Kathy’s Birthday Trip to Disney and the Beach, Part 3

The next morning, Rich brought back some breakfast from the hotel and I heated up the leftover pork chop to go with, which was still so amazingly delicious. If you think you don’t like something, think again if Andrew Sutton is preparing it. That’s what I love about food – the surprise.

We packed up and got on the road via one more look at the beach. Ah….

Around Barstow we were thirsty so we drove through Del Taco for their “mini” shakes, but that location doesn’t have them. So we got one shake and a Diet Coke to share.

The road was pretty busy, especially where it narrows to 2 lines each way on the Barstow to Vegas stretch. But the line of cars heading back to L.A. on a Sunday were even longer than before. Note to LA to Vegas travelers: do not drive home on a Sunday or, if you must, get up early!!

Anyway, here’s a video of the pianist in the Grand Californian playing “The Sound of Music,” us relaxing and enjoying our home away from home. Can’t wait to go back for Rich’s birthday for a stay at the Disneyland Hotel and catch up with the parks.

Rich’s Birthday Cruise to the Bahamas, Day Four, Wrap-Up

Who: Rich and Kathy
Where: Port Canaveral/Nassau 3-night cruise
What: Carnival Liberty
When: August 9-12, 2018
Why: Rich’s Birthday Celebration

I didn’t sleep much at all – either the big dinner or the chocolate cake at tea – but I was definitely ready to get off the ship. I couldn’t get to Port Canaveral soon enough. Maybe I was cruised out or maybe it was the oddness of the cruise or just too many short Carnival cruises. We do feel like we’re slumming it a bit when we’re sailing on Carnival – lol!

There are also highlights that are some of the best at sea, namely, the Alchemy Bar, the Steakhouse, and like we did on my birthday cruise, the Chef’s Table. You don’t even know you’re on Carnival then – no wonder they are our highlights. We’re already missing those – especially the Alchemy Bar. And the excellent service we had on our last cruise when we sailed in a suite. So even Carnival can come through for up-charge items and bookings.

But Carnival is always there to give us a quick fun affordable cruise fix when other ships aren’t available or too long or too expensive to do often. So I can’t say we’ll never cruise them again. But we’re both definitely missing a longer cruise on Princess and our mini-suite. 🙂

Our “Faster to the Fun” group met in the “any time” dining room where they offered tea, coffee, and pastries. We arrived at about 6:30 and were off the ship by about 6:45? Rich probably remembers better than I do.

The garage was right there, so easy to pick up our car, and drive the hour home, the fastest/closest cruise port we’ve ever traveled to.

Chocolate cake (amazing!) and Fruit Tart at Afternoon Tea

The Birthday Boy



“Highlights of SoCal” Birthday Trip/Cruise, Day Two

Who: Rich and Kathy
Where: Los Angeles to Ensenada cruise, Disneyland Resort, Newport Beach
What: Carnival Imagination, Residence Inn, Hyatt Regency Newport Beach
When: July 11-16, 2018
Why: Kathy’s Birthday Celebration (Catching up with SoCal)

As I mentioned here, we ate the leftover steak from Napa Rose for breakfast this morning along with some eggs from the hotel breakfast buffet. Then we headed for the port of Long Beach via my old stomping grounds – childhood home, high school, and other neighborhoods. I’ve posted enough pics about them so I won’t repeat that – lol!

We were a bit confused by the entry to the port due to some detour. But when we looked confused, a bus driver asked if everything was okay via a thumbs up? And so I rolled down the window and asked how to get to the port and he very nicely gave us directions. We were so impressed!

We parked the car in the garage and headed for the new check-in area at were directed to priority boarding and were onboard in no time at all. Because we were suite passengers, our room was ready so we dropped off our luggage and I noticed there were birthday decorations and a bottle of Prosecco that Rich had ordered. Yay! We met our cabin stewardess who was amazing and kept our ice and water well-stocked and cleaned.


We then headed for Guys Burgers for lunch. We shared the Straight Up – amazing!! Maybe even better than In N Out! Ohhhhh!!!

Then we made our way to the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar and Rich ordered a Blue’s Patron Margarita for me then ran over to the Red Frog Rum Bar on the opposite side of the ship and brought back his Rum Jumper (aka Rum Runner).

Rich’s Rum Jumper

Kathy’s Blue’s Patron Margarita

We did a bit of a ship tour, although we have sailed on two sister ships, the Paradise (twice), and the Inspiration. One of our favorite areas is the Adults Only Serenity Deck, especially on this class of ship.

We unpacked our carry-on bags and then it was off for the Muster Drill. Ours was located up on the pool deck. Carnival has improve somewhat with accounting for people by electronically beeping people’s Sail & Sign cards, similar to Princess but Princess is far more efficient. Then it was time for sailaway, although there seemed to be a bit of delay.

Our Prosecco was on ice waiting for us but due to the delay, we headed to the salad bar (Carnival’s is the best!). We made our way back to the cabin where chocolate covered strawberries, cookies, macaroons, and truffles awaited! Eventually, the ship began to move and Rich popped open the Prosecco, poured us each a glass, and we sailed away from our balcony.

I don’t remember doing much more after we sailed away. I think we pretty much just hang out on the balcony, which is our favorite thing to do on a ship. This is why we cruise. We texted with our pet sitter a few times before leaving range. We were pretty tired, as we always are on embarkation day.

“Highlights of SoCal” Birthday Trip/Cruise, Day One

Who: Rich and Kathy
Where: Los Angeles to Ensenada cruise, Disneyland Resort, Newport Beach
What: Carnival Imagination, Residence Inn, Hyatt Regency Newport Beach
When: July 11-16, 2018
Why: Kathy’s Birthday Celebration (Catching up with SoCal)

Before we get into the actual trip report, I must get the sadness out of the way. We’d just landed at LAX and picked up our rental car and were trying to find the 405 S but missed our turn. Rich pulled into some driveway, I don’t remember now because I was totally devastated by the phone call from the pet sitter: “Skipper is gone!”

Our 18-year-old cat Skipper, who was more our son than pet, was looking amazingly well on his birthday in April. Our new vet who made house calls told us his kidneys had improved and he was doing quite well. We began to hope he’d be with us for several more years. But as the weeks went by, when he had good days and bad days, we realized this was probably his last year.

He was still having good days and bad days but on the day we left, it looked like one of his bad days. He didn’t wake us up at 6 am yelling for food. He was sleeping in the closet when I got up and peeked in on him. Rich carried him to the food dish and he ate a bite or two. He was a bit slow so I picked him up and carried him back to the closet where he loved to hide out and sleep for hours. Before leaving the house, we both peeked in on him and told him we loved him, hoping he’d still be here when we returned from the trip.

The pet sitter blamed herself for not checking on him earlier (we reassured her it was not her fault, and I blamed myself for leaving him, but Rich and our friends pointed out that this was Skipper’s way of shielding us from pain, and of doing this his way, as he did everything in his life his way. He was a very private cat – “stealth kitty” we called him.

This was our first pet that actually just died – we’d always had to make the Euthanasia choice for each one and that was extremely painful. Just writing this report is a bit too much so I’m not sure I can go into the many ways he was so special like I did for the other cats when they passed. It’ll probably take more time before I can do that.

But I just looked at my iPhone to gather pics for this report and I was greeted with this message: “On this day July 20, 2017.” Of course, there were 2 photos of Skipper. But I will post one of my favorite recent photos of Skipper when he and Shadow were hanging out like father and son, as if Skipper was revealing the secrets of the world to Shadow. We just had this photo framed and it looks adorable.

It will be good to get on with the trip report because, in spite of the sadness hanging over our hearts, it really was a wonderful trip! Later, when I can, I’ll share Skipper stories as a tribute to him. But, for now, I’m just too sad and depressed, to be coherent.

Photo taken in 2015 when Skipper (on left) was 15 years old and Shadow (on right) was 16 months

Skipper looking good on his 18th birthday, April 9, 2018

Our last photo of Skipper, just 4 days before the end

We love you, Skipper!
April 9, 2000-July 11, 2018


The Great Movie Ride and Geyser Point Bar & Grill

We decided to hit the Studios this past weekend and ride The Great Movie Ride one more time before it closes in August/September, according to rumors. We were surprised by the Robert Osbourne narration – we hadn’t been since that had appeared about 3 years ago. We love Robert Osbourne and it was great hearing him again.

The parking lot was so confusing, we ended up going out the exit when we were trying to park. Grrrrr! But eventually, we were parked and seated in the tram. I have to say how much I love kids at Disney and people-watching in general. It fills my soul, giving me that kind of casual people interaction I crave so much now that I’m no longer working onsite. You know, being surrounded by people, especially in a fun environment, exchanging smiles or maybe a word or two.

We had a FP+ for The Great Movie Ride so we headed straight there.

This was the first I’d seen so many people with their iPads in the air taking photos, recording, etc. Disney forbids selfie sticks, why not iPads? They’re so intrusive. Haven’t really seen that much at Disneyland. Anyway, I sat there taking photos with my iPhone since it was probably the last time we would ride this.

Afterwards we grabbed a couple of Mickey Ice Cream Sandwiches – yum! – and watched the Star Wars parade.  We stopped to read the Brown Derby menu, but then strolled through a shop, took photos, and made our way out of the park.

Next stop: lunch at Geyser Point Bar & Grill

With Trout Pass Bar closed, we were really curious about Geyser Point – what would it feel like? Could it ever take the place of our beloved Trout Pass?

We found some comfortable seating, watched the interaction with the bartender and guests sitting at the bar realizing that’s the place to be for that Trout Pass feeling – we’ll sit there some time.

Rich ordered the Captains Mai Tai for him and the Grand Margarita for me. We recognized these as pool drinks at the Grand Californian.

Then we opted to share the Cheesy Barbecue Brisket we’d heard so much about and the Salmon BLT. Wow! The salmon was as tasty as if we were dining at Artist Point. We so loved that – next time we might each get one and skip the Brisket – didn’t wow us quite as much as we’d expected. Tasty, though. We thoroughly enjoyed our drinks, lunch, the company, and the view.

We were glad we’d arrived before noon because by the time we were leaving, the place was packed. People were sitting on rock formations eating, and a group of nice ladies came up to us as we were paying the bill and asked if they could have our table. “Sure,” I said, “Go ahead and have a seat,” as I pointed to the two chairs we weren’t using.




Spring Break Surprise Weekend Retreat Trip Report TOC

Now that the “surprise” trip report is complete, I’ve added a TOC to link to each day’s posting, which can also be found on the “Disneyland Adventures” page. The trip was a much-needed Lenten retreat and break from the desert and the personal challenges we’ve been having with our little family.

Unfortunately, we’ve had to postpone our Food and Wine Festival trip due to family health issues, so this trip was even more special.

Spring Break Surprise Weekend Retreat Trip Report: Day 1

Spring Break Surprise Weekend Retreat Trip Report: Day 2, Part 1

Spring Break Surprise Weekend Retreat Trip Report: Day 2, Part 2

Spring Break Surprise Weekend Retreat Trip Report: Day 3

Spring Break Surprise Weekend Retreat Trip Report, Day 3

I forgot to mention stopping in at Sprinkles before we left Downtown Disney the night before. We spotted it on the way in and said we’d stop on the way out to get a cupcake to take back to our room for a bedtime snack. True, there’s a Sprinkles in Las Vegas, but we wanted to do this at Disney.

The Red Velvet Cupcake caught our attention, and so we ordered one of those.

When we arrived back at our hotel in Newport Beach, the fog had come in, and it was quite chilly. Anaheim was about 10-15 degrees warmer. We stopped in at the gift shop to see if it had milk and found a lowfat organic carton so we got that.

We shared the cupcake, and it was so delicious and just the perfect size for sharing – about 230 calories apiece. We were delightfully surprised – we’d expected some over-the-top super sweet super big thing. But it was just right for a calculated splurge. We’d logged about 3.6 miles for the day, which helped.

The next morning – the morning after DST – we were tired so we took our time getting up for coffee, packing, and heading off to Norm’s for breakfast. We absolutely love their “Bigger Better Breakfast” – especially their pancakes. Even if you don’t want to eat everything they give you, it’s still less expensive to buy it and eat just what you want. We basically eat once a day when we start off at Norm’s – nothing more than a little evening snack.

It’s such a great little community coffee shop – the sun was shining in Huntington Beach and, frankly, I didn’t want to go home. But the kitties were waiting, and we told ourselves we’d be back in four days. This was the first time we’d been gone since we lost Lovey – I mentioned how our pet sitter had said he missed Lovey, too, didn’t I?

Skipper was a bit stressed with us being gone, and his kidney problems seem to be getting worse. We took him to the vet today, except I couldn’t stay. I was overcome with emotion after losing Lovey here just last month. I ran out and drove home and popped a chocolate in my mouth, which helped me feel a bit better. Rich and I texted each other and I drove back and picked them up when they were finished. Skipper is down a pound, and we should have the kidney results back tomorrow. Always a big kitty, it scares me to see him losing weight, especially with how thin Lovey had become right before she was gone.

In the meantime, we’re testing out some special food for him that should support his kidneys better than the food we’d been giving Lovey for her diabetes, which is the opposite of what Skipper needs. So we cancelled our Food & Wine Festival trip for this weekend to see how things go and not to leave him and stress him out again so soon.

This trip was a fun surprise trip, and I’m so glad we went. I wondered if it would compromise the Food & Wine trip just a week later, but I couldn’t stay cooped up in Las Vegas for another week. As it turns out, we had to postpone the trip, but, hopefully, we’ll get to reschedule it later.


Spring Break Surprise Weekend Retreat Trip Report, Day 2, Part 2

After a brief nap, we had our “wake-up” snack of soda and a couple of squares of chocolate, and discussed our plans for the evening. We weren’t really into the beach after all and thought we’d swing by Downtown Disney for a little Disney magic.

We parked at Downtown Disney and saw, for the first time, the new security entrance, which we now know replaces the Valet parking area they once had. This secures Downtown Disney and allows you the freedom to enter the parks without going through Security in that congested area. People were friendly, and it went quite smoothly.

As we were walking toward the Security gates, we noticed a bride and groom riding inside Cinderella’s carriage – how romantic and magical is that! You can see that video here.

As we were heading toward World of Disney, Rich pointed out the people sitting at a table to our right. “JWs,” he said. I’m still in shock! I think I’ll write a separate post about my thoughts on that. Suffice it to say I think it’s a bad idea to open up the possibility of all kinds of non-Disney type entertainment setting up shop on DD property.

We also noticed the empty place where House of Blues used to be. They moved to Gardenwalk – the story is here. Splitsville takes its place at Downtown Disney – story here.

We must have arrived at Downtown Disney at the perfect time, because it wasn’t really crowded and World of Disney was the emptiest I’ve ever seen it. We spotted all the Minnie Mouse Merchandise immediately – she’s my girl (Real Mice Wear Red). I picked up a couple of red Minnie tapas plates.

Rich spotted a really cool Mr. Toad t-shirt and I assured him he must have it!

We then backtracked to the Grand Californian, noticing that on the way out, we’ll have to enter Security again. We were wondering where hotel guests would enter Security now that it’s been moved to the beginning of Downtown Disney instead of in front of the parks.

We stopped to enjoy the lobby and the pianist, and then on to Hearthstone Lounge, our home away from home.

This is one of our favorite places, but the last time it was a bit off. But we are happy to report, the fabulous service and experience was back on point, and I feel so totally at home here, I could just move in.

We shared our usual Robusto Flatbread and had 2 glasses of Malbec and tossed the idea around of stopping by the front gate to purchase an Annual Pass. It’s so hard to be asked, “Do you have an AP” when we’re dining or shopping and we have to say, “No!” lol!

We thought about getting the AP and popping in to DCA to check out the Food & Wine Festival, which had just started this weekend. Alas, we decided not to break the Downtown Disney parking rules and not enter a park, and wait for the “real” trip to purchase the AP.

On our way out of the GC, we stopped in at our favorite gift shop, and then through Security and back to the parking area with a brief stop to listen to our favorite Ry Bradley sing, and I took a bit of video from my iPhone. Or watch it here:

I’m still reuploading the iPhone videos to our YouTube channel but hope to reupload the GoPro videos soon. Unfortunately, on this trip, we didn’t have a better quality cameras with us.

Disneyland, Christmas 2008

Saturday, December 27, Day 1 Part 1

We’d been watching the weather between Las Vegas and Anaheim and the Cajon Pass looked like it was going to be clear. High winds might be the only issue. We packed our bags and left instructions for a new pet sitter since the previous one had not been working out and the last thing you want to do on your Disneyland vacation is worry about your “kids” and house back home. But from all we had seen so far, we were feeling more confident and comfortable leaving all in her care.

With the gas tank full, we left our house at 9:30 a.m., stopped at Barstow for more gas and lunch at Del Taco, and arrived at the Disneyland Hotel at 1:30 p.m. The hotel decorations and the valet attendant greeted us – the latter included a caution that our room may not be ready. Having had good luck here before with early check-in, we approached the front desk with a positive attitude.<

Overhearing conversations around us that other guests’ rooms were not ready, we were ecstatic that not only was our room ready, but we were being upgraded to a water view on the tenth floor in the main tower called Magic. WOO HOO! Pixie dust strikes again! It helped that we were a couple and had booked a king room – less popular especially at Christmas with families needing the extra beds. The CM was very helpful and we appreciated her personal attention, and we can’t help but wonder how this new online check-in is going to work at WDW.<

This room was even better than the one we had on our last trip. Both were king water view rooms, but this one was larger with chair and ottoman, and had a very comfortable bathroom area with separate counter space, separate sink and shower, and separate water closet. This was the first time we had stayed in the main tower, which was nice because it has two gift shops and free morning coffee in the lobby.

As soon as we unpacked, we headed for DCA for some wine tasting at the Golden Vine Winery. We chatted in line with a woman who worked in Anaheim, but lived in Apple Valley (on the other side of the San Bernardino Mountains) so since it was a Saturday, she was extending her day by enjoying some wine and relaxation before heading home. She reassured us she wasn’t going to drink and drive, but had other things to do before getting back on the freeway.

We chatted with our usual wine server – I keep not noticing his name – just that he’s from Huntington Beach – one of my childhood beaches.

Rich chose a glass of Peter Franus Cabernet Sauvignon and I chose the Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel – both delicious. The Zinfandel tasted fruity (as in grapes) and the Cab was bold in flavor. We sat down at a table next to the woman we met in line and chatted a bit more. She’s a mortgage broker so she cited the excellent mortgage rates available.

After our wine tasting where we could have spent the entire day, we decided to check out Blue Sky Cellar next door (as seen in above pictures). Before this venue was turned into a sneak preview center of the upcoming changes to DCA, it had been showing a film of the Napa Valley region – a region very near and dear to our hearts having lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 20 years. In fact, the whole Pacific Wharf area is so nostalgic for us.

We’re very excited about the changes to DCA, but first we want to mention how much we were against DCA when we first heard about it. Along with others, we thought it was ridiculous to have a California-based theme park in California. Besides, I grew up there and how dare they take my parking lot and turn it into something fabulous. But after moving away from my home state of California, living in Florida for several years, and then moving back west to just 30 minutes from the California state line, I must say how much we love DCA. And the changes will only make it better.

Just like World Showcase gives us a feeling that we’re revisiting some of our travels to different parts of the world, DCA gives us that same feeling about the diverse regional experiences of California. So familiar with back packing, hiking, and camping in the Sierras, we feel like we’re back in the Sierras when we stroll through the Grand Californian and the Grizzly Peak area. Paradise Pier reminds us of Santa Cruz. And the Pacific Wharf area is like strolling through Monterey/Carmel again – places we frequented regularly – the theming is so realistic. Like one person said, what they need here is a seafood restaurant, although Pacific Wharf Café does offer clam chowder and a San Francisco Shrimp Louis. But I would think a Chinese restaurant would be a must. Living in the Bay Area taught us so many things about diverse cultures and the representative foods, and the Asian culture makes up a huge proportion of life in the Bay Area.<

Anyway, back to the Preview Center. Besides exhibits showing future development, there was a movie depicting some of the new additions to DCA – familiar to Disney World guests. Besides theming some of the lame non-themed carnival rides in Paradise Pier by 2010 (more on that later when we report on Toy Story), there is going to be a new land called Cars with Test Track and Sci-Fi Dine Inn – WOO HOO! Unfortunately, this part of the renovation won’t be completed until 2012. Looks like we’re going to have to stick around until then.

After viewing this attraction, we were getting close to our PS at Tortilla Joe’s in Downtown Disney and the closer it got to nightfall, the colder it was becoming. Each day it would warm more, but the evenings and early mornings were cold with warm, sunny afternoons. This was when we were missing the warmth and humidity of Florida. We had become so accustomed to that and had forgotten how “cold” California could be.  Or maybe the winters only feel cold to us now after living in Florida.


Saturday, December 27, Day 1 Part 3

Warming up with Sweatshirts and Food

There’s a lot to write about on this first day, so we may as well move on to part 3.

Before the trip we were talking about how we wanted to use our year’s end reward points. I really wanted Rich to have one of those cool Disneyland leather jackets, but when we were walking in Downtown Disney, we saw this couple with matching Disneyland sweatshirts and Rich thought they were so cute, wearing matching sweatshirts. So after our wine tasting we decided to pop into World of Disney before our 5 p.m. PS at Tortilla Joe’s to get sweatshirts. And then we wouldn’t have to return to our room to pick up jackets before dinner and the evening at Disneyland Park.

We didn’t see any of those cool leather jackets, but we saw plenty of Disneyland sweatshirts—they seemed to be quite popular. We found the white one that we saw the couple wearing but only had the right size for Rich. Besides, they must have been made for men because the sleeves were too long for me. We browsed around for a sweatshirt for me, but I couldn’t find one I liked as much. We both really wanted a sweatshirt with a zipper and hood. But then suddenly I saw it—a red Minnie Mouse sweatshirt with ragged trim—it appeared out of nowhere, as if somebody had put it down just for me.

At the checkout counter we saw a Disneyland calendar for 2009 and snapped that up, also. We put on our toasty-warm sweatshirts and headed for Tortilla Joe’s. On a previous trip, we had eaten at the quick-serve Taqueria, but this would be the first time we would eat at the sit down restaurant.

We noticed right away that the restaurant was decorated festively as the Christmas tree greeted us in the foyer.

We were seated at a booth and our fabulous server appeared immediately to introduce himself, and to start our tasty meal with chips and salsa. He was delightfully warm, funny, and, of course, quite knowledgeable about his native cuisine and he gave us excellent service. If we hadn’t just had wine, we might have ordered a pitcher of Margaritas or the tequila sampler. Instead, we ordered sodas.

We love to order beer or wine flights to sample a variety of alcohol we haven’t yet tasted. And while I have my favorite vodka (Ketel One), I don’t really know the differences in tequila and would love to try the sampler on a future trip. On a side note, Rich had the Scotch Sampler when we were having lunch with famous Passporters Bob & Larry (of the “B&L Dining Experience”) at Rose & Crown at WDW—another memorable meal.

We booked this restaurant for Saturday night because the menu on AllEars mentioned that on Friday and Saturday nights (only) there was “Latin Prime Rib.” We didn’t see it on the menu and asked our server about it. He mentioned that it wasn’t that popular so they only served it on holidays. I guess two days after Christmas didn’t count. No matter. We got a taste of their fabulous beef in our entrées. We ordered the following:

Rich: Combination plate of Chicken Enchilada with salsa roja and Shredded Beef Tamale with salsa verde

Kathy: Sizzling Fajitas with roasted peppers and onions, served with vegetarian black beans and Mexican red rice

I ordered beef fajitas, but when our server asked if I wanted corn or flour tortillas and he mentioned the corn tortillas were handmade, I said I wanted those and then said, “If I have corn tortillas, I’ll have chicken fajitas because I like that combination better” and he suggested, “How about both—beef and chicken?” So I ordered the combo. I ended up eating just one tortilla because the huge portion of meat was so amazingly flavorful (especially the steak), and I didn’t want to fill up on tortillas. I shared some of my chicken and steak with Rich, the portion was so large.

So in spite of not having Latin-spiced prime rib on the menu, the steak was what I would imagine that to be anyway—some of the best steak I’ve ever had—marbled, spiced, and tender. And the peppers – wowsa – I now see what the hoopla is about peppers. And since I’m writing this in the wee hours of the morning and Rich is asleep, we’ll have to wait to see if he has anything else to add about his meal.

Sneak Preview: I had been tempted to order a tamale, as Rich did, but when I saw my appetizer at Napa Rose the next night, I was glad I waited.

Do we really need a parade on a “park filled to capacity” night?

Sunday, December 28, Day 2 Part 1

Christmas Gifts

Today would be the day we would first use some of our Christmas gifts. Just a couple of days before the trip, we decided we should get a Flip MinoHD (mini camcorder) so that we could take videos of our trip. We were happily surprised when it arrived before Christmas Eve, even before their promised delivery date.

We had another surprise package arrive on Christmas Eve itself. Our company (where we both work) let us out at noon on Christmas Eve Day so we went to Bellagio to check out the decorations and some lunch, followed by a celebration drink in the Petrossian Bar, while listening to a pianist play Christmas songs. What a great kickoff for the holidays.

But the best gift was yet to come. On the way into the house, we stopped at the community mailbox and noticed we had a key to the package storage box. Not expecting anything, we were as excited as kids on Christmas morning

We came inside the house, turned on the tree and house lights, and excitedly opened the package. Wow! It was from Passporters Bob & Larry and they had sent us each a “Bob & Larry Dining Experience” pin. <

What a fabulous surprise and so in tune with the Christmas season and the generosity of Bob and Larry.

This was the first we had heard the story of these gorgeous pins they had designed as surprise gifts to Passporters joining Bob & Larry on the B&L dining experience at Artist Point during Mousefest. (You can read more about this special night on several of the Mousefest Trip Reports in the WDW section.)

How sweet and thoughtful to include us. We were simply amazed!!! We enjoyed our first B&L Dining Experience at Flying Fish back in 2004 (Jan? Feb?), several months after we moved to Florida, and we have enjoyed several meals together since. But when we moved back west, we were sad to say good-bye to those special events with our good friends and felt terrible about leaving them behind. So we were especially overjoyed to be included in this special gift and we hope to experience more meals together in the future – Napa Rose perhaps? But certainly they were with us in spirit at our Napa Rose dinner on this trip. Rich has written up a detailed description of our meal – to be posted later.

But, first, we have to get to breakfast beignets and chicory coffee at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express.


Sunday, December 28, Day 2 Part 2

A Quiet Morning

This morning was early entry in Disneyland Park, but there was no way we were going to get up early enough to arrive by 7 a.m. That is way too early for the parks for us.

As a couple, we really dislike connecting doors and this room had a connecting door on both sides. We did hear the little kids fussing in the room next door–it sounded like they were up getting ready for a fun day at the park. Normally, this would bother us, but Disney kids are so adorable and we get all caught up in their excitement.

We ended up getting up anyway, showering, and heading for Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express for beignets and chicory coffee. They made their first appearance in our May trip report, but we skipped it in September because every morning it was foggy and noshing al fresco in the fog didn’t appeal to us then. But this morning, it was sunny but cold so we bundled up and went to breakfast. Yum! Yum! This is a favorite way to spend a Disneyland morning. This has become our new breakfast tradition instead of the usual breakfast on Main Street.

We noticed how quiet and peaceful Downtown Disney was, which surprised us because yesterday it had been so busy all day and night long. It pays to get up early. Early mornings at Downtown Disney at WDW were a favorite pastime. Grab some breakfast at Earl of Sandwich and have your choice of waterside dining over by the boat rentals.

We moved on toward the bag check (this is when the CM assured us they would be searching coats, too), and keeping warm wearing our new Disneyland sweatshirts, we stopped to video the entrance (we’ll post a link to our blog when we upload the videos). Then we moved down Main Street, capturing the decorations and the castle. I must say this is the best this castle has ever looked. We had become so used to the grand Cinderella Castle at WDW, so it was a bit jarring when we returned and noticed how short and frumpy the Sleeping Beauty Castle is.

But speaking of which, we got to tour the newly-refurbished passageways of Sleeping Beauty Castle. And oh, boy! What they did to it was just wonderful! What a great opportunity for them to update it with new technology. You’ll have to take a peek on your next trip.

Our next stop was “It’s A Small World” and this was the first time we had experienced the holiday version, complete with rehab. The new boats do bob and bounce along but they’re so much more comfortable than the last ones we rode at WDW. Those were so low to the ground my back hurt getting in and out. But these new boats were much more comfortable. Again, like we said about Holiday Haunted Mansion, we couldn’t believe how huge the transformation was for the holiday version. We can only imagine the amount of work and time it takes to do this.

After IASW, we hopped on the train and rode it to Main Street Station, enjoying the Grand Canyon along the way. We hadn’t ridden this train in years and it’s one of our favorites. But we also captured this on video and being new to video, we noticed the train ride worked out best because the train was moving and you just had to sit there and hold the camera still and the video came out the best.

The morning had been quiet, but as we were leaving we could see the crowds forming and knew it would become uncomfortable quite soon. It was time to move on to DCA and capture some of it on video.

We entered DCA through the main entrance and snagged a FastPass for Soarin’ and then lined up for Rope Drop, heading for Toy Story, like everybody else in the park.

Quite a few people were ahead of us but the lined moved quickly through a good portion of the queue before it backed up. We still weren’t sure this ride was for us or if the line was worth the wait, but we figured we’d do it this one time and one time only. Besides, standing in life gave us time to admire the architecture of the Boardwalk and Mr. Potato Head.

But before we knew it, we were in our Toy Story cars and were off and spinning and aiming and shooting. And you know what happened? We fell in love with this ride!!! My only disappointment is that I didn’t do better than I did. Rich did twice as well as I did and Toy Story is now his new favorite ride.

Anyway, after our Toy Story Mania fun it was time for our Soarin’ FP. While waiting for our turn, we chatted with the couple and adult daughter from the Sacramento area in line in front of us. They were so fun to talk to, and we had a blast riding Soarin’ together – all pointing out favorite parts of California. LOL!

We strolled on over to the Pacific Wharf area to take more video footage – gotta have some water to look at while living in the desert – and had lunch at Cucina Cucamonga. We got two orders of tacos – one chicken and the other beef – and we shared them, as we soaked up the alfresco atmosphere. By this time, it had warmed up to a comfortable temperature, and we were wearing our sweatshirts around our waists. The food at Cucina Cucamonga was quite tasty for a fast-food walk-up. And the line was quite short, compared to other times we’ve attempted to eat here.

From there we wandered through the Grizzly Peak area (love, love, love it) and back through the Grand Californian, exited to Downtown Disney for a quick stop at Compass Books (bought a YA novel that I devoured in 2 days) and back to our hotel room to nap, swim, and get ready for Napa Rose.

Having said that, I will tell you how the night started out on the wrong foot but eventually got righted. We arrived about a half hour early for our 7:30 p.m. PS. We waited for about 10 minutes in the lovely lounge until we were invited to be seated. We were led to a table for two in the back corner by a window.

As we approached, the mother who was seated with her family of five at the table nearby saw us coming, jumped up, and said “Wait, before you sit down, I have to retrieve something.” And with that, she crawled under the table we were headed for and pulled out her young son who was hiding there.

We smiled and joked with them as we sat down, hoping that would be the end of it. However, the young boy quickly jumped up again, ran around the restaurant without supervision, and soon was crawling under our table again while we sat there. The parents seemed to think it was cute, but we were annoyed beyond belief. That was enough for us. As our server approached, we asked to be seated at another table.

The staff was very gracious and led us back to the lounge for another 10-minute wait for an open table. Thankfully, our second table was in an even a better location, near the big window overlooking DCA. Everyone on the staff was joking with us throughout the night about the incident, and they made up for the problem (which they did not cause) in many wonderful ways.

Our server was Al from Riverside, and he was fantastic. He is also a master sommelier. He apologized for our inconvenience, and then described some specials as well as the Vintner’s Table tasting menu with the optional wine pairings. The main menu changes four times a year (once for every season), and the Vintner’s Table menu changes every Friday. After looking over the menu, we decided to go for the Vintner’s Table with the wine pairings.

NOTE: Just a note before we go through the menu with our comments. You will notice that for the first two courses, we each had different items. This is because I am allergic to certain shellfish. When we let Al know this, he received the OK from the chef, and two substitutions were made.

Adding my comments (rant) to this part of the Napa Rose experience:

There was no way I was going to put up with somebody’s child hiding under our table while dining at Napa Rose. We had been looking forward to this meal for too long and were going to spend too much money not to have a superb experience.

We smiled the first time the child was under our table, but by the second time, I was really fed up (muttering my displeasure), but the husband just sat there doing nothing and grinning. The older child was the one who went to get the little one out from under our table. Only then did the mother react. Perhaps they were only dining at Napa Rose with their 3 kids who obviously weren’t up to it because Storyteller’s Cafe had such a huge wait. Perhaps the staff there said they could get in sooner at Napa Rose. It was Christmas and such a popular time for families to be out, so this situation may not even occur during less busy family-oriented times of the year. But other families chose to eat in the adjoining Lounge – and maybe they should have, too.

While waiting for our table in the Lounge, we saw the mom putting the youngest in the stroller parked in the entry, hurrying to get out of there. So, I’m sure she was uncomfortable with the whole situation. Perhaps it was her husband who insisted on the meal since he seemed the least bothered by the whole thing. We were asked if we wanted to return to our original table since they were leaving, but the husband was still sitting there and we chose not to return to that table.

But at our next table, the family sitting next to us was a delight. The parents obviously spent a lot of time and effort training their children to know how to behave in public, even though you could see the boys were really tired. True, these kids were older, but you could tell the parents were involved with instructing them. We overheard the dad teaching the younger son all about tea and wine and they discussed college choices with the older kid. It was a joy to see parents so involved with their kids’ lives.

BTW, we only saw 2 people in Napa Rose wearing jeans – and one of them was the mother of the misbehaving kid.

Okay, rant over. The service was superb, and it was fun joking about the possibility of other kids crawling under our new table. The staff handled it all so well, and we really appreciated that.

The second half is long, but we didn’t want to break this night up any more than we had to.

The Vintner’s Table

A Chef’s Tasting Menu inspired by the Warm Flavors of the Holidays in the Wine Country

Four Course (+ Two Surprise Courses) Prix Fixe Menu: $85 per person Flight of Four Wines: $45 per person<

Bread: Parmesan Crisps

Surprise Course #1

Kathy: Carpaccio of Crab with Citrus and Toast Points
Rich: Spicy Asian Beef in Rice Paper Wrap

Rich’s Comments: We were pleasantly surprised to get this course. It was a substitute for me. The beef was nicely spicy and made for a great opening to the meal. And the parmesan crisps added a crunchy, cheesy flavor to this course and the rest of the meal.

Kathy’s Comments: I love surprises like this. The citrus really kicked up the crab and made for a delightful combination.

First Course

Kathy: Wine Country Lobster Tamale with Crème Fraîche, Caviar, and Christmas Red and Green Salsas
Terre Rouge Vineyards, “Enigma” Marsanne-Roussane-Viognier, Sierra Foothills 2007
Rich: Zinfandel Braised Wild Boar Shoulder with Mustardo and Borlotti Bean Cassoulet
Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva Vigneto La Forra 2003

I got to choose this substitution from the starter menu. The boar was excellently cooked. The zinfandel braise added a taste much like cranberries. The cassoulet was a nice accompaniment. Delicious! As for the wine, Al and I discussed what to do with this pairing. Since I was having a substitute course, the Enigma was not a good match. So we could go with a stronger white, probably a Chardonnay, that would not be a perfect match, but might transition better to the next course. The other option was to pick the best match for this course even though it might not transition as well. I chose the second option, and Al suggested the Nozzole Chianti Classico, which is made from 100% Sangiovese grapes. Lovely!

Kathy’s Comments: Rich’s wild boar and wine combo sounded delicious, and I was thinking I’d love to try that next time. The lobster sitting on that tamale was so plump and tasty, I was glad I didn’t have the “regular” tamale at Tortilla Joe’s the night before. This tamale was extra special with the lobster and caviar and worth trying even if you think of tamales as being Mexican food and you’re not a fan. This was something different.

Second Course

Pheasant & Truffles: Roasted Pheasant tossed with Fresh Winter Black Truffles and Cavatelli Pasta
Lane Tanner, Pinot Noir, Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley 2000

Rich’s Comments: Perhaps the best course (although they were all fantastic, so it’s hard to choose just one). The combination of pheasant, truffles, and pasta was exquisite! The pinot noir was very bright and fruity.

Kathy’s Comments: I fell madly in love with truffles. Who knew mushrooms could be so amazing. I agree with Rich – it’s difficult to choose a favorite course.


Soup of Duck Confit with Apple Chutney

Rich’s Comments: They surprised us with a soup of the day, a creamy blend of apple chutney with duck confit. The fruit of the thick broth with the intense flavor of the duck was quite wonderful.

Kathy’s Comments: Another surprise and this meant we wouldn’t have to miss the soup of the day. I prefer my duck in small quantities, and the soup was a great venue for the duck.

Third Course

Rosemary Grilled Rack of Lamb Double Chop with Roasted Parsnip Puree and Winter Mushrooms
Semler, Cabernet Sauvignon, Saddle Rock-Malibu 2003

Rich’s Comments: I have never considered myself a big fan of lamb, but if I could have it prepared this way every time, I would be. The lamb was cooked to perfection and paired wonderfully with the Cab. We were surprised that the wine came from Malibu, and we had quite a discussion with Al about that. Yum!

Kathy’s Comments: The first time I ever tasted lamb, I hated it. Then my dad encouraged me to try his at his favorite restaurant and I felt a bit more venturesome when it came to lamb. So when we were having my birthday dinner at Jiko at AKL at WDW, I tried it and it was quite tasty. The secret to that lamb seemed to be in the special sauce, as described by favorite server Sally. But this lamb was even better. The lamb was so delicious all by itself, I’d have to say I prefer it over steak – and that’s quite a compliment coming from me. And who knew Malibu could make such good wine? A tasty pairing, indeed. This may have been my favorite course, but it’s awfully close to the pheasant and truffles – especially with the Pinot Noir.

Fourth Course

The Best Hot Chocolate Ever: The Finest Imported Valrhona Manjari Single Estate Chocolate in the Richest Velvety Hot Chocolate. Served with Marshmallow Chantilly.
Bonny Doon, Framboise Raspberry Wine, Santa Cruz Mountains NV

Rich’s Comments: And then came the ideal finish: a cup of rich, thick hot chocolate to be eaten with a spoon. This was absolutely heavenly, and an incredible finish to an incredible meal. The wine was also sumptuous — fermented raspberry wine with grapes infused after fermentation. The chocolate and raspberry combination was exquisite indeed. As I said at the beginning: Wow, wow, wow! An incredible meal, perfect service, romantic atmosphere — what else could we ask for? One of the best meals we’ve ever had the privilege of enjoying.

Kathy’s Comments: I don’t normally like hot chocolate, as in hot cocoa – it just doesn’t sit well with me and I don’t enjoy the taste. But, zowie, wowie – this was something completely different. And with that raspberry wine? Absolutely perfecto! Bob & Larry – you’ve got to try this.

Rich’s Final Comments on Napa Rose:

The service was incredible and the food was equally amazing. I must also mention how well the meal was paced. It took 2.5 hours for the meal. We enjoyed the wine with each course, sipping slowly and lingering. We were never served the next course until the wine from the previous was finished. Perfection!

Kathy’s Anecdotal Addendum:

When we sat in the Lounge waiting for our table, I glanced over the wine list thinking I’d start with a glass of wine. Oh boy, I’m so glad I didn’t. Because pairing 4 wines with 4 courses caught up with me in a funny way. After our meal, we stopped off at the restrooms just outside Napa Rose. Now these are those fancy restrooms with wood doors between each stall. But I’ll have to blame it on all of that wine when I found myself walking into the handicapped restroom on my way out, thinking it was the exit door. LOL!

And then Rich got a big kick out of me wandering the Grand Californian in a daze.  He saw me march right out there and he wondered where I was going. He had to run after me. So 4 glasses of wine (even smaller, tasting portions) may have been too many for me, but it was all worth it to have enjoyed such a fabulous experience. So then I’ll have to either blame or thank Bob & Larry because it was their multiple course meals of food & wine pairings that first inspired me to try this. And I must thank my dad for encouraging me to try lamb in the first place. But mostly I have to thank Rich, who swept me off my feet the first time I saw him pair salmon and Pinot Noir at a San Francisco restaurant when we were mere co-workers.

Monday, December 29, Day 3 Part 1

Beach Day

After last night’s indulgence, we felt lazy this morning and thought we’d order room service breakfast. Reminder to self: do not under any circumstances order room service at Disney resorts. We continue to mistake Disney resort room service for Las Vegas resort hotel room service – it’s worlds apart. To summarize this experience – the pancakes were cold, dry (not enough syrup), and they delivered a pot of hot chocolate instead of coffee. But the Disneyland hotel service staff made it right by delivering a fresh pot of coffee and removing the entire breakfast charge from our room account – thank you Disney.

I mean after 4 glasses of wine the night before, we definitely needed our coffee. BTW, there is free coffee served in the DL Hotel lobby between 6:30 and 9:30 or 10:00 (don’t remember the exact hours).

Today was beach day – gotta see the water – so we drove down Harbor Blvd. past my childhood house and out to Corona del Mar. I thought about this beach every time we went to Sand Key when we lived in Tampa Bay, Florida.


After another walk on the beach, we got in the car and drove south on Highway 1 through Laguna Beach and turned around at Dana Point and headed back to Disneyland Hotel. It was a gorgeous day – the temps were warming each day – and it had been a perfect day at the beach. But soon we were feeling an urge to get back to Disney for a nap and a rest before our final night at Disney, which we decided to spend at DCA to see how it looks all decorated for Christmas at night.


Sunday, December 28, Day 3: Part 2

Our Last Night

After the required Disney afternoon nap (we were definitely quite tired by now), we headed to DCA via the Grand Californian. So enjoying the whole Napa Rose experience the night before, we forgot to ask for a menu. So we stopped by and asked if we could at least write down the vintner’s menu. Well, the CM at the desk just gave us the entire menu (they do have to update it every week), and we were so happy to get it – no way could we remember the details.

I’m not sure we mentioned the Christmas carolers at the Grand Californian. Anyway, this is the second time we entered DCA through the GC and the second time we stopped to listen to the carolers. While the Christmas decorations at the GC were low-key, the carolers were a nice touch of the holiday spirit. And I don’t know how many times we stopped in at the gift shop of the GC (love that store!), and took a brief rest by the fireplace.

Anyway, we entered DCA through the GC (open to any DL resort guest) – we showed them our resort key and AP and we were in. Mr. CM from Brooklyn greeted us warmly, as he always does. Now that I think about it, he’s one of the few CMs at DL we noticed from out-of-state. Most are locals, unlike the CMS at WDW – many move down just to work at Disney World – just another dynamic that’s different.

So here we were our last day at DCA and we realized we had a Napa Rose menu to carry around. What to do? Go shopping, of course, and get a bag.

We browsed a few stores, but didn’t see anything we wanted. So we headed down to the Tower of Terror gift shop to get the ToT picture frame for our pic of the 2 of us in the elevator alone – remember that? Anyway, the CM asked if we were there to pick up our picture and then we told her the story of a previous trip riding in the elevator all alone and how we wanted to get the matching picture frame. She was wowed by the fact that we rode an elevator by ourselves. She was a lot of fun, and we enjoyed chatting with her.

And while we didn’t ride ToT this trip, we noted that it seems especially fun and exciting to ride this at night, so we’re definitely putting this on our “must do” list for next time. This ride during the day doesn’t really call me because it’s where the Hollywood section ends abruptly and feels rather isolated and lonely in the morning (wonder if the “Cars” section will branch off of this area?). But at night, there’s a lot of excitement and it’s dark and we definitely have to give it a try then.

So when we got home, we put our ToT pic in the frame, but as you may or may not be able to see, Rich is hidden behind Goofy’s hat. Still, we’re glad we have it.

By this time we were hungry so we circled around Paradise Pier to Pizza Ooom Mow Mow and each got a Sausage pizza. Yum! Yum! The crust is so crusty and yummy! Afterwards, we wandered past Toy Story to check out the wait but it was packed! Next time we’ll ride it more than once.

Naturally, we had to stroll past Grizzly River Run on our way out through the GC. And then on to Downtown Disney, where we stopped for some candy at Marceline’s Confectionery – some to have in our room and some to take home.

Tuesday, December 30, Day 4: Going Home

Final Morning and Wrap-Up

We decided to make a return trip to Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen Express, looking for a hot breakfast this morning. And we wanted to linger a bit before driving home.

When we arrived at the Jazz Kitchen, we saw that it wasn’t open yet—guess they don’t open until 8 a.m. So we continued on to La Brea Bakery, which had just opened. There was a bit of a line but it moved quickly. We got 2 coffees and 2 egg and potato scrambles with some of their yummy bread.

We found a table outside that was dry and we enjoyed the peaceful morning, yummy food, and atmosphere, watching people go through the bag check on their way into the parks for another fun day. Ah… we could sit here all day.

Eventually, we were motivated to pick ourselves up and head back to the room for a final pack, call down to the valet and bell desk to get our bags and retrieve our car. Ah… there’s a flutter of sadness in my stomach just thinking about leaving. As we headed for the freeway, I jotted down some names of new condos and apartments, fantasizing that some day we would move back to Orange County (checking prices on the internet, we realized it’s just as expensive as ever and we really can’t afford to live there. Sigh.)

Besides, as soon as we climbed over the mountains and drove out into the desert, we felt a peacefulness and spaciousness to the terrain, and we know that for us, right now, Las Vegas is more affordable and peaceful. And with only a 4-hour drive to Disneyland, we can make frequent trips.

Because it had been very windy on the west side of the mountains, we feared it would be a difficult drive home. But the wind calmed on the other side of the mountains and we made it home in just 3 and a half hours. Woo hoo! Something to be said for living on the south side of Las Vegas.

Upon arrival at home, we noticed the new pet sitter had written detailed notes about our kitties and even gave them a big, beautiful, red kitty stocking with Christmas toys! Wow! We’ve found a keeper, and knowing this will ease our mind for future trips.

The trip was everything we had hoped it to be and then some. While there were a few glitches here and there, the Disney staff delivered the great customer service that they’re known for and resolved the issues. We’re loving DCA more and more on every trip, and plan to stay at the Grand Californian on the next one. We’ll be able to catch up on more DCA attractions that we haven’t even tried yet. And we want to do PhotoPass. And hoping for return visits to Napa Rose. But what we’re really looking forward to is seeing Bob & Larry there in the future!

We were up at 5:00 a.m. and quickly ready to go. We wanted to get ahead of some of the traffic. We called the front desk for express check-out, retrieved our car from the valet, and we were on the road. The trip again was, thankfully, uneventful. At around 9:30 a.m., we arrived home where we were warmly greeted by our hungry cats.

So how was our trip? Excellent! We got to do and see so many things, including attending an exciting Angels baseball game.

You, dear observant reader, may have noticed that the word Beach appears in the title of our report as if we went to the beach this trip. Well, that was our intention. We planned to go Corona del Mar beach on Friday morning. But as the trip progressed, we realized that we were not up for an extra outing like that. And we had the pool and hot tub at Disneyland Hotel to enjoy for our water relaxation. And it was foggy every day. So, while we love the beach, and miss it living in Las Vegas, we skipped that event this trip.

One of things I’ve noticed now that we are back visiting Disneyland is how friendly and service-oriented all the CMs are here. The hotel staffs are always helpful and ready to assist, sometimes going way beyond the call of duty (like finding replacement cell phone deals when we lost one of our cell phones last trip). The only weak service we experienced this trip was waiting to be seated for lunch at La Brea Bakery (we eventually gave up). But, to be fair, the employees here are probably not employed directly by Disney.

Another observation is our reaction to DCA. When DCA was being built we felt that it would be an unwelcome intrusion – taking over our beloved parking lot and moving the focus away from Walt’s sacred original park. And we thought we were vindicated in our reaction when we heard that the new park was underwhelming and the reception to it was lackluster.

But after visiting DCA on two trips now, we have come to enjoy DCA, or at least certain aspects of it. It’s actually nice to have a second park to visit. And there are certain sections that are quite pleasant to spend time in. And the good news is, Disney is refurbishing large parts of the park to make it better.

And last but not least, we must once again commend the design of Downtown Disney. It has lots of great shopping and dining options, and in the evening, great live music.

Thanks for reading.