Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Disney Parks Part 1

Recently, I’ve had a couple of co-workers and family members plan a trip to Disneyland, and they’ve turned to me with their questions. I don’t know if they really know what they’re getting into when they do that. In fact, I’ve started warning people when the subject first comes up that they’re going to have to tell me to shut up when they’re done listening to me, because I never get tired of talking about Disney.

So, I decided to blog about it. This way, no one can tell me to shut up. You can just stop reading when you get bored (if you’ve even made it this far).

Having grown up with four brothers and a sister, Disneyland was never a financial possibility for my family. Therefore, the first time I went, I was 22 years old. The second time I was 23. I’ve tried counting the number of times I’ve been to a Disney park since then, and while my memory isn’t all that great, I’m pretty sure I’ve been between 15 and 20 times.

Of course, there are people out there who have been many more times than I have, and I’m not claiming to be an expert. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned and noticed through my many visits.
I’ve been to Disneyland/Disney World with kids of all ages (well, most ages – from 4 months to 16 years old), and I’ve been with just adults. I love doing both, but it’s true that the two experiences are very different.

I often get asked if it’s worth taking little children to the parks. I’d say that if they’re at least three years old, they’ll love it. I’ve been with a two-year old who loved it and talked about it constantly for two years (until she went again), but I’d say three is about the threshold. Disney apparently agrees with me, because that’s when they start charging for the child’s ticket. (Children two and under who are in the park without a ticket can still ride.)

In my opinion, there are different “experiences” to be had in the Disney parks. There’s the Young Child Experience, when you’re taking children from about three to about nine years old. There’s the Pre-Teen Experience, when you have kids with you who are about nine to about twelve years old. There’s the Teenager Experience, the Young Adult Experience and the Adult Experience, which have only subtle differences between them. I’m guessing there’s a Senior Experience as well, but I can’t really speak to that one…

The Young Child Experience:

I’ve spent most Young Child Experiences in Disneyland, and only a couple in Disney World, so I’m talking mostly about California on this one…

From it’s a Small World to meeting characters, young kids have a BLAST at Disney parks. There’s so much for them to do. Unlike many amusement parks that have very few rides that young children can go on, Disney has very few rides that young children CAN’T go on. Of course, there are certain rides that tend to be favorites. And most of those are in Fantasyland, which tends to be one of the busiest areas of the Park.

(Disclaimer: I have spent very little time in Mickey's Toon Town. Even when we go with small children, we’ve only gone to Toon Town to see Mickey and Minnie. There are relatively few rides there, and some of them are only for kids (you can’t ride with them). The rides throughout the rest of the park are ones that kids and adults can enjoy together.)

A few of the rides that I’ve noticed kids really enjoy in Disneyland: it’s a Small World, Mad Tea Party, King Arthur’s Carousel, Buzz Lightyear, Casey Jr. Circus Train, Winnie the Pooh. In Disney’s California Adventure: Little Mermaid, Francis’ Ladybug Boogie, Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, King Triton’s Carousel, Toy Story Mania. That’s not to say that there aren’t other great rides that kids love, but those are the ones that have come up as “favorites” or that we’ve ridden more than once because someone wanted to go on it again.

I recommend meeting at least a few characters during the Young Child Experience. You can go to Mickey’s house to see him in Toon Town. The lines are generally the shortest when he first starts greeting guests (usually at 10:00am). If you can get there right around 10:00, you shouldn’t have to wait more than twenty minutes. Minnie’s house is just next door, and the same concept applies. If you’re going to both, definitely do Mickey’s house first, since his lines back up faster than Minnie’s. If you can’t get there at 10:00 and don’t want to stand in a long line, I recommend trying to catch him in Disney’s California Adventure. He has a spot where he often greets guests in on Paradise Pier, not far from Ariel’s Grotto.

If you have little princesses in your group, you’ll probably want to meet at least a couple of the Disney princesses. If you can afford it, I’d highly recommend getting a reservation at Ariel’s Grotto for lunch. It’s expensive – about $35-40/plate, but while you’re eating, four princesses come out and mingle with the diners. Each one will come to your table and talk with your kids, sign autographs and pose for pictures. While I wouldn’t say the food is worth that much money (it’s good, but not that good), the whole experience definitely is worth it. The other options for seeing princesses involve standing in some pretty long lines, unless you’re lucky enough to get there at the right time. If you don’t want to do either, the girls in your party can still see the princesses in the parades, and they won’t even know that they’re missing anything (unless you tell them).

While the little ones can go on most of the rides with you, there are a few that they’re not going to be able to ride. The height restrictions are anywhere from 32 to 48 inches, depending on the ride.

If you’d like to go on some/all of those rides, and if it’s possible, I recommend taking more than two adults on your trip (the favorite aunt is always an option…). Disney has what’s called a “Rider Switch Pass” for many of the rides that have a height requirement. This allows your group to go on, say, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad while one adult stays back with the kiddies. When the first group is done, the person who stayed back can then get into the Fast Pass line (which is significantly shorter than the standby line). The Switch Pass allows up to three people onto the ride, so if you have more than two adults, the one who stayed back doesn’t have to ride alone (it also gives one or two people the chance to ride twice).

NOTE: the Switch pass needs to be obtained before the main group gets on the ride. You need to talk to the Cast Member at the front of the line, and they’ll usually need to see the child that’s staying behind.

If you have really young children, I recommend taking a stroller to the park. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, and if you wear out the kids too much, they just get ornery. You can rent a stroller at the park, but they’re $15.00 a day, so it’ll save a lot of money if you can take your own. There are “Stroller Parking” areas all around the park, where you can leave your stroller when you go on rides. While I wouldn’t leave anything valuable on the stroller, it’s always nice to have a place to leave behind sweatshirts, water bottles, etc. so that you don’t have to carry them on the ride. In fact, when I go without children, I always miss having a place to stash the stuff I always end up carrying around.

The Disney parks are always the busiest in the afternoons. I recommend getting to the gates before the park even opens (even as early as 30 minutes before opening) and spending the first part of your morning in Fantasyland (though, if you’re going on some of the ‘bigger’ rides, you’ll want to send someone out to get Fast Passes for later). You'll be able to ride many more rides and stand in a lot fewer lines if you can do that.

If you do make it to the Park right around the time it opens and you want to take in the evening entertainment (which I’ll talk about later), I’d recommend heading back to your hotel for the afternoon to rest, nap, etc, and then coming back to the park around 5:00 or 6:00pm. That way, you’ll be refreshed when other families are flagging and heading home because they can’t handle any more. If you decide to stay in the Park during the afternoon, you may want to take that time to shop or get some ice cream and find a relatively quiet place to sit for a while. Otherwise, you'll be standing in some pretty horrendous lines

Anyone still reading at this point? Cause I'm just getting started!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Having grown up in an active Christian family, I have always been familiar with rules and boundaries. I've even come to believe that rules are generally a good thing; that we can actually be more free when we have boundaries to guide us. A favorite analogy is flying a kite. As long as you hold onto the string, the kite can soar to incredible heights. But the minute you let go of the thing that's "holding it back," it plummets to the ground. Boundaries are the same way - they tether us to the world so that we can soar to unbelievable heights.

Having learned and believed all of this, you'd think I'd be pretty good at following rules. Yeah...not so much. I was a senior in college before I realized that budgets work the same way. As restricting as a budget always sounded to me, I finally figured out that it was actually freeing to stick to one. I suddenly didn't have to worry about whether or not I had money to cover a certain expense or pay overdraft fees. What a concept!

So, I guess it shouldn't be too surprising that it's taken me this long to figure out that the same thing works with eating and exercise. Huh. Go figure.

Turns out, if you keep tabs on what you're eating and get exercise in, you actually start to feel better. Your cholesterol goes down, your metabolism goes up, you start sleeping better, and you can play with nieces and nephews without passing out from lack of oxygen. Weird, right?

I just can't wait to figure out what my next revelation is going to be. Maybe that if you get to work on time, you can actually leave on time. Or if you practice an instrument, you might get better on it.

Then again, could just be pipe dreams...

Monday, May 23, 2011

I did it!!

Okay, it was nearly two months ago, but I'm finally reporting on the triathlon. I did it! I completed the mini-tri in just short of an hour. Literally. As in, 59 minutes and 40 seconds. Go me!

My sister, Emily, and I headed down to St. George on Friday and stayed with our college roommate and her family. It was a blast to see them, and we stayed up way too late chatting, considering I was planning to kill myself the next day, but it was definitely worth it! Thanks again Sue & Marshall - you guys are awesome!

On the morning of the race, Emily and I went to the competition area and met up with Olga, who was responsible for getting me into this whole thing in the first place. We got signed in and set up. I was pretty nervous, especially for the swim. (Though my sister-in-law, Lori, had shown me how to get started and make better turns, I hadn't had a lot of practice in doing it.)

We lined up next to the pool where the race would start and tried not to look at the guys who decided to come in tiny speedos. Yick.

Finally, it was time to start. We wore anklets that would start the timing the minute we crossed over a certain spot, and keep track of our times for each portion of the race. When it was my turn, I made my way as quickly as possible down to the lane I was assigned to and jumped in.

It was about then that I realized I hadn't put my goggles on.

So, it turns out that all the practice with jumping in and getting a good start wasn't really applicable because, well, I had to pause to adjust my goggles...

The swim actually went much more quickly than I had expected (once I got started). Emily stood at one end of my lane and cheered for me when I got to the turns, which gave me a boost for each lap. And then, I was done. I got out and tried to catch my breath while running for the transition area.

It took me a while to transition to the bike. (Most of that time went to finding where I had set up my things. Yeah. Got a little disoriented there...) Once I found it, I had to dry off (an impossible feat, really), get my biking shorts and t-shirt on over my swimsuit, put my shoes and socks on, put my helmet on, and then take my bike off the rack and head to the start of the bike race.

The biking portion was hard. I thought I was going to die on some of the hills, and I was certain that I would never reach the turn-around point, but I kept going, and, believe it or not, I did reach it. I was determined to not get off and push my bike, and I made it without doing so. (I won't mention the fact that someone pushing her bike actually passed me...)

When I got back to the transition area, I met up with a friend, and we started the running portion together. It wasn't long before I told her to go ahead and leave me behind. I was pretty sure that a turtle could have passed me at that point... I had to walk several times on the way out, but once I reached the turn-around point, I was determined to run all the way back. (The word running here may be a misnomer... At that point, a dead cow could have moved faster than I was moving.)

When I was nearing the finish line, Olga and her husband met up with me - they had come back to run the end with me. It was quite a boost, and I was able to put on a burst of speed at the last moment.

And I did it!!

...I'm still pretty impressed with myself.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Triathlon Update

I made a couple of significant milestones this week, training for my mini-tri. First, on Wednesday, for the first time ever, I swam 4 laps without stopping. That's the full 200 meters that I need for the tri. Exactly one month before the race. Hallelujah!

Then, today, I did my own little mini-tri at the gym. 200-meter swim, 5-mile bike (on a stationary bike), and 1.5-mile run. It was very hard, but I did it! I was very proud of myself, and it's given me hope that I may actually be able to finish this race. :)

So, I have four weeks from today to prepare for my race, and I have a few goals in mind for the month...

First, I need to work on my start and turns in swimming. Although I did pretty well with my turns on Wednesday, I paused a bit too long each time this morning.

Second, I need to start training outside. As the weather is now nice for at least part of the time, I think that should actually work. I drove around today to see exactly how far I need to go to get in the 5-mile biking and 1.5-mile running.

Third, I need to work on my breathing in all three sports. This is more of a continuation of a goal, as I've been working on that since I started. In fact, I've really been working on my breathing since I was born, if I remember right...

Anyway, one month to go, and I'm starting to get excited for it! Now, we'll just see how sore I am tomorrow...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Snowed In

I spent last week staying with my nieces and nephews in Wisconsin while their parents went to Cancun. While I expected it to be cold (it is, after all, February... in Wisconsin...), I wasn't exactly expecting the biggest storm in who-knows-how-long.

The snow started on Tuesday. By the time I picked up my niece from school, it was hard to see more than a few feet ahead, and people were sliding off everywhere. The school district announced that Wednesday would be a snow day.

By that evening, the house was shaking with wind and the snow was getting into the vents and then melting into the basement. My oldest nephew went outside and nearly got frostbite trying to fix that little problem. Every time we opened the door, snow would blow all the way across the kitchen. He tried duct tape at first, but it froze the minute he pulled a piece out. Using my dad's all time favorite "old-lady-elastics," we were able to stop the leak eventually.

Then we noticed that there was actual snow coming into the basement from the wall. Weirdest thing I've ever seen.

By Wednesday, the storm was starting to peter out. And this is what we were left with.
It took until Thursday to dig out enough that we could actually get the car out of the garage.
We celebrated by leaving the minute the way was clear. We had lunch at Taco Bell, and quite enjoyed the sight of their drive through. Or the lack thereof...

Not exactly what I was expecting from last week, but all in all, it was quite an adventure!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tag-Team Clean

So, on Saturday, Emily texted me and asked if I'd want to tag-team our cleaning responsibilities. She came over and helped me clean my apartment, and then (after a lunchbreak), we went to her house and cleaned there. It was an excellent idea, for a couple of reasons.

First, my house is cleaner than it's been in....well, a long time. Christina and I own two vacuums, but neither of them work. (Though it's apparently important that we keep them around and try them again every once in a while - just in case they suddenly decide to start working.) So, in order to vacuum our floors, we have to borrow. It was nice that not only did Emily bring her vacuum, but she also brought a few other supplies we were low on.

B - Cleaning is always better with more people. It gets done faster, and it's more fun.

3) Cleaning someone else's house is easier than cleaning your own. Emily did most of the work at my house (thanks again!), and I like to think I put in quite a bit of work at hers.

I think one of the reasons behind this is that it's not so easy to get distracted. You know, the whole take-someting-into-another-room-and-forget-what-you're-doing syndrome. (Otherwise known as TSIARAFWYDS).

Probably another reason is that tasks in your own house start to overwhelm you until they're too daunting to consider, and then you get used to them looming over you in your subconscious mind until they just become a part of who you are. At that point, you know that actually doing the cleaning would destroy the character that you've built for yourself, so you avoid it completely. Until someone else comes along and reminds you that it only takes ten minutes to mop your bathroom floor.

IV: Cleaning is exercise, therefore, more is better. I didn't make it to the gym on Saturday, and yet I was sore that night. Booyah!

**The numbering in this blog is dedicated to Staci.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Walt Disney World in a Wheelchair

Every other year, my brother takes his family to Orlando for a week of Mickey Magic. And because I'm such an awesome aunt, they invite me to come along. About two weeks ago was our fourth time going, and, as usual, it was an absolute blast.

However, this time was a little different than usual. The first two days we were there, we were in the parks for half a day. I walked both days. By the second night, my ankle was the size of a small melon and my knee was protesting loudly. So, on the third day - our first full day in the park - I swallowed my pride and rented a wheelchair. I was hoping that one day in the chair would help my knee to feel better. I had the same hope on the second day in the chair. And the third. Finally, I figured I was in it for good. After all, my ankle was the size of a watermelon. I couldn't resist pictures...

Normal ankle:
Not-so-normal ankle (the bump that looks like my ankle bone? Not bone):


Anyway, it turns out Disney World is a somewhat different experience in a wheelchair. I learned a few things, which I've decided to list here...

1. An occupied wheelchair with its brakes on will slide backwards on an inclined moving walkway. And if the moving walkway isn't moving? Well, my nephew can attest to the fact that the incline is a bit too steep at the end of the Space Mountain exit.

2. A wheelchair will get you onto some rides faster than a Fast Pass. Most notably: Splash Mountain.

3. Kids can recover from having their feet run over by a wheelchair very quickly.

4. Surprisingly, Disney World can be exhausting even when you're sitting all day.

5. A wheelchair makes it take much longer to get onto some rides than a normal line. Most notably: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

6. People have no concern for the health of their ankles. This is obvious, because they will often step directly in front of a moving wheelchair and stop abruptly.

7. The best time to have a wheelchair in Disney World? When waiting for the fireworks. No sitting on the ground for an hour. Booyah.

8. Most rides have lines that are big enough for wheelchairs, which means you're not going to get through any faster or slower than you would if you didn't have a wheelchair.

9. Lowering your line of sight to a lower level makes it obvious that very few people look good in short shorts. Ew.

10. Baxter is the best 16-year old nephew in the world. Thanks for pushing me around!!