Back on Track at Disney

I had two goals today:

1. Keep Justin happy.
2. Get at least one photo of the four of us together.

After yesterday’s trauma, I really wanted Justin to have a good time today. That meant technology. We let him play with Chris’s phone whenever we had to stand in line for more than a few minutes. We’d been doing that a bit anyway, but we mostly tried to avoid it cause we were afraid he wouldn’t want to give it up. This was day 3 of standing in the heat, however, so we were much quicker to whip out the electronics. Goal #1 was a success.

So naturally Brayden turned out to be the bigger problem. His morning did not start well: he and Chris rushed off to the Matterhorn when the park opened, only to discover the ride was broken. Then they were halfway through Buzz Lightyear when it broke down too. (Seriously, Disney?)

The four of us did Star Tours together, which was good, but when we tried to rush off to Splash Mountain, Brayden insisted on taking time to build a custom droid in the Star Tours gift shop. Normally I would’ve said no, we need to go…but he got rushed out of the same gift shop yesterday, and he was having such a crappy morning, and I felt like I owed him something. So we waited. It meant a slightly longer wait at Splash Mountain, but a much happier Brayden, so whatever.

The get-a-family-photo goal worked out too. We finally got one just after we finished Splash Mountain, when Justin was thrilled that he got drenched (which is especially noteworthy cause last year he wouldn’t get on a water ride without a poncho to protect his clothes) and Brayden was equally thrilled that he barely got wet. Good times.

We also met Captain America, rode Big Thunder for a fifth time, and did Toy Story Mania (Brayden was grumpy after that one cause I got a better score than he did…but ice cream cures all ills) and Soarin’ Over California. We ended our very long day at the parks by watching the Aladdin stage show, which we all agreed was awesome, not least because we could sit in an air conditioned theatre for 40 minutes. Ahhh.

Another great vacation done. Home tomorrow…






Ups and Downs at Disneyland

I’m sure I speak for many autism moms when I say: damn the balloons.

Obviously Disneyland is full of balloons. And for the most part, Justin’s been OK with that; he doesn’t seem bothered by kids holding giant Mickey balloons on a string. But he had a mini-meltdown in the middle of the Muppet Vision 3D show when a 3D fly puffed up like a balloon and then exploded (it was going so well up until then!) We didn’t actually have to leave the theatre, but he was clearly traumatized, and spent the next hour complaining that Muppets are evil (sigh).

Then later, as we were leaving the park, a girl walking next to Justin had a balloon animal and a stick, and she kept popping the pieces. To his credit, he didn’t flip out; but he did have to walk with his hands over his ears, and he was quite relieved when she finally put the thing in the garbage.

The balloon phobia reared its ugly head again at dinner time. A very talented balloon artist was making the rounds of the restaurant, creating extraordinary animals for the kids. The sound of the twisting balloons was clearly bothering Justin (who, like so many kids on the spectrum, has super sensitive hearing). Again, he didn’t melt down, but he covered his ears and looked quite uncomfortable. Then the guy arrived at our table and offered to make animals for the boys. I’m sure Brayden would’ve liked one, but he knew that was a no-go. We just explained that balloons make Justin quite anxious; the guy apologized and left, and Justin could finally relax. Whew.

Despite all that, we did have a good day. We walked on to our first three rides with no waiting, then had lunch at ESPN Zone and let the boys play in the arcade for a bit. Then came the unfortunate Muppet experience, but we recovered by riding Monsters Inc, having some ice cream and doing Splash Mountain (which was especially nice as the temperature was well above 30). Harmony was restored.

Chris and the kids are shopping right now (back to the Lego store!) and then I think they might hit the pool for a bit before bed. One more day…

Mother’s Day at Mickey’s House

We didn’t actually go to Mickey’s house, but you get the point: we’re in Disneyland! In an uncharacteristically spontaneous move, I booked this trip a mere three weeks ago. I meant it to be a surprise for Chris’s birthday in June, but the dates worked out better to go in May, and it just happened to work out that our first day at the parks was Mother’s Day. For celebrating the joys of family, I can’t think of a better place to be.

And we had a FANTASTIC day. There were a few glitches (Justin and I both found the Matterhorn way too rough; Indiana Jones broke down three-quarters of the way through our ride and we had to get out and walk the rest of the way) but they didn’t really drag us down, especially since the Indiana Jones people gave us a Fastpass to be used for a ride of our choice.

I was surprised to see what a difference a year makes. Last year the kids were Star Wars-obsessed and insisted on riding Star Tours over and over again. This time around, the big hit is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (to be fair, it was closed on our trip last year), a thrill ride through a mine shaft that Chris and I both loved on our original trip 13 years ago. Brayden loves all the rides, but Justin has issues with a few; I was happy to see how excited he was about that one.

Another big difference is our endurance level: the boys had no trouble staying at the parks until 9 pm or so after having a break at the hotel in the afternoon, whereas last year they were DONE by 3 pm. We also have park hopper passes this time, which allowed us to spend most of the day at Disneyland but then hop over to California Adventure for the evening. Everyone should get a chance to see Cars Land all lit up with neon. We even managed to ride Radiator Springs Racers after dark — WAY cool.




Lovin’ the Land of Lego

When you combine Star Wars, Lego, picture-perfect weather and virtually no standing in line, you really can’t go wrong. Our boys were so pumped about going to Legoland that Justin was even excited about our parking pass because it had a picture of a Lego minifigure on it.

So expectations were high, and we weren’t disappointed. I thought we should start with some of the rides in case the place got crowded and the lines got long, but the boys headed straight for the Lego Star Wars Miniland so they could check out the Lego models of scenes from the movies. It’s amazing what people can do with a few million tiny bricks!

From there we wandered through the pirate section of the park, where Chris and the boys started doing some rides. Early on I decided to forego the rides and just focus on taking pictures, which wasn’t as boring as it sounds because there was plenty of cool stuff to look at (plus the rides are aimed at the 12-and-under set, so I wasn’t really missing out.) We also checked out the Castle Hill area, which had an actual castle, a dragon roller coaster and a pretty tame jousting ride that the kids enjoyed.

The hit of the day, though, was the AquaZone Wave Racers. This involved Chris and one of the kids in a seadoo-type thing attached to a platform that goes around in a circle. The real fun was that whoever wasn’t riding (i.e. me and the other kid) could push buttons and cause massive water explosions that drenched whichever seadoo happened to be going by. The boys each took a turn on the ride, but I think the one who was doing the button pushing actually had more fun. Chris ended up soaking wet, of course. Good times all around.

Brayden stumbled on to a room full of XBox machines where the kids could sit and play Lego games (Lego Star Wars, Lego Batman, Lego Harry Potter, etc.) so naturally they stayed there for a while. It was a bit tough getting them out of there, but we lured them away with promises of ice cream. Afterward we did some shopping and watched the Chima 4D show before calling it a day. Awesome.

Tomorrrow is our final day at Disneyland, and then we fly home late tomorrow night. It was a jam-packed week, but it never felt like a death march, and we’re all still friends, so all is well. I’m not sure we’re ever going to top this one, though.

Now to pack (sigh)…

The Universal Experience

It’s a good thing that wasn’t my first trip to Universal Studios. If it was, it might have bothered me to miss out on three-quarters of the attractions.

It’s not like we didn’t have fun. When the park opened we hurried off to the much-anticipated Transformers 3D ride, which impressed the kids but which left me a bit queasy. (We’re wondering if Brayden shares Mommy’s motion sickness issues, as he actually threw up in the car en route to Universal after trying to read his book on the bumpy freeway. Fortunately, I’d brought an empty ice bucket from the hotel as a backup in case one of them needed to pee…sometimes it pays to be uber-organized. But I digress.)

So the Transformers ride was a hit, but that was nothing compared to what came next: the Simpsons ride. The kids have never seen the show but they have played the iPad app with Chris plenty of times, so they knew enough about it to really get into it. They loved it so much that they insisted on getting right back in line to do it again. Good times.

We stopped for a quick bite, then went off to do the studio tour. This was probably not the best idea. It was a 35-minute wait to get on the tram, and much of the actual tour either bored or frightened the kids. By the time it was done, so were the boys. I tried to convince them to check out the Shrek 4D show or the Jurassic Park water ride, but no go. We ended up at the Curious George play area, where Brayden ran around like a wild child and Justin mostly sat and looked at the Simpsons book he bought. Still, a good day overall.

Tomorrow: Legoland…

Our California Adventure

My boys have long insisted that they’re “done” with Cars. And while it’s true that they’ve moved on to other obsessions, they did watch that movie approximately 364,000 times (I’d have to ask Justin for the exact number) and I knew they’d enjoy Cars Land at Disney California Adventure.

I’ve never seen Brayden so excited.

The line for Radiator Springs Racers was not to be believed, but thankfully we had a pass that gave us an appointed time to show up, so it was only a 12-minute wait. Some people stand in line for three hours for that ride, so we felt pretty fortunate. And what a ride it was! It featured several sets and pretty well every character from the movie, along with a high-speed race through Ornament Valley. Brayden immediately declared he liked it even better than Star Tours, which is saying something. So.very.awesome.

We also got a family photo with Lightning McQueen, who moves and blinks and talks. Brayden was so thrilled after that one that he literally jumped into my arms. Then it was on to Luigi’s Flying Tires, a ride described by our guidebook as “bumper cars meets human air hockey” that all three of my boys loved.

We stopped for a drink at Flo’s V8 Cafe, but since Flo didn’t offer the chicken nuggets Justin had been promised, we had to find somewhere else for lunch. We ended up at the Test Pilots Grill, which was outfitted like an airplane hangar and which offered food everyone liked. It was right next to Soarin’ Over California, the flight-simulator-Imax experience that Chris and I remembered enjoying on our first trip to Disney 12 years ago. I thought the feet-dangling-in-the-air thing might cause Justin some issues, but he was fine. Brayden especially loved the part where you fly over an aircraft carrier. Another favorite.

We saved the Grizzly River Run for last. We’d never get Justin on a water ride if it meant his clothes got wet, so I’d picked up cheap ponchos at the dollar store in Kelowna and brought them along. The kids and I wore them and stayed bone-dry (we looked like dorks, but who cared?); Chris opted to go without, so naturally he got drenched. Everyone had fun, though.

We picked up our rental car this afternoon. Universal Studios awaits tomorrow…

Destination Disney

Our day at Disneyland was amazing — relaxed, not rushed, not exhausting. We never had to wait more than 15 minutes for a ride, even the super popular ones: Star Tours, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, etc. Justin got a little scared on the Finding Nemo submarine ride and again on Indiana Jones, but generally he was OK. It turned out Brayden WAS tall enough for Indy (whew) and he totally loved it.

Both boys even got picked for Jedi training, so it was pretty much a perfect day. Justin battled Darth Maul and Brayden took on Darth Vader — very cool. The boys were so into the Star Wars thing that did the Star Tours ride three times, yet neither of them had any interest in meeting Mickey. (I’m never going to get the Star Wars theme music out of my head…but I guess that’s better than It’s a Small World.)

They spent another couple hours at the waterpark this afternoon before we went for dinner. Since neither of them cares about Mickey, we opted to skip the parade toninght and focus on getting a good rest. The wifi at the hotel is so slow and unreliable that posting pictures will have to wait until we get home (sigh).

Cars land tomorrow…

California Here We Come

This is already the greatest family vacation we’ve ever done, and we haven’t even gotten to the best part.

We arrived in Anaheim yesterday but had no plans to hit the parks yet, so we had most of the day to (gasp) relax. We shopped a bit (Brayden insisted on buying a very cool R2D2-Mickey-ears hat) and spent a couple hours at the pirate-themed waterpark at the hotel (Brayden ran out of superlatives for this one: “extremely fun”, “super fun”, “super mega fun”…)

Chris wanted to go back to Downtown Disney for supper, so we wandered back there but found that our restaurant of choice was packed. We were all hot and tired, and things were starting to get ugly…but then Brayden pointed to a Louisiana-style building and asked if it was a restaurant, and if it was, could we go there? It turned out to be a great choice, one that we never would have considered otherwise. Good call, B.

By the time we made it back to the hotel, everybody was bagged. I gave the kids a quick bath and let them play some iPad for a while before tucking them in. Everyone — and I mean everyone — was asleep by 8:30 p.m. Nice.

California Getaway

Despite some challenges getting there (we sat on a plane on the tarmac in Seattle for an hour and a half cause we were missing a pilot), we had a wonderful weekend in sunny San Diego. That was the first time Chris and I had been away together without the kids since before Brayden was born, and it was also the first time in years that I’d gone somewhere I’ve never been before — I’d almost forgotten how exciting that can be. We only had three days, but we managed to fit in almost everything: SeaWorld (which we considered a colossal waste of money), the world-famous San Diego Zoo, a Star Trek exhibition that included re-creations of sets from the show…and the USS Midway aircraft carrier.

I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of military history, but even I thought the Midway was amazing — it was far and away the highlight of the whole trip. Besides all the different aircraft on display, we got to see the whole “city at sea”: the crew bunks (each man had six cubic feet of space, which was barely enough for tiny little me to feel comfortable), the brig, engineering, the mess hall, the laundry room, the hangar deck, sick bay…all the way up to the tactical room, flight control and the main bridge. There were even a few simulators where you could mess around with buttons and act like you were flying a real airplane. It was beyond awesome.

We also toured a B-39 Foxtrot Soviet sub that’s parked in San Diego Bay, but after the Midway it seemed like a letdown. (And if you thought six cubic feet of space was cramped, try squeezing into the accommodations on a submarine. Yikes.)

I’m told the kids were no problem at all while we were away, which gives me some hope that we can maybe go away again sometime next year. I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled quite a lot, so I’m running out of places to go that I’ve never been before, but I’m sure I can come up with something. It’s totally worth it.