My family and I just returned from a family vacation to Southern California. We had a blast though I question whether Disneyland is truly the happiest place on earth!
We started our week in San Diego and stayed at a really nice place called Paradise Point which was recommended by a friend of mine. The kiddos loved their lagoon salt water pool which thankfully was heated as it was unseasonably cool in San Diego. Unfortunately, what is great about Paradise Point if the fact that it is on an island and so surrounded by beach and ocean, but as the weather was chilly and we had attractions we wanted to hit, I am not sure we took advantage of all the resort had to offer. I will say this though, the kiddos love getting room service and eating in bed while watching tv. That is truly vacation for them! It was sweet to find out that this was the first time in 40 years of marriage that my in-laws enjoyed room service!
While in the San Diego area, we went to Legoland which is 30 miles North in Carlsbad. What a cool place! Everything in the place is made of legos. Everywhere you look you see legos: characters made out of legos, rides that look like legos, etc. There was a Star Wars Mini Land with all the Star Wars characters and scenes made out of legos. As my son Cole is a major Star Wars fan, this was his favorite part. They had recreated to scale major US cities like Washington DC (cool mini monuments), San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. They are working on mini-Las Vegas now. There were also fun rides and games and we had a great day.
The next attraction we visited was SeaWorld. Again, what a fun place to be! We started the day with the Story of Shamu and a show that features three orca whales. Wow, those are some amazing creatures. Then we saw the sea otters including a rescued baby otter who was darling, the kiddos had fun feeding and petting dolphins at the dolphin habitat, then my personal favorite – the arctic exhibit where we enjoyed a simulated helicopter ride over Alaska (though as I do tend to get motion sick, I was a little unsteady on my feet afterward) and watching a great polar bear. I do love polar bears! We also rode on a crazy roller coaster called Manta. I am not much one for roller coasters, but this one was pretty cool and fast!
Then we were off to Disneyland. We had purchased 4 day park-hopper passes and though I thought we’d all be sign of Disneyland after two days, it took us all four to get everything done we wanted to do and even then, I think we missed some things! If you haven’t been to Disneyland or haven’t been in a while, there are really two parks right next to each other: Disneyland and California Adventure. The first day we hit Disneyland. I haven’t been there in years and though I didn’t love it last time I went (I believe I was in college), it was great to experience it through our kiddos first time experience. They immediately got Mick Mouse’s autograph and photo then it was off to Tomorrowland. The first day at Disneyland was my son’s birthday and again, as he loves Star Wars, we wanted to check out the Star Wars stuff first. Star Tours (another simulated ride) was cool, but the best part of seeing Cole and Emerson get to participate in the Jedi Training Academy. A Jedi master came out and chose them from the crowd. They were given the brown Jedi cloak and a light saber. He then taught them the light saber moods and all of a sudden, the stage lifted and through the haze of smoke, out came Darth Vader, Darth Mal and a couple of storm troopers! Eeeek – the dark side arrived! The children then got to “fight” them one-on-one. Emerson defeated Darth Mal and Cole fought Darth Vader. They were then given Jedi Training Academy graduation certificates. I know about the academy before we left and we ended up at the right place at the right time quite on purpose. You know how you build something up in your mind for a while that the anticipation just kills ya? Well, that was the case for me and there were literally tears in my eyes when Cole got chosen to train. I don’t know who enjoyed it more, the children or me? I loved it!
Emerson and Cole also came prepared to pin trade. Grandma had purchased a starter pin kit and lanyard before we left, and the kiddos had a blast buying new pins and trading pins with the cast members in the parks. It is a nuance that is pretty new for Disney, but lots of fun!
My dear friend from college, Ali, and her two boys joined us that afternoon (it was so great to see her as it had been more than 10 years) and we enjoyed a lot more Disneyland including the classics: Toontown, Fantasyland including the famous castle, the Matterhorn, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, the Indiana Jones ride, Tarzan’s Treehouse and so much more. What a blast the kiddos had! We ended Cole’s birthday at a fun restaurant – Buca di Beppo – for some great Italian food. It was a magical day!
Day two we went into California Adventure. Now that is an awesome place! At my friend Terry’s suggestion, the first ride we did was Soarin’ Over California. That was awesome! You are lifted off the ground and feel like you are flying over different parts of California. They even pump in some scents for certain scenes) when flying over the orange grove, the breeze in your face smelled like oranges – seriously cool!). Then we walked into the Grand Californian Hotel which is incredible in its craftsman style construction and décor. We will stay there next time! Then it was off to the Redwood Wilderness where the kiddos finished the Wilderness Explorer series of tasks and earned their Wilderness Explorer Badges. Paradise Pier was next with the boardwalk rides including California Screaming – the major roller coaster which I begged off of. Jeff and Cole did it (who knew my son would end up being such a thrill seeker?) and they had a blast. Next it was off to Cars Land. If you like the movie, Cars Land will blow your mind. They have recreated the town of Radiator Springs and the Radiator Springs Racer ride included the drive Lightening McQueen and Sally took on Route 66 into the red rocks with the waterfall and everything. Amazing! Then it was time for ice cream at the Cozy Cone Hotel. The evening ended up in the Bug’s Life section of the park and checking out the California Adventure parade. Another great day!
Day three we revisited Tomorrow Land and Star Tours. Cole then got to built his own custom light saber. The kiddos had saved a lot of money and were able to spend it on things they wanted. Emerson had chosen a Pluto pillow pet as her big purchase and Cole chose the light saber. We lunched on Main Street in Disneyland at the Carnation Café and enjoyed deep fried pickles – yummy! Then we went back over to California Adventure (thus the park hopper part) and went back to the Redwood Wilderness and other rides. Grandpa joined us and we checked out the World of Color light, water and fire show. Again, so cool with the movie characters projected onto walls of water. What haven’t they thought of?
The last day we spent checking out all the stuff we hadn’t made it to yet – the Aladdin Show at the Hyperion Theater (a Broadway quality show to be sure), did some shopping and Emerson and I were challenged by Daddy and brother to try to California Screaming roller coaster . . . which we did. Once was good for me, but Emerson wanted to go again! More power to ya, girl. We of course had to check out the Disneyland Parade on Main Street. They do know how to put on a good parade! Then, as a treat for our final night, we enjoyed a character dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen in the Disneyland Hotel which featured an awesome children’s buffet with peanut butter and jelly pizza, mac-n-cheese pizza, popcorn chicken and shrimp and all totally kid friendly food. It was expensive, but fun to eat with the Disney characters coming around to the tables to sign autographs and take photos.
Which brings me to the question I originally posed: is Disneyland the happiest place on earth? Well, if you ask my kiddos, they will give you a resounding, “YES!” If you ask my husband who observed just yesterday that his wallet is still sore, he may say, “Nah.” Disneyland is great, but it is expensive and you become desensitized to the expense after a while. “You want a churro that would cost $1 at Costco and its $4 here, why not?!” “A smoothie sounds good? Its $6 – what the heck?!” Again, probably worth every penny, and we truly enjoyed the experience, but next time, I’ll be prepared to save a few more pennies before we go.
All-in-all, we had a great time! It is always great to get away (especially when it is snowy and cold in Spokane and we were able to enjoy sunny weather in the 70’s for the most part!). And as always, it was wonderful to spend time with my little family away from the daily grind. I am so incredibly blessed with my life!
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Have a great week everyone!