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what we’ve been up to

I needed a break. I needed to let my mind rest. I needed to be present with my kids and turn off creativity for a bit {and stay out of my office}.

And so we did the 20 days of giveaways. I wasn’t sure how it would be received … is it annoying to just read about a different blog-friend each day? Would you still stick around even though I wasn’t creating and sharing and truly blogging? Thankfully, it worked out all the way around. We got to know some of our favorite bloggers even better; I was able to take a much needed break from work.

While I was away from the computer, we’ve been soaking up this gorgeous Pacific Northwest summer as much as possible. The sun is fleeting up here, but when it’s around you can’t find a more picturesque place. Most of these are instagram photos {emilyjdc} with the hashtag #pacificnwatitsfinest. It’s so true.

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We swam in lakes, in pools, in the Puget Sound. We ate freshly caught crab and fro-yo and donuts. We played with friends and explored out-of-doors.

I needed this break, for sure. But I think my kids needed their mom to take a break even more.

We still have one full month of summer adventures left to enjoy, but I’m feeling the urge to create start to creep up on me. I’m excited to be back and have a million and a half projects to talk about with you.

Thanks for hanging out with me!

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our best tips and tricks for staying, navigating, saving and enjoying disneyland

We’ve only taken our family to disneyland once, so we are by no means experts, but I thought I’d share a few of our best tips mostly because it was really helpful for me to read tips from other blogosphere families while planning our trip.

First things first, a disneyland vacation is, by nature, expensive.

You can certainly do things to cut costs, but I’ll just be up front and honest and say that we spent a pretty penny on this trip. I mean, the price of park admission tickets alone cost more than our grocery bill for an entire month! But we planned our trip with the opinion that we wanted to go and experience it all and not be overly concerned with how much everything cost.

We did what we could to not spend more than necessary, but if you’re looking for tips on going to disneyland on a tight budget, I may not be your girl.

Yikes. I hope that doesn’t make me sound incredibly snobby. Hopefully you get what I’m saying.

I’ll break up this post into a few sections: stay & play and probably throw in a few random thoughts at the end.

// STAY //

All my life I wanted to stay at the Disneyland Hotel. So did my mom. We decided to just go for it.

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Staying at the hotel was magical. You feel like you walk into a disney bubble and remain there for your entire trip. Each day we woke up early, walked from our hotel through downtown disney and entered the park an hour before the general population {that’s one of the best perks of staying at a disney resort: magic mornings where you get in 1 hour early}. At the end of the day, we just walked a few minutes back to our hotel. No hassle of shuttles or parking or realizing there is a real world outside the walls of disneyland.

We had two rooms with two queen size beds each and a door that joined the two rooms. It was fun to notice all of the disney details {mouse ears in the carpet design, mickey’s gloved hand holding the bathroom sconce, the disney font on the hot and cold bath knobs}. All of it was just magical.

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The rooms and public areas were super nice, the pool has water slides and complimentary life jackets and life guards {oh, and poolside drinks and comfy lounge chairs}.

We found our best deal through Costco travel which included our hotel room, park admission, character dining meal, magic mornings, lanyards and a disney gift card for about the same price as booking just the room and admission through the disney website.

I have been asked a few times since our trip if staying at the Disneyland Hotel {or the Disney Grand} is worth it and while I say wholeheartedly yes, it really depends on what you want from your trip. This was a splurge, for sure, but also a dream fulfilled and it made our stay even more enjoyable. And, honestly, the early admission makes it worth it.

// PLAY //

You can purchase park-hopper tickets {where you get to go from disneyland to california adventure and then back again} but we bought one-park-per-day passes. I didn’t think we would need to go from place to place. This was a good decision for our family as it saved on the cost and we were very happy in one park per day.

I had not been to disneyland since the invention of Fast Passes and I was a little unsure of how the whole thing worked. But it actually makes a lot of sense and saved us a ton of waiting in long lines for the most popular rides. Just google ‘disneyland fastpass’ if you want more in-depth info and fancy tricks for getting maximum use. Or just figure it out when you get there {that was our route}.

The park was crowded while we were there, but we planned our trip for after spring break and before summer break to try to avoid the busiest times. For most rides, we waited no longer than 30 minutes and the time really goes by quickly as there is so much to see. I was worried my kids would be so bored in line, but that was not the case at all. I decided {with prompting from my dear husband} to stay off instagram during our trip and I was pleasantly surprised by the sweet moments we had as a family while waiting in line. I am so glad I ignored my phone and just enjoyed the moment.

I expected that we would split up a lot – two adults with the older boys, two with the little ones, but we mostly stayed together all three days. The three boys could go on most everything and Audrey was so happy to either go on a smaller nearby ride with one adult or we would wait and watch for her brothers to crash down splash mountain or do the loop-de-loop on California Screamin’.

Another concern I had was that the age difference would be hard – how do you keep a 9 year old boy and 3 year old girl happy at the same time? Um, I was so wrong to worry. That is part of the magic of disney … everything is enjoyable to everyone {okay, maybe not it’s a small world}.

WATCH THE PARADES! My favorite, by far, of all things disney. The boys were resistant at first {a parade instead of rides?!}, but they ended up being mesmerized. You can’t help but dance and clap and smile through the whole thing.

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We spent two days in disneyland and one in California Adventure. Three days was perfect for our young family, but I maybe would have done California Adventure twice and disneyland once. Oh, I don’t know. Maybe not.

This was my first time at C.A. and it was just as amazing as I remember my first trip to disneyland. I was thinking it would not be anything as wonderful as the original disneyland, but it is! The rides are great, the lands are just as imaginative {Bug’s land is adorable, Car’s land feels like you walked into the movie}. It is definitely worth the trip.

The most popular ride at C.A. is Radiator Springs Racers – which is darling and all, but the wait was ridiculous. People wait in line for two hours just to get a fastpass where they then have to come back later and wait again to get on the ride! We decided to just wait in the regular standby line despite the fact that it was posted as a 75 minute wait. It was actually about 90 minutes. Shockingly, that 90 minutes went pretty quick – there is much to see and pleasant music and vendors walking through the lines with popcorn or water or soda. The ride was fun, I’m glad we did it, but was not worth the wait.

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One of the great things about everyone clamoring to get on the racers ride was that other rides had very, very short wait times. We walked on the big roller coaster 3 times in a row. We did the river rafting ride twice in a row {it was so much fun} and while we were waiting for the cars ride, my mom took Audrey all through A Bug’s Land and did all of the cute little kid rides.

You can view height restrictions online ahead of time and I was pleasantly surprised by how many rides the kids could go on. I think the older boys could do everything {they are 9 and 7}, our five year old only missed a few and Audrey {3} wasn’t too thrilled with crazy rides anyway, so she was happy to stick with the sweet things like the teacups and minnie’s house in Toon Town.

// EXTRAS //

You can download the disney parks app {called Mobile Magic} and get all sorts of good navigating info. It gives you maps, wait times, restaurants – totally worth downloading {plus, it’s free}.

Kids love all of the trinkets and stuffed animals and hats and balloons disneyland has to offer. Each of our kids got to choose a couple of little souvenirs and most of those were purchased at the World of Disney store in downtown disney {maybe it saved a few dollars? not sure. But that store is enormous and has a great selection}.  Our oldest two went back to the park one night after dinner with Ryan and they got to build their own light sabers at the Star Wars store in Tomorrowland. For two boys who love all things jedi, this was a dream come true. Surprisingly, the light sabers were only a few more dollars than the ones they have from Target.

We ate our meals and treats at the park {see this post}, but we also packed a bunch of healthy snacks with us. It was nice to have individual packs of nuts, trailmix, goldfish crackers, granola bars to sustain the snack munchies and also avoid spending a million dollars on food that doesn’t fill you up.

If you have little ones, strollers are a must. We brought two and we’re so glad we had them. Not only do they give tired legs a rest, but it’s nice to have a place to store extra bottles of water or sweatshirts for later. You can park your stroller and leave all your stuff in it while you wait for a ride. Just bring a small bag or backpack to keep your wallet/phone/camera in while you go on the rides. I brought a small messenger bag {see it hanging on the back of the stroller?} that worked great.

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This last tip is totally up to your personal preference, but as much as I read about the benefits of having a mapped-out plan for what rides to go on first and where to stop to use the bathroom and when the optimal time is to visit certain attractions, we are just not that type of family. We went with only the itinerary to do as many rides as the kids wanted and stay as long as they were having a good time and linger in the lands they found most imaginative.  We walked aimlessly at times and with purpose at others.  Our main goal was to have fun and I think it’s safe to say, we all had the most amazing trip.

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what we ate in disneyland

Since we generally care about what we eat and what we feed our children, I was a little concerned with what our food options would be in Disneyland.

I mean, we all know they sell delicious treats {frozen lemonade! dole whips! macaroons!} and don’t get me wrong, I could live off of such goodness. But a few real, sustaining meals every now and again are kinda necessary when you’re walking miles in the warm sun pushing overflowing strollers and carrying five year olds on your back.

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We actually ate pretty well at Disneyland. Lots of junk, for sure, but we had a few great meals as well.

Let’s start with that corn dog up there on the left. It. Was. Amazing. Not good for you, but totally worth it.

Each morning we walked through Downtown Disney to get to the parks and so we stopped at jamba juice or la brea bakery for quick, healthy-ish breakfasts. We did the same one evening for dinner – taking a break from Disneyland and grabbing a grilled panini from a sandwich shop in Downtown Disney.  If you can’t find what you’re looking for {and want to save a little bit on the cost of your meal}, walking the few minutes to Downtown Disney is a great way to go.

Ryan had heard that the Monte Cristo sandwich at Cafe Orleans in Disneyland was a must-have. So on our second day, we stopped for a nice sit-down lunch. It actually became one of our favorite memories of the trip. Sitting in the shade, letting the kids rest and color and chill for an hour – it was perfect. Ryan ordered the most decadent sandwich ever {that’s it on the bottom left} and I had the chunky salad {middle right} which was so good. The kid meal options were things like grilled chicken with spaghetti and broccoli or homemade mac & cheese {so good!} with fruit and veggies on the side. It was nice to feed our kids more than chicken nuggets or corn dogs.

I thought I would stick to a one-treat-per-day rule for the kids to save their teeth, our money and to avoid the inevitable can I have that! each time we passed a street vendor. However, I learned two things: 1. only one treat is impossible when grandma and grandpa are with you and 2. treats are fun. So we bought two bags of cotton candy and split it between all of us rather than one for each of us, or we split a frozen lemonade, or broke the pretzel into sharable pieces. By having only a little of each treat, it meant we could try more throughout the day.

Part of our disneyland package included a character dining experience at Goofy’s Kitchen at Disneyland Hotel. We ate their buffet dinner which was really not that great and neither were the desserts, but the kids though it was so much fun to help themselves to whatever they wanted {see No.2′s dessert plate on the middle left}. The draw of Goofy’s Kitchen is that favorite characters {Minnie Mouse, Chip, Pluto} and some more obscure ones {the Fairy Godmother, the Mad Hatter} visit each table and pose for photos. It would have cost our family of 8 about $250 for the meal, which was totally not worth it, but because it was free, it was a really fun thing to do.

California Adventure boasts Disney’s only Starbucks and I’m not sure why, but a tall, decaf, extra hot, one pump mocha just tastes better while sipping it from a disney parks cup.

The yummiest of all the treats we ate was ice cream from Ghiradelli in California Adventure. Ryan went all out and brought us back waffle cones dipped in chocolate filled with the creamiest ice cream ever. We sat on the sidewalk watching the Pixar parade making total drippy messes of ourselves and relished every second of it.

So did we eat well? Maybe not. But we made fun memories with the food and treats we did have.

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