Saturday, December 20, 2014

San Diego Zoo Tips

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The San Diego Zoo is what we did the first day of our vacation. This was a great first day activity. We were all tired of sitting after driving 12.5 hours the day before and we were happy to walk around the zoo. It was also Brinley's hardest day emotionally, and it was a good place for her having some emotional breakdowns.

This zoo has some really great habitats. Because of this, the animals are more relaxed and active. They are even curious about the people there. Kaitlyn was in heaven.

Buy Tickets Before You Go
Of all the parks we went to, this was the one where it seemed most people were buying tickets at the ticket office rather than coming with tickets. To add to this, the power had gone out shortly before opening, so the tickets were not working. There was quite the line up. I am guessing this made it so people were slower getting in and the park didn't fill up as fast. This made it so we could see many animals with basically no one else around. 

Meals
Pack a lunch in your backpack and eat it there.

Arrive Early
Parking is free here. Wahoo! If you arrive early, you will get a good parking spot, too. You will be glad for this spot at the end of your day.

Do Not Be Afraid to Walk Around Zoo
Many tips blogs talk about how exhausting it is to walk around the zoo. I was kind of nervous to see what it would be like. My children never complained about the walking and I didn't find it taxing. There are hills, but we were fine. It is smart to have good shoes, but don't be intimidated about walking around the park.

If you do get tired, you can ride the Kangaroo shuttle around the park. There are also a lot of escalators in the steepest parts of the zoo.

See Pandas First
The Pandas are a must see, and the wait to see the Pandas is usually quite long. Head on back to the Pandas very first. We had no wait to see the Pandas.


Take Bus Tour
The bus tour is a great way to see a lot of animals. One of Nate's coworkers said to do it first thing. The reason for this is that you then see most of the animals, get a feel for the park, and then can decide if you want to go back or just call that good. I read on one tips page to do it around noon when you are more tired and need a break.


Like I said, I really felt like the Pandas were the thing to do first, so we did not hit the tour first. We did the tour a couple of hours into our day. The bus tour is fun even if you have seen the animals already. Your guide will give you all sorts of info you don't pick up when walking around. 
Kaitlyn's favorite animal at the zoo--this is an Okapi--you drive by this on the bus tour, but you wouldn't see it
You Can See All of the Animals
I think every list of tips I read for this place said that you can't possibly see all of the animals in one day. I disagree. We saw all but three animals (the tortoises, crocodiles, and wart hog). We left the park two hours before it closed. We easily could have seen them all if we had wanted to (and yes, it kind of drives me crazy that we were so close). We were very tired, though, and ready to leave. We had far exceeded our goals and expectations and were satisfied.


I think if it were a super busy day, you could find it takes a long time to get a turn to look at the animals. We were there on a Saturday and it wasn't bad at all.


Before we came, we went through the website and chose the animals we really wanted to see and had a list. I intended to follow this list and ignore any animal not on the list so we could see all of our musts. Well, that just doesn't happen. You can't walk past some animals and just ignore them. You can't! At least I can't. 
Brinley loved watching the elephants

Aviary
There are some aviarys at the zoo. These are fun because the birds are flying around act more natural than they do in smaller cages. Take note, though, birds flying around means watch your head. Also, watch where you put your hands. Kaitlyn put her hand on the hand rail and touched a lot of bird poop. She wasn't too excited about that. This leads me to, bring wet-wipes even if no one is in diapers.



Cloudy Day is Good
Cloudy days are always good for viewing animals. They will be more active. You will also be more comfortable not being in the blazing sun, though this park does have a lot of trees so it isn't bad.
It was a cloudy day when we went. The polar bears were fun to watch.
 Skyfari 
The line for the Skyfari is much shorter if you take it from the top to the bottom rather than from the bottom to the top.


Something I had a hard time figuring out is if a stroller could go on the Skyfari or not. Yes it can! But it has to be able to fold up. Our Graco stroller folded up to the correct size to be able to take it on the ride.

Buy Postcards of Favorite Animals
It is hard to get a good picture of the animals. The postcards have good pictures. We each bought a postcard of our favorite animal at the zoo.
Animals are hard, but photo ops are easy


Friday, December 19, 2014

SnapperRock Swim {Giveaway}

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This week as I am reliving my recent trip to Southern California, it seems only appropriate that the giveaway bring us memories of funtime in the sunshine right? SnapperRock is a great swimline for kids. Their items are UV50+. They have everything from kaftans, to swimbaags, to sundresses, to swim sets, rash tops, hats...they have it covered!
Isn't this awesome for a little one?

They sent us a suit and rash guard to us for free to review in preparation for this giveaway. The quality of these suits is great. We haven't had ours long enough to speak to longevity, but so far so good :). And it is super cute. Kaitlyn loves it. 
I love the long-sleeved option for older girls. Long sleeves are so great for those long beach days!







Today, you are entering to win a swimsuit for a girl, a sunsuit for a baby, or a rash top and shorts for a boy. Enter below:

  • 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 26, 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 18, 2014

Universal Studios Tips

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

Parking
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

Traffic...Ugh
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.

Food
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.

Rides
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

This post may contain affiliate links.

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.

Tickets
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

Meals
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. 


Shopping
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.

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