The nice thing about traveling to Disney is that we fall into a pretty good routine. We go often enough that we aren’t in a rush anymore to try to do everything at once. Also, Sasha is older now, and we are hanging out for shows and events more, as well as some of the big rides.

But, as is tradition, we started on Pirates of the Caribbean. We did this as soon as we dropped our bags in the room. It was the evening when we arrived, but when you stay on the resort, the best times for the park are the early mornings and theWP_20130711_008 late evenings. Mid day is such a rush with the peak of everyone trying to get in as many rides as possible, that it is almost a waste, and we typically spend that time in the pool, shopping in Downtown Disney, or since Sasha remembered to take her pins this time, pin trading.

Sasha has been collecting pins since her first trip to Disney. She has a great collection now of cool and limited edition pins, and this trip we took some time with one of the cast members working one of the pin booths to get an explanation of how the sets go together, “completer pins”, newer Limited run pins, and all kinds of other info. It’s the best value for souvenirs at the park. Of course, you have to work the system. If you buy a top-run pin individually, it costs $9-$15, which is insane. Or, you can get a set of smaller, crappy pins for $25 for a set of seven. Cast Members will trade any pin for another. So I buy a cheap set once in a while, and Sasha scours the Cast Members for New Hidden Mickey sets and other cool pins.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was down for a refurbishment, which is a bummer as it is one of our favorites. We were staying in the Frontier tower of the Main hotel, which has a big model of that roller coaster in the lobby. It’s pretty impressive to look at the pattern of the coaster from above and see how it loops on itself. The display case noted that Thunder Mountain was built on the side f the old Mine Ride. You can still see some of the old ride tracks left over decorating the new ride. Two of the old ride effects, a waterfall and the “old faithful” geyser were removed from the park and built into the garden in front of the hotel tower. The geyser still erupts. Cool.

We were also close to the Tiki Bar, which is always fun, as the whole place is animatronic, with thundershowers, tikis that watch you, strange noises, and is themed for the headhunter in the Jungle Ride. Yulia and I sat at the bar, and I was picked for the “Curse of the Tiki” effect, where they slowly shrink the bar stool under you until you are almost on the floor. I love this bar.

We used our Early Entry passes once for each park, which meant getting up at 6am, but since we got in an hour before the general public, we were able to hit all the major long-line rides in each park before 9am. It was the only way to get on the new Cars ride, which had 2+ hour lines all day, every day. Fastpasses were gone within an hour. Once the crowds hit, we would hit some of the little kid rides, like Peter Pan and Mr. Toad. The crowds would usually chase us out by noon.

Our last day in town, we rented a car and drove up to Santa Monica.WP_20130713_019 This was Sasha’s idea, as she loves LA, and wanted to see some of the nice parts of the town, and knew of some store on the promenade that she was dying to see (and had saved her money for). The promenade is very LA, with street performers every few feet, lots of cool shops, and great food. Once Sasha finished with her favorite shop, we found a little French Bistro and had lunch. This was literally a sidewalk cafe, with the kitchen built into a newsstand kiosk in the middle of the street, and all seating surrounding it. The food was great, and the people watching was fun as well. It was nice to have food that was not Mexican or Deep Fried. No matter how hard you try, eating while travelling is tough if you want to be healthy.

After shopping a bit (and buying a new suitcase to replace the broken junk we were using) we walked to the Santa Monica pier. I was excited to visit this as it is the ceremonial end of Route 66. The actual end of the old highway is at 7th and Broadway, a few blocks up, but the cool signs are on the pier, so that made a better photo op. The pier was packed with tourists and performers all the way to the end. It was hard to get through the crowd, but pretty cool to read the history of the pier on the placards. You could read about the building, fires, rebuilding, and the view of the beach from the pier was impressive. The beach itself was packed with people as far as you could see.

We walked back up the pier towards town, and the crowds were getting worse. It didn’t help that the Born-again preachers with megaphones moved in, and with their volumes turned to full, shouted to the crowds how we were all going to hell. While that was annoying, worse were the groups of people moving down the sidewalk that would not watch where they were walking, and shove is right off the path into the street.

For this, I invented a new game. I called this, “Pay Attention Asshole.” The rules were simple. Your family gets half the sidewalk. My family gets the other half. If you aren’t paying attention, I’m not getting out of your way. The number of people who barrel forward while looking sideways is amazing. The number of them who give dirty looks after getting a 200 pound shoulder slammed into them is slightly less amazing. Yulia and Sasha thought I was being terrible, but liked having the sidewalk cleared for them.

We headed back to Disneyland, and planned on having dinner at The House of Blues, and try to catch a show. We packed our bags in the room first, then headed over for dinner. I grabbed tickets for the show, and we headed in for dinner. Having dinner before the show let us skip the line. The drinks were good, and the food was as well. We were pretty surprised, as I expected the food to be typical chain restaurant fare, but it was really good Cajun fusion meals. I had a jambalaya that was some of the best that I have tried. It was really amazing.

The show was running a bit late, so we had an extra drink and some fantastic Key Lime Pie, then we waited at the side of the venue with the other diners who were seeing the show. After the line grew a little in our area, and a lot in the General admission area, they gave a security sweep to the group, and started letting us in. We were the standing room only section, and found a good rail with a view of the stage. Things were getting a bit late, and we were pretty tired, but we wanted to catch at least part of the show. I grabbed the bar special, and shot and a beer, both of which turned out to be supersized. We caught the opening act, which was a Funk band with a hard rock edge. I loved it, but I was harder for Yulia and Sasha to follow, as the band did a lot of original material, and only I knew most of the funk covers they did.

After they completed their set, we were too tired to stay for more. We flew out the next morning early, and this made a fitting end to the week. And to a great vacation.

The new terminal at the San Jose Cabo airport is a huge improvement over the old one. You can really see the impact of the tourism dollars, the old terminal was just a bit better than a Quonset Hut with a bar, and the new terminal is first class all the way. They sold beers bigger than my head. This is a good thing, as I have a large head. WP_20130710_001

I had checked us in online, so we just had to drop our one checking bag off, and go through security. We try to travel with one carry on bag each, and a single check in bag for the family. We still have an old Samsonite hard-sided set that is really a piece of crap now. the bag itself weighs a ton, and the latches aren’t TSA approved, so we can’t lock them (even if we did have the key) and we have to wrap a strap around the thing to keep it from popping open.

Also, airlines charge per bag, and have lower weight limits, and the weight of the bag itself puts us over the top, for another extra charge. We may ditch this bag in LA and buy something that sucks less in an outlet somewhere. We aren’t heading straight home, we have 4 days in Disneyland first, which is really pretty cool. Having more than one stop on your vacation really makes it feel like a few mini-vacations, and you get that cool feeling of “someplace new” with each location.

We love Disneyland. It costs extra, but we try to stay on the resort each time we visit. With the early entry, included tickets, meal plans, and all the other bonuses that you get with the resort, it saves so much time that it is like getting an extra day in saved time. Also, we spend the midday at the pool/tiki bar, avoiding the crowds. It rocks.

The flight up from Mexico itself was typical, but I forgot what a craphole the LAX airport is. The newer parts are fine, Sasha and I arrived into that part when we came down for her dance competition a month ago, but we were arriving in the International Arrivals section today, which is older, and like walking back in time to 1973. We walked through about 2 miles of tunnels, all covered in trippy tile mosaics and bad buzzing lighting. The lines at Passport control were confusing, and the scanners didn’t want to read our passports. We finally got through, grabbed our bags, and made it out of customs with just a few dirty looks.

We had a shuttle reserved that was part of our hotel package. I had printed the pickup instructions, and we looked around for the correct drop spot. The whole pickup area was insane, and really poorly marked. My reservation said to wait under the orange “Shared Rides” sign, but none of the signs were orange. We walked until we found someone else looking for the same service, and he found the stop, under a white sign that also did not say “shared rides”. Nice.

In about 10 minutes, the correct van came for us, and a tiny little old man came out to check our ticket and load our bags. He could barely lift my carry-on, let alone the big checkin we had. But that was fine. I gave him our printed ticket, and he went to the front of the van t enter it into his GPS. To do this he pulled out a big magnifying glass to read the screen. Not one of those small square units you get at Barnes & Noble to look up stuff in the fine-print dictionary you got for Christmas, but a giant Mr Magoo looking thing.

Holy Crap. Our driver was Frail and Blind. Fortunately, he spoke little English, and with a thick accent for the words that he did know.

Once we were in, and buckled up in sheer terror, he started the van and got us moving. He went a bit along the concourse, and puled up to another stop to load someone else in. Slowly. Out came the magnifying glass to enter the information. And we moved on. I thought we should exit the concourse soon, but it just kept going. I knew that LAX was big, but this took forever. We took another stop, and the space in the van got tighter.

We drove in the concourse more, and stopped again, when I realized that THIS WAS THE STOP WHERE WE GOT ON. The bastard was looping the concourse until the fucking van was full.

Fuck. Me. Running.

We were stuck and this continued until he had the last seat filled and fully ruptured his hernia loading the damn bags in. The sunlight had long since burned hotspots into the dash from his magnifying glass getting pulled out, and we left the terminal to enter the Twilight Zone.

I was lucky, as I had a small boy sitting next to me. He sang a song. It went like this.

chewing my gum
chewing my gum
chewing my gum
chewing my gum

3641st verse same as the first.

I would like to note that I did not stab him to death with my ballpoint pen. I am applying for sainthood.

The air conditioning shot off once we were on the freeway, and we crept slowly along towards Anaheim. It was like being in the river boat in Apocalypse Now, but without the benefit that you might be shot dead by Charlie any minute, putting you out of your misery. We appeared to be the first stop, and were glad to see the van pull off to Disneyland Drive first. The driver followed the GPS directions, and past the entrance to the Disneyland hotel.

I guess we weren’t first.

The driver went straight through the park, and out the other side. He turned on the neighborhood street. Then, when the GPS instructed, he turned again. And again. And again, into the drive of our hotel. He was a local to LA, and looped the entire block to get into the city’s biggest landmark. Then he went the wrong way, as the cast members waved and yelled as politely as they could that he was going the wrong way.

The second he stopped we got the hell out of that van. He wrestled the wrong bags out of the back. We pointed to the correct bags, and I pulled the big one out for him. I gave him a decent tip to make him go away, and we ran for our lives into the hotel before he started moving the van again. We were safe.

Welcome to the Tragic Kingdom.

Our final days in Disneyland were a blast. Taking a whole week really means that you can take a lot more time doing nothing instead of rushing the parks like a military assault.

We took a full day just to do shows. Being i the Hotel, we got special priority passes for the Aladdin Musical, and got front row center seats. They re so worth it for this show. you have performers, anamatrionic camels and elephants walking around the theater, and they come right up and interact with you. The singing and jokes in the show are fantastic, and as always, Genie steals the show. It is so worth the wait to see.

We also saw World of Color for the second time, and then ran across both parks to see Fantasmic in Disneyland. You can get Fastpasses for World of Color, but you have to pay for good seats to Fantasmic. Unless you know to go to the restaurant just above the river, and get food before the show. Then you can sit in the patio with a great view of the show for the cost of a sundae.

I managed to see all of World of color this time, as the first time I kept turning to get reaction shots of Yulia and Sasha and missed the whole Pirates part (fire makes it good). It really is an amazing show.

We saw Fantasmic years ago, and they have upgraded the whole production this year. The fire, pirate attack, and dragon are all bigger, and worth the time to see it. The sundae at the shop isn’t bad either.

At the boardwalk in California Adventure, Sasha was desperate to win a Dumbo at one of the Carnival Games. Naturally, I had little chance of doing this as most of them are pretty tough to win, but I tried to do it with one of the squirt-gun-target lineups. A family of four girls was against me in the competition, and luckily they were all bad shots. So I won, Sasha got her elephant, and I only had to crush the dreams of four little girls to do it.

Of course, Sasha had never seen Dumbo, and had no idea who he was. She just loves elephants. So I picked up the DVD from the lobby.

I love the fact that we took extra time in Disneyland to relax and not rush all the rides. We had time to really play and enjoy the new parts of the parks, the architecture, music, and fantasy of it all.

The Dumbo DVD made a great thing to watch on our drive up to Sonoma. We decided to take 101 instead of I-5, which might be a little slower, but it is such a better drive. We had a chance to see Santa Barbra, which was THE soap opera in Moscow, and we got to stop on the beach near the pier and marina to lounge about for a bit.

the rest of the drive through farms, silicon valley, and San Francisco, ending with a drive across the Golden Gate was fantastic.

Now for a few relaxing days swimming and tasting wine.

Sitting in our room, we wait for the fireworks to start over the park. Our window has the perfect view of Anaheim and the Disneyland park including the full evening fireworks show.

But tonight, high winds end up canceling the show at the last second. We imagine the frustration and screams of those who have been waiting in the park for hours to get the perfect seats. With sleepy children no sadly walking back to their respective shuttles to their hotels.

We laugh.

Staying in the Disneyland Hotel has it’s advantages.

We have been here since – well I’m not sure exactly. There was a lot of squealing and happy chatter, and several roller coasters since then, so I’m not entirely sure. Mai Tais may also be involved, we can’t be sure.

The whole Disney resort has been remodeled, The Hotels, the parks, everything. I’m sure that those who don’t come often might not be able to tell, but we have been often enough that it really shows. So far, we are spending mornings in the park, coming back to the pool for the afternoon, then picking up again in the evening.

When you give yourself enough time, there really isn’t so much pressure to get everything in at once.

This gave us some time to find the ever so slightly hidden Tiki Bar behind the pool. So far, it has proven popular. That, napping at the pool, and trying to catch as many of the shows has been the bulk of our time.

Today also included a trip out to Universal Studios. We got the Front-of-line pass, which is about the only way to see the whole place in one day. All of it is great. Touring the studios I feel a bit guilty as it is hard today for someone like Sasha or Yulia to get exposed to a lot of the films and directors that are classic in a place like Universal. Looks like we have a big rental list coming.

It’s the same problem we have at Disney trying to explain “Song of the South” or “Wind in the Willows” Splash Mountain and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride don’t make sense without these films.

But that’s small potatoes. We are really just enjoying our time, loving the shows, and relaxing.

And laughing at the dorks in the shuttle queue.

NOKIA Lumia 900 000333

Well, after a summer of ungodly work and ridiculous stress, we are finally off for vacation again.

I think that forcing myself to write again is probably the best thing that I do to myself each vacation, and I’m sure that I need to translate this into some kind of permanent habit for the rest of the year. But that’s not the immediate goal.

The immediate goal is ROAD TRIP.

Taking road trips to Disneyland has become a staple of our vacation choices, and with the sad destruction of the PAcifica this year, and the purchase of the Magnum, we are well equipped for the drive. Having a 5.7L Hemi to tear up the concrete from Seattle to L.A. should make the trip quite pleasant. Nothing suck more than struggling up a mountain pass in a full car.

We have a few extra days to get down to Disney, we are making stops in both Ashland and Sacramento on the way down. This way we don’t need to rush quite so much.

Tonight we pack, tomorrow WE RIDE!