The vacation blogs – usually posted weeks after our actual vacations – are truly labors of love. They represent hours and hours of writing, editing and photograph/video uploading time. I write the most detailed representations of the trips that I can, knowing that I will enjoy looking back on them in the near and far future (I am my own biggest fan), and hoping that Sonja will be grateful for the memories someday too. I thank anyone who stops by and takes the time to share in the memories with us.
My child has thrown up three times in her life. Once, when she was an infant and had norovirus, once when she had a bad cold and couldn’t get a hold of her coughing, and once, thirty minutes before boarding a flight to California.
I’m no good with vomit. I’m petrified of it. I’m (unwillingly) obsessed with it to the point that I count instances of it. Yet I’d like to think that what I did in this situation, faced with a small child covered in barf-soaked clothes, the smell of which is particularly satanic, was the same thing that any reasonable person would have done. I threw the clothes away in the airport trash can. It felt weird, and definitely not #zerowaste, but it was that or travel around with them for a week. I got very little pushback from Sonja; she only said she’d miss the clothes.
Luckily, my child was not actually sick, just sick with excitement. After the “incident,” she said she felt much better, and she returned to practicing “the floss.”
On the plane, after the “incident.”
We decided very soon after returning from our vacation last year, which included Disneyland, Legoland and the San Diego zoo, that we’d return this year for an exclusive Disney vacation. Since we were in the park for five days and I did not take notes, I cannot assign specific events to specific days, so instead I have decided to recall the experience in categories, the first of which is:
Deep (Disney) Thoughts
I have always loved Disneyland even though I was never, at any time in my life, obsessed with Disney movies or Disney characters. I never wanted to be a princess, and I never drew Minnie Mouse in my school notebooks. To tell you the truth, I find Minnie Mouse a little obnoxious.
The Disneyland Entrance
But Disneyland. I should live there. I’ve lived in the same place for nearly 40 years and I still can’t remember, if I want to take the back road the bank, do I turn at the first light after the frozen yogurt shop or the second? (Navigating by landmarks is surely part of the problem.) But the instant I step foot in Disneyland, I know exactly where I am and where everything else is in relation to me. I know how to get where I’m going and I never get lost. If that isn’t Disney magic, I don’t know what is.
In front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. If you are facing this direction, go right for Frontier and Adventure Lands, left for Tomorrowland, and through the Castle for Fantasyland.
I’ll admit that the prospect of going to Disney two years in a row seemed like it might be excessive, but it allowed us to plan for things that we always forgot in previous years, like making reservations to eat at Blue Bayou, the restaurant inside The Pirates of the Caribbean ride. And we knew that, having experienced it once already, Sonja would have a much better time than she did the previous year.
Reading the menu in Blue Bayou.
The menus have their own little flashlights!
I was not prepared for the level of pushback we got on the rides last year. I think of Disneyland as a kid paradise and I figured she would love all of it. I knew that during my first visit, at age 5, I was scared of most everything, but my daughter is much braver and more excited about new experiences than I was. Or am. But it is also true that Disneyland is an overwhelming place to be. For example, though I do not consider it necessarily loud within the park, I could not understand a single thing any family member said without asking them to repeat it at least once, which was exhausting for everyone. I spent a lot of time regrettably chastising Sonja that she needed to look directly at me when she was talking.
While we’re on the subject of noise – the rides. Some of them are too loud. The rest are way too loud. The worst offender is the Indiana Jones ride, which Sonja was luckily too short to go on, but which, for some reason* even though I’ve never favored that ride, I went on anyway.
In front of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad which is a nice, smooth, fun roller coaster. And yes, it is too loud, but only in parts.
Then there’s the crowds. It was busier this time than when we went last year, due to the opening of Pixar Pier in California Adventure. Having been in DisneyWorld when Magic Kingdom hit capacity, this was nowhere near that bad. However, trying to keep track of your child and look at your phone for ride wait times or MaxPass return times while navigating to your next destination is enough to make your head spin. It’s hard to walk without bumping into someone even if your attention is focused solely on walking. All credit to Disney though, they know this. It’s why there are multiple people operating each ride, using traffic controller motions to get you to move in the right direction at the right time. The same with parades. With the exception of the restaurants, Disney is ridiculously efficient. If it were up to all these dazed, glazed and exhausted tourists to navigate on to the rides themselves, the lines would never move.
A view of the new Pixar Pier, formerly Paradise Pier.
The restaurants in Disneyland are very good with food allergies but they were still the places where we were at our most dazed, glazed and confused.
However, if you’re able to get past the overwhelm, then you can start to see all of the details. There are so many details. And this is at the heart of what I love about Disney. They care about design. They care about a person’s experience within the park. Everywhere you go, you think, “someone thought this through.” Paying attention to details makes me so happy.
Look at this. A hedge of tires in front of Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters ride in Cars Land.
In Minnie’s house in ToonTown, her blender with settings for off, low, high, too much, and much too high.
Specialized bottles of Coke that you can only get in the park. I know these are plastic and that soda isn’t good for you, but I still love them. Coca-Cola and Disney are marketing geniuses.
Themed Trash Cans in every land in Disney. Each can is about two feet from the next, because Disney wants you to throw your trash away, not on the ground.
Speaking of details, Sonja and I made up a list of all the rides and attractions in Dinseyland and California Adventure with the intent that we would go on all of them, except the two for which she was too short – Indiana Jones and Incredicoaster. Well, that was my intent, anyway. We missed only a few things. We couldn’t convince her to get on Pirates of the Caribbean, even though she went on it last year. But, we tricked her onto Haunted Mansion, which she refused in spectacular fashion to go on last year. You may be thinking that tricking your kid onto a ride they do not want to go on is not very nice, and you’re probably right. But the confluence of events that led us to be able to do that was such a perfect storm that it had to be done.
First, Shaun and I decided to take advantage of rider switch (if one parent needs to stay with a child while the other rides, Disney lets you do so, then lets the other parent on the ride immediately after the first exits) so that we could finally go on Guardians of the Galaxy, which we missed last year. Sonja was actually tall enough to go on the ride, so we were able to take her through the entire queue with us. The line starts off with a holding room, where Rocket Raccoon tells you about your mission. Then you wait through a longer line within the ride, until finally getting onto the platform that lets you on the ride vehicle. When we said we were going to go on Haunted Mansion, Sonja said she wanted to do rider switch, and we didn’t really say anything. But we stood in line, and what’s the first thing you do on the Haunted Mansion ride? You get in an elevator. It looks kind of like a holding room and I think it’s officially named the stretching room. So we step into the stretching room, one of the last groups to be let on. A man in a concierge costume says in his loudest voice, right next to our ears, “Ladies and Gentleman!” This is as far as he got before Sonja let out a blood-curdling, Janet Leigh scream, right in his ear. I got the impression he wasn’t super happy about that. It was hysterical. Then she started crying, which was less funny, but at that point we were in it. The other people in the elevator seemed sympathetic, but just before the lights went out we heard the concierge say, “don’t scream.” Sonja still thought we were doing rider switch so Shaun had to carry her onto the ride. She closed her eyes for most of it. We got her to open them for the scene with the dancing ghosts in the dining room, and she continually tells people that that was the only part of the ride she liked. Of course, that was the only part she saw, so we try to get her to follow the logic that perhaps there would’ve been other parts she would’ve liked if she’d opened her eyes more often. She’s not buying it.
My Guardians of the Galaxy ride photo. I look very sanguine in this photo.
Shaun’s Guardians of the Galaxy ride photo
Speaking of opening her eyes, that was something she didn’t do on Star Tours last year. She was too scared. This year, I told her that Star Tours was just like Soarin’ Around the World, but in space, and she kept her eyes open and immediately declared it her favorite ride ever. We went on it three times this trip. The final time, yours truly got to be the Rebel spy.
Spending five days in the parks allowed us to go on Soarin’, Radiator Springs Racers, Autopia, Mad Tea Party, Toy Story Midway Mania, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters and Mater’s Junkyard jamboree multiple times. Shaun and I used rider switch on Guardians of the Galaxy, Indiana Jones, and the Matterhorn, while Shaun went on Space Mountain solo and I went on Grizzly River Rapids solo. We coaxed Sonja onto Goofy’s Sky School, a little mad mouse roller coaster that she was too short for last year. She was scared, but like everything else she was scared of, she loved it. The Disney Railroad and Mark Twain Riverboat, both out of commission last year, were up and running this year. We took advantage of the Railroad but skipped the Mark Twain.
The Disneyland Railroad pulls into the station
On the Disneyland Railroad
The car of the future? The line for this one was much shorter this year.
She loves Autopia.
In line for Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters
On Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters
Outside Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
On the Golden Zephyr, which was actually silver.
Silly Symphony Swings. We rode this one twice as well; It was another one of Sonja’s favorites.
Making silly faces in line for Finding Nemo. This submarine ride, no matter the theme, is always terrible.
Our chariot awaits. Nice shot of the Matterhorn in the background.
The exit of Toy Story Midway Mania
Last year, the Toy Story Midway Mania broke down at several spots and we got tons of opporutnity to practice the games. Despite crossing my fingers really hard that that would happen again, it didn’t. This year, it was the Monster’s Inc. ride that left us in the lurch. Just as our car was making its way into Monstropolis, the whole operation came to a screeching halt and we had to walk off. This was my first time walking off a ride in Disney, so scratch that off the bucket list. As we were explaining the situation to Sonja, she hung her head and said, “Now I’m sad,” to which every other person in our vehicle, at the exact same time, said, “awww….” Fortunately, we were able to go back after the parade, when the ride was operating again, and got immediate entry through the exit. The story of walking off the ride is, of course, another of Sonja’s favorites to tell.
Three times on Radiator Springs Racers and this is the best photo we could get of Sonja. She is front and center.
In front of Grizzly River Rapids. I love this ride, but nobody else wanted to get wet.
Me getting soaked on Grizzly River Rapids at Disney California Adventure. Sonja is the one screaming, “Mommy!” I hear her at the end of the video and wave.
Shows & Other (Non-Ride) Attractions
We also got a chance to see Frozen – Live at the Hyperion in California Adventure. It was not showing when we were there last year, and all I can say is I’m so glad we had time to do this. It was amazing. They had projections on the curtains to expand the scenes from the stage, and digital effects that gave Elsa’s hands their icy powers and, most impressively, during the Let It Go number, changed her dress just as it happens in the movie. No joke – the entire audience gasped. At that point I wished it was a movie because I wanted to rewind and see how they did it.
We played the boardwalk games on Pixar Pier. Last year, Sonja had a meltdown when she fished the large prize token out of a fishing game because she wanted the small prize. This year, one of the ducks was floating upside down and you could clearly see the green dot on the bottom, indicating it was the small prize. Sonja deliberately fished this one out of the pond and won herself another small star.
Getting ready to play games
Another game was giving away stuffed Wall-Es, which she really wanted. It was the game where you shoot a water gun at a target and try to get your “guy” to the top of the tower first.
Here’s what I mean. A picture is worth a thousand rambling words.
There are five seats and I said if the three of us all played at the same time, leaving only two other people to compete against, Shaun would surely win, being that he is very good at games, especially ones where you have to aim at and/or shoot things. So we sat down together as a family and in a surprising twist of events, I won Wall-E. I could not be more proud of myself.
Wall-E and a Pixar Pier star.
We also took her to the Main Street Magic Shop, which is where Steve Martin got his start. Sonja loved this store. She’s at that age where magic is really impressive, and the people that work there actually perform the tricks, reveal how they are done and then sell them to you so you can do them yourself. It is absolutely the least Disney thing in Disney. She bought a magic coloring book and a magic wand there.
Main Street Magic Shop
One of the (perhaps) lesser-known attractions that we took advantage of was the Animation Academy, where an artist teaches you how to draw a Disney character. I’m not much into drawing, but sitting in a classroom and listening to a teacher? Yes, please.
Shaun’s Minnie Mouse. Very good, indeed.
My first time drawing Minnie Mouse. I really can’t draw and I wouldn’t take up drawing for fun, but somehow this was, in fact, fun. Even though I find Minnie obnoxious.
Sonja’s Minnie Mouse. She likes to draw and shows promise if she decides it interests her later on.
We saw the Pixar Play Parade, the Paint the Night Parade (a Main Street Electrical Parade Redux), Together Forever: A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular fireworks show, and part of Fantasmic! The fireworks show was spectacular and I really loved it. I asked Sonja if she thought Tinkerbell was still flying across the night sky before the show and she said no. She was right! It was Buzz Lightyear instead. And later on in the show, the house from Up went down the line. It will do the show no justice for me to describe it here, so I won’t. I have a short video that also doesn’t do it justice, but it gives you an idea of what was going on. The two parades were fine, and Sonja loved them. Fantasmic is perpetually too loud and story-wise, I find it nonsensical. I cannot follow the thread at all. Sonja had to go to the bathroom halfway through so we left and got out of the park before the crowds.
9 o’clock straight up. Still half an hour until the fireworks begin.
If you’ve seen one firework, you’ve seen them all, but this really was a show.
From the Pixar Play Parade
She loved it.
From the Paint the Night Parade.
We also took some time on the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, which is a large playground with rope bridges and tunnels and places to find your spirit animal. There are a few other play areas like this at Disneyland and while they are not particularly busy at any given time, they seem to be super popular among the children. Almost anywhere you turn in Disneyland, you can find a crying child, but not within these play areas. Here, the only screams are from happiness. The lesson is that the children would like the adults to stop forcing them on the dark, loud, scary “children’s” rides and just let them use their imagination in a park.
Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island. This is essentially another play area. I’d never been to this part of the park before. We went through a pirate-y cave that scared Sonja to tears and we had to leave right away. So I guess I’m wrong about the “no crying children” in play areas. It sounded good though.
At the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
Although we did explore the trail last year as well, these are the places that can be easy to miss if you have a limited time in the parks. I’m glad that we took extra time this year. If only because after the first two days of speedwalking through the parks trying to make sure you don’t miss anything, you realize you’ve seen a lot of things and still have time left, so you can slow down. Having five days in the park felt a lot more luxiourious than three, maybe because of Sonja’s diminishing interest in meeting all of the characters. Last year, we waited in line for ages to see and get autographs from characters. This year, she was less interested. She was very excited to meet Mater, though, having watched some of the Cars films before we left.
Having the cars drive through Cars Land is such a clever idea. More than any other themed ride or land in Disney, Cars Land makes you feel like you’re in the movie.
Cars Land at Night
We stopped to say hi to Nick from Zootopia.
So we had a great time, and I’m glad we had the extra time. I’m glad Sonja did indeed have a much better time than the year before, which does not mean that it was a walk in the park for us. By the end of it, Shaun and I were both thinking that we won’t need to go again next year. A year off will allow time for Sonja to build up some defenses against the overwhelm, which will save the two of us a lot of work. Yes, we definitely felt like, “we’re good on Disney for a while.” Now that we’ve been back a few weeks, I miss it already. It is undoubtedly wise to skip this trip next year as 2019 will see the opening of Star Wars land, and it will be a circus. However, if an opportunity came up to go again during off-peak season, I wouldn’t say no. And that, my friends, is Disney magic. Or possibly a sign of clinical insanity. You decide.
The three of us on the Pixar Pal-A-Round Ferris Wheel. Picture taken by a fellow tourist whose four-year-old son told the Disney workers he was seven so he could get on Grizzly River Rapids alone, and it worked! Craziest story I heard all vacation, and it also clued me into the fact that there was a single rider line on that ride.
The Pixar Pal-A-Round. Formerly Mickey’s Fun Wheel.
In front of Tomorrowland on a bright afternoon in the warm California sun.
In Toon Town.
Trying to pull the sword from the stone.
Outside of the Alice in Wonderland ride
We flew the same airline both ways, so we returned to the same terminal from which we departed. We stopped to hit the loo, the same one we used before we left. Before entering a stall, Sonja paused to peer into the trash can. She was looking for her clothes. They were obviously not there, but she was sporting a new and already beloved Toy Story T-shirt she got in the parks which she – thank God – did not throw up on.