Balderramas in California 2024: Day 4 – Back to Disneyland

We were burning the candle at both ends as we woke up early on Thursday after a late night on Wednesday. We aimed to be in the park by opening to catch shorter line waits. We bolted toward the Indiana Jones Adventure, which had incredible detail in its queue area:

There was a family directly behind us whose son was scared of the surroundings, but we happened to have a glowstick in our backpack that we could offer to help alleviate some of his fears. As for the ride itself, we loved it. At one point, a giant boulder was rolling towards us, and the girls were convinced it would hit us. With it being our first ride, we got through the line in less than 20 minutes, including a brief breakdown.

Next was the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, at the top of Clara’s “Disneyland bucket list” items. The ride did not disappoint and solidified the girls’ love of roller coasters. As soon as we got off, they both wanted to go again later today.

With the park relatively uncrowded, we hit Peter Pan’s Flight, which had the most extended wait thus far. We liked the ride, but the girls didn’t have much of an affinity towards the movie and didn’t appreciate the nostalgic factor of the ride. However, this ride is on the “must do” list for many, so now we can say we did it.

Having completed our “must do” list, the rest of the day was just bonus time – not bad for 10am. We started chasing short lines again, starting with another ride on Micky & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. The queue was much shorter than the other day and we picked up on some other details, including the girls reacting to my “ketchup vs. catsup” dad humor.

Having ridden the ride once before, I got to focus on taking videos of the girls reacting to elements of the ride.

We then went right next door to Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, which had a longer line than advertised. Given that the girls have no affinity for Roger Rabbit (I haven’t seen the movie), the length of the ride, and the underwhelming of the ride, they were glad to be done.

We decided to take a snack break and bend the “lunch at the hotel” rule in favor of some turkey legs. We purchased three legs, found a shaded bench, and chowed down.

We followed that up with trying Blue and Green Milk at the Star Wars Edge of the Galaxy.

We had one last task before heading to the hotel for our afternoon break. While the girls weren’t too keen on meeting characters (although they’ve reluctantly posed for photos with some), Mariana had her heart set on meeting the Mandalorian (along with Baby Yoda). In her excitement, she colored a picture of Grogu, packed it in her backpack, and brought it all around the park to give to him. Unfortunately, her picture (along with the backpack) got wet during Wednesday’s Grizzly Run River ride, leaving the picture tearing at the creases.

To top it off, we couldn’t find Mando at the scheduled time and place in the app. In frustration, Mariana tore the picture into four pieces and immediately regretted it when she finally saw her favorite character. While emotional, Mariana and I went to the Mandalorian’s handler and asked if we could still give the picture. The cast member was sweet and offered to present the picture with Mariana. I captured it on video:

R2D2 even showed up at the end:

While I was rolling the video, I was simultaneously taking pictures, and I got this shot where it looks like Grogu is giving Mariana’s picture a side-eye. You’ll need to check it out below! At this point, we were more than ready for our afternoon naps.

After an early pasta dinner, we returned to the park at 5 p.m. and immediately ran into Goofy.

All throughout the trip, Clara wanted to ride The Matterhorn. Mariana was highly reluctant, but after doing Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain Railroad, she mustered off the courage and said she would ride with us. I had no choice but to go, but like Mariana, I’ve conquered my fear of roller coasters and enjoyed the ride. They would have wanted to go again if the line weren’t 50 minutes long. However, the line to Thunder Mountain Railroad was only 30 minutes long, so they opted to ride that again and get their coaster fix.

At that point, we were chasing short lines, which made the Mad Hatter Tea Party an appealing ride. We also took this opportunity to tease my girlfriend, Shannon, back home, who could never go on that ride due to motion sickness. However, karma did bite us, as Mariana didn’t feel great after the ride.

I asked the girls if they would be willing to ride my favorite childhood ride: Star Tours. They ended up loving the ride, and the queuing that featured R2D2 and “that gold guy”.

We ended our ride excursion with the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, which was a pleasant surprise, especially at night.

Our night was capped off with watching the fireworks and then picking up some souvenirs before closing our time at Disneyland. Both girls got sweatshirts, Mariana got earrings for her newly pierced ears, and Clara got a stuffed Olaf. I must admit that we were all running on fumes as we headed back to the hotel, but luckily, we could sleep in the next day.

More pictures from our last day at the OG Disneyland:

Balderramas in California 2024: Day 1 – Beach Day

The girls and I visited California this week to soak in some sun, Disney magic, and family fun. This is the second time the girls and I have been to California, taking roughly the same trip seven years ago, back when Clara was 4, and Mariana was 18 months. Now that they can make memories, we set out to revisit these places and create some new ones.

We woke up at 3 a.m. on Monday, boarded an airport shuttle, and flew out of DIA at 6:45 a.m. The prices on early-morning flights always seem great until the morning you have to wake up and get to the airport. However, our excitement was a good substitute for our fatigue, and the girls were in good spirits.

We landed at LAX, piled into the rental car, and drove to San Clemente. Over twenty years ago, my good friend Pegge showed me this beautiful pier with this excellent Fisherman’s restaurant with an adjoining bar serving fantastic seafood. I’ve shown it to my friends, sister, and brother-in-law, and I showed it to my kids during our 2017 trip.

We are an amazing lunch of fisherman’s chowder, steamed mussels, calamari, oysters on the half shell, and sourdough bread. I love that the girls are so willing to try new things.

After our filling lunch, we walked up and down the pier, then spent the early afternoon playing in the ocean.

We left San Clemente and stopped at Trader Joe’s to get our breakfast and lunch foods, then rolled into Anaheim, checked into our hotel, returned the rental car, and laid low for the night. The silver lining of being beyond tired from the early morning was that it made an early bedtime easy. We set the alarm for 6:30 a.m. and were out before 8:30 p.m., ready to tackle Disneyland in the morning.

Extra pictures from our day are below:

Family Photos in Jim Thorpe, PA

While planning our Jim Thorpe trip, my sister put forth the idea of organizing a family photo shoot while we were all together. She researched photographers and found Nikki Slivka Photography, who did such an awesome job capturing the beauty (and chaos) of our family of 15.

As all parents know, kids aren’t always cooperative photo subjects. It was a challenge during our session, but the kids enjoyed having some props like a parachute, bubble gun, and a ball, which helped us create awesome candid shots. The rolling hills of Jim Thorpe also created a beautiful setting.

I can’t recommend enough that any time you get together as a family, you seek out a photographer to capture your time together. I know it’s not always cheap, but I’m so glad that we did this.

Balderramas Back East – Phase 4: Washington, DC

After saying goodbye to our extended family, my daughters and I departed Ocean City, Maryland in our rental and drove to Washington, DC. As often happens when you travel with kids, we didn’t leave as early as we had hoped. An accident that forced a detour through Deleware also lengthened our drive. Our 3pm US Capitol tour appointment quickly became a bit of a scramble, but we were able to make it in time.

Before I go further, it’s important to note what I asked my daughters to do in DC. We had plans to visit the US Capitol, walk through the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, then tour the White House – all within a span of 30 hours. In order to do this, we’d have to do a lot of walking, in sweltering July heat. Over the two days, my daughters walked over 8 miles during hot summer days. Clara was able to put it all in perspective, but for 7-year-old Mariana, keeping everything in perspective was a challenge. It was easy for her to forget and not understand why we were trying to go to all of these places, which resulted in her looking pretty miserable in some of our photos. I hope that she’ll one day look back on this trip and appreciate all that we tried to do, but I accept that it’s not something she could have done at the moment. I am truly grateful that my daughters tolerated my ambition and I am proud of all they accomplished over our two days in DC.

US Capitol

We secured a guided tour of the Capitol which took us through the Crypt, the Rotunda, and the National Statuary Hall. It was really neat watching the girls soak in all of the amazing art and sculptures throughout the rooms. We got to see the famous John Trumbull Declaration of Independence painting and the amazing Apotheosis of Washington art in the dome of the Rotunda. The National Statuary Hall was also the Old Hall for the House of Representatives to meet, and the girls actually saw the spot where Abraham Lincoln’s desk sat when he was in Congress. Mariana also got a picture next to the statue of Rosa Parks.

We were one of the last tours of the day at the Capitol and after it closed for the day, we walked back to the Capitol Holiday Inn to check into our hotel. In order to save energy for our evening plans, we opted for ordering some pizza and swimming on the rooftop pool before we ventured back out.

Monuments at Night

As the sun started to set, we headed back out and rode the Metro for the first time, to the Smithsonian (which was just one stop away, but was exciting nonetheless). We walked towards the Washington Monument and got to experience it as the sun was setting. We enjoyed an ice cream cone while taking in the sights of the Washington Monument.

We continued westward and stopped at the World War II memorial. This was the first time any of us had seen it, and it was pretty powerful experiencing the serene beauty of the fountains, while the girls got their feet wet. We then found Colorado’s pillar and took a photo with our hands over our hearts, then kept walking west towards the Lincoln Monument.

I learned two things about the monuments: 1) They look incredibly striking at night and are an amazing experience. 2) You don’t appreciate how long the walk can be until you do it with little tired legs. The girls did hang in there and were rewarded for their perseverance with some incredible views. It was amazing watching both of them – but especially Clara with her perspective – encounter Abraham Lincoln’s statue up close.

Clara just stood there, with her hands over her head, just awestruck. It’s a moment that I’m going to remember for a long time.

I looked at my watch and saw that we ended up walking six miles for the day. At that point, it was 10:15 pm and it was imperative that the girls got a good night’s rest for our next big day. We opted for an Uber to get back.

The White House

The day before we left on our trip, we received the great news that we landed a tour of the White House. This turned out to be our only activity for Tuesday (more on that, later). After sleeping in after the previous late night, we packed up, checked out, and dropped off our bags at the front desk. We then grabbed a quick breakfast at the Starbucks two blocks from the White House and lined up for our tour.

The verbiage of the tour ticket said we needed to show up 15 minutes before our allotted tour time. The reality, however, was that there was a line that snaked through the sidewalk on the east side of the white house, which forced a lot of waiting in the summer heat. It turned out to be too much for a poor kid a few people away from us, who collapsed from heat exhaustion. It was amazing watching the police, EMTs, and various helpers converge so quickly. Luckily the kid was alright and rejoined the line. I was just hoping that the same heat wouldn’t afflict the girls in the same way.

We finally entered the White House through the East Wing which took us through the main floors of the White House. It surprised us all just how small the actual White House was. The pictures and videos of the East Room and the State Dining Room gave them a much bigger scale than they actually were. We also saw the Red Room, Blue Room, and Green Room, which aren’t connected by hallways, you simply walk from one room into the other.

We then took a picture under the Seal of the President, then exited through the back of the White House (although in the video I mistakenly said it was the front), walking under that iconic lantern chandelier.

We stopped and got some lunch at Five Guys, a few blocks from the White House, and then took the Metro back to the Smithsonian to go see the National Air and Space Museum. Much to our chagrin, we realized that the Museum was under renovation and required pre-ordered tickets in order to enter. At that point, we cut our losses, picked up our bags, and decided to leave DC for our hotel near the BWI airport. We traveled there by taking the Metro, the MARC train, and two buses, all with three suitcases, three backpacks, and a booster car seat. We arrived at the hotel tired, hungry, and ready to sleep early, as we had to get up the next day at 4:30am to catch our flight home.

Thus ends our two-week excursion through four states, fifteen family members, hundreds of photos, and lots of new memories. We had spent months getting excited about this trip – and it didn’t disappoint. However, it’s great to be back home and enjoy the last few remaining weeks of summer.

Balderramas Back East – Phase 3: Ocean City, MD

After getting our fill of mountain and full family time in Jim Thorpe, PA, we ventured further east to Ocean City, Maryland. Earlier this year, when our family was trying to find a gathering point, a sizable segment of the family wanted a beach getaway, resulting my mom traveling with my sister, Christina, her family, and mine to get our beach fix at Ocean City.

Traveling from Jim Thorpe to Ocean City on a Friday presented some challenges with traffic, turning our 4-hour trip into a 6.5-hour trip. Our accommodations for the next few days was a 3-bedroom condo, which luckily didn’t feel too cramped for the nine of us. We finally pulled in after 6 pm, too late to spend any meaningful time at the beach. That didn’t stop us from unpacking as quickly as we could so that we could put our feet into the ocean.

I captured this video of everyone talking on the beach for the first time.

With kids, of course, “putting feet” into the ocean quickly turns into getting your clothes soaked. They enjoyed their little taste of the ocean, anxious for spending the rest of the weekend on the beach.

After a restful Friday night, we ventured to the Ocean City Boardwalk, which embodied the stereotypical image that I formed in my head as we were planning. It was complete with tourist shops, fried food stands, along with an amusement park (which luckily wasn’t yet open for the day).

We did a little shopping, loading up on some stickers and magnets, then took a walk to the pier to get a full view of the ocean. We opted to go earlier in the morning so that we could devote as much of Saturday to beaching. Everyone was anxious to get back to our condo, however, so that we could quickly hit the beach.

We spent the rest of the day playing in the ocean and on the beach, getting our fill of waves, sun, sand, and games. The last time we had been to the ocean, in 2018, we had a more secluded experience in North Carolina. At Ocean City, the beach was much more crowded, but we managed to carve out our little space for a beautiful afternoon. Right when we were packing up, we saw some fins from dolphins that were swimming out in the ocean.

We did learn, the hard way, that the limit for the kids being on the ocean was about 4 hours. Many of the kids were melting down by the time dinner time rolled around. We fed the kids some mac and cheese, while the adult got a seafood boil that was probably too spicy for them anyway. After 2018 though, I learned my lesson and stayed away from drinking too much of the broth.

After the kids went to bed, Christina, Tony, and I ventured back onto a beach for a moonlit walk to see what we could find on the beach. We found a cool surfing toy, as well as a baby seagull that was looking for his parents.

Recognizing our time limits, we shifted our Sunday schedule to include two separate times at the beach. We went immediately after breakfast for a two-hour stretch, with another trip planned for the early evening. In between beaching, Tony and I went to go pick up my rental car for Phase 4, while everyone else went back to the Boardwalk before we met back up for an early dinner.

Mariana had enough of the beach and was ready to get cleaned up, but while we were up in the room, a horseshoe crap washed up on the shore. After checking it out, it was returned back into the ocean.

We ended our time at the beach by writing “SOB ’23” (Summer of Balderramas) in the sand – a tradition that we started back in Daytona that we’ll continue as we venture to other beaches.

Sadly, with the conclusion of Phase 3, we also ended our team with our extended family. The girls and I packed up on Monday morning and made our way towards Washington, DC – the final phase of Balderramas Back East.