We decided to hit the road for Thanksgiving and rented a cabin in the Columbine Lake neighborhood in Grand Lake. What a beautiful place! We spent the weekend playing lots of board games, taking lots of walks, playing in the snow and sledding on the tubing hill. I’m pretty sure Grand Lake is straight out of a Hallmark movie.
Our second camping trip of the summer took us to Great Sand Dunes National Park. We arrived at the park on a Friday afternoon and set up the tent just in time for the rain to start. It only rained for a few hours and gave us enough time to check out the sand dunes before dinner. Apparently, we brought the one type of sled that doesn’t work for sledding down the dunes! Sorry boys! We will have to remember that for next time!
The next morning it was warm and sunny…the perfect day to hit the dunes. I decided to climb up the 699′ High Dune while the boys played in Medano Creek and Chris attempted to catch up on some reading in the shade. The hike up High Dune was one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever done, but I made it. The view from the top was well worth it! While I was hiking, Henry was working on his Junior Ranger badge and is now sworn in to protect nature. We headed back to the campsite just in time for more rain to come. After it stopped raining, we headed over to do the Dunes Overlook Trail, which you can read more about on the boys hiking blog. We had just enough time to eat dinner before the rain started again. It quickly became clear that this rain was not going to let up. We finally gave up any hopes of sitting around the campfire roasting marshmallows and headed to bed early. It pretty much rained all night!
We only stayed for two nights, but we could have easily stayed for longer. Well…I can say that now that we are home and dry.
This past weekend we headed up to Summit County to attend a wedding. We decided to turn it into a fun little vacation while we were there. Our first stop on Friday morning was the Breck Summer Fun Park. It is pretty pricey, but so much fun! We parked in downtown Breckenridge and took the free gondola ride to the Fun Park. The boys LOVED the gondola ride. Seriously. LOVED. I think we could have headed back down the mountain and they would have thought the gondola ride *was* the fun park.
The Fun Park is really awesome. There is so much to do there! I don’t think there is a kid alive who wouldn’t love it. My advice, which we learned the hard way, is to get there early and hit the Gold Runner Coaster and the Alpine Slide first! Then take your time with all the other things. We did the maze, the bouncy house and the bungee trampolines and we were next in line for the Coaster when a storm rolled in and the park closed down for the rest of the day. Boooo! But we had lunch at the restaurant there, hoping for the rain to stop. One cool thing about the Park was that they refunded some of our money. Since we bought a day pass, they took off the attractions we had done and refunded the rest of the ticket pass. Pretty cool deal. We found ourselves stranded at the park (in the pouring rain) with another shuttle still 45 minutes away. The chef at the One Ski Hill Resort was setting up the restaurant for a wedding rehearsal and noticed us standing outside in the rain. He called for one of the resort shuttles to take us back to our car. Wow! Awesome customer service and we weren’t even customers!
After finally getting back to our car, we headed to our condo in Keystone which would be home for the next three days. We had an awesome condo with a great view of trees and nearby mountains. We were also close to a trail that ran along the Snake River, so once the rain stopped, we headed down there to do some exploring.
Saturday we had planned to go hiking. Since we were already in the mountains, we didn’t need to wake up at the crack of dawn, so we took advantage of it. We still had to leave early, as we had seen evidence of those mountain storms rolling in the day before! We did the Mayflower Gulch trail. Here are a few pictures, but you can see a lot more at our hiking blog Kids Hike Colorado.
After the hike, it was time to get ready for the wedding! My friend Heather was getting married at Arapahoe Basin at the top of Black Mountain. We arrived to find out we would be taking the ski lift up to the ceremony! That was kind of fun! Of course the weather held out just long enough for the guests to be seated before the skies opened up and started raining! The ceremony was quickly moved inside, but it was still a beautiful wedding and a great party!
Sunday morning we were heading back home, but not before heading back to the Breck Summer Fun Park to give that coaster a try! This time, we just bought tickets for the coaster. It was SO. MUCH. FUN! The boys loved it, and so did we! After that, we met some friends who live in the area for breakfast and headed home. What an awesome weekend! I’m ready to move to the mountains. Now I just have to convince my husband.
We finally decided it was time to get the boys on skis for the first time! A lot of people in Colorado get their kids on skis as soon as they are potty-trained, but for our boys, we knew they weren’t going to enjoy it, until it was their idea. So as soon as they asked, we booked it! We decided to try Ski Cooper, since it’s about 1/2 the cost of some of the bigger resorts. And we are all about saving money if we aren’t sure the boys are going to like it!
Ski Cooper was pretty nice. It’s a little farther away than some of the other resorts, but like I said…MUCH CHEAPER. Our adult lift tickets were $45/each (compared to $95 at Breckenridge) and the boys’ ski school was $85, including equipment and lunch (compared to $207 at Breck!) The mountain is small, but so were the crowds. There were times when we were doing runs and we were the only people around. Pretty nice, especially for someone like me who needs LOTS of room to make a turn!
As for ski school, Ski Cooper really needs to work on streamlining their check-in procedure. We got there at 8:45 for our 10:00 lesson, and the boys were just finished getting their equipment at that time. I don’t know if they were short-staffed or just confused, but that process was a big mess! But at 10:00 (ok, really 10:15…they started late) the boys went off with their instructors for the day and Chris and I headed for the chairlift.
OK, confession time…I haven’t been on a snowboard for about four years (and that experience was less than stellar!) and it was about 15 years since I had been on skis. For whatever reason, I’ve decided that I’m switching to skis, because it somehow seemed like it would be easier than boarding. It wasn’t. As soon as we got on the lift, I started to panic that I had no idea what I was getting into. My first run was pretty sketchy. And SSSSSSSSS-LLLLLLLLLLL-OOOOOOOOOO-WWWWWWWW. I felt bad for Chris who hadn’t lost any of his boarding skills, and was constantly waiting for me. But once I got the swing of things, I was OK. Mediocre. Average. Chris, on the other hand was awesome, and ended up lapping me a few times on runs.
I could barely make it down the mountain on the last run. My legs were DONE. Luckily, it was time to pick up the boys from Panda Patrol anyway. We were able to watch the boys take their last run down the slope before joining us. Steven seemed to really enjoy it and was doing pretty awesome. Henry seemed grumpy that he couldn’t go on the chairlift. He was also pretty grumpy that he couldn’t go snowboarding, but Cooper only offers kid’s boarding lessons on weekends, and we were there on a Tuesday. They both said that they had a great time and Steven says he’s definitely going skiing again, while Henry is determined to try boarding next!
It was a really fun, beautiful day, and I’m glad we finally did it!
We surprised the boys with a trip to Disneyland over Fall break. And when I say “surprised”, I mean “SURPRISED!” They didn’t even know we were going anywhere until we woke them up at 5:30 a.m. to head to the airport. Keeping it a secret was TOUGH, but we managed to do it! When we woke them up, Steven’s response was “This better be good. I was having a good snooze!” We waited until we had checked in for our flights and were inside the terminal before we told them where we were headed. I didn’t get the shrieking, jumping up and down response I was hoping for, but they were excited nonetheless. I think they were more confused than anything else!
We booked Disney’s Grand Californian Resort and a shuttle bus from the airport so we didn’t have to rent a car and worry about driving around Los Angeles. I’ll take a moment to say that unlike Orlando, people are NOT heading to LA just to go to Disney. You walk off a plane in Orlando and Mickey Mouse is practically greeting you at the gate. In LA, so not the case. After we figured out where the shuttle bus picked up, we stood around for what felt like an hour before an all-white bus showed up and took our bags. None of that typical Disney customer service in California. We spent the entire 30 minute ride wondering if we were even on the right bus.
But fortunately, we were. Once we stopped at the first resort, a Disney representative came on the bus to take our vouchers and we could finally relax a little. Once we checked into the resort, we finally saw some of that Disney hospitality! We were greeted with “1st visit” buttons, a picture of Mickey and his friends, several postcards (Jack Sparrow postcard, anyone? Anyone?) and lots of friendly information on the resort. We were pretty early, but our room was ready, so we were able to check right in.
The room itself was pretty nice, but storage was LACKING! We barely had room for everything, and we only had two suitcases between the four of us. Our room was on the ground floor, with a patio. Our patio faced Disney’s California Adventure Park, specifically the Goofy’s Flying School roller coaster, so it was fun to sit on the patio and watch the people screaming on the coaster. We spent that first day exploring the resort (three pools!) and the nearby Downtown Disney. It was really nice to be walking distance to everything, including the two Disney parks! We played in the pool for awhile (but the water was FREEZING!), had dinner and we were all in bed by 8:00 to get ready for our first day at the park the next day!
Then, around 10:00 p.m., the fireworks started! We couldn’t see them from our room, but we could certainly hear them! I swear, it sounded like a giant was walking around outside! Fireworks aren’t nearly as enjoyable if you don’t get to watch them, and you are trying to sleep. Luckily, the boys slept right through them.
Because we were staying at a Disney resort, we were able to get into one of the parks one hour early each day. Tuesday was our day to get into Disneyland early, which we did. We forced the boys to wake up and walked over the the park at 7:00 a.m. What they don’t tell you is that there really isn’t anything to do for that hour! All the “lands” are roped off, and there was only one ride we could get on, but at least it gave us an opportunity to take some pictures before it was too crowded.
The boys were SUPER EXCITED to go to the Haunted Mansion, so as soon as the ropes dropped, we headed for New Orleans Square. They completely redid the house with Nightmare Before Christmas decorations. The boys love that movie, so they were so excited to see it. The line was almost non-existant at that time, so we got right in. Unfortunately, Henry was scared out of his mind and refused to go inside after that spooky room at the beginning, so he and I headed out of the ride while Chris and Steven stayed on. We met them at the exit and Steven was TERRIFIED. Chris said he trembled for the entire ride! FAIL!
Now Chris and I were worried! If they were super excited for the Haunted Mansion and it scared them, would we be able to get them on ANY ride? We decided to pick the most kid-friendly sounding ride in the area, which was The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. We decided NOT to try out any roller coasters at that time, but we took the train to Fantasy Land and went on It’s a Small World (which Henry was CRAZY about) and then headed to Toon Town where the boys were able to meet Goofy, Mickey and Minnie! And we were able to get the boys to try out their first coaster, which was Gadget’s Go Coaster. We were also able to squeeze in a trip on the Jungle Cruise and the Columbia, and both boys decided to try Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and loved it! Then we headed over to the Dole stand so I could get a Dole Whip! Mmmmm…love those things! After that, we headed back to the hotel to rest for a few hours, knowing we would be checking out Disney’s California Adventure that evening.
That night, Disneyland was closing early, and opening for their Halloween party. We assumed that would be the perfect time to go to California Adventure, because we figured everyone would be at Disneyland for the party. Again…FAIL. California Adventure was crazy crowded! We waited 30 minutes to get on the Goofy’s Flying School roller coaster and another 45 minutes to go on Mickey’s Fun Wheel (the giant ferris wheel.) After that ride, Steven really wanted to go on the HUGE California Screamin’ roller coaster. Henry did not, so we headed over to Cars Land and waited another 45 minutes for Luigi’s Flying Tires, a ride that lasted about 30 seconds. Seriously. Steven LOVED California Screamin’. How the kids had that much patience to stand in lines for so long is beyond me.
The next day (Wednesday), we were planning to spend the entire day at California Adventure. We were able to get into the park one hour early, at 8:00. Our resort had a guests-only entrance to that park, and by 7:00 a.m., a line was already formed! We decided not to wait in line for an hour, and instead headed to downtown Disney to let the boys walk around, before heading in the main entrance. Based on advice from Disney employees, our plan was to get into the park an hour early and I would wait in the Fast Pass line for the Radiator Springs Racers ride. Even though we could get in at 8:00, they don’t start handing out fast passes until 9:00. So I waited in line, while Chris took the boys on a few rides.
I did not understand the crowds at California Adventure. Even the crowds during our early “magic hour” were insane! I realize that Cars Land just opened, and it is awesome, but holy cow! Pure craziness! That park was not enjoyable at all. Every ride we went on was at least an hour wait, except, surprisingly, the California Screamin’ roller coaster, which was only a ten minute wait. Steven wanted to go on it again, and Henry wanted to try it too. While he was attempting to put on a brave face, we don’t think Henry liked it at all.
When it was finally our Fast Pass time for the Radiator Springs Racers, we headed over to Cars Land, fought through the crowds to get to the end of the street where the ride is, only to find it was closed due to technical difficulties. We did that three times before it finally was open again. We were all cranky and tired and annoyed with the crowds. Once we finally got into the Fast Pass line, which, by the way, was still a 30 minute wait!), we stood in line for 15 minutes and Steven decides that he really needs to go to the bathroom! By the time he and I got back from the bathroom, Chris and Henry were already off the ride, so Steven and I had to wait in line AGAIN! So frustrating! It is, however, an awesome ride!
Henry really wanted to go on the Grizzly River Run, which is a water ride, so we had saved that for last, thinking we would get wet. Again, another hour long wait, but they made a friend in line, so it wasn’t that bad. It was a fun ride. We decided to let them run around the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (which ties in with the Wilderness Explorers from the movie Up) to burn off any energy they might have left. That ended up taking longer than we thought, but they had so much fun climbing, swinging and sliding that it was worth it! At the end, we got to meet Russell from Up, so they were happy!
We headed back to the hotel to rest and eat before returning to the park for the World of Color water show. As soon as we got to our designated area (again, you need a Fast Pass for it!), Henry promptly fell asleep and stayed asleep until the show started. The show was pretty awesome, so I’m glad we toughed it out!
Our last day, Thursday, we were able to get into Disneyland early again. But, it was pouring rain, so we decided to eat breakfast at the Storytellers Cafe instead. The boys were able to meet a lot of Disney characters there, and it was nice to eat a meal that wasn’t completely deep-fried, so again…worth it!
We all had our list of “must-dos” for our last day at the park and Space Mountain was first on our list. I’m not sure the boys were crazy about the dark ride. Star Tours, on the other hand, was AWESOME! We all loved that! We also went on Astro Blasters, Autopia, the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (they loved it!), and took a ride on the Monorail. We squeezed in another It’s a Small World ride before taking the train back to New Orleans Square so I could go to the Haunted House. Chris took the boys to have lunch, while I waited in line. The boys refused to even think about going on it! After the ride, we saw Jack Skellington signing autographs, so the boys were excited to meet him! We did a few more rides, saw a few more shows before deciding to give Splash Mountain a try. The boys loved it!
But now we were quickly running out of time. We only had a few hours before the park closed, and we needed to change out of our (now wet!) clothes before waiting for the parade to start. We realized we never even made it to the rides at Fantasyland, but the boys were determined to get Build-a-Bears as their souvenirs. We went back to the hotel, changed into dry clothes and went back to the park to find a spot for the parade. The parade was really awesome!
After that, the boys made their Build-a-Bears (Steven made a Disney themed dog named “Fluffy Disney” and Henry made a wizard bear named “Wizzy”) and we finally, FINALLY! turned in for the night.
Friday we headed back to Colorado. Overall, we had a great, but exhausting time! We loved surprising the boys with the trip, but we were just sort of shocked by how expensive and crowded everything was. In theory, Disneyland was supposed to be a “Ghost Town” this week in October, according to the crowd calendars we researched, but this was just not the case. Disneyland was definitely not as crowded as California Adventure, and I think the new Cars Land is the reason. Probably the one thing I was disappointed with was not getting to see any of the fireworks shows. They only run Friday-Monday, and our first day at the park was Tuesday. They did have fireworks on Tuesday night, but it was as part of the Halloween party, which you had to buy separate tickets for. But, we did get to see the World of Color show and the parade. Staying at the resort was great, especially since they were so close to everything and we could walk every where! (Two weeks later, my calves are STILL sore from all the walking!) Not having a car was one less thing to worry about, and it was great for being able to take a break in the middle of the day. Having gone on a Disney cruise, I definitely prefer the cruise because it’s just more relaxing! I think the boys will be teenagers before we think about another trip to one of the parks! But, they are only kids once, and they had a great time!