Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Trip Report - Day 5

Saturday, December 18, 2004

We were a little sad this morning, because we knew today was the day we had to return home. The park opened at 8:00 AM, but we didn’t have the energy to get up early enough to finish packing and still make the rope drop. Since checkout wasn’t until noon, we left our things in our rooms and drove over to the park.

Our first stop was the Mark Twain Steamship. I wanted to take some pictures on our journey along the Rivers of America and this was the first time we had ridden during the daylight hours. I busily snapped away at everything in sight, especially trying to get pictures of the logs from Splash Mountain. We discovered during our October visit that just after the logs go down the big drop, they pass under the walkway and briefly out alongside the Rivers of America. As many times as we have ridden Splash in the past, we never realized that. I guess we were too busy wiping the water off of our faces and cleaning off our glasses to notice.

Next stop was a stroll through New Orleans Square where Jason purchased the Nightmare Before Christmas Soundtrack and then over to the Main Street Cinema where we were promised continuous running Mickey Mouse cartoons. We were both pretty tired from the busy days before and thought it would be a nice break to just sit and watch cartoons. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any seating in the theater. It was basically a large room with 6 small screens around the perimeter showing continuously running cartoons. We left after just a couple of minutes.

By now it was getting really crowded in the park. Today was the start of Christmas break for many people and the park was really filling up. We decided to go to the World of Disney store and do some final souvenir shopping. We wandered around the huge store and Jason purchased a couple of frames for his collection. After leaving the store, we decided to go back and split the purchase of the Disney Holiday CD. This CD contains 3 songs, the soundtrack to the “Believe in Holiday Magic” Fireworks show, the “It’s a Small World Holiday” soundtrack and the soundtrack to the “Lumin-aria” show that used to be in the lagoon over in DCA. It was an impulse purchase, but one I definitely do not regret. I played that over and over throughout the Christmas season (and even a little bit beyond).

With our bags of purchases in hand, we boarded the tram to the parking structure and then drove back to the hotel. Since we had minimal luggage, it was easy to load everything up into the car and then we drove over to the front of the hotel to check out.

Our plan was to find the nearest UPS store and have them ship all our purchases home. This enabled us to keep our baggage to a minimum. We also felt this would keep our items safe from the security inspection stations at the airport. We located the UPS Store in a strip mall about 5 miles away and even though the parking lot was very crowded, the store was empty except for two employees. They were very helpful, wrapping and packing all our things in a large box.

Even though we had plenty of time until our flight, we were both nervous about the trip to the airport. You really never know what kind of traffic you’ll run into. Last October it took us a couple of hours to drive 12 miles because of a chemical spill on the freeway that shut down a lane while they cleaned it up. Fortunately, we experienced smooth sailing all the way to the airport. We stopped just up the street from the car return lot to fill up the tank and then continued on our way.

Checking the rental car back in at Alamo was a breeze. We were directed to an empty lane where the attendance scanned the bar code on our car and within 1 minute we were checked in and ready to go to the airport. We boarded the shuttle bus and within a few minutes we were headed over to the airport.

We didn’t have access to a computer and printer this time around, so we needed to check in at the United counter at the airport. There were many lines open with just a few people in each line, so we figured we would be in and out quickly. Many of the stations were equipped with Easy Check In terminals so it took just a few minutes to punch in our information and get our boarding passes. Since we were checking baggage, our baggage claim tags printed to a printer located on the other side of the counter. That’s when we discovered that while all available stations were open along the counter, only three customer service people were working behind the counters. Without someone to pick up our baggage tags from the printer and put them on our baggage, we were stuck. Instead of working their way along the counter, the reps seemed to be staying in one location. A woman on one side of me was frantic because her flight was already boarding. A man on the other side of me was absolutely livid and was trying to call the United number to complain. He was very loud and obnoxious. Fortunately, in response to his yelling, someone did eventually make their way down to our line and we managed to get our baggage tagged. I hoped that it would make it on the plane, since there were lots of bags piled up on the other side of the counter.

Next stop was Security. The line wasn’t too long and we passed through without incident. After the fiasco at the check in counter, Security was a breeze.

It was mid afternoon and we were starving. We picked up some lunch from McDonalds and sat down at our gate to eat. We had a couple of hours until our flight was scheduled to leave so we settled in to wait. There was plenty of opportunity to watch the people around us. A large group was seated across from us. They seemed to be all members of the same family and from what we gathered from our shameless eavesdropping, had just finished taking a long cruise. They were loaded to the gills with carry-on luggage. They had boxes of bottles of wine and tons shopping bags. I was surprised that they let them on the plane with all their bags.

Finally, it was time to board the plane. Our seats were directly behind the row with the emergency exit, which seemed to have plenty of leg room. Unfortunately, the extra leg room that this row enjoyed seemed to have been taken from the row that we were seated in. It was ridiculously cramped. I’m a very short person and it was close even for me. Jason, with his long legs, was even more crowded and uncomfortable. The flight seemed to be very full so there was no chance of moving to a different seat.

The flight was smooth and passed without incident. This time we shared a can of Ginger Ale, since one can was really too much. We also enjoyed our 1/2 oz. packs of Gourmet Party Mix. The plane also was equipped with TV screens which gave me something to watch.

When we arrived in Portland we walked out passed the Security checkpoint and my dad was there waiting for us. It was so nice to see a familiar face and we really appreciated him offering to pick us up. We all walked over to the baggage claim area. Jason’s bag arrived almost immediately. Mine took forever and we were starting to think that maybe it didn’t make it on the plane. Just when my level of panic was reaching an alarming level, it appeared on the carousel.

Being late on a Saturday evening, there wasn’t any traffic and we made it home quickly. We did some unpacking, watched a little TV and then headed off to our beds. This trip had been without question the absolute best we’ve ever had. Writing this account has enabled me to relive each moment over again. Now that I’m through with the report, I feel the same letdown I did after we returned home. The only cure for that is to start planning the next trip.

Trip Report - Day 4

Friday, December 17, 2004

Today was the last full day of our trip. Being Friday, Disneyland opened at 9:00 AM instead of the usual 10:00 AM. We had priority seating reservations at the Carnation Café for 8:30 AM so we were out the door around 8:00 AM.

The Carnation Café is located right between the Blue Ribbon Bakery and the Emporium and offers outdoor seating at tables with umbrellas to shade you from the sun. It was a nice sunny day and as it was still early, the temperature was very comfortable. We both ordered our favorite, the Mickey Mouse waffle, which comes with a couple of strips of bacon, and we each ordered an orange juice. The service was excellent as usual and after just a few minutes our breakfast was served. While we were eating, the chef, Oscar, came to our table to ask how our breakfast was. Oscar also has a scrambled egg dish named after him that looks really good, but I don’t know if I could ever pass up an opportunity to have the Mickey Mouse waffle. In fact, we’ve decided that during our next trip we’re going to start every morning off with a Mickey Mouse waffle.

With full and satisfied stomachs, we stopped to ride Mr. Toad and then went on to Tomorrowland to ride the Autopia. After the Autopia, we walked all the way back to Critter Country to ride Winnie the Pooh. After exiting Winnie the Pooh, we picked up fastpasses for Splash Mountain, Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones. We were able to get more than one fastpass at a time because of early fastpass return times for some attractions and also because some of the fastpass machines are not networked together.

Pirates of the Caribbean was next, followed by the Jungle Cruise, then a quick walk back over to Critter Country where we used our fastpasses for Splash Mountain and lastly over to the Haunted Mansion.

By now it was lunch time so we stop to decide where to eat. Neither of us had been to the French Market and since we could get a 10% discount with our annual passes, we decided to eat there. Many of the menu items had a Nightmare Before Christmas theme, so I chose Zero’s Bowls of Bones which was a pile of ribs, chicken legs and fries served in a souvenir dog bowl with Zero’s name on it. Zero is the name of the dog in the movie “Nightmare Before Christmas,” which I’ve never seen. My entrée also came with a salad. I think Jason ordered the lasagna, which was also served in the dog bowl. The CM that took our orders was a little hard to understand and Jason misunderstood her and selected a fruit platter that ended up costing him an additional $5.95. We found a table outside along the perimeter of the seating area and enjoyed our lunch while watching the crowds pass by.

After lunch, we used our fastpasses for Indy and then picked up fastpasses for Big Thunder Railroad on our way over to the It’s a Small World toy shop. When you exit IASW, it dumps you out right into the toy shop (a very smart marketing move). I had noticed an IASW mug that I wanted to buy. We tried to use Jason’s premium AP, but forgot that you need to make a minimum purchase of $10 to get the discount, so I ended up using my merchandise gift card.

We reached the Main Street Hub just in time to hop on the horse drawn trolley for a ride back to the entrance. We made a quick stop at the Candy Palace where I purchased a piece of their delicious fudge. There are many different varieties of fudge. This time I got the plain fudge instead of the fudge with walnuts, which is what I bought last October. It was still good, but I think the fudge with walnuts is better.

Since the park was open later this evening and we had tickets to the 10:30 PM Fantasmic Dessert Buffet, we planned to head back to the room for a rest. After leaving Disneyland, we walked over to DCA and picked up some fastpasses for Soarin’ to use later on when we returned. We also walked over to the shop near Grizzly River Run so that Jason could buy one of the picture frames that he is collecting and so I could buy a DCA mug to add to my collection.

With our purchases in hand, we headed over to the parking lot tram station. Once we were back in our rooms, we settled down for a short nap.

Late afternoon, we were ready to head back to the park. Our first stop was DCA where we used our fastpasses to ride Soarin’. I will never get tired of that ride. After Soarin’, we went back to Disneyland and rode Big Thunder Railroad, doing the Goat Trick of course.

We traded one train ride for another, as our next ride was the Casey Jr. train. Jason didn’t want to ride it, but I really did so we waited in a short line and then made a beeline for one of the cars that was a cage. It was a short ride, but very enjoyable as you get to see a lot of the little cottages from the Storybook Land Canal boats.

Exiting the train, we came upon a churro cart and of course had to try one. Many people rave about the churros and we’ve never had one at the Park. We forked over a $2.75 a piece for a churro and they were every bit as delicious as people said. I think everything tastes better at Disneyland. They must add a little pixie dust to everything.

While munching our churros, we walked over to Tomorrowland to see “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience,” a 3-D attraction. We had a little while to wait before the show started, so we sat on the steps and finished our churros.

After HISTA, we rode Big Thunder Mountain twice, both times doing the Goat Trick and then walked over to Critter Country and picked up fastpasses for Splash Mountain. We wanted to be on this side of the park before the 9:00 AM start of Fantasmic. This was the opening night for the show after being on hiatus and the crowds promised to be huge. People had begun to stake out their spots hours before the show.

Since there never is more than a 5 minute wait for Winnie the Pooh, we always stop to ride it whenever we are in Critter Country. Right near the exit to Winnie is Pooh Corner, a wonderful shop filled with Pooh merchandise and a great assortment of interesting candy. After shopping, we had a few minutes until it was time to use our fastpasses for Splash, so we sat on the bench on the porch outside of the shop and admired the Pooh themed Christmas decorations in the big tree in front of us.

When our ride on Splash Mountain was over, the 9:00 PM Fantasmic show was finished so we decided to make our way over to the Disney Gallery which is located upstairs above the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. We had heard horror stories of the huge crowds leaving the Fantasmic viewing area and causing a gridlock so we wanted to allow plenty of time to move through the area. Fortunately, many people remained in their spots in order to watch the fireworks display at 9:45 PM so we didn’t have too much of a problem getting through. We arrived at the Disney Gallery with plenty of time to spare so we walked up the stairs to the Gallery to look around. The fireworks began shortly thereafter and those that had tickets to the 9:00 PM Fantasmic Dessert Buffet were allowed to remain on the balcony to watch the show. Even though the fireworks are designed for best viewing directly in front of the castle, it still would have been nice to view the show from the balcony. If we ever do the dessert buffet again, I would like to get tickets for the first show so that we can stay and watch the fireworks afterwards.

We weren’t sure how the seating for the dessert buffet worked, so we wanted to get checked in early in case it was first come, first served. The CM working in the Gallery told us that people were seated in the order in which they purchased their tickets. We were directed to an inner courtyard just outside the Disney Gallery where there was a small fountain and several patio tables and chairs. We sat down to wait. The building which houses the Disney Gallery was originally planned to be larger living quarters for Walt and his brother Roy. However, Walt passed away before the rooms were completed.

Shortly after 10:00 PM, a cast member entered the courtyard with her clipboard and began calling names. As luck would have it, we were the first ones called. She took our tickets and led us through the Gallery, out onto the balcony and directed us to our seats which were located right along the railing, directly in front of the area where the Fantasmic would be performed. The view was absolutely perfect. A waiter came and took our drink orders and invited us to visit the dessert buffet. There was a mouth-watering assortment of desserts, cheese and crackers, and fresh fruit. We filled our plates and sat back down. Other groups were being seated one by one. The woman next to me asked me what time I had called to purchase our tickets. I told her that I called promptly at 8:00 AM. She said she thought she had too, but I must have beat her to it.

We managed a second trip to the buffet before the show started. Once it began, we didn’t feel comfortable standing up in front of everyone behind us to go back to the dessert table. Plus, we didn’t want to miss a minute of the show. It was an amazing display of lights, sound, pyrotechnics and many, many of the Disney characters. Even from where we were seated, back away from the river and up on the balcony, we could still feel the heat from the flames on the river. The show lasted about 20-25 minutes and ended way before we were ready for it too.

After Fantasmic, I wanted to ride It’s a Small World Holiday one last time. So even though the line was outrageously long, we waited in it. To pass the time in line, we took pictures of the area even though most of them didn’t turn out because it was too dark.

Although it was after 11:00 PM, the line for Peter Pan was still long, but we waited in it anyway since the line never seems to get shorter. It’s really one of my favorite rides and I wanted to ride it at least once on this trip.

By now it was late and we were really tired. Since we were due to go home the next day and still had to pack, we decided to make a night of it. We made our way to the parking lot tram along with the thousands of other people leaving the park and eventually made it back to the parking lot and then back to the hotel.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Trip Report - Day 3

Thursday, December 16, 2004

With the great memories of yesterday’s wonderful day still on our minds, we awoke eagerly anticipating another fantastic day at Disneyland. After a quick breakfast of cereal in the room, we headed over to the park. It was an extremely windy day and we were glad that we had the chance to see the fireworks the previous evening as they can get cancelled if the weather isn’t perfect.

As we entered the park, we noticed a sign announcing that Kelly Clarkson would be taping her segment of the Walt Disney World Christmas Parade. For those who have been locked up in solitary confinement the past few years and are out of touch with current events, Kelly Clarkson is the very first American Idol winner. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to spend another couple of hours standing in the hot sun, but Jason really wanted to watch the taping, so I was happy to go along with it.

As soon as the rope dropped, we headed over to Fantasyland and hopped on Dumbo. After Dumbo, we rode Snow White, Pinnochio, and Alice in Wonderland. The line for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was a little long so we bypassed that ride for now. We had hoped to ride Peter Pan, but even though the park had only been open for less than 20 minutes, the line was already huge. This ride seems to be everyone’s favorite. Maybe it’s because out of all the rides in Fantasyland, this is the only one that is absolutely kid-friendly. There’s nothing to scare even the most timid rider. I read a comment from someone on a discussion board that you could head over to Peter Pan at 2:00 AM with the park closed and still find a 40-minute line. The Matterhorn was our next ride and I believe we rode the Fantasyland side this time.

At 11:00 AM an announcement was made inviting us to participate/watch the taping of Kelly Clarkson so we headed over to the castle. A large stage was setup in front of the castle. Along the back of the stage were several Christmas trees and pots of poinsettias were grouped along the sides and front corners. Those of us selected to be a part of the taping were ushered into a roped off section in front of the stage. We were packed in there pretty tightly. Jason and I started about 3 rows from the front, but by the time taping began, we had moved up to the second row. The first row seemed to be reserved for members of her fan club. It took them a long time to get ready. The wind kept blowing things out of place on the stage and they had to keep fixing them. To keep us entertained, the guy operating the camera on the big boom would maneuver it over the crowd and we would all wave and cheer. After a while, the band came out and they did sound checks. Finally, Kelly arrived looking much smaller in person than she does on TV. I always thought she looked a little plump, but in actuality, she’s quite petite. She sang her newest release, Breakway. Even though I recognized the song from the radio, I wasn’t aware that it was her singing it. I didn’t consider myself much of a Kelly fan before then, but after that day my opinion changed. Even now, whenever I hear that song on the radio, I remember vividly our wonderful trip. It took 4 or 5 takes before the director was pleased. As before, at the very end of the taping the cameras were turned on those of us in the audience and we did our best to make ourselves stand out so we wouldn’t end up on the cutting room floor. Unfortunately, once again we failed to make the final cut.

We originally had priority seating at the Blue Bayou at 11:30 AM. While Jason held our places in front of the stage, I went over to the restaurant and changed our reservation to 1:00 PM. After the taping, we headed down Main Street to take a picture of the sign at the entrance that announced the Kelly Clarkson taping.

Since we were near the Main Street train station, we hopped aboard the train and rode it over to New Orleans Square. Then we walked over to Adventureland and rode Indiana Jones since the line wasn’t very long. We had a little time to kill afterwards so I summoned up my courage and decided to try to go through Tarzan’s Treehouse. Those of you who know me know that I have a great fear of heights. On our visit in 1993 I attempted to conquer it but had to turn back at the first landing. It might have still been called the Swiss Family Treehouse back then, I don’t really remember. This time, I probably achieved some kind of world record for the fastest time through the treehouse. I kept my head down and put one foot in front of the other, barely glances at things along the way, but I made it all the way through. Next trip I’ll try it again, only try to slow down a little and enjoy the sights. I also plan to ride the Teacups then, though I definitely won’t be spinning.

We decided to check in for our lunch reservations and wait as long as necessary for a table by the water. I don’t think we waited more than 20 minutes. It was well worth it, the ambiance of the restaurant is greatly improved with a waterside table. Jason had the Monte Cristo sandwich and I tried the Pork Loin. It was a little dry, but still very tasty.

After lunch we headed over to DCA and picked up fastpasses for Soarin’. Then we went to the Muppet 3-D and Bug’s Life before ending up at the Tower of Terror. The line was a reasonable length so hopped in line.

Next stop was the Disney Animation building where we took in a couple of the shows. Afterwards, we just walked around talking pictures of DCA until it was time to use our fastpasses for Soarin’. I never get tired of the ride. I could ride it over and over.

After Soarin’ we stopped at Bur-r-r Bank Ice Cream and each got a sundae made with chocolate cake, ice cream, fudge sauce and whipped cream. The ice cream parlor is located in middle of three silver train cars situated near the entrance to DCA. The front car houses the Engineer-Ears toy store and the last car is Baker’s Field Bakery. We sat outside and ate our ice cream. The evening was very mild and quite pleasant.

With full stomachs we walked through Downtown Disney and hopped the Monorail into Tomorrowland. From there we walked to Critter Country and rode Winnie the Pooh. By now we were both very tired, so we boarded the train in New Orleans Square and rode it back to the Main entrance. Another great day at the Park had come to an end.