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Photo TR: Celebrating the Holidays at the Disneyland Resort

Part 4: Avengers Campus, DCA Festival of the Holidays & more!

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For what seemed like my first trip to Disneyland in forever (my last trip was just over two years prior for the D23 Expo 2019), my wife and I managed to sneak away to the Disneyland Resort for a trip full of firsts... This was our first time visiting during the holiday season with all that that includes, as well as our first time visiting since the opening of Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure. Having been to Disneyland many times prior, this trip took a more relaxed pace, with us focusing on the unique holiday offerings, the new experiences at Avengers Campus and repeating many of our favorites. This worked out well as we also visited in the time before Genie+ and Lightning Lane was in use--meaning that all attractions operated with standby only. Fortunately enough, we were able to plan our time strategically and never waited more than 45 minutes for any one experience, with the exception of WEB Slingers, which we waited over an hour for due to the new ride's popularity. 

We had three days at the resort with the first day being the most casual--allowing us to enjoy Downtown Disney, Trader Sam's for lunch and Disneyland in the evening. 

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The former ESPN Zone had some neat murals added to promote the variety of content available to enjoy on Disney+.

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It was announced at the Destination D23 event a few weeks ago that this corner of Downtown Disney would be demolished in the near future for a midcentury modern designed area of Downtown Disney with new shops and dining. 

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The former Rainforest Cafe was repurposed as an expanded Star Wars Trading Post and I can't help but admire how the former rainforest ruins have been mildly rethemed to a Yavin 4-esque Rebel base. 

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If you remember the retail interior of Rainforest Cafe it is kind of neat to see how the space was reutilized for Star Wars Trading Post.

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Nope.

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I've got a tradition to keep up...

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Yep! Trader Sam's it is!

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Don't pu pu my love of this wonderful oasis.

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After Trader Sam's reopened post-COVID, the venue started requiring dining reservations and with that change, the menu received a few heartier entrees to choose from. This ramen was awesome and truly hit the spot on the chilly day we visited!

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New mug acquired!

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Even though we dined outside (the weather was just too nice not to) we had to check out the holiday decor inside the Enchanted Tiki Bar!

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On our way out of Trader Sam's we spotted Goofy standing outside Goofy's Kitchen waiting to take photos with guests!

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We agreed that we would focus on Disneyland for our first day's time in the parks and seeing the park dressed up for the holidays was honestly the best way to really kick off our trip's theme park time. The Dapper Dans were great to see and hear here.

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Quite the tree.

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Hello beautiful!

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I had experienced Haunted Mansion Holiday years ago during a Halloween-time visit that I made to the resort but it was my wife's first time experiencing the glory that is this overlay. 

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This was also Haunted Mansion Holiday's 20th year in operation.

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It isn't a visit to Disneyland without at least one ride on Big Thunder Mountain.

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Snow White's Enchanted Wish was another new experience for us since the last time we rode this it was still Snow White's Scary Adventures. In addition to updated scenes and effects within the ride, the facade and queue received enhancements to lighten the mood.

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But many of the classic touches have been preserved.

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Less gloomy than before but still very cool!

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A fun new detail we noticed was that you can see Snow White's silhouette dancing in the window of the cottage at the boarding area for the ride. 

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I now present to you: The Backside of Castle!

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I was really excited to see just how much live entertainment and character experiences were being offered throughout the parks during our visit. 

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Alien Pizza Planet has moved in permanently and received a neat sign to match.

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Still among my favorite experiences getting the chance to Rockit through space. 

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That evening we had the chance to see A Christmas Fantasy Parade. 

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This is a charming, classic parade with some of the iconic holiday elements I've grown used to seeing at the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party over the years.

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Mickey and the Gang are here!

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Hi Elissa!

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Adorable.

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Fun to see Frozen integrated into the parade.

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Most classic holiday characters in the parade.

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Goofy and Pluto!

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The toy factory float was super impressive!

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Hi Jack!

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Santa even came by to visit!

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Gorgeous. 

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This is next-level pretty.

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For a cool evening, the grilled cheese and tomato bisque at the Jolly Holiday Bakery was a perfect dinner.

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I love the Castle Dreamlights on Sleeping Beauty Castle. 

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They had a neat Muppets Haunted Mansion exhibit in the Main Street Opera House featuring props from the special. As a fan of The Muppets and Haunted Mansion, the special is something I really enjoyed and would recommend if you're a fan of either. Lots of fun references from both sides of the fandom.

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Good night Disneyland... See you tomorrow!

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Great report, Adam! I have visited most of all the Disney parks around the world, usually June-Sept, and have always dreamed of the time when I could visit any Disney park, during it's Holiday Season. This was a great look at traditions still used and loved, in Disneyland. Thanks for the visit.

And the Pickle Dog stand reminded me....

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Yes,  bought one of those "pickle dogs" way back in 2017 at our PNE. Never again, I say! It - was - huge!

And pardon my liberal use of mustard. It helped.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Our next full day started bright and early at Disneyland Park as we revisited some of our favorite attractions at the resort while enjoying the holiday decor found throughout!

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Always a welcome sight!

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The Candlelight Processional returned for one weekend this year, which just happened to be the weekend of our trip. In the interest of time we didn't stop to watch, but the setup at the Main Street station was neat to see.

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Rope drop time!

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Where else do you go than Space Mountain when starting your day at Disneyland?

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Followed immediately by rides on the Matterhorn Bobsleds! 

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Hi Harold!

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Splashdown!

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I always love experiencing Alice in Wonderland. And over the years the attraction has been updated with new effects and lighting that really make the scenes pop!

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Such a fun Disneyland classic.

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More entertainment out and about!

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It wouldn't be a trip to Disneyland without a stop at The Mint Julep Bar.

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Plus they had a new souvenir Mint Julep cup available for purchase!

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Mickey Beignets are a must while here.

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Hello Sleeping Beauty Castle!

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Jack Sparrow was having fun with guests in New Orleans Square...

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I  don't think many people have a chance to look at this awesome plaque that calls out the names of those instrumental in making this attraction what it is...

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Never gets old.

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A Hen for a Ten?

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Red is awesome.

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More characters out and about by it's a small world!

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it's a small world! holiday was not open yet during our visit due to technical difficulties but opened a few days after we got home.

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Right before our trip the news about Mickey's Toontown updates was released, so we made sure to stop by and take in the land as it was then before it closes later this year.

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It is easy to see just how big of an addition Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway is for Disneyland and Toontown. 

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Time for a ride on Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin!

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This will never not be a blast!

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Not the dip!

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Goofy was out in front of his house greeting guests in holiday garb!

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Donald was in front of his boat as well!

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Changes are coming...

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I'm curious to see what happens with this corner of the land when it reopens...

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The trolley tracks will be going away as a part of the land's updates.

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Such a fun style.

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"Do not look into the Eyes of Mara!"

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The Tropical Hideaway is a great place to grab a bite and rest.

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Bao and lumpia for the win!

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We found out what happened to Rosita!

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I love these poster designs!

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It was great to see the monorail up and running again through the park.

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Character cavalcades happened throughout the day, which meant we had even more chances to see Mickey and the gang!

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I honestly hope these cavalcades continue long after the pandemic is over.

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I love this.

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Over in California Adventure the gang was looking quite dapper.

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Hi Horace!

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Holiday sourdough!

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It isn't a trip to Disney California Adventure without a soup bread bowl from Pacific Wharf Cafe. 

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The Sunset Showcase Theater got a new entrance and marquee since my last visit, bringing more attention to Mickey's PhilharMagic located within.

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Our time in the parks was cut short after a surprising phone call led us to the Grand Californian... More on that in the next update.

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How cute is this Grand Californian-inspired gingerbread house?

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  • 1 month later...

Stepping back a little to the tail end of our afternoon in the parks (before visiting the Grand Californian), we were able to spend some time in the new Avengers Campus. While we had experienced Marvel characters and Marvel shows in Shanghai, Paris and California before, this was the first time seeing a fully dedicated Marvel-themed land. Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout! has been a favorite of ours for years and the hype train for the land had been built up thanks to us seeing all of the newest MCU characters finding their way into the land as new movies and shows would be released. 

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A very different look at feel compared to the previous "a bug's land" that was here.

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The land's main merchandise location.

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The story of Web Slingers continues throughout the land where Spider-Bots are strung up in webs.

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And of course you can bring your own, customizable Spider-Bot home for more fun.

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I love this.

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You have no idea how excited I was to try Pingo Doce while I was here.

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Over at the main Avengers Campus building you can see different MCU characters roaming around and sometimes engaging in fights against villainous foes. In this moment we say Sam Wilson's Captain America interacting with Black Panther.

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I intentionally avoided all spoilers before experiencing this one.

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I love that they got Tom Holland to reprise his role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man for the ride. Marvel fans will notice some neat easter eggs like Lucky Dog's Pizza.

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That suit looks kind of familiar...

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If you've been on other attractions where your hands are the virtual controllers, I will say that this feels more advanced and intuitive. You're not just whipping your arms wildly to "shoot" but you're pulling and pushing to trigger different behaviors. It definitely made the experience feel more interactive and less "not knowing if you're actually doing anything."

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I love that the current Avengers Campus was a former SSR base. 

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The queue leads to a neat station. 

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Obviously not super clear but it gives you an idea of kind of what you're seeing and experiencing as you move through Web Slingers.

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I also liked the variety of different types of Spider-Bots having different powers/reactions to being attacked. Having the individual Spider-Bots tracked along with the total score made this feel even more repeatable. 

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During the day the ancient sanctum can be used for a variety of experiences...

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A familiar face out and about.

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Iron Man would be the last character we would see before we had to rush over to the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa... Months earlier I had put us on a waitlist for the Chef's Counter at Napa Rose, my favorite restaurant/dining experience on property at the Disneyland Resort. At the time it was already fully booked during our stay... But as it was clearly meant to be, we got the call, rushed back to our hotel to get cleaned up and then sped over to the Grand Californian for our culinary journey to begin.

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The Chef's Counter at Napa Rose is a super exclusive experience with approximately eight seats (four on either side of the main expediting counter). There is a dessert counter experience (seen in the top left of this photo) as well, but if you're here, going for the full deal is the best way to go. 

You get to watch the team behind this prestigious restaurant at work, all while being treated to a personalized menu prepared just for you based on your likes/dislikes as well as the freshest and most unique ingredients the kitchen has on hand. Chef Andrew Sutton, seen at left presides over the restaurant and if you're lucky like we've been both times we've been at the Chef's Counter, he gets to have a hand in designing and preparing portions of your menu, plus getting a chance to speak with you during the meal. 

I won't post every food photo I took from the meal... Just the highlights of highlights.

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Our meal started out with a Parsnip Espuma and Lace Tuile, mine topped with Golden Osetra Caviar and my wife's topped with Crimson Beets since caviar is not her thing. Neither of us could believe just how good this tasted. 

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The Chef's Counter offers a wine pairing option but as I did during my last visit, I opted for cocktail pairings to come out with every few courses. The first was this unreal Provence Sour made with Hayman's Old Tom Gin, Rose Wine, Lemon Juice and Egg Whites. It was like drinking a cloud from heaven.

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My wife was surprised with these amazing Artichoke Parmesan Fritters.

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My next dish was a plate of House Cured Ahi Tuna with Braised Lentils, Lobster Tian and Lemon Gelees. 

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My wife's favorite dish of the night was this Holiday Goose served with a Butternut Squash Ravioli and Cranberry Relish. This was the holidays on a plate and it was bliss.

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This unreal Diver Scallop was perfectly cooked and paired brilliantly with the Braised Kobe Beef Cheek, Chanterelle Mushrooms and Pumpkin Seeds.

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My next drink was the Summer Kiss, a combination of Hendricks Gin, Combier, Lemon Juice, St. Germain and an Absinthe Rinse. SMOOTH.

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This Smoked Pork Loin with a Butternut Mole and Red Rice was this bacon-lover's unkosher dream!

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An absolute standout of the evening, and a surprising favorite of my wife's, the Wild Boar Meatloaf with Pickled Persimmons. This felt homey but also super elevated. 

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My next course was a Stuffed Lam Saddle with a Chestnut Puree and Autumn Greens. That puree was the star of the dish.

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Tender Braised Beef Pot Roast with Green Garlic, Portobello Mushrooms, Romanesco and Cheddar Whipped Potatoes was tear-inducing perfection. There wasn't a drop left on the plate when we were done.

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The Main Course, a drink composed of Fernet Branca, Campari, Bulleit Rys Whiskey, Falernum Syrup and Mole Bitters. We were in a GOOD place by this point.

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It isn't often that you get a cheese course that is served warm (our sous chef for the night shared this as she brought out this bowl of joy). This Baked Robiola Bosina Cheese with Carmelized Onions and a Quince Relish was unreal. I could've eaten a full entree serving.

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Probably the most "simple" thing we tasted and yet still it was several cuts above, was this Eclair with a Dark Chocolate Pomegranate Mousse.

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My dessert for the evening was Napa Rose's Signature Hot Chocolate with a chewy ginger cookie, a brown butter toffee cookie, a sugar crisp, and a marshmallow creme. 

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My wife received the Harvest Pear Turnover with a Holiday Egg Nog Ice Cream Float. I still dream of this dessert.

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I was surprised with an extra surprise dessert, a Peppermint White Chocolate Creme Brulee. I nearly fell out of my chair after one bite.

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One more amazing bite to round out our amazing meal--Salted Caramel Peppermint Truffles!

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After our incredible meal we pushed ourselves back into the parks to enjoy the evening lights.

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This was a sight to behold.

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It was a bummer that we didn't get to experience the attraction this trip, but seeing the lighting was still a treat.

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I couldn't help but marvel at it all.

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I love this so much.

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A late night run on the Jungle Cruise is always worth it!

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We made it back to Main Street in time to catch the holiday fireworks!

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I love how the Main Street projections are used in the show.

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SNOW!!!

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The Magic Eye Theater isn't in use right now, so the sign has been replaced with a wonderfully retro piece of Mary Blair art.

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I love Tomorrowland at night.

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The Matterhorn at night will forever be one of my favorite experiences at the Disneyland Resort.

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We started our next day at Disney California Adventure, with a focus on revisiting old favorites and experiencing more of the new and seasonal offerings in the park. 

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We weren't the only ones with this idea.

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I love Buena Vista Street and seeing it for the holidays was no less special.

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Cars Land during the holidays is even more charming.

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I love this so much!

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Don't mind if I do!

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A personal favorite landmark of mine in Cars Land.

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This attraction will never cease to amaze me.

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I've only been able to experience Ramone's side of Radiator Springs Racers a few times.

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"...And quattro to go!"

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We didn't win this time.

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I marvel at the fact that this was built stateside. 

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My second ride for the morning yielded a pit stop at Luigi's. 

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We won this time!

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The entrance to Avengers Campus from Cars Land is neat in that it features a more antiquated space from the form SSR base on the grounds.

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Looking forward to the attraction announced at the D23 Expo a few years ago opening here in the future.

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The Kirby Krackle is real!

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I'll never turn down a chance to experience Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout!

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I love this preshow (and attraction) so much!

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Shawarma Palace for breakfast!

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Ant-Man was among the many heroes we saw in Avengers Campus on this day.

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I met Phastos from The Eternals!

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Very cool.

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The world is upside down.

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I really like what was done to the tunnels when California Screamin' was transformed into the Incredicoaster. 

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We always try our hand at the Games of the Boardwalk at Pixar Pier. This time, the tokens were familiar because they were from the former Mad T Party that used to be hosted in Hollywoodland. 

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This photo does a good job of giving the impression that I actually nailed this shot. I'll let you decide if I did.

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Captain America (Steve Rogers), Taskmaster and Black Widow battling atop the Avengers headquarters...

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Time for lunch at Pym's Test Kitchen!

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I love this tap handles!

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To give you idea of the different presentations of food here...

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I was so ridiculously excited to try Pingo Doce and I was by no means disappointed.

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I wasn't going to pass up a chance to try this Buffalo Chicken Loaded Pretzel!

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I knew I had to try the Celestial-sized Candy Bar, Choco-Smash. This thing is intense and contains Dark Chocolate, Peanuts, Caramel, Nougat and Chocolate Brownie. I struggled to finish it but it was so good!

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I love the holiday cavalcades they had running through the park during the day for the Festival of the Holidays.

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So glad I finally had a chance to experience Cars Land for the holidays! The seasonal overlays for Mater's Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters were both great!

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The Wasp was at Avengers Campus too!

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Roz was in the holiday spirit.

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The Super Store Featuring Avengers Campus was a fun extra option for Marvel-inspired merchandise. 

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Hi Elissa!

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Still one of my favorite spaces in any Disney park stateside.

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Grizzly Peak is always fun to walk around, but it is especially plussed for the holidays.

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One of my favorite views in the entire resort.

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I love that the Country Bears still have a presence at the Disneyland Resort despite the show being closed decades ago.

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Nick and Judy from Zootopia!

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We really enjoyed the performance by "Mostly Kosher" at the Sonoma Terrace. It was especially fun for us to hear traditional Jewish tunes (presented in a far more modern, accessible format) for the holidays. We both wished we had found them earlier in the trip so we could have come back for a second performance!

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Quite a delicious Gingerbread Mickey Mouse Cookie to be had. It didn't make it home to Orlando.

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Evening begins to fall on Avengers Campus...

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Cool!

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As the sun began to set, even more Marvel characters began to arrive at Avengers Campus...

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