Visiting Disney World During Covid (7 Things You Should Know Before You Go)

You want to visit Disney World during COVID but you’re not sure what to expect when it comes to COVID protocols.  I recently visited both Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World and can give you all the details!

It’s true.  Things have changed this year.  It hasn’t been easy for anyone.  Disney’s response to COVID and their accommodations for guests are impressive.  Spending time at “The Most Magical Place on Earth” felt safe, AND I laughed more than I have this entire year!

I visited the parks with my sister and some girlfriends, so I didn’t have my kids with me.  However, we saw plenty of families with kids, wearing their masks, and having a wonderful time!

Buying Disney World Tickets During Covid

Good news!  The price for Walt Disney World tickets went down at the start of 2021.  And if you know me, I’m all about saving money at Disney, so I get excited over simple things like price drops. 

Purchase your tickets through the app, on location, from their website, or from an authorized dealer (like your hotel).

I purchased my tickets through the app (My Disney Experience) because it’s convenient and fast.

Reservations Are Required at Disney During COVID

Walt Disney World is currently operating at a reduced capacity (yay, smaller crowds) and requires that all guests make a park reservation in addition to purchasing a ticket.

Before you purchase your ticket, check the reservation availability for the parks you want to visit on the days you want to visit.  Once you’ve confirmed there’s availability, go ahead and purchase your ticket.

Immediately after securing your ticket(s), confirm your park reservations using the app (or online).

Reservations are free and should be made as soon as possible.  You can change your reservation to a different park at a later time if there’s availability. 

Entering the Park

Typically, we like to arrive at the parks early in time for rope drop.  However, due to COVID, Disney is trying to minimize crowds of people in small areas, so there is no rope drop.

Both mornings, we arrived at the park 30-45 minutes before opening and were able to park and get into the park immediately.

Temperature Checks by Disney Medics

As you approach the turnstiles, medics dressed in blue and armed with a forehead thermometer take each guest’s temperature.

Security Screening at Disney

Once it’s confirmed that your temperature is normal (they are fast–Disney is efficient), proceed through a metal detector.  Guests do not remove backpacks, cell phones, or any other items.  There are no bag checks (unless there is cause for concern).  Simply walk through the detector.  That’s it!

All Guests Must Wear Masks at Disney World, No Exceptions

Disney asks guests to wear masks at ALL times.  They have signs stating that if guests refuse to comply, they will be asked to leave.  They also make regular announcements over the loudspeaker, reminding guests to comply.

Everyone did an amazing job of abiding by this request.  I only heard one cast member ask a guest to pull up their mask.

Remove your masks in relaxation areas (designated social distanced sitting areas) or while eating and drinking.  The only caveat is that you have to be stationary while eating or drinking, and guests should refrain from eating and drinking while in line.

two women wearing masks on a girls trip to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida

Reduced capacity during COVID makes for smaller crowds

Food Options at Disney Parks During COVID

Food options are limited while the COVID precautions are in place.  But never fear!  You won’t go hungry!

Not all restaurants are open, and for those that are, not all menu items are available.  You can preview menus for all restaurants using the My Disney Experience app.

Mobile Ordering is the Way to Go

Even before COVID, mobile ordering was my preferred way to order food at Disney.  To limit contact, mobile ordering is strongly encouraged at quick-service restaurants in the parks.

Effective this year, guests are no longer limited to using a credit card to make their purchase in the app.  Instead, guests can now use Disney gift cards or Apple Pay in the app.

Food Condiment Bars

Food places with condiment bars have closed the condiment bars, understandably.  Instead, condiments are served on the side.

I ordered the nachos from Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe.  On the side, I received sour cream, lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa.  If you want or need additional condiments, just ask a cast member.  Disney is generous!

Restaurant Seating

Currently, there is both indoor and outdoor seating.  Disney spaces further apart and promptly cleans them when guests depart.

two women waiting for gluten free churros at Nomad Lounge in Disney's Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World

Waiting for some gluten-free churros from Nomad Lounge in Animal Kingdom (amazing!)

Social Distancing in Attraction and Ride Lines

Disney has put a tremendous amount of planning and work into helping guests social distance while in line for rides and attractions.  Lines are well marked and spaced 8-10 feet apart.  Having this extra space beyond six feet allows all members of a party to stand together in line without crowding other guests.

Because of the distance between each party, attraction lines can appear very long.  However, the lines move quickly.  We also found at Animal Kingdom that the ride wait times were significantly shorter than the app estimated.

Examples of Line and Ride Modifications at Disney World

Disney installed plexiglass in some lines in areas where it’s too narrow to properly distance.  Also, on some rides, like Kilimanjaro Safari, they installed clear dividers between each row so more guests can be accommodated more efficiently.

Some attractions have been modified to be more COVID-friendly (or unfriendly).  Disney is doing their best to make sure every guest visiting Disney World during COVID has a safe and efficient experience.

Haunted Mansions Ride Modifications for COVID

Guests walk through the Haunted Mansion stretching room straight to the Doom Buggies.  While the stretching room portion of the attraction is a fan-favorite, It just doesn’t make sense to crowd 50 people into a small space.  Nor does it make sense to only allow a handful of people in the room at a time, as this would significantly increase wait times for the attraction.

Pandora Flight of Passage and Other Ride Modifications for COVID

Ride modifications for other attractions are more subtle.  For example, during Flight of Passage, you typically stand on your dot in the debriefing room.  Instead of everyone standing on their dot, their have you stand with your group.

Any items that could normally be touched, like the jewels in Seven Dwarfs Mine Train attraction, are roped off and have signs declaring them off-limits for now.

No Character Meet and Greets During COVID

As expected, there are no character meet and greets at this time, but Disney does a great job at both Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.  As I entered Magic Kingdom in the morning, at least eight characters were waving to guests right as we walked in…from a distance.  Seeing favorites like Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Mary Poppins, Tigger, and more, immediately upon entry, is magical.

Instead of a Parade, Magic Kingdom Has Cavalcades

Magic Kingdom also has cavalcades (basically miniature parades) that start by Splash Mountain, go through Frontierland, past Liberty Square, in front of Cinderella Castle, and down Main Street, exiting near City Hall.  The cavalcades run regularly throughout the day, almost every 15-30 minutes in the afternoon.  

Animal Kingdom Has Characters on Flotillas

Animal Kingdom has flotillas (decorated motorboats) with characters cruising on the water throughout the park.  If you hang out on a bridge or the water’s edge, you’ll see them floating along the Discovery River throughout the day.

Visiting Gift Shops

One area that appeared to be a challenge for social distancing was the gift shops, particularly at closing time.  Cast members monitor entrance and exit doors.  

There’s typically one entrance door with a socially distant line of guests waiting to enter.  While the lines can be long, they move rather quickly.  I was a little surprised by how many guests they allowed inside at one time, although I’m sure it was consistent with local recommendations.

Cast members make sure everyone adheres to social distancing in the check-out line, as well as making sure guests stand behind the plexiglass when speaking with the cashier.

Visiting Disney World During COVID Feels Safe

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect while visiting Disney World during COVID, but I felt safer at Disney World than I did at the grocery store.  Disney has done a phenomenal job of limiting crowds and organizing the parks to meet COVID safety standards.  

Are you planning to visit the parks soon?  Do you have any questions about COVID safety protocols within the parks?  Drop them below!  I’d love to hear from you!

What Should I Bring to Disney? (15 Things You Should Pack in Your Backback)

If you’re headed to Disneyland in California or Walt Disney World in Florida, you’re probably asking, “What things should I bring to Disney?”

I’ve been to both Disneyland and Disney World, and I always pack these 15 items in my backpack.

Backpacks may not be uber fashionable, but they’re very functional. I opt to take a small one with me whenever I visit an amusement park.

There are two main reasons I opt for a backpack on every trip:

  • It saves time (no trips to a locker or vehicle)
  • It saves money (snacks, water, rain ponchos…they all add up, and these items are EXTRA expensive in the park!)

Use this checklist to pack a perfect backpack on every trip to Disney!

1. Cell Phone

Your cell phone is one of the most important things to bring to Disney. I like keeping my phone in my backpack as much as possible.

I use my phone too frequently to keep it in the backpack all of the time, but it’s a great place to store it during rides or when you’re not using it.

Random Story: Once, after riding Matterhorn, I realized I no longer had my phone. I had it in my back pocket during the ride and didn’t realize it had fallen out during the ride (those bobsleds are crazy bumpy!).

I stood there while the cast members checked each bobsled that came in, and I got lucky. There it was, lying on the floor of one of the bobsleds!

Before You Visit Disney Download the App on Your Phone

Each park has its own app!  These apps are absolutely essential when visiting the park.  You can use it to purchase tickets, get FastPasses, order food, check wait times, find restrooms, locate characters, and so much more.

For Disney World, download My Disney Experience, and for Disneyland, download the Disneyland app from the Apple or Google store.

2. External Phone Charger

Even if you have a great battery, after a long, 12+ hour day at Disney, you might need a recharge. My phone is older than dirt, so it usually needs a pick-me-up by late afternoon or evening.  

While they have external chargers that you can rent in the park, I like having my own (it saves time and money–are you noticing a pattern?), so I use a charger that I got on Amazon. 

3. Credit Cards/Cash/Wallet

Thanks to the ingenuity of the Disney app creators, you can link your Disney gift card, credit card, rewards card, or debit card in the app to pay for any in-app purchases like food, drinks, tickets, MaxPass, or Memory Maker.

However, I usually throw in one card, or some cash, just in case!

4. Identification (Driver’s License)

You’ll need your ID to get into the park or to purchase any alcoholic beverages.

One time, when we were waiting to get into Disneyland Park, Allan realized he had forgotten his ID. Or maybe I forgot mine. I conveniently don’t remember which one of us was the guilty party.

He had to run all the way back to the hotel to grab the ID. Ooops. It was a little over a mile roundtrip. I think he felt like he was in middle school P.E. all over again, although I don’t think he was able to muster up a 6-minute mile. Such an invigorating way to start the day.

5. Snacks

It’s always nice to have a little something in your backpack, just in case. If you have young kids, extra (cheap) food is one of the most important things to bring to Disney.

Keep those blood sugar levels stable and keep everyone happy. Nobody wants to have a hanger melt-down at “The Happiest Place on Earth”.

6. Refillable Water Bottle

Disney is wonderful about letting guests bring in outside food and drinks, provided it meets their requirements. Refillable water bottles are great for your wallet and our planet!  

There are refilling stations located throughout the parks or you can get a free cup of water from any quick-service restaurant!

7. Rain Poncho

I always like taking a rain poncho to Disney. In California, we don’t really need to for the rain (it’s more sunny than rainy), but it’s certainly handy if you’re expecting some afternoon thunderstorms in Florida at Disney World.

The main reason I pack a rain poncho in California is for the water-based rides. If it’s not a blazing hot day, it’s not terribly fun to walk around in dripping wet clothes that don’t dry. It’s nice to have for Splash Mountain, Grizzly River Run, or Kali River Rapids.

You can grab one for $1 at the dollar store or get them in bulk online.

8. Flip Flops or extra Socks

I also like wearing flip-flops on water-based rides. Walking around with wet socks and shoes is a good way to get blisters. When you’re walking 8+ miles per day, you want your feet to be happy.

For that reason, I like to have a pair of flip-flops in my backpack or a dry pair of socks.

9. Zipped Plastic Bag for Wet Items

If you have a wet poncho or socks, you can place them in a zipped plastic bag so that everything else stays dry!

10. Sunglasses

If it’s dark when you head to the park, be sure to pack your sunglasses in your backpack! Did you know that you can get melanoma in your eyes? It’s also nice to not be squinting all day long.

11. Sweatshirt

You’ll especially want a sweatshirt if you’re headed to Disneyland. Even when daytime temps are high, it almost always cools off at night. It’s not uncommon to have a 40-50 degree change between day and night.  Add it to your list of things to bring to Disney!

12. Sunscreen

Pavement can reflect sun rays and increase the chance of sunburn. I like carrying a small bottle or stick of sunscreen in my backpack to use in the parks.

13. Wipes/Hand Sanitizer

Honestly, I never carry either of these items. The alcohol in the hand sanitizer and wipes makes my skin go crazy. If I’m desperate, I’d rather use a little water from my water bottle, but mostly I use the sinks in the restroom.

But, I would guess that most people would want this in their backpack, so I’m adding it to the list.

14. Chapstick

I truly have nothing to say about this one other than it’s always a good idea to keep some chapstick nearby.

15. Extra Mask

A year ago, this wouldn’t be in my backpack, but things have changed. Having an extra in your backpack just in case one falls on the ground–or (heaven forbid) in the toilet–is a wise choice.

THAT’S IT!

There may be a few other items you may want to bring to Disney in your backpack (like make-up, medications, trading pins, or autograph books), but this list will get you started!

Being prepared gives you more time to do what’s important—rides, attractions, and snacking!  If you want to learn more about Disney tips and tricks, check out 11 Hacks To Help You Save Money on Food at Disney or How Many Rides Can You ride in One Day at Disneyland? (more than 18 if you follow these tips)

Do you typically take a backpack to the parks? Is there anything in your backpack that’s not in mine? Tell me about it in the comments section!

Adventurous 2-Day Getaway to Santa Barbara with Kids

Santa Barbara is one of our favorite, close-to-home getaway destinations. Visiting Santa Barbara with kids, or without, is always a great idea.   

There’s plenty to do in this beautiful California beach town, yet it’s small enough that you don’t feel like you’re in a big city.

So, if your family is like ours and likes to find adventurers without breaking the bank, here is a collection of fun activities to help you enjoy your getaway to Santa Barbara with kids!

Take the Train (Amtrak)

If you live within a few hours of Santa Barabara, it’s easy enough to drive there.  BUT, if you want to make an extra memorable experience, take the train!

Growing up, our family took the train across the United States and even to Canada.  As children and teens, we loved the freedom of moving around on the train, relaxing in the lounge car, and playing card games on the tables in the snack car.

Although it’s a little more expensive than driving, taking the train is a fun option and can make for a unique adventure.  

Tip: Kid’s tickets are usually 50% off when riding with an adult on Amtrak.  Often, in October (in California), kids ride free!

family riding on an Amtrak train on vacation

Visit the Santa Barbara Zoo

The Santa Barbara Zoo is one of the most picturesque zoos I have visited.  It sits atop a hill at the south end of town and you can catch glimpses of the ocean within the park.

It’s a 30-acre park that houses approximately 146 different species including giraffes, elephants, capybaras, and penguins.

For an additional fee, guests can ride the small train around the park and get a behind the scenes tour that is sure to delight younger adventurers!

giraffes feeding on hay at the santa barbara zoo

Explore the Santa Barabara Harbor

Fish, crabs, birds, and boats make the harbor a fun place to visit.  You can dream about which houseboat or yacht you’d like to own, watch the fishermen off-load their daily catch, and walk out to the end of the bay on the boardwalk.

If you’re lucky you may spot some dolphins on the open ocean side of the walkway. 

The smell of hot clam chowder and fish and chips from the neighboring restaurants will waft past you as you walk along the docks.  We recommend that you enjoy at least one meal near the marina!  After all, you are on vacation!  

seagull sitting on a post on a boat dock with a boat in the santa barbara harbor

Bike Along the Waterfront in Santa Barbara

Did you know you can bring your bike on the train?  Depending on what train you take, it’s sometimes free to bring your bike as long as you make a bike reservation ahead of time.  Doublecheck requirements for bringing your bike on the Amtrak website.

If you’re not taking the train, you can bring your bikes on your bike rack, or you can rent bikes from several local companies.

If you want to get fancy, rent a surrey bike!  (Does anyone else start singing, “Chicks and ducks and geese better scurry / when I take you out in the surrey / when I take you out in the surrey with the fringe on top!” whenever they hear the word surrey?  No?  Honestly, I haven’t even seen Oklahoma! but apparently, I listened to the soundtrack far too many times as a child.

Bike and walking trails follow the waterfront and are a great way to see more of Santa Barabara safely.

Play on the Beach

Kids are perfectly content to play for the hours at the beach. Dig in the sand, build sandcastles, play ball, jump over waves, and search for sea creatures.  

The kids will be entertained while the adults lounge and read a book or hit the volleyball around.

Obviously, the water in Santa Barbara is cooler than tropical water but it’s warmer than most northern California beaches, and is great for swimming or body boarding!  It fluctuates throughout the year and is typically warmest in late summer or early fall.

child playing in the sand on the beach with a green bucket

Go Kayaking in the Harbor

If you want to explore in the water and not just from the shore, rent a kayak or paddleboard from one of the local rental shops.  

With kids, it’s often easiest to rent a double-kayak.  

If you want to play it safe, or if your paddling arms aren’t up to exploring the open ocean, you can kayak around the harbor.  Don’t forget to be mindful of harbor etiquette.  Avoid the main channel, yield to larger boats (don’t cross in front of them), and avoid fishing lines.

More experienced paddlers can explore outside the harbor area.

kayaks stacked on boat dock in the santa barbara harbor

Explore More of Santa Barbara with Kids

There’s plenty to see and do in Santa Barbara.  For nature lovers, visit The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.  History buffs will enjoy touring the Santa Barbara Mission or the Maritime Museum.  Aspiring scientists and innovators will want to visit MOXI, a contemporary museum geared toward children (and children at heart).  Avid hikers will enjoy a variety of trails to choose from.  There’s something for everyone in Santa Barbara!

Ready to go!  Pack your bags in 30 minutes and hit the road!

10 Free Things to Do with Kids Near Paso Robles

You’re planning an amazing getaway to one of your favorite wine country destinations in California: Paso Robles.  However, you’re bringing the whole family along and need some free things to do with kids near Paso Robles.

You’re in luck!

Paso Robles and the surrounding area have some unique opportunities that kids will enjoy.

Here’s a list of some of our favorite ways to make memories on the Central Coast of California…for free!

See the Elephant Seals (and Zebras)

If you have animal lovers in your family, drive up the coast to visit the elephant seals just north of Heart Castle in San Simeon.  

These hefty mammals can be up to 16 feet long and weigh up to 5,000 pounds. That’s a lot of blubber. But don’t be fooled by their large size…they can move fast. It’s best to observe these long-nosed creatures from a distance.

The elephant seals gather on small beaches year-round near Piedras Blancas. During mating and birthing season, December through February, male seals (bulls) engage in dominance fights. I’m not sure what’s more amazing: watching these creatures grunt and honking and vying for female attention or watching the baby seal (calves) flopping their way across the sand.

There is a parking lot with an accessible trail with signage where you can learn more about these ocean and beach-loving creatures.  

Look for Zebras on the Hearst Ranch

While you’re passing by Hearst Castle on Highway 1, the Hearst Ranch butts up to the road and you can frequently catch a glimpse of the herd of zebras grazing on the hillside. If you see people pulled off the side of the road with their cameras facing the hills, chances are there’s a zebra (or two or twenty) close by.

TIP: While you’re in the area, enjoy a picnic lunch and an afternoon at Hearst State Beach (one of my favorite beaches on the Central Coast).

Go Boogie or Body Boarding

No trip to Paso Robles is complete without spending time at the beach! Kids of all ages love playing in ocean water. If you have your own boogie board and wetsuit (or skimboard), this activity will provide hours of free fun.

If you don’t have a board or wetsuit you can rent one in most beach towns for a half or whole day (but it won’t be free).  Wetsuits are generally advised in this area, as the water can be chilly.  (If you want warmer water, you would need to travel an hour or two south to Santa Barbara–another great place to adventure with kids!)

For those who are exceptionally brave, they can body surf without a wetsuit. Just know that you should probably enjoy freezing your tushie off. The ocean water temperature typically ranges from the mid-50s to the mid-60s, year-round.

kids holding skimboards at the beach while watching waves in Morro Bay in California

Skimboarding in Morro Bay, California

View the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach

Visiting the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach is also high on the list of free things to do with kids near Paso Robles.  Unfortunately, in recent years the population of migrating butterflies has dwindled.  The numbers can fluctuate from year to year, so you never know when you might get lucky!

Every year, between November and February, thousands and thousands of monarch butterflies migrate south and make a temporary home in the warmer climate of the Central Coast.

Kids will enjoy walking through a grove of eucalyptus trees trying to spot large clusters of butterflies hanging from the branches.  

Park rangers can frequently be found in the grove, educating visitors about the delicate yet resilient Monarch butterflies. They often have small telescopes out for kids to use to view the butterflies better.

Of course, this is a seasonal occurrence, and the migration timing changes from year to year. You can learn more about the Monarch Butterfly Grove including current count numbers before you visit.

monarch butterflies hanging from trees in grove in Pismo Beach in California
child holding monarch butterfly

Explore Tide Pools at Montaña de Oro

One of our kids’ favorite free activities is tide pooling. If you’re not familiar with the phrase, it’s hunting for sea creatures in the rocks when the tide is low.

Children, and adults, love searching for sea stars (starfish), sea anemones, sea urchins, muscles, crabs, hermit crabs, and sometimes octopus.

Check the ocean tide table to determine the best time of day to visit the tide pools.

Montaña de Oro State Beach offers great tide pooling opportunities as well as shell and rock hunting.  

barnacles sea urchins sea anemones in a rocky tide pool

Take a Hike

Hiking is always a great way to get rid of some excess energy! The Central Coast has a variety of trails suited for younger (or older) children.

Centennial Park Walkway

This paved path in Paso Robles can be found at Centennial Park. Ride a scooter or walk on this accessible path. It’s about a mile long (two miles round trip), and young explorers will enjoy running along this path.

Jim Green Trail

Located in Atascadero, just 15 minutes from Paso Robles, this 1.6-mile loop trail winds its way through rolling hills and oaks…and has a resting bench overlooking a golf course. If you keep your eyes peeled as you walk, you’ll likely spot a deer.

Three Bridges Trail

Also located in Atascadero, this 3.5-mile trail passes over a small creek and winds its way through natural grasses and oak-tree covered hillsides. Kids especially enjoy taking an extra long break at the creek to explore.

Estero Trail to Cayucos Point

Located just north of Cayucos, this trail winds along the bluff and offers beach access at many points along the trail. It’s also another great place to tidepool or rock hunt.

Harmony Headlands Trail

The trailhead to Harmony Headlands can be found between Cayucos and Cambria, near a small town called Harmony. The trail is wide and flat enough for study, heavy-duty strollers. It starts near the highway and ends overlooking the beach. Wildlife is abundant. Keep an eye out for hawks, eagles, coyotes, and snakes.  

Reservoir Canyon Creek Bypass Trail

The trailhead to Reservoir Canyon can be found at the base of “the grade”, in San Luis Obispo. While hiking the entire canyon loop is 5+ miles and for more advanced hikers, there is a shorter trail (marked in blue) that wraps around the creek. Near the parking lot, you’ll also spot a small waterfall and cave.

family hiking on hillside in Reservoir Canyon in San Luis Obispo

Hiking Reservoir Canyon Trail, San Luis Obispo

Bike the Bob Jones Trail

If you want to do something that doesn’t involve hiking, try biking the Bob Jones Trail near Avila Beach. It’s 5.2 miles round trip with only one minor incline, making it perfect for young legs.

This popular, paved trail and meanders along a creek, through a golf course, ending at the beach.

kids with bike helmets on bikes at Bob Jones Trailhead in Avila Beach
kids and dad with bikes looking at the beach in Avila

Feed the Animals at Avila Barn

If you have young kids or toddlers, pair your bike ride with a stop by Avila Barn in Avila Beach. This country store offers a collection of farm-fresh produce and good, grilled corn ears, ice cream, and a collection of farm animals…that kids can feed themselves! Heads of lettuce are available for a nominal fee. Young guests will love interacting with goats, chickens, and cows.

toddler feeding goat at Avila Barn in Avila Beach

Slide Down a Hill at Shinsiemer Park

While there are a variety of great parks in Paso Robles and the surrounding areas, my kids’ favorite park is located in San Luis Obispo.

This park is home to the SLO Blues Baseball team and has a disc golf course, tennis courts, a pool, and a sand volleyball court.

But the star feature of this park is the playground. In addition to a normal play structure, this park has a small “zip line” and a large hill with artificial grass that kids slide down on cardboard.

There are generally enough cardboard pieces at the park for everyone, so there’s no need to bring your own.

Fish at Barney Schwartz Park

Fishing for kids under 16 is always free in California. If your child has a fishing pole, grab some worms from Walmart and head over to Barney Schwartz Park in Paso Robles.

There’s a small pond stocked with fish. My kids enjoying fishing here with friends, since it’s almost guaranteed you’ll catch a fish within minutes of throwing your line. Often, they’re bluegill measuring 3-4”, but the kids don’t care!

girls fishing at Barney Schwartz Park pond in Paso Robles

Watch the Sea Otters and Seals in Morro Bay Harbor

If the adults in the party need a fish and chips fix, head out to Morro Bay! After enjoying some clam chowder overlooking the water, walk along the boardwalk the lines the bay.

Young kids enjoy watching the boats, kayaks, and paddleboards in the harbor, and they’re sure to see some marine life! Seals like to hang out in the bay, as do sea otters. The otters are adorable, tied up in the kelp. 

Some of the otters in the bay have been rehabilitated by Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you walk near Morro Rock, near the kelp bed where the otters hang out, you may get lucky enough to meet up with a docent and a telescope so you can get a close-up view of these fun-loving, furry mammals.

otter floating in Morro Bay in California
mom and kids watching otter float in harbor in Morro Bay in California

ENJOY YOUR FAMILY VACATION IN PASO ROBLES!

You may have come to Paso Robles for the wine, but there are plenty of ways to make memories, for free, that the kids will enjoy, too!

If you have any questions about free things to do with kids near Paso Robles or San Luis Obispo, drop me a comment below! I would love to hear from you!

How Many Rides Can You Ride in One Day at Disneyland? (more than 18 if you follow these tips)

The goal?  To experience as many rides at Disneyland as you can…in just one day.

If you’re planning a trip to “The Happiest Place on Earth” and want to know how to get the most bang for your buck, we have some great tips for you! Even though Disneyland makes standing in line the best experience of any amusement park I’ve visited, it’s still more fun to spend less time waiting and more time doing. 

Using the following tips, our family of five can consistently see and experience 18+ attractions in an 11-12 hour day at Disneyland…that includes parades, light shows, and two meals in the park. We’ve even gone in a group of 12 and maintained that same average.

Here are the secrets to making the most of your time at Disneyland!

Visit at the Right Time of the Year

There’s never really a bad time to go to Disneyland if you don’t mind crowds. We prefer to steer away from crowds, so we shoot to visit when they’re at their lowest. 

Visiting when school is in session and in the middle of the week is typically your best bet to avoid crowds.

However, as crowd levels increase, Disneyland is great about adjusting attractions to fit the crowd size. They will bring out additional trains on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, run additional rafts to Tom Sawyer Island, or put more cars into the track at Autotopia.

Don’t Park Hop

Park hoping may be great for teens who want to hit all the most thrilling rides, but for most families, a park per day is more than adequate. Although the parks are close together (especially when you compare them to Walt Disney World), you can still chew up a lot of time walking back and forth between parks.

Save money, and time, by purchasing a single park per day ticket.

Waiting to board Star Tours

Install the Disneyland App

Before you leave on your trip, you’ll want to download and install the Disneyland app on your phone. The app is incredibly helpful and is an amazing resource for your trip.

You can purchase tickets through the app, use it to check wait times for attractions, view show and parade times, find characters, locate restrooms, and even order food.

Familiarize yourself with the app ahead of time to save you even more time.

Order Tickets Ahead of Time

There is no benefit to buying your park ticket at the park ticketing window when you arrive. Purchasing your tickets through the app is faster and easier.

Link Tickets for Everyone in Your Party

Using the Disneyland app you can link everyone’s tickets, making it easier to plan your meals and to schedule FastPasses for the next attraction.

Get MaxPass/FastPass

FastPass is the best thing about Disneyland, and it will save you more time than any other tip.

 

What is FastPass?

Many of the more popular rides and attractions at Disneyland have a feature called FastPass. This allows you to receive a one-hour window return time for a ride, allowing you to enter through a special “fast” line, drastically reducing your wait time. FastPass lines typically average a 5-10 minute wait time, while standby lines can be anywhere from 5-90+ minutes.

 

Where Do You Get a FastPass?

FastPasses can be obtained for FREE from FastPass kiosks located near attractions that have FastPass lines. You can find these kiosks using the map in the Disneyland app.

 

Save Even More Time with the MaxPass

If you’re willing to spend $15 more per ticket per day, get the MaxPass. The MaxPass allows you to schedule FastPasses right from your phone…more frequently and more quickly.  

If your tickets are linked for everyone in your party, one person can schedule a FastPass for everyone, saving more time.

Also, with MaxPass, you’ll receive PhotoPass. This service allows you to get digital copies of all photos taken on rides (like Splash and Space Mountain) and any photos taken by Disney’s PhotoPass photographers located throughout the park.

I’m a budget-conscious person, but I think MaxPass is a worthwhile add-on. 

Some Disney magic courtesy of the PhotoPass photographers

Get to the Park Early

Without a doubt, you’ll be able to ride the most rides in the first two hours of park opening. Apparently, people like to sleep in when they’re on vacation.

Ideally, you’ll want to arrive at the park one and a half hours before their posted opening time (check the app for hours on the day you’re visiting).

It can take a little while to get through the security check line. Once you’re through the security check line you’ll get into the ticket check line at the park entrance. Often, Disneyland will start letting people through the ticket check line 30+ minutes before the actual park opening.

This allows you time to take iconic family photos at the park entrance and on Main Street. You’ll then proceed towards the land you want to visit first. The land will be roped off until the park officially opens.

By arriving at the park prior to opening, you’ll be able to experience more rides at Disneyland.

Know the Rules

You’ll save time going through the security line in you know the rules about what you can and can’t bring into the park (snacks are ok, but no glass bottles or containers). Check Disneyland’s website for the most recent security requirements.

Be Flexible

We find it’s easiest, and we can see more, if we’re flexible with our plans. For example, we don’t ever do everything in one land then move onto the next land. Often, we’ll jump on one or two rides in a land, then hop over to a neighboring land to visit an attraction that has a low wait time (or a FastPass available).

While walking back and forth across the park for each attraction isn’t a very efficient use of your time, SOMETIMES it makes sense.

Know Your Food Options

Before we go, I typically pick out a handful of restaurants (maybe one in each land) that I think we would like to visit. We don’t have to visit all of them, but at least we know where we want to eat no matter what land we find ourselves in when we’re ready to grab lunch or dinner.

A lot of time can be wasted discussing where you want to eat and trying to figure out what’s on the menu.

We usually opt for quick service restaurants (faster and cheaper) while at Disneyland. 

Order Food From the App

Ordering food from the app is one of my favorite things about the Disneyland app. Maybe it’s an introvert thing.  

Everyone can look at the food options and decide what they want while you’re waiting in line for another attraction.

The Disneyland app also allows you to connect a credit/debit card, making placing orders a breeze.

Pack Snacks

Skip the overpriced snacks, and pack some fruit and granola bars in your backpack. Disneyland is very lenient when it comes to allowing food in their parks, which is amazing. Snack while you’re in line outside, and save more time for more rides at Disneyland!

Hit the Busiest Rides First

Try to fit as many rides as you can into the first couple of hours. At Disneyland Park, you’ll want to ride the rides that DON’T have FastPass and are more congested in the afternoon. We often find ourselves starting in Fantasyland, then grabbing FastPasses for some of our favorites if the wait is longer than 15 minutes. 

Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Fantasyland

Hop on the Dark/People-Eater Rides in the Afternoon

Some rides last a long time and have large ride vehicles that seem to “swallow” people. Most are indoor attractions, making them “dark” rides. The ride wait time for these attractions doesn’t change that much throughout the day.

Saving rides like, It’s a Small World, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates of the Caribbean for the afternoon is a great idea. It’s also the time of day when energy is the lowest, so it allows you to sit back, kick up your feet, and relax for 10-15 minutes.

Single Rider Lines (For Ages 8 and Older)

Some attractions have a single rider line. Cast members pull guests from this line to fill up the ride vehicles. For example, if there is an empty seat on The Matterhorn, single riders can climb in and ride separate from their party.

Single riders get placed rather quickly and close together, so it’s a great alternative if you don’t have a FastPass or if the standby line wait time is long. 

Our kids were a little nervous about using the single rider line for the first time, but ended up doing great! 

Matterhorn bobsleds are a great choice for first-time single riders–they don’t have to sit next to anyone.

Create a “Must-Do” List

Knowing ahead of time what attractions you absolutely must experience will save time while in the park and ensure that everyone has a fun time! For our family, we have everyone choose three rides at Disneyland that are important to them and make it a priority to visit those attractions. 

Coordinate Bathroom Breaks

If you have small children or are traveling with a larger group, you can spend an inordinate amount of stopping for bathroom breaks. If at all possible (and it’s not always possible), try to have a rule that when someone goes to the bathroom, everyone goes to the bathroom. And if you’re like our family, there will be someone who doesn’t think they need to go. Try anyway.

TIP: One of our favorite restrooms at Disneyland Park is the King & Queen Restrooms. These memorable Wonderland-themed restrooms make for a fun pit-stop! You can find them on the right side of the castle, closest to The Matterhorn.

Skip the Lockers

It’s a given that you’ll need somewhere to store your snacks, sweatshirts, and maybe rain ponchos. We opt to squish everything into backpacks rather than rent lockers to save time. The lockers are located at the front of the park, so if you opt to use them, someone will have to walk to the front of the park to retrieve items you may need.

Backpacks may not be fashionable, be they’re certainly convenient and can be taken on almost every ride.

If you have stroller-aged children, loading the storage basket with your items is another great use of space that will save you time allowing you to experience more rides at Disneyland!

SAVING YOU TIME SO YOU CAN ENJOY MORE

Using these tips on your next Disneyland adventure will save you time, so you can spend more time doing what you want to do!

If you want to learn about saving money at Disneyland, check out our post titled 11 Hacks to Help You Save Money on Food at Disney.

Dinosaur National Monument in Utah (a must-see for kids who love dinosaurs)

Do you have a budding paleontologist in your family? Or, is your child obsessed with geology and fossils?

We have a couple of kiddos in our family who are. They spend hours looking at rocks they find in the riverbed behind our house, trying to guess what fossilized creatures they’ve discovered.

When I knew we would be passing through eastern Utah on a road trip, inspiration struck. Without a doubt, I knew we needed to add Dinosaur National Monument as a stop.  

It’s one of those places I hadn’t heard much about, and none of our friends or family had visited. I’m not sure why. Maybe because it’s not close to any other attractions, but off by itself in the middle of nowhere.

Honestly, I thought it would be fun for our dinosaur-lovers, but I wasn’t prepared for how much ALL of us would love this little hidden gem.

Two States, One Monument

Dinosaur National Monument sits right on the border of Colorado and Utah. There are two areas of the park, the Canyon Visitor Center located in Colorado, and the Quarry Exhibit Hall located in Utah.

If you want to see dinosaur fossils (you do), you’ll want to visit the Utah side. A large building called the Quarry Exhibit Hall houses the fossils.  

The Quarry Exhibit Hall is built around a huge riverbed discovery. About 1,500 dinosaur bones are on display!  

Quarry Exhibit Hall fossil collection (over 1,500 bones)

Get In Free If You Have a Fourth Grader

We had a fourth-grader when we visited, so we were able to use her “Every Kid Outdoors” pass to get the whole family in for free. If you have a fourth-grade student, you’ll definitely want to get a pass of your own!  Not only does this pass get you into national parks free for one year, but it also grants you access to over 2,000 national monuments and federal recreation sites!

Quarry Visitor Center

The visitor center is small, consisting primarily of a theatre and gift shop. First, view a short film about the park and learn more about the history of Dinosaur National Monument.

Become a Junior Ranger

Also, while you’re at the visitor center, be sure to pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for your young adventurers. Young explorers can complete activities in the booklet and earn a Junior Ranger badge–for free!

At the entrance to the Quarry Visitor Center in Utah

Ride the Tram

From the visitor center, guests can take a tram/shuttle ride up to the Quarry Exhibit Hall. Depending on the season (and COVID precautions), guests may take their own vehicle instead. 

Obviously, the tram ride is a hit with kids. It made the trip to the Exhibit Hall more exciting and mysterious!

TIP: Bring plenty of water if you’re visiting during the summer. It was scorching hot when we visited in July. We had to wait for the tram for about 15-20 minutes.

Riding the tram to the Quarry Exhibit Hall

Dinosaur fossil heaven

Visit the Quarry Exhibit Hall

This is where the magic happens! Guests will get to see dinosaur bones up close and personal. They even get to touch them!

My eldest was especially in awe. “My mind is just blown. I just can’t believe it. It’s just completely blown! I’m looking at all these real dinosaur bones, AND I’m actually getting to touch them.”

Blissfully content after touching REAL dinosaur fossils

Explore More at Dinosaur National Monument

Turn your visit into a mini-vacation! If you have more than a day, you can explore even more at Dinosaur National Monument.

Visit the Canyon Visitor Center in Dinosaur, Colorado, and spend some time hiking, fishing, and discovering petroglyphs throughout the park. Some camping is available as well.

If you’re feeling extra adventurous, go white-water rafting on the Green River!

A DINOSAUR-LOVER’S DREAM VACATION

Scheduling a stop at Dinosaur National Monument is a must if you’re passing through north-eastern Utah! This was a highlight for our kids, and they have asked to go back.  They want to camp and explore more of the area.

However, if camping isn’t your thing, you can stay in the town of Vernal, Utah, just a little north of the park. 

Do you have aspiring paleontologists in your family? Have you been to Dinosaur National Monument? What did you think? Tell us in the comments below!