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Kelly Pierce -- January 2004 – Disneyland (GCH)


Cast

  • Kelly Pierce, self, 27 years old, Veteran (nearing the 100 visit mark)
  • Sam Pierce, my husband, 37 years old, Seasoned Visitor (almost Veteran status, having been married to me for 10 years)
  • Dan Thompson, my brother, 23 years old, Veteran (somewhere around 75 visits)
  • Sheree Thompson, Dan’s wife, 25 years old, Seasoned Visitor (getting to Veteran level)
  • Cathy Thompson, Mother of Dan and myself, 50 years old, Veteran (near 100 visits)
  • Donnie Thompson, Dad of Dan and myself, 56 years old, Veteran (who counts anymore with this many visits?)
  • June Thompson, Mother of Donnie, Grandma to Dan and I, 75+ yrs. old Infrequent Visitor (last trip in 2000)
  • Forrest Thompson, Father of Donnie, affectionately called Gramps by me, 80+ yrs. old Infrequent Visitor (last trip in 2000)

Dates: January 8th – January 11th (3 nights and 4 days)

The Plan:

We decided several months back that if Gramps health permitted we wanted to do at least one more family trip. Originally the plan was going to be two adjoining rooms with Downtown Disney views. Most of us have stayed in the theme park view rooms and we figured that the Downtown Disney rooms would not only be cheaper but would be something different. However, when we found out that Dan had received a postcard offering extremely discounted rates things changed. We were able to get the above listed accommodations for a steal at less than $600.00 a night. While this price might seem astronomically high to many keep in mind that it was divided 6 ways and included breakfast, snacks throughout the day, all the sodas and bottled water we wanted, and milk and cookies before bed. There were also the usual amenities at an upscale hotel such as newspapers every morning, free DVD rentals, etc. The original plan was for all of us to go down together early Thursday morning and stay Thursday – Sunday. However due to a change in policy at work I was not able to leave until Friday and Sheree was not able to leave until Thursday evening. So we ended up having 4 vehicles instead of 2, so much for helping with smog pollution in Southern California.

The Trip:

THURSDAY
Dan, Gramps, Grandma, Sam, Dad, and Mom all left Thursday morning. There was some road construction so the drive took a little longer than usual but other than that things went smoothly. They arrived at the Grand Californian guardhouse early afternoon. When they pulled up at the valet parking they were all greeted by name and had all the benefits of the concierge level explained to them. Gramps was kind of in awe but enjoying it, Grandma was pretty overwhelmed at this point, she didn’t know how much we spent but was thinking that it was too much. By all accounts check in was smooth and efficient. They had a fairly relaxing afternoon, doing some stuff in the parks and after dinner they went back to the room. Sheree had arrived by that point so Dan and Sheree then got dressed in their flannel PJ’s and went to the concierge lounge for cookies, milk, and a bedtime story. Sam went wearing his giant yellow Mickey Mouse slippers. I guess they were determined to make the most out of the concierge experience. Gramps and Grandma & Dad and Mom all went in their regular clothes just to check it out.

FRIDAY
The group had a fairly non-eventful day. I got off work early, dropped the car at my Dads, checked the food and water supply for our dogs and was supposed to be picked up by the rental car people since there was no one to drop me off. They were almost 3 hrs. late and I had to make more than one call, needless to say I was not happy. Although, I was able to get a 2004 Ford F150 truck for the price of $9.99 a day which helped. Finally on the road I made tracks. Considering all the construction on I-5 my time wasn’t too bad.

I arrived and checked in. I checked my luggage with the bell desk since I wasn’t exactly sure what the family was doing. They had a little bit of trouble finding my name on the rooming list at the concierge desk but my husband was in the lobby waiting for me so that problem was quickly taken care of. Since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast I had my husband take me to the concierge lounge. The options in the concierge lounge included Philo Dough pastry cups filled with cream cheese and topped with melon balls, a veggie tray with assorted vegetables that were not the average variety, regular coffee, decaf coffee, hot coco, assorted soft and hard cheeses with a variety of crackers, crustless PB&J sandwiches cut in a triangle with a dab of PB and a grape on top, assorted fresh fruits, coke, diet coke, sprite, milk, and large chocolate chip cookies. I got enough to hold me over until dinner and then we went back to the room and met the group. When we arrived at the room there was a dozen roses that my husband had ordered for me to cheer me up from having to miss most of the day because of work. Gramps was very relieved that I got there safely, he still worries whenever I travel alone despite the fact that I have a cell phone.

First stop was Disney’s California Adventure. When the cast member at the gate told Grandma to please open her sweater to show she wasn’t hiding anything Grandma grabbed it and flung it open like she was flashing the lady, it was too funny! The line wasn’t too bad for California Screamin’. Due to health problems Gramps and Sam sat on the sidelines. Surprisingly Grandma loved it! In fact it turned out to be one her favorites. The line was fairly short when we got off so all but me got back on. I met up with Gramps and Sam who were people watching. Sam wasn’t feeling good so he headed to ride the Grizzly River Rapids. I rode King Triton’s Carrousel simply because I never had and there was no line. (However it is ridiculous to me that it is called a Carrousel instead of Merry Go Round without it being horses.) It was almost time for the park to close so we started to head to the exit to go across the way into Disneyland. We got there just as the Electrical Parade was starting. There were a couple of bulbs out here and there on the floats, guess we should have all brought our collectible “going away forever” light bulb from the final performance to help them out. The Cinderella Ball portion and how each of the dancers had a different design of lights on her gown of course awed the little girls around us. At the end everyone started clapping when the American Eagle Finale Float came by. Seeing the parade just brings back so many happy nostalgic memories from my childhood. I always enjoy it even if it is a shortened version.

Next up was Disneyland. It looked like a parade was starting so we hopped on the train. I honestly can’t remember the last time I actually boarded the train at the Main Street station. We put a dime in the old fashioned music box while waiting for the train to arrive. Gramps really enjoyed listening to the music, he finds enjoyment in the simplest pleasures. While riding the train the first thing we noticed was the narrator had changed. Then we noticed the stuffed panther was missing from the rock. The engineer also did a lot more live talking than in the past. There were so many noticeable changes in the first few minutes, that is what happens when you visit more than the average person.

We exited at ToonTown. They humored me and off we all went to Small World Holiday. I could do without the Haunted Mansion Holiday but I truly love the remake of Small World. Gramps and Grandma had never seen the makeover and they loved it! I must admit, to me there is something magical about it. After riding it when walked all the way back to Fantasmic. It was a great performance as always. This was the first time any of us had caught the finale when the characters all come on stage instead of riding the Mark Twain which was under construction. I thought it was just as good as the boat finale, especially for any children because they got to see the characters being more active. After that we headed for Main Street then out the gate and to the hotel. We sent Dan and Sheree on a run for Taco Bell for a cheap quick dinner. It cost us less than $10.00. While they were gone we popped in the Tarzan DVD that we had gotten earlier from the concierge lounge.

SATURDAY
We all were awake, showered, and at breakfast by 8:00. Our goal was to be at the park by 9:00. The breakfast options at the concierge lounge consisted of the following choices: Milk, OJ, Regular Coffee, DeCaf Coffee, Hot Coco, Frosted Flakes, Raisin Bran, Crunchy Cheerios, Corn Flakes, Croissants, Croissants drizzled with Chocolate, Blueberry Muffins, Apple Cinnamon Muffins, Bran Muffins, Plain Bagels, Blueberry Bagels, Banana Bread, sides of Strawberry or Regular Cream Cheese, Butter, Dickinson’s Jelly in several flavors including grape, orange marmalade, strawberry, and Raspberry, and a fruit tray with honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon, and strawberry. After breakfast it was off to Disneyland.

We caught Monorail Red and off we went. Ariel was already in her shell so Danny wanted to stop for a “guy” picture. Right before them in line was a group of teenage boys clearly having a good time with Ariel. We then went and hit Fantasyland. First up was the Matterhorn, then Alice in Wonderland. The Storybook Canal Boats followed. There were nice enough cast members named Pablo and Thomas working the attraction. In fact Thomas looked at Dan and said “wow, you have a life size Simba on his arm. (At this point maybe I better explain that my brother is in the 6’8”-6’10” range last time we checked and his arms are huge. Therefore, his tattoo of the Lion King does look very large compared to the average person.) While in the boat we passed the Casey Jr. Train loading and when the boat captain said lets wave to the animals Dad said really loud “those animals sure look strange.” The people on the train turned at looked at our boat and everyone including our captain started laughing. Next up was Mr. Toad’s wild ride. Across that way at Snow White there was a family with small kids getting ready to head inside and Sam showed them how the Golden Apple out front works. Pinocchio was up next and the most noticeable thing was one of the three marionettes in the opening scene was missing. We all decided to head to Casey Jr. next. While in line the Queen of Hearts along with several other Alice Characters came to the Meet and Greet Area. The Queen saw Dan’s Pittsburgh Stealers tattoo and came over and just started staring at Dan until he noticed. Then the Queen started to point at the tattoo and touch his arm and give a thumbs up. Danny then turned so “she” could see his Lion King tattoo on the other arm. The queen rubbed that arm too and then went and got the Mad Hatter and Alice to come look at his tattoos too. It was such a funny moment. When I told them all that the Queen was most likely a guy Sheree and Mom started busting up laughing and Danny just shrugged it off. Thankfully Gramps and Grandma didn’t catch that part of it. After getting off the train the Queen saw us again and came over and acted like “she” wanted a hug from Danny. He went along with it and we just started laughing again. We rode the carrousel, which looked really nice after the rehab. The last couple of visits it was being refurbished and was closed. Even though I am not blessed with any children yet I always have to check out the Princess Store getting ideas and options for when the time comes. I noticed how they have added considerably to the princess line by including capes as well as “holiday” dresses for almost each princess and well as the “traditional” ones. Cinderella was inside the shop at the back telling a story. We left through the left side of the castle to stop off at the wishing well. Snow White was there signing autographs. Close by but far enough away to where it wasn’t a mob scene Princess Aurora was signing autographs as well. Having successfully finished the entire Fantasyland Experience in one block of time we headed off down Main Street.

We turned off at Frontierland. After a brief stop in the Trading Post Store and many comments about how much of the unique souvenirs had disappeared only to be replaced by generic merchandise we decided to ride the Columbia. It had been quite a while since many in the group had ridden this ship. There was what looked to be a real cat in the antlers of one of moose along the riverbank. It was quite comical. Most noticeable during the boat ride was the fact that all the ducks were paired up and that there was no mention of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Mark Twain’s spiel. Gramps and Grandma did enjoy the stagecoach it reminded them of when the park used to have the Indian Village and the Rainbow Ridge (or something like that.) It was a very nostalgic touch for them and they enjoyed it.

After the boat ride we were off to the Bleu Bayou for lunch. We had made our reservations at the concierge desk at the beginning of the trip so we hadn’t had to deal with making them that morning or waiting in line. Once inside it became apparent that this might not have been the smartest choice for dining this trip. Gramps had a horrible time trying to read the menu in the dimmed lighting. When the food arrived Grandma made the comment “they must have it so dark in here so you can’t see what you are eating.” (Mental note made to self to not take the grandparents to this restaurant if they are well enough to come back.) Overall the meal was enjoyable, due to the size of our party we were not right on the waterfront but still had a nice view. The check for all 8 of us came to a total of $155.22 including tax and gratuity. The items ordered consisted of the Monte Cristo Sandwich, Crab Cakes, Pork Loin, Chicken Florentine, Blackened Chicken Salad, and Prime Rib w/ a couple of orders of the fried cheesecake for dessert. Generally speaking the food was good as always and Grandma made the comment that her side salad and ½ Monte Cristo Sandwich was better than the spicy chicken she ordered at our 2000 visit. After lunch we went back outside and waiting a couple of minutes for Gramps eyes to readjust to the light. We then boarded the train again. Even Gramps and Grandma commented on how the scenes in the Grand Canyon panorama were starting to looking a little worn and ratty. We exited on Main Street and then headed back to the room.

When we arrived back at the room we had a reminder call from Mickey about our Aladdin reservations that we had made that morning in the concierge lounge. Most of the group took a nap but I don’t nap well so I chose to rest in the living room and watch Dinosaur, which happened to be playing on the Disney Channel. About one hour before our preferred seating time, we headed to the entrance to DCA. There was an older cast member at the gate who called me hun, which was different; usually they call you by your first name, which comes up when they swipe your annual pass.

We headed to Aladdin and the cast member at the doors had us wait in a line and a few others came and were put in line behind us. Then next to us was another line, however both ropes dropped at the same time and they merged, we weren’t sure the point in that extra step unless it was just to keep the lines from looking so long to the general public. Once seated inside we had a decent view, it wasn’t like the first time we saw the show at the end of 2002 and had to climb what seemed like a thousand stories on the outside of the building. According to Grandma the seats were very comfortable. The Genie was excellent, either he is different that the original when the show first premiered or he has vastly improved his performance. Genie threw in several current event one liners including references to Britney Spears ex-husband, the grocery worker strike at Safeway & Vons, Dr. Phil, Gigli, Women are from Mars and Men are from Venus, and the “Can you hear me now” cell phone commercials. He was just really good!

After the performance several in our group needed to head to the restrooms. The entire left side of the back-lot area was closed and roped off for something. It looked like the might have been taping a special event based on all the cameras, lighting, security, etc. We headed to the restrooms on Hollywood Blvd near the Animation Building. The stop at the animation building was rather brief because Sam, Gramps, and Grandma were all starting to get tired and it just wasn’t Grandma’s cup of tea so to speak. We stopped off at the tortilla factory and the sour dough bakery exhibits. We joked with Grandma that was her dinner. Slowly we made our way around the park until we were at Grizzly River Rapids. By this point most of the crew chose not to ride. Sam rode with his pancho and I was the only brave one to rough it. Well, I ended up being the only one on the boat that got soaked. In fact, every stop I was drowned by the geyser in addition to the rapids portion. Usually I just go on in the wet clothes but Gramps and Grandma were so worried about me getting sick I agreed to take them back to the room since they wanted to call it a night and since I was at the room I changed clothes to make them happy.

Once I had changed and got Gramps and Grandma settled I went to get some ice and discovered you need your room key to get to the ice machine. How stupid is that? So I walked all the way back to the room got the key and got the ice. I then took Grandma to the concierge room to get a light dinner of sandwiches, cookies, and fruit for she and Gramps for dinner. Once all that was settled it was off again to Disneyland.

I was starting to get pretty tired by this point and determined that the Monorail was my best bet. The driver called himself “Captain Bob” and was one of the best Monorail pilots I have ridden with in a very long time. There was a little boy and his family riding as well and the boy had a stuffed companion he called Teddy. The entire ride to the park we kept hearing “this is Captain Bob and Teddy” whenever the driver would say something. I can imagine that it just made that little boy’s night.

I got to Tomorrowland just in time to get stuck in the parade starting. The Storybook Land boats were of course closed so I rode the Casey Jr. Circus Train quickly to get a view of the Storybook villages at night. It is really peaceful just watching them all lit up with no boats or people drifting by. I then took the back way and jogged over to meet the rest of the group at Indiana Jones. Since Fantasmic was about to start again we hopped the train to ToonTown and rode Roger Rabbit. The child in me couldn’t resist knocking on the door for the gorilla bouncer to come out. Since we hadn’t eaten anything since the Bleu Bayou we stopped and got a cream cheese filled pretzel which, in our opinion, has to be one of the greatest food combinations they have come up with. Dan couldn’t take it anymore and went to get “real” food for dinner.

We then headed over to Adventureland. We hit the Tiki Room which is always a sentimental favorite simply because it has been around so long. Unfortunately, we had some of the rudest people I have ever witnessed at Disneyland in our show. It was very annoying. We road the Jungle Book and noticed that the Bengal Tiger was gone and all that was left was an empty rock. The guide also made the comment when a little kid said that’s a big snake that “It’s not a snake it is just a giant orange and purple gummy worm”. We then rode on Pirates and noticed that the keys were missing from the dog’s mouth at the end jail scene. That was odd to us, in all our times visiting that has never occurred. I really miss the pieces of 8 souvenir machine that used to be in the shop. It was a family tradition and I have coins dating all the ways back from my first trip as a baby in 1976. After we got off Pirates the park was officially closed so we headed back to the room.

SUNDAY
Since it was the last day we were a little slower getting up and around in the morning. The breakfast offerings were the same as the day before, no changes. We headed out to DCA for our chance to get the free behind the scenes tours and to be the first to ride Soaring Over California that morning. My first instinct was how it was such a joke. Our host kept going on about all the little themeing details in the park such as the fake oil stains, the types of plants used for landscaping, etc. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry that such a big deal was made out of truly inferior themeing. The fact that we were finally able to ride in the top, middle row of seats was nice. It is so annoying to see the shadows of peoples feet above you when you are on this otherwise fabulous ride. Dan convinced Grandma to do the rope course with him. She was actually pretty quick and it was too funny to watch until Grandma fell and got a rope burn on her face. We were going to stop in at the Brother Bear show but it was totally packed so we kept on going. Next up was the floating Whoopi head movie. Everyone was starting to get kind of tired so we exited out of the park.

We decided to head to the Rain Forest Café for lunch. It was very nice, the non-alcoholic fruit drink tasted fabulous, portions were huge, and it was crowded but not overly noisy. I don’t remember the cost but it ended up being more than the Bleu Bayou was since everyone ordered appetizers and non-alcoholic mixed drinks. After lunch it was off to Build-A-Bear. My husband has wanted to do that ever since the shop went in. He made a “Grease” bear with shades, leather jacket, jeans, white shirt, etc. Dan and Sheree made matching Beauty and the Beast stuffed Lions. All three creations cost $40.00-$50.00 each. (I don’t know who originally came up with the Build-A-Bear story idea but they are a marketing genius.)

Sheree headed home and the rest of us headed back to the park. We caught Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Then we headed over and rode Indiana Jones. The ride vehicle stalled a lot more than usual at the boulder scene. We went for another quick ride on Pirates and then off to Critter Country. The rest of the group had ridden Pooh before I arrived on Friday but I had to see it for myself. Sad to say but it lived up to all the negative publicity. Sitting in the front car I was able to whip around and see Melvin and Company hanging on the wall. How I wish that the Country Bears were still around. I did a quick ride on Splash Mountain in the single rider line since no one else wanted to chance getting wet before going home.

By this point the sun was going down and we knew things were going to have to wrap up. We all climbed aboard the train and just rode for a couple of loops while deciding what to do. After boarding we had to stop at It’s A Small World to let the parade pass by. It was kind of nice though because we were stopped right at the tracks and ended up getting a personal show from King Louie, Baloo, and the rest of the characters with them. All of us rode around full circle and got off at the ToonTown Station. After stopping for the final cream cheese filled pretzel of the trip we took a ride on It’s A Small World and then headed off for Main Street. However we stopped on the way for Peter Pan as our final ride of the night.

We stopped to look in a few shops as we made our way towards the exit. The retro windows with some of the favorite princess scenes from the past were nice enough. We stopped on Main Street for an Ice Cream Cone; Sam and I bought a Fantasia to share. (For those who may not know Fantasia is a mix of three flavors that taste fabulous together: cherry, pistachio, and banana, if my memory serves correctly.) We then sat on a bench in the square enjoying the spring flowers and the castle while the rest of the group finished shopping.

Everyone slowly walked back to the hotel. We decided to try to get into the concierge lounge for a final round. Our keys didn’t work but the cast member working in the lounge let us in without incident. We got cookies, chips, water, and soda for the rode. We then headed out to the lobby, picked up all the souvenirs that we had sent to the bell desk, and headed home.

SUMMARY POINTS
The concierge lounge was nice but our suite was literally the farthest room from it. We had a hike of at least a mile or more each time we wanted to get something from the lounge. Having to walk so much extra really tired everyone out quicker than just the average theme park view rooms by the elevator. We did get decent use out of the concierge lounge but would have gotten better use if we had been closer.

The breakfast and snacks were sufficient to make us feel that the extra money was worth it. The main complaint was that the sodas were in glass bottles so you couldn’t stock up on them like you could the water.

Generally speaking the staff was friendly, there were a few that went above and beyond the call of duty and a couple that were awful but overall we were happy with the cast members.

Grandparent’s are like kids, they will always come up with something to surprise you. None of us would have thought Grandma’s favorite ride would be have been Screamin’ at DCA.

Dan is excellent with a camera and managed to record every ride he wanted including Indiana Jones from start to finish.

We all missed watching the fireworks but based on what I have been reading the days of fireworks every night of your visit are almost extinct.

Bleu Bayou is nice for an intimate meal with a limited amount of people but 8 is really too many, especially when two of the 8 are older and are just as happy with fast food from a cart.

One of the few negatives was that Gramps wasn’t totally well and didn’t have the stamina of the past. Certain other members of the group really could have been more understanding than they were.

For being a Disney Hotel, the DVD collection in the concierge lounge was very limited, especially when it came to the Classic Animation.

My husband spent more time in bed in the room that out enjoying the parks with us. He couldn’t ride hardly anything because he was in so much pain. Turns out that he had some herniated disks that were pinching nerves and he actually has been off work for 7 months after enduring neck/back surgery.

Overall it was a fun trip that will be fondly remembered.

Kelly Pierce

kpierce@kdhcd.org


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