First Trip to the GC, Sunday, May 18, Part 1

Sunday, May 18, Part 1: An Alarming Morning

We decided we’d go to Disneyland in time for Magic Mornings only if we happened to wake up at 6 a.m. Arriving at the park by 7 a.m. just to ride the new Sub ride wasn’t very compelling. When we didn’t wake up until 7 a.m., we figured getting there at the regular opening time of 8 a.m. would have to be early enough.

I hopped in the shower (btw, we haven’t described the strange shower yet—it was tucked behind a wall so that only the front end of the shower was accessible) and when I got out, it sounded like Rich was talking to someone. I was curious about that so I got dressed and peeked into the room to find Rich on the phone.

I overheard words such as “alarm” and “security breach” and got a little nervous. This was the first we had left our new house and kitties with a pet sitter since we moved to Las Vegas. One of the things we loved about living so close to WDW is that we didn’t have to leave our cats with a pet sitter and we’d be home with them every night. We have 3 Burmese cats and they are full of personality, are quite affectionate, and interactive. They follow us all over the house and hate to be alone. And we hate to leave them alone or even with a pet sitter, which we have come to the house twice a day to give them plenty of attention and care. They are our kids.

Already tense about being away from home, this was my worst fear. Something must have happened at home and I was ready to suggest we just go home now. What a shame since we just got there. But then Rich explained what had happened.

While I was in the shower he turned on his cell phone and had a voicemail from our home security company. He called the security company and discovered our house alarm motion detector had gone off at about midnight, but there hadn’t been a breach of windows or doors and the alarm had reset itself. When they didn’t hear from us, they notified the police patrolling the area and since they hadn’t heard anything more, they assumed all was well.

Rich tried calling our pet sitter but got no response. So then he paged her and she called back. Apparently, she had set the alarm to “away” instead of “stay” as we had requested so the motion detector must have picked up one of the cats moving around. Whew! It was a big relief but still unnerving. But it was an easy mistake–all of her clients have her set the alarm to “away” and she’s never had a problem. But we thought the cats might be detected by the motion detector so we wanted her to set it to “stay.” We left her pages of instructions but we had forgotten to write this part down, although we had mentioned it verbally. Next time, we’ll write it down just to make sure.

Anyway, she headed to our house to check on things and to feed the kitties and when she called back to report that all was well, we were free to start our day in the parks.

Next: Breakfast in New Orleans

May 18, Part 2: Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen

By the time we finished settling things with the security company and our pet sitter, we decided it was time to regroup and discuss our plans for the day over a cup of coffee in the sitting room. This room was very comfortable and we enjoyed having the extra space. The coffee maker made 1 cup at a time, but that was no problem.

It was after 8 a.m. by this time and since DCA opened at 10 a.m., that would give us plenty of time to scope out some breakfast at Downtown Disney and wander over to DCA by rope drop. After our stressful morning, a relaxing morning greatly appealed to us.

It was a beautiful morning—not too hot yet—and we enjoyed the stroll over to Downtown Disney from Paradise Pier. The sweet-smelling Honeysuckles and the gorgeous Bougainvillea (love Bougainvillea—we put one on our lanai in our Florida home but the heat/humidity was just too much for it) just added to the pleasure of the walk.

We weren’t sure where we’d eat in Downtown Disney but we had in mind perhaps stopping at La Brea Bakery but when we saw Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen advertising a hot breakfast, we had to check it out. Beignets? Chicory Coffee? Oh my goodness, we had to eat breakfast here. And were we glad we did. We couldn’t seem to tear ourselves away from Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen for our entire stay and this is definitely on our list for our next trip. Love, love, love it! The décor, the food, the service—very authentic to New Orleans.

Ah, noshing on Beignets and Chicory Coffee on a beautiful morning in southern California al fresco was supreme! Hooked on this, we’re having a tough time getting going in the morning at home without it.

Stay tuned for more glowing reports.

May 18, Part 3: Rope Drop at DCA

After wiping off the powdered sugar and licking our fingers, we decided to walk over to DCA as we sipped the last of our coffee. Note: the containers of coffee are huge—we easily could have shared one.

We wanted the full effect of entering DCA so, instead of taking the entrance through the Grand Californian as we had last night, we headed for the main gate. We had a better impression of the Golden Gate area this time than the first time we saw it right before DCA opened for the first time before we moved to Florida. Missing California probably had something to do with it.

The two main attractions we were interested in were two of our favorites at WDW: the Tower of Terror and Soarin’ over California Which one to head to first to get a FastPass? We chose Soarin’ and it’s a good thing we did because that section was open before rope drop and we could secure an FP. Hollywood Pictures Backlot would not open until precisely 10 a.m.

Upon securing our FPs we stood in line at the rope drop for Hollywood Pictures. BTW, I was wearing my birthday pin today and when the delightful CM—an older man I call “DCA CM Dad” because he was like a father welcoming back his prodigal daughter—saw my birthday pin he called me upfront. He put his arm around me and asked where I was from. When I told him the story of growing up here, moving to Orlando, and back, he squeezed my arm and said, “Welcome Home, Kathy.” I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.

And then he introduced me to the crowd waiting for rope drop and had everybody sing “Happy Birthday” to me. It was a wonderful way to start the day. Then a group of hotel “bellmen” approached to lead the walk down Hollywood Blvd. to control the crowd so that the enthusiasm heading toward Tower of Terror didn’t get out-of-hand. Many of the guests were annoyed over the speech about “single file line,” “don’t walk on the sidewalk,” etc. “What are we–in grade school?” some of them said.

The line was moving quickly and we barely had time to notice any differences in the theming of this ride compared to the one at WDW. We were quickly approaching the bank of elevators and we were the last two to join the group ahead of us. But when we arrived at the elevators, there wasn’t room for us. We figured we would have to wait for the next group, but, the biggest surprise of all—we got to ride in our very own elevator.

I chose to sit in the back row but Rich convinced me to sit in the middle of the back row and not hang on to the cage on the far side.

Well, to honor this special occasion, we just had to buy the goofy picture with me slumping in the seat, making the biggest face, holding on for dear life because drops terrify me. But I love the theming of this ride and Rich absolutely adores this ride—this is probably his #1 favorite ride.

When the elevator opens at the top and you see the view below, it was wild peering over at the Matterhorn instead of the WDW landscape. Woo hoo! Another great welcome home.

May 18, Part 4: Condor Flats

After ToT, we browsed the Hollywood Pictures area, including taking some pictures. There were other attractions we’d like to do on a future trip, but we were just scoping things out this trip. Besides, the heat was dictating how much we wanted to do on this trip. We know from going to WDW once a week for a year that we just don’t do as much on the really hot days.

Speaking of heat, it was getting really hot and we were thirsty so we were looking for some bottled water. The Award Wieners CM didn’t have her cash drawer open yet so we headed back toward Sunshine Plaza<, stopping into gift shops for more browsing and finally got a bottle of water at a sidewalk cart.

As a side note: I was so excited to see the replica of the California Zephyr. When my in-laws took the train from Philadelphia to our house in Tampa, I couldn’t believe the weird little train they pulled up in (it pulled in backwards so that it could head back out to Orlando again and then go on to Miami.) The cars were flat and boring and had no observation windows. I had heard so much about the great trains and service in the DC to New York corridor, I didn’t realize the train to Tampa could be so, well, disappointing. And the station? Well, if you’ve read Rich’s humorous novel, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

It wasn’t quite time for our Soarin’ FP so we toured the whole Condor Flats aviation area. Watching Samantha Brown’s “Best of Disney” show again (saving it on TiVo for frequent viewing), I was struck again by how cool this whole “land” is and how nice that Soarin’ at DCA has its own structure and identity in the park, unlike WDW where they retrofitted a piece of “The Land” in Epcot for it. This works so much better—access to the ride and the FP machines.

My dad loves planes (he was in the Naval Air Force) so we enjoyed browsing Fly’n’Buy–the aviation-themed gift shop. By this time it was almost time for our FP return. We decided to show up to see if they’d go ahead and let us in. As we were standing in line, the DCA CM “Dad” appeared and said, “There’s Kathy again.” I think we ran into him a couple more times—just sorry we didn’t catch his name—he was so cool!

The CM allowed us to join the group being seated in the attraction. We ended up on the bottom row and we noticed that fastening the seatbelts was a more difficult operation here than at Epcot—you had to really shove the lap belt end into the fastener in the seat (love my technical lingo) and it was so awkward, I broke an acrylic nail. Rich and I both commented on this difficulty.

Rich puts it this way, “My impression was that instead of buckling into a flexible receptor, you had to buckle it directly into a slot in the metal of the seat.”<

May 18, Part 5: Soarin’ Back Home

When Soarin’ opens with the flight over San Francisco Bay, my heart fills with pride. I think we’ve all left a piece of our hearts in San Francisco. My parents honeymooned there while my Naval Air Force father waited to be shipped overseas. I lived there for 22 years as an adult and met and married Rich there. I never thought I’d leave. And San Francisco Bay< is especially gorgeous from an aerial view—something I noticed every time I flew out of SFO.

Flying over Redwood Creek in the Mendocino area is also touching—I love the Russian River area. Rich and I made frequent trips to Napa/Sonoma for wine tasting and getting away from the SF Bay Area noise. Yosemite brings back so many childhood camping memories and stories of my father spending summers there with his family when he was a kid. Rich remembers hiking all the way to the top of Half Dome back in his backpacking days.

When we soared over the busy freeway lit up at night, the entire audience applauded – that was a first – I don’t recall people doing that at WDW (maybe it’ll happen when they do “Soarin’ over Florida”). Maybe they were applauding at DCA because soarin’ over the freeways is the only way to get anywhere quickly. LOL. Or maybe it was pride in being home. That’s certainly the way I felt at the end when we soared over the Matterhorn

Apparently, I’m not alone. This blurb from wikipedia captures the feeling well:

The score for both versions of the ride is the same and was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who is said to have come down from his first ride in tears. In addition to finding the ride visually beautiful and magical, he said that his father was a pilot who loved all things Californian. I’d do anything to be part of this project, Goldsmith said. I’d even score the film for free.

May 18, Part 6: Back to the Resort

Having accomplished the two things we set out to do this morning, we headed back to the resort to cool off in the pool. We looked longingly at the pool yesterday afternoon but decided we’d get there in the early afternoon today before the crowds arrived.

We booked the Paradise Pier Resort because it was the least expensive resort on-property, and in May, coming from Las Vegas, we never expected to want to use a pool. Had we known how hot it was going to be, we may have made a different choice. But our goal is to experience all three Disneyland resorts by the end of this year, starting at the bottom and working our way to the top. But since I’ve stayed at the DL hotel (representing our little family), we may get to skip this one. 🙂

On the way back to the resort, we stopped in at the front desk to pick up our “Big Kahuna Family” photo. Since we returned from our trip we read reports about a frame being included with the photo and also a “Big Kahuna Family” pin. We were the first “Big Kahuna Family” for the CM who checked us in so we don’t know if she overlooked some things or if it’s done differently now. But we also noticed that we received two copies of the photo so maybe that’s what you get instead of one framed photo. We chose our own frame at World of Disney, which we display at home, and having the second print allowed for Rich to replace the photo on his desk at work with this one. It’s a fun photo and it makes us smile whenever we look at it—either at work or at home.

The rooftop pool is on the third floor between the resort and the parking garage. There’s a water slide that the kids seem to love, a kiddie pool, a rectangular pool, a covered hot tub, and lounge chairs all around. If you book a room on the third floor, you get your own private patio with direct access to the pool—that’s a real plus. Those may be concierge level rooms.

But we really don’t care for rooftop pools because they’re surrounded by cement and there’s not a lot of atmosphere. We’ve been spoiled with Las Vegas and Disney World resort pools. One of our favorite hangouts at Disney resort pools is the bar. But here there were no snacks, no drinks, no nothing around this pool. So after we splashed around a bit to cool off, we headed back to the room to get some room service lunch before our afternoon nap. Well, this resort doesn’t have 24-hour room service, and, unlike the other resorts, it doesn’t even have lunch-time room service—room service is available for breakfast and dinner only. Ack!

We really wanted a burger after our swim so we called the hotel restaurant (PCH Grill). Out of luck—this was Sunday and they were only serving brunch. We wanted a burger. 🙂 Anyway, the Surfside Lounge was serving a few select items and, lucky for us, burgers were on the menu. Woo hoo! But this meant changing out of our swimsuits, showering, getting dressed, taking the slow elevator down 15 floors, and sitting in the bar.

A family with 2 small kids came into the lounge and sat up at the bar and they were pointed to a regular table because kids can’t sit up at the bar. We wish all of Disney restaurants/bars would enforce that. We’ve been to too many Disney “adult” lounges only to be run over by the kids. Case in point: Dad’s Liquor Cabinet at Prime Time.

Our “All American Cheeseburgers with Fries” hit the spot, we had a restful nap, woke up to the A/C conking out, called Engineering, got the A/C fixed and we were ready for dinner and some rides at Disneyland—it’s about time!

May 18, Part 7: Disneyland

Have we mentioned how impressed we were with Downtown Disney at Disneyland? When we first heard about it, we didn’t have very high expectations. I pictured the few shops that used to be in the area before the DCA expansion and I never dreamed I could love it more than the Downtown Disney at WDW. But there’s a vibe that even the locals are drawn to. Disneyland has always been a bigger locals draw that WDW – “Date Night at Disneyland,” started in Walt’s Day, is alive and well at Disneyland – especially in Downtown Disney and the hotels – today.

Catal, with its open-air Uva bar smack dab in the middle of Downtown Disney, is especially adult-friendly. Although we were tempted to stop in for a glass of wine and some tapas on numerous occasions, we just couldn’t fit it in on this trip. Next time, for sure.

Instead, when we walked past Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express, we couldn’t resist getting a bowl of Jambalaya and a bowl of Red Beans and Rice, which we shared. We sat outside and people-watched and the headed for the Monorail Station nearby.

BTW, while I received many “Happy Birthday” wishes when I wore my birthday button that morning at DCA, I decided that was enough. The monorail gave us a tour of Disneyland Park and then dropped us off at Tomorrowland station, where the people disembarking ran into the people waiting in the submarine line.

We walked past Matterhorn and were tempted to get in line, but just as we were about to jump in line ourselves, a huge horde of people got in line and we decided to wait until later. Besides, we prefer this ride at night. We then got in line at Alice in Wonderland and were so excited to ride this because the MK at WDW doesn’t have this. But not long after we got in line, we heard that Alice was down. Deciding not to wait, we walked back out to Main Street to Adventureland and got a Fast Pass for Indy. The we headed straight for Pirates. As most people know, Pirates at Disneyland is a much nicer ride – longer, two drops and a restaurant inside. While at WDW, the ride and Casa de San Angel in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot became our substitute.

It was great riding Pirates at Disneyland once again and then we headed for the Haunted Mansion. It wasn’t quite dark yet and we recalled how much fun HM at WDW is at night. Even though it’s an inside ride, some how it seems spookier when it’s dark outside. We didn’t get that same feeling at DL – probably because it isn’t as isolated as it is at WDW. But we prefer HM at Disneyland and the changes were nice, too.

After HM, it was time to check out the new Pooh ride that replaced Country Bears at DL. Country Bears at DL was never quite as popular as it is at WDW so we can see why they chose to put Pooh in its place. And Pooh was really nice at DL – preferred it over the one at WDW – probably because it’s an inside/outside ride.

May 18, Part 8: Disneyland

Note: it was so great to spend time to/fro New Orleans Square – one of our favorite lands in Disneyland and one that WDW doesn’t have. We had planned to spend more time there dining/snacking but once we discovered Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen and the surrounding authentic New Orleans atmosphere, we spent more of our time at DD. One night there was a fabulous blues musician performing between the Jazz Kitchen and the House of Blues. Later, we wished we had picked up one of his CDs.

Anyway, back to Adventureland and the Dole Whip at Tiki Birds. At DL it’s located right at the Tiki Birds attraction – one side open to those already inside the outside portion of the attraction and the other side open to those passing by. We were of the latter and the line was long, but we were soon enjoying our Dole Whip Floats.

Note: The last time we were at Disneyland, they only had Dole Whips and since then we had become accustomed to enjoying a Dole Whip Float at WDW. Thinking we would have to settle for just a Dole Whip (such a sacrifice), we were happy to learn Disneyland also has Dole Whip Floats now. Also, no need to walk past the spitting camel Aladdin ride because DL doesn’t have that – yay!

May 18, Part 9: Changes to DL During Fireworks

We took our favorite route past Big Thunder Mountain (love this ride at DL—haven’t ridden it since that fatal accident several years ago but may have to rethink that on future trip), past Big Thunder Ranch and through the back door to Fantasyland. We love Disneyland’s Fantasyland—especially at night. And, in the past, unlike WDW, jumping on rides during the parade was a great way to catch up on a bunch of rides. So, we headed for Storybook Land Canal Boats. Uh, what do you mean this ride is closing because of the fireworks? We headed for several more Fantasyland rides—closed and roped off for the parade. Yikes! This was one of the most frustrating things about the MK at WDW and now it’s caught on at DL. Help! This is not my Disneyland.

We noticed the Matterhorn was operating so we got in line for that. The line moved quickly and we were soon seated in our bobsled, each with our own seat. We had read that the Matterhorn< The Matterhorn was a blast! It had become the symbolic ride for returning to Disneyland so this ride was a must!

Because of the parade, there wasn’t much more we wanted to do in Fantasyland so we headed back to Adventureland to kill some time before our FP for Indy. We decided to go ahead and get in line for Indy but just as we did, the ride closed due to malfunction. We browsed the shops in Adventureland—love this place—especially after dark—and then we seemed to be surrounded by loud noises everywhere. The parade, Fantasmic, and the fireworks all seemed to be going off at the same time.

Note: After living two miles from the MK at WDW and listening to fireworks going off every single night, we hate fireworks! I know—it sounds like such an un-Disney thing to say. But my ears still ring after living that close to what sounded like gunfire going off outside our window every single night. The fireworks were perhaps exacerbated by the layout of the Townhome community, causing a ricocheting effect.

But by now we noticed Indy was back up and running and the line was short, so instead of waiting for our FP, we jumped in line. And what can I say other than this is the best ride on Planet Earth? Okay, so it’s my kind of ride. It touches the adventuresome spirit inside of me and it becomes the biggest thrill ever. Now Rich loves ToT because he loves that freefall feeling, but Indy gives me that big adventure experience (it is in “Adventureland” after all), which I much prefer. It’s just awesome.

Note: My back/tailbone area has been acting up since our last move and this ride really hit it where it hurts most. Without notice the muscles can start to spasm, sending shooting pain up and down my spine so I had to give an all-out effort to hold my back perfectly still—squeezing my stomach muscles as tightly as I could. Well, that worked—my back didn’t go out—but the muscles in my stomach killed me for about a week—I could barely sit up—it hurt so much. But it was worth it!! LOL!

By this time we were absolutely exhausted and we still had to walk all the way back to Paradise Pier (the monorail closed early tonight due to the fireworks). This is when you really want to stay at the Grand Californian—the location is perfect for everything. We gave our Indy FPs to a couple waiting in line and it we hiked back to the resort, up the slow elevator for 15 flights and crawled into bed. We knew then that we’d never make it back to DL early next morning before going to the beach.

About Kathy

Novelist & Music Producer