The Adventure Begins!

We had a great Thanksgiving with family and food and the dinner purposefully planned to minimize leftovers that would sit in our fridge for the 6 days we would be gone. On Saturday the 25th we packed up everything and drove from our little berg to the Super 8 a couple of miles from the airport.

This is a family tradition that gets us packed early and makes it so we don’t have to worry about driving to the airport in the morning – they have a shuttle. Plus we can park our rig there while we’re gone at no charge. And the kids love it because they have an indoor pool with a water slide!

I got a free upgrade to a double queen suite – once we got our stuff up to the room I took the first official picture of the trip

We had a nice dinner and came back to settle in with the kids making sure to not eat too much so they could hit the pool!

PumpkinGirl went first.

Jinx was next

We got to bed as early as we could as our flight was going to take off at 6:15am, giving us a 4am wake-up – yikes! It was a fitful sleep for all of us and the wake-up call and my alarm came way too fast and yet not fast enough if you know what I mean.

The computers where down for check-out at the hotel but we rolled with it. Their shuttle vehicle was down so they called in a contracted cab service in a really beat-up cab, but we rolled with it. We still made it to the airport on time and ticketing and security was a breeze. Soon we were at our terminal waiting for boarding

Boarding was uneventful other than a cold wind blowing in the pre-dawn.

We were boarding a puddle jumper up to Seattle …flying AWAY from Disneyland. This was a known variable as after we purchased our tickets for a direct flight, they discontinued them! Flying north to Seattle and then from there to LAX was the best we could do. I did work it so we got good seats for our hops and the airline gave each of us a $125 flight voucher for a future trip.

We climbed above the clouds and into the Sunday pre-dawn

We came back down thru the clouds and in a surreal stroke, back into the night

We were on the ground long enough to get some breakfast and then onto our connecting flight. It was damp as usual for November in Seattle

Once we were above the clouds we got a proper sunrise

The hop from Seattle to LAX was nice, we were on a real jet on an exit row so we could stretch out. It was a beautiful day over LA County. There had been a storm system that came thru the day before and cleared out most of the smog

Before we knew it we were on the ground and disembarking. We rolled thru the terminal and were officially welcomed

We called the car service while we headed down. Roxy had worked a deal with some credit card points for us to have two private cars take us to our hotel. I took a quick snap with Jinx in the Escalade we ended up in

Soon enough we had literal signs of Disney!

A few interchanges later we were back onto Harbor Bldg and in sight of the best mode of transportation in the world!

We drove past the entrance and on to the corner of Harbor and Katella just past the 7-11 to our destination, the Desert Palms Hotel and Suites

As I said in the intro, I had stayed here the previous October for a conference at the Anaheim Convention Center. It has good modern/clean rooms, good staff, a pool, and a decent free breakfast.

Check-in was going great until a member of the local homeless population wandered in and started causing the front desk staff some grief. He was drunk and definitely not all there. The staff were being as patient and professional as they could. But it reached a point where I finally stepped in (to Roxy’s slight embarrassment) and just started walking forward talking calmly but very firmly to him. He wasn’t happy about it but had enough wherewithal to size me up and realize he should take his show down the road.

We resumed our check-in and were upgraded to a family suite with a 4th floor park view at a discount – whoohoo! We got a luggage cart and rolled on up to our room, number 462. It was at the end of a hall so no noise from people walking past it.

It was a double queen with a pull-out sofa. Originally Roxy and I were going to share a bed and Jinx and Kyra were going to share the other. But Kyra decided to use the pull-out so each of them got their own bed.

Here’s the view from the door

The beds

And they do elephants for their towel animals – Jinx fell in love with it immediately and it stayed on a shelf for the rest of our time there :-]

The room comes with a fridge, microwave, and coffee maker

Suitcase benches on either side of the dresser along with a flat screen and a safe

There is a curtain separator between the bedroom and living space with a table and 4 chairs plus another small dresser and flat screen

The other side of the room has a chair and the couch with the pull-out along with another table

Here is the view we had from it – you can see the back of the Cars Land façade and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout

The bathroom was reasonably roomy with a great well-lit mirror

The bathroom was set up as an accessible one. We were concerned that we would be taking this option away from another guest wanting to stay there but the front desk assured us that they had others available for booking that week

We got settled in, changed clothes and grabbed a quick lunch at the Subway across Harbor and Katella. With bellies full we strolled down the sidewalk on Harbor to the main entrance. The weather was perfect, right around 75 degrees. This would be a continued blessing throughout our time there – 70s during the day and mid-50s at night. Given that we were coming from 40 degree highs and 30 degree lows with rain in Oregon, we were very happy!

Security was a breeze and we were soon standing at the hub – whoohoo!

PumpkinGirl’s hair was complimented very well by the balloons as we strolled towards CA. A fitting starting picture for our Birthday Girl!

We got on our phones and made sure our MaxPass was working and rolled thru the turnstiles. Our first stop was at Carthay Circle for a shot at the Christmas tree

I really wish they had been able to shoot farther back to get a better view of the tree. But the important part is that had our first PhotoPass pic!!!

From there we headed thru the arches of the Festival of the Holidays and started looking at some of the food cart offerings (we would start sampling them later on in our trip). I ducked across the walkway and snapped a quick selfie with this cute little drummer boy

Since the family had never experienced it, we headed straight on to Cars Land and got PhotoPass pics at Flo’s.

We headed over to the Cozy Cone to try out some of the interesting popcorn flavors. I liked the dill pickle flavor personally.

I found a fellow Michael!

We got FastPasses via MaxPass for Soarin’ and wandered around Cars Land a bit while we waited. PumpkinGirl and I checked out the Horn-O-Plenty

As time got closer we wandered back up to the hub and Roxy snapped a pic with Walt, Mickey, and Me. I was wearing my “Final Check-Out” shirt I had picked up from the ToT gift shop the previous October when I had gone to the park solo

The MaxPass bardode reader worked great and we were thur the fastpass queue and on to the final boarding area in no time

The revamp of Soarin’ was spectacular, we all loved it. The only thing I really missed was the smell of the orange groves from Soarin’ over California. This was our only ride in CA this busy first day.

We headed back to the hub and did some quick shopping. I was on the hunt! On the hunt for a specific hat that I had seen on several VLOGs. It doesn’t get any more Christmas than a Santa hat with Mickey ears and lights that actually work!

We were spending the rest of the day in Disneyland proper. There were reservations to keep, shows to see, and loads of Disney magic to enjoy.

So I want to start this chapter with an explanation on this first day of ours. Specifically why we woke up at 4am, traveled, checked-in, and ended up staying in the park until nearly midnight. Basically starting our trip with a 20hr first day.

As I was doing my research I wanted to find a timeframe where we could enjoy most of the holiday joy without the grind of heavy crowd days. This is why I chose the week after Thanksgiving. The crowd calendar tells the tail for why we went when we did:

Every week after this is much worse and thankfully Sunday the 26th (our first day) was not that bad and Dec 1st was our shopping day/travel day back home.

The two downsides of going this week was that #1 – there would be no Candlelight Processional. This wasn’t such a big deal since we had seen the “big show” at EPCOT back in 2012 and we weren’t there for the shows so much as the food and the rides. The second was that Fantasmic! was only running on this first day.

We had seen the Fantasmic! show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios twice but had not experienced it at DLR. On our last trip there was construction on the island that had the show shut down and the time before that the show was rained out our whole trip. We wanted to do it right and kill two birds with one stone. We had never actually dined at Blue Bayou but of course had wanted to since our first visit to the parks. Now our kids were grown and would enjoy the higher-end menu.

So we reserved the Fantasmic Dining Package for the first showing of Fantasmic! and with that, went in eyes open that we would be going into the parks sleep deprived and risking early trip burn-out, especially given that this was the only day of the trip that the park was open until midnight.

Thank you for following along with this short commercial break, now back to our scheduled program 


When we left off it was mid-afternoon on Sunday and we were finishing up a short visit to CA. We would be coming back there for a full day tomorrow. We strolled out the exit and across the entrance plaza and over to the Disneyland gates

We came in on the tail end of the parade but we aren’t much of a parade family so rather than wrestle with the crowds on Main Street USA we headed thru the tunnel and straight up the stairs to the Main Street Station. On the way up I snapped quick pics of a couple of Toy Story friends

I am a huge lover of the Disneyland Railroad and trains in general (more to come on that later) so I snapped a quick pic of the model on our way out to the boarding area

We just missed getting on the train that was in the station so I took the time to jump onto MaxPass and secured FPs for Indiana Jones. And were fist in line at the gate so I got a couple of cool pictures of the Ward Kimball rolling into the station

Soon enough we were on board and ended up right next to two very nice conductors

And then I turned my phone over to PumpkinGirl and she took this great pic of Roxy and I

And then Roxy took a selfie of her and PumpkinGirl (you can also catch a peek of Jinx in Roxy’s sunglasses)

We were just going one stop to New Orleans Square, our family’s favorite land.

We made a beeline for Pirates of the Caribbean and since the parade have everyone distracted it was basically walk-on and we still had some time before our FastPasses kicked in. This is where we stopped and Roxy took the opportunity to surprise Jinx with a peck on the cheek

Jinx was not thrilled but took it in stride. We got a chuckle and Roxy wiped the lipstick off

We waited for the first two rows at Roxy’s request and she snapped a quick pic of us as we floated out

I had warned them ahead of time that this would mean we would get wet and they had apparently forgotten exactly how wet you could get in the front of a PoTC boat. We came off of the ride laughing and a bit more damp than intended and strolled straight down to Indiana Jones. I snapped a quick pic of the kiddos in the ride queue

We made sure to “TAKE HEED” as Sala gave us our instructions!

The ride was cool as usual but my neck had been bugging me for the last few days so I made the decision right then and there that it would be the only time that I rode it.

When we finished we still had some time before check-in for our dinner reservations so we hit The Jungle Cruise.

We were kind of bummed that they weren’t doing the Jingle Cruise this year, but we had a good CM who told some new bad jokes, making the cruise a great one.

Now it was time for check-in for our reservations. As we strolled back into New Orleans Square sunset has turned to night.

I check in an ask for a table by the water. They say it could be an additional 20 minutes and we had the time so I said no problem. We cruised around the shops and I took in more of the holiday theming

PumpkinGirl bought a shirt and we did a lot of browsing. Soon enough it was time to be seated, which was good as we were starting to crash after being on our feet for 12hrs straight.

When we left off I had gotten the call that our table was ready and came back to the entrance.

As I had said this was our first time actually dining at Blue Bayou. I had first “floated by” it in 1976 and Roxy had in around 1984. The kiddos first floated by it in 2005. So from 12 to 42 years in the making for the family! We had waited extra time to get a waterside table and were very excited.

Unfortunately the table we were brought to was all the way to the right as you are looking at the bayou. It was right next to the bussing area for the dishes so all we could hear was plate noise. It was also squeezed into the space so waiters/waitresses were brushing by very close. The chairs weren’t even the same as the rest of the ones in the restaurant :-[

I’m usually a very “go with the flow” kind of person, but this time I wasn’t up for taking this as our long-awaited Bayou experience. I asked the waiter to direct me to the Maître D’ and had a conversation with her. She was understanding and it happened that a table right at the center of the rail was being cleared. We were discreetly relocated to it and settled in for a great dining experience with an unbeatable view.

I’ll say up front that I tried to get pictures of the boats and the bayou and shack. But without a flash I messed with exposures but couldn’t really get a picture that did it justice. We had a couple of boats yell out to throw them rolls before we had some at our table, then more that called out after we ate them all 

I did get a good picture of Roxy

And Jinx got a picture of PumpkinGirl

I didn’t get pictures of the apps or entrees, I always forget that kind of stuff. I had the Louisiana Spiced Shrimp and the Blue Bayou Bouillabaisse. Roxy had the house salad and the Surf and Turf. PumpkinGirl had the New Orleans Gumbo and the Pan-seared Bone-in Pork Loin. And Jinx had the house salad and the Surf and Turf.

We did do pictures of dessert though!

And you thought we forgot to get a picture of Jinx ;-] This was of course the Sorcerer Mickey “Fantasmic!” Dessert

Roxy and PumpkinGirl both had the Vanilla Bean Crème Brule

And I had the 8-Layer Chocolate Hazelnut Cake

We all loved the food and the service was amazing. It was certainly great to finally sit and enjoy the atmosphere of this classic locale. We received our Fantasmic! cushions and I asked our waiter how far in advance of our showing we should be there. He thought 30 minutes should be fine given that we had reserved seating.

We headed out with full tummies and I caught the Mark Twain doing its last loop before the show

We decided to take the train on a full loop to kill some time to get us close to that 30 minute timeframe. I wasn’t able to get a shot of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but I was able to catch a couple of shots of the Christmas makeover of It’s a Small World!

I had one turn out as we traveled thru Tomorrowland

After that it was diorama time!

Soon enough we were pulling into Main Street Station and I got a nice pic of the classic garland

We got off the train about 40 minutes prior to the show and found out that although our waiter was fantastic with our meal, he was not “Fantasmic” with knowing how early to get down to the reserved area. We were there more than 30 minutes before the show and it was PACKED! 😮 It didn’t help that some people had decided to set out blankets – taking up easily four times the amount of space that they should have.

I ended up scouting out the area and finding two separate single spots with decent views and sending the kids to those and Roxy and I sat at the back of the rope with one of the light poles obstructing our view. I must say I was also let down by the CMs running entry into the area.

The Fantasmic! Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is stadium style, but the CMs still work hard to motivate the crowd and get them to maximize the space. There was one half-hearted attempt done for this show and they were ignored by the park guests and gave up. And they were letting people in from other areas which made it worse. Okay, rant over everyone.

I settled down and Roxy and I took comfort in that the kids had a good view. The format of the show has similar elements to the one at DHS but having the Columbia involved and a Pirate theme instead of a Pocahontas theme as a background element. We really enjoyed the pirate stuff, although I am a huge fan of Peter Pan so I did feel a small pang from missing out on that theme.

All four of us took pictures/video of the show, so without further ado, here we go with some highlights of our show!

Mickey took the stage and the water elements kicked in

The circle of life was completed

And we had a visit from a certain light-eyed snake

We took a visit under the sea

Then we took a trip on the high seas with an intro from my favorite pirate, Barbossa!

Then the ship came into view, it was epic!

There was a grand swordfight in the riggings

Roxy caught some video of it

While it passed the Caribbean village burned in the background as shadowy pirates fought on!

After the duel the ship sailed on its way

Then we were treated to the barges decked out for their respective Prince/Princesses. First we caught Rapunzel and Flynn

Then it was Belle and the Beast

And one shot of Ariel and Eric

After they floated on it was time for Maleficent to make her presence known, with the Magic Mirror setting the stage

We weren’t able to get a clear shot of her, but we got some good ones of the Dragon transformation and spectacle!

Mickey came out in the nick of time to thwart the beast!

With the dragon vanquished our favorite Disney characters came floating into view on the Mark Twain

Roxy even got a little bit of video on it

We all waived at each other and they sailed away, giving the island stage back over to Mickey, who of course closed the show with style!

My thoughts on the show were that it was a cool spectacle, especially the Pirate/Columbia portion. But I doubt we would go thru the trouble of fighting for a piece of ground to sit on to get a decent view of it again. But if you have wee ones and get there early I certainly see the appeal.

Maybe a seated dessert viewing if they offer them in the future? After the show wrapped up we gathered back together and stayed for the beginning of “Believe in Holiday Magic” show from that same spot in front of the island. We watched a few minutes of it and were satisfied and headed off other adventures!

By this point it was after 9:30pm and we have been up for almost 18 hours. So are we done??? Are we calling it a night???

NO WAY! There is still too much Disneyland to be had and this is the only night the park is open late.

We set our eyes on the Haunted Mansion and its glorious Nightmare Before Christmas makeover. We thought about it and we all realized we haven’t seen HM in “classic” mode as a family EVER! Roxy and I saw it as kids, that’s about it. But we don’t mind at all – we are in the “we love the NBC makeover” camp.

The standby line was short so we cruised right in, passing this ever watchful fellow along the way

Soon enough we were in the elevator with its accompanying festive effects

I would have to say that the only feature I really miss in not experiencing the classic is the pictures in the stretching room, but the NBC ones are cute.

We moved on into the hallway, which also moved pretty quickly. I lagged behind to catch a couple of shots

After snapping those the queue was already here, just one turn before boarding!

We jumped on, the kiddos right in front of Roxy and I

The flowers, the did sing!

And one of the kiddos got a great pic of Zero going for his bone

Leota rolled thru her spiel while Christmas-themed lights levitated among the cards

None of us were able to capture a clear shot of the dining and dancing with its epic ginger bread house and wicked tree :-[ However! The ride stalled out at the rise before Jack and Zero and I caught this stellar shot of the pumpkin hill with its flying ghosts

Jinx and PumpkinGirl got a selfie

And we were facing them so Roxy got a shot of them as a bonus! You can see the Fantasmic! cushion in PumpkinGirl’s lap

Soon enough we were on our way and rolled past Santa Jack and his faithful companion Zero

And then the obligatory front-facing shot of the pumpkin hill

And we can’t forget about Sally!

The ghostly jack-o-lantern spirits sounded their trumpets!

And after finishing our tour of the graveyard Oogie Boogie spun for our misfortune

Roxy and I ended up with a Candy Cane filled stowaway

We contemplated Splash Mountain but it was a bit chilly outside and we knew we were setting aside a water ride morning on another day of the trip

So on to Winnie the Pooh! It of course started with a Blustery Day

Then things got Weird!

Hi from the fam!

It is a cute ride but it does seem shorter than Disney World’s offering of it. But I know it took the place of the Country Bear Jamboree *starts waxing nostalgic about the CBJ*

We finished our adventure with Pooh and friends and of course couldn’t leave Critter Country without looking at the yummy holiday treats available here!

We didn’t end up getting anything at the time, but PumpkinGirl did pick up a Jessica Rabbit pin (sorry, no picture). This began a hunt for Jessica pins that lasted the rest of the trip.

As you can see we had Critter Country to ourselves

Now where to go? We looked on the Disneyland app and it was only a 10 minute wait for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad so off we went towards Frontierland! On the way I took a shot of the other side of Haunted Mansion

And the now Sleepy Island

…along with the lights of the dockside and the Columbia and Mark Twain

We headed into the queue for BTMRR and found that it was basically walk-on!

Soon our train was rolling in

We were towards the front with Jinx next to me

And Roxy and PumpkinGirl right behind us

BTMRR is of course EPIC at night! And when we got off the lines were still short so we jumped on and rode it again!

After that we were really starting to feel that long day but wanted a little more magic. So I showed the family thru the shortcut by the Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante past the Fantasy Faire to the side entrance of the Castle.

As we were walking past it stopped to capture this grand reflection of it. See if you can figure out what’s different about the picture ;-]

This was the first time we had set foot in Fantasyland all day. It was busy, but not too bad. Looking at my watch it was about 10:20pm so we were getting down to the diehard park goers now.

We saw that Snow White was walk-on so we took a journey on her Scary Adventure. We were all pretty tired and didn’t bother trying to take pictures on the ride.

When we came out we looked at Peter Pan and decided that we’d give it a go, the line wasn’t getting any shorter that’s for sure. We made the best of the wait, which was somewhere between 30—40 minutes. But we were REALLY feeling the long day now. Eventually we heard “here we gooooo” and we were off! It was fun to soak in the classic feel of the ride and just enjoy the color and life of it.

When we got off we talked and decided to take a spin on the carousel! I couldn’t remember the last time any of us had rode it, probably way back in 2005 during the first family trip we ever took when the kids were 6 & 9yrs old respectively.

PumpkinGirl found hers first.

Jinx went up ahead to find his noble steed

And Roxy and I ended up right in between them

PumpkinGirl got a shot of the three of us

And then the obligatory selfie :-]

When our gallop around Fantasyland completed we hopped off and gathered to get a couple of pictures in front of the back side (or the front if you know your Disneyland history) of the Castle

We looked around and it was around 11:45pm with a park closing time of midnight. We were very tired but decided to go for ONE MORE RIDE!!!! Pinocchio was walk on so we ambled over and followed him on his ill-fated journey. I tried to take pictures on the ride but none of them turned out any good. We saw him restored to Geppetto and the Blue Fairy gave her blessing and we were done for the day. At this point Fantasyland was thinning out quite a bit

We knew we were done and we knew we had conquered Disney in a big way on our first day. As a recap we managed the following from 1pm until 11:45pm:

– Festival of the Holidays
– Cozy Cone
– Soarin’ (FP)
– Train from Main Street to New Orleans Square
– Pirates of the Caribbean
– Indiana Jones (FP)
– Jungle Cruise
– Blue Bayou Fantasmic! Dinner
– Train – Full Loop
– Fantasmic!
– Believe in Holiday Magic (the first few minutes anyways)
– Haunted Mansion
– Winnie the Pooh
– Big Thunder Mountain Railroad twice!
– Snow White’s Scary Adventure
– Peter Pan
– Carousel
– Pinocchio


We headed thru the castle and I turned around to take a quick snap of it in all its majesty

We then wrangled a PhotoPass photographer and got the obligatory family shots with the castle in the background.

As you can see our Oregonian weather acclimatization worked well to our advantage. The locals were all bundled up but we were still strolling around in t-shirts (plus me in shorts) except for PumpkinGirl, who wears a jacket in July 😀

Standard pose

Goofy Pose

Close-up with Roxy getting squeezed out by the kiddos

We then moved on to the hub for a Partners selfie including bonus double photo-bomb! You can really see the lights on my Mickey Santa Hat in this one!

We meandered on down to Main Street USA with the last stragglers leaving the park

Such pretty classic holiday lights

PumpkinGirl and I were walking together

While Roxy and Jinx walked ahead of us, arm in arm 

We made it to the tree to find Mickey and Minnie having a special moment

It was very cute, and their CM handler was a riot!

They finished their proposal and headed off together

After they departed I stopped to grab one last selfie with the tree in the background

It was such a great feeling to have lasted to basically close out the park after our early wake-up and 20hr day. And I must say I LOVED taking our kids to the parks, but it was SO COOL being there with them as adults with no meltdowns or “I’m bored/tired” statements. We all knew we were tired, but it was SOOOO WORTH IT!!!!

We headed out of the park and shuffled thru the walk back to the Desert Palms. Once back in our room we started our shower rotation and talked about the wonders of our amazing first day.

Next we set out pin lanyards and clothes and talked about what our plan was for tomorrow. It was to be a day of rolling the dice for a special surprise, a long-awaited family reunion, and more Disney fun with thrills and characters!