Beaches & Sunsets – Exploring the NorthEast Coast of Maui

As we begin decorating for Christmas and are enjoying the lovely seventy degree days Los Angeles offers in December, I know many friends in other parts of the country are getting ready for winter and dreaming of their next beach vacation. Last spring we joined my in-laws, and brother-in-law and his wife in Hawaii for a week on the Ka’anapali Coast on the northeast side of Maui. While they are all very familiar with Hawaii this was my first visit and I was beyond excited for beaches, sunsets and spectacular scenery. Maui did not in any way disappoint!

Courtesy of my generous in-laws we stayed at the Marriott Maui Ocean Club. The beachfront view from our room was all I needed to know the week was going to be a good one. You could easily spend a week at any of the resorts on the coast and leave very happy and refreshed. There are plenty of pools, activities, cabanas and beach to take advantage of, all on the resort property. This being my first visit though, our plan was to relax a little bit and explore a lot!

If you have a week to spend on this side of Maui, here are a few highlights that will leave you loving the island and still feel like you had a enough time to sit by the pool or the ocean and soak it all in.

Sunsets — Okay, so this one isn’t really a place but I feel like a hard rule should be no matter where you are on Maui, you have to stop to enjoy the sunset. The Ka’anapali Resort Area has a nice strand that is perfect for taking a sunset stroll and there are plenty of places to move over onto the sand or head down to the water for that perfect sunset photo. If you’re staying at one of the resorts pop open a bottle of wine and bring your glass down as you sit in a hammock or beach chair and soak in the scenery and the beauty that is Maui.

For another sunset treat make dinner or bar reservations at one of the many spots along the coastline and enjoy your dinner while watching the sun say goodnight on another day in paradise. We enjoy Duke’s, the food is great, the view is spectacular and if you’re there around sunset there is usually live music playing. If you’re staying at one of the resorts, you can walk along the strand to make your way to the restaurant, parking is also available if you’re staying a bit far away for a walk. Do make a reservation as it is a popular spot for sunset drinks and dinner. We did an impromptu sunset dinner date and added our name to a two hour wait list. If you follow our lead and don’t have a reservation, try the bar area. It is first come, first serve so my suggestion is order a drink at the bar and then casually scope out the bar tables to see who might be close to leaving their table. Brett will vouch, this might be one of my top skills, stalking tables without being noticed. I zeroed in on one or two potential tables and positioned myself so I could enjoy my drink, watch the sunset and be within 5 steps of either table. Within 15 minutes we had a lovely table for our impromptu sunset date. Take your time and enjoy your drinks, dinner and the sunset. We even took turns walking down to the water to really take it in and enjoy the view.

 

Maui Ocean Center — The Maui Ocean Center was one of my favorite stops during our trip. Depending on time and your budget you can spend anywhere from a few hours to a whole day exploring the aquarium. General admission gets you access to all of the exhibits but there is also a film show, a behind the scenes tour and if you are a certified SCUBA diver you can purchase a “Dive with the Sharks” encounter. We are not certified divers so that encounter was off limits but we did get a chance to spend time with a museum naturalist at the Turtle Lagoon. At any given time there are six sea turtles on display. Each turtle is labeled with a letter of the alphabet, so be sure to check out their shells to see who you are watching! Make sure to also leave time to sit in the Open Ocean exhibit. Check the daily schedule to see when the aquarium divers will be doing talks while diving inside the exhibit.

Lahaina — Lahaina is a cute beach side town that is worth an afternoon of exploring. If you spent the morning at The Maui Ocean Center, stop in Lahaina for lunch (try Cheesburger In Paradise for open air dining with reasonably priced burgers and drinks). Spend the afternoon wandering through the shops. There are lots of jewelry shops in town. If you are looking for something sparkly make sure to price compare before buying! Stop by the Banyan Tree to take in a bit of shade and read some of the plaques to learn a bit more about Lahaina and Hawaiian history.

Maui Brewing — As you may have noticed Brett and I enjoy exploring local breweries anytime we travel and Maui was no different. We were already familiar with Maui Brewing as we can pick up some of their wider releases in Los Angeles but we were excited to try some of their more specialized, smaller run beers. Just north of the resort area, Maui Brewing has a large parking lot and is easy to find. We stopped in for lunch and tasters one day and loved it so much we brought my husband’s brother and wife back with us for dinner another night. Along with plenty of beer to choose from, the brewery has an excellent selection of appetizers, lunch and dinner options and desserts.

Maui Pineapple Tours — For me, this was another not to miss place. Make sure to make advance reservations as they are very popular. This tour takes you through a working pineapple farm with stops along the way to see baby pineapples and learn more about how the pineapples are harvested and packaged for sale. At the end of the tour you also receive a free pineapple. Just a warning, this might be the best pineapple you will ever taste! If you visit towards the end of your stay on Maui, you’ll be able to take your pineapple on the plane with you. The boxes they come in are made both for carry-on and checked baggage. (In the Maui airport, there is a place where you can check your pineapple to your final destination!)

You can combine your pineapple farm tour with a visit to Hali’imaile Distilling Company. Located on the same property the distillery uses Maui Gold Pineapples to make their spirits. If you include this add-on tour you’ll get a glimpse at their distilling and bottling process and enjoy a few tasters at the end.

Moana Glass — If you are looking for a unique experience that will leave you with a fantastic souvenir from Maui, this is the place to stop. At Moana Glass you can book a glass blowing lesson! We booked a two person/two piece spot and really enjoyed our private lesson. Over the course of an hour I made a Christmas ornament and Brett made a starfish. It was incredible, this is not one of the places where you “help” but they do most of the work. Our instructor helped us with the hard things but both of us were turning glass in a fire, dipping it in colored glass and I even got to blow the glass to create my ornament. The staff at Moana Glass are fantastic and knowledgeable. After our lesson we spent some time in the gallery and even purchased a glass wave of our own to take home along with our own pieces. If you choose to do a lesson, it’s best to schedule it towards the beginning of your stay, that way you can return to pick up the piece once it cools (about 24 hours later). If a lesson isn’t in your plans or out of your budget make sure to check their websites for demonstrations. We returned later in the week to watch their whole team working on a giant sea turtle sculpture.

After a day of adventures, grab a glass of wine and head out to enjoy the sunset. Once the sun sets enjoy the tropical air as you stroll along the coastline in search of dinner.

One week wasn’t enough to explore all of Maui and I’m looking forward to a return trip that includes another island or two!

If you’re thinking about a trip to Hawaii or anywhere else and would like help planning your adventure please contact me. I love talking about your interests and helping your next adventure.

 

Link Note: I do not receive payment for any links or endorsements in this article. They are all my personal suggestions

Adventures in Montana

A few weeks ago we spent a week with my parents in the charming town of Big Fork, Montana. Big Fork is a quiet town, about thirty minutes from Glacier National Park. Being from Los Angeles, it was nice to experience a bit of actual fall for a few days.

The leaves were turning colors, the temperatures were in the forties and fifties and it was a perfect break from the eighty to ninety degree temps we’ve been having in Los Angeles. There are many things I love about L.A., but I do miss the fall and the fall colors.

Fall in on the Road to the Sun, Glacier National Park, MT (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

If you’re passing through this side of Montana, there are definitely a few places to check out along the way.

1. Glacier National Park — From Big Fork, it’s an easy thirty minute drive to the west entrance gates and the Road to the Sun. Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the Road to the Sun, there a lots of different turn outs and trails. Our first stop was the Trail of the Cedars, an easy mile or so trail that is mostly flat terrain and easy to navigate. We were there on a drizzly day, so there were not many people on the trail. The lack of people meant we could take advantage of the quiet of the woods and really just enjoy being on the trail.

The Trail of the Cedars, Glacier National Park, MT (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

The Trail of the Cedars, Glacier National Park, MT (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

The Trail of the Cedars, Glacier National Park, MT (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

2. The National Bison Range, Moieses, MT — If you’re really looking a “Home on the Range” experience, this might be it. The range is home to bison, elk, deer and variety of other animals. As you drive through the range, you have the chance to see the animals in their natural habitats. The road through the range is a one way, windy, dirt road. If anyone is prone to car sickness, this might not be the adventure for you.

National Bison Range, Moieses, MT (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Bison, National Bison Range, Moieses, MT (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

3. Whitefish, MT — Whitefish is a smaller town with a vibrant downtown area full of shopping and dining. We stopped into a couple places in town for food and drinks and had a great time.

If you’re looking for good food, local beers and friendly bartenders, stop into The Craggy Range Bar and Grill on Central Ave. Brett enjoyed the Bison Chili and we both liked the Chicken Spring Rolls. After lunch we headed over to Spotted Bear Spirits, a local distillery for a tasting. From Huckleberry Vodka to Gin, Spotted Bear does a great job taking normal spirits and adding their own unique twist. Brett and I love checking out new distilleries when we travel and Spotted Bear Spirits definitely did not disappoint it.

Huckleberry Margarita, Spotted Bear Spirits, Whitefish, MT (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

4. Big Fork, MT — In between our adventures we had time to explore Big Fork, MT. Wandering the Main Street of town will take less than a couple hours but you’ll find some fun stores, including Eva Gates, Homemade Preserves. Stop into Eva Gates for a sample of their Huckleberry preserves. I guarantee you’ll want to take some home with you! A few doors down from Eva Gates, is Roma’s Gourmet Kitchen Store. Head into Roma’s to find every kitchen gadget you never knew existed, but now you definitely need! While you’re in Roma’s’ be sure to try some of their homemade fudge.

Finally after your shopping stroll through Big Fork, make your way to The Old Pub for pizza and local craft beer.

On our last day in Big Fork we took a walk around part of the lake and headed over to Flathead Lake Brewing Company for a few tasters. On a warm day, they have a fantastic patio with great views of Flathead Lake.

Flathead Lake, Big Fork, MT (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Flathead Lake Brewing Company, Big Fork, MT (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

We have so many more things on our list for the next time we’re in the Big Fork area. We’re definitely looking forward to our next trip!

The Art of Vacation Planning

I’ve come to believe that vacations are a very personal thing. It’s your vacation, you should spend it doing what you want in the location of your choice. I’m guessing most people would agree with that statement. The problem is that planning a vacation that is tailored specifically to you can be time-consuming and overwhelming. I wanted to share a few tips to help you through the planning process.

1. Pick your location because it interests you. This may sound obvious but so many people tell me they chose a location because it seemed like everyone else had already been there, or several people told them they just had to go there. Recommendations from family and friends can be great, but if you have a spot in mind that isn’t on their list, don’t let that stop you. Go for it and when you get back, you can be the one telling people they should go!

2. Think about why you want to go to this location. Write down your reasons. This will help you figure out what to do and see while you’re there. If your whole reason for wanting to go to Paris is to see Monet’s Water Lilies, that’s great, put it on your list. If you want to go to Japan to visit Tokyo Disney, put it on your list. (This is totally one of my top 3 reasons for wanting to visit Tokyo!) If you want to take cooking classes in Tuscany, that’s fantastic, put it on the list. I think you get the idea. My underlying points here is, once you pick a location, don’t feel like you have to just check the must see boxes in that city or country.

When I plan a trip to Paris for someone, I could easily plan a weekend that involves The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, and Arc de Triumph. They are all great spots, but what about a food tasting or wine tasting tour, or an evening cruise along the Seine or a walking tour of the Latin Quarter. The list goes on and on and on. If you make your “reason to go” list first, planning your days will be easier.

3. Figure out your trip budget. This is so important to do before you dive into the actual planning. Once you know your magic spending number, you’ll be able to make decisions on where to splurge and where to pull back. Your “reason to go” list can help with this too! If your main reason for going to Bali it to stay in one of those amazing resorts where each room is a full cabin, built over the ocean, with a private infinity pool, then that’s where you’ll spend your money. If you want to go to Bali for waterfall hikes, temples and monkey sanctuaries, you may choose to skip the private infinity pool accommodations.

4. Pick your accommodations. Once you’ve landed on your price point, I recommend using any of the online sites to get an idea of hotels and reviews. Then before you book, head to the hotel’s direct website and compare the price. Sometimes you’ll get a better deal if you book directly.

5. Plan your days. As you start planning your days, it’s important to account for your personality. Are you the type that is on the go or are you a little more relaxed during the day? We’ve found planning 2-3 main things per day is good. More than that and we start to feel rushed, but that’s just us. Even if you want to be a bit more spontaneous, I still recommend having a rough idea of what you want to see and do each day, this ensures you don’t miss something important to you.

6. Remember, your plan is just a plan and it’s okay to deviate from it. This happens to us on all our trips. We find something else we didn’t know about, we decide to stay longer someplace, we make the decision to skip something and vow we’ll do it on another trip. For me this is hard to remember, we had a plan, we should stick to the plan. But if we stuck to our plan in London we never would have gone to the Harry Potter Studio Tour and that was one of our favorite days there. If we’d stuck to our plan in Paris, we never would have ended up spending our last night in a hotel with a view of the Eiffel Tower out of our window, so don’t be afraid of a change. Go with it and have a great time.

A change in our plans led us to a room with a perfect view for our last night in Paris (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

If this has you itching to plan a trip, but you’d like some assistance, please contact me, I’m happy to talk about your trip and how my vacation planning service can help customize your vacation.

Adventures At Disneyland (Ride Rankings – The Best of the Best)

11. Disneyland Railroad
The story of Walt’s love for trains has been told time and again, and his excitement over the building of the Disneyland Railroad still shines through 65 years after its construction. Both a classic way to see Disneyland and a nice break from the day, the best legs of your grand circle tour are the scenic route from New Orleans Square station to Fantasyland/Toontown, next to Small World, and from Tomorrowland Station back to Main Street, as you pass the enormous and stunning Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas. The railroad and its stations feature all kinds of Disneyland secrets; if you arrive early in the day, head to City Hall and ask if rides in the exclusive and historic Lily Belle caboose are availablel before jumping aboard.


10. Mr Toad’s Wild Ride

Our surprise winner of the Disneyland Dark Ride Derby goes to a ride that’s every bit as unpredictable as this result. Mr. Toad is a particularly beloved piece of Disneyland history; it’s been here since opening day in 1955, and is duplicated in exactly none of the other Disney parks, unlike so many other Disneyland attractions (it’s cousin in Florida shut down in 1998). Mr. Toad is particularly noted for its ending, in which Mr. Toad quite literally goes to Hell on its way back to the queue. Nonetheless, it’s a favorite of many hardcore Disneyland fanatics, and it somehow even outstripped Peter Pan in our poll.

9.  Star Tours

The original Star Wars ride was shut down in 2010 for a much-needed refurbishment and facelift, and while the classic flight through a comet and another Death Star battle is sorely missed by purists, Disney’s 2011 revamp of the ride into a randomized 3-D run through several favorite planet options is a fitting tribute to a franchise whose universe continues to expand under Disney’s care. Recent additions like Jakku and Crait have appeared in updates to promote new films and enhance the ride possibilities, and with over 50 possible ride combinations, you’re almost guaranteed to never go on the same adventure sequence twice. As a bonus, listen closely: every scene has some reference to the original Star Tours script  Heroes, villains, high return value, adventure, and

8.  Radiator Springs Racers

This is it. By our math, this is the best ride in California Adventure. Part scenic road trip, part incredibly immersive dark ride, part rollercoaster, Racers delivers a complete package for everyone in the family, and does it with majestic music and stunningly realistic depictions of Cars’ beloved characters, before engaging in a drag race with another car that you suddenly deeply care about winning. Bringing everything about the signature Cars character and movie designs to life in the heart of one of Disney’s best-designed and most cohesive lands in any park is a recipe for smashing success.

7.  Splash Mountain

That the third-place finisher in the Disneyland Mountain Range drops in in the seventh spot tells you a ton already. From the time it was introduced in 1989, Splash Mountain became an instant classic, and the towering foundation on which Critter Country is built. Despite being themed to one of Disney’s more infamous properties in 1946’s Song of the South, which even the most die-hard Disney fans have likely never seen, Splash Mountain’s adventures with Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear have long been crowd-pleasers, and the classic flume-style ride ends with a 70-foot drop in which you will get wet. Our more recent experiences with the ride also suggest that they’ve raised the water level somewhat for that express purpose, so pack your ponchos, folks.

6.  Jungle Cruise

Another of the 1955 originals still standing, Jungle Cruise is delightful from the time you walk through the queue entrance to the moment you’re thrown out of your boat at the dock. On this nice, shady tour of the world’s greatest rivers, your skipper will introduce you to the second-most feared animal in the jungle, show you natural wonders like lions keeping watch over sleeping zebras, and take you to see the famed 8th wonder of the world. It’s a relaxing and funny romp that is a favorite among cast members and guests alike, and was an occasional favorite of Walt’s to step in and pilot. It’s a bummer they’ve announced that the Jingle Cruise will not be returning at the holidays this year; the Christmas additions and new material for the skippers was a hit that created hours-long lines that were worth waiting through for the punchlines.

5.  Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye

Fun fact: This was neither Disney’s first nor last attempt at an Indiana Jones ride, but it remains the runaway best. The indoor queue is wonderful for hot days, and using the Disney Play app,  the symbols on the wall can be decoded with warnings and messages for careful and careless travelers alike. After a film informing you of the dangers ahead, you’re loaded into a Jeep and off on a search for youth, knowledge, and treasure. Beware the eyes of Mara, though–once you lock eyes with the idol, there will be no escape!

4.  Pirates of the Caribbean

Even with some recent controversial changes to the ride, the iconic scenes and beloved music still make this ride a well-loved classic, and a nice break from the Southern California sun. It’s hard to imagine this was once intended as a walkthrough wax museum–it’s hard to imagine talking about pirates without being aboard a boat now, especially with the initial drops down into the caverns and the famous pirate skeleton scenes.

3.  Space Mountain

Speaking of rides that have been through some changes, Disneyland has recently rarely let Space Mountain be itself. In the last 15 years, it’s gotten a Rock N Roller Coaster overlay, has regularly been host to the Ghost Galaxy at Halloween, and more recently has spent the majority of the year as the Star Wars-themed Hyperspace Mountain. But no matter its configuration, projections, or music, Space Mountain is a fast, smooth, enjoyable coaster in the dark, and always has long waits for a reason: It’s one of the best roller coasters Disney’s built, no matter which park you ride it in.

2.  Big Thunder Mountain

You know how we said Space Mountain was “one of the best” Disney coasters? Meet our champion in that category. With its recent touch-up for the 60th anniversary, it’s stellar vistas, and its combination of hills and speed with magnificent effects and scenery both inside and out, Big Thunder is a justified must-do, with the added benefit of not having lines nearly as long as you’ll find at any of the other Disneyland peaks. And as good as Disneyland’s original is, its cousins at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris take it to another level. But if you get to one coaster while at Disneyland, this is the one to hit.

  1. Haunted Mansion

Welcome, foolish mortals. There really can’t be another #1 here. While purists may wish to dock it points when the Mansion is in its Nightmare Before Christmas configuration from September to January, in either skin, the Mansion perfectly balances iconic music, a brilliant queue, iconic scenes, just a hint of real fright, some truly fantastic urban legends, and a classic theme. It’s no wonder Hatbox Ghost and his friends are such icons among the Disneyland faithful–Haunted Mansion has it all.

Adventures at DisneyLand (Ride Rankings – Hard to Divide Classics)

25. Snow White’s Scary Adventure

See that word “Scary” in the title? Doesn’t feel like it belongs in a Fantasyland dark ride, does it? But the winding run through the woods once the Queen hatches her evil plan is truly a thing of fright that sets Snow White apart. This ride has all the classic dark ride elements–memorable scenes, peril for the hero/heroine and the rider, and the happy ending. Snow White also kicks off the portion of the list where we spend a lot of time going “This feels like it should be higher, but what would you move it ahead of?”

24. Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
Speaking of dark rides, this is an awesome 4-minute romp through Toontown with Disney’s favorite comic rabbit, zinging through warehouses full of prop explosives and diving from way above LA before getting into trouble with the Weasels and being saved by portable hole. The spinning element leaves you with the impression an Imagineer came to a meeting one day with: “I got it. What if you took Mad Tea Party and put it on a dark ride track?” The queue is also engaging throughout, with in-jokes and callbacks to a number of Disney shorts as well as Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The result is all zany fun, provided you don’t mind the trek to Toontown.

23. Matterhorn

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Disney’s original mountain has always been a bit herky-jerky, but ever since the revamp for the 50th anniversary in 2005, it’s felt like there should be chiropractors at the exit. The interior redo a few years later that introduced us to a larger, scarier, and sometimes digital yeti was a nice touch (although some smaller riders might disagree), but the ride still beats you up on the way down in a way that keeps it down a tier from the other mountains in the Disneyland Mountain Range.

22. Dumbo 

Ah, yes. The classic image of Disneyland. A parent and child–or sometimes Darth Vader and his stormtroopers–soaring over Fantasyland in the original flying elephant ride. It’s certainly a classic, but in the end, the marketing means people flock to this one, so there’s often a 15-20 minute wait for a 90-second flight in a circle that really has a view over Fantasyland for about half of that.

21. It’s A Small World
Speaking of classic images of Disneyland, I’m prepared for the hate here. This 14-minute Audio-Animatronic classic is usually a quick mover (the holidays are an exception, be prepared to wait as much as an hour), but half the fun of Small World isn’t the ride–it’s the clock, every 15 minutes, when the clock chimes out the time and a parade of little figures straight off the ride from around the world, or during the holidays, the light show at night at the same intervals. The ride should probably rank higher, but given that I’m pretty sure subjecting someone to 15-20 minutes of “It’s a Small World” on loop outside of this ride is listed as a form of psychological torture by the UN, it loses some ground.

20. Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes

How many times have you walked past the canoes? How many times have you missed that they were open? How many times have you decided you didn’t want to go to Disneyland for a workout and didn’t feel like rowing–or didn’t know how? You have missed OUT. This 8-10 minute paddle (depending on the rest of your crew) around the Rivers of America features guides every bit as funny as those on the Jungle Cruise, a free paddling lesson, a short arm workout that’s really not all that difficult as long as you have a full boat, and a memorable look at the scenery on the Rivers of America. Just plain fun, and a dark horse for one of our favorite Disney rides.

19. Mad Tea Party

A Disneyland icon, with classic theming, more spinning, less wait, and more history. A flippin’ staple–as long as you don’t get motion sick easily.

18. Toy Story Midway Mania

Astro Blasters came first and did the ride-along competitive shooting attraction well, but Midway Mania perfected it. Firing your pull cannon at 3-D targets in several themed carnival games, competing against everyone else in your car? Fantastic. Wait times often aren’t bad if you nab a Fastpass, and it’s genuine fun for the whole family, though your arm’s gonna be sore for a minute afterwards. A great little spin.

17. Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout!
We were part of a long line of skeptics when Disney announced they were re-theming the classic Tower of Terror at California Adventure, but… man, is this fun. While it lacks the spook factor from the Twilight Zone theming, Mission:Breakout! brings fun in its place that’s in lockstep with the fun of the Guardians of the Galaxy films. And the different scenes as you fling up and down the Tivan Collection promise a new gag just about every time you ride, and even add a little to the ride experience, as you don’t always know when you’re rising or falling. This ride might even get a boost up the list when the Avengers Campus opens in summer 2020, and the Guardians have more of their Marvel friends around and don’t feel so isolated (geographically and thematically) within Hollywood Backlot.

16. The Incredicoaster

Another re-themed original from the opening of Disney’s California Adventure, Disney cleverly sculpted a story for an existing rollercoaster, and even poked fun at themselves for doing it via in-queue videos. The real gem of what Disney did in the retheme was the way they worked in all the Incredibles’ unique power sets into the tunnels and story of the coaster (passing over the Jack Jack Cookie Num Nums stand while Mr. Incredible attempts to lure Jack Jack out with a cookie is a particular stroke of synergistic mastery–especially because man, those cookies smell good).

15. Alice in Wonderland
Alice is a standout wonder among the Fantasyland dark rides, especially after it got a bit of a revamp around the 60th anniversary. The ride shines brighter, the track takes some loopier turns, and it keeps all the classic references and characters we know and love in fine shape as your caterpillar cruises along. And the ending at the Tea Party as it drops you off next to the Mad Tea Party? Genius.

14. Peter Pan’s Flight
Speaking of the best in Fantasyland dark rides, here’s the heavy crowd favorite. Peter Pan never seems to have a wait time of under 25 minutes, and you understand why immediately in the first minute, which is spent flying over London in a room that uses miles and miles of fiber optic cable–reportedly as much as 200 miles of the stuff!

13. Grizzly River RunSo this will obviously be a bit more controversial if you’re not a water ride fan, but Grizzly River Run is a rollicking good time through some gorgeous mountain and tree scenery, and can provide a nice drenching on hot days–if you’re quick with a FastPass, or willing to wait anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes. But it’s a great take on the classic raft-and-splash ride, and set in a scenic part of the park. Bonus points: If you’re staying at the Grand Californian, you’re right next to your rooms, so you can go get a change of clothes if you wish and jump right back into action.

12. Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
Are we overhyping the latest offering from Disney’s Imagineers? Not in the least. Imagine, if you will, taking Star Tours, laying over some friends from Disney’s recent animated Star Wars efforts, and then put you in the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon. The approach past a life-size model of the famed Corellian YT-1300 freighter is a breathtaking highlight for Star Wars fans the first time they see it, and the queue is littered with QR codes for playing along with the Datapad game in the Disney Play app, an ingenious augmented reality game within Galaxy’s Edge that immerses you more fully in the stories being told around you by asking you to find items, hack signals, and take jobs, either for the Smugglers, the Empire, or the Resistance.

The queue ends inside the iconic ride, complete with couches and dejarik table, so you can take your own “let the Wookiee win” photos. From there, your little pod of 6 is let into the cockpit of the Falcon itself, where you divide up into pilots, gunners, and engineers, from front to back of the pod, and all have jobs to do throughout your run to steal valuable fuel for Hondo Ohnaka. The further forward you are, the more you’re engaged in the action. Engineers hit buttons occasionally to repair the ship or get it back in working order, gunners… well, gunners shoot at passing TIE fighters and the train you’re out to rob, and pilots have their work cut out for them, as one pilot controls horizontal drift, and the other controls the vertical pitch. But the act of flying the Falcon is as adventurous as you’d come to expect from Han and Chewie, and leads to an exhilarating ride–one that, weirdly enough, goes longer the worse you are at your goals. Do not miss this one!

Adventures At Disneyland (Ride Rankings – Underrated but by no means necessary)

31. Storybook Land Canal Boats

This leisurely boat tour can feel a lot like the Jungle Cruise of Fantasyland… with zero of the humor that makes Jungle Cruise great. But in the age of social media, Storybook Land gets a boost for providing memorable backdrops for photos, and at golden hour, the light makes some of the intricate models almost sing. It’s craftsmanship of a style and degree that hearkens back to Disneyland’s early years, and differs from the efforts put forth in more modern times.

30. Tom Sawyer Island Rafts & Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer’s Island

With the pirate-themed update the island got in 2007, there was some worry the island would lose its classic charm. Instead, the facelift seems to have genuinely boosted the island’s appeal, with references galore to the Pirates of the Caribbean series and great photo ops throughout the island. Again, early closing times hurt the score, but the island is one of only a few attractions where your experience can not only vary from run to run, but show you something completely new every time you go. 

29. Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
Disney’s second attempt to add a classic dark ride-style attraction to California Adventure has a 7-minute ride time that seems to be helping keep lines down. The ride is never empty, but the queue often is, and it’s a colorful and musical ride through the film that led off the Disney Renaissance. However, it does have some flaws–Ursula has a tendency to break down, and after her one scene, is barely mentioned again; you’d think she was a plot device, not a classic Disney villain, since so much of the ride is given over to an incredibly-detailed run through one of Disney’s favorite tunes in “Under the Sea”. If the ride didn’t minimize story so much in order to highlight 4 specific scenes for their songs (and again, “Under the Sea” gets a wide, wide edge on every other scene), this ride would have ranked much higher. As it is, it’s a nice mid-day ride out of the sun and… uh, below the water.

28. Main Street Vehicles

Oh, you didn’t think these counted as a ride? Surprise! These are one of the most underutilized and underrated attractions in the Disneyland pantheon, especially because that walk down Main Street is so iconic. But despite not really having regular schedules, and closing super early (on most days, before 4 pm), the drivers are usually a joy to ride with, and each vehicle–the Fire Engine, Horse-Drawn Streetcars, Horseless Carriage, and Omnibus–has a story to tell. For at least two of the vehicles, Walt himself was known to drive them around Main Street, and on the streetcars, you often learn more about the horses themselves. If the opportunity arises, please, take a ride down Main Street in one–either way, as long as they’re headed your direction.

27. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree

Alright, let’s get this out of the way: I’m not a big fan of the Cars franchise, and Larry the Cable Guy’s Mater doesn’t help. But especially for a ride that looks designed to cater primarily to children, this ride is SO MUCH MORE FUN than it looks like it has any right to be. The songs are ridiculous, but cute, and you cannot help but chuckle, giggle, or snicker to yourself as you fling around in circles, smoothly sliding across seats as you do so. The line’s short, it’s not as herky jerky as it looks from outside, there’s fun to be had, and hey–you gotta do something while you wait for that Radiator Springs Fastpass, and this is one of DCA’s best little secrets.

26. Soarin’

This ride jumps roughly 20 or so spots when, as during this past summer, it reverts to its original “Soarin’ Over California”. The queue makes much more sense (since the ride decor is focused on California’s and Californians’ place in aviation history), there’s much less CGI, it visits iconic spots across the beautiful state of California, and it gives it a uniqueness that suits a park literally named California Adventure. But in the ride’s usual “Across the World” state, it feels… off. The film is not as carefully made–if you’re on the left or right, iconic locations like the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower curve as you soar past, which really takes you out of the moment, but only if you’re in one of ⅔ of the seats on the ride. And most of the animals and people are clearly added by CGI later, which doesn’t seem to be the case with “California”. As such, the usual “over the world” version feels disjointed and slapdash, like it doesn’t belong. That said, the experience of the ride itself, and the amazing pre-flight video starring Patrick Warburton, do keep it from falling into the bottom half of our rankings.

Adventures At DisneyLand (Ride Rankings – If you Have Time & the Line is Short)

40. Astro Orbitor
Do you like Dumbo, but always wished it was just FASTER and HIGHER and HAD A LONGER LINE? Then do we have the ride for you! Astro-Orbitor lacks a unique ride concept from even its neighboring land, is harder to fit two people in, feels less secure, lacks the nostalgia points, and usually has a longer wait, but hey, higher and faster, right? Points for an actually solid view of this side of the park from the highest point in the arc, though, especially during evening parades.

39. Monsters Inc: Mike and Sulley to the Rescue

To be fair, this ranking is as much about wasted potential as it is a critique of the ride. When Disney tore out two soundstages to make room for this new ride, everyone assumed it was going to be … erm, a monster. Maybe an indoor coaster based on the door chase? What if it’s about chasing Boo through a bunch of doors to get her home? How about a scare floor experience? And in the end we got… a classic dark ride retelling of the movie. It’s well done for what it is–the interactive Roz at the end is always a hoot–but it always feels like it could have been so much more.

38. Gadget’s Go Coaster

This is the only ride where my first criticism is that it’s just too short. Gadget’s might last a minute, if that, but it’s such a fun minute. It’s the rare kiddie coaster that’s still a lot of fun for adults, as long as they remember not to blink and miss the ride while they’re on it. Tucked back in the far corner of Toontown, Gadget doesn’t get the love she deserves.

37. Pinocchio

Okay, this is one of the first low rankings it’s okay to feel dirty about. It’s a classic Disney dark ride, and it holds up 60+ years later. However, there are some truly traumatizing moments a little too well-rendered, and even the story itself doesn’t hold up to some of its Fantasyland dark ride neighbors–or even one at the park across the plaza.

36. Pixar Pal-a-Round

First things first: It’s gonna be a cold day in hell when I stop calling this Mickey’s Fun Wheel–especially while it still bears his face. But unlike some of its neighbors, which are barely-glammed-up carnival knockoffs, this Ferris wheel holds way, way up. A 160-foot giant, the real fun is in the sliding and swinging gondolas–though there are stationary gondolas for those less interested in that particular sense of adventure. A nice 9-minute experience for kids and adults alike.

35. King Arthur’s Carrousel

This Fantasyland centerpiece is a classic, and would deserve extra points on any list for being based on the Griffith Park carousel that inspired Walt Disney to build the park in the first place, as well as for its iconic mount, Jingles, decorated in honor of Mary Poppins and dedicated to Julie Andrews herself at the time of the 50th anniversary in 2005. But it IS still just a carousel, and Disney has gone above and beyond such rides time and time again.

34. Mark Twain Riverboat

The Mark Twain is a lovely, relaxing ride around the Rivers of America, and its longest-running option to do so–open from 10 am to 5:45 every day on the Rivers when Fantasmic is running, sometimes until as late as 9 pm on non-show days. Sometimes you’ll catch Tiana wandering aboard for a really unique character experience, sometimes you’ll just get nice views and an 18 minute ride on a shady bench, and if you’re really lucky and ask a cast member nicely, maybe they’ll let you pilot the boat for a minute for a cool Disney moment. Again, bonus points for being home to a truly great Fantasmic! segment, and minus points for short hours and complicated boarding with the Columbia.

33. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Another classic dark-ride homage, the ride’s unique use of track to make you feel as though you’re buffeted by blustery breezes and excellent use of projections in a couple of spots almost make up for the drug trip that is the Heffalump and Woozle room. Eagle-eyed guests can spot some former denizens of the Country Bear Jamboree that resided here from 1972 to 2001. It’s a nice laid-back dark ride to run while you wait for your friends to get off Splash Mountain, or while you wait for Pooh and his friends to return to the character greeting spot just outside.

32. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

What’s great about Astro Blasters is that the lines never seem to be too long, and if you have Disney’s new MaxPass system on your phone, the next Fastpass time is never too far away. And it’s always fun to shoot your way through a ride! But the arrival of Midway Mania in 2010 has made Buzz feel and look… pretty dated, actually. And it winds up feeling a little mediocre in a land that skews to extremes–both good and bad–on the Disney ride scale.

Adventures At Disneyland (Ride Rankings — Skip It Rides)

52. Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters
It should be noted first and foremost that Luigi has his fans. We’re not among them. The line teases you with air conditioning on a hot day, before booting you back outside for a long, winding line that is largely in the sun, where you wait for a slow and inefficient loading and unloading process, so you can spend a minute in a jerky version of a Cars square dance. Especially given the 20-plus minute lines that often accrue here and the quality of its Cars Land neighbors, spend that time someplace else.

51. Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind

When Disney announced they were building an Inside Out-themed ride on the ground that had been vacant since the Maliboomer departed in 2010, fans were generally receptive and excited, and are still waiting up to 30 minutes in line for this ride. The disappointing truth is that Inside Out was a property with a lot of potential, and Disney appears to have gone a somewhat lazier route by creating a jazzed-up re-skin of Flik’s Flyers from the now-demolished Bug’s Land area, then dropped it in Pixar Pier. Not Disney’s finest effort.

50. Jumpin’ Jellyfish

49. Golden Zephyr

48. Silly Symphony Swings

These three rides are originals from when California Adventure originally opened 20 years ago… and it shows. While Silly Symphony Swings has at least gotten a re-skin and some music added, none of the 3 are much more than permanent carnival rides, and are basically unremarkable in every way, which, for Disney, just isn’t enough.

47. Jessie’s Critter Carousel

Jessie’s is a redone effort based on King Triton’s Carousel, which was an underwater-themed carousel crammed between 2 far superior rides. They’ve addressed this by replacing the carousel with… a carousel themed to Toy Story Midway Mania critters that’s still crammed between far superior rides. Unless you’re really wild about carousels, stick to Disneyland’s original King Arthur Carrousel.

46. Goofy’s Sky School

While not the worst beating you’ll get from a roller coaster in Anaheim (see Matterhorn), the 90-second ride duration and careening angles of this ride combine for a mostly terrifying and/or painful experience, not really a FUN one. But it gets points over its neighbors for at least being a rollercoaster.

45. Autopia

A 1955 original, this is our lowest ranked ride in Disneyland itself. At best, it’s the 5th most fun you can have in a car at the Disneyland Resort–6th if you include parking (at least it’s not Luigi’s). All jokes aside, a few coats of paint and redone restraints for the 50th anniversary in 2005 don’t do much for a ride that’s still, at its heart, a leisurely four and a half minute winding track at 5 mph past… mostly empty gardens and billboards. We call that suburbia.

44. Sailing Ship Columbia

The Columbia is a ½ size replica of the ship that first took the American flag around the world, and serves as a leisurely cruise around the Rivers of America with some below-deck educational notes about life on ships like these 200 years ago. The cannon fire by Tom Sawyer’s Island is a fun highlight, but the ride only operates 5 hours a day (if at all), takes 15 minutes to make its full circuit, and shares a loading dock with the Mark Twain, which can make boarding confusing and inconvenient. If it weren’t so tough to get aboard, it would rank at least 10-15 spots higher, but it does get some of those bonus points for its cameo in Fantasmic!.

43. Red Car Trolley

The only ride on Buena Vista Street is under refurbishment right now, but it’s had its issues. It’s a short ride with three stops that are likely faster walking, and until Disney cancelled its Newsboys show, the ride itself was often somewhat unpredictably commandeered by performers coming or going from the main hub of Buena Vista Street. A cool reminder of LA’s old Red Car line, the fact is the ride isn’t usually either functional or terribly interesting, but hey–it’s still got style.

42. Finding Nemo Submarines

The original beloved Submarine Voyage was a vintage and beloved classic… and then the ride spent almost 10 years dormant, from 1998 to its reopening as the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage in 2007. The remake is usually not as good as the original, and in this case it holds true: Finding Nemo simply does not need a 14-minute ride. While a clever way to keep the subs up and running in the spirit of their predecessors, it lacks the wonder of the lost ship graveyard and creatures of the deep. Still, it’s a cool, shady, relatively quiet place to get out of the heat for a bit on a hot summer’s day, and you could do much worse.

41. Casey Jr. Circus Train

Be honest: You forgot this existed, which might be because once you pass age 14, it can be awfully tough to wedge yourself into. But it’s a nice little family ride around the back side of Fantasyland, and while it’s a hidden gem in its own way, it is absolutely buried (almost literally–the line’s entrance is tough to spot) in a land of nostalgia monsters.

Adventures at Disneyland (Part I)

Disneyland holds a special place in our hearts, and did long before we met. Erin became a Passholder almost as soon as she arrived in LA nearly 20 years ago. I, on the other hand, grew up out here, and have been coming to Disneyland since I can remember. Between us, thanks to Disneyland’s annual passholder tracking, we estimate we’ve probably been to Disneyland a combined 500 or so times.

So with that in mind, you might see why we decided to do something so utterly asinine as to attempt the Parkeology Challenge. In short, we attempted to ride every single open ride at both Disneyland and its neighbor park California Adventure. When all rides are up and running, it’s a 53-ride challenge in under 16 hours, depending on the operating day; when we were there, three rides were down for refurbishments, so we were limited to a nice, round 50, in a 15 hour day–9 am to midnight.

Now, it should be noted that only 18 people have managed to complete this challenge since 2017 per the rules on the Parkeology website… and as of now, we are not among them. We came up just short–we knocked out 47 rides of the 50 in a day that can only be described as neither a marathon nor a sprint, but both–a marathon sprint?–literally from start to finish.

A quick word from your authors: we would NEVER recommend this challenge to anyone who’s “just visiting” or is in their first 10 or so trips to Disneyland. Disneyland is not and has never been just about the rides. Disneyland has exceptional food options, tremendous shows, characters, and just general atmosphere worth slowing down and enjoying. If you’re a passholder with time to plan and research and you want to take a shot at this, be our guest. But again, if you’ve traveled to Anaheim for Disneyland and think this sounds like a good way to experience the parks, we urge you to reconsider.

However… such recent experience with nearly every ride in the park gives us an interesting window on what every ride at the Disneyland Resort area has to offer. And so, over the next several posts, we present to you our rankings of EVERY* ride at the Disneyland Resort.

*Caveat: We did not include the Monorail in this list, though Disney lists the Monorail in California as a ride/attraction. The Monorail in Florida is considered simply “transportation”, and due to the ride’s primary nature as the best way to get from the Disneyland Hotel to Disneyland Park, despite its location in Downtown Disney, we feel that calling it a “ride” is… an overstatement.

Adventures in and near Galway (Part 3)

To wrap up our adventures in Galway, I wanted to showcase one more day trip possibility and talk a bit more about the actual city of Galway.

The last day trip we took out of Galway took us over to Connemara and Kylemore Abbey.

Originally built as a castle in the 1860s, the property was restored and turned into a Benedictine Abbey in the early 1920s. Along with the Abbey, there is a beautiful six acre garden, plenty of walking trails, a gothic church, dining and shopping. Visiting Kylemore is a perfect half day stop. It was bit drizzly the day we visited but that didn’t stop Brett and I from exploring the garden. Once again, because of a few rain drops, we really had the garden pretty much to ourselves for nearly an hour. Visiting in November meant we didn’t see a lot of flowers, but the gardens and walls were still incredible beautiful. I am looking forward to returning in a warmer month to see more of the gardens in bloom.

Kylemore Abbey Victorian Garden (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Kylemore Abbey Victorian Garden (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

The abbey itself was undergoing restoration while we were there, but we were still able to explore and take some great photos. This is one of those places where photos just don’t do it justice.

Kylemore Abbey (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Kylemore Abbey (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

If you follow the path past the Abbey, you’ll come to the Gothic Church. It’s nestled into a hillside, overlooking the lake. Getting closer to it, there is an old cemetery fenced into the church grounds. The church is open for visitors, just jiggle the handle a bit to get in. Since we were there towards the Christmas Holidays, it was already decorated and I was able to take a couple of my favorite holiday shots while inside.

The Gothic Church, Kylemore Abbey (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

The Gothic Church, Kylemore Abbey (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Christmas in the Gothic Church, Kylemore Abbey (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Christmas in the Gothic Church, Kylemore Abbey (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

If you continue past the Gothic Church you’ll find more nature trails and wooden areas to explore. We could have stayed much longer, just wandering the trails and taking in the beautiful nature on the grounds.

Kylemore Abbey Grounds (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Kylemore Abbey Grounds (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Give yourself a little time to enjoy some lunch in the cafeteria and browse through the gift shop on your way out.

Our next stop was the village on Cong. Known for being the filming location for the movie, The Quiet Man, Cong is also home to Cong Abbey and the Monk’s Fishing Hut. Cong Abbey, built in the twelfth venture, sits on the site of a sixth century church. It’s a short walk from the main street of the village and worth walking into the woods to see the ruins. On your way you’ll pass the Monk’s Fishing Hut in the river.

Monk’s Fishing Hut, Cong (Photo Credit; Erin Moore)

Cong Abbey (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Cong Abbey (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Cong Abbey (Photo Credit: Erin)

Our last stop of the day took us to Ross Errilly Friary, near Headford in County Galway. The Friary was built in the middle of the fifteenth century and used off and on until the mid eighteen hundreds. It is such a well preserved site, we really enjoyed being able to wander through the structure. There are lots of twists and turns and it is a bit easy to get lost, but that made it even more fun to explore. We arrived just as the sun was setting and that made for some fantastic photos of the buildings.

Ross Errilly Friary (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Ross Errilly Friary (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Ross Errilly Friary (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

One of the best things about making Galway a base for day trips, is coming back to Galway for the evening. This city is a food lover’s paradise, a whiskey lover’s dream and a music lover’s playground. There are so many great places to sit down to delicious meals, whether you are looking for traditional pub food or a fancier sit down dinner, Galway has you covered.

We highly recommend a fancier meal at Ard Bia, make sure to use the online reservation system to guarantee a table on your preferred day. We also stumbled upon The Pie Maker. This tiny spot is a hidden gem in Galway. We stopped in for lunch and regretted not having time to come back for another meal. Seating is limited, so you may want to try a slightly off time for lunch or dinner but the food is well worth the schedule adjustment.

The Pie Maker, Galway (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

If you enjoy a good whiskey, or two or three, Galway is the place to be! Galway hosts the Whiskey Trail, We didn’t make it to every spot on the trail during this visit, but next time we’re in Galway, completing the trail is definitely on our list. If you only have time for a couple stops we enjoyed stopping into Blake’s and Freeney’s. Both places had very knowledgeable whiskey experts who helped us navigate our way through a few different types of whiskey.

Finally, if you’re looking to enjoy some great music during or after dinner, nearly every pub has a band or two playing well into the evenings. For a triple bonus, you can hit An Púcán or The King’s Head, for dinner, the Whiskey Trail and evening music. If you happen to visit during the holidays, you’ll also get to enjoy their Christmas decorations.

The King’s Head, Galway (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

Blake’s Corner Bar (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

An Púcán, Galway (Photo Credit: Erin Moore)

I think the best way to sum up Galway might be to come ready for some fantastic adventures in the surrounding area and be prepared to have cozy nights in local pubs enjoying incredible food, drinks and music. Our time in Galway was amazing and we are looking forward to our next trip there.

If you’re thinking about a trip to Ireland and need help creating a customized itinerary to suit your interests, please reach out for a free consultation to discuss your dream trip.