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Monday, July 27, 2015

Dazzling Disneyland

As mentioned, the impetus for heading to Disneyland during July (the most crowded time of year!) was the dazzling diamond celebration on offer. A new parade, new fireworks show, beautifully decorated park: what Disney lover could resist? Plus, that little bonus of free tickets for the trade-in on the vintage tickets
So special is the Disneyland magic to me that on our first trip to Paris back in 1999, we decided to spend one of our days at Disneyland Paris! Fun to see Micky speaking French, to see Sleeping Beauty's castle fashioned after a French Chateau and to scratch my Disney itch even though I was an ocean away from the Disneyland I grew up with. I was reminded once again how deeply connected Disney is to my childhood when during the parade, I began to cry because I was a bit homesick!

But I digress...We knew that we needed to arrive at 8.00 a.m. to maximize our opportunity to jump on the big rides without big lines so once inside the Magic Kingdom, we headed straight for the Indiana Jones ride.
Walking down Main Street USA, seeing the beautiful Sleeping Beauty Castle all dolled up for the 60th anniversary, walking past the Plaza Inn where I worked just brought back a flood of memories. I was giddy with excitement about being back inside the hallowed walls of one of my favorite places on earth.
The Indiana Jones ride wasn't open yet, so we hopped down the road to a no-line at all entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean, one of Doug's favorites. There were some new things that included 3 glimpses of Jack Sparrow hanging around with this raucous crew! From there it was onto the Haunted House (no wait!) also spiffed up and so creative and then into a no wait line for Splash Mountain, one of my favorites. Doug was in the very front of the log and both of us ended up pretty much soaked from the waist down! That ride had more drops and thrills than I had remembered and the final drop was excellent!
Those first two hours in the park yielded easy access to all of the rides that were of top interest to us including Thunder Mountain Railroad, a new and improved, now 3D Star Tours, The Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (brand new to us...and yes, I scored better than Doug again!) and finally The Indiana Jones ride. Indiana Jones has been Doug's alter ego for years throughout our Wacky Wednesday program at Immanuel. Most years, his character was some version of Indiana and his costume pretty much looked like this year after year! I remember when we visited the Matterhorn in Switzerland for real...it was indeed the bobsleds of Disney that first ignited my interest! 
Unfortunately, I had bore blisters on the balls of both feet at California Adventure so the walking around was a little tough! But I managed to carry on, enjoying the moments of rest we received at various attractions like the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Golden Horseshoe.
The Golden Horseshoe show...Vintage Wacky Wednesday fodder
We took a midday break at the hotel and returned in the later afternoon for the dazzling festivities of the parade, Fantasmic, another incredible show that mixes water fountains, projections on the water and live action with all of the Disney characters appearing, and the Fireworks spectacular that was indeed spectacular. A highlight were the cousins, ages 5 and 6, who sat down with their parents near us for the Fantasmic show...their re-telling of their day at Disney was simply magical. 
The new parade is something else...I heard the music from the original Electric Parade every single night when I worked at the Plaza Inn and it can create a little nuttiness in your mind so it was delightful to see and hear the new parade. Of course, with the advancements in technology, it really is more dazzling than ever. We were next to It's A Small World so we ran over and jumped in a boat to indulge in the monotony of that ride. It was fun to travel through the depictions of various countries, now that we've visited so many of them for real!
The Frozen castle depicted in the parade!
Naturally, we had to stop and take mouse ear photos along the way. Our theory is always try, but never buy! Of course, every Pluto spotting made us think of Tanner. He is such a Pluto!
To end our day, we wandered through Fantasy Land and tried like crazy to get on the newly refurbished Peter Pan ride, another favorite, but that line remained over an hour long! I did make Doug join me on the Storybook Land Canal boats that travels through a world of miniatures and beautiful gardens. We took our last ride on the Casey Jr. Circus Train and then wandered down Main Street and out the gate. Even though my feet were killing me and it was past midnight, it was still hard to leave the magic behind. 
It just seems that no matter what age I am, Disneyland will forever have that special hold on me and I will always jump at the chance to go, no matter when!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

California Adventure

My own personal California Adventure began in 1965 when my parents decided to leave their home towns in western Illinois and move west for a life without winter in California. My love affair with the mouse in Anaheim began shortly thereafter as my dad starting working at Disneyland almost immediately after our arrival. He was a school teacher and I would guess about 80% of all teachers in Orange County work at Disneyland during the summer. He started out as a keystone cop, complete with the costume, and then moved to Main Gate security. He recalled that his biggest thrill at the gate was letting Judy Garland through the entrance! But his presence at the Main Gate meant that we could get in for free at any time. We still needed tickets for the rides, but we somehow had a zillions of them that were stockpiled through the years! It also meant that we were "in the know" whenever something new was happening at Disneyland and the time between visits was never more than a few weeks. I had no idea how special this part of my childhood was until I moved away from Southern California and met people who had never been to Disneyland! When I first brought Doug out to California to meet my family, I casually asked him if he wanted to go to Disneyland. He looked at me with disbelief and said, "Of course. I've never been."
So in 2001 when California Adventure opened, I had been living in Sweden since 1998 so had no idea that a new park was even being built.  I've only been to CA Adventure a couple of times and we'd heard that the new Cars Land, based on the film Cars, was pretty spectacular. So we spent our first day in Anaheim on our own CA Adventure.
It's a very different kind of park, focused mainly on the Pixar films and characters from other Disney films.We dashed to Radiator Springs right at 8.00 a.m. when the park opened and were amazed to find a line that was already a 50 minute wait. But I'm glad we waited because the line only got longer as the day progressed. The ride was excellent. Disney's creativity is unparalleled. They never just build a ride with tracks, but it's always filled with great animation and delightful surprises. This roller coaster type of ride in very cool little cars was a blast. I would have loved to go on it again but we didn't figure out the Fast Pass system soon enough and then it was just too long of a line later.
Unfortunately many of the big rides were having technical problems early in the day so that created a bit of a problem with the crowd. We did eventually get on Hollywood Tower of Terror, a drop type of ride that simulates an elevator plunging through the shaft and is based on a Twilight Zone episode. It was great fun and gave us our adrenaline rush for the day! The photo is taken at the top of the ride just as you plunge through the elevator shaft!
Another new ride is the Toy Story Midway Mania. Talk about bringing out the child in you! You sit in these cars and shoot lasers at various targets throughout the ride. Your score is recorded and you compete with the others in your car. We did get on this one twice and I managed to beat Doug both times, much to his dismay.
Other highlights included a 45 minute mini-musical of Aladdin. It had all the bells and whistles of a Broadway show and was a real delight. A big promo for the new film Ant-Man was on offer in the Bug's Life theater and it was a fun 3-D experience complete with other surprises like getting poked in your seat, having water dripped on you, air puffed into your face...great fun! The River Run Rapids ride finally opened and we jumped on it right at dusk. We got a bit wet. Not as bad as we were anticipating. The ride was better than I remember with spins and plunges that provided lots of fun.
The real highlight of the day came after dark with the World of Color show on the water. Years ago, Disney perfected the technique of showing images on water shooting out of the lagoon and this new show is a real dazzler. Combining film clips on the Mickey Mouse head that turns into a movie screen along with the water and light show was a real treat. Pyrotechnics, narration, music, film, this had it all! When Elsa from the movie Frozen came on, the crowd went wild. She sang the entire song, Let it Go, and of course, when the chorus started, the entire crowd joined in! The characters and music from Frozen are still amongst the most popular ever in Disney history.
You can buy a park hopper ticket which allows you to enter both parks on the same day, but there's not really enough time to see everything you'd want to in both parks in one day so we opted for a full day at both parks.
Soon it was time for this leg of our California Adventure to end. It was great seeing the park again, but I was excited for the centerpiece of our visit the next day...good 'ol Disneyland, still my favorite after all these years.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Dazzling Diamonds at Disneyland: Free Tickets!

Disneyland...7 miles from the home I grew up...employer of me, my bro and my dad...favorite place to visit no matter how many times we went...turned 60 this summer which prompted an awakening within to re-live the magic once again. 

I worked in the park in the summer of 1979, when Disney began its year-long silver anniversary celebration. I spent hours and hours at The Plaza Inn restaurant, still functioning today, and more hours in the park goofing around on my off hours. I could enter the park at anytime with my employee card so we'd go over, park in the employee lot, bug our friends who were working, go on the Matterhorn and Space Mountain, watch the fireworks and go home. Quite a good summer job for a college student. Those were the days when rides required a ticket! Employees could get great deals on ticket and admission booklets so we stockpiled them while we could. As I was sorting through my stuff recently, I came across these two fully intact ticket books. I paid $6.75 for a Disney entrance and 11 rides. Hard to imagine that that was a significant outlay of cash in those days. It was even harder for me to believe that I had two fully intact ticket booklets! After looking around on E-bay to see if they were worth much, (they were not), I called Disneyland to see if they do anything with them. Their response was incredible. Their policy is to honor any valid admission ticket no matter when it was purchased. The only catch was that the booklets had to be fully intact, which they were! So when we walked up to the gate and handed them these tickets, the supervisor was duly impressed and happily gave us two park tickets in exchange for them!
Happy girl with her free tickets in hand!
Everyone was pretty excited to see them as most of the "kids" who now work at Disney were not alive in the days of the tickets! So, we were granted free admission to the park which would've cost us $99.00 a piece! Not a bad investment back in 1979!
So the lesson here is that Disneyland tickets really do never expire! I had heard this and was thankful that I had hung onto these tickets. It was the perfect way to spend them...celebrating Disney's Diamond Celebration! Stay tuned...more blogs to come on our adventures!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Bunch of Fun at Two Bunch Palms

Thanks to an amazing deal on Travelzoo.com we were able to indulge in a local luxury spa hotel that is about 2 miles from our house. The spa has a reputation for being a very private, discreet spot and for being a real retreat for people. It's quite expensive, even for a day pass, so when this overnight deal popped onto our radar, we decided to enjoy a staycation.
The grounds feel like a retreat and there are quiet please signs everywhere so the whole vibe of the place is really serene. Our little villa was lovely. We enjoyed a king size bed and a lovely bathroom with some delicious smelling products. The grounds have running water in little streams and fountains scattered throughout and that sound of bubbling water is so soothing. The center piece of the grounds is the grotto, a natural swimming area that is fed by natural mineral springs so there is no foul smell or chemical feel to the waters. One side of the grotto is 99° with the smaller pool rising to a steamy 104° The 99° water actually felt great, even though it was 102° outside and at night it was just dreamy. I loved floating on my back with the help of a couple of pool noodles, staring through the beautiful tree tops at the blue or starry sky. They also had a regular swimming pool where you could go for a cool off dip. 
I've rarely been so relaxed as we floated in the warm waters listening to the bubbling water flowing all around us. The trees at Two Bunch Palms are absolutely majestic. Tall beautiful palm fronds towering overhead provided an incredible soothing sensation as we floated weightlessly in the grotto.
We enjoyed a fun wine tasting that was offered free of charge to the guests. There were only 3 of us plus the host so we had a great time learning about French wines. Tasting them was lovely as well. Sleep came easy that night after a lovely soak in the grotto after dark. The smell of jasmine surrounded us...intoxicating!
Morning came and we started the day with another soak in the grotto. Not many were up early so it was fairly private and just a lovely way to start the day. From there we ventured into the gorgeous restaurant and enjoyed a lovely, farm fresh breakfast. We both tried the elixir...1 oz. of carrot juice, 1 oz. of ginger, 1 oz. of orange juice. It came in a shot glass and it was indeed a shot! Yummy. And the view was spectacular!
We took a walk around the property, admired the views, and spent some more time in the pools.  This sign summed up our 24 hour staycation! 
Soon it was time to check out and face the long drive home! But even though it was just a few miles down the road it felt like we were a million miles away and it was a most delightful getaway.