The Real Deal: A Disneyland Trip Report 6/15-6/20/2021

Now that we’re back home full of happy memories and all the exhaustion, I’m going to try to take the time to put together all my thoughts on our family’s first trip back to Disneyland since before the whole pandemic/closure and as Legacy Passholders.

In a nutshell it was an amazing, well needed escape but in the same breath incredibly stressful with the last-minute changes on masks.

The Characters Involved & a word about their Disney habits
DH, me (DW), DS9, DD8, DS4 and DD1.5

DH & I and the 3 older kids are all DL veterans since we’ve had APs and gone at least quarterly (some years more like monthly) since 2014. While DS4 wasn’t old enough to need a pass before the shutdown he most definitely remembered and missed DL just like the rest of the family (he asked for it just about every night for the first few months of lockdown & even though he eventually stopped asking, more than a year later hasn’t forgotten it).

This was DD1.5’s first every vacation, first ever Disneyland (or any Disney destination) visit and first time really being away from home for longer than a few hours so we worried how she would feel in general but because she was basically babysat all of 2020 by Disney+ with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Minnie Bow-tique, we knew that once she saw Mickey & Minnie she would be in absolute heaven.

We weren’t worried about DS4 being back in DL, but when we started the trip in San Diego we discovered that he had extreme anxiety about doing anything not at home and kept asking to go home or back to the hotel so became slightly worried but still hopeful about how he would feel being back.

Some background on the overall decision to go

We’ve taken a lot of precautions throughout the pandemic for a number of reasons but one of our main concerns that still lingers on is our DS4 with a moderate risk factor in his medical history.

We landed on going because:

  • Mask-wearing/proof of vaccination was still mandated for large events in California and Disney’s original announcement welcoming back out of state guests mentioned masks would still be required,
  • A lot of activities at DLR are outdoors and it would be reasonably easy to avoid almost, if not all of the spaces that required being in crowded and/or indoor spaces for a prolonged period of time,
  • We figured the closer to June 15th we went the capacity would be more likely to be close to the 35% cap that the state had in place prior to June 15th, and
  • Numbers overall in California look fantastic and specifically Orange county looked much better than what the numbers are at home- both in cases & vaccination rates so we felt it was much safer than any similar type of activity we would be doing at home (even though we have mostly avoided all crowds while being home the last year).

Even though we knew social distancing would be out the door (and knew that things could change on a dime while there), with all of the above we felt reasonably comfortable that we would still feel safe and no matter what we agreed we would take it slow and could absolutely opt out of any activities that felt less safe.

We also right up front acknowledged that this wouldn’t be the pull-all-the-stops 10 day trip bookended with 1 night at DLH to kick off the trip, ending with 2 nights at GCH that we had been dreaming about throughout the closure. First of all 10 days price-wise was a tough price to swallow with APs still not back & even though the GCH was available, with it not having all the little perks of onsite guests available (like EMH & activities in the lobby) and DLH not being at all available period we kept this an off-site good neighbor hotel trip which is our M.O. Also, most of the entertainment and dining that we had been thinking of including in such a sky’s-the-limit trip wasn’t quite back yet (Napa Rose Princess dining, Blue Bayou F! dining, Goofy’s Kitchen to name a few), so this we turned this into more of a stop-gap, get in our Disney fix until APs come back trip, but silver lining: it gives us more time to save up for when we can get such a trip off the ground!

Ok enough background. On to the trip!

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My niece’s kids have been the same. Even her 3 year old twins that hadn’t been since they were 1! I’m not sure when they’ll be comfortable going back. They live in AZ but have a family house in LA that they were used to visiting at least twice a year with AP’s to DL.

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All Hail The Boarding Group Drops

As our last DLR trip was Oct 2019 (pre-RotR) and we haven’t yet made it back to WDW since our initial family trip in 2016, this was our first time experiencing BGs so before I launch into details of each day, here’s a recap of what our BGs success/failures were & a few thoughts on how I felt that went.

Tue 6/15
7AM: Unsuccessful
12PM: RotR back-up group 232

Wed 6/16
7AM: RotR 106
12PM: Ineligible to try since our RotR group was not yet called

Thur 6/17
7AM: WS 18
12PM: RotR 170

Fri 6/18
7AM: WS 16
12PM: RotR 197

Sun 6/20
7AM: Unsuccessful
12PM: WS 136

Going into this trip I stressed very much to the family (ok, mostly DH and DS9 because DD8 really wasn’t that excited for either ride) that our first day BGs were one of my lower priorities, that I wanted our first day back to be more about the ambiance of the place, making sure we did family things and that we would hit BGs hard the next 4 days.

On that first morning, our unsuccessful attempt was probably partly because of my attitude, partly because DH hadn’t ever practiced live with me and partly DS9’s nerves wanting it so bad because he loves doing all things new when they are new.

On our last morning our unsuccessful attempt was the result of an error on my part. I did not realize our reservation for that day was in DCA. I could’ve sworn I had booked us Disneyland but in looking back after we couldn’t get a Rise BG realized that in both the app and in the confirmation email it clearly stated DCA- so a lesson that even as a confident fairly tech-savvy planner, double check your stuff. So in the minutes we took figuring that out, we completely lost out on a 7AM BG drop.

As for actually getting on the ride, that was an entirely other animal than actually securing the BG. Obviously with our first day being a back-up BG for RotR we didn’t have much hope that we would get on and we didn’t (I believe they got close to 200 but not over it).

The second day we were more successful and had a blast getting on Rise for our first time and with RS the older kids got 2 rides on it, but we felt slightly jipped in that we didn’t have a chance to book a 12pm BG at all.

Then the third day again our first BG was an absolute success, this time for Webslingers, and getting on the ride was an absolute delight (and this time for the whole family which I really appreciated as a mom with littles). However, Rise had issues that day and we were waiting out in DL ready to book it to SW:GE for our BG but they stopped calling BGs after about 150 (don’t remember exactly) and then gave us the message that our BG wasn’t able to be accommodated in the last hour so it must’ve been having some issue.

The fourth day was our best day with our lowest BG of the trip, Webslingers again, and with the noon drop we were able to get a Rise BG and even better, the ride was operating full tilt at a much faster clip than the day before so even though we had a higher BG we were able to ride it and again the older kids 2x with RS.

Our last day because of my error we only had the 12pm BG and it was a higher one for Webslingers and this was the most frustrating BG of them all. First of all since it was our last day we were trying to cram in all the things and so we pushed it right to the limit on when we needed to return for our Webslingers BG and arrived to a very long and full queue. It got so long that they had snaked in a back-stage area in between the Hollywood Land buildings and Avengers Campus bathrooms. It was very hot/sunny (some umbrella’s provided but only so many and there were more groups than umbrella’s) and being backstage it pretty much looked like a parking lot.

Now none of this would’ve mattered and it actually was kind of cool at first to be in that backstage normally off limits area, but after about 15 minutes back there and 25 minutes of being in line overall, the ride went down so it quickly became much less cool in all aspects of the word as we tried to cram all 4 kids into the bit of umbrella shade nearest our spot in the queue. 50 minutes later it still wasn’t back and no one would tell us anything except that if we left we would forfeit our BG (because Disney does this frustrating thing where they refuse to be transparent when a lot of people are waiting in a big group for something new and exciting).

At that point when it had been 75 minutes since we entered the queue and with the clock ticking on our last few hours of our 5 day tickets, we decided to leave but first asked if we could go use a recovery pass that we had received that morning for a ride nearby and check back after and if the ride was back, get back in the queue & were told, check with the guys in the front to see what they can do. The guy at the front was a very firm no, we cannot, we don’t have that authority and unfortunately if you’ve decided to leave you’ve forfeited your place. So we retreated to our strollers and just as soon as we drove them back past the ride, not even 2 minutes later, the ride was back up. My DH approached the same CM right there and said we just left after over an hour in line, could we get back in. When met with no, DH asked for a manager and got quite heated. When the CM came back (after discussing with a manager, but not bringing her back to talk to us) he noticed me standing there as well and said “Oh, I remember you, yes, you just left, of course you can come back in, no need for anyone to get angry.” It could’ve all been so easily avoided if Disney had some way for us to checkback within another specified time period OR if they had just dumped the queue for that long of a downtime and just not called back BGs beyond what they had already called allowing for those whose BGs were during downtime to still come back later.

Anywho, overall I went into the BG experience knowing it would require a lot of flexibility in our plans (and that was all built in anyways because we have small kids) and also feeling like they were the most fair shot at getting a crack at the newest rides.

I left feeling that the system was just more complicated than it needed to be and also disappointed that Disney’s solution to the demand has created some really stressful experiences (like our being told our BG gets forfeited if we leave a miserable sunny line while a ride is down and we are stuck not doing the things we wanted to do which included a bunch of snacking - seriously we had turkey legs, Dole Whips, Shawarma and if we could fit it in a repeat on churros all planned for the night, but all of those things got the axe when push came to shove in order to get the stuff done).

But anywho, it’s a necessary evil for now, but I hope that by our next trip maybe at least Webslingers won’t need the craziness of a BG and I am willing to put up with it for one attraction as I don’t see the demand for RotR curbing off anytime soon.

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Oh man it’s so hard when they miss it just as much as we do! I hope that when they can feel safe returning that it is full of joy and magic for them!!

It was SO heart-breaking when DS4 (then 3) would ask about it last year. And then he started having a dream that he would get lost at Disneyland so we had to tell him to find Mommy on [insert whatever ride he picked that he was missing most] and to dream of us riding it together. That helped and each morning he would talk about how we rode small world or Pirates or Dumbo or the carousel together.

Then the night I was up packing before we were leaving the next day, I was up worrying if we should even still be going. The next morning when I woke my kids up and reminded them that we would be leaving on our trip that night and I would need their help to finish packing. My DD8 was surprised that we were leaving already because she didn’t realize we were going a few days early to do other stuff before Disneyland but then also told me she had been having a dream that she was riding the train with an older loved one who we lost unexpectedly in October last year (not to Covid, but was there one minute, gone the next & no funeral or service due to the pandemic). I told her “Nana must’ve known you are going to Disneyland and is excited for you to go.” And instantly as we had that conversation I felt a calm about the trip and honestly, if it were not for that, I would’ve probably lost it with the last minute mask change that happened and the crazy crowded Harbor situation that we ended up in our first morning.

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Some tough situations there! Sorry for the bad experiences. I hope to hear much more about the good memories soon!

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Thanks for sharing your adventures and misadventures. We understand. We can rejoice and sympathize.

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During the pandemic, I gave all five of the kids a lanyard and 6 pins all on a theme. I started with the two older boys who both have birthdays in May. Well, their younger sister (3 at the time) was in tears she wanted pins so bad. So I gave her a lanyard and pins for her birthday in September. Then thought I better get the twins in January when they turned 3 so they didn’t feel left out! It was probably way more fun for me than it was for them. I’m headed over to visit them tomorrow and I’m bringing a big bag of pins with me that they can choose additional pins from. A little bit of Disney!

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There’s Other Stuff to do in California?

Our first day at Disneyland was set to be the first day possible we could get back in- Tue 6/15 and we took work off Mon 6/14 to arrive in California that day, get a good’s night rest and proceed to our full days at Disneyland. Since we had no work or other plans on the weekend as well, it opened up the option of leaving over the weekend and doing other stuff in California (or elsewhere on the way) before Disneyland, so we planned a few things before-hand.

The drafted plan for the weekend:

Sat 6/12- start our drive at 3-4pm stopping for dinner & spending a few relaxing hours at my mom’s rural property 3 hrs outside of SLC, continue on our drive sometime after 10pm

Sun 6/13- arrive in SD around 8am, get bfast, hit up a beach (roughly penciled in for Coronado but also had a few back-ups nearby in case Coronado was difficult) > get seafood by the seashore for lunch, nap at the hotel once the room was ready, an evening walk around Old Town where our hotel was located

Mon 6/14- bright and early arrive at the zoo with bfast from the hotel in hand, do as much of the zoo as we felt like, eating lunch there, grab dinner in San Diego, drive up to Anaheim after 7pm

What we ended up doing

Sat 6/12- We stuck really well to the plan here. We left right on time and my mom was SO happy to have us. Dinner on her patio was lovely, the kids had amazing time (they absolutely fell in love with my sister’s dog who is living with my mom while my sister is off on a post-nursing school adventure until October) and we all spent some good quality time until we decided to spare the poor dog, and get my excited kids back on the road so the dog could get her sleep. The drive was a wonderful, quiet, peaceful & totally uneventful overnight drive - just the way we like our trips into California to start.

Sun 6/13- We kept to some of the plan, but deviated a bunch as our exhaustion from our first overnight drive in a year a half kicked in. We arrived in San Diego at 7am local which was earlier than I wanted to be arriving at the hotel, but since we didn’t quite have a fully formulated breakfast plan, we let the hotel know we were there, got a parking pass and setup to receive a text as soon as a room became available. Bfast was McD’s, picked for its proximity to a Target where we ate in the Target parking lot before heading in to shop for a few essentials. This would’ve been a very ordinary stop on any other day, but this happened to also be the VERY FIRST time we took ALL 4 kids into a store (just before Covid DD1.5 was a tiny baby during flu season so we were keeping her away from restaurants/stores and then as a result of Covid that extended to all 4 kids staying away too). So fun fact for us. And while the kids behaved as good as kids can, we’re not eager to rush all 4 of them back to the store at once with us. :joy:

The next part of our day was beach time! While we were in Target DBIL who had lived in SD for a bit and had friends who still lived there, threw a beach recommendation at us that I hadn’t seen in my research- Law Street. It doesn’t pull up as an official beach but according to him it was a nice quiet space of sand that really only locals knew about and he said parking hadn’t been a pain at all when he’d taken his kids the last time. When we looked it up we were equidistant (17 min for both, in opposite directions) from both our planned beach -Coronado, and Law Street. We decided to try out DBIL’s recommendation and drove there easily but once we pulled up on the very small street for parking we were met with not only a full street with nowhere to park (and no open spots for the couple of blocks nearby) but also a MASSIVE mat-to-mat yoga class happening on the entire grassy area on the way to the beach with easily hundreds of people participating. With no parking and the yoga class we decided to high-tail it back to Coronado, even though now it was a 34 min drive. Once there, parking wasn’t too difficult (lots more real estate on the much larger Ocean Ave and many branching streets), and the kids got a kick out of driving over the bridge and catching views of the Bay. The beach itself was probably more crowded than the sand at Law Street, but it didn’t have the crush of a yoga class to dodge first and was open enough that we felt comfortable in our corner of sand. Once setup, I took off to the water with the kids. This was where DS4’s anxiety first kicked in. He was happy to go down to the water at first, but 5 min into playing at the edge of the waves and he was done (and even as I type this up and he overhears me ask DH a question about our beach day his immediate reaction is: “I DON’T like the ocean. No more ocean. I don’t like ANY OCEANS”). He was one minute dipping his toes at the edge of the waves and then the next abruptly done with the beach, done with not being at home, done with everything and asking to go home. We compromised with getting him back to towel the rest of the time & DH was happy to sit with him while I stayed with the 3 others wading into the ocean and enjoying the water and breeze on a hot afternoon. Back at the towels before we packed up to leave, I pointed out the Hotel Del Coronado to the older 2 kids (DD8 when I asked her if she could see it responded “Do you mean the castle?”) and explained the connection to the Grand Floridian (where we had eaten bfast on our last morning in Florida in 2016). DS9 remembered it and it all clicked and DD8 at least remembers looking at pictures of it. But I was glad I remembered to point out the Disney connection as that was one of the reasons I was so excited about the Coronado.

The plan next was lunch at a seafood place by the seashore but everything would’ve required finding street parking or walking from our spot on the beach up to the Hotel Del Coronado but with the midday exhaustion after an overnight drive kicking in no one felt much like walking (and there was a smidgeon of feeling underdressed in our beach gear + the drive exhaustion always adds a little extra feeling of raggedy-ness) so we decided to look at options nearby our hotel- the Best Western Hacienda in Old Town. It was very close to many great Mexican food options in Old Town but parking was scarce and again we weren’t feeling any kind of walk even from our hotel to several places nearby so we decided to just order food from the restaurant in the hotel- The Tequila Factory. As we were trying to formulate that plan/figure out what to order, we got the call the room was ready so I checked us in properly, got us set-up into the hotel room while making sure everyone took a shower/bath post beach, while DH ordered the food and went with DS9 to pick it up. The restaurant was on an upper level at the back of the hotel (but was street level on that side of the hotel owing to the fact that the whole hotel was built into a hilly portion of Old Town). Our room was on that side of the hotel so not far and the vantages from our room (facing towards the ocean) were amazing, but being on the hilly portion made accessing anything other than our room less straightforward and easy. The age of the hotel was also easily apparent and our overall take on the hotel was we wished we had booked at the familiar Hilton Garden Inn that was also fairly close to Old Town where we’ve stayed in the past when we’ve been to San Diego. We picked the Best Western Hacienda for its free bfast (more on in the next day’s update) and for the fact that it was IN Old Town giving us something to do very close by without much planning for the chill arrival day we wanted.

Our room was fairly close to the restaurant but because of the hill we were on required a steep downhill and then back uphill walk to access it. DH just before we’d left home had tweaked his foot/ankle putting bad weight on it while sitting down and had tried to spend the time at the beach taking it easy (the main reason he was happy to wait at the towel w/ DS4 & another reason we weren’t up for walking to food). That uphill and downhill walk killed all ideas of keeping it easy on his foot/ankle and he came back hobbling which also put a damper on plans of walking around Old Town that night after a nap. The restaurant’s fajita’s and combo platter with enchiladas and tacos were all very tasty and the burger that we got for some of the kids who weren’t feeling like Mexican to split was very tasty and large (even splitting it the two kids that had some ate just half).

We got our nap in and afterwards debated about trying to go for a walk and ended up hanging around in the room being lazy but then FOMO (and the need to pick-up some dinner somewhere) kicked in and we decided to venture out on foot. This turned out to be not a great idea because most of Old Town was closing up by then and DH’s foot got aggravated again walking on the slopes. We did watch (we think it was Sea World’s) fireworks from a parking lot near our hotel but with nothing really open and DH’s foot, we aborted the walk and decided to just do a quick drive-thru dinner (Burger King) and one more stop at Target (this time I just ran in alone) to pick up aloe lotion (some of us got a little more sun on the beach) & ibuprofen (to help out with DH’s foot and have him ready for the zoo tomorrow and if not the zoo, then definitely the Disneyland the following days).

Mon 6/14- We loosely stuck to the plan but definitely made some improvements to it throughout the day. For bfast the plan had been to eat the hotel bfast but upon finding out the bfast was only available to pick-up for the adults on the reservation, we had to come up with a plan for the 4 kids to eat (this cemented our thought that we regretted trying out a new hotel vs. going along with the perfectly good one we’d always been to in San Diego since we’d figured bfast for our family would be worth a little more for the night). So after loading up the car (easily done because I had packed to be able to take in just certain bags for one night in SD), we picked up the adults’ food from the hotel’s restaurant and swung by Chick-fil-A’s drive thru so everyone had something to eat. The drive to the zoo was so quick that I was still handing out everyone’s food to eat by the time we arrived. We finished eating, then headed straight for the zoo.

Looking into the safety measures for the zoo, they had stated masks would be required for all unvaccinated individuals except when eating or drinking AND for everyone whenever social distancing wasn’t possible. Well no one was enforcing any of that and it was a busy day, so we quickly arrived to a throng of people entering with only about 1/3-1/2 the crowd wearing masks and DH questioned my research that masks were required at all. He quickly saw the signs at the entrance backing up my claims but we both realized there was going to be zero enforcement and it would be up to us to avoid un-masked/un-vaccinated (so for sure any kids under 12 not wearing masks). This was our first time being in a crowd of that size without masks so to say we were uncomfortable was an understatement. However, once through the gates and a quick bathroom stop at the start of the zoo, we were able to find places to spread out and stay back from crowds and just uncomfortable instead of ready to panic.

We hit the Koala’s/outback areas first on DS4’s request (and to help keep him asking to go home right away). DH’s foot was still bothering him so after those first couple of exhibits (and where the path looked like it was going to get hilly and aggravate it more going towards the elephants), he decided to camp out on a bench while we ventured forward. We passed meerkats on our way to the elephants and then kept going up towards the lions and reached the cheetah’s before we decided to turn back back towards DH (taking one mask/drink/snack break on our way back to him about halfway back). At this point I was starting to wonder if we should abandon our zoo day on account of the heat, lack of masks around us and the stress of having to avoid people on sometimes very narrow paths.

When we met-up with DH again, he broke the news to me that Disneyland announced a change in their masks starting the next day (our first day), and essentially we would be the exact same situation we were currently in the middle of at the zoo. So after a family pow-wow between the Outback and Africa Rocks sections of the San Diego Zoo, we discussed a number of steps we could take to be able to stay safely at the zoo, and also continue on to Disneyland. It was an added layer of stress for sure that I wish we could’ve avoided, but we couldn’t change it so we did the best we could. And looking back, it was a much needed trip for so many emotional reasons, especially for DS4, so even with the stress it was well worth the trip.

After the mask pow-wow, we realized it was time to start figuring out our lunch plan so we walked back to the closest food (in the outback area next to the Koala’s) and DH with his rested foot got in line for food while we found a shady table with some space around it nearby. The food was all burgers and fries but very decent, even when considering the higher price point being park food. We also got the refillable cups (free refills at any station in the whole park!) and DH was in his element the rest of the day, happily running for refills anytime we were getting low on any drinks. (DH just loves AYCE and unlimited refills on anything- for any Friends fan’s it’s like Joey in the Vegas episode- “This is where I make my money back!” is his motto so anything remarkably close to unlimited buffets and refills keeps him a very happy camper).

After lunch we finished up some exhibits close by in the Urban Jungle loop (flamingos, one zebra in with a herd of something else I don’t remember, and a jaguar) before deciding to take the most direct and Center Street path back towards the main zebra exhibit. Our reason for this specific trek was to show DD8 and the other kids the hill where DD8’s stroller started careening down without our noticing on our last trip to the zoo. She was 3 months old on that trip, in her carseat (not buckled in though) but latched into the stroller asleep when all of a sudden while we were watching the zebra’s her stroller started rolling down the very steep hill towards a bus. A really fast-acting gentleman raced to our aide and caught her stroller as we were helplessly much farther behind it tried to chase it. We were so appreciative and tell that story to DD every now and then so it was her main ask to see at the zoo. Along the path to the zebra’s there were some bears and other larger mammals and we stopped to catch them whenever there weren’t many people around and we took a slight detour on the Panda trail to see the red pandas and some lemurs.

We took one rest stop to sit and refill drinks and eat some of our packed snacks at the seating for the Hua Mei cafe near the Panda area (and all commented on how sad we were that there weren’t real actual pandas along the trail like there had used to be). And carried on towards the steepest of steep hills to the zebra exhibit. There were more flamingos just before the start of the steep hill and we paused here to collect ourselves and prep for the hill ahead of us. It was steep. I was worried DH would really aggravate his foot but the many rest breaks we’d taken (and probably partly his thrill and excitement of the refillable cups) had improved his outlook so he was game for the hill. We took it slow and stopped halfway up at a bench that was off on flat ground off to the side. And we finally made it, to the zebra exhibit, nearly the top of the hill only to be met with a sign along the lines of: “Zebra’s currently off exhibit. Please see our zebra animal ambassador in the Urban Jungle” Since it was the hill more than the zebra’s we were actually there to see we all got a good laugh, and calf workout for all of us that walked, and for me pushing the two littles in the stroller an upper arm workout. We snapped a pic of DD at the top of the hill where she careened down as a baby then breezed downhill. Stopped at the bottom to get some pics of the two DD’s in matching dresses in front of the flamingos & then made our way back to the front of the zoo.

DD1.5 had napped in the stroller sometime after lunch, but DS4 (who had only asked to go home once or twice so far during the day so we were fairly pleased he hadn’t melted down entirely) hadn’t yet napped but just so happened to fall asleep as we made our way back to the front. Once there, DH needed another break for his foot so we stopped to decide if we were done with the zoo or not. DS9 had been navigating us from a map to everywhere we wanted to go mentioned that I had said we would start at the reptiles but we had ended up going the opposite way to the koala’s for DS4 so could we please see the reptiles before leaving. We left DH resting on a bench with DS4 sleeping while I walked with the other 3 through the reptile area. This part of the zoo was dead and we had so much fun perusing the small frogs, snakes and then got a really awesome sight of two very active tortoises fighting over their plate of lettuce and literally chasing each other around their entire exhibit- all to ourselves. After we had seen most of it, groups of people started filtering in so we headed back to DH, DS4 woke up as we arrived and we did one last potty stop for everyone before exiting the zoo.

From the awesome advice we received here we knew we shouldn’t head up to Anaheim until after 7pm and so the plan had been do dinner in SD. It was only just barely 6pm when we left the zoo (we had all vetoed more zoo food for dinner) so as we packed up the car we talked dinner options, strategizing also where to get gas and a coffee for the drive. We quickly realized that we didn’t want to research for dinner in the area, didn’t want another fast food drive thru on the way and would all much rather put in an online order of Pizza Press to pick up in Anaheim to eat in the room upon arrival. We still had about an hour to kill though before traffic would die down so hit up a gas station next to a Starbucks, got gas and each kid a drive snack to make it to Anaheim and then through the Starbucks for coffees for Mom & Dad to drive and navigate the way. This took us close enough to 7 (6:40pm) so we left just slightly early but traffic never seemed too bad and we got off the freeway in Garden Grove to where my kids always say “Follow the palm trees to Disneyland” at 7:59pm. It was an awesome sight to see again and super emotional just arriving back.

Our Pizza Press online order wasn’t going to be ready for another 20 minutes so we stopped at the Target on Harbor for more essentials (this time for the whole week in the hotel room) and then one last stop at Pizza Press for dinner. They expanded their outdoor seating (like most places this last year) so we added on fountain drinks and enjoyed our food on their patio getting refills from their machine and soaking in being back and being just across from the Guardians of the Galaxy tower! It felt like we had never left and in that moment the stress of the last year was totally absent.

After eating we decided to drive all the rest of the way up Harbor to get a proper glimpse of DL and that was also super emotional & heart-warming. When we turned back around to come back to the hotel though we also caught a glimpse of the crowd leaving the park and it looked no different than any old day in June from year’s past with a crush of people crowding Harbor just after park closing, so there was a little bit of stress that returned realizing we’d be in that starting tomorrow, but we doubled down verbally on the importance of making sure we kept up our extra safety measures we’d discussed in the zoo and pressed on to the hotel.

For the Anaheim portion of our trip, we stayed at the Castle Inn & Suites and I’m surprised we’d never considered it before. The price was great, the rooms were well maintained and their parking situation wasn’t cramped/crazy as some of the other hotels. Tom Bricker’s DisneyTourtistBlog website had a spot-on review of it that I read before booking it and after our stay, I can confirm that every single thing he said in it is still true and I wholeheartedly agree with him (which is often the case with his hotel reviews so I felt fairly confident in booking this one for a long trip even though we’d never tried it). Lastly, their location putting us just next door to the Pizza Press is always a huge bonus in my book (I may be slightly obsessed with the Pizza Press though and already miss it even though we had it just about every other night while there). We settled in nicely, unpacked and got all our park bags ready to kick off our next morning and first time back to Disneyland in a year and a half.

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What an amazing auntie you are to those kids! They are definitely lucky to have you! And so happy to hear that you are able to visit them!!

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A bunch of pics that I grabbed off my phone. Starting with one of DD8 doing cartwheels at my mom’s (first stop of the trip) and then moving down to SD and finally in Anaheim arrival.

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OMG, X and E have grown so much! Avery walked by while I was reading and knew who they were right away, I guess they haven’t changed much just got taller. :smile: Thanks for the pictures and the report so far, I am happy you all got to return to the magic after so much time away.

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They have grown way too much and went way too long in between their Disneyland trips so it was so great to be back. I’m glad Avery could still recognize them!! It’s been way too long since we’ve gotten to meet up for a hello and a snap in the parks!

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