Smaller Castle. Bigger Kids. Still Disneyrific.

Five years ago on our first ever long distance trip road trip (Route 1) we took the kids to Disney World. We had a fabulous time and the kids were the perfect age for enjoying the Magic Kingdom. Since then they have asked if we could return for a second trip, especially High Five who was only one and 1/2 at the time. So, we made a compromise that if we were ever near Disneyland we take them for a visit.

Our most recent road trip through California, Nevada, and Arizona brought us withing close proximity of Disneyland and it was time to make good on our promise. So, on what was supposed to be a relatively “non-crowded” Monday for Disneyland we spent 12 hours exploring the park and comparing it to the Magic Kingdom in Disney World.

Overall we had a really great time. However, as many people had warned us Disneyland is no Magic Kingdom and at the end of our visit we understood what they meant. First of all the park was crowded and stayed that way all day long. In fact it seemed to get worse in the afternoon and evening as yearly pass holders dropped in after school and work. In addition the staff at Disneyland are not at the same caliber as Disney World. During our visit we only interacted with a couple of staff members who were courteous or helpful. The rest were snippy, seemed bored with their jobs, and some were even rude. However, the biggest difference that we found was in Fantasyland. At the Magic Kingdom we had a blast in Fantasyland and found the ride lines to move smoothly and the area a great place for young children. In Disneyland the ride wait times in Fantasyland were 20 to 45 minutes long throughout the entire day. The area was crowded, the rides super packed together, and overall it lacked the Disney magic that other park areas have.

Even though there were some disappointing parts of Disneyland all in all it was still a great place to spend the day. Now that the kids are older we were able to take advantage of the more thrilling rides and didn’t have to worry about strollers, nap times, or stopping to rest. Instead on this trip we spent a great deal of time in Tomorrowland where we rode Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, and Star Tours multiple times. Star Tours alone is worth the large sum of money that it takes to get into Disneyland.

To our great pleasure the Younger Fives also really loved Big Thunder Mountain, which was also a favorite of ours when we were little. The whole family loved the ride so much that we rode it three times and would have ridden it more if the lines were shorter, or we could have gotten more Fast Passes. Just like when we visited Disney World the Fast Pass system definitely made our day much more enjoyable and helped us plan our visit.

Unfortunately there were no fireworks or parades on the day that we visited. However, we did get to watch Mickey and the Magic Map at the Fantasyland Theatre. The show was pretty good and even though the kids would have rather seen Fantasmic! it was still enjoyable. Overall our visit to Disneyland was a success. The kids enjoyed themselves and we didn’t have to make a return trip to Florida. This will probably be our last Disney trip as the Younger Fives are older and into more thrilling rides. However, it was nice to be able to let them experience a little bit of Disney magic one last time.

 

 

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Pluto Pride

High Five is a huge fan of Pluto (the planet, not the dog), and spends a lot of time arguing that it should regain its planet status. So, we were really excited that our drive from Las Vegas, NV to Phoenix, AZ was taking us past the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona where Pluto was first discovered.

The Lowell Observatory was founded by Percival Lowell in 1906 who searched for a ninth planet in our solar system up until he died. After his death the search was continued by Clyde Tombaugh, a young astronomer, who finally found the planet in 1930. Pluto remained an officially recognized planet until 2006 when the International Astronomical Union came out with an agreed upon definition of what a planet is. Unfortunately under this definition Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet or a Kuiper belt object.

Visiting the Lowell Observatory and seeing the telescope that was used to find Pluto was really interesting. We really enjoyed walking the observatory grounds and viewing the various telescopes used to search the night sky. The solar system walk, galaxy walk, and universe walk that are set-up on the grounds are really informative. We especially enjoyed viewing the sun through a solar telescope set-up by an observatory staff member.

After walking the grounds and viewing the sun we headed inside the main building where the kids were able to take part in an interactive exhibit that taught them all about asteroids. They each received an ID badge that they used to complete games and lessons on asteroids. With each completed activity they gained points and increased their “space rank”. The final activity was a quiz which tested their knowledge on everything in the exhibit. While High Five still doesn’t agree that Pluto should have lost its planet status we all agreed that the Lowell Observatory is a wonderful place to visit and learn about astronomy.

Surfing Down Sand Dunes

Our time in Death Valley National Park was pretty amazing. We slept out under the stars for two nights without a tent (considering all of the times that we have camped in the rain and snow this was a real novelty). We also experienced being at the point of lowest elevation in North America, and we watched the sun rise and set over some of the most gorgeous rock formations. However, our absolute favorite part of the trip was hiking out onto the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

We had an absolute blast when we visited Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado and were excited to find out that Death Valley has sand dunes of their own. In Colorado we were dressed in boots, hats, and rain coats, but when exploring the sand dunes of Death Valley we were able to slip off our sandals and enjoy the sand between our toes in t-shirts and shorts. We knew that the sand would get pretty hot by mid-day, so we arrived at Mesquite Flat early in the morning when the sand was still cool on our feet. By the time we left two hours later the our feet were already starting to feel what a huge impact the rising sun has on heating up the sand.

The best part about visiting sand dunes is that there is no single trail that you have to hike. It is really fun to watch each member of the family take their own path up the dunes. It is even more interesting to see how they get back down the other side. High Five loves to surf down on his stomach, while Five Ball enjoys running at full speed straight down. Five of Hearts has a much more graceful descent as she skips her way down each dune. By the time that we were done visiting the dunes we could have made our own mini sand dune with all the sand that was stuck to the kid’s bodies. Luckily we were able to take them swimming in the pool at the Furnace Creek Ranch. Sand dunes are super fun, but having water to wash up in afterwards makes things much more enjoyable.

 

Walking Among the Ancients

Whenever we visit California we seem to find ourselves visiting amazing trees. We have played under and on Giant Sequoias in Kings Canyon National Park, felt infinitesimally small hiking through the Redwood forests along the northern coast, and this past week we felt like relative infants while visiting a grove of the world’s oldest trees at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest near Bishop, CA.

While Bristlecone Pine trees don’t have the girth or stature of Sequoias and Redwoods they are seriously old trees. In fact the oldest living tree on earth (called Methuselah) is a Bristlecone Pine that is 4,765 years old. Unlike most trees the oldest Bristlecone Pines are actually the most twisted and stunted looking. Bristlecones growing in harsh conditions grow more slowly thereby developing compact, resinous wood which helps defend them from insects and diseases. These trees are amazing at growing in harsh conditions with poor soil and little water. They have figured out how to get just enough of what they need to survive year after year.

It was quite the experience driving to the Schulman Grove (named fro Dr. Edmund Schulman who first discovered how old Bristlecone Pines trees are). In order to reach the grove you must drive up to an elevation of over 9,000 feet with amazing views of the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. After over 30 minutes of driving straight up along a winding road we finally made it to the grove where we were greeted with the interesting formations of the Bristlecone Pines.

After checking out the visitors center we set out to hike the Discovery Trail and view trees that have been around since the Roman Empire was going strong. It was a very humbling experience to be in the presence of such ancient trees. The twisted formations and the colors are absolutely stunning and it was hard to stop ourselves from taking a picture of each tree. Now we just need to travel to the Arctic to visit the world’s smallest tree (the Dwarf Willow).

A Halloween Howl

We were awoken early this morning under starry skies in Death Valley National Park to a chorus of coyote howls. It was the perfect way to start Halloween. For five of the last six Halloweens we have been on the road and it is always fun to fit that days location and destination into our Halloween festivities. Being in “Death” Valley definitely started this Halloween off on the right foot.

Thanks to our early morning wake up (courtesy of the coyotes) we headed to Zabriskie Point to watch the sun rise. We then put on our Halloween costumes and headed to Las Vegas for a stop-off at two of our favorite Vegas attractions, Ronald’s vegan donut shop and the Pinball Hall of Fame.

Our hippie, werewolf, and super-knight had a blast enjoying amazing vegan donuts and playing some serious pinball. While Ronald’s Donuts didn’t feature any specially decorated Halloween donuts we played plenty of spooky pinball machines including The Adams Family, Monster Bash, and Ghost Busters. All in all it was another howling good Halloween on the road.