Thursday, December 18, 2014

Universal Studios Tips

How Many Days?
Universal Studios is definitely something you can do in one day. You will be satisfied with one day.

Every park seems to have "general" parking and "premium" parking. Now, most of the time, it just seems silly to pay for premium. Universal is a place to consider premium parking. General parking is a good 15 minute brisk walk from the entrance to Universal. You walk through an entire outdoor mall. The mall is a fun walk, but if you plan to park in general, add this walking time to your plans.
The mall on our walk back to the car

You hear a lot of negative about California traffic. In Southern California, we never ran into bad traffic. We even traveled around rush hour most days and it was all fine. Sometimes we slowed to 40 on the freeway for a bit, but that isn't bad at all for rush hour.

Then comes L.A. 

Oh. My. Goodness. 

Taking two hours to travel 36 miles is absolutely NOT my idea of a good time. We stayed in Anaheim, and it was 1.5 hours to get there and 2 hours to get back. Now, I calculated the drive time on my GPS at 10 PM the night before. According to that, the drive would be 45 minutes. My mistake was to calculate at a very low traffic time. 

Because we tried to be early to every park, we still made it to the gates just as the park opened, even with our 15 minute trek across the mall.

And really, while Universal was fun, the traffic was killer enough that I would say next time, we will skip Universal. EXCEPT for the fact that they are building a Harry Potter section right now. So...yeah. We will be going again.

You can bring food into Universal Studios. Water bottles are to be unopened, so bring new ones along with you for the day. We ate our lunch while waiting for the Animal Actors show to begin. 
After animal actors show, you can meet the animals
Lower Lot vs. Upper Lot
You hear about the Lower Lot and Upper Lot of Universal Studios. Here is the deal. The two lots aren't a mere two-story elevation change. You take about 5 long escalators to go from one to the other. And there is no elevator for all level changes, so you will be on the escalator with your stroller. If you decide to do a no stroller day at any park, this is the park to do it at. The mileage you walk here isn't bad--the square footage of the whole park isn't huge. Though if you are parking in general, you will want a stroller. 

Because these two are so far apart, you will want to do all lower lot stuff at once and all upper lot stuff at once. This isn't a bouncer here and bounce there situation.

Shows and Tour
The shows at Universal are very much worth it. I remember really liking Universal as a child, and when I went, there were no rides. Kaitlyn loved the Animal Actors show. Brayden loved the Special Effects show (though I must say, I think this show was much better when I was a child. They talked a lot about CGI effects, and you can see all of that on the special features on many DVDs). Everyone thought the WaterWorld show was fun. 
WaterWorld set
The Studio Tour was great. We did this very first, which I think was a good idea. There was no wait. It is a long tour--it takes about an hour. Plan accordingly.
One of the fun sets we saw during the tour
Make sure you note when the shows are the day you come so you can see everything you want to. Universal announces through the entire park when they are seating for certain shows and they have signs up with the show times all over the place, so they make it as easy as can be on you.

Fun Characters
There are a lot of fun characters at Universal. We saw Dracula, Curious George, Doc McStuffins, Dora, Shrek, Minions, Transformers...

Child Switch
Universal has a Child Switch. This allows one parent to stay with the children too small to ride while the other rides. I like their Child Switch best of all. You get a ticket for the ride if you are the first parent. Then the other parent can play with the child in one of the play lands close by. They have some very fun play areas for the little ones. 
Play area in upper lot
Then the parent takes the ticket and one child and goes right up the exit and gets on the ride.

Universal has been very creative with their rides. Like I said, they don't have a lot of real estate, and they are in Hollywood. This means they have to work with what they have. They have created a lot of virtual roller coasters that are 3D. They are genius. Nate and I agree that the best ride in any park we went on is easily the Transformers ride at Universal Studios. It was so authentic that you forgot you were even doing a 3D ride. 

Kaitlyn really liked the Despicable ME ride. Every ride at Universal has a wait time listed. Know that Despicable ME is a bit misleading because the wait time is to a point that you aren't technically on the ride, but they must start the "ride time" at that point. So add at least 15 minutes to whatever that wait time says. The minion ride has some fun Despicable ME clips going on the whole time, though, so the wait time is easy to do with kids. 

General Travel Tips
See also my General Travel Tips. I generated these after this vacation and the post has more tips pertinent to this type of vacation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Legoland California Tips

LEGOLAND was what Brayden called "A dream come true!" He loved every minute. If you have a LEGO lover in your home, this is a stop you will want to make.

In the LEGO magazine (which is free), there is a ticket to have one free kid admission with a paying adult. We used these to get our tickets. The code on the coupon did not work. I called Legoland and they sent me to a certain site with a new code. She wasn't phased by my troubles, so I get the feeling it happens a lot. Don't give up! Call and get help so you can get your discount. Buying tickets online is cheaper than in person.

How Many Days?
This was our big debate. Pretty much everyone agrees Legoland is best experienced between the ages of 6-12. I don't think we will be going back again while Brayden is in that range. I was quite confident this would be his favorite place to visit during our trip (and I was correct). So do we do one day or two? Is one sufficient? I read things and talked to people. Some said two is a must, others said half a day is enough.

I still don't have an answer I can give. We ended up doing one day. A huge driving reason for this for us was that there are only a few rides that toddlers can go on. We knew this would be sad for Brinley to watch people ride rides. One day would be torturous enough for her. Two days would make it quite torturous for everyone.

I know Brayden would have loved two days there. We rode nearly every ride in one day (and we rode many rides twice). We looked at sites and saw 4D movies. We did almost everything we could do. The water park was closed, however, so if you go when the water park is open, two days would definitely be a good idea. There is also a Sea Life Aquarium. We did not do this since we were going to Sea World the next day. 

36 Inches
36 inches tall is the magic number that you want to be able to ride a lot of rides. Brinley was 35 inches. For reals.

Not Open Every Day
I had originally wanted to go to Legoland on Tuesday of our trip. As I got looking into details, I saw that for part of the year, they are closed Tuesday and Wednesday. During these times of year, it is less busy. But check ahead of time; you don't want to show up on one of those days and have it be closed.

Get There Early
I don't care where you are going. Go early. I planned on us arriving to each park at least 30 minutes before it opened. Sometimes an hour. I wanted plenty of time to park, get out, get our stuff all situated, and get in line. We were first in line at LEGOLAND. Plus, you won't be tempted to spend more on parking for "premium" parking if you are early. You can get the row right next to the premium, at a much cheaper price.

Best Bathrooms Award
LEGOLAND, hands down, gets the award for the best bathrooms of any of the parks we went to. The doors to the stalls actually filled up the space--no peeking at people as you walk by (my friend from the Netherlands who lives here now just the other day posted on Facebook asking why we American's enjoy seeing each other in public restrooms). They also had a fabulous diaper changing station with a spot for baby plus a sink right there for washing your hands. Plus, they have family bathrooms. This is always a plus for me. 
Yes, I took a picture

A big question is always about the food. LEGOLAND says that outside coolers and food and drink are not allowed, but that you can bring in food for special dietary concerns. We saw a lot of people eating home-packed lunches in the park. That is definitely an option for you. We ate at Pizza Mania in the Imagination Zone area of the park. We got a family meal and the cost for feeding our family was reasonable and the food was good. They also offer inexpensive LEGO collectors cups with the meal. It was the only park we went to that had a reasonable price on their cup.

While the pizza was cooking, I took the children to the DUPLO Play/Build and Test areas. These are indoor rooms where you can build LEGOs. Another great thing--you aren't sitting listening to kids be hungry while waiting for food. They are playing with LEGOs.

Check App for Wait Times
Legoland has an app for wait times. We were there on a very non-busy day. They said we hit between Veteran's Day timeframe, which they say is busy for them, and Thanksgiving, which is busy for them. Many rides had little to no wait. Some we just stayed on over and over again. Even so, there were some rides with really long lines. We waited in line for over an hour for one ride. I very much so wished we had checked wait times before getting in line and either waited for that ride to get shorter or just skip the ride altogether.

LEGOs In Line
Many of the rides have LEGO play areas where the children can play with LEGOs while the parents wait in line. This is seriously genius. Thank you to the lovely person who had this idea. Thank you, LEGOLAND, for implementing this idea. 

I read in one review that Disney could pump twice the number of people through the lines of LEGOLAND twice as fast, and I really agree with that. There is no speed in the way LEGOLAND moves people through lines. But at least there are LEGOS to play with while you wait.

Parent Swap
LEGOLAND has a parent swap option:
"LEGOLAND California offers our visiting parents, who have children that meet and don’t meet the minimum height restriction, the opportunity to do a “Child Swap” at any ride that parents are allowed to ride. All members of the party are required to wait in line together. When you reach the front, let the ride operator know of your intention, so that he can accommodate you. When the first ride is over, the parents may then switch places and the other parent can then ride with the older child."
In every park I have been in, it has been made clear to me that not all employees understand the basics of the Parent Swap that the particular park has. LEGOLAND was no different. Most employees got it, while others did not. It is worth trying.

Ride Reviews
Sky Cruiser is by far the longest wait in the park. The website says that, my experience tells me that, and the workers that day told us that. The workers said it doesn't matter what the busy level is in the park, the line is always an hour long. If you want to ride that ride, I would highly suggest you get there early and head right there very first. I think that is your only hope at a shorter wait. If it is a long wait, I would honestly skip it. 

The coasters in LEGOLAND are the big attractions and rumored to be the longer lines in the park. If you frequent other amusement parks, these coasters will not be a thrill to you. They are not intense. One review I read of LEGOLAND said that the park is more than rides, and it really is. There are some interesting and unique rides, but most of them are just okay. The thrill of LEGOLAND is really  in the LEGOs. More on that in a bit. 

Some rides are very unique and fun. 
  • My girls loved the Royal Joust ride in Castle Hill. You ride LEGO horses.
  • AQUAZONE in the Imagination Zone is a fun ride, but a very long wait time. Try to hit that ride at a shorter wait in the day.
  • Our favorite area was Fun Town. The favorite ride of the three older kids was the Driving School and Junior Driving School. The children drive cars that aren't on tracks. They have stop signs and stop lights. They really loved it. They also had a Skipper School ride where you drove boats, again not on a track. They loved actually driving things on their own. Brinley could ride the Skipper School ride. During Driving School, she rode Sky Patrol over and over. It isn't thrilling for an adult, but she liked it.
  • Another fun area for us was the Land of Adventure. We really liked the Lost Kingdom Adventure ride. Brinley could ride this and we all thought it was fun. This was probably our second favorite ride in the park as a whole.

Other Attraction Reviews
Like I said above, the park is more about the "LEGO" than the ride. Brayden's favorite part of the park was Miniland USA. In this area, there are models of New England, Las Vegas, Washington, DC, New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Southern California, and an entire Star Wars section. These are large models that are to scale. They are made from LEGOs. Brayden said he got a lot of inspiration there. He could have spent the entire day looking at those LEGO creations. Even the girls, on down to Brinley, loved this area. Miniland is a must-see.

The LEGO Movie Experience is another must-see. This is in DUPLO Village. Here, you can see the actual set they used in the LEGO movie. Brayden still talks about how amazing it was to see that set.

If you have a LEGO fanatic, go to the LEGO Factory Tour in Fun Town. They show you how LEGOs are made. It is very interesting for someone who loves LEGOs. If not, skip it. The girls would have been fine without it, but it was a must for Brayden. It is short, also. I didn't know what to expect by "factory tour." It isn't long. 

The LEGO Clubhouse is a fun shop. It is in Fun Town. In this shop, you can build your own figurine. You choose the head, hair, shirt, pants, accessories, etc. You can get a 3 pack. We had our three older children do this for a very inexpensive souvenir from LEGOLAND. While they were doing this, Brinley sat at a table and played with LEGOS. 

The Big Shop right at the beginning of the park is closed an hour after the park is closed. This is the time to do any LEGO shopping you want to do. Be prepared, though. Lots of other people have the same idea. It was a madhouse. The line to buy something was quite long.

Minifigure Trading
Just like Disney trades pins, LEGOLAND trades minifigures. You can bring your complete figures to trade with workers or at designated trading stations.

Read Website
Again, read the info on the website of where you are going. LEGOLAND California has a great "Know Before You Go" page. There is a lot of helpful information here. There are also FAQs with more good info.

General Tips
Be sure to check out my General Travel Tips post for more ideas for these parks.

See Also:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sea World California Tips

I think if you had to pick one place that was the collective favorite of our entire family on our trip, it would be Sea World. Everyone really loved it. We were there in November and the park seemed basically empty. Here are some tips for you if you are planning a visit there.

Sea World was part of our Southern California CityPass. I wanted to mention that many sites will tell you to get tickets ahead of time to avoid ticket lines. Well, in all of the parks we visited, only the San Diego Zoo had a line for tickets. Everyone else seemed to have purchased their tickets ahead of time. But you still skip that step.

How Many Days?
We easily did it all in one day. We did all of the shows, all of the rides we wanted to (the ones we did, we did many times--we didn't want to get wet so we didn't do Shipwreck Rapids), and we spent time with all of the animals. I think one day is very doable. 

Go to the Shows First
The shows are definitely worth your time at Sea World. They have great shows. When you get there, look over your map and take note of the times of the shows. I suggest you hit the shows you want to hit as soon as you can in your day. When we were there, they were spaced so that we could go to a show, then walk by some exhibits on our way to the next show, see that show, etc. That way, you won't find yourself trying to cram shows in at the end of the day with other procrastinators ad not have a seat. Plus, you can spend the rest of the day doing whatever you want to.

Our favorite show was the dolphin show. 

Soak Zone
Just know that when a spot is designated as a "soak" zone, they mean "soak." They don't mean you might get splashed. They mean soaked. Dripping. You-wish-you-brought-a-change-of-clothes-unless-it-is-the-middle-of-summer.

Bring a Jacket
Sea World is on the coast in San Diego. You will probably want a jacket at some point in the day, especially if you will be there after the sun sets. It was a very pleasant temperature, but when the sun went behind clouds, a jacket was nice, and when the sun set, we wanted jackets! We also liked our jackets after we got soaked.
This shows you just how busy it was--and that we wanted jackets
The Park is Easy to Navigate
A map is great, and even essential so you know show times, but the park is very easy to navigate without a map. There are lots of signs pointing the way to various places.

Sea World California has 7 rides. They are really fun rides! Our favorites were Manta and Journey to Atlantis. The day we were there, we literally walked on to every ride we wanted to go on. They have the lines set up for some pretty long lines, however. While the rides were fun, I think the animals are what make Sea World, so I personally wouldn't spend hours of the day in lines if it was a super busy day, but that is definitely a personal decision. 

Sesame Street bay of Play
The number of rides I listed did not include the Sesame Street area. This is an area geared toward younger kids. There are a few rides there (Brinley rode the Elmo ride so many times Nate lost count). Brinley also got to meet Elmo and Zoe and get her picture taken with them. A pretty awesome day for her :) They also have a lot of soft play type of stuff. It is a fun place to let kids just play.
She doesn't look thrilled--she was star struck
Animal Exhibits
Be sure to read the list of animal exhibits on your map so you don't miss any. I missed the orca viewing spot until we were walking out. Our children loved seeing the different animals. They absolutely loved touching the Bat Rays. They are very friendly Rays! They come up to be touched. They also really loved Pacific Point. We bought some fish to feed the sea lions (you have to be careful to get the fish to the sea lions and not the wild birds that are smart enough to hang out and often successfully swoop in and get the fish first). 
Touching the bat rays

Feeding the sea lions

Explorer's Reef Open Late
When you first walk in, you will walk by Explorer's Reef. There are bamboo sharks, sting rays, and horse shoe crabs. There are also cleaner fish, which are pretty awesome. They clean the dead skin off your hands. I loved it. They stay grouped on your hand, eating away, until there is nothing left to eat. Explorer's Reef is open past the time the park closes. I can't remember if it is 30 or 60 minutes, but it might vary anyway. Ask a worker what time it closes that day. Spend your time there after the rest of the park is closed. It was a lot less busy at that time. 

Other Tips
Be sure to read up on my General Travel Tips I compiled after this trip. It has more tips that apply to all types of parks like this.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Disneyland and California Adventure Tips

We recently went on a family vacation to Southern California. We had such a great time! There are a lot of great blogs out there with tips about visiting the various parks in SoCal. I read a lot of them in preparation. I wanted to add to these great tips available with my own tips. I am starting with Disneyland and California Adventure.

City Pass
First of all, we purchased most of our tickets by simply getting a Southern California City Pass. This gets you into Disneyland/California Adventure (three day park hopper pass), Universal Studios, and Sea World. You can also add on San Diego Zoo OR Safari Park (we added on the Zoo). You can also add on Legoland. We did not add on Legoland even though we went there. We did some pricing and found we could get into Legoland cheaper by buying tickets with our buy one get one free coupons Brayden gets in his Lego magazine (this is a free subscription). We had trouble using the coupons, but I called Legoland and they helped me out. 

If you want to go to all of these parks, there is a good chance it will be cheaper to buy the City Pass. Check out prices and any deals you can find that are going on at the current moment. If you do buy a City Pass, note that they ship it to you. You can get free shipping if you order early enough. I did not order early enough! I think it might be two weeks or more. I had to pay for two day shipping, and it got here the next day. Shipping wasn't terrible, but I was still frustrated with myself. So keep that in mind.

How Many Days?
A big question a lot of us have with these parks is how many days should we plan on? I highly recommend more than one day for Disney. There is so much to do, and there is so much more to Disneyland than just rides. If you are looking at it strictly as a rides experience, you might be satisfied with one day at one park if it isn't a busy day. We rode almost everything at Disneyland on our first day. My favorite day, however, was our second day. We did a lot of princesses that day, and my girls loved that as much or more than any ride. A lot of Disney is the magic. The shows, the characters, the themed areas--just immersing yourself and enjoying being there. We could have been happy with two days. Three days got us to do almost every ride in both parks (we could have done every if we didn't go on certain rides, like Space Mountain, ten times). We got to experience the parades and the princesses. I think we would have been happy with a fourth day, also. 

When Should You Go?
I have heard November and February are really great months. The Disney website says mid-September through mid-November and mid-January through mid-March are the best times. It also says Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are the best days. We went mid-November and it was good. It was also fun because we saw the Christmas decorations up and they had all of those fun Christmas shows and activities going on.

Fast Passes
You will read a lot about Fast Passes. I felt very confused when I was doing research on the Fast Pass. I promise it is easy to use. Once you do it your first time, you will be fine. Here is the Disney info on the Fast Pass: Here is another tutorial I found helpful:

A Fast Pass is absolutely worth it. Use it. They were beneficial even on the non-busy days. Now, you can only have one fast pass out for rides at a time, so you will likely get into lines for rides without fast passes, but if you can get it, it is worth it to you. The Disney link above will tell you the rides that offer fast passes. Here are some things to note:
  • The World of Color is a very cool show at California Adventure each evening. On weekends, they have several showings. On weekdays, usually just one. You can get a fast pass to get good seats for the show. They might have them all over the park, but we got ours by the entrance to Grizzly Peak at California Adventure. You can have other fast passes as well as your World of Color fast pass. If you don't get a fast pass, still go to the Paradise Pier area to watch the show. You can see it still; it just won't be prime seating.
  • Attendants are helpful. There is always someone working the fast past area. Ask the worker when you will be able to get new fast passes. We got some different stories from different workers. One told us you can't get a new one until you have used the one you have. Another told us you can get a new one 60 minutes after you got the one you have. Rules might change based on the ride or day (some days are busier than others). It is always helpful to ask workers questions.
  • Radiator Springs is a must-get first thing. If you want to ride Radiator Springs, I highly recommend a fast pass. The workers said the fast passes usually run out within 3 hours of opening for the day. This is true even on non-busy days. Keep this in mind if you want a fast pass. We were at the Radiator Springs ride on a Saturday and the line without a fast pass was a 2 hour wait. That is insanity. Get a fast pass. If you are doing a three day park-hopper and will be there on a weekday at all, I would highly recommend you go for Radiator Springs on a weekday. On the Saturday, even with a fast pass, we waited in line for 30 minutes. Not very "fast," but better than 120 minutes. The wait time on a Thursday evening was 60 minutes without a fast pass. So a weekday is a better day for that ride. NOTE--the fast pass distribution location for this ride is not by the ride. It is by the entrance into "A Bug's Land." It is good to ask a worker.
  • Space Mountain in Disneyland gets super busy on a weekend, also. That line without a fast pass exceeds an hour. It is a ride where the fast pass will get you on in about 10 minutes. So it is worth the fast pass for you.
Parent Swap
Another must for you to do in order to get the most for your time at Disney is the "Parent Swap." I talked with a season ticket holder in one line who didn't know about this feature! The way they did the parent swap while we were there is that you told the attendant at the beginning of the line that you were doing a parent swap. They either gave you a parent swap ticket or they gave you an electronic key card to give to the attendant right before you get in line, then that person gives you a ticket. The ticket is good for the parent and two children. The parent and children get to get in the fast pass line even without a fast pass. It is only good on that day and on that ride. Look and make sure the ticket has been dated and signed when you get it--one time it wasn't when I got one and I made sure they did. Some attendants can be real sticklers and you wouldn't be able to get back in line.

So the way it worked for us is I would get in line with Brayden, Kaitlyn, and McKenna because all three of them are big enough for every ride. Nate would go get in a line of a ride close by with Brinley that she could ride. We would go through the line, get our parent swap tickets, and then meet up with Nate. He was typically done before we were. He waited by the exit for us. Then I would take Brinley and a child while Nate took two children. We just took turns with who sat out. Then the older child, Brinley, and I would go on a ride while they rode. 

If the ride took a fast pass and we had fast passes for the ride, then Nate would use his fast pass and his parent swap ticket and take all three children. We figured this out after a bit. 

No one required to see Nate and Brinley for me to get the parent swap ticket, so they could just go straight to their ride while we went to the big ride.

Ride Information: Disneyland
I have read to start your day in Adventureland and to work your way clockwise. We started in Tomorrowland because both Nate and I remember our favorite ride being Space Mountain, and we figured our kids would like it, too. We were correct, that was the favorite of Kaitlyn and McKenna and the second favorite of Brayden (his first favorite was Star Tours, which is also in Tomorrowland). We liked starting there. 

Our favorite rides at Disneyland (starting in Tomorrowland and going counter-clockwise) were:
  • Space Mountain
  • Star Tours
  • Buzz Light Year (this was a Brinley favorite--she always rode this while we were riding stuff in Tomorrowland)
  • Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin
  • King Arthur Carrousel (this is Brinley's favorite by far--she loves Carousels) 
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Indiana Jones Adventure (but all three of our kids HATED this ride)
Those were all rides that we rode over and over. Other rides we rode that were worth the wait but not one we wanted to do repeatedly were:
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
  • Autopia (we may have done this again if the line wasn't as slow as it was--that was even on our least busy day)
  • Peter Pan's Flight (this is always a long line)
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Sailing Ship Columbia
  • Pirates of the Caribbean (this is always a long line)

Everything else was just "eh" for us--but of course this is all subjective. You might have very different opinions. Take note we did not ride Splash Mountain (can't be getting wet when it is only in the low 70s now!). We also did not ride the Haunted Mansion. No child had interest in that. Mark Twain's Riverboat was closed.

Ride Information: California Adventure
Let's note here, California Adventure is significantly less busy than Disneyland. From the lineup in the morning on through the night, this place is less crowded. We spent part of our Thursday here and the first half of our Saturday here. Both days it was significantly less busy. If you are doing more than one day and one will be a weekend, this is the place to be on the weekend.

Our favorites at California Adventure were (Starting in Hollywood Land and going clockwise):
  • Monsters, Inc. (this was a major favorite of Brinley's. Even on Saturday, we walked right on over and over and over).
  • Mater's Junkyard Jamboree
  • Luigi's Flying Tires
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • California Screamin'
  • King Triton's Carousel (again, a Brinley favorite)
  • Toy Story Mania (this is another ride that seems to always have a long line)
  • Mickey's Fun Wheel
  • Goofy's Sky School (McKenna's favorite ride at California Adventure)
  • The Little Mermaid--Ariel's Undersea Adventure (probably Brinley's absolute favorite at both parks if you exclude carousels)
  • Soarin' Over California 
Other rides we rode that were worth the wait but not one we wanted to do repeatedly were:
  • Bug's land has some fun stuff for little ones. For me, I didn't love any ride in that land, but they were all Brinley friendly, so it is a good place for the toddlers.
  • Silly Symphony Swings
  • Golden Zephyr
The rest are "eh"--but we didn't ride the Tower of Terror because none of our children were willing to go. We also didn't ride the Grizzly River Run because we had become like the locals at this point and the 70s were much too cold to be getting all wet. Brrr.

You can bring strollers in. You can also rent strollers. I debated on bringing our big Graco or our small Jeep umbrella. We went with the big one, and I am glad. We could store stuff in the basket. The Graco also lays flat, so Brinley could lay down and go to sleep, which she did each night promptly at 8 PM. 

Disney has designated stroller all around the park. A great thing about these spots is there is 1-2 workers at the stroller parking who watch the strollers. They also rearrange the strollers as people take theirs away, so don't be freaked out if your stroller is in a different spot. 

Here is a big question. What to eat? The food choices between the two parks is highly overwhelming. I think the food prices at Disney get a bad reputation. I didn't find the food to be overly priced in comparison to what we pay at restaurants here. Every place we ate had excellent food and every kids meal came loaded with fruits and vegetables, so I loved it. 

We started with breakfast at our hotel. We had a hotel with continental breakfast. Our kids loved it and ate a ton of food at breakfast. We stayed at the LaQuinta Inns & Suites in Anaheim. I can't decide how I feel about it. It worked great. It is close to Disneyland and a shuttle stop is right by the hotel. We had a room with two rooms and one of the rooms had bunk beds, so that worked great for our family. It also has a mini-fridge. But the door to the hall had a gap under it. It made it so we could hear everything in the hall. That wasn't a huge deal because we have sound machines and the kid room was in the back of our space. We also were getting up earlier than most of the hotel. The breakfast was okay, but I have had better (thought the kids absolutely loved it). I will say it is quite cheap for the room size. The pool is definitely not a place we would want to hang out--we didn't even swim. It feels like you are swimming in the parking lot. It is across the street from the Cheesecake Factory, so that was nice. We haven't decided if we would stay there again or not.
The kids room at the hotel
We then packed a lunch in a backpack. The Disney website says no food in the park, but they check your bags as you enter and no one told us not to. They won't allow coolers, but our food in the backpack was okay. We packed sandwiches or bagels, carrots, string cheese, and grapes. We also brought granola bars, cashews, and dried apples as sacks. We would just sit somewhere and eat whenever we wanted to. 

We then at dinner in the park. Most tips you read say to eat at "off" times. Our time is an hour ahead of California, and we eat dinner about 5-5:30 each day. So we were hungry 4-4:30 and were naturally off of what normal people would consider dinner time. Our first day, we ate dinner at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante in Frontierland. It is cafeteria style, which means you can get food, leave, and get other food elsewhere. I would eat there again, but beware that the kids meals were pretty bland. Our children aren't used to no spices or seasonings on their food, so they were kind of "eh." Nate and I split an adult meal and it was plenty for us. 

For our second day, we ate in California Adventure. Kaitlyn was in the mood for a corn dog, so she got one at Corn Dog Castle. It was huge and she loved it--she ate it all. A worker there told us it was his favorite food in the whole park. The rest of us got our food at Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta. I had the ravioli and Nate and the other kids had Pizza. This was our favorite place we ate. It was very good. Both places were in the Paradise Pier area.

Our third day, we ate at Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square. The kids had macaroni and cheese and it was delicious. Nate and I both ordered the Monte Cristo Sandwich. We should have shared--it was gigantic! It was good, but I don't think I would get it again. It is a friend sandwich, and we aren't really friend food eaters so it kind of leaves us feeling sick. 

There are also lots of fun treats in Disneyland. We got Dole Whip, which is only available at the Tiki Juice Bar in Adventureland. It was very good, but I think it would be even better on a hot day.

Anna and Elsa (and others)
The main event at Disneyland right now is to see Anna and Elsa. The way they are doing it is to have people get tickets first thing in the morning. The ticket is like a fast pass and you use it to go back in your time window. There you wait in another line to see them. 

I had a worker give me great tips for success on our first day, so on our second day we were able to see them. I felt like we won the lottery! Here is what you do.
  1. Arrive to the park at least 30 minutes before it opens. This is because you have to wait in line to get your bag checked, then you want a good spot in line outside the gates. Take note that there are three days that Disney does a "magic morning." This is a day you get in an hour early. You need to have a 3+ day ticket to get a magic morning. They are Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. We had a magic morning and did this on Thursday. If you do not have a magic morning pass, do not even try to get tickets on a magic morning day. 
  2. Once you are in the park, immediately go straight back to where the tickets are distributed. Do not get distracted by anything! We speedwalked back to the spot. You will go straight back, through the castle, and line up by Village Haus Restaurant. This is close to the carousel. Do not try to cut through Frontierland--they had the gate closed between Frontierland and Fantasyland. Just go straight back.
    Here we are, going as fast as we can.
  3. Get in line. You will need the admission ticket for every person who wants to see Anna and Elsa. It will be scanned. Not everyone needs to be in line, but they need to be in the park. You can't just go early ahead of the family. 
  4. Wait in line. I got in the park about one minute after it opened and we booked it back there. I was still in line for an hour to get these tickets. Nate took the kids on rides while I waited in line. There were people who said they entered the park right at opening and came straight back and they were many people behind me in line. You definitely need to get here first thing to have shot at these tickets. 
  5. They will scan your admission tickets and give you a time to return. 
  6. You then come back at that time window. You will wait in line again. But at least they have a cute little Olaf on top of the building so you can be entertained.
    Olaf talks to you while you are in line
  7. Then you meet them! And they are so sweet. McKenna sang "Let it Go" for them. They talked with the girls and were so fun.
The Royal Hall is a great place to meet other princesses. After we got our scanned tickets, we went and got in line at the Royal Hall. They have three princesses in the Royal Hall. They will also have princesses randomly around the park. If you ask a cast member near the Royal Hall, you will be able to get the info.

Dressing Up
A lot of girls dress up in their princess dress. You can buy them there, but I am positive it is cheaper to buy ahead of time and wear it in. I think the girls had the most fun the day they dressed like princesses. The cast members all make a big deal about it and other little girls ooh and awwe as you walk by. 

There are photographers everywhere waiting to take your picture. They scan cards you can then access the pictures online with. But they will also take your photo with your own camera. They are very happy to do so and even thank you for asking them. So be sure to get some photos with the whole family! Here are some photos the photographers took for us just on my phone.

Brinley watching a parade
There is at least one parade at each park each day. People line up hours before the parade starts on busy days. You can see the route on your map. We did the Disney parade on the Wednesday, which was the least busy day. We didn't get spots until the parade was starting and we still got good spots. It is a fun parade because you will see lots of characters. The California Adventure parade not crowded at all. You can definitely get good spots without staking out for hours. 

If you have no interest in parades, you should be aware of what the impact of parades is on rides. Many rides shut down for a lengthy period because of the parade. This is also true of World of Color. The rides around the pier all close earlier than other rides in the park to prepare for World of Color.

The fireworks each night are totally awesome. Know that when the fireworks are over, there is a mass exodus from the park. Imagine 90% of the people there trying to exit at the same moment. 

Autograph Books
Getting the autograph
from the Mad Hatter
I bought some autograph books on Amazon before our trip. We loved having autograph books. Each character is happy to sign it. The kids loved it and love having that as a souvenir. The double-edged sword of the autograph book is that you then feel compelled to wait in line to see characters even if you wouldn't otherwise. So take that into consideration when deciding if you want books or not. I don't think kids would notice other kids with books and want them. Brinley got this oneKaitlyn and McKenna each got this one. Brayden got this one.

Disney Pins
Disney pins are another big thing in Disneyland. I again pre-purchased these online on Amazon. I got this 3-pack for the girls and I got this one for Brayden. I then bought Disney Pins LOT of 50 Official Trading Set. The kids each picked 12 and I had a couple left over in case some got lost (and they did). The idea is you can trade pins. The kids never did trade, but they liked wearing their lanyards and having the pins. This is again something kids probably won't notice. 

Get a Button
If you go Guest Services, you can get a button that marks your special occasion. You can get "First Time at Disneyland," "Birthday," "Anniversary" is fun. We got ours at Guest Services on our way out so we didn't have to wait in line.

Check the Website
I learned a lot for every park we went to by perusing the website. I read through their FAQs and felt like they offered as much good info as any blog with tips. Definitely worth the time it takes you to look the website over. They want you to enjoy yourself as much as you do, so they put effort into it.

WHEW! I think that does it. Be sure to read up on my General Travel Tips I wrote up after this trip, also. It has more good rules for any sort of trip. If you have any questions, please ask. I am more than happy to answer if I can. If you have your own tips, please share! This was so worth it and so much fun. We made such great memories. You can find more tips on my Southern Cali board on Pinterest. It includes hotels I considered, tips for all of the parks, and condos I considered. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

National Geographic Kids Science Experiment Book {Giveaway}


 I have been loving the National Geographic Kids books lately. They really do a great job of writing a book that is interesting to children and full of information. Science is super fun--or it can be. Today's giveaway is for Try This!: 50 Fun Experiments for the Mad Scientist in You by National Geographic Kids (written by Karen Romano Young). This book has 50 science experiments that are kid friendly. It has a great variety, also. It goes through plants, bugs and microbes, people and animals, water, reactions, physics, and machines. You and your children will have a blast going through these!

Today I am giving away two copies of this book, so there will be two winners. Enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • You must enter the giveaway to have an entry.
  • You must fulfill the rules of each entry for each entry to count. If I see the entry is not valid (did not meet entry requirements), I will disqualify your entry. Trust me, I check each winning entry to make sure it was valid.
  • Entries will be accepted until 12:00 midnight December 19, 2014.
  • The winner will be randomly selected through Rafflecopter.
  • The winner will be announced sometime after the winner is chosen. I will email the winner.
  • Once the winner is announced, you will have one week to contact me or another winner will be chosen. Be sure to check back and/or check your email. The only thing worse than not winning is to win but not realize it in time.
  • I will not use your email address for any purpose other than contacting you if you are the winner (and FYI, I don't have access to the email addresses except for the winner).
  • US Shipping addresses only.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

BFBN Week: The Pros and Cons of Formula AND Beastfeeding

It is BFBN week again! We are talking about feeding children. This week, you will hear from:

Today's post is from Claire at Claire is writing on the pros and cons of both breastfeeding and formula feeding. What's that? Pros and cons to both ways?!?!? Yep. Both of them.

It's important that we stand proudly in our decisions, including feeding decisions.  But if that pride starts convincing us that there is only one way to do things, then it's gone to far.  So, should you formula feed or breastfeed?  Well, there are easy things and hard things with both options.  Your decision has to be based on what you want and what you feel works best for your baby, family, and lifestyle.  There is not one answer.  Both formula and breastmilk are needed to make the world go round.

Claire lists the same number of good sides and bad sides to both ways to feed a baby. Be sure to check it out. She has a great post that if we lived in a happy world where some moms didn't feel the need to tear other moms down, could end the mommy war over how to feed your baby. It probably won't do that in reality, but it can help you feel happy with your own decision, no matter what it is you chose to do.

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