Jennifer Savage -- July 2002 -- Disneyland
July 22-25, 2002
This trip started as a business trip for Jeff, a trade show in Long Beach. Sweet thing that he is, he invited us all to go along. As a southern CA native, I can't resist the beach, so I started investigating hotels and activities.
I found a good deal at the West Coast Long Beach for two adjoining rooms, one of which would be paid for by Jeff's company. The other I used the Entertainment discount part of my Disney Club card to get 50% off the rack rate. We ended up paying $102/night for our room, and $118/night for the company-paid room.
I knew that Jeff would be pretty tied up Sunday-Wednesday afternoon with his trade show, so I decided to do the new Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach on Monday, then hit the beach on Tuesday, and just hang out at the hotel pool until Jeff was finished on Wednesday.
Then the kids started asking about Disneyland. Now, I love Disneyland more than most people, but I have a thing about theme parks in the summer. I hate the heat, and I hate the crowds. So I told the kids, no Disneyland this trip, but we're taking a trip in the fall. As a compromise, I made dinner reservations for Goofy's Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel for Wednesday night.
Then I found out that we had to be at a family thing on the Saturday after the trade show up in northern California. We had just spent about 10 days there earlier in the summer, so we decided to not drive up until Friday, leaving Thursday open.
What to do, what to do....
Disneyland, of course.
I warned everyone that it would be REALLY hot and REALLY crowded, and we'd probably only get in a few rides, and we were DEFINITELY going to take a break in the middle of the day, and they still wanted to go, so I priced one-day tickets, added it to the budget, and made lunch reservations for the Blue Bayou for 11:30 on Thursday. It's a tradition for us. I also booked us a room at the Park Inn, right across the street from Disneyland (walking distance), for Wednesday and Thursday nights. It had 2 rooms, 3 queen beds, a sleeper sofa, a mini-kitchen, one bathroom, 2 TVs, continental breakfast and a pool from which you could see the Matterhorn and the fireworks, for $139/night on Travelocity
Saturday, July 20
We got on the road only 30 minutes after we had planned, which is pretty good for us. Traveling from Spanish Fork, Utah to Long Beach is about a 10 hour drive. We stopped for lunch in Las Vegas, and were in Long Beach by 7pm. We stayed the first night at the Westin, right across from the convention center, because the West Coast had no rooms available for that night. It turns out there was a biker convention that week end, thousands of leather-clad people on Harleys. Not mentioned on the Long Beach tourist website at all, which I thought was sneaky. But except for Sunday afternoon for a few hours, it didn't affect us at all.
The Westin was nice, and if Jeff and I ever go back to LB on our own, we'll definitely stay there. We got a convention rate (Jeff's conference, not the biker one) of $139/night. The beds were really comfortable, with white down comforters, thick white towels, robes, and a gorgeous marble bathroom with a dual shower head in the tub. Very luxurious. But not a great place for kids, unless yours are extremely tidy and quiet. Mine are pretty good, but with a two year old and a four year old, the white décor made me a little nervous. And it was obviously a business-minded hotel, so children seemed not exactly unwelcome, but at least unexpected.
Sunday, July 21
After dropping Jeff off to set up for his trade show, the kids and I hunted down a Denny's for breakfast. Then we headed over to the West Coast to check in and make sure that they were honoring our request for adjoining rooms. We were told that they would have the two rooms together available by 1 or 2, so we picked up Jeff, ran a couple of errands, had lunch, then checked in.
A few notes about the West Coast Long Beach. First, it's right down the street (or path) from the Queen Mary, and it's right on the bay. That's good. But it's also right by the shipping yards, which can be a little noisy, and there's a lot of truck traffic through there. It's also difficult to find, the roads through there are a little confusing, and if you make a mistake, it takes you a while to correct it because there's no place to turn around.
Second, it's a great family hotel, and our rooms were spacious, with balconies overlooking the bay. The pool is nice, and room service is reasonable and quick, which is good, because you can't find a pizza place that will deliver out there.
But the hotel is showing its age. It's not exactly run-down, but you get the feeling that this hotel has seen better days. It could do with a little remodeling.
Still, it was clean, comfortable, and at least I didn't have to worry about the kids staining the white bedding like at the Westin.
Monday, July 22
I dropped Jeff at the Convention Center this morning, and we did cereal, milk and juice in the hotel. Each room has a fridge, which made it easy. Then, after getting everyone cleaned up, we went on our excursion to the aquarium.
On the website, it said that tickets for the aquarium were for a certain time. So I called ahead to find out what time was currently available for the day, and to buy them over the phone for as early as I could get them. It turned out that they weren't expecting big crowds that day, so they weren't using the time tickets. I still bought them over the phone, so I could pick them up at will-call.
Public transportation in Long Beach is free, using the Passport busses. We waited about 5 minutes for the one that stopped at our hotel. It took us downtown to Pine Street, where we got off and waited for the Shoreline Link bus to take us to the aquarium. It was easy, the drivers were helpful, and I didn't have to pay for parking. Or get lost finding the hotel again. The bus route back was the same, but in reverse. We used my little Combi stroller, which folds up nice and small, is light and maneuverable, but sturdier than an umbrella stroller. We took off the front bar so that Nick could get in and out easily.
We paid $18.95 each for me, Erica and Scott, and $9.95 for Jacob. Nicholas was free, being only 2. The aquarium was nice, but we lived in San Jose for 3 years and were members of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which kind of spoiled us. I think the LB aquarium will be better in a few years when it fills out a little with a few more exhibits, but it had some great hands-on displays (Jacob touched sharks) and the sea lions were cool. It also had sea horses, which were only a temporary exhibit at Monterey.
We had lunch at the Scuba Café while we were there, they offer sack lunches for the little ones that have a sandwich (turkey, ham or PBJ), chips, jello, and mini binoculars for $3.75, not bad. They also offer deli sandwiches, salads, and grill items, along with a wide variety of beverages, chips, fruit, etc. We got a couple of cups of fresh pineapple chunks to share, and they were GOOD. We ate at a table overlooking the bay, and watched the boats go by. The entire excursion, including bus travel took us about 3 1/2 hours, which was just about right. I put the little guys down for a nap, and let the big kids go to the pool.
Jeff got back around 4, and napped for a little bit. Then we all got organized, hopped in the car, and went to Disneyland.
I know, I know, it wasn't in the plan, but I'll explain. After pricing one-day tickets, and knowing that we would be getting 4-day park hoppers when we came back in the fall, it was actually less expensive for us to get Deluxe Annual passes, which would also allow us to surprise the kids with an evening at the park on Monday, sneak in for a little after dinner on Wednesday, and maybe even spend a little time there on Friday morning before heading up to see our families. And lest you think that I somehow put one over on Jeff, it was actually his idea, because he is the most wonderful man on the planet.
We arrived at the park around 7:30 and learned three valuable lessons that night. First, stay away from the Rivers of America area after 8:30, because the Fantasmic! crowd control people will make you go the long way around to get to everything. Second, if you want something to eat after 9:30pm, you have to go to Main Street or New Orleans Square, both of which are really crowded. Third, there are two halves to the Mickey and Friends parking structure.
Getting our annual passes processed was quick and easy, though nobody particularly likes their photos. Having accomplished that, we headed to Adventureland, where we rode the Jungle Cruise, then to New Orleans Square for Pirates and Haunted Mansion. The older kids wanted to do Splash or Thunder Mountans, but the FastPasses were gone for both, and the stand-by lines were pretty long. So we headed over to Fantasyland where we did Casey Jr., which was a must for my two train-lovin' little boys. While we were on the train, the fireworks started. They were beautiful, a truly amazing show. Complete with Tinkerbell flying at the end. Magical.
One really great thing I saw was that one of the Storybook Canal Boats CMs had stopped his boat at the beginning of the fireworks and stayed parked in one spot for the entire show, giving the guests on that particular boat a spectacular venue from which to experience the fireworks. Kudos to that CM for providing a little extra Pixie Dust.
By now everyone was starving and tired, so we looked for something to eat. We were moments too late to get into the Plaza Inn, but we were told that Club Buzz was still serving food, so we went over there. They had just closed, which seemed silly to us because they had a band playing, and lots of people around. So we headed out to Main Street, where we came to Coke Corner and got hotdogs for everyone. It was crowded, so it took a while, but the CMs were friendly if somewhat harried. There was one rude woman in the line next to me who, when she reached the counter, berated every CM in sight for being "incredibly slow" and proceeded to tell them that they had had about 20 people just leave because of the "embarrassingly bad service for a Disney park." So I smiled at the girl serving me, and said, "Kristen, you've been really great. Have a wonderful rest of the night." It made her happy, and the rude woman glared at me, so my work there was done and I went off to eat my hotdog. A piano player showed up after a few minutes to entertain the crowd, and it was great, it brought back such happy childhood memories.
We left the park, found our car eventually, and headed back to LB, happy owners of annual passes.
Tuesday, July 23
This is the day we went to the beach. I won't bore you with the details. We had a great time, nobody got sunburned, we lost one of Nick's water shoes, found a few cool shells, and learned that you have to cover every bit of food to keep it away from the seagulls, even your soft drinks.
Wednesday, July 24
On the way home from the beach, the brakes on my minivan started making a grinding noise, so after dropping Jeff off at the convention center, I took the car in to be fixed. I was driven back to the hotel by a nice retired gentleman, named Paul, who works a few days a week for the owner of 3 car-repair places shuttling people whose cars are being fixed. After he dropped me off, the kids and I ordered breakfast from room service, and while they ate in my room I cleaned and packed up theirs. Then while they watched TV in theirs, I cleaned and packed up mine. By the time this was all done, the car was finished, so Paul took me back to pick up the car. Then I picked up Jeff, we packed up the car, checked out of the WCLB, and went for lunch. Which all sounds so simple, but it was easier said than done. We had lunch around 3:30.
From there we drove to the Park Inn. We hit a little traffic, but not too bad. We checked in around 5. When we went to our room, it only had 2 queen beds, not the 3 like the room type I had booked. I called down to the front desk, and they said no problem, send someone down to exchange keys, and we'll give you the right room. Five minutes later, everything was taken care of. We dropped our luggage, put the little guys down for a quick nap, let the older two hit the pool, and collapsed for some much-deserved rest.
One note about the pool at this hotel. It is on the fourth floor, on a kind of bridge that connects two buildings of the hotel and goes over the parking lot. Which is a great concept, except the pool is only 3 1/2 feet deep. Great for little ones, there's no deep end to worry about. Not as great for kids who are over 5 feet tall, but mine still managed to have a good time. And it does have a hot tub. But it closes at 10, so you can't sit in it after a day in the park unless you come back early.
Around 7, we all headed out the door to walk over to the Disneyland Hotel for our 7:15 dinner reservations. We should have allowed more time, because we were late. And the signs should have directed hotel traffic to walk through Downtown Disney. We ended up getting there, but we took a "scenic route."
When we arrived, we were seated within about 5 minutes. The décor of the restaurant is pretty great, and the food service is a buffet, with a children's bar, salad bar, hot entrees, chef carved prime rib and ham, some good side dishes, and a pretty extensive dessert bar. A server brings soft drinks. Ours was really efficient, making sure we had ample refills after our long trek in the hot July sun. The characters that night were Chip and Dale, Snow White, Mulan, Genie, Pluto, and, of course, Goofy. Mulan and Genie never made it over to our table, and Chip was stationed by the entrance, so we got a picture of the boys with him there. Dale came over first, and this totally amazed Nicholas. He loved the characters. Except for Snow White.
Snow White was actually the best Snow White we had ever seen, including at Cinderella's for breakfast at WDW. I mean, she WAS Snow White, face, voice and character. But I think that having her be a real person instead of an overgrown stuffed animal made Nick a little nervous, so when we put him down to go see her, he took off running the other way. I would have caught him much sooner, but he had a 6-year-old from another table block for him, and he almost made it out of the restaurant before I managed to catch up.
Goofy and Pluto were great, too, and at one point all the characters and servers, and I think the chefs too, came out and did a dance. Very entertaining.
I think, though, that it's pretty pricey for dinner, so if we go back, we'll try breakfast.
Jeff and I took the little guys over to ride the Fantasyland rides, and Erica and Scott went over to DCA for the evening. They rode the Grizzly River Rapids twice and the California Screamin' coaster once before the park closed. We managed to do Pinocchio, Mr. Toad, Peter Pan, and the Autopia cars. Then we hit the train back to Main Street and walked back to our hotel.
Erica and Scott are (so far) the only ones who have visited DCA in our family. After studying the Birnbaum guide, I discovered that there are only 5 attractions that my family can enjoy together. Two of these are movies. One of the movies is It's Tough to Be a Bug, which is probably too intense for the little guys. Jacob, though usually fearless, is afraid of insects, and was freaked out a little by the effects in Honey I Shrunk the Audience at WDW. One of the other attractions everyone could do was a carousel, kind of a bore for the older two. So we gave it a miss on this trip. We might spend some time there in the fall. But, honestly, there's nothing in that park except for the Screamin' coaster that I feel is a must-do, and even then, I did some pretty wild coasters at Six Flags Marine World earlier this summer. So if Disney wants me in that park, they're going to have to make it a little more attractive to families. One good thing, though, I bet there aren't many strollers or tired children there for those who try to avoid that sort of thing.
We will, however, explore Downtown Disney further on future trips. It looks like it has a great variety of restaurants and shops, and there were two groups playing live music the night we were there. Definitely a great place for Mom and Dad's night out on the next trip.
Thursday, July 25
We hit the hotel's continental breakfast bar (pastries and juice or coffee or hot chocolate are free, you pay for anything else) and were through the gates at 8:40. We stopped and picked up two strollers, as this was our big day in the park. While I was in line for the strollers, Jeff sent Scott running for Indiana Jones FPs. We got them for 9:25. We hit Fantasyland for Dumbo and Snow White, then we headed over to Adventureland. By the time we got there, our FP window had opened, so Jeff went over to Splash Mountain to get FPs, and we met him back at the Tiki Room, where he made it just in time for the show about to start.
Nicholas had heard the Tiki Room song hundreds of times, because it's on a tape of Disney songs that one of Jeff's uncles made for the kids once, and I keep it in the car because it calms the little guys down on long car rides. But watching Nick experience the actual Tiki Room was priceless. As soon as the music started, his little jaw dropped, and he started dancing and grinning, and staring all around him in wonder. Definitely a Magic Moment. I hope they don't ruin this Tiki Room like they ruined the one at WDW. We saw that one in December of 2000, and it was TERRIBLE. We won't bother again.
After the Tiki Room, Jeff and I took Jacob on Indy while E&S took Nick on Jungle Cruise. Jacob loved Indy. Did I mention he has NO FEAR? Then we swapped, and E&S headed over to Indy while we took Nick back on the Jungle Cruise. Would you believe I heard TWO new jokes? Amazing.
Our Splash FP's weren't until 12:35, so after Indy, we headed over to the Blue Bayou for our 11:30 reservation. We were seated immediately, our server, Melissa, was excellent, and the food was great as always.
Before Splash, we sent Scott over to Space Mountain to get FPs, then met him there, where E,S&J rode while Jeff and I got in line with Nick to see Eeyore, Tigger, and Pooh. When the kids got back, we switched, left the kids in line while Jeff and I rode. We got back just in time to see Nick and Jake get to hug Pooh. Erica took pictures. Then it was time for our Space FPs so we sent Scott to get FPs for Thunder Mt, and he met us at Space Mt. This time Jeff, Scott and Jake rode, Nick slept, and then Erica and I rode. Then we headed to Thunder Mt. while Scott ran for FPs for Autopia. We rode Thunder, then when our Autopia FPs came up, Scott got FPs for Roger Rabbit. We rode Autopia, then Roger Rabbit, and headed for the train to Main Street, and walked back to our hotel for a break. It was 4pm, and we had managed to do quite a bit.
After naps for Jeff and the little guys, and a swim for the big kids (I read and soaked my poor tired feet in the hot tub), we headed back to Disneyland for an evening of fun and frolic. First, we stopped at the McDonalds right next door for a quick dinner, then went back to the park and re-rented our two strollers. The CM here was really cute. She asked for our last name for the stroller cards, and I said it's Savage, like Savage Garden. I've found that it's the easiest way for the 16-25 year old set to write our name correctly without me having to spell it for them. Anyway, she thought that was funny, so she wrote Savage Garden on both the stroller cards, and asked me to tell her if anyone was waiting by the strollers when we got back from a ride waiting to see Savage Garden. (For those who don't know, Savage Garden is a popular band.)
We had arrived back at the park around 7:30, and headed straight for Mr. Lincoln, another tradition. We did Pirates twice as a walk-on, then headed to Fantasyland to do a few of the rides we'd missed. The Erica and Scott wanted to ride the Matterhorn, but it was a long wait. We did a few rides, then stopped in the candy store on Main Street on our way out of the park. We bought a 3-pack of medium-sized twirly lollypops, and when we opened one of them, it was broken, so we exchanged them with no problem. And the CM who rang up my purchase told me that I didn't look old enough to have a 14-year-old daughter. After a long day in a theme park, I took that as a REAL compliment!
Friday, July 26
We had planned on going to Disneyland first thing this morning to hit a few rides before heading out, but Nick was impossible to wake up, and Jeff's not much of a morning person anyway, so Erica, Scott, and Jacob headed out alone. They really wanted to ride the Matterhorn. They left at 8, and I told them to leave the park by 9:30, which I thought would give them time to do the Matterhorn, plus maybe one other ride.
They actually managed to do the Matterhorn, Star Tours twice, the Rocket Ships, Dumbo, and a few of the other Fantasyland rides in about an hour, and arrived back at the hotel by 9:30. While they were gone, I managed to take a luxuriously long shower, and pack up everything. So when they got back, we loaded the car and went, stopping at McDonalds for breakfast.
Must-do's for our next trip:
See you in the fall!