Robin Goble -- December 2001 -- Disneyland
December 13-17, 2001
Darn the Disney Club! Darn them, I say! This trip is all their fault. There I am, minding my own business, planning my little November 2001 trip to Walt Disney World, secure in the knowledge that this will be my last trip to visit the mouse for a while (third trip to WDW in a year's time) when my Fall issue of Disney Magazine arrives. You know Disney Magazine, the little four-time-a-year publication you get for free when you join the Disney Club.
Innocently thumbing through the magazine, I happen upon a one-page article about the re-decoration of the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland to a new "The Nightmare Before Christmas" theme for the holiday season. "How clever." I think to myself as I scan the article. "I must show this to my sister." Well, when my sister Paula (who still can't believe "The Nightmare Before Christmas" didn't sweep the Academy Awards the year it was released) saw the article, she went nuts over it. I didn't say anything about trying to go at that time but, lo and behold, the very next day, I received the monthly Disney Club newsletter which had details about the Disneyland Fall Getaway special (oh, they're cunning aren't they?!). It seems that if you pay for three nights at a Disney hotel and buy the three day park hopper pass, they will give you the fourth night hotel and a fourth day on your park hopper for free.
The rest, as they say, is history. My sister had just started a new job so she had some extra spending money coming in and I'm never one to turn down a trip to Disney. I called and made reservations for us at the new Grand Californian resort. The rate was good so I decided to go ahead and book the concierge floor as a treat for my sister and her husband, Wes, who had decided to go with us by this time.
Now I was ready for some serious planning and scheduling. What?!? You say Disneyland doesn't take priority seatings until 30 days ahead of time? You've got to be kidding me! Have they lost their minds!? These nutty, laid-back California people--don't they know the planning that we like to do for our WDW vacations? How we make resort reservations 6 months in advance; carefully mark off the days to the 120 day mark, the 90 day mark, the 60 day mark; chart e-ride nights and parade schedules. And now I'm supposed to sit and do nothing until 30 days out? Oh, the inhumanity!
I did go ahead and reserve a full-size rental car with National ($68.00 after the Disney Club discount and coupon for one day free) although I was uncertain if we would use a rental car or just take a shuttle from the airport. The rental car was actually cheaper after the great discounts I got but it seemed silly to rent a car just to drive to the hotel and park, since I knew we wouldn't be going anywhere after we got to Disneyland Resort. Also, there are no rental car agencies on-site at LAX. You have to take a shuttle to the rental car agency which seemed like a waste of time to me.
The 30-day mark finally arrived and I made reservations for the Practically Perfect Tea at the Paradise Pier hotel and priority seatings for the Blue Bayou restaurant in Disneyland. Wow, that was easy--no getting up at 6:00am to call for an Illuminations Cruise or breakfast at Cinderella's castle. Guess I'll go back to hibernating until time to go.
As the time for the trip grew near I began to have my doubts as to the practicality of taking this trip a mere two weeks before Christmas. I have a million and six things to do to get ready for the holidays--I can't be flitting across the country at a time like this! I'm not even done with my shopping yet. Oh well, everything's already paid for so I might as well suck it up and go, right?!
Thursday, December 13, 2001
"Experience nothing that you do not deem to be useful or believe to be beautiful."
Plan: Trip to Anaheim, check in to Grand Californian, early to bed for an early start in the morning.
Our plane wasn't scheduled to leave until 6:30pm so I worked until 3:00 today and then went home to finish some last minute packing. Wes and Paula met me at my house at 4:00 and my mother took us to the airport at 4:45. We were checked-in by 5:00 and Paula and Wes both had to be scanned by hand after they went through the metal detectors at airport security. It was both of their first times to fly since September 11th and they weren't used to having to show their photo ID every 10 feet!
After we got our boarding passes (we were flying Southwest) we had a quick supper at Burger King, bought a few magazines at the gift shop (and an emery board. I swear, since we can't take fingernail files on board airplanes anymore I break my nails every two minutes while flying!), and then it was time to leave.
Our flight to Albuquerque arrived on time and our connecting flight left from just two gates down. Much better than the Baatan Death March through the Dallas-Fort Worth airport that we normally have to do! The flight attendants on the flight from Albuquerque to Los Angeles were hysterical (I love flying Southwest). After comments such as, "There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but only 6 ways off this plane." and "Badda Boom Badda Bing there's the ding!" we were on our way.
We arrived at LAX on time at 8:00pm. This flight sure seemed easier than the ones to Florida to WDW. For one thing, it's a shorter distance to California and for another, the flight segments seem to be better spaced out (an hour to Albuquerque then 1 and 1/2 hours to LAX versus an hour to Dallas then 2 and 1/2 hours to Orlando)! We had claimed our luggage by 8:15 and headed out of the terminal to catch a shuttle.
I had decided to forego the rental car and just take a shuttle. That way, we didn't have to worry about driving or finding our way. To pick up any shuttles or busses at LAX you exit the terminal and cross over to a median where the shuttles and busses all pick up and drop off passengers. There are employees there to help arrange transportation for you. We had decided to use Super Shuttle instead of a bus because, with a smaller number of passengers, they make fewer stops and they take you directly to your hotel instead of sometimes having to change busses at the bus terminal in Anaheim in order to get to your final destination(look for the blue vans). As luck would have it, one headed to Disneyland pulled up just as we walked out! The driver loaded our luggage for us, put us in the van, and we were off on a terrifying trip out of the airport. It wasn't bad once we were on the open road, but getting out of the airport with roughly half a million other shuttles and busses all jockeying for the best position and zipping into and pulling away from the curb was very un-nerving! We finally had a running joke that, when we could no longer look out the front in terror, one of us would point out a side window and say "Look, there's a palm tree!" so we could all avert our eyes from what we knew to be an impending crash!
After two stops to pick up additional passengers (we had been the first ones on the van) we were on our way to Disneyland Resort. The shuttle let one passenger off in Buena Park and then the next stop was the Grand Californian.
Let me just take a minute to apologize in advance for what I'm sure will be the over-use of adjectives such as "beautiful," "breath-taking," "amazing," etc. I had never been to Disneyland or WDW at Christmas time and I now feel that there are not enough adjectives in the English language to describe how beautifully everything was decorated. So, please forgive the repetition
As we pulled up to the security gate the CM's checked all of our ID's (the driver and other passenger included) and checked to make sure we had a reservation. After clearing us, they gave us a pass to give to Bell Services when we unloaded our luggage. As we pulled up in front of the hotel, we didn't know what to "Oooh" and "Aaaah" over first. The hotel itself is very striking and was landscaped for Christmas with flower beds full of poinsettias and dusty miller. There was a row of evergreen trees which ran parallel to the road and they were all full of white Christmas lights. The front of the hotel and many of the eaves were decorated with wreaths and swags of greenery filled with lights, ribbons, pine cones, etc.
It was right at 9:20 when we pulled up. Gene, a bell services CM was at our side immediately helping to unload our luggage. We paid the Super Shuttle driver ($48 plus tip) and Gene whisked us into the Grand Californian.
Wow! This place is beautiful. It's slightly reminiscent of the Wilderness Lodge at WDW but with a character all it's own. It's full of stained glass, Tiffany lamps, hard-wood floors, marble floors, California pottery, etc. There is also a huge fireplace with plenty of seating around it. The furniture and styling is very Frank Lloyd Wright and Mission. The Christmas tree was situated in the middle of the lobby. It was at least three stories tall and was decorated with pine cones, ribbon, berries, and other ornaments. After picking our jaws up off of the floor, I went to the desk to register while Paula and Wes stayed back and talked to Gene (who, as it turns out, had a roommate who was from a small town close to where we live).
The registration desk is immediately to your right as you enter the lobby. We were quickly checked in and given a special welcome pack since we were staying on the concierge floor. Gene gave us a quick tour of the hotel lobby, pointed out the way to the theme parks and Downtown Disney, and then took us upstairs. Once we reached the 6th floor, Gene showed us where the concierge lounge was and then took us to our room. We were in room 6114 which was a great location. We were close to the elevators, lounge, and ice machine. Gene took us out on our balcony and showed us the view. Our room overlooked the courtyard and we were immediately rewarded with the sight of a monorail passing through. Now that will put you in a Disney mood in a hurry. After the monorail streamed by, we could hear the peaceful sound of crickets chirping along with the occassional hoot of an owl. Gene told us that these sounds were piped in but that he had been working there since the hotel opened in February and he had only recently realized that the crickets weren't real!
It was now about 9:40 so we hurried down to the lounge to get a coke before they closed at 10:00. They also had some cookies so we grabbed some to take back to our room which we were anxious to explore. The rooms were approximately the same size as the one's at the Animal Kingdom Lodge at WDW. There were two queen beds with a nightstand in between them, a table and two chairs, and an armoire with a TV and DVD player, refrigerator and several drawers. (The CM that checked us in had been quick to point out that the food and drinks inside the refrigerator were hooked up to sensors that automatically charged the room when you picked up an item. She said that, even if you immediately put the item back, there would be a charge. So we were paranoid about even opening the refrigerator!) The closet had an iron and ironing board, extra pillow and blanket, portable crib, wall safe, and several Grand Californian robes. On the balcony were two more chairs and a small table. The bathroom was lovely with a green marble double sink vanity with lots of storage above and beneath the sinks, and a smaller room with the commode and bath tub/shower combination. They had great toiletries--facial soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, bath soap, shower cap, shoe shine cloth, and a precious little sewing kit in a Grand Californian tin. There was also a coffee pot with regular and decaffeinated coffee and a blow-dryer.
My sister and her husband, who are both graphic designers, spent a fair amount of time marveling over the stationery, notepads, hotel guide, etc. Everything had little quotes on it such as "Experience nothing that you do not deem to be useful or believe to be beautiful." (This soon became the motto of our trip; however, as pretty much everything was beautiful, we had no problem sticking to our motto.) There was also a Sunflower Kit which contained sunflower seeds and planting instructions in a cute little tin. We also liked the picture of Snow White hanging on the wall and the Bambi shower curtain. Housekeeping had already been in to turn down our beds and had left chocolates with Bambi, Thumper Rabbit, and Owl on them. Everything was so precious that Paula and I lost the ability to speak and could only make high-pitched squeaking noises as we went around the room pointing from one thing to another!
We went back out on our balcony to wave at the passing monorails and were delighted to see that we could see the Matterhorn and the tops of Space and Splash Mountains from our room. We could also see the very top of the Christmas tree on Main Street at Disneyland.
It was now around 10:30 and, ignoring the fact that our bodies were telling us that it was 12:30am our time, we decided to look around the hotel. We took a closer look at the fireplace and the Christmas tree in the lobby and then went outside to the east to look at the outdoor fireplace which was in a courtyard that looked like it was used for weddings. They had several archways of live vines and a nice lawn. We could see the California Adventure theme park, especially Grizzly Peak--the mountain shaped like a bear. We also took a look at the swimming pools although they were both closed by this time. The slide on the larger pool looked neat. It wraps around a huge "redwood" tree trunk. It was pretty chilly every night that we were there--probably in the low to mid 40's--so we never saw anyone swimming at night.
We went back through the lobby, stopping to window shop at the Acorn gift shop, then went out to the North to the courtyard that our room overlooked. We walked maybe 20 yards and then, presto! We were in the middle of Downtown Disney! We all stopped in our tracks and gasped in amazement for several reasons. First, we couldn't believe how close we were. Second, where did all of this come from? We couldn't believe how this area had developed since we were last here (5 years ago for me and only 3 1/2 years ago for Paula and Wes). It certainly gives even Downtown Disney in Florida a run for it's money. And third, we had to gawk at how beautiful all the Christmas decorations were. Every tree was covered in a different color of lights from trunk to top and had lit ornaments hanging in them. It was lovely.
Most all of the shops were closed as it was now well after 11:00, but we walked to the West toward the Disneyland Hotel to take in the sights. House of Blues was jumping with a huge line of people waiting to get in. In fact, all of the restaurants looked like they were doing a good business. They had the Rainforest Cafe, Y Arriba Y Arriba, Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen, and the ESPN Zone all still open. We walked past the monorail station and over Disneyland Drive (how neat to be able to just go over the road) to the Disneyland Hotel. They have a giant Sorceror Mickey hat too, just like at MGM Studios at WDW, although it is not nearly as large as the BAH at MGM.
The Disneyland Hotel was all decked out for Christmas also. The had a huge live tree outdoors which had been flocked white and decorated with multi-colored lights and ornaments. They also had strings of white lights cascading down the sides of the three towers that make up the Disneyland Hotel. These lights ran all the way from the rooftop down to the ground (probably 10-12 floors). Very impressive. We took a quick peek at the Neverland Pool and noticed that even the pirate ship had lights on it.
We were back at the Grand Californian by 12:00 and, since several of the over-sized leather rocking chairs in front of the fireplace were vacant, we sat in front of the fire for a while until we were in danger of going to sleep and staying there til morning! We were all in bed by 1:00 (Yikes! That's 3:00am our time!). Paula and Wes were soon fast asleep. I updated my trip report notes until a little after 1:30 and then I was off to Neverland myself.
Friday, December 14, 2001
"We're in the Happiest Place on Earth at the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!"
Plan: Disneyland, lunch at Blue Bayou
I woke up at 6:00 (ugh! Four hours of sleep) so we could make it to early entry at 8:30. Amazingly, we didn't use the alarm clock or have a wake up call the entire trip with the exception of the last day. I staggered into the shower where I discovered that the Grand Californian has great soap. It was oatmeal and sea kelp and had little grainy scrubbers in it that felt really good on your skin. After having washed my hair in hazel and sage shampoo, conditioned it with basil and mint conditioner, scrubbed my body with oatmeal and sea kelp, and applied lotion with almond and aloe, I will be lucky if I'm not attacked by a giant, mutant squirrel or a band of very hungry Italians!
Paula got up at 6:20 and, while I called home to let everyone know that we made it safely, she and Wes got ready. We left to have breakfast in the lounge at 7:50. They had bagels, cream cheese, and jellies, banana bread, croissants, chocolate croissants, muffins, watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, strawberries, cereal, milk, juice, coffee, tea, and, of course, my all important diet coke.
We left at 8:15 for a quick walk east through Downtown Disney and were all surprised at how quickly we were at the gates. The last time we were here, all of this was a parking lot and now there are bricked walks and trees and plants. We speculated that we were probably walking on "Dopey" or "Alice" parking sections. We were at the gates when they opened at 8:30 and were soon on Main Street.
Can anyone guess what I'm going to say next? All together now...."Wow!" Again, the decorations were just lovely. Their tree was right at the beginning of Main Street and they had garlands of lights and decorations strung across the street and all over the buildings.
A tremendous wave of nostalgia washed over me and I began to cry. I love WDW and it will always be magical and wonderful to me but Disneyland has a special place in my heart because I feel as though I grew up there. I could look down Main Street and immediately recall the Silhouette store where I had my silhouette done when I was 12, the curb where I sat as I saw the Electrical Light Parade for the first time, the place where I first met Alice when I was 4 and she was the only character who didn't make me cry, the Partner's statue that always puts a lump in my throat. Yes, WDW is magical in it's own way but at Disneyland you can *feel* Walt. Everywhere you look you see his touch.
I tried to explain my feelings to Paula and she was soon crying with me while poor Wes looked helplessly on, desperately longing for some male companionship. We soon pulled ourselves together and were laughing the next minute at how small Sleeping Beauty's Castle looked. I guess we are used to Cinderella's Castle at WDW because this one looked tiny to us. It was beautifully decorated; however, and we hurried through the center of it to Fantasyland.
Peter Pan was our first stop where we walked right on. We then headed to It's A Small World because we were anxious to the the Holiday make-over that it gets every year. We arrived right at 9:00 and were just in time to see the parade of dolls come out of the giant clock on the face of the building while it struck 9:00. We had a boat to ourselves and the tears started rolling again as we entered the ride. Everything was just precious. There were lights and decorations everywhere and the dolls interspersed singing "It's a Small World" with "Jingle Bells." The goat in Switzerland was eating the list of naughty and nice boys and girls names, the mermaids had left a plate of fish for Santa and were singing "Jingle Shells," there were tiki-god Santas in Polynesia, New Year's fireworks in Asia...too many cute details to mention. And the all-white grand finale room...dazzling. We stayed on our boat and rode through again because there was too much to see in one trip. Paula was quick to point out that we were at the Happiest Place on Earth at the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. After all of our crying; however, Wes modified our saying to be the Happiest Place on Earth at the Worst Time of the Month! Men. They'll blame anything on PMS.
We finally tore ourselves away and, after browsing through a gift shop, we rode on Alice in Wonderland with about a 5 minute wait. It was now 10:00 and the whole park was opening. Next, we went to the Matterhorn. We waited maybe 10 minutes to get in our toboggans. It was overcast and cold this morning and we had no sooner fastened our seat belts than it began to pour rain on us. We rode the Matterhorn with the rain pelting us and then quickly ran for a gift stand where ponchos were going fast. Two ponchos and an umbrella later, we joined the sea of blue Disneyland ponchos and headed toward Liberty Square and the Holiday Haunted Mansion.
We got to the gates of the Haunted Mansion at 10:45 only to find them closing the gates and not letting anyone in. We found out that there had been a power surge during the downpour of rain which had knocked out the electricity in most of the park. We went ahead and got Fast Passes for the Haunted Mansion because I figured that, since the ride went down, the would honor the Fast Passes any time during the day and then walked around the Mansion admiring the decorations on the outside. The Mansion was very impressive with hundreds of flickering candles and carved pumpkins decorating it. Jack Skellington himself was perched on the gate in his Sandy Claws suit admiring a snowflake. There were garlands of berries, twigs and spider webs everywhere. Jack's Christmas sleigh had crashed into the roof of the Mansion and there was a giant count-down clock that said 000 days til XMas.
We waited until 11:30 with no luck and then decided to go to the hotel to dry off and come back later. On the way out we stopped on Main Street at the Main Street Showcase to pick up our free pin and lanyard that came with our trip package. We also found that ever elusive Rex pin from Toy Story. We had been looking for Rex since our trip to WDW in November of 2000 and had yet to see him. Here at Disneyland I swear they had him at every pin cart we looked at--go figure!
We slogged back to the hotel, stopping in the concierge lounge for hot chocolate for me, coffee for Wes, and hot tea for Paula. We also got some popcorn to snack on. Back at the room, Paula ran the blowdryer for at least an hour drying everything on her body. She even took off her socks and put them on the barrel of the blowdryer to dry them! We stayed in the room until 1:05 and then headed back out into the rain.
We went straight to Disneyland and were at the Blue Bayou right at 1:30. I politely asked if we could sit by the rail and when the CM told me that we might have to wait a little longer I said, "okay." For anyone that doesn't know, the Blue Bayou is a restaurant in New Orleans Square that is actually inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. You can see the boats go by from the restaurant and, likewise, watch people eating from the boats. While we waited we sent Paula back to the Haunted Mansion to get us another Fast Pass. It only took about 15 minutes before we were seated and we were right by the rail! Warning: here's another flashback from Robin's childhood about to occur!
It's funny what you think when you are a kid. I remember coming to Disneyland as a child and riding the Pirates of the Caribbean and seeing the people eating at the Blue Bayou. Mother and Dad didn't have a lot of money when we were kids and we were only at Disneyland because my Dad had sold enough insurance to make the national conference which was held in Los Angeles or Anaheim every few years. Any meals that we ate in the park were always counter service because it was less expensive. Anyway I remember seeing the people dining at the Blue Bayou and thinking that I would never be able to eat there because only rich people could afford it! And here we were at the Blue Bayou, not even rich.
The atmosphere is great, if not a little dark. You can hear the crickets chirping and the water lapping at the sides of the boats. The food also was very good. Paula had crab cakes, Wes had the pork loin, and I had the Monte Cristo which was huge--large enough for two people to share. I had a diet coke and Paula and Wes both just had water. The total for the meal was $48.65 plus tip. While we dined a jazz trio played Christmas Carols from the balcony of the restaurant--very nice.
After lunch we made a beeline for the Haunted Mansion and got there just in time to see them shutting the gates again! Aargh! The CM did tell us that our Fast Passes would be honored all day. We next decided to try Pirates of the Caribbean and while Wes and I stood in line, Paula ran over to Indiana Jones to get Fast Passes for later. By the time Paula joined us in line, Pirates was down also and Paula reported that Indian Jones had also gone down and their Fast Pass machines were not working. Darn this storm.
We went to Big Thunder Mountain which had a 30 minute wait posted but the line moved quickly and we were finally on a ride in about 15 minutes. It started to rain again while we were on the ride. We decided that we should stop getting on rides that were out in the open since it seemed to rain every time we did! After Big Thunder we went back to the Haunted Mansion and it was actually open! We used our first set of Fast Passes and were soon in the stretch room eager with anticipation.
Let me just say that they did a splendid job of re-doing the Mansion. Words fail me but I certainly hope that they bring this back every year like the Holiday Small World and I would even like to see this come to WDW. It was teriffic with great attention to every detail. Even the music and narration has been changed to all fit together perfectly. We got off and immediately used our second Fast Pass to ride again. One detail I will mention is that everywhere in the Mansion that there used to be a raven (on the back of Madame Leota's chair, over many of the doorways, etc) there is now the Vampire Teddy Bear from a Nightmare Before Christmas. This was the Teddy Bear that Jack gave to the Vampires to see if they could improve on his design. Anyway he's this teddy bear-like doll with sharp teeth. As we were walking out of the ride some lady was talking about him. She said that she kept seeing this doll everywhere and she couldn't figure out what he was until it finally dawned on her--it was Evil Mickey! Whatever! We just about fell over with laughter. I didn't have the heart to correct her. One of our favorite details on the ride were the man-eating plants in the conservatory that sing along "FA LA LA LA LA!" We also noticed that many of the stands in New Orleans square were selling Jack Skellington rice krispie treats
After the Haunted Mansion, we went to get a Fast Pass for Indiana Jones (return time of 4:40-5:40). The rain cleared up around 4:00 but it was still very cold. You could tell all of the locals because they were the ones wearing hats, gloves, scarves, and winter coats and were complaining about how cold it was! All of us tourists just had light jackets and didn't think the temperature was that bad. Paula and Wes looked around in the gift shops in Adventureland for a while and then we all went to ride on Pirates. The Pirates in Disneyland is much longer than the one in WDW. I was warm for the first time today when we passed through the room where the town is on fire. I also noticed a message in a bottle floating in the water that I had never noticed before.
After Pirates it was time for our Indy Fast Pass. The Fast Pass line had a 20 minute wait since the ride had been down so much of the day. We made it through the ride, rescued Indy and were off by 5:45. As an aside, the Indy queue wins for the *longest* queue in the park--it must be a good mile from the entrance to the loading area, and then at least another mile or two to get back out! On the way out we heard that the ride went down again and we were glad that we had made it on before it stopped.
By this time we were tired from our late night/early morning so we decided to go back to the hotel and rest. On the way out we admired the Christmas decorations which were all lit now. Beautiful. We stopped at the fire station on Main Street to decorate some Christmas cookies ($3 per cookie). I decorated a snowman, Paula made a Christmas tree, and Wes did a star. They supplied various colors of icing, several different kinds of sprinkles, mini M&M's, etc. They even had sprinkles in the shape of Snowmen and Christmas trees. We were back in our room by 6:15. Turndown service had been by and Paula and I were thrilled that we had another sewing kit! Now we didn't have to fight over the one from yesterday.
We went to the lounge for a snack. They had several kinds of cheeses, crackers, bread, four or five kinds of pate, spiced nuts, vegetables and dip, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and chips. We sat in the lounge for a while and then mixed up some hot chocolate to take back to the room with us. As we stepped out of the lounge we heard Christmas Carolers singing in the lobby and saw that Santa Claus was holding court by the Christmas tree.
We rested in our room until 9:00 when we decided to go to Downtown Disney and do some shopping. The Carolers were back in the lobby and we enjoyed their singing as we walked through. Even at this late hour Downtown Disney was busy. There were lots of street musicians performing and Christmas carols playing. We looked through several neat shops: The Basin (bath products), Tin Pan Alley (collectibles, tins, lunchboxes, etc.), Island Charters (sportswear, nautical items), Illuminations (candles), Dept. 56 (glassware, Christmas ornaments, Snow Village collectibles, etc.). And we even got some Christmas shopping done.
When we came out of Dept. 56 I gasped and grabbed Paula's arm--someone was playing my song! Okay, so it's not really *my* song, but it's a song that I love and, of course, have no idea what the name of the song is. I always hear it at the Italy pavilion at Epcot in WDW (it's a beautiful, almost operatic sounding song that--shocker!--always makes me cry) and I have been trying to find out what it is for months. As it turns out, one of the live performers right outside Dept. 56 was playing the song on the violin. We listened to the song and, when he was finished playing and the applause stopped, he announced that the song was called "Con te Partiro" or "Time to Say Good-bye" and that it was on the CD that he was selling. Five minutes and fifteen bucks later, I was patting myself on the back for finally getting a copy of the song! The artist's name that performed the song was Drew Tretick and he even insisted on signing the CD for me after I told him how much I loved that song.
It was almost 11:00 by now and the shops were starting to close. We decided that we were hungry so we went into the Napoli Restaurante and got a small four cheeses and fresh tomato pizza and a small Italian sausage and mushroom pizza to go ($27.03). We took the pizza back to our room (have I mentioned how much I love this location?!) and were there in two minutes. Since the concierge lounge was already closed, we stopped at a vending machine and got two cokes (Wes and Paula) and a diet coke (me) for $2 each (ouch!). We ate our pizza and listened to my new CD on the DVD player in our room.
Paula had some coke left over and decided to put it in our "Big Brother" refrigerator as Wes called it. There was a tiny 6x6 space that was labeled "for your personal use." It was just about enough room for Paula to put her coke as long as she leaned it sideways!
I updated my trip report notes and we watched a little bit of Letterman. We were all in bed by 12:30.
Saturday, December 15, 2001
"You're an idiot!"
Plan: California Adventure, Practically Perfect Tea at 3:00, Downtown Disney
I woke up at 7:45 this morning and, one-by-one we all started to get ready for the day. I must say, my hair does much better here than it does in Florida--not as much humidity I guess. Paula went out on the balcony to check the weather and we were all thrilled to see clear skies and the sun shining. She also marvelled at what a nice view of the mountains we had. I took the video camera out on the balcony to take some pictures of the monorail and the view in the daylight. Paula came out and joined me and asked if I was filming the naked lady. I looked puzzled and she pointed to a balcony a couple of floors down on the north side of the courtyard where--I swear this it the truth--a stark naked woman was standing in front of her sliding glass door!! Honestly, the only thing this woman was wearing was a towel and it was wrapped around her head! Our jaws hit the ground as she opened the glass door and stuck her arm out apparently seeing what the temperature was. Needless to say we were both shocked and tickled at the same time--I'm sure Mickey has some sort of rules about this! We could just hear Mickey say, "Oh Boy, It sure is important to wear your clothing around here!" Wes had been in the shower while all this happened and we were quick to let him know that we had more than one mountain range to view from the balcony!
We left to have breakfast in the lounge at 9:45 and then left for Disney's California Adventure (DCA) at 10:15 (DCA opened at 10:00 this morning and, in fact, every morning we were there). We didn't use the hotel's private entrance into DCA (which puts you out at the Grizzly Peak Recreation Area) because we wanted our first time in the park to be through the front gates so we could get the full effect. So, we walked through Downtown Disney to the main entrance. There was a bit of a line but it moved quickly and we were soon inside the Golden Gateway.
The first order of business was to go counter-clockwise to the Condor Flats area to get a Fast Pass for Soarin' Over California (return time 11:15-12:15). We then continued going counter-clockwise through the Grizzly Peak Recreation Area. Grizzly River Rapids had virtually no line and looked like great fun but none of us really wanted to get wet this early in the day--especially since we had stayed wet all day yesterday! We passed the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail which looked like it would be lots of fun for kids. As we prepared to leave the Grizzly Peak area we noticed a Streetmosphere performer dressed up like a giant vine. She would lean against a lamp post or tree and be perfectly still then suddenly start moving and surprise the people around her. We all found her to be kind of creepy!
We quickly made our way to Paradise Pier and walked past the Golden Zephyr (silver rocket ships like the Astro Orbitor), Jumpin' Jellyfish (a kid's version of the Maliboomer), Mulholland Madness (a mini roller coaster), and the Orange Stinger (a swing ride inside a giant orange--we all agreed that we couldn't handle just going around in circles) before coming to a stop in front of the Maliboomer. The Maliboomer is a giant elevator ride that whisks you 180 feet up into the air and then drops you up and down like a yo-yo for several minutes (kind of like the Tower of Terror outdoors). The ride had big plexiglass screens that dropped down over the riders' heads (I assume so no one sucks a bug up their nose as they drop!) and Wes was quick to point out that he doesn't ride anything that has a puke guard on it! Paula and I both adore Tower of Terror but we decided to pass on this one for now.
We headed instead to the Sun Wheel ferris wheel which only had a five minute wait. This ferris wheel has normal cages on the outside of the wheel but it also has cages that are on a separate track so that they slide as the wheel goes around. Wes doesn't like heights and, as Paula and I wanted to ride in a cage that moved, he declined to accompany us despite Paula's pleading. Riding in the cages that slide is fun but very unsettling. The wheel would be turning and everything would be normal...normal...normal...yikes! suddenly terrifying...as the cage would "slip" along it's track and you would be left rocking like crazy. I think what bothered me most was that there were no seat belts and I don't know what kept you from being thrown to the floor when the cage started to rock!
After the Sun Wheel received thumbs up from Paula and I, we started toward California Screamin', the giant roller coaster. As we walked along Wes said that he overheard a conversation as he was waiting for us to ride the Sun Wheel. He said a family with two young boys were coming from the direction of the Maliboomer. One of the boys said, "Wow, that's a fun ride!" The other brother looked at him for a moment and said, "You're an idiot!"
Wes again decided not to ride California Screamin' with us. While we were waiting in line we overheard a lady pleading with her husband, "But, honey, we *have* to ride It's a Small World--it's a *classic*!" The wait was maybe 5 minutes before Paula and I were sitting down and pulling the restraints over our heads. Before I rode this I didn't realize that this roller coaster launches you from 0 to 55mph (much like the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster at MGM in WDW) in less than five seconds. This ride was great. Also like Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, it is very smooth and fast. As we got off the ride, Paula turned to me and said, "Is my hair as fluffy as yours?" It seems that, as we rode, my hair blew around the sides of my restraint turning it into the world's largest hair roller! Maybe they should call it California Stylin'!
It was now time for our Fast Passes to Soarin' Over California. We looped the rest of the park and made our way back to Condor Flats. This ride seems to have a line all day long but with our Fast Passes, we were quickly inside.
Wow! This ride was incredible. You are seated in one of three sections of three rows each. The seats are like those on Star Tours except they are not attached to the floor but are suspended from above. Once everyone is seat-belted in, they lift the rows of seats into the air (with the first row being the highest, the second row below the first, and the third row closest to the floor) and suspend them in front of a giant Imax screen where they show the various regions of California (Palm Springs, Yosemite, San Diego, Las Angeles, Napa Valley, Redwood Forest, Monterey, etc.) as it feel like you are soaring over each area. You can smell the pine trees in Yosemite and the Redwood Forest and the orange groves in Napa Valley. You finally end up over Disneyland (which was decorated for Christmas just like the actual park--a nice touch) in the middle of the night-time fireworks. It was spectacular.
As soon as we got off the ride we immediately got another Fast Pass for later in the day (1:50-2:50 return time). We then decided to get something to eat to tide us over until time for tea. Chinese food sounded good so we headed over to the Lucky Fortune Cookery in the Pacific Wharf area. As we went past the Bountiful Valley Farm we decided to duck into It's Tough to be a Bug first since Wes had never seen it. There was only about a 6 minute wait before we were let into the theater. The theming in the queue is cute. It looks like your are going down into a termite or ant hill (instead of being in the trunk of the Tree of Life as in WDW). The film is just like the one at the Animal Kingdom in WDW. Wes jumped completely off his seat when the bugs exited the room! The only thing I noticed during the film that I'm not sure is in the WDW version was after Claire de Room, the stink bug, does her thing Flik tells her to "lay off the churros!"
The Pacific Wharf area is mostly a large food court. The Mission Tortilla Factory and the Boudin Bakery are there along with several Mexican food places and the Chinese food place. There was a mariachi band made up of five or six older men playing out in the open where all the tables and chairs are. One particularly enthusiastic band member was dancing with the ladies as they walked by and generally shaking his "bon-bon." Paula and I decided that he was almost as disturbing as the naked lady had been earlier this morning!
At the Lucky Fortune Cookery I ordered a Beef Teriyaki Bowl (stir-fried beef and vegetables served over rice) for all of us to share and got myself an order of egg rolls, an order of lemon wontons, and a diet coke ($18.01). Paula and Wes got an order of egg rolls, an order of California rolls (crab and avacado sushi), lemon wontons, and cokes. The food was all very good.
After we finished eating we decided to go to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. Whose job is it to come up with the names of the shops here? Pizza Oom Mow Mow...Souviner Itch..Award Weiners (best weiner in a Supporting Roll!) Disney must have a team of old Vaudville performers on the payroll just sitting around and thinking of the worst puns they can come up with!
The first place we went in Hollywood was Disney Animation, a large building on the south side of the street just past the ABC Soap Opera Bistro. When you walk in to Disney Animation you find yourself in a cavernous room with at least two dozen giant video screens covering all of the walls. On the screens various scenes and stills from an animated Disney movie are shown while a song from the movie is played. You have to keep turning around to see all of the screens because they keep changing to show interesting illustration sketches and mat paintings and diagrams. I am ashamed to say that Paula and I once again cried while in this room--everything is just so grand and overwhelming. We finally just gave up and sat down to watch all of the movie clips until we had seen all that they were showing and they began to play the ones we had already seen over again.
Also inside Disney Animation are the entrances to four different workshops that deal with the art of animation: Animation Screening Room, Drawn to Animation, The Art of Animation, and Sorcerer's Workshop. We decided to start with the Sorcerer's Workshop.
The first room you enter is styled after Snow White, complete with magic mirror at the end of the room. In this room are strips of paper that you can draw sequential pictures on and then put the paper in a wheel and spin it to animate your drawing. They also have various Disney animations that you can spin and bring to life.
The next room was really neat. It was styled after the library in the Beast's castle from Beauty and the Beast. At one end of the room is a fireplace with a portrait of the young prince before he was changed into the Beast. On the mantle of the fireplace is the single red rose in it's glass case. As you watch the rose it begins to lose it's petals one at a time until the last petal drops. When all the petals have fallen, the room darkens, the fire goes out and the picture of the young prince is slashed by the Beast's claws. After a few minutes, the petals gather up and swirl around to become the whole rose again. The room lightens, the fire re-lights, and the portrait is restored.
Positioned around the room are fifteen or so computer stations. The computers are disguised to look like open books and Lumiere appears on the pages and asks if you want to take a short quiz to find out which Disney character your personality most closely matches. With the help of Cogsworth, a picture of you is taken and placed inside the book. Then, Lumiere asks several questions which you answer by touching your selection on the pages of the book. When the quiz is finished Lumiere tells a little about your personality and matches it with a Disney character. We had a good time with this exhibit. I was matched to Lady, Paula was (who else?) Cinderella, and Wes was Jafar. When Wes had his picture taken he gave his most disdainful, raised eye-brow villan look and it matched Jafar's picture perfectly. Even the people behind us remarked at how similar they looked.
The final room in the Sorceror's Workshop section is Ursula's Magic Voices which is themed as an underwater grotto. In this room you can do a voiceover for a scene from a Disney animated movie. There are several stations around the room where you can do this. Ursula appears on a screen in front of you and tells you that she can steal your voice and put it in a Disney movie. You have your choice of acting or singing. Knowing how we all sing, we quickly opted for acting. You then chose from four movie scenes which one you want to insert your voice in. The first time they play the scene the real voices are there and they run the words across the bottom on the screen. The next time, they take out the real voices and just show the words for you to speak. Then, Ursula shows the finished product with your voices instead of the real actors.
We did a couple of acting scenes (Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast) and then decided to throw caution to the wind and try singing. We had even more fun doing the singing! We sang along to Bear Necessities and Hakuna Mata and even managed some decent harmonies. The acoustics must be really good in there.
By this time it was almost 2:30 and we had reservations for tea at 3:00. We hated to leave without seeing the other exhibits but we still had a Fast Pass for Soarin' Over California that we wanted to use on the way out, so we hurried back to Condor Flats and straight on to Soarin'. (I would highly recommend using Fast Pass for this ride as it always had a long line every time we passed it.) We enjoyed our flight even more this second time and picked out details that we had previously missed. By the time we were through with the ride it was 2:50 and we had to hurry. Luckily, Condor Flats is right by the direct entrance to the Grand Californian hotel so we were able to scoot out of the park, through the hotel, and across to the street to the Paradise Pier hotel by 3:00.
We arrived breathless at the Paradise Pier hotel and were directed upstairs for tea. They were just beginning to seat guests for the 3:00 tea. The room was beautifully furnished with antique tables, chairs, couches and china cabinets. There were also a few white wicker pieces. All of the tables were already set for tea with various floral patterns of china and silver. We noticed that there were many more children at this tea than the one Paula and I had done at the Grand Floridian at WDW in May. There were three groups there for birthday parties.
We were seated at our table which was already set with a plate of scones with sweet cream and raspberry jam each. The CM came over and took our order for tea (Darjeeling all around) and soon brought out individual teapots for each of us. I was very impressed with the nerves of steel that these CM's must have to let these tiny little kids, some not more than four years old, pour their own "tea" out of real china pots into real china cups. There were a few spills, but nothing was broken.
After a few minutes Mary Poppins arrived wearing her coat, hat, and scarf and carrying her umbrella and carpetbag. She sang "Spoonful of Sugar," said a few words, and then disappeared into the kitchen to get some tea. The CM playing Mary was wonderful. She had a lovely British accent and singing voice and never broke character. We laughed at how practical and truly "Mary Poppins-like" she was as she bossed around the CM's that were serving, clapping her hand together and saying "spit-spot!"
After a short while, Mary came back out and made her way around the room to each table. She introduced herself, talked a while, and posed for pictures with everyone. She praised Wes for being such a good sport in coming to tea with us. While Mary was going around the room, the CM's brought out plates of finger sandwiches (ham and provolone on white bread, turkey and mango salad on white bread, chicken salad on wheat, and cucumber and watercress on a sea-shell shaped roll--all with the crusts cut off, thank you very much) and a bowl of cream of mushroom soup. The soup was delicious and the sandwiches were all very good. The turkey and mango was my favorite.
At one point, Paula obviously became possessed by Frank (see our experience at the Grand Floridian tea in my May, 2001 trip report) and poured her tea into her cup without using the tea strainer and so ended up with a cup full of tea leaves. Frank would have been so proud.
After Mary had gone around the room she sang "Chim Chiminee" complete with broom and speck of soot on her nose then quickly left to change clothes while everyone ate. When Mary came back she was dressed in her white dress, hat and boots and spoke a minute about the children telling her to be sure to "bring sweets." On cue, the CM's came out with plates of sweets for everyone (an apple tart, a Mickey Mouse shaped cookie with apricot and raspberry jam, and a white chocolate bar in the shape of a tea pot with "Practically Perfect Tea" written on it).
Mary then invited each table up one at a time to dress up in hats and feather boas (top hats for the men) and have their picture made with her by the Christmas tree. We were the first table to go and then we settled back down to eat our sweets. We enjoyed watching Mary interact with all of the guests. Quite a few of the little girls were wearing their princess dresses--Snow White, Cinderella, Belle,etc. Mary was placing several children on a couch so they could get their picture taken and she addressed one of the little girls as "Belle." The girl asked how Mary knew she was Belle and Mary replied, "My dear, your picture is on your dress!" Perfectly practical and completely in character.
We decided that it's a good thing tea has caffiene in it, otherwise we would all be asleep at the table--it has a very calming effect. The CM's brought around the checks ($82.50 including gratuity/$22.50 per person) and then Mary sang "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and had us all sing along. Then it was time for Mary and us to go.
We left for the Grand Californian very full and very sleepy. On the way across the street I saw a yellow and red fire hydrant that for a moment looked exactly like Winnie the Pooh. Great! Now I'm hallucinating. I wonder what they put in that tea. One piece of advice--never drink four cups and tea and then try to walk anywhere without first going to the bathroom! It was a very close call getting back to the room! On the way into the hotel we noticed that the Grand Californian logo has a hidden Mickey in the tree right where the trunk goes into the leaves. Duh! We'd been looking at the logo for three days and had just now noticed it. Once we saw it, we couldn't imagine why we didn't see it all along.
We were back in our room by 5:00 and I quickly ran down to the lounge to get a diet coke to clear the cobwebs in my head. We called housekeeping to get some more bath soap (the oatmeal and sea kelp scrubby soap) and they were at our door in five minutes with three bars of bath soap and three bars of facial soap! Woo hoo! Stocking stuffers for everyone! We also got one of the sewing kits every day so we were able to take those home to our mom and other sister. Wes napped, I updated my notes, and Paula decided she had better start taking notes too as she would never remember everything that we did to tell her friends. I called home and we rested until 7:00.
We decided to walk to the monorail station in Downtown Disney and take the monorail to Disneyland. I took my video camera with me in order to take some pictures of the fireworks and the outside of It's a Small World at night. We discovered that the monorails are smaller (shorter) than the ones at WDW. Also, there is no recording that says "por favor mantangense alejado de las puertas." We also decided that it was much faster to walk as we didn't get to Tomorrowland until 8:00.
We started towards It's a Small World but decided that we couldn't get there because the parade had started and was headed that way. So, we decided to go to Space Mountain instead. Paula and Wes rode while I looked around in the shops. They were out by 8:45 and we headed to the Haunted Mansion to get Fast Passes for later (return time 11:05-12:00). We took some video tape of the Christmas decorations in New Orleans Square and then headed back towards It's a Small World.
We couldn't get to It's a Small World for the crowds of people waiting for the fireworks so we decided to wait it out since they were scheduled to start in 5 minutes (9:30). We could see the outside of It's a Small World from where we were standing and it looked amazing. I can't even begin to speculate on the number of lights they had covering the outside of the building in every color imaginable. It was gorgeous and we quickly took some video tape of it.
In just a few minutes the Believe...in Holiday Magic firework show began and it was incredible also. I love watching fireworks with an appreciative crowd--the "Ooohs" and "Aaaahs" being said in unison. Paula and I shed a few more tears and wondered how they ever get the timing so perfect that the fireworks explode in synch with the Christmas music. Suddenly, "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" began to play and snow started to drift down upon the crowd. What a magical, magical sight.
After the snowing stopped it became clear to us that there was no way that we were going to get to It's a Small World tonight--everybody seemed headed in that direction so we quickly decided to go the other way and get something for supper (we thought a warm bowl of soup in a bread bowl sounded good). On the way we passed the Plaza Gardens Stage where they were having swing dancing to the tunes of a big band. It was now 10:00 so we went back to New Orleans square and found some soup at the Cafe Orleans. Paula and I got steak gumbo and Wes got the clam chowder. We all had soft drinks and the total bill was around $29 (Paula paid so I don't have the receipt). After we finished eating we looked around in some of the gifts shops and Paula made some pressed quarters with the Nightmare Before Christmas characters on them.
After a bit of shopping it was time to use our Fast Passes for Haunted Mansion. This time through instead of wishing us a "Merry Christmas," the audio-animatronic Jack asked if we wanted some fruitcake and bragged to Zero that he had outdone himself! We were through the ride at 11:45 and we made our way to Main Street to do some shopping. We found the window on Main Street that has a light always burning in it for Walt.
As we made our way down Main Street and back to the hotel, Paula remarked that we had each developed our own special limp! Everyone chose the limp of your choice. Paula began to do a Planet of the Apes walk, swinging her arms above her head and we all got very tickled. We were back in the room by 12:45. And I was in bed by 1:30.
Sunday, December 16, 2001
"I don't care if I get a pimple the size of my head...I'm not washing my face!"
This morning we were up at 7:30. Last night we originally planned to make it to Disneyland by 9:00, but since there is no Magic Morning on Sunday, we decided to go to Disneyland early tomorrow morning to video It's a Small World and the Haunted Mansion and start out at California Adventure today instead. We had a message on our phone when we woke up that the hotel was having an activity from 7:00 to 9:00 this morning in the Hearthstone Lounge where you could make fan mail to send to your favorite Disney character. They would supply the materials and make sure that the mail was hand-delivered to the characters. We had breakfast in the lounge and had the concierge CM make arrangements for a shuttle to take us to the airport tomorrow. Ugh, it was going to pick us up at 10:10! We had hoped to have more time than that since our plane doesn't leave until 1:40, but I guess they know how much time it takes to pick everybody up and make it to the airport in plenty of time.
We were ready to go before California Adventure opened so we looked around in the Acorn gift shop for a few minutes before we took the hotel entrance into DCA. We immediately got Fast Passes for Soarin' (return time 11:10-12:10) and then headed to Hollywood to see Muppet Vision 3D. After enjoying the Muppets we decided to give Superstar Limo a try.
Okay, I have to admit that this ride is every bit as cheesy as I had heard. The brochure describes it as "a simple, silly ride" and even that is a bit of an overstatement. The idea is that you are arriving at LAX and are hustled into a limo, signed by an agent and taken on a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles before arriving at your movie premiere. At some point in the ride (we didn't know they did this, so we didn't notice where the picture is taken) they take your picture riding in your limo and, when you arrive at your movie premiere, they show the picture on a big screen. Well our picture was hysterical. Both Wes and I were sitting with these blank expressions on our faces--not a smile in sight. But Paula had this look of total puzzlement on her face like she was desperately trying to figure out why on earth they even made this ride! It was priceless. I swear if they sold those pictures I would have paid any amount of money to have a copy. We came off of the ride doubled over with laughter over the picture. I'm sure that people about to get on the ride were excited that the ride was going to be so much fun that people were still laughing even after they got off! Poor saps!
After we regained our composure, we made our way back to Soarin' Over California. This time we were on the first row so we were the highest up in front of the screen. Next, we got Fast Passes for Grizzly River Rapids (under protest from Paula who had had enough of being wet after our first rainy day) and then headed to the Sun Wheel to ride with Wes in one of the cages that doesn't slide. After that we played some skee-ball and looked through some shops until time for our Fast Pass.
Grizzly River Rapids is quite a bit longer than Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom in WDW. I guess Disney did listen to everyone's complaints about that. It also has two long drops instead of just one. Also, you get to go up close to Grizzly Peak and see some of the details on the bear. I must say that I have terrible luck with these rides. If a seat is going to get wet, that's the seat that I'll be in. Sure enough, we all got pretty wet but I was the only one soaked through to their underwear! Luckily, this ride lets out right by the entrance to the Grand Californian so we just went straight to our room and changed into dry clothes.
Wes wanted his jeans dry for tonight so we decided to put them in the dryer while we grabbed something for lunch. It was now 1:45 and we found the laundry on the second floor and then went to White Water Snacks for something to eat. White Water Snacks is the fast food and self-service snack bar at the Grand Californian. We each got a foot long chili cheese dog with fries, three sodas, a piece of pecan pie and a brownie ($27.99). We noticed that they do have refillable mugs available here so you can get unlimited soft drinks during your stay. The snack shop is located right by the swimming pools and had a good selection of snack foods, cold sandwiches and salads, fruit and vegetable trays, and grill items.
After lunch, we picked up the jeans for Wes, then Paula and I waited in the lobby while he ran upstairs to change. Then we headed to Downtown Disney by 3:00. We started at World of Disney, went back to Tin Pan Alley, stopped in at Hoypoloi (glass art and collectibles), went to the Lego store (where we saw a great Darth Vader and R2D2 built out of Legos), stopped in the Marceline Candy Store, and were back in our room by 5:30. Paula and I took the video camera out to the 5th floor observation deck to take some pictures of California Adventure while Wes rested. Then, Paula and I went to the lounge to get some snacks. Tonight they had some tasty shrimp and cream cheese tartlets as well as the usual cheese and cracker assortment.
Paula and Wes were headed back to Disneyland and I begged off to give them (and me) some time alone. I knew that this would be the last chance I would have to take some video of the hotel and I wanted to do some more shopping. After they left I took the video camera downstairs and took some pictures of the lobby, the wedding pavilion, and the Paradise Pier area at DCA. I took some film of the front of the hotel and talked with one of the security guards for about 20 minutes about DCA and all of the changes at the Disneyland Resort.
I went back to the lobby and saw that Santa Claus was back so I sat a while to listen to the piano player and watch Santa talk to the kids. I must say that their Santa was great. When I first got there he had a boy and a girl sitting on his lap and the little girl could not keep her hands out of his beard. She stroked it and played with it while Santa talked to them. They were talking with Santa and you could tell he was truly interested in what they were saying. After those kids left Santa spotted a boy who looked to be about 10 years old. The boy's mother had tried to make him go over and talk to Santa earlier while Santa had the kids on his lap but you could tell the boy thought he was too old for such silliness. Santa motioned for the boy to come over to him and the boy reluctantly went. You could tell that Santa was asking about some of the pins the boy had on his lanyard and they were soon deep in conversation. When the boy left he actually skipped over to his mother and began to tell her all about Santa!
Now there were no more children waiting in line to see Santa so he got up and went around the lobby and found kids to visit with. He would get down in the floor with the children and talk directly to them. By the time Santa made it back to his chair there was a mother bringing her four-year old boy to see him and the little boy wanted nothing to do with Santa! Santa left the boy in his mother's arms and began to talk to him. The boy had a football on his shirt and Santa asked the boy if he liked to play football. When the boy said "yes," Santa asked if he liked to catch the ball or throw the ball the best. The little boy replied that he liked catching the ball so Santa asked if he ran with the ball when he caught it. When the little boy agreed that he did, indeed, run with the ball Santa asked if the boy could show him how well he ran.
The little boy hopped down and began to run around the hotel lobby. Santa praised the little boy's running ability and said, "Come give me a high-five for running." The little boy, forgetting his fear, went right over to Santa and gave him a high-five. That was all it took. Soon the little boy was on Santa's lap talking like they were old friends. I later told Paula, leave it to Disney to get the real Santa Claus on their payroll!
About this time a storyteller showed up by the fireplace. He was wearing a backpack with camping gear hanging off of it. I moved closer to the fire so I could listen to him. He gave some information about the hotel--how the huge lights in the lobby were designed to look like pine cones complete with needles on the shades. And he talked a bit about California Adventure--how California Screamin' is the world's only magnetic roller coaster. He then told a couple of stories about bears to the children sitting by the fireplace.
After he left, I got up and walked out to Downtown Disney. I watched some of the street performers for a while and then walked towards the Disneyland Hotel. I looked through some pin carts and then took some video of the Disneyland Hotel's Christmas tree and lights. I walked through the lobby and looked through their gift shops then headed back to Downtown Disney stopping to look through a jewelry store and get a big pretzel before going back to the room.
I made it back to the room at 8:30. I went to the lounge to pick up a diet coke and I noticed that they had the lounge ready for the nightly bedtime stories. They had cleared out the middle of the room and had put down two blankets and a bunch of fluffy pillows for the kids to lay on. The also had milk and cookies ready. I got my coke and a couple of cookies and went back to the room. I called home, updated my notes and then heard the fireworks at Disneyland begin. I went out to the balcony and was pleased to note that I could see them over the roof of the hotel. I sat out on the balcony and watched the fireworks and then watched the monorail run through the courtyard for a while before going back inside.
Paula and Wes came in at 10:00 (they rode Star Tours, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion, shopped, and watched the fireworks and snow). We caught up on each others' activities and got ready for bed because we knew we were going to have to get up at 5:00 the next morning so we could be packed before we went to early entry at 7:30. Paula exclaimed that she was so tired that she was going straight to bed. "I don't care if I get a pimple the size of my head...I'm not washing my face!" she said. We were in bed by 11:45.
Monday, December 17, 2001
Plan: Paula's choice, home
Even though I had arranged for a wake-up call and set the alarm, I didn't sleep worth a darn from worrying that we wouldn't get up in time. I finally just gave up and got out of bed at 4:30. Our plan was to be packed and ready to go for early entry at 7:30. We wanted to video tape It's a Small World and the Haunted Mansion (which didn't open until the regular time of 9:00) and be back to the room to get our luggage, check-out and be downstairs by 10:10 for the shuttle back to the airport! Wes had decided the night before that he needed some rest so Paula and I could share some "sister time" by ourselves.
Paula and I showered, packed and dressed then stopped by the lounge for a coke and croissant before going back to the room to wake Wes up so he could pack his things and get dressed while we were gone. We told him that his job was, if we didn't make it back before 10:00, to throw himself in front of the shuttle and not let it leave until we got back! We left for Disneyland at 7:15 and were at the gates before they opened. At 7:30 we were one of the first through the gates and we made a beeline for It's a Small World. We once again had a boat to ourselves and succeeded in taping the ride. When we were through the CM asked if we wanted to stay on and ride again. "It's free!" he said. We had to decline.
We decided to take one more ride on Peter Pan since the Haunted Mansion wouldn't open til 9:00. After stopping for a bathroom break it was 8:15 and we decided to ride the monorail round-trip so we could ride through DCA and the courtyard at our hotel. We boarded at Tomorrowland and travelled through DCA, the Grand Californian (although the monorail never actually goes through the hotel, just outside of it), and were soon at the Downtown Disney station. While we were stopped at Downtown Disney a CM made all of the people waiting to board the monorail and ride to Tomorrowland go back out into Downtown Disney and informed us that we would have to get off the monorail here and walk through DTD to the front gates of Disneyland. She said that there was a fire alarm at the Grand Californian hotel so they were not allowed to take the monorails through the hotel! Ugh! Neither of us were fired up about having to walk this morning, plus we were now worried about making it to the Haunted Mansion in time. (Oh, yes, we were also worried that Wes and all of our luggage were now charcoal!)
After hurrying through Downtown Disney and to the front gates we arrived on Main Street at 8:50 to find it roped off at the end of the shops so you couldn't get to the hub or to any of the ropes at the entrances to the various lands. Fortunately, a CM told us that if we were here and qualified for early entry, we could go through the Penny Arcade and would be let into the hub of Main Street. We did this and then positioned ourselves at the entrance to Adventureland so we could hurry to the Haunted Mansion.
When the rope dropped we hurried along with all of the folks heading to Indiana Jones and then detoured to the Haunted Mansion. We were quickly in the stretching room and then loaded into our Doom Buggy. As soon as I got in the car and began to video tape the ride, I hit myself in the eye with the viewfinder and knocked my contact lens out! Not missing a beat, I handed the camera to Paula and hissed, "Keep filming! I lost my contact lens!" While she taped, I felt around for my contact lens and finally found it on my sweater. I put it back in my eye (worrying that the jerking of the car would make me lose it again) and then got the camera back from Paula! Yikes, what is it about Paula and I at Disney that makes us lose our contact lens (she lost hers in front of Peter Pan at WDW in May)?!?
Luckily, that was the extent of our excitement and we were off the ride at 9:30. We hurried back to the hotel saying good-bye to everything as we passed. "Good-bye Indy!" "Good-bye Main Street!" "Good-bye California Adventure!"...you get the picture. We were back in the room by 9:45 and found that Wes had got both Paula and I a talking Eeyore as a reminder of the trip. We called Bell Services who quickly arrived to take our luggage downstairs and our shuttle was right on time at 10:10. We had one stop before we went to the airport. We were soon on the freeway with honking cars and zipping traffic and then were at the airport with all of it's security checks and waiting in lines. It's a shame that you don't have a couple of days to slowly come off of the magic from Disney. Instead you are immediately plunged into reality. The last straw was when Paula was physically frisked at the security check point because her shoes set off the alarm! Poor Paula! She declared that the airport was 100% magic-free!
Just a final thought or two. First, I started this trip cursing myself for scheduling it during such a busy time of year. It took all of two minutes after we arrived to change my mind. Everything is just beautiful this time of year. You couldn't help getting into the Christmas spirit with all of the decorations, lights and music around you. I would highly recommend visiting during the Christmas season. While the crowds at night for the parades and fireworks are daunting, the daytime crowds were very manageable (especially with the use of Fast Pass). After our initial day of rain, the weather was sunny and pleasant (although too cold to swim).
As for the Grand Californian hotel--we absolutely loved it! I can't imagine staying anywhere else. I would definitely stay here above the Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier Hotel. The location just cannot be beat and it is a gorgeous hotel.
Finally, we also liked California Adventure. I know critics have been very hard on this park but we found it very enjoyable. Sure, it doesn't have the magic that Disneyland does--I don't think any park could duplicate that. We went to the park two days (granted they were not full days) and didn't manage to do even half of the rides and attractions. (Maybe if we hadn't have ridden Soarin' Over California three times we could have fit some more in!) I will agree that the Superstar Limousine ride sucks but, for the most part, everything we rode was great.
Anyway, thanks for hanging in there with me. This is the last trip to either of the Disneys that I have planned for a while but I'm ever hopeful that one will come up! If you have any questions, send me an e-mail.