Tag Archives: California

Vacation Highlight Video #2


Grace has completed her second highlight video of our amazing journey, stealing snippets of time between schoolwork and touring to work on it.

This video highlights Week 3 of our trip, covering our time at Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, Salt Lake City, Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Newport Beach, California and Downtown Disney.

 The next video will be of our five days at Disneyland

We hope you enjoy reliving some of the highlights of  Week 3 with us.

What a trip it has been.

It has been a marvelous journey!

Disneyland- Our final day


“To all who come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past…and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts which have created America … with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”  -Walt Disney’s dedication of Disneyland July 17,1955.


Friday marked our final day at Disneyland. It was a wonderful and magical week, but also exhausting.


When we do a Disney vacation we do it hard, arriving before the gates open and staying still close, eager to soak up all the magic we can in our time there. So by the end of the week we were all spent.


On Friday the park was open until midnight so we opted to sleep in and hit Downtown Disney before we went into the park, knowing we would have four extra hours to tour the park.


As we waited for the shuttle bus to pick us up the kids kept themselves entertained with a game of “Bear, Hunter, Lass.” This is a game similar to “Rock Paper, Scissors” but you either pose as a bear, hunter, or lass. Hunter beats Bear, Bear beats Lass, and Lass beats Hunter. It kept everyone entertained until our shuttle bus arrived.


By the time Friday had arrived we had ridden all the rides at least twice so we were able to move through the park at a more relaxed pace,


re-riding favorite rides,


stopping to watch street performances,


meeting our favorite characters,


and enjoying our favorite Disney treats.



Turkey Legs…


Matterhorn Macaroons…


And of course…Dole Whips!


Here are some highlights from our final day:

Feel the wind in your hair while cruising down one of 4 picturesque lanes—humorous billboards on the sidelines give drivers a wacky look at the world from the car’s perspective. While twisting around the track, you’ll pick up the pace under a small bridge and pass iconic attractions like the Matterhorn Bobsleds in the not-too-far-off distance. Go for your own personal best or compete against family members and friends. When the checkered flag comes down, coast back to the pit a champion!


Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

Evil Emperor Zurg is stealing batteries from helpless toys to power a new weapon of destruction—and Buzz Lightyear needs your help!

As a Junior Space Ranger, it’s up to you to maneuver an XP-40 space cruiser through the shadowy Gamma Quadrant and fire lasers from an onboard cannon to stop Zurg and score points.



Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Streak through a legendary gold-mining town aboard a rollicking runaway mine train.

Amid rugged bedrock and desert cactus, venture inside a barren mountain to the Big Thunder Mining Company, established in the early days of America’s Gold Rush. Traipse down and discover a mysterious 5-car locomotive waiting to take you on a journey inside an abandoned mine shaft.

Hang Onto Your Hats
Hurl forward into the darkness of a tunnel as the train’s wheels chug back and forth across a winding track. Swoop around sharp turns and dip and drop into canyons and caves, darting through the ghost town of Big Thunder.

Peel under a booming waterfall, past rock formations, and dodge a rumbling boulder from an unexpected landslide. Glimpse the remnants of an earthquake and behold a bevy of local critters—including bats, opossum and a goat with a stick of dynamite in his mouth—before hastily making your way back to the safety of the railroad station.


Finding Nemo Submarine

Embark on an undersea research expedition to an active volcano and dive into a new Finding Nemo adventure along the way.

Climb down an open hatch inside a research submarine operated by the Nautical Exploration and Marine Observation Institute (N.E.M.O.) and take a seat in front of a crystal-clear porthole. As your friendly captain gives the order, an upward flow of bubbles suddenly fills your window view: your underwater adventure is beginning.

Forge ahead on a research study to a newly discovered volcano, sailing past divers photographing colorful sea life and age-old artifacts of an ancient civilization scattered along the seafloor. Then, hang on as your sub dives further down to avoid a coming sea storm.

Nemo’s Adventure
Having made your way to deeper depths, a familiar sight suddenly comes into view: Nemo and his turtle pal Squirt—and as can be expected, Nemo’s dad Marlin and forgetful friend Dory aren’t far behind. Thanks to special “sonar hydrophones” located inside the submarine, you can hear what everyone’s saying!

Follow Marlin and Dory on their quest to find Nemo in an exciting underwater adventure reminiscent of the hit film. Hold on tight as you ride the East Australian Current and sail through a graveyard of sunken ships. Catch up with Bruce the Shark and his gathering of fish friends and avoid a floating WWII mine. Evade the toothy bite of an anglerfish, weave your way through a school of translucent jellyfish and even find yourself inside the belly of a gigantic whale.

Maintaining the humor and heart of the original film, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage immerses you in your very own unforgettable underwater adventure with many of your favorite Finding Nemo friends.


Indiana Jones Adventure

Take a cliff-hanging journey through the chilling dangers of the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. With Indy’s help, escape the supernatural pull of the Gates of Doom—beyond which lies eternal torment. Careen along precarious precipices that plummet into molten lava in the Cavern of Bubbling Death, avoid the screaming undead mummies of the temple’s past victims and swerve to avoid lava eruptions, swarms of insects and evil wraiths.

As you narrowly escape a collapsing bridge to find yourself face-to-fang with a giant venomous snake, you’ll wish that you never dared to test the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Just when you think you’ve made it through safely, a massive boulder rolls straight in your direction and only one man is brave enough—or crazy enough—to save you… Indiana Jones!

The Troop Transports

Indiana Jones Adventure is neither a roller coaster nor a typical slow-speed attraction like the Haunted Mansion. You’ll board a 12-person troop transport for a fast-paced thrill ride that realistically simulates driving fast over rough terrain. The experience is truly unique—and truly exciting.


Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

Driven mad by his first automobile, Mr. Toad embarks on an uproarious trip toward “nowhere in particular”… and you’re invited! Recreating the frenzied journey of J. Thaddeus Toad, Esq. from the Wind in the Willows segment of the animated film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is a frantic flight through the English countryside the whole family is sure to love.

Hold On! Stroll through a well-manicured garden into a lavish manor known to all as Toad Hall. Hop inside a 2-person, open-air buggy and begin your wild drive by zooming beneath the vaulted ceiling of the main parlor, the cheerful song “Merrily On Our Way” playing overhead. Skid past teetering stacks of books in a library and barrel through a fireplace before hurtling wildly into a formal dining room, dishes rattling and glass crackling. Then, careen through a wall-sized window and race past a riverbank narrowly missing a sheep herder and his flock.

That’s when the motor mayhem really begins! While avoiding a platoon of pursuing policemen, you’ll crash through scaffolding, splatter a stack of pies, smash crates and even ignite a fiery explosion. But when you’re caught and sentenced for your runaway crimes, it looks as if the jig is up. Will you escape your punishment? Or is something even more dire waiting for you down the road?


Jungle Cruise

Cast off on a thrilling expedition where tigers, gorillas, elephants and maybe even a headhunter await your arrival.

Trek to a dusty tropical jungle outpost—overflowing with cargo nets, wooden crates, rusty lanterns and faded marquee signs—and board a weathered tramp steamer for a tongue-in-cheek adventure through some of the world’s most “dangerous” rivers. Led by your trusty skipper, leave civilization behind as you cross continents and oceans through untamed waters rarely seen by man.

A True-Life Adventure
During your lively 7-minute journey, encounter awesome wonders of nature amid some of the world’s most exotic locales.

Throughout the sometimes perilous voyage, take in lively narration from your friendly skipper, known for a brave heart and a clever joke… or two.


King Arthur Carrousel

Climb aboard an ornate carousel horse and gallop through a whirling backdrop of color and sound.

Make your way beneath a vibrant medieval tent within the Castle Courtyard and select one of 68 wood-carved white horses—or one intricately carved chariot. Accented in soft pastel and jewel tones, each magnificent steed is posed in a fanciful leaping position. Once chosen, hop atop your charger and prepare yourself for a royal ride as if you were a part of King Arthur’s royal army.

Test Your Horsemanship
As a classic Disney tune echoes to the sounds of an old-fashioned fairground organ, parade up and down in a gentle counter-clockwise direction atop your majestic horse. Spin around and around and feel a cool breeze brush across your face as you view a menagerie of classic Fantasyland attractions in the not-too-far-off distance—including Sleeping Beauty Castle.


I found my Prince Charming!

Nobody could pull the Sword from the Stone…



Command your prancing horse as the prince or princess of your very own fairytale by day or embark on a journey at night, basking in the magical glow of the carousel’s 3,328 shimmering lights.

A Fairytale Come To Life
During your whimsical journey, relive the classic Disney animated film Sleeping Beauty through a series of 9 illustriously hand-painted vignettes on the inner rounding board above the horses.



Space Mountain

During Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort, brace yourself for eerie encounters with spooky star fields and menacing meteors. From September 9 through October 31, Space Mountain will be overtaken by an ominous and powerful phantom force bent on your destruction.

Flight of Fright
As the universe’s newest explorer, you’ve been recruited to investigate a creepy cosmic phenomenon within the darkest regions of Space Mountain. But when your starship becomes mysteriously possessed by something sinister, your voyage takes an unexpected detour into a shadowy realm—an uncharted galaxy where haunted star clusters, supernatural supernovas and spine-tingling phenomena threaten you at every turn.

Bumps in the Dark
Dip and careen past spectral stars and scary satellites during your spirited space ride in the dark. Shiver and shudder amid the inky blackness—glowing apparitions reaching out in all directions to grab you. Behold ghoulish orbs of light, howling comets and materializing meteors. And shriek in fear inside a wicked wormhole—piercing screams, ghostly music and inhuman sounds echoing all around.

Will you make it back to Earth… or will the phantoms of Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy haunt you forever?


It was a magical day that ended in the most magical way.


Thank you, Walt Disney, for sharing this place of joy and inspiration with us!




On our first day at Disney, when we spent the evening at Downtown Disney, the boys spotted this:


And while the three older kids were clamoring at the chance to relive their childhood memories at Build-A-Bear, the two youngest were begging to use the last of their saved allowance money at Ridemakerz:

“Calling all speed demons and concept “car-tists”: Customize a vehicle with your choice of body, color, rims and more!

Cruise into RIDEMAKERZ and create a 1:18-scale model car that’s truly one of a kind! Select a body style and chassis then decide whether you want your racer to be radio-controlled or “free wheel.” Then kit it out with colors, paint details, rims and tires, real working lights, sounds, sporty accessories and decals—a staggering 649 million combinations are possible, and that’s not even counting individual decal placement!

Choose the exotic car of your dreams, a truck just like dad’s, a Batmobile, or even Tow Mater, Lightning McQueen or other characters from Disney•Pixar’s Cars. You’ll also find RIDEMAKERZ vehicles and accessories sporting the designs of custom legends Chip Foose and Fireball Tim Lawrence as well as popular body styles including:

Ford Mustangs

Dodge Vipers

Chevy Corvettes

Hot rods

Pickup trucks

Concept cars

The expert pit crew at RIDEMAKERZ can help you pick out and assemble your parts at your own hands-on machining station, and you can even try out different combinations to see how they look and work together before deciding on a final product. Once it’s revved and ready, take your custom creation for a spin around the store’s test track!

Welcome to a wonderland of chrome, horsepower and pulse-pounding sound where the only limit is your imagination.”

Knowing my sons, and knowing how fleeting the “must have” items on their wish list are, I made them a deal. I told them that they couldn’t use any of their saved allowance money on a Disney souvenir until Friday, our last day at Disney.

I figured this would help prevent buyer’s remorse and cut down on impulsive buys that they would regret later.

I told them that, after a week of seeing all that Disney gift shops had to offer, if they still wanted to build a custom car at Ridemakerz, we would take them.

Friday morning arrived and Tyler and Ozzie both woke up with one question on their lips:

“Can we go make our cars?!”

We decided to do it first thing, before going into the park for the day. So as soon as the store opened we were waiting at the door.


It was a very cool store, and a regular wonderland for little boys, but very pricy.

The boys soon learned that their $40.00 was not going to stretch as far as they first thought. With every custom detail comes an increase in price, but that didn’t change their mind. This was the memento they wanted from Disney.

So we began.


What made this souvenir neat was that you weren’t just getting a toy truck, you were also getting a unique experience.

Step one was to pick out the body of the car you wanted. They had Disney themed cars like Pixar Cars characters or Marvel themed trucks, as well as dozens of sports cars and street cars to choose from.


It was interesting to see the thought process of both boys as they picked out their cars. Tyler really wanted a remote control car (which was an extra $25.00) so he picked the least expensive body with no customizations to have enough money to afford that.

Ozzie was much more interested in creating his dream vehicle and gladly sacrificed the remote control feature for his dream “push car.”


He wanted a truck.

He hemmed and hawed over the make, model, color, and customization.

He was in heaven!

Once the boys had decided on their vehicles and picked out their tires and rims, it was time to assemble their cars.


Both boys LOVED using the “power tools” to construct their vehicles.

The store concept was clever and the experience was one that will be remembered. Both boys made it out of the store on budget, spending $40.00/each…a miracle since it would be easy to spend hundreds on a customized vehicle.

But the boys were more than pleased with their “inexpensive” versions of Ridemakerz.


These smiles speak for themselves. They love their customized cars.


California Adventure- Day 2


Waiting to enter!


Disney California Adventure is divided into seven themed areas called “districts”. While our first day at California Adventure was spent primarily exploring Cars Land, our second day was spent exploring the rest of the park.


California Adventure was my favorite of the two Disneyland Resort parks. I enjoyed the fact that it was unfamiliar and didn’t resemble a park we had visited before. This park had an old Hollywood feel and celebrated all things California, from its seaside amusement parks to its National Parks.

Buena Vista Street



As soon as we entered the park Ozzie spotted Oswald, the precursor to Mickey Mouse. He was Disney Studio’s first animated character in the 1920s and 1930s. Ozzie was so excited to tell Oswald that they shared the same first name!


We also ran into Mickey Mouse on Buena Vista Street!

Buena Vista Street is the first “themed district” inside the main entrance of California Adventure Park, taking its name from the street on which the Walt Disney Studios are located. Buena Vista Street includes an immersive recreation of early 1920s Los Angeles when Walt Disney first arrived with Mission and Art Deco facades housing shops and restaurants. A recreation of Carthay Circle Theater, which showcased the world premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 sits at the end of the street, serving as the visual anchor for the district.

A statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, titled Storytellers, is located near the Carthay Circle.


The Red Car Trolley travels from the entry, up Buena Vista Street toward the Carthay Circle, then down Hollywood Boulevard towards the Tower of Terror.


It was here on Buena Vista Street that we found the Newsies performing. Molly was thrilled to stumble across this impromptu performance, being a huge fan of this Disney musical.


Paradise Pier


Paradise Pier spans 15 acres and is the largest themed “land” in the Disneyland Resort. Paradise Pier is themed as an idealized version of popular coastal boardwalk.  The district’s attractions, such as California Screamin’ (a launched steel roller coaster built to appear as a classic wooden coaster) resemble the timeless amusement park rides found at many boardwalks.



This became a favorite ride for Toby, Grace, Molly, Tyler and I. Ozzie and Rusty opted to stick with some of the tamer carnival rides.


Here you will also find Toy Story Midway Mania. Toy Story Midway Mania! is an interactive 3D attraction inspired by classic midway games.


This is a favorite ride at Hollywood Studios, Florida, so it was fun to ride it again. The Paradise Pier landscape was a perfect fit for this ride that takes you through Andy’s new Midway Mania toy game.



This ride was our longest wait since they don’t offer fast passes for this particular ride. While we waited for 45 minutes to ride we kept ourselves entertained by playing “Heads Up” on Toby’s phone.



Finally it was time to embark. We grabbed our 3-D glasses and were ready to play!



Mickey’s Fun Wheel is a 160-foot tall Ferris wheel overlooking Paradise Bay, a large body of water that dominates the Paradise Pier area.




We chose to ride in the stationary cars for the sake of those of us with a fear of heights…Rusty, Ozzie and I 🙂



Toby looking bored. Grace enjoying the ride. Tyler scoping out the shortest lines… and Ozzie trying to not throw up with anxiety!


In the evening we returned to Paradise Pier for Disney’s big nighttime show. All I can say is…WOW!!

A hydrotechnic show, World of Color is performed nightly on the waters of Paradise Bay (using fountains, projection, and flame effects) and showcases a series of vignettes from numerous Disney and Pixar films.



What an incredible show!

Much like the Disney World show that uses the castle as a backdrop for projections, this 30 minute show uses a wall of sprayed water as the “screen” for various Disney movie clips as they tell a story through music, lights, and fire.

Grizzly Peak



Riding Grizzly Run Rapids

Grizzly Peak Airfield is themed to an airfield in California’s High Sierras in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The featured attraction is Soarin’ Around the World, a ride that simulates a hang glider tour of locations, landscapes, and landmarks across six continents of the world.


We were excited to see the new “Soarin’ around the World” ride, after so enjoying the original “Soarin'” ride that highlighted sites in California. Our reviews of the new version are mixed. Some preferred the new Soarin’ while others felt the original was better. My thoughts… I prefer the sites and video clips on the new ride, but miss the smells and experiences of the original ride.


Pacific Wharf


Pacific Wharf is based on Monterey‘s Cannery Row area, especially as depicted in John Steinbeck‘s novels, and also resembles San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. It includes the Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill, Pacific Wharf Cafe, The Lucky Fortune Cookery Chinese restaurant, Wine Country Trattoria restaurant, Mendocino Wine Bar, Sonoma Terrace, a Karl Strauss beer truck, and a margarita stand. The district also features the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop, and the Boudin Bakery‘s Bakery Tour, touring the sourdough bread-making process, featuring a video of Rosie O’Donnell and Colin Mochrie explaining the history of the bread.


Here the majority of our time was spent buying homemade sourdough bread. After trying our first sample of this amazing sourdough bread while on the bakery tour, we found ourselves returning to buy a $5.00 loaf a couple times a day to snack on while we walked around the park…a cheap and delicious Disney treat!


Hollywood Land


Hollywood Land, is an area inspired by the Golden Age of Hollywood in the 1930s.It includes attractions based on film, television, theater and a subsection called Hollywood Studios which is designed to appear as an active studio back-lot. A variation of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction from Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened in 2004. The Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! attraction is also featured in the district, based on the characters from Disney·Pixar‘s Monsters, Inc..

Grace was excited for this particular ride and she dressed accordingly for the experience.


At Disneyland costumes are restricted for guests older than 14 years old. This rule has resulted in a Disney fan tradition called “Disney bounding,” in which guests dress in street clothes that are reflective of a certain Disney movie or character. It is a more subtle nod to their Disney favorites.

Grace had planned Disney-bound outfits for the week we were at Disneyland with Wednesday’s outfit being a nod to the Monsters Inc. movies. She made a Monsters University hat to wear by dying a white ball cap blue, distressing the edges. and sewing on patches. She also wore a sock pinned to her back.


Her “2319” may have been too subtle a nod however, because she spent the day explaining the sock  to well meaning adults that would stop her and whisper, “Honey, you have a sock stuck to your back.”

The joke wasn’t lost of the Monsters Inc. cast members though. As soon as she approached the ride they began shouting, ” 2319…We have a 2319!”


One of the coolest experiences of our time at California Adventure was the Frozen show.

The 2000-seat Hyperion Theater located in the center of Hollywood Land currently presents Frozen – Live at the Hyperion.


This is a new show, replacing the live Aladdin show that used to call this theatre home. Having watched clips of this live musical on YouTube, I was SO EXCITED  to see it in person.


It exceeded my expectations.


It was a Broadway worthy production of  a favorite Disney movie.


I think the live version may have been even better than the original cartoon with its charming puppet portrayals of Olaf, Sven and the trolls.


It was a magical way to end another magical day!

California Adventure- Cars Land



Mater summed up our feelings for Cars Land best!

Although we were excited for all things Disney, on our Disneyland vacation, what we were really, really excited for was Cars Land in Disney’s California Adventure. This was an area of Disneyland Resort that Disney World, Florida can’t compare to. It is the shining gem of Disneyland Resort and is by far the most popular area of the park.


(Taken from Theme park insider)

“Cars Land is the crowning capstone on DCA’s transformation, and the first major “land” in an American Disney theme park devoted solely to a single film franchise. A massive mountainous backdrop topped with 125-foot-high peaks patterned after 1959 Cadillac Pinnacle tail fins—known as the Cadillac Range—cradles Ornament Valley, home to a screen-accurate re-creation of Radiator Springs. That’s the sleepy single-stoplight town along Route 66 populated by Pixar’s anthropomorphized automobiles.

Along its main drag, in addition to the three rides detailed here, you find eateries themed to the film’s minor characters such as Fillmore’s Taste-in, serving fruit drinks and snacks; Cozy Cone Motel, with chili, ice cream, and popcorn, all in conical containers; and Flo’s V8 Cafe, serving creative takes on classic comfort food. Souvenir shops include Radiator Springs Curios, Ramone’s House of Body Art, and Sarge’s Supply Hut.

Cars Land represents a considerable investment in capital and creativity for the Disney company, resulting in a rare example of complete entertainment immersion. Walking through the aesthetically astounding area is uncannily like stepping into the cinematic universe, and well worth the wait even if you weren’t particularly enamored of the merchandise-moving movies. Since opening, the area has attracted massive crowds all day and has dramatically increased DCA’s overall attendance. As striking as Cars Land is by daylight, it is even more stunning after sunset; the nightly neon-lighting ceremony set to the doo-wop classic “Life Could Be a Dream” is a magical must-see.”

We had seen pictures. We had watched YouTube videos. We had read and researched, but nothing prepared us for the experience of literally stepping into one of our favorite Pixar cartoons of all time.


We knew how popular Cars Land was.

And we knew that Radiator Springs Racers was the most popular ride in the park.

So as soon as the entrance rope dropped we headed first to the fast pass area near “Its Tough to be a Bug” to get fast passes to the Cars ride, and then from there we headed into Radiator Springs to get in line, with the hope we might be able to ride Radiator Springs Racers twice that day.


We lucked out. After a 30 minute wait we had our first ride of the day, and then a few hours later we returned to ride for a second time.


I knew both little boys would be enamored with the Cars Ride, but I had no idea how enamored the rest of us would be with it.

Following a similar design and using the same technology, Radiator Springs Racers feels very much like the Test Track ride at Disney World’s Epcot…

only the entire experience is themed around the Cars movie and characters.

We began by climbing into our own Cars character to drive through Radiator Springs.


The attraction takes guests in six-person vehicles through the winding roads up the mountains outside Radiator Springs and by the waterfall scene in the movie.


The cars then enter the mountain and take a semi-wild ride through the outskirts of town where they encounter a number of characters from the movie.


Eventually they enter Radiator Springs at which point the track splits into two: one goes into Ramone’s while the other into Luigi’s.


From here the cars enter a briefing room where Doc gives guests some advice for the upcoming race.


The two tracks come back near one another and two cars stop side-by-side. The race begins as the vehicles accelerate out of the mountain and through hairpin turns and steep banks, ending with a randomized race result and then a brief trip through Tail Light Caverns.


It was so much fun!!!


But it wasn’t just the ride that made Cars Land the place to be. The shops, restaurants and other attractions all added to the feeling of having stepped into Radiator Springs.


From there we walked through town on our way to Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, another smaller ride in Cars Land.


An attraction in the style of a whip ride, the attraction is themed to Mater’s Junkyard and the fields with baby tractors from the first film. Mater is the Master of Ceremonies of the Jamboree. The vehicles are tractors which pull trailers attached to them that move around with the music.


I don’t know which was more fun…


Watching the kids whip around in baby tractors or listening to the hoe-down music, sung by Mater, that accompanied the ride.

“Round and Round. Sumpthin’…Sumpthin’…Sumpthin’…”

We all enjoyed checking out the various stores themed after the different Cars characters,


and even enjoyed a delicious lunch at Flo’s V-8 café, pump-side.


If we thought Radiator Springs by day was magical, it was nothing compared to Radiator Springs by night.


The music played and the street was lit up with neon signs. We stopped at the Cozy Cone Motel for a late night snack.


Each of the cones featured a different snack specialty with one selling ice cream, another churro bites, and another selling different flavored popcorns.

We let the kids each pick a treat. Grace and I each chose garlic parmesan popcorn from the Popcone Cone.


We all had to tear ourselves away from Radiator Springs to experience the rest of California Adventure. (More about the rest of California Adventure in a future blog)

I think we were all ready to move into town and become the newest residents of Radiator Springs.


It is not to often you get to step into a favorite movie in such a perfectly magical way!


Disneyland- Day 1


“Had a good time we did.”

Whew…what a week! This past week was spent at Disneyland Resort in California. It was a fun filled week, packed to the gills with rides, pin trading, character meeting and memory making.


Our days began early with breakfast, packing lunches, applying sunscreen, and getting dressed. Then it was off to the bus stop to catch our shuttle to the park. We would arrive 30-45 minutes before the park opened so that we had time to get through security and the bag check area and get in line to enter.

This was our first time at Disneyland.


We have, however, visited Disney World in Florida, and it was our experience at that park that became our point of reference and baseline for comparison. How do the two parks compare?

This was our experience…

Disneyland Resort is smaller. It is comprised of two parks: Disneyland and California Adventure, as opposed to Disney World which is comprised of four parks. The benefit of a smaller park was that there was less walking and it felt more manageable. The downside of a smaller area, however, was more congestion.


Although we didn’t find that the increased congestion affected wait times too much. Our typical wait time in line was around 20 minutes. For longer waits we would obtain fast passes. The fast past system was the paper ticket version that Disney World used to use that allowed visitors to use their tickets to get passes that put you at the front of the line for certain rides. Visitors are allowed to get a new fast pass as soon as they use their previous one. This system allowed us to get 10+ fast passes per day, cutting down on our time in line and allowing us the opportunity to ride more rides.

This is different than Disney World’s new electronic fast pass system which only allows for 3 fast passes per day, per ticket.

While the wait times weren’t bad, we did find the congestion in the streets to be worse. You could feel the age of the park in the design of the streets and traffic flow. It just wasn’t set up for the amount of visitors they receive now in comparison to 60 years ago when the park’s layout was first designed. It just wasn’t as crowd friendly.

I also found it interesting how few benches their were around the park in comparison to Disney World where there are benches every few feet. The exception to this was the newer areas of the resort.

An area where Disneyland has Disney World beat, hands down,  is in the history. Probably the greatest pull we had to this park, especially for Rusty, was the fact that this was Walt Disney’s park. These were the streets he walked. These were rides he personally dreamt up. The magic of his presence is felt in the details and that makes this park extra special.


This light in the window of Walt’s old apartment on Main Street of Disneyland always stays lit in memory of Walt Disney.

Walt Disney is Rusty’s hero. He can tell you anything you want to know about Walt’s life and the Disney company. The magic of Disney touched Rusty when we visited Disney World for the first time when he was nine years old and since then it has been his dream to one day work for the Disney company. This made Disneyland extra special for Rusty.


Disneyland itself is comparable to Magic Kingdom in its layout and rides. Like Magic Kingdom it is comprised of different lands like Adventureland, Tommorowland,  Frontierland and Fantasyland. Each of these lands transport you to a different world through their themed rides, attractions, characters, and ambience. No details are too small or insignificant when it comes to transporting visitors into each magical new place.

Many of the rides found in these different lands are similar to their Magic Kingdom counterparts. With some of these familiar rides we preferred the Disney World version, while others were far better at Disneyland than the similar rides we had known at Disney World.

Some of our favorite Disneyland versions included:

Its a Small World:


While not usually a big fan of the Its a Small World ride, we fell in love with Disneyland’s version of this classic Disney ride.

To begin,  just look at the outside of the ride:


It was charming and magical with its moving clock parts and animal topiaries.


Inside the ride, as we floated along in moving boats to the song “It’s a Small World After All,” we were enchanted by the sprinkling of current Disney character puppets mixed into the traditional puppets representing the different nations.


It became  an “I spy” game as we searched for the characters hidden among the other animatronic puppets.


Tarzan’s Tree House:

At Disney World this walk-through tree house is still the Swiss Family Robinson tree house (which I LOVE.) I didn’t think I would like the remake Disneyland did by turning it into Tarzan’s Tree House, but I was wrong.


It was charming and endearing.


I loved the way Disneyland told the story of Tarzan through vignettes, music, and movie clips as we walked through the rooms of the tree house.


At the end of the tour, at the floor of the tree, the kids could make music using pots, pans and various household items repurposed as noisy, music-makers.


The Haunted Mansion:

I loved this version of the Haunted Mansion 100 times more than Disney World’s version. The mansion itself, located in New Orleans’s Square, is incredible. Walking past it is enough to take your breath away.


Add to that the seasonal decorations that are now transforming it into the holiday story, “The Nightmare before Christmas,” and the Disney World version can’t compare.


For the next few months the traditional Haunted Mansion storyline has changed, and now as guests ride through the Haunted Mansion they follow the story of Jack, Sally and Zero.

This was one of my favorite rides at Disneyland.


Another area we felt Disneyland really was more impressive than Disney World was with their characters. There were many characters that are regulars at Disneyland that we never saw at Disney World, like Jack Skellington:

and the Evil Queen from Snow White:

Our first day at Disneyland was spent exploring the park, riding the most popular rides, and getting a feel for the lay of the land.


It was a magical start to a magical week!

Day 1 down…4 more to go.

Tomorrow we head to California Adventure!

Downtown Disney


When we left the beach we headed 20 minutes away to our RV park; home for the next five days. Located only a mile from Disneyland, this RV park offers everything we could possibly want from a swimming pool to laundry services. It even has shuttle service from the campground to Disneyland, which means we don’t have to worry about unhooking each day for the drive to Disneyland.

It felt good to park the bus, hook up, and get settled for a longer stay.


I know Toby is excited that he will get a five day break from driving.

Our stop at Disneyland was the big secret of this cross country trip. We wanted to surprise the kids so we didn’t tell anyone about this magical detour until the night before we left when we surprised the kids with their tickets.

Being HUGE fans of Disney World everyone was beside themselves with excitement, but none more than Rusty who is the biggest Disney fan of us all. His dream is to one day work for the Disney company and considers Walt Disney his greatest hero, so to be able to visit the park where Walt walked and where he personally led the creative process, is thrilling for Rusty.

The big kids have been to Disney World twice, and the little boys have been there once, and it is always a tradition to visit Downtown Disney the night before our Disney vacation begins.

There in Downtown Disney, an area of Disney filled with stores and restaurants, the magic of Disneyland can be felt. It is a fun way to soak up the energy and get excited for going into the park the next day.

After showering and eating dinner we caught the shuttle to Downtown Disney. The kids wore their trading pins so that they would be able to trade with employees they met along the way.


When we arrived, after our 5 minute ride, the energy and excitement was palpable.


There in the plaza that connects Disneyland, California Adventure, and Downtown Disney, Disney music was playing, Mickey hands were waving and the smiles stretched on for as far as we could see,


We had stepped into a world of princesses and pirates and mouse ears.


We spent the evening strolling around Downtown Disney and enjoying the sites and shopping available.


The boys loved the Lego Store. The large, Disney themed Lego creations were amazing and the boys loved the racing station outside where they could build their own race cars and race them against other guests.


The biggest hit of the evening, however, was the Build-A-Bear store. My older kids have fond memories of making a Build-A-Bear creation when they were little but we haven’t been back to one in 10 years, so you can imagine their squeals of delight when they saw this:


They stepped inside and discovered that it wasn’t an ordinary Build a Bear store, with the typical stuffed animals and outfits. It was Disney themed with creations and gear not found in their typical stores.

Then they discovered that many of the stuffed animals were on sale 50% off, Well, that was all the incentive they needed to use some of their hard saved money to buy a special sort of Disneyland souvenir.

The process began with choosing their critter:


Once they knew what they wanted they got in line to have it stuffed. It was fun watching them relive a special childhood memory, as overgrown teenagers.

After stuffing their bears,


Making a wish on their hearts,


and sewing them up,

it was time to dress them. The girls opted to just buy the stuffed animals. (Grace picked Nemo, and Molly bought a 60th anniversary Disneyland bear with special markings on the paws and feet.)

But Rusty wanted a Disneyland outfit for his Build a Bear, so he picked a Disney t-shirt and mouse ears.

Here are the completed creations:




Then it was back to the campground so that every one could get a good night sleep before our first day at Disneyland tomorrow!!

“Sea You Soon!”



By the sea…by the sea…by the beautiful sea.

We made it! We crossed rivers, climbed mountains, and slowly crawled across the desert of Nevada so that we, like the gold prospectors of old, could say:

“We reached the coast of California!”

From one side of the country to the other, it has been an amazing journey. This Wednesday marks the halfway point of this trip.

So what did we do when we reached the coast? We dipped our toes in the Pacific Ocean, of course!

We left our Sequoia KOA by 8:00 am, knowing we had a 4 hour drive over the mountains and through L.A. traffic.


Both obstacles proved to be less daunting than we expected. We arrived at Newport Beach by noon and surprisingly found meter parking fairly quickly, which was nothing short of a miracle since we needed a double space large enough to accommodate the bus.


We began our afternoon at the beach by coating our pale, Pennsylvania skin with SPF 50 sun block. We looked downright pasty in comparison to the California natives that filled the beach in various shades of brown.


The blessing, however, was that our Pennsylvania pastiness made it easy for me to keep tabs on my family. I just had to look for the albinos in the sea of sun kissed skin. 🙂


Ozzie was the only one that looked like a California native.


Newport Beach was a hit.


The water was shallow enough and the waves small enough that I wasn’t the nervous wreck I thought I’d be. I have had nightmares about our visit to the Pacific Ocean with visions of 30 foot waves and Ozzie getting carried off by a Great White Shark, but my worries were unfounded.


It turned out to be a similar swimming experience to swimming in the Atlantic.


I was relieved. The kids had a blast splashing in the waves and digging in the sand, and I was able to let go of the anxiety I had been carrying about our stop at the ocean.



The kids spent hours looking for shells to take home as souvenirs from their time at the Pacific Ocean…

And the girls each filled a bottle with Pacific ocean water. They loved the gold colored flakes that glimmered in the water. Toby was thrilled…

We are now traveling with granite boulders from Crazy Horse and bottles of the Pacific Ocean in our little bus. 🙂


Next Stop: DISNEYLAND!!!

(Can you hear the screams of my children?)

My postings will be more sporadic over the next few days, as I will be spending all my waking hours at the Happiest Place on Earth. 🙂

Yosemite National Park


As a child I always felt Kansas was the most painful state to drive across when we were traveling cross country. The endless flat topography and acres of cornfields left little to stimulate the senses. It always felt like that trek across Kansas was the longest part of the trip.

But that is only because we never made it as far west as Nevada!

Thursday we traveled 11 hours from Provo, Utah to Yosemite National Park, California. This was our view all day long as we drove Route 6 across the middle of the state.


It was unreal. At one point we drove 3 1/2 hours without seeing a single building, just miles and miles of sage brush and rabbits.


On our drive across the entire state we only saw 9 other cars.

I was grateful we had a full tank of gas and no mechanical issues because there was no way to get help if we broke down. Across the entire 10 hour stretch on Nevada we had no cell phone service. If we would have had mechanical issues we would have been stuck until some lone traveler eventually passed our way.

We finally made it to Tonopah, Nevada where we once again met up with civilization. While there we filled up the diesel tank, ever grateful for the 128 gallon tank Toby replaced the original 38 gallon tank with from a junk yard find. The boys got out and ran off some energy after being trapped inside the bus all day, and the girls took on the task of cleaning the bus windows while I boiled water for spaghetti.


Then we were on the road again. We drove two more hours, crossing into California, to get as close to Yosemite as we could before we pulled over to the side of the road to sleep for the night.

In the morning we headed into Yosemite. This was everyone’s first time visiting Yosemite, but we had heard so many friends express a love for Yosemite National Park that we decided to make a point of visiting..

Location: California

Established: October 1, 1890

Size: 747,956 acres

“In a high-country meadow two hikers crouch near the edge of a mirroring lake and watch a pika as it harvests blades of grass for a nest deep within a huge rock pile. When they resume walking, there is no other person in sight for as far as they can see. And on this sparkling summer’s day, the view seems endless.

In the valley’s crowded mall, families stroll by, eating ice cream, dodging bicycles. People pile in and out of buses. Shoppers hunt for souvenirs. Kids hang around a pizza place. Rock climbers, coils of rope slung over their shoulders, swap stories. On a summer’s day about 14,000 people are in Yosemite Village

Both the solitude of the alpine ridge and the throngs of the valley are part of the experience when you visit Yosemite National Park. “No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite,” wrote John Muir, whose crusading led to the creation of the park. To this temple come 4 million visitors annually. And about 90 percent of them go to the valley, a mile-wide, 7-mile-long canyon cut by a river, then widened and deepened by glacial action. Walled by massive domes and soaring pinnacles, it covers about one percent of the park. In summer, the concentration of autos brings traffic jams and air pollution.

Beyond the valley, some 800 miles of marked trails offer hikers easy jaunts or grueling tests of endurance in the High Sierra wilderness. Even the casual visitor can explore this solitude without getting outfitted for a backpack expedition.

This park, roughly the size of Rhode Island, is a United Nations World Heritage site. Here, in five of the seven continental life zones, live the mule deer and chipmunks of the valley and the marmots and pikas of the heights; the brush rabbit and chaparral of the near desert; the dogwood and warblers of mid-elevation forests; the red fir and Jeffrey pine of mile-high forests; the dwarf willow and matted flowers of Yosemite’s majestic mountains.”

Did You Know?

Towering more than 350 stories above Yosemite Valley, El Capitan is the largest exposed granite monolith in the world.

We found Yosemite to be one of the prettiest national parks we have visited but also one of the most challenging to navigate. The climb into Yosemite National Park, through the Tioga Pass, proved to be the most stressful and trying drive of our entire trip so far. We put our bus through its paces as we slowly climbed from 6000 to 10,000 feet, through miles of switchback turns, to get to the entrance of Yosemite.


Like Yellowstone National Park, we were amazed by Yosemite’s  vast size. It took us 1 1/2 hours to get from the Toulmne Visitor Center to Yosemite Valley.


It was there in Yosemite Valley that we found the bulk of the visitors in the park. The crowds increased as we got closer to Yosemite Village. Add to that the fact that half the roadways and parking lots in the valley were closed for road construction,  we found Yosemite Valley to be a crowded, chaotic mess.

In addition to many road closures we also found out that the Mariposa Grove was closed for a two year restoration project, so we spent the remainder of the day in the Yosemite Valley.

Determined to not let the stressful, chaotic start to our day sour our experience at Yosemite, we began looking for a parking spot. This was challenging for even a small car, much less a 43 foot school bus. After an hour of driving from one filled parking lot to another we finally found an open spot next to the side of the road.

It was only 11:00am, we had been navigating Yosemite for 3 hours, and we were exhausted.


We decided to hit the restart button with a picnic lunch before we began seeing Yosemite. Everyone needed to decompress, and we knew full bellies would put everyone in a better state of mind, so we began our visit with lunch.

From there we head over to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.


Around Yosemite Valley there is free shuttle service that takes visitors from one part of the valley to another. By utilizing the shuttle service you can move about the valley floor easily with  20+ different shuttle stops. We took the shuttle over to the visitors center.


Here the kids met with a park ranger to get their junior ranger booklet to work on and attend a ranger led program.


The kids learned about some of the wildlife found in Yosemite, particularly the foxes found in the park. They were able to touch the pelts of a red fox and a grey fox, and feel how much softer and lush the pelt of the red fox was. This beautiful fur is what almost led to the extinction of the red fox by fur traders before they became protected. In the park there are hundreds of grey fox, which were the less desired species, but only around twenty red fox are still alive in Yosemite.

They also learned that the squirrels, so abundant in Yosemite, had a special adaptation that was specific to squirrels in that area. They learned that the squirrels there were immune to rattle snake venom.

It was fascinating to learn about the conservation efforts made by the National Parks Service and how mistakes made in the past are being remedied. We learned how the parks are fixing mistakes made twenty years ago that killed off the turtle population in the park. The ranger shared how in the 1980s and 1990s, when white water rafting became popular in the area, the park went through and removed all the trees and debris from the rivers to make rafting safer. In doing so they mistakenly removed the habitat that the turtles needed for survival. Those branches and logs were used by the turtles to hide under and sun themselves on. That simple mistake led to the destruction of the turtle population. They are now trying to remedy that mistake by bringing in turtles from outside the park to repopulate. She told us if we keep our eyes open along the waters edge we just might see them, walking along with a tracker antenna attached to the top of their shell.

While we didn’t spot any bionic turtles we did see many of these cute little lizards,


and a crayfish or two.


If kissing a frog gets you a prince, what does kissing a crayfish get you?!


From there we hiked our first of three trails for the day. We decided to hike the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail. This time of year there are no waterfalls falling in Yosemite. Created by winter snow melt, they are dried up by mid summer, but it was still a beautiful hike.


Along the way Toby taught Tyler how to whistle using an acorn top. What a wonderful skill to teach Tyler, Toby! 😉


As we moved about the park, riding the shuttle and hiking the trails, we could see why Yosemite is a favorite park for so many people. The towering pines and enormous granite mountains have a way of making you feel small and in awe of nature’s impact.


We walked a trail over to El Capitan, where we were able to see climbers working their way up the smooth, granite face.


There were telescopes set up for visitors to get a closer look at the climbers,


and a park ranger on site that was answering questions about rock climbing in Yosemite. It was fascinating to see him demonstrate the climbing gear used by the climbers to propel themselves up the cliffs, and to learn about the logistics of the multi-day climb it takes to get up El Capitan, like eating and sleeping on the side of a cliff.



Can you spot the climber? How about now??



In addition to being in awe of the side of the granite monoliths, the kids were also in awe of the size of the trees in Yosemite. We told them to just wait until tomorrow’s visit to Sequoia National Park. We won’t be able to reach around the circumference of those trunks as a family!


It was a beautiful day.


We were able to salvage our day, which started so stressfully, and enjoy and appreciate one of the prettiest parks we have seen so far.


This is what a good day at a National Park looks like:


Next stop: Sequoia National Park