For his fifth birthday, Miles asked for a Disneyland-themed party, and I've been kicking ideas around in my head all year for it. As we got closer and closer to December, though, I just started to feel overwhelmed–Brad's travel has been crazy this year and by November we were all just pretty exhausted and in need of just some time off and time together with our family. We started considering the idea of just taking a trip and going for a few days instead of throwing a party. We decided to give Miles the option, and let him decide (we didn't want to take away his party if he'd really rather do that), and after thinking it over for a couple days (seriously), he picked trip. And a Disneyland party for next year. Haha.
We planned very last minute--only about a month before going, but that's one of the things we LOVE about Disneyland compared to Disney World--you can totally do that and you're not really at a disadvantage. In the past few years, Disney World has completely changed to be geared towards vacation packages, which can be amazing, but also a bit overwhelming. If you don't book dining and fast passes and everything in advance, it's a lot more difficult to just show up and have as good of an experience as someone who booked a year in advance. Disneyland isn't that way. You can't even book fast passes in advance–you can only get them once you're inside the park. There's also only two parks versus the many that now exist as part of Disney World, so you can plan a short vacation of 2-3 days and actually still see everything.
One of the things I hate the most at Disney World is the transportation--it takes so long to get to the parks from parking, hotels, and to get from one park to the other. Disneyland really wins in this category--the entrances literally face each other (Disney California Adventure was actually built in what used to be the parking lot of Disneyland), so Park Hopper tickets are a great value--we walked back and forth between the parks multiple times each day. I actually timed our walk from the back of California Adventure one day up to the entrance of Disneyland and it only took 11.5 minutes (even with crowds!)
The parks are also right in the middle of Anaheim, so there are hotels within walking distance everywhere! There's three Disney properties, but since we knew we'd only really be in our room to sleep at night, we decided to book a Disney Good Neighbor hotel across the street from the entrance. We stayed at the Fairfield Inn Anaheim Resort, and we only had an 8 minute walk to the front entrance of the parks each morning! While not exactly a fancy hotel, it was clean, the beds were super comfortable after long days of walking, and everyone that worked there was so nice! I mentioned we were visiting for Miles' birthday at the front desk, and they even surprised him with gummy bears and balloons in our room, with a card that said they were from Mater and Lightning McQueen. Miles was so amazed and wondered how the cars were able to get in our room, since it was on the second floor! Haha!
We went the second week of December and the crowds really weren't bad at all. Moving from Central time zone to Pacific time really helps, too––we're all up super early so we can easily arrive at the gates right when they open, and experience way less crowds than later in the day. There aren't a ton of options for character meals, but we booked a breakfast with Minnie and Friends at the Plaza Inn, and a dinner at Blue Bayou--not a character meal, but the ride actually overlooks the beginning of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which the kids loved!
We actually went to Disneyland for a few days in May 2016 when Brad was speaking at Living Room. I only brought a smaller camera then, but I also found it harder to take pictures because Matilda was only 14 months and basically in my arms or lap the entire time. Now that the kids are 5 and 2.5 years old, it's becoming much easier to actually get photos and document our trips better. I brought a DSLR for the first time in forever, and brought multiple lenses. I started off with a 24mm lens, but then ended up switching to a 10-18mm lens that I basically kept on my camera the entire time. I LOVED the wide angle and how we were able to capture so much more.
Miles and Matilda love wearing costumes, so I let them pick out which ones to pack. Each day, we brought in at least 4 different costumes per child so that they could wear whatever they wanted to in the park that day. We just kept the extra costumes in a packing cube in the basket underneath our stroller.
Our kids love the Winnie the Pooh ride and The Little Mermaid ride, and while the line queues and lead up to the ride look completely different than the Disney World versions, the rides are actually identical. For some reason at Disneyland, though, there's hardly ever a line for either ride. Usually only about 5-10 minutes when we've been there, so we usually ride them multiple times throughout our trip!
One of the biggest highlights of our trip was having our friend Correy join us with her adorable son, Hazel! Correy used to work for SoulPancake, and has been a huge part of our lives for the past 5 years, but it'd been over a year and a half since we'd seen her and it was our first time to meet Hazel!
One of our favorite rides at both Disneyland and Disney World is Small World. It's just so adorable, and at Disneyland, it's extra awesome. They added characters from Disney movies all throughout the ride, like Pinnochio, Aladdin, Peter Pan and Tinkerbell and even Woody from Toy Story! It makes for a fun scavenger hunt, and they're created in a style that blends in well with Mary Blair's original designs. The queue for the ride is outside, and really beautiful as well--the exterior of the ride is huge and they decorate it with lights for Christmas and it's gorgeous. We also had the extra treat of visiting it at Christmas--the entire ride inside gets a Christmas makeover as well, including Christmas songs in other languages throughout the ride, and seeing Christmas traditions all over the world.
The kids responded to characters SO differently than last time! Last time they were terrified and wanted nothing to do with them, but they absolutely loved them this time, and it was adorable to watch. It made the breakfast with Minnie and all of the characters so much more fun!
Miles was so excited that he was finally tall enough to ride almost all of the rides at both parks, and he after watching lots of YouTube videos of rides, he decided he wanted to ride lots of the scarier rides and was most excited to ride the Guardians of the Galaxy ride. It's a newer ride that used to be the Tower of Terror, so there's quite a few drops (actually, that's pretty much the point of the ride.) I tried to prepare him for it, but he said he really wanted to do it, so he put on his Rocket costume and he and I rode it. As soon as it shot up the first time, I knew he was not going to enjoy it. He grabbed my arm and said "I don't like this," but was brave through the ride and at the end concluded "It was a really great ride, but I do not want to ride it again."
He loved Star Tours and rode it with both Brad and me individually (Matilda isn't tall enough yet), but also freaked out as soon as the Matterhorn took off, even though he was also excited to ride that. He decided to forgo any other fast rollercoasters that included drops after that.
I broke this up into two posts, so click here for part 2 (and to see a cute video Brad put together for the kids for Christmas!)