Surprise, We’re Going to Disneyland!


Mwa ha ha. Brian and I are so sneaky. Back in fall, we made arrangements to take our kids to California over Midwinter Break to visit our cousins in Los Angeles and also to take a spin through Disneyland. But we decided not to tell our kids about it up until the moment we got in the car to leave — to surprise them. I threw a so many red herrings at them (“you want to go to the cat cafe? Sure, maybe during midwinter break”) that I was slightly worried that they’d be upset at the news.

Seriously, they came home from school, asked why their bags were in the back of the car, and then this happened:

(Jeff was majorly concerned when he saw those packed bags — he thought I was divorcing Brian and taking all the kids away! My poor lil’ anxious guy.)

Katie looks happy in this video, but to tell the truth, the news was all a little overwhelming for her, and five minutes after I turned off the camera she was bawling. “I won’t get to hug all my stuffiieeeeees,” she wailed. “And I’ll miss the sunset in Seattle every day!” 

Fortunately, she cheered up by the time we got to the airport (although . . . she pretty much cried all the way there) and was perky and happy all the way through security, even when I got picked by the TSA to have a pat-down (blergh).

I’m not going to bother posting about every single moment of our trip — that’s better suited for a photobook — and besides, I took well over a thousand pictures over the week. Here’s the highlight reel:

Visiting Grauman’s Chinese Theater with the cousins! Sarah and the boys were very excited to match palms with the cast of Harry Potter.


Eleanor, on the other hand, was over the moon at finding the cast members from West Side Story.


Meanwhile, I was baffled to explain who some of the other celebrities were. “Whoopi Goldberg? Um . . . she’s the voice of one of the hyenas in The Lion King?


Cousin-pile-up! You can see the “Hollywood” sign on the mountains in the background.


OH OH OH — Brian and I were ENORMOUSLY excited to find one of the four U.S. Grom locations. This was our favorite gelato place during our trip to Italy. The sun came out just for our gelato jaunt. Perfect.

We had a bit of a jolly time visiting the merry-go-round in Griffith Park (it is so old-school that the horses’ tails are made from horses’ tails and it goes super-fast. Feels like a real gallop, I loved it!)


Walt Disney used to bring his kids to this carousel, and it was one of the chief inspirations for building Disneyland. His name is on the bench I’m sitting on.

Also, we spent time playing in the abandoned Old Zoo that is in the park. No fewer than two amateur fashion/album art photo shoots going on there during our visit. Oh, L.A.


Pictures do not do justice to how cool a place this is for playing in.

Yes, we made another trip to Diddy Riese ice cream . . .


. . . and of COURSE I made sure to hit up Lemonade. Ugh, I’m already craving the coconut-apple-kefir-lime drink! (Kathryn, if you are reading this, Lemonade is SO your kind of restaurant. Gourmet veggie salads galore, it’s glorious.)



We took a quick trip to Cabrillo Point in San Diego . . .


. . . collapsed in front of the temple . . .


Jeff insisted I take his photo from inside the temple parking lot information booth. What a silly guy.

. . . and toured the Mormon Battalion exhibit with the fam. (Did I not mention that Grandma Suzie & Grandpa Jeff came along with us? It rocked, but somehow I have hardly any pictures with them.)


Also, LEGOLAND WITH COUSINS! How great is that?




My favorite part was the Mindstorms workshop. The kids had to program a tiny robot Indiana Jones to retrieve treasure from a tomb.


William thought this horse ride was boring, but Katie kept shouting, “OUT OF THE WAY, PEASANTS!”
Jeff was too old for most of the Legoland rides. I made it up to him with multiple servings of apple fries.

And then we said goodbye to the cousins and headed off to Disney the next day.

Good grief, I had forgotten how much I love Disneyland. Our kids are seven years older than on our previous trip, and we could really hustle our way across the park.

One thing I did this time was save up all of the $5 Target gift cards that the store gives away for buying multiples of toilet paper and tissues — and then used them to buy Disney gift cards, which can be used in the theme parks. Over the last six months I hoarded enough gift cards to be able to give each of my children a $50 Disney card, which they could spend any way they wanted. This was my strategy to curb any begging on the part of my kids.

“Why can’t I get a soda with lunch?”

“Well, you can use your own gift card for that.”

[crickets chirping]

I was surprised that each of my kids decided to buy a pair of Mickey ears with their cards — the girls chose Minnie ones with big red or purple bows, and the boys found Star Wars themed ears (Jeff’s looks like BB8, Wim’s like R2D2). Then they each had enough left over to buy a toy. The boys chose to get a custom “build your own lightsaber,” Katie after much deliberation chose a stuffed Ewok (she has named it “Chirpa”) and Eleanor picked out one of the glow-in-the-dark Mickey bubble wands that so many kids were carrying around. She blew bubbles all over us while we waited in line for rides, it was great.

Knocking on the White Rabbit’s door (this was the girls’ favorite dark ride)
Taking the Jungle Cruise (Katie looks sad because she was still recovering from being scared to death by the Indiana Jones ride)
In the boat for “It’s a Small World”

We rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad six times. Star Tours seven times. We terrified Katie to tears on the Indiana Jones ride exactly one time and that was enough.

The Lego store in Downtown Disney had the coolest Lego statues I’ve ever seen — and that includes all the ones in Legoland. Check out that Maleficent dragon!
The Disneyland train was out of service, but the engineer was on hand to visit. Jeff sat down and asked him about fifty questions about the train and the history of Disneyland. The engineer was thrilled to answer them all.
Jeff got to ride the Buzz Lightyear ride by himself and use BOTH BLASTERS at the SAME TIME
Here we are with our glasses on for Toy Story Midway Mania! We made sure to hustle straight to this ride the moment DCA opened in the morning. (Brian was busy getting us Fast Passes for Radiator Springs Racers, but joined us in the nick of time)

So much fun. There was a lot I hadn’t been able to do during our previous Disney trip seven years ago, like taking time to visit with characters. Eleanor collected autographs from twenty different characters. She liked that it was a nice round number. (Katie collected a few extra while the big kids rode the California Screamin’ roller coaster, but it wasn’t a contest.)

William was enthusiastic about collecting autographs until he realized it meant CHATTING UP PRINCESSES. Also: the actors who play Jasmine & Aladdin were the worst. They looked so bored to be there. Everyone else we met were adorably in character, but not these guys.
Ariel suggested we should all be happy about having two feet.
This lady’s Snow White voice was PERFECT. (But I think the prize for Best Princess Impersonation goes to the girl playing Belle. She was incredible.)
Eleanor especially wanted to meet Goofy. I told her not to get her hopes up — but look who we found! This is one of my favorite photos from the whole trip.
“Owing to Galactic regulations, Stormtroopers do not give autographs.” (Look how William pulled down the hood of his stormtrooper hoodie.)
“You can find Boba Fett in the Cantina.” Of course.
Anna & Elsa were in this cute little room decorated to look like Arendelle castle. The details were amazing.
The Disney characters all wear 1920s clothes in the California Adventure park, which is super cute. Ohhh, look at Katie’s face as she snuggles Mickey.
Here we are with Chip! We had already met Dale the day before.
Arrrr! Cap’n Hook!
Peter Pan asked us to shake his foot instead of his hand. I’m kicking myself for not asking him where his shadow went. (The actors always do cute improv when you play along that way.)
The Queen chastised us for our lack of manners when addressing nobility. “Now face the camera, cross your arms, and don’t smile.” Katie didn’t follow that particular order.
These were the characters Eleanor wanted to meet the absolute most, since she played the Hatter in the school play last year. It took some hunting to find them, but it was worth it!
Tiana insisted on signing autographs in her favorite color ink: green. We asked how her restaurant is doing. “Oh, busy busy busy as always!” she replied.
Disney villains are the BEST. The kids had no idea Dr. Facilier was making this spooky hand gesture over their heads.
Cruella deVille criticized our fashion sense. She handed me the autograph books saying, “here darling, at least make yourself useful, would you?”


Because we were in DCA, Daisy had a cute 20s cloche hat. Goofy was also spotted in a zoot suit, and Minnie had a fringey flapper dress. Adorable.

Or trying all the many, many Disney treats. (Word up: the pecan brittle is AMAZING. And my kids are all addicted to Dole Whip now.)

I pretty much died when I saw this candy counter at Pooh Corner. The Olaf marshmallow pops! The Minnie Mouse candied apples!!
Tigger tails! I’ve sometimes copied this idea for my children’s birthday parties.
Hunny pot krispie treats!
Caterpillar marshmallow pop!
Dole whip! For some reason, it tasted 5x better than the whip Brian and I bought at the Dole plantation on Oahu. Even though it’s supposed to be the same thing.
Macaroon cookies shaped like the Matterhorn! (Also, the Jolly Holiday bakery fully indulges my childhood fantasy of eating at the cafe where Mary and Bert dance with penguins)
English toffee (eh, the kind I make at Christmas is tastier) and cake pops made to look like the spinning turtle from the Electrical Parade (which we saw later on that week)
Hand-dipped ice cream bars with “everything on it” (sprinkles and Pop Rocks and mini chocolate chips and who knows what else)
Cheddar Apple Pies at Flo’s V8 Cafe
2017-02-21 10.20.09 1.jpg
In case you’re wondering, yes I was working from a list in my guidebook. Ooooh, I forgot to mention how good Red’s Apple Freezes are! Like an apple cider slushie, so good!

The three younger kids were able to sign up for the Jedi Training Academy (Eleanor was juuuust young enough to still participate). William took his lightsaber duel with Darth Vader SO SERIOUSLY.


I think this is also part of why Katie was so talkative during our “visit” with Darth later on. She clammed up during every other character visit, but with Vader she was all, “Nuh-uh, we’ll never join you, Darth Vader!”


I personally found the Cars Land section of Disney California Adventure to be my favorite part of the visit — which I would never have predicted. But this place oozes so much charm. 


Going on Radiator Springs Racers — the kids noted that the speakers behind William’s head look like Mickey ears!
Flo’s V8 Cafe is the cutest of all Disneyland restaurants.
The backdrop for Radiator Springs Racers is darn impressive. I’m craving a trip to southern Utah now.

And yeah, the kids convinced me to get this Mickey sorcerer’s apprentice hat. It was partially for fun, and partially to make it easy to find me in the crowd. (Whenever I took it off, they insisted I put it back on immediately.)


And yes, Brian got a Goofy hat. And taking a picture in front of this sign was pretty irresistible.

Okay . . . I could easily spend the next several hours waxing on and on about every anecdote about the trip, but I need to stop now. Almost every day this past week I’ve spent a few minutes looking at the pictures from our trip and sighing, sad that it’s all over. Yesterday morning Eleanor woke up sad because she had had a dream that we were going back to Disneyland but it ended before she got there.

The kids LITERALLY HUGGED DISNEYLAND GOODBYE on our way out of the DCA gates. The girls and I held hands and sang “Zippity-Doo-Dah” as we walked to the place where Brian was meeting us with the car.

The only thing that kept us from crying as we packed up to go home was the revelation that LAX has a Lemonade. Which meant more kale-kumquat salad and white truffle mac & cheese so I was okay.

Yes, they wore their Mickey ears in the airport. And the entire way home on the plane.

My sister will still be in L.A. for the next few years, so we’ll have to make a point of going again before she leaves. I’m already saving up my Target gift cards to get ready!


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