Friday, October 24, 2014

those hollywood nights, those big disney thrills

(As part of the #31DaysofWriting Challenge, we are challenged to write every single day.  Today, I'm going to cheat... well, sort of cheating... I took something that I wrote in 2011, and rewrote it, all about the trip that The Lovely Steph Leann & I took to Disneyland--not World, but Land.  I thought it was still good material, having been a draft post since June of 2011... so with the re-write, it totally counts for the daily challenge!) 

So back in May of 2011, The Lovely Steph Leann and I took a somewhat whirlwind trip (said me to her when we got back:  "that was a whirlwind trip... but then again, they all are, aren't they?") to Anaheim, California, to Disneyland--now, this is before Campbell Isaiah came along, though he was actually in The Lovely Steph Leann's tummy (or uterus, if we want to be exact).

We had a few free passes (thanks to our friends The Halperts & the Clarks) to work with, passes that would expire on May 28th of 2011 if they were not used.  We had a couple of Southwest flights to use, or they would expire, and we ended up using some Marriott points that The Lovely Steph Leann had accrued and saved over the years.  So, we flew for free, stayed for free and went for free, which makes for a nice weekend... I'd love to tell you we saved loads of money, but we just turned around and spent that money on important things like blankets, pins, a Boo plush and way too expensive corn dogs and lobster.  (but not together cause... well, eww).

We flew into LAX from Birmingham on a flight that left at 710 in the morning--Big Daddy Ron and Mama Ruthless picked us up at 545 and took us to The Birmingham International Airport & Package Store, and we were boarding within an hour of arrival.  The flight landed in Phoenix, though we kept the same flight.  (text from Hurricane Rhett, after I left a FB status that said "We are in Phoenix":  "What, did you lose a bet"?) We did end up dashing off the plane, though, to grab some lunch at the Airport Wendys and then back on the plane were we discovered the joys of the two seats by the emergency exit.

If you are willing to take the burden of the lives of 200 people on your shoulders in the .04% that plane goes down, sit by the emergency exit.  On our flight there (and the place back as well), there were two seats with extra leg room, instead of the cramped three seat row the rest of the plane dealt with.  I understood the risk and the lives (or loss thereof) of the passengers on the plane was an acceptable risk for us to have a little breathing room.

We arrived at LAX around 1130 in the morning, but due to the time change in flying west, the whole trip took about five hours or so... we came off the plane and into the terminal, I looked around in wonder as I was now in Los Angeles, the City of Angels, LA, LaLaLand, Hollyweird... and it looked... it looked... well, like an airport terminal.  Not an especially impressive one, at that.

After getting our luggage, we headed outside to catch a cab, which was a predetermined decision.  We didn't really look at shuttles because we were told by numerous people that shuttles and cabs would be about the same price, and a shuttle would stop at several different locations while a cab would take us straight there--we were headed to the Marriott Towne Place Suites in Anaheim, about a half mile from the stadium were the Anaheim Angels play, and about two miles from Disneyland itself. 

In not researching effectively like we should, we learned quickly two things when it comes to traveling via cab... first, its better to fly into a closer airport.  LAX is about 35 miles from our hotel, while John Wayne Airport is only about 20 or so.  Second, a shuttle is better.  You pay one price, set, per person.   This lesson was grounded into our brains as we watched the little fare meter tick up 30 cents at a time, every 1/9th of a mile.  One-ninth of a mile.  Thats about 3 bucks per mile.  For 35 miles.

To make sure we weren't being hornswoggled, I pulled up the GPS on my iPhone and punched in the address and map from LAX to Towne Place... Valerty Kozhevnikov (I didn't make that name up, and had to look at it about nine times when I typed it into a comment on Facebook) followed pretty much the same route as listed on my GPS, and my man was flying through some of it.  But nonentheless, the bill at the end, plus tip, topped out around $115.  Valerty didn't smile one bit the entire ride, nor really even speak to us besides, "What izz you travel to?" at the beginning... until he was unloading our luggage.  "You vacation?"  Yes, going to Disneyland.  "Yes, good place.  You have much fun."  Thank you sir.  Here is your fare.  "Thank you so much."  Big smile, and he was gone.

It was kind of a neat ride though... not for the cab itself, but to pass by all these signs representing streets and neighborhoods I hear about in pop culture... Compton and Long Beach, together?  Man, you know you in trouble.

Anyway, we checked in, it was a nice little room with a small living space (that we never sat in), a small kitchen (that we only used to keep a half full bottle of stale Coke and a partly sipped-out-of bottle of water cold), a bathroom that was functional and a bedroom that had a bed that was decently comfy enough for sleeping after walking a theme park... have to understand something, though... if any of you were to call us from Disney World in Orlando, and say, "Hey, I'm standing facing Stitch's Great Escape, and I need to get to the Splash Mountain bathrooms... can you help me?" either me or The Lovely Steph Leann would quickly start in with, "Okay, so go left across the bridge and..."  But at Disneyland?  We have no clue.   At Disney World, we can easily navigate from pretty much any of the resorts, choosing to either drive (which we do to most parks except for Magic Kingdom) or take a boat (which we would if we were staying at Wilderness Lodge) or a bus (which we do sometimes if we are going to Magic Kingdom) or a monorail (perfect for getting to the Grand Flo, the Temp or the Poly)...

But Anaheim is a whole different animal.  Its a big ol' town nestled in a bigger ol' city, and unlike WDW, we were staying off-property, which means we were on our own when it came to getting around.  We discoverd the ART, the Anaheim Resort Transit system and for $16 bucks each, we bought five day passes that would allow us rides to the park at :20 after the hour and from the park at :40 after the hour.   Of course, this again is not what we are used to, because when we want to leave Hollywood Studios we... well, we leave.  We catch the boat to Epcot, or the bus to our resort, or we just hop in the car.  But suddenly we were on a time schedule to make sure we were in time to catch the bus to the park, or risk waiting another hour (or, heaven forbid, a cab ride), and we had to be back at the bus stop soon enough to catch the bus to the hotel, or risk being caught for another hour (or, heaven forbid, miss the last bus of the night and face a cab ride).

So, we get our luggage down, we get changed and take a little nap, and around 3pm (this is Pacific, ie, Cali time) we were up and getting ready for Disneyland.  We were at the bus stop at 320, and the bus pulled up about ten minutes later, which would prove to be a habit for these ART rides. 

Luckily, the bus stop is a mere three minute walk from the front gates of the park...

...but before I dive into our vacation, let me give you a little background on Disneyland, just so you'll know. 

I'm a nut for Disney history, and much of this info comes from Neal Gabler's excellent Walt Disney bio called simply, "Walt Disney", and some of it comes from just reading various blogs and listening to Disney podcasts and the like. (ps... this is before I became a Disney Travel Specialist... want me to plan your trip?  Gimme a call...)

Disneyland was a creation of Walt Disney, and legend has it that he was with his daughters one day in a park, and began to wonder why there wasn't a place for the whole family to go and have fun together.  Though passed off as fact, even in Wikipedia, this has never been substantiated, and Neal Gabler writes in the aforementioned bio that a number of his fellow animators and employees would say that Walt all told them his idea in a different way, and few of their re-tellings has Walt saying nothing about his family at the park.

What started out as a small idea for a "Mickey Mouse Park" soon evolved into a much larger plan for a "Walt Disney Land", soon shortened to "Disney Land" and then "Disneyland", and construction started in 1954.  The park opened for a "Press preview day" that invited the press and media, as well as celebrities from around the area and their families.  What was supposed to be a stellar day was a nightmare for Disney.  They were expecting around 10 to 12K people, but over 28,000 people showed up that day.  The asphalt was still so new that ladies high heels were sinking into the ground, the plumber's strike in the area barely got the restrooms working and left them without working water fountains.  The press saw this as a greedy attempt to sell more soda and reported it as such.

Since it was in July, it was hot, but the summer of 55 saw the temperature top 101 degrees, with vendors running out of food, attractions breaking down for part or all of the day, and even though only a certain number of tickets were given out, there were people with ladders propped up on the side of the wall offering anyone and everyone a chance to climb the ladder and get in for a few bucks.   The celebrities that were scheduled to show up actually had a schedule, where their arrival times were staggered all day... and yet, they showed up pretty much all at once.  July 17th, 1955 was called "Black Sunday" years later by Walt Disney and the company.

July 18th, however, could not have been smoother.  Things were working, the water was on, the food was there and over 50,000 people came in on the official "Opening Day".

Disneyland opened with five lands:  Tomorrowland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland and Main Street USA, then added three more lands in the coming years, that being New Orleans Square (1966),  Bear Country, which then became Critter Country (1972) and Mickey's Toontown (1993).  There was a "Holidayland" that opened in 1957, but it closed in 1961, and is considered the "lost land" in Disney lore.

Disneyland is tucked in the heart of Anaheim with a nearby park, California Adventure (and I do mean "nearby", as I counted 207 of my footsteps from one gate to the other), and when you pull up, you can see immediately some differences.  Mostly that there is non-Disney businesses--hotels, restaurants, banks, touristy shops--tightly surrounding the parks.   Walt would later lament the fact that he wasn't able to buy a lot of land in the area, which led to the flurry of places opening up and trying to capitalize on the Disneyland patrons.  He felt that, if you can be on Dumbo's Flying Circus and look out and see a hotel sign, the fantasy, the illusion of imagination was ruined. 

It was this thinking that led him to a Disneyland East, eventually called "The Florida Project"... buying enough land in Central Florida so once you entered the Walt Disney World, you could completely immerse yourself in the experience without outside distractions. 

In 1991, an idea was floated around concerning a second park in California, notably "WestCOT", a California version of Epcot, but by 1995, those plans were all but abandoned.  A new park was in the works, though, and in 1998, the parking lot for Disneyland was pulled up and turned into Disney's California Adventure, which opened in 2001.

DCA was one of Michael Eisner's last big accomplishments before his ouster in the early 2000s, though it had a rocky beginning.  For one thing, many people felt the attractions and rides weren't up to normal Disney standards in both entertainment value and quality, with some critics calling the park "mediocre".  Over time, however, Disney removed some failing attractions and added in new ones, like The Tower of Terror, and of course The World of Color, that has revived the park and peoples interest in it.  Though coming in last in all of Disney's theme parks in the world rankings in 2009, it still finished as the 11th most visited park in the world.

In 2007, Disney announced a billion dollar renovation of the park which will included a new gateway, a transformation of part of the park to the 1930s style Hollywood, instillation of vintage red trolley cars, retheming Paradise Pier into a Victorian style turn of the century boardwalk park, and of course, the addition of Cars Land, starring McQueen, Mater and the gang.

So, there is your update. 

(And this is where it ends, which is good, because I don't remember the day to day of the trip, just that we had a blast... thanks for reading)

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