Thank you for visiting!

You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, the first novel in my fantasy adventure series. Visit the Edge of the World! Come for the view, stay for the adventure!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Discount Disneyland-

Our family does a lot of Disneyland. As a consequence, we have learned a little about visiting the Magic Kingdom. We enjoy sharing what we have learned, as do many Disneyland fans. Here are a few notes on saving money on your visit.

First, annual passes. This is the second year in which we have used annual passes in anticipation of more than one visit within a year. If you anticipate visiting for more than five days in any given year the annual pass becomes an economical option. The five day pass can often be upgraded to the Deluxe Annual pass for just a handful of dollars.

Distance from home to the Disneyland Resort can be a factor in making this decision. Our travel distance is 400 miles, which can be made in one day. The proximity makes the annual pass a good option for our family. The Deluxe pass has some blackout days, days on which the pass does not allow free entry. Those days may be purchased as discounted day passes. The Premium Annual Pass has no blackout days.

Obviously, if you live at a greater distance frequent visits can become much more expensive and require greater planning. There are a number of multi-day pass options. For a first time visit I would recommend no fewer than three days at the Disneyland Resort. This will allow you the time necessary to learn how to navigate the parks and use the many customer conveniences offered, such as the Fast Pass.

Prices change over time, as do the rules applying to day-pass-to-annual-pass upgrades. Check the official Disneyland Resort site for the particulars at around the time you are planning a visit, or stop by the Annual Pass center inside Disneyland Park for additional information while you are there.

Second, food. There are a lot of dining options within the Disneyland Resort itself. At present it is best to assume a minimum of $11 per adult, for the purpose of estimating. There are a few places within the resort that are a bit cheaper, but those are rare and the $11 estimate is a good starting point for thinking about the cost of dining.

There are some very nice restaurants within the resort that offer finer dining, at a somewhat higher price per person. If money is no problem and quality is important, there are some very good options within the Disneyland Resort. Again, consult their web site for additional information.

Just outside the park are some other options. An IHOP, a Denney’s, and a MacDonald’s are all within easy walking distance. They do, however, have a bit of price padding in their menus, and so might not provide significant savings relative to the distance you would have to walk. They do, however, remain good options.

Though it is a bit of a walk, the Anaheim GardenWalk mall is a very nice option. This is a new shopping and dining destination not terribly far from the Disneyland Resort. It is an attractive mall, with a number of dining options for the vacationing family.

The Anaheim Garden Walk is on the Anaheim Resort Transit (ART) system that performs shuttle services for some of the area hotels. ART is a great alternative to walking, and quite affordable.

Our third point is motel accommodations. Most of the motels and hotels around the Disneyland Resort have web sites, and can be easily searched out on the Internet. If you have a preferred motel chain that would be a great beginning to your search. Many chains have a system that allows you to earn discounts or free days. Having a favorite is a good place to begin.

The quality of accommodation varies greatly. The Disneyland Resort has three different hotels within its own system, at three different levels of cost. None are particularly inexpensive, but they are worth visiting on the Internet to see what the options might be. The benefit of on-site accommodations would be the ability to take a break from park activities to rest in the middle of a busy day. A nap in the room and an hour by the pool can be very refreshing in an otherwise very active day.

The ART shuttle system, along with other shuttle options, can make taking a similar break practical even if your budget drives you a few blocks from the action. Our last visit was with the Motel 6 on Disney Way. The ART shuttle was timely and prompt, and made planning any break during the day easy and practical.

Some nearby motels and hotels have themes to make them more attractive. Some have on site spa options, or fine dining options, and even convention facilities. Most of these are not necessary for families on a budget, but knowing about them can be helpful should you future needs change. It is important for the sake of planning to know the particular needs and desires of your entire party.

Remember, time taken in planning can greatly improve your use of time within the Disneyland Resort, reduce frustration, and expand your enjoyment of this wonderful family destination.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Disneyland After 80-

We have just completed a visit to Disneyland. We visit Disneyland often. It is a family obsession, and one we share and encourage. For us, it is truly The Happiest Place on Earth. Having something in which we all share is precious, and we consider Walt Disney’s creation a genuine contribution to our family.

This visit was special. Often the journey is an epic journey. The extended family caravans the four hundred miles from our home in Felton, California, and establishes a camp at some motel or another for a week or so. This journey was just myself, my wife Linda, and her mother, Alta. The visit to the Magic Kingdom was especially for Alta.

Alta is 83 years old, and the epic journey has become difficult. Four generations, many of whom are young children, makes for a lot of various needs and interests. At 83 years, it is hard to maintain the energy to keep up with little children. So, a special trip was planned to conform to Alta’s particular interests and needs.

Now, before you assume saintliness on the part of my wife and myself, it must be recognized that we find any excuse for a visit to Disneyland to be adequate and undeniable. We were in the Magic Kingdom just a couple of months ago, and Linda will be there with much of the family again next month. While there might have been an element of generosity on our part, it is largely just another reason to go to Disneyland.

We flew down from San Jose, California. San Jose is the closest suitable airport to Felton, less than an hour away. The wait for the flight was another hour or so, and the flight itself is about an hour. We are up to three travel hours so far. Add the half-hour shuttle ride from the airport to the motel, and we are at about three and a half hours of travel time.

The road trip is usually twice that, with a large clan in an SUV or minivan. Since nobody on this trip was young, the flying thing was a very good decision. We fly Southwest Airlines, which generally has provided the most reasonable air fares. Not having to haul small children and a ton of kid stuff makes this flying option a strong choice for the older adults.

Our motel of choice this trip was the Motel 6 on Disney Way. It is more than a walk away from the park, and we usually opt for a motel closer. However, we were experimenting with budget this trip, and wanted to try out the shuttle services and experience the quality of the Motel 6.

The motel was clean, and the beds were good. The orange and cream color scheme was a bit much, but we use the motels as a camp more than a destination. The bathroom was adequate, but lacked proper doors. Dual closet doors seemed to be the choice in this motel construction for the bathroom doors. They closed with difficulty, and did not lock.

The lack of a vanity outside of the bathroom enclosure was a small problem, preventing multiple people from getting ready at the same time. There was also no refrigerator or microwave, and no complimentary in-room coffee. No hair dryer, either. They did have a nice enough pool, though that was not a priority for this trip.

A lobby coffee service was provided, free, and near to the shuttle stop point just outside of the lobby. So, get ready, stop in the lobby for coffee (or tea or chocolate) and head outside to wait for the shuttle. The Anaheim Resort Transit service runs every twenty minutes, and proved prompt and clean and comfortable. The drivers were friendly and helpful. Each bus has a rack of information pamphlets on board, and the system is easy to learn and use.

If you wanted to visit another hotel or restaurant along the various routes a map is provided, and use of other routes than the one for your own motel is encouraged. We purchased a three day pass, at a price of $10 each. That is a savings over the $4 daily fee. It can be used on the whole ART system all day for every day the pass is active. A five day pass was also available, and children’s passes were discounted for additional savings.

The ART bus delivered us to one of the shuttle stops inside the Disneyland Resort entrance. A short walk takes you to the entry plaza, between the two parks and Downtown Disney. We always go to Disneyland first, and it is our custom to enter the park under the left underpass beneath the train.

Seeing the train station above, the flower image of Mickey Mouse, and walking through that underpass always makes me feel like I am coming home. Then the Main Street Plaza opens up before you, and it is Disneyland!

We strolled down Main Street at a leisurely pace, appropriate to a geriatric citizen of the Magic Kingdom. Alta remains healthy, but even the healthiest older citizen must take an appropriate pace. This pace was planned, and encouraged. The sights, the sounds, the scents, it is all part of the experience and need not be rushed.

Another custom in our family is to go first to Adventureland after strolling down Main Street. This we did. We passed by the iconic Tiki Room, an attraction that failed to attract this visit. Instead we began with a night ride on the Jungle Cruise. Though little changed since our childhood visits (my wife and I being only slightly older than the park) this ride is a classic in every sense of the word.

Generations of young people have operated this ride, delivering the corny jokes with various degrees of success. This night it was nicely done, and we enjoyed the journey as we always have.

Next was a walk through the balance of Adventureland, and then down to the waters of The Rivers of America. The entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean is right there, and so on we went. I believe this is the ride I have most ridden in all of my visits to Disneyland, and it never grows old. It is suitable for older family members, easy to get onto and out of. The enhancements of recent years have truly enhanced the ride, and it remains a wonderful experience.

Pirates lets you out into New Orleans Square. Over the course of our one evening plus two days visit we gravitated to New Orleans Square often. It is a great place to get a meal, a snack, or a beverage and just enjoy being in the park. Many great sitting spots, lots of fine people watching, and good shade for those sunny and hot parts of the day.

That first evening we made our way to Critter Country, and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Keeping in mind suitability for older family members, this is a gentle ride, very nicely done, and quite appealing to the youngest and the oldest members of the party. Following the ride you exit right to the entrance to a candy shop and other theme stores, and a character visiting plaza right in front of Splash Mountain.

Alta wanted to sit, and encouraged Linda and I to go on Splash Mountain. The line was short, at about twenty five minutes, so we agreed. Off we went to ride our log through the Brer Rabbit theme adventure. We had done this ride before, and did not expect any surprises. It is charming and fun, and generally just a bit wet.

So it was, until that final plunge of fifty feet down the log flume. We hit the bottom and were shocked to see a wall of water coming at us. The little splash we had expected had become a tidal wave of white that engulfed everyone in the log. We dripped our way through the cute ending of the ride and out to where Alta waited.

Showing her our moist persons, she related a tale of a young man who came off of the ride ahead of us who felt compelled to tell her the same story. Water, water, everywhere! My clothes retained something of this humidity the following day. Apparently a bit more splash had been added to Splash Mountain!

Disneyland fans may have noticed that we bypassed the Haunted Mansion on our way to Critter Country. This was not by intent. The Haunted Mansion was closed for holiday refit, preparing for the coming Holiday Season. Indeed, there were nicely constructed construction barriers throughout both Disneyland Park and California Adventure Park. The resort is a busy place for construction, with many added features to come next year!

Having had our moist adventure in Critter Country, we decided to make it an evening. With travel and a late beginning in Disneyland, we wanted to get some rest and be fresh for the next two days of adventure. So, back through the crowds assembling for Fantasmic! and on through Main Street to find our shuttle.

For any readers unfamiliar with the construction of Disneyland Main Street, it is possible to make your way up or down Main Street not only along the street, but through the various buildings. Passages between the buildings allow for this travel, which is also a shopping adventure. The journey need not be the same every time.

On the following day we made our way to the park, had another leisurely stroll down Main Street, and this time we entered Frontierland through the Frontierland gate. Even here was a bit of construction, hidden by nicely done barriers. It looked to me like a Pin Collectors Corner was being prepared.

Not familiar with Pin Collecting? Over the past several years custom pins celebrating virtually everything Disney have been created and sold in the parks. I am among the collectors, though I am more of a dabbler than a serious collector. Many bring their pin portfolios to the park just to trade. It does allow one to buy relatively inexpensive souvenirs that are fun to collect, trade and share, and very pleasant to look at as well.

We made our way through the various shops in Frontierland, and found the time for a visit to the Golden Horseshoe Saloon to see Billy Hill and the Hillbillies. The Golden Horseshoe Saloon serves great snacks, is a cool place to rest, and the show is a lot of fun. Our return to The Golden Horseshoe was at one in the afternoon. Time to see more of the park.

Another family tradition is to enter Fantasyland for the first time each visit only through the Castle main gate, and so we did. The line for Peter Pan’s Flight was relatively short, so we got in line for this classic ride. It is really a fine attraction that has been maintained and upgraded over the years without diminishing the original high quality of the experience. It is a testimony to the quality of this experience that the line for Peter Pan is almost always quite long.

One huge, burly fellow complimented me on my Tower of Terror t-shirt. He was wearing one also, which he said he had gotten at the park in Florida. I later overheard this huge man telling another person in line how he budgeted each year for annual passes and additions to his Disney t-shirt collection. This fellow looked like he might bite the heads off of nails for a hobby, and here he is a major Disney fan. Fabulous!

The Storybook Land boat ride and Casey Junior train were also closed for repair and upgrades. The Mad Tea Party ride, however, was quite up and running. Without comment Linda lead her mother into the line. When she realized where we were Alta was a bit concerned. I was required to promise not to spin the tea cups.

There is an art to spinning tea cups. The proper grip, the correct flexing of the wrist during rotations, the incorporation of the weight of the upper body in the spinning actions. Quite involved. Apparently my oldest son had taken my lessons to heart and demonstrated them to Alta during some previous visit.

No spinning! I agreed, and we went for a sedate tea-cup ride. Toward the end she finally said I could spin it a little, but the ride was then coming to a halt and our time for tea had ended. The lack of spin did not detract from the colors and sounds of this attraction. It is one of my favorite places in the park, even without spinning our way to the edge of madness.

I also love the Alice in Wonderland ride, but the line is often prohibitively long. It was so in this case, so we continued on to... It’s A Small World! Refurbished and updated, this ride is still interminably long and terrifyingly cheerful. Now, however, the endless cheer can be broken up by trying to spot the added characters from various Disney feature films.

During the ride one lady recruited us to be extras in her filmography of her children’s first visit to Disneyland. We smiled and waved for the camera several times, destined to be the “who are those people?” people in her vacation photos.

On to a quick tour of Toontown. I love Toontown, but it lacks shade and the sun was often responsible for sapping Alta’s energy. We kept this visit short, sticking with the nice gift shop that happens to be shady and air conditioned. I have to imagine that Roger Rabbit’s Car
Toon Spin was just not quite the right choice of attraction for Alta, so we headed back toward Frontierland and The Golden Horseshoe Saloon.

Now, a note on benches. Disneyland has a lot of benches, and strolling and sitting is a viable option. Not every location has shade, however, and the shaded benches are often occupied. So, a journey for an older family member has to have a bit of planning. Keep your eyes open, and watch for good sitting options. Keep in mind that various parts of the park will have shade at one time and not another.

Two items from the past that would be a good option for anyone visiting the park would be folding fans and parasols. I noticed several very nice fans, and one parasol that was a real work of art. If you are not a hat person, it would be wise to look into items such as these that suited you personal style.

Anyway, we got back to the Golden Horseshoe and enjoyed the show, along with the cool and a snack. We wandered again for several hours, until our reserved dinner time at The Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square.

This is not a budget dining option. Dinner, especially. I had the Jambalaya, with shrimp, Mahi Mahi, ham and sausage. It was preceded by a Chicken Gumbo. Both were fantastic. I only regret that I am no longer young enough to eat so much. It was fabulous, but I had to stop before I hurt myself. I am growing wiser in this, but it is hard to leave so much goodness still on the plate.

The Blue Bayou is situated in the entry scene of The Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It is evening in the swamp, with boats and cabins and houseboats in view and the sounds of the swamp echoing across the waters. If you can stretch your budget I recommend this restaurant. Lunch is also very good, and much cheaper. Still pricey, but cheaper than dinner.

We eventually made our way to Tomorrowland. This has continued to be our least favorite part of Disneyland, though it is growing more interesting in recent years. We visited Innoventions, which has been redone and much improved. We also visited Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. The lines for other attractions were a bit long, though we slipped into Star Tours when the line was just ten minutes long.

Space Mountain was also closed for upgrades and (?) holiday retrofit. I have no idea what holiday theme might be added to Space Mountain. However, for a geriatric tour of Disneyland it was not terribly missed.

As evening came on we found our way to the head of Main Street, and camped one of the benches up by the Train Station. Again we found the nicest benches reserved for some special group. However, the space just behind the reserved area remained open. So, we watched people, drank hot chocolate, and enjoyed the ambiance of Main Street for a couple of hours until it was time for fireworks.

Just before the fireworks began we moved to stand behind the reserved section. I made some comment about the “special people,” which was picked up by other less special people. For just a moment I was concerned that it would escalate and cause the special people in the reserved section to react, but it died down and the fireworks began.

Following the always satisfying display of pyrotechnics we did another little walk back toward the Rivers of America, and then Main Street yet again. Then off to the motel for the night.

Our final day we started in California Adventure. We went straight to Soarin’ Over California, an amazing flight simulation that engages sight, sound and smell, as well as physical motion and wind in your hair. That done, we had breakfast at a little bakery near the entrance of the park. Baker’s Field Bakery in a building that looks like a vintage passenger train.

We then headed to the Boardwalk part of the park, to visit the Toy Story Mania! Here we capitalized on the age of our special guest, seeking some alternative to standing in line for thirty or forty minutes. The accommodating folk managing the ride created a special fast pass to bring us onto the ride with minimal waiting. To be fair to the other people waiting in line the time was set far enough away to be equal to a wait in line.

So, we found Alta a shady spot where she could watch the people, and Linda and I went to try our hands at some boardwalk games. Rolling balls, squirt guns, things like that. We even won a little Timothy Mouse (from Dumbo) stuffed animal. Cool!

The last few minutes before our ride we went into the store associated with Toy Story Mania! There we met Danny. He was a cast member working in the store, and a treasure trove of Disney history. He had an abundance of anecdotes to share.

Toy Story Mania! is a boardwalk game ride. You ride in cars that have strange guns mounted in front of the riders. You pull the string at the back of the gun to fire darts, rings, balls and pies at targets placed within the game. It is a very fun ride. Alta wanted to do it again to try to beat he score of 14,000. She does not generally care for games, so that is a high recommendation for this attraction.

Next was Mickey’s Fun Wheel. This is a Ferris wheel that has cars that remain at the rim of the wheel and others that slide around on tracks within the wheel. We opted for the rim cars, as the ride goes higher but is more sedate. The sliding cars are a bit exciting, and might not be best included on a geriatric tour.

Alta enjoyed the view, and also enjoyed riding the Zephyr that was around the corner. We then went to the Pacific Wharf Café for lunch. Sour dough clam chowder bowls made from bread baked in the demonstration bakery on premises. We visited the demonstration bakery, and the tortilla factory next door.

Then off to see It’s Tough to be a Bug, a multidimensional experience featured in the Bug’s Land part of the park. If you haven’t experienced this, you should try ti fit it into any visit. If you have, be sure to try and get someone who hasn’t experienced the attraction to join you. It is good for a lot of laughs!

Our time was running short, so we were off to Downtown Disney. We shopped in the World of Disney store, in what seemed like the largest collection of Disney related fare just about anywhere. We visited the Grand Californian hotel lobby, which is quite impressive. It is also a great place to rest a weary party member. Great ambiance, comfortable furniture. I suspect one could snatch a nap in one of those comfy chairs and not be noticed. I may try that, someday.

We returned to Disneyland for our last few hours in the Disneyland Resort. Just wandering, sitting, riding a boat on the Rivers of America. A little last minute shopping. More people watching. Alta rested at the River Belle Terrace while Linda and I took advantage to short lines at the Indiana Jones Adventure.

Another bowl of Dole Pineapple Whip. We love that stuff. Then to Main Street Plaza for a last glance at the park, and off to the shuttle and another flight home.

Highlights? Well, seeing Alta serenaded by the lead of The Firehouse Five Plus Two was a big one. Three nights of Dole Pineapple Whip might be another. Finding some great sitting spots in Disneyland just for enjoying being there was priceless.

It doesn’t hurt to take your time in the Happiest Place on Earth! Old or young, whoever you might be, give the Magic Kingdom a try.

There is no place I would rather be.