Jan 10, 2016: Disney or Bust!

First of all, apologies for the short teaser post that was supposed to have a clue as to our whereabouts but didn’t. I was trying to do the post and upload a picture from my phone, and clearly it didn’t work.

But anyway, we went to Disneyland!! Completely unplanned, completely spur-of-the-moment. And no, we’re not nuts…at least, I don’t think we are!

So here’s the story: My birthday was Friday, and Chris and I had really been looking forward to a weekend getaway. We were going to spend Saturday night in San Francisco, kid-free, and go to a nice dinner. Only thing is, Grandma Kathy and Papa were going to watch the boys, and on Thursday Papa messed up his rotator cuff while making the bed. (See, this is why people shouldn’t make their beds! Bad things happen! Ha!) He may have torn it; he hasn’t yet been to the orthopedist (??). But regardless, he was in a lot of pain, had to go to the doctor, and was on some pretty heavy painkillers. So obviously babysitting was out—understandably so!

But I love my birthday, and the last two years have been a bit of a bust (due to illness and a couple of other reasons). I mean, we had nice birthday celebrations after the fact, which was good, but I like to celebrate on the day. I realize I’m 42 years old and shouldn’t really care about birthdays for myself anymore, but the truth is, I really like birthdays—mine and anyone else’s! I’m a big fan of birthdays.

So, we decided to make some lemonade out of the lemons. Papa and Grandma Kathy thought he might be feeling well enough by Saturday to come, but I wasn’t about to say, “Come watch my children, one of whom requires lifting into and out of a crib, with your bum shoulder.” So I started thinking about what might be fun to do as a family….

Chris has been saying for months that he wants to take the boys to Disneyland in 2016, because they’re both at really good ages to go. Theo has been (twice) but doesn’t remember it, and Sam has never been. But I don’t like going when it’s hot, because we all get crabby in the heat. And I don’t like going when it’s crowded, because I get crabby and overwhelmed in crowds! So that rules out pretty much May to early September for heat, and then October to December because it’s extra crowded for their holiday celebrations (Halloween and Christmas). It also rules out the week after Christmas because that’s supposed to be one of their busiest weeks of the year. And it rules out several weeks in March and April because of Spring Break. (Different school districts have different Spring Breaks, but they’re all in March/April…and Disneyland is notoriously busy for all of them.)

So that pretty much left January and February as desirable times to go. Maybe early March. But we’re in an El Nino year and getting a fair bit of rain. And that’s cold/flu season, so with two kids, the chances of at least one being sick at any given time are high. So I wasn’t overly confident that we’d be able to find a good time to go—even if we booked it ahead, what if it turned out to be a really rainy weekend? Or what if someone was sick?

So here we were with a weekend worth celebrating, two healthy kids, and a forecast of partly cloudy for most of it. And Chris actually had to take time off work because he has completely maxed out his vacation earnings and would not earn any more until he took some time off. (He has something like 29 days saved, which is the maximum his company allows them to “bank.”) “You’re going to think I’m crazy,” I told Chris Thursday night, after the boys were in bed, “but do you think you could take Monday off work, too?” He checked his calendar, said he could, and asked me what I was thinking. “Disneyland,” I said. “Let me explain why…”

And when I told him my thoughts, he agreed—let’s do it! So we spent the next two hours packing, texting the pet sitter to line up care for the animals, and reserving a hotel. And then next morning, when Theo woke up for school, I said, “No school today—we’re going on an adventure.” And off we went!!

And what a total blast!! Honestly, I kind of love that we didn’t plan ahead, because then I didn’t worry about someone getting sick or weather not cooperating. The only hitch was that I forgot to buy extra cat food and we were almost out, but our awesome pet sitter went and got some and added it to our bill—problem solved!

So we spent my actual birthday driving down I-5 to Disneyland, but we had a ball. Theo figured out within about an hour where we were headed, and his whole face lit up. He has been dying to go to Disneyland, and we’ve been really vague about whether we would at some point…because honestly, we weren’t sure. It’s very expensive, and as I said, I’m pretty picky about times I’m willing to go. I’m usually not such a finicky person, but if I’m going to spend the money to do Disney, I want to do it at a time when we’ll all actually enjoy it, rather than spending the time stressed out by crowds or feeling overheated and crabby.

The boys were awesome on the ride down, and we made it to Anaheim right around dinnertime. We checked into our hotel and then went to Cheesecake Factory for a birthday dinner for me. I had a salad, a Mai Tai, and a delicious piece of German chocolate cheesecake—yum!

This was sort of a “shoestring” trip to Disneyland…as much as one can ever be. We tried to be as budget-conscious as possible, and we actually ended up doing pretty well. The Disney tickets themselves are just expensive—there’s no way around it. But we got the cheaper option of one park each day, instead of the Park Hopper passes that allow you to go between the two parks and would’ve set us back another $160 or so. And honestly, it worked just fine. With two kids in tow, going back and forth from park to park would’ve been a bit much anyway. They’re literally right next to each other, but still—it’s a lot of walking even when you do only one park per day!

We also saved $500 by not staying on the Disney property. Instead, we stayed at a hotel a mile away, and we had a really nice two-bedroom suite! We had booked a one-bedroom and figured we’d use the pullout sofa for one of us, but then I decided I’d drop a hint that it was my birthday and see if we could get an upgrade—and it worked! So Theo and Sam shared a king bedroom and Chris and I shared a double bedroom, and we had a little sitting area and kitchen between the two. All for $500 less than we would’ve spent for a studio suite on the park grounds! (Plus we got free parking and free breakfast—woohoo!)

Meals were the hardest thing to budget. My stomach issues just don’t really allow me to eat fast food without having a lot of pain, so we were stuck with sit-down restaurants. Which of course are healthier as a general rule, so that’s good—but certainly they aren’t as budget friendly. Ah well, we tried to keep it within reason anyway—no fancy entrees or anything. So it wasn’t too bad on the pocketbook….

Despite spending two full days in the parks and a full day driving there, the boys were still awesome at the restaurants for dinner. Theo’s restaurant manners have been…well, a long work in progress. He just really has a hard time being somewhat still, and using utensils has been an ongoing lesson. But he’s doing a lot better lately, and actually a couple of weeks ago, someone at a neighboring table to ours in a restaurant said she used our kids as the “example table” for her own kids—as in, “See how nicely and quietly they’re eating??” Clearly this woman didn’t hear all the hissed comments of, “Sit down! Use your fork!!” But seriously, Theo has gotten a lot better that way. And Sam, for whatever reason, has impeccable restaurant manners. Honestly, I think Theo is the more typical of the two that way—he’s a very wiggly boy, so sitting relatively still is hard for him. But for whatever reason, Sam excels at that. He now refuses to sit in a high chair, and technically he’s really too small for a regular chair. But he insists on sitting in a regular seat, so we let him. And he can barely see over the table, but he still manages to sit there with his impeccable table manners and eat his meal.

I wish I could take credit for those manners, by the way, but honestly I think it’s just dumb luck. We’ve raised two boys exactly the same way, and one of them has to work hard at “restaurant manners” and one of them seems born for five-star dining. I don’t know how that happened! Probably the same way I have one child who was the easiest kid EVER to potty-train and another kid who will be lucky if he makes it into underwear by kindergarten. Luck of the draw…

Anyway, the parks! We did Disneyland the first day and California Adventure the second. Theo loved them both! His favorite rides were definitely the thrill rides: Space Mountain, California Screamin’ (the biggest roller coaster at the parks), Tower of Tower (a “drop” ride where you fall ten stories or something like that), the Matterhorn, Big Thunder Mountain. His least favorite ride was It’s a Small World. In his words: “It was too slow, and I didn’t like all the cheerfulness. I did like the culture, though.” Ha!

He went on Space Mountain four times, I think, and would’ve gone more except it was too busy. He went on California Screamin’ eight times and Tower of Terror three. He just loved them! He kept asking for more, more, more on those. He is my son, for sure! Chris likes thrill rides, too, but I love them.

Sam, on the other hand, was mostly happy just to walk around and explore. He wasn’t really a fan of the rides, though he gamely went on Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. I think he would’ve liked Small World if he had been more awake for it, but it was right before naptime, and he was exhausted. He did, however, fall in love with a little spinning ladybug ride at California Adventure. He went on it eight times, I think, and cried pitifully when we made him get off. He said, “Bugs again!” which just about broke my heart—a two-word sentence, and I couldn’t oblige him! But all good things must come to an end.

We didn’t stay for any of the nighttime shows. We spent about nine hours in the parks each day, and by the end of that we were all tired, so we just stopped for dinner and called it a night. Last night (after CA Adventure), our dinner took a long time coming (the restaurant was kind of a comedy of errors, and I can’t believe how well our tired boys held up!), and by the time we got back to the hotel, Theo said, “Please, I just want to go to bed!” If you know Theo, you know that never happens—poor kid was pooped!

One other note: We took advantage of the disability pass for both kids, which really helped. Obviously, we were going to do it for Sam—his low muscle tone, even though it’s pretty decent, still means that he fatigues easily, and the pass allowed us to have him in the stroller more than standing in line, plus he didn’t have to wait in as long of lines. But we were on the fence about Theo. Technically, autism is a disability by Disney’s definition—he was eligible for the pass, and actually people with “lesser” issues than that use the pass. But still, we felt a little odd—I mean, we pretty much consider him like 95% typical, you know? There are some ways that autism affects him, sure…but in many ways, he’s just a typical kid.

But then I talked to a bunch of other parents, some with kids with disabilities and some without, and every single one of them told me we should do the pass—that they’d do it in a heartbeat. And I thought more about it and thought, “Yeah, we probably should.” Because Theo does really well in situations where he knows what to expect and where he isn’t overwhelmed, but Disney is overwhelming—it’s a whole lot of fun, but there’s no denying that it’s overwhelming. And overwhelming can translate into Theo having a hard time with behavior…and then having a rotten time because he’s constantly having his behavior corrected.

And when I found out what the disability pass was, I felt better about it. At first I thought it let you skip lines altogether, and I felt like a jerk for doing that. I mean, he needs to be able to understand the idea that there’s not instant gratification for everything, regardless of your “needs”! But it turns out it’s actually more of a reservation system. If you have a child who has trouble with lines—for sensory issues, behavior issues, physical issues, or anything—you can use the disability pass to make a reservation for a ride. So if the line for Space Mountain is two hours (which it was!!), you can instead make a reservation and return in something like 90 minutes. So you’re still waiting for the ride, just like everyone else (although perhaps a little bit less–we found the reservation times to be slightly less than the standby times), but you’re just not standing in the line for all that time—you can let your child wander around the park, stop for a snack, or whatnot. Then you go back at your assigned time and just wait maybe 10 minutes, then hop on.

And you can only reserve one ride at a time, so it’s not like you can make five reservations while everyone else can only do one ride at a time. So you make your reservation, go to the ride at your assigned time, ride it, and then make your next reservation.

When I found that out, I felt better about it. We were still waiting our turn; we just weren’t having to force an antsy, overwhelmed child to stand relatively still in a line for two hours. And honestly, I’m very glad we did it. I will gladly do it again next time. It helped Theo have an enjoyable time, and it helped Chris and I because one of us didn’t have to leave the other one with Sam for two hours at a time while we stood in line with Theo. Given that Sam couldn’t ride very many of the rides, it was nice to be able to stay together as a family most of the time.

The other awesome thing about Disney (which has nothing to do with disability passes) is the rider switch passes. If you have a young child with you who can’t go on a ride, one parent can take the older child on a ride and pick up a “rider switch pass” so that the other parent can then go on the ride without waiting in the long line. So I could take Theo on a roller coaster, grab a switch pass for Chris, and then he could take Theo on the coaster with a wait of only five or ten minutes. It’s pretty awesome.

I’ve heard people complain about Disney’s passes and that the disability program was better before, but I honestly liked it. I don’t know what it was like before, but I think it works very well now. I think it’s reasonably fair to everyone, and it’s a big help to parents whose kids may not be as able to handle the lines. I give them a thumbs up.

Anyway, I think we will have a hard time topping this birthday—it really was awesome! We had the best time—the weather was decent, the boys were cheerful and cooperative, and it was just fun, fun, fun!

So Papa’s messed-up shoulder ended up not being a bad thing for us—though I’m sure it’s not any fun at all for him! Feel better soon, Papa!

And last but not least, if you didn’t catch my post about empty arms, click here to read it. It’s kind of funny that I wrote this and then ended up lugging a heavy child around Disneyland all weekend. Ah well…my back and arms will survive! A visit to the chiropractor is next on my list….

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