Monday, September 13, 2010

A New Take on Los Angeles

The Disneyland Clan in California Adventure
Jerome and I spent a portion of August this year in lovely Los Angeles, CA, with friends and family.  We escorted nephews through the maze of cartoon characters and wild rides at Disneyland, sailed smoothly across the water with friends in San Pedro and dinned on Mexican food with anyone who would indulge with us in a trip to a taco truck.

Main Street Disneyland

The trip to Disneyland came first, which was a celebration of Jerome's mom's birthday and his parent's 40 wedding anniversary, and included the entire family clan.  An anniversary of this degree should be celebrated with great fanfare, which was why the Magic Kingdom was selected as the travel destination. Thinking back on it, there was some discussion about taking a cruise, or local San Diego retreat but Disneyland made the most sense for our team.

I've taken quite a few trips to Disneyland over the years, before I "grew up" (I use this term loosely) and left the great state of California.  So, after more than 10 years away I returned to the mecca of "happiness" (again, this is a term loosely) with a group of 11 people.  Our team consisted of Jerome's 2 parents, 2 brothers, their 2 wives, their 3 kids (ranging in age from 9 to 2) and Jerome and me.  Quite a gang!
Jerome  was forced to be my model for the day

We arrived in California late Thursday night, having flown in from NYC, and headed straight to Disneyland the next morning.  A Friday morning in Disneyland is like a Wednesday night on the Lower East Side.  Everything is open and there's enough people to fill-up the space, but everything seems to be under control and moving along.  We were able to navigate around the Park with little effort, and utilized Disney's Fastpass service to make the most of the few lengthy lines for the more popular rides.

Small World!
The Fastpass service, which was created by Disney in 1999, and has slowly been added to select rides and attractions over the past 11 years, was a life saver.  It's a great concept, with a few glitches, but essentially issues you a reservation ticket for the attraction of your choice.  So, instead of waiting in long lines for a ride, you can grab a Fastpass and wait at the Jedi training school or run through the line at a less popular attraction.  If Disneyland was a real town, the Fastpass service would be recognized as the greatest addition to the population's quality of life in more than 20 years.

I rode some of my favorite rides on Friday, from Space Mountain, which was much shorter than I remember, to Splash Mountain, much wetter than I recall; from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a lot more fun and scary than 8-year old Andrea thought, to It's a Small World, which includes actual Disney characters these days (boooo!).  It was a great day of flashbacks, and insights into the minds of our younger nephews whose excitement and energy outlasted ours by several hours.
The entry to California Adventure

Saturday was my chance to try a variety of new rides in the ever compelling California Adventure.  This new Park, which sits in Disneyland's old parking lot just across from the Park's main entrance, is situated on 55 acres and is broken into 4 different themed lands: Hollywood Pictures Backlot, Paradise Pier, Bugs Land and Golden State.

The entry to California Screamin'

California Adventure appeals to an older demographic than Disneyland, and for the older kids in the world (including myself), had some great rides.  The California Screamin' roller-coaster was the best coaster I've been on in years (or perhaps, the only coaster in years, but it was still amazing), the Tower of Terror gave me enough of a scare to never want to go back despite the awesome effects  and awe-inspiring entry into the "tower," and my personal favorite, Soarin' Over California which lifts rows of seats up to an 80-foot screen and simulate a flight over California's scenic spots (there's even a chance for you to catch some of the smells of CA such as orange blossoms and eucalyptus trees during the ride).

Something for EVERYONE
Overall, the lay-out of the park and variety of the rides were a great mix for a the entire family clan and satisfied everyone in our group. We even all made it back for the World of Color water and light show,
which is basically a 25-minute long Disney commercial with spectacular graphics, choreographed to music and beautifully lit on 200 foot wall of water next to Paradise Pier (created with more than 1,200 fountains).  It's an amazing feat and the kids loved seeing their favorite characters during the show but the process of it all reminded me to much of a poorly organized NYC event - including obtaining a Fastpass for the show at 10 am, then standing in line for over an hour at 9 pm - to move down to the standing room only pier and watch the 10 pm show.  We have less space in NYC than in Los Angeles and despite the endless lines I've stood in over the years, I realize I'm usually being herded in the direction of my desire by the best event staff in the country.  Disney should have been well-organized enough to provide seats for the show.  I'm hoping for seats that would lie dormant during the day and pop-up out of the pier for the show - hand crafted by a local set designer, of course.  Perhaps they will have it sorted out by the next time we about 10 years.

Jerome, Katie, Bob and Catherine 

Sunday, after a quick trip to Disneyland, which did not prove to be the "happiest place on earth," due to a minor ticket disaster, we all headed back to the hotel to say our goodbyes and hit the road.  Jerome and my amazing friend Katie who lives an hour or so away from the theme park, came to pick us up.  She's one of those friends who you can't help but have fun with and laughs at both of our jokes.  She's a rare case indeed.

We headed north to San Pedro to visit our friends Bob and Catherine who recently purchased a new home in the area.  I've always thought car rides, particularly road trips, provide the best venue for good discussions.  During our hour long ride we discovered that Katie dated someone who built a full scale pirate ship in his backyard (with a little help from his friends), and we'd admitted to sneaking a cocktail or two into Disneyland during our trip.  We don't make it out to Los Angeles nearly often enough....

View from our table at Nelson's
We spent the remainder of the afternoon touring the area, including an awesome little stop in Rancho Palos Verdes, situated overlooking San Pedro.  We managed to catch several schools of whales migrating north, before we grabbed dinner at Nelson's which overlooked the ocean, lending us a killer view of the sunset.

Jerome and Bob - Manhattan Beach

Bob and Catherine's new house is awesome!  They gave us the full tour, including descriptions of all the renovations they have planned.  I loved it the way it is but Jerome, Bob and Catherine, all architects by trade and schooling, are better at visualizing renovation changes than I am.

I swear, we offered to help sailing :)
The Zinfandel
Monday included time at Manhattan Beach (noting like Manhattan, NYC), a Venice Beach tour, sailing the Zinfandel - Bob and Catherine's boat - around the harbor and an amazing meal out of a taco truck.

Not sure I could have asked for anything better but Bob was still able to swing a trip to In 'n Out before we hit up the airport.  Awesome departure treat.

Some additional Disneyland Shots below:
Zack, Mathew and Jerome enter a ride

Fun on Main Street
Jerome's revenge for making him model all day
Margarita (Jerome's mom), Jerome and me -
One of the best shots I have of the Golden Gate

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