WDW Lover Takes On Disneyland!
Hope it's ok, given that this is site for all things of "the World" to talk about the Land. I just found it interesting to compare the two different resorts as I was there.
Travel dates: Nov. 1 – 8 Palm Desert, CA – drove up to DL the 5th & 6th.
Cast of characters: Bart: 33, Wendy: 34, Sean: (almost) 2, D: (my stepdad) 55, Mom: 56.
Disney Resort Experience Represented in Group: Bart & Wendy: Lots of WDW exp – first trip to DL, D went once before, 45 years ago. Mom once in mid-90’s
Hi all. Let me warn you in advance I’m a writer and get wordy so this will be a long one. Hard to believe how much I can write about a one day visit, but then again, I'm Irish. I have decided to break it up into more digestable portions, but that said, you’ve been warned. If you’re up for it, please keep your hands and feet in the vehicle at all times and enjoy the ride!
Part 1: Getting there.
My parents have been members of the Marriot Vacation Club since the mid-80’s and for many years would go to Palm Desert once a year. Due my mom’s health issues (major back surgery 6 years ago and 3 (yes 3) hip replacements in the last 5 years, they hadn’t been in a long time. So they had enough points accrued that they offered to get us a room at the resort this year as well. While the prospect of a week with my crazy folks (said in love) wasn’t ideal, we really needed a vacation. And when I saw on Google maps that it was less than 2 hours to Disneyland, I said let’s do it.
We flew out of Chicago O’Hare on Sat, Nov. 1 around 4:00. Among my numerous trades, I’m a part-time DJ, karaoke emcee, and lounge lizard extraordinaire and I had worked as all three at a Halloween party for a local bar the night before. I didn’t get home til nearly 3 in the morning and was awake by 7 so I was pretty tired and cranky. Plus my wife and I were both really anxious about air travel with a 23 month old.
Check in was relatively smooth, security was a hassle but we made it through (and I didn’t even punch the guy behind us who kept huffing and rolling his eyes.) That said we won’t be flying again until Sean’s a little older and understands what’s going on and doesn’t want to run across the conveyor belt, grab other people’s luggage, etc.
I gotta say Uncle Walt was with us because the kid was an angel through both flights (had a layover in SLC.) We put on his Thomas dvd’s and he was happy and content. And D sent me a cocktail which helped me rest (although not sleep.)
I won’t bore you with details of Palm Desert except to say it was beautiful and I loved it there. I don’t golf and was unsure about spending most of a week there, but I’m now ready to move. I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed being there – the weather, the atmosphere, the laid-back vibe. Plus it sure beats Chicago in November. Plus I accidently found Shields Date Gardens, which I’d seen on Anthony Bourdain so I had to pull over and get a date milkshake, which I can now highly recommend. Though they are really rich and get chunky toward the bottom.
Our original plan was to leave Palm Desert early Thursday morning and get to DL by rope drop, spend the day at the park and then spend the night, heading back to the desert on Friday morning. We met a really cool couple from somewhere in Orange County at the pool that told us we were crazy. They said morning traffic would be god-awful and we might not get there til 10 or 11. I was concerned because I’d called DL and was told the EVC’s were first come, first serve and that we really should be there at opening. We needed one for mom. So we changed plans.
We left PD around 1:00 PM on Wendesday, had to stop at a Jack in the Box (we don’t have those out here but we still see commercials for them on the cable channels.) I’d always heard Jack had the best tacos. I’ll just say I wasn’t all that impressed. I found Del Taco much better (another chain we don’t have.) I’ve heard El Pollo Loco is the best, but I’ll have to find out another time. Maybe you locals can weigh in on the great taco debate. Managed to stop and take pics by the two giant dinosaurs from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (I’m a nerd, what can I say?) And, as we were heading on down the desert highway I looked off to the left and saw big, bright red house in the middle of nowhere in the distance. If you driven that stretch you’ve probably noticed it just because it seems so odd. Turns out that’s my wife’s second cousin’s house. Anyway, traffic was non-existent. We made it to Anaheim in just about an hour and a half. D is a salesman in Chicago, he knows how the maneuver a highway.
We checked in at the Howard Johnson on the famous Harbor Boulevard, which came highly recommended by lots of members numerous Disney sites and is what's called a "Good Neighbor" hotel out there. Everything was smooth til we got to the room. We requested first floor rooms (for mom) and when we got to them, the folk’s room smelled really weird, like a hospital (but mom worked in a hospital for almost 30 years so I figured she could deal with it! ) We got to ours which was in kind of a corner, and the room was beautiful. Looked great, looked newly remodeled, smelled fine. But by time I’d returned with the luggage, my wife had discovered the lock on the patio door had been smashed and pried open from the outside and the door only locked by the chain, however the chain was long enough that King Kong could’ve reached his arm in and unlatched it anyway. My wife called the desk and was told they’d send maintenance. I looked at it and said “I don’t know what their going to be able to do.” The whole door really needed replacing. It just wasn’t safe. But we waited about 20 minutes and no one came. She called again and they said he’d be there any minute. Nobody came for another 20 minutes. So I called and said “listen, they won’t be able to do anything right now anyway. The thing is trashed and we just don’t want to stay in this room. We’d like to be moved.”
And to their credit, once we asked directly they did without hesitation and all was well (although the new room did kind of smell funny too – but it was clean and nice so I’m not complaining!) I was just a little surprised that the first response wasn’t “let us move you to another room” right away. But in their defense, I didn’t hear my wife’s first call and maybe she didn’t describe how bad the damage was properly. Who knows? All was taken care of and I gave them a good review (with a few comments.) But it did cost us most of the remaining sunshine and I was itching to take Sean to the splash pool with the pirate ship. We spent a brief amount of time there, as it was much cooler in Anaheim than the desert and as that sun was slipping, that water felt like ice water.
After much convincing of the parents on my part, we elected to hit Downtown Disney for dinner. I should stop right here and explain that not only does my mom have some walking issues as I mentioned and permanently requires a cane now, but Poppa D is a heavy-set man. And while he won’t admit it, he’s got some walking issues too as a result of his weight. Even though we parked in a handicapped spot, he immediately began, let’s just say “expressing concerns” about the walking. I started to sense things may take a bad turn on this adventure.
We settled on the Rainforest Café because we figure they’ve got everything and because Sean (and admittedly his daddy) loves the atmosphere of RC, even if the food is okay at best sometimes. It actually was a good meal for everyone and we had a really friendly waiter from Indiana (which is where my mom and I are originally from.) I had beef fajitas which were good and a rum drink I don’t remember the name of but it was delicious! I could have had a couple (12) more. And I got the souvenir “lightning glass” to amuse the boy. My wife and D had fish & chips which they said were good as well. I don’t like fish so I wouldn’t be a good judge, but I did swipe some of the extra cracklings from my wife’s plate which were good. Mom had a chopped salad that she said was great. Oh, and we had nachos for an app which were just “eh.” They served their purpose though. And we had a chocolate peanut butter pie desert thing that I really liked. The wife wasn’t as impressed, but for me, you mix chocolate and peanut butter and you got a home run.
After dinner I really wanted to hit the World of Disney store but discovered it was at the far opposite end of the strip. I could see D getting ornery about more walking, but mom was a trooper and she wanted to hit the little Christmas store (Department 56 I think). Well cue the magic of Disney, because we weren’t but 5 steps into the store when Poppa D went from ornery to “kid in a candy shop.” He was especially enthralled trying on the numerous crazy hats like Grumpy, Goofy, and Lightning McQueen to my son’s amusement.
I was relieved. That would keep him occupied for a while. I had a mission of my own. Mom and Wendy wandered off with the baby. I was there to find myself a shirt due to poor packing and my sloppy eating at the Rainforest Cafe, and to find my son’s first official Mickey Mouse. I found the doll first and as fate would have it, immediately. My eyes went right to it, and as soon as I saw it I knew it was the right one. My son loves silky blankets and wearing shirts with hoods for some reason. This Mickey had on a hooded 2008 sweatshirt and his shorts are silky like Sean’s blankets. Perfect!
This was very important to me that I pick it out and that it was the “right one.” A child’s first Mickey is very important. When I was little, my Grandparents went to Epcot the year it opened. All I asked for was a Mickey. I still vividly remember my Grandpa hiding it behind his back and teasing me before the big reveal. I’ll be honest with you – it was a knock-off from some roadside souvenir shop, but it didn’t matter. I’ll never forget the day he gave it to me. And I’ll never forget how big Sean smiled when he saw the one I’d found, or how he immediately reached out and took it and gave it a big hug and kissed it right on the nose. Something he’s never done that with any stuffed animal before. Best $25 spent of the whole trip.
Wendy was off on her own mission, finding Cinderella and Snow White dresses and accessories for her co-worker’s daughters. She had measurements and all. She found all right away except Snow White’s shoes (which she found at the princess store in Fantasyland the next day.) D comes over as I’m picking out my shirt because he has to show me something. He discovered the little laser crystal paperweight things where they can put a 3D image inside a block of glass. He decided he must get one made of Sean. It’s going on 8:00 at this point, which is 10 back in Chicago. It’s well past Sean’s bed time but since he’d finally adjusted to California time, he’s now in his “witching hour.” He is not going to sit still for any picture, not even for the required 3 seconds. But Poppa D doesn’t often take no for an answer. Until about 20 minutes goes by of them trying every trick in the book to get him to sit still long enough for a usable image, and Sean just laughing and squirming his little heart out. Finally, D accepted defeat and apologized to the understanding photographer who offered the (unsolicited) information that there’s another shop in the park, right outside of Pinocchio. Thanks pal. You can already imagine what happens tomorrow.
Between the four of us, we didn’t make it out of that store for much less than $400. At around the halfway back point, D needed to sit because his ankles hurt. So I offer to run ahead and get the van, but he says no. Just let him sit for a minute. So as they do that, I jumped into the Island Charters store. I expected it to be like a Tommy Bahama, but was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. It was much more. One of my best friends is a private pilot and we share a love of old aviation and especially travel art and paraphernalia from the golden days of Pan Am and flying boats. It might also come from a shared love of Mr. Jimmy Buffett. I loved that store. What I didn’t love quite so much was the clerk inside that followed me through every inch of the store, but never actually said anything. I know he was just doing his job. Either I have one of those faces, or they get hit by a lot of shoplifters. I thought about buying a book of old travel posters for the friend I mentioned but thought I could use that cash at the parks tomorrow (not too mention he still owes me money from our last jaunt to Vegas – I warned him Redbull, Vodka, and Blackjack are a bad combination!) And having a shadow was getting on my nerves anyway, so I bailed. I did pick up a card from the nice girl at the entrance and asked about their website, just in case.
We all reassembled at the exit and made it back to the HoJo. Sean got into the new Lightning McQueen pajamas Poppa D got him and snuggled up with Mickey. I watched the Disneyland info channel for a while. Not quite as enthralling as Stacey at the WDW resorts but I still enjoyed it. Even after turning the TV off, I had trouble sleeping. I guess I was the one who was too excited. Before this trip I never really even considered that I’d go to Disneyland. I just figured we’d always go to WDW. Unless somehow I happened to be in California (which as it turned out is how it happened.) As I was lying in bed I kept thinking about Walt and how this was his park. How I’d be walking the streets Walt had actually walked. Call it a pilgrimage I guess. The man’s work and legacy has meant a lot to me my entire life from hard times to happier times. So being where he made history meant a lot to me. And it probably seems silly to some, but I couldn’t wait to see that lamp in the firehouse window.
The next morning, when we all got to Mainstreet U.S.A., I pointed up at the window and the glow of that little lamp and said “Walt’s in the park.” Of course, my family looked at me like I was a mumbling fool and shrugged off the non-sequiter, but I felt very warm about it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we had to get to Mainstreet.