Disneyland for First Time Visitors: Key Differences From Walt Disney World

If you have never visited Disneyland in Anaheim, California—even if you are a seasoned Walt Disney World traveler—you may be unaware of some key differences from the Orlando location. This post will share essential information to ensure a great trip to Disneyland for first time visitors.

{If you need some packing tips before you go, be sure to check out How To Pack For Any Adventure.}

Pictures of Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck against a background of flowers and an ornate building.


Location, Location, Location

The biggest difference is that Disneyland is a theme park in the middle of a town, not a separate, magical universe like Walt Disney World. Although common knowledge, it is still somewhat jarring to witness it for yourself, especially if you are used to the cocoon of WDW. Once inside the parks, it is Disney vibes all the way; however, your arrival is definitely a different experience. 

In contrast to WDW—with its four main parks, two water parks, boardwalk, golf courses, and Disney Springs—Disneyland consists of just two main parks—Disneyland Park and California Adventure—and a much more condensed downtown area {which is still simply called Downtown Disney}. Overall it has more of a small town, nostalgic feel and is not nearly as overwhelming. 

Where To Stay?

While WDW maintains myriad on-site options, only three “on property” resorts exist at Disneyland. They are all within walking distance of the parks, but very expensive and thus not a reasonable choice of accommodations for most. 

Luckily there are “good neighbor” hotels just outside the gate on Harbor Boulevard or nearby. You can find dozens of excellent hotel options within a mile or so, many of which offer shuttles. 

I have personally stayed at four such hotels, and would wholeheartedly recommend two in particular: the Fairfield Inn Anaheim Resort {Marriott} and the Candy Cane Inn {independently owned}.

Winnie the Pooh Topiary holding a red balloon and popping up out of some flowers.

Unique Lands and Experiences

When you visit, you will definitely want to check out the attractions not available at WDW. Some of our favorites include Alice in Wonderland, Indiana Jones Adventure, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Snow White’s Scary Adventures. Toon Town remains a part of Disneyland Park as well.

{Spoiler alert: The castle at Disneyland Park is much smaller. And pinker.} 

Also keep in mind that even the rides that are “the same” are not exactly the same. You’ll find noticeable variations on Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World, for instance.

California Adventure houses both Cars Land and Pixar Pier, with numerous attractions and amenities not available at WDW. There is also a huge play area {Redwood Creek} where children under 12 can use a mini zip-line.

{Truth: I actually enjoy the attractions at California Adventure more than those Disneyland Park, especially the Guardians of the Galaxy update to the former Tower of Terror and the entire “Radiator Springs” area.}

Do I Really Need MaxPass?

MaxPass allows you to get FastPasses on your phone, rather than going directly to the ride and using the kiosk. It also entitles you to download any PhotoPass photos taken that day. 

Many people will insist you need MaxPass for your trip, but you most definitely do not.

The current price is $15 {per day, per ticket}, which can end up being prohibitively expensive for large parties. For example, for our family of five on a typical three-day trip we would spend $75 a day, or $225 total, simply for the convenience of not walking to a FastPass kiosk and the possibility of getting a few decent photos.

{Spoiler alert: The PhotoPass photo opportunities are not as interesting or varied as at WDW.}

I think where a lot of people get confused is they erroneously believe you must have MaxPass in order to book FastPasses—the way you pay for express ride access at some other theme parks. The truth is, you can still get the same number of FastPasses either way, whether you book them on your phone or walk over and get a paper reminder.

The one advantage would be if you have a park-hopper pass you can book FastPasses for the opposite park {the one you are not currently in} from your phone, but without MaxPass you would have to physically walk to that park. 


Character Meet and Greets

We have certainly met many characters at Disneyland that we have never witnessed out at WDW, including Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Groot. However, the character meet and greets are not organized the same way. 

At WDW, if you are in line for a character, you will see that character. A cast member may cut off the line at some point, but if you have a place in line, you will get your hug, autograph, photo, whatever. 

At Disneyland, the meet and greets frequently “end” without much warning. When this happens, usually the character will exit by coming down the line and giving a high-five or hug to the remaining guests.

The cast members are usually good about keeping you updated, but sometimes you might be standing in line for five or ten minutes and then suddenly hear, “okay, this is Mickey’s last family; he’ll be coming down the line to say hello real quick on his way out.” It used to be disappointing, but now we kind of expect it. 

What About Meals?

There is no pre-paid dining plan, so everything is out-of-pocket on the go. They do offer restaurant discounts for annual pass holders and DVC members. As in WDW, the discount only applies at “inside” restaurants, not kiosks or food carts. Personally the lack of dining plans does not make me too sad, as we have recently concluded the ones at WDW are simply not worth it for our party any longer. 

Unlike WDW where you can plan your meal reservations 180 days out, bookings for table service dining can only be made 60 days in advance. Character meals are also more limited; only five available at last count {including both parks and the three on-site hotels}.

While it would be impossible to go through every single difference between the two establishments, I wanted to elaborate on several key disparities. Hopefully this will assist you in your planning, or at least provide some food for thought when considering a first trip to Disneyland.


Homeschooling Update {Week 7}

We now have 17 items in our book rotation {as part of our loop scheduling} and I can neither confirm nor deny that I am tempted to add more. 

After a few adjustments early on, we now have a cycle that includes math, language arts, Spanish, geography, American history {3 books}, world history, science {2 books}, health {2 books} world religions and mythologies {3 books}, art, and music. 

We have no logical reason as to why some subjects have multiple texts; we just found them interesting and added them and here we are.

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

On average we read 3-4 books from our loop each day. We used to go through more, maybe 5-6, but not read as much from each. We have found that we prefer to read more pages from fewer texts, even if that occasionally means finishing a few rather long chapters in one go and only getting to 1-2 books that day. It feels more focused. 

Our written work seems to be moving along at a speedier clip than in the past. The amount of time we spend on it seems to be about the same as previous years, so maybe the Agents are just getting more efficient? Most days, they work on “table stuff” {as they call it} for about an hour. Everyone does some written assignments for math, language arts, science, and social studies. Additionally, the older two {8th and 6th} do some written Spanish. They are also all working through this really cool human body coloring book. {Because who doesn’t love to color?}

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


How To Homeschool: Developing a Framework For Your Days

Welcome back to How To Homeschool—a series addressing all aspects of secular homeschooling. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

Hopefully if you have followed along this far, you are feeling confident in your decision to homeschool and have a few of the logistical issues sorted. This post will help you to develop an overall picture of what homeschooling will look like in your family on a day-to-day basis.

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

Choose a Calendar That Fits Your Needs

There is more to choosing a calendar than simply deciding if you want to follow the traditional August or September to May or June public school timeline or continue year round with limited breaks {like we do}. 

You might decide to follow a calendar like many year-round public schools, which usually includes more time off at the end of the year for Christmas/New Year’s, a shortened summer vacation {six weeks or so}, and more frequent or longer breaks throughout the year {e.g., a full week around Thanksgiving, two weeks of spring break instead of one}. 

Or maybe a system where school is “on” for six weeks, then “off” for one week would work best. Unit studies would fit nicely into this timeframe. 

There is also the option of going January to December, or beginning with your child’s birthday, or choosing a random start date. {For several years, our starting date was the Monday closest to July first.} 

Once you choose the best fit, you can begin to block out dates for vacations, holidays, planned time off, and any outside events that will affect your school year. If you are in a state that requires a certain number of days of instruction, you can do a preliminary count to see where you might have to adjust. 

Daily Requirements and Scheduling

One important consideration will be what you require of your student{s} each day {or week}, and how you will schedule your days to make this happen.

Will you expect a certain amount of work to be completed by the end of each school day? Or will you plan more in terms of a full Monday through Friday week, with pacing slightly different for each day—maybe even using Friday as a “catch up” day?

Will you expect to start and finish school at the same time each day? Would you allow for differing starting and ending times based on the day’s agenda? Or will you want to follow a more strict schedule, without a lot of outside interference?

Will you have a full day set aside for appointments and field trips, or add them into your week as you go?

What about lesson plans? How detailed will they be, and what happens when {not if} they go south? Personally I am more of a general planner: I have an idea of where I want to start the school year, and where I want to end up, but I do not use a weekly or daily lesson plan to get there. We simply begin the year and move forward. 

How Much Independence Do You Anticipate?

Another thing to contemplate is how much independent work you want your student{s} to complete. Depending on age/grade, this may range from “little to none” to “basically everything.” 

Spoiler alert: Independence will come more slowly {and later} than you think. You will need to plan your own time accordingly.

If you are thinking that the very beginning elementary years are the only time you will need to sit with your child while they are doing the majority of their work, I have a surprise for you: They will need you to guide them longer than you would imagine. Even my very independent oldest still has lots of questions for me and wants me to be right there readily available while she works most of the time.

This is not a bad thing. While easing into more autonomous study is a laudable goal {by 6th grade my oldest was going off into the other room to concentrate on at least part of her daily work} don’t expect independent study to come easily or quickly or early.

Younger children will literally need you to be sitting beside them helping them navigate most of the time. By late elementary or early middle school, they should be able to handle more of their school work without direct guidance. But honestly, even older students will need/want you to be nearby and accessible.

The next post will address a few key surprises {all positive} that I did not expect {nor fully appreciate} when we first began our homeschooling journey.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


Homeschooling Update {Week 6}

You might have noticed some changes around here. Earlier this week I moved my blog to a different platform. I am enjoying the fresh, new, sparkly-ness of it all.

It is still a work in progress, but I am hoping to remove any wonkiness soon. I enjoy the design aspects of blogging, and sometimes I need to remind myself to let go of perfection with how everything looks and return to the business of writing and publishing new posts.

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

Our week seemed to fly by, as they all have so far this school year. Actually, I feel like time in general is moving a little quicker these days. Every time we go to re-set the kitchen calendar, I marvel at how the previous month seemed to speed right by. 

I think a lot of it has to do with the Agents’ ages. Older kids, tweens, and teens simply do not need me to be hands on all the time the way they did when they were younger. I have breathing space and can do my own thing without worrying so much about their every move. Parenting is less physically intensive now, and so the day-to-day seems to move more swiftly.

Do you intentionally teach “life skills” in your homeschool? Or do you simply address issues as they come up organically? I posted earlier this week about some essential life skills everyone should learn, but truthfully we don’t really have a specific plan of any sort to work on them. And—to be honest—I’m a little wishy washy on a few of them myself. 

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


How To Homeschool: Questions To Jumpstart Your Planning

Welcome back to How To Homeschool—a series addressing all aspects of secular homeschooling. You can view all the posts in the series so far here.

When I attended public school back in the stone age {okay, the 1970s and 1980s} few educational options existed outside of the classroom and the public library. We used dry textbooks and very occasionally watched a film—which were boring as all get out but still a refreshing change. 

Thankfully, choices have improved, and the majority of them are available for you to use at home. Today your biggest dilemma will likely be deciding among the abundance of possibilities.

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

Today I simply want to propose a few questions to ask yourself to help focus your research and planning time. With so many options, sometimes you just need a gentle prompt to get the ideas flowing. 

Spoiler Alert: This post will only assist you in narrowing down the kinds of resources that might fit best. I can give you questions to ponder, and offer general suggestions, but in reality once you get to the end of this post is when the real research begins. My hope is that you find this a useful starting point or a way to get unstuck.

Questions To Consider

  • Do you want a full curriculum, with every subject laid out for you and on the same grade level? 
  • Would you prefer an a la carte style curriculum, where you could mix and match levels?
  • Does the idea of creating your own curriculum sound fascinating or terrifying?
  • Will finances/budgeting be a primary motivator in your decision?
  • How involved do you want to be in the day-to-day lessons?
  • Is a teacher’s manual or answer key a necessity, or do you feel comfortable going it alone?
  • Does your student learn best through reading, listening, watching, or something else?
  • Are you equally okay with written versus video lessons, or are you biased toward one or the other?
  • Would a mostly book-based plan work for your family, or do you want more variety of sources?
  • Does the idea of doing school entirely online sound appealing or dry?
  • How do you feel about “hands on” work like art projects or experiments or models?
  • Do you need a certain amount of structure, or are you more go with the flow?
  • How comfortable are you with unschooling or very relaxed homeschooling? 

The more guidance you feel you need, or the more structure to your homeschool year you crave, the more likely you will be drawn to pre-packaged curriculum with a specific do this, then do that style. These sets typically include everything you need for one student for one year—books, workbooks, lesson plans, supplies, manipulatives, assessments—and you simply need to implement the plan on the prescribed schedule. 

The more comfortable you feel with the uncertainty of forging your own path, the more likely you will be drawn to choosing your own eclectic methods. This might mean choosing curriculum for some subjects but not others, building your own plan from scratch, or simply being open to trying out a variety of options to see what fits. It could also mean forgoing a plan altogether and taking a more relaxed approach. 

Depending on your answers, you can focus your research and begin to seek out fellow homeschoolers, homeschool bloggers, websites, etc. that cater to your needs. 

In the next installment we will take a look at developing a framework for what your homeschool will look like on a day-to-day basis. 

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


40 Essential Life Skills Everyone Should Learn

What would you consider to be essential life skills for your child to learn? What basic competencies do you believe everyone should have before reaching adulthood?

I organized the list into four main categories: self-care and emotional intelligence; personal and community safety; communication skills and critical thinking; and household and financial management. I realize there will be folks for whom these “essential” life skills do not apply. Also, many could easily overlap, but I tried to put them where they made the most sense to me. 

Blank list with checkboxes being checked off with a pink highlighter.

Self-Care and Emotional Intelligence

  • Setting personal boundaries and respecting the personal boundaries of others
  • Taking charge of your own health {including preventative care}
  • Comprehensive sexual education {including consent}
  • Managing emotions and appropriate ways to de-stress
  • How to prioritize responsibilities and goals
  • How to win {and lose} gracefully
  • Basic understanding of human psychology and child development
  • How to read body language and social cues

Personal and Community Safety

  • How to stand up for oneself
  • How to de-escalate conflicts
  • Recognizing signs of abuse, gaslighting, and bullying
  • Maintaining situational awareness {in public and at home}
  • Water safety {not necessarily swimming skills}
  • Transportation navigation and safety {walking, biking, driving, public}
  • Maintaining privacy {online and in real life}
  • What to do in an emergency
  • Basic first aid knowledge

Communication Skills and Critical Thinking

  • Basic social manners and etiquette
  • Speaking clearly {in person and over the phone}
  • Listening to understand {and with empathy}
  • Basic negotiation and mediation skills
  • How to apply and interview for a job
  • Appropriate use of social media 
  • Effective writing skills {formal and informal}
  • Basic knowledge of civics and good citizenship {including when, where, and how to vote}
  • Scientific literacy {including recognizing pseudoscience}
  • How to evaluate information sources 
  • How to spot a scam
  • How to read legal documents {including contracts and leases}
  • Making a realistic assessment of one’s abilities and limitations

Household and Financial Management

  • How to move in/out of a home {including signing/breaking a lease}
  • How to buy and maintain a vehicle {not necessarily doing the maintenance yourself}
  • Setting up utilities {including evaluating providers and rates}
  • Home and lawn maintenance and safety {including how to find outside resources}
  • Updating personal documents {will, power of attorney, insurance, license, passport}
  • Daily maintenance skills: Cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, minor clothing repairs
  • Creating a realistic budget {that includes both future planning and present enjoyment}
  • Understanding the basics of interest, credit, loans, and long-term investing
  • Paying bills on time {including setting up automatic payments}
  • Taxes {how to file your own or how to find resources}

What essential life skills would you add to this list? Anything that you would eliminate?

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


Homeschooling Update {Week 5}

Do you have a name for your homeschool? We never did until we moved to California two years ago, and had to register ourselves as a “private school” per the state’s guidelines. The form required we give the school itself an official name, and me as administrator an official title. 

Since we know we will only be here for a few years, and we will not be graduating any students in that time, we were not concerned how the name might sound on a transcript. So, we decided to go with something fun, and combine our love for our cat and humanism. 

That is how we became The Oscar Darwin Homeschool for Happy Humans.

Also, I may or may not have listed my formal title as Homeschooling Goddess.

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

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This week we made it through a complete loop with the “extra” books I slipped in last week. Two of our new reads complement our American history spine, and so far they seem to be a hit. {History is always the subject where I feel we need to up our game.}

Right now we start with Everything You Need to Ace American History. Then we read the corresponding chapter in Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States. Finally, we take a look at a few related pages from A Child’s Introduction to African American History, which is more detailed and thorough than the title implies.

For art we made our own oil pastels, another use for all those old crayons pieces. {We made play doh from them last week.}

I also took on the task of decluttering my digital life, which proved to be a much simpler task than I anticipated. I am still working on my social media accounts, but the majority of my files and photos and e-mails are now under control. 

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


Digital Decluttering: 3 Questions To Get You Started

I enjoying living in a decluttered and organized space, and this includes my digital life as well. 

Recently I decided to re-set my laptop to factory settings, essentially clearing all of my personal information and then adding back in only what I deemed absolutely necessary. 

At first I thought I needed a newer, faster, spiffier computer. It turned out I simply had to let go of what bogged me down and free up space for what could move me forward.

Notebook and pen sit near an open laptop computer with a cup of coffee nearby.

Do I Really Need All These Files and Photos?

I realized I held on to plenty of electronic “stuff” for years that is simply not that important, and so I did not even bother backing up a lot of it. I thought of it like this: If I only had one paper copy of this, and I somehow accidentally shredded it, how devastated would I be? The answer in almost every case turned out to be “not at all.”

Of course I did want to save a few items {iCloud came in handy here}, but I purposely did not move others—knowing they would be gone forever—and I felt confident I would not miss them. With the clutter out of the way, I could more easily see what I needed to do to keep my digital life from becoming overwhelmed again.

I hesitated the most with photos. I think those of us who grew up in the age before digital cameras and ubiquitous phone cameras still have a hard time thinking of pictures as disposable commodities. But honestly, I share all of my favorites on social media, and have several photo albums of prints from our travels that grace our shelves. I also upload copies to Amazon photos for storage. I have no reason for the excess to be saved on my laptop for all eternity. 

One loss did disappoint me a little. After I re-installed the operating system, I attempted to download Evernote again and discovered the newest version is not compatible. I had been using Evernote to organize my blog notes and drafts, and I really liked the set-up. But, I made the switch over to a different application—Notes—and it is working out just fine after a brief learning curve.

How Social Do I Have Time To Be?

Next I moved on to dealing with my social media accounts. I currently maintain two Facebook pages {one personal and one business page for the blog }, plus Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest

Here is the main problem I am having: In an effort to be a supportive blogger—as well as to open marketing avenues for my own writing—I seem to have bitten off more than I can chew. That is, I sort of haphazardly “liked” and “followed” a bunch of resource pages, tech support pages, and fellow bloggers, and I cannot realistically keep up with them. 

So now I am taking on the task of sorting through what I follow and paring it down to a reasonable amount that will actually be beneficial to my writing and that I can engage with actively. All the motivational  pages in the world are not going to benefit me if I have no time to digest them. I also want to have the time and energy to give honest support to fellow writers I love following, not just clicks for clicks’ sake. It is proving to be an intense process.

Why Do I Have So Many E-Mails?

Truth: I absolutely cannot stand having unread e-mails. Even if I know it is something I am likely to immediately delete, I will still click on it because I need to get rid of that red notification dot. 

Generally I only leave messages sitting in my inbox if I still have an uncompleted task associated with them—notice of a blog comment I have not responded to yet, confirmation of an Amazon order that has not arrived, a reminder that our library books are due soon and I should renew them.

Every time an e-mail comes through that I am not 100% sure about, I open it and then scroll to the bottom and unsubscribe. I do not need to be on 99% of the e-mail lists I signed up for, and neither do you. Keep a few newsletters and blogs and affirmations if you really enjoy reading them, but most could go and you would never miss them.

This will, off course, be a work in progress. Just as you cannot clean out your closet or declutter your kitchen once and be done with it, keeping your digital decluttering under control will involve active decisions each time new things find their way in. 


How To Make Your Own Oil Pastels

This is the second time in a week the Agents and I have gone crafty. I fear it may become a trend.

If you have broken crayons lying around—which I know you do—you can easily turn them into a slightly different art medium using just two ingredients. Oil pastels can be a fun change for your little artists. 

Dark blue oil pastels hardening in a plastic mold

An oil pastel is simply a softer crayon that blends very easily. Basically, it’s a crayon with more oil {duh}, which makes it smoother. This, of course, also makes them pretty easy to break—but it doesn’t particularly matter, because you can use your finger to spread it around the paper as well.

All you need to make them yourself is a handful of regular wax crayon pieces and a tablespoon of vegetable oil. 

Dark blue crayons pieces in a white tea cup

You will also need some type of container to shape them. We used a plastic container with small rectangular dividers that originally held chalk. A cylinder style ice cube tray would work as well. 

Microwave in 30-second intervals until completely melted, then pour into a mold. Let it sit for about 30 minutes {or pop in the fridge to speed it up} then carefully pop them out. 

Melted dark blue liquid in a white tea cup
Dark blue oil pastels out of the mold and separated into individual pieces

And that’s it! New art supplies from old art supplies so nothing goes to waste. {They are not particularly pretty, but they work.}

For another art idea using melted crayons, check out Homemade Play Doh Using Melted Crayons.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


Homeschooling Update {Week 4}

Busy weekend in sunny San Diego: It’s Comic Con time, and Monday is the first day of school around here {public schools in our area go year-round} so everything is crowded and people-y. The Agents and I are pretty much staying in and avoiding all potential interactions with humans. 

Sharpened colored pencils in order from light to dark form a semi-circle.

We added several books to our rotation this week. Not sure how many I can slip into the pile before the loop concept starts to unravel and we simply have too many to get through in a reasonable time frame. We started the year with twelve. I think our current total is sixteen. 

We also made our own play doh and it was a hit all around.

Yesterday I downloaded one of those applications that “helps” you with your writing and corrects your grammar. Basically it’s spellcheck on crack, judging every letter you type and taunting you with useless suggestions. 

I have already deleted it. 

Look, I am pretty good with grammar and spelling. I worked as a copyeditor for years. If you find an error here or there in my work, it is almost guaranteed to be a genuine typo—not something written incorrectly due to lack of understanding. I tried letting the app check my blog drafts and it drove me nuts attempting to fix “errors” that did not exist. 

So now you know what this means: If you find a single, tiny, insignificant typo in anything you read here—ever—it is your solemn duty to point it out to me. Deal? 

Now that a month of the new school year is behind us, we seem to have found our groove. Our days are humming along, and we have settled into workable routines for days we stay in and days we go out.

Thanks so much for stopping by today. If you enjoyed this post, I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest.


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