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In a time before the plague, that seems decades ago, I took a whirlwind vacation with my auntie. We’re going to call her Dory because my auntie loves Disney and looks great in blue. She also might seem a bit forgetful at times but has a kind heart.

When I plan a Disney-centered trip, I pack magic into every minute of the day. My method comes complete with printed schedules to optimize the full experience. For this and many other reasons, Bee refuses to set foot on a Disney property with me. Relaxation is not the goal of this trip!

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Dory’s first adventure was to navigate LAX with the current construction. If they are trying to imitate the Winchester Mansion’s hallways to nowhere and bottleneck confusion, they have succeeded. Once I had Dory safely in the car, we navigated our way up to Universal Studios to join the residents of Hogsmeade.

What is your Hogwarts House? I’m a Slytherin due to my determination and ability to talk to snakes using a high-pitched squealing that enforces serpent distancing. Find out your official house, wand, and Patronus at the official Wizarding World just for fun.  We shopped for magic neeps, books, and postcards. What is a neep? Sounds like the utterance of someone who just discovered a mouse in their sock drawer. We visited Hagrid’s hut for a short ride on a Hippogriff before hiking up to Hogwarts Castle.

Before you can take the Forbidden Journey through Hogwarts, you must lock up any bags, purses, hats, or house-elves in fingerprint code lockers. Finding and using the locker system is a bit like being trapped in a cage of Cornish Pixies, but we managed to secure our bags and get into the queue for the ride. Much like Disney, Universal takes full advantage of the time spent waiting to help build the story. We felt as though we were walking through the movie set, sometimes too quickly, as we wound through the grounds and castle.

The plot for this adventure is that local muggles (us) are being allowed to tour the school and receive a lecture from Professor Binns on the school’s history. Before the class can begin, Harry, Ron, and Hermione appear and urge you to sneak down to the Quidditch pitch. The Room of Requirement provides a couch on a broom to help fly you out. As luck would have it, we were chased by a dragon, giant spiders, and dementors on our way to the game. Anyone with the slightest level of motion sickness may need to close their eyes at points during this tumultuous ride. If you just want to tour the castle, but not ride, there is a “chicken door” to exit into Filtch’s Emporium gift shop.

With our legs a little wobbly after our daring flight, we stopped by Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom before lunch at the Three Broomsticks. As Hermione says, “it’s awful trying to have a pee with Moaning Myrtle wailing at you.” We found it quite a laugh to hear the ghostly voice commenting from the U-bend. Time for another frozen Butterbeer? Absolutely. Gilly water and classic English fare restored our sense of adventure enough to brave traffic back to Anaheim. Perhaps, I should grab some gillyweed for our next adventure. Insert ominous diving foreshadowing.

We stayed on Disney property at the Paradise Pier Hotel in Room 1037. It has a beach theme that includes fun colors and a California surf style. You can see a walkthrough video here. Yep, my YouTube channel is nothing but hotel room tours. While Paradise Pier is Disney’s lower-cost hotel, they still capture that sense of magic that comes with staying on the property. The hotel shows its wear around the older fixtures and carpet but maintains a clean appearance. Regardless, Dory and I still wipe down every surface with Clorox wipes like we’re preparing the room for surgery. Remember when you could buy Clorox wipes anywhere? Ah, we lived in a world of cleaning supply excess.

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Staying on the Disney property has several perks. I enjoy the TV channel dedicated to Disneyland news and information, extra magic hours, and having any purchases from the park sent back to the hotel. That last one is a lifesaver for staying light and agile while running around the parks. Ride like the wind, Bullseye!

If you don’t know about Disney’s Extra Magic hours, it is a benefit that allows hotel guests to enter the parks an hour before the general public. You must check the schedule to see which park has extra magic on which mornings. You can use that time to get on rides that usually have the most extended wait times and FastPass sellouts. Speaking of the Fastpass program, we opted for the Park Hopper tickets with Fastpass+ to be able to access Fastpasses through the phone app instead of the ticket queues. We were able to look at what was available for later times while waiting in line at another ride. Overall, it made for less waiting and more riding in both parks. Who wants to waste time in a long line unless they’ve got a Dolewhip to eat?

Our first day, per the scheduled I taped to the wall of our room, was in the California Adventure park. Our extra magic hour looked heavy on precipitation as we made our way to the re-themed Guardians of the Galaxy ride. Having enjoyed the Tower of Terror, we were hopeful that the redesign would be just as much fun as the spooky, Twilight-Zone hotel had been. With no line whatsoever, we wound through the empty queue with sarcastic directions from Rocket the trash panda. Finally, we were belted into the car that was bound to plummet to the ground floor. Screaming and laughing, I yelled at Dory to smile for the flash because our passes included all photos within the park. Once you exit a ride and bring your heart rate down enough to find your photo on the screen, you enter the code from the photo into the app, and your picture appears. This feature makes photos easy to share with everyone you left green with envy back home.

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The sky continued to pelt us with cold rain as we sought shelter within the sparsely attended attractions. We were feeling too tough to let the drizzle dampen our spirits. That was until we experienced a waterfall-worthy deluge while waiting to enter the Hyperion Theater for Frozen. While we huddled among the slickers, ponchos, and umbrellas, the water hitting the ground splashed up like ocean waves. Without room to dry our gear during the show, we both became frozen ourselves, opting to return to our room for a change of clothes and time by the heater.

Fortified and bundled into dry clothing, we were able to secure tablespace at the Lamplighter Lounge for dinner. This restaurant had been Ariel’s Grotto but was re-themed to match the overhaul of Pixar Pier. Rides such as the Screaming California Rollercoaster was renamed The Incredicoaster and redesigned with the Incredibles characters. The Lamplighter is named for the I-stomping desk lamp that appears in the opening credits of every Pixar film. The food and atmosphere make the Lamplighter Lounge a welcome respite when most restaurants in the California Adventure Park feature primarily outdoor seating. I would have eaten liver and onions if it meant a seat indoors.

The big event for the evening was the World of Color show, which we had watched once before from a less than advantageous viewing area. As a special treat, we reserved seats for a dessert party that allowed us to enjoy prime placement accompanied by signature Disney desserts and drinks. My feet appreciated the chair, and my taste buds tried to experience a little of everything presented. Luckily, it came with a to-go tray for late-night snacking magic. Pro tip: If you can pre-order the special occasion Mickey cake with a meal reservation, do it! That cake was vanilla pudding, cake confection mastery.  Although there were still areas of the show that were not visible from our table, we were able to view enough that I didn’t feel as though we had missed anything. Due to weather, the 1030PM Fantasmic show was canceled, and we were grateful to be in our warm beds by midnight. The schedule leaves no rest for wicked queens, witches, or step-sisters.

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Based on a Rebel tip from the night before, we were standing in front of Cinderella’s Castle at 08:00AM with the Disneyland App open to the Galaxy’s Edge Rise of the Resistance boarding party. You must be in this location when the park opens to access the boarding app. When the app opened for access, everyone was furiously tapping their screens to get into the virtual line. I had to reopen the app, and we ended up in boarding party 73. The ride reservations usually fill up within the first 3 minutes of the park opening. People cheered as they received their boarding number. When our group was within 2 hours of boarding time, we would receive a notification to make our way to the entrance in Black Spire. Until then, we frequently checked the app to determine where we would be when our turn came.

Never heard of Black Spire Outpost?

Within Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, we shopped for Rebel supplies while avoiding the Strom Troopers of the First Order. I used the Play Disney Parks App to scan crates to see their contents, hack door panels, and answer questions about the Outpost for the Resistance. You can choose to support the First Order and work for the dark side instead. Based on the fellow users playing along, you could see if the outpost is leaning more toward Resistance or First Order. It is geek heaven for any age. I saw many people who had custom-built their own lightsaber or droid as part of a fully interactive experience. However, we did not partake due to the price of $200 and $100, respectively. Everywhere we looked, there were creatures, foods, and characters to fully immerse you in the Star Wars experience. We had Ronto wraps next to a droid turning a giant spit over a fire. Several park guests had dressed like characters you’d see in Black Spire. Central to the outpost was a large gallery with items from the Star Wars films.

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The two ride attractions are the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. As a newly hired smuggler, you and your crew fly the Millennium Falcon to shoot and retrieve power cells. You are assigned as either a pilot, engineer, or gunner. As a pilot, they divide the controls between two people with one controlling vertical and the other controlling horizontal motion. If you get a lousy pilot for either direction, it becomes a very bumpy mission. Everyone onboard has buttons to push or levers to throw to control the ship. As a pilot, I was able to land us safely back at the outpost and should be getting my inter-galactic license any day now.

When it was finally our turn for the Rise of the Resistance, Dory and I eagerly walked to the far edge of Black Spire. As recruits for a secret mission to assist the Resistance, we boarded a transport ship that was captured by a Star Destroyer and awaited interrogation by Kylo Ren. As the doors of our transport opened, we found ourselves in a giant docking bay filled with Storm Troopers. The transition was so well done that the looks of amazement were consistent across our entire group. Once we were separated into groups and locked into an interrogation room, Kylo Ren himself made an appearance. Luckily, rebels broke us out of the interrogation room and loaded us into hovercars to escape. As our car made its way to escape pods, we narrowly avoided blaster fire and wove around the giant feet of AT-ATs. We plummeted down an elevator shaft before making a final escape. As corny as the expression sounds, I really felt like I was in a Star Wars movie. Until you can visit for yourself, there are some ways to experience from home.

On the morning of our final day in the Magic Kingdom, we had made reservations for a character brunch at The Plaza Café. Character meals are usually attended by families with small children. Luckily, Dory and I had never left Neverland and enjoyed posing with several characters for pictures. I appreciate how the character actors recognize that Disneyland is for children of all ages and made time to stop by our table. Eeyore even inquired about the quality of my waffles.

The highlight of our afternoon was a reservation at Oga’s Cantina back in Black Spire. This popular nightclub is straight out of the movies with themed drinks and snacks. Due to its fame, reservations must be made weeks ahead of time, you are not guaranteed a table, and must be out within 45 minutes. We were ushered to the end of the bar with a large group and told to wait for counter space to open up. Several people in our group were rather upset about the lack of table, chair, or service. Going with the flow, Dory and I found seats at the bar and ordered up a couple of Hyperdrives. This fun concoction consisted of Powerade Blue, White Cranberry Juice, Black Cherry Purée, and Sprite. There were plenty of alcoholic beverages for purchase. Still, I wanted to keep my wits about me if a bar fight broke out between a couple of smugglers or rowdy Florida tourists. Our DJ was a happy little droid who didn’t take requests but still interacted with the crowd occasionally. The bar itself was packed with details, such as animatronic creatures creating some of the drink “ingredients” behind the bar. Too soon, our time was up, and we left our bar space to newly-arrived patrons looking to imbibe the alien beverages.

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While our Disney adventures were concluded, I wasn’t ready for Dory to swim away yet. Our ensuing mission would be in the Big Blue. Stay safe until future travels, my friends.

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