Thursday, April 19, 2012

Disney Family Vacation 2012 - Trip Report - Days 4 & 5

Well, as you noticed from the earlier two posts, our vacation was thrilling and very full. As per the previous lengthy posts, I'll provide a little "blow-by-blow" of our adventures but mainly will be using the post to highlight some fun photos from the trip.

To those who have gone through each of the vacation posts, thanks for sticking by me. I don't know how many folks will actually enjoy these beyond people in my family, but at the very least I've had fun with it and my family has had fun looking through the images and reliving the vacation.

And now, on to the conclusion…the last few days in Souther California…

As part of our vacation package, we had a "Magic Morning" pass which basically mean we got to go into Disneyland an hour before opening. Just us and a few hundred (thousand?) strangers visiting the park. Our first stop was to get some pictures in front of the castle without the huge crowds around us. We used the rest of the early-hour to make a beeline for Fantasyland and ride the various "dark" rides that are cute and fun but often have fairly long lines as compared to the length of the ride.

We made our way through each of the Fantasyland attractions we hadn't yet visited…Peter Pan's Flight, Snow White's Scary Adventures, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland, Casey Jr. Circus Train, the Mad Tea Party and It's a Small World. We even went back to those rides we'd already gone on (Pinocchio's Daring Journey and the King Arthur Carrousel).

We basically hit every ride in Fantasyland with our longest wait being 5-10 minutes and that only once the park was finally opening up to the rest of the public.

After Fantasyland it was requested that we go ride Big Thunder again, so away we went on the wildest ride in the wilderness. No ducks in line today, but still fun. Jason and I grabbed the last train car and he assured me that the last car is definitely more wild than the front cars.

After Big Thunder, a few of us wanted to head to Tomorrowland and ride in the submarines. On our last trip, the Finding Nemo ride had just barely opened and so the lines were huge and we skipped it. But I really wanted to go this time. I had fun memories of riding the subs as a kid and looked forward to trying out the new version. 

Lynette is not at all a fan of the concept of being in a small tube locked underwater, so she opted for a little group separation. She and Andrew went to grab us some Fast Passes for Splash Mountain and then do some relaxing around New Orleans Square area. The rest of us made the trek over to Tomorrowland.

As it happened, the Jedi Training Academy was about to begin as we stood in line. Jason and Ethan decided they'd rather watch the Jedis than go for a submarine trip, so I gave them a few bucks for a snack and let them go hang out and watch the show.

Apparently there was a little confusion when they were choosing audience members to participate…the Jedi trainer pointed right at Jason (making eye contact and everything) and told the "boy in the green jacket" to come up and be part of the training. Unfortunately for Jason, there was a boy slightly in front of Jason who was wearing a green T-shirt who jumped up and down for joy and raced onto the stage before Jason could. Jason, being sweet and soft-spoken (except when arguing with his siblings *grin*) held his tongue and enjoyed the show…though he was very bummed that he missed this potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Meanwhile Julia, Sarah, Karla and I made our way onto the submarines. I had forgotten how small the interior of the submarine actually was. As they closed the hatch, a toddler/baby started crying and I was glad that Lynette had decided not to ride. The ride was a lot of fun. I nostalgically missed the giant squid and the mermaids, but I thought the new presentation was pretty cool.

The addition of the Nemo characters was actually pretty neat. The illusion broke for us near the end of the ride when we had to come to a stop to wait for a sub in front of us…as a result of our lengthy pause, we saw Nemo outside our portal, just floating silently for a few seconds and then he mysteriously vanished completely (which a few kids commented on and wondered where he went). All in all, I'm glad the subs are back…they're a very unique experience as compared with other attractions.

After the submarines, it was time to get back together for lunch. We had decided to try out the Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue. Jason was the most outspoken AGAINST the choice saying he did NOT want barbecue. Coming from Jason this was pretty hilarious. He's the biggest BBQ lover of the bunch. If he could eat barbecue ribs with every meal, I think he would.

He confided that his reluctance was due to his bad experience with Bengal Barbecue earlier in the week. I assured him this would be different and asked him to give it a chance. Apparently they take reservations but even with our party of 8 we only had to wait about 10 minutes for a table (probably busier in peak season).

If you're a fan of barbecue at all, I can heartily recommend the Big Thunder Ranch. This place is fabulous. It's a little pricier than other options, but it is all-you-care-to-eat and has fabulous food plus entertainment. I loved Sarah's confusion/concern on drinking her soda out of a Mason jar.

They had fun cheesy family entertainment throughout our lunch…singing all sorts of fun and silly songs and interacting with the kids and audience. I'm not a fan of cole slaw, but the beans and cornbread were good and the barbecue sauce was fabulous and the chicken and ribs were cooked perfectly. Desert cost extra and sounded good, but we were all so stuffed that it didn't matter.

After lunch, we split up again. Andrew and I were nominated (okay, we volunteered) to make the hike over to California Adventure to grab our Fast Passes for Tower of Terror. The rest of the group was going to slowly and calmly go back to the hotel for a little rest as well as to do some laundry.

After we grabbed our Fast Passes, Andrew told me that he really really wanted to check out the Monster's Inc "Mike & Sully to the Rescue" ride. I told him that the others might be sad to miss it, but he said we could test it out and tell them if it was worth riding. I tried to postpone it, but after much begging, I relented. There was a short line but not too bad and the queue was pretty cute.

I don't even remember if this ride was there last time were here…either way, we hadn't ridden it and I knew nothing about it. The ride puts you in a taxi cab (tour cab?) as it drives you around Monstropolis. On the side of each row of seats is a little TV/monitor. The idea is that it will be a sort of tourist info video about the town. Instead, shortly after we start going, there's an emergency bulletin that there is a HUMAN CHILD loose in Monstropolis. From there, we're basically driven through some of the big highlights of the movie. Andrew was especially impressed by the smell of Chinese Orange Chicken as we drove through Harryhausen's Restaurant.

Similar to the Little Mermaid ride from the previous day, I found that the Monster's Inc ride had the general feel and flow of a classic Fantasyland attraction. For some reason though, I was less impressed with Monster's Inc. It felt a little more pasted together and less cohesive or fun. As with all the Disney elements, I was very impressed by the attention to detail and the art and fun of the ride. But I was left wanting a little more. I think part of my let-down was due to the fact that it felt like we had these HUGE scenes but with very little animatronic movement (or at least that's the way I perceived it).

In the Fantasyland rides, I accept the smaller movement/interaction for two reasons I can think of…first, they're nearly 60 years old and second, they are in MUCH smaller rooms and closer quarters and thus it makes sense for there to be less movement. In Monster's Inc, the whole thing felt very spacious which led to it feeling very empty which was compounded by there being only a few animatronic characters and they were only barely moving compared with the size and scope of the attraction. I liked the holographic Randal as he went invisible. That was fun.

I think overall they need to either shrink the feel of the attraction (bring down the ceilings, bring in the walls, etc) or add more life to the wide open area. Don't get me wrong, it was fun and cute. And the "Roz" character at the end seems to either have a human on the backend or have some cool camera program that detects who's in the car because each time we rode (yes, we did bring the group back later) she said something different and fairly specific to the people riding. For example, I was taking a picture of her on the first ride and she said she liked my camera (the guy in the back row) and then said 'cheese'. On the other ride, she commented on Ethan's glasses. That was a fun element that made the kids giggle.

Anyway, after Monster's Inc, Andrew and I went back to the hotel to meet the group and prep for the evening. I handed out postcards to those who wanted them and most of us spent some time writing postcards back to family and friends. Lynette went over and got the laundry started. A few folks took naps or watched TV. I went and tag-teamed the laundry with Lynette so she could go get some rest.

The rest both helped us regain some energy and reminded us that we were getting tired from this trip. It took us a few hours to get going again. We decided that since we were going to Tower of Terror, we'd do dinner in California Adventure. We wandered over to the "Golden State" land to try out their food. Lynette grabbed a burrito from the Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill while the rest of us decided to try the Chinese at the Lucky Fortune Cookery

The kids were very excited for Chinese. It's one of Andrew's favorites types of food…but the rice bowls they offered did not really meet up to their desires. Nobody wanted to try the Spicy Korean or Thai Coconut. Instead they went with the Teriyaki and Mandarin Orange, but it was far from what they were expecting and hoping for and so there was a fair amount of sadness and complaining.

After dinner, we still had a little time before our Fast Passes so we went back over to the Animation Building to hang out in the Sorcerer's Workshop, Beast's Library and Ursula's Grotto. I tried to make my own animation in the Workshop and failed miserably. Some of the kids had better success. We actually stayed in there for a while and then went and spent some time in the Off the Page store. Outside, the Tron performers were wandering the streets in their neon lights. Right out front, a pair of cast members were playing frisbee with a lighted Tron energy disk that they'd throw back and forth in between crowds of people.

Finally the time came for our Tower of Terror Fast Pass. Once again, Disney makes the queue fully immersive as we walked through the exterior garden landscaping near the hotel, then through the elegantly dilapidated and finally into a creepy library. There, we received a special Twilight Zone broadcast from Rod Serling explaining the frightening events of an elevator struck by lightning and then vanishing completely.

The video clip is very cool and helps set the mood. From there, we work our way into the back hallways and through the boiler room filled with rusty dripping pipes, corroded grates and other equipment in need of repair. Once we arrived at the service elevator, Sarah stepped aside to wait for us at the exit…we'd already known she wasn't going to ride. A moment later, Ethan hopped over to join her. We tried to convince them to come in and ride, but they declined and so we went on our own.

It's been 15 years since I first rode the Tower of Terror down in MGM Studios at Walt Disney World in Florida, so my memory might be off…but my main memory is that the ride in Florida was a bit longer and more involved. The California ride involves you getting strapped into your seat, rising a few floors, having the door open to see some creepy events, then rise a few more floors and drop.

My memory of the Florida ride involved rising a bit and then the elevator car actually moving OUT of the initial service elevator shaft and moving horizontally across a floor filled with creepy Twilight Zone-esque images (eyeball, clock, shattering glass, etc) before settling into position and dropping (presumably moving to drop from where the "original" elevator disappeared rather than from the service elevator shaft). This ride was still fun, but I felt like it lost some of the pizazz of its Floridian counterpart. Nevertheless, we had a fun 13-story drop and came off giggling with excitement. We spent a little time in the "hotel gift shop" at the bottom and then went back to our hotel as everybody was feeling the mid-trip exhaustion.

Fortunately our next day actually gave us a little bit of a reprieve. We actually scheduled one day of the trip to visit Knott's Berry Farm. Knott's actually doesn't open until 10 AM…much later than our early visits to Disneyland. So we were able to sleep in a little bit. There was some confusion about our shuttle, but we worked that out and arrived around 10:30.

I haven't been to Knott's since a trip in High School. At that time, they had a couple of roller coasters and a number of lower key rides plus a lot more standard "carnival style" amusement park rides. In the past 20+ years, they've added quite a few very large roller coasters. They took out the "parachutes" which I remember enjoying as a kid, but amped up that thrilling ride with other "go high and drop" attractions.

Our first stop in Knott's was the Silver Bullet. We were there on a weekday so the line was much shorter than the huge queue allowed for. Ethan and Sarah opted to wait behind while the rest of us waited the 5-10 minutes to ride. Silver Bullet is a suspended coaster with a ton of twists, turns and loops. It was fast and smooth but still jolted us around quite a bit and left us adults feeling a little woozy. Still, it was a lot of fun.

We then moved to the non-roller-coaster ride by letting the kids go up in the super-high swings ride. Basically it's a set of swings that are slowly taken way up high while rotating around a central pole. I do NOT do heights very well…especially as high as this looked. Even though it was slow moving, I decided to sit it out. The kids said it was great fun.

From there we hopped next door to the Jaguar. This is a lower intensity roller coaster with a Mayan theme. While working our way through the line, we all commented on the distinctions between Disney and others. The Indiana Jones queue seemed a valid comparison due to the Jungle/Maya theme. Disney's attention to detail on Indy is very in-depth and very noticeable.

Knott's Jaguar ride tried to achieve similar things, but didn't work so well. For one thing, the queue was super dark…yes it was overcast outside, but honestly as we walked through those tunnels, I literally had a hard time seeing anything except shades of grey and darkness. Thus any details they had were lost on me.
There were areas where the walls were chipped away to indicate age and crumbling rock, but it had the distinct look of concrete or cinder blocks and broke the illusion. The large stone statues were cool but stood in a way that made them feel a little out of place.

Honestly, if I wasn't comparing against Disney, I'd say it was a pretty good job…but since they are just down the road from Disney and we'd just spent a few days there, it was hard to not notice the downsides. As we continued through Knott's, we noticed other differences too that made us appreciate Disney all the more (for example, Knott's bathrooms aren't terribly tidy/repaired/friendly…and none of them that we could find had any mirrors…leading us to determine that the Knott's Berry Farm is run by Vampires).

The ride itself was alright…a speedy little coaster with a few dips and turns but no inversions (thus Ethan and Sarah agreed to ride). It goes under and around some of the rails from the Silver Bullet which was fun. Interestingly, after this ride, one of our members (I won't name names) actually puked.

We decided that this wasn't entirely due to the Jaguar (though it was kind of bumpy and jostling) but also due to the shaking around from Silver Bullet. After the Jaguar, the kids wanted another carnival style ride (La Revolucion) which involved sitting in a seat attached to a big handle that spins the seats in a fast circle while also swinging like a giant pendulum back and forth higher and higher. The adults opted to stay off but the kids had a riot.

By now, lunchtime was approaching. The park map indicated that Knott's actually had a Panda Express on site. After the failed Chinese of the previous night, the kids were overjoyed and we made our way to Panda. I wasn't feeling like Chinese (I'd played "clean up crew" on some of the uneaten dinners from the night before, so I'd had plenty) so I wandered to see what else they had.

Looking at the menus as I walked, there was a great sounding meal offered at the Ghost Town Grill. Unfortunately they were only "table service" so I couldn't grab something and walk back to Panda. So I opted for a burger nearby as well as some "Knott's Berry Juice" (which is a sort of boysenberry punch) that I let the kids sample…they were split about 50/50 on those who liked it and those who thought it was just strange.

After lunch we hit some of the old west classics that Knott's has to offer. We took a tour of the mine on the Calico Mine Train. We got splashed on the Timber Mine Log Ride. And we slowly ambled along in the Stage Coach.

After the stage coach, we spotted an Indian Hoop Dancer putting on a show so we stopped to watch. After a few minutes, a lot of the group was bored. The boys (along with Julia) asked if they could ride Silver Bullet again…with Ethan agreeing to ride this time. I agreed and walked them around. My equilibrium was a little off, so I told them I'd sit it out while they went aboard.

All was well for a few minutes but then they all came back to me…2 of them in tears and one in angry frustration. Ethan had decided not to ride. Jason had decided it was Andrew's fault. Andrew and Julia were sad and crying that they'd been pulled out of line and were being yelled at. I calmed the kids down a bit and got Julia and Andrew back in line.

I tried to talk things out with Ethan and Jason and then let them try and talk things out while I walked over to get a picture of the other kids on the ride. When I came back, Jason was still fuming, and so was I…I was frustrated with the angry attitude. Everybody was tired and emotions were high. So even though there were a ton of rides I really wanted to stay and ride (Knott's has really stepped up the caliber of thrill rides in the past 20-30 years), I told Lynette to call our shuttle service and get us back to the hotel.

Once back, we took turns napping, relaxing, watching TV and swimming. It was a fairly relaxing afternoon and helped us all get a little more level headed and calm and ready for more fun. Later that evening we went into Downtown Disney and had dinner at La Brea Bakery Cafe, did a little shopping and had a early night's sleep to get us ready for our final push….which I'll tell you about in the next (and final) post.

In the meantime, enjoy some more pictures.  :)

Today's Quote from Quoting Quotes:

1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

oh has been far too long since i was there...and those subs were so cool...would def love to see how it has changed witht he addition of all the new characters...