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.

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.