Last week, my family (wife: Mariah, younger daughter: Elise, older daughter: Frankie, older daughter’s husband: Alec) and I flew to southern California for a little amusement park fun. It had been several years since our last trip to CA, so it was a bit overdue, but we’re relatively poor, so it took several years to save up enough money to go again! (And, I HATE flying—but I might have mentioned that once or twice in previous posts…)
Anyway, on the first day, we flew out of PDX (Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon, USA,) and I MUST say this: IF YOU CAN AFFORD TO DO THE TSA PRE-CHECK, DO IT!!! I must look like a shady character because I’m often eyed with extreme suspicion in airports, and I’ve even had to visit the scary “little room” before so that airport security could grill me and make certain that I wasn’t not trying to do something nefarious while in the airport or while in flight—HOWEVER! with the TSA Pre-Check, I went through security in about two minutes. (It was very early in the A.M., so that might have been part of why it went so smoothly, but being pre-cleared helped a ton…) The pre-check has to be completed several weeks before you travel, and you have to have a bunch of documents (birth certificate, photo I.D., etc.) when you go in to get checked out—and you get fingerprinted and have to go through an F.B.I. background check, all that stuff—BUT once you’re cleared, it makes going through airport security MUCH MUCH quicker and less stressful. (I’m phobic about airports and security—and I hate the “little room”—so anything that eases the anxiety helps!)
So we landed in 80 degree weather at the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, which none of us had ever visited before. (It’s smaller than PDX and absolutely TINY compared to LAX!)
We got to the hotel safely (despite having to take a shuttle with the standard issue INSANE driver behind the wheel), and unpacked for our visit! We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott Anaheim Theme Park Entrance Hotel—which is a ridiculously long name, but whatever… and the hotel was VERY nice and was wonderfully decorated for Halloween! (We felt immediately at home!)
(I took a ton of other photos of the decorations inside and outside the hotel, but I’m trying to keep this post down to just a handful of photos. Believe me, though, the place looked great.) We rested for the remainder of the day, played in the cool, water-park area (with a great hot tub, of course), ordered a pizza, and watched the fireworks happening at Disney across the street from a table next to the water slides.
The staff, and I mean EVERYONE we dealt with, were incredibly friendly and helpful, offering advice, helping us get shuttle and bus passes, and making suggestions to help our stay be as entertaining and enjoyable as possible. And, although the hotel was just a short walk from the Disney gates, our first two days of park hopping were at Universal and Knott’s Berry Farm, both of which required transportation of some kind to get to. With the help of the staff, we managed to get where we wanted to go without too much trouble. (The city that we’re from doesn’t have much public transportation—so some concepts, like transferring from one bus to another bus on a different route, were new to us! But we figured it out, eventually…)
Our first amusement park stop was Universal Studios, and although Alec had been there several years before, this was the first visit for everybody else. I didn’t take very many photos at Universal because it seemed like EVERYTHING was set up SPECIFICALLY for a photo-op, and that seemed a bit FORCED to me. (I know the same thing is true of most amusement parks, but it felt worse at Universal for some reason.) It also felt very CROWDED at Universal, almost as bad as at Disney, but without so many attractions that I’m interested in to make the people-press worthwhile. (Maybe it’s because the streets at Universal are narrower than at Disneyland, so it takes fewer people to feel crowded? I’m not sure…)
We were ALL impressed by the Studio Tour, (despite my negative comments above,) which takes riders through the back lots and has Jaws popping out of the water and explosions and a King Kong battle that shakes the trolley around… It’s a LONG ride—something like 45 minutes, but if you visit the park, it’s the one ride that we ABSOLUTELY recommend you not miss. We also really enjoyed the Simpsons area, which I think was just called Springfield, USA.
We ate breakfast at Lard Lad Donuts, and bought chicken strips from Cletus’s Chicken Shack for lunch, which we then took to Moe’s Tavern to eat. We visited the Kwik-E-Mart, and bought a penny-press penny of Homer’s head (which cost a DOLLAR, instead of 50 cents, like they USED to cost… That’s right, I spent a BUCK to buy a mutilated penny…)
Frankie and her husband had the most fun, I believe, at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is its own area at Universal. They went on rides, bought wands, shopped for Chocolate Frogs and Fizzing Whizbees, and generally geeked out. Even Mariah and I weren’t immune, trying out and LOVING Butter Beer! Despite how much it costs, and we made sure to go back for seconds before leaving the park! (It was a bit like a cream soda float with some kind of additional, thick, cream added to it, and you could get it as a straight soda-like drink or blended. We tried both. Very tasty.)
Beyond the Simpsons land, Harry Potter area, and the back lot tour, I don’t know if I was all that impressed with Universal. It was okay—definitely worth visiting once, just to see what goes on, but I’m not in a real big hurry to go back. Many of the rides that we went on seemed to be just sitting in a seat that tilts while a video is projected on a screen in front of you type of thing, and that got a bit old after the first one or two “rides.” The park LOOKED cool, but it was really crowded, and it didn’t seem to have a ton of attractions that kept my interest (although, to be fair, I’m not a real big movie fan, either, or I should say, most movies made after the 1980s have been less interesting to me than earlier films. I love Psycho, but I couldn’t care less about the Fast and the Furious movies or the live action Transformers or blah blah blah…) I know Frankie and Alec had a blast at Universal, but by the end of the day, I think Mariah and Ellie and I were ready to go.
KNOTT’S BERRY FARM
Now I have been to Knott’s Berry Farm before, but it’s been over thirty years since I was last there. My Mom used to say that she liked Knott’s better than Disney because it was less crowded and had a better vibe to it, and on our visit, there were CERTAINLY fewer people per square foot than at Disney (or Universal) and the atmosphere of the place was very appealing to me. The park has expanded since I was last there, but it still has that cool, relaxed feel to it (which reminded us of our favorite amusement park here in the Northwest, Enchanted Forest, which is just south of Salem, Oregon.)
The kids rode on a couple of the BIG rollercoasters, GhostRider and Silver Bullet, and we ALL loved the Timber Mountain Log Ride, which was all decked out with spooky decorations for Halloween. (I only went on it once, but everybody else rode it a few times!) Voyage to the Iron Reef (a VR, shoot-em-up ride, which gave you a light gun and kept track of your score as you shot at various sea monsters and other deadly threats) was also very fun!
Some of the rides at the park were wicked scary, though—like the new HangTime coaster (I’ve included a couple of photos of that one below)—and none of our crew were brave enough to ride them. Still, I had a great time just walking around the park, looking at the sights, playing games on the Boardwalk, and soaking in the atmosphere. (Mom was right about that much, the place has a great vibe!) Unfortunately, the Bigfoot Rapids ride was down while we were there, so we didn’t get to enjoy that one—but we still had a great time at the park. We ALL agree that we’d love to go back there next time we’re in California!
We had three days in Disneyland with “Park Hopper” passes, which meant that we could leave one area and go visit another without having to pay any extra fees. For those who have never been to Disneyland or who haven’t been there since the 1980s, Disneyland is now broken into THREE separate and relatively distinct areas: the main Disneyland Park; an area called Disney California Adventure (which is where the parking lot used to be back when my family came to the park in the 1970s and ‘80s;) and Downtown Disney (which is basically just shops and restaurants, and which you can get into WITHOUT buying any kind of a special ticket. Shop for free!!!)
We were in Disney October 30th, 31st (Halloween), and November 1st. The parks were, of course, decorated spectacularly for the season, and several of the rides had Halloween specific elements overlaid on them, like Space Mountain and the Guardians of the Galaxy ride. The Haunted Mansion (a family favorite) was over-run by Nightmare Before Christmas props and music (in a strange twist, this made the most Halloween oriented ride at Disneyland into more of a Christmas attraction than it normally is—that’s right, they made the Haunted Mansion LESS Halloweeny for Halloween… Frankly, I was rather disappointed, because the Haunted Mansion is usually my favorite ride in the park, and I don’t like folks messing with stuff that I already think is perfect. I heard several people, including Frankie, say they thought it was AWESOME with the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay—so maybe it was just me being overly dramatic and nostalgic. Although, I also like Halloween better than Christmas, so that might explain some of my displeasure.)
Anyway, the park was pretty crowded—and the food was RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE—but we had anticipated these things, so we tried to roll with them, and I think it’s safe to say that we had an absolutely fantastic time for the entire three days, despite the crowds and high costs. We went on all of our favorite attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean (SEVERAL times), Splash Mountain, Buzz Lightyear (another shooting ride), Winnie the Pooh, Grizzly River Run (in California Adventure), and the old timey rides in Fantasy Land (Mr. Toad, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan—which NEVER had a wait time of less than 30 minutes) and Indiana Jones and so on…
Some of the NEW stuff that we experienced was also pretty cool. Elise, Frankie, and Alec tried out the Incredicoaster, which they said was great (but looked too scary for Mariah and me,) and everybody but me went on the Guardians of the Galaxy ride (which was called the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror last time we were at the park.) We also went on the Toy Story Midway Mania ride for the first time, and although the line for that attraction was really long, it was a lot of fun! Again, it was a VR style shooter ride that kept track of your score as you played a bunch of virtual midway games, like shooting moving targets or “throwing” darts, and that kind of thing. Not too surprisingly, Elise had the highest score in our group, (she’s a GAMER) but VERY surprisingly, Mariah (who hasn’t played many video games since the days of Tetris and Super Mario Bros.,) had the 2nd highest score! Nice shooting, Mariah!
There were parades and fireworks and characters in costumes walking the streets and VISITORS wearing their own costumes on Halloween night for Mickey’s big Halloween Party. (You needed a special ticket to get in, which we luckily purchased weeks before we arrived. The Halloween party actually sold out about a month before Halloween because the tickets were extremely limited.) Frankie, in particular, was THRILLED when she found out that adults could go trick-or-treating, not just kids. (She’s 25, but she flipped out like she was seven-years-old again!) Overall, it was a great party, and like Knott’s Berry Farm, just BEING at Disneyland is very cool—walking around and seeing the sights and decorations, hearing different bands performing on the streets, and just immersing yourself in this simulated reality—it’s very intoxicating and enjoyable. It’s not the REAL world, but it’s a very fun world to play in for a while. (Kind of like the atmosphere that the early RAVE PARTY days had back in the 1991 or 1992. We FELT like we were in this NEW reality, this utopian, electronic, malleable world that could be reshaped to our desires. Unfortunately, and despite what we HOPED was going to happen, we eventually had to return to the ugly, boring, “REAL” world and leave the playland behind…)
One interesting development: on our third day of our Disney visit, Mariah and Ellie and I entered California Adventure because Ellie had seen a Jack Skellington shirt that she was thinking about buying for her boyfriend in one of the shops there. We went through the gate, headed for the shop, and BAM! All the Halloween stuff was GONE! Less than twelve hours after we’d been in the park enjoying the rip-roaring Halloween party, all the ghosts and skeletons and monsters had been removed, and we were looking at a shop full of Christmas decorations, red and green sweaters, and holiday products… Wow… As I mentioned above, I’m much more of a Halloween fan than a Christmas fan, so to have the spooky season just RIPPED away like that was pretty jarring… Even some of the rides had already been rebranded with the new holiday in mind!
Still, as I hope I’ve mentioned, we all had a fantastic time at Disney, and Elise is already contemplating another vacation there with her boyfriend. I think Mariah and I will be okay taking a few years off, but we loved it while we were there. To reiterate, the place is STUPID expensive, and anyone on a tight budget is pretty much out of luck. (We were only able to afford the hotel and park passes because Mariah and the girls planned ahead—like almost an entire YEAR ahead, and they made payments to the travel agent for something like nine or ten months to pay everything off.) The food is almost criminally expensive at all of the parks we went to, and even inside the hotels, but you HAVE to eat, so you’ll pay it rather than go hungry or thirsty.
Also, for anyone who suffers from agoraphobia or social anxiety, Disneyland is going to be a nightmare. There are people EVERYWHERE, bumping into you, touching you, and making loud noises. (I’ve learned a few calming techniques—but by the end of most days I was at the “if another person touches me, I WILL bite their face” stage…) Knott’s was the least crowded of the places we went, and it’s a great park, but if you get the “Park Hopper” passes for Disneyland, it has such a HUGE variety of attractions—different restaurants, different rides, more interesting attractions to see—that you really can’t get bored. We didn’t come CLOSE to going on everything in three days—although part of the reason is the long lines for certain rides. It really is a fun place to visit, though, especially if you enjoy spectacle and flash and artifice, which I do!
So that was our trip. After the three days at Disney, we got on another plane and flew (the terrifying and turbulence-filled two hours) back to Portland, Oregon, then got a ride (from Uncle Randy—yes THAT Randy, who wrote Bigfoot and all of those squirrel stories) from the airport back to Longview, Washington, USA. Back home… There are a LOT of things we can learn from a trip like this—how to sculpt and manipulate the environment we live in so that it better suits who WE are and what type of WORLD we want to live in! Plus, as I’ll discuss in a post in a day or two, I bought a bunch of ART while I was there that I’m going to put up in the house—bringing a little bit of the FANTASY back home with me!!!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
SUPPORT INDEPENDENT FOLKS WHO ARE JUST MAKING STUFF BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT!!!