The Grove in Beverly Hills is lovely any time of year, but they really go all out for the holidays. They kick off the season with celebrity guests at the tree lighting -- a 7-story stunner, none the less -- and deck the streets with glowing "snowflakes," lit trees, pretty windows, and a big house for Santa right in the middle. Throughout the holidays, the fountains dance to Christmas carols, musicians entertain the masses, and fake snow delights every half hour. Oh yes, and everywhere you look are shoppers rushing home with their treasures. You know how it goes.
Matt and I heard that The Grove's Santa was the best around, so we made plans to visit. Happily, our visit coincided with our sister-in-law Laci's LA vacation, so we met up with her and her best friends Chelsea, Brooke, and Jill (well, Jill is her mom, but I'm pretty sure they're BFFs, too) for dinner at Cheesecake Factory. Matt just so happened to attend preschool through 12th grade with Brooke and Chelsea, so it was a fun little reunion for all.
After dinner, we enjoyed the sights while we waited for our turn to see Santa.
You see, getting to Santa's lap at The Grove is a serious process. First, you take a number. Then, you wait three hours until your number comes up on the screen. At that point, you're allowed to get in the physical line at Santa's house, where you'll be for another half hour or so. This is all true, my friends. Photographic evidence below.
Luckily, we were smart enough to take a number before dinner so our wait wasn't all that bad. And would you believe me if I told you it was worth it either way? Because it totally was. That's because this wasn't just any ordinary Santa's helper, folks. This was the real deal, and our time with him was just as magic as it should be. Also, his elves rocked. So really, what more could you ask for? Other than new Christmas boots, of course. Santa said he's working on it.
While this blog has been busy with Disney World for the past couple weeks, the three of us have been busy with plenty of holiday festivities here in Southern California. One of those activities was visiting the lights at Mission Inn. The city of Riverside hosts an annual Festival of Lights and this historic four-diamond hotel is the star. The Mission Inn decks out with more than 3.6 million lights and quaint extras like fake snow, carriage rides, reindeer, Santa and holiday desserts. Jake was mesmerized by all of the lights, and I must admit, palm trees dressed in Christmas lights are sort of my new favorite things.
My friend Kaley is basically my own personal Martha Stewart, if Martha loved Pottery Barn. She throws the most amazing parties. From the crafty invitations to the gorgeous decorations to the incredible food, not a single details is overlooked and I love it! Kaley always hosts a small Christmasdinner party on the first Saturday of December, and it's a lovely way to kick off the month. (Check out last year's!) This year, she made it a luncheon, but we were all having such a great time that we stayed until 8 p.m. That's how good her parties are.
Literally everything on the menu was delicious. Layered crespelle, smoked tri-tip, pears with cheese and fig jam, goat-cheese stuffed chicken, saffron risotto, bruschetta, homemade ciabatta bread ... it was all fantastic.
For dessert, we indulged in numerous trips to the hot chocolate bar. How cute was that idea?
Ah, and one of my favorite sights -- men in a kitchen.
Kaley had a babysitter come to the house to entertain Jake and Gabe while we ate and played games. It was nice to have some adult time without being away from my baby (I'm so not ready for that yet).
Jake wasn't sure what to think of the reindeer antlers.
And to top it all off, Duane and Kaley sent us home with a big basket full of Christmas goodies. Thanks again for the fun day, you two!
We reserved the last day of our vacation for some good old-fashioned R&R. After a lazy morning, we headed to the pool for an afternoon swim.
That night, my brothers picked the T-Rex restaurant for dinner. It came complete with a digging site and life-sized dinosaurs that moved and roared.
We ate in the blue ice cave, which featured a meteor shower every fifteen minutes. When the meteor shower started, the cave turned red, the dinosaurs roared, and thunder sounded throughout the room. This was all well and good unless you happened to be a sleeping 2-month-old. Poor Jakey woke up from his nap terrified. But really, who can blame him? If I fell asleep in my mom's arms and then woke up in a meteor shower, I'd be scared, too. Luckily, his Uncle Joshie got him laughing fairly quickly by making funny faces while balancing chicken on his nose. Leave it to Josh, I tell you.
That night, Matt and I had our first outing sans baby -- across the street to Target to grab a dessert. And would you believe, we were in Florida! Which meant we were in the South! Which meant there were cartons of Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream in the Target freezer! This may have inspired celebratory fist pumps and happy dances, which may have led to interesting looks from fellow shoppers. But nothing was more interesting than that deliciousness in our mouths that night.
And then the next morning we packed up, hopped on an airplane, and made it home to California. The end!
We decided to spend our final Disney World night taking in the magic at the Magic Kingdom. Matt, Christian, Matthew and I sneaked over during my family's afternoon nap to get some pictures, Jake's silhouette, and fastpasses before catching the dancing lights at Hollywood Studios.
After watching lights at Hollywood Studios, we returned to the Magic Kingdom to see the sky light up behind the castle.
We then ate Disney churros (um, also better at Disneyland. Weird, right?) while we watched the castle change outfits countless times during The Magic, the Memories and You show.
Shortly thereafter, the electrical parade came rolling down the street.
Please love the above picture of Cinderella heading to her castle in a pumpkin. Anyway. Once all the shows were over, we caught a few last-minute rides and posed with the castle before heading down Main Street one last time.
Christian climbed the stairs in the train station for a final look at his domain. Seriously, he owns Disney World. Thanksgiving is definitely a brave time to head to Orlando, and I know there are others who went at the exact same time we did that spent their visit in two+ hour lines and overwhelmed by crowds. But thanks to Christian's expertise, planning, and running across parks to secure fast passes for everyone, we were able to ride everything multiple times and never waited for more than twenty minutes. Crowds? What crowds? Thanks, Kiken. You made the vacation.
We boarded the ferry and were enjoying our ride to the parking lot when we noticed that 9-year-old Kaleb and 5-year-old Gabe were both silently crying. We asked Kaleb why and he responded, "It was just so wonderful!" They weren't whiny tears, but happy-because-we-loved-it-so-much-and-sort-of-sad-that-it's-over-now tears. How cute is that? We asked 6-year-old Josh if he was going to cry, too, and he laughed a hearty "No." Then, as we watched Disney World fade into the distance, our little jokester Joshie turned toward Kaleb and said:
"Don't worry, Kaleb. You're never going to see it again."
So sweet, right?
One final look at the second-happiest place on earth. Thanks for the memories, Mom and Dad!