Disneyland Trip Report – Part Six

A few months ago, I visited Disneyland for 4 1/2 days. It was glorious!

If you missed them, check out parts onetwothree, four, and five.  Stay tuned for future installments!

In the last volume of this Disney tome, I was just wrapping up lunch at Cafe Orleans after a hectic morning of touring.  The afternoon would prove much more relaxing, partly because we had hit so many things already and partly because we just ran out of steam…

We started the afternoon with the Haunted Mansion and then went over to Winnie the Pooh.  I had not heard much about the differences between the attraction in Disney World versus Disneyland, but I have to say I liked the Disneyland version a lot more.  The audio seemed easier to hear and something about the pacing made it flow better.  I also liked that it was over in it’s in own area, not just part of Fantasyland.

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DSC01461DSC01471After Pooh, it was time for round 1 of Torture Diane With Rides! I really wanted to ride the Davy Crockett Canoes and The Wife agreed, but Diane had zero interest.  And yet we forced her to join us, because we’re persuasive. And mean.

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Paddle!

The canoes are interesting as an attraction, because what else in the parks can make you hate other guests so much?  (Besides just walking, of course.)  Let me just say that there were far too many people in our canoe that were not pulling their own weight.  And there was a lot of complaining (e.g., “Oh jeez! This is so hard! I’m tired!”).  How did you think the canoe was going to move if you did not plan on rowing?  Even Diane rowed more than some people, and she was only on the ride under great duress.

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Fake smile!

After torturing Diane and plotting the murder of my other canoe-mates, we went back to Fantasyland to ride the Storybook Canal Boats and It’s a Small World.  The canal boats had a bit of a wait, but probably only 10-15 minutes.  Small World had a short wait, but not over 5.

I was excited to ride the Canal Boats and it mostly lived up to the hype.  We had a good skipper, but she was hard to hear at times. She spoke quickly and the speaker system wasn’t the best quality.  Maybe I just have bad hearing, but I found that I had to really focus to try to hear what she was saying.  Still, the little villages were adorable.  I would have been happy staring at them, even if there wasn’t a skipper.

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After Small World (see part 2 for more about that), we went to Space Mountain to use the fastpasses we gathered earlier in the day.  I know many people prefer the Disneyland version to the Disney World version, but I really did not.  The final part of the queue is better, but the first part is not, and the part after the ride is nowhere near as much fun.  Plus, the ride just doesn’t have that same chaotic, where-are-we-going-next glee.  Maybe the side-by-side seating slows the cars down, maybe it was because it didn’t seem as dark inside, but I maintain the Disney World version is far superior.

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Diane was actually right behind us, but we managed to completely block her with our hands!

At this point, we still had not ridden Nemo, so we sucked it up and waited in what was probably the longest wait of the trip (20 minutes or so).  The queue for that ride is boring and hot.  If you have to wait a lot, it’s not the place to do it.  Still, there were some nice, random people in the line with us that sang Happy Birthday to me and others.  Oh, Disney guests, you can be charming when you want to be!

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I was surprised how much I enjoyed the subs.  They are such a different ride experience from any of the other attractions and all of the effects and storytelling are really well done.  Two very enthusiastic thumbs up!

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Although it had not really been that long since lunch, we were ready for some more food! We stopped at Bengal Barbecue and ordered the Safari Skewer (bacon wrapped asparagus) and Chieftain Chicken Skewer (chicken with a “Polynesian sauce”).  I was excited to try both, but neither was that great.  The asparagus was overcooked and tough, and the chicken was a little dry.  Not terrible, but I would not get them again.  There are better uses of my stomach space at Disneyland.

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What exactly are you supposed to do with an entire green onion per skewer? That’s too much onion!

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So much promise, so much failure!

We doubled back a bit and rode Pirates, which was still fantastic, and returned to Tomorrowland for Star Tours, which was also still wonderful.  I’ll add that we also tried to ride Splash and Indy at various times that afternoon, but they were down/broken.

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Although I had been in denial for about an hour, ever since we started waiting for Nemo, we had been dragging.  We were hot, tired, and more than a little grumpy.  There was only one solution, my two favorite friends: alcohol and food!

That’s right; it was time to take the Monorail over to Trader Sam’s!

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For those who don’t know, Trader Sam’s is a small bar at the Disneyland Hotel. It’s well-themed, intimate but not claustrophobic, and everything we got was delicious! It’s basically heaven on Earth!

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When we first walked in, there were only two seats at the bar.  We hovered over those, deciding our next move, but then a table opened up and we pounced. Once everyone was seated, and had a drink before them, we were all in a much better mood.

I’ll be honest, we ate and drank a lot at Trader Sam’s and I did not keep track.  I know I started with the Uh Oa, which is recommended for two guests but which I finished off myself with no problem!

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They brought multiple straws, but except for a few tastes, this baby was all mine!

I would definitely recommend ordering that drink.  It’s basically your average sugary alcohol concoction, but the “angering of the gods” riff that the bartenders do is too much fun to miss!

I couldn’t tell you what everyone else got, and what I subsequently got, because I’m a bad blogger, but I can tell you that we ordered A LOT of drinks and they were all good.  (I have been trying to figure out what The Wife and Diane were drinking based on the pictures, but I’m failing.  Also, this was only one round.)

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For food, we got the Panko Crusted Chinese Long Beans, Ahi Poke, and Kalua Pork Flatbread.  (And probably others that I’m forgetting.)  All were excellent. The long beans were the right level of salty and the sauce provided a nice kick, the tuna was a great texture and flavorful, and the flatbread was not only delicious but it also was much needed stomach padding for all our drinking.

We ended up spending about two hours at Trader Sam’s and it was exactly what we needed: time off our feet, in air conditioning, with cold beverages and food.  Plus, like I said above, the place has a great vibe.  Everywhere you look there are clever jokes or references and the bartenders put on a great show (while mixing good drinks).  Trader Sam’s is, without a doubt, the number one stop I would recommend to anyone going to Disneyland.

(Note: After 8 pm, Trader Sam’s is only open to those 21 and up, but it’s open to everyone before then.  If you have young kids, I might pass, but I honestly think any child over 10 would be very happy there.  The food is good, it has fun non-alcoholic drinks, and he/she will like the jokes and atmosphere.)

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UP!

Newly refreshed, The Wife and I returned to Disneyland, but Diane headed back to the hotel.  There’s certainly nothing wrong with prioritizing sleep, but I desperately wanted to see Fantasmic!

But…so did everyone else.

The original plan was just to see Fantasmic and call it a night, but it was packed.  Incredibly packed.  Rather than fight the crowds for a bad view, we decided to wait for the second show.

Because we were breaking from the plan, we had low expectations for the next hour and a half.  We were just killing time, which was a glorious feeling.  We rode Jungle Cruise, did some shopping, and then rode Dumbo.  Jungle Cruise and Dumbo are so much better at night, so I was glad we got to fit them in.  Actually, the whole park is better at night.  The darkness adds a level of magic that I simply love!

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Eventually, we made our way over to view the second showing of Fantasmic.  I didn’t have any sense of where we should sit/stand, so we asked a cast member and explained that we had never seen it before.  (Perhaps because Disneyland gets so many repeat visitors, we seemed to get extra great service every time we mentioned we had never seen something before!)  The cast member started by pointing out his favorite spot, but then stopped.  “Actually, just follow me,” he said, leading us to the front section.  It was a reserved seating section, but the show was only 10 minutes from starting and it was still mostly empty.  Thank you, VIPs!  Your tardiness allowed these lowly commoners to invade your area.  I have to say, life is great for VIPs.  We had a perfect view of the show AND WE COULD SIT DOWN!  It was a Disney miracle.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, random cast member.  You were awesome.

While we were sitting in our special section, we started talking to the guys sitting next to us.  Long story short, they were super pros at Disneyland and super friendly.  They had been on Indy earlier in the day when it broke down and were given a fastpass to return.  Not your normal fastpass, but a special fastpass that was good for up to 6 people! Because they were only 4 people, they invited us to join them!  And they let us take the front row seats.  They were really warm and generous and we ended up talking to them for about an hour after the park closed.   To be honest, I’m not usually a fan of meeting people on vacation.  I want to spend my vacation hanging out with whomever I’m traveling, because I probably don’t see them enough in my day-to-day life, but this was a great exception.  They could not have been nicer!

I’m honestly hesitant to reveal the last part of the day because I don’t want anyone to get into trouble.  I’m never sure what cast members are allowed to do and what they are doing just to be nice, but which would get them in trouble,  For that reason, I don’t want to share too much about our new friends or what happened next.  Let’s just say that they, combined with a very nice cast member they knew, got us a few bonus fastpasses that we were able to use on the last two days of our trip. These were nothing major; we only got two per day.  It’s not as if we got a free pass to cut every line!  But they were such a nice gesture and they did take some of the pressure off of our last two days in the park! And, as you’ll read in future installments, the fastpasses allowed us to help make some magical moments for others.

Disney powers that be, if you’re reading this, you have fantastic cast members!  A lot of what makes the parks so great is that cast members have the power to make special moments for guests, without having to run decisions up through any red tape.  Please don’t stop that!

With another day recapped, you’ll have to wait until a future installment to read about the last two days of our trip! Stay tuned! 

 

 

 

 

Disneyland Trip Report – Part Five

A few months ago, I visited Disneyland for 4 1/2 days. It was glorious!

If you missed them, check out parts onetwo, three, and four.  Stay tuned for future installments!

It was time to pick up the pace on touring! After two relaxed days in the park, we were ready to go full steam ahead! I was ready to leave slow walkers in my dust, to rise up and claim my proper title as Most Efficient Tour-er at Disneyland!

Spoiler alert: I got tired…

We started the day by quickly stopping my parents’ room to say goodbye and then we took the short walk to the parks to rope drop DSL.  First, though, we needed food. How could I defeat the slow walkers without caffeine and sugar? Obviously, I could not.

Diane and I went to La Brea Bakery for pastries and coffee, while Sarah stood in line.  We picked La Brea purely because of its proximity to the gates and its, ostensibly, fast counter service.  The pastries were good (I got a croissant and a sugary pastry thing to split with Sarah), as was their coffee.  Diane got a sandwich–not a breakfast sandwich, just a normal turkey sandwich–because she’s an odd duck.  It was apparently good, but my god, they were slow.  Granted, I was particularly antsy because ROPE DROP, but I think they were slow by any standard.  My recommendation: it’s a great place to grab a drink and a pastry to go, but I would not order anything that requires preparation if you’re trying to make rope drop.  That said, we were still fine on timing.

We got back to Sarah just as they were letting people into the park, but they were doing a two-stage rope drop so they held everyone in the Hub.  The two-stage rope drop isn’t quite as exciting as the full sprint down Main Street, but it does have its advantages.  We were able to sit on a bench, eat our breakfast, and finish our beverages in the relative peace and quite of the parks.

Breakfast in the Hub

Food!

After finishing our food, we slipped back into the pack, ready to sprint to Fantasyland.  We were ready!

We were positioned on the right side of the Hub and I distinctly remember that the left side was released a whole 5 seconds before us.  I assume this was a fluke.  Or that Disney was issuing us a challenge.

Challenge accepted!

I know some people have kids in strollers, and some people have mobility issues, but does the rest of America just walk really slowly? If you’re reasonably able-bodied, have ever walked in a real city, and don’t have kids to slow you down, you can easily be in the first 10 people on any ride.  The left side’s head start was no match for our skillful speed walking!

I realize that, as an adult, I should not take so much pride in getting to Peter Pan first, but I DO!

Having left a pile of slow walkers in our wake, we blew through Fantasyland: Pan, Alice, Tea Cups, Matterhorn, Mr. Toad, and Pinocchio in rapid succession.

Look at that long line for the tea cups!

Look at that long line for the tea cups!

The only hang up was when Diane (who passed on the tea cups due to a general aversion to spinning) sprinted to the Matterhorn without waiting for us.  She thought we would realize where she had gone and meet here there; we thought she was abducted by aliens.  Both reasonable conclusions, you say? No! Wait for us, Diane! Your friends thought you died at Disneyland!

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I know I bashed it in prior installments, but another quick word on the Matterhorn: ouch.  I know it has historical significance and I have fond memories of riding it as a child, but riding it is roughly akin to being in a car accident.  Little thrill, but lots of jostling.  I am sure some future child of mine will convince me to ride, but until then I’ll pass.

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Ouch

It was just about time for Toontown to open (it opens an hour after the rest of the park), so we headed to meet Mickey and Minnie!  We had not finished all of Fantasyland (sorry, Snow) but we wanted to beat the crowds — Mickey and Minnie are in demand!

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Sign at the entrance to Toontown. I laughed.

Sign at the entrance to Toontown. I laughed.

Because that area was just opening, there were only about a dozen people in all of Toontown.  Take that, crowds!

We started at Minnie’s house, but she wasn’t there yet, so we went to Mickey’s.  You’d think that after all their years together, Mickey and Minnie would live together.  Maybe they just like their own space? They are like the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera of the animated world.

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We then went back to Minnie’s house, but she was still MIA.  Minnie, where were you?

We rode Roger Rabbit and then played around in Toontown for a bit.  I would definitely recommend taking the extra time there.  There were so many fun little details, photo ops, and hidden jokes.  Plus, it provided a nice leisurely reward after our hour or so of running around.

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We then doubled back to Fantasyland and rode Snow White so she wouldn’t feel left out.

A quick bit about Fantasyland before we move on: that shit is crazy! Alice is an acid trip. Toad is an acid trip to Hell. Snow White is just creepy. Pinocchio is creepy and bizarre. Not that there is anything wrong with creepy, bizarre, acid trip rides, but doing them all in a row is a bit disorienting.  That said, Pan is perfection!

By this point, Fantasyland was beginning to get claustrophobic, so we headed towards the Finding Nemo subs.  Unfortunately, or really fortunately, the Jedi Training Academy was mid-performance so we got distracted.  Disney has a lot of attractions that rely on cute kids being cute–and I’m completely ok with this! I am very happy to watch random kids train to be Jedis and (spoiler) battle Darth Vader.  I was also happy to sit and drink some water.

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At this point, we didn’t have quite enough time for Nemo before lunch, so we picked up fastpasses for Space and rode Buzz quickly.  I don’t remember who won, so let’s just say it was me.

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For lunch, we had reservations at Cafe Orleans.  I had dutifully made that reservation the first day I was able, because I was looking forward to eating there so much.  We showed up promptly, I gave my name, and…we were walked through an empty dining room…to the empty patio.  We clearly did not need reservations, but I had the peace of mind that came with reservations, so who cares.

We got seats on the patio, right along the little metal fence, which meant that we were wonderfully positioned for people watching.  That said, if the park had been really busy, I would have opted for a different table.  There was little division between the courtyard and the restaurant; on a busier day, we would have felt like we were in the middle of the chaos.

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The meal itself was great.  The three of us split the Pommes Frites, the Monte Cristo, and the Seafood Herb Crepes.  I was expecting the Pommes Frites to be great, because they are essentially Parmesan fries and when are those ever bad, but they far exceeded my expectations.  They were definitely in my top 5 foods I ate on this trip, which is really saying something.  The Monte Cristo was perfection but, predictably, very heavy.  I would not have been able to finish it myself without feeling ill the rest of the day.  In fact, even though we shared it, I still felt a bit like shit at the end of the meal.  (But a good, satisfied, who-cares-I’m-on-vacation type of shit! No regrets!)  The crepes were also good but not as memorable.  For dessert, since it was my birthday, they gave me a free Mickey beignet.  It wasn’t bad, but we had just been to New Orleans the prior month and it didn’t compare.  It is too dense to be a good beignet, but if you just think of it as a Mickey donut, it’s not bad.

You might be wondering why I picked Cafe Orleans over Blue Bayou, when the restaurants have a lot in common.  (And if you’re not wondering that, you should be!)  Off the bat, I’ll admit that, when I picked, I had never been to either, and I have still not been to Blue Bayou, so this is not the most educated comparison.  But I did do a lot of reading before deciding, and I’m still confident in my choice.  First, I’ll concede that Blue Bayou wins on atmosphere, but you’re paying a lot for that atmosphere!  For example, the Monte Cristo is $18 at Cafe Orleans, but $26 at Blue Bayou!!  Seriously.  The same sandwich is almost 50% more at Blue Bayou.  Outrageous.  I had heard so many rave reviews about the Monte Cristo that I knew I had to have it, but I could not justify paying the $8 tax for atmosphere. Plus, the Pommes Frites at Cafe Orleans were supposed to be excellent (and were!) and I read a lot of reviews that said Blue Bayou was too crowded and loud to be fully enjoyable.  I wavered a bit, but in the end it was not a hard choice.  Team Cafe Orleans!!!

Stay tuned for future installments! Eventually I’ll finish this report! (Fingers crossed!)

Disneyland Trip Report – Part Four

A few months ago, I visited Disneyland for 4 1/2 days. It was glorious!

If you missed it, check out parts one, two, and three.  And stay tuned to future installments for more information!

When we last left our fearless travelers (me, The Wife, and my parents), we had just finished Turtle Talk.  My parents’ tanks were running low, but my father wanted to do the Star Tours attraction.  I had written it off as too jerky for him, but he said he was up for it.  This meant, however, that I had not prioritized it in any way.  We park hopped over to Disneyland, but by the time we got there (close to 11) the line was about 25 minutes.  Not horrible, but longer than my parents were willing to wait.  And the fastpass return time didn’t work for their plans. It did work for us, though, so The Wife and I got passes. (Sorry, Dad. I promise we redeem ourselves later in this story.)

Fortunately, I had an (admittedly improvised) plan B and we headed over to Buzz Lightyear.  My Wife and I had ridden the day before, but parents had not.  It was a great hit and, equally importantly, the line moved quickly!

After Buzz, it was time for lunch so we stopped at the Plaza Inn.  The Wife and I split the fried chicken entree and my parents got a house salad and the pot roast.  Their entrees were the perfect size to share, especially for people who were not opposed to snacking in the afternoon.  Stomach space is a precious commodity on vacation. There is always more food that I want to try that my stomach can hold.  Splitting meals, especially at places like the Plaza Inn that have tremendous portions, is a great way to keep me from dying like the gluttony guy in Seven.

The fried chicken was really wonderful.  Moist, well-flavored, and with a good amount, but not too much, breading. Yum! We sat outside and really enjoyed the break in the day.

At that point, my parents were ready to head back to the hotel for a nap, so we loaded them on the horse-drawn carriage and they went down Main Street without us, with strict instructions to meet us later so we could use our Radiator Springs Racers fast passes!

I should point out that it was hot at this time.

???????????????????????????????The Wife and I used the afternoon to be single-rider fools! We rode Indy, Splash and the Matterhorn.  The Indy ride was great, and the single-ride line was super fast.  I only wish I could have stopped to see more of the queue! The Splash single-rider line was a bust.  It was still faster than the standby line, but it took about 20 minutes in total.  Very inefficiently managed! The Matterhorn line was great, but the ride was only so-so.  I remembered it as a big, scary ride with lots of fun winding through the mountain because I was probably 8 the last time I rode it.  Let’s just say adult me was not so scared.  It definitely didn’t hold up to my adult eyes, but it was still fun.  Not something I would make a point to see on future trips, but fun.

matterhornAfter the Matterhorn, we headed to Star Tours using our earlier fast passes.

I LOVE THAT RIDE!

I like how it changes each time; I love the story and the animation. I even love the preshow and how the passengers in the video look like Star Wars characters.

sw2I also love taking ridiculous pictures in the 3D glasses, which are by far the most stylish 3D glasses at Disney!

stwAfter the ride was over, we suddenly became nice people. It was shocking really.  We picked up two fast passes for my parents.  The return window was perfect such that they could, if they wanted, quickly hit Star Tours between our dinner reservations and World of Color.  So kind, so very kind.

We were running low on time at this point, before we had to meet my parents, but we managed a few quick attractions, or tried to.  We did the Sleepy Beauty Walkthrough, which was a cute way to spend about 7 minutes, and looked at the Snow White water scape to the right of the castle! I loved the subtle singing!

swWe also tried to do Pinocchio’s Journey because it had the shortest line of the dark rides, but it broke down when we were in line.  They said their traditional spiel over the loudspeaker (Basically “The ride is down. We don’t know when it will be up. You can either wait or not.” But nicer.)  The only problem was that the queue was so narrow it was nearly impossible to leave unless the person behind you left too.  Once it became apparent we were all trapped, one brave soul took to the (glassless) window and made a break for it. Inspired by his greatness, five or six of us followed, quickly hoping out the window and out into Fantasyland.  We got a (still friendly) scolding from the Cast Member over the intercom. “Jumping out the window makes Mickey cry!” Ok, he didn’t really say that, but let’s pretend.

Finally, it was time to meet my parents back at DCA to ride Radiator Springs!

My dad loved the details:

rsr4rsr2All of us loved the ride.  My mom had some problems with her hat staying on, but she still enjoyed it.

rsrI will say, however, that I think our effects were broken at one point.  When we went in for the paint job, I got the feeling there was supposed to be more to it.  As it was, they just said “hey, you’re getting a paint job” and we sat there for a bit.  The same thing happened when I rode it later in the trip too.  Not so impressive.

But still well worth it! Don’t miss this ride!

We also squeezed in a quick ride on Luigi’s.  I loved the interior queue, but I don’t understand why it is so great, but you quickly walk through it and then wait in the boring outdoor queue. Why can’t we wait inside? Or make the outside more entertaining?

fetI thought the ride itself was great.  I was worried they would make us ride as two pairs of two, but they let us break apart more.  The tires “fly” a lot better with less weight, so going one at a time makes it a lot easier to steer and go faster!

luigiFinally, it was time for the extravagant meal of our trip: Carthay Circle! I was so excited to eat there that we all forgot to take pictures.  Oops. But here’s a rundown on what we got:

Carthay House Biscuits – Calling these biscuits is a bit of a misnomer.  They were more like extremely bready, extremely mild, extremely cheesy jalapeno poppers. Basically, amazing!

And, honestly, that’s all I can remember.  I vaguely remember some sort of artichoke tart that was decent, but the rest was apparently forgettable.  I hate to say it, but as much as I loved the ambiance and the location, the food was only good, not great.  I did expect more.  Still, I was happy we tried it.

Our service was definitely excellent.  We weren’t clear on all the details of the dining package, namely which the handicap seating options for World of Color, and our server was very helpful.  My parents were walking around, but could not stand for the entirety of the show.  Were there benches in the sections reserved for Carthay patrons? If there weren’t, they would just call it a night and head back to the hotel, and we wouldn’t worry about ordering enough food to get WoC seats.  If there were benches, then let the eating commence!

In the end, there were benches and the cast member person at WoC was great.  My mother and wife went there straight after dinner.  The cast member let them sit down a bench with a great view, without a hassle as to why my mother could not stand.  They held seats for my father and I, while we ran over to Star Tours to use Fastpasses from earlier.  We were told that if nobody else needed the bench, my wife and I were free to sit on the bench as well.  She ended up sitting and I opted for standing, thinking the view would be better.

world of color World of Color was fantastic. The storytelling was, well, not so much telling a story but telling a montage.  But who doesn’t love a good montage! Not me! Beautiful montage with touching music and pretty lights? Sold!  Seriously, it’s not going to win a Pulitzer, but it’s beautiful and entertaining.  I highly recommend it!

After the show, the cast members routed us the long way back to the gates (through Grizzly Peak and Condor Flats, not by the Blue Sky Cellar).  This was an issue for my mother whose legs were shot by the end.  If you have group members who are on their last steps, I would recommend staying in the World of Color area until the cast member herding lessens and then sneaking down the main artery.

And with that, we called it a night! My parents were headed out the next morning, and our friend Diane was finally in town and ready to play.

Disney trip, stage 2, was about to commence!

PS Sorry for the huge delay in this installment. I’ll try to be better with the coming editions! I have so many trips to catch you up on!

Disneyland Trip Report – Part Three

A few months ago, I visited Disneyland for 4 1/2 days. It was glorious!

If you missed it, check out part one and part two.  And stay tuned to future installments for more information!

Where did I leave you? Oh, that’s right. We had just finished our first day, which was more like a half day, and were headed to bed.

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We woke up early the next morning to rope drop DCA.  Tip for people who can’t walk very far: wait in line for a turnstile on the edge.  There is a little ledge on the planters that is a good height for sitting, for people who just need to sit.  The Wife and I waited in line and my parents sat on the ledge.  When they started letting people in, they had plenty of time to join us in line.

The opened the turnstiles, letting people onto Buena Vista Street, about 30 minutes before the park officially opened, and then held people at the end.  Most people quickly queued up to head straight towards Cars Land but we were heading to Soarin.  (Because we are smart.  And my mother said that was the ride she was most excited about so it was a must do!)  When we got there, we were the first people on that side, but my parents weren’t prepared to stand for 30 minutes and I needed some coffee.

My parents grabbed a table outside of the Fiddler, Fife, and Practical Cafe, and The Wife and I went inside to get food and drinks.  Then, we sat, drank and ate, and watched the crowd build up on our side.  The food was good but forgettable, basic pastry items, but the coffee was Starbucks.  I’m not a hardcore Starbucks fan by any means, but they do make consistently good coffee, which is certainly not a given in Disney.

Normally, I would have been at the front of the rope drop line, but I figured that even if we were at the front, everyone would pass us in the rush to Soarin so there was no point in attempting the foot race.  Instead, we just wandered to the back of the pack right before official rope drop and made our way over as quickly as possible.  Many people were heading to get World of Color fast passes and I was feeling pretty good about how few people were in front of us.

Unfortunately, it never occurred to me how Soarin loads.  They were clearly only running one segment (glider? loading section? one preshow TV worth? I don’t know how to describe what I mean, so I’m going to assume you are all mind readers!) at a time and we just missed being on the first one.  Basically, we had to wait for it to run a whole show, let everyone off, and then it was our turn.  I wish they had been running more segments/gliders/loading sections…

It was probably 9:20 before we were on the ride, but I was trying not to stress about timing too much (and barely succeeding, but that’s another matter…).  My dad loved all the historical aviation decorations in the queue, so I guess waiting was not so bad.  My mother really loved the ride.  She has done a lot of travel in California, and loves that flying sensation, so the combination was wonderful.  She did wish it was about five times as long, but what can you do.

One ride down, it was time to grab fast passes for Radiator Springs Racers.  We dropped my parents off at a table outside Fiddler, Fife, and Practical and headed over to wait in line.  By this point, it was about 9:30, maybe 9:40.  We waited about 10 minutes and then had fast passes to return around 4:30.  Basically, they were nowhere near sold out and we did not have to waste a rope drop waiting in line.  Touring Plan’s Lines app had been telling me not to rope drop the RSR fastpass machine, but I was nervous about not doing so. Lines, you were right! I’m sorry I doubted you!

Fastpasses in hand, we headed over to Monster’s Inc., which was still a walk on.  I had mapped out a “highlights of DCA” tour for my parents, aimed at minimizing walking, but they didn’t make it very far on the tour.  If I’d known how quickly they would be worn out, I might have prioritized something else — especially since they had never seen Monsters, Inc…oops — but they still enjoyed it.

monstersI have to admit that I was really impressed by Monsters, Inc! It had great animatronics, told the story with wit and ease, and the jokes in the queue were lame (of course, Disney loves Dad humor) but still awesome.  I was looking forward to Roz, a part of the living character initiative (like Crush and the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor), but I think she was set to her non-living mode.  She said a few basic phrases, but it seemed per-programmed and not directed to us specifically.  I was probably more disappointed about this than I should have been.  I guess reading trip reports has its downsides.  Er, just kidding! Keep reading, folks!

After Monsters Inc., The Wife needed some more food so she got a smoothie at Schmoozies. I don’t remember what she got, but it was a decent smoothie.  I didn’t have anything because I was hoping to save stomach room for more exciting food options!  I was on vacation!

Slightly fed, we went over to Turtle Talk with Crush in the Animation Building.  We had a few minutes until the next show, so my parents sat and The Wife and I stared in awe at the Toy Story Zoetrope.  That thing was amazing.  For those who don’t know, it’s basically a series of Toy Story figures that, when the zoetrope spins and the lights flicker, look like they are moving, animated figures.   A logical person would think watching it cycle through once would be enough, but that person would be wrong.  I would still be watching that right now if Turtle Talk hadn’t started.

Now, I decided to hit Turtle Talk early in the day because it was close to Monsters, I was trying to minimize walking, and I thought my parents would love the technology and the cute kids. The only problem was, we had no cute kids in the audience with us.  Well, there was only one boy, who was probably about 7, but he was not having it.  Crush did a great job of trying to interact with him, but the kid basically just looked like he wanted to die.  Faced with no cute kids, and only a handful of people in the audience, Crush talked to me!  Not going to lie, it was a little awkward. Well, I was a little awkward.  Crush asked me if it was my birthday (I was wearing a button) and I said yes.  I lied.  It was the day after my birthday, but it seemed easier to just say it was my birthday.  Yes, I lied to Crush.  I will probably rot in Disney hell for that.

Basically, the attraction was a bit of a bust.  My parents got a sense of the technology — and thought it was cool — but cute kids who are willing to participate are 80% of what makes that attraction special.

Oh well, onward and upward!

What happened next? Did my perfect plans go amiss? Stay tuned to find out! (Hint: Yes…)

The Worst Parts of Traveling

As I returned from another wonderful trip, I found myself thinking about my least favorite parts of traveling.  Since I don’t have a big trip in the works for a few more months, I’m using this list to remind me to appreciate being at home! It won’t work, but I’m going to try!

1. Showers – One can occasionally find showers that live up to expectations but they are far from a given.  My shower at home is not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good — solid water pressure and it can stay warm for as long as I need it! It’s basically heaven.  Travels on vacation are an unpredictable beast.  Even if they have adequate heat and pressure, you don’t know the knob.  You don’t know how much to turn it up once you get used to the heat. You might spend 10 minutes getting it on and to the right temperature.  Ugh.

2. Different downtime – At home, I know my couch; I know it well.  And my DVR is my trusted friend, full of entertainment and relaxation for me.  Those end of the night relaxation moments when traveling are never quite the same.  Still great, but not quite home.

3. No pets – I love my cats. A lot. Perhaps more than I should admit. Sadly for me, they do not travel beyond the walls of our apartment.  That means nobody greeting me when I enter a hotel room and no nighttime snuggles (yes, we let the cats onto the bed – judge away!).

4. The traveling part usually sucks – Cramped planes, waiting for security, waiting to board, waiting to get luggage, hauling luggage all over town (especially on public transit).  It’s not all glorious! (But, I do have an incredible love for planes with individual screens and movies on demand!)

5. This one is harder to describe, but there is a comfort in the familiar — always knowing where you’re going, speaking the language, having a routine, etc.

But does any of this make me want to stay home forever?  Nope.  Let’s be honest, I’m already counting the days until my next big trip!

Disneyland Trip Report – Part 2

A few months ago, I visited Disneyland for 4 1/2 days. It was glorious!

If you missed it, check out part one.  And stay tuned to future installments for more information!

When we last left this trip report, I was in Disneyland without a plan.  I had a few hours before I would meet my parents outside the gates of DCA and no idea what to do in that time.  The crowds were heavier than I would have liked, so I figured, when in doubt, get some delicious food.

I had remembered a new frozen drink but my memory failed me as to where it was.  I thought it was at Edelweiss Snacks, but it was really at Maurice’s Treat Cart.  So, unknowingly, we headed towards Edelweiss Snacks, but then we couldn’t actually get there because of the parade.  Snack fail.  We were trapped in Fantasyland, mere feet from the kiosk.  A tragic fate.  I didn’t want to have my first parade experience be watching it from the middle, so we hoped on Small World.  Fortunately, there was no wait; we walked on and the parade was over when we got off.

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I know there has been much discussion of the WDW Small World compared to the Disneyland Small World and whether the characters in the Disneyland version help or harm the attraction.  I have to say, I loved them.  It was great to look for the characters, to guess about who might be in upcoming countries, and they blended seamlessly with the main dolls.  There were times when they were the center of the country’s display, but for the most part they were just another doll, albeit a more exciting doll.

small world1When we left the ride, the parade was over, so we headed towards Edelweiss Snacks.  I then realized my mistake — this was not the right place!  Where was my crazy frozen drink and tasty pastry!

I did some quick googling, realized my error, and we were off to Maurice’s Treats.  We got the Boysen Apple Freeze, which was amazingly sweet but perfect to share, and a chocolate twist pastry.  The pastry was good but not worth going out of your way for.

Sugared up and ready to face the crowds, we headed over to Buzz.  I was excited to try my battle skills on the Disneyland version, but there must have been a glitch because I lost to The Wife.  Still, despite my obviously faulty gun, the shooting system was better at Disneyland and it will be hard to go back to WDW.  It really made a difference to have guns that you could pull out and aim anywhere.

We still had about an hour before we were supposed to meet my parents and I couldn’t wait any longer. I wanted to see DCA! It was time.

Even though the turnstile area is not very exciting, Buena Vista Street was beautiful and, overall, DCA proved not only a great second-string park to Disneyland, it actually rivaled Disneyland for my favorite.  The lands, for some reason, felt more disjointed, but it had a number of outstanding attractions and the individual lands were solid.

First, we were off to the Redwood Challenge Trail because I didn’t think it would be crowded, it was on my list of things to explore, and I didn’t think my parents or the friend who would be joining us later would have any interest.  I loved the area.  Admittedly, it was definitely for kids, and there was not much to do there as an adult, but the theming was great and I will definitely enjoy watching our future children play there.

We walked over to the Paradise Pier area, just to check it out, and again got stuck by a parade.  The Little Mermaid attraction had absolutely nobody in line (people were distracted by the parade) so we hoped on.  Never pass a (good) attraction with no wait!

This Little Mermaid is almost entirely the same as the WDW version, except without the scenic queue, but I still love it.  The effect when you go under water; the exquisite animatronic Ursula; it’s all great.

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Since it had been nearly an hour since our last bit of food, it was clearly churro time.  I don’t understand what makes those churros so good, but damn it, they are fantastic.

From there, we hoped on California Screaming in the single rider line and then road the Silly Symphony Swings.  The single rider line at Screaming was a godsend.  It isn’t clearly marked (just enter through the exit sign along the ramp to the left of the fastpass machines) so it was never long.  Throughout the trip, we rode via the single rider line a few times and never waited more than 5 minutes.

The swings were just ok.  The view was better than at your traditional carnival, but otherwise, they were pretty standard issue.

Finally, it was time to meet my parents at Car’s Land for dinner at Flo’s and the neon street lighting.  The food at Flo’s was great for theme park food, and ok-to-good for regular food.

I got the Pork Loin with baked beans and some other side I’m forgetting.  The beans were, honestly, the best part of the meal.  Get those beans, people!

DL9I was excited for the neon lighting, because it was no stress.  We didn’t have to worry about crowds, it could be viewed without any standing, and I legitimately thought everyone would enjoy it.  The only problem was that the cast members could not give me a precise time for the lighting.

In the end, it happened about a minute after the official sundown time (check out this website to check the date of your visit).

The lighting was simple but fun and beautiful.  They played a little special song and the area quickly transformed.

light neon cozyAt this point, it was starting to get a bit chilly, so we quickly went back to the hotel, grabbed sweatshirts, dropped off my parents, and then went to Main Street to watch the fireworks.  It was a perfect end to a great first day in the parks.

fireworksStay tuned for recaps of the rest of my trip!

Disneyland Recap – Part 1

A few months ago, I visited Disneyland for 4 1/2 days. It was glorious!

Stay tuned to future installments for more information!

We (The Wife and I) flew to LAX on a morning flight from Chicago.  We arrived around 10:30 and quickly grabbed our luggage and met my parents.  They had flown in separately, arrived about an hour and a half before us, and had picked up the rental car.  Apparently that was a very slow process, so it’s good (for us) that they had that much lead time!

Pretty soon we were loaded in the car and traveling to Disneyland!

We were all staying at the Best Western Plus Anaheim Inn, which was very close and yet still quite affordable! (Full review to follow.)  We checked in quickly, but only our room was ready.  Our parents was not, so they came by our room to change into shorts and walking shoes.  After what felt like forever–I was like a child waiting for Christmas–I got people out the door!

We were finally on our way to Disneyland!

disneyland

But first, unfortunately, we had to go to the ticket booths…

I had pre-purchased The Wife’s ticket on Disney.com and she was able to go straight to the turnstiles.  No ticket booth for her!  But my parents had purchased through Expedia (or a similar site) and their vouchers had to be exchanged at the ticket booth.  The line was not too long but it was painfully slow.  Some people were in and out in 30 seconds and some people took about 5 minutes doing whatever they were doing at the ticket window.  So, even though there were multiple windows open, it still took about 20-25 minutes to get through.

One good thing about Disney: My mother had accidentally printed only one of the ticket vouchers.  We worried about it in line, but then it turned out she didn’t really need either voucher. A quick swipe of the credit card she used to buy the vouchers and she soon had two tickets in hand!

My exchange was a bit slower… I was upgrade a Disney Annual Pass to a Platinum Premier Super Amazing Pass (or whatever they call the one that works on both coasts).  For better or for worse, I could tell Disney does not sell a lot of these!  Unfortunately, upgrading involved calling over to Disney World and asking them to look up my information.  This was slow and painful for the overly excited me.  But, their general lack of experience definitely benefited me in the end.  I’m 90% sure I got charged less than I was supposed to.  I had the basic WDW pass, but I think they charged me the difference between the Premium WDW pass and the combination WDW&Disneyland.  Basically, as I understand it, I can now go to the water parks for free! Not a huge gain, but exciting nonetheless.  When they handed me my upgraded pass, they also told me that it was good for a year from the day I purchased it.   My WDW pass was already 3 months old, so I basically got a pass extension.  Again, I suspect this was an errors on their part and not the real policy, but I was happy nonetheless — or as happy as one can be when one is twitching with impatience.  This whole process took about 5 minutes and the parks were SO CLOSE!

After the whole ticket procedure, we were FINALLY inside the happiest place on Earth!

DL1My main goal for the day was to just take it slowly! I wanted to absorb the place, experience a handful of attractions, and eat some good food.  We arrived on what was forecasted to be the busiest day of our trip, and were arriving mid-afternoon, so I knew crowds would be an issue.  I didn’t want to fight them that first day, I just wanted to take it easy.  That sort of worked, but I had over estimated how much my parents would be able to walk, so even my “take it easy and hit only rides with short lines” plan didn’t really work.

DL2

The first priority, however, was food.  It was past noon and we were all starving.  I had been planning to eat my first meal at the French Market but, as I hinted, my parents are not the best walkers and we were starving.  We made it to the end of Main Street and I declared we were stopping.  Jolly Holiday it was! The Matterhorn Macaroons were on my “must do” list so I figured even if their entrees were not great, it wouldn’t be a wash.  I will say I was pleasantly surprised! The Wife and I each got salads with cranberries, nuts and good cheese.  My parents got sandwiches that looked a little dry but generally pretty good.  Most importantly, the macaroon was everything I had hoped it would be! It was soft, the right amount of chewy, and perfectly sweet.  I am generally not a fan of white chocolate, but that flavor did not overwhelm the dessert.  It was basically heaven!

Having eaten, and therefore in a better mood, we headed off through Adventureland and towards New Orleans Square.  First up? Pirates! I had heard about how much better it was at Disneyland and was eager to experience it.  The wait was long for Pirates, but not long compared to other attractions (about 20 minutes).  We found out later that the right line is rumored to by much shorter.

The ride was great, to say the least.  Longer, with more show scenes and an extra drop.  Also, riding by Blue Bayou created a great start to the atmospherics.

blueI will say that the queue for Disneyland Pirates is painfully claustrophobic and boring compared to WDW.  Points to WDW on that.

After Pirates, we headed to Haunted Mansion, which was also a comparatively short wait.  I’d give the points to WDW on this one.  The creepy stairs are my favorite and I definitely missed it. I like riding by the paintings much more than walking by them in the queue.  It makes you appreciate them more.  And, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the endings.  For those that haven’t ridden both, I won’t go into great detail, but let’s just say the upgraded technology in the WDW version is amazing and the older Disneyland version does not hold up.

The mansion is right next to the train station, I had already given up on my loose touring plan, and my parents wanted more sitting, so it was train time!  We rode all the way around to the front and then dropped off my parents so they could go rest a bit before diner.  I was looking forward to the dioramas on the train and, while I can recognize they might have been cool in the 1950s, I was a bit disappointed.  They just do not stand the test of time.

By this point, it was the middle of the afternoon.  The crowds were large, it was hot, and my parents had left us.  Everything on that day’s touring plan, I knew we would be seeing again with my friend Diane when she joined us later in the week.  The main goal of that day was supposed to be letting my parents experience rides.  With them out of the picture, I had no idea what to do next.  Seriously, I had no idea.  All of that planning and I was dumbfounded.  We only had about two hours before we were supposed to meet my parents again.  What to do???

Did I just sit on the ground and cry? Did I persevere? Did I wander aimlessly for awhile?

Stay tuned to the next installment of this report to find out!