When your bag of tricks is nearing that mid-summer empty point and you can’t handle hearing one more “I’m boooored” it’s time to bust out the big guns…theme parks. Amp up the fun with these overnight extenders to turn your long day into a long weekend to remember.
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park
Even before donning the gear from the Studio stores, the kids will look at you like a hero for bringing them to Disney California Adventure Park to get a glimpse of their favorite Supers and characters from Guardian of the Galaxy. Epic dance offs, chance encounters with Spider-Man, shield training with Captain America, angry pudding cups made in the likeness of Groot…all this before you even get to the brand new Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT! ride. Tucked in the back of the park is the popular Cars Land. Lightning McQueen, Mater and the gang have welcomed a new speedster to the neighborhood, Cruz Ramirez from Cars3.
“Fantasmic!,” Disney’s longest-running and most popular nighttime spectacular, returns to the Rivers of America in Disneyland Park, along with The Disneyland Railroad, Pirates’ Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, and the water crafts that sail around the Rivers of America in Frontierland (Mark Twain Riverboat, Sailing Ship Columbia, Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes). All the classics have been freshened up and feature new vistas or tech for as added dash of magic.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
Craftsman-style elegance reigns at this impressive hotel with its own entrance to Disney California Adventure Park. The perfect location for those with older teens who might like to venture to Downtown Disney or into the parks, the ease of the private entrance also makes a mid-day pool or nap break doable for little ones. Staying on property also carries the perk of entering the park an hour before the general public and being able to send back and shopping goods directly to your room.
Signature and multi-room suites (up to three bedrooms) are ideal when traveling with extended family or celebrating a special occasion. This upscale option for an entirely civilized stay amidst the wonderful Disney madness also offers the perfect finale to any day at the parks, a world-class spa. If grandma tags in to whisk away the kids, the Balinese-inspired Mandara Spa will soothe your weary sole or offer an oasis for those splurging on the nearly four hour Nirvana…Bliss for a Day treatment.
Downtown Disney District
Find top-name action-packed games, high-tech X-treme sports excitement and classic, interactive arcade entertainment at ESPN Zone. Put aside worries about shoot-em-up games, sports is the theme at this massive video nirvana — kids can indulge their need for speed on Super Bikes 2, flash the leather with real gloves at MoCap Boxing, try for a perfect game on ESPN Bowling or take a jump shot with ESPN Hoops Hysteria. Your Little Leaguer can even test their pitching speed and accuracy in the Power Pitcher and try to be the fastest pitcher of the day. For those merely wanting to catch a game as they try a few apps or heartier eats, the venue’s 120 HDTV’s should suffice.
For those wanting to extend the fantasy of the parks just an hour or two more, or kick off the day with a chest-thumping gorilla greeting or trumpeting elephant blast, The Rainforest Café is one wild eatery. Surrounded by thick Amazonian jungle that erupts into chaos at passing thunderstorms, this bustling restaurant is open from breakfast through dinner…though you might want to reconsider the banana slices on your Cheerios if seated by the swinging chimps.
For a slightly more elevated evening, step into a Bourbon Street-style party hosted by New Orleans-inspired musicians and performers at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen – Flambeaux’s Jazz Club. The only thing that rivals the music in the French Quarter is the food, so if that toe tapping whets your appetite, Creole and Cajun faves like Gumbo Ya Ya and étouffée can be chased with an order of Beignets.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Has it been a few years since you’ve been to Universal? Don’t be the last muggle to visit “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter”, especially now as the newly launched summertime experience “Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle” will run multiple times a night through Labor Day. Even if you have visited before, new 4K-HD with State-of-the-Art imagery projecting at twice the frame rate now offers an even more immersive experience.
If interactive Ollivander wands, flying Quiddich balls, chocolate frogs and Butterbeer aren’t your cup of tea, head to Universal Plaza for another new summer event. Dreamworks has taken over the plaza through summer, creating a universe where characters like Po and Tigress from Kung Fu Panda, Shrek and Fiona, The Penguins and King Julien from Madagascar and The Trolls might pop by.
Older teens or parents traveling able to hand off the little ones can test their courage in the post-apocalyptic world of AMC’s “The Walking Dead”, an all-new year-round attraction. Prepare to fight for survival in a fully immersive journey as you navigate through a world overrun by hungry walkers. Follow in the footsteps of the human survivors as you battle your way through nightmarish iconic landscapes that bring the most popular cable TV show in history to life.
Keep an Eye Out
Imagine the fun of stepping into a larger-than-life Nintendo adventure. Gigantic Piranha Plants spring to life. Question blocks, power-ups and more surround you. And Mario and all his friends are there to pull you into a brand-new world. Details are still under wraps, but on the horizon at Universal Studios Hollywood, you will be able to enter an entire realm filled with iconic Nintendo excitement, gameplay, heroes and villains.
Loews Hollywood Hotel
Stay in the heart of the fun, situated at the base of the Hollywood Hills. This hotspot makes everyone feel like a star with its load of included perks like complimentary cabanas by the rooftop pool and early access to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter when booking a package.
Although this is an area where some go to see and be seen, make no mistake if traveling with the family, Loews Loves Kids…and Teens, Too. (That is actually one of their signature programs.) Complimentary Welcome Gifts are presented upon arrival for children under 10, as well as use of a “Kids Closet,” offering items available for guests to use during their stay like toys, car seats, and self-contained DVD players with age appropriate DVDs. For tweens and teens, the hotel offers a list of nearby tourist attractions, activities and shopping geared to teens and access to a lending library of XBox 360, Nintendo Wii, DVD players, and more. Free wifi will be appreciated by those needing desperately to upload their photos and video clips for the day or simply to check “likes”.
Loews’ love even extends to the furrier members of the family. Be it cat or dog, they will be welcomed with open paws, er arms. Special gourmet room service menus are offered, as well as complimentary lends of feeding and water dishes, litter boxes or scooping paraphernalia, leashes, treats and toys, comfy beds and a listing of pet services you might need during your stay.
The cult following this Portland bakery generated has quickly followed to the newly opened shop in CityWalk. The adorable Voodoo Doll’s are unmistakenly Pinter-ready, but we also love the Bacon Maple Bars. They even offer an impressive collection of Vegan options.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Kids will love this chain’s ode to a movie they’ve likely not seen, purely for the festive air and their ability to wield the power of the “Run Forest, Run”/”Stop Forest, Stop” tabletop license plate that stops passing servers in their tracks to see what might be needed. Salads and Beer-steamed net catch and fresh fish options offer respite from fried theme park food.
Saddle Ranch Chop House
Most spots you can choose to dine in CityWalk will have a certain element of spectacle. With mechanical bulls and stone campfire pits where guests can roast their own s’mores after hearty country meals, this does not disappoint. Once the only mechanical bull in Los Angeles, the now famous creature can be spotted in episodes of “Sex and the City,” “Desperate Housewives,” “American Idol,” “Six Feet Under,” and more.
SeaWorld San Diego
What’s New Under the Sea
Big changes have been underway at SeaWorld San Diego. In fact, the new attractions and shifts in programming represent the largest investment the park has seen since its opening.
Ocean Explorer immerses families in an underwater world of deep-sea discovery. The new attraction combines multiple aquariums, exciting rides and digital technology designed to send guests into a watery land of adventure. Submarine Quest, the realm’s signature ride, is an interactive experience encouraging guests to protect wildlife, featuring the smart play technology enabling riders to “choose their adventure” and guide their personal mission of oceanic exploration.
Climbing out of exploration min-subs, guests roam unique aquariums, some featuring 360-degree viewing experiences giving little ones the sense of immersion (without the soggy swimtrunks). Critters waiting to be spotted include a rarely seen giant Japanese spider crab; dozens of eels, and a giant Pacific octopus.
Tentacle Twirl, an exhilarating wave swinger ride, sends guests to fly in chairs suspended from the tentacles of a giant jelly. (If that is a touch much for timid riders, three additional family-friendly options—Aqua Scout, a jump-around ride; OctaRock, a gentle swing ride; and Sea Dragon Drop, a family free-fall tower—will satisfy.
Also making its debut this season is an all-new Orca Encounter, presented in a documentary-style format featuring a three-story, infinity screen. The new experience combines a live orca presentation in a more natural setting of rugged coastline via an augmented digital environment. Those with an appetite for further connection with the beautiful creatures can Dine with Orcas, in a private patio serving a buffet of sustainable, organic, seasonal and locally-grown ingredients.
Visitors this year can end the night in fantastic style, courtesy of just launched Electric Ocean. The nighttime experience will transform the entire above-the-ground park to the look of deep bioluminescent ocean below. A dance club pulsating inside life-like florescent coral reefs, cirque-like performers in specially outfitted LED suits, gravity-defying aerialists and futuristic power glide stilt walkers mimic the movement of shifting currents of the deep.
Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa, Mission Bay
The Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa is a tropical hideaway just three miles from SeaWorld. The Polynesian-themed resort’s quirky touches like lush vegetation and waterfalls, tiki torches, koi ponds and exotic birds that like to chat up passing guests will keep the kids from any complaints about coming back to the hotel from a day of fun. Cruise around the bay on a paddleboard, relax at the pool or join the outdoor movie night at the beach, digging your toes in the sand while the kids build castles.
That taste of the islands gets stronger each Friday evening, with the time-honored Hawaiian tradition of Luau that includes live music, hula dancers, fiery torch dancers, and a beach buffet featuring a roasted Kalua pig. Pride of Polynesia provides the authentic island music and dancers, while the resort’s Executive Chef Steven Riemer and his talented team create the feast.
Long-Weekend Like a Local in Liberty Station
Just a stone’s throw from SeaWorld is the trendy nabe’ of Liberty Station, a perfect place to extend your visit. Wander through more than 70 galleries in the Arts District to inspire your mini-Monet’s and tiny Toulouse’s. Nearby Pachi’s Art Studio for Kids, (www.mypachis.com) encourages kids to think outside the “art box” with drop-in classes and workshops.
When it comes time to refuel, soak in the perfect SoCal weather and bay breeze at Solare Ristorante, a lively locale for delicious Sicilan/South Italian fare and a wine list boasting 2,000 bottles (30 by the glass!), or Breakfast Republic, a fun al fresco spot with tasty takes on American classics. Or let your kids be pick-y, and choose a kebab here, a macaron there (try Le Parfait Paris, ooh lala!) from dozens of delectable eateries and stands in the foodie mecca of Liberty Public Market, www.libertypublicmarket.com)set in an old Navy building and ranked the 13th food hall in the United States.
When night falls, catch the latest films in style at The Lot, a luxurious movie theater featuring leather recliners and and concierge in-seat wine and cocktail service.
If the movie is something a step beyond animated, treat yourself to a kids-free evening and drop off your little ones at Kid Ventures, an “edutainment” play facility whose Friday evening program involves structured play, costumes, games and crafts.