Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Trip Report - Day 2

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Without a doubt, today turned out to be the absolute best day we’ve ever had at Disneyland. We started off with a quick breakfast in our rooms and then drove over to the Park. After going through the security checkpoint we stopped at the Will Call booth to pick up our tickets for the Holiday Tour, which we were taking today, and our tickets for the Fantasmic Dessert Buffet scheduled for Friday evening.

I had learned on MousePlanet that today Disneyland was going to dedicate a window to Fess Parker, who was the star of the Davy Crockett series on TV many years ago. If you look up at the windows along Main Street, you’ll notice that many of them have a person’s name and a business painted on them. These windows were Walt’s way of honoring people that made significant contributions to Disneyland. The person’s actual name is used but the name of the business is fictional, although it relates in a clever way to the type of contribution the person made.

Since we had about 20 minutes until the rope drop, we walked up and down Main Street trying to locate (without success) the window that was to be dedicated to Fess Parker. I finally asked one of the outdoor vendors, but he didn’t know anything about it. Shortly before 10:00 AM, an announcement was made inviting everyone to the dedication to be held in Frontierland at 10:15 AM. It made perfect sense that Fess Parker’s window would be in Frontierland rather than Main Street.

As soon as the rope dropped, we headed over to the Frontierland Hat Shop, which was renamed the Crockett & Russell Hat Co. The window was covered with a red, white and blue banner. Several rows of chairs were lined up facing the store and a podium was placed on the porch. Off to the side was a section for the media and many cameras were set up. The entire area was roped off and all seating was reserved for VIP’s, so we picked a spot along the rope directly in front of the store. There was a large tree just inside the roped off area which made it difficult to get good pictures. The sun was just coming up over the store and shown directly at us, making even more difficult to get a decent picture.

At 10:15 AM, Matt Quimet, the General Manager of the Disneyland Resort, took the podium and made a short speech and then introduced Fess Parker, who rode up in a horse-drawn wagon escorted by Mickey Mouse who was outfitted in pioneer clothing. A children’s choir, all wearing coonskin caps, sang the Davy Crockett theme song. At the conclusion of the song, all the children threw their caps up in the air. Next, Fess Parker spoke, introducing the numerous family members seated in the reserved seating area. Finally, the big moment arrived. With an explosion of confetti, the banner was dropped revealing a window which said, “Davy Crockett, Coonskin Cap Supply Company, Fess Parker, Proprietor.”

After the ceremony, we rode Big Thunder Railroad since there wasn’t a line, and then headed over to the Matterhorn. This attraction had been closed during our last visit in October and we were glad to be able to ride it this time around. While we were in line, we decided to each sit in our own seat, rather than share a seat which is really uncomfortable. The cast member at the head of the line apparently assumed that we would be sharing a seat, so when we hopped into separate seats he reprimanded us for “not telling him we wanted separate seats and therefore screwing up his count.” That was our only experience with a rude cast member, everyone else was extremely nice and friendly. In spite of this incident, we enjoy the ride.

After the Matterhorn, we headed over to It’s a Small World Holiday. We had never seen this attraction with its holiday overlay. Over the years, this attraction had become one of our least favorites. Of course we would ride it whenever we were at the park, because we try to ride everything and it provides an 11-minute break from the walking, standing, crowds and heat. The trade-off is that the “It’s a Small World” song sticks in your mind long after you exit the ride. What a difference the overlay makes. With the addition of all the lights, wreaths and garlands covering the outside, as well as lights on the topiaries, it completely transforms the attraction and looks absolutely amazing after dark. Inside, each of the dolls is dressed in a new Christmas outfit and each of the rooms has been redecorated to include many of the holiday traditions from other countries. Even the music is given a makeover. Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls are incorporated into the original soundtrack and you don’t seem to mind if it lingers on your mind throughout the day.

Next, we headed over to the front of the castle where we filmed our holiday special. Actually, it wasn’t exactly our special, but we played the all important role of “enthusiastic parade viewer.” Disney was filming segments for the Walt Disney World Holiday Parade scheduled to air on Christmas Day. We joined other parade viewers and lined the path leading to the castle. On cue, we would clap and cheer as a large group of Disney characters would skip and run from the castle to the hub. A camera operator with a Steadi-Cam ran backwards alongside the characters in order to get close up shots. One shot was ruined by a woman who stood up near the wall to videotape the whole procession so we had to do it again. After they film crew finished shooting the characters, they did one more take and turned the cameras on us. This was our chance to shine and we summoned all our acting ability to clap and cheer and wave when there wasn’t anyone or anything to get excited about.

The film crew took a short break to set up for the next shot, which would be a musical number by the Christian teen group, Jump Five. We were invited to come back in an hour to be a part of the cheering crowd once again.

As we were walking away from the castle, I noticed an outdoor vending cart that was closed, but the sign said “Turkey Legs.” Neither of us had ever enjoyed one of these smoked turkey legs, but we had heard rave reviews from a number of people. We headed off in search of the infamous turkey legs. We located an open cart just inside Frontierland right across from the Mark Twain dock. The turkey legs were $6.00 a piece and were huge. They were smoked and were covered with bbq sauce. We each purchased one and sat down on a nearby bench to eat them.

As we sat there eating our turkey legs, we attracted a little bit of attention. A group of Japanese tourists passed by and one of the members of the group stopped to ask what we were eating and where we got them. We told him and his entire group headed over to the cart and purchased turkey legs. A few other people also stopped to comment on the size of the turkey legs. We felt that we did a great job generating business for the outdoor vendor and were entitled to a commission. Jason was able to finish his entire leg, but I could only eat about 2/3. We added Turkey Legs to our must-do list for future visits.

With full stomachs we headed back to the castle to film the next segment of our holiday special. We were placed in roughly the same location, lining the walkway to the castle, but this time we were in the front row. One of the floats from the parade was parked in the street in front of the castle. Tinkerbell was perched on top of the float and Peter Pan was located just below her.

After what seemed like a really long time getting ready, they finally began filming the segment. After cueing the music, Jump Five came out and lip-synched their number. I had never heard of Jump Five prior to this day and I was a little confused because there were only four members in the group. I later learned that one of the members had recently left the group. Anyway, on our cue we began to clap along with the music and look lively and excited to be there. Near the end of their song, all the characters would run out from the castle and join Jump Five and they would all dance together in the street. Again, it took four or five takes before the director was satisfied with the shot. Between shots, Jump Five’s peeps would rush over and hold sun shades over the group to shield them from the hot sun. After Jump Five was done, they cued up the music one last time and turned the cameras on those of us in the crowd, giving us a chance to show off our acting skills as we clapped and cheered to absolutely nothing.

Next stop was the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor where we each two scoops of ice cream in a waffle cup with fudge sauce and whipped cream. We sat outside at a table and enjoyed the Christmas decorations and music on Main Street.

We had a little time to kill before our Holiday Tour began so we browsed through the Christmas shop for a while and then stopped in to see Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. This attraction is probably one of the most under-appreciated attractions in the Park. In February 2005, Mr. Lincoln is scheduled to be closed while they install a special 50th Anniversary exhibit. I hope they bring Mr. Lincoln back after the 50th Anniversary is over.

Even though it was still a little early, we headed over to City Hall and sat down to wait for our tour to begin. Shortly before 3:00 PM, we stepped up to the tour cart and checked-in. Each person was given a Christmas tree shaped tag to hang on our shirt to identify us as tour participants. We were divided into two groups and introduced to our Tour Guide. Our guide was Cindy and the other guide was Jena. We had met Jena the previous October when she was part of the tour team on the Walk in Walt’s Footsteps Tour.

Our tour began with a walk down Main Street where Cindy stopped periodically to tell us interesting facts about the different Disneyland holiday traditions. She shared stories about the huge Christmas tree located at Christmas Tree Point and the origin of the delicious smells we enjoyed as we walked along the street.

Once we reached the end of Main Street we headed over to Frontierland by way of Adventureland and entered the Westward Ho Trading Company located next to the Shooting Gallery. As we entered the store, a Cast Member greeted us with a plate filled with samples of pumpkin fudge. A man who was not part of our tour thought they were giving out free samples so he went forward to take a piece from the plate. He was very politely told by the Cast Member that these samples were for the tour group. He was so embarrassed and apologized for his error. Jason and I were both extremely embarrassed for him as well. As I recall this experience almost four months later, I still feel his embarrassment as if it just happened.

Exiting the Westward Trading Company, we walked past the Rivers of America and over to New Orleans Square where the Christmas decorations reflected the Mardi-Gras flair of the area. We made a brief stop at a little out of the way courtyard called the Court of Angels. This is seems to be a favorite spot for people to take photos. Our tour guide’s family has their Christmas card photo taken here each year.

Next stop was the Haunted Mansion Holiday, where we were privileged to bypass the huge line and go directly onto the ride. Just in case we were separated during the ride, we were instructed to all meet at the exit afterwards. Once we were all together we headed over to the train station in NOS where we met up with the other tour group. While waiting for the next train to arrive, we sang a modified version of Jingle Bells that Jena taught us. When the train arrived, we were led through the exit and onto the train, bypassing the line waiting at the station.

We rode the train to the Toon Town station and then walked through Toon Town while Cindy pointed out all the unique decorations on each of the buildings and shared some little known secrets. After Toon Town we went over to It’s a Small Word. The line was huge but fortunately, we didn’t have to wait in it. After just a few minutes, we entered through the wheelchair access gate and onto a waiting boat. Before we went inside, Cindy shared some very interesting facts about the decorating of It’s a Small Word and the park in general. For instance, there is a team of only 30 people responsible for decorating the entire park as well as the Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World. When you note the quantity of decorations throughout the park as well as the minute attention to detail involved, it’s really amazing.

After exiting the ride, Cindy asked if anyone knew how many different songs are sung during the It’s a Small World Ride. Several of us answered three; It’s a Small World, Jingle Bells, and Deck the Halls. Wrong, there are four. The mermaids in the under the sea room sing Jingle Shells.

One of the reasons we wanted to take the Holiday Tour is because it offered reserved seating for the Christmas Parade. Just across from It’s a Small World, there were several rows of chairs set up. We each took a seat and were served a mug of hot chocolate served in a souvenir cup and a snowman shaped sugar cookie. As a memento of our tour, we were each given a special Holiday Tour collectible pin. I asked the man seated next to me if he would snap a picture of me and Jason with our tour guide Cindy.

The Christmas parade was fantastic and we enjoyed it even more in our comfortable seats rather than on the cold, hard concrete. The floats were richly decorated for Christmas and lots of characters were there. Gingerbread men and sugar plum fairies danced down the street. Of course, Santa Claus made an appearance at the end of the parade. I snapped pictures throughout the parade but they turned out rather dark. Even so, they still remind me of the awesome time we had.

After the parade, we walked over to Big Thunder Mountain by way of Fantasyland and waited about 20 minutes to ride. We did the Goat Trick again. It wasn’t until after we returned home that I learned of the Westward Ho trick. As you approach the end of the ride, before you reach the dinosaur bones, if you look to your right you’ll see the covered wagon where they sell McDonald’s French Fries. The words Westward Ho are painted on the side of the wagon. When you see the wagon, you shout “Westward Ho” and point to the wagon with your right hand. At the same time you are pointing and looking to the right the train is making a sharp turn to the left, increasing the sensation in the pit of your stomach. If you are seated on the left side of the seat, you have the added bonus of smacking your seatmate in the face with your right arm as you make the turn.

I had read on Mouseplant about the perfect spot to view the fireworks, so after exiting Big Thunder we headed over to Main Street. People were already beginning to stake out their spots for the fireworks show. We stood directly in the center of the street between Coke Corner and the Kodak shop facing the castle. We had about 30 minutes until the show was to start but we were determined to keep our places.

Once the show started we knew it was totally worth the wait. The show was called “Believe…In Holiday Magic” and it truly was magic. We had a prime viewing location as the fireworks shows are designed to use the castle as the backdrop. Wonderful holiday music filled the air and we were treated to an amazing pyrotechnic display. As we stood there enjoying the grand finale of the display, tears came to my eyes and I remember thinking that this has truly been the most perfect of Disneyland days. From the Fess Parker window dedication, to being a part of the filming of the Christmas Parade, to discovering the turkey legs, to the Holiday Tour, the Parade, and now the Fireworks, the day couldn’t have been any better. As the last firework dimmed from the sky and with White Christmas playing over the speakers, it began to snow. We walked slowly along Main Street with snowflakes gently falling down around us.

In order to avoid the huge rush of people exiting the park after the fireworks, we shopped for a while along Main Street before heading back to the hotel.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Trip Report - Day 1

Tuesday, December 14, 2005

Finally, the wait is over and today’s the day we leave for Disneyland. I’m going to try to make my trip report somewhat abbreviated this time around, and hopefully make it sound a little less like I’m giving testimony in court.

My dad very graciously offered to drive us to the airport and I really appreciate the gesture because we needed to be on the rode very early this morning. We left the house at 6:35 AM and made it to the airport by 7:05 AM. Luggage was checked in at the curbside thanks to United’s EasyCheck-In feature on their website. We breezed through Security without any unnecessary groping by Security personnel and after picking up a mocha and muffin for me and a bagel for Jason, we sat down to wait for our flight to leave. Our departure time was for 9:30 AM but our flight was delayed for two hours due to mechanical problems in San Francisco. That was the last thing we wanted to hear as we are both a little nervous about flying. This is our first post-9/11 trip.

Around 11:30 we finally boarded our plane and settled in for the two hour flight. The entire flight was amazingly smooth. Shortly after takeoff we were treated to a bag of “gourmet” party mix and a ¼ oz bag of mini pretzels. We each had a can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale which ended up being a lot of liquid to drink at one time. We were both trying to hurriedly gulp it down before we landed.

We landed shortly after 1:30 PM and went in search of the car rental counter. My confirmation notice said that there were counters located in various terminals. Unfortunately, our terminal was not one of them. We were in Terminal 7 and the nearest counter was in Terminal 5. Not being familiar with the routine of picking up a rental and the whole shuttle system, we decided to walk down to Terminal 5. Big mistake. It didn’t really look like that far of a walk, but it seemed to go on for miles. Fortunately, we had each checked only one bag so we didn’t have a ton of luggage to haul with us. It was a very warm day, especially for us Oregonians, so by the time we reached Terminal 5, we were tired, hot and sweaty. We located the car rental counter, only to be greeted by a sign directing us to the shuttle stop outside. We hauled everything out to the shuttle stop and within minutes the Alamo shuttle came and picked us up. I was worried about being able to quickly get all my luggage on board the shuttle since it was kind of heavy and I was tired from the long walk. The driver was very helpful and quickly loaded it for us.

Once we arrived at the Alamo pickup location, we waited in line for only a few minutes before it was our turn. We had requested an economy car as I’m vertically challenged and don’t feel comfortable driving large vehicles. Turns out they didn’t have any economy cars left so they upgraded us to a mid-size. My desire to get to Disneyland outweighed my reluctance to drive a larger vehicle so we just went with the change. The car really wasn’t that large, though even with the seat adjusted all the way up, I initially felt like a kid driving his parent’s car. It didn’t take long before I felt comfortable driving it. The only thing we didn’t like about the car was that it was a two door. The doors swung wide and it was sometimes difficult to get the door open wide enough to comfortable get in and out of. Also, the door locks would automatically lock after a few minutes on the rode, which started us the first few times. Actually, it startled us every time it happened.

We loaded up the car and headed onto the freeway and then got stuck in the middle of rush hour traffic. It took us 1-1/2 hours to drive the 30 miles to Anaheim. Since we hadn’t had any lunch we were both starving. Luckily, we had some snacks in our carry-on bags that we purchased at the Portland airport with the meal vouchers we were given by the airlines when our flight was delayed. Jason was able to get into the trunk through the back seat and brought back a single serving sized can of Pringle’s Potato Chips, which we shared.

At 4:00 PM we pulled into the parking lot of the Anaheim Plaza. Check-in was a breeze and we drove around to the other side of the property where our rooms were located. Our rooms were located on the second floor and we were able to get all our luggage upstairs in just one trip. We each picked a room key at random and opened our individual doors. Jason was the lucky one with the refrigerator and microwave. Once inside, the first thing we did was open the connecting door. The second thing was to turn on the air conditioning. Even though it was the middle of December, it was in the 80’s outside and really warm and stuffy in the rooms. After a few minutes, we realized that our rooms were GETTING HOTTER. Instead of cold air, the unit was spewing out hot air. I opened the window, but it really didn’t make any difference. Neither of us handles hot weather very well at all. We both get cranky. There was no way we would be able to handle spending even one night in that hot, stuffy room. I called the front desk and was told that all the units in our building had been switched over to heat for the winter. The desk clerk said that the nights tended to get cold. I told her that we were from Oregon and there was no way we would be too cold at night. She was very nice and said she would send an “Engineer” up to our rooms to switch things over.

We were very anxious to get over to the Park but we wanted to make sure the air conditioning was fixed before we left. Within 10 minutes, an “Engineer” knocked on the door and switched things over from heat to air. While he worked, I unpacked my luggage and was ready to go as soon as he finished. We put on our name badges and the lanyards holding our passes and headed out the door.

Driving over to the Mickey and Friends Parking Lot, we were both filled with anticipation. Neither of us had been to the Park when it was decorated for Christmas. Even when people posted pictures of all the decorations on, I tried not to look at them. I wanted my first look at them to be when we were actually at the park.

We parked the car and hopped on our first ride of the trip, the Parking Lot Tram, narrated by our favorite Disney voice, Corey Burton. Arriving at the tram station in Downtown Disney, we decided the first order of business would be to get something to eat. We had about a half hour until DCA closed, so we headed into the Park to each dinner at Taste Pilot’s Grill. The theming of this counter-service restaurant is like an airplane hanger. It serves delicious burgers, chicken sandwiches and ribs. They also have wonderful onion rings and criss-cut fries. One of the nice features of this eating establishment is the condiment bar where you can add a nice variety of toppings to your sandwich. They have lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, along with the usual assortment of sauces. I love it because I don’t have to special order my burger to get it without mayo.

After dinner we strolled through the almost deserted park enjoying the beautiful Christmas decorations and the music. We had learned during the Walk in Walt’s Footsteps tour in October that the music plays 24-7 through both parks. It was now dark outside and the lights were beautiful.

Before heading over to Disneyland, we stopped at the Engineer-Ears toy store to check for new Mr. Potato parts. There were quite a few new parts including a Christmas tree hat, a name badge, and a crown, just to name a few. With very careful packing, we were able to fit two each of the new parts into one box. Jason used his pass to get 10% off the purchase price. We each also purchased one of the new merchandise gift cards. These gift cards can be used throughout the park to purchase merchandise items. Even after we spend the money on the cards, we plan to keep the gift cards as souveniers.

With DCA now closed, everyone was heading over to Disneyland, causing long lines at the ticket gates. Once we were in the park, we checked our package at the newsstand and headed onto Main Street. Our first glimpse of the Christmas tree was breath-taking. The tree stands about 60 feet tall and is beautifully decorated with colorful balls, toys, and musical instruments. All of the buildings along Main Street are richly decorated with thick garland, each a little different than the other. The lampposts all have Christmas wreaths hanging from them. Christmas music played in the background. It was absolutely amazing. Outside the Fire Station, tables were set up for cookie decorating and a lighted Christmas tree shone in the window upstairs where Walt’s apartment is located.

People were already lining up for the parade so we walked down the center of the street enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas at Disneyland. We headed towards Fantasyland and saw that the Matterhorn was open again after its refurbishmen. The line was fairly long so we didn’t wait to ride it.

It had been a really long day and we were both exhausted so we decided to call it a night and head back to the hotel. We took the train from Tomorrowland to the Main Street station, arriving just as the parade was winding up. We tried not to look at it as we were planning to see the parade tomorrow.

After a stop at the Build-A-Bear Workshop, we hopped the tram to the parking structure and headed back to the hotel. One the way we stopped at the Food-4-Less to stock up on cereal, milk, juice and pop (Cactus Cooler of course).

We arrived back at the hotel in time to watch The Amazing Race. The TV reception was marginal at best and Jason discovered that he didn’t get all the channels that he was supposed to. He called the front desk and even though they offered to send an “Engineer” right over with a new TV. Since it was late and he arranged for them to do it the next day after we left for the Park.

The evening had turned rather cool and we were able to sleep without the air conditioning on. In fact it was rather cool and I ended up taking the blanket off the other bed and putting it on my bed. Even with the air off, it still made a noise like constantly running water. However, it didn’t prevent me from going to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Making Our Reservations

On November 15, I called Disney Dining to make priority seating reservations at our favorite Park restaurants. You can actually make priority seating arrangements up to 60 days in advance but I also wanted to book the Holiday Tour and those can only be book 30 days in advance. We now had lunch reservations at the Blue Bayou on Thursday and breakfast reservations at the Carnation Café on Friday. After making these arrangements, I asked to be transferred to the tour department where I purchased tickets to the Holiday Tour for Wednesday afternoon.

I had noted on the calendar that Fantasmic was scheduled to re-open on Friday, December 17 and I wanted to purchase tickets for the Fantasmic Dessert Buffet on the balcony of the Disney Gallery. Even though this event is very pricey, $49.75 per person, we had decided to go ahead and get tickets since we had never seen the show. Over the past ten years, we had been to Disneyland three times and each time Fantasmic was on hiatus for various reasons. Since this would be the first time we would see the show, we decided to splurge and see it in style. When I asked about purchasing tickets, I was told that Fantasmic would not be opening until Saturday, the day we were scheduled to leave. Disappointed, I decided to try again in two days, when it would be exactly 30 days before scheduled reopening of Fantasmic. I’ve found that if you don’t get the answer you want, sometimes it helps to just call back and talk to another Cast Member. Oftentimes, you’ll get a different answer.

At precisely 8:00 AM on November 17, I called Disneyland and after a short wait was connected to a very helpful Cast Member. Without explanation, I asked to purchase tickets for the Friday, December 17 Fantasmic Dessert Buffet at 10:30 PM. There was absolutely no problem getting the tickets. I was so excited. We now had all the pieces in place for a perfect trip. Now all we had to do was wait.

Just Can't Stay Away

Instead of the usual letdown that occurs after a very fun and exciting vacation, we were eagerly planning our next adventure to the Magic Kingdom scheduled for December. Approximately two weeks after returning from our trip and after making sure we could each get the time off work, I booked hotel, air and car rental reservations for December 14-18. We would fly down mid morning on Tuesday and return in the evening on the following Saturday. For this trip, we decided to stay at the Anaheim Plaza. As much as we loved staying at Hojo’s, the room rates were a little higher than we wanted to pay. We were able to get a family suite at the Anaheim Plaza for $89 per night compared to $69 per night per room at Hojo’s.

The day after making all our arrangements, my parents hosted a little family get-together for us. My mom made a Mickey Mouse cake and we had a great time telling about our trip. Jason had created a slide show of our trip pictures on his laptop accompanied by the soundtrack to Splash Mountain and he shared that with the family. Family members were surprised to learn that we were heading back to the Park so soon. I guess they underestimated the seriousness of our Disney addiction.