Monday, November 22, 2004

Day 4 - Disney's California Adventure

October 19, 2004

Today, Tuesday, is the day we planned to spend in the Disney California Adventure Park (DCA). I also brought the camera for this first time this trip and planned to take lots and lots of pictures. In order to make it easier to lug around the camera, I emptied my purse of everything but the absolute essentials. But it didn’t do me any good, since Jason asked if I would carry his videocamera in my purse since he didn’t have a backpack with him. His camera is very small so I reluctantly agreed. He planned to look for a small backpack in the park to use to hold his camera. We looked at many places but didn’t find anything that would work. Finally, that evening we found just the right one at the Target down the street.

After taking some general pictures of the entrance to DCA, we headed over to my favorite ride at DCA, Soarin’ Over California. This ride is just amazing. There are three rows of seats facing a large movie screen. When the ride begins, this contraption lifts up the rows of seats until they are suspended one row above another right in front of the screen. The seats move in relation to what’s happening on the screen and you really feels like your para-gliding over California. To make the experience even more realistic, they add different scents to go along with the scenery so you really feel that you are flying over an orange grove or the ocean. At the very end you fly through Disneyland, above Main Street where you can see the parade going on below you and then you are suspended right in front of the fireworks display. I could ride this over and over.

Next, we did something that in hindsight was not very bright. There was only a 5 minute wait for Grizzly River Run, so we decided to ride it. That should have been our first clue. The second clue was the lockers that were available right next to the attraction that offered one hour of free use to put your stuff in while you ride the ride. The main reason we should have know better is that I actually rode this ride last year and I know you get wet. But we were blinded by the 5 minute wait. We dutifully unloaded everything into the locker and boarded our raft. We were absolutely drenched by this ride. At the very end of the ride is a geyser that shoots up at random intervals. As we approached we saw it begin to spray and there was nothing we could do about it except get even more soaked, it that was even possible.

After disembarking the ride and retrieving our stuff from the locker, we realized that there was no way that we could continue on as soaked as we were. It was threatening to rain and we had 1:00 PM reservations at Ariel’s Grotto. We made a mad dash back to the hotel and changed into dry close. The whole trip took us a little over an hour, but it sure felt good to be dry.

By the time we returned it was really starting to rain, so we headed over to Ariel’s Grotto and decided to just wait there until it was time for lunch. Ariel’s Grotto is a character restaurant in DCA themed to, of course, The Little Mermaid. This was our first character dining experience and it was a little awkward. We spent most of the time hoping and praying that the characters would not come to our table as we really didn’t know what to do. Minnie stopped briefly at our table and fortunately didn’t stay long. The place was packed with parents with their kids. We were the only table that didn’t have kids. Ariel was located in the lobby in her clam shell and kids could go up and talk to her and have their picture taken. Minnie Mouse, Goofy and Pluto would take turns circulating throughout the dining area. It was very noise with all the kids and at one point all the kids joined the characters as they marched around the room to music and each kid banged on the bottom of a sand bucket with a plastic shovel. The food was okay but rather expensive, even with Jason’s 15% discount. We each ordered the Chicken Pot Pie and it was okay but not spectacular. At the end of the meal, our server brought us a little dish of cotton candy which was a nice touch.

Next, Jason decided to ride California Screamin’. I was hoping to get up the courage to ride it, but I knew I just couldn’t handle it. While he was riding I tried to get some pictures of the roller coaster. It was still raining so I put on the disposable rain poncho that we brought with us. It did a good job of keeping the rain off and was definitely a great investment at 89 cents each.

As it was still raining, we saw all the shows like Muppet 3-D Vision and It’s Tough To Be A Bug. Since we had a little time to kill before our Mysteries, Myths and Legends Tour, we decided to each get a Mr. Potato Head from the Engine-Ears shop. I had read about this on the website. For $18 (plus tax), you can fill up a cardboard box with a Mr. Potato Head body and all the parts that you can fit in the box. The box can’t be bulging and the lid has to be able to close. Many of the parts are unique to the Disney Resort and are not available anywhere else. We each assembled a box and went to town. After selecting a body, we opened the back and begin to cram as many parts as possible into it. The parts are separated into different bins, with three or four different parts to a bin. We go from bin to bin selecting one of just about everything and try to pack the parts as efficiently as possible into our boxes. The boxes filled up pretty quickly and we realize that we don’t have room for any feet. So after some debate, we decide to split the cost of a third box. We thought this would be plenty of room since we didn’t need another body, just parts. Well the feet take up a lot of room. Plus we spotted a teacup that Mr. Potato Head can sit in and of course we each need of one of those. We ended up biting the bullet and adding a fourth box so that we could include one of each of the parts. Even with Jason’s 10% pass holder discount, it still ended up costing us almost seventy dollars. Seventy dollars for two Mr. Potato Heads and some accessories. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

It’s getting close to tour time, so we make a quick trip to the car to stash the potato heads and then head on over to the Tower of Terror to await the start of our tour.

The Mysteries, Myths and Legends Tour was very fun. It was the first time I ever took one of the tours. Jeremy (dressed in a long black trench coat) greeted us, took our tickets and make small talk with us as we waited for the rest of the group to arrive. A couple of the other tour participants had learned about the tour the same way we did, through the discussion board. Once everyone arrived, we were introduced to our Tour Guide for the evening, a foreboding and spooky gentlemen named “Gracey.” Gracey led us into the Hollywood Tower Hotel for our first ride of the tour. This was our first time on the ride and we were both more than a little nervous. I purposely did not ride this ride earlier because I wasn’t sure how well I would like it. I knew I would ride it at least once so I thought it best that the first time be on the tour.

As we made our way into the Hotel, Gracey shared with us some of the legends surrounding the hotel. All too soon though, it was time to board the ride. We were strapped into the elevator, the lights went off and we began our journey. The ride was at once both frightening and exhilarating. The ride is a serious of rapid ascents and plunges up and down the elevator shaft with occasional stops at various floors. At the very top the doors open and you get a glimpse out the building at the rest of the resort while a camera captures the terror on your face. Then the door closes and you plunge back into the darkness. I just hung on for dear life and prayed for it to be over soon.

At the end of the ride we were instructed to unbuckle our seatbelts, which I gratefully did. Then the bellhop tells us to put them back on, then take them off, and then put them back on. He does this several times, with the end result being that he sends us on the ride AGAIN. This time I wasn’t quite as scared as I knew the ride really didn’t last very long.

By the time we left the Tower of Terror, DCA was closed and we headed out of the park and over to Disneyland. We stopped at the esplanade between the two parks were Jeremy joined us again. He handed each of us a necklace with a glow crystal designed to ward off the ghouls and goblins, but really served to identify the members of the tour group.

The rest of the tour took place in Disneyland and we had a great time. We walked through the park stopping periodically while “Gracey” told us some of the mysteries and legends that supposedly occurred in the park. We rode the train to New Orleans Square and rode Indiana Jones. The final stop of the tour was Haunted Mansion Holiday just as the park was closing for the evening. We were ushered into the mansion and midway through the ride the “doom” buggies slowed down to about half speed so that we could see the special surprise. I won’t spoil it for anyone who may take the tour if it ever returns in the future.

After we left the Haunted Mansion, we were led back to spot in Adventureland and then the tour ended. It was kind of weird how it just ended somewhat abruptly. Jason and I made our way to City Hall to fill out a feedback form letting them know how much we enjoyed the tour and what a great job “Gracey” and Jeremy did.

It had been a long day and we were glad to head back to HoJo’s.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Day 3 - Disneyland

October 18, 2004

Today, Monday, is our first full day at the park and we were ready to go shortly after 9:00 AM. Armed with our RideMax plan for the day, we waited patiently near the front of the crowd on Main Street for the rope drop at 10:00 AM. As I described in an earlier post, RideMax is a software planning tool that takes into account the day of week and time of year of your visit as well as the average wait times for the different rides and develops a schedule to follow that is designed to reduce the amount of time you spend waiting in line. We created two RideMax plans, one for Disneyland and one for Disney California Adventure.

The Dumbo ride was scheduled to be our first ride of the day. As soon as the rope dropped, we dutifully headed over to Fantasyland while everyone else stampeded over to ride Indy and Splash. The reasoning the RideMax program gave for sending us to Dumbo first is that Dumbo is low-capacity, “cycle” attraction where the line can build fairly quickly. In contract, Indiana Jones is a high capacity ride and the line takes a lot longer to develop. RideMax proved to be correct and we were among the first guests to board Dumbo.

Our next scheduled ride was Big Thunder Railroad, but unfortunately the attraction was temporarily closed. Next on the list was Splash Mountain where we were supposed to pick up FastPasses for use later on. For those of you who are familiar with Disneyland, Splash Mountain is in Critter Country and requires a walk almost completely around the Rivers of America. There are no shortcuts to get to Critter Country. When we reached Splash, we picked up our Fastpasses but noticed that the line was short, so we ended up riding the ride.

After riding Splash, our next ride was supposed to be Alice in Wonderland. This meant another long, long walk around the Rivers of America and back over to Fantasyland. At this point, we were beginning to question the usefulness of RideMax. Although it may be great for reducing the amount of time spent waiting in line, it definitely didn’t do anything about reducing the amount of walking. A scan through the schedule showed us criss-crossing back and forth through the park. As we headed over to Alice, we saw that Big Thunder was now open so we stopped to ride it. Even though we were still on schedule, by the time we reached Alice in Wonderland, the line was so long that we decided not to wait in the line.

By now it is 11:30 and we are both starving. We decide to head on over to the Blue Bayou Restaurant to see if we can move up our 1:40 PM reservations. They were able to and within 10 minutes we were seated at our table. The Blue Bayou is located inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride and you can watch the boats full of people wind there way through the swamp. We both ordered the Monte Cristo, the Blue Bayou’s signature sandwich, and it was just as good as it was the last time we were here. It came with a side of pasta salad and some delicious freshly-baked sourdough rolls. Neither one of us ordered a mint julep. Once was enough.

After lunch, we decided to head back to the hotel for a short rest. It was at this point that we both realized that following the RideMax plan wasn’t very fun. By moving from land to land, we missed out on experiencing the real feel of the land. If it was peak season and crowds were an issue, the RideMax plan would make sense. So we ditched the plan and decided to just wing it.

Since we hadn’t done anything in Tomorrowland yet, we decided to start there first after we returned to the park. Star Tours was our first ride. Usually, this ride doesn’t bother my stomach, but this time it made us both a little queasy. We didn’t ride it again during the entire trip. Next was Honey I Shrunk the Audience, which is a 3-D show and we both enjoyed the special effects. Innoventions was next and was disappointing. It’s supposedly a showcase of future technology, but much of it seemed outdated. We didn’t spend very much time there. We did note that the outside balcony area would make a great spot for picture-taking, so we’ll be back later with the camera.

One of the things on our to-do list for this trip was to have ice cream at the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor. It had been a while since lunch, so we picked up fastpasses for the Autopia and headed over to get some ice cream. While we waited our turn in the long line, I pulled out my Tinkerbell wallet and it caught the eye of the little girl standing behind us in line. She and I chatted for a bit about some of our favorite rides and favorite characters. With such engaging conversation, the time passed quickly and before I knew it, it was time to order. Jason and I both ordered the Gibson Girl Sundae in a waffle cone cup. It was delicious, sweet and very filling. Neither one of us ordered the Fantasia ice-cream, a special flavor only available at Disneyland, made of banana, pistachio and cherry.

After we finished our ice cream, we went back to Tomorrowland and rode Autopia. Then it was time to head home. We were very glad that we did not have to walk all the way back to the hotel.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Day 2 - Santa Nella, CA to Disneyland

October 17, 2004

After a good night’s sleep, we were on the road by 6:00 AM. Today we only had 295 miles to go and hoped to arrive in Anaheim by 11:00 AM. It had rained during the night and the streets were wet. Luckily, there were few cars on the road this early in the morning. It was still dark and the rain made it difficult to see the road. I don't mind driving in the rain during the day except when I need to pass a truck. The spray from the truck's tires as you pass pretty much eliminates any view of the road, and you just have to hang on and hope you make it. We had light showers for a short while before settling into a grey, cloudy day.

In Bakersfield, we stopped to use the restroom at a McDonald's and then noticed a Starbucks next door. Of course, we had to stop. I ordered my usual Mocha and Jason tried their new seasonal drink, a Pumpkin Spice Latte, a delicious blend of pumpkin and traditional holiday spice flavors, combined with their signature espresso and freshly steamed milk, and topped with whipped cream and pumpkin pie spices. He said it was good, but the spices were a little on the strong side.

Armed with nourishing beverages, we cracked open a new box of Hostess Frosted Donettes and were ready to face the dreaded "Grapevine." Shortly after starting the climb it began to rain and was quite foggy in places, making the journey more than a little nerve-wracking. Fortunately, being early on a Sunday morning, there was light traffic and everyone seemed to slow down to just 15 miles over the posted speed limit. We made it safely down the other side and continued on our way.

The rest of the trip went quickly as we passed familiar landmarks and exits. To view a video showing the last 2-1/2 minutes of our trip (shrunk down to 34 seconds), visit my son's
website. It makes me look like a drive like a maniac. And no, I did not rear end the truck in front of me at the signal.

We arrived at the Howard Johnson Anaheim Plaza a few minutes before 11:00 AM and eased our cramped bodies out of the car and hobbled up to the registration desk. A very friendly front desk employee checked us in and as our rooms weren't quite ready yet, she suggested that we might want to go on over to the park. We thought that was a great idea, so we climbed back into the car and drove the short distance to the Disneyland Resort. Since we didn't have our parking pass yet, we decided to park in the Downtown Disney parking lot which offers three hours of free parking. It felt good to stretch our legs after the long drive and we enjoyed looking around as we made our way through Downtown Disney (hereafter referred to as DTD). On our left we noted the DTD Monorail station and how it was quite close to the Disneyland Hotel. Someday, we plan to stay at the hotel and take the Monorail into the park every day. Today, however, it appeared that the Monorail station was closed. This happened quite frequently during the week we spent in the Park. Twice we had to leave the DTD station and walk back to the Park because the Monorail system lost power and they didn't know how long until it would be up and running again. I guess we should be grateful that it didn't break down while it was making its journey to Tomorrowland.

After having my purse checked at the security station, we went to Guest Services to pick up our Annual Pass vouchers and Tour tickets. We were given a temporary one-day ticket that would get us into the Park so that we could have our permanent passes issued to us.

After an 18-month absence, it was great to be back although it really hadn’t sunk in yet that we were actually there. The park didn't seem especially crowded and we wandered up Main Street enjoying the view. At the end of Main Street, the Castle was almost completely wrapped in blue tarp and a six-foot fence surrounded the perimeter as it underwent much needed refurbishing. The top portion of the castle was the only part that was visible and it looks great with its new paint.

The annual pass processing center was located near the exit to Space Mountain (which is closed until November 2005). Even though it was undercover, it was hot and humid in there and the line was long. Russell, the Cast Member who greeted us as we approached said it would be about a 30 minute wait. It was hard to be patient when we were both eager to start exploring the park.

We finally made our way to the front of the line and a very nice Cast Member named Kathie helped us. It took longer than it should have because she originally issued me the wrong type of pass and misspelled Jason’s name on his a couple of times. To compensate us for the delay, we were given a “No Strings Attached” coupon that allowed us to choose one ride from a list of some of the more popular rides and go directly to the front of the ride without waiting in line. However, since the Park was never very crowded we ended up not using the coupon.

Because it took so long to get our passes, we decided to go back to the DTD parking lot and move our car over to the Mickey and Friends parking structure where we could use the parking permit that came with Jason’s pass. After parking the car, we rode our first ride of the trip, the tram that goes to and from the parking structure. As we re-entered the park, the Cast Member scanned in my pass and it came up “Invalid.” I half expected to be immediately surrounded by security personnel, my pass confiscated, and then escorted off the premises. Instead, the CM says I should go back to the processing center and let them fix the problem. We decided to do that first thing so it isn’t weighing on our minds.

The line at the pass processing center is even longer than before and there is no Cast Member at the end of the line to explain our problem to. We definitely do not want to stand in that line again, so we hover around for a few minutes trying to decide what to do. Finally, a CM comes out of the employee area of the booth and Jason gets her attention. She takes my pass in and returns a minute later and tells me it’s all fixed. Now that that’s taken care of, we’re finally ready to start enjoying the park.

Our first stop is It’s A Small World because it was going to close the next day for a few weeks as they prepare it for the holiday overlay. As we exit the ride, we continue to hum the catchy little tune they play during the ride over and over and over again.

By now it after 2:00 PM and we decide to get something to eat. During our trip last year, our one regret was that we worried too much about how much things cost and didn’t get to enjoy some of the special treats that the park has to offer. We determined that during this trip we would not worry so much about the money and just get what we wanted. As Jason stated, “If I want to spend $7.00 for a cookie at the Blue Ribbon Bakery, then I’m going to spend $7.00 for that cookie.” After consulting our map, we decide to get a sandwich at the Blue Ribbon Bakery. At the bakery, we see plenty of delicious baked goods, but no sandwiches. Neither are they listed on the menu board. When it’s our turn, we ask and are told that they do have sandwiches. By this time we are starving so we each order a sandwich and drink, but decide to split a $2.49 bag of chips. We were also pleasantly surprised to note that the famous Nestle’s chocolate chip cookies are “only” $1.99, so we each order one. After forking over a mere $28.00 for this delicious repast, we take our lunch across Main Street and sit outside at a nice table with an umbrella. While we’re eating, the Main Street band begins to play directly across the street and we sit there in the nice warm day, enjoying our lunch and the great music.

After lunch it’s time to head on back to the Hotel to pick up our room keys and get unpacked. We walk the short distance to the tram station, board the tram and ride back to the parking structure. It’s a very short drive to the Hotel and there is no traffic to speak of. Our rooms are ready so we drive around to the parking area next to our building. Our rooms are located in Building #2, which is in the back of the property and overlooks one of the pools. This pool is called the “quiet” pool since it’s mainly used by adults. The other pool, located near the front of the hotel, also has a kids’ wading pool area called Speedy’s Sprayground.

We begin to haul our stuff up to our rooms. Our rooms are both on the second floor, down the hall from each other, and fortunately there is an elevator. This hotel was renovated in 2003 and the rooms are impeccably clean, nicely furnished and very quiet. If I hadn’t observed other people on the elevator or noticed the Do Not Disturb signs on the doors of the other rooms on our floor, I would have thought we were the only ones in the building. I never heard one bit of noise from above or from either side of my room. We each have a king size bed, a table with chairs, a small desk, an armoire with a 25” TV, and a small refrigerator. In addition, there is an iron and ironing board in the closet and a hairdryer and coffee maker in the bathroom.

Since the rooms with microwaves were $20 per night more, we purchased a small microwave at Target the previous August and brought it along with us. We loaded the inside of the microwave with videotapes to go with the VCR that we brought along as well. We were able to connect the VCR to the TV without having to call maintenance.

After unpacking and resting a little, we were ready to head back to the park. The park was open until 11:00 PM the evening. Once again, my pass was rejected at the entrance gate, but the CM overrode the system and let me in. It began to get dark shortly after we arrived and the crowds began to thin out. We spent a fun evening walking around and riding quite a few rides. Around 10:00 PM it began to rain lightly and we decided to go back to the hotel. We were glad to be able to hop the tram to the parking structure and drive home, rather than face the long walk back to the hotel. We settled into our very comfortable king beds and drifted off to sleep.