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Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream- Top 20 Tips for First-Timers

*Read my entire cruise review at cruisecritic.com, and read detailed reviews on rooms, food, excursions and so, so much more

20150320_112821It’s official!  Our family cruised for the first time and now we are officially Castaway Club (silver) members.  I don’t count that first cruise I did over 16 years ago in the Mediterranean on a small Greek cruise liner, but I was the only one in the family who had ever cruised before.  And if you know Disney, you know that no matter what you did before with any other company, they will completely give you a different experience and generally, they hold nothing back.
20150320_165417Whether you cruise for 3 nights or 7, or anything in between or longer, Disney is fantastic – it’s like a 5-star hotel/restaurant on the ocean.  You pay a premium up front, and you will wonder why, but once you get on board, you totally get it.  I have not cruised Norwegian yet, or Princess, or Royal Caribbean.  I probably will NOT sail Carnival now that I have young kids, but I can only tell you what we experienced on our cruise, Disney Dream, from Port Canaveral to the Bahamas (Nassau) and Castaway Cay (pronounced “key”), for 3-nights.  In our party, we were celebrating the birthday of two 70 year-olds, we had a couple in their 60s, a 6-month old cutie pie baby, two girls, ages 6 and 7, 30- something couple, a 20 something male, and a 40 something couple. Almost every generation was represented and each person, except the 6-month old who couldn’t really give his opinion but he smiled and laughed alot, had an absolute phenomenal experience!  Here are our top tips from first time family cruisers:


Pre-Embarkation & Embarkation

1.  Check out the Disney Cruise Line Website and Cruise Critic BEFORE you sail.  After you book your cruise, get on the Disney website here and register and under planning center, find your cruise by your confirmation number.  Then you can do everything on-line from checking in to seeing what you need to pack. The website is awesome, and you can pick your excursions and add-ons too. You can add a credit card for your file, and register the kids for the oceaneer club too.  I highly recommend doing this right away after you book.  We picked first seating for dinner, but you can change it later if you want.  Seems like first seating (main seating) is always packed more than second seating.  I even used the website check-in process to register the kids to get a call from Mickey and Minnie the night before we flew out.  They loved it!

But, before you even book a cruise, you may want to check out my favorite website on all things cruise and excursions – cruisecritic.com.  I learned about this site courtesy of my friends who cruise a lot!  I wrote a very extensive review on our 3-night Disney Dream Bahama cruise and you can read all about it here

20150320_1216482.  Do Board as soon as you can!  You can pick your boarding time on the website above.  I recommend to board as soon as you can – the port opens at 11 am for parking.  Parking in the garage is $60 for your entire cruise time and parking in an uncovered lot within walking distance of the port is $80.  Either one is fine.  When you leave, enough people take shuttles or leave staggered, so there is not much traffic in either lot. Right before you board, keep in mind that the ship probably just dropped off 4000 passengers, so be ready for a little wait, but get on as soon as you can with your swimsuit and personal items that you will need (one bag only).  I recommend boarding in your swim suits but with proper clothing on to board.  You cannot go to your state-room until 1:30 pm so take your small carry on and eat one of the on-board restaurants- Enchanted Garden or Cabanas, and then, hit the pool.  They are not super crowded when you first board, so get to the Aqua Duck (Water slide) and kids’ pools or do the pool first, and then go eat.   You will each be given a room key and it is your ID card, and serves as your photo pass.  Do not lose them, but if you do, they will issue you a new one.  And remember, unlike photo pass available to you after you leave Disney Parks, the pictures taken on board are sold on board and no longer available to you after you leave.

20150321_093405Passes to see the Characters

3.  Do get your passes right away.  Make sure to grab a couple of paper navigators when you check in and make sure you get the passes you need right away too!  While you are waiting to get to your room, head to deck 5 where you can get your passes to see the characters next to the excursions area.  Get those as soon as you get on board, or get in line.  They don’t distribute these until around Noon. You can get two passes per family.  You can pick Sophia/Jake or a Princess Meet ‘n Greet where your little princesses can see Belle, Cinderella, and Snow White all at once (characters subject to change).  IMG_0255You can also get passes to see the Frozen princesses, which will probably run out first. So, go immediately when the pass office opens.  We had guaranteed “fast pass” equivalents with a time to show up and where for frozen and the princesses.  It was quite a treat for the girls, and unlike the theme parks, no long waits at all.

Dining, Room Service, and Beverages

4. IMG_0251 Ask for special requests for food in your party, and DO eat everything you can – you can literally order anything!  We had a large party and special dietary requests galore, so once on board make sure you go meet with the dietary experts.  They are generally in a dining room, and you can meet with them and give them your requests.  Bring your  ID card with you.  The Card has your dining rooms for each night.  You generally eat breakfast at the same place you eat dinner at, but first seating is at 7 am which is too early for us Mountain Timers, so you can eat at Cabanas restaurant, and it is a gigantic buffet.  I absolutely loved Cabanas – for lunch and dinner.  I highly recommend eating lunch there when you board, as you hit the pool.  Dining is amazing with Disney, and there are two beverage stations near the pools on Deck 11.  Our every dietary need was met from IMG_0291 IMG_0296baby food for the 6 month old, to Indian Vegetarian for my parents and uncle/aunt.  The food was amazing, delicious, and fresh.  Your servers each night for dinner will remain constant, and the service is spectacular!  Whether they whip up a three course curry Indian vegetarian meal, or gourmet appetizers, and soup/salad, Disney does a great job.  We loved their desserts too and there is a sugar free option each night too!  If you do main seating, it is the first dinner, and then the show.  If you do second seating, you eat around 8pm and do the show at 545pm.  Dinner does take 2 hours for large parties, so main seating may be best with kids.  I learned that they serve the kids first so you can take them to Oceaneer Club and have a nice dinner and relax a bit.  So, keep that option in mind (see below for information on Oceaneer Club).

IMG_0250On your last morning of the cruise, you can eat breakfast at your designated dining room or go to Cabana’s where you can enjoy a final buffet meal before it’s time to get back to reality, dishes, and cooking your own meals.  Enjoy and savor every minute because Disney doesn’t hold anything back with food, unlimited soda, tea and coffee, and desserts.  There is a soft serve/cone machine on the pool deck, Deck 11, and a small snack shop near the pool too.  Their food is okay but fits the bill for poolside snacks, and greasy burgers and pizzas.  Perfect for kids and adults!

5.  Do order room service- it’s all included.  Okay, on to room service!  We had no idea so we thank the family who flew to Orlando with us for the tips on ordering room service.  It’s all included!  I kid you not, so if you are in a rush one morning or just want a quick snack at night or early in the morning, call up room service with your order, and they are there within minutes- it’s super fast!  It certainly can help you control the calories if you are eating too much all over the ship or don’t like the limitless buffets.  We loved the chocolate chip cookies and milk at night too!

IMG_47986.  Do bring water bottles for all and drink a lot of water and all non-alcoholic beverages are free! Some tips on food and water.  Leave food at home -you will not go hungry on this cruise.  Bring a water bottle with you for each person so you can fill up on water or carry on water bottles.  Also, bring a larger 7-11 type container if you want to take sodas to your room and keep them there.  You will have a mini fridge in your room and you can store snacks and milks in there.  It is so handy.  You can (in your carry on only please) bring alcohol and no one really checks anything as you board, so bring whatever you want- I brought some plastic bottles and cans to prevent breaking, and we didn’t drink them all.  Anyway, you cannot bring them with you to dinner but you can drink on your balcony or room.  IMG_4797Or, bring it discreetly to the pool and enjoy it poolside.   Disney sells reasonably priced drins – their drink of the day is the best deal around and you can charge it to your room.  They sell cool disne cooler packs and it has alcohol in it for you. You can bring this to Castaway Cay too!

Rooms and phones

IMG_03027.  Do get the right size room and the right location but bring dramamine and ear plugs.  The rooms are category-based.  Depending on the category of the room, you will have more square feet or less, and you pay more for a larger room.  Check out what category you are in.  Keep in mind, you will not spend that much time in your rooms, except sleeping and the rest of the decks are open for you to roam.  If you do get sick, get a room with a window or balcony, and that will help you.  Fresh air really helped me the first night when the ship was really rocking and I was feeling particularly sick.  Bring your dramamine with you- it really helps the first night and helps you sleep too! IMG_4920Our room slept 3 to 4 and the guy came twice a day to make up our room.  He left cute little towel animals for the kiddos, and chocolates.  What fun!  He will come back while you are at dinner/show and create bunk beds out of the sofa area.  The balcony makes the room feel bigger than it is.  It is tight, so be ready for that but you can store your suit case under the bed, and there is plenty of room for everything.  It can get tricky in the bathroom area, with the entrance and closets all there too!  Very tight, so if you want room pay more and get a bigger room.   The rooms are also very loud – be prepared for a lot of sounds of kids running up and down the hallways, doors closing and people banging their wardrobe doors.  I found it very loud and am very noise sensitive, so it is tough to get a good night’s rest.  I would recommend port-side room for sure- the view at Castaway Cay is amazing, but I recommend a room away from the elevator/stairwell to avoid all that traffic.  Look at a deck/ship map and get away from the exits as much as possible.  Either way, it is loud so bring the ear plugs and ambien.

8.  Do use the “wave” phones in the rooms but they don’t work at Castaway Cay for us.  The phones they provide really do work great, and if something doesn’t work, they replace them for you on Deck 3 at customer service.  We had to get one replaced.  I think it is good to have walkie talkies for the first day before you get to your room, and set it to a frequency no one else has…everyone is using them right away, but then they stop after day 1.  You will need walkie-talkies on Castaway Cay because the room phones do not work there.  You can also connect to the App and chat that way but there are no notifications.  On day 1, you can connect to free wi-fi (trial) and text/chat that way too, but that does not last, and you do not want to be connected in international waters anyway.  You have to get the Navigator App – all activities and ship activities, etc., are on here and it is helpful to have if you do not like paper to guide you.

Ship Activities, Oceaneer Club and Pools

IMG_48019.  Do the musicals, skip the little parties, and enjoy all you can.  The ship and deck parties are okay, so don’t rush to get there.  The bon voyage party is okay – it’s basically Disney World parades/shows on water with all the characters running out and performing.  It is fun once or twice, but do not miss the shows.  If you do main seating, then you eat first and then do the show afterward.  The shows were spectacular and they show all movies that are out in theaters but we did not have time to see movies because there was so much to do!  So, between a movie and a show, I choose shows. These are Broadway-like productions with amazing talIMG_4800ent, and song and dance.  The kids love them and adult humor is included too!

10.  Do enjoy the pools and water slides when it is quieter on the boat.  The pools are crowded.  Disney, you need more kids’ pools.  The reviews are right.  The first day there was no room to swim – but standing room only.  It thins out as people get off the ship at Nassau and Castaway Cay, and the Aqua Duck lines are insane!  So, when people are disembarking for Nassau and Castaway Cay, get your Aqua Duck on! I was so scared of the water slide for some odd reason but it was awesome! Loved it!  Definitely do this at less peak hours, and you can even do it at night – I bet the Aqua Duck is super cool at night on the ocean.  Oh, and the big screen TV over the kids’ pools is obnoxiously loud- I mean obnoxious.  It’s fine if you do not expect to think, talk or want to hear the kids screaming, but honestly it’s a bit over the top because nothing stops the kids from screaming so it is the movie plus screaming plus talking super loud.  Come on, Disney -turn the volume down or keep it muted.  By the way, I hear the adult pool like the adult beach on Castaway Cay is not crowded, so parents drop off your kids (ages 4-14) at the Oceaneer Club and head up to Deck 12 for adults only pool and hot tub area.  Lost and Found post-script:  We could not find our daughter’s swim goggles when we returned.  She thinks she left them at one of the pools or took them off at the pools.  They are a decent pair, so we called up lost and found and emailed them a description.  Within hours she responded she found them and asked them for our address and a few days they arrived at the house- Disney really is amazing.  I can’t believe it! 

IMG_024111.  For kids ages 4 and up do the Oceaneer Club.  What is the Oceaneer Club?  On day 1, enroll the kids there, so they can go and it is basically souped up babysitting for older kids with so much fun stuff going on and computers, and labs and cooking experiments, etc.  Our 7-year old loved it and our 6-year-old was leery but enjoyed herself too! It is also nice on the last day when you need to pack that tiny room up into 2 suitcases to drop them off and get some work done. Plus, they have fun while you do too!   I noticed at check-in that they have an Adventure Club for teens too – older kids, so you can enroll them in that too.

IMG_027612.  Take a nap but do NOT miss the firework show after Nassau.  Amazing!  The firework show is spectacular and quite cool.  Port side is where they show the fireworks, so get on the top Deck – Deck 12 and Port side is best for the view.  There is nothing like this, so definitely stay awake for it.  There is a dance party afterwards but my kids passed out on our shoulders.  Also, the Pirate Show is okay… reminded me of the show at Treasure Island in Vegas, but nothing specta20150321_132719cular.

13.  Do some character meet and greets- the lines are short.  Character meet and greets are going on all over the ship or at Castaway Cay – you can either pop in line when you see one, or get the passes as I discussed above, but definitely less waiting than at the parks, and if you have the app on your phone or the navigator hard copy, you can see the list, and take your kids to see characters and get autographs.

Port Excursions

14. Do go shop at the port in Nassau or do Atlantis, but better to enjoy the ship and the pools.   First stop on this two-day cruise is Nassau, Bahamas.  We went ahead and did an excursion through Costco to get a quick tour.  Since we had varying capabilities in our group of IMG_4863walking/hiking, etc., we just did a bus tour, and walked around Atlantis, but didn’t get to do much there because everything required payment.  If you are going back to Bahamas for a second time, I recommend just walking off the boat, buying some souvenirs at the port and then go enjoy the ship.  The cruise time is too short as it is, so enjoy the pools and shows during this time.  Watch a movie, and take in some fun things for the kids.  Other than Atlantis, I am not sure there is much to do here, and I think the water slides on the boat are fun enough.  A lot of cruise ships were docked here so you can also check out the other ships.  When we got back, we had passes to meet the Frozen princesses. IMG_4872 It was a fun afternoon and we had enough time to get back and enjoy the ship.  My husband did an excursion through Disney of scuba diving and they almost didn’t make it back in time. Thankfully they are connected with Disney and Disney is amazing about calling and making sure all passengers are on board before leaving.  They are really good about accountability and some of their crew members were diving with my husband too!

20150322_15542315.  The night of Nassau was the pirates party on board and the fireworks and it was super cool but everyone was exhausted and passed out before the dance party.  We were off to Castaway Cay (pronounced “key”) next, and we were excited for some beach.  If you can, come back from the excursions and take a nap.   Oh and do not forget your room key  and your passport.  You do go through control exiting and entering the port at Nassau. They make you remove your sunglasses and are pretty serious about this.  Makes you wonder about stowaways. 🙂

16.  Don’t miss Disney’s Private Island but enjoy lunch on the ship, bring water shoes, and leave your gear at home!  The second port is Castaway Cay (Key), an20150322_114259d this is a Disney-owned island.  Why couldn’t Disney own an Island with all your money?  It’s simply amazing, and one of the most unique things about a Disney cruise in the Carribbean – no one cruiseline can stop there.  The beach is a private beach with umbrellas, chairs, palm trees, a private adult beach, food stalls, a water park for 20150322_155641kids, tubes, boats, and the works.  We enjoyed our time there but got a lot of sun… I mean, a lot of sun.  I still have the tan lines 7 weeks later. Our time here and on the cruise was second only to our time on Hawaii.

20150322_15301517.  Bring your water shoes, the rocks hurt in some areas.  You need water shoes for you and the kids.  You can rent tubes but don’t – people usually abandon them by 1pm and then you can use them.  Honestly, the best thing to do is to enjoy the boat until about lunch time.  Eat lunch on the boat.  The BBQ and eats on the island, in my humble opinion, suck and the food on board is so darn good.  Why waste a good meal?  Plus, the pools are totally not crowded because everyone rushed to get off the boat to do yoga, the 5K run on the island, etc., so you have the boat to enjoy.  But do get off after lunch and enjoy 4 hours on the island.  Everyone pretty much re-boards by 2pm and the island is completely empty for you to enjoy, but for some reason they wrap up the soda machines and ice cream by then too so bring your own cooler of drink, etc., and enjoy the beaches in peace.

20150322_08451618.  You do not need to bring snorkeling gear and can rent it here if you want but the water is so clear you can see fish and coral and such.  We rented the kayak but the waves were too much so we had a tough time maneuvering.  My husband ended up taking the girls out and back and then repeating. We went and checked out the water park and slide but it was scary for the girls.  You can leave all your gear at home, because the pools on board plus the beach areas have preservers for the kids.  In fact, you cannot have your own.  You have to use theirs for safety reasons.  Just come here with a beach bag (they give you towels as you get off), and your water shoes, sunblock and hat.  Everything else is available on the island.  Oh, bring your walkie talkies because the phone rooms will not work here.  No cash required, everything is all-inclusive.  That is one thing that completely rocks about Disney.  You don’t need cash and you need your room key to charge things.  We had a blast and whoever said you cannot bring sea shells and sand with you made it up.  You can collect some sea shells and sand and bring it back on board.  They don’t check a thing when you return on board, so just pack it in your beach bag.

20150322_19261819.  Do make memories that will last a lifetime and enjoy your family! The final night of the cruise is crazy and super busy with packing, and getting ready to leave your suitcases for pick up.  Make sure you plan ahead and keep out what you need for disembarkation and don’t forget to settle up tips and your tab – the most depressing part of the cruise is not settling your tips and tab but actually getting off the boat.  The happiest part was handing the envelopes with gratuity and extras to your crew and staff that waited hand and foot on you, cleaned your room and made it up twice a day, served you drinks and dinner, and treated you like royalty.  20150321_230236Disney staff really make this cruise special.  And for this, a special occasion for us as we celebrated our parents’ 70th anniversary, we really got the royal treatment.  They came out and sang happy birthday to them on the final night.  Disney is truly magical, but we still had a few hours to enjoy the boat.  The morning of disembarkation the pools are closed and everything is shut down except for the breakfast dining, so be prepared to enjoy that, some family time, and head off… til we meet again.

Disembarkation

20.  Do buy photos before you disembark, and enjoy your final morning on the most magical cruise llne ever! On the last morning of your cruise, the best place to eat is Cabana’s especially if 7 am is too early to eat for you, but you have to get off the cruise pretty early in the morning, and your bags have to be packed and sent off the night before.  Keep a small bag with what you need for the next morning- toiletries, and such and change of clothes to disembark.  The tags you get have a character on them.  That is the area you will go to retrieve the bags the next day, and go through customs.  You cannot bring fruit from the cruise ship with you or food so be ready to surrender all bananas and apples. 🙂   Oh and one final tip – go visit Shutters to see your pictures before the final night.  It was a mad house.  Get your pictures as soon as you can and unlike PHOTOPASS at the parks, cruise pics are not available once you get off the ship (sad face), so you have one chance to buy them and drop off even more money to Disney, but the memories are so worth it!  We went and bought them the morning of disembarkation after breakfast when the mad rush was over and it was more relaxing to do that.

20150323_120659
We bought this picture on Deck 5 at Shutters- GET YOUR PICS HERE

What a great trip!  We cherished every moment, and looking back, I wish we had more time.  The treatment we received from the staff, crew, and really everyone makes us want to sail Disney again, and not only sail them, but buy Disney Vacation Club too.  I know the girls felt like princesses and we loved it.  We would sail Disney again in a heartbeat.   Why can’t Disney own and operate an airline?  Sadly we had to return home on Frontier.  After getting the royal treatment, we really felt like we took a step back in time and class.  Disney Cruise Lines, you rock!

P.S. I was not paid for this post …. not kidding.  No disclaimer needed.  Disney speaks for itself.

 

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The Denver Brass – A Celtic Tapestry at Newman Center for Performing Arts

20140316-162754.jpgWow… “hearing [really] is believing!”  We had the opportunity* to see Denver Brass perform yesterday, and it was fabulous!  This particular show was very unique in that it was not just The Denver Brass, but performances from various others to make up the Ancient Threads… simply put, it was fabulous!

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Artists and performances included Celtic Colorado Pipes & Drums, Rocky Mountain Highland Dancers, Wick School of Irish Dance, Todd Teske – Tenor, and Iain Hyde & Joanna Hyde – Fiddles.  What a treat just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!  The music, the dancing, the bagpipes, and all the costumes reminded me of my time in Ireland and Scotland.

20140316-162824.jpgAll in all, what a great show, and performance.  Amazing talent right here in our own backyard.  The venue wasn’t too shabby either.  The Newman Center for Performing Arts on DU’s campus is a perfect venue.  You can check out all their other presentations and shows too!  This particular show for The Denver Brass, along with all their other shows are very kid-friendly, and definitely are for all ages.  I even saw a toddler who was mesmerized, and held very still during the whole show!  I high recommend checking out The Denver Brass and their entire schedule, and venues.

*Disclaimer:I was compensated wit20140316-162810.jpgh free tickets to see and hear The Denver Brass at the Newman Center for Performing Arts (Denver University).  My opinions and views expressed here are my own.

 

 

 

 

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Florida-ahh

Can’t believe it’s been almost a month since we returned from Florida, and this is the first I get a chance to post about it?  Yes, life is busy.  We had a blast in Florida, but the weather couldn’t have been more bipolar than it was this trip.  Tired of hearing and talking about the weather, eh?  I’ll try not to harp on it.  Did I mention how much I miss Hawaii?  Oh, but they had 55-65 F temps too this year.  Here are some highlights of our New Year’s trip.

IMG_4129Cocoa Beach & Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center

NASA was fun; expensive, but fun, and unlike the Disney parks, very focused on one theme- Space!  The best part of visiting the Kennedy Space Center was seeing the Atlantis exhibit, and the actual Atlantis shuttle.  What a great new center and so many hands-on activities and modules for the kids and the adult kids too!  The other great part of the Center is the IMAX IMG_89463-D movie.  The one that was playing when we were there was Hubble, and it was very well done, and engaging.  The stars and planets fly out at you, and it is a great experience for all.  You can meet astronauts, and characters, and just have a great time around the Center.  If the weather is nice, bonus!

Cocoa Beach
Cocoa Beach- Writing reads, “I miss Hawaii”

 

 

 

We had cold and windy weather for Cocoa Beach, and wish it were warmer, but it’s beach, so how can we complain at all?  I do believe Cocoa Beach would be a great place to stay overnight, and with better weather, it is a very nice beach with lots of great restaurants and things to do in the area.  I think Melbourne would be another fun place to visit if there is time.  We did a day trip, but if you get more time, I would definitely recommend this entire area, and if you take a cruise, Port Canaveral looked awesome!

IMG_8981“Orange” you glad you picked your own oranges?

If you love Florida oranges, or citrus in general, and are in the Orlando or any other Florida area, look up local commercial groves where you can pick your own fruit.  The one closest to where my folks live is my favorite, albeit the only one I am aware of.  If the giant confederate flag doesn’t turn you off, then give this place a try.  Otherwise, do a Google(c) search with zip code on commercial orange groves, and you may find the right one for you!  IMG_8984The one we go to is called “Showcase of Citrus” off of Highway 27, in Clermont, Florida.  It is a fun place for kids and adults alike.  Wear your walking shoes, and you can bring your own wagon because when this place gets busy, they may run out.  For $12, you can fill (to your heart’s content) a 5 lb. bag they supply.  You can fill a 10 lb. bag too for more.  There are coupons on-line for their famous slushy and swamp tours.  The swamp tour is about 60 minutes, and resembles the Kilimanjaro ride at Disney’s Animal Kingdom without all the wildlife.  It is a great place to walk around the groves and pick various citrus; all types of oranges,grapefruit, and tangerine varieties.  Or, for $13, you can fill a bag inside the market area (they have picked the best ones for you), and you can be on your way!  The IMG_8989bag itself is a souvenir too!  The citrus here is so delicious, and we had fresh juice for a week, and citrus for breakfast.  Sickness, be damned!  Oh another place while in Clermont is a local donut shop called “Donut King.”   They serve all sorts of cajun food too, but my God, their donuts– amazingly delicious!  When in Clermont, definitely give Donut King a try.

The CSI ExperienceIMG_9028– we had an amazing date afternoon on International Drive.  It was a unique date.  My husband loves the show CSI.  The CSI Experience is a fun place to act out the forensics doctor or investigator in you without really getting too “dirty” or close to the real body.  There are three separate scenarios and “crimes,” and you go through several different rooms to narrow the suspect pool, and find the truth.  It’s fun, and each scene takes about 30-45 minutes.   If you are military, be sure to bring your IDs and you get a great discount.  There are coupons in all the local magazines and on-line for about $2.00 per person which is good too.  If you’re into solving crimes and the show, CSI, you will have a good time.

HollywoodStudios2
Hollywood Studios

I’ve said it once, I have said it a few dozen times, Disney stresses me out.  Disneyworld stresses me out way more than LAND.  I found LAND laid back, and since it doesn’t attract a lot of foreign tourists, I found it less crowded and more manageable.  Of course, Disney is Disney- high prices, crazy lines for absolutely nothing all that exciting at the end, and a lot of walking.  Yes, parents can sit in strollers and it’s socially acceptable at Disney.  For a Type-A parent like myself, Disney is very stressful.  For me, Magic Kingdom is the most stressful.  If waiting in line to see Tinkerbell for an hour wasn’t bad enough, I can’t get a fast pass to the Enchanted Belle ride (new in Fantasyland) because I didn’t stay in a Disneyworld resort.  Really?  How has Disney ever survived an FTC investigation or an anti-trust/price-rigging suit? I do not get it all.  I have to stay at your bloody resort so I can save 120 minutes?  #Sigh Ah well, all that aside, this time we visited Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.

Animal Kingdom-Asia; not sure why I look preggers in this one
Animal Kingdom-Asia; not sure why I look preggers in this one

The weather really did not cooperate at all with us this time in Florida, and it rained for most of our time at Animal Kingdom.  But, we enjoyed a few things at the Park.  Animal Kingdom is beta-testing the Fast Pass PLUS program for all people (not just those at Disney resorts) and we were able to get tickets for The Lion King and Finding Nemo and the kids enjoyed these shows.  Our favorite ride was Killamanjaro and the girls loved the animals.

Lion King Show
Lion King Show

They are all right there.  I had no idea how long this ride was, but it was very cool.  I felt transported to Africa.  I love the Asia area, and while we did not ride the fast-paced rides, the girls enjoyed getting their books stamped at each different region.  The rain dampened us physically, but not our spirits.

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Nemo Show at Animal Kingdom
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Honey I shrunk the Kids play area

Hollywood Studios was fun to visit, but it was a cool day.  We enjoyed our time watching the shows, Disney Junior, and the movies.  Hollywood Studios reminded me of California Adventure Park – same look and feel.  The Hollywood ride was a lot of fun, and walking aIMG_4203round the different sets was a good time as well.  The kids’ favorite part was hanging out in the play area of “Honey I shrunk the kids.”  They could have taken or left the rest of the day.  Fantasmic here is the same as the beautiful Fantasmic show at Disneyland.  So, feel free to skip it on a cold or rainy night, and catch it in a more relaxed setting at Disneyland.  The Beauty and the Beast show is nice, but in an outdoor theater.  I think The Lion King is the best we saw among both parks.  The rest is okay after that.  The show Bug’s Life in 3D is awesome but it is scary for kids under 8.  My girls were screaming and we had to run out at California Adventure Park, so we did not attempt it here, but I thought it was fun.  Character meetings are fun for the kids and make sure you get a photo pass too so you can see all your pics later.  Disney charges an arm and a leg to buy them later, but you can have the photo pass photographer take a picture of you and your family with your own camera too!  They take great photos by the way.

Magic Kingdom was our last stop to see the princesses.  As I said, this is the least favorite park for me – too big, and too much to do, and the one that won’t readily give you a fast pass plus unless you stay on site.  Might be worth getting a single room for one night at Cinderella2the cheapest resort you can find just for the speed, but totally your call.  If you get one night, remember, you can use that for 2 days at the parks.  We saw a lot of princesses at the Magic Kingdom, and the girls had a great time on their usual rides: Aladdin’s magic carpet, Little Mermaid (so not worth the line- this is the same ride that had a 2 min wait at California Adventure park).  I recommend getting there and standing in line for Belle’s Enchanted Ride, and leaving Fantasyland.  The kiddos loved the show in front of the Castle.  Best view in January was the 520pm show, when the castle IMG_9210literally went from daylight to night, with spectacular lighting and all.  The characters sing, dance, and my daughters loved seeing their favorites all in one place.  The parades are good for this too!

All in all, it was a good trip to Florida, but I think I definitely could have used more R&R time and if you want more R&R, skip Disney, and just do local fun things.

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Holmes Beach- Bradenton

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Beaches South of Tampa, on the Gulf Coast- We visited both coasts for beach, but the weather never seemed to cooperate with us.

I think when we return to Florida, we should try to get a beach house, and soak up sun, and play in the sand.  The beaches South of Tampa, near Bradenton, north of Sarasota look beautiful.  We were at Holmes Beach and these pictures were taken there.  The sand was whiter, and sea shells for all to find and adore.  I think I liked this beach even more than Cocoa Beach, but surprisingly the Gulf Water was not as warmer than the Atlantic on the Cocoa Beach side.

Ah, Floridahh, what a great family vacation – seeing family, doing fun things, and escaping the cold- well, a little.

 

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Butterfly Pavilion Bug-a-Boo Event Review

IMG_8265Just in time for Halloween, a Bug-a-Boo event* at the Butterfly Pavilion located in Westminster, Colorado, at I-36 and Church Ranch Blvd exit.  I wrote a pre-event review and you can read all about it here.   The event is 19-20 October, so if you haven’t been there, you still have time to go tomorrow!

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All of the information I posted before is included below including the discount tickets, but here is my review:  We had a great time.  It was the first time the girls could wear their Halloween outfits out and about and sweet Snow White and Bloom had a fantastic time!  There is so much to do – so little time, and with little ones, you probably won’t get to do it all.  There is indoor trick or treating at different areas (perfect in any weather), and all the bugs are there to join in on the fun!  A parade is performed around noon on the terrace, and you can still do the butterfly outdoor area with costumes on.  You can visit Rosie, and hold her with your costume on, and get face paintings, glitter tattoos, and decorate your own pumpkin! There are prizes, and the usual fun Butterfly Pavilion critters and bugs to see.  Lots of local vendors are on site to provide prizes, gifts, and candy.

decorate your own mini pumpkin
decorate your own mini pumpkin

The only warning I have is that you get there right when it opens or go after 1230, so that the crowds have died down.  It was insane today when we arrived to get a parking spot at noon, and the overflow lot is all the way at AMC theaters!  Other than the crowds, which I cannot stand, it is fine once you are inside.  Because there is so much do to and so many places to visit, you can avoid the crowds, except for face painting, of course.  All in all, a great event and fun for all ages.  A discount code is included below, and it’s not too late to go if you haven’t been yet.

IMG_8268When: Oct 19-20 all day (open 9-5pm – last entry at 4:15 p.m.)
What: Experience Metro Denver’s favorite Halloween event – Bug-A-Boo at Butterfly Pavilion! Celebrate the fall season dressed in your Halloween best while enjoying indoor trick-or-treating, creepy crawly activities, a parade led by Pete the Mantis, and lots more fun for the whole family to enjoy! Kick off the holiday a week early! Festivities will run from 9am to 5pm on both days.
Coupon Offer: Thanks to Colorado Kids, you can save $2.00 per ticket (up to 4 people) – click here for the coupon link.
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Have a good time and wear a costume!
Have a good time and wear a costume!
* Required Disclaimer: I was offered free admission for my family in exchange for this post and a post-event posting/review of the event. Sponsored by Coloradokids.com
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Disneyland on a Dime?

With Minnie at the Plaza, Disneyland Character breakfast
With Minnie at the Plaza, Disneyland Character breakfast

You may remember my review last year titled, “DisneyWorld on a Dime? Ahhh, Forget about it!”   Well, this review is on Disneyland, in Anaheim, California.  This was our first time visiting land as opposed to world.  We had a blast, and I can honestly say it was more manageable and less stressful than Disneyworld.  Also, because we live in Colorado, it is a quicker flight as well.  Can it be done on a dime?  Well, no, but, there are some cost-saving tips included here, along with some tips on parking, and what to bring with you.  I hope this helps you, and your family as you venture to Disneyland and California Adventure Park.  Also, make sure you check out the beaches of Southern California and unwind a bit while visiting this area.

Cinderella at the Royal Hall
Cinderella at the Royal Hall – meet & greet

Disney is … Disney.  There is something magical about Disney Parks- you can feel it.  It’s not just how the cast and crew members treat you, it goes deeper.  I have to say, Disney events, food stands, dining options (including character dining), and activities are well thought-out, well-planned, and run like a well-oiled machine.  From the moment you enter the park to the time you exit the parking lot, there is someone to help you along the way, and guide you.  Disneyland was no exception.  I can say this because last Christmas we visited SeaWorld in Orlando, and there is a huge difference in how the parks operate.   I found California Adventure Park less organized, and less friendly than the traditional Disney parks, but still pleasant and part of the Disney experience.  It has a different look and feel to me, and I just didn’t feel that I was in a Disney park when we visited the Adventure Park side.  But, Adventure Park is very well done too- nice layout, and you are transported into the areas you enter- Pacific Rim, Cars Land, Bug’s Life, etc.

IMG_3742First, both parks are directly across from one another, and next to Downtown Disneyland (all walk-able), so, it does not matter where you park but take note to the Tips below.  Second, if you get hoppers here, it is easy to hop from Adventure Park to Disneyland and vice versa, so if you miss a firework show, or parade, or light show, it is really very easy to hop here as opposed to hopping at DisneyWorld which requires a long bus ride in most cases.

Parade at CA Adventure Park
Parade at CA Adventure Park

Tip #1 Park at the Toy story lot.  Everyone and their mom tells you to park at Mickey & Friends.  Every google search leads you to the Mickey & Friends lot.  This lot was a nightmare, especially for parents of young children, strollers, or car seats.  Garage or not, it sucks.  Park at Toy Story Lot and use the A/C buses to go to and fro.  Just trust me on this one.  The price is the same… it is $16, so park at the Toy Story lot especially if you have younger kids.  The buses are running constantly, fit way more people than the tram (it’s not a monorail people), and is better organized.  Employees count people and send you the right bus.  It is quick, easy, and with strollers, pain-free.  The drivers are helpful (unlike tram drivers), and there are at least 4-5 buses running at a time, so there is little to no wait time.  If you take the tram for the Mickey & Friends Lot and leave and enter at peak times, watch out!  At 11pm, it is hard to wait with cranky, sleepy toddlers and infants.

Fantasmic
Fantasmic

Tip #2- The nighttime show “Fantasmic” on Tom Sawyer’s Island (viewable along the banks of the Rivers of America) is amazing.  Do not miss it! Skip the fireworks if you need to but don’t miss this show!  Also, get your seats at least 1 hour prior to showtime.  You can get reserved seats (actual chairs) for the event but will cost approximately $40 per person for dessert and coffee/drinks, and

Conclusion of Fantasmic
Conclusion of Fantasmic

more importantly a chair with a beautiful view of the Island where the action takes place.  But, you can also get a seat anywhere along the river for free.  What we did was order dinner and took it with us, and sat right near the Cafe area outside of the New Orleans area, and faced the river.  We were by a lamp-post and tree, and with all the people sitting in reserved chairs in front of us, we had an excellent view of the entire show.  You can see some of the pics posted here.  This show is not to miss and a spectacular light and sound show for adults and kids.  It is the electric parade of Disneyworld, but on water.

Fire-breathing dragon
Fire-breathing dragon

There are some scary portions with the evil witches and fire-breathing dragons (you can feel the heat in the water), so stay close to your young children!  We got there one hour early, sat down in our spots and had our dinner.  Towards when the show began, we let little ones behind us move up in front and stand on the rails.  I would highly recommend snagging a good seat early for this show.

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Tip #3 – Parades, more parades, and fireworks at Disneyland and where to go observe them If you want to see the fireworks, you can stay put right after the Fantasmic show, and you can see them great from the banks of the Rivers of America, or you can go near the Castle.  The July 4th fireworks were spectacular, and longer.  There was a special tribute to our men and women in uniform- brought a tear to my eye.  IMG_3662But the regular fireworks are nice too.  For a less crowded view, and one close to the exit, head down Main street towards the entrance, and watch them from the square – near where Mickey hangs out.  That center circle area with benches was far away enough to not scare the kids, but had a fabulous center-stage view.  Parades are best from this location as well, and remember adults, Disney IMG_3609is for kids, so why not let them sit in the front, and you sit or stand behind them?  I never get why adults want to stand or sit in front of small children and block their view to a parade.  It’s Disney for God’s sake and it is for children.  Be kind. We watched the parade from Main Street near the castle, and it worked out fine.  All the characters come to life in this parade, and it is definitely worth a watch and a wave.

IMG_3701Parade at Adventure Park – the Parade at Adventure Park is actually very cute and interactive.  The characters spray water at you, throw things, and there is tons of dancing.  We enjoyed both parades – my kids love parades!

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Tip #4- Do a character dining experience if you can swing it financially.  Younger kids love it, and it takes care of all the character visits with a meal.  It really is multi-tasking the fun way at Disneyland or world.  If you look at my review on Disneyworld, though, the character dining was a much better experience.  That one was at Park Fare (at an off-site hotel we took the monorail to) and it was a Cinderella lunch. IMG_7311 The character dining event we did this time was right on Main Street, at the Plaza.  Try to make reservations ahead of time.  We did the cheapest meal which was a breakfast buffet with Minnie and her friends.  It’s still not cheap, but it is very cute, and if you time it right, it doubles as brunch, and keep the kids sated until dinner time.  That was our goal, and it worked.  Other than snacks we had packed for sustenance, we did not have to eat again until 6-7pm!  The waffles are very cute and shaped like mickey mouse.  IMG_3545There is a made to order omelet station, tons of pastries, yogurt, juices, biscuits and gravy, eggs, oatmeal, and cereal.  It is an endless buffet.  Coffee, tea, and other beverages are included, and it is very fun for the kids to have fruit and waffles.  Again, time your reservation for 1030am if you can, and you can stay until at least 1130am when they wrap it up.  Then, you can head over and see the Royal Theater where the princesses hang.

Meeting Rapunzel in Fantasyland
Meeting Rapunzel in Fantasyland

Tip #5- Get there early!  Not sure why but at Disneyland and Adventure Park crowds pick up after 11am.  So, if you can get there when it opens at 8am (park by 730am), then you can really get in a lot of rides, character meetings (like Princesses at 10am), and get them done before doing a character brunch or something at 1040am.  Then, after that, you have the rest of the day to see and do other fun things.  I was not sure what it was about Disneyland versus Disneyworld but things just got going later.  It seemed people arrived later at Disneyland.  When we were at Disneyworld, the mornings were already packed.  Important Note re: CARS ride at California Adventure Park:  IMG_3517

My sister-in-law’s boys really wanted to ride this ride but if you do not get there by 930am, all the FAST Passes for the day will be gone, and the line will be 120 minutes+  keep this in mind so despite coming early, you can wait up to 2 hours.  It is worth the wait I hear but 2 hours is tough on children.  We noticed the lines going to 50-70 minutes later in the afternoon when lunch time hit.

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Tip #6- Character meetings – I never did figure out the character meeting for Merida from Brave (near It’s a Small World).  It seemed like she was never there but if you can get there early as noted above and head to the Royal Hall and meet the princesses (you get 2-3 princesses in one fail swoop), and then quickly head towards the Toy Story ride to Pixie Hollow, the lines for the pixies will be shorter in the morning too.  Merida (Brave) does not start until 10am near It’s a Small World.  After that time, all bets are off on wait times.  You can also ask any of the cast members re: character meetings, IMG_3669and they will tell you where to go.  While waiting for the fireworks towards the exit one night, Mickey was hanging out near the theater on Main Street, and the girls got to see him while awaiting the fireworks for the 4th.  Character meetings are the highlight for my kids so we tried to keep an eye out every chance we got, and we were lucky because in Fantasyland, right near the carousel, my sister-in-law spotted Rapunzel’s village.  She stood in line for us, and we were 5th in line to meet Rapunzel!  It was magical for the girls.

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Dancing with Phineas and Ferb at Adventure Park

Tip #7- Pack snacks, water bottles, and a cooler; and bring souvenirs from home.  The website says you cannot bring food but we did it both days.  One of my sisters-in-law snagged the cooler my mother in law had and brought in an entire meal for her family- sandwiches!  She was able to get them through both days.  It saves a lot of money to do this, but coolers only last so long in 88 degree weather, so if you plan a 12-hour day at Disney, plan on eating at least one big meal which can cost an average of $12 per person in the park. IMG_3678 I generally ate snacks we brought along, granola, etc., and always filled up my water bottle.  You can ask most places for ice, and they will give it to you for the water bottles.  Do this for all the kids.  Bring pepsi cans in and you can ask for a cup of ice.  Kids meals are cheaper so I always got 2 kids meal and then I would eat what the kids did not.  But, I went ahead and splurged on one day when I was craving Asian food.  California Adventure Park has a Pacific Rim area, and they have yummy Boudin’s sourdough bread bowls and soup (very reasonable) IMG_3520and they have asian food too.  I splurged that day and ate my meal along the river, awaiting Fantasmic.  It was OKAY Thai curry but it hit the spot.  Another place to take a snack break is the New Orleans cafe area in Disneyland.  They have very good food, and the mickey mouse beignets are not as good as the real thing, but very good.  Avoid the mint juleps… yuck!  And remember, no alcohol anywhere in Disneyland, but Adventure Park has a winery, and alcohol everywhere!  Also, avoid the cars souvenir happy meal toy box.  It is a waste of money.  Rather, go for the cone of soda (in Cars Land).  Wonderful and so cute!

 

souvenirs AIMG_3615s far as expensive souvenirs in the park, re-read my review at my DisneyWorld post too, but this time, I bought loot bags for the girls (Princess and Minnie bags) from a local store before we left.  I took along their hats, and other small souvenirs from Disneyworld or local stores, and stuffed their bags the night before our Disney day.  The girls loved it, and carried them into the park with their water bottles, Minnie hats and souvenirs.  This way, we only spent money on one $5 each souvenir at the end of day #1- we bought them glo-bands for the fireworks show.  We only spent $10 on souvenirs, and saved the rest for food.

Dumbo!
Dumbo!

Tip #8- Is this ride for kids? Be careful!  We thought the 3D Bugs Life movie for kids at Adventure Park would be okay but our kids were freaked out and everything comes to life in 3D- bug spray, the seats, etc., so be careful with kids under the age of 7 – especially girls.  Indiana Jones is not a ride for kids under 50 inches of height.  It is quite toss and turn and steep drops.  It really is not meant for kids that are young.  We did not take them on this but almost RocketShiptook our 6 year-old.  I went alone, and I was glad because she would not have made it.  Also, if you go on rides, leave your wallet, medicine, keys, etc., behind.  Not kidding.  Oh, and do not – I repeat, do not wait for the stupid ferris wheel ride at California Adventure Park.  You can spend an hour of your life another way.  Check out the little mermaid ride there – it is cute for young girls.  Very cute.  I would say when you are in Disneyland, stick to the Fantasyland rides.  They are safe.  Oh, a word of caution in Disneyland, Tomorrowland re: the Space Orbiters ride (Toy Story) in front of Star Wars- PYUKE!  That is the only word I Can use to describe this little rocket ride.  It is not fun or cute, nor is it like Dumbo.  Go get on Dumbo, but avoid this one.  It is also cramped.  Do not let looks fool you- two people cannot fit in these seemingly “spacious” rockets (I put a picture here so you can see how cramped it was).

The Royal Theater- Tangled
The Royal Theater- Tangled

A really perfect ride for little ones with a very short wait each time is the Buzz Light Year ride across from Star Wars.  It is a little game shooting targets with a laser gun, and at the end you get a cute little picture of you fighting Zurg.  Lots of fun!

Fast Pass? Try to get Fast Pass for the rides you want to go on but have the longest wait but remember, you can only get one Fast Pass at a time and need them for all in your party so plan accordingly.  Also, remember that once you get it, if you miss your time, the cast is pretty nice about letting you know outside your window of time.  They are super about it.  Indiana Jones is worth it.  Roller coasters are just not to me, but that’s me.  I hear the Cars ride is worth it at Adventure Park and Toy Story (no fast pass available).

IMG_3650Tip #9 – On a hot day cool off at Adventure Park at Bug’s Life Section (BRING YOUR SUITS and SANDALS)  – Disney is rather strict about wearing shoes at all times, and suits.  You can’t get your kids naked and let them run through the fountains, so bring suits along.  There are water fountains the kids can run through at this park, and a sprinkler area to cool off.  They have misting fountains, and water fountains.  Disney will not let you take off your young child’s clothes (that is a no-no) but you can get drunk a few meters away at a winery.  Anyway, just bring the proper gear so your kids can get wet.  Another thing we saw people walking around with was fans with water bottles that spray water and then fan you down.  Take your own ones along.  They are $8.00 at Target or $17 at the Park.  Your choice.

IMG_7289Tip #10– Bring a stroller for kids 7 and under.  It’s okay! Who cares who judges you?  I really do not give a rat’s ass about what people think but for me the stroller helps carry our stuff, and is a resting place for the kids or me.  It is a great thing because my kids touch or hold the stroller or rest in it and I keep them with me at all times too!  At night, when we exit the park at 11pm and have to wait in the stinking tram line, they can pass out in the stroller.  It is the best thing ever.  Do not let people judging you prevent you from bringing what you need.  The equipment, the food, the supplies you need to get through Disney are critical to having a good time, and an easier time.  So, do yourself a favor, bring it.  Or, you can rent them for $23 a day I believe.  Totally worth it!

Aladdin at the Theater
Aladdin at the Theater

Tip #11 – Theater anyone?  I highly recommend the shows at Adventure Park, and the Royal Theater at Disneyland for prince and princesses. This was one thing different from Disneyworld, the shows were fun, the lines were not long, and it was manageable.  Aside from the random dancing and dance crews that showed up all the time at California Adventure Park including Phineas and Ferb (fun for kids), the shows are fabulous.  We loved the Aladdin musical. IMG_7361 It was long but it was so well done.  It is truly worth getting a good seat, and watching the characters come to life. We saw Royal Theater twice at Disneyland- Tangled, and Beauty and the Beast, and it was fun for the kids.  They theater is very interactive, and creative.  It is just different but funny and fun for the kids too.  The shows are not super crowded and they are manageable.  For the Royal theater, the kids get to sit on the floor before the stage, and really interact with the characters, and add to the antics.  There is also a Disney Junior show in

Beauty & The Beast at the Royal Theater
Beauty & The Beast at the Royal Theater

Adventure Park which features Doc McStuffins, Princess Sophia, and other characters.  We missed it due to time.  I would recommend these for young kids.

Tip #12- Where to get your discounted tickets.  Someone suggested I add in the tip of discounted tickets.  If you are military, check with your MWR office at your base.  The best deals out there are military hopper passes for $125 (3-day) to Disneyland.  I am not talking about WORLD here.  But, you there is a limit of six, and they scan at them the entrance, and take photos of the people who enter with them.  DisneyWorld is different because of the fingerprint thing but at DisneyLand there is no finger print but paper tickets.  Do not lose them!  In any case they photograph you on re-entry.  Not sure what purpose it serves other than if someone reports their tickets lost or stolen.  The best website to get discounted hotels, and tickets in my humble opinion (if you can’t do the military tickets) is mousesavers.com.   I was able to find a cheaper deal for my friends and family on this site than even the 1 and 2 day military discounts to the parks.  Sign-up for the Mousesavers newsletter ASAP!

IMG_7173Tip #13- Check out the beaches of Newport Beach, Laguna, and the Pacific Coast and Unwind after Disneyland  We were lucky because we stayed right on the Corona del Mar beach but try to go check out the coast, because that is truly the most relaxing part of the trip after visiting theme parks.  I think set one day set aside for the beach, and driving along the coast.  Newport beach has an amazing coast, not to miss and it’s only 25 minutes from Anaheim (50 in traffic- ha).

IMG_7169All in all, we had a fabulous trip to DisneyLand, California Adventure Park, and California beaches.  Our favorite times were on the beach, meeting princesses, and for mom- acting like a princess, but hey, who’s judging?  It was a great summer family trip, and one we will not forget for a lifetime.

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