Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Vacation Review and Tips

I tried to think of the most creative and catchy title ever.  Obviously.

Here are some details, from our experience.  I share them just because I would have liked to have read something like this to get tips and compare costs when I was planning my vacay.

1--We booked through  I initially wanted to book things separately myself instead of a vacation package, but it was convenient and ended up being a huge help, as you'll see.

2--We flew Alaska Air from Seattle.  I found tickets at the end of November (supposedly a great time for booking flights) for just over $200 ea.  I also purchased the travel insurance for $150 total.

3--We rented a minivan through Hertz.  $389 for the week.  Upon good advice, I booked the week before our trip, when the companies are anxious to get their inventory used up.

4--We stayed at the Residence Inn Anaheim during our Disney leg of the trip. It rocked.  It was one of the few places that could comfortably accommodate my clan of 6.  It was a 1 bedroom suite (2 queen beds and a pull out sofa) with eating area and kitchen (full sized fridge/freezer--great for keeping sack lunch stuff cold/frozen). Free, awesome breakfast every morning and free dinner "managers reception" Monday-Thursday.  The dinner was great the first night that we arrived, but it was the only night we ate there because we wanted to max out our time at the park.  It had a big pool, kiddie pool and hot tub, basketball court, kids eating area.  They gave out balloons at breakfast and it was a short drive to the park (they claimed it was only a mile).  Two nights plus 2 day (1 park per day) tickets to Disney/California Adventure for all of us (Sweetie didn't have to pay for the parks) was about $1300.

5--At Disney--
     1--Get a Photopass.  Find any of the Disney photographers (which are, incidentally, not well 'marked').  They will take your picture and load the pics onto a card, which you can then give to any other Disney photographer and they will keep adding pics to your card.  Take a picture of the number on the back of your card, in case you lose it (you can still access your pics).  If you go to Jedi training, the photographers there will give you a card of the entire session.  Then, go to the Disney photopass website, set up an account, and load all the of the card numbers onto it.  You can then buy prints of the pictures (2 4X6 prints for an INSANE $15, or buy a CD or download of ALL your pictures for $70, which is what I did).  So, get lots of pictures taken to make it worth your while.  They take great pictures and capture moments that you don't.

     2--FAST PASSES.  The most popular rides have free fast passes.  You use your Disney tickets at the kiosks near the rides to print out fast passes.  It gives you a ticket to a much shorter line, and an assigned time to come back.  So, scope out what rides you want to go on, and grab fast passes, then come back at the time and enjoy your ride.

     3--Talk to the Disney character 'handlers' to find out specific times and locations of the characters you really want to see (for us, the princesses).  They have a little secret schedule they can peek at and give you the scoop.  Head to the locations early to get in line, because the lines fill up FAST and are very, very, very long.

     4--Bring your lunch.  The food there is outrageously priced for miniscule portions.  Like, $6-7 for a kids meal with milk, applesauce and --not kidding--2 tablespoons of mac and cheese. (We bought dinner for the kids there, and then waited until we got back for the night and sent the boys out for Red Robin)  I took a backpack loaded with food and water.  And it will take you so long to go back to your car...just bring it. 

     5--Bring sunscreen.  Especially if you're from Seattle and have forgotten that the sun still exists.  Especially since your kids will be particularly sensitive and although you may have a handsome son that will darken beautifully in a snap, you may have a little girl that will get sun poisoning, which is worrisome and not pretty. 

     6--Stay for the parade at least once.  It will probably be your favorite parade ever.

6--In San Diego, we stayed a night in the Comfort Suites Mission Valley.  Do NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES stay here.    The rooms are crowded, the upholstery is dirty, the beds are double sized, the condition is crummy,  and breakfast is a joke.  Never mind the ticks and blood on the walls in our friends room.  THIS is where the travel agency came in handy.  With a phone call, the situation was handled, and for a change fee, we were happily re-situated.

7--Do, instead, check into the Doubletree close to Sea World.  Clean, beautiful rooms. The BEST Crabtree and Evelyn toiletries, awesome pool, hot tub and firepit.  Also, they welcome you with the most amazing, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie you've ever had.  Our room had 2 queen beds and a pull out twin bed.  They boys shared that.  It wasn't ideal, but they managed (#firstworldproblems).  No breakfast there, which was a bummer, but we had a small fridge, so we got yogurt, fruit and cereal bars to eat.  We stayed in San Diego for a total of 4 nights, plus 7-day Sea World passes for the whole family, including change fee was about $900.

8--Sea World.  Due to the off-season time of year that we went, the hours were only 10-5.  But, due to the off-season time of year that went,  we had no lines (I mean, walk right onto just about any ride) and could park close enough that it was no problem to walk out to the car for lunch.  We didn't know that the first day that they DON'T ALLOW ANY FOOD into the park. Only unflavored water.  You've been warned.  We had to buy lunch the first day and it was a small fortune.

9--Three life changing restaurant recommendations in San Diego
     Phil's BBQ
     Filippi's Pizza Grotto
     CafĂ© Coyote, in Old Town San Diego

     Remember 'What About Bob?'  The scene where Bob was eating with them and he kept saying "Mmmm, mmmm, mmmmmmm, mmmm, mmmm, mmmm"?  Yeah, it was kind of like that.
10--The Mormon Battalion Historical Site was awesome!  Located in Old Town San Diego, it was so well done, fun for the whole family, free, and well worth our time.

11--Moonlight Beach was a fantastic place to spend the day.  Beautiful, showers, sand volleyball courts.  Part of it was currently under construction, but I'd still totally go again in a heart beat. 

There.  You've got all my info from the trip.  You're welcome.  Hope it helps.

Love, Melynie

Friday, March 8, 2013

California Adventure {Day 5}

Saturday was spent at Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas.  It was an AMAZING day!  The weather was so perfect.  I overheard someone say "No, honey. Maybe in the summer when it's warmer." and it shocked me because I am so enjoy-the-moment that I'd forgotten that it was still winter!!  It was as if we'd been transported to glorious summer. (It was about as hot as a Seattle Summer).

My lovely Girlie.

Watching them playing in the crashing waves was the BEST!!

Sand, anyone?  Come on, let's exfoliate!

Surf kings.

Can't even tell you how much I love that these are all mine.

My little honey was the cutest little beach bum.

He was so...very...tired...

The San Diego temple was right off the freeway.  It was GORGEOUS!  It looked like an enchanted castle (Disney on the brain...).  In fact, they don't light it up anymore at night because people were getting into accidents.

This was a fantastic surprise!  We went to Old Town San Diego for some amazing Mexican food and happened upon the Mormon Battalion Historic Site.  The renovated it about 3 years ago and is was SO well done!  Really, really awesome. 

We walked in and Sweetie asked the sister missionary "Where is the princess?"  Lucky for us, one of the sister missionaries had worked as a Disney princess and sang some princess songs for her.  Sweetiie was, once again, enchanted.

It was perfect for families and kids.  Here are the kids panning for gold at the end. 

I want to do this vacation all again.  And next time we might rent the Fiesta Cab.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sea World {Days 3 & 4}

Then we spent two days at Sea World.  Here I am with two of my favorite things--Mandy and flamingos.

They got a little wet on this ride...

The little girl is oblivious that the polar bear could eat her for breakfast.

Killer whales.

One of the coolest things we got to see was a baby killer whale that was born that morning.  Mommy whales are pregnant for 18 months, and when they finally give birth to their 350 lb babies, they don't rest--even to eat--and, instead, swim for a week straight.  That teaches their babies how to swim and strengthens them.  The mommy whale has a system worked out with her trainers--she swims by the platform with her mouth open and they run along and throw food in her mouth so that she can keep swimming.  It was AMAZING to witness this!  The love and sacrifice of mothers is amazing!!!  Isn't baby Shamu cute?  That little fin next to his mama? 

If I can photoshop Sweetie's finger out of her nose, we might use this for our Christmas card picture this year.  

My boyfriend and I.

It made the trip SO fun to be with sweet friends!

This photo (above) was taken just minutes before this photo (below).

Luckily it was our only minor meltdown. 
We were waiting for J and the big kids on a ride.  I motioned to J that Buddy was breaking down and he made a camera motion at me.  I thought he meant "Take a picture of it", but what he was actually saying was "I told him he could take a picture."  J's idea would have been better.

The Sea World version of the tea cups.  The kids are thinking "Rock on."  The grown ups are thinking "I'm going to throw up."

Touching starfish.

All our cute kiddos.

The fantastic dolphin show.

The get-you-totally-soaked rafting ride.

Another highlight of the trip!  I kind of want a pet dolphin now.

A view of the bay from the Sky Tram ride.