Friday, April 20, 2012

Disney Family Vacation 2012 - Trip Report - Final Days

Hey there, Hi there, Ho there. Welcome to the final post in my four part recap of my family's recent trip to Southern California and all things Disneyland. Hopefully I didn't bore too many of you or scare away any readers. Don't worry, the blog will soon return to its more "normal" style of posting (ie - irregular posts reviewing movies, books and random activities).

But since you're here now, go ahead and join me as I reflect on the final days of our trip and on the trip as a whole. Before that though, let me share this little video Disney put out that reminds me a bit of how our trip went.

As we prepped for the last days of our vacation, we sat as a group momentarily and discussed the few things we MUST do. The one thing we had to do, but nobody wanted to really worry about, was make sure we allowed ourselves time to pack up and be ready to go so we could get back to the airport without being frantic or forgetting anything. Naturally, even though we thought about it, the packing was still held for the final hours of the night before we left.

Instead, the topic turned to the discussion of any rides we had missed riding but felt we absolutely MUST find time to enjoy. For me, the big one I'd missed was Soarin' Over California. I'd never done Soarin' but had heard great reviews. We also decided that we had to spend some time on Tom Sawyer's Island and ride on either the Columbia Sailing Ship or the Mark Twain Riverboat (though the crowd generally leaned to the Columbia).

We then took requests for repeats. I wasn't terribly surprised to hear votes for the big rides: California Screamin', Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean. What felt a little more surprising were the repeat requests for the smaller rides: Little Mermaid, Monsters Inc, Autopia, Astro Blasters. I still wanted to try and see World of Color, but I was in the minority, so we didn't get to that one.

With our "must-dos" in order, we set out for the park with missions to grab fast passes efficiently and to have a ton of fun with our last two days. Our adventures still leaned heavily to the Disneyland park rather than California Adventure, but we did manage to get done everything we wanted to do.

We had now reached the weekend, so I was a little worried about bigger crowds, but the weather was overcast and a little drizzly and the crowds turned out to be about the same as the rest of the week.

We first grabbed an Indiana Jones Fast Pass then beelined to Splash Mountain and hopped in the nearly nonexistent line. Immediately after finishing, the kids wanted to go again, so we circled around and went again.

As we finished our second ride through, there was literally no-line and so the ride operator asked if we wanted to stay on and go again…the kids squealed with excitement and so we circled again. By the end, we were all a bit damp. :)

We then made our way to Tomorrowland and waited in a moderate line for Space Mountain. Afterwards, we went back and made another run with Indiana Jones into the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. We continued to take advantage of shorter lines and took another sea voyage with the Pirates of the Caribbean.

Some stomachs started grumbling so we decided to break for lunch. Since day one I'd been inkling for the Monte Cristo sandwich. Interestingly this time, about half of the group agreed to try the Cafe Orleans. The rest of the group made their way back to Hungry Bear for burgers while I tried the Monte Cristo. I don't know that it qualifies for the "legendary" status it receives, but it was pretty good (though Lynette said she liked her version better).

We actually made two big trips to Tom Sawyer's Island and spent ~30-60 minutes there each time and both times the kids were reluctant to leave. They were having tons of fun running around playing tag, hide-and-seek, and other games of their own invention. The island wasn't hardly crowded at all so there were only a few times I had to shout warnings at the kids to watch out for other tourists.

We made an impromptu stop at the Enchanted Tiki Room being sure to pick up some Dole Whip Pineapple Soft Serve floats. Very tasty. While the kids would've preferred a more adventurous attraction, they did seem genuinely entertained.

We also took time to stop and watch the latest parade at Disneyland: Mickey's Soundsational Parade. Julia felt like it was shorter than the one she "remembers" from last time (with that filtered memory of a 4-year old). All in all I thought it was a fun parade.

We took a ride on the Columbia Sailing Ship. The kids liked going below decks to look at the historical weapons and other props. I had fun people-watching across the river and paying attention to the small details hidden in the trees and bushes. Andrew excitedly worked his way towards one of the masts and asked if he could ring the bell…which he did. :-)

We spent a little more time in Fantasyland and took another ride on the Carousel. We relaxed in Frontierland one day for lunch (the kids getting corn dogs and such at the Stage Door Cafe while the adults wandered across the road and picked up burritos and tacos from Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante…very tasty and a nice kick)

I can't remember why, but on the first day, the group split up for a bit such that Lynette, Andrew, Julia, Jason and I ended up going to Soarin' Over California on our own. I was a little nervous about the warnings in the queue that said you might consider not riding if you either tended to get motion sick on some rides or got anxious about heights. In recent years, I've been more susceptible to motion sickness, but generally I'm alright. As to heights, they do make me nervous, but I'm usually alright as long as it's not too high. And since I could see the top of the building, I wasn't worried.

Once we got inside, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd seen the ads that showed a family in a hanglider type vehicle but I was curious to see what it was all about. Interestingly, the ride is comparable to a hanglider of sorts, though probably a bit more like a chair lift at a ski resort. There were three rows of these "vehicles" with bucket seats for each person. In front of these benches is a giant screen.

I got a front row bench and was glad for it because I was wondering how the rear rows were going to see anything with us in front of them. But as they dimmed the lights, the benches rocked a little bit and then swooped up into the air so we were hovering way up in the air so all we could see was this huge screen in front of us. I glanced under my feet and saw the "rear" benches hovering down below me.

The screen lit up and we were soaring. There was a little breeze and motion that coincided with the images on the screen. It was very well done. It's a distant cousin of the technology in Star Tours to help you feel as though you're actually moving as presented on the screen in front of you. But where Star Tours was bumpy and dramatic, Soarin' was smooth and gentle and very exhilarating.

I must admit that there were a couple of times when the movement did make my stomach a little woozy, but I found that this was usually because I was looking too far askew and caught sight of the walls or other vehicles and broke the illusion. When I was focused on the images and the motion, it was a very enjoyable ride.

The heights were crazy at times and some of the scenes were pretty funny (the kids wondered how they made a 3D golf ball fly at us when we weren't in 3D…which brings me back to my comment from a post or two ago when I said I truly didn't think they needed to turn Star Tours into a full 3D ride…Soarin proved you can do the immersive effects without requiring 3D). Andrew also commented to me a couple of times that he could smell the stuff we were going by (like the sand, dirt, trees, water). Very immersive and fun. Definitely recommended.

On our way to California Adventure on the last day, we grabbed some Autopia Fast Passes and spent a little time on Main Street. We went into the Disney Gallery and main entryway for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. Currently they have an exhibit on Disney Trains which was pretty cool. They also have little scale models of the entire Disneyland park as well as some of the rides like Splash Mountain. Very cool stuff.

Karla was bummed she missed Soarin' and so we planned better the following day. So on the second day we actually split up for Fast Pass usage..about half the group wanted to go on Soarin' and the other half wanted to go on Screamin'. Lynette and Karla weren't up for Screamin so I was nominated to take the Screamin' crew. First we split up to get the Fast Passes then met back to do other activities until ride time.

Our Fast Pass times in California Adventure were about an hour apart, but we spent the first part of the wait together. We took another spin in Monstropolis on Monsters Inc. We spent some more time in the Animation Building. We went to Bug's Land and the kids rode on most of the other rides there that we had previously missed.

Eventually I took the boys (even Ethan) and Julia and we all headed for Screamin'. The Fast Pass wait was short. Jason was worried that Ethan would back out again at the last minute…but to his delight, Ethan agreed to ride. Jason was super excited and told him he'd love it. As we came off the ride, Ethan was giggling and gave a few "whoops" of joy and thumbs up.

After Screamin', we slowed things down with a quick ride on King Triton's Carousel and then started working our way down Paradise Pier. The kids wanted to go on Mickey's Fun Wheel. I looked at the swinging cars and said "no way." Even in a stationary car, I felt like the height would've been a little too much for me that day. So instead, we hopped into the line for Goofy's Sky School.

We weren't expecting a lot out of Goofy's Sky School. It had a pretty long line for what looked like a pretty short coaster. We were partially expecting something like Gadget's Go Coaster from Toontown, but as we got closer, we could see that the track was a lot longer and taller.

We were all much more impressed than we thought we'd be. This little coaster had a bunch of quick turns, hills and dips that made it a lot of fun. The "sky school" theme was integrated into the track with instructions on each step of learning to fly "the goofy way." I thought it was a lot of fun.

After Goofy, we went to wait for Karla, Sarah and Lynette. They were sill in Soarin' apparently, so we took a quick ride on the Little Mermaid while we waited then sat on a bench overlooking the water. When they met up with us, we took another ride on the Little Mermaid and then went back to Disneyland park, waving goodbye to California Adventure.

Once back in Disneyland, we spent a little time in Fantasyland.  It took some convincing of the doubters (the most vocal being Sarah, who hadn't been to Disneyland before), but I convinced them that we could actually walk up inside the castle.  So we did...and I showed them the Sleeping Beauty walkthrough.  They were all quite surprised that you could go up inside the castle, but they thought it was fun.

We then made our way to Tomorrowland and took a ride on the Astro Orbiters and did dinner at the nearby Plaza Inn. The nightly parade was going on as we ate so we were able to see the floats and characters wander by while we ate. After dinner we quickly hopped into Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blaster's and then it was time for our Autopia Fast Pass. Once again, Julia gave me some serious whiplash, laughing all the way. :-)

Coming off the Autopia, we looped over to the Monorail station. It was getting late and we knew we still had to pack. Going over our list of "must-dos", we figured we'd covered everything.

In fact, as we reviewed the Disneyland attractions, we realized that there were only a very few things we hadn't done (Captain EO, the Explorer Canoes, Mr. Lincoln, Innoventions, Mark Twain Steamboat, the under-construction Matterhorn and the character meet and greats). There was more we'd skipped in California Adventure, but even there our list was pretty complete.

So we decided we would first do a "full circle" ride on the Monorail to get the full round-trip experience, then we would get off in Downtown Disney and walk back to the hotel by way of some of the shops there. A couple of the kids still had a little souvenir money to spend and since it was the last day, it was their last chance.

We eventually made our way back to the hotel and got packed up. Everybody fell asleep (largely through exhaustion as our bodies realized the trip was about over). We somehow managed to get up early and get into the shuttle on time to get to the airport and head home. And even though everybody had a ton of fun and lots of great memories, we all agreed it was nice to be home.

And that…brings us to the conclusion of my trip recap. Sorry for boring those of you who weren't interested. Hopefully this was entertaining and interesting to those who were interested.

This was actually the longest trip I've taken to Disneyland itself (even subtracting the one day at Knott's). I've taken this long at Florida's Walt Disney World before but Disney World is more than double the size of Disneyland both in terms of parks and in terms of actual real estate (in fact, due to its size, I pretty much recommend a full week or more to anybody going to WDW).

I was initially a little worried that maybe we were biting off too much by doing this many days at Disney and not either cutting the trip shorter or visiting other attractions (Sea World, Universal, etc.). However, due to the number of days in Disney, we were able to keep things pretty low key and relaxed (even though we didn't slow down too much) and see literally everything that everybody wanted to see without lots of arguments about having to pick and choose.

Overall, it was a great trip and there were some great memories. Now that I'm home and relaxed though…a large part of me just wants to go back. Too much fun.

Today's Quote from Quoting Quotes:

1 comment:

Phoenix said...

Yay! What a great review. I live in SoCal and I STILL get psyched about going to Disneyland and California Adventure (which I'm going to this Saturday). I'm glad you got to go on so many rides (when we were there, the Matterhorn was also under construction) and that you enjoyed California Soarin' as much as I do (I love Screamin' but Soarin' is my favorite ride, I think.) Glad you had such a good time there!