In my "I'm going to Disneyland!" excitement, I woke up before my alarm so I had plenty of time to make a quick run for extra cat food (even though I already had an adequate supply). I ended up leaving for the airport a half hour before the (early) time I'd planned. I'd rather have too much time at the airport than to have to rush around and worry about missing my flight... especially when all I'd be doing at home would be killing time.
I expected the airport to be chaotic so close to Christmas but it wasn't really bad at all. There were even tons of open parking spaces in the economy lot at the airport. (on my Berlin 2008 trip, all airport parking- economy and short term lots- had been full and I had to fend for myself without any GPS to guide me)
So what to do while I wait? First order of business was to get some lunch. When I saw a stand with sushi, I knew that was the place for me. New tradition: sushi at the airport before I travel! (I'd also had some before Australia). Yumm!
Traveling to Disneyland requires unleashing one's inner child. What better way to start than to take advantage of the free photo with Santa that they were offering at the airport?! So what that I'm Jewish etc etc. When Santa commented on my Phillies T-shirt, I told him I wanted another Phillies world series win for Christmas. So next year if they win, you can all thank me. (or curse me, depending on your baseball allegiances)
As I sat at the airport goofing off on the Internet and constantly checking my email, the following deep thought occurred to me: I've spent a heck of a lot of time at airports lately! So I made a vow- after this trip, there would be no more airports for the rest of the year!
I didn't have the greatest boarding position for my Southwest flight even though I'd checked in online exactly 24 hrs ahead of time. I hadn't purchased the preboarding option because I figured that traveling solo, it would be relatively easy to find a seat. And it was. I claimed seat 9F, a window seat next to a nice older couple. They turned out to be very cool... They have a niece in Sydney, have done a lot of travel, and are active in a hiking club.
It was slightly disappointing that there was no wifi on a 5+ hr flight. But then again, it was probably better that I didn't spend 5 hrs constantly refreshing my email. For my inflight entertainment, I ended up listening to some music on my iPad: first, "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and then "Cabaret"- the Dutch version which starred theatre goddess, Pia Douwes. Yes, there was a bit of a Kander and Ebb theme going on. Then I switched to 2 shorties: Dutch "Sunset Blvd" (yes, more Pia Douwes) and the Australian "Secret Garden" At least Southwest seemed to be quite generous with munchies.
I missed having a seatback flight tracker, as they do on most overseas flights. Most times, I had no idea where we were. However, the captain announced when we were over Denver, at which point I tried to send a mental "shout out" to a friend who lives in Colorado Springs.
It's easy to spot Vegas from an airplane at night... there's a whole lotta nothing, then- bam! Tons of bright lights! We landed in Vegas sufficiently early for me to grab a slice of pizza, gape at the slot machines in the airport, and still have plenty of time until my connecting flight. It was slightly annoying to be so close to my destination, but yet so far; airplane travel was getting pretty old to me.
The highlight of my 2nd flight was the spectacular nighttime view of the Vegas strip as we took off. Otherwise, it was so short that even though they took drink orders in advance and were efficient about distributing the beverages, people still had to gulp down when it was time to collect everything in preparation for landing. In contrast to my first flight which had been overbooked, this one was comfortably empty.
I landed in Orange County just before 8pm- and now my work began. My mission: make it to Disneyland to see the 10:15 showing of Fantasmic, my absolute favorite night time show. Standing in my way: claiming my checked bag, picking up my rental car, driving to the hotel, and checking in.
Bag claim took a bit longer than I'd hoped, but it wasn't too bad. Southwest has a swanky new terminal at John Wayne airport in Orange County... But the car rental desks are closer to the old terminal. So umm, I'd rather have had less swanky and more convenient. The car rental guy tried to convince me to upgrade from the compact car I reserved- but seriously, is any 5'2 single person going to buy the line that they'd be more comfortable in a full size car for more $? Well, it ultimately turned out that they gave me a larger car anyway (Chevy Impala) so heh, good on me for not being coerced into paying more! I somehow was able to combine 2 discount codes to get a sensational rate of $37 (including tax) for 4 days from Alamo.
And now the fun part.... driving a rental car through unknown freeways. Except... the seat was waaaaaay too far back. I couldn't figure out how to use it, so I checked the manual. The manual was useless so I tossed it in a fit of dramatic frustration and eventually found someone to ask. Turns out the manual was wrong. Go figure.
The theme of the drive was pretty much "holy shit, please let me get there safely so I can get out of this thing!"... In my down time, I was inspired to write a song parody about the experience:
Dashing through CA
In a car that scares me so
Through the dark I drive
Going oh so slow
Warm air through the vents
Mirrors not quite right
What fun it is to clutch the wheel
In my rental car tonight
Oh rental car, rental car
Anxious all the way
Oh what fun it is to ride
And not see the speedometer*
* (Well, unless you tilt your head.)
If that wasn't enough, I also felt like I was a contestant in the oh-so-hilarious game show "Fun with GPS" when I approached Disneyland because my GPS kept insisting I turn onto a road that is not open for traffic. And later it was telling me to make a U-turn when I could clearly see my hotel in front of me. Luckily I had a general sense of direction from my previous year's trip to Disneyland so I was able to ignore the errant instructions. (note: I checked online later and the Google Maps directions have you going all through Disney's California Adventure... and have the hotel located somewhere near the Monsters Inc ride. Err, no.)
Hallelujah, I finally made it to the Paradise Pier hotel at just after 9pm! I was very
happy to be able to hand the keys to someone for valet parking; at that point, I would have paid anything so I didn't have to get in the car again- well, at least for the night. Check in went smoothly, although I was a tad disappointed that the "high floor" room I reserved was only on floor 8 of a 15 floor hotel. But since I'd made my reservation so late, and since I was focused on my mission (and secondarily rejoicing at being off the roads), I didn't say anything.
After dumping my stuff in the hotel room, I was so outta there. I didn't even take my requisite hotel room photos; they could wait. With a battle cry in my heart, I set my sights on the target. It wasn't even 9:30; I could totally do this! So I marched through the Grand Californian and Downtown Disney with complete tunnel vision. Even the Sephora I passed did not distract me.
As I stepped through the Disneyland gates, I could smell victory. I just missed a train from Main Street but I waited for the next one; I figured this would be easier than battling the crowds on foot. I'd used that strategy with much success the previous year. The Achilles Heel of my plan was that it assumed that the train would be up and running. After some announcements that there going to be a momentary delay due to some show causing traffic further down the track to stop, they said that the train was down due to mechanical problems. So I had to walk anyway. And by then I'd lost valuable time.
So of course all the best spots were gone by the time I made my way to Frontierland. This bummed me out a bit. But once the show began... I was in Disneyland! And I was seeing Fantasmic! My tears of frustration and disappointment turns to tears of pure Disney joy. For those 20 some minutes, all was right in the world.
Afterwards, I wanted to ride the Nightmare Before Christmas themed Haunted Mansion, which is a favorite of mine. A CM attempted crowd control and stopped the people in front of me so she could adjust the ropes. All well and good, but by the time she told people they could move, suddenly a whole bunch more people were ahead of me. I wasn't in the mood for that; it was very late eastern time and I think I was overtired. So I just basically said "screw this" and left the park. It was probably the right decision, but I wish I'd been able to end my Disneyland night on a high note.
Some may say that I "wasted" a day of a park hopper ticket on Fantasmic. But it was damn worth it! I love that show so much, and it was great to be able to kick off my vacation with a bang after a long and tedious day of traveling.
I took the long route back to my hotel, much more relaxed than my battle march to the park had been.. I wandered through Downtown Disney, stopping at Sephora (no, they didn't have the shower gels I wanted), and at Marceline's for a marshmallow treat I remembered fondly from 2010. Finally I got a hot cocoa to sip on the rest of my walk back to the hotel. I wanted to just collapse, but I still had some stuff to do first... including unpacking and assembling some holiday gift bags!
I might mention the fact that despite my original plan to stay at a motel, I ended up changing my mind at the last minute and booking Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. There were several factors that entered into that decision, but the initial spark was when I got annoyed at the fact that the other hotel would not answer an email in which I asked them to confirm my reservation and restated my request not to be on the ground floor; since I'd be arriving late, I didn't want to necessarily be stuck with whatever was left... and, since I've worked at hotels and am familiar with the way they overbook, I also wanted to be sure I had a room. (I am 100% sure that I used the same email address I found for them several places online) Paradise Pier was expensive during Christmas week, but at least I got to squee that I was at a Disney hotel.