Our 2017 Family Vacation, Part 1

This was a vacation six years in the making. We had just been waiting for the right time to take our daughter to Disneyland. We thought at 5 and 3/4 years old, she’d be old enough to remember, appreciate and ride most of the rides. And so the plan was set in motion.

We decided that our vacation would cover a week, and would include 3 days in Disney, a day in Legoland, and a trip to San Diego and their zoo. It sounded exhausting. It was exhausting.

Now, thankfully, we made it home in tact and with most of our possessions. On the way home, I managed to lose my still camera, but thankfully I left it behind in Downtown Disney, so it was found and returned to me free of charge. I swear there were plenty of moments during the trip when if you asked me which I would rather lose, my camera or my daughter, I would’ve said the latter.

So it was stressful and exhausting, which was not surprising, yet I found myself under prepared for the toll it would take. In other words, I didn’t realize how many times I would have to restrain myself from flat-out Homer Simpson strangling my kid. You see, as a parent you think you’re running the show. You think this little person who depends on you for everything will just have to do what you say. And that’s true, but when you are trying to peel a screaming, crying child from the railing surrounding the Haunted Mansion line, you have to ask yourself, “is this really worth getting my way?” Which brings me to…

Day 1 – in which we have a near total meltdown by 8 a.m.

We began by getting up early and walking to the park. We were not going to make it in line before the park opened, like all the guidebooks suggested. I figured we should probably stop for breakfast, but I was too excited so we forged ahead into the park. After the requisite bag check, ticket picture taking, and passing by the sign that said that Disneyland contained chemicals or substances known by the state of California to cause cancer (which scared the crap out of a little girl old enough to read but not old enough to know it was just a required California warning), we were in. The first thing I did by the entrance was ask an outfitted employee if they were a photopass photographer. They were not, and that wound up derailing the photopass strategy for a long while.

The entrance to Disneyland. Photo credit: A stranger, and not a Disney Photopass Photographer

After we got in, the question was what to do first. I don’t remember how or why, but we wound up in Fantasyland where the wait for Dumbo was not too long. So that was it; our daughter’s very first Disney ride would be Dumbo. She started complaining when we were in line. She was hungry. So we flew the elephant first and then made our way to the Jolly Holiday Bakery. I ordered Sonja a chocolate milk, a staple of her morning routine, and she immediately began throwing a fit, saying that she didn’t want it and she wouldn’t drink it. I bought it anyway because there was nothing else they were serving that she would eat, and our day was off to a frustrating start. She eventually drank some of the milk and ate some of the bacon off of Dad’s breakfast sandwich.

She’s not seen Dumbo. And really, it’s a weird and unpleasant movie, isn’t it?

A skeptical look at the Jolly Holiday Bakery.

Afterwards, we headed over to Star Tours, which she was excited about until she got in line. The line is dark and the robots (her favorite things from the movie) freaked her out, and when she learned the ride was in 3D, that was too much for her. She’d never seen 3D and she didn’t understand what it was. She made a huge scene at the end of the line, and the cast member told us we could exit, but I wasn’t about to do that. She said if she had to go on the ride, she wouldn’t wear the glasses. Fine. Whatever. We got in and buckled up and she had her hands over her eyes the whole way through. When the ride finished and the doors opened, she said, “that was actually kind of fun.”

Next, we had fast passes for the Matterhorn. When we got up to the front of the line, they turned Sonja away for being too short. This was when we figured out she could get on the 40″ rides but not the 42″ rides. So they gave Shaun and I a ticket to switch off and I went first. Meanwhile, Sonja was crying and having a fit that she wanted to go too. They’ve updated the Matterhorn since I was last on it 13 years ago, and the abominable snowman is much more realistic. I have a feeling that if she did go on the ride, it would’ve scared her. Sonja also, throughout the trip, complained about some of the jerkier coasters hurting her back, and this one probably would have done that. It hurt mine.

After all the morning tragedies, we decided to go on the teacups, another ride she was really looking forward to and lists as her favorite in Disneyland. We had great luck with lines and got on not only the teacups but the Jungle Cruise, Winnie the Pooh, Pinocchio, It’s a Small World, Gadget’s Go Coaster, and Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin with minimal to no waiting. (Of those, Winnie the Pooh and It’s a Small World were her favorites. The Go Coaster was fun but hurt her back, she said, and Roger Rabbit was allegedly too scary.) We waited a good 20 minutes for Autopia, but she loved it. Peter Pan’s Flight was one that never saw the wait time at less than 40 minutes and which we consequently missed out on. The Haunted Mansion was a mere 5 minute wait, but as we were winding our way through the empty queue, convincing Sonja that it wouldn’t be scary, I said something wrong and the aforementioned pole clinging/fit-throwing ensued, and we had to use the exit of shame. We also couldn’t convince her to go on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventures or the Storybook Land Canal Boats. (The Disneyland Railroad and the Mark Twain Riverboat are out of commission as Disney builds Star Wars Land.)

Mad Hatter Tea Party

Outside It’s a Small World…

Inside It’s a Small World

Dinsey CrossFit

In ToonTown

We spent more time than I had anticipated waiting in line to see characters, but Sonja loved talking to them. I guess I can’t blame her – to me they’re just strangers in elaborate costumes with ungodly amounts of makeup, but they were so nice to her. Who wouldn’t love that?

Making Bert laugh

She wanted to meet Mary Poppins so badly after she watched the movie. I thought that movie might be too old to have the characters at Disneyland. I was so happy to be wrong! First character autographs of the first day.



Snow White

Though we thought it would be wise to go out of the park for lunch, we were tired of walking and wound up at Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port, which is one restaurant that we seem to hit whenever we are in Disneyland. At some point in the afternoon, we decided to take the guidebook advice and go back to the hotel and rest. (It was good advice, but we only obeyed it the first day because the 10 minute walk to the hotel was too daunting after all the rest of the walking. The other days we rested in the park.) We had dinner before re-entering the park, and we watched the Main Street Electrical Parade that evening, which was another big hit with Sonja.

The Main Street Electrical Parade

Then it was back to the hotel and lights out in preparation for…

Day 2 – in which Sonja wins big at a carnival game and cries her eyes out. 

We decided we’d better hit breakfast before the park this time, so we stopped at a Denny’s. Sonja still had a bad attitude and I found myself crying at her that I wanted her to enjoy her time at Disneyland. At that particular moment, as my face streamed with tears, a balloon animal guy stopped and asked if she wanted a balloon. Ordinarily, I would’ve said no, because who would want to carry that around, but I was looking to foster some goodwill. He said he could make her a princess and she chose Cinderella. He came back several minutes later and we gave him $5 for a balloon that she didn’t like. I tried to leave it behind at the table, but the waitress returned it to us as we were paying our check at the register. Then, in one of the saddest scenes you’ve ever seen, Sonja tried to throw Cinderella away in the garbage can just outside the restaurant. The manager took it from her and said we could come back for it later, which we didn’t. I really hope someone else got that balloon that liked it.

When we made it inside the park, Shaun went on a quest for World of Color and Radiator Springs fast passes, while we waited for Minnie Mouse’s autograph. After Minnie left and we were still waiting for Shaun’s return, I decided to try and foster more goodwill by getting in line for the Disney Junior Dance Party show across the street. Thankfully, unlike the balloon, this attempt really did foster goodwill. She liked the storyline that Mickey and friends were racing to get to the show, and the bubbles and “snow” and confetti they dropped from the ceiling. Next, we met Elsa, Anna and Kristoff, then we took a very happy child to Radiator Springs Racers where she had a great time on her first roller coaster.

Fostering even more goodwill by giving the child the cell phone

Disney Junior Live across the street

Let It Go

Listening to Kristoff

In line for Radiator Springs Racers

On Radiator Springs Racers. Sonja is the pink hat.

After Radiator Springs Racers, we enjoyed more of Cars Land by riding Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies (bumper cars), Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, and having lunch at Flo’s V8 Cafe, which she had been begging to do since I showed her the movie and told her we could eat there.

I thought this was such a cute ride

Flo’s V8 Cafe

So we were finally having a pretty good day and wishing we’d started at California Adventure instead of Disneyland. I don’t know if that would’ve made a difference, because we might’ve been doing better the second day after learning from the first day’s mistakes. However, I had much more of an agenda in Disneyland than I did in California Adventure. Shaun and I had only been to the Adventure park once, in 2004 a few years after it opened, and well before Cars Land and many of the other additions. This time, we were in a much more relaxed, glassy-eyed, wandering, look-at-the new-stuff state. Very casual. I think this was also the day we let her buy her stuffed animal souvenir. I figured that promising to let her buy something but then continually asking her to wait was not doing us any favors. She bought a Stitch Tsum Tsum. Most of the souvenirs she picked were Lilo & Stitch related, which I found odd because she won’t sit all the way through that movie, and she really loves movies. She told me she liked the Stitch things because Stitch is cute.

We took the momentarily happy child to get fast passes for Toy Story Midway Mania, a ride she was afraid to go on. Despite reassurances from the both of us that there was absolutely nothing scary about Midway Mania – that it was just a video game inside a ride – she resisted. She was still spooked by the idea of 3D. I finally told her that if she went on the ride and didn’t like it, I would buy her another souvenir. That was a bet I did not lose. We wound up getting stuck inside the ride several times, at nearly every screen, allowing us minutes more play time in each round (though sadly our points stayed the same.) The overhead announcement said something about needing to change the batteries. By the time we came around the corner into the light, Sonja was cheering about how awesome the ride was. When we put away our 3D glasses, she asked if she could have her souvenir. I laughed and told her no, she’d tipped her hand.

Inside Toy Story Midway Mania

Having an awesome time

We also played some of the Paradise Pier Midway Games. One was fishing, where all you have to do is pick up a fish from the pond with the magnetic fishing pole, and you get a prize based on the color on the bottom. For instance, purple is the small prize, green is the medium prize and yellow is the large prize. Somehow Sonja managed to pick the large prize. “Wow, what are the odds of that!” I was thinking, when the attendant handed over a giant Goofy. Immediately she started bawling her eyes out, complaining that she wanted a starfish, which was the small prize. We asked the attendant if we could have that instead. She said that she had to give us the Goofy, but she was sure someone out there would like to trade with us. We realized it would be quicker to buy another play in which she would most likely pick up a small prize. Thankfully that was exactly what happened. Later, she won another small prize playing against me at a skeeball-type game.

The big prize holding the small prize

Shaun was unable to find the World of Color fastpasses that morning, and by the time we stumbled across them in the afternoon, the early show was out of tickets. We decided we’d come back the next morning and grab them first thing. We managed to fill out the rest of our day with Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Silly Symphony Swings, King Triton’s Carousel, ice cream at the Cozy Cone, the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail and the Bakery Tour. Sonja was too short for Goofy’s Sky School and Grizzly River Run, and Shaun and I wanted to switch off for the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride, but it was such madness to even get a fastpass that we passed. Next time, Disney, next time.

King Triton’s Carousel

Eating a cone at the cozy cone

The Redwook Creek Trail Challenge

Sonja saw this spirit animal thing online and she was SO EXCITED to get her spirit animal. She was a bear, though in this picture it looks more like the ebola virus…

Sonja was a bear, I was an eagle, and Shaun a moose.

Leaving California Adventure on the second day. My smile speaks volumes…

Oh, and the Frozen-Live at the Hyperion show was closed until a few days after we left, so we’ll have to catch that next time as well. We had dinner in Downtown Disney (which we didn’t like) and made it an early night since we were dead on our feet. Which brings me to…

Day 3 – in which we use our park hopper to park hop but mess up our extra magic hour.

I decided we should use the extra magic hour our park hopper passes came with at California Adventure. California Adventure opens later than Disneyland, so since we were exhausted that seemed like the better play. I didn’t realize that the extra hour was only valid at the Disneyland park. Thankfully, we arrived only about 20 minutes prior to the actual park opening time, because we’re slow. We waited in line for the “rope drop” and sped our way to the World of Color fastpass. I realized that we had forgotten to ride Soarin’ the day before, and so went to pick up a fastpass for that. The line was only 10 minutes, so we considered waiting, but the fastpass return time was also right then. So we got the fastpass and turned around and got on the ride, no waiting. It was pretty awesome, and Sonja loved it.

After that, we headed back over to Disneyland. We went on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Initially, when we had discussed this ride, Sonja was afraid because she said there would be thunder. I assured her there wasn’t, but since I was on day three, I knew where this was headed. So as waited for Thunder Mountain, which you mercifully can’t see much of from the line, I told her we were going on a train ride. She was convinced when she saw one of the trains chug by. Afterwards, she told me that she loved the ride and it was one of her favorites. I told her I knew she would like Thunder Mountain, and she scratched her head and said, “That was Thunder Mountain?”

Yep, that was Thunder Mountain

We had lunch outside the park at Panera, which caused us to miss our Splash Mountain FastPass, so we got another one, but this time it was for much later in the day and put us out of getting another fastpass for a longer time. Afterwards, we got on Pirates of the Caribbean before the line got too terribly long, and Sonja said she didn’t like it, except for the fireflies at the beginning. We went to the Enchanted Tiki Room, which Sonja loved, though we accidentally got in the line for the Dole Whip first and waited there for at least five minutes before we got to the front and realized what we’d done.

Trying to get a selfie on Pirates. Someone is not cooperating.

Some things never change

We finally got to Splash Mountain, and somehow I wound up in the front of the boat. Now, we told Sonja that she wouldn’t really get that wet on Splash Mountain, and in my defense, I’ve never gotten very wet on Splash Mountain. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve never been in the front of the boat, or if they turned the water up, but I got soaked. Not at the end, but after one of the little rushes in the middle. Sonja got wet as well, but that lucky girl had a change of clothes in my bag. I was waterlogged for a couple of hours. Shaun, who was behind Sonja, only got splashed a little and dried quickly. He said I took the brunt of it. Sonja keeps telling us how she hated Splash Mountain and she never wants to go on it again, but she says it so excitedly… It’s almost as if she learned you can get wet and also not die.* I was excited to see the ride picture, but unfortunately the morons behind us did something inappropriate and Disney wouldn’t show us the photo.

“Your Photo Has Washed Away”

*Sonja later admitted to me that she kind of, maybe, a little bit, liked Splash Mountain. Just not the part where the crocodile was trying to eat the bunny.

We left the park and had Indian food for dinner, then returned for the World of Color show at California Adventure. Sonja absolutely loved it.

Just prior to the World of Color show. It turns out that screens made out of water take terrible pictures.


After the show, I decided to return to the gift shop at the exit of Toy Story Midway Mania and pick up the tank top I’d had my eye on. I had only bought one collector pin because I am not five and was waiting to buy my souvenirs until I was sure I’d found the best ones.

After that, tired as we were, we somehow managed to walk around Cars Land one more time. It just looked so pretty with all the neon lights that I didn’t want to miss seeing it at night.

Disney does everything well, but I have to admit, seeing these cartoonish cars driving around Cars Land was especially impressive

Get your kicks on….

We bought a couple of last minute, our-time-is-up-but-we-don’t-want-to-leave souvenirs and dragged our tired bodies back to the hotel. Which brings me to…

The end of this post.

When I thought I had lost my camera for good, I started frantically writing this post and detailing all the events I could remember, trying to preserve the memories in writing. Then three days later I got the miraculous phone call that Disney had found my camera. At that point, I slowed my writing, knowing I’d wait to post until I could add the pictures. I’m keeping all the details and continuing the story here. Join me next time for…

Day 4 –  in which we realize we’ll die if we try to tackle another theme park, and wisely decided to move our Legoland visit to Monday.




About suitejen

Writer. Video Editor. Mama.
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One Response to Our 2017 Family Vacation, Part 1

  1. Pingback: My Daughter’s Six-Year Well-Child Check | Suite Story Productions

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