Wrap-up of a WDW Vet’s First Trip to Disneyland – Part 1

| June 19, 2013 | 4 Replies

We’re home! After so many months of planning, it doesn’t seem possible that our trip is over.  I’m the Senior Editor on the DIS and my family (my husband David and I, plus Jacob – 7, Jonah – 5, and Lydia – almost 2)  just got back from our first trip to Disneyland and Southern California! We’re Walt Disney World experts, but relied on the Disneyland podcast team to help us plan this trip.  We did an audio trip report segment on the Disneyland Edition of the DIS Unplugged, which you can listen to by clicking here.  You can also read on to find out all the details from our family’s trip!


First off, we had to surprise our kids with the news of this vacation!  On Saturday, two days before we left, we sat them down at the kitchen table and told them we needed to talk.  We told them that Monday was going to be their last day of school for the summer, which really confused them, because they thought there was two weeks left.  I handed them a photograph of an airplane.  They screamed and said, “We’re going to Disney World?!” Nope.  Next, was a picture of the Legoland Hotel, so they screamed,  “We’re going to Legoland in Florida?” I’m glad they said Florida, because then I wasn’t lying when I said no.  Next photo was the Hollywood Sign, which really threw them, because until now, they still had Florida on the brain.  The last photo was an aerial shot of Cars Land, so they figured it out.  They screamed, “We’re going to Disneyland??!!”  It was a great surprise!  Telling them a couple days early worked well for us.  It gave us time to pack without having to do it all in our bedroom with the door locked, plus they were able to clean out their desks at school and say goodbye to all their friends.  Jacob, age 7, even took the photos to school and used his classroom’s projector to explain the surprise to his class.

On Tuesday, May 21, we loaded up the van and set off for the three-hour drive to the airport in St Louis.  The flight to LAX went great, even though it was four hours long and we had a squirmy 23-month old climbing over all of us.  The boys loved seeing the mountains from the plane and we even got a glimpse of the Grand Canyon!  Getting our bags from baggage claim was actually a really easy process.  I had been worried about the airport being so big, but the Southwest terminal is pretty small and very easy to navigate.


Image: First picture in California!

After taking a shuttle offsite, we picked up our rental van and headed to Carlsbad, near San Diego.  This was about a two-hour drive, which seemed even longer because of the time change, the crazy L.A. traffic and the fact that we couldn’t find any fast food easy to get to.  We did get to see the Goodyear Blimp on our drive, so that was fun.  We also enjoyed having the ocean on one side of the road and the mountains on the other!  We couldn’t get a cheap enough room at the Legoland Hotel for the first night, so we had found a deal at the Hyatt Place, about 10 minutes from Legoland.  After a great breakfast at the hotel the next morning, it was time to check in to the Legoland Hotel!

Legoland Hotel

Image: The kids and I outside the Legoland Hotel

Our boys were in heaven!  The hotel looked like it was made of Legos, our room was Adventure-themed and they could see Legoland from the lobby!

our bedroom

Image: Our adventure-themed room at the Legoland Hotel

kids room

Image: The kids’ part of the room at the Legoland Hotel

We dumped our stuff and quickly headed out the back door, where the park was only a few feet away!  On the two days we were there, Legoland was open from 10-5, so it was a nice length of time.  Not too long that you were going to wear out, but enough time to see what you wanted to see.  We hadn’t done any research on the park, so came with no preconceived ideas of how to tour.  While checking in, an employee told us to start on the left side and work our way around to the right side of the park, because the attractions were organized in terms of “difficulty” from left to right.  This was great advice!  The park is adorable and it was so fun to see familiar Lego pieces come to life all around us.


Image: Legoland

The great thing about Legoland is that it is clearly designed with kids in mind.  The queue lines were all short (kids may still have been in school at the time we were there), the rides were simple and the park wasn’t so big as to be overwhelming.

driving a Lego boat


all locked up


Images: attractions at Legoland

Our boys (age 5 and 7) were able to do every ride and most could be ridden by themselves, so we could stay with Lydia in her stroller.  If anything, my one complaint would be that Lydia couldn’t ride anything.  There was a Duplo play area for younger kids, but all the other attractions were based on height.  Because she’s not yet 2, she wasn’t tall enough to ride anything.  At Disney, babies can go on things like Dumbo or the dark rides in Fantasyland.  At Legoland, similar rides were still based on height, even though she would have ridden with us and the ride vehicles stayed on the ground the whole time.  We made sure to let her run around out of her stroller so she wouldn’t be completely bored, but she spent most of her time hanging out and waiting for her brothers to finish their rides.  As you can see, she still had fun!


Image: Lydia playing at Legoland while her brother drove a boat.

Legoland has great food at all of their restaurants and food stands.  Along with the regular burgers and hot dogs, there were tons of fresh, healthy options.




Images: Healthy food is available all over the park.

Carlsbad is known for its strawberries, so the park takes full advantage and features them as often as possible, in salads, desserts and smoothies.  At the restaurant we chose, there was fresh soup in bread bowls, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, stir fry, and much more.  Our kids chose hot dog kids meals for lunch, which came in a reusable-type bag, and the kids got to choose a bag of chips or pretzels, a piece of fruit or box of raisins, and an organic juice box or bottled water.  While on the subject of dining, do not miss the Apple Fries if you go to Legoland!  These are apple slices cooked in some kind of light cinnamon-sugar batter and served with a small cup of vanilla or caramel flavored whipped topping for dipping.  They were so good that we went back again the second day!

apple fries

Image: The ridiculously good apple fries

After the park closed, the hotel had a little show in the lobby.  Kids could hula hoop, dance and meet a couple of characters.


Image: Meeting a Lego pirate in the lobby

While certainly not Disney caliber entertainment, it was fun and our kids enjoyed it.  For dinner that night, we actually headed to a pizza place in town and met up with my cousin and his family who live in the area.  It was great to get to see a familiar face while so far from home!

The next day, we planned to just stay at the park until noon, but the kids were having so much fun re-riding some of their favorite attractions that we ended up not leaving until close to 4:00 for our drive to Anaheim.

The boys absolutely loved the park and I’m so glad we decided to go.  We originally hadn’t wanted to spend the money on another theme park, but we found a great Legoland Hotel Grand Opening package, because the hotel just opened in April.  After taxes, we paid just $255 for one night at the Legoland Hotel, breakfast buffet for four at the hotel’s restaurant, and four 2-day park hoppers (there is also an aquarium).  Normally, this would only cover one night’s stay.  I would recommend planning two days for this park if your kids are the ages of ours.  If the park was open longer, we could have probably done everything in one day, but it was nice to be able to go back and do some rides again.


Image: Jonah driving a car at Legoland – one of his favorite attractions!

After leaving Legoland, we started our drive north on the Pacifc Coast Highway (PCH or Hwy 1).  It would have been shorter for us to just stay on I-5 and head straight to Anaheim, but I had heard so much about this road along the ocean that I just had to try it.  We loved all the ocean views and the relaxing drive through the towns we hear about on TV, like Laguna Beach and Dana Point.




Images: Driving the PCH

We started looking for a beachfront to stop at, since we’d never been to the Pacific Ocean.  After stopping at a couple of state parks where we were told it would be between $5 and $15 to park, we ended up just parking on a side road in Newport Beach and walking down about a block down to the public beach.  If we had wanted to spend more time at the beach, it would have been worth the money, but all we really wanted to do was let the kids walk in the sand and splash around a little bit.

Newport Beach

Image: Newport Beach

Turns out that our daughter was freaked out about the sand AND water, so I held her the whole time while the boys waded along the shore.  We had some swimmers take our picture, then headed back up to the van.

on the beach

Image: Newport Beach

This whole stop probably took less than an hour.  We stopped some locals to ask for a restaurant recommendation and that led us to a yummy Mexican restaurant right on the highway.  After supper, we had planned to keep driving north along the coast, but it was getting late, so we left the PCH and went straight to Anaheim to check in at the Howard Johnson.

I’m going to stop there for now, so make sure you check back in to read the last two installments of my wrap-up blogs!

To listen to our audio trip report segments from the Disneyland Edition of the DIS Unplugged, click here!

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Category: Disney World, Disneyland

  • Starr Cookson

    Thanks for the blog post Leah. I have been following the podcast episodes with great interest as we are a WDW family planning our first trip in August to LA/San Diego. It is a very different from WDW from a planning perspective, so your planning and now experience has been very helpful.

  • Jodi Pontius Strock

    We are taking a trip in 3 weeks to DL & then driving up the coast to San Fran but will be hitting LA like you. Your podcasts & blogs have been very helpful – so Thank You! What is the Mexican resaturant you stopped at to eat? Maybe we will hit it too :)

  • http://www.wdwinfo.com/ Leah Zanolla

    Glad you’re enjoying the coverage! I should have one more blog next week about our time at Disneyland. Jodi – the restaurant was Avila’s El Ranchito. I think it was a local chain, but it was good!

  • Candee white

    I want to thank you for your blog and the podcasts. This information was so helpful while we planned our la/Disneyland/san diego trip in June. My family was so impressed by how smooth everything went and said it was the best family vacation ever!! It was because of the Dis boards, blogs, and podcasts that I was able to be so informed and prepared. Thank you so much :)