Friday, January 27, 2012

5 Favorite Dates for Valentine's Day

With 5 kids, Valentine's Day has become a major holiday at our house.  Between school parties, candy and flowers, and a romantic evening between the adults, Valentine's is one of the most memorable days of the year.  Here are some of my favorite Valentine locations:

#5 A Train Ride--Its the perfect do-nothing-but-enjoy-each-other's-company date with plenty of romantic charm.  Look out the window at the passing scenery and star gaze together.  Snuggle and dream to the lull of the swaying train.  Eat a few snacks, but mostly enjoy the ride.  We did this for our first Valentine's and I still have the stuffed animal my husband won at the station's crane game.

#4  The Date before the Date--Getting my hair or nails done on Valentine's makes me feel happy, relaxed, and very feminine for whatever we have planned for the evening. Even better is going to the spa together and indulging in a couple's massage or a soak in the hot tub.  I also like shopping for the right gift and love when my husband unwraps it.  Meanwhile, he enjoys seeing the look on my face when he gives me chocolates and flowers.  Especially for a night in, you might want to enjoy the other parts of the day.

#3  A Special Restaurant--With little ones, we have not always been able to have a large or long evening.  A special restaurant (sometimes a few days before or after February 14) has still made the occasion memorable.  We make sure to go someone unusual and festive--fondue, Brazilian churrasco, teppanyaki, or a city landmark, just to name a few. One year we went to Richmond, Virginia's landmark, and very different from your ordinary steakhouse.

#2  Sleigh Ride--If you live near one, it really is spectacular.  Bundled next to the one I love, my absolute favorite ride was up a ski slope to a restaurant--an impressive feat for the horses and a world class view.  

#1  Themed Hotel--These hotels cater to couples for a memorable night with each room decorated with a unique style.  From the jungle to a palace to a Phantom of the Opera room, you can indulge in a night of fantasy.  One of the best is 

My other advice is to take turns planning Valentine's Day and try to do something different than the year before (though feel free to repeat past favorites).  We often have a special dinner at home on February 14, and celebrate Valentine's Day the weekend before or after when the pressures of school and work do not affect our plans as much.  So what will you do this year?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

5 Things You Don't Want to Miss at Disneyland (and none of them are rides)

When people mention Disneyland, everyone begins naming their favorite rides--Pirates, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones.  Dumbo has become so popular that entire guide books are based around it.  In fact, most guide books are based exclusively around the rides--how to beat the lines, effectively using fastpass, sequence of the rides, etc.

Now don't get me wrong.  Rides are important, very important.  But some of our favorite parts of Disneyland were not rides at all.  If you are planning a trip to the happiest place on Earth, you will not want to miss these 5 non-ride attractions.

#5--Jedi Training (or Fantasy Faire)  Our boys still brag about fighting Darth Vader and Darth Maul to all their friends.  Their training certificates proudly hang on their bedroom wall.  We have even caught them practicing their lightsaber moves.  Friends have told me the princess equivalent is just as magical for little girls.  Be sure to skip a few rides and participate in the show--when else are you going to be trained by a Jedi Master and defeat the world's greatest villain.  

#4--Redwood Creek Challenge Trail (Disney California Adventure)  After standing in lines and going on rides, children welcome a break at a playground and this is far more than a playground.  Older children can complete a set of challenges including a zipline, rock wall climb, rope net climbs, and more with a prize at the end for completing all the challenges.  Younger guests can enjoy exploring and going on the slides.  Our three-year-old kept asking when he could stop going on rides and go back to the slides.  

#3--Fantasmic--Disneyland's nighttime show is all the magic of Disney with modern special effects.  Several scenes from Disney classics are depicted on giant floats with music, fireworks, and animatronics bringing them to life.  Watch Pan and Hook fly through the rigging as they battle on a life-size pirate ship; see the lake become a fountain show as pink elephants dance across a screen of water; gasp as a gigantic snake floats along the water's surface and twists among the Jungle Book characters; delight in the firework finale.  The show is almost 30 minutes long and rivals a Broadway play.

#2--Meeting Mickey--What Disney vacation would be complete without getting a picture and a hug from the big mouse.  Many little children refuse to go on a ride until they have seen their beloved Mickey come to life.  Our three-year-old preferred seeing Mickey in his house.  He was delighted to explore every room of "Mickey's house" and touch all of "Mickey's things."  Then when he got to give Mickey at a hug at the end, it was amazing.   

#1--Character Dining--This was one of our favorite parts of the trip and well worth the extra money.  Because of our schedule, we chose to eat dinner at Goofy's Kitchen.  We were there for almost 3 hours and saw 7 characters.  Our seven-year-old came to life.  He bought an autograph book (I highly recommend this) and then drew a picture of each character after they signed.  He also plans on adding pictures we took of him with each character.  The actors were amazing and very friendly.  Minnie started a dance party and our seven-year-old proudly showed off his break dancing moves.  The buffet dinner was good with several choices for children like pb&j pizza as well as adult food like fresh salmon.  Highly memorable, relaxing, indoors, and fun.

So when you plan your schedule, make sure you save plenty of room for no-riding times and take advantage of the shows, characters, and experiences that Disneyland offers.