The second day of my trip to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, I got up and was excited to be heading back to Shutters for the character breakfast with Goofy and Donald. This breakfast is one of the best character meal values I’ve ever seen at under $18 for adults. It is family style usually, but since I wasn’t eating meat, I was permitted to order off the menu and got the pina colada pancakes with pineapple and rum sauce. Incredible!!!
Shortly after breakfast, I heard from Shalon, who had asked if she could come visit for lunch since she had not been to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort before either. I told her no problem. We met up, and I showed her around before we had lunch at the Green Cabin Room, another casual restaurant and bar at the resort that is open for lunch and dinner. In the evening they also sometimes offer live entertainment in the form of musicians. We had a nice lunch, with me ordering a roma tomato, basil, roasted garlic and buffalo mozzarella flatbread, and Shalon got the oak-grilled breast of chicken on crispy pretzel. We were both very happy with our selections. After lunch we decided to try out the miniature golf course since it looked like fun (and it was, until that six on the last hole) and it was such a great value. Shalon headed back home after a quick stop in the gift shop where we found out one of the CMs I had spoken to the evening before for almost an hour about the turtles, turned out to be our friend Matt’s mom. It is indeed a small world after all.
Playing hostess, even for just a few hours, can really take it out of a girl. Bed called, but not before I called down to the spa to see if there was a pedicure appointment available. Luckily, there was for late afternoon, which would still allow me some more reading time before my dinner reservation at Sonya’s, the more upscale restaurant at Vero Beach. This trip really was shaping up to be the ultimate in R&R. If only I had been able to splurge even more on the massage, but there’s always next time. The pedicure was great and again, with an ocean view from the spa, and phenomenal service.
Sonya’s vegetarian trio, along with the spectacular service and the triple chocolate dessert made the evening even more magical. I finished earlier than I expected, so I again was able to go back to my room to read for an hour or so before the campfire. Although very different, I would say both nights’ singalongs were equally enjoyable. I even saw the couple from New Jersey from the night before, as well as some other guests from Orlando that I enjoyed speaking to earlier in the trip. Disney’s Vero Beach Resort very much has the feel of a family resort that guests return to year after year and the CMs get to see the families grow up over time. I loved this feeling of kinship and recognition. Even though I was only at the resort for a couple of days, I was remembered and called by name from the restaurant staff at Shutters to the recreation cast. It was really a nice feeling that I don’t typically experience at most WDW resorts just due to the sheer size and turnover of the resorts.
On my last evening at Vero Beach, upon returning to my room, I found my favorite movie of all time, Casablanca, on Turner Classic Movies and felt compelled to watch the rest of the film as a great ending to the night. I read for a bit longer to finish my book after the movie ended, and set my alarm so I would have enough time to grab a bite to eat before checking out at 11 before heading to work. I slept so well, hearing the waves crashing on the shore just outside my window. It is one of the most peaceful sounds, yet backed by so much power. It was entrancing! I missed it from my youth and miss it now.
There is a Sunday brunch offered at Shutter’s, with additional seating in Sonya’s, but seeing as I couldn’t eat the majority of the items on the buffet, I chose to order a la carte and got the heavenly orange oatmeal french toast. Even the chefs in the restaurant remembered me from day to day due to me having food allergies and needing to consult them before ordering. Also, the table service restaurants at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort even take Tables In Wonderland, excluding the Sunday brunch. This was meal a great way to end my trip.
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort was most definitely the breath of fresh air that I needed to recharge and renew myself. It was absolutely one of the best weekend vacations I’ve ever taken. I cannot wait to go back and experience some of the amazing culinary options I wasn’t able to try this trip. I relished the fact that I could unplug (literally and figuratively) and get the rest and relaxation I was so wanting and needing. This trip and resort completely exceeded any and all expectations I had. I think this is due so much in part, possibly in whole, to the incredible Cast Members. I even took the time before leaving to get the manager of the resort to personally compliment him on the exemplary service everyone provided. I do not think there was a single thing I would have changed about this visit, other than to maybe extend it by a week or two.
I hope that everyone will take the opportunity to visit this magnificent resort at some point. Have you ever been to Disney’s Vero Beach Resort? What did you enjoy most? Did you take it easy like I did, or did you take advantage of the tons of activities at the resort and in the area?
After a rather hectic first few weeks of the year between some personal adjustments and a very busy time at work, I needed a break. I decided it was far past time to explore Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, and went ahead and booked a solo weekend stay as it was the last Disney resort in Florida that I had not had the chance to visit.
I really didn’t know much about the resort before I went and thought I’d share some of my thoughts and experiences in case you are, like I was, unaware of the fantastic offerings this resort has.
The resort is similar to many of the Disney Vacation Club properties at Walt Disney World in that it offers deluxe studios as well as one, two and three bedroom villas that can accommodate up to 12 guests. In addition to these, the resort also has standard rooms with either a garden or an ocean view. For my stay, I opted to splurge and go with the Inn Ocean View Room since it was only slightly higher than the studio, plus I wanted the convenience of staying in the main building.
Disney’s Vero Beach Resort is about an hour and a half to two hours from Walt Disney World theme parks by car, and is a pretty easy drive on highways (some routes may include toll roads). I arrived at the resort not really having looked at many pictures or knowing what to expect of a Disney resort that wasn’t right at Walt Disney World. I was immediately welcomed by the familiar logo on the resort’s sign as well as a security guard to check me in to the parking lot. I pulled up to the porte cochere as instructed and left my vehicle there until I received further directions on where to park from the front desk.
When I stepped in to the lobby, I felt like I was stepping back in time and to a place that was very familiar to me. For those who don’t know, my background is in hospitality management, and I got my start back in high school at a four diamond resort on the coast of Maine called Inn By The Sea. Although Vero Beach is a good 1500 miles plus from that resort, there was a very comforting familiarity to it. The vibe felt like a combination of the Boardwalk and Beach Club to me and was very welcoming. Hardwood floors in the lobby are softened by rugs in the great seating areas that feature comfortable chairs for relaxing in the open four story atrium. Two themes seem to be prevalent throughout the lobby and are carried throughout the entire resort: oranges and sea turtles.
Welcome home is a greeting customary at the Disney Vacation Club resorts, but in this instance, it really felt like I was coming home, but not to one I had ever visited before. The Cast Members seemed to genuinely be inviting the guests to enjoy their stay at this, their home away from home. Arriving shortly after noon with check in not being until 4 pm, I was not expecting my room to be ready, but was very pleasantly surprised (a theme for this trip). After parking my car in the brilliantly located parking garage under the main inn, I took the elevator up to the third floor to find my room.
Full disclosure, I had a friend who had stayed at the resort a few months ago and had booked the same ocean view room. His view of the ocean was noticeable it seemed only from the balcony and then, only a sliver of blue. Having seen pictures of his view, this was honestly what I was prepared for when entering my room, but again, had luck on my side. I ended up with one of the most spectacular ocean views! This is coming from someone who spent her formative years spoiled with an ocean view from her bedroom.
I haven’t really spent much time on the Atlantic Coast of Florida, since I live on the Gulf Coast and prefer the typically warmer waters we have here on the west coast. Expecting gray or dark blue waters, perhaps tainted by my memories of the Maine coast, I was happily greeted with gorgeous turquoise water seemingly feet from my room. Again, the view was spectacular! I had, I came later to find out, one of only three rooms that have double sets of windows facing the ocean. Most of the rooms in the inn that are ocean view have one set of windows facing the water and then longer side of the room faces the grounds. Mine was the opposite. I could see the ocean from my balcony on the one side, the double set of windows in the middle on the long wall, and then also from the window on the other side above my reading nook. Fantastic!
My trip was off to an amazing start! In case I haven’t mentioned it yet, my primary objectives on this trip were rest and relaxation. The priorities, in no particular order, were to sleep, eat, read, and unwind. I took a few pictures and dumped my luggage before heading down to the pool area to grab a quick lunch at Bleachers, the counter service location open for lunch and early dinner. Since I was not eating meat, drinking soda, or partaking in an adult beverages at the time, I did a little research prior to arrival to make sure there were vegetarian offerings and I wouldn’t be stuck eating a salad every day. The menus for the restaurants looked great, so I was excited to see what they had when I actually arrived.
As is often the case, things change and menus online on third party websites are not always as reliable as you would like them to be. I read about a veggie burger that had gotten decent reviews from guests, but when I looked at the menu board didn’t see it as an option. When in doubt, ask. I did and was happy to hear they did still have them, but were phasing them out, so no guarantees whether or not they will be there on your next visit. While I was ordering I noticed the thing that to this point pretty much made my day (okay, aside from the jaw-dropping view from my bed) DOLE WHIPS!!! Again, for those who don’t know me, you may not be aware of my love of this delicious pineapple treat (Vero Beach also offered Vanilla and Orange) found at Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom and Captain Cook’s at Disney’s Polynesian Resort. Others are very well aware and have been with me on after midnight trips to acquire this great dessert/snack/breakfast/what have you. Anyhoo, I had a great lunch sitting out by the pool on a sunny afternoon with my veggie burger, fries and dole whip.
After the taxing drive (not really) and lunch, I needed to start working on my to do list. Next up was nap time! I went back to my room, on the way stopping by the front desk to make a dinner reservation for that night at Shutters, the casual table service restaurant. Before I crashed, I took a look at the recreation calendar to make sure there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t mind sleeping through. I am one to try to find the more unique offerings, and was intrigued by a wine tasting (which I wouldn’t be doing, but to investigate for journalistic research, and for future visits) and a musician who sang and played banjo on the back deck. Deciding I needed to check this out, I set an alarm to make sure I got in a good two hour nap, but allowed myself enough time to get to the activities before dinner.
Napping is seriously like one of the best things ever invented. If I could go back to my childhood and bank all that nap time I fought and didn’t want to take as a kid and cash it in now as an adult, that would be amazing … maybe a trip in the DeLorean can fix this. Back to the story at hand … I woke up sufficiently refreshed from my nap and brought out my DSLR camera to take some pictures around the resort. I discovered that there was a spa just off the lobby. Who knew? I put that in the back of my brain for not so future use. I also stopped by the desk again to pick the brains of the Cast Members to see if there was anything I should know or was missing about the resort. They told me I should go check out the recreation facilities across the street. Since A1A, the road on which the resort is located, is a relatively busy street, the resort built a tunnel under the road to safely get guests over to the other side. A tunnel!!! The only thing that would make this cooler and more like one of my favorite movies, Clue, would be if there was also a secret passage since there was already a library-like area off the lobby.
The trip across the street was well worth it! I found a beautiful lake with a dock for catch and release fishing. There is a pavilion with picnic tables and an area setup for a campfire by the shore of the lake. There are also soccer fields, walking paths, basketball and tennis courts. Equipment for most of these activities can be found by the pool, acquired from the recreation staff with your room key, and most free of charge. There are also bikes to rent and a great little 9 hole miniature golf course by the pool in addition to the waterslide, kids water play area (very jealous I couldn’t play in the pirate ship), hot tub, sauna, ping pong, and pool table. Miniature golf is only $2 a round for guests, $1 for DVC members. Then, of course, there is the beach itself. There are cabana rentals, jetskis, small boats and kayaks, as well as bodyboards and surfboards for rent.
Recreation opportunities at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort are seemingly endless! I’ve only scratched the surface with the list above. As with most DVC resorts, you have a Community Hall location with games, arts and crafts and activities for the kids primarily. They also have the standard pool games, dance party, etc. on the pool deck weather permitting.
After talking to the front desk CMs again, I learned the resort even helps take part in protecting the local wildlife with turtle watchers during certain times of the year. There are signs along paths and the beach reminding guests of the sea turtles and to be cognizant of the dangers brought by shining bright lights that can attract the turtles and potentially cause danger to the animals by misleading them away from the ocean. During the warmer months, guests can sign up to participate in watching the mother sea turtles coming in to the beach late a night to give birth to the babies.
After exploring for a bit, I settled on the back deck to listen to “Unca Banjo” play and sing. It was a cool late afternoon and it was only a nice couple from New Jersey and me enjoying the music so Unca (aka recreation CM Mike), told us great stories in between songs. I consider myself pretty well versed in the music field, but he played some songs I had never heard before, and I loved them nonetheless. It was one of those practically perfect moments that you just get lost in conversation and storytelling and great music. I will never forget that hour we spent just enjoying and living in the moment. On that note, I opted for almost the entire weekend (except when I was expecting an important text message) to leave my phone in the room. For those who know me well, I am never without my phone, but this weekend I was unplugged, much like Unca Banjo. 😉
Following the concert, dinner at Shutters was fabulous! There was a separate vegetarian menu and I opted for the Caprese El Forno Melt with portabella mushrooms, tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, spinach, caramelized onions with a panko bread crumb crust and basil in a red pepper sauce with balsamic vinegar and great fresh rolls served with Mickey-shaped butter. After dinner I returned to my room to read, something I hadn’t done in book form in quite some time.
The other activity I wanted to make sure I caught was the nighttime campfire and singalong with s’mores. Heading out to the campfire after adding an extra layer of clothing, I found I was the first guest to arrive. I was greeted by two great recreation CMs, Josh and Maria. We talked for a bit before the other guests showed up, and was amazed to find out the s’mores were free! And unlimited! Maria said the record was held by one guest who ate 28 in one sitting. I opted to be a bit more modest and had one, followed by a perfectly burnt marshmallow. But first, to earn your food, you must first sing, and dance, and let it all out. Josh and Maria led some traditional camp songs, even a Disney song or two, and a couple I wasn’t sure I’d heard before. He played guitar, and when it was over, Josh encouraged me to come back the next night to see how another CM, Trey, put his own spin on the singalong without an accompanying instrument. I agreed I would return Saturday night, and retreated to my room to read before an early bedtime.
We have arrived at the last installment of my Disneyland trip report. After I go through all the glorious details of my last two days in California, I will focus more on observations and reflections of the trip overall. If you missed parts 1 and 2, you can go back and revisit the first few days of my trip to DLR here and here respectively. Now, let’s keep moving forward!
I began my day at Disney California Adventure with a trip to the Hollywood Tower Hotel in the Twilight Zone Tower of Tower. The queue outside wasn’t quite as extensive or detailed as the version at DHS, but the lobby and pre-show were practically identical. One of the differences that I enjoyed was the lighting effect in the boiler room. The ride sequence is also slightly different and it seemed like your ascent and descent covered a greater overall distance since it even made my ears pop. I liked this version okay, but think I prefer the one in Florida a little better since you have the added fifth dimension sequence.
From here I cut through A Bug’s Land to Paradise Pier, getting my feet wet on the way in Princess Dot’s Puddle Park. I caught a part of the Phineas and Ferb’s Rockin’ Rollin’ dance party, which was great fun as a fan of the animated Disney Channel show. Prior to this day, I hadn’t really spent any time in Paradise Pier other than to ride California Screamin’ and to watch World of Color. I was looking forward to some of the classic looking boardwalk attractions more than others.
One of the rides that I wasn’t really familiar with prior to riding was Jumpin’ Jellyfish. This fun ride sits two guests in each section facing outward and you gently float up and down almost as if you were bouncing on top of jellyfish like Marlin and Dorie in Finding Nemo. I selected a seat facing Paradise Bay and had a great view, even catching glimpses of Cars Land while I was at the top. Next up were the Silly Symphony Swings, which I must admit looked a little sketchy to me at first, but I loved this ride! It was themed after the classic Mickey Mouse short the Band Concert and was a ton of fun.
At this time I went over to check the wait time on Goofy’s Sky School and it was posted at 30 minutes so I opted to get a Fast Pass to return later. Little did I realize, there was a single rider line that would have gotten me on within minutes. Oh well, lesson learned. That is one thing I noticed about DCA and DL is that they seem to have a lot more single rider lines than we have here in FL with just Test Track and Expedition Everest coming to mind.
I wandered along the water to check the wait time for Mickey’s Fun Wheel, and it was almost an hour so I opted to skip it and come back when more guests may be eating lunch. On the way to King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea, I was fortunate enough to stumble on to Goofy’s Instant Concert. This was a fun show that takes place in Paradise Bay with Goofy conducting the fountains to classical music. I really enjoyed this quick break and all the guests around me seemed to like it as well.
After I rode King Triton’s Carousel and enough time had passed to get a FP from Toy Story Midway Mania, I doubled back to ride the fun wheel. For those who are not familiar with this particular ride, let me explain. It is basically a gigantic Ferris wheel with two options: stationary cages that you can sit in and ride like a traditional Ferris wheel ride, and then there are the death cages (my name, not Disney’s). This is why it gets the nickname the Fun Wheel of Death: the cages are on loops that sway and almost flip up 90 degrees on either side, so you slide along the loop and as you go around on the Ferris Wheel you swing accordingly. Not for me. Anything that provides you with motion sickness bags is not high on the priority list for me, so I rode the stationary cage. There were some absolutely gorgeous views of both parks as well as the surrounding mountains which were visible on this surprisingly clear day in Southern California.
When my FP time came up, I returned to ride Toy Story Midway Mania, not knowing if it would be a bust like my score the previous day on Buzz Lightyear, or if it would better correlate to my scores back home. I usually score between 175 – 225,000 and this time I broke that record with a score over 228,000. I was so excited I hardly noticed the nuances that differentiate the ride from the FL counterpart. The queue is mostly outside and there seems to be more travel between the game scenes on the ride itself. As I was getting on the ride I saw Scarlett and Jeff with the kids getting off. I yelled out to Scarlett and met up with them when I exited the ride as they were meeting Buzz and Woody.
I returned to Goofy’s Sky School, which is a small rollercoaster of the wild mouse variety (similar to Primeval Whirl at Disney’s Animal Kingdom). This ride was fun, but quick, and it does whip you around corners a little more than I care for. By this time, I was ready for a late lunch and went right next door to the Paradise Garden Grill for a great skewer of lemon oregano chicken with rice and vegetables. This was a great meal and relatively affordable at less than $15 with a drink. If you enjoy the Tangierine Cafe in Epcot’s Morocco, you should like this with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influenced dishes.
Right after lunch the Pixar Play Parade started right in front of me so I stayed and watched. I liked this much better than the version we have at DHS. There are more characters, interaction with the floats, and cast members doing acrobatics. To me this was much closer to the Block Party Bash we used to have than the current incarnation of a parade at the Studios. Finishing up Paradise Pier, I rode the Golden Zephyr, which is somewhat similar to the Silly Symphony Swings in that you rotate around a central pole in swings made of zeppelins that seat about a dozen guests and are suspended from above by chains.
About this time the heat started getting to me. Yes, I live in Florida and I’m used to the heat and humidity here, but on this day the temperature was in the high 90s with a heat index of 105. I need a break from the sun and some good old fashioned air conditioning. I went back to one of my favorite places, the Animation Building, to cool off for a bit while waiting for Turtle Talk with Crush. One thing I loved about Turtle Talk in DCA is that you have a small theater with seats instead of just a few benches and mostly floor seating. As always, this show was entertaining for both the kids and adults, and poor Crush tried his best to understand the concept of Schrödinger’s Cat, after he was asked if he knew the idea by a no more than 8 year old child.
Muppetvision 3D is one of my favorite attractions at DHS and I was happy to see a show I knew inside and out in DCA. When I exited the show, I came upon the Hollywood Backlot Stage where a performance by the Disneyland All-American College Band was taking place. Again with the heat of the day I was drinking lots of water to try to stay hydrated, but was ready for an adult beverage, so before I went in to see the Disney Junior show, I got a Red Trolley Ale, which only seemed appropriate while watching the Red Car Trolley go up and down Buena Vista Street.
Continuing on the theme of completing the attractions that are almost identical to the versions we have in Florida, I watched It’s Tough to Be a Bug. I grabbed a FP for Soarin’ since the wait was 45 minutes, which we never see here at Epcot, then went to do the Boudin Bakery Tour. In case I haven’t mentioned this before, I adore sourdough bread, so I was probably more excited about this than the average guest. I liked watching the cheesy video about how they make the bread from the mother dough that goes back over 100 years. I loved visiting Boudin while I was in San Francisco a few years ago and similarly enjoyed this brief tour with a free sample in the Pacific Wharf area of the park.
My friend Kevin arrived that morning from Boston and was hanging out with his friend Paul around DCA. We coordinated to meet up for Shboom around 7:45pm, so I still had a couple hours of me time to explore. I rode Soarin’, which was exactly the same, except with a shorter queue and a cleaner screen than in Epcot.
When I had set out on this trip, I originally had a few things that were must dos and some that were dreams if I had the time and money. Dinner at Napa Rose in the Grand Californian was one of those dreams. I had heard great things about it from friends and I knew Samantha Brown wouldn’t have steered me wrong in her recommendation of it, so I walked over to the resort. I figured if I got there shortly after they opened I would have a pretty decent chance of getting a walk in reservation, at least in the lounge. Friends recommended the truffle mac and cheese and oh my goodness, this may have been the best thing I tasted on this entire trip. I needed a moment, and to my slight embarrassment, my waiter came over and noticed that moment. Oh well. C’est si bon! I also had a fabulous summer salad and a glass of meritage from John Lasseter’s winery.
Taking my time walking back through the Grand Californian’s private entrance to DCA, I was completely satiated and was looking forward to meeting up with Kevin and Paul. One of the many things I love about Kevin is how excited, no, more like how giddy he gets about the things he loves. This can be anything from riding Space Mountain for the hundredth time to seeing something new and magical for the very first time. The latter was definitely the case when it came to the neon lighting in Cars Land. After the hugs from reuniting with each other after five months, we stood waiting. The music started and I watched Kevin and the excitement he tried to contain, but it was clearly written all over his face. It made me so happy seeing a friend so enraptured with a little piece of magic.
We made the requisite stop for chai from Starbucks at the Fiddler, Fife and Practical Cafe, and then Kevin, Paul and I were off to Disneyland to see Magical for their first time. This was the second time I had seen the show (third technically if you count the fireworks I saw from Carthay Circle’s terrace the night before), and it was just as magical this time around. Next we went to go see the Magic, the Memories and You projection on It’s a Small World. I had never seen it here, and even though it is the same show as Florida, it felt different since some of the elements worked better on the wider surface, whereas others work better at home on the taller surface of the castle. Either way, it was still incredible, and yes, I cried. Again, I’m a big sap.
Kevin hadn’t yet been on a ride in Disneyland and requested that we ride the Matterhorn, which I hadn’t yet done at night. The three of us opted for the single rider line (again brilliant) since the regular standby line was at 45 minutes. We were each on within five minutes and Kevin asked if he could ride again on the other side (there are two different paths for the left and the right). Paul and I passed and told Kevin we would meet him by the Alice in Wonderland restrooms (my favorite in either park).
While we were waiting for Kevin, Paul and I devised a plan to take Kevin on a surprise trip to Trader Sam’s since it was nearing park closing of midnight at Disneyland and Trader Sam’s is open until 2am. We asked Kevin if he was up for a surprise and he trusted and followed us (insert evil laugh here). The monorail from Tomorrowland was the quickest and easiest way to get there since you exit in Downtown Disney and just walk across the street to the Disneyland Hotel. He thought we were just going to DTD, but then realized where we were taking him.
The excitement and wonderment was apparent in Kevin’s eyes as we approached. It was a magical place and inside held treasures yet to be revealed. Knowing Kevin’s affinity for Disney history and things bygone, I took a chance figuring he’d appreciate the existence of the secret menu at Trader Sam’s. The menu, which not all bartenders will make drinks from or even acknowledge, contains recipes for drinks like the Kungaloosh from the sadly closed Adventurer’s Club at Pleasure Island in DTD at WDW. My hunch was correct and Kevin seemed very anxious to try to classic drink. The evening was awesome with laughs all around and we finally made it back to our hotels close to 2am. Another great day was in the books.
My last day started with a bit of sadness realizing my trip was coming to an end and I didn’t want it to. For some of you, this may be something that you are accustomed to, the saying goodbye. I don’t often experience this emotion tied to Disney since I live just an hour and a half from WDW and go to the parks usually at least twice each month. The unique experience of riding the sad bus (aka Disney’s Magical Express) escapes me, but that morning I began to feel a bit of what I suppose you all feel.
I began my slow walk to Disney California Adventure while replaying the great memories that I’d made with friends over the past few days. I knew the trip wasn’t over yet, so the time for reflection was yet to come. Focusing on what lied ahead, I kept my eyes on the prize: experiencing all the attractions between the two Disneyland Resort parks. So far I had done everything in DCA except ride the Red Car Trolley, which I figured was a fitting way to end that journey. Starting the ride at Buena Vista Street by the entrance to the park, I took it as far as I could to Hollywood Land by the Tower of Terror.
Meandering back through the park to get a Fast Pass for World of Color, since I had a feeling that was how I wanted to end my trip, I passed by the News Boys and Mickey again performing in front of Carthay Circle. This time I was lucky to catch video of them singing one of my favorite songs from Newsies, Seize the Day. On my way out, I ran into Molly the Messenger parked on her bike looking at what appeared to be a map. I took a moment and stopped to ask if I could look at her map and she was more than happy to oblige. It was her personal map and I inquired if it was sold anywhere. She said it wasn’t, but she allowed me to take pictures of it. She is one of the Citizens of Buena Vista Street, which are very much like the Citizens of Hollywood (aka Streetmosphere) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida.
After a quick hour in DCA, I made my way over to Disneyland to nail down some of the time sensitive attractions that I hadn’t yet been able to do. Unlike at Walt Disney World, the Main Street Vehicles (of which there are four) run later in the day into the early afternoon around 2pm. I wanted to get these out of the way early so I wouldn’t have to backtrack to the front of the park knowing what I still had ahead of me. I was able to ride the Omnibus, Horse-Drawn Streetcar, Fire Engine and Horseless Carriage in less than an hour. It was great! Some of the rides I even had a private tour. My favorite was the Fire Engine, which Walt Disney himself drove on Main Street USA in the early years of the Disneyland.
Having not eaten breakfast, at this point I was borderline starving and swung in to the Carnation Cafe on Main Street to see how long the wait was for lunch. I figured it would go pretty quickly since I was by myself, but wasn’t too surprised when they told me it would be a 20-30 minute wait. I was willing to take my chances with waiting and was very pleasantly surprised when my pager went off in less than five minutes. In that five minute time period though I did get to meet a legend. Chef Oscar Martinez is a Disneyland institution, and although I knew very little about Disneyland, he was instantly recognizable with his warm smile, greeting guests in the dining room. You can read more about Oscar here and here. He was a very nice gentleman who treated you like he was welcoming you into his own home. He even obliged when I asked to have my picture taken with him, and even seemed honored. The food was great! I ordered one of the menu items listed as Walt’s Favorites in the Chicken-Fried Chicken, and what sounded interesting and definitely was in the chocolate cherry coke (again with real syrup).
Since I now regained some strength with the nourishment of lunch, I went to Pixie Hollow to meet Tinkerbell. This was a pretty area of the park, especially at night, but I probably would not have waited if I knew the wait was going to be 30 minutes instead of the posted 15. Next up were my last two time sensitive attractions that closed at 5pm: the Sailing Ship Columbia and the Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island. I enjoyed the Columbia and exploring the crew’s quarters below decks as it sailed around the Rivers of America. Then after a two minute raft ride, I was on Tom Sawyer Island exploring the caves and fort. I really liked how they added elements from Pirates of the Caribbean, but think it might make more sense if they rename it instead of still calling it TSI.
I hadn’t really been in the shops of New Orleans Square yet, so I took about an hour looking around at the details in and outside the buildings. This by far is one of my favorite areas of any Disney park. I could get lost in here forever with the attractions, food and shops, but especially the entertainment. After my feet were tired from meandering, I sat for a bit and listened to the Royal Street Bachelors perform outside Cafe Orleans. Since my feet were still sore and I wasn’t actually eating there, I decided to move on and take the train around the park again.
On my last evening, I sat waiting for Kevin, Paul and our friends Doug and Robbie to meet me at the Tiki Room. I still hadn’t had a dole whip on this trip, and in case you forgot, I do have a love for dole whips which you can read about here. After the guys arrived, we went in to watch the show and all sang along to the show in its full glory (I did as best I could not knowing the part of the show we don’t have here). Kevin requested that we ride It’s A Small World, which I was happy to do again to see the characters on the ride I may have missed the first time around.
I knew I absolutely had to ride Pirates of the Caribbean again, and according to the Cast Member with whom I had spoken earlier, it was best to return after 7pm, which was what we did to successfully practically walk on the attraction with no wait. I warned Kevin since he was sitting next to me that I tend to get wet on this ride at home and that I’d been splashed the first time I rode. This warning served as no preparation for the amount of wetness I or Kevin would encounter. I was drenched! Thank goodness I had my camera protected otherwise it would have been really bad.
About this time we were heading to the Main Street Cinema to cross off one of the last two attractions I had left on my list when we heard from our friends Dan and Becca Braunstein that they were almost to the park. Dan and Becca had driven in with their son Nathan from Arizona a day early to come hang out with us before they attended the D23 convention over the weekend. After the Cinema we met up with the Braunsteins to have dinner at the Plaza Inn. The specialty there is fried chicken, but since I had had chicken for lunch I tried the pot roast, which was okay, but probably not something I need to order again. The last attraction I had left to do in Disneyland was the Disney Gallery. They had a great exhibit featuring artwork of different castles from around the world.
Being that it was my last night and that my friends are awesome, they all let me choose what we did. I told them that I had a FP for World of Color and I’d love to watch it with them if they were up to it. We all went over to get them Fast Passes then to see the Mad T Party since Kevin, Doug and I hadn’t yet seen it. It was interesting! This is not your parents’ Alice in Wonderland, that is for sure. These characters definitely seem to be more inspired by the Tim Burton film than the Disney animated classic. Lee met up with us all and we went to the Cozy Cone in Cars Land to get a snack before World of Color.
As I’m sure you can guess, I cried … again. It is probably a good thing Kevin and I weren’t sitting together because we probably would have been bawling. Lee was a good person to sit with and he was very kind in not making fun of me for crying. We decided we were going to go back to Disneyland to do another ride or two before they closed at midnight, but I told the group I’d catch up since I still hadn’t been shopping in DCA at all and had my eye on a Red Car Trolley shirt on Buena Vista Street. Since the store wasn’t technically on BVS, when I arrived there the doors were locked since the park was technically closed at 11pm and only shops on Buena Vista stayed open another hour. I almost started crying right then and there since the shirt I wanted was only sold there, but I noticed there were still guests inside. After trying all the doors and finding them locked, I posted myself outside the main entrance and waited until a guest exited to slip inside. Fortunately, I was able to purchase my shirt and all was right with the world.
Dan texted me to let me know that everyone was at Space Mountain and to meet them there. I headed back into Disneyland for the last time, exiting Disney California Adventure until who knows when. I found Becca and Lee waiting at the exit with Nathan for the rest of the gang to do rider swap. The clock was almost at midnight and although I enjoyed the California version of Space Mountain much more than the Florida one, I knew I didn’t want to make that my last ride. I mulled over my options and decided I couldn’t make it back to Pirates before the park closed, so I went to the much closer Alice in Wonderland. I stood in line for my last ride and thought how amazing the trip had been. I looked back at the many friends I had seen and the memories we’d shared. Even the day I spent alone was completely magical. As I neared the end of the queue and was about to get on the ride, I looked up at the Matterhorn and thought of Walt. I remembered seeing a video of him riding Alice in Wonderland in the early years of the park and thought it altogether fitting and proper that I end my journey here. It took me about 30 seconds into the ride before I burst out sobbing. I was so overcome with emotion I just couldn’t hold it in any more.
Kevin and Dan texted me after I got off of the ride to see if I was still in the park. I told them I would meet them in the Hub and sat on a bench facing Main Street, still crying. Graciously, my friends did not tease me and seemed to understand what I was feeling. I loved Disneyland and my friends so much I didn’t want to leave or let this vacation come to an end. As midnight rolled around we said our goodbyes and I took my time perusing the stores along Main Street before selecting my souvenirs. I found a t-shirt, hat, magnet and toothpick holder (aka shot glass) from Disneyland. Once I finished my shopping, I went back to the Refreshment Corner one last time to get a vanilla coke (that syrup is addictive).
As it got closer and closer to 1am, when the shops close on Main Street, the number of guests in the park dwindled. I happened to have my DSLR with me and thought I’d try to do one of my favorite things and be the last guest out of the park to take empty park pictures. This was so magical and amazing to be the absolute last one in Disneyland over and hour after closing. I couldn’t think of a more beautiful sight at night than Main Street.
This trip was something that I’ve wanted to do for years, but have never pulled the trigger on until now. It helped tremendously that I was able to use airline miles for my flight and didn’t have to purchase tickets to the parks. What I expected was far exceeded by every stretch of the imagination. I thought I was going in to this trip alone and might be able to see a friend here or there. My amazing friends made this trip for me. Even keeping in touch with friends on Twitter and Facebook back home made it more special. I cannot wait to go back to Disneyland, hopefully next year. I would like to do it at a more relaxed pace. Now that I’ve done it all, I can go back and pick and choose what I do and don’t want to do again.
Some of the things that I really appreciated about Disneyland were the live entertainment offerings that were so prevalent throughout the park each day. Keep in mind that I did go during peak season so nothing was closed for refurbishment. I did all of the attractions listed on the park maps (aside from the arcades that cost money and the princess meet and greet), plus some multiple times and extras like shows and parades that aren’t on the maps. I don’t know that I would have done anything differently for my first trip. I look forward to going back with more friends and family and sharing what I know to help them enjoy their visit.
I hope you have enjoyed these trip reports and that they weren’t too verbose or boring in parts. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask and I’ll be happy to answer what I can. Thanks for following along!
If you’d like to see more of my pictures from my trip, you can access them via my facebook page here and here.
When we last left our adventures, I had just completed my first full day at the Disneyland Resort with a day at DCA and finished with a late night dinner at Jolly Holiday Bakery in Disneyland. From here we resume our trip report. On day two I began with a breakfast, leftover dessert from the night before, with a Matterhorn macaroon from the bakery. This was amazing! Thank you again to Lee and Becca for the recommendations on this one. It was the perfect way to start my day with a small bite to eat since I had an early lunch ADR at Blue Bayou at 11am.
I made my way to Disneyland with the goal of trying to ride the Matterhorn (fitting, no?) before lunch, but unfortunately it was down when I got there. I made a game time decision to ride Alice in Wonderland since it was a posted 10 minute wait. I figured this would give me enough time to ride and make it to my reservation in less than an hour without any trouble. I loved this ride! I am know a huge fan of the movie, but I think it is a great classic dark ride and it also has a connection to Walt. This was a great way to start my morning before heading to lunch in New Orleans Square.
Lunch at Blue Bayou was the only reservation that I made for dining and I did so only about a week and a half or so prior to arrival using the email system used by Disneyland. I sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, which you can read more about how it works here. In the email I told them that I wanted to eat at Blue Bayou for lunch any time between 8/2 and 8/8 and they responded promptly within an hour with choices. I responded with my selections and concerns with a food allergy and they again got back to me within 15 minutes with a time, confirmation number, and information about my allergy. All in all, it was a pretty simple way to make ADRs. I liked the quick response time as well as the interaction and ability to ask questions. I would highly recommend this system for any future bookings.
Since I was dining at opening at 11am, and I was by myself, I thought my chances were good for a waterside table, but requested it when I checked in at the podium, letting the CM know I was willing to wait for one. For those who are not familiar with the Blue Bayou, it is located in New Orleans Square in Disneyland and the restaurant is situated in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, much like San Angel Inn in Mexico at Epcot. The food and service were great and I ordered the gumbo and the monte cristo. Having lived in Louisiana, it was nice to be able to get some nice cajun food, although I should have asked for hot sauce to add a bit more kick to the gumbo. I was barely able to eat half of my meal, so I got the rest to go to save some for dinner later.
After eating, one of my favorite things to do is to take a nice leisurely boat ride while I digest. I opted for either the Columbia or the Mark Twain, which ever one came first, which ended up being the latter. It is a nice ride with narration around the Rivers of America, very similar to the Liberty Belle in the Magic Kingdom at WDW. Once my stomach was settled from lunch, I headed to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which I thought was a bit faster and more wild than the Florida version. At the recommendation of Sally, I went to see Billy Hill and the Hillbillies at the Big Thunder Ranch. I totally loved this area of the park that is used for character meet and greets and pin trading. There is also a small petting zoo with goats on the way to the seating area. You can even color with the Country Bears.
I was supposed to meet up with Colin and Rich again, but my phone was dying and I forgot my external battery charger, so I went to Pinocchio Village Haus to sit and charge my phone for an hour before the guys arrived. When they got there we tackled Fantasyland, starting with Casey Jr., then on to Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, King Arthur Carrousel, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough and Snow White Grotto. I really liked the dark rides and thought that star effect in Peter Pan was fantastic! It was nice being able to ride Mr. Toad after almost 14 years. The walkthrough was also cool to have a story attached to the character, which gave it a bit more meaning than a restaurant that typically needs to be booked months in advance.
The guys decided they needed to kidnap me and take me on the monorail to Downtown Disney for the short walk from there to the Disneyland Hotel. There we were to go to Trader Sam’s, a tiki bar I have heard many great stories about from near and far. I was more than happy to submit and go along. They have some great nods to the Jungle Cruise, Tiki Room and the sadly defunct Adventurer’s Club from WDW, as well as some amazing details put in by the Imagineers. I would stay there as long as I could if I had my way. We had a couple drinks and they were ready for dinner, but I was headed back to Disneyland to meet up with Ryan, Sally and the rest of the crew.
I walked back with them through Downtown Disney since I hadn’t been there yet. Much like Disneyland compared to the Magic Kingdom, there seems to be a more electric, kinetic feel than the DTD at WDW. A lot of this can be contributed to the live entertainment offerings to be found there I think. After a brief walk, I was back in Disneyland and coordinated with Sally to meet them at Tarzan’s Treehouse in Adventureland. This attraction used to be the Swiss Family Treehouse like at MK, but was switched over to a Tarzan theme shortly after the film was released in 1999.
Once we completed the walkthrough of the treehouse, we were ready for a bite to eat and the Kilpatricks introduced me to the wonderful offerings of Bengal Barbeque. They have great skewers of meat, that are pretty reasonably priced around $4 and have different options like spicy beef, polynesian chicken, bacon wrapped asparagus as well as a few others. It was a nice snack before going in to the Tiki Room. I really enjoyed this show in its full length, in additional to the pre-show with the tikis and the Dole video about Hawaii.
Tomorrowland was our next destination since we had Fast Passes for both Space Mountain and Autopia. In case I forgot to mention it, this was the Kilpatrick family and Gretchen’s last day and they were trying to accomplish 25 attractions in one day. They were well along to 20 when I met up with them, so I knew we could get five more in the hours we had left before DL closed for the night. I am not a huge fan of Space Mountain or the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway at home, but really liked their Disneyland counterparts. Space Mountain seemed much smoother and I liked the side by side seating as well as the speakers in the ride vehicles, like Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster. Autopia was well themed and seemed longer than in WDW, plus the cars are much cuter. 🙂
A request for the tea cups had been made by the kids, so we made our way from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland to ride the Mad Tea Party, which is absolutely gorgeous at night with Chinese lanterns of all colors hanging over the open air attraction. We had a great time having a contest to see who could spin the fastest. We didn’t win, but we had an awesome time. At this time, it was almost 11pm, and we were ready for a proper meal so we went to the Refreshment Corner so they could get hot dogs and I finished off my leftovers from lunch. I, of course, got another fountain coke with syrup, raspberry this time, since they were the best I’ve had in a long time. Our last attraction for the night was Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. This was a great way to end the night with friends. It borrows some things from both the Hall of Presidents and the American Adventure at Epcot including two songs which typically make me cry in Two Brothers and Golden Dream. I stayed strong. We said our goodbyes and went to our respective hotels. Another magical day came to a close.
This was to be my only completely solo day of the whole trip, so I was a little bummed starting out my walk to Disneyland in the morning. I thought I’d challenge myself by trying to do the Matterhorn, Star Tours and Indiana Jones Adventures before lunch. If I haven’t mentioned it yet, the entire trip for both parks was 10s across the board on the Touring Plans crowd calendar. I made a bee line for the Matterhorn to start my day there like I had tried to do the previous day. I was very happy to see it was up and running and that the single rider line was practically a walk on! I rode both sides of the attraction by using the single rider line withing 20 minutes of being in the park. Maybe this being by myself thing wouldn’t be so bad.
Next up I was planning to do Star Tours, but since I was by the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage I decided I
should do that attraction since it was still relatively early around 10am and the wait was under 30 minutes (thanks to Matt Parrish of Wedway Radio and Wedway Now for this tip). I was apprehensive going into the sub since I am claustrophobic and don’t like being trapped, but I kept telling myself we never truly go completely submerged, so if we have to get out we can. Also, I did the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride at WDW when I was a kid and I was fine, so I knew it wasn’t too bad. I thought the ride was cute, but it is definitely not one I need to do each time I’m there.
Sticking to Tomorrowland’s original plan, I next went to Star Tours, which is pretty much identical to Florida in the attraction itself. I then headed over to Adventureland for one of the rides I was most looking forward to: Indy!!! I am a huge fan of the movies, really like the stunt show at DHS, and was hoping that the story would distract me from the ride vehicles that are the same as Dinosaur at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, of which I am not a fan. Thankfully, the story was so immersive and I didn’t even feel the least bit nauseous like I usually do after Dinosaur, so I really enjoyed this. My last ride before lunch was the Jungle Cruise. I liked that it was familiar, but with some differences and I liked these nuances, however I kind of missed the temple that we have in WDW.
Since I didn’t eat breakfast and it was now almost 1pm, I was very hungry and ready for lunch. I knew where I wanted to eat thanks to Nate Parrish (also of Wedway Radio and Wedway Now, formerly of Betamouse): Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port in Tomorrowland, which has the Count Down Chicken Fusilli. This is a corkscrew kind of pasta, similar to a cavatappi, with an alfredo sauce and nice pieces of grilled chicken. I threw on some roasted red pepper flakes and this was a great meal along with a refillable(!!!) soda for a little over $10.
Not having a boat nearby, I opted to take my post lunch digestive rest on the Disneyland Railroad for the full circle tour before going to catch the tail end of the Jedi Training Academy. It was getting a bit warm out, so I ducked in to Innoventions to explore for a few minutes and ended up at the House of the Future watching demonstrations of the latest and greatest technology. Since Captain EO was nearby and a show was starting in a few minutes, I decided to try to change the world. I walked through the Starcade on the way out and chose not to spend money on games. I kept moving to the front of Tomorrowland and got on to the Astro Orbitor. It was kind of cool being so close to the castle compared to at WDW, but I think I like the added thrill in Florida of being up a few stories above the Peoplemover.
Then there was Buzz. More precisely, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters was next. This was a humbling experience to say the least. For someone who is used to being a galactic hero at WDW and maxing out the score at 999,999, it is kind of sad to only get 36,000 points on what is supposed to be an easier attraction. Cue sad music here. I timed my exit from Tomorrowland to match up almost perfectly so I was able to quickly find a spot for the Soundsational parade. I absolutely loved this! It may be my favorite Disney parade. Ever. The parade is based around different genres of music from Disney films: calypso from the Little Mermaid, jazz from the Princess and the Frog, African music from the Lion King and Tarzan, etc. I really enjoyed seeing different floats and costumes all well themed around the styles of music.
Like WDW, there are certain attractions at DL that have time constraints, so I missed them and needed to make sure I hit them during their limited operating hours. One of these such attractions is the Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes. Yes, I was there and I was going to paddle my little heart out in 95+ degree heat and humidity because I had set this silly goal of doing all the attractions. And paddle I did. One thing I wish I had done differently was think about the fact I have a bad shoulder from a car accident and I should have asked to switched sides. You get a work out with this one kids. There are no backup motors. It is you and good old fashioned elbow grease that get you around the Rivers of America by paddle power along with about 15-20 other fools, I mean guests.
Having worked up an appetite, and a thirst, I found myself drawn to the Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square. I heard about the virgin mint juleps and Mickey shaped beignets that could be found there and knew I had to go. This seemed like the perfect time since it was around 5pm and pretty warm. I sat briefly outside the French Market and then walked toward the sounds of jazz music coming from in front of the Rivers of America. One of the many musical acts, this one featuring jazz and dixieland, was performing. I enjoyed the sounds for a bit before moseying over to the Golden Horseshoe, where I caught the tail end of a stage performance.
From here I cut my way to the back of Fantasyland to It’s A Small World. I was very much looking forward to this ride since I had heard their version has characters from Disney films inserted in the Mary Blair style. To me, this was a great addition to the ride, and I also enjoyed the scenes that were different from the WDW version. It was also cool to start and end the ride outside. I knew I’d have to ride this one again to see if I could catch more of the characters.
I poked my head in the Disney Princess Fantasy Faire, which is basically a princess meet and greet, but the line was well over an hour, so I decided to pass and go to Toontown. For anyone who has played the Epic Mickey video game, this will be very familiar to you. When I walked in it had a deja vu feeling since I knew where things were relatively well from the game. I rode Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, which was a fun twist (ha ha ha) on a dark ride. Then I quickly walked through Goofy’s Playhouse, Donald’s Boat, and got in line for Gadget’s Go Coaster (similar to the Barnstormer). After that ride I toured Chip ‘n’ Dale Treehouse, Mickey and Minnie’s houses and was ready to return to Fantasyland. Since we no longer have Toontown here, it was kind of nice to see a version of Mickey and Minnie’s houses.
It was just before dusk and I wanted to make sure I caught the Storybook Land Canal Boats before it got too dark so I could get some pictures. This was the perfect time at twilight because the sun was still out to see, but the lights were on too, which made this even more beautiful. I loved this ride and wished I would have gone back to ride it again! My last stop in Disneyland for the night was Dumbo, which was also very cool as the lights of Fantasyland, especially the lanterns of Mad Tea Party were now lit.
As I mentioned earlier, the only restaurant that I had made reservations for on this trip was Blue Bayou. However, I had it in my mind that there were a couple others that I wanted to at least try out if I had the time and money. Since I was on budget at this point in the trip, I decided to go to DCA to see if I could get a walk in reservation at Carthay Circle. I had been in the lounge the other day with Lee and knew I wanted to go back again to try at least a cocktail or two and maybe some appetizers. This is how I do dinner a lot of times to save money by not getting an entree and it also allows me to try more things by getting a couple apps.
By the time I got to the restaurant, it was about quarter til nine and they said I could either eat at the bar downstairs, which has a different menu than upstairs, or I could wait til nine to be seated in the restaurant. I opted to grab a drink in the lounge and let them know at the podium that I wanted to eat upstairs. Starting off with the Carthay Circle Manhattan in the bar (watch how they make the ice sphere if you go), and finishing up with the Brown Derby in the restaurant (another bourbon based drink), I was so ready for the dinner that awaited. I was very pleasantly surprised to be seated on the terrace outside that overlooked Buena Vista Street and facing the front of the park towards Disneyland.
I mentioned to my server that I was in a bit of a hurry and was trying to make the second showing of World of Color at 10:15. They were more than happy to accommodate me by putting in my order as soon as I was seated since I had looked at the menu ahead of time. I ordered the biscuits, filled with cheese and jalapenos and came with an apricot dipping sauce that were to die for, and the firecracker duck wings, which were a great pairing to complement the spiciness of the biscuits. My food came quickly and the service was great. I gave my server my credit card as soon as my food came so I could expedite things. While I was finishing my food, I heard music and Magical, the Disneyland fireworks, started. I had a gorgeous view from the terrace and the music was piped in, much like ‘Ohana at the Polynesian does with Wishes. This was such an awesome surprise! I watched the entire show and when I was done, my bill was waiting for me. I opened it and there was a surprise FP for World of Color! I know they have World of Color dinner packages that offer you reserved seating, but I hadn’t ordered what was necessary to qualify for this.
Once I thanked my server for being so efficient and for the extra bit of pixie dust, I was on my way to watch World of Color for the second time during my trip. Yes, I cried … again. It was a beautiful way to end my day and my solo trip fears washed away. It had been a practically perfect day despite the fact I didn’t see any friends on this particular day. This would be the only day I wasn’t with friends for at least part of the day.
Stay tuned for our thrilling conclusion next week. Same bat channel. Same bat time.
If you want to see even more pictures from my trip check them out here on my Facebook page.
Okay, so I wasn’t going to write about my trip before I went, but I am so excited, and I just can’t hide it. 😉 I am leaving in less than two days to go to Disneyland for the first time. I am a pro (or so I think) when it comes to Walt Disney World, but California is a whole new animal to me. I have never even been to southern California before and thought it was long overdue now that all the major work has been completed as far as refurbishments and park additions between DL and Disney California Adventure. Specifically, I wanted to make sure Cars Land was done and that most of the major attractions I was hoping to experience, like Pirates of the Caribbean, the Matterhorn, and Indiana Jones Adventure were going to be open.
I went into this wide eyes wide shut. As I may have mentioned before, I’ve done little to no research for this trip. It is going to be an adventure, to which I am very much looking forward. I have never looked at a park map. I don’t know what attractions are there other than by what I have picked up by osmosis through tv specials and friends tweets and foursquare check ins. This is both exciting and frightening at the same time. I’ve grown up going to WDW since 1980, so I know it better than most places I’ve lived. It is home to me. I understand DL and DCA are similar to parks we have here, but different so it will be kind of like a Twilight Zone, deja vu but not kind of experience I’d imagine.
The little homework I have done is to ask friends questions like what attractions should I not miss at night, or what food should I make sure that I experience. I have friends who are Disneyland vets, so why not use their knowledge to help make sure I get the most out of this trip. Now, this is for the most part going to be a solo trip, but I hope to meet up with at least a few friends who either live in the area or are going to be visiting on overlapping dates. I am pretty independent, so the solo trip doesn’t bother me, but I hope I get to share some memories with friends because that would just amplify the awesomeness factor.
The Adventure Begins pt. 1, Friday, August 3
My flight out of Sarasota left, or was supposed to leave around 12:30, but we were delayed about 20 minutes (foreshadowing for all of my other flights on this trip). I headed to Atlanta on my way to SNA (aka Orange County or John Wayne Airport) on a full flight with little trepidation. I am not a fan of flying and had already gotten rid of my nervousness earlier in the morning, but had a backup plan in case I started to have a moment. The flight went relatively well and we ended up getting into ATL only about 10 minutes late, which was fine because miraculously, my departing gate was only a few down from the arriving one. I had enough time to grab a late lunch in a sandwich and some chips as well as a bottle of water since you no longer can get these on planes apparently (it’s been three years since my last confession … wait no, since I’ve last flown).
Again on a full flight and with an equipment change in ATL, my anxiety crept up since they reassigned my seat to a middle seat and nobody around me would change. One of my biggest issues with flying is I am claustrophobic and being in the aisle seat helps alleviate some of the stress I feel being packed in like a sardine in a flying tin can of sorts. So it ended up being necessary to take a xanax and have a drink so I didn’t have a complete panic attack on the 4+ hour flight. Things ended well and we arrived not too long after our expected arrival time. Since I didn’t check any bags I simply headed out to the ground transportation area to catch the SuperShuttle.
I had reserved the shuttle to my hotel online with a coupon, and it only ended up being about $17 round trip after I added a tip back in. It was a nice service, but I did have to wait about 15 – 20 minutes for the shuttle to come and then another 10 minutes for the other scheduled passengers, so just be aware of this in your scheduling. We were on our way and hit traffic as soon as we were on the highway, but it was still only about a 20 minute ride to my hotel and I was fortunate enough to be the first stop. I was happy with the experience since I am used to driving myself and I am generally not a fan of public transportation, but for the money this is a really great option.
When I arrived at my hotel, the Extended Stay America on S. Clementine in Anaheim, it was a few minutes after 7pm PST, so 10pm my time. I had planned on adjusting to California time pretty quickly so I had slept in that morning to try to help the process start. Check in went relatively smoothly and quickly and I was accommodated with both of my requests for a first floor room and near the lobby. I dumped my stuff, grabbed my backpack and park gear and was off on my trek to meet up with the Kilpatrick Family in Disneyland.
The walk from my hotel was about a mile, but with stop lights and crossing streets took about 20 minutes to get to the esplanade between Disneyland and DCA. As I came around the corner from my hotel onto Disney Way, still blocks away from the park, I spotted the Matterhorn at sunset and almost started crying on the sidewalk. I held it together and got to DL without any trouble, took my picture in front of the floral Mickey by the train station and headed on to Main Street USA.
Now I’ve walked under the train tracks and on to Main Street in WDW literally hundreds of times. Nothing could have truly prepared me for what I felt that first time at Disneyland. It was the same, but different. Just like everyone says, it is smaller, but quaint. It is like an identical cousin, but not. City Hall is relatively in the same spot, but much smaller. The same with the Emporium and the Fire Station, but then there are things like uniquely named shops like the Magic Shop or the Fortuosity Shop that are totally different. The Cinema is about where our cinema used to be. It reminded me of a line from one of my favorite movies, Sleepless in Seattle, “It was like coming home… only to no home I’d ever known… It was like… magic.”
For those of you who know me well, it comes as no surprise I started crying right there on Main Street. An overwhelming surge of nostalgia for Walt and the company’s humble beginnings came over me and I shed a few tears before moseying towards the hub and Partners statue. My first impression of Main Street itself is that its buildings are shorter in stature, but felt more like an actual Main Street if that makes any sense. It had a more kinetic feel than I get at WDW, a sort of electricity. Maybe it was because it was a Friday night and a popular time for locals to swarm to their beloved park, but it felt like it was buzzing all around me.
After I finally made it to the hub to see Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (it is so cute and pink), I found myself chatting up some guest relations CMs standing guard of the reserved fireworks seating section for Club 33 patrons. They were very curious about WDW and had lots of questions for me and were eager to answer any questions I had about the Disneyland Resort. One of the CMs in particular, Garrett, was very friendly and anxious to supply me with tips. Realizing I had been talking for almost half an hour, I tracked down the Kilpatricks and their friend (now my mutual friend) Gretchen to take a seat and wait for the fireworks show Magical to start at 9:30.
Ah, Magical. It truly was. We sat in the street around the hub eating churros my first night waiting for the show to start with Main Street music playing around us. Ryan, Sally, their kids affectionately known as Her Majesty, 6, and the Hobbit, 10, and Gretchen and I watched the show from the right side of the hub based on Ryan’s excellent recommendation so as to see some of the unique show elements of this fireworks production. It is something you just have to see! Tinkerbell flies, but in a different way than at WDW, and Dumbo flies. Being that it is above Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Flora, Fauna and Merriwether even get in on the act. One of my favorite moments reminded me of Shelley and me discussing cotton candy preferences as well as other things when they debate between the colors of pink and blue for the fireworks.
Once the fireworks concluded, my friends decided to head out since they had been in the parks going all day having arrived several days earlier. I told them I was going to stick around for another couple hours til the park closed at midnight, but I would coordinate with them to hang out the next morning. They went their separate way and I headed to find Pirates of the Caribbean, which is my favorite ride at WDW, but I had been told DL would blow me away. Since I was in such a daze coming in to the park and forgot to pick up a park map, and I had done no homework, I had to stop and ask a CM how to get to Pirates since the park layout is a bit different and we don’t have a New Orleans Square, which is where I at least knew it was located.
Working my way through the masses in Frontierland heading to get in place for the second of three Fantasmic shows along the Rivers of America, I finally made it to POTC. It was about a five minute wait at this time (around 10:15pm) and I tried to absorb as much detail as I possibly could. The queue is much shorter than our winding and cool caves that serve as refuge from the warm Florida sun and common showers we encounter. The setting is different, appropriately starting in a bayou with quiet sounds from nature and fireflies flickering around the boats. As you gently float on, you pass by the Blue Bayou restaurant on your right hand side, which is open to the ride, similar to how San Angel Inn in Epcot’s Mexico is situated adjacent to Gran Fiesta Tour. The ride is familiar to one coming from WDW, but longer and definitely different in parts. I thoroughly enjoyed this version, but still love the one at home.
Still not knowing where I was going or what I was doing, I found myself exiting pirates and being deposited (after the obligatory exit through the gift shop) right in front of the Rivers of America mere minutes before the second showing of Fantasmic was about to commence. I took this as a sign to go with the flow and found a spot standing right behind the roped off reserved seating area that had a great view directly facing the stage. This show, like the version in Florida is focused around Mickey and the battle of good vs. evil. There are a few show elements here that are different like the dragon, sailing ship Columbia with the pirate fight between Peter Pan and Captain Hook, we have Jafar and they don’t, no Pocahontas in California, and the Mark Twain is a much larger steamboat for the ending, but seemed to have fewer characters than ours.
I kept ambling along, sticking to the left after the show, and ran into the Haunted Mansion. The ride is pretty much the same, except for a few minor details. Next I encountered Splash Mountain in Critter Country with about a five to ten minute wait and said what the heck. Sure it is about 11:30 and only in the mid 60s, but I hardly get wet at home, so I’m sure it won’t be much different here. Wrong. I was wearing jeans and they stayed wet up until the day before I left. I had never gotten that wet on any ride at WDW ever. The primary difference is in the logs. In DL, they are singles, whereas at WDW you sit two per row. At DL the log seemed to move faster between the scenes and I got wetter on some of the smaller drops leading up to the big drop. I think at WDW there is a more cohesive story to the attraction. In California there seem to be a few scenes here and there and then fast log ride between them. Expect to get very wet if you ride this. You’ve been warned.
The last ride I had time to experience was the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Again, an attraction that is pretty similar to what we have at home, but with some minor differences. I will say the Disneyland version seemed a bit trippier, for lack of a better word, than the Florida version. This was a walk on, which was a nice way to end the evening as it was now 3am back home.
I made my way slowly back the way I had come into Critter Country, through New Orleans Square, but opted to return through Adventureland as opposed to through Frontierland. The nice thing about Disneyland is that it is a bit more compact than the Magic Kingdom. You don’t have the long walkways coming off of the hub. In fact, it is kind of shocking to see the Astro Orbitor a) right off the hub to the right of the Partners statue at the entrance of Tomorrowland, and b) to see it on the ground as opposed to above the Peoplemover.
Realizing I hadn’t eaten anything since the second half of my sandwich from lunch about six hours earlier, I figured it would be a good idea to get a snack before heading back to my hotel. At the request of Shelley, I had a Mickey pretzel with plastic cheese and a cherry Coke, the good kind, with real syrup like from a soda fountain, from the Refreshment Corner. This is located about where Casey’s Corner is at WDW and offers similar fare of hot dogs, pretzels, sodas, etc. The outdoor seating area has a nice view of the castle and enjoys the sounds of Main Street. It is nice that they announce at the end of the night when the park is closing that the shops on Main Street are open for another hour for your shopping enjoyment. This came in handy later in the trip.
First Full Day – Saturday, August 4
The next morning I was pretty much already adjusted to west coast time and made my way to Disney California Adventure a bit before 10am for my first full day in the park. On my walk in I communicated with the Kilpatricks decided to meet them at California Screamin’ since they had an extra fastpass they were graciously offering me. I took my time admiring the beauty of Buena Vista Street as I entered the park. It was like stepping into old Hollywood, and I was in heaven. The details were incredible and I can imagine on my next trip I will spend much more time exploring each little nook and cranny of this section of the park. While meandering through the park, I remembered to pick up a map this time, I happened to catch the Red Car Trolley News Boys performing with none other than Mickey Mouse in front of the Carthay Circle Theatre. What a way to start my day!
While heading in to the park that morning, I decided I wanted to experience every single attraction between the two parks. On the park maps, there are almost 100 listed (96 actually) and I wanted to do it all in the time I was there. This didn’t include of course the nighttime shows like Magical, Fantasmic, World of Color or parades, those were bonuses. The only things I opted to skip were things that cost additional money like the games on the boardwalk at Paradise Pier in DCA and the Frontierland Shootin’ Exposition and Starcade in Disneyland. Game on!
Eventually I found my way to California Screamin’ and met up with my friends. Ryan, Sally and I rode while Gretchen took the kids. This was probably my favorite ride at DCA! It is a great roller coaster that launches you from one side of Paradise Pier to the other towards Mickey’s Fun Wheel (of Death, okay not really, but if you’ve seen the video of the swinging cars, you understand). There is a loop and it is a really nice length on the ride, longer than most other Disney coasters it seems.
We met up with the rest of the group near Grizzly River Run to get fast passes for World of Color. I noticed that the standby queue said it was only ten minutes and asked if anyone wanted to ride. All were game except Her Majesty who needed a little convincing it wasn’t a scary ride. Luckily, Sally noticed some lockers near the fast pass machines that are free for two hours! This was perfect since most of us had backpacks or purses we did not want drenched. Sally and Gretchen were smart and decided to don ponchos for the ride, at least to sit on, while I was more reckless. Of course I ended up being the chosen one who got more soaked than everyone else. It was a fun ride and now makes me excited to try Kali River Rapids when I get to the Animal Kingdom next time.
I again parted ways with the Kilpatrick clan and Gretchen to do some exploring on my own. First I went to Cars Land to pick up some fast passes for the three attractions there. One thing I noticed about both Disneyland and DCA is that they do not tend to enforce FP times like WDW is now. This made things a little bit more flexible for me, but I wouldn’t count on this in the future. Continuing my trip the way it started, I chose to explore things organically as I came to them without using a map, so this next brought me to A Bug’s Land. I loved the theming of this area of the park and thought it was neat to have a whole land geared towards little kids. I couldn’t really think of a correlation like this in WDW, but think it would be neat to adopt something like it, maybe in an area like Dinoland. I rode Flik’s Flyers, my favorite of the rides here, which is similar to Dumbo where you are up in the air flying in a circle, but you don’t control your altitude. Next I went to Francis’ Ladybug Boogie, which is like a mini version of Mad Tea Party, followed by Tuck & Roll’s Drive ’em Buggies (bumper cars for kids). The last attraction I did before lunch was Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, my second favorite in A Bug’s Land. It is a small train that travels through some food Heimlich has eaten and they are scented. It is so cute!
For lunch I opted to visit the Pacific Wharf area of the park, which is themed after one of my favorite cities, San Francisco. There are great choices like Mexican, Chinese, Ghirardelli and where I ended up, the Pacific Wharf Cafe. They offer great salads, sandwiches and soups featuring bread from the attached Boudin Bakery, which was one of my favorite places I visited when I went to San Francisco. Their sourdough bread is amazing! You can smell it baking in this section of the park and it just draws you in with the enticing scent of freshly baked bread. I had the clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at the recommendation of my friend Becca Braunstein, and it was delicious!
After a heavy lunch like that I thought it best I lay off the rides for a bit. I was also trying to coordinate meeting up with my friends Lee Dralle, Colin Buchanan and Rich Beltran that afternoon. They said they would let me know when they got in the park and we’d try to connect. I decided a post meal drawing lesson at the Animation Academy would be the perfect way to let my food digest. One thing that I thought was really cool was that they posted a sign outside the Animation building listing which characters they would be drawing in each class for the entire day. This way if you had already done a character you could skip it and come back for a different one. As I may have mentioned a few times before, I adore the Animation Academy and try to do it each time I’m at DHS, at least once. So, it occasionally (almost every time) becomes a challenge finding a character I haven’t drawn before. It gets to the point where the instructor just ignores me when polling the class to see if they’ve drawn characters before. I asked the CM about it and she said that it was something brand new that they were testing out listing them up front. I hope we can bring this to Florida as it is a great idea. I noticed they were going to be drawing Jack Skellington next, which is a character I have not yet had the opportunity to draw, but I did make him my pumpkin carving a few years back for Halloween.
When I stepped into the lobby of the Animation building, my jaw just about hit the floor. It is a huge open lobby with gigantic screens of varying sizes circling the room. Music and images play, both stills and animated, from Disney films, immediately immersing you into the environment of animation. It was breathtaking! This became one of my favorite places to hang out. It was beautiful, cool, and there are benches all around the lobby and plenty of floor space if those seats are occupied. A few moments later, I regained my focus and found my way to the Animation Academy queue. Surprisingly, there were very few people lined up only a couple minutes before the class was scheduled to start. When the time came, we filed into the classroom, which is setup kind of like a college lecture hall with tiered bench seating. A lot more guests can be accommodated in these classes, but there were only about a dozen taking the class. Unlike Florida, there are no drawing desks for you to sit at, everyone gets a lapboard. The class went by quickly and I did a passable job for a first attempt at the Pumpkin King.
As you exit the Animation Academy, you are funneled past an area called Character Close Up, which is currently featuring a Toy Story Zoetrope. I was instantly mesmerized by the spinning animation and stopped for a few minutes to watch as it slowed down. I could see the characters carefully positioned slightly differently around the circle so when it spun it appeared as if they were moving. This was so cool showing some of the early stages of animation and movie making.
About this time I was getting texts from both Lee and Colin trying to track me down. I met Lee outside the Animation building before we headed to Dancin’ with Disney to find Colin and Rich. I liked this attraction for what it was, a fun dance party inside in air conditioning with some of your favorite and some more obscure characters. Why we have something like Club 626 outside in Tomorrowland invading the entire land and not something cooler inside in Florida, I have no idea. We briefly met up with Colin and Rich and then decided we would meet up later as Lee and I were heading to go see the Aladdin show and they opted not to.
Oh my goodness, the Aladdin show was incredible! The production quality is unlike anything we seem to have at WDW. I would love to see something of this caliber come to DHS with either Tangled or the Princess and the Frog. The show follows the basic plot of the movie and includes some of the more popular musical numbers as well as some that were cut from the film. If you get the opportunity, I would highly recommend catching this show at some point during your trip. Genie is hilarious and injects current pop culture references, which keeps the show fresh and new each time.
Lee was craving a snack after the show so we popped in to the Carthay Circle Lounge to grab a light bite and a beverage. He ordered the Spicy Chicken Roll and the Vietnamese Twice Cooked Beef Taco and I tried a bite of each. I loved the cilantro flavor of the chicken roll, which was similar to a Vietnamese spring roll served cold. The tacos were awesome! The beef was marinated and served with a fantastic pineapple-mint salsa. I knew I would be coming back to visit again after having tried these great appetizers. Keep in mind that the menus downstairs in the lounge/bar area are different than the one upstairs in the restaurant.
Following the practically perfect rest and food stop, we decided to head to The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure since I had yet to check this out and I’m anxiously awaiting ours opening here in the next few months. I really enjoyed this dark ride and it was a nice way to help me get more pumped up for the one we are getting at the Magic Kingdom. Lee and I explored the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, bounced on the bridges, I almost fell, and a good time was had by all. Next we headed back to Hollywood Land and rode another fun dark ride Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the rescue. This attraction follows the plot of the Monsters, Inc. movie and did a nice job staying true to the story. One of my favorite details is that you can smell the ginger and soy sauce when you are passing through the Harryhousens scene!
Next we went back in to the Animation building for a bit to explore the Sorcerer’s Workshop, which is where you can go into the Magic Mirror Realm, Beast’s Library, and Ursula’s Grotto. Here we were able to see animation, experience which personality yours matched up with of classic Disney characters, and could record voice overs for classic scenes. Colin and Rich wanted to meet up, so we headed towards Cars Land since I had a fast pass for Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. This may have been the sleeper hit and possibly my favorite in Cars Land. You sit in the back of tractors with 2-3 people total and go in circles and then get flung onto another circle, similar to the tea cups, but you are whipped around the turns. It was so much fun! Lee and I went in one tractor and Colin, Rich and their friend went in another. Since there was space between Lee and me at each turn we would slam into each other. At first it was unintentional, but then we kind of played it up a bit. So much fun!
Colin and company were ready for dinner so they went to Flo’s V8 Cafe. Lee and I weren’t ready for dinner yet since we had our afternoon snack, so we walked to the nearby Blue Sky Cellar, which typically shows what Imagineering is planning for the future. At this time, however, they were showcasing information all about Cars Land. They were even showing one of the cute shorts featuring Mater and the story of how Radiator Springs was founded, which I believe can be found on the Mater’s Tall Tales dvd or blu ray. After walking around for a bit we decided to go hang out with Colin and Rich while waiting for Shboom, the lighting of the neon in Cars Land that takes place each evening right around sunset.
Once the neon was lit, I said good night to the guys and made way to meet up with the Kilpatricks and Gretchen (I feel like this is a band name from the 60s, anyways) to get our spots for the World of Color. Now this was one of the things that I was most anticipating on this trip. I had been on media blackout regarding it. A friend once started playing the music from it and I just about put my fingers in my ears to get him to stop so it wouldn’t be ruined. I watched no video, listened to no music, and wanted to just experience it, so I did something very hard for me, I put my phone away. I took no pictures, video, didn’t tweet, facebook, whatsapp or text. I just was. I had been warned that I would cry, again I’m a bit of a sap. The show did not disappoint, and yes, I did cry, three different times (as well as the two subsequent times I watched the show). It was incredible! The technology is absolutely amazing. I was entranced by the fountains at the Bellagio when I went to Vegas, but this, no pun intended, blew that out of the water. We watched from the yellow section in the wet zone, and thanks to Ryan and company getting there early, were only the second row standing behind the railing against the water. Oh yeah, and you do get wet, even if you aren’t in the wet zone.
I hadn’t done Luigi’s Flying Tires yet and the FP line for Radiator Springs Racers was over an hour wait, as opposed to the standby line at three hours, so we all went for a spin on the tires. This ride was more fun than I had anticipated. It definitely takes teamwork and coordination to move together with the person in your tire. Think of it kind of like a Segway, except you are sitting down, and you lean in the direction in which you want to go. Then they throw large beach balls in the mix and you are on what seems like a giant air hockey table with jets of air coming from below to help you fly. I have heard in the last few days that they have since taken away the balls, which seems interesting to me. Hopefully they will bring them back as they were often the motivators for people to move in one direction or another.
Having completed the other attractions in Cars Land, we then returned to see how the FP queue was doing for Radiator Springs Racers. My friends had done it already during the day, but had wanted to try it at night, which looked infinitely cooler to me, so this is why we waited to try it out after dark. The line was slightly shorter, but it still took us a good 35-45 minutes to get through the FP line. The ride was great! I loved having different elements of the Cars films, especially loved the loop by the waterfall with the score playing from when Sally and Lightning are going to the Wheel Well for the first time. You get to travel through Radiator Springs and see all your favorite characters and then you get lined up to race another car side by side. We won our race, which made the waiting all the more worth it. The only bummer was the camera on our side of the ride wasn’t working so we couldn’t get our in ride pictures. Oh well, it was still a blast, especially since we took up the entire six person car.
On our way out of the park we had the Photo Pass photographer take a few pictures since the Kilpatricks purchased the Photo Pass Plus (a great deal at $70, especially if you are doing a character meal where the pictures there are usually $30 each). We parted ways again and I decided at 11pm I was hungry and Disneyland was still open so I went to get a very late dinner. I made my way to the end of Main Street to the Jolly Holiday Bakery to get a combo that Katie Siloac-Lotoczky and Lee had both recommended: the toasted cheese sandwich and tomato soup. Now I don’t know what they do to this sandwich that is essentially a grilled cheese sandwich cut into strips, but it was absolutely heavenly. They are perfectly designed to be dunked into the tomato soup for your eating enjoyment. It was the perfect meal to end another magical day.
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of my adventures coming up in the next few weeks!