*I meant to submit this report in 2008 shortly after the trip. I found it on my computer while planning our 2010 trip. Forgive the delay.*
You must understand that this trip encompassed eighteen months of planning, eight people, ten days, and four thousand miles of train travel.
This trip was an epic. And this trip report will not be a short one.
For those of you who scour these reports for naught but information, you will find plenty of it, but I advise you to search on the phrase “handy info”. I will include the phrase “handy info” for such things as gluten-free dining advice, train travel tips, and hotel reviews.
For those of you who enjoy long, winding narratives: lists of rides ridden, blow-by-blow accounts of iron horses thundering through the western plains, friends attempting to travel together for the first time - stay tuned because you are invited along with our merry band for the “Conquest Of Disneyland 2008” adventure.
First, meet our participants. I have been asked, because there are minors involved, to not post any real names.
Me: The Baron. Male. 40ish. Disney geek since childhood. Also referred to as “I”.
My wife: The Baroness. Female 40ish. Grew up in Florida. Not a Disney Geek. Also referred to as “the wife”, “the little woman”, “my baby… etc”
My daughter. The Baronette. Mid-teens. Way too cool for all this.
My son. The Baronito. Nearly teen. Also known as "the lad" and "my boy".
Chuck: Not his real name. Around my age. Has been a very dear friend for a very long time.
Vera: Chuck's longtime squeeze.
Dave: Chuck's son. Approximately the Baronito's age.
And introducing "Bruce" as himself.
Bruce is a friend of ours who departed for west coast pastures a number of years ago. He will be joining us early and often as we trek through the Happiest Place On Earth.
July 2007: It begins.
For the first time in years, The Baroness and I are kid-free for an entire week. The kids’ summer camps overlap, I take off work, and the wife and I enjoy a week of adult pleasures. Coffeehouses, foreign movies, exotic restaurants, and loud daytime whoopie with the bedroom door open
Mid-week, we take a jaunt to our beautiful downtown midwestern city's “Concerts On The Square”. The Chamber Orchestra plays on the square for free. Picnics are packed on the lawn. Summer nights do not get more glorious. We call our dear friends Chuck and Vera to join us. Wine is poured. Grapes and cheese are consumed.
The subject of the ideal vacation comes up.
What would be the best mode of travel? Obviously, rail travel is superior to air travel. On levels of comfort, enjoyability and basic human dignity. This point is so obvious, that we do not belabor it. For the ideal vacation, one would travel by rail. We feel smugly superior to air travelers on this point.
But what would the ideal destination be? You are reading this diary in US-based Disney trip forum. What do you think the ideal destination would be?
Orlando? Are you insane? We discuss the superiority of Disneyland to Disney World. Again, the point is obvious. We feel smugly superior to you Orlando apologists.
Chuck and I have now mapped out the greatest possible vacation ever.
The women roll their eyes. Chuck and I are given to this sort of rhapsodizing on a regular basis. They don’t believe we’d actually do it.
January 2008: We commit.
Because the economy is tanking under the mismanagement of the idiot from Texas, we get stimulus checks. So we stimulate ourselves. Chuck buys train tickets. I buy five-day park-hoppers. Both of us spend the balance of 2008 fondling our small scraps of paper and dreaming of November. The women see the credit card balances and finally believe we’re serious.
Why November? Because both of our families are into non-peak season tourism. Who likes crowds? Plus, Chuck's work ebbs and flows with the political cycles. He’s going to be a very busy boy up until the Presidential election, and he’ll be able to relax fully afterward. We’re set for the Thursday after election day.
Sunday, November 2.
T-minus four days.
The Baroness and Baronito both have celiac-related gluten issues. Therefore, planning the food is a must. The Baroness takes charge here and does brilliantly. We take seven people to the grocery store. She stands by the cart(s) with a checklist, dispatching runners to get individual items. One hour, and $320 later, we have food for seven people for a week.
Some food notes:
1. The train burrito. I didn’t know what The Baroness was talking about until we executed this one, and we were the envy of everyone in coach. One person spreads bean dip on a tortilla. That tortilla gets passed to the next person, who applies salsa & sour cream. Station 3, lettuce & tomato. The next station is distribution. Chips and drinks were involved. It was a masterpiece of efficiency. Within seconds, we had constructed burritos for seven people, all within the confines of our coach seats.
2. Kitchens Of India. Indian food which requires no refrigeration. It's in foil pouches. Take some microwaveable rice. Open the pouch. Meals in minutes. They’re delicious. All from the comfort of the motel room.
Monday, November 3.
T-minus three days.
The Veteran’s Day Bomb.
Keep in mind that we selected early November specifically for crowd reasons. Kids are in school. It’s too early for the Christmas rush. Nobody wants to go when it’s busy.
I log into MiceAge for the Monday Disneyland update, as I faithfully do every Monday morning. And there’s the Veteran’s Day bomb.
Prepare for massive crowds. Make sure you get your hand stamped because they may close the parks. This could be one of the most crowded weekends of the year.
And I walk around the office like I’ve been kicked in the teeth. Veteran’s Day? Who the hell gets off on Veteran’s Day? Even veterans have to go to work. I used to work for a state government agency, and I never had Veteran’s Day off. I am convinced the vacation is ruined.
Tuesday, November 4.
T-minus two days.
Barack Obama is elected President of The United States. The fact that the country is back in sensible hands takes a lot of the sting out of the Veteran’s Day news. Plus, crowds or no crowds – we’re friggin’ going to Disneyland!
Thursday, November 6
10:30 am. Where are they? They said they’d be here at noon. They’re not 90 minutes early. I’m getting edgy.
Noon. They call. They’re a couple minutes late.
12:15. They arrive and we caravan down to Mendota, IL.
3pm. We arrive in Mendota, IL. As with many small-town Amtrak stations you can just leave your car for a week and no one will interfere with it. And the parking’s free. Try that at an airport.
We have arranged our luggage so that we’re within the checked bag + carry-on bag limit. Much of the food, particularly the 30 or so portions of Kitchens Of India, is in the checked bag. Once we arrive at Mendota, we see the sign telling us that this station has no checked bag service.
This causes panic. Are we going to have to leave the food bags behind? How much luggage can we bring on? Calls are made to Amtrak.
4:39pm. The train pulls in. Luggage isn’t a problem. We put the big luggage which would have been checked on the downstairs racks. We carry the smaller stuff up to our coach seats. End of hassle.
We settle in, and watch Illinois go by.
Thursday night: A sleep mask and ear plugs are enormously helpful. It’s still sleeping sitting up, and you’re probably best off if you bring your own pillow, but a decent night’s sleep is had by all. Vera and Chuck have neck pillows. I need a neck pillow.
Midnight: We make a refueling stop in Kansas City. An elderly couple and her sister get on and take the row behind Chuck and Vera. The two women proceed to have a very loud, repetitive conversation about baking. The husband looks like he wants to take his own life.
Friday, November 7
Morning: We get coffee in the lounge car. The lounge car attendant is named Shirley, and she calls us all “baby”. We love Shirley.
All in all, Friday on the train is a perfect day. No schedules to worry about. Friendly folks sitting around us. Scenery rolling by. Books were read. Snacks were consumed. Naps were taken. We made train burritos for lunch. We sat. We chatted. Chuck and the boys and I played a little cards. We got off in Albuquerque and picked up take-out menus from nearby restaurants.
Friday night: I must have slept well, because I have no memory of Friday night.
Saturday, November 8
We arrive in LA’s Union Station over an hour early. This is good news. We get our ID’s checked for the Pacific Surfliner. Chuck and I check out the architecture in the station. I want to move to LA. Chuck thinks it’s a soul-sucking hell.
The Pacific Surfliner runs every hour or so up and down the coast. We get a train that’s earlier than the one we’re scheduled for. And when we arrive in Anaheim, there’s an ART shuttle waiting for us.
There's only one downside to the shuttle. The windows are wrapped in a vinyl wrap advertising the new Monsters Inc. ride.
The joy of seeing the resort approach, the California Screamin’ track, the Matterhorn, the monorail, is all diminished by the fact that we can’t see a damn thing. Don't put advertising on the windows. It's a heartless thing to do.
We’re staying at the Anaheim Desert Inn and Suites, directly across Harbor from the parks. The shuttle drops us at the park and we’re at our hotel before 10am. Check-in time is at 3. We’re five hours early. Between the seven of us, there are nearly twenty bags, and we can’t get in our room.
The desk folk graciously allow us to stow our big bags behind the desk, and we rent lockers for the small bags. They also allow us to use the pool. After 36 hours on the train with no showers, the pool feels extraordinarily good.
As we’re trying to cram our bags into as few lockers as possible, and coordinate the changing into swimsuits in the single pool bathroom, I get a text message from Bruce. He’s at the Anaheim train station. He's waiting to meet our train. Where are we? I didn’t know he was coming to get us.
Bruce arrives, and we adults sit in and around the hot tub. After some catching up, and being refreshed in the pool, it's still 4 hours until check-in. We're across the street from Disneyland. This can't last. Bruce suggests that we use his car for storing what few sundries we have, and that we head over to the parks.
We had not planned on getting to Anaheim until mid-afternoon, so we hadn’t planned on entering the park on Saturday. A little research told us that upgrading to a six-day from a five-day was only $5 per person. We jumped on it. We did have to turn in those five-day park hoppers I'd been fondling since January.
The trade was made, and I was given charge of the tickets. I had been obsessively guarding the passes for almost a year. Those were my passes and the forces of hell itself were not going to rip them from my OCD hands.
I even wore a fanny pack, much to the Baronette's dismay and embarrassment.
HANDY INFO: Get a fanny pack. You'll look like a dork, but everything you need in life, park hoppers, cell phone, & motel key are all right in handy reach.
First stop: Disney’s California Adventure. The Baronito and I have been obsessing over Midway Mania. We found an online strategy guide, and have been boning up on easter eggs and strategy tips for weeks. He also found an on-ride POV video for California Screamin’. The boy wants to go to DCA. So, we go to DCA.
Plus, we figure that seeing the inferior of the two parks first is like saving your dessert for last. None of us (except Bruce) have ever been to California Adventure before, so it’s all new to us.
And the first stop is… lunch. After all, we are just off the train. I've promised to curb my type-A theme park tendencies and not hustle everyone onto rides. To relax and take it slow. But did we have to stop for lunch first? I go pick up some California Screamin’ fastpasses just to feel like I’m in line for something. We eat at Pacific Wharf. The Baroness had some trouble getting the gluten-free portions of the order right. This will be a recurring theme. After lunch, we wait about 30 minutes for Midway Mania. The lagoon is nearly empty as they start work on World Of Color, the Sun Wheel is silent and carless, and the games are boarded up. Paradise Pier is decidedly charmless and unparadicey. But, hey. We’re here.
In approximately 4 hours, we hit (in order)…
Midway Mania –
Lives up to all my fondest hopes. I get 115,000 (approx.). Not bad for a first-timer.
California Screamin’ –
Way cool! Even the womens are impressed.
It’s Tough To Be A Bug –
This is a Bruce suggestion. It's a good call.
Soarin’ Over California –
This one surprises me in wonderful ways. Firstly, everyone in our group is a big Patrick Warburton fan, so the safety spiel makes us happy. Secondly, it’s just… Wow! We all come off this ride grinning like idiots and hugging strangers.
Animation Building –
We hit every attraction in the building, including taking a crack at drawing Mickey. My Mickey’s a little cramped, and I feel like I could do better. The Baroness' looks quite good, and she pretentiously signs it “Walt”. The Baronito gets to ask Crush a question, and then Crush asks him to identify a human object he’s found. It’s a bikini top. The boy is reduced to helpless giggles.
Monsters Inc. -
We have been in DCA for about four hours, and have hit nearly everything worth hitting. (Nobody’s in the mood to get wet, so we skip Grizzly River – and I can’t talk the kids into the Tower Of Terror.)
Back to the hotel, and we’re finally able to get in our room. Herein, I shall depart from the narrative account of our trip and provide some useful information concerning the hotel in which we stayed.
HANDY INFO: The Anaheim Desert Inn And Suites.
We had the C2 family suite, which is comprised of two bedrooms and a mini family room.
Location, location, location! We are about a three-minute walk from the main gate.
View! From our front window, we’re looking at the Tower Of Terror. From our back window, we can see Space Mountain, the Matterhorn, and the Moonliner rocket.
Beds! Very comfy. Even The Baroness, who is somewhat fussy about hotel beds gave these a thumbs up.
Staff! Helpful, friendly. Even when we were all hanging out in the lobby five hours before check-in. And the fact that they let us use the pool saved our arrival day from being a disaster.
Pool. One of the reasons for choosing the Desert Inn was the indoor pool. In the event of inclement November weather, we wanted to have a place to go. For we are Wisconsinites, and any month with an “R” in it makes us fear the worst. The weather was not inclement, and we spent very little time in the pool area. The pool itself is small and uninspiring and shoehorned awkwardly into the parking area.
Room layout. We did most of our eating in the room. The microwave was in our bedroom, which meant that food prep and tooth brushing were all happening in the same sink. This was somewhat awkward. The coffeemaker was in Chuck & Vera's bathroom sink area. Also awkward.
Continental Breakfast. Quite simply, the continental breakfast at the Desert Inn and Suites sucks monkey butt. The layout of the breakfast room is awkward and crowded. The coffee is weak, and the food consists of cereal and some cardboardish pastries. Plus, they don’t open until 7:30am. When the park opens at 8, this is unacceptable.
Having imparted useful information about the hotel, I will now return to main thrust of this trip report. Namely, cataloging stuff we rode.
So where are we? Saturday afternoon. Having done DCA, and checked into the rooms, we proceed to take showers and nuke some Indian food for dinner.
Then, since we’re across the street from Disneyland, we think “Hey, let’s go to Disneyland.”
We’re accosted by people selling timeshares on our way across the street. We will grow to hate them by the end of the week.
For our after dinner Disneyland ramble, we hit…
The Enchanted Tiki Room –
The Baronito has been singing the theme song for this attraction non-stop on the train. Dave has no idea what a Tiki Room is, and he's been dying to know. We all sing like the birdies sing. Tweet. Tweet Tweet. Tweet Tweet.
Pirates Of The Carribean –
My Floridian wife is amazed at how much better this attraction is in Anaheim.
Haunted Mansion Holiday –
I prefer the classic mansion, myself. I miss the hitchhiking ghosts.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad –
I’ve never ridden this at night before. We all fall madly in love, and this becomes our default nighttime ride for the rest of the trip.
At this point, we can see some of the Fantasmic! finale over the treetops. We avert our eyes, because we’ll be seeing Fantasmic! later in the week, and we don’t want to ruin it. We’re all somewhat burnt out and we call it an early night.
Sunday, November 9
The park opens at 8, and the continental breakfast doesn’t open until 7:30. This just isn’t right. We wind up eating in our room because the breakfast room is so crowded. And then… it’s our first full day in Disneyland! First stop, Tomorrowland!
Catalog Of Sunday Morning stuff…
Star Tours -
I will miss the classic version of this when it's remodeled. Fun ride.
Space Mountain -
It's Space Friggin' Mountain. What else is there to say?
I am not expecting to enjoy this. However, I acquiesce to the wishes of my pre-teen son. He wants to drive. I actually find it a lot of fun to sit in the passenger seat and take in the scenery.
Honey, I Shrunk The Audience -
Hey, we can see our hotel! Hey, look! That’s our hotel!
Matterhorn (right) -
Buzz Lightyear -
Again, most excellent.
Heading back for our lunchbreak after a very productive morning, we take the Main Street horsedrawn carriage. Vera, an equestriette from her youth, correctly identifies our horse as a Percheron. For this, she is awarded an “Honorary Disneyland Citizen” pin.
Sunday Lunch -
It's back to the hotel for a rest, recharge, and some quality microwaveable Indian food.
And then, because we're a three-minute walk from Disneyland, and because we have Disneyland passes, we think... Hey, let's go to Disneyland.
The Sunday Afternoon Rides...
Nemo Subs -
Yay! That's cool. First time I've gotten to ride a sub in decades.
Matterhorn (left) -
Far superior to the right side.
Alice In Wonderland -
This is Chuck's favorite ride. I'm a Peter Pan man myself.
Mad Tea Party -
Bruce takes the adventuresome folk in the serious teacup. Vera and I take a minimally spinning cup of wimpness. (I don't do spinny so well.) The Baroness falls madly in love with the Mad Tea Party. Spinning madly with the colored Chinese lanterns overhead. We will be back to the Tea Party many times.
Casey Jr. -
This was Dave's favorite ride when he was four. We're all pleasantly surprised that Casey's got a little zip to him.
By the way, it's "Goth Day". In addition to the Veteran's Day crowds, there are black-clad goths all over the park. The Baronette is especially intrigued by the little black-clad goth babies. I go to get my picture taken with Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins in the authentic Victorian costume. It's not until I get closer that I realize Mr. Banks has multiple facial piercings. Not a practically perfect moment at all.
Then it's back to the hotel for a rest and some more Indian food in a bag. Kitchens of India is your friend. You would think that the Indian food would be tiresome after awhile. Nope. There are plenty of varieties.
Back to the park...
Main Street Cinema -
I'm a Buster Keaton man. And I was furious when I was at WDW in 2002 and saw the horror they'd perpetrated on their Main Street Cinema. I'm glad one of the parks has the good sense not to piss all over their theming.
Jungle Cruise -
This is a fun ride at night. I've forgotten the skipper's name. I've got to remember to write these things down. I want to be a Jungle Cruise guide someday. This frightens my wife beyond imagining.
Pirates Of The Caribbean -
Just like the Jungle Cruise, this one is just as good at night.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad -
Remember last night when I said that this had become our default stop? The kids love the BTRR. So we do the BTRR.
Winnie The Pooh -
It's getting to be about Fantasmic time, so the Baronito and I hold down some primo Rivers Of America real estate. Chuck and Vera call it a night. The Baroness, Baronette, and Dave head off to Winnie The Pooh. They come back underwhelmed. Pushy guy next to me keeps infringing on my real estate. Everyone's crowded, pal. How about a little common courtesy?
Hey! It's Fantasmic. At one point, the wind is blowing toward us. I got mist screen all over me. Still, that's one cool show.
After the show, we head over to the train station. You know that Morse Code message? The authentic frontiery rendering of Walt's opening day speech? Did you know that when you've just missed the train, and you've got 15 minutes to hang out in the station until the next one, that can get annoying. Did you dot dot dot dash dot know that dot dot it's annoying dash?
Space Mountain (x 2) -
The train eventually arrives and takes us on our merry way around the park. The Baronette and I hop off at Tomorrowland, thereby depriving ourselves of the animatronic coolness of Primeval World. But there's some sort of large Space-themed coaster in Tomorrowland. So she and I get off and close the place down with two midnight Space Mountain rides.
Monday, November 10
We are Bruceless for this day. And we are also without our good spirits and sense of humor. After a wretched "continental" breakfast at the hotel, we head across the street. We have staked out an impressive agenda for our morning assault on Fantasyland.
At this point, we're starting to snip at each other. Something about the frenetic atmosphere in Toontown. There's a twenty-minute line for Gadget's Go Coaster. I don't want to wait. Chuck really wants to ride it. Four days of togetherness and moving in a group of seven has started to take it's toll. Then we realize, we've had nothing but carbs for breakfast. We will rectify this in the future.
In the meantime, we start heading back to the hotel. We took a bit of a circuitous route since my diary tells me that we hit the Haunted Mansion Holiday next. As I recall, there were some fright issues and we decided that exiting into bright daylight was the preferable way to see the mansion. Walking back with the boys, they wanted to do Tarzan's treehouse. I had to text the Baroness where we were. I realized halfway through that I was missing the attraction because I was staring at my cell phone. Looking around the attraction, I decided I wasn't missing anything. It's not nearly as cool as the old Swiss Family Robinson was. I remember that treehouse blowing my mind when I was 10.
Back to the hotel, and we must have been a little tired since we took 4.5 hour naps.
Chuck and I head over for a little shopping to World Of Disney while we wait for everyone else to get up. (I think the boys might have gone to the pool at that point.) He and I each bought attraction posters.I'm starting to get antsy and want to get back to the park. At this point, everyone else is up and wants to get their shopping done. So we stay in We spend more time in WOD than I would have liked.
Everyone shows up, and we have an abbreviated afternoon session.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
In spite of the Veteran's Day crowd, we never had more than about a 20 minute wait for anything. And the cool part of the crowd was the extra operating hours. Which means you can still have a full day, in spite of taking a big nap chunk out of the middle. The kids are a little worn out by this point, so they and the Baroness head back to the hotel. Having spent all day telling Vera and Chuck how cool "Fantasmic" was, I have worn down their resistance and they are headed off to the shores of the Rivers Of America. Me? I'm eating theme park buzz and have begun to vibrate. I hang out in the hub with a bag of popcorn and a view of the castle and wait for "Remember, Magical Wish-Dreams Of Fantasy".
Our respective late night spectacles end, and apparently Vera and Chuck's pushy Fantasmic guy was worse than mine. Are there so many asshats per square foot that you can't avoid them or is it possible to have a friendly shove-free Fantasmic viewing?
Either way, Vera and Chuck loved their show. I loved my show.
Chuck went back to the hotel, and Vera and I decided to close the place down.
Three rides on Indiana Jones and two Splash Mountains later...
We barely get wet at all on Splash Mountain. I will assure the family the next day that you barely get wet at all. I will be proved a liar. Apparently, the mountain has daytime and nighttime settings. Adjustable drenchings.
Having not ridden Winnie The Pooh, Vera and I walked on. It's as underwhelming as everyone says it is. And then comes the park closure announcement. Vera and I stop on Main Street by the lockers to listen to the recordings coming from the upstairs dentist office window. Have I mentioned how much I love this park?
Tuesday, November 11
Not wanting to repeat the cranky disaster of Monday morning, we troupe over to Denny's next door for breakfast. It's inexpensive, it's protein, the staff is friendly, and most importantly, it's open all the time! Which means that we can be in line when they open the gates for MAGIC MORNING!
Magic Morning, how I love thee! In one hour, we hit...
Mad Tea Party
Alice In Wonderland
Matterhorn (both sides)
Tell me that's not the greatest hour in the history of the universe.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. After an hour, they started letting in the riff-raff. Like Bruce. Keep in mind that we're just now at official park opening time, and the crowds are way down from the weekend. So for the rest of the morning, we hit...
Indiana Jones (x2) -
At this point, I've ridden Indy 6 times in 12 hours. I'm not tired of it.
Haunted Mansion -
Splash Mountain -
I tell everyone we're not going to get that wet. I am a liar. We are drenched. We stand around in the sun for awhile in Critter Country drying off and eating bakery treats. Chuck and Dave hit Winnie The Pooh.
Tom Sawyer Island -
This was some of the most fun we had on the whole trip, just poking around and exploring and watching the river vessels and playing with the pirate stuff. As an old-time Mark Twain fan, I was outraged when I heard about the pirate makeover, but I've been converted. That's a fun jaunt.
Tiki Room -
Then we go back to the hotel for lunch (Indian food in a bag.) And I revel in what has been the greatest morning of my life.
Remember when I said that the ladies were none too into this trip? They're starting to come around. The Disney magic is starting to work its way into their hardened hearts. However, Chuck and I are not stupid spouses. We know how to treat our ladies right. So, as a surprise, we have arranged massages. Chicks like that touchy-feely stuff. So, after lunch and a nap, we drop the ladies off at the Grand Californian spa for an afternoon of that pampering stuff that women like so much.
Handy Info: Don't use the spa at the Grand Californian. It's overpriced and neither lady came back relaxed. Vera got a Republican masseuse who wouldn't shut up about how much she hated Obama. (Keep in mind, the man's still two months away from inauguration. You right-wingers have some real anger issues.)
To the ladies' credit, when they rejoined us, they pretended to be blissed out. Chuck and I were pretty proud of ourselves for coming up with this massage plan, and they didn't want to harsh our mellows. It wasn't until much later that we found out how disappointing the spa had been.
Now, while the women were getting tugged and pulled like taffy, we men & kids just sat around the lobby waiting for them, right? Wrong! We're at Disneyland! (Actually, we're at Disney's California Adventure which is supposedly also a theme park.)
We head over to Paradise Pier. The Baronito and Dave really want to hit the Orange Stinger. So, the boys go round and round listening to buzzing sounds and looking at the steel infrastructure of the inside of giant orange. Meh. The rest of us sit on a park bench and think how nice it would be if someone would make place where families could all have fun together.
Keep in mind that these are the dying days of the old DCA. They were just draining the lagoon for World Of Color, and the Sun Wheel hadn't yet been rethemed. It was just an all-around awful park. Good riddance, and I can't wait to go back when John Lasseter's finished with it.
California Screamin' is down, so we hit Midway Mania. I score in 140's. Bruce kicks my butt.
Then it's on to The Muppets. As dearly as I love, revere, and miss the late Jim Henson - this feels really dated and doesn't have any of the wow factor it did when I saw it at WDW many years ago.
The ladies are done with their massages, and we leave DCA and head across the esplanade to the real Disneyland. Everyone's mood improves as soon as we enter the gates.
In addition to arranging the massages, we gentlemen have arranged something else for the ladies. Fine dining. That's right, yours truly decided that for one night we should forgo the usual microwaved Indian food in a bag and do it up right. We have reservations at the world-famous Blue Bayou.
There's a little time to kill before dinner, so we hit Big Thunder (our default nighttime stop) and Pirates Of The Caribbean since, hey, it floats right by our table. We hang around New Orleans Square a little bit until dinnertime.
The Blue Bayou doesn't go well. The server walks our group of 8 past an empty nearly-waterside table for 8 and seats us in a back corner by the kitchens. We complain and get moved to the better table. But our server gives us a non-Disney attitude about it, and then is snippy about the gluten-free menus. But between this and the sub-par massages, our plan to bliss out the ladies is falling through rapidly. The prices and mediocre food didn't help anyone's mood. When you sit in the darkness for a long time, your eyes start to adjust and you notice problems with the theming - like air vents in the ceiling. Then the bill came. There are pirates in that building, and they ain't animatronic.
Handy info: Skip the Blue Bayou.
Amazingly, in spite of an expensive and sub-par afternoon, everyone is still in a good mood. This speaks to A) how cool Vera and Chuck are as traveling companions and B) the power of twilight at Disneyland to make everything okay. We head out to the hub and stake out a spot for the fireworks. Despite the fact that the wind was blowing a lot of the shells behind a tree out of our view, we had a good view of the castle projections and the day ended on a suitably wow note.
The Baronito was wiped out afterward and wanted to go back to the hotel. I had closed the park down the previous several nights in a row, so I volunteered to take him back while the rest of the group got in one last Space Mountain.
Wednesday, November 12
The last, best day.
After breakfast at Denny's (thank you Denny's) we all headed over to DCA. Most of the group had only done Midway Mania once, and this was the hot new attraction, so we decided to make it a DCA morning. We wait around in the brutally themeless sunshine hub for the park to open while listening to mishmash mix of "songs with California in the title culled from the playlist of every uninspired oldies station in America". The rope drops. We head for Paradise Pier. As we get to the bridge, a cast member is standing on a bench announcing that both Midway Mania AND California Screamin' are down.
I hate DCA.
After some consultation, we troupe back across the park to go on Soarin' Over California. (I can't talk any of the kids into Tower Of Terror, and there's NOTHING else in this wasteland worth riding.) Bruce joins us at this point, and despite the unauspicious start to our day, how can Soarin' not make you feel better?
Chuck sits next to a guy on the ride that he recognizes. It's a cast member who served us snacks the day before. Apparently, Soarin' is his standard before-work get-in-the-mood stop. We're encouraged to know that the buzz doesn't wear off even when you work there, and that Soarin' has the power to lift spirits even after many multiple viewings.
Once we're off the ride, I volunteer to trudge back across the park to see if Paradise Pier is up and running. Screamin' is. Midway isn't. As I trudge back, the joyless sunshine hub is playing Bob Seger. I can't stand Bob Seger. We get a ride on Screamin' and then split up.
The Baroness really wants to see the Muppets, so she and the Baronette go thataway.
The rest of us go off to Mulholland Madness. What a joyless, battering experience that was. I get a bruise on my arm that will bother me the rest of the trip.
DCA has become for me the mirror image of Disneyland. Whereas stepping through the tunnel onto Main Street gives me a sense of being home and at peace with the world, stepping through the "F" in California makes me want to kick a puppy just to be mean. That park sets my teeth on edge, and I can't wait for John Lasseter to tear it down and recreate something worthy.
Where was I? Mulholland Madness. Bruises. Cranky.
The Baroness picked up a dream Fastpass from one of the never-to-be-seen Dream giver squad. (Seriously, there were eight of us for six days and we got one Dream gift? What kinds of odds are those?)
We meet up at the animation building and take the "draw Mickey" course again. I'm much more pleased with my second effort. The kids went off to another exhibit, and the men went off, finally, to the Tower Of Terror. Even in its' budget-cut not-as-good-as-Florida condition - that's still a pretty cool ride.
After we sit around and watch the zoetrope for awhile - which we want to steal and bring home with us - it's back to the real Disneyland. Through the tunnel, and all the DCA edginess is gone. As we're passing through the hub, the lads want to do the Atro Orbiter. We let them. Someday, when it's back up high where it belongs, we'll all ride it.
We head over to Fantasyland, and hit Snow White and Peter Pan.
At this point, it's been a long morning, and the hell of DCA has taken it out of us. The Baroness, Baronito, and Vera head back for naps. Chuck and Dave go back and hit Grizzley Rapids - then go back for dry clothes and naps.
They miss the Christmas miracle. Sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, magic Disney elves have completely decked out Main Street in Christmas wonderment. As Scrooge says, the spirits did it, all in one night!
Bruce, the Baronette, and I stand there agape for awhile. It's still early November. Not ready for Christmas quite yet. But now it's off for a corn dog. Keep in mind that the Baronette and I are very good about our snacking. Since half our family is gluten-free, we try not to eat bready snacks in front of them. But now the Baronette and I are on our own - and it's Corn Dog Time! Oh, yes. Sweet, disgusting corn dogs! How I love thee!
Then we head over to Frontierland for Billy Hill and the Hillbillies. And bready snacks.
At this point, the Baronette hasn't done much of the quality shopping that she intended to do. And she's a teenaged girl.
We head back to Main Street and catch the Steve Martin film, which is getting sort of tired by the time of the park's 53rd anniversary. Then we hit Main Street. Bruce and I get some non-frenetic cathcing-up time as the daughter goes happily through the Emporium shopping her heart out.
The Dapper Dans are out singing on Main St. There's a woman in the crowd who has recently sung the role of Marian in The Music Man, and wants to know if the quartet knows the Lida Rose duet. They do, and this random woman from the crowd does a lovely job singing with them, and she gets a big hand. A little moment of Disney magic.
Then, after a nice bready churro, it's back to the hotel for a nap.
Bruce and the Baronette want to nap, mind you. I'm still rarin' to go.
We get back to the hotel, and the Baroness has been up for awhile and is ready to go back to the parks and play. Huzzah! I get a fresh traveling companion. The wife and I head back across the street. This is the first time we've been alone together in a week. It's Date Night at Disneyland.
We hit Indiana Jones with our Dream fastpass. We both realize that we're sort of E-Ticketed out and would rather go a little mellower. We chose a nice young couple out of the crowd and regifted the Dream Fastpass.
Then we head over to Frontierland to take the Mark Twain. We catch a production of the Laughing Stock theatre company - bravo - which ends just as the Mark Twain is pulling into the dock. The timing is perfect. We walk onto the Mark Twain, and have a lovely time circling the Rivers Of America and taking in the peaceful atmosphere of Disneyland as seen by water.
While still in a watery mood, we walk onto Pirates Of The Caribbean. As we exit, the Pirate band is playing in New Orleans square, so we grab a park bench and enjoy the show. My favorite part is when guests in a hurry walk right past the band while trying to pretend that they don't see a band of pirates singing to them. I'm finally shedding my Type-A theme park commando self and enjoying the quiet moments the way they're meant to be enjoyed.
After the show, we hit the Haunted Mansion Holiday, and then we were hungry.
Rather than ruin the date night vibe by going back to the hotel and microwaving Indian food in a bag, we stop at Rancho Del Zocalo.
This was everything Blue Bayou should have been, and wasn't. They were friendly and knowledgable about gluten issues. The nighttime atmosphere was real. The Big Thunder trains go right by the patio. It was affordable. The food was better than Blue Bayou's.
HANDY INFO: Rancho Del Zocalo kicks Blue Bayou's butt.
After that we did a little shopping in Frontierland, and I picked up a Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy Xmas ornament that's one of my favorite souvenirs from the trip. We then got a message that Bruce, Vera, and the Baronette were on their way over. Did we want to meet by the Sword In The Stone? While we waited, we decided to take a ride on the Carousel.
The attendant's name was Michelle and while we were chatting, I , displaying the depths of my Disney geekery, started asking about Jingles, the lead horse - the one dedicated to Julie Andrews. Michelle not only pointed Jingles out to me, but held the line a little bit to give the Baroness about a ten second head start to get to Jingles. Keep in mind that this is Julie Andrews' horse. Julie Andrews has ridden this horse. So it was like riding the Carousel on Julie Andrews' lap. This has been a fantasy of mine since boyhood,
Meanwhile, the rest of our party arrives at the Sword In The Stone annoyed that we haven't shown up. As Bruce says, "Unless they come around the corner right now..." - at which point we rode by on our carousel horses and hailed them. Ah, Disney magic.
In the course of an hour or so, the five of us hit the teacups, Alice, Dumbo, the Subs, Buzz Lightyear, and the Matterhorn (right). How's that for an evening.?
Thursday, November 13
It's been a week since we boarded the train. All good things must come to an end, and it's time to go home. Everyone has their list of "one last thing we have to ride". We check out of the hotel, and pile our luggage into Bruce's car. We eat breakfast at, you guessed it, Denny's.
We arrive at DCA in time for the rope drop. The Baronito's last thing he wants to ride is California Screamin'. We figure we'll get that out of the way first and then end the day at Disneyland proper. It's a replay of the day before. We get to Paradise Pier. Screamin' and Midway Mania are both down. Arrrrrgh. This "amusement park" is not amusing nor is it parklike. The Baronito is quite disappointed that he's not going to get his last Screamin' ride.
We hit Soarin' on the way out, just because that's the only thing in this park which will wash out the sour taste. We swear a solemn oath unto heaven that we shall never darken the gates of DCA again.
On to Fantasyland. This is Disneyland.
We hit my favorite, Peter Pan. We hit Chuck's favorite, Alice In Wonderland. We hit the left side of the Matterhorn. We hit our collective favorite, Big Thunder Mountain. One last Pirates. One last Space Mountain.
Then sadly, it's time to go to the Amtrak station. On the way out the gate, as we wave goodbye to Walt's apartment, we stop in City Hall. The Baronito really wants that last Screamin' ride. City Hall gladly calls over for us. Both Screamin' and Midway Mania are open. So, it's back to DCA. We still have a little time. I can't wait until Lasseter's bulldozer is done with that accursed place and it's a real park.
We get in line for Midway Mania. As we're passing Mr. Potato Head, the ride goes down. Arrrrrrgh.
Nonetheless, Screamin' is still running. The women take off and head for King Triton's Carousel. They're E-Ticketed out. The rest of us lean back with our heads against the headrest and take one last whirl over the nearly empty bay. The Baronito is happy, and the day is adjudged a success by all.
A fond goodbye to Bruce at the Amtrak station, and we're off to return home.
The Ride Home - The Less Said, The Better
The return ride is never as fun as the arrival ride. It's made worse by Steve, the worst conductor on Amtrak, who seems to think that the microphone is for broadcasting details of his personal life and who never went more than five minutes without interrupting everyone on the train. Since we were traveling in an odd number, I got woken up and stuck with a seatmate. A 350 pound fundamentalist who dipped snuff and whose feet smelled like cheese. I spent the night in the lounge car. I was woken up by Steve. Not a good night.
Nonetheless, Disneyland is Disneyland and shall always be Disneyland. A repeat is planned once Cars Land is up and running. We arrived back in Illinois, our cars were right where we left them. We said goodbye to all our company. M-I-C, see you real soon. K-E-Y. Why? Because we like you. M-O-U-S-E.