Even in the best of years, I am one of those people who typically tends toward depression as Christmas approaches. It seems like the rest of the world is enjoying a party to which I wasn't invited. I could feel that this year would be worse as I wouldn't even have BelleKitty to keep me company.
What to do, what to do...?
Hey, why not take a long weekend, now that I don't need to worry about a sick cat at home.
Great idea, but where should I go...? Most of the places high on my travel list are too far for a long weekend and/or too cold to go in winter. But, wait a second... I haven't been to Disneyland in over 10 years and they've opened a whole new theme park since then. And it's the only Disney resort where I haven't stayed at a Disney hotel. Plus, my research revealed that the holiday season is extra festive- should be a definite antidote to holiday blues!
So this Christmas I'm going to Disneyland! I've splurged on a 2 night stay at Disney's Grand Californian hotel since I've been dreaming of staying there. During my visit, I was able to book several events that should be fun and should also help dealing with the crowds: a dinner package that comes with a pass for a reserved viewing area for the new nighttime World of Color show at Disney's California Adventure (DCA), a dessert package with reserved seating to see the wonderful nighttime show Fantasmic (which is even better at DL than in Florida), and a Holiday Tour that includes going to the front of the line of 2 holiday attractions and reserved seating for the Christmas parade.
There's no getting around the fact that it's going to be insanely crowded. It doesn't help that it's been raining in CA in the days before my trip- surely, locals have postponed trips til the weather clears... which coincides with my trip. Although I have to admit that part of the lure is the fact that I know it is insane to go to a Disney park over Christmas. Hopefully, judicious use of Magic Mornings and Fastpass will help. Regardless, it's Disney- I could probably have fun just wandering around taking photos.
As it came closer to travel day, I started to get more freaked out about having such an early flight- mainly because I did not want to repeat the experience of getting to the airport and finding no parking available. That would not be amusing at some ridiculous hour of the pre-sunrise am. Since I didn't have a cat at home (*sniff*), it was really a no-brainer to spend the night before my flight at an airport hotel. After doing some research, I found what seemed like a cute hotel with a great rate that included parking for up to 10 days. Sold!
While driving toward the airport, I was happy to see the Cliff Lee billboard that I'd read about. I gave some love to the GPS on my phone which makes it ever so much easier to find new places at night. I zipped through the automated check in machine in my hotel but it did not give me a key like it's supposed to. When I told the lady at the little stand, her response was something along the lines of "Awesome! I'll be glad to assist you." Err... I appreciated the smile, but I'm not sure anything I said qualified as "awesome." There was really some level 4 perkiness going on. But she got me my key, and it was all good.
The hotel was somewhat similar to my Amsterdam airport hotel, although perhaps a tiny step down. Both were funky, and both rooms had views of the airport- though the Amsterdam view was much closer. I'd read complaints online about loud music in the lobby/elevators- either they toned that down a lot, or some people have a very broad definition of "loud". ;) I was a bit disappointed in the limited food options- I knew they only had a grab and go area, but thought they would have a bit more to it (more like the setup in my Amsterdam hotel). I ended up getting a turkey wrap and a chocolate cheesecake muffin before taking a shower and going to sleep. All in all, it was quite comfortable.
I woke up bright and early with one thought- I'm going to Disneyland! The front desk lady (a different one than yesterday; this one was only level 2 or 3 perky) told me that I'd just missed the 5am airport shuttle, but suggested that I try to catch it at the hotel across the way. (let's call that one Hotel C; my hotel was Hotel A and the shuttle bus was currently stopped at Hotel B- these 3 hotels all shared a shuttle bus) Great! Except by the time the shuttle bus got to Hotel C, it was full. Boo! So I headed back to my original hotel, Hotel A, figuring that it would be first on the loop for the next bus in 20 minutes. In the meantime, I think an extra shuttle may have gone to Hotel C but I couldn't be sure. At around 5:20, a shuttle came to my hotel, although for some reason it had stopped at Hotel B first. There was no way I was going to wait for another shuttle, & since I'd been waiting longer than anyone, there was no way I should have waited, anyway. It was a little crowded sitting with my backpack and my little suitcase on my lap, but it was a quick ride. People were standing in the aisles which was probably not the safest thing ever, so I was just glad to be seated.
Since I had no bags to check, I headed directly to security which was a breeze so early in the morning. At some point I realized I'd left my cell charger in my hotel (d'oh!) so my first order of business was to buy a new one at a store just past security. Just as I was paying, my stomach started to attack me with pain. My mind was full of visions of not being able to fly and having to spend another depressing Christmas alone, after all. And let's just say it took me quite a long time to get to my gate. But once I sat down and ate something (a bagel with cream cheese; it seemed like forever for them to toast it since I felt so crap), my stomach was happier. Disaster averted!
Knowing I had a long night planned ahead of me, I'd hoped to sleep on the plane. However, the kids in front of me sorta wrecked that plan; you know people are not using proper inside voices when you can hear them quite clearly even when after inserting earplugs. (rather paradoxically, the earplugs seemed to drown out everything but those kids) I'd pay extra if there was the option for a quiet section on airplanes, at least on flights where I'd want to get some sleep.
My streak of good luck with airplane flights continued as we landed 30 minutes ahead of its scheduled time of 10:40am. After a slightly brisk walk through the airport, I made to the shuttle bus station in time for the 10:30am Disneyland Express bus, with a couple minutes to spare. I was totally excited to be running well ahead of schedule- I'd hoped to make the 11am shuttle, and figured I might have to catch the 11:30am shuttle. The bus driver was training a new person and it was interesting to eavesdrop on their conversation. When I started wondering "how much longer?", I realized that I could just check the GPS on my phone. Yet another situation in which modern technology rocks.
After a brief stop at the Disneyland Hotel for the bus company to collect everyone's tickets, my hotel, the Grand Californian, was next on the agenda. (although if I hadn't spoken up, I might still be on the bus; the driver somehow assumed I was with some other people... even though I'd told him my hotel name when I embarked) The bus driver asked if I would mind crossing the street because that would make it easier for them, but he ended up pulling into the hotel driveway anyway.
Even though I'd seen pictures of the huge Christmas tree in the Grand Californian lobby, it was still amazing to see it in person.
I was thrilled that the hotel had a room available for me that early- and even more excited when I entered the room and saw my view of DCA. From the nearby rafts going down the final drop on Grizzly River Rapids to the distant elevators of the Tower of Terror, I could see much of the park. I even caught sight of a monorail breezing by. But the best part of all was that I could hear the cheery theme park music from my balcony; there's something special about being able to hear theme park music from one's hotel room. I was a little in awe of my hotel room.
Though I felt like I was already having an amazing trip, there was still one thing missing- the theme parks! It was a pleasant little walk through Downtown Disney to Disneyland, especially since the weather was sunny and warm. (T-shirt and jeans weather!) I should by all rights be past the stage where I am awed by my first sight of the castle at the end of Main Street... but the castle is decorated extra special for the Christmas season so I was as giddy as a little kid on their first trip to a Disney park when I finally saw it in person. Wheeeee!
I'd written in my Intro that I could have fun just walking around taking photos... well, that's exactly what I did at first. After obtaining a FastPass for Space Mountain, I wandered counter clockwise through Fantasyland to Frontierland, where I saw the turkey that had been pardoned by President Obama for thanksgiving. When I reached Critter Country, I made an amazing discovery- single rider line for Splash Mountain, my favorite Disney ride. Pfft at the 30-or-so minutes posted for the standby line; before I knew it, I was on my Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah way. I got a bit wetter than I thought I would, but as always, I was all smiles.
After walking through New Orleans Square- which has perhaps the most festive Christmas decorations in the park- I hopped over to Disney's California Adventure (DCA). The Disneyland Resort makes it super easy to park hop- the entrances to the 2 parks sit directly across from each other, with a wide esplanade in the middle. You have to get your bags checked by security before you gain entry into the esplanade- which means that you don't even have to go through security to get from one park to another.
This was my first visit to DCA- it was still under construction during my last visit to Disneyland in April 2000. I headed directly to the Tower of Terror, another of my favorite Disney attractions. Since the standby line wasn't very long, I decided to ride right away rather than getting a Fastpass. (wait time was posted as 13 mins but I seemed to have run into the exodus from the Aladdin stage show so it may have been a tad longer) However, I found that I really prefer the WDW version- the ride seemed to lose a bit of magic since the elevator cars didn't move forward as they do in WDW. Still, it was a lot of fun.
The "Monsters Inc Mike and Sulley to the Rescue" ride was nearby so I headed there next. This dark ride doesn't exist at WDW so it was high on my list- and fortunately there was very little of a line, if any. It was very cute. As I took a photo of the audioanimatronic Roz at the end of the ride, she made a crack about my camera; apparently what she says can be specific to the guests in the vehicle front of her which is pretty neat. (according to Wikipedia, one of her stock comments is "Oh goody. Another camera! Good thing I didn't have my hair undone." That sounds like what I must have heard, though I didn't remember the last part)
Since I was already a little wet from Splash Mountain, I decided that I might as well get a lot wet and ride Grizzly River Runy. On any river rapids ride, there always seems to be 1 or 2 people who get soaking wet, moreso than others; I am invariably one of those people. This time was no exception as I was seated backwards during both drops. Good thing my hotel was so convenient! I'd already planned to head there after riding since I knew I'd get drenched.
After changing and packing a fleece pullover in my backpack, I headed back to DCA through my hotel's little private entrance to the park. By the time I took a short stroll toward Paradise Pier, it was about 4pm and I was rather hungry. So I decided to check in a bit early for my 4:20pm dining reservation at Ariel's Grotto. The lobby was quite crowded and it took about 20 minutes until my buzzer alerted me that they were ready seat to seat me. I'm sure I'd been quite adamant about getting a reservation inside, but since the weather was so great, I didn't complain when I was actually seated outside. I really enjoyed my dinner which started out with bread and a 3 tier appetizer which was meant to be shared among everyone at the table. Only in this case, "everyone" was just me. Based on the theory that anything smoked must taste yummy, I ordered the Tri-tip as my main course; it came with delicious cheddar-herb mashed potatoes. Finally, I was presented with a dessert tray that featured an adorable white chocolate film strip, and other small items. Since I'd barely eaten all day, I ate a lot more than I usually would have. At the end of my meal, I received a pass to the preferred viewing area for World of Color, the new night time entertainment.
After taking a quick diversion on the Silly Symphony Swing ride (your basic carnival swing ride with a Mickey Mouse theme), I saw people starting to line up for World of Color. I found the line for the prefered seating area and waited there until they let us into the viewing area at about 6pm. Since I was in the front of the line, I had my choice of where to stand and picked what seemed like an awesome place just behind the railing. I waited patiently for the show to start, and admired the glowing cotton candy that vendors were selling.
Finally, it was time for the World of Color to begin. I love Disney nighttime entertainment and could feel the excitement swelling up inside. And then a guy directly in my line of vision lifted his child to sit on his shoulders, thereby completely obstructing my view. Arrgh! I have to say that watching World of Color is not the most user friendly experience: First you absolutely must get a FastPass (either through the preferred dining package I did, through a "first come first served" line at park opening, or by buying a picnic) or else you won't get a decent view. Second, you have to stand the whole time- although I assume they can accomodate wheelchairs. And then, after arriving early and choosing the perfect space, you can still end up with some guy ruining your line of vision at the very last second. I'd considered seeing it a 2nd time during my stay, but it seemed like it probably wouldn't be worth the hassle.
The show itself was pretty awesome, at least what I saw of it. I didn't love it as much as Fantasmic because it is more about special effects/visuals and I prefer story based entertainment. However, I did enjoy all the bright colors, as well as the nostalgic Disney references. (I especially liked the brief imagery from the movie "Up")
As I exited the park after the show, CM's were handing out little candy canes- a very nice Christmas eve touch. I crossed over to Disneyland, where I battled the massive army of post-fireworks exiting crowds on my quest to ride Space Mountain using the FastPass I'd obtained earlier. Imagine how deflated I felt when I finally arrived at my destination only to find that the ride was down for technical difficulties. Well, there was no way I was in the mood to deal with any more crowds so I decided to stick around and hope it would re-open soon. After all, it was Christmas eve- good things have to happen, right? Of course, right! After about 20 minutes of milling around, the ride was re-opened and I happened to be standing in the perfect position to be the very first person in the Fastpass line. Space Mountain is way more awesome at DL than at WDW, especially because of the soundtrack.
Each Halloween and Christmas season, the Haunted Mansions at DL and Tokyo DL are made-over with an overlay themed to "Nightmare Before Christmas." I headed there next and was pleasantly surprised to find that there was no line. I'd had the pleasure of experiencing this attraction in Tokyo DL during my last trip there in 2005. From what I could remember, the DL version was very much the same. Which is to say, that it was terrific.
"It's a Small World" similarly is re-themed for the Christmas holiday seaon at DL. I've never had a chance to experience this version of the ride so I eagerly headed over in that direction. I'd seen many photos of the brightly colored holiday lights on the building's facade; but once again, it was amazing to see it in person. Fortunately, I didn't spend too much time admiring the building, since I just barely managed to get in line before the park closed. In addition to the visual changes to celebrate the holiday, the traditional song was interspliced with "Jingle Bells" (or, in the case of Ariel: "Jingle Shells") It was the perfect ending to Christmas eve at Disneyland!
I took my time admiring the castle- which seemed extra magical now that it was lit up at night- and leaving the park via a mostly empty Main Street. Finally, I walked to my hotel, making a slight detour to Marceline's Confectionery in Downtown Disney where I bought an adorable marshmallow snowman treat; it tasted even more yummy than expected because I hadn't realized it had caramel inside. (I believe it was marshmallow covered by caramel which was then covered by white chocolate with decorations) I was kinda glad the park closed slightly early at 10pm (as opposed to midnight the rest of the week)- I was dead tired by the time I got back to my room! A sweet surprise was the chocolate coin left on my nightstand.
I woke up to news of a white Christmas of a sort- not in Disneyland, but the snow that had been tentatively predicted back home for 12/26-12/27 seemed to be more definite. (when I left, most forecasts said there was a good chance that we wouldn't get any major accumulation) So I did what any Disney-loving, snow-hating gal ought to do- namely, I called USAir to change my flight from the 12/26 red eye to the 12/27 red eye and then called the front desk to extend my hotel stay. Thank you, Santa Claus, for giving me an extra day at Disneyland for Christmas this year!
After munching on pop tarts and taking a few photos of the Grand Californian Christmas tree from the halls above, I was ready to go. I'd awoken insanely early so I could be sure to make it to Disneyland Magic Morning- this is when certain rides at Disneyland open an hour early to Disney resort guests as well as to guests with multi day park hoppers. The regular park opening time was 8am, so that meant Magic Morning started at 7am- eep! I arrived at security by 6:30, following advice I'd read various places online. But they didn't actually let anyone into the main esplanade until around 6:45.
The combination of being super early and being a fast walker meant that I was one of the first couple people to cross through Sleeping Beauty castle. The sight of an empty Main Street shrouded in haze seemed rather surreal- and made for some rather unique photos.
I headed first to Peter Pan, as all the guides suggest, but it wasn't open yet. In short order, I rode a whole bunch of Fantasyland rides with little to no lines: Mr Toad's Wild Ride, Alice in Wonderland, the Matterhorn (Fantasyland side), Pinocchio's Daring Journey, and Snow White's Scary Adventures. By this time, it was only 7:30am and Peter Pan was finally open- it was backed up a bit since people had been lingering waiting for it to open, but the line was still relatively short compared to what it can be.
At just before 8, I lined up by the Adventureland rope drop and was therefore one of the first to ride the Indiana Jones Adventure when the rest of the park opened. From there, I stolled through an empty New Orleans Square and then rode a few more rides with little to no lines: Haunted Mansion Holiday, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Big Thunder Mountain. I need to comment on the Pooh ride. Tokyo Disneyland has an awesome Pooh ride, but of course WDW didn't get that version but something much simpler (i.e. cheaper). Fine. But even the WDW version didn't prepare me for the lameness of the DL version... which actually seemed like a scaled down version of the WDW version. Good thing it had zero line, because it's not even worth a 5 minute wait.
I wanted to visit Santa's Reindeer Round-Up, but it wasn't open yet when I passed by just after 9am. At this point, I exited DL because I wanted to make it to the opening of DCA. On the way, I stopped at Guest Services outside DL to pick up my ticket to the Fantasmic dessert package I'd booked for that evening. I took the long route through my hotel (instead of just crossing the esplanade) so I could use the private entrance to DCA, and thus be one of the first on Soarin' over California at 9:30am. I was seated in the center section of the top row- sweet! From there, I got in a long line for the rope drop to get to Toy Story Mania which wasn't open yet. I'm sure it was still way shorter than the typical waits for this attraction which, unlike WDW, does not have a FastPass option. Good fun, but I'm sure my score sucked.
As I was riding the Golden Zephyr (which I didn't quite love) at 10:30am, I got a text- it was my friend Pam telling me that she and her husband, Sean, were there. Yay! Pam and Sean are 2 friends of mine from way back when I used to post on rec.arts.disney.parks (RADP). I'd met them a couple times in WDW and, most recently, when they came to visit my home town about 8 years ago. Since they now live in LA, they were among the first people I told about my travel plans and I was ecstatic when they said they'd like to get togeher. Because I can be insecure, I was a little nervous about seeing them after all this time- but as soon as I saw Pam in the Greetings from California store (after a series of texts), it was like the years just faded away. Now that I had an extra bonus dayto play with, my main priority was just to hang out with them; I'd already done most of the rides that were high on my "I absolutely must do this or my trip will suck" list, anyway.
We were all hungry, so we decided to lunch at Naples Ristorante since I was in the mood for Italian; it wasn't open yet so we wandered around the stores in Downtown Disney for a bit. It was worth the wait- I loved my Rigatoni Bolognese. Sean's lasagna and Pam's pumpkin ravioli also looked terrific. Just as importanly, I had a couple refills of Diet Coke- I was really craving a caffeine fix! It was a nice relaxing lunch full of lively conversation. They were trying to lure me back to the annual December RADP meet (I was shocked to hear that people from RADP still remembered me!) while I was tempting them with tales of the awesomeness that is Tokyo Disney Resort. Good times. :)
When we finally got back to DL at about 12:45 pm, it was quite crowded with most attractions having lines longer than I consider to be acceptable. It was a good time to see Captain Eo, the 3-D movie featuring Michael Jackson which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. I think I might have seen the original version at WDW, but I had no memory of it, so I kinda wanted to see it again. Since the movie was shot in the 80's, the pre-show video was amusingly full of dancers rehearsing in their best Flashdancewear. I had a little bit of a difficult time with some of the 3-D in the main attraction and had to close one eye to see better; I thought it was me, but my friends said the 3-D was a bit off. Beyond that... well, #1: I had a hard time staying awake (yes, I was tired but I had no such problems on any other attractions) and #2: I think the attraction might be better enjoyed after imbibing a large amount of alcohol. Or something. ;) It was just really crack. From what I gathered, Michael Jackson was the captain of a crew of strange puppet-like creatures including the very odd Hooter who blows his elephantesque nose and sprays the audience. They all land on a strange planet and meet the scary looking female Supreme Leader who who is, shall we say, not very welcoming. However, Eo transforms everyone into 80's Thriller-esque dancers and eventually the Supreme Leader turns into a beauty and apparently everyone is happy. Except perhaps for some people in the audience who may be scratching their heads. ;)
I basically spent most of the day just hanging out with Pam and Sean- we investigated the idea of going on some rides, but the lines were really bad. I was much happier just chatting and enjoying the atmosphere. :) Eventually, we wandered over to Frontierland to visit Santa's Reindeer Roundup, which was cool. We even got our photo taken with the most Canadian looking Santa ever. And then we sat down for a bit by Coca-Cola corner so we could enjoy some Coke Zero.
Since rain was forecast, I wanted to run back to my hotel to grab my rain jacket. Sean and Pam wanted to shop at Acorn gifts in the lobby so they came with me. When I got up to my room, there was a message from the hotel about my request to extend my stay so I got that all squared away, then went down to the lobby to get a new room key/ key to the world and also managed to turn my 3 day park hopper into a 4 day hopper (which only cost $15 more). So I was all set for my extra day! I met back up with my friends at the Hearthstone Lounge just off the lobby- and we chatted some more.
Evenutally, we decided to go back to DL. I was getting hungry again, so we decided to grab some dinner at Redd Rocket's Pizza Port in Tomorrowland. Naturally, we lingered and chatted some more. ;) At 8pm, they open the check in for the Fantasmic package for both shows and that's when you can select your exact seat. for the show. I'd read that people start lining up around 7 so I definitely wanted to get there early since it's my favorite Disney night time entertainment and I was super excited about seeing it again! Especially since the DL version is much more magical than the WDW version. Sean and Pam helped me figure out where to check in, and kept me company as I waited patiently in line. It felt worth it, because I scored a seat in the front row.
The holiday fireworks show was due to start at 8:40, although the people at the Fantasmic check in told us it would probably start early. So we made our way to main street to stake a spot. The show indeed started about 15 minutes early... but still not early enough to beat the rain. Fortunately Sean had a large umbrella, but it was still wet. Nice show... but wet. ;) We headed under cover afterwards to try to dry off- or at least to avoid getting even wetter.
When we headed back to the Fantasmic viewing area, we were not surprised to find out that the first show had been cancelled. Since it was still raining steadily, I would have been shocked if the 2nd show wouldn't also be canceled. *sob* But, hey, at least I'd have another chance to see the show now that I had an extra bonus day; sometimes things work out nicely. Besides, better the show be canceled than to have to sit and watch it in the rain- that would be a rather miserable experience.
I still hadn't been on Pirates of the Caribbean so we toyed with riding- only one problem: power was out in New Orleans Square. Yikes! We waited under cover by a place that may have sold hot chocolate (which I was totally craving) It seemed like the power was coming back on... only for it to go out again before the registers even had a chance to finish rebooting.
There was no getting around the fact that I had to go to City Hall to do something about my Fantasmic ticket- I crossed my fingers and toes that they'd be able to exchange it for the following night, but otherwise I'd still need a refund. The line for City Hall was quite long- and, since the interior is tiny, it was also very wet. Nothing really magical or happy about that. I was amused at the gall of people behind us who wanted refunds for their park tickets; had they never heard of a thing called a "weather forecast"? ;)
When I got inside, the CM tried to steer me to a refund rather than an exchange because it would be "easier". Really, now? I come to DL from all the way across the country and only get there once every 10 years and it's easier for me to miss out on prefered viewing for my favorite Disney show? Err... I don't think that's the right answer. ;) So, at my gentle prodding, she checked and found availability. When she told me the price had gone up $1 since I'd booked 30 days ago, I expected the sentence to end "but we will waive that $1 as a courtesy" which would have been an example of excellent customer service and would have sent me home (or back to my hotel, at any rate) with a smile. But, non! I had to pay the $1! "Really?" I asked in a calm but shocked voice, "I am soaking wet because I had to wait outside [because of their system] and you are actually going to make me pay the $1 even though I booked before the price change?" A 2nd cast member supported her that the $1 charge was necessary. So I paid it, just to get out of there- but with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.
Pam and Sean walked me back to my hotel. I was still craving hot chocolate- but by this point, Hearthstone Lounge was full andit was past closing time for the Napa Rose lounge. *sigh* So I said my goodbyes as my friends left to go home and get dry/warm. I felt bad that they got wetter because of waiting for me, but I really was grateful for the company. And for Sean's large umbrella. ;)
My parting words were that you know that people are really good friends when you haven't seen them in forever... and yet, once you do see them, you can pick up as if you'd never been away from each other. Hopefully it won't be another 8 years before I see them again. Since one of my reasons for taking this trip was that I didn't want to spend the holidays home alone and depressed like I usually do, spending time with them was truly a highlight of my trip. It was a very merry- if very wet- Christmas day.
That night, 2 more chocolate coins had been left on my night stand- Christmas eve bonus?
I decided to sleep in this morning; but when I got up and could tell that the sun was shining, it motivated me to actually get myself going. I made it to DL by around 7:30- halfway into Magic Morning. I headed to Tomorrowland where I rode Space Mountain followed by Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and Matterhorn (this time from the Tomorrowland side) By this time, the park was open and I chose to ride Storybookland. I really wanted to get photos of all the miniature houses with their tiny Christmas decorations... but I wasn't sitting in a very good seat for that, and most of my photos didn't turn out so hot. Oh, well- it was still a cute ride.
After heading across the park to get a Fastpass for Indiana Jones, I finally made my way to Pirates of the Caribbean which had no line. (it had huge lines when we'd checked the previous day before it was shut down due to the power outage) Something seemed a little off when we stopped moving for a bit; this became more obvious the longer we were stationary. Eventually, the lights were turned on (though not brightly). I was happier about the fact that that the soundtrack which mercifully cut off- resucing me from an endless loop of hearing an ominous "Dead men tell no lies!" It seemed the boat 2 in front of me was stuck. After about 15-20 minutes, some men came wading through the waters and used long poles force the stuck boat to move. So now we were sailing along once again- except they still hadn't switched off the lights or turned on the sound. People in the vessel in front of me tried to make their own improvised soundtrack with some enthusiastic singing of "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!" After a few minutes, the ride completed returned to is normal mode of operations: lights off, sound on, and boats moving.
Big Thunder Mountain still had a negligible line so I took a ride on "the wildest ride in the wilderness" before heading to Toontown for some photos. I'd almost forgotten about Toontown; it's not one of my favorite areas of the park, but I didn't want to completely neglect an entire land. I particularly liked seeing Minne's house and Christmas tree because they were purple. ;) Roger Rabbit's Car Toon spin didn't have much of a line, so I decided to ride it; however, I didn't spin my taxi because I'm not entirely fond of getting myself dizzy. I remember when this ride was brand new and a top draw.
I'd been wanting to try the Baked Potato soup at Carnation Cafe on Main Street. After using my Indiana Jones FastPass, I went to check if they'd changed to the lunch menu yet. However, much to my disappointment they said that they serve breakfast until noon or 12:30 on Sundays. (I forget which time) So I crossed over to DCA to walk around A Bug's Land and take some photos of the Christmas decorations there. The fast pace and the time change of the past couple days were getting to me, so I decided to stop by my room at around noon for some room service lunch (yummy spaghetti) followed by a short but welcome nap. I was glad to be staying an extra night since I really hadn't had a chance to enjoy my room the previous day (which would otherwise have been my only full day at the hotel)
When I returned to DL at 2:30, Cinderella's Fairy Godmother was just standing inside the gate and greeting guests. She was a riot so I hung around watching her for a bit until it was time to check in for my Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour. After stopping by the guided tour desk, I sat and waited- mostly watching one family that was hard to miss. The dad made it known that he accidentally threw his wallet in the trashcan. The youngest daughter was also very vocal and active- first playing with a bubble machine her dad got her... and then pretending to play with it when another girl broke it. I couldn't decide if the young daughter was precocious, spoiled, cute, annoying... or some combination of all 4. She reminded me a tad of Veruca Salt, except she didn't seem so insistent if she didn't get her way. Of course, this family ended up on my tour (there were 3 tours that left at the same time). They apparently went on this tour last year as well, and seem to get to DL quite a bit. I learned a bit about them, partly through making an effort to converse with them. They never once asked me anything about myself; they seemed kinda self important or entitled. Also on my tour was a family of 7 including 2 small children, and another family of 3 with a grown daughter. All together, including the tour guide, there were 15 of us.
After our tour guide distributed headsets so that we could hear her, our first stop was a storefront on Main Steet that had a mezzuzah (bonus points to me for knowing the answer to what it was called!), where we discussed Jewish Hannukah traditions. Throughout the tour, we discussed holiday traditions of various countries; I'm not sure exactly how accurate all of them were, as the literal translation of what I was told is "Merry Christmas" in Japanese was actually "Happy New Year". At any rate, our 2nd stop was at the candy shop at Main Street where we were treated to tiny samples of Chocolate Fudge and of Peppermint Fudge- who knew that Peppermint Fudge would be so yummy?! That may have been the highlight of the tour for me, LOL.
We walked around the castle where we ran into the Evil Queen from Snow White. Then we headed through New Orleans square, which our guide told us was decorated with mardi gras motifs. (bonus points to me again for knowing the holiday New Orleans was famous for) At this point, we were supposed to ride Haunted Mansion Holiday; however, the power outage that had plagued New Orleans square the previous night had returned. So, we skipped that step. Apparently Entitled Family chose to repeat this particular tour because their little angel had cried when they tried to take her Haunted Mansion before, but she said she would go on it with the tour; the little darling herself had volunteered this story early in the tour. At least they weren't too upset about the change of plan.
We boarded a Toontown-bound train so we could ride It's a Small World holiday- because we were on the tour, we did not have to wait in line for either the train or Small World. After a little break in Toontown, we were given our souvenir mugs of hot cocoa and our gingerbread cookies.
At this point we were supposed to follow our guide to our reserved seats for the parade. But of course Entitled Family ran ahead and snagged half the front row, and the other family snagged the remaining front row seats. That was rather disappointing. Then the lady next to me moved her chair in front of me. Aside from the fact that now I had someone directly in front of me, my chair was now out in freaking no man's land, with no adjacent chairs on either side. Can you say "awkward"? One of the reasons I took the tour was because I thought it would give me a chance to be socialable; I'd taken a tour in WDW and it had worked out much better for me in that respect. Meanwhile, our tour guide was chatting up Entitled Family. At some point, Entitled Father bought a balloon... which made for an additional obstruction to my photos. Grrrrr. At some point, our tour guide handed out our souvenir pins as well as fastpasses for any ride since we'd missed our scheduled stop at Haunted Mansion. (I never ended up using those fastpasses; they were good for up to 6 people so I wished I'd had them when Pam and Sean were around)
And then I watched the Christmas Fantasy parade, which I enjoyed despite being annoyed at the challenges involved in trying to take decent photos. I hope Entitled Family enjoys having another set of parade pictures! (they've seen the parade in previous years; they were on the same tour last year)
I was rather glad to be free of the tour. After wandering around a bit, I went to check in for the night's Fantasmic package. Since I'd done the same thing yesterday, I knew exactly where to go. It was only slightly deja vu. ;) This time, I got there a tiny bit earlier and ended up being first in line for my show. It turns out that the person in front of me was an Eagles fan so we talked a little about the game being postponed til Tuesday because of the snow. I was able to chat a bit with the CM's at the stand, and eventually I was able to officially check in and select seat #1, front and center. I checked the forecast online for the eleventy billionth time and was happy to see that there was still no rain predicted tonight!
While waiting, I'd checked the status of my originally scheduled flight home, and I wasn't surprised to see that it was in fact canceled. So it really worked out that I'd already changed flights because otherwise I would have had have to deal with the hassle of trying to change plans after already checking out of my hotel. Plus, I wouldn't have been able to see Fantasmic if I'd been on my original flight- and that, ladies and gentlemen, would have been a true catastrophe.
My legs were dead so, after walking around a bit, I decided to sit down near It's a Small World to wait for the holiday fireworks; my friends had recommended I check out the view from there since I'd already seen the view from Main Street. While I was waiting, I heard some music- when I explored further, I saw to my delight various whimsical designs flash onto the Small World facade. Despite my extensive (some might say obsessive) research, I hadn't read anything about that very brief but cute show; it was definitely cool!
The fireworks did indeed have a slightly different mood when viewed from Small World, as various projections were alternately displayed on the facade. I was happy that I was able to see "snow" falling at the end of the show as the sound system played "White Christmas"! Well, I first had to move from my original position since I hadn't been quite in the proper place.... But there was snow, I wasn't wet... and I would be seeing Fantasmic soon. Life was good. :)
When I walked over to Pinnochio's Village Haus restaurant to get some pizza, I was sure it was closed since it seemed deserted. But I entered anyway, and was relieved that it was open. Yay for fast food with no lines on a holiday weekend! As I walked toward New Orleans Square, I noticed that Thunder Mountain didn't have much of a line so I took a ride- it's always fun riding it at night.
I was bursting with excitement as I arrived to claim my seat for the 10:15 showing of Fantasmic. I received a dessert box- of which I ate a couple things, packed the cheese & crackers in zip locks for a later time, and ended up chucking the rest. They also served beverages, and naturally I chose the hot chocolate. I'd spent much of the previous evening craving hot chocolate, and it was a treat to be able to have some for my 2nd time of the day. I wished I had my gloves, but they were still soaked from yesterday (err, I found out that my backpack is not at all anything close to waterproof). But it wasn't too cold.
And then finally it was time! The lights dimmed, I heard the familiar strains of music... and then the words "imagination... dream a fantastic dream..." Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but my eyes always began to tear up at the start of the show. Fantasmic is my favorite of all the theme parks entertainments that I've seen. In addition to being full of lights, music, fountains, pyrotechnics, and a plethora of Disney characters, it actually has a bit of a storyline too- as noted in the pre-show voice over: "Nothing is more powerful than the imagination. For it can also expand your greatest fears into an overwhelming nightmare. Are the powers of Mickey's incredible imagination strong enough, and bright enough, to withstand the evil forces that invade Mickey's dreams? You are about to find out." Not exactly a complicated plot for the ages- but enough for the kid within me to be transported to a world of magical visions (including my favorite Disney princess, Belle), and then to feel dark awe as the villains try to take over. My eyes begin to tear up again when Mickey exclaims "You may think you're so powerful... well, this is MY dream!" as he ultimately triumphs over all the evil forces. At this point, the Disneyland version typically features the Mark Twain ship emerging seemingly out of nowhere, with the decks of the ship populated by a variety of cheery, flag-waving Disney characters. However, on this particular night, I could see that the Mark Twain had been parked to the left of the viewing area and would not be used; instead, the characters walked onto the island to do their little dance of waving flags. The alternate ending was more remote, since the characters were further away, and lacked the usual magic. However, nothing at all could have stopped me from grinning with delight at seeing my favorite show.
After the show, power had been restored to New Orleans square so I rode the Holiday Haunted mansion; it had a short enough standby line that there was no reason to use one of my fastpasses. And then, despite the fact that the park would be open for another hour, I left to go back to my hotel. On the way to the room, by the pool area, I saw a fluffy orange cat who was meowing- unfortunately, it didn't stop for me to pet it. Practically as soon as I got to my room, I collapsed into my very comfortable bed. But not before noticing that there were 3 new chocolate coins on my dresser... perhaps 1 more for each night of one's stay?
I wanted to get up early for Magic Morning, but that just wasn't happening. After wearing myself out, I needed a little more sleep on my comfy bed before getting up. I had a red eye flight and wanted to make some purchases before packing up, so I called and asked for a late checkout. (I'd actually called the night before but they told me I needed to call after 6am) The best they could do was to extend my checkout 1 hour, until noon.
I arrived at DL at 8:30 and expected relatively short lines like I'd experienced around that time the previous 2 days. Oh, no. The park was already quite crowded. Since my main aim was to make use of coupons for 20% off before 12:30pm that were printed on some of my food receipts, I just got a Space Mountain fastpass to use later and then went into some of the shops on Main Street. After making a couple purchases, I left at about 9am- and was awestruck that the lines to enter the park were practically 3/4 of the way to DCA! Previously, I'd thought an entrance line was long if there were more than 4 people in front of me... wow.
After using another 20% off coupon at World of Disney and dropping my purchases off at my hotel, I entered DCA. It also was hugely crowded. Even though it was before the official opening time, Soarin' already had quite a line. However I went into the Single Rider line and was gliding over California in no time at all- once again in the top row of the center section, excellent seats. (for some reason, both times I rode, they were not filling all sections; perhaps because it was before official park opening?) I went over to Tower of Terror but the line was longer than I cared to wait, so I grabbed a Fastpass for later.
And then I did something scary- I left the safe haven of Disney for... *gasp*... the Real World! It was a bit of an adjustment at first to see streets, traffic lights, motels, etc... but I persevered with one goal in mind- the Lush Cosmetics store at Anaheim GardenWalk. It was a lovely day for a 15 minute walk to my destination. However, despite the fact that I could have sworn that the shops were supposed to open at 10, they didn't actually open until 11 so I had a bit of a wait. But it was worth it because they were having a Buy One Get One Free sale on soaps.
After stopping at 7-11 for a Diet Dr Pepper, I walked back to the main entrance of my hotel because I didn't want to have to go through the nightmarish lines I'd seen for security at the esplanade gates. Somehow, I managed to fit everything I wanted to get into my suitcase, and then I had to say goodbye to the room I'd loved so much. I dropped off my bags to be stored during the day- I had my suitcase plus a big plastic shopping bag full of things I'd eventually put into my backpack but which I didn't need to lug around all day. I'd decided not to take the good camera out all day because I was tired of carrying it around.
Because the crowds were so bad at the parks, I decided to focus on large capacity or off the beaten path attractions that I hadn't yet had a chance to see. Top on this list was the Aladdin stage show. Luckily for me, my DL package came with a coupon for VIP seating for Aladdin so I was able to join the shorter line to get into the theatre before the general masses. I chose a seat in the center of the theatre, just in back of a divide, which turned out to be perfect. People sitting in the front would have had to turn around to see the procession enter for "Prince Ali" and look above to see the flying carpet sequences. I saw both of these perfectly, and enjoyed the show, though it seemed just a tad long for a theme park show.
Next, I used my Fastpass for Tower of Terror. When I tried to look for the picture of our elevator upon exiting the ride, it was replaced by a sign "Your Image Dropped Into Another Dimension" I thought that was code for "someone did something inappropriate and we do not want to share this picture" From what I overheard, some of the people behind me made gun motions with their hands. They said they'd done it before with no problem. Idiots. :P At least I wasn't really planning to buy the photo- but still, I'd like to have seen it.
I walked through the Animation building a bit and then headed over to Blue Sky Cellar to claim the lanyard and pin that came with my resort package. Blue Sky Cellar had some information and models of upcoming DCA attractions- notably a Little Mermaid dark ride and Carsland. They actually had a 3-D model of the Little Mermaid ride. Both looked like winners so hopefully I can make it back to DL in 2012 to see them.
Since I was over the crowds, I decided to walk over to Naples at Downtown Disney to see if I could get a table. I was surprised how crowded it was at 3pm, so I headed next door to the counter service Napolini and had a piece of pizza. On my way back to the parks, I stopped by a Crepe stand that had been tempting me and got a Nutella crepe- yum!
Back at DL, I decided to watch Great Moments with Mr Lincoln. I think I liked the pre-show video better: this was The Disneyland Story hosted by Steve Martin. After exiting the theatre, I was thrilled to see a picture of Michelle Kwan above a sign that said "Spirit of Perseverence". There were many famous Americans lining the hallway- many of them the same as the ones displayed on screen at Epcot's American Adventure. (in fact they played the same song at the end of this show) The Kween still reigns supreme among figure skaters, which pleases me;there were no other skaters among the other images.
As I walked by Carnation Cafe, I couldn't believe there was no line. I asked if I could eat there, and they sat me right away. So my quest to try a bowl of their loaded baked potato soup was a success, after all. It didn't matter that I had just eaten- I still finished the whole thing. And it was goooooood.
I could not resist stopping at the Candy Palace to buy some of the Peppermint Fudge I'd enjoyed on my tour. (my friends and nieces ended up agreeing that it was super yummy!) After using my Space Mountain Fastpass, I had to say something to a man I saw wearing a Phillies shirt and hat since I am such a huge Phillies Phan. Turns out he was from just a few towns over from me.
The parade was still going on Main Street so I hung around Tomorrowland for a bit. While I did, I was treated to a sighting of the talking trashcan! I'd heard about that but never seen it. The trashcan moved around and talked to the people it saw. It was good fun watching everyone's reactions- most of them were a little freaked out.
I figured the castle lighting ceremony had to be soon because the castle was not lit up fully. I had to check online to find a list of times since it didn't appear to be listed in the show guide. (once again, smart phone to the rescue!) It wasn't tops on my list to see, but I'm glad I had the extra time to fit it in. And I got to see it snow again!
I was planning to take the 7:45 bus back to the airport- it would arrive around 9, in plenty of time for my 11:25 flight. All day I'd been checking the status of my flight and it was still listed as being on time. I checked once again just before retrieving my luggage from the bell desk of my hotel. As I sat on a bench to consolidate the items from the plastic bag into my backpack, my phone rang. It was USAir telling me that my flight was now scheduled for 4:25 am. Yikes! The last bus left my hotel at 8:45pm which would be ridiculously early, so I went over to Guest Services and booked a 12:20am Super Shuttle which would cost $15.
I started to head out to the parks when I ran into 4 Christmas Carolers singing in the hallway. I'd heard that my hotel had carolers but I'd had no idea when/where/if they'd be performing. I stayed to watch them finish their set- they were great! Yet another bonus I scored from having to delay my flight.
I didn't make it very far when I decided to turn around because I was really tired. I sat for awhile in Whitewater Snacks at my hotel drinking hot chocolate. Meanwhile, I got another email from USAir that my flight was now delayed until 6:30am. Fun stuff! I decided not to go through the hassle of changing my shuttle yet again. Finally I decided that I should try to see the 10:15pm Fantasmic since I had nothing better to do. ;) So I headed back to DL, and took the train to New Orleans square. I arrived at a great time, after the early show had cleared out, and managed to sit on the ground toward the central area with only 2 people in front of me. That turned into only 1 person as some people nearby left 10 minutes before the scheduled show time.
After wondering why I wasn't hearing the familiar "in just 15 minutes..." announcements, on came a new announcement... they regretted to inform us... *has death in her soul about the thought of the show being canceled* But they only said it would be delayed due to technical difficulties. *sigh of relief* Fantasmic started 15 minutes late- and once again, I was enraptured with the wonders of my favorite show. There were 2 noticable differences from the previous night. #1: The Snow White float was MIA during the princess sequence; I wondered if that had something to do with the technical problems. #2: I got to see the proper Mark Twain finale! I was thrilled to have a second chance to see the show, especially since I'd really missed the Mark Twain on my previous night. It was a great way to end a magical Christmas excursion to the Disney parks.
When I returned to my hotel, it was too early for the shuttle, so I relaxed by the fireplace; I was too tired to read my book. Other people came and went- including one couple who made me a little uncomfortable with their PDA. Finally, I retrieved my bags, caught my shuttle, and zipped off to LAX airport. Not surprisingly, I slept during much of the shuttle ride.
In not changing my shuttle time when my flight was delayed for the 2nd time, I'd made a slight miscalculation. Namely, I didn't consider the fact that airport security would be closed. It was also not at all comforting that the USAir counter itself was deserted and there was nothing about my flight on the monitors. I had to sit around the entrance area from 1am until 4am- and it was quite creepy. I was not at all at ease and didn't even try to sleep. Fortunately, I found a couple people to talk to; once again, I was too tired to read. Oh, and remember the good flight karma I mentioned on day 1? It was totally smacking me around and telling me it was time for some payback. ;)
Even when USAir personnel arrived at 4am, my troubles were not all gone. At first, security wouldn't let people from my flight to the gate because our boarding passes were dated with the previous date. Also, the automated machines would not recognize my reservation to print me a new boarding pass, presumedly for the same reason. USAir had to talk to the TSA supervisor and then we were finally able to get through security. I bought a bagel and a cookie from Starbucks and then headed to my gate- or, at least the gate that was listed for my flight on USAir's website. There was still absolutely no signage for my flight. In fact, my gate listed a 12:30pm flight to Phoenix. I felt like I was taking the most stealth flight ever.
I fell asleep even before the flight took off; I recall opening my eyes, catching a glimpse of the Pacific ocean, and then closing them again. By some wondrous miracle, the 2 seats next to me were empty so I was able to stretch out once we got to altitude. I am pretty sure that I slept solidly for the first 3 hours of the flight. After that, my legs felt a bit cramped so I dozed off-and-on.
After landing, I had only a 5 minute wait for the shuttle to the hotel where my car had been enjoying its own version of a vacation. I was very happy to see that all the snow had melted from it; however, it seemed slightly plowed in. So I asked nicely if someone could help dig it out- and a gentleman from the hotel spent a few minutes digging the snow away. I tipped him for his trouble. And then I was on the road home, the adventure officially over.
Merriest. Christmas. Ever!!!
On that note, my little Christmas getaway truly lived up to my dreams of a holiday full of cheer and devoid of depression. I came home feeling slightly better about everything. In that respect, I think the best thing in the world was that I was able to spend Christmas with 2 great friends whom I hadn't seen in awhile. It was also wonderful to see Fantasmic- twice!- particularly because I'd planned to see it on my upcoming birthday during a WDW trip that has to be canceled.
All the festive holiday touches around the resort made everything seem more magical. I'd been wanting to ride It's A Small World holiday forever, and I was thrilled to get a chance. I was equally delighted to be able to ride the Nightmare Before Christmas Haunted Mansion overlay for the first time in 5 years. The crowds weren't nearly as bad as I expected, except for my last day. You could still get a lot done with minimal lines in the first couple hours the parks were open as well as toward the end of the day. Although I was a bit worn out from the parks on my last day, I still managed to enjoy a lot of things I hadn't yet seen.
The best thing about the Disneyland resort is how compact everything is- you can hop from 1 park to another, or even shop at Downtown Disney, without really losing any time; this is where the experience of Disneyland really shines compared to WDW. On the other hand, WDW offers more variety and more interesting dining options. I don't necessarily think that either one is better, although WDW feels more like home to me. (many times I had to search for bathrooms at DL because they weren't where I expected them from my knowledge of WDW's Magic Kingdom)
One of the biggest decisions I was faced with about this trip was where to stay: the hotel of my dreams vs. an offsite hotel that would be almost as convenient and far less expensive. There is no way that I can logically say that the Grand Californian provides enough value to justify the extra expense. But what price can I put on the silly grin I felt when I looked outside my room and saw DCA? Or the feeling of relaxation and luxury that enveloped me every time I returned to my temporary home? Or the special touches like my encounter with the carolers in the hallway? My heart is truly glad that I was able to stay there- money and value be damned! And now, I've managed to stay at Disney hotels at all 5 resorts worldwide; not too shabby!
The extra day I gained from the snowstorm back home proved to be a real blessing, because there are so many things I wouldn't have experienced if I'd left on schedule. The delay of my new flight from 11:25 pm to 6:30 am was obviously not as fun. But (depsite the fact that it felt creepy at times at the airport), it was an adventure. I was glad I had the foresight to change my original ticket in advance, so that I wasn't stuck having to change things around at the last minute.
Hopefully it won't take me another 10 years to get back to the Disneyland reosrt!