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Robin Goble -- December 2004 -- Disneyland (GCH)


Cast

  • Robin - 41 - Trip planner/recorder
  • Bill/Dad/Husband of Dianne - 66
  • Dianne/Mom/Wife of Bill - 63
  • Lisa/Sister/Wife of Lemuel/Mother of Michael - 43
  • Lemuel/Brother-in-law/Husband of Lisa/Father of Michael - 37
  • Michael/Nephew/ONLY Grandchild of Bill and Dianne - 11
  • Paula/Sister/Wife of Wes - 31 - Sparkly Princess
  • Wes/Brother-in-law/Husband of Paula - 31

HISTORY

Okay, okay, you people that aren’t obsessive planners like me have my permission to skip ahead to the “meat” of the trip report. Wimps! I will warn you, however, that you won’t do as well on the quiz at the end of the report. I understand that when some of you see the word “history” you flash back to your painful days in school trying to remember what year the War of 1812 took place in and how long the Seven Year War lasted. Never mind that I toiled for hours, typing my little fingers to the bone, to bring you the candid and intimate (and when I say “candid and intimate,” I mean “candid and intimate in a mind-numbing and excruciatingly detailed way”) moments from our trip.

The seed for this trip was planted back in December of 2001 when Paula, Wes and I made a quick trip to the Disneyland Resort (DLR) during the Christmas season to see the Nightmare Before Christmas Holiday Haunted Mansion overlay its first year. (Can you believe that there are actually people out there who consider themselves “Disney fans” who have never seen The Nightmare Before Christmas? Shocking, I know.) While we questioned the sanity of making a trip during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, once we arrived, everything was so beautiful and we had such a wonderful time, that we swore we’d come back and do it again the first opportunity that we had, and, we’d drag the rest of our family back with us.

So - fast forward to Christmas of 2003. We’ve all spent way too much money on presents and we’ve all gotten way more gifts than we need or deserve. So we suggest, ever so gently, that perhaps next year we could scale back a bit on the Christmas gifts and put that money toward a family vacation instead. All of us adults don’t really need anything and if we see something we want, we generally buy it for ourselves anyway. So, we reasoned, we might as well do smaller gifts for each other and use a family vacation to have some fun and make some lasting memories. And what place would be better for a family vacation than The Happiest Place on Earth? The suggestion wasn’t met with open hostility or too many “boo’s” or threats, so we moved forward with the plan.

I figured that the Disneyland Resort, rather that Walt Disney World (WDW), would be better for this trip since some of the family has a harder time getting vacation time approved (Lisa’s a school teacher and has to work around the school district’s schedule.). That way, we wouldn’t need as long of a trip and we wouldn’t have to take my nephew, Michael, out of school for as many days.

The only drawback to the plan was that, since we were taking Michael out of school for this trip, it would mean foregoing Michael’s, Mother’s and my annual week-long trip to WDW in November to the Food and Wine Festival. We figured we could be brave about it since we were getting a Disney trip in December. Little did we know how hard it was going to be to miss our November trip.

Now I had sworn off family vacations after we all went to WDW together several years back. This was before we had discovered the beauty of staying on-site, however. We stayed in Kissimmee for four days with one van for transportation. Michael was three then and needed afternoon naps/rest time and, while we still had a good time, it was hard coordinating everyone’s wants and needs with limited transportation and time.

Then came the joys of staying on-site and having Disney transportation readily available. Plus, at DLR, you don’t need transportation beyond your own two feet. The Grand Californian has its own entrance to Disney’s California Adventure (DCA) and Downtown Disney (DTD), and Disneyland (DL) is just a quick walk through Downtown Disney. So if someone wants to go back to the room and rest or go to a different park than everyone else, no problem.

AIRFARE

By July we had a rough idea of everyone’s work schedules. Southwest Airlines put their fares on sale, so I booked our flights then.

HOTEL

The choice of hotel was easy. Paula, Wes and I stayed at the Grand Californian in 2001 and loved it, so we definitely wanted to stay there again. I made the hotel reservations in September using the Walt Disney Travel Company for a package deal as soon as Disney released their buy 3 nights get one free promotion. I went ahead and booked us on the concierge floor as a little added treat. Included with the booking were pins and lanyards for everyone, special seating for either Muppet Vision, It’s Tough to Be a Bug, or the Aladdin show, and a free 5X7 photo for each room.

ADMISSION/MISCELLANEOUS

The theme park passes were also included in the package. You got a five day park hopper for the price of a three day hopper. DLR tickets are a little different from those at WDW. For one thing, the park hoppers generally expire about two weeks after the first use. Also, there are no “plus” features like at WDW (admission to Pleasure Island, Wide World of Sports, the water parks, etc.). Since we’ll actually be able to visit the parks all five days that we’re there, this seemed the best option.

When we go to WDW with my mother, we generally rent an Electronic Convenience Vehicle (ECV-a scooter) for her to use since she’s had knee replacement surgery on both of her legs and doesn’t need to be doing a lot of walking. We rent the ECV from an outside company that delivers the scooter to our hotel before we arrive and picks it up again after we leave. That way, we have the ECV for the duration of our stay and for any activities that we go to outside of the theme parks, instead of just renting one from Disney when we get to a park.

I asked Mother if she wanted a similar arrangement for DLR and she decided that it would be okay to just take our chances and rent one at the parks each day. She’s been going to the gym and working out lately and her endurance is much better than it used to be, so even if she has to walk some, she should be fine.

In November, I went ahead a made a few priority seatings (a couple of character breakfasts, just in case, although we probably won’t use them since we get a light breakfast in the concierge lounge, and the Blue Bayou in DL and Ariel’s Grotto in DCA). I also read about a tour that Disney offers November through January called the Holiday Time Tour. It’s a 2-3 hour tour that showcases the Christmas decorations at Disneyland. You also get to ride the Haunted Mansion Holiday and the “it’s a small world” Holiday, and you get preferred seating (and hot chocolate--bonus!) for the Christmas parade.

It sounded like fun to me and something a little different to do together as a family. I consulted with Mother to be sure she was up to that long of a tour and then booked it as a surprise for the rest of the family. The tour is $49 per person but, if you have an annual pass (AP), you can get a reduced price of $39. Always being a lover of bargains and always feeling so much better when I’m holding a valid annual pass for a Disney park (my WDW annual pass expired in November and I didn’t renew it since I’m not sure when I’ll be back!), I decided to book the tour with the AP discount. I called to be sure that I could exchange my unused park hopper pass and to upgrade it to an annual pass. The savings for all eight of us to take the tour will more than cover the cost of upgrading my pass, plus I’ll have an AP and the built-in excuse that I need to return before it expires so I can get my money’s worth. *And*, since Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration start in 2005, what better excuse to go back? Am I good, or what?

TRANSPORTATION

When Paula, Wes and I visited in 2001, we had used Super Shuttle as a way to get from the airport to DLR. Super Shuttle was very convenient and was reasonably priced so I just assumed that we’d use them again this trip. Shortly before the trip however, Mother was asking how much transportation from the airport would cost. I looked up how much we had paid in 2001 and found that, for the three of us, it cost around $48 for a one-way trip from the airport to the Grand Californian. That was very reasonable for three people, but when you factored the cost of eight, it came to at least $128, plus tip. Also, Super Shuttle uses vans and, while our family would all fit into an eight-passenger van, I’m not exactly sure where the drive would sit!

I considered a rental car since I don’t mind driving, but we had the same problem. We’d need a van and they were fairly expensive to rent. Plus, we really didn’t need a car beyond getting to and from the hotel, so it would just be sitting in the parking lot for the duration of the trip.

There is also a bus that you can pick up at the airport and, while it’s a bit cheaper than the Super Shuttle, it stops first at a depot in Anaheim where you have to transfer to a smaller vehicle to be shuttled to your final destination. That sounded like a waste of time and effort to me, so I ruled that out as well.

My next thought was hiring a town car or limousine. On the Mouse Savers website (www.mousesavers.com), there is a section about transportation and a link to a database that will help you find a limousine service for anywhere in the United States. All you do is put in you dates, number of people, pick-up and drop-off locations, and any special requests or preferences and it pulls up tons of available limousine companies. The companies are rated by feedback from customers and you can go one step further and request quotes for rates from as few or as many companies as you’d like.

I took advantage of this website and received quotes from several different limo companies. I picked Discount Sedans and Limo because they not only had one of the lowest rates, but they had the most customer feedback (all of which was positive). I was quoted a rate of $95 each way (before taxes and tip) for an eight-passenger limousine. I was given the option of booking the limo on-line of calling a toll-free number to reserve the car. I opted for calling and booked the limo for our arrival and return trip. The booking agent asked if we’d prefer complimentary champagne or sparkling cider in our limo and, seeing as how none of us drink, I chose the cider.

The agent took my cell phone number and flight information. She told me to turn on my cell phone as soon as we were off the plane and our driver would call us to arrange our location to meet. I got a confirmation number and their toll-free number to call if anything (such as our flight number) changed.

We were good to go.

I brought my laptop to type my trip report notes on again this trip (still not brave enough to attempt a “live” report however) *and*, thanks to the incessant nagging of my more technologically advanced friends - I now have a digital camera. Am I leaping into the 21st Century, or what? I also hear that they have these newfangled things called “telly fones” where you can talk to people clear across the country, or even the world, without the use of string and tin cans! What will they think of next?

Thursday, December 9, 2004 -- “Lower your head...and exit in shame.”

My first day at Disney officially began at 12:01am since (being the rather obsessive type) I stayed up late so I could print out our boarding passes online. I did go to bed around 1:00, but was back up at 4:30 to start getting ready. The plan was for everyone to meet at the house by 6:00 so we could leave the extra cars there and to leave for the airport by 6:15.

Since there were eight of us, plus luggage, we had to take two cars to the airport. Mom, Dad, Wes, Paula and I went in Mother’s car while Lisa, Lemuel and Michael went in Lemuel’s pickup so we’d have more room in it for some of the bags. Dad and Lemuel dropped us off at the terminal and went to park the cars, while we checked all of our luggage.

At the security check-point, Mom was the only one pulled aside for additional wanding. She’s got artificial joints in both of her knees and that always seems to trigger the alarm. Our flight to El Paso wasn’t full so we spread out--two people per row of three seats. We had a couple of hours in El Paso so several of us (Lemuel, Michael, Wes, Paula and I) explored the airport. We got to see a NASA fighter plane parked on the tarmac, which looked pretty cool. We all got the beverage of our choice and picked up some magazines to look at before heading back to our gate.

The flight to Los Angeles wasn’t full either, so we again spread out and enjoyed the extra room. About halfway through the flight, Michael went back to watch a movie with his dad so Lisa moved up to my row to keep me company.

We landed at LAX on time, even though our plane had taken off a little late from El Paso. I turned my cell phone on and we stopped in the airport to let everyone go to the restroom. I missed the call from the limo driver while we were waiting. We went to the baggage claim and picked up our luggage and I hit redial to call up our driver. Our driver, Frank, was very friendly. He said he was just pulling around the terminal (since they won’t let you park in front of the terminal anymore unless you’re loading or unloading) and that he would be right there. He said that my name would be in the window of the limo, so we’d know it was him.

We all went outside and waited a few minutes until we spotted our limousine. Dad and Lemuel helped Frank load all of our luggage (some of it wouldn’t fit in the trunk, but it fit up front with the driver) while the rest of us got in the limo (and start playing with the buttons). We quickly settled the bill for the limo ($125.11 plus tip), and were on our way. As we were pulling away from the curb, Paula, Wes and I swear that we saw actor Jason Lee. It is, after all, Hollywood, dahling!

For whatever reason, I was the only one in my family who had ever ridden in a limousine before. Therefore, I was able to maintain my inherent air of indifference and super-coolness while everyone else went nuts exploring the surroundings and pushing buttons. Actually, eight people pretty much fill up a stretch limousine (we should have done the “better make it a super stretch” route as Illeana Douglas is fond of saying in the Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster pre-show-not that I’m sad or anything for knowing that line or the actress who says it!), so there wasn’t much room for “exploring” per se. Lisa was in charge of the buttons and she played with them for a while, adjusting the colors and intensity of the various lights and neon.

We did crack open the sparkling cider and had a toast and availed ourselves of the soft drinks, juice and bottled water. They had a good selection of drinks and there was more than enough to go around, and then some. Michael was all about the ride and was suitably impressed with the whole experience. “I could get used to this,” he kept saying. To which I replied, “Well, don’t.” Actually, we all thought it was pretty neat.

The ride from the airport took about 50 minutes and we pulled up to the guard station in front of the Grand Californian at 12:45. The driver gave our name to the guard and she let us in to pull up outside the hotel. A CM from guest services came out to greet us and sent a Bell Services CM to get our luggage. She said I could come with her to check-in while the rest of the group got the luggage settled.

The CM stayed with me through the check-in process, talking about the changes at the resort since our last visit and explaining a bit about the concierge floor or the Craftsman’s Guild as they call it. She also gave me a Craftsman’s Guild newsletter which listed the services provided and also detailed some of the changes. The biggest difference was that they had expanded their food offerings in the lounge. On the last trip in 2001, the lounge served a continental breakfast in the morning, a few snacks such as popcorn and goldfish crackers in the afternoon, some light hors d'oeuvres in the evening and cookies at bedtime.

Now, while the breakfast was still the same, from 11:00 am - 4:00 pm, the lounge now had “Afternoon Tea” from 5:00 - 7:00 pm, “Grand Hour” and from 8:00 - 10:00 pm and “Sweet Endings” (all of which will be reported later in excruciating detail--hey, if I’m going to gain 5 pounds eating this stuff in my role as intrepid trip report writer, in order to bring you the latest and most up-to-date happenings, you’re going to have to suffer through the minute descriptions of everything).

The check-in process went smoothly. They had assigned us to rooms 6305 and 6307 which were adjoining rooms. They had opened the door between the rooms so we could go back and forth between the two without having to go out into the hall to do so. While I was checking in, the Bell Services CM took our luggage up to our rooms and Paula and Wes acted as tour guides, showing everyone else around the lobby of the Grand Californian. I was thrilled to see that everyone was just as impressed as I’d hoped they would be. You know, of course, deep down, that the resort is beautiful and breath-taking and all of those wonderful adjectives, but there’s always that little seed of doubt that, since you’re a Disney fan, your judgment might be a bit skewed and everyone else may not look at the surroundings in the same way as you. So, I was relieved to see that I wasn’t completely off my rocker and that the hotel was indeed as impressive as I had led everyone to believe.

After I checked in, I spotted the Bell Services CM coming out of the elevator so I hurried over to tip him for taking care of our bags for us. I rounded up the rest of the family and we headed up to the 6th floor. As we came off the elevator we discovered that they had made another small change to the floor. The concierge CM’s were stationed at desks outside the lounge area now instead of inside, in order to make more seating room inside the lounge itself.

A CM greeted us and welcomed us to the resort. She asked if we’d like a tour of the lounge and we all quickly agreed. It was about 1:30 so we were in the middle of the afternoon tea. The CM explained that they had expanded the afternoon offerings to include tea sandwiches, a few pastries, fruit, and Mickey Scones. Mickey Scones? MICKEY SCONES?!?! I think it was at this point that we lost all decorum. Up until now we had been trying to maintain an air of class and respectability, nodding politely at the CM’s remarks, pervading disinterest at her comments, but at the mention of Mickey Scones, that all went out the window and we quickly reverted back to our backwoods, hillbilly upbringing and went running to see the scones while the CM laughed at us.

They were, indeed, Mickey Scones. Scones in the familiar Mickey head shape and sprinkled with sparkly sugar crystals. Paula and I decided that, since we had already completely embarrassed ourselves by shrieking with delight at the scones, we might as well get rid of all pretense of good breeding and go get our cameras so we could take pictures of them, so we dashed off to the rooms while everyone else stayed behind to sample the food. And when I say “sample” I mean “roll up your sleeves and dig in because it was almost 3:00 our time and we hadn’t had anything to eat all day unless you counted a tablespoon of peanuts on the airplane and you’d better remove small children and the easily offended because it ain’t gonna be pretty.”

In the rooms, Paula and I took a minute to look around, pick which room we wanted (Paula, Wes, Michael and I were in one room and Mom, Dad, Lisa and Lemuel were in the other), check out the views, and make sure they still had the great toiletries like they had last trip. The rooms were right around the corner to the east of the lounge and they looked out onto the east end of the Brisa Courtyard and the World of Disney store in Downtown Disney. Due to the roofline we couldn’t see the monorail as it passed through the courtyard like we could from our room last trip, but we could hear it as it passed by. We could also see the Matterhorn and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad from the balcony.

We dug out our cameras and then went back down to the lounge where we found the rest of the family all hyped up on Mickey scones. It looked like we’d again scored points with the family on the lounge. The offerings consisted of (and now here’s some of that painful detail that I promised) three different kinds of tea sandwiches (cucumber, tomato, cream cheese and sprouts; smoked salmon and cream cheese; and turkey and cheese), fresh fruit (watermelon, cantaloupe, honey dew, pineapple and strawberries arranged in the shape of a pinecone), chocolate dipped strawberries, madelines, star-shaped cookies, and the Mickey Mouse scones with devonshire cream and jam.

The CM’s showed us that they now had soft drinks and bottled water stocked in two little refrigerators where you could help yourself. They had the usual assortment of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate out at all times as well.

After everyone had their fill, we all went to the rooms to get settled in. After the obligatory oohing and aahing over the rooms we decided it was way time that we got ourselves into a park and we headed out to Disneyland. We took the walkway through the Brisa Courtyard and into Downtown Disney and then started towards Disneyland with everyone marveling at how much things had changed since the last time they were there (except for Paula, Wes, and me, no one had been there for eight years, when Michael was 3).

Since I needed to exchange my park hopper for an annual pass in order to get the AP discount, I hurried ahead of everyone, letting them take their time and soak in the sights. Michael was itching to get moving so he came along with me. There was a good sized line at Guest Services outside of Disneyland so everyone else caught up to us before it was my turn. We sent them on into the park to see about renting an ECV for Mom and I upgraded my park hopper to an AP and picked up our “Holiday Time Tour” tickets.

I got a voucher for my AP which would get me into the park. Once inside, I needed to go to the Annual Passholder center which is located right outside Space Mountain where I would have my picture taken and put on a permanent card for me. It didn’t have to be done right away, but sometime before I left the park that day.

Once inside the park the family gathered back together. Mother didn’t want to pay $50 to rent an ECV for only part of a day, so she decided to just walk until she was tired instead. She later remembered that $15 of that was just a deposit so the actual rental cost was only $35 per day.

Finally at 2:45, we were on Main Street. Several characters were out so we had to get pictures made with Minnie in her holiday sweater and skirt and we took pictures of various groups of us in front of the big Christmas tree. Everyone laughed at Lisa, Paula and me because we took so many pictures going down Main Street that it was like stop-motion photography.

First on our agenda was Indiana Jones (IJ) in Adventureland. The ride was out of FastPasses however, and the stand-by line had over an hour wait, so we decided to go on Pirates of the Caribbean instead (which was a walk-on). Paula, Wes and I were in the front row of our boat and we all got pretty wet during the drop. Actually, everyone in the family got a bit damp on the ride.

Next, we headed towards the Haunted Mansion (HM). Mother’s knee was hurting so she decided that she was going to slowly make her way back to the hotel and rest for a while, but insisted that we all stay and have fun.

There was about a 5 minute wait at the HM and Paula took advantage of the extra time to try and fill Dad in on the plot of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ so he might be able to appreciate some of the overlay. Yes, my dad is one of those people who have never seen the movie, but at least he doesn’t profess being a true Disney fan!

The overlay was just as good as we remembered and we compared notes afterwards to try and figure out what had been added since we saw it in 2001 (an evil nutcracker on Madame Leota’s table, an Oogie Boogie doll clapping two cymbals together in the attic, a topiary Oogie Boogie in the pet cemetery, the goodies on the table in the ballroom; to name just a few). We all agreed that there’s just too much to look at for one, or even fifty times through.

When we came out of the HM, we stopped at a gift cart to look at ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ merchandise. I was delighted to find a new Scary Teddy antenna topper. Okay, delighted might be a bit of an understatement as I screamed “Paula! It’s the vampire teddy bear!” and grabbed up and purchased three of the things before I knew what I was doing. I’m still not exactly sure what I’m going to do with three antenna toppers--I have *one* car and it has *one* antenna--but I’m comforted in the knowledge that Paula bought five of them (she has some lame excuse about actually having friends that she’s buying them for).

While Paula and I were coping with our Nightmare Before Christmas addiction, Michael was getting the first taste of one of his own: The Churro. Yes, the smell of the hot, cinnamon-y, stick of dough called to him and thus he began the downward spiral out of control into the seamy world of churro addiction.

Michael wanted to ride the Matterhorn Bobsleds so we started in that direction, stopping long enough to look in the Le Bat en Rouge gift shop while Dad and Lemuel found a restroom. At the hub of Main Street we split up with Lisa, Lemuel, Dad and Michael going towards the Matterhorn, and Wes, Paula and I going to Tomorrowland to get my AP picture taken.

Paula and Wes browsed through the Star Traders gift shop while I got my annual pass taken care of. As we headed out of Tomorrowland to meet up with the others at the Matterhorn, we happened to notice that Star Tours only had a 10 minute wait. Hmmm. We stopped in front of the ride entrance and debated what the right thing to do would be. Do we carelessly ride Star Tours without the others while they wait on us - tossing aside their feelings like Mickey confetti in a parade? Do we make them wait and worry about our health and safety while we’re gallivanting across the galaxy with little heed for their wants or needs? Or, do we take the high road and be noble and hurry on our appointed rounds? Nah! Who’re we kidding? We rode the ride in a heartbeat without even feeling guilty about it. After all, it’s what Walt would have wanted.

When we got off the ride (never having made it to the moon of Endor, by the way-you might want to request a different pilot than the one we had as ours wasn’t very good) I checked my phone. Lemuel had called and they were waiting for us at the Matterhorn. Oops. It took us just a couple of minutes to join up with them. The line for the Matterhorn was pretty long, but Michael was insistent that he wanted to ride it. Lemuel agreed to ride it with him while the rest of us did the “it’s a small world” Holiday (IASW).

The sun was just starting to go down and the Christmas lights on the outside of IASW were all turned on making the ride just as beautiful as we had remembered.

There was a bit of a line at IASW but we chose the right hand side and breezed ahead of the bulk of the people. We were a bit worried for a minute that maybe we were in a FastPass line, but we weren’t. We were on our boat in about 2 minutes. We got in the boat right at 5:00. The giant clock started chiming and we watched the dolls parade about while we waited to go inside. As we passed under a bridge we heard a voice say, “Keep your hands and arms inside the boat at all times. Watch your children, and have a nice trip.” We looked up in time to see a little boy, maybe six years old, waiting in line on the bridge and repeating the ride’s spiel. I think the kid has an excellent future as a cast member.

This was Lisa and Dad’s first time to see the holiday IASW, and they both enjoyed the ride. I like the holiday version since it gives you lots of pretty lights, less of the annoying song, and even more to look at inside. On our first ride we were able to find the holiday addition of Flounder in the Christmas stocking and Stitch on the surfboard.

Afterwards, we met up with Lemuel and Michael who had been able to ride the Matterhorn Bobsleds twice while we were gone. This was Michael’s first time to ride and he loved it.

We decided it was about time to head back to the hotel and check up on Mother and see about getting something to eat. Since we were at the Matterhorn we decided it would be easier (and more “Disney”) to take the Monorail to Downtown Disney and walk back to the hotel from there. You forget how much smaller the Monorail is in California than the one in Florida. Also, I always miss the “please stand clear of the doors” announcement, since there is no standing on the California version.

All the windows in our car were down so, as it was already a bit cool and we didn’t particularly fancy a windy ride, we raised them all back up. That’s certainly another difference between the California and Florida version. The ride to Downtown Disney didn’t take long at all and we all enjoyed getting a peek at DCA and passing through the courtyard of our hotel. As we arrived at the Downtown Disney station there was the usual announcement admonishing people to watch their heads (because of the lower ceiling, you have to exit the Monorail a little bent over) and to take small children by the hand. “Lower your heads….” the announcement started. Wes piped in, “Lower your heads, and exit in SHAME!” which, considering the early morning start, long day, lack of food, and general saturation of pixie dust, was riotously funny to us.

We exited in shame, stopping long enough to have our hands stamped at the exit, since we didn’t know if we’d be coming back to a park or not (the stamp said “Donald,” by the way). We did a little window shopping as we made our way through Downtown Disney and back to the hotel.

We found mother in the lounge on the 6th floor and, as we were all hungry by now, we joined her for hors d’oeuvres. Apparently they have one hot appetizer which changes nightly. Tonight they had crab cakes with remoulade sauce, which were very good. They also had an assortment of cheeses, crackers, dried cranberries, an olive tapenade with garlic flatbread, the world-famous (and my personal favorite) uncrustables (nicely cut in half with a rosette of peanut butter piped on top and then topped with a fresh raspberry or blueberry-a very nice touch), and a selection of raw vegetable crudités (carrots, celery, squash, broccoli, tomatoes, bell peppers, etc.).

A quartet of Victorian-dressed Christmas Carolers came into the lounge while we were there and went from table to table taking requests and singing Christmas songs a cappella. They were very good and didn’t seem to have any songs that they didn’t know. When they got to our table, we requested “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and they did a wonderful job of singing it.

Since the park (Disneyland) was closing at 8:00 this evening (DCA had closed at 6:00), we decided not to go back there but to do a bit of shopping at Downtown Disney (which stayed open until 11:00) instead. First however, we went back to the room for warmer clothes and coats because it gets pretty cold at night and we knew we’d be doing a bit of walking outdoors (and, okay, I’m *very* cold natured-are you happy now? I actually had on three shirts, a fleece sweatshirt *and* a wool coat, so sue me!).

We agreed to all meet down by the fireplace in the lobby. The Christmas Carolers were in the lobby now so we got to enjoy them again as we waited. Lemuel went over and requested “Feliz Navidad,” and they did a good job on that one too. Santa Claus was also there, greeting the children and having pictures taken. Since we were all together and I didn’t think we’d ever had a picture taken of all of us together, I found a Cast Member to take our picture in front of the lobby Christmas tree. The picture turned out great and I’ll probably use it for Christmas cards next year.

Dad forgot something upstairs so, while he went back up to get it and the rest of the family settled into the rocking chairs in front of the fireplace, Paula and I went to the gift shop to look around. Dad finally showed back up and we went out through the courtyard (noticing that they hadn’t turned on the piped in cricket sounds yet-something we enjoyed listening to last trip) and into Downtown Disney.

We shopped for the better part of two hours or so, breaking off into smaller groups, meeting back up, changing group members, and striking back out as chance would have it. Michael was hungry so Mother and I got him a slice of pizza at the new (to us) little counter service in Napolini that they’ve put in next to the sit-down restaurant. When we were here last you could still get whole pizzas to go at the sit-down restaurant but now they have a separate location off to the side where you can get pizza by the slice, calzones, sandwiches, salads, desserts, and drinks, all to-go (or they have a few tables inside). Michael had a slice of cheese pizza ($4.31) which was huge. At 7:45, the fireworks at Disneyland began and we were able to see the high ones from Downtown Disney.

Most of the stores had some kind of Annual Passholder discount so I was able to take advantage of that with my new pass. After a while, Mom and Dad went back to the hotel. Lisa, Lemuel, and Michael decided they were hungry and went for more pizza to take back to the hotel with them. Paula, Wes and I joined them in line and got a slice for each of us, but we stayed in Downtown Disney to eat ours and soak up the atmosphere a bit.

After we ate our pizza, we went back to the hotel and up to the 6th floor where, wonder of wonders, we found the rest of our family…in the lounge. The lounge was all set up for bedtime stories for the children with pillows and blankets arranged on the floor. The desserts tonight were chocolate chip cookies, mini cheesecakes, fruit tarts, and-will wonders never cease-Mickey Mouse Macaroons. Yep, you heard right-Mickey Macaroons. Three little round coconut macaroons arranged in the shape of Mickey’s head and ears, with the ears dipped in chocolate. These quickly became Mother’s new favorite sweet (this is the woman who’s been known to become flan-happy at the Beach Club in WDW) and I don’t *even* want to know how many she consumed while we were there. Let’s see, one day down and already Michael has a churro habit and Mom is right there with him with her addiction to Mickey Macaroons.

We all went back to the rooms and everyone was in bed after our long day by 9:30. Well, everyone except me. I updated my trip report notes and checked my email. I wasn’t very sleepy so I wandered downstairs to the lobby around 12:20. It was nice and quiet and I had a look around and enjoyed a pleasant conversation with another late night/early morning wanderer. I stayed in the lobby until around 1:00 and then went back upstairs and to bed.

Friday, December 10, 2004 -- “Brakes?! There *are* no brakes!”

I woke up at 5:00 only to find Paula sitting up in bed in the dark. “There’s bugger all to do at 5:00 in the morning!” she said, “I’m glad someone else is up.” I hopped in the shower and then Paula got hers while I dried my hair. Mother (who was up in the other room) heard the blow dryer and came in to tell us that they were all awake as well.

We were all dressed and ready and met in the lounge around 6:30 for breakfast (bagels and cream cheese, toast, English muffins, cereal, fresh fruit, banana bread, etc.).

After we’d eaten, Paula and I decided to go down to the gift shop while everyone finished up their breakfasts. We bought a few pins and things, including a Minnie Mouse antenna topper to replace one that was taken from the antenna of the Mini Cooper (get it-a *Minnie* on a *Mini*? That just keeps getting funnier every single time I hear it!) that belongs to that most famous of all trip report writer Larry Wilmot’s wife, Jill. Yes, we trip report writers have to stick together. Actually, we know that at any given time, chances are pretty good that some trip report writer will be at some Disney park, so requests of this nature are easily taken care of. As luck would have it, Paula and I are supposed to meet Larry and his family in (of all the un-Disney places) New York City after the first of the year, so we’ll be able to deliver the antenna topper in person. I will however be sure to have him reimburse me the cost of the topper, since he still owes me $5 for mentioning him in my last trip report. Yes friends, it’s a little known fact that Larry will pay $5 (American money-he’s too mean to pay in pounds sterling, at least as long as the exchange rate is so skewed for us Americans) for every time you mention him in a trip report. He pays $6 if you misspell his last name. Honest. Would I lie? (Don’t answer that-it’s a rhetorical question!)

After we finished in the gift shop we went to sit by the fireplace for a bit. We called Mom and she said that everyone was still in the lounge. She told us to *stay right there* and they would be down shortly. We got tickled because that statement only prompted Paula and me to immediately get up and go upstairs. Actually, we had decided that the morning was still pretty nippy (although the temperature was supposed to be in the high 80’s today) so we went back to the room to put on some more shirts. We all left for Disneyland at 8:15.

We walked to the entrance of the park through Downtown Disney and were on Main Street by 8:30. While Mom and Dad went to rent an ECV, Paula and I took the opportunity to get our pictures made with Alice in Wonderland and then with Aurora and Prince Philip.

Well since I’ve mentioned Larry Wilmot once already, (and since I have to finance these trips to Disney somehow) I’ll take this opportunity to mention that he has something of a reputation (along with his son, Greg) as being able to spot ways to “acquire” additional FastPasses outside the normal means of collection. Now I’m not saying that he does anything illegal, just merely that he seems to be good at spotting flaws in the system and then exploiting those flaws. So, imagine my delight, when I heard about an anomaly in the FastPass system at DLR. Ever willing to test out new hypothesis, purely in the name of science of course, I arrived at Disneyland with a plan.

Since it’s rather time consuming to move eight people along, we decided that one or a few of us at most would be the designated FastPass gathers, while the rest of the group took their time and came along at their own pace. This morning, Paula, Wes, Michael and I were the runners. We made our way to the end of Main Street and at rope drop headed straight to Indiana Jones for FastPasses there. The plan was to get FastPasses for Indy and the Haunted Mansion, and then to meet the rest of the group in front of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (BTMRR) to ride that attraction.

When we got to IJ, we were dismayed to discover that the FastPass machines weren’t working. We left Wes there in case the rest of our group came that way and Paula, Michael and I went to the Haunted Mansion. We were frustrated to find that the FastPass machines weren’t working there either; we back-tracked to Indy where we were able to get passes for that ride now. Perhaps it takes a few minutes to boot up the FastPass computers once the parks are open.

FastPasses for Indy in hand, we went back to the Haunted Mansion where we were able to get FastPasses now as well. (WooHoo-Larry would be so proud.) We made our way to BTMRR where we met up with Mom and Lisa. Dad and Lemuel were just coming off the ride which they had been on 3 times in a row. Paula, Wes, Michael, Lemuel and I quickly got back in line and were able to ride three times in a row as well without ever having to get off the train.

After the “wildest ride in the wilderness,” we went to Indiana Jones (stopping to get another FastPass since the return time window for ours was now open) and everyone rode using our first FastPasses. This was Michael’s first time to ride IJ because he was too small the last time he was at DL and he thought the ride was way cool.

Next, we went to the Haunted Mansion to use our FastPasses there. Mother wasn’t looking forward to this ride because, since her knee replacement surgery, her sense of balance is a bit off and she doesn’t like having to step on any kind of moving walkway. I assured her that they would stop the doom buggies to let her board.

The CM working the FastPass/handicapped entrance let her bring the ECV into the HM and into the stretch room. He told us to wait until the rest of the guests cleared out of the room, and then he would lead us to the loading area. We waited as we were told and then we made our way, with Mother still on her ECV, along the hall with the changing portraits and toward the loading area. Instead of going to the right and getting in the doom buggies in the conventional way, however, we were directed to the left where there was a small area to leave the ECV. They stopped the conveyor belt for Mother and everyone was loaded into their buggies with the instructions to stay in them after the ride was over and they would bring us back here to unload everyone.

The ride was good as usual, but we were more fired up about getting to stay on the doom buggies for a quick glimpse “back stage.” Sure enough, the CM at the end of the ride reminded us to stay in our seats and we rode through a back stage area before emerging once again in the loading area. The conveyor belt was stopped and we all got off the ride and then got to go back into the stretch room (still fully stretched) and back up to ground level that way. So, where Mother was afraid she was going to be an annoyance for us, she actually provided us with a really neat part of the trip-getting to ride up in the stretch room and getting a glimpse back stage in the doom buggies.

When we came out of the HM, Michael and Lemuel went off to get FastPasses for Splash Mountain and then we went back to Indiana Jones to use our second set of FastPasses. Mother and Lisa decided to sit this one out while the rest of us went back on the ride. This time, Michael got to sit in the driver’s seat and he was nervous about his newly acquired duties as chauffeur and navigator. As our jeep started moving into the ride, the announcement that the vehicle may need its brakes tested brought on complete panic. “Brakes?” he yelped as we were whisked off into the dark, “There *are* no brakes!”

Despite his worries, Michael was fine as driver of the Jeep. Even Indy himself, at the end of the ride, said that he did a good job. Michael was so proud of the praise that we didn’t have the heart to tell him that there had been no real driving involved.

After the ride we met up with Mom and Lisa who had gone to the River Belle Terrace to get a coke. It was 11:45 by now so Michael and Lemuel left to go ride Splash Mountain while the rest of us debated where to eat lunch. We needed something quick in order to be at City Hall by 1:00 for our Holiday Time Tour.

No one had a map of the park so I went off on a quest in search of one. I found out that all the custodial CM’s (white shirts and burgundy trousers) carry park maps and show schedules.

Wes had mentioned that he’d like to try a turkey leg to see what all the fuss was about and Dad was obsessed with having a meal with “meat.” Apparently, eating the snacks in the concierge lounge the day before hadn’t satisfied his desire for a real meal and he wanted some “real food” (as opposed to the fake food we had the day before apparently!). I regretted not being as familiar with the restaurants and counter service places here as I am with the ones at WDW since it was hard to make suggestions on where to eat when I hadn’t tried most of the places and couldn’t give an idea of the type of food they served beyond the small description on the guide map.

We finally decided on the Carnation Café on Main Street but found a 20 minute wait when we arrived so we just ducked into the Blue Ribbon bakery for some sandwiches instead (a sandwich and soft drink $10.32). Lisa ordered for Lemuel and Michael who weren’t off Splash Mountain yet. We took our food toward the Refreshment Corner at the castle end of Main Street and found a couple of tables where we could eat. Lemuel called and we told him where we were. He and Michael arrived a few minutes later with Michael very tired and hungry because they had had to hurry from Splash Mountain in order to have time to eat.

We were finished with time to spare and made our way to City Hall where we checked in and received our ornaments that marked us as tour participants. There were several groups waiting for tours and three groups (including ours) that were taking the Holiday Time Tour. Our guide was Mary Jo and she rounded us up and began the tour. One of the rules was that every time you saw another tour group, your group wanted to be the first to shout out “Happy Holidays!” There was another kid on the tour besides Michael and they both got a kick out of keeping an eye out for the other groups.

I won’t go into all the details of the tour (Hey, now. No sense in cheering like that and hurting my feelings!) but a couple of the things that we learned was that, yes, the Christmas tree on Main Street was real (a Shasta Fir) and that it had 5,000 lights on it. While this might have impressed some people, it was no big deal to me because the day before we left on this trip I had put 2,400 lights on my little seven-foot tree (I’m a big fan of Christmas lights on a tree-although I’m sure some people would argue that size does matter and the 5,000 lights on the Main Street tree were bigger than the 2,400 lights on our tree). I was impressed however by the 500,000 lights on the outside of ‘it’s a small world’.

We made several stops for Mary Jo to point out various holiday decorations or traditions before we arrived at the entrance to the Haunted Mansion, one of the rides that were included on the tour. By this time, Michael was fading fast after his dash across the park from Splash Mountain and Lisa was getting sunburned. Mother decided that she would take Michael back to the hotel and let him rest and Lisa went with them to get out of the sun. Dad took Mom’s ECV to ride and the rest of us carried on with the tour.

One gripe about the ECVs at Disneyland is that they only have one speed-sloooooooooooooooooow. Dad wasn’t able to keep up with the pace that Mary Jo was walking and so she tended to get way ahead of him. While this wouldn’t have been a problem with someone who was familiar with their way around the park because Mary Jo always announced where we were headed next, we were worried that Dad wouldn’t know which way to go next. So, we all stayed behind with him in order to show him the way to the next stop.

The tour ended up in front of IASW (another ride that we went on with the tour) where we sang “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with each member of the tour assigned a different day. I believe I was the Ten Lords a Leaping. At one point in the tour, while we were between Fantasyland and Toontown, Mary Jo gave everyone time for a restroom break. Paula and I decided that we’d dash over to Peter Pan to see if we could get FastPasses to ride it later. Much to our dismay, we discovered that Peter Pan is not a FastPass ride. In fact, none of the rides in Fantasyland have FastPass distribution.

The best part of the tour was the great seats (yes, and I do mean “seats”-actual chairs) that we had for the afternoon parade (Which starts at 4:00, by the way. Maybe that’s why “What time is the 3:00 parade?” is one of the most-asked questions.). The chairs were set up right along the parade route with no one in front of them. Mary Jo brought us our collectible mugs of hot chocolate and our snowman cookies, apologizing that it was a rather warm day and usually the hot chocolate sounded better. We also got a Holiday Time Tour pin. Then we sat in comfort after the long afternoon of walking and enjoyed the parade.

After the parade was over, we stopped in a pin shop in Tomorrowland where we could pick up the lanyards and pins that came with our package. I also bought an Annual Passholder pin and a Tower of Terror pin.

Tonight we had a priority seating at the Blue Bayou for 6:10. After the parade, I called Mom to see if they were going to feel like coming back to the park for dinner. I said that they could pick up the train on Main Street and ride it around to New Orleans Square in order to save their tired legs from walking the whole way. We agreed to meet at the train station at 5:45.

Everything was pretty crowded by now, but we decided to tough it out and wait for Peter Pan. We took our trip to Neverland and were off the ride by 5:40. I called Lisa’s phone and they were just about to board the train to New Orleans Square, so our timing was pretty good. I sent Wes, Paula and Dad on ahead to check us in at the Blue Bayou, and Lemuel and I went to the train station to meet Lisa, Mom and Michael.

Mother said they had stopped by the lounge on their way out and the hot hors d’oeuvre this evening was shrimp quesadillas. She had brought one for us to try and some cokes for everyone. We met up with the rest of our group at the Blue Bayou. There were several Christmas parties going on at Club 33 and we got to see the foyer of the club several times as people were granted admittance.

We didn’t have to wait too long before our table was ready. The CM waiting on our table brought a pirate hat, which Paula was lusting after, for Michael (they had the kids’ menu on it). Mother asked if Paula could have a hat as well and the CM brought enough for everyone. Mom, Dad, Wes, and Paula all ordered the pork tenderloin, Lisa and Michael had the steak and shrimp special, Lemuel had the Shrimp Brochette, and I had a shrimp cocktail, a bowl of gumbo and a dinner salad. Everyone’s food was delicious and there was much sharing of bites and swapping of food all around.

We were finished with dinner around 7:30. Mom and Dad decided to head back to the hotel while the rest of us voted to stay. We went to check on the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, but the ride was down. The CM said to check back in about 30 minutes.

Lisa and Lemuel went off to ride the train while Paula, Wes, Michael and I rode Pirates of the Caribbean again (it seemed fitting after our dinner at the Blue Bayou). We went and checked on Winnie the Pooh next and it was up and running. It’s very similar to the ride at WDW except that you don’t get to bounce with Tigger. We looked through the Pooh gift shop afterwards.

Wes and Paula were tired so they decided to go to Main Street (with a quick ride on the Jungle Cruise on the way) and wait for us outside the fire station and maybe decorate a cookie while they were there. This is something that we did last trip and thoroughly enjoyed it. You can purchase sugar cookies for about $3 at various locations throughout the park. You get your choice of two colors of icing and two kinds of sprinkles to use to decorate your cookie. This works well with several people because you can get a bigger variety of icing colors and sprinkles.

Michael wanted to ride the Matterhorn again, so he and I headed that way. There was about a 15 minute wait, which wasn’t too bad. Lemuel called while we were in line and said that they were by Splash Mountain, which had no wait. I told him that I’d bring Michael to him after the Matterhorn so they could ride and Lisa and I would watch the fireworks.

We got off the Matterhorn at 9:15 (the fireworks were to start at 9:30-the park was open till midnight) and made a beeline for Critter Country. I dropped Michael off with Lemuel, and then Lisa and I headed back towards Main Street. The fireworks were about to start and we were having to hustle. Lisa swears that I trampled at least 5 people, but I think she’s exaggerating a bit-I’m fairly sure it couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4.

We watched the fireworks from the hub on Main Street. They were very good, but I didn’t think they were as impressive as Wishes in Florida. After the fireworks, while we weren’t in the direct line of the snow, we could see it from where we stood, and it’s always neat to watch.

After the snow, Main Street became an impenetrable mass of people, none of which seemed capable of moving. We finally made our way to the end of Main Street where we met up with Paula and Wes. The cookie decorating had already been closed for the evening when they arrived (to make room for people to watch the fireworks and snow) so they didn’t get to decorate any. They were tired and so they headed back to the hotel while Lisa and I waited for Lemuel and Michael.

When they arrived, they were ready to go as well so they all went back to the hotel while I stayed behind to look around in Downtown Disney for a while. I went back to the hotel around 10:30 and began to update my trip report notes and check email. Everyone else was fast asleep by 11:00 and I joined them around 12:30.

Saturday, December 13, 2004 - “Look, honey. Susie can kick herself in the head.”

I was up and into the shower by 6:00 this morning and, as had become our pattern, Paula followed me. We sorted through all of our sacks from the night before and discovered that no one could find the AP pin and Tower of Terror pins that I had purchased the night before. We had the free lanyards and pins that we had picked up at the same time, but couldn’t find the ones that I had purchased. We had put everyone’s packages in the basket of the ECV, so I figured that they had fallen out unnoticed.

I was ready by 6:50 and Lemuel and I went down to the lounge for breakfast where Paula and Mother soon joined us.

The plan called for us to go to DCA, which opened at 10:00 today. Disneyland opened at 8:00 (which meant that the gates would open at 7:30. I thought it would be fun, for those that wanted to, to go to Disneyland first and maybe sneak in a ride or two on Indiana Jones before heading to DCA at its opening. Unfortunately, no one else seemed to want to go and, while I tried to be brave about it, I was disappointed. Paula, ever the sparkly princess but also a generally all-around good sport, said she’d be glad to go with me and we talked Lemuel into joining us. We arranged to meet everyone else in DCA at Soarin’ Over California at 9:30 and then we headed through Downtown Disney to Disneyland.

Surprisingly, there wasn’t too big of a crowd at the gate when we got there at 8:30, but it took forever to get into the park. We all agreed that they need a better entry system for entry. Here, you have to hand your ticket to the CM and they put it through the entry scanner for you instead of each person putting their own ticket through the machine like they do at WDW. So, a CM can only work *one* turnstile at a time (instead of one CM monitoring several open turnstiles) thus making fewer open entrances for guests to pass through. I don’t know if it’s because of the differences from WDW in the admission media that they have to do it this way, but I could see no good reason why each guest can’t be responsible for feeding their own ticket into the scanner.

Anyway, we *finally* got into the park (we were a bit impatient because we wanted to get in several rides before time to meet the others) and headed straight to Adventureland. Well, we *almost* headed straight for Adventureland. It seems the White Rabbit was out, so Paula and I had to get our picture with him first.

Adventureland was deserted. I mean completely devoid of all human life. We stopped in our tracks and looked at each other in amazement. Yes, it was a Saturday. Yes, the park had just opened. Yes, Indiana Jones is where everyone goes at rope drop. Where *was* everybody? With a collective shrug of our shoulders we got FastPasses for Indiana Jones and then hopped in the stand-by line. Actually, I should say we started on our pilgrimage to get on the ride (I still maintain that this ride has the longest queuing area, both the entrance and the exit, in the park-you walk *miles* before you get to the loading area!) as there was no one in the stand-by queue.

For this ride, I was on the outside of the vehicle in the next-to-the-back row. I don’t know if I had never been in this particular seat before or if I just hadn’t noticed in the past, but in the skeleton room (I don’t know if that’s the technical name for it or not but, seeing as how it’s a room full of skeletons, the name seems appropriate to me) a group of skeletons came out of the wall towards me and scared the living daylights out of me! Yes, I screamed (and yes, everyone laughed at me). We finished the ride and were greeted with the usual “Friends! I celebrate your arrival!” that I always like to hear.

We decided that we could manage a quick trip to the Haunted Mansion and still have time to use our FastPasses on IJ before it was time to meet the family, so we went there next and got right on the ride. We went back to Indiana Jones (*now* the throngs had invaded Adventureland) and used our FastPasses for another ride. We were off the ride by 9:20 and made our way out of the park.

Now I know what it feels like to be a salmon--it’s always a fun adventure trying to go against hordes of people just entering the park--most of whom are looking at you like you’ve taken complete leave of your senses for trying to go the wrong way. And, while it’s always painful to be clipped in the heels by a stroller coming up behind you, being hit head-on by one tends to make you fold faster than Superman on wash day (as Paula is often fond of saying)!

We made it out of the park without too many injuries and no loss of life or limbs however. It wasn’t quite 9:30 yet so we had to wait in line to enter DCA and then go through the painfully long process of each person in line handing their ticket to the CM. A woman waiting in line ahead of us did point out a hidden Mickey in the pavement though, so that was a nice discovery.

We called the others while we were waiting to get into DCA and were jealous to discover that they were already inside and were just about to go on Soarin’. They got in a bit early using the private entrance and were getting to take the first flight of the day, the dogs! We said that we’d head there as soon as we got through the gates.

We were finally through the gates, into Condor Flats, and in line for Soarin’. The others called us while we were inside the building and said they were off the ride and everyone loved it so much that they were getting FastPasses and then hopping right back in line to ride it again. Woo-Hoo. Score another success. Mother had been very apprehensive about riding Soarin’ and we had been equally insistent that she had to do it. She doesn’t like heights and IMAX movies tend to give her motion sickness but we pleaded with her before the trip that she had to try it at least once, and we promised that she wouldn’t have a problem with either of those things. So, we were very relieved to know that she did, indeed, love the ride. I think we figured out that she rode it seven times in this one day!

We took our first ride on Soarin’ this trip (first ride ever for Lemuel). I always enjoy watching Patrick Warburton point out the safety features of the ride. I don’t know how he keeps a straight face.

After we got off the ride, I hiked over to the Tower of Terror (ToT) to get FastPasses for us, while Paula and Lemuel waited in Condor Flats for the others to get off Soarin’. On the way, I ran into Sully from Monsters, Inc. and got my picture with him. He’s pretty attractive if you’re into tall men with blue chest hair!

I rounded the corner and got my first look at the new Hollywood Tower Hotel. It’s not pink like the one at WDW, but rather a sand color. Since I was on a mission to get FastPasses, I didn’t give it a thorough inspection, but the themeing looked good. I do however miss entering through the gardens like the Florida version. I think the plants and mist and broken statuary all lend an air of creepiness.

By the time I got back to Soarin’, the whole family was back together. We all made our way towards the Tower of Terror so everyone could get a look at the new ride. Since Mother and Lisa weren’t joining us on our drop, they opted to wait outside the Animation Building where they snagged a bench to sit on. Wes won’t ride the ToT either, but he wanted to look at the building anyway.

Dad, Paula, Lemuel, Michael and I got in the stand-by line for the ToT. The lobby of the hotel was nicely done and very similar to the Florida version, and the library was almost identical. The pre-show film that you watch is the same with the substitution of the new building’s façade for the Florida one. There are two libraries in the lobby-one to accommodate the FastPass line and one to accommodate the stand-by line. As space permits, they direct guests from the stand-by line in to the FastPass library in order to fill in all the spaces. Every time we rode the ToT, we were sent to the FastPass lobby, so we never got to experience the regular stand-by one. I’m sure that the libraries are similar but the stand-by library empties out into a queue that goes upstairs in the boiler room, while the FastPass line takes a shorter path that remains downstairs.

The boiler room/basement has more detail in this version. There’s a desk with an old radio (that intermittently comes on) and some papers scattered on it, and lots of chains, valves, switches, etc. There were three elevators that load on the ground floor and, I assume, three elevators that load from the upstairs, stand-by line.

The loading system is the same in both incarnations. In the California version, however, you don’t step directly into the elevator, but rather you have to cross a hallway and then board the elevator. This way, when you exit the ride, you step off the elevator into the hallway and follow the hallway out of the building, instead of unloading in a different area like they do in WDW. I personally thought that this distracted from the ride a bit.

Once you’re loaded into the elevator and the doors shut, your elevator moves backward into the drop shaft. The elevator is raised, the doors open several times to show you different scenes, and then the dropping commences in the same shaft unlike the WDW version in which the elevator opens to show you the poor “In-Limbo Family” and then moves forward into the drop shaft. Also, there appears to be no “randomizer” effect in the California version as all the drops were alike.

While the ride was very good, and the dropping itself was good, I have to say that Disney did not improve on the original ride, in my opinion. That being said, it didn’t prevent us from enjoying the ride and wanting to go again.

As an aside, I’m really not picking on Disneyland this trip--though it certainly seems like I am. I love Disneyland and there are many things about DLR that I prefer over WDW (Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean to name two, plus WDW doesn’t even have an Indiana Jones ride and, compared to Countdown to Extinction/Dinosaur (which I like, by the way-“Flash photography? I wouldn’t”)….well, there’s just no comparison.

After our ride was over and we exited (into a gift shop, of course), Paula, Wes, and Dad left to pick up Mom and Lisa and go back to Soarin’ to use the FastPasses that they’d gotten earlier. There wasn’t a FastPass for Paula, but she said she’d go back with them anyway to spend a little time with Wes instead of staying with Lemuel, Michael and I and using our Fast Passes for the ToT. We sent our park tickets with them, however, so they could get all of us another set of FastPasses for Soarin’.

Lemuel, Michael and I took another drop in the ToT and then decided that our scream-raw throats needed a coke. We stopped at a stand and bought soft drinks (and a churro for the poor little junkie) and then started back towards Condor Flats.

In front of the Animation Building, we discovered that Mr. Incredible was out mingling with the crowd. Michael and I hopped in line to get our picture with him and had the added bonus of Frozone joining him for our picture.

The rest of the group called as we were headed that way and said that they were ready for lunch. Dad was craving a hamburger (still needing his MEAT!), so I suggested that we eat at the Taste Pilots Grill there in Condor Flats. I noticed that they had a 10% AP discount there, so we figured out what everybody wanted then Dad, Mom, Michael and Lemuel left to find us a table and the rest of us stayed to figure out the ordering system.

Disney has installed kiosks where the guests place their own orders in Taste Pilots. The system was fairly easy to use and even special orders were accommodated. The system does try to up-sell quite a bit, asking if you want to add dessert or special drink cups or character straws to every order, which was a little annoying. Some families were a lot slower than others were and the process seemed to take longer than giving your order to a CM. They should have a CM-manned line for people who aren’t comfortable with the technology of placing their own orders to maybe speed up the process a bit.

Our meal of 6 burgers (with flyby fries), one chicken sandwich, and one supersonic salad, plus drinks came to $74.57 after my $7.70 AP discount. Am I saving money or what?

After lunch, we all got another FastPass for Soarin’ (with a return time of 3:15-4:15) and then rode Soarin’ (with our previous FastPasses) for the first time all together. We were able to spot two of the three hidden Mickey's in the film. After our flight, Mom, Dad, and Lisa decided to go back to the hotel to rest. We agreed to all meet back up in front of Soarin’ at 3:45 to use the FastPasses that we just got, and then to go to the 5:00 Aladdin show. It was very warm today and Michael had on a long-sleeve shirt, so Mother said she’d bring back a short sleeve shirt for him when they came.

We said our “good-byes,” and then the rest of us (Lemuel, Michael, Wes, Paula, and I) made a beeline for the Paradise Pier area and California Screamin’. (Can I just take a minute here to say how much I’m enjoyin’ gettin’ to use the apostrophe so much in this trip report? With rides bein’ named things like Soarin’ and Screamin’, my hands are fairly achin’ from pressin’ the apostrophe key. I’m wonderin’ if the keyboard is goin’ to start stickin’, but I’m feelin’ right at home, speakin’ my native Texan.)

When Michael saw the rollercoaster, he was very unsure about going on the ride. We all assured him that he would love it. Paula and I both told him that it was very similar to the Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster at WDW (which he loves), in that the ride launches you from a full stop to around 50mph and there’s a loop, but it was outdoors. Despite our assurance, he was nervous all the way through the stand-by queue (about a 10-minute wait). Wes won’t ride this one either, so he waited for us at the entrance.

After the ride, Michael positively bounced off, saying how much fun it was. “You know what?” he confided in me, “That was a lot like the Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster except that it’s outside.” Really? Is it now? Paula and I just exchanged glances and shook our heads. We all laughed at Michael’s hair which the ride had made stand up in the front like a pompadour. We teased him that he had Elvis Hair. Paula and I had dubbed this ride California Stylin’ the first time we rode on it because of how it re-arranges your hair. She and I were both smart this time and had pulled our hair back into ponytails/braids before riding.

We headed to the Sun Wheel next (which Wes also won’t ride-not in the slippy cars anyway). The Sun Wheel is, of course, the giant Ferris wheel. It has normal Ferris wheel cars that are stationary as the wheel turns, but it also has cars (that are on a track) which slide as the big wheel turns around. Paula, Lemuel and I got in line for a sliding car and Michael decided that he wanted to go ride the Golden Zephyr (which is a silly name to me as the cars are silver-what’s up with that?). The Golden Zephyr is very similar to the Astro Orbiter in Disneyland.

I sent my cell phone with Michael with instructions to come right back to the Sun Wheel when he was finished.

Our slippy car was *very* slippy this trip. So slippy in fact, that we all got a bit queasy from the rocking. Paula was so queasy that we accused her of actually making simian sounds as we swung back and forth over the water.

After our ride, Michael met back up with us and Lemuel, Michael and I decided to take another ride on California Screamin’ while Paula and Wes took a turn in one of the non-sliding cars on the Sun Wheel (Wes can sometimes be coaxed into riding on those).

As we got off the rollercoaster (and smoothed Michael’s Elvis hair back down) we got a phone call from Paula and Wes who were stuck at the top of the Sun Wheel. Their car was stuck up there for maybe 5 minutes before the CM’s got whatever problem there was fixed.

We decided to look around in some gift shops for a while in order to let everyone’s stomachs settle a bit. Michael wanted to ride the silver Golden Zephyr again, so we walked that direction. I stopped at the Corn Dog Castle to get a cheese on a stick (in my experience, there’s nothing like grease to settle your stomach). All the items on the menu have a medieval theme and I was amused to note that the cheese on a stick combo that I got “cometh with chips!” (cheese on a stick combo and a bottle of water $8.60) I met up with everyone as Michael was coming off the Zephyr and we all shared the cheese on a stick.

It was about time to meet up with Mom, Dad, and Lisa by now so we walked through the Golden State area and past Grizzly River Run (GRR) on our way to Condor Flats. Michael wanted to ride GRR (a white-water rapids ride) and I promised him that I would ride it with him before the trip was over.

We met the rest of our gang in front of Soarin’. Mother had brought the extra shirt for Michael and some bottled water for all of us (is she a mom, or what?). It was getting a bit cooler now, so Michael opted to keep his long sleeve shirt on. We all took another flight on Soarin’ (By now, you’d think the CM’s would know us by name!) and then went back to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot and to the Hyperion theater for the next Aladdin show.

One of the perks we got with our vacation package was preferred seating for the Aladdin show (they can also get the preferred seating for you when you stay on the concierge floor). We showed our tickets to the CM and he directed us to a waiting area right outside the doors of the theater. I had somehow been delegated to carry around Michael’s extra shirt (just lucky, I guess) so, as we waited, I put it on under my shirt (and on top of another shirt-it wasn’t like I was ever indecent-this is, after all, Disney) so I didn’t have to carry it anymore.

We were soon let in to the theater and had great seats, front and center. The show was very well done with lots of neat effects such as a magic carpet ride over the theater and a grand entrance by Prince Ali on an elephant. The show lasted exactly an hour.

Afterwards, we headed to the Animation Building to play around there for a while. Cinderella was inside as was Mr. Incredible (this appears to be the place to hang out if you want to see the characters). Paula and I would have been perfectly happy to stand in the main room and watch the movie clips but the rest of our group was restless so we took them to the Sorcerer’s Workshop section (with Mother and Michael taking a quick detour into the Drawn to Animation section where they found out that Buzz Lightyear’s original name was going to be Lunar Larry!). In Beast’s library, we stopped to see what Disney characters everyone was. Paula, Wes and I had done this when we were here before-you answer a series of questions which determine which Disney character you’re most like (Paula was Cinderella, I was Lady, and Wes was Jafar). This trip, Dad was Buzz, Lemuel was Cogsworth, Michael was Cogsworth (like father, like son), Lisa was Lady, and Mom was Jane. When you’re taking the little quiz, there’s one question that asked that determines whether you’re classified as a hero or a villain. This trip, Paula and I decided to see who our darker side character would be so we both took the quiz, answering like we normally would, except picking the villain answer for that one question. Turns out, we were both Lady Tremaine (the wicked stepmother from Cinderella).

After our quick personality assessment, we went into Ursula’s Grotto for some voice dubbing. We got the entire family to sing both Hakuna Matata and Bare Necessities. Sadly, no recording industry agents were on hand to turn us into the next Partridge Family or Von Trapp Family Singers (Von Crapp Family Singers, more like). Musical, we’re not.

It was around 7:00 by the time we finished playing in the Animation Building. Mom and Dad decided to go back to the hotel and check out the lounge, while the rest of us opted to stay and get dinner in DCA in the Pacific Wharf area.

Sadly, the Lucky Fortune Cookery was closed this evening, as I am a big fan of Chinese food. Apparently it is rarely open these days and the fact that Paula, Wes and I got to eat there on our last trip was due to some miraculous alignment of the planets and conjunction of galaxies.

Lemuel and Michael decided on nachos from the Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill, Lisa was holding out for dinner at Downtown Disney, and Paula, Wes and I wanted fish and chips from Chips, Strips, and Dips (fish, chips and a coke: $10.53). While Lemuel and Michael ate their nachos, Paula, Wes and I ran over to Paradise Pier and got our food, then took it back to the Pacific Wharf area to join back up with Lisa, Lemuel and Michael.

Michael wanted a churro for dessert (shocker!), so Lisa, Lemuel and Michael headed back to the hotel with the plan of stopping and getting a churro for Michael and then going to Downtown Disney. Paula, Wes and I stopped by the toy store in DCA (I forget the name) to check on something to take home as a gift for the neighbor kids from Mom. We had no luck at the store so we decided to go back to the hotel to get our coats and some warmer clothes and then finish the night at Disneyland (which was open till midnight).

On the way out of the park we saw a family with a little girl who was doing high kicks. She was kicking so high, in fact, that her shin was touching her forehead (nimble little minx, isn’t she?). The mother was very impressed with this feat and said to her husband, “Look, honey! Little Susie can kick herself in the head!” Wow. That’s one for the scrapbooks, isn’t it? Honestly I was laughing so hard I had to lie down on the pavement. This conversation reminded Wes of an episode of Stupid Human Tricks that he had seen on David Letterman in which there was a man who could kick himself in the groin. His efforts to demonstrate this somewhat dubious “talent” prompted more pavement laying on my part.

At the hotel, we stopped in the lounge to pick up some cokes and then went to the rooms to check on Mom and Dad. I updated my trip report notes for a few minutes and we watched the Disneyland fireworks from our balcony at 9:30.

Paula was tired and would have been happy staying in for the night, I think, but Wes was exacting his revenge on her for getting him up early this morning by nagging to go back to Disneyland. I agreed that it seemed a shame to waste a perfectly good evening so we three put on a ton of clothes (I personally wore three long sleeve shirts, a sweater, a coat and gloves) and headed out to Disneyland.

When we stepped out of the hotel and into Downtown Disney we were amazed at the fog that had settled in for the evening. It had been clear just a few moments earlier when we watched the fireworks but now it was like walking through pea soup. Not that I’ve ever walked through pea soup, mind you. Not even so much as gone wading in it. But it’s what I imagine walking through pea soup would be like, except not green and with no unpleasant pea taste. Okay, so it’s not like walking through pea soup at all, but surely you get the idea. Gosh, I guess this means no Pulitzer Prize for me this year.

Once in Disneyland, we went to Fantasyland first and rode the Storybook Land Canal Boats. I don’t suppose I had ever ridden them at night, and it made for a nice experience. We did Alice in Wonderland next and then looked around in the Mad Hatter shop for a while. While we were in the Mad Hatter, I overheard a woman talking on her cell phone. She was repeating what her husband was saying on the other end of the line. When I heard her say that there was no wait at Indiana Jones, I told Paula and Wes and we decided to go check it out.

Apparently I had misheard the woman or they had a sudden rush at Indy, because the stand-by line had a 45-minute wait posted. We settled for a ride on Pirates of the Caribbean instead. The CM tried to put us in the front row but, as we were cold and didn’t particularly want to get wet, we asked if we could have another and he put us in the back instead.

There was still a long wait for IJ when we came back through Adventureland so we decided to look through the shops on the East side of Main Street as we made our way out of the park. Paula was so tired tonight that she didn’t even have the typical Planet of the Apes walk. Tonight, instead, she said it was more the walk of a drunken mummy!

We were back at the hotel by 12:20. Poor Michael was asleep in bed, all alone with the TV and every light in the room on-he looked so lonely. I ran down to the vending area to get some ice so that I could have a diet coke. Paula and Wes both went straight to bed while I stayed up and worked on my trip report notes and checked email until around 1:30.

We later figured out that Paula and I had been in the parks for 15 hours today.

Sunday, December 12, 2004 - “Forget the wine, man. We need uncrustables!”

I was up at my standard 6:00 this morning, noticing that it was wet and overcast outside today. We did our usual morning routines and then met in the lounge for breakfast. They always had a bowl of whole fruit sitting out in the lounge and I had gotten in the habit of taking an apple or orange every time the mood struck me. This morning, Mother was speculating on what she could take home to the children of the neighbors (their mom was helping to watch the house and dogs while we were all gone). She wondered if they might have some of the Mickey Mouse straws in the hotel snack bar, like they do at the food court at the All-Star resorts at WDW. Since we had plenty of time till the park opened (we were going back to DCA today), I volunteered to run down to White Water Snacks to see.

As it turns out, they don’t carry the Mickey Mouse straws there but I did almost get in trouble. On the way in to the snack bar, I noticed a big bowl full of fruit. Not even thinking about the fact that I wasn’t in the concierge lounge, I picked up an apple and almost left with it before I remembered that, despite the numerous perks of staying concierge, I couldn’t just take fruit from any fruit bowl that I wished. How quickly we become spoiled! I’m thinking it might have put a damper on the vacation if I were gunned down for stealing an apple from Mr. Eisner.

After breakfast, we went downstairs to look around in the gift shop for a while and to sit in front of the fire while we waited for time to go to DCA. When it was time, we made our way to the private entrance and were again let into the park. We, of course, went to Soarin’ for a visit with Patrick Warburton. We all spotted the third hidden Mickey (that we knew about anyway-there may be more than that) in the film.

Lisa, Lemuel and Michael all wanted to ride again so, as they hopped back in line, I went to get FastPasses for the Tower of Terror, and Mom, Dad, Paula and Wes headed to Paradise Pier (since Mom and Dad hadn’t been over that way yet).

I got the FastPasses for the Tower of Terror and then decided to get FastPasses for Grizzly River Run as well, before meeting up with Mom and her group--after all, I had promised Michael a ride. It’s nice that the ride is right by the entrance to the Grand Californian, so you can go and change into dry clothes once you’re finished. I also needed to do a little FastPass research so I’d stay in the good books with Larry Wilmot.

I caught up with the others at Paradise Pier and we looked through a gift shop for a while, as the rides weren’t open yet. When Lisa, Lemuel and Michael joined us, it was time for our ToT Fast Passes. Paula, Lemuel, Michael and I went to the ToT while the rest stayed behind.

After our many drops on the Tower, we called the rest of the group to see where they were. Turns out, they were still at Paradise Pier. Dad had decided that he wanted to ride California Screamin’. I recommended that they get a FastPass for it and then meet us at Grizzly River Run so we (the few of us who were brave/stupid enough to do it anyway) could ride that.

Our group arrived first and it seemed that our FastPasses would not be needed today. Apparently there weren’t many people fired up about getting soaked when it was wet and cold out anyway--the ride had a 2-minute wait posted. The way I look at it, if you’re going to be wet anyway, you might as well be really wet (dry clothes are for wimps!). I asked Lemuel and Michael if they were still up for the ride (Paula said there was no way she was doing it today) and they said yes. So, we stripped off our many layers of clothes down to one shirt each and our pants (burying poor Paula under the load of them-she looked like she worked at a dry cleaners, she had so many clothes to keep) and hurried up the queue.

There was no line to speak of, just a two-minute walk to the loading deck. We were put on a raft with three young men and had a great time trying to decide who was going to get soaked. Actually, that’s not a hard thing to figure out if I’m in the raft-it’s going to be me! Sure enough, I was drenched by the time we got off the ride, and very, very cold.

Wes, Mom, Dad, and Lisa came up just as we were coming off the ride. Wes had said earlier that he would ride it with us and he was still game, so the four of us headed back to the ride. Once again, I received the bulk of the moisture-just call me the human sponge.

Did I mention that it was cold today? Yes? Well did I mention that being both wet and cold is a really good way to get a bad case of hypothermia?

Michael and Lemuel weren’t too wet, so they said they would go with Dad and Paula to ride California Screamin’. The rest of us went back to the hotel so Wes and I could get dry. We stopped in at the lounge for some cokes before going back to the room to change clothes and dry my hair.

We decided to try lunch at Storyteller’s Café in the Grand Californian today, so I went down to the concierge desk and made a priority seating for 1:30. The rest of our group showed up after their ride on California Screamin’ and we decided to go ahead and go to the restaurant as we were all getting pretty hungry.

We checked in for our table of 8 at 1:00 and were seated within 5 minutes. When the CM took our drink orders, we all just ordered water. Apparently this was a concept that she couldn’t quite deal with because, when she took our food order, she checked with each and every one of us asking “And with your meal, you’ll be drinking…?”

“Water,” came the reply from all eight of us.

The food was all very good. I had a pizza, but can’t remember what everyone else had. The portions were huge, however and we all wished we had split our entrees between two of us. It was nice to sit down to an unhurried meal with everyone.

After lunch we decided to head into Disneyland, each with our own agendas. Wes and Paula, however, decided to skip the park this afternoon and take a nap instead. Poor Paula, I think the 15-hour day on Saturday had just about finished her off!

Lisa wanted to see Snow White’s Enchanted Musical, which started at 3:00. Mom wanted to go to Frontierland to see if she could find some Pirate swords (one of the boys had just had a pirate party for his birthday) or some of the toy wooden guns like the ones they sell in Florida as the boys were constantly playing cowboys and Indians, or cops and robbers, or grand theft auto or whatever games it is that these crazy kids play with swords and guns today. Dad was just along for the ride, so he said he’d go with Mother. Lemuel and Michael wanted to go to the Mad Hatter to see if they could get Michael’s name put on a baseball cap that he had bought, and I was looking for Donald Duck merchandise for the son of a co-worker.

We split up as soon as we hit Main Street and I headed to the Emporium where I had absolutely no luck in finding any unique Donald items. However, I did get a fortune from Esmeralda (a coin-operated machine in a store on Main Street). The fortune was very detailed and I got a laugh out of reading it. Sorry, I can’t tell you what it said or it won’t come true-everyone knows that!

I had just stepped out of the shop when I got a call from Lemuel and Michael. They had no luck at the hat shop on Main Street and were coming down the street behind me. I stopped and waited for them and we decided we’d try the Mad Hatter in Fantasyland, so we headed there. As it turns out, they can’t monogram on baseball hats, so no luck there.

We called Mom and Dad who said they’d meet us at Star Tours. Lemuel, Michael and I got there first (stopping along the way for some cotton candy for Michael - can you believe it? Not a churro!) so we got FastPasses and then hopped in the stand-by line. Mom and Dad showed up right as we got in line, so Dad joined us while Mother waited. After we got off, Dad went to the pin store to look at pins, Michael stayed with Mom, and Lemuel and I rode Star Tours again, using our FastPasses this time.

Lisa had joined everyone by the time we finished with our ride. It was almost time for the 3:00 parade (which means it was fast approaching 4:00 o’clock), so we decided to try and make our way out of the park before we got trapped in Tomorrowland. Lisa need a bathroom break so Lemuel said he would wait for her and the rest of us went back towards the hotel.

Mom, Dad, and Michael went back to the room but I stayed and looked around Downtown Disney for a while. Lisa and Lemuel showed up later as they had been caught by the parade and so were delayed getting out of the park. Lisa hadn’t seen the parade yet however, so she was glad for the chance to see some of it.

When I got back to the room, Paula and Wes were up and ready to go. They went ahead and left for Disneyland while the rest of us decided to hang around the lounge for a while.

Apparently everyone had the same idea as us because the lounge was pretty crowded when we arrived a little after 6:00 and apparently, everyone was very, very hungry! It was a mob scene and we got quite tickled watching guests jockey for position around the black bean empanadas. I’m fully convinced that you could have lost an arm reaching for an uncrustable, or have been stabbed with a fork at the very least. The poor CM’s working in the lounge were doing their best to bring wine and drinks to everyone and to keep the food stocked at the same time, but they were fighting a losing battle.

One little girl was waiting in line by the uncrustable platter (which was empty, of course-everything was empty-it looked like a horde of hungry locusts had eaten their way through the lounge!). Mother asked her if she was going to get a peanut butter sandwich and she said, “I’m getting some of everything!” which seemed to pretty much be everyone’s motto this evening.

The uncrustable platter had been empty for a little while and a guest had mentioned it to one of the CM’s who said he would bring out some more. A moment later, another guest had cornered him, asking where their wine was. He said he would be right back with their wine prompting Mother to joke, “No time for wine, man. We need uncrustables!”

Now while I have to admit to occasionally taking a *wee bit* of poetic license and perhaps exaggerating ever so slightly for comedic value from time to time, I swear I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I tell you that there was one couple (just two people with no one joining them later) who had no less than thirty empanadas stacked on a plate on their table. Come on, people.

We ate what food that we dared to brave the ravenous throngs to get and then went back to the room. Mother wanted to get her pajamas on and she asked if I’d go down to the lounge for her at 8:00 and bring a few desserts back to the room for her. I, of course, said I would. I downloaded the pictures for the day and worked on my trip report notes until 8:00. I went into the other room and found Mom, Dad and Lisa all in bed and Lemuel and Michael watching TV.

I went ahead and went down to the lounge to check on the desserts for Mom in case she woke up and discovered that they had flan this evening! Yes, Mother’s favorite dessert of all concierge lounges-Flan! (They also had fruit tarts, mini cheesecakes, several kinds of cakes, and three or four different kinds of cookies.) I made a plate for her and took it back to the room. I stood at the end of her bed and whispered, “flan” ever so quietly. The woman sprang out of bed like a marine late for reveille, waking Dad and Lisa in the process! Michael and I made another trip to the lounge to bring some more for everyone. I got a few cookies and went back to my room to answer some email.

Paula and Wes came back around 10:15, having had a nice time at Disneyland. I was up at 12:30 again, wandering the lobby for a while, talking a bit, and taking a few pictures before coming to bed around 1:15.

Monday, December 13, 2004 -- “How much stolen, contraband food have you people brought into this airport?”

I was up at 6:00 this morning and quickly got showered and dressed. I went down to the concierge lounge to see if we could possibly get a late check-out for the day, since our limo driver wasn’t coming to pick us up until 1:45. The CM checked on the availability of our rooms and the best that she could do was to let us stay in one of the rooms until 12:30 as they were expecting an early arrival in the other room. Since that wouldn’t really help us any I told her we’d just store our luggage with bell services and be out of the rooms on time at 11:00.

By the time I got back to the room, everyone else was stirring. We all got packed up-miraculously, we were able to fit everything back into our suitcases. Okay, I think we used two extra duffel bags that we had packed for just such a purpose, but I think that’s not too shabby.

At one point, Paula and Wes were telling Mother about their evening when they mentioned that they had eaten at the Rancho del Zocalo. I asked Lemuel, our resident Spanish expert, what Zocalo meant and he said it was Spanish for “plaza,” thus making the name of the restaurant “Ranch of the Plaza” (Which is a fairly silly name, if you think about it, as one would imagine that a ranch, by virtue of being a ranch, could not be a plaza and vice versa. This, of course, is exactly why Disney doesn’t consult me when naming their attractions-they don’t particularly want me pointing out that ranches and plazas are mutually exclusive things.). Mother, however didn’t hear him correctly and, much to our amusement, thought he said Ranch of the Plastic Plate (which I think is way more fitting than Ranch of the Plaza, by the way).

As people got ready, they drifted down to the lounge to have some breakfast and to formulate a plan for the day. I picked up a couple of oranges and an apple to take with us to the airport. I didn’t have a carry-on bag as I had fit all of my things into my suitcase, so Wes nicely volunteered to put the fruit in his carry-on luggage for me.

The plan for the day seemed to be to break into two groups. One group, the do-or-die commandos (Paula, Wes, Michael, Lemuel, and I) wanted to re-visit some favorite rides at the theme parks till we were forced to leave for our flight home. The other group (Mom, Dad, and Lisa) had a more leisurely morning in mind, consisting of shopping at Downtown Disney for last-minute souvenirs.

Gathering my group, we headed to the hotel entrance to DCA for one last early morning ride on Soarin’. As we entered the park, despite the warnings by the CM’s that we couldn’t leave the Condor Flats area since we were in the park early, one grumpy couple (“How far do we have to walk?” “How long will this take?”) wandered off on their own. They had such a bad attitude that I kind of hope that security shot them on sight, however, I imagine that Disney treated them a tiny bit kinder than that.

As we were walking through the Redwood Creek area and into Condor Flats, I struck up a conversation with a CM named Bill, who was walking along the same route as our group. Bill said that DCA was his favorite of the two parks mostly because he had been part of the opening day ceremonies. I told him about Mother riding Soarin’ seven times and how relieved I was that everyone thought the ride was a neat as we had when we first rode it back in 2001. I mean, you know that it’s good and that people will like it, but you’re always glad when they think it’s as good as you’ve built it up to be.

While we were about to go into Soarin’, we spied a family of cats who were apparently living under the engine of the train which houses the Bur-r-r Bank Ice Cream parlor, etc. There was the mother cat and two kittens that looked to be about 10-12 weeks old. It looked like some of the CM’s had been feeding the cat family as there were some empty plates which had been placed close to the train behind a short railing.

As we entered into the Soarin’ building, Michael decided that he wanted to ride in the front row for his last ride so he ditched us and hooked up with a family that had two cute little girls with them (he’s no dummy). We heard our last “Hel-lo.” from our buddy Patrick Warburton and took our last glide over California for the trip.

After we got off the ride, the park was open. We stopped and took another quick look at the kittens before making our way out of the park, stopping to get our hands stamped on the way out (Redwood). I stopped for a second to take a picture of the hidden Mickey tile that we had seen on Saturday.

As we crossed the esplanade to go to DL, we noticed that they had set up one of the large Mickey Mouse statues that had been specially decorated by various celebrities for Mickey’s 75th InspEARations anniversary. We went over to check it out and discovered that it was the statue that had been decorated by Annette Funicello. Mickey was painted as a purple angel complete with wings and a halo. If you read the official press release for the statues (yes, we dedicated trip report writers have to do these things to bring you, our beloved reader, the most accurate and up-to-date information possible--never mind that we need the information to set up a joke that we want to use), it states that Annette always considered Mickey “heaven sent” in terms of what he did for her career, so she designed her “Always My Angel, Mickey” statue to reflect that sentiment. Before we knew this information however, one theory as to why the statue was decorated as an angel was that perhaps it was a tribute to a child of hers that had died (which is a nice thought but the evil person who was setting forth this theory speculated that Annette had breastfed the child and it had exploded!).

Anyway, the point of that whole section, aside from getting in a cheap joke, is that we went over and looked at the statue and took some pictures of ourselves with it. As we were taking pictures, I inadvertently discovered that, if you stand to the right of the Mickey statue, his hand seems to rest rather impudently on your bottom (if you’re my height anyway). And Disney thought they had trouble with Tigger molesting the guests.

After filing our sexual harassment suits with Guest Relations (just kidding!), we made our way into DL. For the first time this trip, there was no band playing as you entered the park. The train was going by overhead however and we waved at the conductor (who loudly tooted the horn in reply) as we passed through the tunnel and onto Main Street.

Our plan of action was to go to Adventureland and get FastPasses for Indiana Jones and then to ride it in the stand-by line while we waited for our FastPass time to open up. We all got our FastPasses but were dismayed to find out that the ride was down this morning.

Vowing to check back later, we decided to go and ride BTMRR. I sent everyone on ahead and ran to the Haunted Mansion to get FastPasses for everyone there (I can’t stand not to be holding all available FastPasses possible). So everyone else didn’t have to wait on me, I literally jogged over to New Orleans Square and the HM and then back through Frontierland to BTMRR. The CM working at the churro stand outside of the HM was laughing at me as I went by his cart the second time.

Michael and Lemuel were already on BTMRR by the time that I got there. Wes, Paula and I rode on the next train right after them. While they waited for us to finish our ride, Michael got an order of french fries.

Next we headed to Pirates of the Caribbean, stopping by first to make sure Indy hadn’t started working yet and checking on the ride again after we got off. It was now just about time for our Haunted Mansion FastPasses. Before we rode, however, Lemuel, Michael and I decided to get FastPasses for Splash Mountain so we could ride that next. Wes and Paula didn’t want to risk getting wet so they declined and waited by the entrance to the HM for us.

On the way to Splash Mountain, Michael decided that he would rather ride it using the stand-by line while we rode HM, and then ride it again with us using our FastPasses. Lemuel and I put Michael in the queue with instructions to meet us at the entrance to the HM when he was through and then continued on and picked up our FastPasses.

Back at the Haunted Mansion, the CM at the FastPass entrance gave me a hard time about the return time on our FastPasses there. He said that we had to wait until after 10:40 before we could use the FastPasses. When I opened my mouth to protest that it *was* after 10:40, I realized that he was teasing me and we went on in.

After the ride, we met up with a slightly damp Michael. Apparently riding Splash Mountain works up your appetite for a churro, so we got Michael a churro and then he, Lemuel and I went to use our Splash Mountain FastPasses. Paula and Wes decided to head towards Tomorrowland where we’d meet up with them after our ride.

The FastPasses worked out great on this ride as we breezed past a 40 minute stand-by line and were quickly in our log. I think Splash Mountain is another ride that’s done a bit better at WDW than at DL. The ride at DL seems shorter and the story line is less clear. Also, I prefer the side-by-side seating in the logs that they have at WDW over the in-line format at DL. Nevertheless, the ride was very enjoyable and none of us got particularly wet except from where we sat on the already damp seats.

We called Wes and Paula after we exited from the ride and met up with them in front of Star Tours. While they were waiting on us, they had a Star Wars picture made where you have your head inserted on the bodies of characters from Star Wars. The end results were hysterical. Paula was Princess (of course) Leia and Wes was Han Solo.

We took a minute to look through the pin shop and I asked about buying another one of the AP pins that I had misplaced (nope, I didn’t find it when I packed my stuff up), but they had sold out of them.

Since we were so close, we all made a quick trip past the moon of Endor on Star Tours (Darn it! We missed it again. Does that droid *ever* get you there?) before walking back to Frontierland to check out the turkey legs for Wes. He said it was good, but not really something that he’d buy again. We all pinched a bite, and while it does have a nice smoky taste, it’s rather Neanderthal to eat; so I don’t really see me acquiring an addiction to them any time soon.

While Wes ate his turkey leg, Lemuel and Michael took advantage of our close proximity to the shooting gallery and had a round of target practice. Michael said he only hit one target-he’s apparently a lot better at aiming laser guns than rifles, since he usually always beats me at Buzz Lightyear in WDW.

It was about 12:45 by now and we knew we needed to get some lunch before leaving to go to the airport. We decided on the French Market over in New Orleans square and headed there next. While we were waiting in line, we got to see one of the gingerbread houses that we had learned about on our Holiday Time Tour. It was a replica of Jack Skellington’s house and was a marvel to look at with steep eaves and rickety turrets that defied gravity and the delicate nature of gingerbread. Annual passholders got a free Nightmare Before Christmas patch with a $25 purchase, so we all ordered together in order to get ours.

They had several Nightmare-themed dishes there as well including Zero’s Bowl of Bones (bar-b-cued ribs and chicken legs served in a dog bowl) and Sally’s Eye of Newt (a pasta dish) and four or five really cute desserts. Michael thought the bowl of bones sounded good, so he and Lemuel decided to share that (with me pointing out to Lemuel that I bet he didn’t get much of the food). Since Wes had just finished off a turkey leg, he and Paula decided to share the French Dip sandwich, and I had a garden salad with boiled shrimp ($44.08 with 4 beverages). Lisa called Lemuel while we were waiting in line to see where we were. Apparently the non-commando group was a bit more concerned with the time than we were. We assured them that we would, indeed be back at the hotel by 1:30 or so.

The food was all good and the Bowl of Bones was really cute (and you got to keep the Zero dog bowl that it was served in). As predicted, Lemuel got to eat the salad that came with their meal, but not many of the “bones.”

Sadly, once we were finished eating, it was time to book it out of the park. Ironically, as we hurried through Adventureland, we noticed that Indiana Jones was open now. Oh well, there will be other trips.

As fortune would have it, a train was passing overhead when we went under the tunnels leading out of Main Street. We again waved at the conductor and were rewarded by a wave and another toot of the horn. We all got our hands stamped as we went through the turnstiles. The stamp said “Ariel” (although Paula swears hers looked more like a hieroglyphic of Saturn) which was nice since, although I never completely trust a woman who doesn’t have a closet full of shoes, I am quite fond of her. We took one last look back at the parks and then headed through Downtown Disney back to the hotel.

We found the rest of our group waiting in front of the fireplace for us. And when I say “waiting” I mean “dead asleep with their heads thrown back in their chairs.” We got our luggage from Bell Services so we could pack up some last minute purchases and so Wes could change shoes. Our limo driver was right on time and we were soon leaving the magic of Disney for the joyous experience that is LAX.

Mother was once again body-cavity searched because of her artificial knees, but she said that, where the agent in Lubbock was very nice about the process, this agent was a complete jerk. Apparently this security agent made quite the impression on Mom since later, at our gate, we saw a bird flying through the terminal. “I hope it doesn’t go up to security,” Mother said. “That agent will shoot it.”

I had forgotten about having put the fruit from the concierge lounge in Wes’ carry-on until we were going through the x-ray machines and I saw a large sign warning of the spread of the Oriental Fruit Fly. Oops. I didn’t feel too bad about it since I was sure that we’d eat the fruit or throw it out before we left on the plane, but I was rather relieved when Wes wasn’t singled out for a more in-depth security check.

As we were sitting at our gate, Paula looked around and said, “Just how much stolen, contraband food have you people brought into this airport?” We all started laughing as we noticed Wes with my fruit, Lemuel with three cans of coke that he had taken from the limousine, Mother with some Mickey macaroons that she had brought from the concierge lounge, and Lisa cometh with chips (This morning she had gone into DCA to buy a shirt that she had seen earlier for Michael and had stopped and bought a cheese on a stick from the Corn Dog Palace. As we all know, the cheese on a stick “cometh with chips.”).

Our trip home was uneventful and our flights were all on time. After we got home I did finally find the AP pin that I thought I’d lost. I had brilliantly put it in my suitcase so as not to lose it and then apparently forgot that I had done so.

QUIZ

Okay, so I lied. There’s no quiz. But aren’t you a better person for having read the whole report? No? Well I never promised that life was fair now did I. Look at it this way: you brightened my day by reading the whole report. Now I feel all validated and full of self-worth that someone as important as yourself would take time out of their busy schedule to read a collection of thoughts and events put together by little ol’ me. Doesn’t that give you a warm, fuzzy feeling in the cockles of your heart? (Not that I exactly know what a “cockle” is, but I’m sure there’s a warmth coming from yours now. If it’s coming from somewhere lower, then take a cold shower. Pervert!) And if you didn’t read the whole thing, then please don’t tell me-ignorance is bliss, you know.

SUMMARY

All in all, it was another great trip and we all had a very good time. Traveling with a large group takes a little getting used to, but was a fun experience.

It took us a day or so to realize that we didn’t have to all do everything together or spend every waking moment all together as a family. Once we came to that conclusion, it was a lot more enjoyable to everyone because it allowed us all to go at our own pace so some of us weren’t impatient while the others were worn out all the time.

The one thing that I don’t think I was prepared for was how much longer it takes to do anything with a larger group. You need to allow extra time for everything, since even something as simple as stopping for a bathroom break seemed to eat up chunks of time.

The Grand Californian was, once again, wonderful. It’s truly a lovely hotel and my favorite among the three Disney hotels there. But Robin, you say, it’s the *only* Disney hotel you’ve stayed at there. Okay, be picky about it, will you? It’s true that I haven’t *stayed* at the Disneyland Hotel or at Paradise Pier, but I have visited them and, while I certainly wouldn’t turn down a stay at either place, I would rather be at the Grand Californian.

The weather was kind of a mixed bag this trip. We had sun and rain, cold and warm. The majority of the days were nice and even the days that we had clouds and drizzle didn’t stop us from doing any park activities. It does tend to get cold at night, so be prepared for that if you visit this time of year.

We didn’t have too many sit-down meals this trip. The Blue Bayou was good, as always, and we all enjoyed The Storyteller’s Cafe as well (though I would definitely split an entree next time due to the large size of the items). We took advantage of the offerings at the concierge lounge for breakfast each morning and throughout the day, so there weren’t that many counter service places that we ate at either. I keep meaning to do a character meal here one of these days, but never seem to get around to it.

The limousine service was a nice treat and more economical than our other options since we had such a large group. I was very pleased with the service and wouldn’t hesitate to use Discount Sedans and Limos again. Also, the limousine finder service on the Mouse Savers website was great.

The holiday decorations were all wonderful. I dare anyone to come to Disneyland this time of the year and not get a huge dose of Christmas spirit.

My next Disney trip will be in July to Disneyland Paris as a guest of the wonderful Wilmot family (okay, so maybe Larry doesn’t have to pay me for mentioning him in my trip report this time) who’s hospitality is only second to Larry’s knowledge of musical groups of the 70’s such as Fleetwood Mac and ELO. I’m looking very much forward to the trip and to spending time with friends. Of course, it’s no summer in London, but it’s not too shabby. Oh yes, and I’m also looking forward to mocking the French unmercifully--an activity that I find muy tres bien!

Thanks for sticking with me. Till next time,

Viva la France!

Robin Goble

rgoble5972@aol.com


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