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25 June 2017

Traveler's Guide to Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids will always have a special place in my heart. I lived near the city when I was born and as a child, but I don't really have any memories associated with it from that time. Only when I moved back for college did I really start to get to know the city and start acquiring precious memories of fun times with my college friends around town.

What I love about Grand Rapids is the balance--it's not a small town, but it's not an overcrowded metropolis, either. Even for this directionally-challenged girl, it's pretty easy to navigate on foot and to remember where different destinations within the city are located.

Disclaimer: I partnered with Experience Grand Rapids in order to produce this post. They provided two complimentary tickets to several of the locations mentioned. All opinions are, as always, my own.








Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

Let's just start with the greatest, shall we? I've loved Frederick Meijer Gardens since I was a kid and went there especially to see the butterflies during their short-term butterfly exhibit every spring. They are a great concert venue, and when I was in college, Angel and I had a membership here so that we could get first dibs on concert tickets--because they sell out fast! We saw Darius Rucker in concert at the gardens. On this most recent visit, we loved touring the outdoor gardens as usual, but we especially appreciated their current temporary exhibit by Ai Wei Wei, a Chinese artist with a passion for social justice who uses much of his art to bring to light human rights issues in his home country. Because of our background of living in China, this exhibit particularly struck an emotional note for both of us, and we spent a long time watching videos about Ai Wei Wei's story and reading placards about the symbolism in his art.







Grand Rapids Children's Museum

Ever since I first told Sarah we'd be going to the Children's Museum, weeks before we even left on our trip, she was so excited that she would remind me nearly daily of our future plans. She was thrilled with the very idea of a museum designed purely for kids--a museum just for HER.  She felt pretty important on the day Angel dropped the two of  us off to experience the children's museum and she got to enter through her own kid-sized door. Sarah particularly enjoyed the mini-real-world set-up on the first floor of the museum, with a grocery store and a bank and a post office and mechanic shop and more, all kid-sized. Upstairs, we got to play with bubbles, and in the hospital area, I was rather traumatized by a doctor who kept insisting I wasn't getting enough oxygen and needed serious treatment. We were there during the afternoon painting session, so she got to make a painting to bring home. I think my favorite part of the museum were the strangely labeled bottles of food. I'm pretty sure I want the job of labeling food for the children's museum. If I can't have it, I want to be friends with the person who has that job, because their sense of humor is AWESOME.





Grand Rapids Public Museum

I've been here a number of times, and have even gone to swing dance events held here during the winter time. On this most recent trip, we went with others in our family, and the hours sped by before we'd even seen all of the exhibits. Thankfully, we ended up going on the day that they were open late (go on Tuesdays if you'll need more time!) Some of the exhibits were new and updated since my last visit, including an exhibit all about the role of immigrants in Grand Rapids history, which I found especially fascinating. Also, because of my predisposition towards museums with a sense of humor, I loved the tongue-in-cheek "Metamorphosis of a BEATLE" and "Examples of Beetle Body Parts" exhibits.




John Ball Zoo

This is another highlight of Grand Rapids that I do have memories of visiting as a child. This small zoo resides in the midst of the city, making it more accessible to children who actually live in the city. I appreciate their commitment to keeping the zoo within the confines of the city, on the land that John Ball originally left to Grand Rapids more than a century ago. This is a small zoo, but that is reflected in the inexpensive ticket prices. When we went, it was May and very chilly, so not all of the animals were out in their exhibits yet. That it part of zoo life in Michigan--it's not warm enough year round for some of the animals! Our favorite animals we spotted were the grizzlies--they were very active, probably the most active I've ever seen bears! They had a lot of fun exhibits, and for us, with no children in our group, it was about a 2-hour visit to explore the entire zoo. With kids, I think you'd definitely want to stay longer so that they could enjoy the petting zoo and some of the jungle gym, playtime equipment they have there.


Gerald R. Ford Museum

This is the most educational of my picks for fun things to do in the city. In Grand Rapids, we're proud of out "local" president and this Museum is dedicated to him and his impact on American history. Great one to visit if you're a homeschooling family and like to combine vacation with education! *cough* I don't know anybody like that *cough* Just kidding--the exhibits really are fascinating and if you have any interest in American history you'll be quite willing to visit!


Downtown GR

Grand Rapids is such a fun city to wander around the downtown area. At various times, there are community events going on: one of my favorites is GROSS, a swing dancing group that meets somewhere downtown every Tuesday all year long. Every September, Grand Rapids hosts ArtPrize, a city-wide art exhibition and competition. In the spring, there is Festival of the Arts. We also attended the Hispanic Festival every year for some good food and to hear some music that made Angel feel right at home! There are interesting cafes and restaurants on nearly every corner. The Van Andel Arena hosts concerts and sporting events throughout the year. Visit the Experience GR website to find out what events will be going on during your stay! There are a number of college campuses in and around town that are quite lovely and worth a stroll--Calvin College's campus and nature center are my favorite, but I may be a bit biased!

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Have you ever visited Grand Rapids? What's your favorite thing to do in the city?
20 June 2017

Re-Introducing The Random Writings

So....if you've visited the blog in the last day or so, you may have been shocked or amazed by the changes around here. My last blog design was in 2014, and lately I've been feeling like the blog was due for an updated look. Since we just got our anniversary photos, that helped motivate me--I wanted to use our new pretty photos in the new design!

Use this opportunity to take a look around--I've updated my pages and now you can get to them from the navigation bar across the top. My "About" page has a typically Rachelesque description of myself, along with links to the various travel destinations I've covered. The "Book" page is all you need to know about The Cactus Who Craved a Hamburger. "Resources" has some of my favorite useful links from around the internet. "Questions?" is a page I've resurrected from an older design, one that I'm certainly willing to add to if there are any new questions you all have for us!

Feel free to test out all of the new, fashionable features of this design-- a great test would be to follow me on your social media of choice by using the social media buttons across the top, or go ahead and use the super-cool hovering "pin it" button when you want to pin a photo from a post! (I didn't even know the template I purchased on Etsy for less than $10 included a pin-it button, so that was a cool surprise for me!). You can even see my Instagram photos on the cool 3x3 grid on my sidebar and follow me from there! Search the blog or follow via email from the handy buttons on the sidebar! When I write something especially touching or useful or hilarious, you can use the ultra-stylish Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter sharing buttons located below each post to share my awesome posts with the world.

There is your short and sweet tour of the amazing new features The Random Writings now has as a result of the long evening I spent at home while Angel got stranded at a gas station after work due to a dead car battery. Now for a re-introduction to Rachel and Angel, the brains and brawn behind the blog, here are a few random facts about us and our relationship:


Me: I'm not really a musically-oriented person. I used to have a keyboard and taught myself to read music and play as part of homeschool, but have no natural talent or ear for music. I am completely comfortable with silence and am not likely to ever turn on music when I'm on my own, though there are plenty of songs I enjoy. People who are uncomfortable with silence confuse me.

Angel: When he's in the car, he has a habit of constantly flipping through radio channels or skipping songs on cds. Never listening to an entire song. Probably because of my lack of affinity for music in general, or just because I'm used to him, I hardly notice this habit, it just feels normal to me, but when other people ride in the car with us, they tend to get quite disturbed by this. A few months ago we were chauffering a bunch of teenagers and they were shouting with frustration because Angel could never seem to let them listen to an entire song before switching to a different channel.

Us: Neither one of us has ever bought a TV. We didn't have a TV when we first got married, then somebody gave us one they were getting rid of, the big fat box kind, and that worked great, and we'd watch stuff like America's Funniest Home Videos after Angel would come home from work on weekends. Later, Angel's brother gave us his TV, which was a major upgrade because this one was skinny, and we got Netflix. Our apartment in China technically had a television, because that was part of the work contract, but the television didn't turn on. We haven't had a television set at all for the past two years--I'm more of a social movie watcher, I don't watch any shows by myself, so we'll go to family movie nights at my parents' house, or else Angel and I will just watch a movie on our laptop together. But our home internet is quite awful so no streaming subscriptions for us, it's not worth waiting for the buffering to end.

Me: I read pretty much anything. I have a few genres I don't read or don't prefer (I won't read anything super scary, and it's rare for me to read romantic fiction). Kids books are a favorite, along with classic mysteries and adventure novels. Once in a while I'll read a bit of sci-fi or fantasy and I also have a great fondness for educational books--history, geography, true stories. I also read catalogues and cereal boxes and anything that has words and is within arm's reach. I don't really self-help books. Those always seem like the kind of books that spend 60,000 words telling you something you already know.

Angel: Plays most sports well, and has boxes of medals and letterman patches and plaques in his parents' house from high school sports. He started out doing cross-country in college, but then found out that real education takes real study time and he left organized sports in order to prioritize his Nursing and Spanish degree. Now he runs 5k about 5 times a week, more miles and more times if he's training for a bigger race, and tries to squeeze in a basketball or soccer game whenever one fits into the schedule! But work and life responsibilities come first!

Us: I didn't know Angel was Mexican when we first met. I figured that out about 4 months later. People say things like "Every marriage is a cross-cultural marriage because no two families have exactly the same culture." Which is certainly true to an extent. But it's a totally different extent when you're in an interracial and cross-cultural marriage where you don't even share the same mother tongue or any cultural stories. Angel is really Mexican and I'm really not. Sharing in his culture and his family adds so much to my life. He tells stories of El Chupacabra and La Llorona to my little sisters, and we all benefit from his carne asada grilling skills. But there's things that don't feel quite so natural. I still have to ask what words mean when the topic of a family conversation in Spanish goes over my head. I don't like or cook a number of the dishes that taste like "home" for him: ceviche, lengua, menudo. The flour vs. corn tortilla debate will never end. We have to talk about whether we'll give our future kids Spanish or English names.

Me: My favorite animal is a jellyfish. When asked why, I typically answer: "Because they look cool and sting people." Other than jellyfish (and even those I only like from a distance), I don't really like animals. I will ride horses and cats are tolerable at a distance and I might even hold a kitten, but other than that...pretty much no animals. Thankfully, even my animal-loving family members understand this and tell their dogs to leave me alone. Dogs seems to be drawn to me with their inerrant instinct for finding the only person in the room who doesn't want to pet them.

Angel: Loves pets, but I'm not sure they love him. He's allergic to cats and dogs. He's known for telling friends and family that he wishes they would post MORE photos of their pets on social media (a statement that I'm pretty sure has never been heard in the history of the world). His favorite dog is Chikis, his mom's chihuahua, but I'm pretty sure they have a love-hate relationship, as evidenced in this video. She's so used to him that  she gets pretty defensive the minute he says "It's okay.". Smart chihuahua.


Us: I'm an INTJ and he's an ISTJ, which really explains a lot. The fact that I'm so clueless about romance that I had to ask him bluntly if he was interested in me. The reason why Angel's fond of saying he logically decided that I was the best wife he could get. Our shared value for being on time to everything and keeping commitments. My absolute loathing of rules for the sake of rules and inflexible schedules. Angel's calm demeanor and reliability and lack of imagination.

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That's us! Anything else you'd like to know? I could use a few more questions to add to my questions page, so ask away!
18 June 2017

Ridiculous Generosity and Modcloth Dresses

Just warning you, I might get a bit emotional while writing this blog post. Don't mind the tearstains on the screen, because I have to tell you this story.

Those who have been reading this blog for some time know our background. You know what this blog used to consist of. Once upon a time Angel was a nurse in a Burn ICU and getting his Master's Degree to be a Nurse Practitioner and I was a cosmetology student with a big, bizarre, and colorful wardrobe who loved DIY projects and craft supplies and fashion design and quirky hair colors. We lived in a cute farmhouse on several acres in the country and hosted creative parties and spent our free time dating and going on adventures that I wrote about.






And then our life got turned upside down.

I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that moving to Malaysia was the right choice. I did not know the challenges that the following years would hold, both the wearying life experiences and world-shaking loss we'd had to face together, but also just (this one is far more shallow): learning to live on less than 1/3rd of our former income.

Going back to America was emotional in many ways, but one thing that surprised us was how much we could see the difference between the Angel and Rachel of the past--with their comfortable couch, overflowing closet, and well-stocked craft room--to Angel and Rachel currently.

But just when I found myself being tempted to think that I've sacrificed too much and to feel sorry that I don't own such fun things anymore...ridiculous generosity comes in and pushes me to my knees. Every bit of our trip to the USA was made possible by generosity--from relatives allowing us to stay in their homes to people feeding us more than we could eat and giving us things from their homes to take back that they knew would be useful for our lifestyle here--sometimes even the watch off their wrist.

Many people were incredibly giving to us in the USA, and that's why our whirlwind trip was so encouraging, but let me tell you just one story of ridiculous giving. My little sister. My younger sister, someone I should be taking care of and spoiling, by rights, because I'm older, because I'm her "Mommy Rachel." She takes me out for breakfast. And she takes me to Hobby Lobby because I want to buy myself some colored pencils with my birthday money and she sneakily buys the pencils for me--along with a coloring book AND a planner AND a pineapple-covered notebook just because pineapples are our 'thing.'

Nobody needs colored pencils or planners or coloring books, and they definitely don't need notebooks covered in pineapples. They're extravagant luxuries.

But somehow she knows what a gift like that might mean to me. And then, another day, we're looking at some t-shirts that are funny and cute and she grabs the "Live Fearless" tee I like the best and buys us twin t-shirts.

And then, when I'm packing up to leave and go home, things are taken to the next level. She's already given me more than is reasonable--her excuses of being away for my birthday and for Christmas are getting thinner by the moment. And there's something you should know: I've never bought any clothing from Modcloth. Like any girl who loves quirky fashion, I've browsed their site and checked sales and oohed-and-aahed over various new arrivals. But I've never actually spent the money and purchased anything from them.

I've never owned a Modcloth dress. And then, as I'm packing my suitcase, Anna says "Wait!"

And she runs to her closet and starts pulling dresses out. It's like she's doing a commercial.

"Look at the colors of this one!"

"This one has food all over it--and yeah, it's burgers and fries, so it's not the tastiest food--but can you believe it, a food dress!"

"I love these stripes! And this one has pockets!"

"Oh, and this one! I bought this one because you sent me the link to it."

"I know you like this skirt because you commented on the photo of me wearing it how cute it was."

"And this skirt is so pretty and elegant, I can just picture you wearing it!"

Each dress she picks is precisely something I would have chosen myself--somehow, she knows my affinity for bizarre prints and my love for bright colors and polka-dots and flared skirts. And as she's grabbing these dresses and taking them off the hanger and holding them up and extolling their virtues, she's piling them in my arms. I say, "Baby, you can't give me your clothes. What will you wear?"

"I have lots of clothes," she dismisses my response with a wave. And the tears are running down my cheeks. She even gets a maxi dress out of her dresser drawer with the tags still on and says, "Look at the sleeves on this one, aren't they amazing!! I haven't had an event to wear it to yet, but you better take it now." I won't let her do it, I gotta draw the line somewhere. Giving away clothes you've had for a while is one thing, but giving away something you never got to wear is something else.

But she won't let me leave. She runs to her impressively stocked bookshelf and starts grabbing novels.

"This one made me so happy, it's just a really happy read!"

"This one is educational, it's good to have."

"This one is cute. This one is interesting--let me know what you think of it."

Again, she tries to give me a book she hasn't even read yet. "This is a book about teaching techniques that was recommended to me, but  you should take it because you're teaching now." I make her keep that one. She still has two years left in her education degree. I think she'll have time to read it.

I'm crying and I'm humbled, so humbled. At that moment when I was tempted toward the "I've been asked to give too much" trail of thinking, this little girl, this baby that I remember from the very first days of her life, is giving me gifts I couldn't give myself. Gifts beyond imagination. She knows me so well that she knows what Modcloth dresses and books and colored pencils and planners and pineapple notebooks mean. And in that moment she's a picture of God's perfect love to me--He loves so perfectly and so knowingly--and He provides what we couldn't provide for ourselves, no matter how hard we try. He loves to an extent that we know we could never deserve. In this moment she's a gentle rebuke and reminder from Him: "You think you can ever give more than Me?"

The answer is no, not a chance, not even the remotest possibility. I'm so, so sorry for imagining that I could.

So when we're tempted to think, sometimes, that we've given too much, that our generosity has passed the point of reasonableness...that maybe we should start making choices that are more focused on ourselves...we might just find that, in that moment of temptation, unexpectedly, we are shown once again a generosity so ridiculous and a love so extraordinary that we are reminded: there's simply no such thing as giving too much. Reason should have nothing to do with the way we give. You can't out-give God. And you can't predict how His love will be shown in the different circumstances of your life. Hang in there. Stay the course. Press on.


Sometimes he'll use a baby sister with a closet full of Modcloth dresses. Silly? Yeah.

Breathtaking? Absolutely.
15 June 2017

4 Days in Southern California

Angel lived there for the first 20 years of his life, and I've transited through LAX countless times when traveling from Asia to the USA and back the other way, but this May was the first time I've ever set food in California.

And...spoiler alert...I thought it was awesome.

We had a very limited time in which to see and do everything we hoped to do, so after arriving at Angel's aunt's home late on Tuesday the 2nd of May, we decided that the next morning we'd jump right into touring and sightseeing so that we wouldn't have a chance to be jetlagged (see, that's how jetlag works. Mind over matter).

4 Day Itinerary for Southern California

Day 1

We woke up bright and early and had bagels and cream cheese for breakfast--Angel's aunt had heard from my mother-in-law that plain bagels are my favorite and had stocked up before our arrival. Isn't that the sweetest? After his aunt left for work, we headed right out to begin exploring. Tools that made our explorations possible are our rental car and my Dad's GPS. The night before we left Malaysia, Angel had realized that he really ought to install an updated USA map on the GPS before we took it to the USA. We had to leave the house by 7 a.m. the next morning. The GPS map finished updating at 6:45 a.m., just 15 minutes before we needed to leave, after loading the update the whole night. We cut that one pretty close!

Pro tip: Don't procrastinate on updating GPS maps.


Back to SoCal. When we'd been planning this trip, Angel really, really did not want to go to Hollywood or anywhere around there. However, upon waking up, he said, "Let's go to Hollywood!" and this girl was not about to disagree. If you watch our travel vlog, you can probably tell how simultaneously sleepy and excited I was on that first morning:


*Also, I had a cold the whole time we were in California, and didn't let it phase me in the slightest as far as adventuring went, but I can definitely hear it in my voice on the video!

We'd heard much of the infamous LA traffic, but we never experienced any traffic that was truly bothersome during our visit. Maybe living on an extremely overpopulated island with poor transportation infrastructure has heightened our traffic standards. Either way, it felt like the drive from Anaheim to Hollywood passed by quite quickly. I spotted the Hollywood sign on the way and had a grand time keeping my face nearly pressed to the glass of my window so I could take in all of the unfamiliar sights.


We found a parking ramp right near the Walk of Fame and went out to spend a little time reading the names on the stars. We found the famous TCL Chinese Theater and had a lot of fun reading familiar and unfamiliar names and checking out all the hand and footprints.





After wandering around looking at stars in the sidewalk and wondering if anyone actually ever buys the horrible trinkets from the tourist souvenir shops, we got back in the car and headed to the Grove and the Farmer's Market. I'd read somewhere that they were really pretty to walk around, so I wanted to visit for a bit before heading to our next destination. We parked in the lot that has free parking as long as you buy something from the Farmer's Market, which was a great excuse to get an incredibly delicious smoothie bowl and share it as our first meal of the day post-breakfast bagels. I loved the flowers all over the Grove and was basically walking in a zig-zag pattern as if I were being magnetically attracted by the flowerbeds. Which I was.




From there, we headed straight for the Santa Monica Pier! We walked by Muscle Beach, which was highly amusing to me. I had never before seen a bunch of serious workout equipment on a beach...or a bunch of really serious looking athletic kind of people who seemed to be very seriously working out in the middle of a public beach. There was even a sort of fake grass pad for doing yoga and pilates. The pier was also amusing, a bit crowded, but really, when you're used to the crowds of SE Asia...nothing that could phase us. The funniest part was when I noticed that a guy playing the violin looked very familiar and I told Angel, "I'm pretty sure that's the husband of a blogger." Erin Morris, I'd met her a few years back at an Influence Conference and for a while we'd both written for Quite Magazine, a project put together by Morgan Harper Nichols. I probably wouldn't have said anything to him, but Angel, being his sociable and strange self, walked straight up to him after he finished a song and asked, "Are you married?" I thought that that was by far the weirdest question to get from a stranger ever, so I had to quickly ask, "Your wife is Erin, a blogger, right?" He laughed and said yes, and I said I'd met her and recognized him from her instagram posts...so that our saying hi didn't seem quite so odd.





After that, we stopped for a quick bite at In-n-Out, mostly for Angel, who thinks man cannot live on bagels and smoothie bowls alone. Then he took me to the beach where he used to go to most often with his surfboard or boogie board. I think it was called Long Beach? I could tell just by looking at Angel looking at the water that he wanted to jump right in. Also, he apparently spotted dolphins, but he didn't point them out to me so I didn't get to see them. :(




After that, we drove back towards Anaheim so that Angel could show me some places from his past. This mostly consisted of showing me places where his apartment complex used to exist, but the apartment complex has since been torn down and something new has been built in its place. He also showed me his elementary school, the hospital where he was born, and his favorite panaderia. Wherever we go, Angel always has a favorite panaderia. Except in Malaysia and China, because they don't exist over here. Probably why Angel gained several pounds in conchas alone during our vacation (Funny Story: Angel went running one of the first days after we got back from our trip. An elderly man who is often walking the same track while Angel runs stopped him to chat and said, "I can tell you gained a lot of weight. It's a big difference.")

Another pro trip: Have great internal self-esteem if  you want to live in SE Asia

Back to SoCal. Angel also took me to a sort of mall where you could find all matter of piñatas and quinceañera dresses, if  you were in the market for one.



{Favorite panaderia}

Afterwards, we stopped by Downtown Disney to check it out and wander around for just a bit before heading back to Angel's aunts home to spend the evening with some of his cousins who were coming over for dinner.

All this goes to show, you can see a LOT of SoCal in one day if you try hard and believe in yourself. ha!

Day 2

I already recapped this day, as this was May the 4th, and I spent the entire day inside the Disney Parks by myself. Angel spent the day picnicking with old friends and meeting up with his extended family.

Day 3


Again, is one I've already recapped in my post about our day in Joshua Tree National Park. I really wanted to go to a national park while we were in California and this was well worth the trip! We got on the road fairly early in the morning, spent a good chunk of the day at the park, then left and stopped at Arby's (my first time at Arby's in 3 years!!) for a quick bite before heading over to another uncle of Angel's to stay at his house for the night--because Joshua Tree is a bit far from Anaheim, we knew we didn't want to stay in Anaheim the evening after hiking all over the park, so staying a bit closer to the park for the night made sense, plus it allowed us to meet up with more family.

Angel's family were so kind--his uncle fired up a wood grill and cooked us a huge meal of burgers, chicken, and shrimp, and grilled veggies when Angel said I was more of a veggie kind of girl. More of his cousins came over to visit and they talked late into the night.

Day 4



Saturday, our final day. We actually had a slow morning for once, having breakfast (so much pan dulce!) and spending time with Angel's relatives before heading out to Uplands to visit some of our college friends--we had at first hoped to do some sightseeing, possibly go to the Brea Tar Pits, but the weather was uncooperative and time was running short so we opted just to have a meal and hang out at their apartment and catch up on the past few years.

After that, it was off to another uncle's house for dinner and watching a boxing match that I understand was rather exciting or important because it was a match between two Mexicans. I don't know a thing about boxing but from what I gathered, the match was a bit disappointing. Saying all the goodbyes was sad for Angel--he said it's the reason he hadn't gone back to California in 12 years, because once he goes back, he feels right at home and finds it tough to leave. Early the next morning we were on our way to the airport to catch a flight to DFW!

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So there's our 4 days in California--a mix of sightseeing plus a lot of time with family and friends. It was a rather budget friendly trip, since we were able to stay with family and they generously fed us more than we could eat. The one ticket to Disney was the splurge of the trip, but I couldn't bear to be in Anaheim without going to the original Disneyland! Seeing people we love was a big reason for our trip to the USA, so it wasn't the typical traveler's itinerary, so this blend of sightseeing and time with loved ones fit our priorities perfectly!

Have you been to this part of the USA? What would you want to see in LA area?

13 June 2017

Solo Trip to Disneyland and California Adventure

What's a girl to do who loves Disney theme parks, but has limited time and budget during a whirlwind 4-day trip to Anaheim/Southern California?

Obviously, let the husband do his own thing for the day and go to the parks solo (slashing ticket prices in half by purchasing one instead of two! Bet you never saw a "Saving Money at Disneyland" blog post that recommended leaving beloved family members behind in order to save money before!) AND go to two parks in one day in order to experience the best of both without using any more time than necessary.

It should be noted that the fact that I went alone to the parks was a completely willing choice on both sides for Angel and I. Sure, if there had been more time and money, I would have loved to experience the parks with him, but during our short time in the area, I really, really wanted to experience the parks, while he isn't such a big theme park fan, so spending time with his relatives and visiting his old neighborhood was more important to him.

Disneyland and California Adventure Solo Trip

Because I didn't have a phone or any way to contact him once we got separated (we were sharing one active phone for our month in the USA), I planned that I would stay until the park closed at 11:00 p.m. and he'd pick me up outside the gates of the park. If anything happened and he wasn't there to pick me up...I'd just have to live in Downtown Disney forever. No big deal.

I was at California Adventure bright and early and inside the park before official opening in the morning. The layout of the park was very unfamiliar--I knew I ought to get to Radiator Springs Racers first thing...but I had no clear idea on how to get there or where the fastpass station for that ride is set up. I ended up taking the long way to the ride, but once I got there, a long line had formed and they'd just opened up the single rider line, so I got in that line and was on the ride in less than five minutes. I hadn't researched California Adventure much at all, so I didn't know what to expect, but this ride was a perfect "Welcome back!" to Disney parks. So elaborate and fun and detailed. I absolutely loved it.


I then started walking toward Paradise Pier, where I stumbled upon the World of Color fastpass machines and grabbed one of those before riding The Little Mermaid ride.

Then I wandered through the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail before riding Grizzly River Run--I took a technique I'd learned from living in Asia and wore a disposable dollar store raincoat for the water ride so that I could cover up my camera and purse and ride without having to worry about finding a locker. I probably looked funny but oh well--the family group that I was with on that ride was very funny--the grandfather did tell me that if I was afraid of water that this probably wasn't the right ride for me. :P I love rapids-style rides and normally don't mind getting wet at all, but...I'm protective of my camera!


After that I went to Soarin' Around the World, which had a line, so I got a fastpass and wandered over towards Hollywood Land and rode the Monster's Inc. ride, before being lured into the special sneak preview of the new Pirates of the Caribbean. I can't resist a Pirates movie! Probably not the most strategic use of theme park time but I enjoyed a chance to sit down and the extended preview was fun--I was especially glad to see it because the busyness of our trip meant that I didn't get to see the new movie until a few weeks after it came out!

By then my Soarin' fastpass was open so I went to ride it--this was the ride where I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that I teared up--when they were going over the Great Wall of China, and tropical islands that remind me of the tropical islands of Asia that I love so much.


I wanted to stay in the park until the Frozen stage show began, but it wasn't time to line up quite yet so I bought a lemonade to cool down with and wandered around a little bit to see all the sights--I got a 1st Visit button and explored a bit until it was time to go line up for the show. I so enjoyed the Frozen performance...and...again...cried. I've only seen the movie once, back when it first came out, so my memories of the film were hazy. I love everything about theater--the sets and costumes and props and dances...just watching any live show makes me want to plunge into the life of auditions and rehearsals. Ahh...what my town needs is a community theater that has roles for English-speaking Caucasians. ;)


As soon as the Frozen performance was finished, I sped quickly into Disneyland--and immediately realized that this park was much, much more crowded. The day I visited was May the 4th, and lots of people were in costume or Star Wars attire. I realized I'd have to be very efficient in order to get things done and ran first to get a FastPass for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad--it only had about a 20 minute wait until my time slot would open up, so I went from there to the Haunted Mansion and waited in the shade and got a bit of a rest while waiting for me to be allowed to pull another fastpass.

Once I had gotten my Haunted Mansion fastpass I went to ride Thunder Mountain (fun!), and then headed over toward the Matterhorn to grab a fastpass for that as soon as my Haunted Mansion fastpass became valid. Then I walked back across the park to ride Haunted Mansion (this was not the best park strategy if I were trying to limit steps for the day...but I was confident that Disney adrenaline could keep me going till 11 p.m., jetlag or no jetlag!)

I still had time after Haunted Mansion before my Matterhorn fastpass slot opened up, so I went to ride Winnie the Pooh and then bought an ice cream sandwich because Angel had made me promise not to go the whole day without eating. He knows me well--the combination of exorbitantly priced theme park food and too much excitement and eagerness to get to the next show or ride makes me a likely candidate for ignoring something like the need to eat. I got a fastpass to Splash Mountain because the time slots there were already quite late in the evening. And then I made my way over to the Matterhorn. I was excited to try this ride, as any rides that were completely different from rides at other Disney parks were a priority for me...but I wasn't a fan of the Matterhorn. Too bumpy for my preferences, so it wasn't much fun.



As soon as that was over, I no longer had any fastpass time slots hanging over me, so I just started getting into line for whichever rides I felt like trying out. I did Autopia and the Storybookland Canal Boats (first of all, boat rides are my all-time favorite, and so are miniatures, so this was one of my favorite rides of the day!).  I wandered into the Sleeping Beauty Castle and rode Alice in Wonderland.  As I was walking, I passed by a group of pirates on their way to a performance, and one of the pirates told me he liked my hair, so the perfect day just became even more perfect. I passed by some guests who were saying, "Disney employees are just the worst!" but clearly I have no idea what they were talking about. I had only good experiences the entire day! I figured I had time for one more ride before heading back to California Adventure for World of Color, so I got in line for Pirates of the Caribbean. The line was long, but I mean, who am I to pass up a Pirates ride?? That cannot be.


Passing by the Blue Bayou restaurant brought back happy memories of my 25th birthday dinner at the Blue Bayou in Tokyo.

Then it was back into California Adventure--I stopped for a bread sample and a free square of Ghirardelli chocolate before getting myself a little spot to watching World of Color from. See, Angel, I did eat! I enjoyed the show, but I was rather mystified by how nearly everyone around me had their phones out recording the entire show while they were watching it. I love to take videos myself...but I can't imagine ever watching something like a video of a water and light show. Seeing it in real life is good enough for me, but a phone-quality home video of it just sounds not entertaining. My favorite part of the show was...bet you couldn't guess...the Captain Jack scene. So predictable...


And then it was back to Disneyland to squeeze in a few more rides before closing. I rode the Finding Nemo Submarine, used my Splash Mountain fastpass, then raced to do the Jungle Cruise and Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters before closing.


I got to see just a bit of the Main Street Electrical Parade before heading out of the park at 11:00 p.m. Angel was there waiting for me and I was filled with excitement as I told him of the day's adventures. I think he was very glad that he didn't go to the parks with me for the day, as that fast-paced adventure of trying to squeeze both parks into one day would not have been the right fit for his slightly less-energetic self. I didn't even take time to eat a real meal the whole day, so once we got back to his aunt's house, I realized I was starving and ate a bagel with cream cheese before bed. We had to be up early and on our way to Joshua Tree the next morning!

Have you ever gone to a theme park by yourself? What the coolest theme park you've ever been to?