Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Siesta/Taco Pizza

Another one of my favorites!


1 can (8 ounces) crescent roll
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream (add more if needed to help with spreading)
1/2 package taco seasoning mix (dry)
4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
Tomato (diced)
Lettuce (chopped)
Green onion (chopped)
Sliced black olives (I did not use)


Crust:  layout crescent roll on 13 x 9 inch baking sheet.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  Do not over bake or it will be dry and crumble.  Let cool.

Filling:  in a bowl blend together cream cheese, sour cream, and taco seasoning.  Spread on top of cool crust.

Topping:  top filling with cheese.  Next add desired amount of tomato, lettuce, green onion and black olives.

Cut into small squares.  Refrigerate for a minimum of two hours before serving.

Cold Vegetable Pizza

This is a long time party favorite!


1 (8 ounce) package crescent roll
1(8 ounce) package low-fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1/2 package dry ranch dressing
Shredded cheese
Broccoli, shopped small
Cauliflower, chopped small
Carrots, chopped small
Green or red peppers, chopped small (I did not use this)


Crust:  Layout and press crescent rolls on 9x13 inch cookie sheet.  This takes a little work to spread the crescent dough over the entire sheet with no gaps.  Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.  Be care not to over bake or it will be dry and crumble.  Let cool.

Filling:  Mix cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, and ranch until creamy.  Spread over crescent.

Top with cheese and vegetables.  Chill and cut before serving.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

California Vacation: Disneyland


A trip to Disney could be blogged for a long time!!! I am not going to bore you with all the details that a visit to Disneyland would include but I do want to tell you some "tips" that might be helpful. Of course these are based on my experiences over visits there the past two years.

What we experienced:

Tickets: There aren't really a lot of deals for 1-2 day tickets (unless you want to take your chances with some eBay/Craigslist sales). You'll find more options if you are looking at 3 or more days of park hopper (can go to both Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure). Last year we took advantage of a "Give a Day, Get a Day" promotion that Disney offered. My husband and I both volunteered for a day and in exchange we each got a free one park ticket for one day at Disney. My son was under three so we only had to pay for one kid’s ticket for my daughter. This year we wanted 2 days at Disney and we wanted to go to both parks. With the other stuff that we had planned for this vacation it made sense for us to purchase the Southern California CityPass which gave us 3 days of park hopper and one Magical Morning - along with other non-Disney experiences. We only used 2 days at Disney so we gave our remaining day to a family at our hotel.

Parking was $15. We also went just before opening so the parking wasn't' bad. You make your way to a shuttle outside of the parking structure that will take you to Downtown Disney, Disneyland, and California Adventure. You will come back to that same area later to catch the shuttle back to the parking structure. The shuttles run often so you usually don't have to wait more than 10 minutes to catch one.

If you stay in one of the park resorts (we did not but I can see the benefit) you are staying just off Disney Downtown so you are close to it all and can easily walk where you want to go!! It's easy for resort guests to visit the park in the morning, take a break/nap back at your room, and then visit Disney again for the later stuff. We always miss the fireworks because my kids (and honestly us adults too) are tired and ready to go around 3:00 pm.

Make sure you go with some sort of a plan: what rides are a must and what characters are a must? That way you can work your day around making sure you do those. Just remember to not get stressed and enjoy the day. I forgot about that advice the first few hours of our first trip to Disneyland! It was all overwhelming! You can and should get a park map and a schedule of the major events for the day when you are entering the park. You may also want to check out the closed rides online before you go. We planned our lunch around a great place we visited last year only to find that entire section of the park under construction :( You might also want to check out height restrictions of rides. My husband and I were able to pre-plan what rides we wanted to go on but the kids could not. That way we had an action plan to ride them individually.

Magical Morning: On certain days of the week (schedule listed on their website) they allow resort guests to enter the park 1 hour before the rest of the park guests can. This is called a "Magical Morning" experience. We purchased Southern California CityPass tickets which gave us three days of park hopper (could go to both Disneyland and California Adventure) and one Magical Morning. We decided to take advantage of the Magical Morning to beat some of the long lines. I found it to be more of a "Magical Mess"!!! There are a ton of people that have these passes so there were LONG lines to get into the park (after we finally found the correct long line to be in). They only have a portion of Disneyland open for this extra hour so the lines were super long - even longer than the previous day when we decided to just wait until our "Magical Morning". Unfortunately we only fit in one ride before the park was opened to everyone. Last year we only went to Disneyland for one day and I remember being overwhelmed with the lines and how crazy it was. Now I realize that it must have been a "magical morning" day at the park. The park seems to be extra full right from opening time where it's not as bad on the days they don't have magical mornings.

Character Pictures: It's not easy to get your picture taken with a Disney character! When I was little you could just walk up to them but not these days with Disney being so popular! You can see them often throughout the park but there are always lines to wait in. If you see a short line you should take advantage of it. But, the line could be short because they are getting ready to "take a break" and they are no longer letting people join the line (they will usually let you know). If there is a specific character that you would like to see make sure you ask where a good place and time would be to catch them. Tune Town is a great place to see the Mickey Mouse characters. Mickey and Minnie each have a house that you can tour through after you take a picture with them.  Update:  when we visited in 2012 they had changed it so you tour Mickey's house first and then wait in line to visit him.

If you plan to see the princesses or the Tinkerbell fairies you better get in line fast. The first year we went the line didn't look bad but we were told it would be a 3 hour wait (you see 3 princesses with no guarantee who it would be when it was your turn). This year we went there first to see the start time. We got there 15 minutes before they started and were 4th in line. It worked out great but the line was long fast!

You may also want to consider one of the character meals they offer. We have not done this but it seems like a good opportunity to get pictures. Last year we happened to be in a good spot in the morning. We were waiting off to the side of the main area for them to let us into the park. All of a sudden a big dance started taking place with a ton of characters. My kids LOVED it and got to dance with many of their favorites. Here are some pictures of it:

This is where we were standing and where the characters come out

You can also get an autograph from each of the characters. To save some money we bought Disney themed notebooks and pens for $1 each and took them with us.

Tyler is more interested in the autograph than the picture with Mickey :)
Last year we were getting ready to leave when my son noticed Buzz coming out of his changing area. He was walking fast on a mission to get to his assigned area where there was already a long line waiting for him. My son’s little legs were running behind him trying to get his attention. Finally I said, “Tyler, if you want to talk to him you better get in front of him fast”! My little mans legs never moved so fast before! He got in front of Buzz and wasn’t letting him leave without a hand shake. So cute  I’m sure it’s frustrating for the characters but he was super nice about it.

Pictures: Disney offers "PhotoPass". You simply carry a card around with you and have it scanned whenever they take a picture for you (usually at all the character spots). You get your card from the first person who takes a picture for you. Later you go online to view your pictures and make purchases. They are not cheap though! I used my own camera and asked them to take family pictures for me now and then. They were very willing to take pictures with my camera too :)

You can also ask any Disney employee to take your picture at any time.  they will be more than happy too!

Rides: Take advantage of the rides that offer FASTPASS. These are rides that generally have long lines. You just slide your park ticket in a FASTPASS machine and it will give you a FASTPASS ticket for the ride with a 1 hour time frame to return. This gives you "front of the line" access to the ride later. You will need to get a FASTPASS ticket for each rider and you can only have one ride you are waiting on at a time. For example, if you have a FASTPASS for one ride you cannot get a FASTPASS for another ride until your first ride has been used or has expired. Technology can also be your friend! Some cell phones have programs that will update you on wait times for rides!

A ride we used FASTPASS for - my daughter LOVED it!

This was a train ride that takes you around the park with a drop off in each section.  There's some animation on the ride and it makes it a lot easy to get little ones from one area to another.
Food: There are a lot of great options. We also snuck bottled water and snacks in our diaper bag to help with costs.

Mouse Ear Hats: You can buy these in just about any store and there are a ton of versions! We wanted names embroidered on the back. We were told that this could only be done at "The Mad Hatter" stores. There are a few throughout the park.

Parade:  In 2012 we finally caught the parade in Disneyland.  It was well worth it but get there early for a good spot!  The streets were packed with people!!  It is worth it for your little ones who love anything Disney!!!

For those that were able to get front row spots -
characters stop to talk to the kids.

Fireworks:  In 2012 we finally stayed to see the fireworks (went back to our hotel for a break and returned later).  We thought about just watching them from our hotel but my daughter insisted we go to see them at the castle.  I am very glad that we did!  It isn't anything like the fireworks display that I normally see.  Disney really does make it like a dream come true.  It's something that you have to experience to really understand.  Again, get there early for a good spot!  We were in front of the castle where it got really packed!  FYI - You don't want to sit on the street due to horse droppings that were there all day so people on the street are standing and making it hard for little ones to see over them.  Plus, areas are roped off for people to walk so you can not stand in many areas.  

Something creative: Of course I didn’t get a picture of this (wish I would have) but family t-shirts are a great idea. There are a ton of people at the parks and it can be easy to lose each other. I saw a large family that all had red t-shirts on with “Disneyland 2011” on the front and the family name on the back or a number with a made-up Disney name that seemed to fit their personality. I’ve also seen these with groups.

Disneyland vs California Adventure: Disneyland is where you will see most of what you would expect to see at Disney. California Adventure has more of the newer animation themes like Monsters Inc and Cars. There were fewer rides for small kids in California Adventure so we only went there for part of a day. This was under major construction when we were there so we didn't get a good idea of it. All the new stuff sounds great though!

Disney Downtown: The two parks and downtown are all right in one large area together. There is no entrance charge for the Downtown area. It is full of many great shops and famous places to eat. We always make a stop to the Rainforest Cafe for dinner :)

Rainforest Cafe

Making a car at Ridemakerz

Thursday, March 10, 2011

California Vacation: Universal Studios Hollywood


My husband and I have always loved visiting Universal Studios. You have the opportunity to experience a studio tour and an amusement park all in one!

Parking: During our last visit it was $15 for regular parking and $20 for preferred (close to the park entrance). We usually do general parking because we like to walk through the City Walk before and after our visit to the park.

City Walk (http://citywalkhollywood.com/): This is an area located outside of the park that has many shops and restaurants. It's very interesting and fun. We usually eat at the Hard Rock Cafe and stop at many of the unique shops. There are a lot of other famous restaurants like Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Tony Romas, Wolfgang Puck Bistro, and Pink's Famous Hot Dogs. We have had character drawings done of our kids by vendors. There is a fountain area that kids love to play in (mine usually get soaked at the end of a hot day in the park).

Hard Rock Cafe

Tickets: I always recommend doing your research ahead of time to find out what deals are offered. Last year we took advantage of a "buy a day, get a day" (two days for the price of one) deal they were offering. This year we purchased a CityPass which included one day at Universal Studios which is all we needed for that trip. My husband and I love Universal Studios but there aren't a lot of rides for small children so one day is enough for us right now. We also found a deal on a combo pass through Universal Studios and Seaworld to visit both parks as much as you wanted for 14 days. There are 3 main kinds of tickets: regular, Front of the Line (bypass the regular lines for rides), and VIP (includes front of the line, you get a much more indepth studio tour, may include a meal, and you get the "royal treatment" all day).

Studio Tour: All park guests get a studio tour of the back lot. This is a caravan ride (no walking unless you are VIP) that you don't want to miss! It's like a tour and ride all in one and you get to take pictures. I even used the video on my camera to record some of the interactive portions of the tour. It's about an hour long ride with no stops so make sure you are prepared. I also recommend doing the tour first if you don't have front of the line passes.  Without ruining all the fun, here are some highlights of the tour:

Back Lot
The Bates Motel from "Psycho"
"War of the Worlds" crash site
And don't forget Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives:

Lynnette & Tom's House
Gaby & Carlos' House
Susan's House

The first time we visited this location they were offering a deal on VIP tickets so we decided to go VIP. I recommend booking your VIP tickets ahead of time but we got lucky and they weren't busy that day. We had a great breakfast in the VIP room as we waited for the other guests and our host to arrive. VIP tours are done in smaller numbers of people. Our tour only included one other couple but I think they go up to 10 people. We were carted around the studio area with a personal host. The tour took us through the back lot portion that all visitors can experience but we also went into many of the studio areas, got to see some interior sets, walked through the costume and props area, and a few other unique things. Included in the VIP experience is Front of the Line passes. Our host took us on all the rides once and assisted us in getting the VIP experience. Once we were done with the tour and one trip on each ride we were free to explore the park on our own.

Strollers:  There's great stroller parking at every ride.  They are not responsible for lost or stollen items so I don't recommend leaving your personal belongings with the stroller.  I usually bring a backpack to carry all of the families stuff in (water, diapers, wipes, money, cell phones, camera, ...) and I haven't had any issues with taking it on rides. 

Parent Ride Swap:  If there is a ride that you want to go on but your littles ones aren't big enough you can check into the ride swap.  It's a spot in line where you can have one parent ride while the other watches the kids and then you swap so the other parent can ride.  That allows you both the opportunity to ride but reducing the wait time in line. 

Meals: there are plenty of places to eat. If you plan on a long day at the park you might want to consider their all you can eat meal plans (I don’t think it includes the vendor carts). There is a location near the entrance where you can purchase these meal passes. When we last visited it was $19.99 per adult and $9.99 per child. Sometimes discounts are offered if you apply for a credit card. We generally only eat lunch there and, although the food is pricey, it hasn’t made sense yet for us to buy the meal plan. Our last trip there we spent $35 for lunch on 2 kids meals (chicken nuggets & fries or pizza or Chinese, small drink, large cookie), 2 adult meals, 1 regular soda, and 1 chocolate milk. But, when our kids are more interested in spending a long day at the park I am sure the meal plans will be very appealing!

Characters:  Bring your camera!  Some times they will have people taking pictures at the character sites.  You will be given a card to identify your pictures for purchase later.  It's not cheap though.  If you want a family picture just ask them to take one with your camera - they are always willing to.  Make sure you check out locations and times for charters that you want to see. There are a variety of characters that will just be hanging around but during one of our trips we wanted to make sure our kids got to visit Spongebob and Curious George so it was helpful to know when and where to find them.  Also, the lines are usually short and the characters are able to spend time joking with the kids (and parents) - unlike Disneyland!

Spongebob joking around with the kids

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

California Vacation: Places to Eat

Okay - some of these have locations all over the country but they aren't very close to where I live. So, no matter where we go, part of our "vacation plan" is to figure out where we would like to eat. These are always on the list if we can find one close to where we are traveling to.

California Pizza Kitchen (http://cpk.com/): We actually first discovered this place in Las Vegas and it was prior to them now offering pizzas out of your local grocery store freezer. We were hungry, they had food that looked appealing, and we stopped there to eat. We instantly fell in love with their BBQ Chicken Pizza (back when I ate chicken) and a chopped salad that they no longer offer. The menu has changed a lot over time but we can always find great food to eat. The location we visit in Los Angeles is located on Hollywood Blvd within the Kodak Theater shopping area. It has a distant but nice view of the Hollywood sign.

You can't tell in this picture but the Hollywood sign is way back there

Jack in the Box (http://www.jackinthebox.com/): Okay - this is like adding Burger King to my list of places I LOVE to eat at!!! But, we do not have any of these in Michigan and there are some interesting menu options. Our favorite has always been the Sourdough Breakfast Sandwich. It's a ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on grilled sourdough. Of course I no longer eat this but my husband makes sure he has a couple each vacation when we are near a Jack in the Box. There is another menu item that I do like and is great for my picky little daughter. They have grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough!! I don't know of any other fast food place that offers these and they are good! If you ask nicely they may have a "Jack" (the like Ronald McDonald for Jack in the Box) for you to put on your car antenna :)

In-N-Out Burger (http://in-n-out.com/): There's a kind of funny story on how I first heard about this place. Some of my family and I traveled to San Diego to see my brother graduate from Marine Boot Camp. While in a taxi I asked where the nearest Jack in the Box was. The driver laughed at the idea that I would come all the way from Michigan and the first thing off the airplane I wanted to know where a Jack in the Box was!!! So I had to tell him my story about the Sourdough Breakfast Sandwich that I was so in love with. After he was done laughing he asked me if I wanted to know where In-N-Out Burger was located. I had no idea what he was talking about. He told me that it was a popular place and that people waited in line at all times of the day to eat there. Well, there was one not far from where we were staying so we had to check it out. It has been one of my best finds yet!!! They serve fresh, never frozen burgers and fresh cut fries. This is a place where you can go eat a giant cheese burger meal and still feel good when you are done! They have a limited menu but it really works for them. Every time I have been there I have had to wait in line - no matter what time of the day. The burger toppings are similar to a deluxe burger but they use a thousand island type of sauce. It's all made after you order it so you can ask to have toppings excluded. They will ask if you want onion on it - it’s a giant thick slice if you do. When ordering at the drive-thru they have a staff member standing outside instead of a speaker. Tip:  if they asking you if you will be eating in the car - say yes if you would like your meal in a box instead of a bag.  They have many locations in California and some in a handful of other western states but it is not a franchise. Also, there is a "secret menu" for locals (not in print as far as I know). I no longer eat meat but when I go there I really enjoy the "Grilled Cheese". It's not on the menu but it is the same as the cheese burger minus the meat. I'm glad we found an option for me because my husband eats at In-N-Out almost every day when we are near one :)

2 orders of fries, 1 grilled cheese, 1 double cheese burger in a box ("eating in the car" option)
Pinks (http://www.pinkshollywood.com/): This is a place that we heard of often (cater for famous events and has been shown on a few reality shows we have watched) but we haven't really had a chance to explore it much. It's a famous hot dog place (has a large menu) in Hollywood. My husband finally visited one of their locations during our last trip to LA and he enjoyed it. Of course you have to wait in line for a while but its part of the experience. I'd like to check them out more the next time we are around one.

Update from 2012:  We visited there and it was great!  We waited in line for an hour and it wasn't even really lunch time yet!!!

I was impressed with their menu options - even for a vegetarian like me!  And they were very willing to make substitutions.  They also serve Crush pop/soda which my kids are now addicted too.  There is limited seating in the back of the building but it worked out for us.  

Usually these are in great condition.  The one we visited was busy but could use some updating.
Fatburger (http://www.fatburger.com/home/): Another great "burger place" and they offer a great veggie option! It can be a little pricy but always worth at least one visit when we are near one. They also offer steak fries which are one of my favorites!!

Veggie Burger


Number of burger patties you want
Another unique thing (which I found to be common during this last trip to California) is that you can get any combination flavored soda that you want. Seriously, you start with your main flavor (Coca-Cola, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, Diet, ...)

and then you can choose a second flavor (cherry, vanilla, orange, grape, lemon, lime, ...).

It's awesome! If you are dinning in they give you these cones to put at your table (food is made to order and the meat is never frozen). 

Fatburger is a franchise started by a famous person and mostly owned by other famous people. There is one in my home state but it's about 3 hours from where I live.