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Visitors walk toward Sleeping Beauty's Castle in the background at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif. in this 2015 file photo.Jae C. Hong/AP

We had just come through a four-year family vacation drought. Work, the Zika virus outbreak during my last pregnancy and the everyday craziness of life with four children had conspired to keep us from our annual cold weather respite.

Finally, we saw an opening in our schedules and jumped at the chance to get away, booking flights to California before anyone could text, “Stop!”

On a Saturday morning last June, we packed up our family and taxied to Toronto Pearson International Airport. The kids were still half asleep, and the adults, having spent a sleepless night fretting over every worst-case scenario, were already deep in the wringer.

Five hours later we touched down in Los Angeles, a little worse for wear but thrilled to have made it without any major dramatics.

We had laid out an action-packed itinerary, ticking off bucket list hits like Universal Studios, Disneyland, Legoland and catching a live game at Dodger Stadium, as well as beach time and surf lessons. To pull it all off we would be changing hotels every couple of nights for two weeks – no small feat when you’re travelling with four kids under nine, including a 10-month-old baby.

But boy, did we have an amazing time. From the gleefully fun Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios to watching the neon lights come on in Radiator Springs in Disneyland at dusk, we left no proverbial stone unturned. The kids frolicked in the sprawling water park at Legoland, and we saw the Los Angeles Dodgers win against the Cincinnati Reds – live. We even managed to catch a couple of waves with the surfers at Huntington Beach.

And yet, looking back, it’s not so much those postcard-worthy final destinations that I first recall, but the moments in between: Waiting in line – for rides, at the airport or for our food. En route to the next attraction, or simply hanging out in our hotel room at the end of a long, fun-filled day.

Without the usual distractions to help us pass the time (iPhone, iPad, work, chores, friends), we turned to old school methodologies: Rock, paper, scissors; thumb wars; telling stories and just plain talking (oh, the horror). All of a sudden my kids had gotten older. They weren’t just spewing out demands, complaints or jibber-jabber, and I wasn’t ordering, cajoling or disciplining. It was as if we were seeing each other for the first time, and I loved what I saw.

We ribbed each other. I gave them piggybacks. We hugged and held hands and cuddled as much as you could in a line with hundreds of other people – certainly more than I could expect back home when we were in firm chores-and-homework territory. Here we were cool, friendly. No demands, just being. It was beautiful.

At North Hollywood’s groovy Garland hotel we faux-fought over our joined rooms, staking out territory: No kids allowed! No parents allowed!

We watched the sun go down and the lights go up over the giant Minion statues at Universal Studios from our room at the Hilton Universal City Hotel, the kids excited for the theme park day ahead.

One day, we took a detour and parked at one of the lookout points on the Hollywood Hills. Even the kids were impressed.

Downtime at Huntington Beach led to s’mores and courtyard games at Shorebreak Hotel. The kids were bummed to leave the beach until they saw the water slides at the Courtyard Anaheim Hotel and Waterpark, where we stayed during our visit to Disneyland. The boys fought over the top bunk while mom and dad took in the fireworks, promising to return soon.

On our next vacation, we might make room for a little more time in between.

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