On day 4 of the trip, mom spent some time perusing lists of things to do on Maui and found a snorkeling excursion in Wailea she thought we would all like. After discussion, we ended up booking the snorkeling as the main activity to do on the 6th day of our trip.
After the excursion to Honolulu on day 3, followed by the fun yet somewhat stressful expedition that was the road to Hana on day 5, we were in serious need of an adventure that didn’t span the bulk of the day but still got us out and enjoying what the island has to offer. Snorkeling ended up being the perfect activity.
Our group got up nice and early on the morning of our 6th day of vacation, and promptly loaded into the Jeeps so we could start the trek around the island to Wailea.
We had pre-arranged our snorkeling adventure through Swim with Turtles Maui, which was located near the Wailea Beach Resort by Marriott. We opted for a private guided tour where we kayaked out to a cove, anchored our kayaks (single anchor in the sand, not in the coral reef), and spent the next couple of hours snorkeling around in the water between Wailea beach and the Molokini Crater. We were fortunate enough to see some eagle rays, tons of tropical fish, a few turtles, and some eels.
When we finished our snorkeling adventure, it was time to re-bandage Ryan’s foot. The rest of the group took the opportunity to change into dry clothes, and we all met back at a small restaurant by a hidden pool at the Marriott.
After lunch the group made our way back to the west side of the island and spent the afternoon relaxing. That evening, we had reservations for Duke’s, the restaurant that sat on resort property near the boardwalk that connected the string of resorts along Ka’anapali.
Ryan and I went down to the restaurant a little over a half an hour before the rest of the group so we could grab a drink just the two of us as a mini celebration of our engagement.
Earlier in the week we had requested a late check out from the condo we were renting and we got that request approved. As such, we had some more time that morning to wander around on the beach, and to make the boys put on something nice for a group shot.
Following pictures, we changed into comfy traveling clothes, finished packing up the condo, and checked out. Our group had previously decided that we were going to check out the Maui Ocean Center on our way from Kaanapali back to the Maui Airport, which was pretty cool.
Our flight home was a trip from hell as it was not only a red-eye, but there was a young child screaming and kicking Nich’s seat the last 3 hours. The parents approach to taking control of the situation was arguing loudly with one another – a bold strategy I must say.
This vacation was impactful for a number of reasons, and was hands down one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.
Pearl Harbor absolutely blew me away and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to go on that day tour. My dad and brother toured the memorial the last time the family went to Hawaii in 2010, and I always felt like I had missed out by choosing to not go with them
Snorkeling was something I had always wanted to do but was a little scared of. I’m glad I got over that mild fear because it was such an amazing experience!
I don’t know how I go so lucky as to have a significant other who is as up for just about anything my dad is AND as equipped to make the “just about anything” happen because LORD knows I would not have been equipped to do that Road to Hana trip (as much as I liked to think I was)
We could not have gotten a better group together – everyone had a buddy, everyone got along, and everyone had similar goals for the trip, so it was super easy to plan excursions
I’m so grateful to my parents for the opportunity to go on a trip like this – here’s to more fun adventures as adults!
After allowing Day 4 of our trip to be a mostly “down” day, we were prepared for a pre-planned full day adventure for Day 5. When booking the trip, we knew we wanted to go to Hana. As such, we rented cars for the trip from Maui Lifted Jeep Rentals as there are very few rental car places on Maui that 1) allow you to take the cars to Hana and 2) have vehicles that are fit for the task of handling the terrain.
Our group had decided prior to the trip that we wanted to do a full loop of the east side of Maui when we made our Hana trek. I was tasked with finding some locations to stop along the way, and upon doing so realized a full loop, starting with the road around the south side of the island, would be the best way to accomplish our mission. I went into the day anticipating it would be long with lots of beautiful views and had absolutely no inclination as to what would occur that day.
There aren’t too many words that can do the proposal justice, and as such I have opted to include pictures of the progression of the walk Ryan took me on:
Following the proposal, we continued our trek around the island. Preston and Nich had opted to ride with my parents on the first leg of the journey, but chose to join Ryan and I for the rest of the drive.
Our next stop was at the Kīpahulu Visitor Center in Haleakalā National Park. The visitor center is home to the trailhead that marks the start of the hike to the Seven Sacred Pools.
From the Seven Sacred Pools, we continued our loop. As it was now early afternoon, we stopped in Hana for lunch.
After we finished lunch, we got right back to our adventure. The group only made one other major stop along the way, and that was the black sand beach at Wai’anapanapa State Park.
From there, we made our way across the north side of the island on the Hana Highway, counting down the mile markers. Ryan, Preston, Nich, and I spent the drive back towards the middle of the island singing and doing Yoda impressions.
My dad and Ryan were major troopers on this trek as they drove the whole way! For those who are unfamiliar, the Hana Highway and the road that connects around the south side are almost entirely one lane roads that are paved less than 2 car widths across, have hundreds of blind corners, steep drop-offs, and several dozen one-lane bridges.
We were all relieved when we returned to the condo that evening, and all but mom (who was already up way past her bedtime) headed down to the restaurant on resort property for drinks and appetizers to celebrate the day’s accomplishments!
Since my father retired, my family has been making an effort to make big trips together more. Back in 2018, we had decided to make a big trip in 2019 as it is the year my younger brother graduates with his Bachelor’s Degree.
The original trip we had planned over the CSU college system’s spring break was a cruise to Mexico, which we backed out of almost 2 months later for a variety of reasons including food options, freedom to create our own schedule, and the desire for more available activities than drinking.
We knew we still wanted to go somewhere tropical, and decided that a trip to Hawaii better fit the kind of vacation we were looking for.
Seeing as my brother and I are older now, we each got to bring a friend – a travel buddy if you will – so that everyone had someone to do things with. My younger brother Preston brought his best friend Nich, and I brought my boyfriend Ryan.
As soon as we got off the plane in Maui, we grabbed our baggage and wandered out to the shuttle area so we could work on getting our rental cars. We ended up renting our cars through Maui Lifted Jeeps and they were P E R F E C T for our group and the trip we had planned.
With the cars loaded, we made our way to the west part of the island to where we were staying near Ka’anapali. As soon as we were checked in, Ryan and I wasted no time changing into our bathing suits and heading down to the beach with my mom.
The following day, myself, my mom, and Ryan got up early (still on California time) and went for a walk on the beach together. To stick with the relaxing theme for the day, Ryan and I had scheduled a 90 minute couples massage for 11am at the spa on the main floor of the resort building we were staying in.
Later that day, our group made our way to Lahaina for a late lunch and to walk around by the Banyan Tree.
That night was the season premier for the final season of Game of Thrones, so naturally, the 5 of us on the trip who were invested in the show gathered in the living room as soon as we were able to stream it.
The following morning around 4:00 am, dad, Preston, Nich, Ryan, and I made our way back to the Maui airport. The five of us had opted to spend one day of our vacation on Oahu to do the Pearl Harbor memorial. Preston and my dad had gone to the memorial the last time my family went to Hawaii in 2010, and I had regretted not going ever since.
When the five of us got off the plane at the Honolulu airport, we were taken from the airport to the memorial via transport my dad has arranged when he booked our Pearl Harbor tour.
Once at the main visitor’s center, we swapped our receipt for physical tickets and made way to the ferry that would take us out by the USS Arizona Memorial – the dock for the ferries was still undergoing construction when we went, so we were unable to get out and walk over the top of the sunken vessel.
Once back on land, we wandered the grounds a bit before making our way to the shuttle that would take us to the USS Missouri and continue the loop to the Aviation Museum on Fort Island. On USS Missouri, we jumped into a tour group to learn a bit about the history of the ship and it’s significance in not only WWII, but in relation to the USS Arizona. For those who are unaware, the ships sit in the harbor bow to bow where Arizona marks the true beginning of the war in the Pacific theater and the Missouri marks the true end as the Japanese surrendered on her deck.
After the tour, we wandered the ship’s innards before heading back to the shuttle stop so we could get food and visit the Aviation Museum.
With the Aviation Museum explored, our group got back on the shuttle to the main visitor center. On our return, we made our way directly to the USS Bowfin to explore the submarine.
By the time 4:00 pm rolled around, we were all exhausted from our adventures (and because we were up so early that morning to fly to Honolulu). We flew back to Maui that evening and all promptly passed out in our beds.
The next morning my mom and I got up and walked on the beach together. This day was set to be a “down” day because the previous day had been so packed and we had equally lengthy plans for Wednesday.
On our return to the condo, Ryan and my dad cooked omelets and turkey bacon for everyone. With leisure in mind, my mom, Nich, Ryan, and I headed back down to the water.
Ryan tried his darnedest to get Nich to follow him out on these rocks he had gotten me on our first night in Maui but he was unsuccessful. Ryan ended up cutting his foot pretty bad in 2 places on some coral and had to head back to the condo shortly after. Nich and my mom stayed down by the water for awhile longer, but I figured I should join my travel buddy upstairs.
For those of you who don’t know, my dad was a paramedic in his early 20’s, and was arguably one of the best fit people to assist Ryan in his injured state. I won’t get into too much more detail about what happened, but I do have a picture that properly summarizes what happened after my dad did the initial clean out and went to bandage the wound:
That evening, Ryan and I got dressed up and went out to dinner with my parents at a nice restaurant in Lahaina. We sat down about 20 minutes before sunset, and we ended up having such a lovely time that we were at our table for several hours.
Fortunately for our sanity, the parks opened an hour later on our second day. This meant our early hour in California Adventure fell from 8 a.m. until 9 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. until 8 a.m., so we got an extra hour or so of sleep. Even with the extra hour of sleep, we ended up taking our time and getting into the park a little later than we would have liked. Our delay? Room service! Mickey waffles are L I F E.
By 8:15 a.m. we made it to Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! While in line, decided we wanted to make sure we watched the FastPass return times so we could get passes for the Halloween overlay of this ride – Guardians of the Galaxy: Monsters After Dark – which runs from 5 p.m. until close.
I mentioned this in the last post, but I really had no idea what I was missing out on by not using Disney’s new(ish) MaxPass offering. Without a doubt, I will be paying the extra money upfront to add a year of MaxPass when I get around to renewing my Annual Pass.
When we got off the ride, we made our way around toward the trolley station near the soon-to-be entrance to Marvel Land so we could find the Avengers manhole cover.
Following Guardians, I was feeling up to rollercoasters, so we made our way over to the Incredicoaster. Since it was still before gates opened to the general public, we got to choose our seat so Ry chose the front, rode with <8 other people, and had basically no wait time at all. We both felt they could have done a little bit more when they did the Incredibles overlay on the track, but had a lot of fun on this ride.. so much fun, in fact, that we walked right back on!
We walked the long way around the Pier after Incredicoaster so I could snag a picture with this Alebrije wing wall for the Día de los Muertos setup in California Adventure.
Right at 9:10 a.m. we made it back over to Radiator Springs Racers because we had the first set of FastPasses available for the day. After our car won the race, we made our way to take a picture with the Sugar Skull car outside of Ramone’s, and then over to the tractor in Mater’s Petting Zoo. At that point, it was time to get our Disneyland Castle pictures taken care of, so we switched parks.
Since I haven’t mentioned it before, Ryan is basically on the feeding schedule of a hobbit. As such, it was time to stop for food again, so we made our way to Red Rose Taverne in Fantasyland to get one of the breakfast platters, which are delicious!
Once we were fed, we played the part of obnoxious Disney tourists so I could get pictures with my bat wing ears from MickeyCityEars by Haunted Mansion. Following the picture extravaganza, we made our way over to the Mint Julep Bar to snag some pumpkin beignets.
Beignets consumed, we decided to go back to the Star Wars Launch Bay so Ry could look into ordering the D-Tech phone case he saw the previous day. As fate would have it, they were having a technical issue and the D-Tech system was down. Bummed by the news, we decided it was time to swing back by the hotel and switch some things out.
Seeing as we were already in Tomorrowland, we hopped on the Monorail once more so that Ryan could see what the Downtown Disney return trip looked like in comparison to the route leading into the park.
At the hotel, we swapped out my usual grey JanSport backpack that is my usual go-to for a dinosaur backpack that has a tail (yes, it is marketed for kids) Ry found on Amazon.
We decided to walk back to the parks for a couple of reasons. First, it was time for us to get caffeinated and Downtown Disney is the only place we can mobile order to. Second, we were planning to head straight to California Adventure, and there is no direct transit route from our hotel.
It was right around 12:30 p.m. when we got back to DCA, and our next FastPass return in that park wasn’t until 1:00 p.m., so we had to decide what we wanted to do. We already knew the best course of action was to head towards Hollywood Land so we could be near our FastPass location. That worked out well, too, because I wanted to stop by the Annual Passholder corner by Mike and Sulley to the Rescue to pick up some pins and take a picture with the Oogie Boogie setup they had back there.
After the AP corner was visited, we decided to visit one of the Chase Visa Character Experience spots because we had a little more time and I hadn’t ever indulged in this card member perk before. If you didn’t already know, I’m ridiculous and definitely have a Chase Premier Rewards Visa (it has Elsa on it!) and I use it for EVERYTHING!
We learned that the characters here rotate regularly. At the time we went, it happened to have just switched over to Stitch.
The Stitch character experience was precious and different from others in that you weren’t rushed at all. Ryan and I spent a considerable amount of time interacting with Stitch, including getting my spikes investigated and shaking our tails together.
Not long after, 1:00 p.m. rolled around, so we made our way to Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! Unfortunately, for whatever reason, this ride was VERY impacted and we ended up waiting 45 minutes from the FastPass side to get on the ride. It was obvious there was either a technical issue or a staffing issue, and it was funny to us that the longest wait of our whole trip was a FastPass return.
Before we left for our trip, Ryan and I visited my Grandma and her husband Steve. Grandma raved about the Silly Symphony Swings she loved so much on the trip she made with my mom and I in April, and we assured her he wouldn’t miss them. After our FastPass adventure, we figured it would be a good time to make good on our word. Following that ride, we spent some time wandering Pixar Pier so that I could get a better look at everything that had been added since the renovation.
The plan for the rest of the afternoon involved a long-standing reservation we had at Lamplight Lounge. I could not have been more excited when 2:40 p.m. rolled around and we got seated in a half-booth table inside of the lower portion of the restaurant. Two hours, two burgers, and four drinks later, Ry and I left rather satisfied with our experience.
When we left Lamplight Lounge, we made our way back to the hotel to once again trade out items we had brought & bought in the park. After swapping some items, we made our way back to California Adventure for our Monsters After Dark FastPass return. I know there have been mixed reviews of Guardians: Monsters After Dark , but Ryan and I really enjoyed it.
From there, we wandered back to Disneyland so we could try once again to get Ryan the Darth Vader phone case he really wanted. Unfortunately, the system was still down and there was no hope that it would be up and operational again before the end of the day, which was especially sad because it was our last day inside the parks.
As we prepared for the last of our FastPasses for the evening, we made our way to the park entrance to get a picture with the Railroad Station and the ever-lovely Mickey landscaping at the front of the park. Yes, that picture looks like it’s still daylight, and yes, I said evening. This particular park day was just before the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parties were set to launch, so both parks closed at 8 p.m. that day.
The first of our “final” FastPasses was for Indiana Jones – Ryan’s favorite of the trip. Our wait time here was particularly short, which was nice. After that, we made our way over to Haunted Mansion Holiday with our FastPasses ready for one final ride in a doom buggy before making our way to the hotel.
The next morning, we took our time getting up and getting ready. The first thing on that agenda was sleeping in just a little, meaning we made it until about 8:30 a.m.
After we got ready and packed, I called down to bell services to get our luggage held downstairs until we were actually ready to leave. From there, we made our way into Downtown Disney for one last look into some shops and to stop by Starbucks.
That morning I also decided that I was going to go into Disneyland and get Ryan that phone case he really wanted but we weren’t able to get the day before – after all, I did have an annual pass. He walked me almost all the way to the park gates before heading to Starbucks to wait for me. While I was in the Star Wars Launch Bay, not only did I get him the D-Tech phone case he had been wanting, I also got him the replica Darth Vader light saber he had been eyeing both of the days before. Buying these items was the easy part, getting them back through the park was an adventure.
For those wondering, I was wearing flip-flops, using my Haunted Mansion Dooney that I love so much, and carrying a rather large and awkwardly shaped light saber box. The number of men in their 40’s standing by strollers who either yelled “Congratulations!” at me or exclaimed their jealousy over the fact that I “got the good one” made me laugh on my awkward walk.
To say Ryan was excited when he saw what I had bought in the park would be an understatement. While I was in the park, he surprised me, too, and bought me a mug I had been eyeing the whole trip.
All in all, we had such a great trip. Though I’m sad about letting my pass lapse, I know I made the most of the year I had it active. My next goal is to make it a year before I go back, so that I can prioritize other things during this period of my life.
However, just because I’m not planning on going again for about a year doesn’t mean I’m not already planning that next trip!
Unfortunately for me, my Annual Pass expired on September 30th, and I chose to let it lapse. This decision was made after considering a number of factors, including the fact that there is no longer a renewal incentive (waiving the down payment) and that the absolute soonest I would be able to make another Disney trip wouldn’t be until February and it doesn’t make sense to pay for 5 months I won’t be going. I am proud of myself, though – I managed to go on 10 different Disneyland trips during the time I had a current annual pass.
Disney Halloween Shenanigans
Fortunately for me, Disney starts Halloween festivities the first part of September. Also in my favor was some flexibility of schedule for both Ryan and myself. On top of that, Disney was offering AP discounts on hotel rooms for the time frame we were looking to go. After much discussion, Ryan and I decided to book an upper floor, pool view room at the Disneyland Hotel.
For this particular trip, we also decided it was time to finally try the MaxPass feature (after watching Traci use it on her trip with Tyler to Disneyland at the end of June). The only part of this offering by Disney that I had no experience with was the FastPass via app function, as I was grandfathered in on Annual Passholders getting PhotoPass pictures for free when I originally started my Annual Pass around 2011.
Also while preparing for this trip, Ryan realized that I hadn’t seen any of the Star Wars movies all the way through. We ended up taking the better part of a week prior to the trip (following our trip to Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks) and watched them all.
Ryan and I left mid-morning to head down to Anaheim. With traffic, we finally made it down to Disneyland a little over 5 hours later. All in all, the drive was easy, but to be honest, I can’t stand it.
Once we had gotten ourselves checked in, made it up to our room, and had our bags delivered by the bellman service the resort offers, Ryan and I made our way down to Trader Sam’s. Going into that adventure, we already knew that our plan was to split an Uh Oa… about halfway through that drink, Ry realized I wasn’t kidding about the alcohol content of that particular beverage and the need to split it!
After we finished the fishbowl of tiki-themed goodness, I took Ryan for a walk through Downtown Disney. Since this was the first trip to Disneyland for Ry that would be remembered, we took our time going into most of the shops and taking it all in.
As we reached the end of the walk, we put our name in at Naples and continued the walk so Ryan could see the gates of each park. Shortly after, we got our table, ate dinner, and wandered back to our hotel room.
First Day in the Parks
Since we were staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel, we got early entry to a park each morning. It turned out that park was scheduled to be California Adventure on both mornings, which was okay because all the rides I like to do “first thing” in the morning are in that park.
For the first day, we donned matching Storm Trooper t-shirts we found at Kohls. As Ryan and I wandered from park gates toward Cars Land, we stopped to take pictures with the Headless Horseman and the “Welcome to Cars Land” sign.
Our first ride out the gate was Radiator Springs Racers. Ry had never been on it before and he loved it! That brought me a lot of joy because Cars Land is my favorite area in California Adventure (for those of you who might be wondering, New Orleans Square is my favorite area in Disneyland).
From Cars Land, we made the long loop around to Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! With all the Pixar Fest fun of the summer gone, Bugs Land also ceased to exist. This means that the only way to the tower that houses Tivan’s Collection is by going to Buena Vista Street and then going all the way through Hollywood Land.
After we experienced Mission Breakout! we headed back towards the park gates. On our way, we stopped to get pictures with the Pixar themed walls.
After our picture shenanigans were done, we made our way to Disneyland. Our first order of business with the MaxPass feature was to select a FastPass for Space Mountain at 8:30 a.m.
Once we finished Ghost Galaxy (the current overlay for Space Mountain), we wandered across the way to Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters. With Zurg defeated, we made our way back to Main Street to figure out breakfast.
On our quest, we took a moment to stop and get a picture with the Mickey pumpkin that resides at the start of Main Street USA. Once finished there, we wandered down to Jolly Holiday for some semblance of breakfast.
Once we had fed ourselves, we made our way towards Pirates of the Caribbean! Along with changing out the Red Woman (something I still have mixed feelings about), they also added a pirate holding a treasure chest that appears human or skeletal depending on the angle it’s viewed from in one of the corridors between rooms.
**I want to make a note here that the entire trip, Ryan and I waited no more than 20 minutes for anything EXCEPT one pass through Guardians of the Galaxy that happened to be a FastPass we had while they seemed to be experiencing staffing shortages**
Thunder Mountain was the next stop of the morning. As this is one of my favorite rides of all time, I was very excited to see how Ryan would react to it. Ryan ended up agreeing that it was great, but would probably be better at night. Although he’s right about that, we didn’t end up getting to do Thunder at night this trip.
At 10:10 that morning, we showed up for our Haunted Mansion Holiday FastPasses.
After seeing what holiday surprises Jack had in store, Ry and I switched parks for a second time that day. From the park gates, we made our way back to The Little Mermaid.
By this part of the morning, it was time to feed Ryan again, so we stopped at Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta. Here we tried the chicken sun-dried tomato pesto and the anti-vampire pizza, and I have nothing but good things to say about both of them!
While we ate our pizza and pasta under the pergola outside, I worked on our next FastPass selection on my phone. Have I mentioned yet that the MaxPass feature is worth it? Well, it is!
We decided that after eating would be a good time to head to Toy Story Midway Mania, so we walked around the pier toward that ride. After we finished playing the Midway Mania games, it was around 12:30 p.m. so Ryan and I decided to head back to the hotel. On our way out of the park, we stopped at a couple of carts and stores to collect souvenirs.
From our room, we made our way downstairs, eager to go down the Monorail slide the Disneyland Hotel’s pool offered. I hadn’t been on a water slide or anything of that nature in awhile, and I have to say, I enjoyed it quite a bit! Ryan was much more graceful about the exit off of the slide than I was, though..
With the pool enjoyed, we wandered back to our room to get ready to head back into the park. Now that we had a better idea of time, we made another FastPass selection in Disneyland for that afternoon at 3:15 p.m.
Ryan had never been on the monorail before, so we decided that would be our way back into the park for the next part of the adventure. Once we made it into the park we made our way through Tomorrowland, around Fantasyland as to dodge the afternoon parade route, past Frontierland and the Rivers of America, and jogged up by Pirates so we could get to Indiana Jones, which was the ride Ry went into the trip looking forward to the most.
After braving the jeep ride, we grabbed a couple skewers from Bengal Barbecue. Now that the Ryan had been fed a snack, we wandered back across the walkway to the Jungle Cruise! Having survived the jungles of the world, we decided it was time to present ourselves to Lord Vader at the Star Wars Launch Bay (our shirts said “Those were the droids we were looking for”).
We had been waiting for this event all day. Our Darth Vader character meet & greet was probably the best character interaction I’ve ever had in the parks.
Following our visit with Darth Vader, we explored the Star Wars Launch Bay. Having never seen the movies all the way through prior to this trip, I had never seen a reason to go in before. Boy, was I missing out on a lot of things by not exploring the world of Star Wars!
After that, we had to swing by the hotel once more because sometimes I get a little too excited about the “next” ride or attraction at Disney and get a little short sighted and forget things I legitimately need in the park.
As we left the hotel we mobile ordered the Starbucks Reserve store in Downtown Disney because it was high time for caffeination. While Ryan took care of that, I got us FastPasses for Soarin’ at 5:30 p.m.
Following our flight around the world, we made our way to Cars Land to hunt for food. Ryan ended up getting pretzel bites from the Cozy Cone before we moved on to Hollywood Land to get hot dogs.
One of the hot items released for Halloween were the poison apple glow cubes, this year having purple as a special release color. While green and red can be found in various refreshment areas around the park and sold separately, the purple cube was a feature of the Poison Apple-tini served exclusively at the Carthay Circle Lounge. On this trip, Ryan and I determined we would be getting 4 – one for each of us, as well as one for each of our moms.
With our glow cube mission accomplished, we walked back into Cars Land to ride Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree and Luigi’s Honkin’ Haul-O-Ween. At this point, I was content because Ry had seen Cars Land at night, we had done the vast majority of the rides on the “must-do” list, and it was close enough to park close that we could call it a full day.
Lots of big changes in my life lately.. As such, things have been busy as ever! I’ve been spending a lot of time in the mountains, and there have been a lot of unexpected trips. This phase of my life is something I’m very grateful for; I’m learning that spontaneity is good, being busy is good, and I’m being reminded of just how strong my support system is.
Much of my down time recently has been giving me a “reset” of sorts – revisiting my past interests and trying new things that interest me. One of my short term goals (which I’ve been making good on) is to spend more time outdoors. I mentioned recently on Instagram that Ryan & I invested in an “America the Beautiful” pass while visiting Yosemite following the fires, and it’s already more than paid for itself in our travels.
Another of my goals is to be more diligent with writing. Despite that, this post isn’t very word-intensive. In my opinion, my blog posts about nature-y trips don’t need a bunch of words detracting from the quiet beauty of these locations.
In short, Ryan and I stayed at the Montecito-Sequoia Lodge. We spent one day of our trip exploring further along 198 through Sequoia National Park, and the next day up 180 into a small portion of Kings Canyon National Park. This trip was seen as a way to get a feel for the area, and we plan to go back and explore further!
When I moved back to California, I wanted to have more time for Disney trips, so I made it. The more I shared my adventures with my grandma, supplemented by my mom’s experiences in the park, the more vocal grandma got about wanting to go to Disneyland herself. In 2017 we decided that we would take her for her 80th birthday that was in August of that year.
Unfortunately, that fall stayed too hot, and by the time it cooled down enough for us to be comfortable taking her, the holiday madness in the parks started. With that, we decided to make the trip in the spring. We opted for the period of time after spring breaks ended and before Grad Nite season started. This meant our trip would have to take place in the last two weeks of April.
In planning this trip, we decided that we would dedicate Monday to driving down, Tuesday and Wednesday to being in the parks, and that Thursday would be for driving home. We also went into the trip with a list of pictures we knew we wanted, food we wanted to try, and rides that were important. We are proud to say we accomplished everything on our lists!
My mom and I picked up grandma at her house just before 10 a.m. on Monday, April 23rd. From there, we made our trek down to Anaheim. Quite a few stops were made along the way, and we finally made it down to the hotel just before 3 p.m.
For this trip with grandma, we decided to really splurge and stay at the Grand Californian – proximity to the parks, bell/valet services, room service, and amenities played a big role in our decision here. Of the Disneyland Resort hotels, this one truly is my favorite.. since the room renovations, the showers are to die for!
Once we got settled in the room, the three of us went into Downtown Disney for dinner. We made our own “family style” experience at La Brea Bakery, and it was just the right amount for each of us.
From dinner, we made our way through Downtown, pausing to go into some of the shops. We made it to the other end and found our next destination: Trader Sam’s.
Despite it being around 6:30 or so, we lucked into a table inside! This meant grandma got to experience the activities that accompany some of the drinks (for those who are unfamiliar, this includes brief changes in lighting, yelling by the bartenders, and other special effects).
When we left Trader Sam’s, my mom wanted to go into the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel to see their teacup chairs. This was a brief detour because by this point we were all very tired from the traveling of the day. We made it to the room and called it a night shortly after.
In the Parks – Day 1:
The next morning we all got up early and started getting ready while we waited for room service to arrive. During our trip the parks closed a little earlier and opened a little later – this kept us from having to rush ourselves and grandma first thing in the morning, and kept us from staying in the parks too late.
We were at the entrance to Disneyland about a half an hour before the park officially opened. After getting through the gates, we took advantage of the fact that the park wasn’t technically open yet and wandered through the Emporium that sits on the corner near the City Hall at the start of Main Street.
After stopping to look in the shop, we made our way down Main Street to get castle pictures before it got crowded.
We crossed the bridge into Fantasyland and went to Snow White’s Scary Adventures. When we finished there, we decided to move on to the Mad Tea Party, which grandma got a kick out of!
When we finished our spin on the teacups, grandma expressed interest in the Matterhorn, and after mom and I weighed the pros and cons (i.e. how jerky it is, the lack of real padding, etc.) we decided to get in line.
She ended up liking that one too!
When we were done there, mom wanted one of the chocolate churros that are a limited feature for Pixar Fest inspired by Coco (which I still haven’t seen), so we stopped at the churro cart in Frontierland. Once the churros were consumed, we went to Adventureland to do the Jungle Cruise.
Following the cruise, we made our way through New Orleans Square. While walking through the square, we witnessed a proposal at one of the caricature stands, which was adorable! Once we had passed through, grandma and I made our way to Haunted Mansion while mom waited elsewhere. When the ride was done, we met with mom where I waited in line for one of those Toy Story Alien popcorn buckets.
That day we had reservations at Carnation Cafe for lunch, which was phenomenal! From there, we headed across Main Street to the silhouette shop.
The silhouettes at Disneyland have to be one of my favorite souvenirs, and I’m so glad my mom brought up wanting to do one while we were in the parks with grandma.
It had been a long day already, so we started our trek to the hotel so that at the very least, grandma could have some down time. On our way back to our hotel, we stopped in World of Disney, followed by the Starbucks Reserve in Downtown.
Once we got grandma back into the hotel room, I decided to look at ride wait times for some of the more intense rides that were not a particularly great idea to try and take grandma on. At that point in time, the wait time for Guardians of the Galaxy was allegedly only 45 minutes. I decided I was going to go, and I knew mom wanted to as well, so we left grandma to rest and wandered into the park (which was particularly convenient coming from the Grand Californian).
Turns out the wait time was closer to 90 minutes, which was okay overall because grandma got to really rest. When we finally got through the ride, we made our way back to the hotel room to pick up grandma so we could head back into California Adventure with her.
Our first ride stop when we were back into the park was the Little Mermaid ride. After that, we decided to take grandma on the Silly Symphony Swings. She LOVED those – they would end up being the only repeat ride with grandma the whole trip.
From the swings, we moved on to Cars Land as it was nearing dusk. The only ride we did in Cars Land that day was Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. After our ride, mom wanted a Neapolitan shake from Flo’s V8 Cafe. We walked through Cars Land with the lights on, and I made sure we walked around the back side of Flo’s toward the wharf so that grandma could see they way that the Cadillac Range gets lit up at night (a personal favorite of mine).
We got back to the hotel relatively early that night, which was good because it was a long day. According to my phone, we had walked just over 5 miles that day.
In the Parks – Day 2
Day 2 of fun in the parks started similarly to day 1 in that we got room service and went to Disneyland first. We only had one objective for that park when they opened at 9 a.m. – get a picture with the Mickey flowers in front of the train station.
After we got our picture, we hit California Adventure. Once through the park gates, I took our park tickets and got FastPasses for Radiator Springs Racers while mom and grandma took their time walking up Buena Vista Street. From there, they met me at the entrance to Cars Land so we could get a picture with the Buzz and Woody cars by the “Welcome” sign.
With our picture taken care of we made our way to Toy Story Midway Mania, which only had a 5 minute wait time. Once that ride was marked off the list, we made our way back around the pier the long way (construction is still heavily underway) to the swings so grandma could ride them again.
Mom and grandma went on their way to do Soarin’ and I made my way to the Starbucks location in the park. When we met back up, we headed towards Hollywood Land. On our way to our next destination, we took a little detour to take a picture by a mosaic wall near Schmoozies, ride Mike and Sulley to the Rescue (a ride mom and I had never been on) because grandma likes Monsters Inc, and to grab a hot dog.
Around that time was our return time for our Radiator Springs Racers FastPasses, so we made our way there through Bug’s Land so that grandma could experience that. Mom and I also paused to get FastPasses for a second round of Guardians later that afternoon. Following our race, I wandered to the Cozy Cone for a bacon mac & cheese cone and my mom went back to Flo’s for another Neapolitan shake which grandma had a little bit of.
At that point, we had finished most of what we wanted to do in California Adventure, so we headed back across the plaza to Disneyland. Our first order of business in the park was to take the railroad on a round trip. Once we made it back, we walked up main street and got pictures in our Minnie ears with the “Partners” statue.
That day was particularly warm, so we made our way towards Adventureland to get some Dole Whip and sit through a Tiki Room show. After the show we walked across the park to the Monorail. We rode the Monorail to Downtown Disney, and made a stop in the new Disney Home Store as we made our way from the station to the hotel.
With grandma at the hotel to rest once more, mom and I made our way back to California Adventure for our Guardians FastPass return. After the ride we got back to the hotel (much faster than the day before) and gathered grandma to get dinner.
We walked back to the park entrance of Disneyland and jumped on the train for a 3/4 trip to Tomorrowland. Dinner was at Pizza Planet (which is fantastic rebranding in my opinion) where mom got pasta and grandma and I got slices of pizza. Mom also got one of the Alien macaroons. After dinner, we got back on the train to go to Main Street and head back to the hotel.
Based on my phone’s tracker, we walked just over 6 miles the second in-park day of our trip.
We had room service delivered Thursday morning before we left and were thankful for bell services to help us get our stuff back down to the car. As might be anticipated with typical LA traffic, it took us an hour and a half to get the 30 miles from Anaheim to Downtown LA. We ended up making it home in just about 5 hours.
We all had a great trip to Disneyland, and I’m so grateful that I have those memories with my mom and grandma!
Since our trip to Yosemite last September, Lela and I have both been determined to make it to Tuolumne Meadows in a timely manner. We knew going into it that in order to properly do Tuolumne Meadows and surrounding area hikes, we would need more time than we had. Nonetheless, we both wanted to get up there to see what it was about. It took us nearly a year, but on Saturday, August 5th, we finally made it.
As with most Yosemite trips, we left around 6 a.m. to head up the hill. Weather was forecasted to be a reasonable temperature, but there was a good chance of thunderstorms, especially in the afternoon – we planned outfits accordingly. The drive was a relatively easy 3 hours up, and the direction we came from required we go through part of the valley before getting onto 120 for Tioga Road.
Along the way, there were many places to pull off. One was Olmsted Point, which gave us a gorgeous view of Half Dome from the opposite side of the usual Valley view.
After that, we approached Tenaya Lake, which was breathtaking. The reflection of the mountains off the lake left us both speechless.
We reached Tuolumne Meadows midmorning, and as expected, we were met with slightly overcast weather.
Due to our time constraints, we decided that wandering around the meadows would be the best course of action for this trip. On a map of Tuolumne Meadows, we found a point of interest that we wanted to have as a true “destination” on our walk, so we headed to the east end of the meadows. We parked the car on the dirt road by Lembert Dome that leads to Tuolumne Stables and walked up the road to where the true path to the meadows starts.
Our “set” destination for that day was going to be Soda Springs and the adjacent Parsons Lodge. The path toward the heart of the meadows offered stunning views of the surrounding mountain ranges, including Cathedral Peak (which Lela was rather taken with).
The paths through Tuolumne Meadows (that we experienced) were roughly car width, and were very well maintained. Altitude was the only thing not on our side, but overall, the weather was lovely, so we didn’t notice it much on our hike/walk.
A short while later, we made it to Soda Springs. The springs were small but fascinating:
When we left the lodge, we headed towards the Tuolumne Meadows Footbridge, which allowed us to cross the Tuolumne River.
From the bridge, we continued along the path that lead toward the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center, though the visitor center was busy, so we opted to not go that far. Walking through this part of the trail made me feel like I was wandering through the set of Lord of the Rings, which made me even happier than I already was.
Perhaps my favorite part of the walk led us to a weird rock/embankment on the edge of the river. Water is probably my favorite element, and there were so few people that you could hear everything happening in Tuolumne Meadows. Lela and I sat on the water’s edge for a little while listening to the birds in the nearby trees and the water running down the river.
Some time later we headed back to the car. We decided we would go back by Tenaya Lake to eat lunch; Lela had gone to Subway the night before and picked up sandwiches for our lunch that day. We took our food and made our way down to the edge of the lake. There weren’t many people in this area, so lunch was very peaceful.
When we were done there, we started to head back toward the valley (Yosemite Valley because we have to pass through it to get back to the 41, and more broadly the Central Valley). By the time we made it back to Yosemite Valley, traffic was getting a little ridiculous, and until that moment we both had forgotten that it was the last real weekend before school was back in session.
We were both very impressed with Tuolumne Meadows, and our only regret is that we didn’t have time for any of the other hikes with true destinations at points of interest like lakes or peaks. I cannot wait to make it back up there, though that will likely have to wait until next year.
My dear friend Abigail’s 23rd birthday falls at the beginning of July, and for part of the celebration she wanted to go on a hike somewhere out of town but relatively close by. After browsing the internet and getting suggestions from friends, we decided to do the Lewis Creek Trail just north of Oakhurst the Saturday before her birthday. Earlier in that week over Taco Tuesday at my home, we decided on the more concrete details of our trip, including that we would leave town around 7 a.m. and we would make sure to bring food with us.
The trailhead is just off the 41 a couple miles outside of Oakhurst and is marked by brown signs saying “Lewis Creek Trail.” The term “trailhead” could seem misleading because the parking area looks like a large pull-off; when we got there, only one other car was parked there. We chose a spot, put on sunscreen and bug spray (both are very necessary this summer), and started our trek through the wilderness.
About 100 yards after walking through the main gate, we met a fork in the path. The sign we came across at the fork said the Lewis Creek Trail was to the right, so that’s the direction we started in. Just over 1/2 a mile from that point, we reached Corlieu Falls.
Corlieu Falls can best be seen from a platform on the path (where the above photos were taken). After a brief stop there, we continued down the trail.
After the smaller falls farther downstream, the path continues for another ~0.8 miles before you reach a house (and we learned from others on the trail that there is another parking area farther that direction). We turned back when we reached the house (after consulting the internet via our limited cell phone reception) because the other waterfall featured on the hike was off of the path to the left of the fork we encountered at the start of our hike.
It didn’t take us very long to make it back the 1.5 miles we had traveled to the original fork in the path; from there we started on the left path (technically now it was on the right from where we were). This path is much flatter and much more scenic, though it requires a lot more of what I like to refer to as “off roading.” Typically, there is a bridge to cross the river, but that was washed out. Now, there is a decently sized log across the creek and a precarious rope attached to trees on either side of the creek designated (not marked) for hikers to cross.
The trail varied between wide and narrow, and was mostly level with some areas that were steep. Areas were also washed out from the recent increase in water coming down the creek, so some places required slightly more creative methods to continue. After about 1.5 miles, we came to a junction where we were met by this sign:
From here, we turned right and headed down toward the sound of rushing water to find we were at the top of Red Rock Falls. Above the falls was a lovely spot to stop and sit for awhile. Also while there, we decided to break out the food we brought with us.
Once we finished eating, we tried to find a way to the bottom of the falls, but didn’t have much luck with what we were able to see. The best we could get was this view off the side of the landing we ate on:
We made our way back toward the car from there. The way back was easy, but we stopped frequently to take advantage of the areas of the path that opened into clearings where we could get close to the creek.
Overall, this hike was relatively quick (we spent about 3.5 hours up there) and could fall in the easy/moderate category. Most of the featured portions of the trail are shaded by the gorgeous, towering trees of the Sierra National Forest. It’s also worth noting that we were met with quite a few bugs, but got no real bites to speak of (thanks to the bug spray).
I would, and likely will, do this trail again in the future. Come to find out, this was Abigail’s second time doing parts of this hike, and she thoroughly enjoyed the second pass through. If you are looking for a good half day hike in the forest featuring waterfalls, I highly recommend this trail!
Hiking is a hobby I picked up while I lived in Colorado. Towards the beginning, I was still experiencing joint pain that was most likely caused by my time playing volleyball, and that limited the types of hikes I could take on. Due to that, I tended to limit my hikes to those rated moderate or below. Three years ago, on June 18, 2014, Charlotte and I attempted Yosemite Falls, rated at moderate to strenuous, and only made it to Columbia Rock before opting to turn back and get into the pools below Lower Yosemite Falls. Reminder: All collages can be clicked on to see the individual images in a larger format.
The lookout where we turned back
Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls from Lower Yosemite Falls trail
Charlotte and I met in 7th grade and she has held a special place in my life since. She is one of the most strong willed, ambitious, and charismatic people I know. Our relationship has always been one based in a more “adult” perspective – we can go months without talking but there is no hesitation with picking up right where with left off. For undergrad, Charlotte went to Cal Berkeley, and is continuing her education with Law School at Ole Miss. This trip fell during a break in her school schedule when she happened to not only be in town, but have a full day free.
Our second attempt at the Yosemite Falls Trail (which we were determined to complete) was scheduled for Monday, June 19th, coincidentally just one day after the 3 year anniversary of our first attempt. We left town around 6 o’clock that morning, and by 8 a.m. we were in the valley.
On our way through the valley just as we crossed the river to get to the north side of the park, we stopped to capture this gorgeous view of our only plan for the day:
Needless to say, we had quite a day ahead of us. We parked the car in the lot just across the road from the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, and had to walk from there to Campground 4 where the trailhead is located. At 8:53 a.m. we left the valley floor on our journey to summit Yosemite Falls. Note: The only two times we know for sure are when we left the valley and when we got back down, every other time listed is based on picture timestamps.
Around 9:30 a.m., we made it to Columbia Rock. This portion of the journey was much easier to accomplish than I remembered, though my memory served me correctly in just how steep and winding it was.
From that point, we started the strenuous portion of the hike – 2700 ft elevation gain over about 2.6 miles. About a mile into that, we got gorgeous views of the falls and benefited from all the mist coming off the fall.
After the mist comes what seems like a desert. The trail coverage that is relatively abundant for the first half disappears, and all that is left is the sun and the sandy path. Around 11:40 a.m. we summited the falls and were pretty exhausted. The overlook was an open, rocky area that had signs pointing toward stairs which provided a closer look at the falls.
Good news – thanks to my beloved Camelbak (this is the one I have), I didn’t run out of water, nor did I feel or exhibit signs of dehydration. Bad news – the muscle fatigue was very real. Getting to the top was a push, but let me be clear, the last few stairs to and from the actual edge of the falls were painful.
As we approached Yosemite Creek, we were expecting just that – a creek. We did not anticipate just how much water would be coming down the mountain. The staircase pictured above was very narrow and led down to a lower lookout point.
Over the edge to the side of the fall
From the higher point, we could see a bridge up the Yosemite Creek which was surrounded by a bunch of rocks on the bank that would be great for laying out on. Based on trail markers we saw just before reaching the outlook, we figured the bridge was a short way up the Yosemite Point Trail which branches off of the Yosemite Falls Trail. After crossing the bridge, we opted to go opposite the direction of the trail to get to the rocks on the edge of the creek (this part is definitely not recommended by the NPS as the creek is fast moving and directly above the falls, you should stay on the trails, kids).
Working on that nice healthy glow (I don’t really “tan” per se)
While down by the creek, we had the lunch we had packed – crackers, salami, and cheese, various bars, and PB&J sandwiches. We also took this time to soak up some sun, and give our bodies some reprieve from the hike up. The water was quite possibly close to freezing, but it felt great! We spent quite awhile up there, and around 1:30 p.m. or so we started our descent.
Truth be told, we didn’t take many pictures during our ascent because of how strenuous it was and our focus being on reaching the top. The descent was when the bulk of our scenery pictures were taken, and I’ve provided a compilation below.
The edge of Half Dome is peeking around the rocks to the left of the image
Wildflowers and Yosemite Falls
The trip down the mountain was much faster than the trip up, and we made it back to the valley floor at 3:20 p.m. According to Charlotte’s Fitbit, with all of our adventures included, we took just over 31,000 steps, traveled about 13 miles, and climbed the equivalent of 380 staircases. I am so proud of what we accomplished and the view was worth every muscle-screaming step. On our way down the hill, we stopped at Robert’s Frosty in Coarsegold for soft serve as a reward for making it all the way to the top of the falls.
This trip also marked Lil’ Blue’s first to Yosemite! I greatly appreciate Charlotte letting me be *that* person who stops to take artsy pictures of my car.