It’s not easy traveling with three kids as a single parent. Older kids seem like they’d be easy, teens who are going to wander off and do their own thing, whether it be lounging at the pool or checking out the local shopping mall. My oldest is almost there at 14, but not quite. The other two are definitely too young to fly solo, my 10yo son and 7yo daughter. As a result, travel ends up being mostly about supervision and making sure they’re happy. It’s the opposite of that clichÃ© t-shirt but much more the truth: If the kids are happy, Dad’s happy.
My Mum’s in poor health, however, so I felt it was very important to take the kids out to Southern California for a visit during a week break they had from school in February, so we dutifully scheduled it, buying plane tickets, booking hotels, etc.
Visits with people who aren’t in great health, particularly with active children, typically involves an hour or so visit followed by an entire day of doing other things. Usually when we visit them we go to SeaWorld, but this time I was determined to show my kids a place I really dug when I was an adolescent: Disneyland.
Still, an amusement park with three kids? Yikes. A recipe for too much sugar, cranky overtired kids, a grouchy Dad and a visit tainted by interpersonal challenges, rather than a fun day at the happiest place on Earth. On the other hand, maybe we could pull it off.
Fingers crossed, I contacted Disney PR asking for a few comp’d tickets and was delighted when they gave me four two-day passes to the Disneyland and the Disney California Adventure.
My sister was going to join us on this trip mostly to visit with our Mum but also to see the kids and spend some time with me (though, ironically, we ended up chatting via Facebook of an evening more than we ever talked about our lives with the omnipresent kids!) so she needed a ticket too. Fortunately she’s ex-military so still qualifies for a military discount on things like park passes. Go Army!
So we had a game plan: she’d buy a military personnel pass and we’d all have two days at the parks. Rather than commute after a long day at the park, we also switched hotels from one close to my folks and spent two nights at the Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel, a decent enough hotel across the street from Disneyland.
Then a snag. She couldn’t get a pass for the two days we wanted because one of the days was a blackout date. Hmm… a glance at the calendar and we realized it was President’s Day.
Not a good idea to go to Disneyland on a school holiday if you can help it! Think crowds.
We switched and figured that we’d go to Disney California Adventure first, Tuesday, February 22, then the second day, the day we would spend entirely in Anaheim we’d spend at Disneyland proper. Then Thursday morning we’d check out Downtown Disney so we could defer our shopping while in the parks. That didn’t quite work out, but I’ll explain that when we get to it in the narrative.
The weather caused us some concern with a cooling trend and chance of rain all week (typical February in California weather), but it held and we had perfect, just-warm-enough weather for a lovely visit without it being too hot. Still warm enough for us to get wet on the water rides and just laugh about it, while being cool enough that the lines for the water rides (particularly the terrific Grizzy River Run) were astonishingly short.
The stage is set. You now know that we were given tickets for Disney by the company so I’ve done my obligatory disclosure. You know that I went to the parks with all three of my kids — my 10yo son and 7yo and 14yo daughters — along with my sister who traveled from Alaska to join us. Let’s jump into our experiences and what we did and didn’t like, what was fun and not so fun, and our general impressions of the experience!
To do that, I’m going to break this post into four parts. This is part one, part two is about Disney California Adventure, part three is on Disneyland, aka the Magic Kingdom and the final part is about Downtown Disney and concluding thoughts on our adventure.
I will say this up front: we had a great time overall, my kids did great, and I was delighted to see updated rides and to find that some of my fave rides as a kid were instant favorites with my kids too.