Monday, March 27, 2017

How we did everything wrong at Disney & still had a blast

I think I can solidly say Spring Break in CA was a success!  We're all still recovering {B is still indignant at the fact that mac and cheese is no longer a thrice-daily meal option, and I'm still popping Amoxicillin for the strep throat I acquired from one of my little carrier monkeys}, but Disney + Carmel was the perfectly proportioned mix of novelty, fun, nature, activity, and relaxation.

I'll recap Carmel in another post, but I thought I'd give some special attention to our Disneyland game plan {spoiler alert: we didn't have much of one!}.  Most Disney-related social media posts I came across prior to our trip frankly made my anxiety go through the roof -- it seemed like everyone spent months and months planning their itineraries and downloading software and booking "experiences" and figuring out Fast Pass strategies, and I just did not have the desire, time, or energy to do all of that. I full appreciate that some folks are Capital Letter Disney People, and all that preparation is their ultimate jam, and I think that's wonderful and fabulous, and I do not want to poo-poo their love language.  I, however, am not a Capital Letter Disney Person, and if you're cut from the same Disney-is-Great-But-I-Don't-Necessarily-Live-For-It Cloth, then I am here to tell you rocking Disney from a slightly more relaxed perspective is entirely possible!

With that preface in mind, here's how we triumphed {and failed!} on our visit to "the happiest place on earth..."

Triumph: Picking Disneyland over Disney World. We went the California route over the granddaddy in FL for a number of reasons. Mostly, we're selfish assholes who, given our previously discussed Non-Disney Person Status, didn't really want to spend an entire week with Mickey & Co while our kids are still so young.  All the things I really love / know I will love at World aren't things they are old enough to appreciate yet {so much of Epcot would be boring for them; L doesn't care for / B isn't tall enough to ride many big rides; they haven't been introduced to Harry Potter; they are just as  impressed with Austin's tiny "wild life rescue" zoo as they are with huge game animals we'd see in Animal Kingdom}.  Really, most of the super magical stuff that they'd really flip for in World would be in Magic Kingdom... And Land is pretty much Magic Kingdom with some Hollywood Studios stuff thrown in across the street at California Adventure {The entirety of Disneyland is contained in two small parks: the original Disneyland and California Adventure}. We will do World in 5 or 6 years when everyone is tall enough to ride Space Mountain and no one needs a nap and meeting characters is no longer a priority and everyone squeals when they see the Hogwarts' Express in person.

Failure: Selecting Saturday and Sunday as our park days. This seems like such a no-brainer, but once we settled on Land over World and determined our Spring Break didn't coincide with California's Spring Break, we just kinda blanked on the fact that weekends would still be really crowded {Saturday at Disneyland moreso than Sunday at California Adventure}. We also took an evening flight from ATX to LAX, so it was 11 pm our time by the time the kids were in bed.  Everyone did really well considering, but if I had a do-over, I would have done Disney during the week and taken an earlier flight.

Triumph: Not taking the Disney Shuttle from LAX.  Since we were staying at a Disney property, we did not rent a car in Anaheim. Up until a few days prior to our departure, our plan was to take the Disney shuttle from the airport to our hotel.  Once I started thinking about how much luggage we would have {2 large bags, a hiking pack, 2 car seats, and the double stroller}, I began to get nervous  the shuttle wouldn't have enough room for our caravan. While researching this issue, I came across abysmal reviews of the shuttle service -- families having to wait over 2 hours for one to show up, buses being too full for luggage, unreliable timetables, etc.  As we were already stuck with such a late arrival time, I did not intend for us to spend more precious bedtime hours waiting on a packed shuttle.  And I was worried about surge pricing in LA with Uber. Stellar Yelp reviews led me to Anaheim Car Services by JAG, and I immediately booked a car to pick us up at LAX and also to take us to John Wayne Orange County Airport for our flight to San Jose. 100% worth the money.  We were even able to ditch traveling with our car seats as JAG  offers complimentary seats {which they install -- and well; I am really wary about other people installing car seats!}; we just rented two other seats with Hertz for Carmel.  It was SO nice to (a) travel much lighter sans bulky convertible seats, and (b) have a clean car with a courteous driver waiting for us at baggage claim. Highly recommend JAG's services if you're traveling into or out of LAX or one of the smaller surrounding airports.

Fail: Letting the kids watch Peter Pan for the first time in the JAG car. Our extremely lovely driver had the DVD all queued up to keep the kidlets entertained {triumph!}, but HOLY SHIT PETER PAN IS RACIST AS HELL. And it's catchiest tune is the most outrageously mortifying. Which becomes... A CHALLENGE when your eldest picks up songs in 5 seconds and then proceeds to sing them on repeat for months.

Truimph: Making a character meal reservation. This was such an easy way to (a) take a breather from the craziness of the park, and (b) knock out character interactions in one fell swoop. We chose Minnie's Character Breakfast at the Plaza Inn on Main Street {Disneyland}. We hugged and high-fived and fist-bumped all the traditional Disney gang {Minnie, Goofy, Daisy, Daffy, Pluto, Chip & Dale, plus Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Captain Hook, and Fairy Godmother}, whilst munching Mickey waffles in the A/C. They all came to us, ensuring we didn't have to wait in multiple lines to see them as they wandered the park.  

Fail: Choosing breakfast over lunch for the character dining. Had I really considered how crowded the parks would be on the weekend, I would have reserved a lunch spot with characters instead of breakfast. The crowds were still relatively sane when we were brunching at 10 am, and I wish we would have spent that hour on rides and hit up lunch at noon when everything was jammed. I also would have chosen Ariel's Grotto in California Adventure over the Plaza Inn so we could have seen traditional characters + some princesses.

Triumph: Being assholes about screen time. Our kids just haven't seen many movies -- they don't really know exactly who Snow White or Aladdin or Simba or Elena or Sleeping Beauty or a whole host of other Disney folk are. I was actually "worried" about this beforehand and kinda wanted to hold a living room movie marathon prior to our departure so the nuggets would be more jazzed about all the characters.  (a) Tooooootally unnecessary; they thought characters were cool regardless of whether they knew who they were, but (b) didn't beg to wait in line to hug on the peeps they didn't know well.  This was a huge time saver, and it was all magical for them anyhow. {Plus it made the people we did specifically seek out to see - Anna and Elsa, Olaf, Doc McStuffins - all that more special!}

Triumph: Buying out Costco's supply of granola bars. I think 20 lbs of our luggage was granola bars. We didn't buy one single snack in the parks other than the one treat we let the kids pick out {the weirdos picked lemon ices over Mickey ice cream or Dole Whips or churros -- poor decision making, children!}. Many, many near-meltdowns were curtailed with granola bars.

Fail: Underutilizing Fast Passes.  Maybe I'm just dim-witted, but I did not *get* Fast Passes until I actually got in the park and saw the entire system in person. You cannot get Fast Passes during the Extra Magic Hour; ergo, if you are smart, you will hit up the Fast Past booth right when the parks official open for the day. The time stamp on your first Fast Pass dictates when you can ride the ride and when you can take out another Fast Pass for that same ticket.  So if you have a Fast Pass for Space Mountain at noon, you can both skip the line for Space Mountain and use your entrance ticket to get another Fast Pass for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at noon. We really did not have this system down until after Day 1, and by that time, we'd discovered the Single Rider Lines {see below} and kinda ditched the entire Fast Pass system.  {Note: I think Fast Passes are done on the Magic Bands at Disney World? Maybe? No Magic Bands at Disneyland.}

Triumph: Rocking the Single Rider Line for rides our kids couldn't / didn't want to ride.  Most of the big rides have Single Rider Lines which are basically as fast as the Fast Pass line. Evan and I both rode several coasters this way while the other did something else nearby with the kids.  This was a super easy and quick way to squeeze in a few "adult" experiences into a very "preschooler focused" visit.

Triumph & Fail: Dragging L kicking and screaming on certain rides we knew she'd enjoy once she got on them. This one really is an Overall Triumph, but the judgmental looks we got from other parents certainly felt like a Fail.  And we aren't talking Splash Mountain, people -- there was high drama and tears over Peter Pan's Magical Flight. The "scariest" thing we forced her to on to was the Soarin' ride {which, in hindsight, was a little intense since the surround-screens really did make it feel as if we were flying quite high...but we didn't even ask her to think about trying a lot of the 40 inch rides B was super excited about}, and I thought the man next to me was going to call CPS... Guess what her very favorite thing we did at Disney was? Over meeting Anna and Elsa and Doc... THAT DAMN SOARIN' RIDE.  Moral: Know thy child's personality.

Triumph: Going slow and steady. With a 5 and almost-3 year old who can successfully skip naps / rest time under the right circumstances, it was tempting to just keep on keeping on until we did everything we could possibly want to do in the parks.  But with the crazy time changes {we dealt with the 2 hour difference in CST and Pacific time when we first arrived and then Sprung Forward 24 hours later...which probably ended up being a good thing, but felt a little nuts} and travel fatigue and over-stimulation, we forced naptime both days at Disney.  Our Disneyland Day {Day 1}, we roused from resting, ate a 4 pm supper at Brennan's in Downtown Disney {3 cheers for beignets!}, and then went back into the park to ride some more rides and see Disney lit up at night. We'd planned on staying for the parade and fireworks but were just totally wiped by 8 pm... so we skipped both without regret.  The next day {California Adventure Day}, we decided to rock the waterslides and pools at our hotel instead of trek back to the park. Sure, we could have done and seen more in the parks had we pushed it, but we were a much happier crew taking a more relaxed approach.

Triumph: Not dictating souvenirs. My sweet grandmother gives me money to buy the kids' birthday gifts every year, and this year, we decided to just hand that money over to them {figuratively, of course} to choose whatever they wanted on our vacation. My Type A inclination is to "aggressively suggest" souvenirs on vacation, but L especially absolutely delighted in autonomously making her selections {although I did put the kibosh on buying 3 stuffed Minnies at the same time}. I'm a little mad we didn't come home with a bubble wand, but the chicklets love what they bought {B cuddled with his remote control train up and down Highway 1 in NoCal}, and L definitely learned some mini {or Minnie!} lessons about budgeting and being discerning.

Triumph: Visiting during the Food & Wine Festival at California Adventure.  When I first saw this, I thought we'd Failed again -- but the festival runs for a month so it wasn't as if California Adventure was inundated with extra visitors.  And the Disney Junior Live Show sure does go down easier after a cool glass of sauv blanc.

Triumph: Downloading the Disneyland app. It keeps track of your restaurant reservations and official park photos {we did not buy the photo package and I'm so glad since there's only one or two I'm actually interested in purchasing} and shows a map of all the attractions with current wait times.  Definitely essential and the only app / software we needed.

Triumph & Fail: Under-Promising & well as the opposite. In our excitement, there were some things we told the kids about in advance that didn't end up happening, thus resulting in some Oh Bummer Moments.  Brady is still asking us when he gets to ride the monorail... We assumed we'd ride it from the hotel to the park both days, and it turned out just being easier to walk, but our train obsessed boy remains miffed at his Missed Monorail Connection. I was personally really excited to see the Electric Parade since I remember seeing it as a child in the 80s... but, alas, our gang was waaaaaay to tired to stick around for it Day 1. On the other end of the spectrum, we kept some things hush-hush that ended up being huge, amazing surprises {seeing the Disney Junior Show}... or didn't end up being buzzkills since we didn't talk them up beforehand{not seeing the Frozen Show; not making it to the big, fast Cars-themed ride for B because it was closed for repairs during Extra Magic Hour and then the Fast Passes were way too late in the day}. Little kids won't miss what they don't know about!

I think that's about it.  Definitely not an intricately choreographed trip, but it was just our speed and the perfect intro to Disney Parks for our family.


  1. Love this review and I can't wait to read about Carmel since we might go there in the next year. My in laws live about an hour from Orlando and my brother and sister in law took my niece and nephew to Disney last year around Thanksgiving, they are about to be 8 and 6...I refused to take my son and go with them because he doesn't know but maybe 3 characters and he still thinks golf cart rides are fun! One day, one day we'll go. But I have seen from enough people that take school age children who can easily stay up late and still act decently etc etc is the better route to go for sure. Loved your humorous/real life review.

  2. Sounds like you nailed it! We have Disneyland passes (hurrah for SoCal pricing) but we do the same thing; pack our snacks + lunches and the kids haven't seen many movies so the characters hoopla is kept at a minimum. I loved Carmel, can't wait to hear your recs. We drove through on our CA coast drive this summer and totally want to go back without 3 kids in tow.

  3. I, too, am a laid-back Disneyland person. Our trips sounded very similar, right down to the going on a weekend (oops!). Glad you had a blast!

  4. I went to DL as a little girl and would love to go back one day! I loved this review! We're toying with idea of going to DW in the next year and it really overwhelms me. Glad to know it's possible to do without going overboard with the planning! Also...Sweet B and his train toy.

  5. So I have nothing to add to the mix about Disneyland besides that I'm happy you guys had a great trip. I just want to say....I love your blog so much, and I love that you post actual content and not the typical trash pile of materialistic "obsessions!" and liketoknow it nonsense. I've followed Baby Led Weaning because of you, when I was researching natural infertility treatments your posts were a wealth of knowledge, I became a podcast listener because of your recommendations, and even though I will probably never take my kids to Disneyland - we're not really California folks; we're too Midwestern, ha - I appreciated your thoughts on the experience. I know blogging is probably more for your own record keeping than anything and that posting too often is when content goes down the drain....but please keep it up!

    1. This is one of the kindest comments I've received in a long time -- thank you so much!

  6. Completely agree with Seanna! I look forward to your blog posts and go back to them for resource such as your gift ideas. You have actidlly purchased the ideas vs. most bloggers who just put 10 items together in a cute little format. Also I Iove your realistic account of your vacations. So so helpful!!

  7. I'm really glad you're still blogging too. This was a great recap! I'm sure we will do DL at some point but it will be laid back. It's so refreshing to see this perspective, since those fancy week long trips to WDW with the Magic Bands stress me out!

  8. I have to 3rd (4th?) all the comments about how much your blog rocks. Yours is probably the only blog I read anymore, and I still love it as much as I did many moons ago when I started reading it. Keep up the great work!

  9. Wow, thanks for this! The super-planning folks do leaves me feeling paralyzed about even contemplating a DW trip (I'll do it all WRONG!) My kid is also familiar with very few characters. Since we live in the PacNW anyway, you have me feeling very optimistic about trying a DL trip!

  10. Love your blog. Thank you for sharing! What is your strategy for limiting screen time? Do they get any screen time during a day? Thanks for any tips you would be willing to offer.

    1. Thanks for reading!! We do 30 minutes of screen time per week day on the TV after B's nap / L's rest time (except for Tuesday's -- that is their long day at school with no rest time, so I let them have an hour right when we get home). No iPads, no phones, no apps, always at home, never when we're out. Sometimes we do the same on the weekends and sometimes we're just too busy! They alternate who gets to pick the show.

      Obviously we bend the rules at times -- illness, travel, special family movie nights, etc.

      I know being this regimented isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it works really well for us. We've found their behavior is so so so much better when we're strict about screens. They know how much and when to expect it, so they don't freak out when we turn it off, they don't beg to hold our phones, they are still happy coloring or doing stickers while waiting at restaurants, etc.

    2. Thank you for the tips! I appreciate you taking the time to respond. Have a great week!

  11. Brava - y'all did it well! I am NOT at all a fan of "the mouse", but will take DL over DW any old day of the week - it just feels way more authentic. (If that is at all possible in that commerialism!) L has great taste, I LOVE soaring too. And totally jumping on the ladies above, still a fave blog, thank you for keeping it real and up!


happy little comments!