2014_12_31_21_43_02_ProShotAfter three days we are finally getting a break from the cold.

The park has bee a blast, but we managed to come down during a record cold snap, and everyone here is bundled up like they are skiing. We picked up a few extra sweatshirts, and did the traditional Seattle layering up, but this is way colder than we expected. What’s even more surprising, is that this hasn’t hit the size of the crowds at all. We went for new year’s day to Disney and the crowds were crazy. the park was wall to wall with people, and everyone was bundled and wrapped up to the hilt. I was really surprised at how cold it was. I could really feel the heat draining out my feet and head, even with a sweatshirt. In the afternoon Yulia swung by the room and grabbed some extra clothes, and  it was still getting colder and colder.

Main Street was done up with huge screens and a stage for the countdown at midnight, and there was a special fireworks on the schedule. It looked great. The whole park was done up in Christmas and “Frozen” themes. The themes fit well with the temperatures, but we could have done without the added realism. We hit as many of the indoor rides that we could, but the crowds were making that impossible as well. Overall New Year’s Day was nice but just too cold and too much of a zoo to really be productive. I will say that the fireworks were amazing, and all the special Holiday themed rides are great (the Haunted House is done up with a Nightmare Before Christmas theme, the castle is Frozen, and there are decorations all over.)

I think the most interesting thing  in the park is the people watching. kids are super cute, the younger ones especially, dressed up as their favorite character in the park. Going on a ride with people new to the park is like being new again. all the laughs and screams from those not expecting the next surprise is just as entertaining as the ride itself. (We also love scaring kids in the Indiana Jones ride with the pole that goes BOOM in the queue. if you don’t know what this is, you are missing out.)

But not everything is great of course. I think the worst thing is people who don’t know how to handle being in a crowd. it isn’t a big deal when the crowds are low, but once things get busy, it only takes a few people to really screw things up. Disneyland is a busy crowded place. They manage thousands of people a day in a pretty small area, and do a really good job at it. but everything grinds to a halt when you get someone from Podunk, Arkansas who things that the local Walmart underpants sale is a pretty big event pulls one of these:

  • Have the whole family of 10 with a stroller and Mom in a mobility cart stop right in the middle of the path to look at the map.
  • Argue about wanting to go through the Fastpass lane without a Fastpass because it’s empty.
  • Drive a mobility cart into a line for a ride, getting stuck in the first turn of the line.

Actually, I think anything with one of those damn mobility carts is on my shit list. We saw a couple of rides where the line to come in the back way with a cart was as long as the line out front. We actually were trapped exiting the Indiana Jones ride to let a series of carts and the families come in the exit. it was crazy.

But that’s just part of the deal. Crowds are full of people, and most people suck. You just have to let them go and enjoy the good ones. And the squeal of a little kid meeting Mickey for the first time with a big hug goes a long way. Even Sasha was excited to meet some of the characters, including Oswald the Rabbit, and Jack Skellington, whom I had never seen at the park before.

I also think that the food just keeps getting better. We had a great dinner at the ESPN SportsBar. The Orange Bowl was on, and most of the people were cheering for one team, so I cheered for the other. I truly didn’t care about the outcome, but it just isn’t fun if you don’t pick sides. We also got tickets to see Trombone Shorty at the House of Blues. The opening act was The Record Company, another Blues band. It was an amazing show. I love blues in general, but this was absolutely over the top. I need to get on the mailing list for both bands. We will be planning to get tickets for the House of  Blues on our next trip as well, the venue is fun, and if you order early, they have some reserved tables. (And by the smell of the place, the Second-Hand Pot is free! )

Our favorite is still the Winery in California Adventure. it used to be the Golden Vine, but they changed it to the Wine Country Trattoria after their partnership with Mondovi Wines ended. The wine selection is mostly Napa and Central California, and the patio has a view right in the center of the park and you can watch people going back and forth to the rides. We overdid the walking on the first few days (averaging around 20,000 steps per day) so we took a several hour rest on our third day while Sasha ran around the park with some friends who were at the park at the same time.

We also had dinner there as part of their “World of Color” deal. You can wait to get a great spot to se the show (even if you grab a show Fastpass you need to get there early), or you you can order dinner with tickets from several of the restaurants in the park (Fantasmic runs the same deal). So we had dinner, wine, dessert, then had VIP spots to se the Holiday World of Color show. Well worth the time and money.

We had a late flight out, so we rented a car and drove to Venice Beach for the midday before catching our flight. Venice is great. It is really a funky old section of Los Angeles. A few of the original Canals remain, and we found breakfast at a joint that had one of the original Gondolas hanging from the ceiling. The weather had finally turned, it was warm on the boardwalk, and we walked up from Muscle Beach past the shops and Green Doctors for a few hours. The whole place is a big hippie zone, The street art and street people are great to see. We easily could have spent the day there (we found an old-school Freakshow which looked great, but we were out of time)

We finished with a walk in the sun, on the beach.  It was good the get the heat that we were hoping for, even if it was just for the last day.

wetLAXI’m not sure if we’ve taken a winter vacation as a family. We might have, we’ve certainly taken trips for Thanksgiving several times, this year included.

When I was younger, our family really didn’t take many summer vacations, but every other year we would head out to Hawaii. This was the big family vacation, and most of our Christmas present too. I loved it. We always stayed in Lahaina, on the island of Maui. I’ve only been back once since we stopped those family vacations, but I still love the town. Despite growth and sprawl in many areas, the town of Lahaina seems to keep it’s character and a bit of “Old Hawaii” feel. We should probably go back again. Unfortunately, the cost of going to and staying in Hawaii is crazy, but I’m sure there is a deal to be had. There’s always a deal.

We are heading to Disneyland. I hear from a lot of our friends that it’s nuts to go to the same place so often, but aside from simply liking Disney a lot, we have found a lot of advantages to the Disney Resort in California. This is something we learned when we visited Disneyworld in Florida years ago.  Our friend had a timeshare in Florida so we flew out to stay there and try Disneyworld and Epcot for a change. What killed us on that trip was the spread. Everything was spread out so far, the condo was a long drive into Disney, each of the Disney parks were separate from each other, and it was a wait and a Monorail ride to the next park. The parks were bigger too, but had the same amount of rides, so basically everything was just father apart. It ended up that we walked more and did less with our time.

Disney in Anaheim is the opposite. You have two parks, Disneyland and California Adventure packed in a fairly tight spot. Between the parks is the Disney  Downtown, shops and restaurants. Most hotels are in walking distance. It makes a huge difference in our time off when we can get so much more done without driving. Of course, we are near Downtown LA, so we can rent a car and drive in if we choose to do so (and we have done that before.)

Topping off our decision this time is that the park is all done up in winter decorations, with lots of stuff from Frozen. Apparently the whole castle is frozen solid, with extra parades and everything. That should be cool.

We are also staying in a smaller local hotel, instead of one of the resort hotels. We wanted to try it out and see if it adds too much to our walking distance. We will be back in the summer and if we like it we will use it again.

Yeah, we might be kinda nuts.

Seattle was around 27 degrees when we left. It was actually pretty clear, but we were freezing our asses off. We got to the Airport early, and missed the big security lines. This gave us some extra time to get food and a few drinks before the flight would start boarding. I’ve been really surprised at how much the Airport has improved. The food is pretty good, though expensive as shit, but the drinks are always great. We had some really good wine, and a value price of $19 for a 9oz. glass.

What a deal.

We missed the chance for a first class upgrade. Apparently they have changed the process for scoring this, you used to be able to check in online and if you were early, you would get offered the upgrade. Apparently you need to use one of the kiosks or ask at the gate to do this. We didn’t know and had we checked earlier we could have scored a full upgrade. Nuts.

Takeoff was smooth and easy. We grabbed some more drinks from the Sky Waitress and found that they had movies streaming on the internal Wi-Fi for free. This was pretty cool, but the system was pretty sketchy, and it took a few tries to get it going.

About halfway down, the first turbulence hit.

The weather report for Los Angeles was showing rain and a big temperature drop. It was supposed to hit 32 degrees overnight before warming back up again to the mid 60’s. We were hitting the front of this on our flight in. It was rough enough to stop drink service for the second round, so they now had my attention. We bounced around for the final 30 minutes of our flight, and made a wet and rainy landing into LAX.  LAX is never a pretty place, but wet and cold did it no favors. We wandered about until we could find our hotel shuttle, and had a rainy drive through LA traffic to Anaheim.

The weather cleared a bit as we got closer to the hotel, and the Disneyland area itself was dry. Windy and cold, but dry. The Hotel is right across the street from California Adventure, and Yulia (as the member of several Hotel Honors programs) scored us some nice upgrades on a suite. The place is old, but recently remodeled, so you get a bit of old California flavor in the place. The restaurant in the hotel is inexpensive, with great food and wine. After dinner we walked out into the bar next to the pool to see what the place looked like.

The the wind rolled in.

We were chased off the patio by cold winds whipping the palm trees around. No rain, but it was cold and uncomfortable. We went back up to our room and hid. We could see the big Ferris Wheel and roller coaster still running across the street. We would hit the parks tomorrow. For us the rest of the evening was in the room watching TV and listening to the winds outside. Some beer and snacks from the gift shop were dessert.

Welcome to Winter in Southern California.

WP_20141201_11_22_50_ProPacking my technology whenever I travel is always a pain in the ass.

I write when I travel. I have tried using a tablet with portable keyboard, a 2-in-1 (MS Surface), but a real laptop always works the best for me. I also seem to attract drinks into my keyboard, so I’m hesitant to drop a lot of money on a travel computer. (On our trip to France I had a neat little Toshiba slim laptop, and a kid knocked my entire glass of wine into my keyboard. It was never the same)

I also like to have some kind of book, maybe a media tablet, and my phone and the bits that go with that. Then I need cables, connectors and chargers. And a bag to hold all this crap.

I have settled on a regular carry-on bag for travel, a Tommy Bahama canvas and leather duffel (I found it on sale at Ross). It isn’t a roller bag, but a true duffel bag. I’m actually a bit too tall to pull a normal roller bag, and the soft bag lets me squish it into an overhead bin that wouldn’t fit an extra roller bag. That can make a big difference on a crowded plane. I also have a regular dopp kit set up. I keep all the bath and shaving bits, a first aid kit, brush and razor packed all the time. I never have to hunt around to find stuff when I pack.

But I think I change my computer bag each time we go. I’ve saved several over the years, and nothing is really “just right.” I’m using a really nice Ogio computer travel bag on this trip, it has just the right amount of pockets, everything is organized well, I really like it. But seat dimensions have changed on the newer planes. This is great actually (at least if you fly Alaska Air, which we do almost exclusively) as the seats are slimmer and more supportive, meaning more knee and leg room. But the space under the seat is just an inch or so shorter than it used to be. So this bag won’t stand up under the seat in front of me. Nuts.  The seats now do have a power charger, both 110v and USB, so that’s really nice. I have to figure the bag situation out.

I tend to grab my Kindle, and I have an 8″ Dell Tablet. They are both slim, and charge from USB. My phone is a Windows Phone Lumia 1020, and it has a camera attachment that acts as an extra battery. It also charges from USB. So all those can share a set of cables and chargers, or now use the seat charger. Neat.

My current laptop is an older Lenovo X301. I got it used (they are really cheap). This was a top-end executive laptop when new, and is slim, light, has a 13″ screen, and an SSD drive. Since it isn’t an Ultrabook design, it actually has a full compliment of real ports, this helps a lot when you are traveling about, no need for a bunch of adapters. (Having Ethernet, VGA, 3 USB, is nice) You can get one for around $250 or so online. If it gets broken I’m not out much. I don’t really need much of a computer when I travel so speed isn’t really an issue.

My blog is on WordPress. You can edit and write online, but I can’t always count on having a solid connection when I have time to write. MS Word is good. On the PC it actually has connectors for most blogs, and is pretty good for blog work. I use Scrivener for longer writing, but I haven’t done much of that type of writing on the road. My favorite tool for blogging is Windows Live Writer. It was last updated in 2011, and only has a few features (Blog connections, formatting, picture uploading, etc. But it is fast, syncs correctly each time, and I love it. I was using a MacBook for a while, and used MarsEdit as blogging software, but it is really geared towards HTML editing as opposed to writing. I was glad to move back to a PC to use Writer again.

I have a nice set of Skullcandy folding headphones as well. I These aren’t as nice as Bose headphones, but these fold flat so they slip into the bag better.  They do have a bit of trouble overcoming the rumble of the plane, but they are pretty good. I’d like to use a set of earbuds, but my ears are just the wrong shape for those to work. I don’t really listen to music, but I like to pull down a few podcasts to listen to.

I have a mini Mobile hotspot (from FreedomPop) if I needed a connection and none was available. It uses the Sprint Network, so it isn’t any good for International travel. I didn’t need it on this trip either, but it’s there just in case.

Two travel apps that I use regularly: Tripit: the app reads the service from the Tripit website, and works as a central tracking resource for all our flight numbers, hotel, car, tours, etc. Everything is organized and I have it all in one place. We also use the Alaska Airlines app on our phones, so we can in check in advance (and try to score a First Class upgrade) and use the Eticket for security and boarding. Since I use windows phone, Cortana automatically does flight time tracking, and warns us if there is traffic on the way to the airport.

Most people don’t need as much stuff as I carry. I keep trying to strike a balance between stuff and space, and stuff seems to win. I need to check the dimensions of the seat and some of my bags at home, and will readjust my gear to match for our next trip.

WP_20141130_13_39_19_ProIt’s good to have a long weekend to spend in the heat. While we are in California, Seattle is being hit with a cold snap and snow. We really aren’t sorry to miss that. Good thing we left Oscar with his wiener dog coat at the dog sitters.

We hit the Zoo here, called “The Living Desert”. It’s pretty slick, and has a great collection of desert animals and gardens. Sasha was thrilled to go with Yulia to ride on a camel. It’s not something you see all the time. We then went over to the Giraffe station, where it was feeding time. The zoo had just added a new station where you could pay and you could get to directly feed the giraffes. I have to say, Giraffes are big. You look at them from a distance, and they seem pretty tall, but just the head up close is HUGE. If these things were meat eaters you would se them running people down and snatching babies out of carriages with their prehensile tongues. Goddamn terrifying. We managed to catch the Jaguars waking up from a nap. As always, big cats at just like little cats, except they can kill you. Although I should note, that our cat tries her best to kill us, so we keep her small.

Mexican food here is great. We hit a great restaurant on the main drag in downtown Palm Springs. It takes up almost the whole block. Even then, it was still a wait to get in, but well worth it. I had a spicy pork and a side of chunky guacamole, washed down with a large margarita. We also hit a small family taco joint and I had to keep myself from eating tacos non-stop. We have a little family Mexican joint near our house in Redmond, and you can always tell the differences in the family recipes , with homemade sauces and specials. It just doesn’t compare with chain food of any kind.

My dad’s house is pretty close to Shields, the original family date farm out in the valley, but we actually hit the Saturday market, and found great dates from a smaller grower. They were fantastic, dried just right, still plump with a little bit of white starting to form on the skin. We must have bought 5 pounds. I love dates.

Over in Palm Desert we hit Paseo, the fancy shopping strip. It’s a cool walk, lots of fancy cars to see, some neat shops. Lululemon actually had a sale rack, and the girls found some great stuff there, and I hit Tommy Bahama. Every year I’m on some mailing list and get  $50 gift card from Tommy Bahama, I’m not sure why. I actually remembered to put it in my wallet this time, so I poked around the store to see what looked good. I was lucky to find a nice straw fedora, actually in my size. I had a great Straw hat from Tommy a few years ago. Nice weave, wide brim, and I wore that hat until it literally fell apart. I haven’t seen that style at any of their stores again. For some reason, most of the hats seem to have a cowboy flavor now. Must be the new style. This fedora isn’t too hipster, has a good weave, and fit. So I was pretty pleased to get a new hat after all this time.

This morning, we took a trip out to the Salton Sea. The Salton Sea used to be one of the top inland sea resorts during the 50’s and 60’s. But the waters increased in salinity from runoff and natural reasons (the lake had no flow through, being created by accident in a river flood around 1900). And today the resorts are gone, the lake is a dead sea, with beaches covered in dried fish and a very interesting smell. The desert is a harsh mistress, and it takes little time for abandoned buildings to disappear back into the sand. The concrete shells remain, empty streets circle sandy lots,  most everything else is gone.  The old marina house has been rebuilt into a community center. But there really isn’t much community. It stands out of place, almost out of time.

The rest of out time is resting. Sitting by the pool and fire pit. Some beer, some wine. Some football.

Lots of family.