3 Days in Redwoods National & State Parks

It has officially been one year since Shannon and I went to Redwoods National and State Parks just north of Eureka in Orick, CA. This was a trip we first conceived shortly after finally meeting in our Senior Honor’s Seminar at Colorado State the semester before we both received our Bachelor’s degrees.

Shannon and I had been Facebook friends because of common interests realized from a “CSU Class of 2016” page for four years before we actually had a class together (and realized that we should have been real friends the whole dang time). We are both fans of adventure and loosely structured plans. Our seminar got us talking about National Parks which led Shannon to bring up the Redwoods, I mentioned I hadn’t been before, so we decided right then and there to make a trip together. We got closer over the course of the semester, too, and that definitely encouraged follow through. After graduation, we figured out when we would be in California at the same time and planned from there.

We decided that we would leave on June 5th, and come home on June 9th. It didn’t make sense for either of us to go to the other to begin the journey because of our relative starting points in California, so we opted to meet just off I-5 in Los Banos because it was the least out of the way for Shannon and the most reasonable for me to get to. From there, we got back on the 5 and headed north towards Eureka. We hardly needed directions as Shannon has been going there throughout her life to visit her paternal grandmother. Additionally, her older sister now lives in the Santa Rosa area, which is conveniently on the way to Eureka. We made a stop in Santa Rosa in the early afternoon, and met Shannon’s sister and brother-in-law for lunch.

As we drove up, we searched hotels online and made hotel reservations at the Eureka Inn. From Los Banos to Eureka is about a 6 1/2 hour drive without any stops, and we figured we may as well make it scenic. The next detour we made on the trip was at the Chandelier Tree in Leggett, CA. Unfortunately, Shannon’s truck wouldn’t fit through this tree because of the height, so we settled for walking the property.

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We left from there and continued the journey north. We made it to Eureka in the early evening, checked into the hotel, and settled in for the night.

The next morning, June 6th, we got up bright and early and drove north about an hour to the parks. These parks are particularly unique in the National Park System because there is no true park entrance or exit gate, and thus, no standard park entrance fee (though there are a couple areas that are pay areas, Fern Canyon being one of them).

To start the day we parked in the Big Tree Wayside parking area and sprayed copious amounts of bug spray on our bodies. Our first move was starting up Circle Trail and moving on to Cathedral Trees Trail before crossing the road with the intent of hiking Prairie Creek Trail and finding the Corkscrew Tree. During the latter part of our hike, we definitely got a little bit lost and ended up stumbling upon the tree we were in search of, but there are much worse places to be a little lost. On the way back to the hotel for the day, we stopped in Klamath for lunch. Across the street from the diner we ate at was a drive-thru tree, and Shannon was hell-bent on getting her truck through one, so we went. Spoiler alert, success was hers!

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Shannon is in the truck which very narrowly fit inside the tree

That night, we drove into town and met Shannon’s grandma for dinner. After eating, we went to Humboldt Bay for ice cream.

On the morning of June 7th, we made our way back into the parks early, and decided we would go to the visitor center to get a permit to hike Tall Trees Trail. The road to get to this trail is relatively narrow, tree-lined, and unpaved, and requires passing through a gate that is locked and the code is changed daily. The drive was easy, and we reached the trailhead quickly.

The trail starts with 800 feet of elevation change, going down in order to get to the Tall Trees loop area. This trail was the first we encountered with wildlife that wasn’t flying or trying to bite us – I could hardly contain myself upon finally getting to see banana slugs in person (sorry Shannon!).

The path became relatively leveled out just before reaching the loop portion that runs alongside a river. These trees seemed so diverse in form despite being in such a relatively small area, and the walk was relaxing.

The trail where it levels out just before the loop
Shannon on the loop portion of the trail

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Me getting really excited about the trail and the trees (and the possibility of more banana slugs)

When we were done in the park for the day, we headed south towards Eureka. We stopped in the town of Trinidad for lunch and to sight see.

When we got to the hotel that night and were beat, so we decided to have burritos delivered to our room (yes, to the door of our room) from a local restaurant. They were AH-mazing.

Our final morning to go in the parks, we decided to stop for brunch on the way in downtown Arcata (also known as the cutest little town I’ve seen to date). We went to a local cafe where we could order crepes, and it was a delicious choice! When breakfast was done, we headed north with Fern Canyon on our minds. The 1 1/2 lane “road” that Davidson Road becomes looks like an extended, unintended off-roading adventure through Jurassic Park. This entire day in our trip blew my mind – most of the road in and the trail for the hike looked like it genuinely hadn’t been disturbed for 325 million years.

After we made it back from the trail, we decided to walk out on the beach.

From there, we decided to go to Patrick’s Point State Park. This area was a pay area, and there were a lot of campgrounds, but we also found some fun stone buildings and got to see some whales.

Shannon and I concluded the day with her grandma on the way back towards Eureka. That evening we went back to the hotel and began packing so we could leave as early as possible (and reasonable) the next morning.

The trip was so memorable, and was just the beginning of a string of adventures that Shannon and I have shared in. Since this big trip, the scale has been much smaller (mostly spending time on the Central Coast of California), but there are already more big trips in the works for the two of us, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Dapper Day Spring 2017 at Disneyland

Though I have always been intrigued by the Dapper Day events at (not hosted by) the Disney Parks, it has been a dream of Hannah’s to go to Disneyland during Dapper Day and participate. After she took me for my birthday in March 2015, we decided our next trip together would be sponsored by me so we could celebrate her birthday, and so we could do Dapper Day. The serious planning phase started around February 2016, and it was agreed that the soonest we could make the trip would be the spring of 2017.

When we learned that the Spring 2017 Dapper Day “Outing” event in Disneyland would be April 23, we planned around that. We discussed and concluded that our best bet would be to drive down Saturday, be in the park Sunday and Monday, and then drive home Tuesday.

As planned, Hannah and I left my house on Saturday around 9 a.m. with the intention of being able to avoid the traffic through LA on our way down (unfortunately, that is never actually the case). We checked in to the Disneyland Hotel around 2 p.m. and quickly settled into our room. That afternoon, we opted to walk Downtown Disney before returning to the hotel to camp out at Trader Sam’s.

Headboard lit up at night

The next day we got up early and headed to the park, all decked out in our Dapper Day outfits, ready to participate!

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While I had done a partial day in flip-flops in the park, heels were a new mountain to conquer (spoiler alert: I lasted an hour). For those who are interested, we both got our dresses off of amazon.com and our shoes from DSW (my shoes are Journee Collection, Hannah’s are Crown Vintage).

From pictures, we went to the walk-up Mint Julep bar in New Orleans Square to get Mickey shaped beignets for breakfast. This particular Disney food is a favorite of Hannah’s that she got me hooked on during our 2015 trip together.

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How great do these look!

Once we were done, we started on rides in Adventureland and New Orleans Square. The morning included Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted Mansion. We also walked through Tarzan’s Treehouse.

Before leaving that area, we checked out a fun detail in the park to the right of the FastPass line for Indiana Jones – the home of Peter Begorra, a little man of Disney that had his own “gold book.”

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We moved towards Big Thunder Mountain and Fantasyland from there. For this trip, the rides we had to do were Alice in Wonderland and the teacups. We ended up adding on the Storybook canal boats and Casey Jr. train, and Hannah got to see her favorite princess.

After that, we both needed beverages from Market House *wink wink* and so we went there before heading toward the plaza outside Town Hall to wait for the Dapper Dans. At 1:15 on the dot we heard their voices carrying down Main Street U.S.A from where we had just been, so we wandered down. After their set, we were lucky enough to get a picture with them!

As we left the Dapper Dans, my dear friend Paul made it to the park, so we met him near the Plaza Inn. We made our way to the Mark Twain Riverboat for pictures – Hannah and I begrudgingly put our shoes back on and the three of us boarded the boat. On the second floor of the three floor riverboat, there was a live band performing. It’s interesting to see how Disney doesn’t put on Dapper Day themselves, but they are active participants and do what they can to not only acknowledge the event, but contribute to the experience.

From the Rivers of America we made our way across the park to Tomorrowland so we could ride Space Mountain and drive through Autopia. After that, we switched parks and rode Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, got pizza, and all three of us squeezed into a clam shell to go through Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. Around that time we all parted ways and Hannah and I went back to our hotel room to get ready for dinner. We wandered downstairs for our Steakhouse 55 reservation and were seated almost immediately. Hannah got filet mignon, I got the salmon, we split a side of parmesan scalloped potatoes, and then had a vanilla bean creme brûlée for dessert. We both got adult beverages to accompany our dinner – Hannah got a sangria and I got a Maker’s Mark and Coke.

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After dinner, we changed and headed back to the park. Originally, the intent was to see the 8:30 showing of the Main Street Electrical Parade, but we didn’t even make it to the park until then, so we beelined through Adventureland ahead of the parade path on Main Street U.S.A. to ride Indiana Jones and Haunted Mansion a second time. After hearing an announcement that it was too windy for fireworks, we made our way to Main Street to find a place on the curb for the second run of the Main Street Electrical Parade. We found a spot outside of the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor, Hannah went inside and got us ice cream, and we waited for the parade to start. Being the second run of the night, it went from the Fire Station back towards Small World (rather than the opposite, which is the path for the earlier showing).

Super Honest Confession: I wasn’t impressed with the parade. at. all. If you know me, you know this is historically one of my favorite parades to the point where I refused to sit through Paint the Night because I thought it was going to be a knockoff. I have vivid memories of being 3 on my dad’s shoulders watching the parade from Main Street, and throughout my childhood wore out a VHS tape of the parade because I loved it so much. I understand that over the course of decades, things will degrade, but for the love of all that is sacred, please do not think it is acceptable to give Tinkerbell and her fairy friends a section of the parade when they were not a focus of Disney until the 2000’s, nor is it necessary to add dancers to the Pinocchio section. If the floats are down, drop the area entirely or keep the parade off the lineup until the problem is remedied. Despite that rant, I do have a few accolades. I was so happy to have the original feelings I had upon seeing the train coming down Main Street, the Alice in Wonderland section with the little animals was still as adorable and quirky as I remember, I appreciate that the characters now have a few extra lights incorporated into the costuming (especially the headpieces so you can see their faces), Pete’s Dragon was present in all it’s glory, and the America finale float and it’s dancing troop were seemingly untouched. I was also excited to see the Dwarves and the mine train intact, and to see the Cinderella section was mostly untouched.

When the parade was over, we decided we had gotten our money’s worth for the day and headed to our room for the night.

The next morning, the parks opened a little later, so we got to sleep in (for us) a little bit. Our plan was to go into Disneyland and have Plaza Inn for breakfast, but when the lines for Disneyland entrance were all the way across the plaza to the entrance for California Adventure at a quarter to nine, we opted to go to Starbucks in Downtown Disney instead. This reserve store is SO cool, and being a nearly 6 month partner now, I have a different appreciation of how the store is set up and everything they offer.

When we finished we headed into California Adventure, which was not slated to open to the public until 10 a.m., but we got a magic morning for staying at a Disney hotel. Once inside, we got a FastPass for Soarin’ and then made our way to Toy Story Midway Mania. I know many people who are upset that Soarin’ Over California was done away with and it changed to a world view, but I have to say, the new version is beautifully done.

Once we left Soarin’ from our FastPass usage, we moved to Ariel’s Undersea Adventure for a second ride. PSA: If you’re in line for a ride, it is rude to hold up that line (which is otherwise essentially a walk-on) so that it backs up onto a major walkway to take pictures of a mini-show for 15 minutes. If you want to watch, exit the line, the ride will still be there.

Following our trip under the sea, we got in the queue for Cove Bar, and I opted to wait for a table on the water. Paul joined us once more on our adventures. All three of us ordered drinks off the *official* secret menu. From left to right, Hannah got a Neverland Tea, Paul got an Earthquake, and I got a Fun Wheel, all of which are plays on a Long Island Ice Tea.

After Cove Bar, Hannah and I needed to swing by the room, and Paul joined us (he hadn’t seen the rooms in the Disneyland Hotel since the remodel). On our way back out, we opened the elevator doors to find Pluto wandering the halls, so naturally we asked if we could take a picture with him.

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After our brief trip to the room, we opted to go to Disneyland for the Tiki Room and some Dole Whip. We rode the monorail from the hotel into Tomorrowland (something I hadn’t done in years) and by that time they were doing test runs on the Matterhorn which had been down for refurbishment, so the water was running. I got the lovely picture below while walking down the steps from the monorail platform..

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After the Tiki Room, Paul had to leave us once more. Hannah and I made another pass through Haunted Mansion before walking through the shops in New Orleans Square. I also took the opportunity to do something I’ve never done before – I got a diagnosis from Shrunken Ned the Jungle Witch Doctor in the Adventureland shops and paid for a fortune from the Pirate near Pieces of Eight (but I ended up with 3).

Hannah’s list of things she had to do on the trip included walking through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, so we made that the next stop on our tour.

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We decided to make Cars Land the next stop from our Castle walk-through, so we headed toward that park. We took a few detours, however, to walk through some of the shops in Hollywood Land. After riding Radiator Springs Racers, I realized I needed mac and cheese in a bread cone from the Cozy Cone Motel.

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#sorrynotsorry #carbsarelife

After my cone, we wandered over and rode Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, followed by a final round of Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.

We went back to the hotel from there because it had cooled off significantly in the park (truth be told, the whole day had been relatively overcast). When we got back, we went to Disneyland because Hannah had the idea to get castle pictures at dusk. This was followed by dinner at Pizza Port in Tomorrowland. From there, it got dark quickly, so we decided to make our way over to Big Thunder Mountain. On our way, we stopped to get a picture of the “Partners” statue with the castle lit behind it.

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Big Thunder Mountain is one of the rides in the park that only gets better as the night goes on, and we were lucky enough to get the last row on the train for this ride.

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The last thing on Hannah’s to-do list was get a Mickey pretzel and cheese, so we made our way to the nearest pretzel stand. We got her pretzel and moved on to sit by the Rivers of America outside the entrance to Pirates so we had a view of Frontierland and the Riverboat lit up.

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Once the pretzel was consumed, we decided to take one last trip among the dead at the Haunted Mansion and one more trip through Pirates of the Caribbean (two days after the fact we were very upset that we missed Johnny Depp on his most recent ride-crashing by one day). After Pirates, we called it a night on our Disney trip.

Tuesday morning we both got up relatively early and explored the grounds of the hotel prior to checkout. The Rose Court had just been visited by the landscapers and looked beautiful.

Overall, the trip was great and Dapper Day was a major success. I am definitely going to be looking for more reasons to wear my dress and shoes from the day, and am not opposed to participating in Dapper Day again in the future.

How I Spent a Day in Santa Barbara

Every few weeks, I get lucky enough to have either a Friday/Saturday or a Saturday/Sunday scheduled off work. With that “rotation” I had Saturday March 3rd free, and so did my dear friend Emily. As such, we made plans so I could visit where she is currently living in the Santa Barbara area.

Due to work, I got to Santa Barbara late Friday. Fortunately, my leaving Friday after work gave us all day Saturday to do fun things. After some brainstorming, we decided that we wanted to make sure the day involved brunch, local restaurants, historical buildings, and getting close to the beach (getting in the water wasn’t a requirement for me on this coastal trip).

For us, the day started off with meeting Emily’s fiancé at her favorite breakfast place, The Cajun Kitchen. Although we each committed to our own entree, we also split a bowl of beignets. From brunch, we regrouped and then decided that our next stop for the day would be the Santa Barbara Mission.

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After wandering around the outside of the mission, we decided to do the self-guided tour that goes through the garden, cemetery, church, and museum.

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Alternate view of the Sacred Garden

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Bay-Fig in the center of the cemetery

This part of the day made me particularly happy because I love the California Missions. As I have previously talked about with reference to National Parks, I took California for granted before I moved to Colorado, and I decided years ago that I wanted to make it a personal goal to see all of the missions. Before this trip, I had toured the missions at San Juan Bautista and Carmel, and had been on the grounds for (but not inside) the mission at San Luis Obispo. At a later date I am sure I will do a more in depth explanation, but in part, I’m drawn to the missions because of their architectural beauty, the fact that parts are still in use, and that people can still be buried there (regardless of religion).

After we finished the tour, we decided to head into Downtown Santa Barbara. There, we went to the County Courthouse to climb four stories worth of stairs to get to the top of the tower. The first two floors of this building consist primarily of public and private offices as well as courtrooms (two of the Supreme Court rooms were actually in use that day). The third floor on the west side of the building had only a small room with the internal components for the clock on the exterior of the building. The fourth floor above the clock was solely an observation deck, and each side offered a panoramic view of the city and it’s surrounding natural features.

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From the second floor of the Courthouse
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Panoramic view facing the ocean
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Panoramic view across the courtyard towards the mountains

Once we were done at the top, we took the elevator back down to the main floor and sat in the courtyard for a little while (we also probably definitely accidentally photobombed a wedding).

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Observation tower from the courtyard

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From there, we decided to drive down the pier and then park by the harbor and walk around some more. We walked past an array of personal boats and a gathering of the Santa Barbara Ukulele Club before reaching the building for the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. We didn’t go in the museum here, but went to the top floor observation deck.

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For dinner, we went to Sandbar in Downtown. After eating more fish tacos than I had intended, I started my drive back to the valley. Although I took no pictures this time, I stopped at the Madonna Inn (which I LOVE) on both the drive down and the drive back.

 

While I live in the valley, these little trips help keep me sane and active, and I am grateful that I’m living in a place that affords me the freedom and fulfillment that my soul finds from travel. I don’t mind traveling by myself, but adventures are that much better when shared. I’m so thankful to Emily and Bobby for spending the day eating delicious food and looking at old buildings with me. I look forward to the next adventure I have with you two!

How to Keep Families (or Groups) of All Ages Happy at Disneyland

One of my coworkers recently planned a family trip to Disneyland that would be the first where both of her kids are able to participate in and remember the experience. As an avid Disney-goer who has gone with groups as small as 2 people and as large as 8, I offered her advice to make the most of their time once they had made the base decisions, which include where they’re staying, how long they have in the park, budget, etc.

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This was a welcomed challenge for me because she has younger kids and I do not have kids, nor does my family have young members (of those we frequently see & travel with, the youngest human member is 19). Despite this, I do know the parks and how to coordinate group trips. No matter the age range, the first step in planning any Disney trip is figuring out how many days you will have in the park and if you will be getting park hopper or single park tickets. The group I was advising had 3 day park hopper tickets (which is plenty of park time to accomplish a lot with a group of any size and age) and were staying in one of the most conveniently located off-site hotels.

With this information, I compiled a list of things that I believe are essential to a successful Disneyland trip. In this version of the information, some of the points are linked to where they can be found on the Disney website. The key to having a successful group trip is figuring out what is important to your individual group members and “planning” time in the park accordingly. To accomplish this, there are a few rules of thumb I like to follow:

  1. Try to limit yourselves to one big show per day (unless they’re in the same park) for a couple of reasons; the first is that a lot of the night shows overlap, so it’s only physically possible to see one, the other is that you don’t want to overload on shows. The shows in the same park could be done on the same night if you wanted to because the only available ones are staggered in the same location. Example I gave for their trip for February of 2017: It would make sense if you wanted to do the Electric Light Parade and the Firework show the same night if you wanted because the Electric Light Parade is at 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on Main Street and fireworks run at 9:25 p.m. Friday night and Saturday night in front of the Castle. World of Color shows in California Adventure at similar times to the shows in Disneyland so it is not possible to see all of both shows.
  2. Make sure everyone is fed and hydrated. I know the coordinator of any group is going to be a “mom” type figure and that goes without saying, but it is honestly amazing how moods can change if one of those things doesn’t happen, even with adults.
  3. Don’t forget to alternate between people’s interests, but also make sure you’re not jumping back and forth across each park or between parks each turn to accomplish this. One way to get through this making sure that everyone is happy is to take turns picking rides. This can be a whole day or part day “rotation” and it is completely up to preference if the choices are just the kids, all members of the group deciding together, or between the kid’s individual choices and a “family” activity (or any other variation thereof).
  4. Although this is a trip intended for the group to be together, there will likely be times where splitting the group and meeting back up is the best choice. For my family, this means that while my dad and brother ride Star Tours, my mom and I will go shop, get snacks, meet princesses, meet with friends, or go on another ride the boys are less interested in like Alice in Wonderland. When we’re done, we would head to a pre-determined location to regroup and decide where to go from there. Also, there were times the line for Star Tours would be short when the boys were done and we had no plans at a set time after, so they would get back in line and text us that it would be another 20-30 minutes or so. For my coworker’s family, I gave the example of taking her daughter to meet Elsa and Anna at Disney Animation in Hollywood Land while her husband and son do California Screamin’ (a ride her daughter might still be too short to ride and I know she has no interest in doing). This way, everyone gets to accomplish something they want to without forcing other group members to do something they don’t want to, and it gives everyone a little break.

Although these seem inclusive of a lot of park decisions, these are not the only things to consider while planning.

During your trip, DO:

  • As a group coordinator, make sure everyone (including yourself) gets to do something they really want to before you stop to have lunch, and everyone gets to do something they really want to do before leaving the parks for the night. This doesn’t have to be a ride, it can be meeting a character, seeing a show, or eating a pretzel (or churro, or Dole whip).
  • Make sure everyone stays hydrated and fed (I know I said it before but it’s important). Bring snacks in a backpack that are easy to eat in line, and bring your own water bottles (you can refill them at drinking fountains throughout the parks) and cups of ice water are free at quick service restaurants.
  • Ask people to take pictures for you. The Disney PhotoPass employees are always happy to take pictures using your camera or phone in iconic locations throughout the parks (it’s literally what they get paid to do.. they will also take some with their cameras that you have no obligation to purchase later). In more obscure park locations, offer to take pictures for other families, and if they don’t offer to do the same, ask them.
  • Give each person an opportunity to get a souvenir that is meaningful to them to commemorate the trip. There are a lot of shops throughout both parks and downtown that offer products of all types and price ranges. One that has always been a fun one for me is using the penny presses, which are very inexpensive. img_0478
  • Spend some time in each park at night just taking in the sights; I think there is something truly magical about Main Street and Cars Land lit up at night.
  • The first two days of the trip should start in different parks. It is a personal preference where to start and can be influenced by the time each park opens and whether or not your tickets have a Magic Morning, but those first two days should not be the same starting park. Any days after that you can start wherever you want to, but each park deserves to be experienced right at open at least one day of the trip. With park openings, we have found that in California Adventure, literally at park opening is the best time to go on Radiator Springs Racers (if you don’t want to get a FastPass) or Toy Story Midway Mania, and in Disneyland this is typically the best time to do Indiana Jones, Space Mountain, and Star Tours if you’re not wanting to get a FastPass, and Peter Pan because it doesn’t have a FastPass option).

During your trip, I RECOMMEND:

  • Taking a break in the early afternoon to go back to your hotel room for a nap/breather (even just an hour will do), especially on day 2 or 3. This has a few perks; it keeps you out of the park during the heat of the day (not as big of an issue in winter) and will help everyone refresh mentally and physically so you can happily make it to park close on the nights the park is open later.
  • Limiting the amount of soda you drink (it loops back to the hydration idea).
  • If it might rain during your trip, go to the Dollar Store before you leave for your trip and get ponchos there. These easily fit in backpacks and are a much better strategy than waiting to buy them in Anaheim or in the parks.
  • Taking band-aids for blisters. Another good trick is putting athletic tape over band-aids to help them stay on in the park. This also significantly cuts down on further rubbing and pain experienced.
  • Bring entertainment activities that aren’t necessarily electronic. Some rides will have longer wait times that are unavoidable. You know your kids/family members and what will keep them occupied best to help ease the wait time. You may not need these type of things at all, but it’s definitely something to consider when packing.
  • Talking to and interacting with employees. Everyone – characters, attraction workers, guest relations, staff cleaning, and more. Main Street just beyond the tunnels is home to guest relations, a fire department that you can explore, and museum type attractions. Ask employees about everything you see; you don’t have to be on a tour to get “tour” type answers. My example here is the gallery right next to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln which has very expensive artwork in it; there is a massive safe to the left of the register that had an actual function when the park opened, a fact I learned while talking to the cashiers.
  • We like using day 3 of a 3 day trip to do “finishing touches” type things. To do this, we treat the first part of the day as the time to make sure we visit the rides and attractions we haven’t gotten to yet and really want to experience while there, and the rest of the day is used for repeating any rides we want to hit for a second (or third, or fourth) time. This is also the time to make final decisions about souvenirs.  
  • Go to traditional photo places, but look for alternate angles. For example, castle pictures are just as good taken from one of the sides as they are from directly in front of the castle.
  • Go up seemingly obscure paths. There is no part of the park that goes without thought, and there are fun surprises and things to see everywhere.

During your trip, DO NOT:

  • Eat every meal in the park or on park property (hotels, Downtown Disney). Sure, the locations are convenient, but this is a major unnecessary expense. When you are eating in the park, consider splitting entrees between group members or having the meals slightly later than usual because of portion sizes.
  • Feel like you have to buy a ton of Disney Merchandise. It all adds up really quickly, and character preferences will shift as kids grow up. The Dollar Store also has little Disney things that you can get and take with you to give to the kids during the trip (we even do this for travel Kleenex, Q-tips, band-aids, etc. that we want on theme).

Along with this, I offered some other helpful tips:

  • Bring your own water bottles and food into the park. The only rule is that you can’t bring glass (with the exception being pre-packaged baby food jars and smaller things along those lines) or alcohol into the park.
  • As you enter the park, grab maps & show schedules when you get your ticket scanned.
  • Download the Disneyland app for current wait times in both parks. The app also has times for shows, street performances, and events, as well as park hours, character locations, restaurant hours and menus, and bathroom locations.
  • If you don’t want to use the app (or just don’t want to pull your phone out), there is a kiosk with up-to-date wait times outside the Jolly Holiday Café in Disneyland and one on the far side of Carthay Circle in Disney’s California Adventure.
  • The monorail runs between Downtown Disney and Tomorrowland and is particularly useful if you want to spend some time exploring Downtown closer to the Disneyland Hotel and want to go right back into the deeper parts of Disneyland.
  • There are lockers of different sizes available for rent in both parks; these are a good idea for storing bulky sweaters you might need later, coolers (you are allowed to bring small coolers into the park, I recommend using this for cold sandwiches or keeping additional bottles of water cold that you don’t want to carry around all day), stuff you don’t want to carry around, etc.
  • Make sure any and all backpacks/bags/coolers are easily accessible for the security staff checking bags as you enter park property (also keep in mind you now have to go through metal detectors when entering park property, so plan what you wear and how you pack accordingly).
  • Turn your phones on airplane mode if you’re in indoor lines (like Indiana Jones and Soarin’). The buildings aren’t made to receive cell phone reception and your phone will drain it’s battery looking for reception.

A dear friend of mine whose family also frequents Disneyland added that it’s wise to set a daily budget, it will help you watch your spending for the whole trip.

I do my best to make every Disney trip I take a little bit different. Sure, there are staples that must happen on every trip like taking pictures just inside park gates by the flowers and in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, riding Big Thunder Mountain and the new-ish Little Mermaid ride, and eating my weight in churros. Despite that, each trip ends up having it’s own theme which in the past have included my brother’s childhood best friend’s birthday, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, a girls trip with my mom, best friend, and her mom, variations of “Brittany & Hannah Adventures” (the next installation of which is coming April of this year), and my mom’s birthday; almost all of these trips end up having special guests (namely Paul, Emily, and Dani).

I know this seems like a lot of information, but once you’re in the parks it feels much more intuitive. No matter what details your trip includes, what is most important is that everyone enjoys their time.

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27th Annual Civil War Revisited Event in Fresno, CA

For the last 27 years, Kearney Mansion in Fresno, CA has played host to annual “living history” Civil War events which are hosted by the Fresno Historical Society. I have attended this event a few times for school, and it has always been a memorable experience. What I like so much about this event is teaching via immersion; yes, you could just as easily read a book or 10 about the Civil War, but as someone who is a kinesthetic learner, this kind of event is very stimulating. (This is by no means a knock on reading, I love reading!)

This past Saturday, my family decided we were going to make a day of it. My brother, dad, and I had not been since our last school trips, and until today my mom had never been (she has also never been inside the mansion).

On the grounds around the mansion there are a number of tents set up. There are two larger collections of tents set up in “camps” deeper in the property, one of which is for the Union and one for the Confederacy. The remaining tents are for shops and vendors selling food, as well as various informational and artisanal booths.

At 10:30 a.m., we watched the military parade (this morning it was the Confederate Army) and the raising of the flag.

From there, we went to the weapons booth, the blacksmith area, and then by the confederate end of the field to look at the cannons. We even saw one man sitting at a table by himself breaking out whiskey. My dad turned to the rest of us and said, “It’s a little early for whiskey, don’t you think?” to which we replied in unison, “It’s never too early for whiskey.” Dad is clearly an amateur.

As we moved down the road, we stopped at the tent for the “surgeon” of the time. I say “surgeon” because those persons who worked on the soldiers at the time of the war could be called such after being present for a few seminars – no actual experience required.

After that, we moved to the steward’s table in the confederate camp. At the time of the civil war, a steward was essentially the surgeon’s assistant, and no prior knowledge was necessary.

At his table, we learned about the role of Louisa May Alcott and Walt Whitman in medicine during the Civil War. Alcott was a nurse and wrote a book based on her experiences, and Whitman (who also wrote a book about the war) was involved with caring for soldiers.

The medic tents and tables have always been my favorite at the event because I am fascinated by the evolution of medicine and science, hence my degree in biology.

Once we got our fill of medical information, we wandered through the Confederate and Union soldier camps.

From the soldier camps, we moved to the civilian camp. Within the civilian camp is the Meeting Hall, goods tents that primarily sell replica items for the period, and more artisan tents. Naturally, the one that caught my attention was the Spinners & Weavers tent, which also featured a lace maker.

Start of a lace ornament

At 1:00 p.m. we watched a war reenactment. This particular reenactment is not of a particular battle, but more of a showcase of the battle style of the time. The battle lasted about a half an hour, and there was no shortage of cannon fire.

In addition to the battle actors, there are also actors for specific historical figures, including Harriet Tubman, M. Theo Kearney, and Clara Barton. These actors wander throughout the park interacting with attendees, and some give addresses or have question and answer sessions in the meeting hall. At 2:15, we listened to the Gettysburg Address performed by the Abraham Lincoln actor. When my dad first saw Lincoln, he told us all he was going to go up to him and say, “Hi, I’m Booth!” We concluded our trip at the broom making booth, hosted by a man out of Dinuba, CA who makes brooms for a living (which are sold at a number of local stores).

I am so glad that I was able to attend this year’s Civil War Revisited event, and am already planning for next year!

Yosemite During the NPS Centennial

While I lived in Colorado, I came to realize that I grew up an hour away from the park gates of Yosemite National Park and I took it for granted. In preparing to come back to California, I took it upon myself to make a conscious effort to be more of a tourist in my own backyard.

This past Wednesday, my dear friend Lela and I took a day and headed north on 41 toward Yosemite. If you’re planning on going that way soon and are not yet aware: traffic patterns are different in the park right now, namely traffic is two-way on the vast majority of the south side and the north side drive is either changed access or inaccessible.

As we drove into the park, we listened to Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits. After making our way past the tunnel and into the valley, we drove through to Half Dome Village (Curry Village). We ate sandwiches out of the back of the car and then hopped on the shuttle that loops through the valley.

Our first activity for the day was a hike to see Vernal Falls. Both of us failed to realize that the mile and a half-ish each way hike is labelled “strenuous” because of the approximately 1000ft gain in elevation. By the time we reached the bridge, Lela was very pleased to see water because she was beginning to wonder if it was all part of an elaborate lie.

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The good news is that you can’t see the silent screams in our eyes as we reached the bridge

The last ~0.3 mi from the bridge to the fall was a push and involved a lot of rock touching, but we made it. It was comforting to know that some of those who summit Half Dome have to follow the same path.

After we made it back down from Vernal Falls (which was much faster, but equally painful), we stopped at a body of water that was downstream next to the road.

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Lela being adorable by the water

After stopping at the water, we got back on the shuttle to go to the next stop: the trail to Mirror Lake. Something we learned upon arriving is that Mirror Lake is a seasonal lake (and not actually a lake, so this trail was also suspect).

After the shuttle looped us back around to the car, we started our way back through the park the way we came, stopping at a few more locations as we went. Through the valley, our soundtrack was Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits.

Shortly after 4 p.m., we left the valley and headed up Glacier Point Road. This road (I discovered) is narrower than the rest of the roads in the park once you get above the pull off for the ski area, and not very accommodating of the tank. Gorillaz got us through this part of the trek.

We climbed the rails at Glacier Point, like the rebels we are, and spent the next hour and some leading up to sunset sitting on the overlook.

Also during that time, Lela assumed her rightful place as queen of the ravens.

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At sunset, we made our way back to an overlook (for those of you who haven’t been to the lot at Glacier Point, it is not good for sitting at) slightly down the road towards the main drive through the park.

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Our time being tourists in the park concluded somewhere after 9 p.m. following some stargazing, which was slightly obstructed because the moon was nearly full and the air was smoky from the controlled burns that the park service had been conducting. In my opinion, one of the most surprising and beautiful things about being that high up in that part of the park that late at night was seeing the campfires on the trail up Half Dome and on paths to other domes deep in the valley.

Glacier Point Road at 9:30 p.m. (on the other hand) looks like the set of a horror film, which we contributed to by listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Our trip back into town concluded with The Best of Bob Marley and the Wailers.

This was a very long day, but it was 100% worth it. I am now a proud Yosemite National Park Annual Pass holder, and I am determined to go at least once each season through September 2017.

Disneyland Diamond Celebration: A Birthday, Graduation, and Well-Deserved Vacation

Hi, I’m Brittany, and I’m a Disney Addict. *Hi Brittany!* Some of my earliest memories consist of sitting on the floor in front of the television in my living room watching The Little Mermaid until I literally wore out the VHS tape. I was a touch obsessed.

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Take a special note of those rockin’ slippers

I used to go to Disneyland more frequently than I do now. Usually, I go with my family. (Fascinating tidbit: one of our past family trips was actually planned for us to arrive September 11, 2001, but for obvious reasons we didn’t go and got the trip refunded.) Over the years various friends have gone with us, been there at the same time, or have been working there, and as such have joined in on the adventure. Though, 3 of the 4 trips I currently have “planned” are with friends.

This trip was different from past trips for a few reasons. For my mom, it served as a birthday present and a more than deserved vacation for her after taking care of my couch-bound father for 4 months. Another purpose was to celebrate my college graduation. It was also the first trip to The Happiest Place On Earth we took without at least my dad and brother. As such, we wanted to make sure we took the time to do a lot of things we hadn’t done before.

 

Day 1: Sunday, August 21

We got to Anaheim around 11 a.m. where we checked in to Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. Once our stuff was unpacked, we walked through Downtown Disney, looked in some shops, and had nachos at Tortilla Jo’s before heading towards the Disneyland Hotel.

At the recommendation of the internet and friends who were at Disneyland the week before us, we went to Trader Sam’s which is located between the pool for the Disneyland Hotel and the hotel’s Rose Garden.

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Imagine that the Tiki Room replaced the music for alcohol and chanting – that is Trader Sam’s. They also serve food and non-alcoholic beverages, and have both indoor and outdoor table service.

We decided to order an Uh-oA! which they recommend only be ordered by 2+ people (rightfully so, I might add) and they light on fire once they deliver it to your table.

After partaking in things that angered the tiki gods (or so we were told), we went to the Steakhouse 55 lounge and had lobster sliders for dinner. Shameful admission: I was in bed by 7:30 p.m. that night.

Day 2: Monday, August 22

My mom and I started our morning with a 6 a.m. power walk through California Adventure. As early as it was, I really liked it because it was a completely different way of experiencing the park. The 2 mile walk was a loop from the park entrance inside the Grand Californian that went through most of the park. As we walked through, we saw the workers power-washing the walkways, performing maintenance, and trucks delivering things throughout the park. After seeing the work that goes into preparing the park for opening, I have a renewed appreciation for the hard work behind the magic of Disney.

Once the parks were officially open, we headed over to Disneyland. Since it was just the two of us, we spent a little bit of time wandering through the stores. We then made our way to the Jungle Cruise and Indiana Jones before getting Castle pictures.

After Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, we made our way to Hyperspace Mountain, followed by  mac & cheese hot dogs (shame, shame, shame *ding-ding-ding*). Round 1 of Thunder Mountain concluded the morning in Disneyland.

The afternoon started in California Adventure where we looked in shops and went to the Cove Bar.

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My mom and I decided to split an order of Lobster Nachos and a Funwheel (it starts off being about 4 different colors.. I had started mixing it before the picture was taken), both of which I would recommend 10/10.

When the evening rolled around, we headed back to Disneyland for some rides and Dole Whip, then crossed back over to California Adventure for Tower of Terror and Soarin’.

Distance Walked: 8.15 mi + 2 mi power walk

Day 3: Tuesday, August 23

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Park day 2 started off with a churro on Main Street (believe it or not, I only had 2 the whole trip). Our first stop was Fantasyland and then we moved to Toontown, followed by the Matterhorn.

For lunch, I met my dear friend, king, and favorite Disney employee Paul at the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe. I must say, the people watching in this part of the park is PRIME.

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If you need to find the FastPass Distribution for Space, he’s your guy!

Later that afternoon, my mom and I went back to Trader Sam’s. This trip, we sat outside and got a Piranha Pool, which was a far more reasonable drink for people who want to be a functioning park guest for the remainder of that day. When we returned to the parks, the rides included Radiator Springs Racers, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters (which were ADORABLE), The Little Mermaid, Tower of Terror, Thunder Mountain, and Hyperspace Mountain.

Distance Walked: 10.58 mi

Day 4: Wednesday, August 24

On our last day we used the Magic Morning we had to go into California Adventure before park open. We beat the crowds to Toy Story Midway Mania (151,000+ points for me!) and a second round of Soarin’ which was followed by a collection of repeat rides once the park was fully open.

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I met a friend from high school who has since moved to the LA area at the La Brea Bakery for brunch in Downtown. After that, my mom and I returned to Disneyland for more rides, shopping, and pictures.

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The late afternoon was spent in California Adventure doing a few more rounds of some of the previously mentioned rides, which was followed by dinner at the Storyteller’s Cafe in the Grand Californian. We returned to DCA after dinner to ride the trolley and Tower of Terror in it’s current state one final time before heading back to Disneyland for a last call on purchases and rides.

In Disneyland, I bought a pair of 60th Anniversary ears. I had bought a pair of ears when my family went in 2005 for the 50th Anniversary, and it is now my goal to have a pair of ears for every 10-year anniversary from the 50th through the 100th [which I already tentatively have a trip planned for].

Distance Walked: 9.56 mi

 

Trip Stats:

Different Rides: 22

Total Ride Count: 38

Approx. Total Distance: 30.3 mi

 

Looking back at everything we did, I realize we did a LOT of park-hopping. We didn’t go on as many rides as we might “normally” have, but we experienced other things the parks and park property had to offer. On this trip I did realize that I am getting too old to have 3 full days in the park, as my joints and muscles are still on strike.

 

Side Note 1: Throughout the park they had set up some really cute 60th Anniversary photo spots for some of the more iconic attractions that I honestly wish were up for more than just the occasion.

 

Side Note 2: While the re-theming of Tower of Terror is something that I am not personally thrilled about, it caused me to take some time to look at the little details of the current facade before they go away. For a number of reasons, I thought it was fitting that I found this sign on the upper level.

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