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Pam Baca -- December 2003 – Disneyland (DLH)

This is Pam's third trip report for MousePlanet. The first two:

June 2002 -- Disneyland
December 2002 - Disneyland

Cast of Characters

  • Pam: 33, Disneyland fanatic and veteran, 13th trip to Disneyland
  • Jaden: 9, Pam’s nephew and fellow Disneyland fanatic, 4th trip to Disneyland

Once again my nephew and I decided we needed some serious Jaden and Nan time at our favorite place on Earth. It seems like Christmas isn’t complete without our trip to Disneyland. Nothing about this trip came easily, except the excellent services of Tim Larison. It is not a stretch to say it felt like a personal triumph when we finally stepped into the Disneyland Hotel. From day to day, week to week, one obstacle or another came up, putting the trip in doubt up until the very last minute. The only thing I can say is the bond Jaden and I share and the memories we take from these adventures are worth everything we went through to get there.

I started planning this trip well in advance of December. I had the Holiday Resort Magic trip booked by April. The trip includes one free night at a Disney hotel. Thanks once again to Tim Larison of MouseEars Vacations. Tim is the “gold standard” when it comes to travel agents. He is highly recommended to anyone who decides to use MouseEars Vacations.

One thing I remembered well from last year was lugging several packages around the parks. I remember the confrontations when lockers were getting scarce. I also remembered guests of Disneyland hotels have the option of sending their purchases back to their hotel. That sounded really good. I also could think of no more magical place than a Disneyland hotel to spend our “off park” hours in. Our choice of hotel was more relevant this year because of the additional night. (Last year we stayed off property at a very nice, but very budget, hotel.) I originally thought of the Grand Californian, but the price was a little too steep. I never had a desire to stay at the Paradise Pier Hotel. That left the Disneyland Hotel, which suited us fine.

Day One
We planned to leave early on December 12th; however, we started out a little earlier than we anticipated. A snowstorm moved in from the south and was supposed to start around 3 am. We decided to leave the 11th and stay in Colorado Springs. We made it to the airport with no problems and were soon boarding our flight. We made it to our gate in Denver and then flew right into Orange County. Our van was there waiting for us and we were soon on our way. I’m not sure what has happened to SuperShuttle since last year, but all our driver did was tailgate folks and punch in data on his on-board computer. My thought was we had just traveled thousands of miles safely to end up dying on the way to the hotel! Despite this, we made to the hotel and checked in smoothly.

We were in the Marina tower and our room was the first room from the elevators. We actually had a small walk-in area where our room door actually was. It was more than spacious enough for the two of us and it included a fridge. A room at DLH is full of special surprises that you find as your stay goes on. Sleeping Beauty castle is on the headboards, a map of the park is on the TV console, scenes from various attractions are on the bedspread amid the flowers and Tinkerbelle flits around the room on a wave of stars. In the bathroom, Mickey’s hands hold the lamps and the Fab Five is on the wallpaper. The mirrors are huge and glided and feel like they were imported directly from Fantasyland. It is all very subtle and a delight to discover. It is truly living in the magic. Best of all, the surprises I arranged had arrived. I called the hotel 2 weeks before and arranged to have two Santa hats and two chocolate krispies waiting for us. They were there, along with an autographed picture of Mickey himself, addressed personally to Jaden. Jaden was beside himself. He couldn’t figure out how they had gotten into the room. As great as the room was, we wasted no time cleaning up and heading out to the park.

We started our trip off by boarding the Monorail in Downtown Disney. We debated eating at the Rainforest Café, but Jaden had eaten on the plane, so he wasn’t terribly hungry yet. We arrived at the Tomorrowland Station and immediately boarded the train to New Orleans Square, all the while in disbelief we had actually made it back. Once in New Orleans Square, we immediately got FastPasses for the Haunted Mansion. Jaden wanted to ride the new Winnie the Pooh ride. We had intended to pull a FastPass for Pooh, but it was only a 10 minute wait. We quickly got in line and headed for the Hundred Acre Woods. I think Pooh is a great little dark ride. No, it doesn’t have a lot of special effects, but I would rate up there with Alice and Peter Pan. After that we proceeded to Indiana Jones and pulled another FastPass. We wanted to try out our “enhanced fastpasses”. Once we had passes for Indy, we headed to Pirates of the Caribbean. The line for Pirates was about 25 minutes. As we had about that much time before our window at the Mansion opened, we got in line for Pirates. Pirates is just a classic. You enjoy the ride no matter how many times you ride it.

We left Pirates and headed for the Mansion to see what Jack Skellington and Oogie Boogie had in store this year. I know some people don’t like the holiday layover of HM, but we just love it. We found most of Oogie’s surprises on our first time around and stopped to purchase the first Scary Teddy of the trip for Jaden. And no, we couldn’t bear to part with him until the next morning, so we carted him around the park. My first shot at package delivery and it’s a no go. We then headed over to Indy. When we arrived at Indy, we found the ride was broken down with no estimate on down time. The cast member greeting us said they would honor our fastpass later in the evening, so we moved to the Jungle Cruise. The ride was as much fun as always, especially in the dark. On the way to Redd Rocket’s for pizza, we stopped in the Tiki Room. On top of just enjoying the Tiki Room, we were lucky to have Maynard as one of our cast members. He adds so much to the show! I’m not sure what was more fun—the Tiki Room or Maynard. The pizza at Redd’s was as good as I remembered, but the prices were just as steep. For the amount and quality of food you get, the prices aren’t bad, but if you are looking for economical pizza, Redd’s is not the place to go. We made our traditional “Ha Ha, we’re at Disneyland and you’re not” phone call to the gang back home. Jaden then surprised me by asking if we could ride the Matterhorn. I was anxious to do this as it was being refurbished last December, but didn’t know if Jaden would be up to it. He was. We got there, however, the line was too long, so we headed over to Small World. We took in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Pinocchio and Snow White on the way as all three had virtually no lines. We then headed down to Small World. The mall was crowded due to the parade and fireworks time. We jumped in the line for Small World and waited about 30 minutes. The layover for this is really special and would probably charm even the most jaded Small World rider. After the ride, we were right on time for the fireworks. We found a clear spot, in a good “snow” spot thanks to a very helpful cast member and enjoyed Believe in Holiday Magic. This was my magical moment. Once the fireworks started, Jaden decided to pretend he was the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and began to “direct” the fireworks. He pointed on cue, brought the fireworks up with his hands and danced to the music. I missed most of the fireworks while I was watching my nephew. He enjoyed that show with a passion and joy that only children possess. I think I snapped an entire roll of film. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was still smiling when he pulled me out into the mall so the snow could fall on us while “White Christmas” played. We smiled at each other and he hugged me tight. He declared I was the best Nan in the world and I couldn’t help the tears that escaped my eyes. I felt like I was dreaming of a “White Christmas” and my dream had come true.

From the mall, Jaden drug me to the Matterhorn and, thanks to a happy little accident, we had a very short wait. I had not been on the Matterhorn in ages and I loved it. The track was fast and the ride was so smooth. After the Matterhorn, we headed over to the Premier Shop to collect new pins. We stopped by Star Tours to put our lanyards together and decided to take the flight to Endor. We then decided to head back over to Indy to see if it was running again. It was and we had no problem using our old fastpasses. It is a total sensory experience. It goes without saying once we had finished with Indy, the only place to go was back to the Mansion and that’s where we went. The crowds were clearing out after Fantasmic and we managed pretty well. We were able to get rides on both the Mansion and Pirates one more time. By that time, the park was closing. We headed out the doors and drug ourselves through Downtown Disney to our hotel. The Disneyland Hotel, if you walk through Downtown Disney, is a looong way from the esplanade. The worst part is the staff tells you it’s a 5 minute walk. No. They also didn’t tell us there was a priority line for hotel guests at the Monorail. So, we hoofed it and hoofed it quite a ways. Once home, we rested our tired bodies and feet and went to bed. We had an early reservation at Goofy’s Kitchen the next morning.

Day Two
The day started with a wake-up call from Mickey Mouse. I loved that. We got ready and went right downstairs for breakfast at Goofy’s Kitchen. Breakfast was good as always. We met with a few less characters than last year, but the interaction was still wonderful. After breakfast, we picked up our jackets from the room and headed back to the Monorail. Once in Tomorrowland, we started the day with Autopia. I still love that little ride. We then decided to head over to DCA. Disneyland was already becoming very crowded. We stopped to do a little window shopping and then headed across the esplanade. We got fast passes for Soarin’ first thing. We had some time to kill, so we headed to Grizzly River Run. Last year we didn’t get that wet. Things were different this year. We were both soaked! As the temperature was just not that warm and I had to blow dry my hair again, a trip back to the hotel was in order, with both of us wet and grumpy. We took a shortcut through the Grand Californian and made it back to DLH. We dried off, changed clothes, regrouped and set our jackets out to dry. We grabbed the warmest sweatshirts we had and headed back over to DCA. We just couldn’t miss those Soarin’ fastpasses. I have been dreaming about Soarin ever since we left last year. It was everything I remembered. We went to get another fastpass for it and we discovered that Jaden’s park hopper pass had gotten wet on GRR and was not being read by the fastpass machine. The cast member gave us another fastpass so we would have two. She also gave us a fastpass card, but indicated it did not have multiple pass capabilities. She recommended we go to Guest Services. Guest Services told us we had to go to the Disney Travel Company office and get another park hopper. They also gave us another fastpass card. This was the first of our happy accidents. We headed over to the travel company, which was at the end of Downtown Disney, and had the card replaced with no problem. We now, tee-hee, had two working passes plus two fastpass cards. We stopped at the Rainforest Café to have lunch, as we were now both starved. On the way back, Jaden made sure he stopped and bought me two pins—a Haunted Mansion Holiday pin I had wanted very badly and a Matterhorn pin. I was just touched so much by his gesture. We then headed back to DCA. We took another ride on Soarin, pulled two more fastpasses each for Soarin and then decided to head over to Flik’s Fun Fair. We rode Flik’s Flyers, in the Chinese food box and Jaden humored his Nan by riding Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train. We found the 4 leaf clover and then headed over to see Aladdin. Aladdin is a must see show. The effects and the dancing are spectacular. After Aladdin, we decided to head over to Disneyland. We gave our fastpasses away to a very nice family on the way. Once in DL, we found a mob scene. Every nook and cranny was jammed. We found no fastpasses anywhere and huge lines everywhere. Go figure—the one time we have 4 passes and there are no fastpasses to be had. We finally decided to wait for the parade. We were hungry, so we tried to find dinner before the parade. We did burgers and pizza at the VillageHaus and took our food to our parade spot. Waiting was not fun as the temperature was dropping and we were without our warm clothes. We didn’t feel the cold much after the parade started. Yes, it’s the same parade and no, there was nothing new added, but it is still wonderful to watch. After this, we headed to the Monorail and headed back to the hotel. At the hotel, we bundled up in warm clothes, grabbed our jackets and a blanket and headed back. We then had our second happy accident. While in line for the train to New Orleans Square, Jaden picked up a discarded Autopia driver’s license. On the back read, “Congratulations! You are an Autopia winner!” We decided to redeem the card the next day and proceeded to the Rivers of America for the 10:30 Fantasmic show. We huddled in our blanket and then watched a terrific show. We missed the Mark Twain at the end, but the rest of the show was really great. We then headed to the Mansion for another ride. The wait listed was 45 minutes, but we made it in about 20. We managed to make it on to Pirates one more time and then we headed over to Indy for one last ride. By that time, we were at park closing and we walked back to our hotel.

Day Three
We slept in and took our time getting to the park. We cheered when we heard Saddam Hussein had been captured and Jaden caught a few minutes of his Rams on TV. We had a 1:40 priority reservation at the Blue Bayou. We once again headed over on the Monorail and took the train to New Orleans Square. Before boarding, we redeemed the Autopia card we had found the night before. The Autopia car you get is pretty cool. Once in New Orleans Square, we immediately got fastpasses for Haunted Mansion and Indy. Then we wandered over to Pooh and found the line was very short. After Pooh, we did a little shopping for the gang back home and I got to send the packages back to the hotel. Yeah! We hadn’t had breakfast yet, so we munched on churros while we waited for our reservation. We also wandered around New Orleans Square a little and shopped a little more. By now, Jaden had bought every version they had of Scary Teddy. We then headed over to the Mansion. After the Mansion, we noticed the skies getting dark and a few drizzles starting. We thought it would be a perfect time to begin waiting for lunch, so we presented ourselves at the Blue Bayou about 15 minutes ahead of our reservation. I figured we could check-in, wait for our water table and stay dry at the same time. Nope. Too logical for the cast members we talked to. They insisted we wait, in the rain, until exactly 1:40 and then check in and then wait 30-40 minutes for our water table. Bad show. But since they seated us in about 15 minutes, all was forgiven. I had the salad and crab cakes again and Jaden had the chicken nuggets. We splurged on the chocolate coffin dessert with the white chocolate Zero on top. After lunch, we discovered serious rain coming down. We still had our fastpasses at Indy, so we grabbed some ponchos. The rain stopped once we exited Indy. We stopped long enough to get a score for the Broncos and Browns and then headed to Star Tours. After Star Tours, we headed over to the Matterhorn. We called home and found the Broncos in overtime. This is where our third happy accident occurred. Jaden and I had seen a small bag in the queue and had kind of stepped over it. A few turns later, a woman in the next aisle handed us the bag, with two pins in it. They had seen our full lanyards. One pin was a Christmas pin and the other was a birthday pin Jaden traded in for another Scary Teddy pin. We took another ride on the Matterhorn and then cheered when the cell phone rang--the Broncos won in overtime! We then headed over to Small World and pulled a fastpass for 9:30 that evening. As this was our night to see the Electric Parade, a late fastpass would work out great. We decided, at this point, to head over to California Adventure for the Electric Parade. On the way, we stopped long enough to enjoy the Storybook Canal Boats. Good thing we had those ponchos to sit on! Before heading to DCA, we stopped and had a pretzel and cokes. We also did a little shopping on the way and had those purchases sent to the hotel as well. Once we arrived at California Adventure, we had about an hour to kill before waiting for the parade. Since we had yet to venture over there, we decided to go to Paradise Pier. I will admit it is just a carnival, but it is the nicest, best themed carnival I’ve ever seen. We had fun playing the games and going through various shops. The one thing I did notice, and did not appreciate, was the sales pressure to come on in, try your luck. I guess that is keeping in the carnival theme. It’s just not something one is used to at a Disney park. We hopped on King Triton’s Carousel. Jaden rode a seahorse and I rode a dolphin. We headed down the boardwalk and we decided to ride Jumpin’ Jellyfish. OK-maybe Jaden and I are the biggest wimps in the world, but we really liked that ride. We also went on the Golden Zephyr. If Mr. Matt Ouimet is going to keep it open, then I will go to the trouble to ride it. The ride, however, was cold on that damp night and it is a bit unnerving with no door on the side.

After exiting Paradise Pier, we headed to Sunshine Plaza to stake out a parade spot. We found a good viewing area across from the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. We grabbed a couple of hot chocolates and waited. The Electrical Parade is one of my absolute favorites. Even though the night was cold and wet, the parade was terrific. After it ended, we headed over to DL to use our Small World fastpass. On the way in, we were stopped by the fireworks crowd and had no choice but to enjoy Believe one more time. We then headed back to Small World. After that, we decided to head back to the hotel. It was cold and just miserable. We decided to take the monorail back, but the cast member estimated a 20-25 minute wait, so we walked again. We ordered pizza and enjoyed NFL Primetime. One more full day to go.

Day Four
This was our serious commando day. We got over to the park about 10:00 am and wanted to have breakfast at the RiverBelle Terrace. We heard about the famous Mickey Mouse pancakes. Sadly, the RiverBelle Terrace was closed. The only way to ease our disappointment was to have breakfast at the Plaza Inn with Winnie the Pooh and friends. We were very aware the park closed at 8:00 pm, so we felt we didn’t have a lot of time. We got fastpasses for the Mansion, Splash, Pirates and Indy and we managed to squeeze in another ride on Pooh. We then headed over to Toontown to have our picture taken with Mickey himself. The wait for his house was relatively short and the line moved quickly. While in Toontown, we pulled a fastpass for Roger Rabbit and then headed back over to New Orleans Square. In short succession, we rode the Mansion, Splash, Pirates and Indy one after the other. A quick kudos to Jaden and Splash Mountain. Last year, Jaden had not wanted to ride Splash Mountain, so I rode alone. He took a lot of teasing all year long. This year he got his courage up and rode down that hill into the briar patch with me. I was so proud of him. We cheered at the end. We were going to buy our picture as proof of him riding, but when we saw the picture, Jaden had vanished. Apparently he curled up in what must have been the fetal position as he rode down the drop. Picture or not, he was there and his Nan was very proud! After this marathon of riding, we headed back over Toontown to catch our ride on Roger Rabbit. After that ride, we headed back to the Matterhorn and then over to the Astro Orbiter. I don’t know why I don’t like the Orbiter, but I don’t. Jaden, however, was quick to point out that if he rode Splash, then I should ride the Orbiter. We decided once we rode the Orbiter that we were hungry. Remembering the delicious sandwiches we had last year, we headed to the Blue Ribbon Bakery. The streets were filling for the parade, so the bakery had quite a line. We managed to get our sandwiches and a table and we enjoyed a simple, but really good dinner. After that, we picked one more ride to take. We decided to head over to the Mansion. After a pretty short wait, we were shocked when we got out of the stretching room. All the lights were on. I had never seen the Mansion with the lights on and no music, spiel, etc. Apparently the ride was broken down and everyone was waiting in the Portrait Corridor. Many people went out the emergency exit, but we decided to wait it out. Sure enough, after about 10 minutes the ride started up again. The best part was the breakdown had eliminated both the fastpass line and the stand-by line when we exited and we were able to walk right on for another ride. After that, we headed back for one more ride on Indy, which had a relatively short line. We then headed over to the monorail station and finally rode it back to the hotel. That was when we found out about the hotel priority line. Back at the hotel, we packed our bags and then wandered over to the Fantasy Waters show. We headed back to the room, a little sad that we would be leaving the next day.

Day Five
We had things to do today! We were being picked up for our flight at 2:40 pm for our 5:00 pm flight. Our plan was to stay in the park until about 2:00 pm. Our first stops, even before breakfast, were the rides we had not yet done. Peter Pan and Alice were first on the list. We also took a ride in the Tea Cups. Jaden wanted another ride on the Matterhorn before the line got too long, so we did that, as well. We headed over to the Village Haus for breakfast upon finding out the RiverBelle Terrace was closed again. We also headed to Adventureland for one more ride on Indy. After pulling a fastpass, we headed over to the Mansion again, as the line was very short. After exiting Indy, we went to purchase the huge snake from Aladdin that Jaden had his eye on for the past two days. We decided to head to DCA for the final showing of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire—Play It! On the way, we had some time to kill, so we made a few purchases, took some pictures and stopped by the firehouse to decorate some Christmas cookies. We were going to miss Disneyland and our final time there had much laughter and tears.

We headed over to DCA for the 1 pm showing of Millionaire. We were seated in the general audience. Once again, I managed to make it to number 2 on the board at the end of the game. We then left DCA and headed back to the hotel to collect our bags from bell services. I had some rearranging to do to get the big snake on the plane. We finally scaled down our belongings to two checked bags, two carry-on shopping bags, a backpack and a briefcase. Our shuttle was early, but it made two stops and was slowed by traffic. We checked in, got through security and settled in at our gate. We grabbed some McDonald’s before our flight and then headed back to Colorado. Once in Denver, we had a quick gate and terminal transfer, but we made it with a few minutes to spare. We arrived in Colorado Springs to much ice and snow and headed home.

Final thoughts
The one thing that struck me was that every guidebook I’ve ever read, even shows on the Travel Channel indicate the week after Thanksgiving to the week before Christmas are good, non-crowded days to go. I don’t think so. As a number of cast members told me, the month of December is always crowded. The Saturday we visited was unreal in terms of number of people there. If you go during December, expect crowds—lots of them. Lines are long, fastpasses are scarce and patience is thin.

I also need to give credit to the many cast members we spoke with. All of them were absolutely wonderful. Last year, several cast members were, well, grumpy and sometimes rude. This year everyone went out of their way to try to engage us personally and seemed to really care if we were having a good time or not. The employees seem very energized and concerned with caring for their guests.

Once again, I would urge everyone to use MouseEars Vacations. Tim Larison is the absolutely best and I look forward to working with him again.

This trip has become a tradition for Jaden and I. It is one of the things we look forward to each year. The trip has become so legendary that the family wants to join us next year. Hmm, we’ll have think about that. We really need to catch up on our time together each time this trip rolls around. My nephew is really more like my son. He is also my best friend and we love spending time together. Disneyland is best experienced through the eyes of someone you love. Seeing Disneyland through my nephew’s eyes is the true magic for me.

Finally, this trip report is dedicated to Jaden’s Uncle Robert in the hope that one day Tinkerbell sprinkles a little pixie dust on him.

Pam Baca


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