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A Tale of Two Theme Parks

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Here in Southern California, we’re lucky to have a few theme parks to visit. If you love speedy roller coasters that get the adrenaline pumping, you can go to Six Flags Magic Mountain. (There are lots of kid-friendly rides there, too.)

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Picture from sixflags.com Batman ride. (side note: everyone’s wearing Chucks)

Then there’s Knott’s Berry Farm, which also has a lot of thrill rides, along with an Old West area, a Snoopy kids’ area, and a water park.

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This kind of ride scares the daylight out of me!

There’s Sea World down in San Diego, and Legoland in Carlsbad. The two parks I’m going to talk about today are Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland.

Disneyland is probably my favorite of all-time. I don’t know what it is, but it reminds me of my childhood, and makes me happy. We recently took a trip there on a day when we thought it wouldn’t be too crowded…

It took forEVER to just get into the parking structure. We got there at Opening, and I honestly think they just weren’t quite ready.

 

So many people at the gates.

Something you do not see everyday… cast members just hanging out on the ride.

Ready to take a trip through the jungle on a cruise

Waiting for “Small World”

Our artist, looking into an animator’s studio

The kids like this ride a lot better than the grown-ups

The ride that gives all kids a driver’s license – Autopia

 

Girls with Walt and Mickey

Obligatory Mickey picture with bonus climbing kid in background

 

Hanging out at the Cantina from Star Wars

There’s so much to do at Disneyland & California Adventure. It’s hard to get it all done in just one day. However, we managed to fit in 21 activities. On a good day, where there’s a smaller crowd, we’ve done probably 25. (maybe a few more) Let’s just say that for a day that was pretty crowded, we managed to squeeze a LOT into the day.

Now, once upon a time we did have annual passes to the Magic Kingdom, but living in the L.A. area, we don’t make it down to the O.C. as much as we’d like (and now that the AP is so much more expensive, we don’t make it down there enough to make it worth it). However, a theme park closer to us has much cheaper Annual Passes, so we got them for Universal Studios Hollywood.

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I worked at Universal. First, as someone in the merch department, and then as a Studio Guide.

“Hello, my name is Genevieve and Ill be your Studio Guide today!”

After spending 5 days a week there for 3 summers and then working there full-time for a year in the VIP office, I stayed away for quite awhile. We took the kids when my son turned 10, but stayed away until they brought something magical – and one of our favorite series – to the park.

mmmmm… Butterbeer

We’d been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida, and couldn’t wait to go to our local version.

Going down the Starway brings back a LOT of memories!

Transformers the Ride is in the very location I used to work…

I used to work at Backdraft and Cinemagic right in the same spot.

 

There are Minions now, and Simpsons, and Transformers.

There’s a mummy, and Walking Dead, and dinosaurs. All of them are fun or exciting rides, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Studio Backlot Tour. Even though it’s changed quite a bit – with it’s headset microphones and video screens and Jimmy Fallon – there’s still something special about going on a tram ride through real sets used in real movies and a few unexpected surprises along the ride.

After trying several times to connect, we finally got ahold of my old friend Paul and rode his tram!!

Those who knew me in my guide days know that this is my favorite part of the tour. 😉

Universal Studios doesn’t have as many rides and attractions as Disneyland – this is true. However, it does have a lot you can do in a visit. We’ve been there a handful of times since February and we’re not bored yet. One of the best new additions to the experience?

VooDoo Doughnuts!

Believe me when I tell you that they’re amazing, and worth waiting in line for.

Obligatory photo with the marquee

Overall, both are great, though different, theme parks. Both have their pluses and minuses. If you have the time, money, and patience, I say try going to both. Especially if you are an out-of-towner visiting Southern California for the first time!

I Don’t Blame Disneyland for the Price Hike

I grew up in Orange County, just minutes away from The Happiest Place on Earth. I went back when there were E tickets.

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A Disneyland book of tickets

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E tickets always had the best rides.

Even though we lived close, we didn’t go all the time. We would make a BIG deal about going to Disneyland. We would pick our favorite rides that we HAD to go on. We ALWAYS started with Pirates of the Caribbean – not sure why. It was just a tradition that stuck. It always got us in the mood for more Disneyland!

And there were always things we’d do – like have a Frozen banana, go to the Tiki Room, eat lunch at the Tomorrowland Terrace, hit It’s a Small World… We’d stay all day and wear ourselves out and have the best time after getting the most of our day there. We’d sucked every last drop of fun we could out of the Happiest Place on Earth, and it would hold us over until our next visit a year or so later.

Disneyland could get crowded, but not insane. An hour wait was a unique experience rather than a common occurrence.

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6 years ago, when we celebrated my daughter’s birthday at the park.

These days, there are SO many people who have annual passes. I know my point of view won’t be very popular with a lot of my friends, but I sometimes think that the whole annual pass idea takes away some of the magic of Disneyland. When you can go after school any time you like, or you go for just an hour because your kid wants to go on one certain ride, or your kids come to expect it as a common occurrence, I think it’s too much. When as many people have annual passes are going to the park as are the people coming in from all over the world, that creates a problem. I can’t imagine traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to see Disneyland only to be thwarted by too-big crowds and hour-long lines at every ride. That’s not magical. It is no longer the happiest place on earth at that point.

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And I get it – I really do! Every time we DO go to Disneyland all I want is MORE Disneyland! We actually did buy annual passes one year, when the price of an annual pass was paid off by the second visit.

I just think there has to be some middle ground. Perhaps a pass when you could go on whatever day you wanted, but you were limited to 20 visits a year. (Good lord, 20 visits a year is an awful lot!) Maybe 12? Once a month? That still seems like a lot.

I’ve also worked at a theme park. I was working at Universal Studios the day we broke records. It was the year Jurassic Park, the Ride came out and everyone got a t-shirt commemorating the occasion. As someone who works at a theme park, I can tell you that while it’s nice the park is making money, the employee doesn’t get anything more except more work. More crowds. More inane questions and more cute kids. More nice visitors and more rude ones, too. More of everything. More attempting to rush as many people through an attraction as is possible. More trash. More people complaining about how long everything takes because it’s so crowded.

So, I know a LOT of people are upset with Disney right now. I am hearing a lot of threats and “maybe this is it for us” status updates.

Maybe we can all go back to going to the happiest place on earth once a year and truly making it our happiest day of the year. Or maybe Disneyland will have to revisit some of their policies. Whatever the case, I hope that Disneyland can remain such a wonderful place for old and young, and the crowds can perhaps thin out a bit, so that everyone entering those front gates will have a truly magical time.

A Trip Full of Firsts at Disneyland

Today is my 45th birthday. I’ve lived in Southern California my whole life. That’s a lot of visits to Disneyland – at least 30, if not close to 40. And yet somehow this year I managed to do more than 15 things I’ve NEVER done before, which seems a little crazy.

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The first first is deciding to stay overnight and spend 2 days in the parks.

I don’t have a photo, but we took the Monorail right from the hotel and straight into the park, bypassing the front gate. That was a first, and it was awesome!

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This is where the Monorail lets you off in Disneyland.

Bought my first pin. I didn't buy a lanyard, but I did buy a pin. :)

Bought my first pin. I didn’t buy a lanyard, but I did buy a pin. 🙂

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First ride on the canoes!

On a whim, we decided to go on the canoes. In all our years, neither my husband nor I had ever gone on the canoes. I’m SO glad we did. It was truly a highlight of the trip. Not because it was an amazing ride, but because I haven’t laughed that hard in a while. Our guide was hilarious, the scenery was beautiful, and it was frustrating to row and try not to hit someone else’s oar, but it was seriously so much fun!

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A snapshot from the canoes

First time on Midway Mania - our scores. (not very good, but fun)

First time on Midway Mania – our scores. (not very good, but fun)

First time truly walking all around California Adventure

First time truly walking all around California Adventure

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First time on the Zephyr at CAlifornia adventure. This is the view from my seat.

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First time eating at one of the hotel restaurants.

First time staying at the Disneyland Hotel

First time staying at the Disneyland Hotel

First time using "Magic Morning" and getting in early - loved this!

First time using “Extra Magic Hour” and getting in early – loved this!

First time on Radiator Springs Racers

First time on Radiator Springs Racers – usually this ride has a 90 minute wait.

Sean and I were a little nervous about the racers, but it was fun!

Sean and I were a little nervous about the racers, but it was fun!

First time eating at the River Belle Terrace (at least that I remember).

First time eating at the River Belle Terrace (at least that I remember).

Could this really be our first Dole Whip?!?!

Could this really be our first Dole Whip?!?!

FIrst time for the family being in line for a ride when it's experiencing technical difficulties (Peter Pan). We waited it out and were rewarded with a the first Peter Pan ride in years.

FIrst time for the family being in line for a ride when it’s experiencing technical difficulties (Peter Pan). We waited it out and were rewarded with a the first Peter Pan ride in years.

First time on the Astro Orbiters (I'd been on the old school rockets, but not these).

First time on the Astro Orbiters (I’d been on the old school rockets, but not these).

A bonus first was getting to 20k steps on fitbit. :)

A bonus first was getting to 20k steps on fitbit. 🙂

We had a few more firsts, including taking the kids on Big Thunder Mountain, and asking for the first row on Soarin’ Over California (I didn’t want to have feet in my way again) – totally worth being on top!

We had such a great time! We saw more things than we have in years, and made so many memories with the kids! Here are a few photos that aren’t included in our firsts:

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I love this sign at the entrance of DIsneyland.

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There were Olaf caramel apples in Pooh Corner.

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The boys in their matching shirts in line for Alice in Wonderland.

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The girls with Mr. Toad (remember they were in the musical “Toad!” this spring).

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The view from the teacups.

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Gracie first, then Sean, then Mads & Dad on Autopia.

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My favorite Prince Charming’s outfit from Once Upon A Time.

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Haunted Mansion decked out for the holidays

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It was the Unofficial Harry Potter day there our first day. I was happenstance-illy wearing my HP sweatshirt (not in photo). I found a woman selling these cool Sorting Hat mouse ears and had to buy one.

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Walt & Mickey

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Whenever we were in a fairly long line, we’d see people playing a guessing game with their ipads and phones. We did our own, sans device. 🙂

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Thanks to the Moustalgia podcast, I noticed the gingerbread house in the Haunted Mansion (and the smell of gingerbread).

I wanted a picture of the kids by the Mickey pumpkin, but we didn’t have time, so I snapped this quickly. 😦  I tried to get one the next day, but it was gone. So sad.

This was the best pumpkin Mickey shot I got, because they were shooing us out.

This was the best pumpkin Mickey shot I got, because they were shooing us out.

I don’t know when we’ll ever get this chance again, but I’m so glad we did it this time. I have a feeling we’ll be talking about this trip for years to come, especially the canoe ride. 🙂

~Genevieve

When I Was a Kid, Summers Were Longer

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I remember having three solid months of summer as a kid. I remember swimming at my grandparents’ house, going to the beach, going to Disneyland and baseball games. Even though they seemed to whiz by in mere days, they were quite languid compared to what kids have these days.

This summer, my kids get 9 1/2 weeks. (Oh dear, is it really just as long as those two people in the sexy movie had together?)

In 9 1/2 weeks, we’re trying both to have as much relaxation and carefree stillness and yet packing in as much fun as we can. We’ve got 3 1/3 weeks left. HOLY CRAP WE HAVE THREE AND A HALF WEEKS LEFT!

What the heck have we done this summer?

We watched the girls perform.

We watched the girls perform.

We helped our school's building get pushed forward.

We helped our school’s building get pushed forward.

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The kids, heading into the Board Meeting to stand in support of all the speakers pleading for our middle school.

We swam.

We swam.

We bowled.

We bowled.

We rode our grandparents' elevator chair.

We rode our grandparents’ elevator chair.

 

We watched Star Trek.

We watched Star Trek.

We saw White Sands.

We saw White Sands.

We hiked in a cave and smelled bat guano.

We hiked in a cave and smelled bat guano.

We looked for alien life.

We looked for alien life.

We saw the Painted Desert.

We saw the Painted Desert.

Played music.

Played music.

We went to the Grand Canyon.

We went to the Grand Canyon.

 

We marched in a 4th of July parade.

We marched in a 4th of July parade.

We danced.

We danced.

We went to the Hollywood Bowl.

We went to the Hollywood Bowl.

 

We went to a Dodger game.

We went to a Dodger game.

We made s'mores in our backyard.

We made s’mores in our backyard.

 

We went on a boat.

We went on a boat.

We went to basketball camp.

We went to basketball camp.

Before the summer is over, we’ll do some more swimming, see a few more shows at the Bowl (wait, they’re at the end of August, so technically the kids will be back to school already), and hopefully go to the beach and maybe Disneyland.

We’ve crammed a lot in so far, and we’ll try to have a bit more fun before our sweet summer is cut short.

What are your summers like? Do you remember having more time as a kid than kids today have? Is there a summer tradition you can’t do without?