Travel Diary: A Surprise Denver Reunion

Here’s the thing about surprises: I’m not so great with them. When it comes to surprises for myself, you’d better hope it is actually that — a surprise. I don’t do so well when I know something’s coming, but can’t be told what it is. (And by “don’t do so well,” I mean that I will bug you incessantly and you will end up regretting everything.) I only like surprises if I am genuinely, completely caught off guard.

And when it comes to pulling off surprises of my own? Well, I like to talk a lot. Things sometimes slip out.

But when they’re important, they never do.

This past weekend, we pulled off one important, wonderful surprise for my best friend.

I headed to Colorado for a work trip, which Jen was well aware of. We’d already planned it out: I’d go to my event in the Springs, she’d pick me up at the airport afterwards, and we’d spend the weekend together doing all of the autumnal things.

Little did she know, we’d have someone else with us.

Our friend Makenzie — Jen’s best friend since high school, and my subsequently “good friend” 😉 — has been in Spain all summer. She and Jen hadn’t seen each other since January.

So, naturally, we had to get them back together.

Guys, I was shaking by the time Makenzie got to the Denver airport. I was so nervous that, for some reason or another, this wouldn’t work out. There were a lot of moving parts, after all: I’d fibbed to Jen and said I had a client dinner that would keep me from getting back to the Denver airport until 9:30 that night (in reality, I’d been sitting at the airport since my shuttle from the Springs got me there at six); Jen said she was heading to the airport before Makenzie’s flight even touched down; we’re all connected on Find My Friends so there was always the chance she’d look and catch on. I was fidgety and nervous and excited and anxious, all at once.

And then, we totally pulled it off:

Naturally, once it was discovered that we had an extra member of our little crew that weekend, our plans shifted a bit. A pumpkin patch first became brunch, then became s’mores, then became a fall festival in a trendy alleyway in downtown Denver. The barre class Jen and I planned on taking got pushed back a day and was also Makenzie’s first introduction to the workout. We discovered the glory of cinnamon-sugar donut bites, and the unfortunate irritation of bad service when you’re waiting for brunch and hungry. (In case you’re wondering – Jelly Cafe has amazing food, but don’t go when it’s busy.)

But most of all, we reunited.

And honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered what we did. We could have sat on the couch watching How I Met Your Mother all day, petting the dogs and eating pickled green beans and we would have been completely content. (Oh wait – we did do that…)

All that mattered is that we pulled it off.

And it was one of the best weekends we could have asked for.

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[Special shout out to Quinn, for knowing about it the entire time and not saying a word, and willingly giving up the entire ground floor of his house for the weekend.]

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Cheers until next time, Denver.

Travel Diary: Rory & Lorelai Take Tahoe

If you’ve been following along for any substantial amount of time, you’ll know two things about me:

  1. My mother and I are Lorelai and Rory. Or Donna and Sophie. Or whatever combination of extremely close, best-friends-level mother and daughter duo you want to insert there. She’s my rock, to put it simply.
  2. Tahoe is my (our) happy place.

So, naturally, combining these two things — my mom, and that magical mountain lake, namely — gave way to the sweetest five days I’ve had pretty much all year.

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Now, I won’t lie to you. There was a part of me that was, admittedly, a little nervous about going back to the lake. I hadn’t been since the very last Christmas we spent up there, the year my grandparents sold their condo. That condo was like a second home to me, something that remained unwaveringly consistent, no matter what happened. While I understood the reasons behind selling it, that hardly made it less heartbreaking. In fact, I don’t think there’s a single member of my family that isn’t still a little sad about it, but honestly, I think that’s a good thing. It’s a sign of a loved, cherished, life-altering place, and that’s exactly the kind of place Number 14 was.

Still, for some reason, I was a little antsy about it.

Mostly excited, though. The boy can attest to this (and so can pretty much anyone else I saw in the weeks leading up to the trip). I barely talked of anything else. One thing, and one thing only, was getting me through the crazy couple of weeks that preceded the trip to Tahoe: that being, of course, the trip itself.

And, as I expected, the second I saw those crystal blue waters, any nervousness I did have dissipated quicker than a sand castle in high tide.

I was home.

My mother and I rented a condo a few down from ours, one that my family has stayed in many times before, particularly when a big crowd at Christmas caused overflow in Number 14. The boys couldn’t make the trip, so it was just the two of us… which, frankly, was perfect (no offense, boys).

Where We Ate

Food is a big part of Tahoe for us. We frequent a plethora of places, to the point where we know, and have coffee with, the people who work there.

Lanza’s

img_1498This, of course, is the place where we know everyone so well, and it’s also the number one spot I recommend whenever anyone says they’re staying on the North Shore. You can’t go wrong with the garlic bread, the salad (extra gorgonzola), and the eggplant parmigiana. In fact, you so can’t go wrong with it to the point where my mom and I have ordered that for so long, our waitress, the sweetest woman on the earth, knows our order by heart… and put it in before we even sat down, it feels like. Oh, how we love and cherish this family joint.

Jake’s on the Lake

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Another iconic Tahoe spot, nestled in the sadly fledgling Boatworks mall. (Is there someone I can speak to about starting a petition to revitalize the Boatworks? This is a serious inquiry. I’ll back that initiative.) Still, Jake’s boasts a beautiful view of the marina, all glass walls facing the water, and, perhaps best of all, Kimo Pie! Of course, my grandfather wasn’t there and my mom is allergic to macadamia nuts, so I didn’t enjoy the latter, but I did have a delicious pair of crab cakes and they brought me a bowl of ice cream with a candle in it once we told them it was a — very — belated birthday celebration. Oh… and we tried something new this time, something we dreamt about for days afterwards… Baked. Brie. Do I even need to say anything else about it? Didn’t think so.

Gar Woods 

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This one is, yet again, a tradition. You just can’t beat their zucchini sticks, their fish tacos, or their view. Their deck is literally as iconic as their Wet Woody cocktails, as it’s the perfect place to sit and enjoy the latter. We got lucky, too, and the weather was absolutely perfect as we lounged and drank and ate and drank some more. The weather is a good thing, too, because responsible citizens that we are, we utilized the TART bus system for the very first time in our entire lives (Ubers are few and far between at the lake). We thought it was a genius idea… until, of course, the bus home was over an hour late! So what did we do? Well, what any sensible person would… we walked home. The full 2.6 miles, through the construction zone.

Hey, like I said, the weather was perfect.

What We Did 

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Let me preface this with a disclaimer: we weren’t there to do much. We were there to relax, to stare at the glorious blue water that stretches out from the end of the pier, to reminisce, to bond, and to drink a lot of wine. However, one of my mom’s favorite things to do is kayak, and I’m a pretty big fan of paddling, too, so we took advantage of our rental’s boats and the couple of not-so-windy mornings. There’s something about sitting atop a still lake, looking back at the September shores, which are decidedly less crowded than the summer ones. It’s simultaneously peaceful, powerful, and perfect.

Besides that, we walked a lot. We had to, with all that baked Brie we were eating. 😉

And we read. We’re both avid readers — being raised by a bookworm tends to make you one, too, oddly enough — and there’s nothing better than sitting by the water with a good book. Now, I let my mother read a particularly special book, but more on that later.

Each night, we’d take our happy hour to where we spent most of our day… the deck. We’d sit out there as long as the sun and the wind allowed it, before the temperature dipped below what even the most warm blooded Arizonan can handle. (Or maybe it’s cold blooded? I’m not particularly knowledgeable about reptiles.)

We’d enjoy dinner — which, after lunches the size of what we ate at Jake’s and Gar Woods, was often just popcorn, hummus, and salad — and watch a movie. Or, rather, I’d talk through one while my mom tried to watch. Whoops.

We’d last as long as the wine did, say our goodnights, and sleep so well in the Tahoe beds. There’s something about the mountain air that makes sleep so, so much more restful.

Each morning, I woke up a little after my mom, we put on a pot of coffee, and read our books until it was warm enough to brave the water or relocate to the porch to start the whole day over again.

It was, in a word, perfect.

And, frankly, it was harder than ever to come home.

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So, thank you, Lorelai/Donna/Mamma. I know I’ve said this a million times before, but I also have no doubt you’re reading this, too. Thank you for the most perfect return to our happy place. I can’t wait for so many, many more.

Travel Diary: Turnaround Trip to San Diego

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I preface this with the disclaimer that it wasn’t technically a turnaround trip. More like in one night and out the other. Still. There’s something off putting about getting off the plane in San Diego to an email reminding you to check in for your flight back to Phoenix.

But I digress.

I hopped on a plane this time around for a work event. My boss makes fun of me lately for always volunteering to travel for clients (or sometimes, for professional development). My response is always to laugh, because I’m perfectly aware that my constant volunteering fits perfectly into my millennial-working-in-PR stereotype.

However, I also know that work travel is exactly that – work travel. You’re there to do what you’re there to do, not to take advantage of the fact that you’re on a “free” trip.

That said, if that trip happens to take me to a place where I know people, then you can bet I’m going to try to squeeze in a little bit of time with them, when I’m off-duty. After all, you don’t work 24 hours a day.

This particular trip happened to fall on a Tuesday, and my friend Alexis happens to live in San Diego. The thing is, we used to do these things we called “Taylor Tuesdays.” Back in college, we worked the same student job, and we worked the same shift my junior year on Tuesday nights. That shift kept us on campus until 10 (or later, when someone came rushing in to return a camera right at the deadline, but that’s not the point). I had to be at my internship at 8 am the next morning, only a few minutes from school, but I was living a solid 45 minutes off campus. It seemed silly to drive all the way back just to sleep, so we started making Tuesdays our regular sleepover nights. Or, “Taylor Tuesday,” if you will. You know how I love the alliteration.

So, as soon as I found out I was heading her way, I called her up and asked if she would be interested in hosting another Taylor Tuesday. It was the perfect solution – I got to spend time with a friend I don’t see nearly enough, thanks to the inevitable way that life goes once you toss your caps in the air, and I saved on a hotel room. Win-win.

The rest of this story is pretty simple. Lex picked me up at the airport and we treated ourselves to dinner at the Bier Garden of Encinitas. We ate the best burgers (hers, normal… mine, salmon) with sides of waffle fries, accompanied by one of the most refreshing Moscow mules I’ve had in a long time, another throwback to our college days.

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The best part of dinner was that we sat outside. Man, I need to move to a place where that’s not off limits during the summer.

After dinner we wandered over to JoJo’s, a local ice cream place that may just take the (ice cream) cake for one of my favorite ice cream joints. Seriously – any place that you can get a malted cookie dough and mint cookies and creme combo is an A+ in my book.

We wrapped up the evening by watching Bachelor in Paradise, which is a testament to how hooked I’ve gotten on this ridiculous reality show.

It was a short visit, for sure, and I barely caught a glimpse of the ocean, but that’s not what I was there for. I was there to work, with a little side of play. And I’m so grateful for that. I’m grateful for friends who will take even the shortest amount of time whenever you can squeeze it in, because let’s be honest — it gets hard to keep in touch when life gets going. I’m grateful for a company that does good work with good clients and good people. So if this quick trip left me with anything, it was gratitude, and we can always use a reminds of the things we have to be grateful for.

Travel Diary: Celebrations in the Golden State

In case you missed it (though I’m not sure how), I’m a California girl. Born and bred, for the most part, though once I turned nine, I split my time between the Golden State and the Grand Canyon one. I’m lucky enough to consider them both home. However, most of my family still dwells in the golden hills of the wine country or the Sacramento valley. So, every year around my birthday, I head back there to hang out and celebrate.

This year was no different. (Okay, this year was a little different. Most years include a stop in Tahoe, but that trip’s happening later this time. That’s not really the point, though.)

This was less of a touristy trip than my last one to California, but it was filled with just as much good food and good wine as ever.

Where We Ate

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LemonGrass 
Maybe it’s because I never get to eat it at home, thanks to a boyfriend who is not so much a fan, but I will leap at any opportunity for Asian cuisine. Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Korean… I love ’em all. My grandparents took me to a Thai restaurant they love called LemonGrass, and it did not disappoint! Let alone the fact that they offer mini bottles of Mumm Brut (and I believe bubbles are essential to any birthday celebration), but they also have a to-die-for ginger ice cream for dessert. Yes, I know that sounds odd. I thought so too. Just trust me on this one.

(There was also a delightfully sassy elderly couple seated behind us. The man talked too loud and we heart all their romantic woes. They’ve got quite the love triangle happening! He escorted her out by the arm for another drink at her place, so I’d say he’s the front-runner in the race for her heart.)

Jack’s Urban Eats
Guys – I was SO excited to go back to this place! I used to love Jack’s when I was a kid. It’s a Panera-style restaurant that started out in midtown Sacramento, and I practically lived off their mac and cheese for an entire summer. We met my cousin for lunch here, and though I’ve grown up to enjoy a big salad for lunch, we of course had to get a side of mac and cheese and cheesy bread.

East West Cafe
The family Saturday morning breakfast club meets promptly at 8:00 a.m. at East West Cafe in Santa Rosa. Unless, of course, someone’s in town to convince the president of the club (aka my uncle) to push it back an hour. 😉

Regardless what people say about the food – and my family certainly has varying opinions there – there’s something to be said for being an out of towner and still feeling like a part of a weekly routine. While half of our rowdy bunch now orders off the menu, if you’re ever in the mood for a quasi-healthy breakfast and don’t mind not having your toast buttered, I wouldn’t not recommend it. Just tell them you know the Nelsons.

What We Did 

Yao Family Winery

img_0901Yes, that Yao.

This was more of a me thing than anyone else, but you can’t go to the wine country and not taste some new wine!

On my dad and my’s commute over to Santa Rosa, we diverted through the picturesque wine town of St. Helena due to traffic on 80 (yes, Arizonans and So-Cal pals, the northern part of the country doesn’t put the word “the” in front of their freeways). My dad asked if I wanted to pop in for some wine tasting – to which the only answer should ever be a resounding yes! Of course, we ended up at the only winery in town owned by a basketball player. I guess because the boy couldn’t join this trip, it was only fitting. I tried the sauvignon blanc, rosé, and the sparkling wine. The bubbles, as you can probably imagine, were my favorite. The gigantic cutout of Yao Ming was my second favorite.

The Sonoma County Fair
Guys, this is probably my FAVORITE part of being in Sonoma County during August. While the fair is pretty much the same every year, you can’t not be sucked in by the small-town charm. This is so vastly different from the state fairs I’m so used to. There’s a little carnival that my family rarely rides on; there’s a hall of flowers that was dedicated this year to the firefighters that fought back against the Santa Rosa firestorm; there’s a whole room dedicated to crafts made by some super talented kids. This year, there was even a whole Harry Potter exhibit – which you know I had to take a seat in, and read a few pages.

Backyard Barbecues
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the big benefits of California summers – outdoor dining. My dad and his girlfriend spoiled us with a barbecue one night, and my family put on another barbecue for a little birthday party. It was a week of porches and sunsets, and even through the sadly smoky haze from the nearby fires, it was absolutely perfect. I already miss being able to sit outside without sweating.

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In fact, I already miss a lot of things about California. I often joke that I get into a post-trip “funk” no matter where I go, but the truth is that it’s worse when I come home from being at home. Maybe it’s that paradox that does it.

Granted, I did get a little extra time at home this time around, if only due to a massive dust storm in Phoenix that cancelled my flight. It all worked out in the end, though, and I got an unexpected, but much-needed evening with my cousin. (In case you’re reading this… only feet!)

I’m just so grateful that home is so close, and that it’s not too difficult to hop on over for whatever the occasion may be.

See you soon, California.

Travel Diary: Denver for a Trip Around the Sun

I am sitting at the airport as I write this and, first off, I would like to acknowledge just how much I love the airport. It holds such a sense of adventure, such a promise of what’s to come. Plus, it’s a wonderful place to people watch.

But I digress, because that’s not really what this post is about.

I am on my way home from Denver, where I just spent a lovely three days with one of my favorite humans and her two cute pups. This is becoming a bit of a tradition. Every year at the 4th of July, I fly up to the Mile High City to see my best friend. Of course, this year, the Fourth fell on a Wednesday which was mildly inconvenient, so we just bumped our timeline up a little. Which actually worked out so well, because we also have a mutual love of Kenny Chesney, who happened to be playing in Denver this past weekend.

Naturally, we went.

This was my fourth time seeing Kenny, and Jen and mine’s second Kenny concert with one another, and it was just as fun as it’s ever been. I’m the product of Parrotheads, which probably means I was destined to be a part of the No Shoes Nation, but even without that prerequisite, there’s just something about a Kenny show.

I’ve always loved water, and always felt like, eventually, I’m destined to live beside it. Every Kenny Chesney concert simply confirms that prediction. There’s a feel to him — he’s a little bit country, a little bit rock, but he’s island through and through.

Plus, there’s the fact that Kenny was my first ever concert (I don’t count the Cheetah Girls in fourth grade), and you tend to have a bit of an attachment to whoever that was, right?

Besides, in my adult years — more specifically, since my junior year of college — it’s become a bit of a tradition to see him every tour, and if you know me, I’m a huge sucker for traditions.

I love knowing that you can always have something to look forward to. I love know that every summer, I’ll buy a plane ticket to Denver (granted, next summer may be an exception as we potentially shift our annual reunion overseas… but still, you get the picture.) I love knowing that Kenny Chesney will put me in a great mood and that I’ll be whisked off to the islands no matter where I am — whether it’s in the middle of the desert, at the edge of plains, or in the foggy bay.

But most of all, I love knowing that a friend will be there. I love knowing that I can call her up in the middle of the night because she’ll answer, and not just because she’ll be awake because of her crazy producer schedule. I love knowing that I can text her about the most mundane things and she’ll at least read it even if we’re both awful at replying. I love knowing how easily we can freak people out by accidentally saying the same thing at the same time. I love knowing that there’s a person I can always go to to remind me what’s important. I love the fact that we went from random Spanish project partners to coworkers to roommates to twins.

I mean, come on. We even unintentionally matched our outfits.

Now, to be honest, I didn’t start this post with the intention of making it a note of appreciation for my Shining Twin. But, I also started this blog on the floor of the Denver airport and I’m finishing it sitting upright at my desk, so I guess intentions can change with time, right? I always fall into a post-trip funk (anyone else with me on that? Coming home is great and I love what I come home to, but there’s still an element of sadness when a trip concludes). It’s heightened, when you just leave your best friend.

Anyways. Thanks, Denver, for another incredible trip, and here’s to the next one, in (pretty much) one trip around the sun.

Travel Diary: Sacramento for 60 Years

Last weekend, I made my way back to the homeland (aka, the capital city of California), to gather with my family and a plethora of family friends to celebrate an incredible achievement for my grandparents: 60 years of marriage.

60 years.

A part of me is in complete awe by that inspiring number, but another part of me is just quite simply, inspired… and, frankly, always has been. It was mentioned throughout the weekend how my grandparents so fiercely set an example of love & aloha for our family, and that could not be more true. If there is one consistent with us (besides, of course, an affinity for good wine, which they also instilled in us), it’s the spirit of aloha.

I was born in Sacramento, so going back never quite feels like travel… a bit more like a homecoming. (Yes, I get this same feeling when I go back to the wine country, too. Is it spoiled to consider so many places home?)

Still, this particular trip turned us into tourists — literally, we went down to Old Town Sacramento, the small section of city alongside the river that clings on to the charm of when it was truly a train stop town.

The perks of being in town for celebrations — the anniversary coincidentally coincided with Father’s Day, which allowed me to sneak out to see my dad and his side of the family, too — is also the chance to indulge, more than you might normally on vacation. We were treated some very delicious Sacramento cuisine.

Where We Ate

I’m highlighting 2 of the places we went in this post, primarily because I forgot to get pictures of the crab melt at the third place (Rio City Cafe, if you’re curious).

Il Forno Classico

My grandparents are regulars here — so much so, that they actually knew the waitress we had in the back wine room, which we’d reserved for the party. Granted, this isn’t the only place they know the wait staff — their friendliness with everyone they meet is one of the many reasons we all love them.

As mentioned, our family rented the back wine room for the dinner party. The wine flowed, so did the bubbles, and the food. We had three delicious courses. The first of burratta, calamari, and bread, followed by the most delicious salad. My mom and I both got the ratatouille — and yes, I did request a cute little rat in the chef’s hat to accompany the dish.

But let’s talk about the dessert. I’ve got a family of sweet tooths (teeth?) — my stepdad and my grandfather in particular, and my aunt is always down for a good chocolate cake. We couldn’t decide, so plates of tiramisu and chocolate cake and creme brûlée made their way around the table.

Localis 

I went here with my dad’s side for Father’s Day brunch and I’ll use my dad’s words here: this was one of the best meals I’ve had since Italy (and I eat a lot of good food). Localis is, as the name might imply, a locally-sourced restaurant with an everchanging menu based on what’s seasonal and fresh. There’s a set menu for things like Father’s Day.

That set menu included a stone fruit salad, which just might have turned me into a fruit-in-salad convert.

Then came the vegetable hash, which was served with a side of roasted potatoes and the best green beans I may have ever eaten.

And let’s talk for a second about that dessert (there’s a theme here, if you couldn’t tell… I like dessert). The beauty of a restaurant that knows exactly how the play up flavors is that dishes don’t need a lot of show or spices or sugar. It’s simple. And simple food, if you ask me, is most often the best.

Localis had a sign in front when we were there:

Good vibes. Good food. Good Service. That describes Localis, and it describes the weekend. And, just maybe, it might describe the secret to my grandparents’ 60 years.

Good vibes… what will be, will be.

Good food… well, that one’s self explanatory.

Good service… to one another, to family, and to love.

60 years is a heck of an accomplishment, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be there to celebrate any other way.

Travel Diary: The Happiest Place On Earth

In case you (somehow) missed it, the boy and I took a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth this past weekend, Disneyland! Before we left, I posted about why I still love Disneyland at 23 and likely always will, and let me tell ya: this trip did not disappoint.

*Note: The rest of this post contains affiliate links – if you click through any of the links marked with an asterisk in the post below & make a purchase, I may receive compensation, at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

We got there for the first full weekend of PixarFest, which celebrates the soon-to-open Pixar Pier and all of the fantastic Pixar movies that Disney has come out with. As a die-hard Pixar fan with a particular fondness for Nemo (I’ve got a little fin, too!) I loved it. We aren’t the parade sort of people, but I dragged the boy over to watch part of the Pixar parade and it was totally worth it.

The only downside was that Pixar Pier is not quite open. It’ll be open this summer, which means I’ll have to wait until next year to experience it. But everything I’ve heard and seen so far promises that it will be worth the wait. They are revamping California Screamin’ to be the Incredicoaster, and the whole pier will have a new Pixar theme. I’ll put up with one weekend without for a whole lifetime of Pixar Pier goodness, I suppose.

For the first time, I brought along my digital camera. (I took the serious-about-blogging plunge and invested in a Sony HX80*, and I’m loving it.) There’s something about being able to capture the magic of Disney without being distracted by the pop ups and notifications on your phone that just made it all the more wonderful. Well, that, and I got some really good pictures, too.

What I Wore

Okay, so this isn’t what I usually put in my travel diary posts, but I feel that it is essential to showcase my Disney style. I like to stay comfy, but cute, at the parks, which means that slouchy soft tees and leggings or shorts are absolutely essential.

Now, I can’t totally remember where I got my jersey tee, but there’s a similar one here*. I love mine – it’s just flowy enough to keep you cool, but the extra sleeve length helps when those California events get chilly.

(Also, yes, I do the pin thing. I don’t trade them, though, but I do buy one or two pins for each trip I take. It’s a simple, sweet way to commemorate them. This trip, I got the Aztec Gold keychain that hangs from the bottom of my lanyard, and an Yzma pin. I got Kronk last year to signify the first year that I went with the boy – we really like The Emperor’s  New Groove – and figured I’d stick with that theme.)

Oh, and a pair of ears. You can’t forget the ears.

Where We Ate

So anyone who knows Disney knows that the food there is expensive – it’s kind of part of the experience, right? 😉

That said, we accept the prices and eat in the parks – partly for convenience, and partly because there are certain items that I must have every time. Like a Mickey pretzel.

Other places we ate include:

Alien Pizza Planet
Now, I’ll admit that this place isn’t my favorite, food-wise, at least. I love the atmosphere and feeling as if I’ve been transported into a Toy Story film, but the pizza isn’t the greatest and it’s extremely overpriced. That said, it’s a buffet-style which makes for a short wait time, and there’s plenty of seats, which as anyone knows, is really hard to say for a Disneyland restaurant.

Churro Carts
This one is a given. Churros are like their own food group at Disney, am I right?

Galactic Grill
Surprisingly, I’ve never eaten at the quick-serve restaurant that also serves as seating for the Jedi training experience in Tomorrowland. We ended up there because we got hungry right before the fireworks and didn’t want to risk a trip to Main Street post-Matterhorn. They were out of the veggie wrap I wanted, so I ended up with a salad and a free side of fries – plus, again, tons of seating! We even got a pretty good (partial) view of the fireworks as we ate.

Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe
Okay guys – I LOVE this place, more for its Mary Poppins theme and Mickey macarons than anything else. However, I also feel like this is one of the few places in Disney where you get a good bang for your buck when it comes to portion sizes. Settled right at the end of Main Street, it’s also a great place to people watch as everyone takes pictures by the Walt & Mickey statue.

Smokejumpers Grill (California Adventure)
Honestly, we picked this place because we were hungry before our Soarin’ Fast Passes, and they gave us a free cup of water one time and we liked them for it. We stayed for the waffle fries and cheesy croutons.

Our Game Plan

This is the important part, right? Everyone does Disney differently, and I’m lucky to go with someone who does it close to my way. We go for 2 days, so our goal is to get as much as possible done the first day so we can relax a bit on the second. That said, we also plan our mornings accordingly. The first morning we always hit Frontier/Adventureland first – we grab Indiana Jones Fast Passes, then hit up the only-short-in-the-morning-and-at-night line for Pirates, before making our way to the Haunted Mansion. Depending on how cold it is, sometimes we even hit Splash Mountain that early! The line is much shorter at 9 am, let me tell ya.

The second morning we go for Tomorrowland. We grab our Star Tours Fast Passes and jump right in line for Space Mountain – somehow, this always works out really well timing-wise.

After the morning mania, we kind of just go where the lines let us.

This was the first time we’ve ever used the app to check wait times. We could have paid 10 extra dollars a day, per person, for the Max Pass, and used it to get Fast Passes more easily, too, but both of us are sort of against that concept. There’s enough people on their phones at Disney – why did we need to add to that? Plus, we personally believe that part of the fun is playing the Fast Pass game… aka, running from ride to ride to see if you can get the right passes at the right time. Luckily, we’re pros at that game.

Honestly, though, I wouldn’t care if we stood in line for 3 hours or 3 minutes. There’s just something magical about Disneyland that makes you forget about being an adult for a second. And being there with someone you love – be it the boy, some friends, or family – makes it all the more magical.

Oh yeah – and we saw Kris Jenner getting off a ride. Well, I was trying to get a picture of Big Thunder Mountain as the train came around the bend, but everyone around us saw her. And screamed. Loudly. So there’s that.