Dan Coyan -- December 2002 -- Disneyland
Dates: December 8, 2002 - December 11, 2002
Objective: Take Bekah to see DL and DCA for her fifth birthday. Time it in the slowest season to avoid crowds. Check out the holiday decorations.
Day by Day:
Sunday, December 8: We left Salinas, California (near Monterey) at about 1:00 PM. Arrived at our hotel at 6:00 PM. We stayed at the Embassy Suites "South" on Harbor Boulevard about a mile south of Disneyland. We originally wanted to stay at the Grand Californian, but the cheapest suite was around $500 per night - way too rich for our credit card, and a regular room was $209. Instead, we opted for the Embassy Suites, being much cheaper. This one was very new (about a year old) and was wonderful. We opted for the "extra large suite with view window" which ran $121 per night, vs. $109 for the "standard" suite. The only difference was that the suite was about 4' longer to the window, and the entire outside wall was one giant window. It would have been worth it if it were facing DL, but instead it looked east onto Garden Grove. In the future, I would choose the standard suite, which is still very spacious.
We quickly got settled in, with Bekah in the front room and Krista and I in the main bedroom. Then we headed over to DCA and arrived at the park about 6:45. This was our first time seeing DCA, although we only saw a bit of it that night. We checked out Bugs Land and rode Heimlich's Chew-Chew Train. The theming was wonderful - the detail was very impressive. The ride was mostly a throwaway - a cute concept but woefully short. We then headed over to the parade route to check out the Electric Light Parade. Krista had seen it as a teenager, but I had never seen it. She remembered it as being a little hokey. We were very impressed. Bekah and I kept "ooh-ing" and "aah-ing" at each float, and Krista admitted it was much better than she remembered. After the parade, we headed back to our hotel.
Monday, December 9: The Big Day had at last arrived. We got to the park right at 10:00 and headed in. We went through the tunnel under the railroad and were amazed at the sight: hordes of visitors, not unlike a summer weekday. I double-checked my faithful source, "The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2003", and looked up the chart showing average daily attendance. It confirmed that this was the slowest time of the year. However, I had been to the park many times in October and November where the park was far less busy. My only guess was that the emphasis that has been placed in recent years on the holidays has resulted in a big jump in attendance.
Bekah had no preference what she wanted to ride, so we headed over to Dumbo, just to let her experience that before it got too crowded. Nevertheless, we still waited probably 30-40 minutes to get on, and this was right after the park opening. Krista and I had never ridden it, and we all had a good time. Then we headed over to the Mad Hatter to get the requisite personalized Minnie Mouse hat for Bekah.
Next was Small World Holiday, only the standby line was about 35 minutes, so we grabbed Fastpasses and headed onto the Railroad. Surprisingly, the was the only ride we went on that gave Bekah a scare, as she didn't really like the "hot lava" in the dinosaur scene. After circling the park, we headed over to Toontown and got Pluto's autograph and Bekah hopped around in Goofy's Bounce House. I had never noticed this attraction, but it was pretty cool the way Disney took a standard bounce house and turned it into a full living room with chairs and decor and all. Krista and I were very impressed. And Bekah thought it was very cool.
At this point, we headed back to Small World, only to find the Fastpass line much longer than the standby line. Fortunately, it was moving faster, and we got on in about 15 minutes. I always viewed IASW as a "guilty pleasure" - one of those rides that I pretend to tolerate but really enjoy. Krista has always wished she could throw tomatoes in there. However, cynical though she may be, she admitted to being very impressed by the holiday makeover - she said it was "exceedingly awesome". Bekah and I were completely immersed in it, and both thought it really fun and festive. I loved the way they integrated holiday songs into it. And the new white and gold coat of paint was really spiffy. Following this, we thought we'd test Bekah out on a "tougher" ride and took her over to Star Tours. This has always been one of my favorites, and we had talked a lot about it in the past months - Bekah was very interested in the "silly robot" who piloted the "vehicle". We walked right on, and she really enjoyed it. She laughed at the pilot, and gripped me pretty hard during the fast parts. Afterward, she said it was really fun, but a bit fast.
We then headed over to Innoventions to check out the Stitch phone. It was really cool - in fact, Krista remarked it was probably the coolest thing on the entire trip. For those who haven't seen it, you go into a small grass hut, and Stitch is there on a big screen in front on you, standing on a beach. The premise is that he is in Hawaii, and you are making a satellite video call to you, and that you can each see the other. Bekah was so excited, that she forgot what to do with the phone. Stitch said "Hello", and Bekah just looked at the screen, then stared at the phone in her hand, as if she had never seen a phone in her life. Finally I put it to her ear, and she began to talk to Stitch. The great thing is how totally interactive it is. I thought it would just be a few canned responses, but obviously there is someone (Stitch!) on the other end. For example, while Bekah was talking, she was nervously wrapping the phone cord into little loops. Stitch looked down and asked if she was making "Hula Hoops" with the phone cord. Then my wife leaned over and whispered a suggestion for Bekah to ask Stitch, and Stitch said "What did your Mommy just ask you to say?" It was really cool, and afterwards, they give you a URL address so when you get home, you can look up and print out a picture of Stitch holding a photo of you. It was soooo cool.
After Stitch, we headed over to Jungle Cruise, and after about a 20 minute wait, hopped on for our ride around the lagoon. Bekah really liked it, especially the gorillas who had overturned the jeep and were playing in the hut. As it was about 3:00 now, we headed back to the hotel for a quick swim and rest time, then headed to Downtown Disney at about 5:45 for dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. It is one of Krista's favorites, but didn't have the impact it would somewhere else, after spending the day in Disneyland. We then caught a monorail next door, and rode back to Tomorrowland. It was a really neat ride - I had forgotten just how fast and smooth the monorail is, and how it circles all over Tomorrowland - giving us a good view of Autopia, the Christmas Parade, and the gorgeous night-time Christmas lighting on Small World. We wanted to head over to Haunted Mansion Holiday, but the Christmas Parade blocked out way. So he rode the Astro Orbiter while we waited for it to clear out. I had never ridden this, and it was pretty fun. Just like a bigger, faster, higher version of Dumbo, but without the wait.
Then we headed over to New Orleans Square and walked right on HMH. Bekah was a little scared when the giant Jack Skellington head yelled out in the stretching room, but otherwise really enjoyed it. My wife and I are huge Nightmare Before Christmas fans, having seen it when it first came out in the theater, then watching it for thirty nights straight (no kidding) when it came out on video. Needless to say, we were delighted with the makeover. I could have ridden it all night! So hauntingly beautiful (no pun intended).
Then we hopped up on the wall next to the Rivers of America, and watched the Christmas Fireworks show. Again, Disney did it right. Synching it to music was brilliant, and the snow afterwards was truly magical. I think I even spotted the makings of a tear in cynical Krista's eye while we stood in the snowstorm and the beautiful music played. What an experience and a great way to end a wonderful day. Then we headed back to the hotel for a quick room service dinner and put Bekah to bed, while Krista and I stayed up for a while talking about our day and watching a movie (gotta love those Embassy Suites rooms).
Tuesday, December 10: We wanted to check out DCA today, so we arrived about ten minutes before opening (about 9:50), and were surprised to see that the park was already open. Bekah mentioned to the attendant that this was her birthday trip, and he told us to go over to guest services to get a sticker She was very surprised when they told her that she had a phone call, and was delighted to hear Goofy singing her Happy Birthday. As a side note, it was really neat everyone went out of there way to say Happy Birthday to her by name when she was wearing the birthday sticker. Everyone was very pleasant, and seemed genuinely happy to talk to her. It really made her day.
Before we began going through the park, we decided to rent a stroller - probably the smartest decision we made on the whole trip. I have to admit I'd sometimes see older children in strollers and thought to myself "Why aren't they walking?" But after the previous day, having spent a lot of time with Bekah riding on my shoulders because otherwise she was having trouble keeping up, I had a change of heart. It was so much easier to have the stroller, so she could hop in it when she was getting tired, and it made it a much happier experience for everyone. Plus it gave us a place to stash our purchases, camera, clothes, etc.
Our first stop was Soarin' over California. After about a twenty minute wait, we got on. I had read a lot about how great this ride was, so my expectations were really high. Overall, I was very impressed, but didn't think it was quite in the same league as the very top rides. I thought it was an exceptional experience, especially with the sensory experience of the wind in your face and the smells of the areas you fly over (although Krista remarked that the aircraft carrier should have had the smell of jet fuel). However, I would have liked it if the individual scene clips were a bit longer, and if there was more motion in your seat. Krista and Bekah loved it, and it became Bekah's favorite attraction in either park.
From there, we headed into the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail area. Krista thought it might be"waste of time" playground, but it was very impressive and a lot of fun. There is a lot to do, and Bekah would have stayed in there all day playing on the slides, swings, nets, caves, tunnels, and towers if we had let her. It was like Disney taking the idea of a children's play area, and turning it into a true attraction. It made me wish we had stayed at the Grand Californian, as it was right next to the private entrance from the hotel. Maybe next time...
Having never been to DCA, we wandered down the path and found ourselves near the entrance to Paradise Pier. There was a beautiful Christmas tree next to the water, surrounded by a small ice skating rink. And there, skating around, was Stitch! Stitch skated right over to Bekah and signed her book, then gave her a big hug. It really made her day. One of the cast members told us that the rink is made of Teflon, and they have special skates. It was really great!
Next up was the Hollywood Backlot area. I thought this was a very impressive-looking area - the mural at the end of the street kept fooling me into thinking that the street was much longer, even after I'd caught myself a few times. I wanted to see MuppetVision 3-D, but it was temporarily closed, so we headed over to the Animation Building. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. We made a few crude animations on strips of paper, then had a lot of fun with Ursula dubbing our voices into clips from various Disney movies. Of course, we quickly strayed from the on-screen dialogue and improvised silly stories about bodily functions and characters smelling bad - things like that. It was a lot of fun, and the building was very well designed. I kept thinking about people saying how Disney had really been cutting costs with this park, but again it looked like they spent a lot of money here.
It was early afternoon, so we headed across the Esplanade to DL. I figured that the crowds today (Tuesday) would be lighter than Monday, but it looked the same. Lots and lots of people. While Bekah had her silhouette cut on Main Street, I headed over to the Blue Bayou to get reservations. They told me they were not giving out any more lunch reservations, but that the standby time was only about 10 minutes. I headed back to Main Street, and noticed an impatient-looking Krista standing in front of the silhouette shop. It seems I took the money with me, so she had to wait for me to get back to pay for the cutout. Then we headed to Blue Bayou, and got in after a brief wait. We had never been there, and it was really nice. Krista and I shared a Monte Cristo, which I had read about but never seen. Krista described it best as a cross between a sandwich, a doughnut, and a fritter. Bekah had the Mickey chicken nuggets, and we got Bekah the birthday bucket. That was really nice - they came over and sang, and then presented a well-designed bucket that looks sort of like Mickey's sorcerer hat. A super-delicious cake is in the top, and inside is a plush Sorcerer Mickey, and birthday pin, and some stickers. It was a very nice touch.
After lunch, I got fast passes for Splash Mountain, and we got in the standby line for Pirates. It took about 25 minutes to get in, which I guess isn't too bad, but I was always used to just walking on it. I've probably been on this ride 25 times, and it never gets old. It was really fun seeing it through my daughter's eyes. She was a bit scared in the early dark sections with the skeletons, but overall she thought it was great, and wanted to ride it again. She especially liked the jail scene with the dog holding the keys, and has drawn a few pictures of that since we've come home.
We had talked about Splash Mountain quite a few times in the months preceding our trip, and Bekah was pretty excited about it. However, when she saw the big drop from the walkway, she started getting second thoughts. We told her she didn't have to ride it, but she wanted to try it. In fact, the first time I rode it about 10 years ago, Krista changed her mind at the last minute and I rode solo. Anyway, with the new individual seat arrangements, we couldn't hold on to Bekah, so Krista kind of held her from behind. She was pretty nervous before the big plunge (I forgot just how steep it seems from the precipice), but after that she was fine. However she wasn't too sure if she'd want to go on it again. We looked at the picture from the top of the ride, and the look on her face was just pure terror - not crying, just sort of "My life is over - I'll never see 6 years old." It was a crackup. I really regret not buying that picture - it was priceless.
Now for the longest line of the trip - the line to visit Piglet, Eeyore, and Pooh. I've never been big on character autographs or anything, but Bekah wanted to see them, so we waited about 30 minutes to visit them. They were actually very fun, and spent a lot of time with Bekah. Tigger even gave me a kiss.
It was now getting dark, so we headed out for some shopping in Downtown Disney Cl And then dinner with my brother and his family, who live in the area.
Wednesday, December 11
I didn't want to leave! I'm having too much fun! We decided that, since we didn't have to be home in Salinas until about 6:00, we could get in about 2 hours of fun. Since we left the 18-month old with Grandma, we really had to be back by 6:00. When we first set up the trip, I had planned on it being a four-night trip. Unfortunately, Krista had set it up as a three-night trip with her Mom, and was too scared to try to talk her into the extra night, even six months in advance.
I convinced Krista to go try California Screamin', so Bekah and I rode the carousel while Krista rode the roller coaster. She said it was a great ride - fast and exciting, without any uncomfortable bumps and jolts. The carousel was, well, pretty much like any other carousel. It was funny to watch the cast member imploring the kids not to run, and then watching them all run as soon as the gate to the ride was opened.
We then decided to join the masses, and purchased a pin. I don't know if this is just a temporary fad or what, but we sure saw lots of people wearing those pin lanyards around their necks. Disney must be making a fortune on this, especially at $7 per pin. We picked up a Stitch pin, and later a lanyard, so Bekah would have a fledgling collection. We actually had gone to Paradise Pier to look for a Stitch shirt for Bekah, but had no luck. The World of Disney store had suggested Paradise Pier, since that is Stitch's "home turf", but both stores there suggested going back to the World of Disney store. Bottom line - there was nary a Stitch shirt to be found at Disneyland Resort. Fortunately, I know they still have some at the little Disney store in the mall in Salinas, so I guess I'll get one there.
Our Fastpass time was on for Soarin', so we headed over there. Even with the Fastpass, we had to wait about 20 minutes to get on. Still, the ride is certainly worth it. We were in the front row, and the feeling of gliding is sure fun. And the smells are just too cool. Now if they could only add that diesel fuel smell to the aircraft carrier scene.
It was now after 12:00, and Krista was anxious to get going, so we wouldn't keep her mom waiting. However, I was determined to go on Grizzly River Run, so we headed over to it and literally walked right on. There was absolutely no line, even though the weather was nice and warm and sunny. We were all glad we decided to ride it. Again, Disney takes a standard "river run" ride, and transforms it into a super-fun experience. This ride is made great by the way the current runs - it is fast and very bumpy. The section early-on where it goes through the grizzly cave is hands-down my favorite experience at DCA. And the waterfalls are fun - not as long or steep as Splash Mountain, but the way your raft spins as it goes down makes it even more fun. We got off the ride very wet and very happy.
On the way out I picked up a cinnamon churro. My wife had noticed the signs touting the "holiday dipping sauces", and was anxious to try one with the chocolate sauce. I ordered one with the vendor, and then anxiously awaited as she picked up a small plastic bowl to ladle the hot steaming fudge sauce into. However, the Disney magic was broken, for at least a moment, as she pulled out a cold bottle of regular old Hershey's syrup and sheepishly said "one bowl of chocolate holiday sauce - coming up". The near empty bottle made a humorous farting sound as the last drops of "holiday sauce" splatted into the bowl. We enjoyed our churro as we walked to the Mickey & Friends tram, for one last ride back to the parking structure.
Regarding parking, I was very impressed by how Disney handles this so well, like they do most everything. There was always a tram for us and the new parking is structure is very efficient, although if you end up on the far end, you almost need another tram to take you to the regular tram. I had purchased my park hoppers through CSAA, mainly because they had the 5 days for 3 deal and offered free parking, which saved us a lot of money. We were always able to get from our hotel to the park quickly and efficiently, and I didn't really want to have to wait for the twice-hourly hotel shuttle with everyone else.
At 12:47PM we pulled out of the parking structure. Krista called her Mom, and told her we were on our way. Her Mom thought this was way too late, and commented that we wouldn't be home until at least 8:00 (we actually pulled into her driveway at 5:45PM). As the last bit of Disney faded in my rearview mirror, I though back on what a fun trip it was, and began devising ways to get down here again soon. Krista has been taking some "business" trips were are more like fun mini-vacations for her, while I watch the kids, so she agreed that I could take a couple of trips as well. I think my next one will be to Disneyland. Maybe the February crowds aren't too bad.
Trip Highlights : California Adventure was much more fun than I had expected. I figured maybe this was due to my low expectations for the park after all the reading I'd been doing, but Krista and Bekah said they preferred it as well. Soarin' was great, Grizzly River Run was incredible, Bugs land was fun, the Electric Parade was very cool, and we really enjoyed Paradise Pier. I think a lot of it was due to the light crowds. Both parks were decorated beautifully, especially DL. The holiday makeovers on IASW and HMH were awesome. The fireworks show and especially the snow was great. Stitch's video phone in Innoventions was amazing. Eating at the Blue Bayou was a lot of fun (but still not as good as the present I got for my 33rd birthday - lunch at Club 33!). Getting Bekah her first mouse ears cap was special. The Embassy Suites on Harbor was absolutely wonderful. Finally, all the cast members were great! Everyone was very polite and friendly.
Lowlights: Not many. The crowds at DL were probably the biggest downer, but it was certainly manageable. There was one rude little girl in the line for IASW who stuck her tongue out at Bekah, and made her cry. Some of the adults get too aggressive pushing their kids to meet characters.
For next time: There were a few rides I would have liked to go on: Space Mountain, Autopia, Matterhorn (closed), Columbia (closed), MuppetVision 3-D, Teacups, and the Maliboomer. Of course, I can't wait for Tower of Terror to open! If I ever get rich, I'd like to get a suite at the Grand Californian.