Cathy Sowa -- October 2005 -- Disneyland (Offsite)
We had made plans to go to Walt Disney World together right after Thanksgiving of 2005, but I really wanted to go to Disneyland to see all the 50th decorations. I also knew I’d have a hard time bypassing going to the Food and Wine Festival this year, but wanted to wait and get an Annual Pass for our post Turkey-day trip, so I could go to the F&W Fest ‘for free’ in 2006. What better way distract me from the F&W fest AND see the 50th decorations then visit Disneyland DURING the fest at WDW!
We wanted to visit in the off season (we don’t do crowds), but not too near our WDW trip, and it needed to be at a time when neither of us thought it would be too busy at work. We ended up picking two weekends in October, and since I was going to be using frequent flyer miles, I called the airline to see what I could get. I was able to get our second choice weekend, into my second choice airport. I’d be arriving 10/20 about noon, leaving 10/24 (Monday) in the morning. Our first choice was for me to fly into the airport nearer my sister’s work – she’d pick me up, we’d spend the night Thursday at her house (and I could see her husband and meet her new 4-legged kid), drive the 3 hours to Disneyland, stay in Anaheim Friday and Saturday nights, and drive back to her place on Sunday evening. Because I couldn’t fly into that airport, I “had” to fly into John Wayne – Orange County airport, and she met my flight on Thursday. She still planned on leaving on Sunday evening so she could go to work on Monday, and I’d grab a cab to the airport. This alternate plan also added two nights to the hotel bill.
I made reservations at the Howard Johnson’s, having heard great things about it on MousePad. Got a decent rate, and a coupon from MouseSavers.
This was all done by late June (I knew that I had to book frequent flyer seats early, and I wasn’t going to risk not being able to get a room!)
And then August 29th occurred in Southern Louisiana and Mississippi. Maybe you’ll recognize it by a different moniker – Katrina. I had evacuated prior to the storm to Dallas, TX, and by mid September, American Airlines (who I was booked on) said they weren’t going to be flying out of Louis Armstrong Airport (New Orleans) until November 1. So, I called Alaska Airlines (the miles were on Alaska, they code share with American, as well as others). They were able to rebook me on a Delta flight out of Baton Rouge – but it left earlier in the morning, and the return flight got me in later at night. Not REALLY what I wanted to hear when I knew there was a drive of over an hour from my house to the airport (vs. the 10 minutes to New Orleans airport) – but I was happy, I still didn’t have to pay for the flight, and I REALLY needed the vacation after the stress of the ongoing hurricane recovery.
My sister was ‘in charge’ of figuring out admission media. We figured out we would get 4 day park hopper tickets, which had the added bonus of Early Entry one day. The tickets arrived at her house, and there had been a chance she was going to have to work on Thursday, so she was going to mail me my ticket ‘just in case’ she couldn’t meet me early. But the mail was so disrupted by the storm, we didn’t want to risk it, and she was pretty sure she’d be able to take the whole day off.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Well, I set my ‘regular’ alarm, my clock radio (turned up really loud), and the ‘reminder’ alarm on the microwave. I was very excited and had not started packing until Wednesday night, plus was watching Wilma VERY closely, trying to decide if I had to do all my hurricane preparations to the house. I ended up ‘risking’ that Wilma would take the projected path (and unfortunately for Southern Florida, that is what happened). But 2:30 is REALLY early in the morning! Since Katrina, Baton Rouge residents have really complained about the traffic. I’m not sure what they were talking about, my travels to get to the airport in plenty of time for my 5:50 am flight were all at the speed limit! I’m just glad my flight wasn’t at 9:00 am – I would have probably had to leave at about the same time!
The flight to Atlanta (yes, I had to go East to go West) was uneventful. When I checked in, I had made sure that the center seat next to me was empty on the Atlanta to John Wayne flight. I got on, and shortly thereafter, two gals sat in the two seats next to me. Bummer. I mentioned something to them, and they said they’d switched their seats so that they could sit together, but might be moving if the seats near their other friend were empty. So I solved that and switched with their other friend so they could all sit together (much easier for two people to switch than four!). And nobody WAS next to her, so I ended up with all three seats on the long flight! Being nice pays off!
My sister was able to park easily at the airport, and so was waiting at the bottom of the escalator going towards the baggage claim. A quick drive to the HoJo’s to check in (but we’d have to get our keys later) a quick lunch at McDonalds (we didn’t want to ‘waste’ park time eating) and we were in the park at 12:30 in the afternoon.
In no particular order, we rode Space Mountain, Buzz, Snow White, Matterhorn, Roger Rabbit, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pooh, Tiki Room, Jungle Cruise, and Indiana Jones. We also watched the Parade of Dreams in the evening.
A few thoughts on the park and some of the attractions: I really liked the decorations on the castle – much better than the 25th ‘cake’ at WDW. It really suffers in comparison to Orlando, though, because of space limitations (and therefore size) and the fact that it’s not elevated above grade. Pooh didn’t kill too many brain cells, but even when we had to kill some time later in that area, we did not ride it again. But Space, Buzz, Roger Rabbit, and the Tiki Room are SOOOOOO much ‘better’ at Disneyland. Space is so smooth! And the queue, even if it’s a little boring, is still fairly shiny and new looking. Buzz Lightyear – I really like the fact that the ‘guns’ come out of the holsters. For this video game challenged 40 year old, it makes it a lot easier. But it didn’t seem like there were as many targets. Roger Rabbit has no comparison in the other park, and they’re using the queue again, which was a nice thing. Matterhorn reminds me a lot of Space at WDW – maybe it’s because I read something that the rail systems were similar – but they both whip me around! And the Tiki Birds! They are so pretty and everything is working, and the 4 main hosts don’t click and clack when they sing. The two shows we went to were fairly well attended, too (but we learned not to sit too near the exit late in the day – too many parents with kids in marginal moods sitting there!)
I really liked the parade, but it seemed like it didn’t have very many floats, and very few dancers between the floats. I also thought that it looked like a daytime parade outfitted with a few lights, as opposed to a true night-time parade.
There were a few eateries I’d wanted to try this trip, and we tried one on Thursday late afternoon. We weren’t ready for a ‘real’ meal yet, but needed to get some food, so we stopped at Bengal Barbeque. We had the bacon wrapped asparagus and a spicy beef skewer. The asparagus was a little salty and fatty for our tastes (but not surprisingly so, given it was wrapped in bacon) – and the spicy beef was nicely seasoned, but one skewer for the price (I think it was $3) seemed more than a little excessive. It was also really hard for us to split it, as it was a single piece of beef.
After the parade, we headed out of the park (it was close to the original closing time, which they had extended), and grabbed sandwiches and beer at the LaBrea bakery. It hit the spot quite nicely.
We headed back to the hotel to get our rooms. I hadn’t made any specific requests, just non-smoking and two beds. We were in Building 1 and had a very nicely sized room with two queen beds and a small table, and a small balcony, overlooking the ever-scenic Interstate 5. There was a double-door on the balcony even, to try to cut down the noise. It wasn’t a big problem for us, except when I woke up too early one morning and couldn’t get back to sleep – but I think if you had kids who needed to nap, you should probably request a room that does NOT look out at I-5 (excuse me, “the 5” – we grew up near I-5 in Oregon, but in Southern California, all highways start with ‘the’)
Friday, October 21, 2005
We got up nice and early on Friday (in part, for me, due to the time zones), and went to get beignets and café au lait at Ralph Brennan’s. Café du Monde had just opened at home on the 19th, so we had to have a commemorative breakfast!
Today’s attractions included Splash Mountain, Pirates, Small World, the Disney Railroad, Space Mountain, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, Soarin’ over California, Tower of Terror, California Screamin’, the Grizzly River Rapids line (it broke down right after we got past the Fast Pass merge), Muppets, It’s Tough to be a Bug, Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, The 50th anniversary film, and the fireworks and Fantasmic! (Whew!)
Pirates – I’d forgotten how fantastic the ‘first act’ to this was in the original – it really leads up to the attack on the Spanish fort nicely. Fliks Fun Fair – yikes. I guess this DOES give something for the tot’s to do in the park, but seeing the 50th film and why Walt dreamed up the park, this doesn’t seem quite right. We rode Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train because it looked the most interesting (ok, we couldn’t see the whole thing), and did find the 4 leaf clover overhead. I did like the second water area (that is a big leaking hose) – but the small child (14 months?) in the first one was actually quite fun to watch. It seems like they could have done a lot more with this area then they did. I also was somewhat disappointed in the 50th movie, as well. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting – but I felt it was lacking something.
We had an early-ish lunch of pork po’ boys at the French Market. Boy, that line moved SLOWLY. They only had one side going (though they were preparing the other side while we were waiting) and I’m not sure if it was because the menu inside was different from outside, if they didn’t have a big overhead menu posted, or if the staff was just really slow. It also really threw the gal when we asked for a side besides French fries. I’d have thought in health-conscious Southern California they’d readily offer healthy alternatives. We ended up getting double cole-slaw with one sandwich and split the fries from the other. They were really Memphis-ish barbeque on Po Boy bread (hence the cole slaw with the sandwich). I don’t recall if they offered oyster or shrimp po boy’s – those are the ‘real’ ones in my book – and they didn’t offer them ‘dressed’ correctly, either. This sure isn’t way they are offered at the ‘real’ French Quarter in New Orleans!
We also ate at the Plaza Inn. That was a bit disappointing, but at that point we were hungry and didn’t really want burgers. We SHOULD have split a pasta, but since we were both hungry, it didn’t really occur to us that we should have done that until we had put decent dents into our meals. The pasta could also have been more than just a little warmer. The prices all over the park really seemed expensive, too. And I’m not sure if it’s just a ‘Disney’ thing- I think part of it might be a Southern California thing.
We really enjoyed the fireworks. We’d gotten some great advice about where to stand so we could have a good view, but not have to camp out for 2 hours. Unfortunately, standing in line for the coffee and a brownie took longer than expected, so we couldn’t quite follow the given advice. We ended up going to the area they keep open during the fireworks, but perched on the ‘wrong’ rail and had to move, but right then they were blocking off a walk-way, so we were able to go right there while they extended the rope and got a pretty good view. We were on the Tomorrowland side of the hub, right on the sidewalk behind the back walk-way around the hub. We had a great view of the Matterhorn, and a not-too-disrupted view of the castle. There was a roped-off triangle just towards the Plaza Inn from where we were that looked like it would be a great view, but I guess they just rope it off for traffic control – about ½ dozen people could fit in it.
Someone posted that Tink’s wires and harness were quite a bit more obtrusive then in the ‘straight-line’ version of her flight, and I have to agree. But the flight path is VERY impressive. She circles the castle as well as changes her altitude. The high-level fireworks are impressive – I really liked the ‘flower’ fireworks in the Tiki Room section, and the smiley face (though I don’t recall what section that’s in) – and the ‘cube’ is neat, but I couldn’t quite see how it fit. The lower level fireworks were very impressive – the pinwheels as well as the ‘battle’ between the castle and the Matterhorn. And the ‘surround-vision’ fireworks were very cool, though it did seem like one location was missing. The intro music was a little disconcerting for someone who’d seen the newest fireworks at the WDW, but then I’m not a real huge fan of kids singing (unless it’s a full a cappella choir). Very good show, but I don’t think I’d camp out for 2 or 3 hours for it, though I can see how that would be important for some (and being two adults, we can be a lot more flexible than a family with kids!)
After the fireworks, we went ‘around’ the hub through Frontierland to get to the Rivers of America to see the later showing of Fantasmic! We ended up getting a great location – right in front of the Fantasmic! Mickey photo mosaic, right behind the reserved seating area. We had a great view of Tom Sawyer Island, we were right at the railing, so nobody to look over, and the level below us was seated, so no worries even about tall kids on tall Dad’s shoulders. The show was great. It had been quite a while since we’d seen the original incarnation of this show (1995, to be specific). The use of the Columbia and the Mark Twain, as well as the large items on the island (puppets, snake, elevated witch) really exploit the advantages of the location.
At this point, we were dang tired and headed back to the hotel. We were planning on doing Early Entry on Saturday, which meant getting there at 7 am!
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Happy Birthday, sis!
We made it in time for the gates to open for early entry. I don’t quite ‘get’ why we can’t put our tickets in the reader each time like at WDW, and it would really cut down the staff needed. But today they had to mark our tickets with a date stamp AND a stamp indicating we’d used our early entry.
Well, for those that are wondering if Early Entry is worth it – if you like Fantasyland but won’t wait in long lines for 2 minute rides, it’s definitely worth it! We were able to do Peter Pan, Dumbo (a walk on!), Mr. Toad, Teacups, Alice, Carousel, Pinocchio, Storybook land, and the Matterhorn (Storybook land may have been later that day). All of this was accomplished by 8 in the morning!
We then headed over to Autopia (which had just opened). The line didn’t go past the fast pass merge point, but it still took a little while (they were just starting up the cars for the morning, so I think it took a while to get them on the tracks). We did standby for Space Mountain (the only time we did it stand-by), Buzz, and the Mark Twain. We grabbed some Dole Whips and headed over to California Adventure. There we did the Bread and Tortilla tours (unfortunately, a woman with a birthday sticker was just ahead of us, and SHE got a bag of tortillas, but not my sister L). We headed to the Redwood Creek Challenge area and watched the show. I had taken a picture on both of my previous trips to DCA from the exact same spot because it was such a well framed shot of Grizzly Peak – a tunnel in the foreground, trees in the middle, peak in the background. Well, we found the tunnel, and the trees, but they had grown so much that you couldn’t see the peak anymore. I took a picture anyway so I can do a side-by-side in my photo album (I can be such a geek).
We had lunch at Test Pilots (no opportunity to get a side besides fries again) and went to see the Aladdin show. THAT was impressive. We had a little ‘birthday’ luck – we were a little later getting there then we wanted (as we were riding Tower of Terror), but just about when we got to the edge of the building, they opened up the mezzanine level, which is where we wanted to sit! We ended up in the second row. Perfect seats!
We rode Grizzly River Rapids with some really annoying ‘kids’ (I think they MAY have been in their early 20s). There were 4 of them, and the 2 of us in the raft, and they started out all sitting right by the entry – so we would have had to crawl over them to sit down. Fortunately, we only got splashed a little, but because the two empty seats were next to the opening, the two gals right next to the other opening really got soaked. We didn’t feel too bad for them. We did our shopping in the World of Disney, and headed back to the hotel for a quick rest before our 5:00 dinner reservations.
We enjoyed our dinner at Catal – I had the compressed salad of arugula, cheese, and apples with walnuts and dates followed by halibut and my sister had the potato cheese soup followed by a very large pork chop. My salad was great, the fish was a little fishy, the soup was ok, and the pork chop was a little dry looking. We finished it off by sharing the trio of crème brulee’s – vanilla, pomegranate, and hazelnut. (Ok, I wasn’t a very good sharer, but she only wanted a bite!)
After that we went back to Disneyland and went through the Gallery – too bad they don’t have the whole thing open (one area that was gallery on our last trip was used as a staging area for sales, I believe). We did our ‘night’ cruise through the jungle (I really like the piranhas!) and went to Small world to watch the fireworks (poor time management). We finished off the night by getting coffee in Tomorrowland to wait for the crowds to die down a little bit.
Sunday, October 23, 2005 – last day
We went to the Haunted Mansion first off, followed by a trek back across the Esplanade to DCA to catch the first showing of Crush. That is VERY cute; they do a very good job with the audience interaction. We rode Mulholland Madness and then walked through the Grand Californian to the Monorail entrance back to Tomorrowland. We met a number of people from on-line at the hub, and joined them for lunch at White Water snacks. Meeting really nice people makes me less hesitant to arrange a meet for next time around. We then caught the Billy Hill show and did another ride through Buzz before my sister had to head back home. We had a great visit, and really look forward to seeing each other again in Orlando!
I then did Indy, Buzz, and watched the flag retreat. I had my best ride on Buzz, ever. It helps that the ride stopped a couple of times, but I still didn’t make it to the highest level! I had a salad at Café Orleans (I wish I’d noticed that it was in a bread bowl, because I would have ordered it without that). While I was perusing the menu outside, a family came up ‘looking for real New Orleans food’ – I had to remind them that they were in Southern California, and found out they were from the ‘burb on the other side of New Orleans from mine! But they said the gumbo at the Royal Street Veranda was beef! That’s just wrong. It wasn’t until later that I realized I should have at least mentioned Ralph Brennan’s in Downtown Disney – a bit of a walk, but if you’re in need of a taste from home, it probably is the closest! (Fortunately, their house wasn’t damaged severely, either!).
One last run on Big Thunder Mountain, another trip to see Jack in the Haunted Mansion, and another round of pillaging through the Caribbean (oh, the ‘hairy leg’ doesn’t seem as well lit, Mike!) and I watched Fantasmic! from about the same spot as we watched on Friday.
Monday October 24, 2005 – back to reality
I’d asked the desk at the hotel to arrange for a taxi, and they got me a town car, which was nice. The driver was REALLY good. I usually get nervous when I don’t know where I’m going with the drivers cutting their lane changes too close, swerving too sharply, etc – and he did NONE of that. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch his name and don’t recall the company’s name (it was not written on the side of the car, either). They charged a flat rate of $35 (plus tip), but it was worth it to me not to ride a big bus stopping at 30 other hotels.
The flight to Atlanta was uneventful, but for some reason they didn’t book me on the first flight they could have from Atlanta to Baton Rouge (it may have been full), so I had a bit of a wait in Atlanta anyway, and then our plane was more than an hour later then scheduled. I ended up getting home about 1 am on Tuesday morning (after another drive at the speed limit).
Overall, it was a great trip to visit my sister and the original park. It was a nice length trip for the size of the park, even given the after noon start on the first day. The Howard Johnson’s was a nice alternative to the more expensive on-site hotels, but there were other hotels slightly nearer the parks if an ultra-short walk is important to you. If the hours had been shorter, we probably would have eaten at one of the casual restaurants between the parks and the hotel on Harbor Blvd, but we tend to ‘commando’ our trips. We ended up spending more money on food (even outside the birthday dinner), because of the Southern California pricing.
We never did see more of Block Party Bash than when we were walking past it – looked high-energy, but it was very crowded at the Sunshine Plaza zone. I would have liked to see the Parade of Dreams in its entirety during the day, but the timing just didn’t work out (I did get a picture of the seaweed costumes during the day, though – I think they were my favorite non-float riders). And unfortunately, we didn’t get ‘finalist’ tickets for the car give-away. I also think the Aladdin show was a VERY good use of the Hyperion Theater – much much better then ‘Steps in Time’, and as much as I enjoyed Blast, I think this theater really was made for a big Broadway style extravaganza.
There are things that were improved upon when they were replicated to the larger footprint in Orlando, and other things that just can’t be compared. The two parks are DIFFERENT experiences, and although it’s hard not to compare them, I don’t think I could say one park was ‘better or worse’ then the other, but that they are ‘different from each other’.Cathy Sowa