. I brought a back up battery, otherwise we might have been in trouble!
  • Souvenirs - There are these really cool balloons with Mickey inside that light up. Em really wanted one and I really wanted to get her one, but we figured it would be better to get her something that would last. My parents bought her a giant Mickey doll that hasn't left her side yet (she was NOT happy to put it on the security belt at LAX) and Hans found a stand selling Mary Poppins umbrellas. Oh my goodness I wish I could tell you how excited she is about this umbrella. It took a couple hours to paint her name and stuff on it and we had to leave it there. When we told her we were going back to get it she did the most ridiculous little happy dance. I have never seen her do anything like that. My mom and I were literally on the ground laughing so hard. I wish we would have been filming but we had no idea she would do that. She has played with it every day since we got home and I'm so glad we decided to hold out for longer lasting souvenirs instead of balloons or glow sticks.
So wiped out. She even slept in a big girl bed at the hotel for the first time!
So I doubt anyone is still reading at this point! But hopefully our experience can help someone else who is planning a trip with a toddler. It was truly a magical experience and I cannot wait to go back again. Maybe we'll make it a yearly thing, eh eh?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

California Adventure!!

We are already having serious Disney withdrawals. Even though we went last year, it was kind of a last-minute whim trip. This year we decided to two days, stay at the resort, and put in a lot more planning. It was the perfect time to go - at 2.5, Em is now totally into Disney characters, but her entrance fee is still free!
Monday we started at Disney California Adventure. I'd never been before and I probably could have used a little bit more planning on this one, but we still enjoyed it. We rode:
  • Ariel's Undersea Adventure - This was one of Em's favorites. It's really mild, though dark. Even though Ursula might be seen as a little scary (she was pretty well done!), the music and other characters kept this ride upbeat. Hans and I love that the ride never stops, guests continually board and un-board via a moving sidewalk. Score! 
  • King Triton's Carousel (like... four times) - What can we say? Our kid loves carousels. This one was especially fun because the characters were otters and sea horses and whales. She especially loved one particular orange otter.
  • Toy Story Midway Mania - The wait for this one was a bit long, but they were handing out etch-a-sketchs to play with in the line. I found this ride very jerky and abrupt and it made me a little queasy. You have a little "gun" that you fire at digital screens to compete against the other rider in your car. It was a bit difficult for Em to reach the gun and figure out how to operate it, but she still enjoyed it. Hans definitely enjoyed this ride more than most. It definitely stands out as a more interactive ride than most at Disney.
  • Mike and Sully to the Rescue! - We expected to love this one, and didn't. It was surprisingly short and didn't offer much variety. The good news on this one: Since it was just us two and Em as a lap rider, they pulled us into the "single rider" line and we didn't have to wait at all. Score!
Haha, his favorite character
  • Francis' Lady Bug Boogie - We actually didn't plan to do this one, but Em saw it and surprised us by ASKING to go! And she loved it. I know she looks a little scared in this video, but I promise this serious face is the one she makes when she is having the most fun. It's just like  Disneyland's tea cups, but the line wasn't as long!

  • Heimlich's Chew Chew Train - It's a train. There's not much to it. Hans and I thought it was lame, even for a train, but the little one seemed to like it well enough.
  • And Hans went on California Screamin'. He enjoyed it, though came off saying "I may be getting a little too old for this..."
We also went to:
  • Elsa and Anna's Frozen Sing-along - I'd heard mixed reviews about this so I wasn't sure, but by this point in the day we were very hot and our feet hurt so we decided to go for no other reason than for the rest. And to our great delight, Em really, really loved it! She posed for pictures without prompting and sang her little heart out - LOUDLY! It was cracking us up. There was a little appearance from Anna and Elsa themselves, which was great since we didn't do the meet and greets with them. And at the end there was even a little snow flurry! I give this one a thumbs up.
She totally posed like this all by herself. I think she was trying to convey extreme excitement.
  • Pixar Play Parade - We didn't even know about this, but happened to walk out of the sing-along right as this was about to start. We didn't get a great seat (it was super hot!) but the parade was really fun! If you sit close, plan to get wet - many of the characters squirt water on the crowd. It had great music and all the fun characters. Try and get a seat in the shade and you'll really enjoy this one!
  • Meet and Greets with Goofy, Donald, and Orbit - I have no tips on how to find them... we just got lucky! I expected her to be a little afraid of them, but the first one she saw, she demanded to go meet. Tip: Disney employees are awesome at using your camera to take photos for you, so take advantage of that.

And if you're thinking about going, learn from our mistakes or missteps!
  • Even at 99th percentile height, Em was too short for Soarin' Over California. Make sure you check your toddler's height before you go so you don't walk to rides unnecessarily.
  • Radiator Springs is touted as the best ride in DCA. Em's height made her borderline but we watched it and while we enjoyed watching, concluded it was a little too fast, even for our daring toddler. Proceed with caution on this one is my advice. Oh, and the wait was crazy long. Be prepared for that, too.
  • She really wanted to go on the Golden Zephyr and Mickey's Fun Wheel but they both closed early to make way for the evening's show over the lake. Make a note of the times that rides around the lake close and hit those earlier in the day.
  • World of Color: This pretty much takes over the park. Get a FastPass in order to get a decent place to watch. Once people start staking out their seats, it's hard to even walk anywhere around the lake. And without a FastPass there's no good solution for finding a place to watch. So we didn't get to watch World of Color and I heard it was amazing. That's one of my big regrets of the day, so make a plan to go to this!
Last, but definitely not least, food!
  • Castle Corn Dog. We heard so many things about this place and while we aren't big corn dog fans, these were de-licious. Seriously, gobbled them down and wanted more.
  • We ate dinner at Napolini's in Downtown Disney. No wait, lower-priced food, still very tasty. Only drawback was seating is limited and proved tricky. But the pizza was tasty and we didn't have to wait an hour for the full-service restaurant next door.
  • Clarabelle's Ice Cream. It's right on main street and it was a great place to go while everyone else was at World of Color. We did the double scoop and it was yummy. Just maybe not the best idea at 9 pm... our little one was bouncing off the walls for the next hour haha

There were several rides we didn't get to that we wanted to, but my overall feel was that DCA didn't have quite as much for our toddler to do as Disneyland does. I might spend two days at Disneyland next time instead of spending one at DCA, but Ariel's ride and the Frozen Sing-along definitely made this day a hit.