May 18, 2016

Our California Trip and Disneyland Tips!

We just recently returned from California as a family of 7 (my mom came with us) and besides documenting our trip, I wanted to pass along some invaluable things we learned traveling and visiting a lot of parks with a big family and millions of kids. (Most of the pictures are at the very end.)

They counted down for 3 months!

But first let me say this: I've mentioned a time or three hundred that I worked for the airlines for five years and during that time we traveled extensively. We used our flight benefits all the time, even after our kids were born. I am well-versed in traveling with kids and I rarely get overly stressed while traveling. (Except if we're running late and/or I'm hangry and then so help the individual who has a cross word for me.)

So the first thing I want to say is really the second but I had to preface it with some experience. Ok, the second thing I want to tell you parents is this: FREAKING RELAX. I cannot tell you how many times parents showed up to the airport stressed out of their brains for no reason whatsoever except they were traveling and they had kids. They acted like they were the first family to ever fly in the history of flight.

Oh, you have CARSEATS TO CHECK? Yeah, we've done that a time or two. Every flight.

You have an INFANT IN ARMS? Somebody call the FAA, we need to figure this out. Oh wait, that's done every day thousands of times around the world.


That would be my first word to you. (I'm looking at you Family of 5 that was in line behind us in Tomorrowland. Holy yelling much.)

My next important tips would be the following Top 5:

1) Book a vacation rental. It would have been impossible for all 7 of us to sleep in one big open room and everyone not be disowned and disavowed by the end. We had a house that had plenty of sleeping options and we all agreed it was the best house ever. Even the boys still talk about it.

2) Don't bring your own stroller and take up valuable space in your car. Rent from City Stroller Rentals (I cannot, literally cannot, say enough good things about Jewel and her company). They have only top of the line strollers and their customer service is in tippity-top shape. And their prices are so fantastic, it's silly not to use them.

I'm really happy here, not sure why I look like Debbie Downer.

3) With that, rent a stroller for your big kids too. We had two double strollers. We had only rented one but halfway through that first day at Disneyland we realized there was no way Micah and Asher (6 and almost 5) were going to be able to walk all day and not have the option of resting. So I called her from the Pirates of Caribbean line and she met me outside Disneyland to drop off another one. Awesome, right?? She also didn't charge us because she was actually out of doubles and it was an older one that she doesn't like to advertise but I was shocked when I saw it because it was still at least a $500 stroller and in great shape; we ended up liking it better than our first one!

4) If possible, travel with family or friends. My mom came with us and not only was it so much fun to have her, she was a huge help the entire trip. She held babies while Matt and I rode rides with big kids. She helped get food, disperse food, change diapers, keep watch on the wandering littles, and so much more. We wouldn't have been able to do nearly as much if she weren't there.

5) USE FASTPASSES. I cannot stress this enough. Disneyland has an ingenious system called the FastPass that enables you to come back at a later designated time and skip to the front of the line. We used it for nearly every ride that had one. Along with that, we also planned our visit during a less busy time so the waits were mostly between 15-20 minutes for the rides that didn't have FastPasses. Disneyland was still pretty busy but we really saw the benefit of our timing at California Adventure; we walked onto almost every ride and if we did have to wait, it was very short.

Used passes for the Star Wars ride and got right on!

Some things I learned along the way:

I needed to lower my expectations. I wanted the boys to get into Disneyland the first day and literally run around out of their minds because they were so excited to be there. Instead they took it all in with cautious wariness the way they do everything at first. I had to get over my disappointment and accept that even though it was awesome, it was still new to them and they needed time to adjust.

I also had to get over the bad attitudes that they got when they were beyond tired. It was necessary to give them grace and understand when they were acting out of exhaustion, not ungratefulness. I also had some parenting epiphany moments during this trip. One of them was that our oldest is recharged by time alone. The day after we got home, he literally spent 6+ hours alone in the office, building his new Lego set. He requested (and I happily obliged) to eat all his meals downstairs and he was a different kid when he came out of his lair, recharged with his sparkle back.

I kind of knew this but this solidified it; our family thrives on doing and adventure. It's just not us to go somewhere and chill. We like to be out and about and doing new things and seeing new things. Even our kids are like, Now what are we doing? Now where are we going? What's next? It's just our family MO and it's not a bad thing. We crammed every day full and we fell into bed exhausted every night happy and full of new memories.

Some things that went well:

Sleeping. We never baby our kids' sleeping. We're not quiet when they're sleeping, we don't drop everything so they can sleep, we've taught them to sleep together and not wake each other up or if they do wake up, too bad, go back to sleep. We also use this sound machine for the babies which totally helps. We only had a night or two where it took some coaxing to get Eden back to sleep but other than that she kept up her sleeping through the night and all of them were able to nap through major noise and crowds at the parks and beach and zoo and everything in between. I think getting good sleep is the difference between a crappy time and the best time.

The drive down there. We bit the bullet and had a DVD player installed and if I could snuggle it at night to show my love and affection and devotion, I totally would, because it saved our sanity. If they weren't napping or coloring or reading, they were happily watching a movie, which meant I was happily reading a book or surfing Instagram or sneaking gummy bears.

San Diego Zoo. Because we went midweek and during a slow season, it felt like we had the zoo to ourselves. The exhibits weren't crowded, we could jump on the open-top buses that went around the park without a wait, we got to leisurely stroll and let Luke walk and wander without losing him in a crowd. It was probably the most laid-back day we had.

The sweetest moment for me:

Micah and Asher had picked out a stuffed character at the Disney Outlet store in Las Vegas. Micah picked Mickey and all day at Disneyland he was adamant about finding Mickey to show him his stuffy (that's what we called anything stuffed). The entire day went by and we hadn't had a chance to see Mickey and Micah was getting pretty anxious about it. We stayed late for the Parade (which had about 9 million people crammed into 7 square feet) and it was hard to get the boys to a place where they could see. Micah had his first real meltdown at that point. He was so upset that he couldn't see the parade and show Mickey his stuffy. We finally got him lifted up and as Mickey came by at the end of the parade, Micah's entire face lit up and he held Mickey high up in the air the entire time he went by. And the sweetest thing is that Mickey looked right in our direction for several long seconds and I think he saw it because it looked like he acknowledged it, which made Micah's entire life! I got so teary, thinking about how much that meant to Micah. Such a small thing but it mattered so much to him. So sweet.

In summary, we had an amazing time. I think being flexible and purposing to have a good time and relax are key. We had hiccups along the way, like when the drive from Las Vegas to LA should've taken 4 hours and it took 7 (curse you TRAFFIC) but we rolled with it and simply popped in a couple more movies and snuck a few extra chocolate-covered pretzels.

I didn't want to do a play-by-play because hey, that's boring, but hopefully this helps while also serving my non-scrapbooking but still need a documentable outlet self.

Any specific questions? Ask in the comments and I promise I'll answer!

Order of trip and photos:

Monday - Huntington Beach

Tuesday - Disneyland

Wednesday - San Diego Zoo and La Jolla Beach

Thursday - California Adventure

Explored Las Vegas briefly on our way out. We weren't big fans.
Matt's mom got this for her before we left, so cute!

Channeling his inner Titanic.
Huntington Beach was beautiful but WINDY!

Love these sweet boys!

Riding into the wind was just my most intense cardio to date. NBD.

First ride of the day! 

Eden did amazing every day, just totally chilled all day.

Woody was the first character we saw. Look at Asher holding his leg, so sweet!

Micah rode all the roller coasters with us! This was us waiting for Big Thunder Mountain.
It's a Small World.

What's that, Dad? 

Oh, that's so funny!

Such a good Nana.

Luke did so amazing too. He loved the rides and was content to ride around and eat lots of treats.

Hyperspace Mountain! Asher was definitely crying at the end. :)

If you follow me on Instagram, you've seen this. Lots of wild life at the zoo! :)

Sweetest big brother.

The Okapi, proof that God is creative and funny.

La Jolla was stunning.

I never know where to look for selfies!!

Hands down, funniest picture of the trip. Asher was NOT a fan of Tower of Terror. 

I loved that Asher made himself at home between these two guys.

Whose GIANT FINGER is in the way?? Seriously. I love how Asher's holding his hands up!

Thanks for making it this far, whew! It was the best trip and we're so thankful for the memories!