2005 Disneyland Trip

A detailed, play by play, more than you probably ever wanted to know account of my Disneyland Resort vacation in December 2005.

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Day 2 - Sunday, 12-11-05

Disneyland opened at 8:00 AM today, so shortly after 7:00 AM we made the very short drive over to the parking structure, where we sat in line until the structure opened at 7:33 AM. We parked at the very end of the Pinnochio level and it was past 8:00 AM by the time we entered the turnstiles. Donald Duck was out in Town Square so of course we had to stop to pose for pictures. He doesn’t seem to be out as often as the other characters. My dad in particular wanted to have his picture taken to send to his friend in Hawaii.

After taking pictures of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle with its five gold crowns, we headed to Fantasyland. Outside of the Peter Pan attraction, we spotted one of the golden ride vehicles. To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Disneyland, each of the original rides that were in operation in 1955 were outfitted with a special golden vehicle. On some attractions, the golden vehicle is part of the regular fleet of vehicles, in other attractions it’s placed outside the attraction only, and in other cases it’s in both places. We all posed for pictures inside the golden ship before riding Peter Pan. Next we rode Snow White, followed by Pinnochio.

By now it was 9:15 AM and we had fifteen minutes until our priority seating at the Carnation Café. My dad and Jason went to pick up FP’s for all of us for Buzz Lightyear, while my mom and I strolled over to the café. There was a very long line of people waiting for tables, but we were seated immediately after checking in. The Carnation Café is located outdoors between the watch/clock shop and the Blue Ribbon Bakery and is one of Jason and my favorite spots. My parents had never eaten here before so we were anxious to share it with them. Our table was located right next to the waiting line of people and they were wondering why we were being seated before them. My dad was wearing his Lance Armstrong Live Strong t-shirt that he received for participating in Lance’s fundraiser ride in Portland last year. As we sat down, we overheard someone in line comment that my dad was Lance Armstrong and that was why we were seated first. We all got a good laugh over that comment.

There isn’t any better way to start your day than with a Mickey Mouse Waffle. My dad, Jason and I each order the waffle, which comes with sausage or bacon and an orange wedge and strawberry. My mom ordered Oscar’s Choice, which is scrambled eggs with cheese, fried potatoes, sausage or bacon, and a croissant. Our server was an extremely nice man named Troy.

After breakfast, it was time to use our FP’s for Buzz. This is a new attraction at Disneyland, having only opened in March of 2005. Jason and I rode it when were at Walt Disney World in October, but this was our first time at Disneyland. We really enjoyed it. There are a couple of differences between the WDW version and the DL version. At WDW, the laser guns are affixed to the ride vehicle, while at DL you are able to pick them up out of a holster. This makes it much easier to aim at the targets. The other nice thing about Disneyland is that your picture is taken near the end of the ride. There are computer kiosks where you can email to yourself, your picture along with your final score.

Since we were near Space Mountain, Dad and Jason went to get the three of us FP’s for later, my mom not being a roller coaster fan. Space Mountain recently reopened after undergoing a huge refurbishment over the past 2 years. Our FP’s were good for 3:50 PM that afternoon. Next we headed back to Fantasyland where we rode Alice in Wonderland. The lines for the Storybook Land Canal Boats and Dumbo were huge so we decided to do those later. By now it was late in the morning and people were beginning to pour into the park. This is why it is so important to get to the park right when it opens and to concentrate on riding the attractions. Save the picture taking and shopping until later when the crowds begin to ascend.

We joined the line for “It’s a Small World Holiday” even though it seemed really long. The line moves pretty quickly and it wasn’t much of a wait. A little tip I had learned on the message forums proved to be true. The line begins as one line, but shortly afterwards it splits into two separate lines. Always choose the line on the right. Even though it seems longer because it goes over the bridge and down inside track of the ride, it actually moves more quickly. The left side loads very slowly as this is where the wheelchair guests are loaded into the boats.

Next stop was the new Reindeer Roundup area at Big Thunder Ranch. We weren’t overly impressed with the area, but it might have been because we weren’t kids. We snapped pictures of the reindeer and the two turkeys, “Marshmallow” and “Yam.” The line for Big Thunder Railroad was really long so we passed on riding that attraction.

It was getting close to the time when we would normally go back to the hotel for an afternoon nap, but we were reluctant to leave the park without some assurance that we would be able to get back in if the park reached capacity. We checked with the Cast Member at the Wait Times board and she was a little vague in her response so we decided to ask at City Hall. The line at City Hall snaked out of the building and down the stairs so we moved on to the Cast Member at the exit turnstile. She was very reluctant to commit to an answer and said to check with City Hall. Remembering the long line, we decided to ask at the Guest Relations booth located just outside the exit turnstiles. Unfortunately, the line at Guest Relations was even longer than City Hall and moved even more slowly. So we stood in a long line to get back into the park and headed back to City Hall. Even though the line was still long, it moved very quickly and if we had stood in it in the first place we would already be on our way back to the car. When we reached the front of the line, the Cast Member yes, we would have no trouble getting back in later in the day.

We were all starving so we stopped at McDonald’s on our way back to the hotel for lunch since we had heard they were serving McRib’s. My parents were in a different line than us and for some reason the service was really slow. By the time they got their food, we were almost done eating.

After a refreshing nap in a clean room (HoJo’s does an excellent job of getting the rooms cleaned early), we regrouped around 4:00 PM and drove back to the Park. We were all worried about the park being full. Although the sign said Disneyland was very full, fortunately is was not closed. We enter Town Square in time to see the last part of the flag retreat and then waited around for the tree lighting ceremony, snapping pictures of our group in front of the beautiful gold decorated Christmas tree.

The Park was really crowded, but it was a weekend, so hopefully things will quiet down later in the week. My mom decided to browse in the Star Trader shop while the rest of us used our FP’s for Space Mountain. The standby line was 75 minutes so we were glad we had picked up the FP’s earlier in the day. Just as we were about to be assigned to a vehicle, the ride broke down. After waiting for a few minutes to see if the ride would come back up, they closed it down. We were issued FP’s to use later in the day.

We joined my mom at Star Trader and then went across the way to the pin store. Next we watched Honey, I Shrunk the Audience and then took the train over to New Orleans Square. We had Fantasmic! Balcony Dessert reservation for the 9:00 PM show and wanted to be over on that side of the park before the parade began.

After we got off the train, I wanted to show my parents the Haunted Mansion and how it was decorated with the special holiday overlay. However, it was wall to wall people and we immediately turned around and went over to ride Pirates. This used to be my mom’s favorite ride in the park, but that has since been replaced by the new Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters attraction. She absolutely loves this attraction. My dad joked that next time they come he’ll offer to pay Disney to just let my mom stay on the ride during their entire visit and have a Cast Member slip her a tray of food from time to time. I’m sure that would be agreeable with my mom. We browsed through the shops in New Orleans Square and then went upstairs to the Disney Gallery to wait for our Fantasmic Balcony check in time.

To me, the Fantasmic! Balcony Dessert is the best way to view Fantasmic! It is expensive, we paid $56 each, but you get a great view of the show without the need to camp out along the riverfront for hours beforehand. You access the balcony from the Disney Gallery, located directly above the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Seating is limited to only about 15 people and tickets are very hard to get, selling out within three minutes of their availability. Tickets may be purchased 30 days before the show date and you can bet I began dialing the phone a few minutes before 8:00 AM and continually hitting redial until I the line opened and I was connected to a Cast Member. Fortunately, I was able to score four tickets to the 9:00 PM showing.

About 30 minutes before the show, they began checking people in and showing them to their seats. People are seated in the order in which their tickets were purchased. I was really hoping that we would be the first group seated. The very best seats are right along the railing on the left hand side of the balcony. I was a little worried because right after I purchased our tickets, I checked a thread that I had been watching in the message forums on MousePlanet.com and saw that someone who was staying at one of the resort hotels had just received a call from John at Disney’s Vacation Planning, letting her know that he filled their request for 9 tickets for the very same show that we were going to. I expected that he would be able to secure their tickets before the phone lines opened and they most likely would be seated first. I was correct; nine people were seated before us, filling the front row. We were seated in the second row.

After we were seated, a Cast Member came to take our beverage orders and we were invited to help ourselves to the desserts on the buffet table. The dessert buffet is another great reason to take advantage of this special event. We enjoyed cheesecake, black forest cake, fruit skewers, little mini desserts, beignets with an apple compote topping, and cheese and crackers. There was also a variety of beverages including coffee, tea (hot or cold), hot chocolate, soft drinks, and mint juleps. The Cast Member would check periodically throughout the event to replenish our drinks.

The show itself was amazing, a musical pyrotechnical spectacular that includes lights, fireworks, floats, fire, fiber optics and lasers, film projected onto a water screen and over 50 live performers. It is absolutely break taking.

After the show we were invited to remain on the balcony to see the special 50th anniversary fireworks display, “Remembers…Dreams Come True” Although it was nice to see the fireworks, we missed a lot of the special projections and effects that are best viewed from the hub in front of the castle. I wasn’t too worried about it as we will see the fireworks again later in the week.

The crowd leaving New Orleans Square was huge so instead of leaving the park we decided to loop back around and ride Pirates. There was no line so we walked directly onto the ride. Next stop was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, where again there was no line. Jason and I did both the Goat Trick and the Westward Ho Trick during the ride. Big Thunder is one of my top three favorite rides and if I had been by myself I would have immediately gotten back on the ride.

Since it was probably still a mad house trying to get out of the park, we continued past Big Thunder Ranch and over to Fantasyland where we all rode the Carousel. Jason was very lucky and got to ride Jingles, the special gold horse. This was Walt Disney’s favorite horse, which was why it was chosen to receive the special gold treatment for the 50th.

Next we rode the Storybook Land Canal Boats and really enjoyed seeing all the miniature houses lit up at night. Since the Casey Jr. Train was nearby and the lines were short, we hopped aboard and enjoyed another glimpse at the scenery of the Storybook Land Canal Boats.

The line for Buzz Lightyear was very short so we rode three times in a row. We discovered during one of our rides that each of us got better scores when we rode alone in our own vehicle, so that’s what we ended up doing throughout the rest of the trip.

The Park was closing so we made our way to the front of the park, taking time to stop at the Esplanade to locate the 50th Anniversary brick that Jason and I had purchased earlier in the year. We snapped pictures, but decided to come back during the daytime to get a better shot.

Once back at the hotel, I made my usual pot of decaf coffee before turning the lights off at 1:35 AM. It was a long, but very fun-filled day.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Day 1 - Saturday, 12-10-05

At 5:15 AM the clock radio went off and I quickly showered and dressed. My dad knocked on the door at 5:55 AM to collect the stuff that we wanted to leave behind in the car. A few minutes later everyone met in my room where we enjoyed the delicious effervescence of an AirBorne cocktail. Once our cups were emptied, we gathered our luggage and made our way up to the front desk to check out. Once our business transactions were complete, we scoped out the continental breakfast offerings. There were Otis Spunkmeier muffins, bagels and cream cheese, coffee, tea and hot chocolate. I grabbed a couple of muffins and stuffed them into my carry-on bag for later.

Promptly at 6:30 AM the Super 8 airport shuttle arrived and we loaded up our luggage. I had a little difficultly boarded the shuttle. The step up into the van was a little high and as I grabbed the handle, I lost my balance and swung out away from the van. Jason was behind me and had to push me back into the van. All in all it was a very embarrassing experience. Fortunately, we were the only ones taking the shuttle so no one except possibly the van driver observed.

The airport is only a few miles from the motel and in no time at all we had pulled up next to the terminal. Since there wasn’t much of a line inside, we opted not to check our luggage curbside and save the $2 per bag charge, plus the gratuity.

Once our luggage was checked, we passed through security without incident. First order of business was to get a cup of coffee at Coffee People, because unlike Starbucks, they offer free refills. We made the long trek over to the next terminal to get our coffee. Sitting at one of the nearby tables, we drank our coffee and I ate one of my muffins. None of us ended up taking advantage of the free refills as we all wanted to avoid filling up with liquids before a 2+ hour flight.

Making our way back to the other terminal, we arrived at our gate only to discover a table set up with complimentary Starbucks coffee, as well as a small Coffee People kiosk right there in the waiting area. Oh how I love Horizon Air!

We boarded shortly before 8:00. Takeoff was slightly delayed while the plane was refueled. Our flight attendants, Kevin and Jessica, were extremely friendly and made us feel welcome. This was in sharp contrast to our recent experience with two other major airlines, where we felt that our presence was barely tolerated.

The plane was one of the smallest in which I have ever flown. Each row contained two seats on either side of the aisle with a total capacity of 70 passengers and one lavatory. Shortly after take-off, the attendants came through the cabin offering a beverage service and a light snack which consisted of a delicious slice of banana nut bread and a Satsuma orange. I was pleased to discover that they served Starbucks coffee and I enjoyed a cup of decaf.

The time passed very quickly and we landed at Ontario Airport right on time. This was the first time we had ever flown into Ontario and it was a delight. Much small than LAX, it has recently been remodeled and was very easy to navigate.

After retrieving our luggage, we made our way outside and onto the shuttle to the Ground Transportation Center to pick up our rental car. I was able to get a fantastic rate for our car from Alamo using a coupon in the 2005 Entertainment Book. The rates for rentals fluctuates greatly that it is always a good idea to keep checking for lower rates, even after you’ve booked your car. For our full-size car, we paid $143 for the week. When we went out to the lot to get the car, we found the cars separated by size; you go to the area with the size cars you reserved and choose any in that section. We chose a non-descript, tan colored Chevy Impala. Even with most of us traveling pretty light, we were concerned that our luggage wouldn’t fit in the trunk. Luckily, it all fit perfectly.

With the men in the front and us women in the back seat, we drove the 30 miles from the airport to Anaheim. Once we were on our way we discovered that the air conditioning did not work. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t too warm and by rolling down the windows we were able to stay comfortable. Traffic was light and in no time at all we pulled into the parking lot of the Howard Johnson Anaheim Plaza Hotel.

Jason and I love staying at this hotel. The rooms are comfortable and spacious, the staff is very friendly, and best of all they provided complimentary high speed internet access. Although it was still early and our rooms weren’t ready yet, we were able to check in and were pleased that our room requests had all been met. We were in Building 2 overlooking the “quiet” pool. Jason and I had connecting rooms and my parents were in the room next to mine.

By now it was lunch time and we were all starving. Our plan was to drive to Knott’s Berry Farm and enjoy one of Mrs. Knott’s famous chicken dinners. We had hoped to make it to the restaurant early enough to get the lunch price rather than the more expensive dinner price. Traffic was very heavy along Beach Blvd. and it took us longer than expected to drive to Knott’s. When we finally arrived, we were very lucky to get one of the parking spots right near the area where the restaurant is located. The line for the restaurant was very long and seemed to move very slowly. I spent part of the time sitting on a nearby bench and my mom browsed through the gift shop.

Our server was a man named Art who was very friendly and spent quite a bit of time sharing tidbits about his personal life. For instance, we learned that he lives in Big Bear and spends up to 3 hours commuting to his job at Knott’s and almost 4 hours driving home again after his shift. I can’t even imagine spending almost 7 hours a day driving to and from work. I’d either find a job closer to home or move closer to work. We also learned that he used to be a Cast Member at the Grand Californian Hotel at the Disneyland Resort and was fortunate enough to get invited to the kick-off of the Happiest Celebration on Earth on May 5.

The meal was outstanding, even though we discovered that the lunch meal was not quite as plentiful as the dinner special. We had our choice of salad, soup, rhubarb; choice of corn or cabbage; two pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and plenty of their delicious buttermilk biscuits. My mom, Jason and I had berry punch and my dad had a 50/50 Pepsi. It was more than enough food and none of us had room for pie afterwards.

Traffic had diminished a lot while we ate and it was a short drive back to the hotel. We stopped to pick up our room keys and drove back to the parking area near our building. During the year since we last stayed at HoJo’s, they refurbished the back parking area and it is quite attractive now with a large planter area replacing some of the center parking spots and a brick entryway in front of the building.

Our rooms were on the top floor of the four story building. This was nice as we wouldn’t have to worry about noisy upstairs neighbors. Although this building is right alongside I-5 noise was never an issue. All the guest rooms face away from the freeway. The side of the building facing the freeway contained the ice and pop machines, the elevators, and housekeeping supply rooms. Another nice feature is the interior corridors. It was great to be able to get ice or visit my parent’s room without stepping outside.

I quickly unpacked and then we all met up again to go over to the Park. The plan was to stop first at Guest Relations to pick up my parent’s Park Hopper tickets as well as our tour and Fantasmic Dessert Buffet tickets, and then spend the evening inside the Disneyland Park enjoying the Christmas decorations and lights. However, as we approached the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure, we were greeted by a sign stating that DISNEYLAND IS FULL. No guests were allowed to enter Disneyland, but were welcome to enjoy Disney’s California Adventure Park. I hoped this wasn’t a sign of how the crowd levels would be for the rest of our trip. Usually, this time of year is pretty slow.

We parked on the top floor, the Minnie level, at a spot about as far away from the tram loading area as possible. As we rode the escalator down we could see very few people waiting to board the tram, but many people getting off the tram to leave. The weather was a little cool, perfect for us! By now it was dusk and the Christmas lights in the trees in Downtown Disney were lit and absolutely beautiful. It was so nice to be back at Disneyland!

At the Guest Relations booth, Stella assisted us and was extremely nice. She began by calling me by name, which surprised me until I remembered that I was wearing my Guest of Honor badge with my name on it. I wore the badge every day of our visit and many Cast Members would greet me by name. When I purchased the badge last year I had no idea that the Cast Members would do this. It really made the trip special.

There was a medium length line to get into DCA, but it moved quickly. First, we walked by Soarin’ Over California and picked up FP’s for 8:10 PM. Next, we strolled over to Grizzly River Run and watched from the viewpoint for a while before continuing over to Paradise Pier. We stopped to admire the Christmas tree, it being the first year that DCA’s has had their own tree, and the beautifully decorated buildings. After stopping to watch the last stop of the Block Party Bash parade we decided to see the Muppets attraction. It took us a while to locate the entrance to the attraction as it had been moved during the construction of the Monster’s Inc. ride, scheduled to open early in 2006.

After leaving Muppets, we still had quite a bit of time until our FP time for Soarin’, so even though we really weren’t hungry we decided to stop at Burrr-Bank Ice Cream for a Steam ‘n Chocolate. My mom went to find a table while the three of us waited in line. By the time we got our order, my mom was waiting at a table inside since it was a little chilly outdoors. The Steam ‘n Chocolate consists of a piece of freshly baked chocolate cake topped with fudge sauce, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. It was delicious!

As it still wasn’t time for us to ride Soarin’ we browsed Engine-Ears Toys (had to check out the Mr. Potato head section for new parts), Greetings, and Fly-By Souvenirs.

Finally it was 8:10 and time to ride Soarin’. This is one of my very favorite rides and I could ride it over and over again. I don’t do heights, so this is as close to hang gliding as I’m ever going to get. This was my parent’s first ride on this attraction and they both loved it. My mom was a little nervous at first as she doesn’t like heights and is prone to motion sickness. She quickly adjusted and enjoyed the ride as much as the rest of us. I’m very proud of her for her willingness to give it a try.

By now we were all exhausted and even though it was only around 8:30 and the park wouldn’t close until midnight, we decided to head back to the hotel. We made a quick stop at the Food 4 Less on Katella for Cactus Cooler, orange juice, milk, cereal, etc. and then went back to our rooms. I made a pot of decaf (the hotel supplies a packet of regular coffee, one of decaf and two tea bags) and went to sleep.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

It's Super at the Super 8!

Friday, December 9, 2005

It's finally here. Our trip to Disneyland officially begins today, when we drove out to the airport to spend the night at a nearby Super 8 before leaving flying out the next morning. Trip participants include me, my son Jason, and my parents, Tom and Lois.

Promptly at 3:00 PM, my parents arrived at our door to pick us up. We quickly loaded everything into the back of the van and then crawled along in traffic for over an hour before arriving at the Super 8, located just off of Airport Way. We quickly checked in and went in search of our rooms. Jason and I had connecting rooms on the first floor and my parents were right next door. The rooms themselves are more than a little depressing. I'm not sure what it is about them, but they seem very dark and narrow. The textured walls make it seem like a sleazy motel in a third world country south of the border. My mom briefly explored the possibility of moving to a room upstairs, thinking it would be a little less cell-like, but determined that all the rooms were exactly the same. Since it was just for one night, we decided to just stay where we are.

Once we moved our luggage to our rooms, we headed down the street to the local Shari's restaurant, where coincidentally, our waitress was also named Sherry, although spelled differently. After much perusing of the menu, we finally ordered and chatted away while we waited for our food.

I ordered the Country Fried Steak with mashed potatos and gravy, corn and a biscuit. Jason ordered the Mega Melt Sandwich served with fries and a pickle. To drink, he ordered a Cranberry Cooler, a mix of cranberry juice and lemonade. A great combination. I had a sip. My mom ordered the Cuban Sandwich and my dad ordered the Senior Steak Dinner.It didn't take long before hilarity ensued and there was much laughing going on at the table.

After dinner, we went back to the not so Super 8 and stopped at the beverage counter in the lobby. I had a cup of decaf coffee. As they didn't have any real creamer, I settled for something called Coffee White. My mom and dad had cups of hot chocolate.

We lingered in the hallway outside our rooms for a while trying to decide what time to meet up the next morning, until I suggested that we go inside my parents room to keep the noise level down. We decided to meet in the lobby at 6:00 AM the next morning as our shuttle was scheduled to leave at 6:30 AM and we needed to check out and put some last minute things in the car.

My mom came to my room to check it out, which turned out was almost exactly like her room. After a few minutes we said goodnight to her and she returned to her room.

Jason planned to take a shower and read his book. He recently purchased the box set of the Chronicles of Narnia and is trying to finish book 1 before we leave tomorrow so that he doesn't have to haul the book along with him. He brought books 2 and 3 with him to read on the trip. The movie is based on book 2 so he wants to read it before he sees the movie.

The redeeming factor about the Super 8 is that they have free high-speed wireless internet access. Jason set his laptop for me to use before he took his shower. I'm hoping to be able to blog regularly to keep all my faithful readers fully informed.

Well, that's about it for tonight. I'm going to check out the TV and find something to watch.

See you later.