Disney Cruise with Mom (Disney Magic out of Miami) – part 2

(read part 1 here: https://2texansmoveeast.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/disney-cruise-with-mom-disney-magic-out-of-miami-part-1/)

At the last minute, I booked brunch at Palo as well for us. While dining there twice seemed a tad overkill, the experiences were supposed to be completely different and I again figured this was our one chance.

Palo charges the same upcharge for brunch but unlike dinner, brunch is only available on sea days – and our seaday happened to be the morning after our Palo dinner.

Ugo, our Palo dinner waiter and my new BFF, recommended going light on breakfast in anticipation of our brunch reservation at 11:30. So, I ordered a bagel and cream cheese + carafe of coffee from room service instead of heading downstairs to Lumiere’s. I grabbed my blanket, Kindle, and room service tray and sat on the verandah for a couple of hours while mom slept.

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Then, I decided to wander the ship – since it was sea day, there were a lot more character interactions and special activities going on. Look in the corner of the top pic for Thor and corner of the next level down for Doc McStuffins.

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And of course, princesses!

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I love the rows of windows throughout the ship – esp on sunny mornings

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And in the hallway with the adult after hours venues, the windows have seats!

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After a relaxing morning, it was time for our Palo brunch! The restaurant has tons of windows but of course, was dark the night before. So lovely!

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We were seated in a booth by the window and this was our view:

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At check in, mom requested Ugo and he was excited to see us again. You are first offered a complimentary drink (mimosa, Bellini, champagne) and then given a tour of the buffet by your waiter. Y’all. CHECK THIS OUT.

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In addition to gobs of savory dishes such as caviar, bread and cheese, olives, cured meats, smoked salmon, shrimp, crab, scallops, risotto balls, etc., they also had a huge spread of pastries and a second huge spread of desserts.

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As if this wasn’t enough, you also get a menu with hot items you can order from the kitchen. While I’d gladly pull my chair right up to the smoked salmon and cheese section of the buffet, y’all knew we had to try some hot dishes, too.

Since we’re at an Italian restaurant, and my BFF Ugo is Italian, the lasagna had to be tasted. Ugo told me it was almost as good as his mom’s – and that’s only because his mom puts love into hers.

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If I ever visit Italy, I’m tracking down his mom because this was the best lasagna I’ve ever tasted. That bechamel sauce!

They have a pizza oven so mom ordered a goat cheese and sun-dried tomato pizza. This was actually the only disappointment – she said the crust was a bit soggy and not crispy like she expected. I was too busy face planting into my lasagna to try it.

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Ugo also brought one of their most popular dishes for us to try, the chicken Parmesan (delish):

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I’m a savory over sweet person so I only tasted 2 of the mini desserts – tiramisu and a cannoli:

All in all, completely worth the second surcharge – it was a wonderful experience.

That afternoon, mom attended a shopping talk and I took a class and then sat on the deck and enjoyed the sun. The sunset from our verandah that day was just beautiful.

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The show that night – Tangled – was relatively new. I adore Tangled so I was really excited. Evidently everyone else loves Tangled, too, because it was standing room only. Thankfully, we got seats BUT we had a really, really bad experience with another passenger. It sorta put a damper on things but the show was fantastic.

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In between the show and dinner, we popped in to watch “Who Wants to be a Mouseketeer” which was entertaining!

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Dinner was at Animator’s Palate, which mom was looking forward to the most. It certainly had the best theming of the restaurants and should not be missed. Interestingly, I thought the food here was the weakest but it was the night after Palo so my expectations may have been too high at this point!

The room starts in black and white with characters being sketched on the screens throughout the room:

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I ordered the black truffle pasta purseittes for appetizer, baked potato and cheddar cheese soup for soup course, and the ginger teriyaki beef tenderloin. The soup was disappointing but other dishes were good.

Right before the dessert course, the room begins to change and add color and things come to life. They do a fun screen based show (and music from IllumiNations is worked in – only a Disney nerd would notice it!). And guess who makes an appearance?

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It was really fun and unique – I just wish the other 2 restaurants had similar theming and magic interjected into it. Disney does it so well!

Later that night, I went out to one of the adult clubs to see a comedian/magician perform – he was very entertaining!

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The next day was Key West day! I went downstairs for breakfast again and my BFF Ugo was working! πŸ™‚ I tried something different this time and it wasn’t near as delicious as the eggs Benedict but it was better than a bagel.

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Our first stop in Key West was the Harry S. Truman Little White House:

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Photos aren’t allowed inside but if you’re ever in Key West, you must tour! It was fascinating. The tours are led by docents in smaller groups and our docent was very good at his job.

After that, we wandered over to the main “drag”, Duval St.

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The street is lined with shops and restaurants and is a lot of fun to wander. We stopped at Caroline’s Cafe for lunch on the patio. Mom ordered conch fritters and I ordered a blackened mahimahi sandwich. We both rejoiced that they had Dr. Pepper – the ship (and Disney in general) is Coke only.

After lunch, we wandered into a beautiful church, St. Paul’s Episcopal. Just lovely!

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The stained glass windows on the side opened so the cool breeze could flow through:

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After shopping and walking, we swung by Kermit’s to try their famous key lime pie. Yum!!

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Key West was new to us both and it’s certainly on my short list of weekend spots to visit with Jason in the future.

Once back on board, I lounged at the pool while mom enjoyed a spa treatment – she just raved about it! The only spa “treatment” I was interested in was a manicure because my polish was chipping. Once learning their manicure was $50 + 18% tip, I decided chipped polish was a-okay.

Since we had the 2nd seating for dinner (8:30pm), we went to the early show (6:15pm). Tonight was Disney Dreams, the show mom was most anticipating. WOW. It was by far my favorite. It had a little bit of several different Disney classics and some fantastic music. It was a great way to end the cruise!

Dinner that night was at Carioca’s, which is where we had lunch on our first day. The menu tonight was more South American inspired and I found it tastier and more unique than the night before at Animator’s Palate.

The bread service that night was my favorite – banana bread with mango-mint mojo sauce.

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I ordered the Ahi Tuna and Avocado Tower, Beef Empanada with Red Chimchurri, and the Grilled Rum-Marinated Swordfish.

Both appetizers were good but I found the swordfish to be very dry.

Mom ordered the Cuban Salad, Shrimp Ceviche, and the Roasted Honey BBQ Chicken (served with crushed sweet potatoes, grits, and collards).

For dessert, I ordered the Coconut Tres Leches Cake and mom ordered a sugar free chocolate something or other. Our waiter also brought out the ice cream sundae which had Dulce de Leche ice cream, caramelized apples, and a churro. I mean, if you insist…

 

After dinner, we decided to check out “Til We Meet Again” just to see what it was all about. The characters are introduced and come down the main stairs for one last time with the guests.

And then all the characters take a spot somewhere in the lobby, they remove the ropes, and it becomes mass chaos. The character handlers did a pretty good job of making lines out of some of the mob but other characters were just hanging out and you could walk right up to them.

From our viewpoint a couple floors up, it was highly amusing.

And this girl in the pink is a mystery. She mostly stood alone (while Rapunzel in the purple had a steady stream of visitors) so clearly we weren’t the only ones confused. She was blonde, with braids pulled up on her head, and not wearing colors/attire that looked like any Disney princess I know. The only person she looked like was Heidi!

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The two in ballgowns stood on the stage

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It’s interesting to note that this took place at 10:30pm. Bedtimes for children go out the window on a Disney cruise!

Mom and I walked the deck one last time, marveling at the near-full moon and nearly being blow overboard. It was so windy!

Mom headed for bed and I went to a late night family karaoke. Highly amusing and a fun way to end the cruise.

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The next morning was a flurry of activity, including a quick breakfast at Carioca’s. Food this morning was pretty mass produced and not very tasty but it kept us full until we made the drive to Orlando. Plus it was already paid for!

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After grabbing our bags, getting through customs, and taking the shuttle to the Miami airport to grab a rental, we were on our way to Orlando. Mom was staying a few days there while I had a 6am flight home the next day.

The drive was easyΒ  but pricey, thanks to toll roads. Florida loves a toll road. After checking into mom’s Orlando hotel (Wyndham Bonnet Creek), we went to Disney’s Polynesian Hotel for lunch at Captain Cook’s (one of my favorite quick service spots) and to meet Bobby, her boyfriend, to head to the Magic Kingdom.

 

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We first hit the new Muppet’s show in Liberty Square

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Rode Peter Pan (I LOVE THE NEW QUEUE!), saw Mickey’s Philharmagic, PeopleMover, and Carousel of Progress (it’s a great big beautiful tomorrow!)

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After a little shopping, it was time for the new castle projection show – which blew me away.

Wishes was next, and it’s my favorite fireworks show ever. Unfortunately, it’s leaving in a couple of months and while I’m sure the new show will be even better, I’ll still miss it.

We finished up and took the boat back to the Poly. The Electrical Water Parade was doing it’s thing so we got to sit on the boat and watch it, which was pretty cool. On the way home, we stopped at Perkin’s for a super late dinner and 6 hours later, I was at the airport to head home!

All in all, we had a blast. Is the Disney cruise worth the much higher price tag? Probably not for adults… but for families with kids, it might just be. The kids clubs probably can’t compare with other cruise lines and if the kids are content in the clubs, mom and dad get to enjoy the many adult only amenities. Disney doesn’t forget about their adult customers and really did well on those areas. Their rooms are well laid out, the ship is beautiful and well maintained, and I didn’t miss the casino. The shows were AMAZING, though guest behavior during the show was hit and miss and Disney does not seem to care much about addressing it. I do wish they upped the adult late night entertainment – it was very lacking – and I think the main dining room and poolside food could be improved. The room service food was always excellent.

If you want to do a Disney cruise and take me along, I’m game! πŸ™‚

Disney Cruise with mom (Disney Magic out of Miami) – Part 1

Mom and I recently took a 4 night cruise on the Disney Magic out of Miami! She had always wanted to cruise Disney, especially the Magic, and decided to bite the bullet and just go. I was invited along for the ride and you don’t have to ask me twice!

We had both done cruises before but not Disney – I was excited to see how different it was (especially since their price point is much higher).

The Magic sails out of Miami right now and our cruise stopped at Castaway Cay (their private island) and Key West, FL. We both flew into Miami the night before and stayed at the Comfort Suites Airport North. They offered free airport shuttle, free port shuttle, and breakfast so it was a win-win.

Shortly after I arrived, we called a Lyft to take us to a well-known Cuban restaurant for dinner: Versailles. It was amazing! Great food, good service, interesting atmosphere. We ordered a sampler platter to split, and really don’t know all we ate but it was all delicious.

I had rice pudding for dessert and mom ordered key lime pie. All delish!

By lunch the next day, we were on the ship! I’ll spare you all the details of the port, checking in, luggage, blah blah.

They announced us as we came on board and, since our room wouldn’t be ready for another hour or so, we decided to have lunch. The buffet was open but I’m more of a waiter girl myself so we went to Caricoa’s for table service. In reality, they had a buffet, too, but with waiter service for drinks and such.

Anything you could think of was on the buffet but I was drawn to the crab claws and shrimp. πŸ˜‰ After a fantastic lunch, we started to wander the ship and check it out. Before we knew it, it was time to see our cabin!

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Mom booked a verandah room midship on deck 6. The couch became a twin size bed for me and you could close the curtain to make 2 rooms. For a cruise ship, it was a generous size with lots of storage. One of the best things Disney did was split the bathroom – shower, sink, mirror in one and toilet, sink, mirror in the other. It was nice for us to each have a bathroom to get ready in and store our stuff. The shower is actually a small bathtub, which is nice!

On this first afternoon, you were welcome to wander everywhere so we took advantage of it and toured the spa (this is one of the massage rooms)

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The nursery, kids clubs, and youth clubs (didn’t get pics of all of them):

Y’all, the kids club is amazing! As if we had any doubt πŸ˜‰

Lobby area:

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Adult only area – they had a piano bar, larger club with tables and a stage, and Irish pub.

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Deck area – this is one of the kid-centric areas’ I think I neglected to get pictures of the other kid friendly area and the adult area.

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One of the biggest selling points on Disney for mom was the shows – and they did not disappoint. The first night was “Twice Charmed”a twist on the Cinderella story. It was fantastic! Great music, talent, costumes, and special effects.

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After the show, we headed for Lumiere’s, our first restaurant to try. It has a subtle Beauty and the Beast theme with French cuisine. We also met our tablemates, two women who were both sailing solo.

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I think cruises are perfect for trying new foods – or foods you’d never make at home. Since there is no commitment, and you can order as much as you want, it’s no big deal if you taste it and order something else. So, I ordered escargot (love it but never make it at home) and duck confit (never tried it) to start. I skipped the soup/salad and ordered the roasted filet steak. I really wanted the lobster pasta and my waiter suggested I get a small portion on the side to try so I took his suggestion.

The food was all good – not amazing but good. I just wish the portions were smaller – I barely ate half of any of my food and it felt so wasteful.

For dessert, I ordered the Grand Marnier SouffleΒ  – it was amazingly delicious.

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The next day was Castaway Cay! I woke earlier than mom so I skipped down for breakfast. Room service offers continental breakfast but I need bacon so I had two options: the buffet or Lumiere’s. Every morning, Lumiere’s offered a table service breakfast so this was no difficult decision.

I really stink at poaching eggs so I ordered Eggs Benedict. Other than the breakfast alcoholic beverages, anything on the menu is ‘free’ and tips are included in the automatic tipping at the end of the week. The food was good – not great but good.

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Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island and they dock directly there – no tendering needed. We took a tram from the ship straight over to the adult only beach: Serenity Bay.

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It was just lovely. Plenty of seating – both lounge chairs and hammocks. The weather was mid-70’s and sunny. No humidity!

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Lunch was served at several locations on the island, including right there by the adult beach.

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I tried the mahimahi and chicken.

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While people online had raved about this meal, I actually thought it was the weakest meal we had all week. Nothing was very flavorful but there were no lines and plenty of seating. I typically frown on eating outside but it was cool and comfortable with no bugs πŸ™‚

The next few hours were spent just relaxing in the water – it was just amazing and I never wanted to leave. I’m waiting for Disney to build a resort right on the island so I can stay longer!

On the way back to the ship, we stopped at the family beach to check things out. They had a few shops, rental counters, and lots of space to spread out. We did not stop at the water park area.

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I wasn’t ready to leave the sun so once back on, I went straight to the adult only pool on deck and then back to the room to watch us leave Castaway Cay. Our room was port-side so we got a great view of the island. I even waved at the staff taking the boat back to the Bahamas (they contract with locals who travel to the island when a ship is in port).

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That night was Pirate Night. Which really just meant that people could dress up, the restaurant menu was all pirate themed, and there was a pirate party on deck (including fireworks).

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They had a dance party going on when we got there, then the characters came out. Mickey makes a great entrance and then the fireworks go off!

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It was fun and a cool thing only Disney does.

We scheduled our Palo dinner reservation that night so we’d still get to visit all 3 restaurants. Since there is an upcharge ($30/person) for Palo, we were a little hesitant but decided that this was our one chance on a Disney cruise so we should just go for it. Let’s just say… I considered never returning to the main dining rooms again.

It’s Italian cuisine and our waiter, Ugo, was from Italy and became one of my favorite people. This meal was an experience – and really one of the best meals I’ve ever had. The table across from us was telling the manager that he gave it a 7 out of 5. I concur.

Everything we tried was amazing. Truly, not a single disappointment (though again, I wish I could have gotten portions 75% smaller!).

This bread and antipasto platter is what they bring you WHILE YOU READ YOUR MENU. They make it tableside, placing whatever items you’d like on it, and it’s just gorgeous.

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First course was the Tomato Mozzarella Caprese – the best mozzarella you’ve ever tasted -and the Fritto di Calamari e Gamberi (fried calamari and shrimp). To date, Capital Grill had the best calamari I’d tasted but this outranked them.

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For the pasta course, mom ordered the Butternut Agnolotti (butternut squash ravioli)

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and I ordered the Pappardelle con Aragosta (pappardelle with lobster tarragon sauce and grilled lobster)

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Lemon sorbet between courses

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For the fish course, I could not resist ordering the Piquant Dover Sole, which is filleted table side (so fun to watch!)

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Mom ordered the sea scallops

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Not wanting to pass up a fantastic quality filet, we ordered the grilled beef tenderloin to split

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He brought both sauces for us to try – wine sauce and Gorgonzola.

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He also brought out a portobello mushroom over polenta dish for us to try and it was all sorts of awesome.

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As if that all wasn’t enough, it was time for dessert! They are famous for their Chocolate Souffle so clearly we were ordering that. He also brought out an off-menu Amaretto Souffle for us to try – yum!!

By this point, I was ready to book dinner here the rest of the trip and/or stay all night. And did I mention this was adult only?

And that ended day 2 – we were halfway through already! More on the next post…

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CA Trip part 7 (Christmas @ Disneyland & heading home)

This is how 1 San Diego day became a 4th Disneyland day.

Christmas.

Long after we planned our trip, Disneyland FINALLY released their schedule – including the holiday season. Which now started 1 day after we were checking out. Clearly, I didn’t go all the way to California to miss Christmas by 1 day. So, we drove from San Diego to Disneyland on Friday.

The drive was only around 2 hours and traffic wasn’t bad! Since I really just wanted to see the Christmas parade, Christmas fireworks, holiday themed ‘It’s a Small World’, plus a handful of rides we held off on riding, we knew getting there early afternoon would be just fine. Which left the morning open for the beach!

We saw the Christmas parade which was, admittedly, disappointing. There was a lot of dead space and the soundtrack is literally just 1 song, over and over again. But I’m glad I saw it!

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I really wanted to see the show “Mickey and the Magical Map” since it’s a Disneyland exclusive. It was so good!! We especially loved how they used characters you don’t see all that often (Mulan!) + some fun special effects.

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After dark, the exterior of It’s a Small World is lit up for the holidays. Pictures don’t do it justice!

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Every so often, there is a projection show on the facade. Y’all, it was just gorgeous.

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The counter service lines earlier in the week were pretty long so I went ahead and made a dinner reservation the night before at Carnation Cafe, on Main Street. Seeing how crowded it was, this was a great idea πŸ™‚ It was so busy, in fact, that they were turning away anyone without a reservation which was fairly unusual at Disneyland (definitely not unusual at WDW!).

While we were waiting on our table, they did a short castle show where Aurora lit the castle Christmas lights. The best part was that it snowed on Main Street! So we got to step out of the restaurant and experience it. I wasn’t expecting it so it was fun to stumble upon. The snow is hard to see but I promise it’s there πŸ™‚

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After dinner, we wandered over to New Orleans Square area to hit some of the shops and we stumbled upon the door to Club 33!

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Fireworks at Disneyland are rare. Er, perhaps not rare but not scheduled nightly year-round and often canceled due to wind. I love Disney fireworks and I couldn’t wait to see the holiday ones. I knew there was a possibility that they’d cancel them but I had my fingers crossed! We joined the gobs of people in the fub and got as close as we could to wait. The space to see them is much more limited than WDW because of the layout of their hub (and all the trees!).

Finally, it was time!

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And then it stopped. 5 minutes in. The lights came up and the announcement said the fireworks had to be canceled for the night.

Y’all, I was beyond sad.

And so were the families who had camped over for over an hour to see the fireworks!

A cast member later said it was due to the winds. Whatevs.

The cast members quickly removed all the ropes keeping the cattle, ahem, guests corralled and it quickly became a mass of humanity. We tried to get back to Fantasyland but they had the castle pathways closed due to the fireworks. So we skirted our way over to Tomorrowland to ride Jason’s favorite, Buzz Lightyear.

Hyperspace Mountain (Space Mountain with Star Ways overlay) had a super long wait the entire week we were there so we grabbed fastpasses when we arrived around 2:30pm and didn’t have a return time until 10:30pm!

It was WAY better than the WDW version, which Jason will never ride again due to the ride vehicle, plus I loved the overlay (and I’m not a Star Wars fan). I’m so glad we finally rode it!

We rode a few more things and then started to head out of the park, stopping at the gorgeous castle for more pictures.

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We attempted, again, to get a selfie in front of it and a sweet cast member on her way home saw our struggle and offered to take our picture.

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I had all the feels on the way out of the park for the last time.

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We got to our car around midnight and then drove the 2 hours home… wiped out!

The next morning was our last so obviously my rear was in the sand. Plus I had to soak up some of that heat – it was going to be a 50 degree difference once we stepped off the plane in Charlotte!

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While we flew into LAX, we flew out of San Diego, and just dropped the car we picked up in Anaheim at the San Diego airport. Easy peasy! San Diego airport is quite lovely, actually, much more so than LAX!

All in all, a fabulous trip that checked off several “bucket list” items. Can’t beat a trains, planes, and automobiles sorta trip!

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CA Trip Part 6 (A little Disney magic + Mission San Juan Capistrano, La Jolla, San Diego, Coronado, Imperial Beach)

Are you ever laying in bed and remember something SUPER important? That you can do nothing about in the middle of the night?

Yeah, that happened our last night staying at Paradise Pier.

We bought 3 day park hopper passes, not knowing if we were going to enter the park on Sunday but knowing we could add a day easily (for around $20/person).

Since we did use a day on Sunday, I knew we’d have to visit a ticket booth at some point and upgrade them. In the back of my mind, I knew that had to be done before we used the 3rd day on the ticket but after almost a week in CA… I had forgotten about it.

Until 1am that Tuesday night.

The rule is actually that we had to have upgraded the tickets on Sunday or Monday. Now, the tickets had all been used and our park hopper was, essentially, expired. I tossed and turned all night, anxious to hit the concierge the next day and beg.

The next morning, before we went to breakfast and get a rental car, we stopped at the concierge counter where they told me they couldn’t even talk to me about upgrading tickets because I bought my tickets online. Since we were going to breakfast at Steakhouse 55, located at the Disneyland Hotel, I decided I’d try there, too, after we ate.

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At breakfast, I realized we had probably missed our chance and I wasn’t going to get to come back on Friday (1 day tickets would be ~$300 for us!). I was so disappointed I started to tear up at the table.

After a fantastic breakfast, we wandered the hotel and stopped at the front desk. I gave it another shot – just to see if we could add another day. She explained that it had to be done before the tickets were completely used, I told her I was afraid of that, but she offered to make a call. A few minutes later, we were issued a new 1 day park hopper for the “4th day” price (so less than $50 for us both!). If there hadn’t been a counter between us, I would have jumped into her arms!

Of course, I would never recommend forgetting to upgrade mid-trip and expecting them to break their own rules but we were touched with a little pixie dust and I was so incredibly grateful.

Soon, we were off to San Diego! On the way, we stopped at Mission San Juan Capistrano, a mission founded in 1776. It’s inexpensive to tour and literally on the way to San Diego from Anaheim. It was very hot outside but it was a gorgeous place to visit!

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Next stop on the road to San Diego was La Jolla, a small, ridiculously beautiful, super exclusive beach community. We stopped at the tide pools, though the tide was high so there wasn’t much to see 😦

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The waves were incredible – I’ve never seen anything that high!

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I really wanted to see the sea lions so we drove to the children’s pool (originally built for children but soon overtaken by sea lions) but it was so darn hot, they just bobbed in the water. You can’t really tell they are in the picture 😦

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After grabbing tacos for a late lunch, we found a spot to watch the sunset.

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Stunning!

Finally, we arrived in Imperial Beach. When we were researching hotels in San Diego, my only criteria was that it was beachfront. I gotta be on the beach. Jason’s criteria was that it had a living area to relax in. So, we landed on a beachfront condo.

It was very inexpensive, which should have told us something. The location was great but the condo was pretty old and run down. By far the biggest issue was that it had no air conditioning. And it was 95 the day we arrived. We opened the door for the first time and the heat hit us in the face – it was like a sauna.

So while we rented a unit with a living space so we can relax some, we found it was too hot to stay there once the sun was up and we certainly weren’t relaxing!

I sure did miss that JW Marriott.

The next morning, Jason had a tee time at the Coronado Golf Course on Coronado. We drove through Coronado to get to our condo so it wasn’t far at all.

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While he played, I explored the island. First stop was the famous Hotel del Coronado.

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Small shopping area:

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They were setting up for an event in the courtyard:

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The beach is huge and lovely

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Proof I was there!

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I inquired when I could move in. Kidding. Though I sure did check the nightly rates from the beach since air conditioning is my jam.

I didn’t book a room πŸ˜‰

After exploring the hotel, I drove around the island, stopping at a couple of other beaches (like the dog beach!) and found a small park/overlook between houses that looked out at downtown San Diego.

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So lovely.

I stopped for lunch at what was once the Hotel del Coronado boathouse, which is now a seafood restaurant.

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While hot, Jason seemed to have a great time golfing – it was a beautiful course!

Back home at Imperial Beach, we spent some time on the beach before walking the pier near our condo. At the end was a tasty seafood shack so we grabbed a bite!

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And I made him wait for the sun to go down before heading back.

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1 post to go – and it includes our day trip to Disneyland for the Christmas festivities!

CA Trip Part 5 (Disneyland, including World of Color dessert party)

The next morning was extra hours at Disneyland but we opted to skip it and go straight for California Adventure. Why? Radiator Springs Racers.

Remember that ride that had the loooong Fastpass line the morning before? I realized that if we didn’t hit it first thing in the morning, and just deal with whatever line we encountered, we’d never ride it. I’ve seen so many people rave about it so I couldn’t leave without experiencing it!

We got in line 30 minutes before park opening and the lines for both parks were so long that they met in the middle.

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Thankfully, since anyone could enter, it seemed to go much smoother than the morning before!

We did what just about everyone did – ran right to Cars Land. While some joined the already ridiculous Fastpass line, we went on to the ride itself. The line was already down the street – you couldn’t even see the entrance of the ride. We stood in a quick moving mob until we got to the entrance and it was showing 40 minute wait (park opened 15 minutes ago).

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Unlike most of the rides, the line was themed well.

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In true Disney form, the wait was way over stated and we waited just 15-20 minutes.

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The ride feels similar to Test Track (in Epcot).

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Even the interior area does, though I will admit the audio-animatronics are the best I’ve seen Disney do.

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But overall, we felt ‘eh’ about the ride. Certainly didn’t live up to the hype… but we’re glad to have done it!

Tower of Terror in California is getting rebranded to Guardians of the Galaxy, which has made the ride incredibly popular. Thankfully, we were able to snag a fastpass for it on our way to ride the Monsters, Inc ride (adorable!). While in that area, we stepped into the animation building to take a drawing class!

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An animator walks you (quickly!) through how to draw a Disney character. They provide a nice clipboard, pencil, and paper.

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Ours was Goofy… and one of us had better luck than the other.

Mine:

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Jason’s:

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After grabbing lunch, we rode Tower of Terror. I gotta say… I liked it better than the WDW version. You don’t leave the elevator shaft so when you drop, it’s a complete surprise. So fun!!

The long running stage show, Aladdin, closed last year and was replaced by Frozen. Until recently, it was a fastpass attraction to guarantee seating and when they took it away, and instead the recommendation was to arrive 1.5 hours ahead of time, I nixed it from our plans. Except we were walking past, 20 minutes to show time, and they still had plenty of seating so we joined the orchestra line outside to wait.

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Not long after arriving, we were let in and found there were plenty of seats (it never filled). I sorta felt bad for all those people that took the guide advice and arrived so early 😦

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The show is nearly an hour long and is quite elaborate, with some cool special effects.

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Except that even months after the show opening, they still have lots of production issues.

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Our show stopped 3 times – each for 5-10 minutes.

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And they didn’t always start right back up where they left off so we missed part of the storyline. By the end, nearly half the audience had left (the kids were getting incredibly restless at each stop!) but I thought the talent was superb.

But Disney is known for quality, and cranks out excellent Broadway shows, so I can’t imagine why there are still so many issues with this one show months after it opened. It was a tad embarrassing. But I’m glad we went! The air conditioned break is always welcome πŸ™‚

After another nice hotel break, we went to Disneyland to ride a few things!

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Then hopped right back over to California Adventure for our dessert party. CA Adventure’s nighttime show is World of Color – it’s a water/lights/fire show. The view is standing room only in corrals, of sorts (which require fast passes to be collected that morning). As a short person, I knew my view would be hit or miss so when this dessert party came out, it was a no brainer. No standing in line? No standing for the show? No tall people in my way? A waitress? What more could you want?!

This was our view when we were seated:

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Everyone is presented with the same plate:

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You also get drinks until the show starts so it’s worth being seated when it opens 30 minutes prior.

Our view after all the people were let into the standing room only space:

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And some pics of the show – it was just breathtaking.

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Y’all – that’s projections on water. Water!

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I totally cried.

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It may be my new favorite – I just loved it. And the seats didn’t hurt, either πŸ˜‰ Our waitress got us boxes to pack up our leftover desserts and grabbed me a bottle of water to take back to the hotel. We were seated with a mom and son and they were very sweet. It wasn’t weird at all to be seated with other people (I was afraid it would be). Maybe because the son was around 7? I dig 7 year olds.

This was our last night staying at Disney 😦 Next up… grabbing a car and heading down the coast to San Diego!

CA Trip Part 4 (The Happiest Place on Earth!)

Our first full day at Disneyland – and this time, not in the dark!

Since we were staying at a Disneyland hotel, we had early entry to California Adventure that morning. The park hours were fairly short, not opening until 10am to the general public, so our opening time was 9am – which our bodies thought was Noon thanks to that 3 hour time change πŸ˜‰

We have NEVER been rope drop people but thanks to the time change, it was easy peasy to get there at rope drop and really paid off for us given the record heat the week we were there.

After breakfast in Downtown Disney, you go through security (line moves fairly quickly, though they don’t have a separate line for people without bags so you have to wait behind loaded down strollers. Grrr.). Then you join a long line at one of the turnstiles. The gates were still closed when we arrived at 8:30am and the lines were loooong.

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It was pretty hot, and standing in the direct sun was not a cool way to start the day. The frustrating part came when they opened the turnstiles and it was mass confusion. It appeared that many in line were there for the 10am opening, had no idea why they couldn’t enter if the gates opened, which meant the line was full of people wanting to enter at 2 different times. Finally, cast members started walking the lines and yelling for onsite guests to come on and follow them to the turnstiles. Nuts!

I had already read a strategy for the early hour so we stuck with it: first, Soarin (new film!), followed by California Screamin’ roller coaster and Toy Story Mania. All 3 were pretty much walk-ons. Cars Land attractions don’t open early.

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It was interesting to note that most of the queues at Disneyland are outside/exposed to the outside and not at all interesting. This was the Toy Story Mania line and loading area:

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By now, it was 10am (official park opening) and since Radiator Springs doesn’t open for extra hours, we could either jump in line and hope we’d finish in time for our early lunch reservation at Disneyland or grab a fast pass and come back. We cut through the backside of Carsland to grab a Fastpass, and got our first look at this beautifully themed land!

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The ride was already up and going so we caught a glimpse of cars racing:

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We made a rookie mistake. We assumed fastpasses were located near the racers instead of double checking the map. Of course they weren’t – they are not anywhere near the racers but instead over in front of A Bugs Land. By the time we got there, the line to GET a fastpass was snaked well into the A Bugs Land and the return time wasn’t until 4pm (the park just opened!). We said thanks but no thanks.

After exploring the park a little more, we hopped over to Disneyland (man, I love how easy it is!!) and got to see it in the daylight!

We had an early reservation at Blue Bayou because I wanted a waterside table and I knew we’d be starving by then (that time change!). We were the first seated for the day!

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After a delicious lunch, we rode The Haunted Mansion. The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland gets a seasonal overlay and it’s AMAZING! It becomes The Nightmare Before Christmas from Halloween through Christmas. I’m not a fan of the film but I loved how detailed it all was. Due to the overlay, lines are longer than normal so we grabbed a fastpass before lunch and went right back to ride it after lunch.

Even the exterior is themed for it!

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I’m so glad we got to ride it! It was very well done.

By now it was mid-afternoon and 4000 degrees outside so we took advantage of our close hotel and escaped for a mid-day break. When we came back, we used the Grand California Hotel entrance that goes directly into California Adventure and went to ride Mickey’s Fun Wheel, aka The Wheel of Death.

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I vaguely recall riding this my one other trip here and being freaked out. That hasn’t changed. When the wheel moves, the carriage slides on a track (thanks, gravity) – can you see the red carriage above hanging sideways? Yeah, it does that. I was clinging to the metal grate while the 6 year old also riding with us thought it was amazing.

This was the view from the top:

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Jason coerced me to ride the swings, another thing I HATE, but I lived to tell about it.

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We hit up Cars Land again, which I had heard was just beautiful at night. This is the same backdoor entrance I posted earlier:

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It really is beautiful, especially with the neon lights and Christmas decor!

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Mater was driving through, heading to a meet & greet!

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One of the restaurants:

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This is a really cool little area – each “cone” sells a different snack type food in a cone. Ice cream cone, popcorn cone, mac and cheese cone, etc.

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Cars Land has 3 rides, though 2 seem so similar. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree had no wait so I twisted Jason’s arm into riding it, even though it looked pretty lame (it’s a whip ride on a track):

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This is what he thought of it.

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The racers, which we still hadn’t ridden, were up to a 70 minute wait and of course no fastpasses were left. So we hopped to Disneyland! Y’all – hopping between the two is so easy!

Oh – this is the Christmas tree at California Adventure! This fine family was having their picture made. They looked so happy, I didn’t crop them out πŸ™‚ You can also see how tall it is with them pictured.

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When we were at WDW last fall, my very favorite ride was down for rehab so I HAD to ride it at DL. Peter Pan seems to be everyone’s favorite because the line is consistently long, even at extra magic hours, but it was sitting at ~30 minutes so we jumped in line before the park closed.

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I adore this ride. When we got off, the park was already closedΒ  – Fantasyland was so pretty deserted.

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The backside of the castle while we were walking out:

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The Christmas lights were strung on the castle but they hadn’t been turned on yet. We were attempting a selfie in front of the castle (we are the WORST – I blame it on Jason’s height) and another couple asked if we would take theirs, and they’d take ours.

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You can’t tell but we’re about to fall over from exhaustion. And hunger. Because I don’t like to stop and eat when there are things to see and do! So we stopped at an outdoor restaurant in Downtown Disney and had a late dinner before hobbling back to our hotel.

Next up… day 2, er 3, at DL and the BEST nighttime show I’ve seen to date.

(excuse the photo quality – I’m having to seriously resize them which diminishes a lot of their quality)

CA Trip Part 3 (grabbing a train to Disneyland, aka how 2 days at Disneyland became 4)

So obviously no trip to Southern California is complete without a stop at the Happiest Place on Earth! While I took a short trip there years ago, I really remember very little 😦 Jason has never been at all so we had a huge learning curve!

First things first: how do we get there? Renting a car and driving meant big $$, as the hotel parking was pricey (yes, Disneyland hotels charge for parking) and we really had no need for a car once there. Uber wasn’t cheap, either, so we opted for the train!

This was the one part of the trip that stressed me out and did not go as planned. After our Warner Brothers Studio tour, our Uber dropped us at In & Out for lunch and afterwards, we walked to our hotel to grab the bags they were storing for us and then take an UberX (large enough for luggage) to Union Station. I was excited to visit Union Station as it’s an old, historic building that I really wanted to take pictures of.

I’m a train newbie but my assumption (you know what they say about assumptions?) is that luggage was welcome on trains that offered checked bags. Not all trains offered checked bags so I made note of the ones that did. What I also assumed is that we’d easily grab an Uber, but for whatever reason had a 20 min wait for this one. That, combined with traffic, meant we were running to get our bags checked by the required 45 minutes before the train left.

What I also assumed was that Amtrak/Union Station would have a relatively efficient ticketing counter. Y’all. And we complain about the TSA??? We had only 6 parties ahead of us when we joined the line and it took 30 minutes to be called to an agent (only 1 working). I gave up hope of making our train (due to having bags we couldn’t check) and thought we’d have to wait around for a couple of hours until the next one.

Fortunately, once we got to the agent, we learned that while we couldn’t check the bags, we could carry them on! Who knew? So with 10 minutes to spare, we raced through Union Station, hauling our suitcases, and got on the train just in time.

The downside is that thanks to the ridiculous ticket line, I didn’t get one picture of the station – and it was just beautiful.

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(not my picture – obviously)

Once on board, we found the luggage racks and settled in for a quick 35 minute ride. And did y’all know they don’t have any sort of security for trains? I found it odd (and a bit disconcerting) that they let me haul on suitcases without a second glance.

So now you know that if you travel by train, you can carry on anything you want and you should buy your tickets in advance, if possible.

After a lovely quick ride, we were in Anaheim! They don’t have an old historic station but they have a beautiful one!

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We grabbed another UberX to our hotel, Paradise Pier, one of Disney’s 3 onsite hotels. While not the JW Marriott, it was a step-up from our last hotel and a HUGE step-up from our San Diego lodging – more about that later πŸ˜‰

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Our view was over the pool area and a parking lot. Exciting, right?

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And this is where our Disneyland visit went from 2 to 4 days. See, the original plan was to just visit Monday and Tuesday. But we were in our hotel room by 4:30pm and Disneyland was open until 11pm… and adding days to our pass was minimal. We knew we’d spend way more $ just filling our evening.

So off to Disneyland we went!

Disneyland is so different than Disney World in that we could walk out of our hotel and be standing on Main St in about 10 minutes. 15 if security lines were longer. It was amazing!

Interesting to note: we were there on Dapper Day, which is a big deal. Crowds were higher (thus the longer hours) but it was really entertaining to check out all the outfits. Did you know some of those women walked around in heels all day?!?

I know Walt Disney World like the back of my hand. I could probably pinpoint every restroom in each park and certainly know where all of the attractions/restaurants are. Disneyland was like this similar place… but different. It looked the same in some ways, but things weren’t where they were supposed to be. Plus, we entered the park for the first time at night so we were literally trying to navigate things in the dark. Occasionally, we were those people over in the corner, examining the map under the light of our cellphone.

After grabbing dinner at The Plaza Inn, we decided to just wander. Our first attraction was the Nemo submarine ride. 20 minute wait, it’s something WDW doesn’t have, so we opted to just for it. Pssst – it was incredibly lame.

Next stop was the Matterhorn (15 min wait) – it reminded me a little of Expedition Everest and was super fun in the dark. I expected it to be painfully jerky and it really wasn’t!

Toontown was not far (I miss it at WDW!) so we walked right on Roger Rabbit. Toontown was so cute – it was already decorated for Christmas!

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When you pull this doorknob, it buzzes and lights up like you’ve been electrocuted:

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Then we wandered to Fantasyland to ride Mr Toad’s Wild Ride (another ride no longer at WDW).

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Shortly after getting on, the ride stopped, lights came up, and we just sat.

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A castmember came and walked us all the way out of the ride. Unfortunately, we never made it back to ride it again but it was pretty cool to walk out.

Pirates was next! It is slightly different than the WDW version – more drops and a tad bit longer, I think. The restaurant Blue Bayou is inside the ride – we ate there the next day. Here you can see the restaurant from inside the Pirates boat.

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Also back in that direction was Splash Mountain

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where we took what is perhaps Jason’s most interesting ride photo:

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Winnie the Pooh is next door, which seemed like such an odd location (he’s in Fantasyland at WDW). Both Pooh and Splash Mountain were walk-on’s so of course we rode it.

It was nearing 11pm so we wandered back to our hotel – it had been a super busy day! Even with the increased Dapper Day crowds, 20 minutes was the highest wait we had so I was pleased. The weather was also just beautiful!

Next up… two full days of Disneyland!