A 9-Day San Diego Itinerary – For the Trip That Wasn’t (Part I)

Here it is, in all its glory. Part I of my nine-day San Diego itinerary, covering Days 1 through 4. I spent the better part of a year writing this itinerary but I never took the trip. I spent a couple of hours (okay, who am I kidding, I spent a couple of days) wallowing over the time I wasted planning this trip before deciding to post the itinerary anyway. Here’s hoping that when all of this craziness is just a distant memory, my trip that wasn’t can help someone plan their own trip that was.

What am I going on about anyway?

For those of you that stumble upon this post months or years down the road, let me take you back to March 2020 and set the stage for you. Kids across the nation are being homeschooled and anyone that can is working from home, 3.3 million Americans just filed for unemployment, many states like my own are in a lockdown, and for some reason, toilet paper is very, very scarce. Oh, and did I mention the very contagious virus creeping (well… starting to sprint) across the nation? Welcome to Coronavirus: the US Edition.

Call me cocky or just plain stupid but I was still set on taking our family’s spring break trip to San Diego well into March 2020. My father had just canceled a riverboat cruise in Europe and a co-worker had just canceled his trip to Disneyland. But I was still going full steam ahead with my plans. I hadn’t left O’ahu in over a year and I was ready to see the world again, or at least see a delightful little town in California with a huge zoo (actually, two of them) and Legoland.

However, towards the end of the second week of March, I finally got a wake-up call. I realized it was time to throw in the towel and call it quits. So with that, I give you my warning. In full disclosure, I haven’t tried out any part of this itinerary to see if it would work or not, although I hope to someday. And if anyone has any comments on what they think would work or not work about my San Diego itinerary, I am all ears!

San Diego Itinerary: Day 0

The plan was to take an afternoon flight and arrive in San Diego late that night in order to start our vacation with a semi-good night sleep before our first full day in San Diego. We would have rented a car from the airport and made our way to our Airbnb in South Park.

San Diego Itinerary: Day 1

Finding a perfect local diner for breakfast

I had a couple of specifications for our first meal in San Diego. 1) walkable to our Airbnb. 2) Delicious (read: good yelp reviews). 3) Kid-friendly (read: very kid-friendly as the baby of the family turns into a monster when he’s not allowed to move around). Cue Big Kitchen Cafe. At the time I picked it, Yelp gave it 4 out of 5 stars with over 700 reviews. Pretty good for a diner! Open from 7:30 AM – 2:30 PM it could function as both a breakfast or a lunch haunt.

Visiting the New Children’s Museum

The first non-food stop on our San Diego Itinerary was going to be the New Children’s Museum. Part of the Gaslamp Quarter, this museum was designed to encourage children to think and play using hands-on exhibitions. Listed by some as being ideal for the 6 and under crowd, there seemed to be so many things that both 5-year-old Emily and 11-month-old Leo would love.

Photo Credit: The San Diego Union-Tribune
Further information:
  • Hours: 9:30 AM – 5 PM
  • Free entrance for Leo, $15.50 for each of the rest of us
  • Included on the San Diego Go Pass
  • Address: 200 West Island Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
  • Limited parking in Museum garage: $15 (Fri – Sun), $10 (Mon – Thu)
  • Other parking options:
    • ACE Gaslamp Quarter City Square (421 4th Ave)
    • ACE Westfield Horton Plaza (324 Horton Plaza)
    • ABM Parking Services (352 2nd Ave) ~ 2 hour discount for Museum visitors with code 8792

Shopping for sustenance at Trader Joe’s

In my pre-child life, I was one of the biggest self-proclaimed foodies you’d ever meet. Even after I had Emily, I tried to keep it up. After all, I would be horrified if I didn’t raise mini-foodies. I think to some extent I have succeeded in turning Emily into a foodie. But it didn’t happen overnight and it certainly didn’t happen by 11 months old (Leo’s age now). And Leo is A LOT more rambunctious than Emily was, meaning he is A LOT less capable of a fine-dining (or even casual-dining) experience. So when writing this San Diego itinerary, I decided to stick with fast food / take out options and dinners cooked at our Airbnb.

Photo Credit: Forbes.com

In fact, one of the things I was most excited about on this trip was shopping and cooking food from Trader Joe’s. The California-started grocery chain is noticeably absent in Hawaii. So, this was my chance to try out all the food that my mainland friends constantly rave about.

Return to the Airbnb for food, rest, relaxation, and unpacking

The baby in the family would definitely need a long nap every day, but after the previous day’s late flight, the entire family would probably need a nap on Day 1. So I planned to take it easy on our first afternoon in San Diego. My plans were to feed the family some of our newly purchased Trader Joe’s food and spend the afternoon relaxing at the Airbnb. Note: almost every day in my San Diego itinerary included going back to the Airbnb after our morning activity so that Leo could squeeze in a nap before any afternoon fun.

Dinner by a Top Chef in Little Italy

One of my husband’s and my guilty pleasures is watching Top Chef. We pick a team of 3-4 chefs similar to a sports fantasy league. If the Top Chef of the season ends up being one of the people on your team you win the ultimate prize, bragging rights for life. We take Top Chef very seriously in our household. Even though fourth season runner up and eventual all-star Top Chef winner Richard Blais was on Bryan’s fantasy team, he was a fan favorite to us both. We dreamed of getting a chance to eat his food ever since we watched those early episodes on Top Chef. Once we realized that his restaurant, The Crack Shack, was kid-friendly and in San Diego, it became a must-visit spot on our itinerary.

The Crack Shack in San Diego
Photo Credit: The Crack Shack Instagram Account (@getcrackshacked)

San Diego Itinerary: Day 2

Food prep time

Kidding. Sort of. My plan was to serve breakfast a la Trader Joe’s as well as prep lunches that could be brought along with us in a small cooler.

Torrey Pines State Reserve

Torrey Pines has 2,000 acres of walking trails, stunning overlooks, and unspoiled beaches. There are 8 trails to explore in all, however with the little ones in tow I was interested in either the Guy Fleming Trail (a two-third mile loop listed as the best pick for families with young children) or the Discovery Trail (a half-mile loop near Torrey Pines Lodge that is doable for strollers and wheelchairs). The park is typically open from 7 AM to sunset and offers tons of parking, restrooms, and a gift shop. It seemed like the perfect way to see San Diego and do something healthy for a change.

My only big concern was the State Reserve’s rule that no food or drinks were allowed other than water. Obviously my husband, older daughter and I could survive. But could mini-monster handle it okay if he really wanted to eat and we were far away from food options? Probably not. Hence my decision to bring lunch and leave it in our car. I figured in a worst-case scenario, food wouldn’t be too far away.

Torrey Pines State Reserve: San Diego Itinerary
Photo Credit: sandiego.org

Belmont Park

After returning to our Airbnb for an afternoon nap for the kids and relaxation for the adults, my plan was to hit up Belmont Park. Known as San Diego’s beachfront amusement park and boardwalk, Belmont Park has free admissions and free parking. In looking into pricing options I found out that they have a “ride-as-you-go” option or the option to pay for an unlimited rides pass. I figured we could enjoy dinner at the park and enjoy a few rides before calling it quits for the night.

Photo Credit: Belmont Park Instagram Account (@BelmontParkSD)

San Diego Itinerary: Day 3

Wild Life Safari Park

After another Trader Joe’s breakfast made by yours truly, we were going to pile everyone into the car for a trip to the Wild Life Safari Park. Known as a 1,800-acre wildlife preserve that’s home to over 3,500 animals across 260 species from 6 continents of the world (with an emphasis on Africa), I was more excited to visit this place than the world-renowned San Diego zoo. Its flagship offering is the Africa Tram, which takes guests on a 30-minute safari across the park’s African Plains. In addition to the Tram, I was also excited about the goat petting zoo and the late afternoon cheetah run.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park
Photo Credit: San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Perhaps one of the blessings in disguise about having to cancel our trip to San Diego is that the park has so many amazing options that are not age-appropriate for my children. I would love to experience the Roar & Snore Safari (read: sleep overnight at the zoo) but it is for families with kids 3+ years-old. The Caravan Safari, Cheetah Safari, and Ziplining Safari sound like amazing options as well. Click here for a listing of all the additional tours you can go on (for an extra fee). Maybe in my future San Diego itinerary, some of the above additional tours will get to be added.

Further information:
  • The park would have been open from 9 AM to 6 PM on 03/23/20
  • Address: 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido, California
  • Parking is $15 per car
  • Download the “San Diego Zoo and Safari Map” App before you go
  • Stroller Rentals are available – $14 for a single stroller and $18 for a double side-by-side stroller
  • Food is allowed to be brought in (but no large coolers) ~ I heard that the food options inside the safari park were not anything to write home about and was pretty expensive as well, so I had planned to make lunch for the family and bring it into the park for a midday picnic
  • Conservation Carousel: $6 for unlimited rides all-day
  • Playgrounds for the little ones can be found at Samburu Jungle Gym (African Woods), Tiger Trail Play Area (Tiger Trail), Savanna Cool Zone (Lion Camp), and Village Playground (Nairobi Village)
  • Bring Swimsuits or a second set of clothes for the kids if they are going to play at the Savanna Cool Zone waterplay area

S’mores on the Beach at Coronado Island

One of my bucket list items for San Diego was to enjoy s’mores at a campfire on the beach on Coronado Island. I thought it wasn’t meant to be when I looked into it and found that it was an offering at the Hotel del Coronado. A beautiful hotel to be sure, but one that I probably couldn’t afford. Disappointed, I was about to cross it off my San Diego itinerary when I found out that the Hotel del Coronado did not care if you were a guest or not.

Called “The Roast“, the Hotel del Coronado offers a 1-hour firepit on the beach for up to 10 people. While unlimited s’mores is no doubt one of the most popular items, they also offer a full dinner menu. I figured my family could make a night of it out at Coronado Island and so I ordered hot dogs, cheese and charcuterie, and edamame along with our unlimited s’mores. (I might have been really hungry when I placed our order.)

The Roast at Hotel del Coronado
Photo Credit: theresandiego.com

San Diego Itinerary: Day 4

Legoland

No San Diego itinerary is complete without a trip to Legoland. Our plan was to head up to Legoland first thing in the morning in order to avoid as much of the crowds as possible.

Things to know before we go:
  • Bring a swimsuit and change of clothes / dry fast clothes for Pirate Shores and the Legoland Water Park
  • Note: because we were going in March, I was planning on skipping the water park as I thought it would be too cold for us. However, if you are a little more accustomed to the cold than we are, spring break may be a good time to visit as the water park had just opened and wimps like me would still be staying away.
  • Download the Legoland California app before you visit. If you are less technology savvy, they also provide paper maps at the park.
  • To avoid all wait times you can purchase “Reserve ‘N’ Ride” for $35-$100 per person. The difference in pricing primarily relates to how much you want to reduce your wait. My plan was to see how busy the park was once I got there and purchase one of the “Reserve ‘N’ Ride” options once I saw what type of wait time my family would be up against.
  • It is cheaper to purchase admission tickets online in advance than at the gate
  • Parking is $25 or preferred at $35. Since the regular parking is only a row behind the preferred parking, it may not be worth it depending on how empty the park is.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Rides we can’t miss (but not baby appropriate):
  • LEGO Ninjango The Ride (located in LEGO Ninjango World)
  • LEGO Technic Coaster (located in Imagination Zone)
  • Lost Kingdom Adventure (located in Land of Adventure) *Note that Land of Adventure opens at 12 PM
  • The Dragon Coaster (located at Castle Hill) *Note that Castle Hill opens at 12 PM
  • The Royal Joust (located at Castle Hill) ~ This ride isn’t fast-paced like the others and is actually only for kids between 4-12 years old but I thought Emily would adore straddling a pretend horse trotting through a forest dotted with life-sized LEGO knights and other characters
  • Lego City Deep Sea Adventure: Submarine Ride (located in LEGO City Deep Sea Adventure)
  • Driving School or Junior Driving School (located in Fun Town)
    • Junior Driving School is for 3-5-year-olds while Driving School is for 6-13 year-olds. I thought it was pretty cool that at the end of the “school” the kids earn their own driver’s licenses
  • Coastersaurus (located in Explorer Island)
  • The Lego Movie World: A brand new world that was slated to open the weekend we were there (opening day was obviously been pushed back due to the Coronavirus pandemic)
Rides / attractions for the baby of the family:
  • (Imagination Zone) Duplo Play: Giant bins of Lego Duplo Bricks
  • (Land of Adventure) Cargo Ace: Kids become pilots on an airplane (Note: I included this since I didn’t know what milestones Leo would meet by the time of our trip. However, this attraction would have been out for Leo since you need to be able to stand on your own (which he currently cannot do).
  • (Castle Hill) The Hideaways: Multi-level play structure with different obstacles
  • (LEGO City Deep Sea Adventure) Submarine Ride (also touted as a “Can’t Miss Ride” by many)
  • (Pirate Shores) Swabbies Deck: water play in crystal clear waters
  • (Fun Town) Duplo Playtown: Interactive playground with farm, hospital, slides, pretend vehicles and a crawl-through maze
  • (Fun Town) The Baby Care Center
  • (Explorer Island) Dig Those Dinos: An interactive area that will allow kids to dig for “skeletons”
  • (Explorer Island) Fairy Tale Brook: An enchanting boat ride through a world populated by many childhood favorite storybook characters
  • (Miniland USA) Coast Cruise: Leisurely boat ride around the world of animated Lego Models
  • (Miniland USA) Coast Guard Build-A-Boat: Build a rescue boat and race it down a 42-foot long water trail
  • (Miniland USA) Model Shop: Watch Lego Master Builders at work
  • (Miniland USA) Las Vegas, New Orleans, New York, Ferndale, San Francisco, Southern California, Block of Fame, Washington DC – a collection of American landmarks with more than 20 million lego bricks
Eating options that seemed well received by others:
  • Ninja Kitchen in LEGO Ninjango World. Options include:
    • Bánh Mì Vietnamese sandwiches on a fresh-baked baguette
    • Steamed Bao Buns, filled with crispy pork belly, lemongrass chicken or baked sweet chili tofu
  • Granny’s Apple Fries in Castle Hill – one friend told me she goes to Legoland just to eat this and every Legoland review I read raved about this.
  • Knights’ Smokehouse BBQ (note that there is outside seating only)
  • Garden Deli and Café in Pirate Shores
  • Fun Town’s Urban Kitchen in Fun Town. Options at this made-to-order buffet-style restaurant include:
    • Philly cheesesteak sandwiches
    • Oriental chicken stir fry
    • Extensive soups and salad bar
  • City Park Creperie at LEGO Friends Heartlake City
San Diego Itinerary - Granny's Apple Fries
Granny’s Apple Fries at Legoland
Photo Credit: Legoland

Quick fast food option for dinner… a.k.a. Why have none of the good fast food joints made their way to Hawaii?

I’m talking about you Chipotle (amongst others). After a full day at the park and no nap for Leo, the most energy this family would be up to was takeout from one of Bryan’s and my favorite chains that still hasn’t made its way across the pacific yet.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check back in next week for Part II of my San Diego Itinerary.

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. For other California-related information, read about how my family rode Rise of the Resistance multiple times at Disneyland on opening weekend.

Malouf’s Mountain: Glamping for Wannabe Campers

A couple of weekends ago, my family went on our first camping trip since moving to the 50th state. The night before we left was crazy, to say the least. Bryan and I raced up and down the stairs of the house packing up our SUV for our weekend getaway. We dusted off the gear that hadn’t seen the light of day in Hawaii. To be honest, our camping gear hadn’t been used since before I was pregnant with Emily. However, while it may have been a while since our last adventure, we did have A LOT of camping gear. This was all thanks to one of our favorite things to do in New York: camping (okay glamping) at Malouf’s Mountain.

Home Sweet Home at Malouf's Campsite

What is Malouf’s Mountain?

As their website will tell you, Malouf’s Mountain Sunset Campground, is a hike in, hike out, unique camping resort. Located about 1.5 hours outside of NYC in Beacon, New York, they really cater to those that don’t have a car or a house with storage space for camping gear (read: Manhattanites). However, since Bryan and I did have a car and enough storage space in our Connecticut condo, over our four years of frequenting Malouf’s Mountain we accumulated many items geared to giving us more of a glamping experience instead of roughing it.

Aerobed in our Tent
Yes… our camping experience came with an aerobed.

For people like us that don’t actually hail from the city that never sleeps, just park your car at the Beacon MTA stop for the length of your stay at Malouf’s Mountain. We never had any problems doing that. Once you park, call Malouf’s Mountain for a shuttle bus ride. (I’ll discuss more on shuttle bus pick up in the next paragraph.) Just note that the shuttle bus is probably also picking up people coming up from NYC on the MTA. Therefore, try to plan your arrival time with the arrival of the MTA from NYC so you don’t have to wait too long.

The Hike In / Hike Out Concept

In order to get to Malouf’s Mountain, you need to hike in and hike out. This is not as hard as it seems. Believe me, I’m one of the most out of shape people you’ll ever meet. If I can do it, you can do it too. Someone from the campsite will pick you up from the Beacon MTA train stop and drive you to the access point of your choice. There is a 30-minute hike option, a 2.5-hour hike option, and a 3-5 hour hike option. BUT, the best part is: you don’t have to hike with your gear. The campsite allows you to bring 1 backpack, 1 sleeping bag and 1 cooler per person. After you get dropped off at the starting point of the hike, the Malouf staff will drive all your stuff to the campsite for you. How awesome is that?

Hiking Malouf's Mountain

So which hike (or access point) should you choose at Malouf’s Mountain?

I haven’t tried the 3-5 hour hike so I can’t provide an opinion on that option, other than to say that you need to bring your own trail map (and be good at reading it). I have, however, completed the 2.5-hour hike once and the 30-minute hike numerous times.

Mountain Trail

The 30-minute hike

The first year we stayed at Malouf’s Mountain we opted for the 30-minute hike. It was hard (due to the steepness) but manageable and really did only take 30-minutes or so. That year, everyone else that was picked up from the Beacon train station opted for the longer hike. This included families with young kids. We were slightly embarrassed. So embarrassed that the following year I signed us up for the 2.5-hour hike.

The 2.5-hour hike

I knew that selecting the 2.5-hour hike was the right decision when we were picked up by the Malouf bus to take us to the hiking trail and the other campers there were all around our age and included a few marines (read: super in shape).  Then Dick (the Malouf owner) called out my name and gleefully stated, “You guys are the only ones signed up for the long hike.  Everyone else is doing the shorter one.” 

Um… say what?

So, off we went.  The hike seemed good for the first 5 minutes or so and then the straight-up-the-mountain hike began.  I had to break every minute or so.  But finally, at about the halfway point of the hike, we reached the top of the mountain and it was breathtaking.

Sights from Malouf Mountain

The second half of the hike was much easier (obviously, since it was all downhill). However, we still vowed that we would stick to the 30-minute hike going forward. And we always did. All joking aside, (although the hike was pretty tough for us), the main reason we stuck to the 30-minute hike after our 2.5-hour fiasco is that we got really lost. There are actually a lot of signs set up to help you navigate through the woods. We were just really bad at finding some of them.

The hike back down

No matter what hike everyone takes to get to the camp, everyone takes the 30-minute hike back down the mountain. On “check out” day, “guests” take all their gear down to the main meeting area of the camp. This is Malouf Mountain’s “lobby” so to speak. The “guests” leave their gear there for one of the staff to drive down the mountain. Then, sans bags, everyone hikes 30-minutes down the mountain to the meeting point. A shuttle holding everyone’s gear will meet all the “guests” that just “checked out” and will drive everyone back to the Beacon MTA stop.

What does a campsite reservation come with?

You have two campsite options to choose from: Primitive or Platform. In all honesty, in the four years we stayed at Malouf’s mountain, I never saw anyone stay at the Primitive site.

Welcome Rock at Malouf's Mountain
The “Entrance” to Our Campsite. The rock notated our site number and the box with the black flap was where our fire logs were (we had just grabbed all of ours which is why it is empty in the picture).

The Platform Site

The Platform Site gives you a LOT of items (included here). However, the three most important items were a tarp over your tent, a floor under your tent, and a gas stove with pots and pans for cooking. You can even request that you borrow a tent for an extra $12 a night. The first year we went we didn’t want to borrow a tent because we thought it would be really fun to set up a tent ourselves. I think the owners of Malouf’s Mountain thought we were crazy. And we were. Tent set up was not as easy as we thought.

The tent we brought and painstakingly put up ourselves was the same size as the tents provided by Malouf’s Mountain. Therefore, we figured we would save ourselves the hassle going forward and rent a text the next time. At least that’s what we thought at the beginning of our trip.

Malouf's Mountain Platform Site
Our little “baby” tent

By the end of our vacation, however, we realized that we wanted a bigger tent. At the very least so that our bags could be left inside the tent. We decided to dream big and decided we also wanted to stand up in our tent. So after that first year, we returned home and bought a humongous tent that we could put all of our bags in, stand up in, and even hang a lantern from the ceiling. That tent became our home away from home for our week-long stays for the next three years.

Platform site at Malouf's Campsite
Our super-sized tent. Harry Potter at the Quidditch World Cup here we come!

Yes, our tent was so prissy that it had a welcome mat.

Welcome Mat for Our Tent

The Primitive Site

As I said, no one ever stayed at the Primitive Site while I was camping. However, if you so choose to, it IS a good $30 cheaper. The Primitive Site comes with a picnic table, fire pit with grill and garbage can. That’s it. You even have to gather your own firewood versus the Platform Site where the lovely staff at Malouf’s Mountain delivers firewood to you daily.

The first year we went to Malouf’s Mountain there were several people vying for the few open Platform sites. Worried that we wouldn’t get a spot, I asked Bryan if we should attempt “primitive camping”.  His answer was, “Let’s be real.  I don’t think that’s going to work for us.”  He definitely had a point.

Malouf: Primitive Campsite

What do you eat?

The food options are one of the coolest things about Malouf’s Mountain. Before you show up at the camp you can order groceries from their pretty extensive list. The groceries will show up (vacuum sealed) in a cooler with ice. If you are there for longer than a couple of days, the staff breaks up your order to provide you different coolers every couple of days. This way you know you are only eating fresh food stored with fresh ice.

Since Malouf’s Mountain allows you to bring 1 cooler, we often planned huge meals around what we ordered. We would bring the non-perishable items up in our cooler for sides and / or appetizers. For example, to go with our 14 oz steaks, we often brought bread, garlic, olive oil, and corn to go with it. Yum!

While we loved, loved, loved the fire pit and used it to cook food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, one of the great things about the platform site was the gas stoves in the “kitchenette”. Especially for breakfast!

Gas Stove at Malouf's Mountain

What did you do for days on end at Malouf’s Mountain?

Relax! For us, two people with no kids (at the time), stressful jobs, and probably a little (read: a lot) too dependent on electronics, it was nice to just unplug and getaway. We took naps. We read books. We ate and drank.

Platform Site at Malouf's Mountain
We used the vending machine at the campsite to grab cold chasers and just brought flasks along with us, but a lot of people brought up cases of beer in their coolers.

We also talked about how much more active our camp neighbors were than we were. So if you are like our camp neighbors and need a little bit more excitement in your vacation, I did see a lot of other campers use their time on Malouf’s Mountain to go on multiple hikes.

We also were really excited to build fires in our fire pit.

S'mores at Malouf's Mountain
S’mores!

What about a bathroom?

Hallelujah! Lights, piping, hot showers! Let me tell you, outhouses are a deal-breaker for me. It’s fine for an event or a fair, but not for days on end. I used to be a peer counselor at a high school camp. I signed up to work in the kitchen every year even though I could barely cook. Why did I sign up for a job I could barely do? Because the students that worked in the kitchen were the only students that had access to a real toilet and shower.

Malouf’s Mountain has a lovely community house that includes men and women bathrooms, showers, sinks for dishes and a washer and dryer. While we never used the washer and dryer ourselves, we saw a lot of people that did. We did, however, trek down to the community house after meals to wash our dishes. Since the place was wired with plugs and electricity, this was also when we recharged our iPhones. We also trekked down to shower every night. There was a row of individual showers that locked, was wired with electricity and provided hot water in the pipe. It also included a small changing area next to the shower, similar to showers at a gym. Definitely my type of camping!

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. For other New York City-related information, read about an amazing day at Spa Castle, our 6-day trip back to NYC with an almost-three-year-old, and my recommendations of can’t miss things to see and do in New York City and the best places to eat in NYC if you don’t mind a hefty price tag.

How to ride Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland: An opening weekend story

Friday, January 17, 2020 – The Toy Story parking garage opened at midnight (or so they said, they actually never closed it). Ten minutes to six they opened the gates of Disneyland. Crowds of Star Wars / Disney lovers swarmed Main Street. Disneyland wouldn’t officially open until 8 AM that day but thousands had swarmed the House of Mouse before the sun rose. They were hoping this early morning strategy would help their chance of obtaining a coveted spot on Disneyland’s newest ride: The Rise of the Resistance.

At 8 AM it was finally time. Cheers of happiness could be heard throughout the park from those in the crowd who had successfully reserved a boarding group. My husband yelled out gleefully about his own victory at 8:02 AM. By 8:03 AM all the boarding groups were taken. By 8:07 AM all the back up boarding groups were taken as well. The park wouldn’t close until midnight, but if you showed up after 8:07 AM, you weren’t getting on that ride.

Boarding Sign for Rise of the Resistance

What is a Boarding Group?

The Boarding Group is a virtual queue system. The system opens at the same time that Disneyland opens each day. Any guest that has scanned their ticket into the park can use the Disneyland App and attempt to join a boarding group. The number of your boarding group (from lowest to highest) determines how soon you’ll be able to enter the ride. Disneyland guarantees that the first 81 groups will get to ride. They continue to allow bookings up to group 140. Boarding groups 82-140 are known as back up boarding groups because they will not be guaranteed a spot. However, since the ride will of course be running until the park closes, barring any maintenance issues, Disneyland will continue to call up groups after the initial 81 boarding groups all the way up until the park closes.

Boarding Sign for Rise of the Resistance

Why all the fuss? What is Rise of the Resistance anyway?

According to Disneyland’s own blog, Rise of the Resistance (ROTR) is the most ambitious, advanced and immersive experiences ever undertaken by Walt Disney Imagineering. They weren’t kidding. There are so many different experiences and types of ride systems within ROTR. Ride-inception you might call it!

Section 1: The caves of Batuu and receiving your mission

It is a scene reminiscent of the line queue at Universal Studios’ “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”. Gone are the wrap around chain linked line queues that are common place in Fantasyland. Here at Rise of the Resistance, the line queue itself gives you much to look at. And it culminates in a hologram of Rey and a “real” BB-8 recruiting you to a secret Resistance mission. While the line currently moves pretty fast through this area due to the boarding group set up (which is only temporary while the ride is still new), the Imagineers have even carved benches into the “caves of Batuu” to allow many guests a place to sit when the lines inside ROTR become longer in future years.

Section 2: Fly into space aboard a transport ship… but not without some complications from the First Order

You’ll board a transport ship headed for Bakura. Picture an area reminiscent of the shuttle rides you take at the airport to move between terminals. However, this ship isn’t just for looks, it actually moves in addition to providing awesome realistic visual graphics. Emily received quite a bit of stares when she loudly proclaimed that this was “the best ride ever!” and yes, the real ride hadn’t even begun yet.

Transport Ship Views from ROTR

While riding along in the transport ship you’ll be captured by the First Order. And I don’t just mean by graphics of the First Order. Cast members board the ship and march you into Storm Trooper Palooza! Think mass squadron of Storm Troopers all standing in ready attention and looking at you.

Section 3: Escape from the First Order in one of the most technologically advanced ride experiences ever

After getting your fill of pictures with storm troopers (we don’t have any as Emily was scared of them), it’s time to head onto the fast-paced action part of Rise of the Resistance. You’ll enter your ride vehicle, set up with two rows of four seats and an R5 droid to navigate. Trackless technology, amazing state of the art animatronics to gape at and motion simulation of drops and turns makes this 15-20 minute ride one you CANNOT miss.

How did my family get one of the coveted golden tickets… errrr boarding groups to Rise of the Resistance?

Maybe you’ve heard the stories of the bleary-eyed guests showing up at the gates of Disneyland before 5 AM in hopes of getting a pass. Is that our recommendation? Is that what my family did? Heck no. The flight that my family took from Honolulu didn’t even land until 5:40 AM on Friday morning. Then the group of 8 had to navigate through checked bags, a shuttle ride, a hotel check in and breakfast… all before making it to the park (and their hotel wasn’t very close to the park). Truth be told, only my husband and daughter made it through the park before 8 AM on that Friday morning. And so only my husband and daughter got to go on Rise of the Resistance on Friday.

So how did he do it? With very little prep time and no other person available for fast finger help? He played it smart. “Where in Disneyland would there be a strong Wi-Fi signal?” he thought. A place with very few other people clambering to get online at 8 AM? He came up with a theory and spent the 15 precious minutes between when the lands all opened and the line queue went online to race to the spot he picked out. He checked their Wi-Fi capability. It turned out he was right. So here is his secret that worked for him 2 out of the 3 days: the Tea Cups at Fantasyland have amazing Disney Wi-Fi and not a huge spot for the ROTR crowd.

Rise of the Resistance

Is this approach foolproof?

Unfortunately, no. On day three Disney Wi-Fi dropped right before 8 AM. By the time he got through he was in boarding group 110. That would have still been okay on day one when boarding groups all the way up to #114 were called back. But unfortunately on Sunday Rise of the Resistance went down with maintenance issues for almost three hours. It was even unsure whether the 81 “guaranteed” groups would get to go. Oh well, 2 out of 3 days is still a pretty amazing feat if you ask me.

Things to keep in mind if you want to score your own boarding group to Rise of the Resistance:

What to do before you the virtual line queue opens

  1. Most importantly, download the Disneyland App (its icon is blue with the Disney castle and a firework above the left side of the castle).
  2. Set up an account on the Disneyland App and log in.
  3. If you are managing the account for anyone else you in your party (i.e. a small child), make sure they are set up as your guest.
  4. Scan and link all Disneyland tickets / passes to the app by scanning the barcode or manually typing in the ticket number.
  5. If you want to ride with anyone else that has their own account, make sure that they are linked to you in the “Family and Friends” list.
  6. All guests that want to ride ROTR need to have their park tickets / passes scanned and be inside Disneyland park before the boarding groups can be obtained. No ifs, ands, or buts.
  7. Since currently these boarding groups are getting filled within minutes of the park opening, make sure you are inside before the official opening of the park. This is key!

OMG the virtual line queue is open! Now what?

  1. Open the Disneyland App. (Actually, do this before the line queue opens. It automatically refreshes itself when the time comes.)
  2. You’ll see a “Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – Access By Boarding Group” section. Click on “Join Boarding Group.”
  3. In the boarding group section of the app, you’ll be able to check all the members of your party that want to ride the attraction.
  4. Once you’ve checked everyone in your party to enter a boarding group, you’ll get your boarding group number.

One thing to note: I’ve heard different stories about groups. I’ve heard that the larger your party the harder it is to get an early group number. But then I learned that my husband was number 67 when there were only 2 people in his group and number 44 the next day when there were 8 people in his group. I heard that everyone with smart phone capabilities in your group should try to get the boarding passes and the app will simply lock the others in the party out from the app once they pass goes through from your fastest fingered party member. And then I heard that if you do that you run the chance of having everyone in your group be put on different boarding pass groups.

I’m a fast finger Disney god / goddess that got a boarding group number. What should I do next?

Anything you want. Seriously. You don’t need to stay at the park. My daughter went back to the hotel and took a nap on both days. You can jump over to DCA like my husband did. The world is your oyster. Just keep checking your phone.

Boarding groups will be sent a push notification when it is time to enter the attraction. You will have 2 hours once you are notified to return to the ride. Please note that only the person with the reservations will get the push notification telling you it is time to enter the ride. That being said, anyone can see what groups are being called. For example, sitting at my desk in Honolulu I can use the app see that they are currently boarding groups 41 – 46.

Additionally, there are signboards around the park indicating which boarding groups are currently being called.

Em and her Porg
For example, you could buy a porg that sits (with magnetic help) on your shoulder. Meet Fuzzy, the newest member of our family.

I don’t have a smart phone. Am I out of luck?

Yes and no. There are Rise of the Resistance FASTPASS kiosks next to the Splash Mountain FASTPASS in Critter Country or next to the Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters in Tomorrowland. That being said, on the first three days at the park, boarding passes were gone in minutes due to those using the Disneyland App. I think it’ll take months if not much longer before the FASTPASS kiosks actually become a viable option.

Rider Switch, FASTPASS, Single rider options?

As of opening weekend, only the Rider Switch option was available. FASTPASS and single rider options are planned and built into the ride, but not available yet. However if you want / need to use Rider Switch, you are in luck.

Tell the Cast Member at the attraction entrance that you would like to use Rider Switch. The group (minus the adult that is staying behind with the child) will enter the regular line queue and ride the attraction. When the group is done with the ride, the left behind adult will be able to enter the ride through the FASTPASS line. While FASTPASS isn’t being used in the normal sense, it is being used to facilitate Rider Switch.

Disneyland: Star Wars Land

May the odds be ever in your favor!

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. For other posts about Disney, read up about our experiences at Aulani’s Painted Sky and Aulani’s Pau Hana Room and Menehune Adventure Trails. For other California-related information, read about my San Diego trip that wasn’t.

Funtastic KidZone: A Kid’s Wonderland in the Middle of a Huge Shopping Mall

Until this past December, I hadn’t stepped foot in the Pearlridge Shopping Center for years. Now I think I might make it a monthly occurrence thanks to the Funtastic KidZone.

But first…. my previous allure: the monorail

When I was a little kid, one of my favorite places to visit was the Pearlridge Center. Why? Because they had a monorail. Seriously, how cool is that? Fun fact: Pearlridge Center has the only monorail in the state. Two major sections make up the mall: “Mauka” (previously called “Uptown”) and “Wai Makai” (previously called “Downtown”). And the monorail bridges the two sides.

As a little kid, I used to go just so I could ride the monorail. Back when I was the mother of a toddler, we visited Pearlridge Center all the time to ride the monorail. It was Emily’s most favorite thing on earth for several years running. While she still loves the monorail, Emily has a lot of other “favorites” these days. Visits to Pearlridge had completely fallen by the wayside. That changed once we were invited to a birthday party at the Funtastic KidZone. My daughter had such a good time at the party that the Funtastic KidZone has been added to our rotating list of places to visit when Emily isn’t in school.

Playground at the Funtastic KidZone

What is the Funtastic KidZone?

A huge indoor playground arena is located in the Wai Makai section of Pearlridge Center, nestled between Vans and Sketchers. Towards the front of the KidZone, you’ll find a toddler section for ages 1-4. Everything from a whale and a mini merry-go-round to plastic playground structures and kitchen sets abound in the toddler section. Towards the back of the Funtastic KidZone is a structure for older kids. Slides, hammock swings, a trampoline, caterpillar climbing structure… you name it. It is pretty much heaven to my daughter and the other kids enjoying their time.

Swing Fun!

What to bring to the Funtastic KidZone?

Socks are a must for kids enjoying the play structures (and I assume for parents that need to be in the structure with their younger kids as well). They do offer socks for purchase if you forget. I’d also recommend water. Lots of water. Getting my kid to drink water on a daily basis is no easy feat. But Emily definitely gets thirsty running around the place. She constantly stops by wherever I’m sitting to grab her hydroflask. However, don’t worry if you forget or run out (like I did on our first visit). The Funtastic Kidzone does offer water bottles for $1. And that’s actually a pretty good deal considering what bottles of water go for these days in vending machines.

How does pricing work at the Funtastic KidZone?

The Funtastic KidZone costs $15 per kid (free entry for adults). That entrance fee is good for 2 hours, although I’m not sure how well that is monitored. When we went this week I dragged my kid out of there right at the two-hour mark. However, at the birthday party we attended we were there for over three hours. The party had officially ended by that time but my daughter and some of her friends continued to stay and play at the KidZone.

Toddler Area of the Funtastic KidZone

Throwing a party?

I’ll say it. I hate throwing kid birthday parties. Maybe I have really poor planning skills but I feel like my parties are always super disorganized. We’re never ready on time, end up needing tons of help from other parents and the kids end up starving. So embarrassing! (Those will be stories for another day). Since I wasn’t hostess at the Funtastic KidZone party, I realize I could be simplifying matters. However, it sure seemed like a great place to throw a party.

When we got there, I mentioned the party to the front desk and they quickly checked my daughter’s name off from a list of the party-going guests. Then we were ushered into the area in the back of the KidZone that is allocated to parties. The party space provides tables and chairs and allows food to be brought in from the outside. We had space for all the presents and three tables with multiple chairs for the food and the guests. While we ended up needing to vacate that back section/party room after a couple of hours, the kids used the play structures all afternoon.

For anyone interested in throwing a party here, I came across these two pricing options on the Funtasic KidZone instagram page:

My plans for next time…

The only downside I see to the Funtastic KidZone is that the seating isn’t great for adults. I’m 5’9″ and mostly legs (does this make me sound very model-esque? I assure you I am not). The “mostly legs” issue meant that in addition to being very uncomfortable, sitting on the balance beam-looking waiting chairs caused my legs to constantly be in the way of others. I spent two hours trying to constantly contort my legs so that people could get by me.

Therefore, next time I go I’m bringing the entire family. I realize that sounds just like misery wanting company, but hear me out! I would love a chance to get to investigate the rest of the mall or find a place to grab a quick bite to eat. With my husband in tow, one parent could be in the KidZone for an hour or so while the other gets to enjoy some alone time, and then we could switch. Happy kids, happy wife, fed husband. Sounds like a golden plan to me!

Slide Fun!

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. For other posts about Oahu, read up about my experience at Tea at 1024 as well as our experiences at Aulani’s Painted Sky and Aulani’s Pau Hana Room and Menehune Adventure Trails.

Baby Shark Concert: How This Grinch Got on Board with the Phenomenon

Unpopular opinion, especially from someone that writes a family-centric travel blog, but I don’t covet everything “baby”. I won’t ooh and ahh over a stranger’s baby. I’ve never told my kids it was “din-din” time or ask if they want a “baba” of “wawa”. It just isn’t me. So when I heard that Baby Shark Concert was coming to Hawaii, my initial thought was to grimace. I hadn’t even introduced Baby Shark to my daughter when it first got popular (my mom did, however). Needless to say, as Hawaii parents everywhere scrambled to get tickets, I didn’t even bother to look up showtimes.

The Baby Shark Concert

Then one day while I was at a cheerleading competition for my cousin’s kid, the Baby Shark concert got brought up. My cousin was regaling us with stories about all these people she knew that threw Baby Shark-themed birthday parties. Listening to the phenomenon and discussing how many kids were obsessed with it made me realize that I was doing my kid an injustice by boycotting it. Just call me the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes in one day. I went home that night and bought tickets.

Coming to Hawaii!

Probably the coolest part about the concert was that it almost didn’t happen. Welcome to the downside of living in Hawaii. No two-day Amazon Prime shipping. Nor Chipotle, Olive Garden, or Trader Joes. No shipment of many bulky furniture items that are sold online. Nor a stop on the Hamilton tour. And no Baby Shark concert. (I do realize that no one is going to feel too sorry for me #Hawaiiproblems.)

However, my favorite local magazine (Honolulu Family) teamed up with the creators of Baby Shark to bring the concert here. Well, they were able to bring part of the concert to Oahu in any case. My understanding is that the full Baby Shark concert is actually two hours long. Dubbed the Baby Shark Mini-Show, the Honolulu Concert was only going to run for 1 hour. My tiny, little Grich heart really appreciated the decreased show time when deciding whether or not to bite the bullet and purchase tickets. I figured I could handle 1 hour of just about any concert. And with that, tickets were bought.

The Baby Shark Mini-Show

Let the show begin!

Since I purchased the tickets at the last minute, we ended up in the nose bleed section of the Blaisdell Concert Hall. It didn’t seem to make a difference to Emily. She downed her blue popcorn, hugged her new Mama Shark stuffed animal (because everything she owns needs to be pink) and waved her light stick. And that was before the Baby Shark Concert even started.

Max and Ruby Show

The Baby Shark Mini-Show was broken down into 30 minutes of Max and Ruby, a 15-minute intermission and 30 minutes of Baby Shark and Pinkfong. The Max and Ruby part of the show included big rabbits jumping around the stage with a mouse singing children songs. I thought Emily knew who Max and Ruby were by her participation in the songs. She didn’t, but she still thought they were wonderful. And then (after the intermission) came Pinkfong to introduce the star of the show, Baby Shark.

How was it?

You know what? It actually was really awesome. First Pinkfong taught the audience the hand motions to Baby Shark (which this blogger definitely needed a lesson on). And then THE song started, sing-along style with the cartoon and lyrics behind the dancers onstage. After Baby Shark, the group of singers/dancers continued on with Penguins Attention (my personal favorite) and Jungle Boogie. (There was also a dinosaur song I wasn’t able to find online.) And then because the Pinkfong crew knew their audience, they threw in a super-fast remix version of Baby Shark to round out the show. Emily walked out of there super sad that it was over. And I walked out super thankful that I had sucked up my reservations and bought us tickets.

We are ready for the concert to start

As for my level of enjoyment, I maaaayyyy have been singing Baby Shark all day at work the next day. Just think of me as the Grinch singing with all the Whos in Whoville.

A tip on what age of children would like the Baby Shark Concert?

Based on the crowd at the concert, Emily may be at the older end of the Baby Shark fanbase spectrum. However, Leo is definitely too young for it. I was shocked to see so many of the under 1 crowd in attendance. It’s not that bringing a baby would be frowned upon at this concert. Quite the opposite. There was so much laughing and (happy) screaming going on throughout the concert, a baby would fit right in. I’m just not sure the baby would be able to make it through the concert.

I took a special interest in watching the groups that had babies. Truthfully, I was feeling a little guilty for leaving Leo at home and was interested in seeing how the kids his age handled the concert. I watched as one by one, those families left, often before the Pinkfong section even began. No matter how cute the songs were, those babies were NOT happy to be stuck in those laps/seats for an extended period of time.

What’s next for Baby Shark?

While Hawaii readers have missed the boat, for all you mainland inhabitants, there is still time. Here is a link to the tour for the Baby Shark show. Go for it! You’ll be happy you did!

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. Click here for our experience at Aulani’s Painted Sky and Aulani’s Pau Hana Room and Menehune Adventure Trails. For other posts about Oahu experiences, read up about my experience at Tea at 1024.

The Pau Hana Room at Disney’s Aulani: A Treasure Chest of Fun

One of the coolest (although perhaps underrated) things about Disney’s Aulani Resort was the Pau Hana Room. Located on the first floor of the Ewa tower, the Pau Hana Room is right across the bridge from the Waikolohe Stream and close to one of the main spots for Disney Character Meet and Greets.

Pau Hana Room

DVD Rentals, Board Games and Books

While you can’t stream Disney movies nonstop from your hotel room there is a way to have a relaxing night in with your favorite childhood cartoons. The Pau Hana room is stocked full of DVDs. They are available to rent for free to watch on the DVD player located in your room.

The collection of DVDs was impressive. Of course, as can be expected, there were multiple copies of Star Wars and Marvel movies for older viewers. However, they also carried copies of movies for the younger crowd, such as the introductory story to Elena of Avalor. After a long day at the pool, we spent one of our nights eating takeout and watching a rented Elena of Avalor DVD. Emily said it was her favorite thing about our vacation. (Don’t even get me started on how aggravating that was to hear… we can watch movies at home kid! Hmph!)

We only rented DVDs but I certainly looked longingly at their board game and book collections. I imagined the day when my kids would be old enough to enjoy them as well.

Pau Hana DVD Inventory

Arts and Crafts

The Pau Hana Room includes arts and crafts for people to work on throughout the day. Kids and grownups alike can stop in whenever they like to work on these daily projects. However, there are also special projects, such as Aulani’s popular t-shirt stamping, that require advanced sign-ups. On the night we rented a movie to watch in our room, they had several Halloween crafts to work on. Emily and I ended up staying at the Pau Hana Room for close to an hour decorating various pumpkins.

Daily ‘Iwa (Newsletter)

Dorky confession time alert. My favorite thing about cruise ships is when the daily activities newsletter comes out. I race back to my room after dinner and quickly begin plotting out the next day. I know, I need help. Imagine my excitement when I found out that Disney’s Aulani Resort also had a daily newsletter, called the ‘Iwa. However, it was a little harder to obtain this newsletter than on cruise ships. The hotel does not leave daily copies of the ‘Iwa in the guests’ rooms. While you can get them at the front desk or online, the easiest place to get the ‘Iwa is in the Pau Hana Room.

The ‘Iwa is important to use because some of the activities that Aulani offers are so popular that you need to stand in line just to sign up for the class first thing in the morning. The classes listed didn’t seem to be activities that my kids were old enough to appreciate. However, I am very excited to try them out during future visits.

Menehune Adventures Trail

Circa 2012, my husband and I were living in Connecticut. Aulani had recently opened so when we traveled back to ‘Oahu for a visit, we took Bryan’s grandmother to Aulani for lunch. My biggest memory from that visit was watching kids and parents alike using an iPad to complete a scavenger hunt. Fast forward seven years and we were the kids and parents on the scavenger hunt, known as the Menehune Adventure Trails. Based on what I saw back in 2012, Aulani made a lot of changes to the scavenger hunt. I appreciated that they were keeping it fresh for returning guests.

There are two different trails that guests can choose between. The first trail, known as the Maka’ala Lobby Trail, is approximately 30 minutes long and goes through the lobby. This trail is also open the longest, running from 10 AM – 8 PM daily. The second trail is known as the Waikolohe Valley Trail. It takes approximately 1 hour to complete and takes guests around the pool. Since a lot of the stops along the way look a lot better in the dark, this trail is only open from 5 PM – 8 PM.

IPad’s that are needed for the Menehune Adventure trails are lent out on an hourly basis. After that hour, if you are still on your “hunt” you need to return to the Pau Hana room. The friendly staff will happily unlock the iPad for you and you can go back to your quest. What’s also nice is if you need to take a break and return to the scavenger hunt at a later time, your progress will be saved and you can pick up where you left off.

Menehune Trails Adventure

Our Attempt at the Menehune Adventure Trails – Indoor Edition (Maka’ala Lobby Trail)

After Emily’s makeover, we had some time to kill before our dinner reservations. We ended up making our way over to the Pau Hana room, obtaining iPad’s, and completing the Maka’ala Lobby Trail. For people pressed for time, the indoor Menehune Adventure Trail was a great option. Emily and I took our time and we were still done in less than 30 minutes. The Maka’ala Lobby trail would also be the perfect way to spend a rainy day (since its completely indoors).

The iPad provides a storyline as to why you are going on the scavenger hunt as well as some Hawaiian lore and history. To be honest, the storyline held no interest for my daughter. I myself, however, am a history-loving nerd. If I had been doing the trail by myself I would have thoroughly enjoyed the backstory and lessons. While the iPad didn’t hold Emily’s attention, she was enthralled with the stops on the trail. Aulani had built high-tech events into the hotel for the stops on the trail. Geckos danced in a light. Art paintings had shooting starts and moving waves. Photographs moved and talked. It was like stepping foot into Harry Potter’s world.

Helpful hint: I think the hardest spot to find on the Maka’ala Lobby trail is the photograph in the souvenir shop. There are photos everywhere so it is hard to find the correct one. However, the salespeople working there are more than willing to point you in the right direction if you can’t figure out which photo it is.

Our Attempt at the Menehune Adventure Trails – Outdoor Edition (Waikolohe Valley Trail)

Since we finished the Maka’ala Lobby Trail right before 5 PM and still had about 45 minutes to spare before our dinner reservations, we decided to head back to the Pau Hana room to swap out our old iPad for one that could complete the outdoor Waikolohe Valley Trail.

Unfortunately, we never completed this trail. Between getting the new iPad, waiting for Bryan and Leo to join us, and struggling a little bit to find the right spots, we didn’t finish before it was time for dinner. Once dinner was over, the kids were exhausted and we called it a night. I wish we had started this trail one day earlier. Then we could have used to option of returning the next day to finish the trail, with our progress saved from the previous day. However, since it was our last night in the hotel, by 5 PM the next day (when the Waikolohe Valley Trail was open) we had already checked out of the hotel and returned home.

From what we did get to see of this trail, however, it was magical. While we struggled a little more on the outdoor trail, the pay off was also more fun. The spots we reached gave us the ability to control fire, draw the outline of a menehune and lots more.

Menehune Adventure Trails

In Summary…

The Pau Hana room was a welcome surprise with so many things to do there. As we didn’t discover it until halfway through our trip, we’ll definitely take better advantage of it the next time we stay at Aulani.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. Click here for our experience at Aulani’s Painted Sky. For other posts about Oahu experiences, read up about my experience at Tea at 1024. Want more Disney? Click here to learn about Disneyland’s newest ride Rise of the Resistance!

Painted Sky: Disney Aulani’s Dream Come True for Princesses in Training

Clothing options at Aulani's the Painted Sky

A couple of days after we returned home from our extended weekend stay at Aulani I asked my five-year-old daughter, “what is the number one thing people should do if they stay at Aulani?” Without hesitation, she said it was her makeover at Painted Sky (Disney’s Hawaiian take on their beloved Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique). I asked my daughter, “why?” and she answered, “because everyone should get to feel that wonderful!”

Booking my daughter’s appointment at Painted Sky was the first thing I did after making hotel reservations. Therefore, I’m not quite sure how far in advance an appointment needs to be booked, but please note that Painted Sky seemed very popular. I hadn’t even intended for my daughter to know about Painted Sky until it was time for her appointment. However, girls everywhere were walking around Aulani with their hair did, makeup shimmering and costumes on. With all that “free advertisement” for Painted Sky, it didn’t take my daughter too long to ask if she could get a “princess makeover” as well.

Package Options – The Offerings

The packages for girls come with hair styling, makeup, a costume and accessories. The packages for boys swap out the makeup option for a temporary tattoo. Most of these packages are $150, although some run higher in costs while a couple run lower. A lot of the pricing options depend upon the type of costume included in the makeover package. The most impressive package includes a beautiful ball gown and a starting price tag of $645.

In addition, Aulani offers a couple packages that offer a little more in terms of activities. The first option is the Motunui package. This package is offered on Thursday and Saturday mornings from 9:00 AM to 11:30 AM. For an additional $25, Moana will stop by Painted Sky for a visit. Following the visit, the kids can head over to Aunty’s Beach House for further activities.

The second option is the “Beyond the Painted Sky” experience. This package is offered on Sunday and Wednesday at 12:00 PM and 2:30 PM. For an additional $55, kids can experience their makeover while the salon is transformed into a Magical Rainbow Garden. The kids will also create a craft and march in the Rainbow Wishes Parade with a couple of Disney Characters. Emily’s appointment ended up being right after one of the Beyond the Painted Sky experiences. It was a nice surprise to be able to see the rainbow garden and watch the start of the parade. I’m not sure if the package is worth the $55 splurge, however I did notice that there were a lot of huge smiles on the faces of the children… and their camera-toting parents.

Package Options – What Everyone Else (Seems To) Select

Based on the amount of mini-wayfinders walking around Aulani, I assume that the biggest seller is the aforementioned Motunui makeover. In addition to getting a visit from Moana, Painted Sky’s Motunui package also comes with a Moana costume and accessories. However, I decided to go down the road less traveled and opted for a mermaid costume instead.

Truth be told, Emily has been obsessed over Moana for years. We bought a knock-off Moana costume from Amazon and had Emily dress like Moana for her 4th birthday party.

Hawaii Girl Travels is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. This is an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

Moana Costume

A couple months later, Emily no longer fit her her birthday outfit but wanted to be Moana again for Halloween. We ended up purchasing an “authentic” Disney version of the wayfinder costume.

Moana Costume

Needless to say, I didn’t think we needed any more Moana costumes. Especially considering the above Moana costume is the exact version provided as part of the Motunui package.

Package Options – What I Selected

Emily’s new Disney obsession is The Little Mermaid, so I opted for Painted Sky’s Waikolohe Mermaid Swim Package. The swim package came with a mermaid bikini swimsuit and long tail-like swim skirt. I loved the swimsuit / costume but since I wanted to go out to dinner after she had her makeover, I packed her still-fitting Moana costume to wear that evening.

This ended up working out really well. Since Emily is probably only a couple months away from fitting into the next clothing size, I purchased the swimsuit 1 size too big for her so she could wear it for the next year. Therefore, Emily couldn’t really wear the over-sized swimsuit yet. It was nice that she could change into something that fit her once the makeover was over.

Painted Sky: After Photo Shoot

Package Options – Crunching the Numbers and What I’m Going to Try Next Time

The Waikolohe Mermaid Swim Package is $150 before taxes and tip. I don’t think Aulani readily shares what the breakout is of their packages until you receive your invoice. Therefore, I’m listing my itemized invoice below to give you a better idea of where the cost is attributed to:

  • $75 for hair and makeup
  • $50 swimsuit
  • $12 sun-changing plumeria necklace
  • $10 sun-changing plumeria bracelet
  • $3 miscellaneous service fee
  • Automatic 20% tip added for the hair and makeup (i.e. $15 on top of the $150)

The first thing I noticed was the automatic 20% tip on the $75 hair and makeup. Phew! I didn’t know I would get to see the monetary split between the service and the clothes / accessories. It was a welcome charge as I had been so worried about guessing at what amount I should tip.

However, the second thing I noticed was that the swimsuit and accessories cost over $70. Don’t get me wrong, the Waikolohe Mermaid swimsuit and sun-changing necklace and bracelet were really nice. However, Emily’s closet at home is overstuffed with Disney princess costumes. Costumes that were purchased only when the Disney store was having a huge sale (like her $30 Moana costume). The last thing my daughter needed was a $70 costume.

Therefore, the next time we go to Painted Sky I am going to ask if I can just make an appointment for hair and makeup. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anything offering hair and makeup as a standalone service at Aulani. However, the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique Crown Package in Disneyland offers just that, for the same price of $75. Assuming my plan works, I will just bring an extra costume with me and save the additional $75.

My daughter’s experience at Painted Sky

We arrived 15 minutes early, per Painted Sky’s instructions, and got to see the end of the “Beyond the Painted Sky” experience. After the kids from that event left on their parade, we were ushered into the waiting room. Once inside Painted Sky, we were able to scope out all the costumes and clothing available for purchase. We were also given a “menu”. In addition to a listing of the package options, the menu also included photos of hairstyles to choose from. I have a really hard time braiding Emily’s hair but constantly am putting it in a bun for her various dance classes. Therefore, Emily jumped at the chance of getting a braid done professionally and opted for the “lu’au bound” style.

Hair style options at Painted Sky

Right at my daughter’s appointment time we were beckoned into the fitting room to try on the mermaid swimsuit. It takes a LOT to make my daughter speechless, but just getting to put on her new swimsuit in the beautiful fitting room awed her.

Dressing Room at Painted Sky

After Emily was changed, it was time for the makeover. Typically a wiggly, fidgeting machine, Emily handled her hair and makeup session like a champ. Meanwhile, I was frozen in shock as she morphed into a teenager in front of my eyes. Along with her new hair and makeup, she started crossing her legs and initiated a conversation with the stylist about her school. (Fast-forward to the end of the night and there was a lot of eye-rolling (Emily) and tearful “where did my baby go?” comments (yours truly)).

Makeover at Aulani's Painted Sky

As Emily got to the end of her makeover, I noticed a staff member lowering a backdrop against a wall of the salon. I assumed it was for another group, but it turned out to be used for “after” photos. Emily LOVED it!

Booking the appointment… lessons learned

I booked Emily’s appointment without really having a plan. In fact, I initially tried to schedule the appointment for 9 AM. Thank goodness the salon stylist was much smarter than me. She double checked if I really wanted an appointment that early. She reminded me that my daughter wouldn’t be able to use the pool after the appointment, unless I was okay with her makeover being washed away.

Instead, the salon stylists recommended a 4 PM appointment so that we could go straight to the Ka Wa’a Luau after that. I didn’t have dinner plans yet so I went with her suggestion. However, we ended up opting for the character dining option at Makahiki, which came with a slightly later seating.

Therefore, if I schedule another Painted Sky makeover session, I would get my dining options set up first and then back into the appointment time in order to maximize Emily’s time at the pool. The rule at Painted Sky is that you need to show up with clean, dry and detangled hair. Our entire day at the pool that Sunday was dictated by Emily’s appointment and she (okay all of us) would have loved to spend more time floating around that wonderful, lazy river.

Twinning with Moana after Painted Sky

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. Click here for our experience at Aulani’s Pau Hana Room and the Menehune Adventure Trails. For other posts about Oahu experiences, read up about my experience at Tea at 1024.

Tea at 1024: The Perfect Place to Sneak Away for an Afternoon of Fantastic Hats, Relaxation and of course, Tea

I am a huge afternoon tea fan. Huge. I try to sneak in an afternoon tea session any chance I get. The tea service at Tea at 1024 is one of the best places I’ve visited. So, if you come to the islands and want to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki or get a little too sunburned and want to try something new, give Tea at 1024 a try. You won’t be disappointed.

How to Dress

No, there is no dress code here. You’ll feel just as comfortable sitting around in shorts as you will in a nice party dress. There are, however, things to wear once you get to Tea at 1024. As soon as you enter you will be told that you can pick out your own hat. Easter bonnets and fascinators of every shape, size, and color adorn the many stands located around the restaurant. There are also boas that you can rock as well. As someone that dreams of attending either the Kentucky Derby or a UK event with a fascinator attached to my head, this part of the experience is a dream come true for me.

The second thing you’ll need to do once your headpiece is sorted is to choose your own teacup. This brings us to…

The Tea

The tea menu offered at Tea at 1024 is pretty extensive, including some very interesting flavors. For example, the last time I went I opted for one of their white teas called Ice Wine. It was very tasty but didn’t come with alcohol… haha. Well, at least I find myself hilarious.

Tea at 1024

If you order the kid’s (or “keiki”) afternoon tea option, it comes with hot chocolate. My daughter doesn’t like chocolate at all so I knew she would balk at an entire cup of chocolaty goodness. However, Tea at 1024 is very accommodating. You are able to order tea instead of hot chocolate if that is the preference. The last time we were there, my daughter and her friends opted to share a pot of Strawberry Green Tea. I was a little worried about how the tea would go over with a bunch of 5-year-olds, but those kids drained their entire pot and asked for another round.

The Food

Salad and Sandwiches

Starter Salad at Tea at 1024

The afternoon tea service kicks off with a fresh and delicious plate of berries, feta, and spinach, before moving on to the real star of the show: the tower of sandwiches and pastries.

The one thing I like the most about Tea at 1024 is their sandwich to pastry ratio. I love love love afternoon tea services but I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. I really go for the tea and sandwiches. Usually, I end up disappointed when the food arrives and two-thirds of plate is filled with pastries with the mini sandwiches thrown in as an afterthought. Tea at 1024 is awesome in that they heap on the sandwiches, which are usually very interesting, to say the least. Along with the smoked salmon or cucumber sandwiches that frequent many tea services, this place also provides sandwiches filled with shredded cheese and pimentos, braised pork or curried chicken, just to name a few.

Kids Tray at Tea at 1024

Additionally, the keiki food options appeal to kids’ palates, with sandwich varieties such as peanut butter and jelly or egg salad. The sandwiches also appeal aesthetically as well, with pink and purple bread slices cut into little teapot shapes.

Pastries

While I could take or leave most of the sweet treats offered at any afternoon tea, there is one pastry I enjoy: scones covered in Devonshire cream. Okay, if I’m being honest, I really just like the Devonshire cream, but I feel it would look weird to not eat it on a scone. Many places I try scones at are tasteless, requiring heaps of Devonshire cream to cover up the dryness. However, the scones at Tea at 1024 are moist and therefore a wonderful accompaniment to the delicious cream topping. Meanwhile, the restaurant is definitely not chintzy, offering an entire bowl to its patron, half-filled with Devonshire cream and half-filled with jelly.

Throwing a Party

I’ve never thrown a party here but I’ve been to a couple as a guest, including a 5-year-old birthday party that my daughter and I attended a couple of weekends ago. In addition to the tea, the party hostess also had a makeup and hairstyling center. Princess Belle even stopped by for a visit. While all of that needed to be scheduled and booked outside of Tea at 1024, it was nice to see all the different options that could be done in conjunction with the afternoon tea. Another party I attended was for adults only. We were able to play baby-shower games and open presents at the location. So for any of my Hawaii-based readers out there, the sky’s the limit!

Dressing up at Tea at 1024

Parking and location

Tea at 1024 is located in downtown Honolulu. This means parking will be a problem. The restaurant offers validation at the Chinatown Gateway Plaza parking structure. With validation, parking will cost only $3. This is a great deal for downtown! However, the last time I went, I was able to find street parking (free on Sunday when I was there).

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. Want to read about how I gave the Baby Shark Mini-Show Two Thumbs Up? If you need another amazing place to visit with your kid, check out my review on the Funtastic KidZone in Pearlridge.

The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze: The Best Way To Kick Off the Holiday Season

Along the mighty Hudson, in a forest and through a maze, lies an enchanted kingdom called The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. – Excerpt from “A Journey through The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze”

Everyone should get to experience kicking off the festive season by visiting the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. Started as a local celebration in 2005, the event now includes 7,000 lit-up pumpkins on the grounds of the 18th century Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson. The Blaze also includes synchronized lighting and an original, hypnotic soundtrack. While I couldn’t picture wanting to raise my kids anywhere other than Hawaii, the east coast really spoiled me in terms of amazing experiences. There were so many awe-inspiring events just a car ride away. The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze is certainly at the top of that “amazing experiences” list.

Jack O'Lantern Blaze

Storm’s a-comin’!

I first heard about the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze in the fall of 2011. I jumped at the chance to get tickets. Unfortunately, to the dismay of children everywhere in Metro-NY, a fluke snowstorm hit the area right before Halloween. All the pumpkins from the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze were destroyed. Halloween was officially canceled that year as was the Blaze (we were refunded the money for our tickets).

When fall 2012 came around I bought tickets again. I assumed there was no way that a fluke storm would hit the area two years in a row. For those of you that didn’t live on the eastern seaboard at that time, I’d like to introduce you to a little something called Hurricane Sandy. Talk about bad timing for kids. For the second year in a row, Halloween was officially canceled. I assumed the Blaze was canceled as well. It was only when I tried to get my tickets refunded that I realized the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze was still running. How could that be? Volunteers secured all 7,000 pumpkins in a safe spot before Sandy. Then, they re-organized everything back outside after the hurricane left. How amazing is that? A hurricane was barreling down on Croton-on-Hudson and people saved the pumpkins!

That year, Bryan and I kicked off what would become our annual trek to the Blaze. We grabbed a bite to eat in one of the only restaurants that had electricity after the hurricane. Then, it was off to Van Cortlandt Manor.

The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze: The Details

Most of the dates and times for the Blaze sell out in advance so make sure you buy tickets early.

Stalks of corn

After finding parking in the ample lot of the Van Cortlandt Manor, visitors start their journey by making their way into tents selling holiday merchandise and food. Lots and lots of food. There are lots of items to nosh on, including soup, chili, donuts, pumpkin pie and my favorite… hot apple cider. Admittance is done on a timed basis in 30-minute intervals. Visitors wait in the aforementioned tents and enter the Blaze when their time is called. Note that the Blaze will undoubtedly be packed with a continuously long line. This long line is actually perfect since most visitors will spend their time in open-mouthed awe, gaping at the amazing carvings laid out in front of them.

The Time of the Dinosaurs

Pumpkin Palooza

When I was buying tickets for the first time, a part of me thought ‘how many traditional pumpkin-carved faces do people really need to see?’ I mean, 7,000 certainly seemed excessive. But as you can see already, they aren’t the normal carvings that you do at home with triangle eyes and a couple of teeth. Here in the Hudson Valley, they have recreated dinosaurs, scarecrows, insects, monsters, you name it. Even famous local and international landmarks abound.

According to the Hudson Valley website, “more than 1,000 volunteers help to scoop, carve, and light the pumpkins and every single jack o’ lantern is hand-carved on site by [a] team of professional artists.” While they do use some artificial pumpkins in their displays, each pumpkin is carved by one of the professional artists. And they still use real pumpkins as well. The artists end up carving throughout the festival in order to replace about a thousand pumpkins every week, according to an article in Westchester Magazine.

The last time we visited the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze, our plans to move back to Hawaii were already in the works. I’m glad that we went to the Blaze knowing that it might be our last time, because it really helped us to soak in all the amazing pumpkin designs… and also prompted me into shopping for souvenirs. “A Journey through The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze” by Suzanne Christine has become one of the family’s favorite Halloween children’s books.

New this year to the Blaze

Since I don’t want to be writing about things that aren’t still relevant, I did some research as to how the Jack O’Lantern Blaze is going this year. It turns out it has become even more amazing. They have created a twenty-foot working pumpkin carousel. Excuse me while I make plans to spend the Halloween festivities in New York next year. Even better? The designer of this one-of-a-kind carousel is William Dentzel, a descendant of one of the first carousel makers in America. Crazy right?

Jack O'Lantern Blaze
Photo Credit: Historic Hudson Valley

For all who enter this kingdom, it is bound to delight and amaze, beckoning return journeys through The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. – Excerpt from “A Journey through The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze”

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. For other New York City-related information, read about my Brooklyn weekend getaway, an amazing day at Spa Castle, our 6-day trip back to NYC with an almost-three-year-old, and my recommendations of can’t miss things to see and do in New York City and the best places to eat in NYC if you don’t mind a hefty price tag.

The New York Renaissance Faire: A Bygone Era Worth Visiting

The most magical event takes place every August and September in Sterling Forest, New York: the New York Renaissance Faire. A recreation of a 16th-century Elizabethan village, you can spend your entire day watching plays and strolling musicians, cheer on your favorite knight in a joust or try your hand at archery. And don’t forget about the mead. You can drink a lot of mead.

I was introduced to this fascinating world of renaissance fairs due to an episode of The Girls Next Door (I used to be obsessed with that reality TV series). After seeing how much fun Hugh Hefner and his girlfriends had, I started looking into potential renaissance fairs near me and became determined to attend one. I even added it to my bucket list as something to do. When I found out that Sterling Forest was only an hour away from us and held one of the biggest renaissance fairs in the country, I knew I had to visit.

What to expect at the New York Renaissance Faire

As soon as you enter the gates of the Faire, it is like you’ve stepped back in time. Set within 65 acres of beautiful forest, the New York Renaissance Faire features countless performances, crafts, and shopping experiences. Maps of the Faire are sold at the entrance for $2 each or if you would like to save money, you can plan ahead and print out a copy from their website.

2019 NY Renaissance Faire Map
Map courtesy of the Renaissance Faire website

It’s true that the admission costs are nothing to laugh over, but that cost will let you see all the performances for free and the acting is amazing. They never break character. There are so many things to do and see that it’s worth taking a look at the schedule ahead of time to plan your day out appropriately. Even if you play it by ear, like Bryan and I did most of the time, it is fascinating just walking around the forest. There are so many things to discover and see, the New York Renaissance Faire has it all.

NY Renaissance Faire

What to wear to the New York Renaissance Faire

The first year we went to the Faire we dressed in normal street clothes. After all, to go all out and get a costume would be so geeky, right? Well, maybe it is, but I felt so left out. I wanted to be one of the medieval ladies, pirate wrenches, or fairies that were wandering about. Costumes of all kinds were there. There was even a group dressed up like Doctor Who, Amy and Rory, which was a separate group from the gentleman that dressed up like the Fourth Doctor. Needless to say, I’ve been to the Faire numerous times since our first visit, and I went in costume every time.

The last year we went, Emily came with us, pink fairy costume and all.

While anything goes as it relates to costumes, keep in mind that there are special theme weekends such as a Heroes & Villians weekend, Pirate weekend, and Celtic weekend.

What to do at the New York Renaissance Faire

There are so many different things to do that you can spend more than a day here. Musicians serenade crowds with their folk tunes. Musical and comedic plays are performed throughout the day as well. My favorite was the Washing Well Wrenches that typically performed on the Pageant Wagon Stage.

You can try your hand at medieval games of skill. The most popular one was probably archery. I thought I could channel Katniss trying to survive in the arena, but I was horrible. A very sweet, toothless, elderly gentlemen taught me how to at least hit the bag…. Though not the bulls-eye.

NY Renaissance Faire

You can also throw ninja stars, knives, and axes. See the ax closest to the bulls-eye? That was mine! I got the ax champion award of our group. (That’s the sticker I’m pointing at in the second picture.) No one else beside Bryan and me even got it lodged on the board. Yup, we are awesome.

There is medieval pageantry, including the arrival of the Queen, jousting tournaments, and parades.

Amongst their more interesting events are lessons on hawking and throwing tomatoes at a clown that will insult you.

And of course, no renaissance fair is complete without maypole dancing. Note to self: add “participate in a maypole dance” to my Bucket List.

NY Renaissance Faire

What to buy at the New York Renaissance Faire

If you don’t want to buy a costume, you can always rent one for the day at the Faire. Additionally, there are shops that sell armor, glasses, candles, soaps, jewelry, you name it. You can even see a glass-blowing demonstration.

What to eat (and drink) at the New York Renaissance Faire

The food, oh the food. Everything you can imagine at a typical fair and more can be found at the Renaissance Faire. There was, pizza, chicken fingers, burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, french fries, fried cheese, jerky and gyros just to name a few. And of course turkey legs.

Several pubs are scattered throughout the park serving all kids of delectable treats, but I was partial to one drink more than others every time we went there…. mead!

The one thing I’ve never been brave enough to try while at the Renaissance Faire was the BBQ Sundae. Although, I guess it is just a really efficient way to eat BBQ.

Keep in mind that food tends to be expensive and typically only cash payment options exist. However, you are not allowed to bring in outside food, so either do not go hungry or prepared to spend your money.

Where to park at the New York Renaissance Faire

Get to the New York Renaissance Faire early. Parking is free (unless you want the preferred $15 parking) but fills up fast.

Hawaii Girl Travels…

Check out Destinations to see all the other places I’ve talked about. For other New York City related information, read about my Brooklyn weekend getaway, an amazing day at Spa Castle, our 6-day trip back to NYC with an almost-three-year-old, and my recommendations of can’t miss things to see and do in New York City and the best places to eat in NYC if you don’t mind a hefty price tag.