Thursday, 10 November 2011

California Trip – March 2009

Friday, March 6th

4:00 PM - After a full day of work, Tracey and I are off to RiverRock Hotel to spend the night. We leave very early tomorrow and decided to stay in Richmond rather than make the early morning drive from Chilliwack to the airport. Tracey’s brother is the GM of RiverRock so we get a very good deal on a room; we get there and get checked into a beautiful 2-bedroom suite. VERY nice.

We’re off to Richmond Centre, Tracey and I each want to pick up a new pair of shoes for the trip. We both get a pair of Nike Vomeros (seriously, the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned; even better than Nike Shox). After that we meet some friends for dinner and then it’s back to the hotel to get some rest. We’re both asleep before 10 PM.

While at work on Friday, Tracey noticed a problem with one of her eyes; we later deduced it is a “stye” (which I confess I’ve never heard of). Not serious at all, but irritating and painful, and the timing couldn’t possibly be any worse, as she didn’t pack her prescription sunglasses for the trip; and she’s not supposed to wear contacts until the stye goes away; so either she wears contacts, which will irritate her eye and cause her discomfort, or she wears her glasses without sunglasses and gets blinded by the California sun. Nice choice. She chooses the former.

Saturday, March 7th

4:15 AM – Our wake-up call comes in and we’re up and ready to start the vacation. Our flight is scheduled for 7:15, and we want to get to the airport early enough to grab some breakfast before the flight.

6:00 AM – We use our Nexus to get quickly through customs (not that there was much of a lineup to shoot through at this time of the morning anyway) and head over to Burger King for breakfast. Yes, that was the best we could do; they have a little restaurant there called the “Pacific Grill” but we’ve had breakfast there before and it’s a step DOWN from Burger King, believe it or not.

6:45 AM – Our flight begins boarding, right on time. The plane looks to be pretty full, mainly thanks to a group of school girls heading somewhere…..not sure if they were a school group or church group or what, as they were clearly all together but I overheard some of them say they were 15, some were 18, and they weren’t all going to the same place, either; some were going to New Zealand, and some mentioned Hawaii. All told, there must have been 30 of them (and a handful of adults (teachers?) chaperoning). Now, normally being in a small, enclosed space with a bunch of teenage girls is something that a lot of men would pay big bucks for; but in this case, my wife was sitting right next to me, so it was just damn irritating. They were in front of us, behind us, across the aisle from us; everywhere. Somehow I guess we got seated right in the middle of them.

7:15 AM – Flight takes off right on time, and not much happens of any significance. The hoochie sitting behind me is playing cards and manages to somehow hit the back of my chair for the better part of 3 hours, but I should be used to that by now, I guess, as it happens to me every time I fly. Whatever. It’s a good flight, I watch a World Poker Tour event on the TV and Tracey watches Slumdog Millionaire, both for free; well, Tracey watched MOST of the movie, as it shut off with 5-10 minutes left as we were preparing to land. I guess we’re going to have to get the Blu-Ray when it comes out as I haven’t seen it yet either.

11 AM – We get to the rental car centre and get our car, which we’ve already paid for. We get a Mercury Grand Marquis; which is one hell of a big car, and pretty nice too. Very comfortable and a fairly nice ride. We’re off to SeaWorld today; I planned this intentionally, knowing that after the flight we’d probably want a shorter day and there is less to see at SeaWorld than the other parks we are visiting.

1:00 PM – We arrive at SeaWorld, right on schedule, and head right to the Penguin Encounter. The last time we were here they were renovating this area and it was closed, so we were pretty disappointed as it’s our favorite thing here. It wasn’t closed today, and we got some great pictures and video of the penguins, which are very cute. They also have some warm-weather penguins outside, not something you see every day.

1:40 PM – We stop for lunch. Sitting about 20 feet away from us is Snoop Dogg. No entourage, no posse, just Snoop and his kids, and nobody bothering them. For shizzle.

4:00 PM – We’ve seen everything we want to see here and we are, predictably, pretty tired, so we decide to head out and drive up to Escondido to our hotel. It’s been a great day, other than not getting many good shots of the dolphins (they are there, but they are doing some renovations on their area so we couldn’t get as close as usual). Fun!!
4:30 PM – We arrive at our hotel for the night, the Comfort Inn Escondido, which I chose as it is nice enough and very close to the Wild Animal Park which we are tackling tomorrow. Can’t wait!!!

The wife tells me not to hurt my arm patting myself on the back, but so far I’ve planned this trip perfectly; everything has gone as planned and I am sure tomorrow will be a great day.

7:33 – Finishing today’s blog and heading to bed to watch some TV and relax. With Daylight Savings kicking in tonight it’s really 8:33 and it’s been a long, full day, and I imagine I’ll be asleep early. We’ll be up fairly early again tomorrow as we want to get to the park in time to see a few things before our Photo Caravan Safari tour starts, which is at 12:30.

Sunday, March 8th

8:20 AM - Up for breakfast. Our hotel includes breakfast with their charge, so we head on down to the "breakfast room", not really expecting much more than a muffin or danish or two; after all, a very smart man once said "you get what you pay for". We are pleasantly surprised, though, in addition to the usual continental breakfast fare, they have eggs and even a waffle maker where you can make your own waffles! Pretty good free breakfast, I must say.

10:45 AM - Arrive at the Wild Animal Park and head inside. We have a Photo Safari Caravan Tour booked for 12:30 so we don't have a ton of time to look around first as we are going to need to have some lunch before the long tour. We get to see the gorillas and meerkats, and visit the petting kraal to get some pictures with the very-friendly deer and gazelles. We also get to visit with the baby rhino, who we learn was 150 lbs at birth, and now, at 2.5 months, is over 500 lbs.!!

12:30 PM - After a quick lunch, we head to the loading area for the tour. This is always one of the highlights of our vacations here; it's not often you get to interact so closely with so many species of wild animal in their natural habitat. I'm not going to spend too much time trying to describe this tour; I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Suffice it to say we fed a few giraffes and a couple of rhinos. Pretty damn cool.

The shirt I am wearing in these pictures is from the Wynn, in Las Vegas, and is made of bamboo. Yes, bamboo. Don't ask me how, it just is. While feeding the giraffe, he grabbed my shirt and had a little taste of it. When we get home we'll have to see if we can get giraffe slobber out of bamboo. Yes, that is the first time that phrase has ever been uttered in human history.

Some more pictures of the Wild Animal Park here:

6:00 PM - On the way to our next hotel we decide to make a detour into Buena Park, to the Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant which is located just outside of Knott's Berry Farm. The last time we were here, which was a few years ago, they served the best Fried Chicken and Biscuits I have ever tasted.
For $14.99, you get 3 pieces of Fried Chicken (all-white meat is an extra couple bucks), potatoes and country gravy, corn or cabbage, soup AND salad, pie for dessert and biscuits. For anyone who isn't a huge Fried Chicken fan, there are some other chicken dishes you can substitute. Now, I mentioned how great the biscuits were last time; interestingly enough, this time they were possibly the WORST biscuits I have ever tasted. How odd. Anyway, everything else was very, very good, and the chicken was out of this world. The biscuit issue notwithstanding, this was a fantastic meal.

8:00 PM - We arrive at tonight's hotel, the Hollywood Downtowner. We had picked this one based on it's proximity to Universal Studios, tomorrow's destination. I had checked out the reviews on before booking, and they were pretty positive; I'm not sure what most of those people were smoking. This place was sketchy, to say the least, in a sketchy neighborhood. The building was at least 80 years old, and looked it. The lobby was so small that Tracey had to stand outside in the cold while I checked in because there was no room for 2 people and their luggage!! Wow. In fairness, the staff was extremely friendly and they have obviously tried to update the place with some more modern touches, like coffee and a microwave in the rooms, and the pool was well maintained, but in reality the only thing that would really save this place is a bulldozer. Anyway, we'd already paid for it and it was only one night, so we put a few things in front of our door and decided to stick it out. Hopefully I'll still be alive in order to finish the blog tomorrow.....

Monday, March 9th

8:30 AM - Alive, and awake. Tracey's eye is still bothering her but is a little better today. As she's getting ready, I stop into the lobby to grab a couple doughnuts, which is this hotel's idea of a "free breakfast".

10:00 AM - We head to Universal, which is only about a 5 minute drive from the hotel. We pay the extra $8 for "preferred parking", which is worth every penny, as we end up parking just in front of the entrance gates. Into the park we go, straight to the Simpsons Ride, which we loved when it had just opened in Orlando last year; this version is identical, and it's just as fantastic. It's very true to the Simpsons universe and a lot of fun. You are taken on a simulated roller coaster in Krustyland, as Sideshow Bob is trying to kill the Simpsons.....and YOU. Fun!!!

5:00 PM - The park is closing, so we finish our dinner and start to head out. We've hit all the major attractions today, including the Studio Tour, and it's been a good day. We have some time to kill, as the Canucks/Kings game doesn't start until 7:30. Luckily we can always count on LA rush hour traffic, and it takes us a while to get to the game.

6:10 PM - We arrive at the Staples Centre and park in a lot across the street; ironically, it costs us exactly as much to park ($20) as it did for each ticket!! We don't have great seats, but $40 for both of us to see a hockey game was pretty tough to pass up. The Staples Centre is a beautiful facility, and we walk around and have a good look before the game starts. Our seats are high, but they are still pretty good, it's nice to have a different view of the game once in a while. Tons of Canucks fans here.

The Canucks lose 3-2, Tracey takes it like a trooper despite being irked that I cheer for the Kings, and then we head to our next hotel.

11:00 PM - We're off to Anaheim, but because we knew we'd be late, we didn't bother booking the big hotel for tonight, we're staying at the Alamo Inn, very close to Disneyland. It's perfectly fine, but the beds are incredibly hard and it's tough to get a good sleep. I wake up a few times during the night; it's like sleeping on the floor, but not nearly as pleasant.

Tuesday, March 10th

8:30 AM - It's been a great trip already, but now we're really kicking it into high gear; off to Disneyland, and the Grand Californian Hotel, where we are spending our last four nights!! Woo-hoo!!! We get to the hotel and are checked in immediately, and are pleasantly surprised to find out that our room is already ready to go. We head up to the room and our bags arrive just minutes after us; typically terrific service from this hotel. We have a beautiful view of Downtown Disney. This hotel is expensive, and the view even moreso, but it's worth every penny.

11:30 AM - It's close to lunchtime but Tracey feels like breakfast, so we stop at the Rainforest Cafe to grab a bite. The food is terrific, and the atmosphere is as well. Now that we've eaten, it's off to Disneyland! Time for the main event! We get through the gates and head to Pirates of the Caribbean, which is always our first ride. We get in quickly and get in the first row of the boat. This would be a recurring theme throughout the day, as we end up in Row 1 on most of the rides.

3:00 PM - We stop at La Brea Bakery to grab some lunch, after doing a little shopping... and by "little", I mean "a little" for me, a "ridiculous amount" for Tracey. She is doing her own private part to keep the US economy going! Good for her!!!

4:00 PM - After lunch we head back into Disneyland to hit a few more rides and do a little more shopping; we have dinner reservations at the Blue Bayou at 7 PM so we have a little time to kill. We head to Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters. This is a ride that features a game where you shoot at targets, all in the name of saving the galaxy from the evil Emperor Zurg. You get points for all the targets you hit. Tracey always loses to me at this and it, frankly, kind of pisses her off; she is always asking me to let her win. It's almost as if she doesn't know me AT ALL. The last time I let someone win was.....well.... OK it's never happened. Not gonna start now. In order to keep her whining to a minimum, I decide to give her a chance, and shoot at the targets with my left hand. In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya, I am NOT left handed. The final score? Tracey 25000, Dean's left hand 99000. She is not a happy camper. Of course, she feels that her gun was malfunctioning. That must be it.

7:00 PM - We get to the Blue Bayou (after a repeat ride on Pirates) and ask for a table near the water, which we get almost immediately. I notice the menu features "surf and turf", a filet mignon accompanied by a lobster tail. I don't need to read the menu any further. Tracey orders short ribs, the same thing she had last time we were here; both meals are ridiculously fantastic. They always are. After the meal, we top it off with some creme brulee, and leave completely satisfied, and stuffed.

8:45 PM - We are back at the hotel room, awaiting the fireworks show. By turning our TV to a certain channel, we can listen to the show from our room; no need to brave the crowds watching the fireworks from Main Street! Tracey sits in a chair on our balcony while I lay on the bed. Now THIS is how to watch fireworks!!!! Fantastic!!!

11:20 PM - Finally got this blog updated and heading to bed. Tomorrow we are tackling California Adventure, and going to the Canucks/Ducks game. Another big day!!!!

Wednesday, March 11th

9:00 AM - Tracey wakes me up as the breakfast we ordered should be here any minute, she says. I point out that we asked for it to be delivered between 9 and 9:30, so the odds of it being delivered right at 9 are not very good, and I'm going back to sleep for a few minutes.

9:01 AM - Our breakfast arrives. Damn.

10:00 AM - Breakfast was great and now we're headed into the park. We get to go in a special side entrance as hotel guests; we hightail it right to the Toy Story Midway Mania ride, and even so, the lineup is 20 minutes long already, even though the park just opened seconds ago. It's a very popular ride, which features 3-D midway games that you play as you ride; shooting targets, breaking plates, a ring toss, all those types of games. Tracey never beats me at THIS, either, so we are seriously trash talking in the lineup on the way in. After telling me it's "on like Donkey Kong", she proceeds to make up about a dozen excuses as to why I beat her, from "the game cheats" to "my wrist hurts" to "I got the lousy 3-D glasses" etc etc etc.
10:30 AM - She beats me. So much for excuses. I think I must have got the lousy 3-D glasses.

Now we're off to do the other significant rides in the park: California Screamin', Hollywood Tower of Terror (which reminded me of the hotel we stayed in a couple nights ago), and Soarin' over California (they must not like the letter "G" here). All are great. We get our picture taken with Sully from Monsters Inc. We also go into the Blue Sky Exhibit, which is a preview of attractions to come; there is already a great deal of construction going on where they are putting in a new show, "Worlds of Colour", which is going to be similar to Fantasmic, I think. This opens in the spring of 2010. Coming in 2011 is a new ride based on The Little Mermaid, and in 2012 they are completely re-doing the entrance to the park into a 1920's theme, AND opening a complete new land, Cars Land. Lots going on.

1:50 PM - We have reservations for lunch at Ariel's Grotto. Lunch consists of three courses, some antipasto, bread and salad to start, an entree of your choice (Tracey went with Herbed Chicken and I had Spiced Tri-Tips), and then a plate of mixed desserts that you have to see to believe. We also get pictures with most of the Disney Princesses: Ariel, Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora and Jasmine. I've always wondered if that is their entire job; is the girl playing Snow White ALWAYS Snow White, and that's all she does? I've always wanted to ask them but they never come out of character so there would be little point. They are sure great at their roles...the little kids (and slightly bigger kids) sure enjoy spending some time with them.

3:30 PM - Up to our room to relax a little bit before heading to the Canucks game.

6:00 PM - Tracey is up from her nap and we're off to the Honda Center for the Canucks/Ducks game. It's only about a 10 minute drive away. It's a nice facility, but nowhere near as nice as the Staples Center. Canucks jerseys outnumber their Anaheim counterparts by at least 2 to 1; a far cry from the Kings game where Kings jerseys were everywhere. This game is a nightmare for me; as a Flames and Stars fan, there is no good result here; basically I don't care who wins, as long as it doesn't go to overtime and turn into a 3-point game. I try to foster a few chants going during the game: "No Overtime!!!!", "Reg-u-LAY-shun CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP", and, after the Canucks had tied the game late in the third period, "Someone score, CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP, I don't care WHO!! CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP". I am less than successful. Oh, and there is no truth to the rumour that I led the "REF, YOU SUCK!!!!!" chant that broke out in the third period after Anaheim's goalie was run over.

9:30 PM - My nightmare is complete, as regulation time ends in a 3-3 tie and we are headed to overtime. My nightmare gets just a little bit worse a few minutes later when Scott Niedermayer scores for Anaheim, which was really the worst possible result. The Ducks pick up 2 points on Dallas, and the Canucks move one point closer to Calgary. Fan-freaking-tastic.

10:15 PM - We arrive back at the hotel and put the car back into valet parking. A cast member asks us how our day was, and when Tracey responds that it would have been better if her team had won, he apologizes!! GOD they are nice here :-)

10:36 PM - Heading to bed now, another great day in the books and we are getting up early tomorrow to use our "early entrance" pass to hit a couple of the attractions that always have long lineups. Tracey's eye is much better now and hopefully will be almost completely healed by tomorrow.

Thursday, March 12th

10:56 AM - Well so much for using the "early entrance" pass today as we decided to sleep in. By the time Tracey is ready to go it will be close to noon; there is one advantage to sleeping this late, we get to save on meals! We've already missed breakfast :-)

11:30 AM - We head to the Storyteller Cafe for lunch; Tom Bergeron is there filming a segment for "American's Funniest Home Videos"; not sure how anything he's filming can constitute a "home video" but whatever. He's hanging out at the buffet with Goofy and Donald, and we get seated in a separate part of the restaurant. This restaurant RULES; they have the world's greatest corn muffins, and quite possibly the best soup I've ever tasted, their corn chowder. Fantastic. Tracey and I also have a fantastic chicken caesar salad and are quite full when we leave.
After lunch, we head upstairs to change into "get wet" clothes as we are going to go right into California Adventure and go on the Grizzly River Rapids ride, where we know we are going to get wet. We are not disappointed, getting quite soaked as we ride it twice. During our second ride, there is a father with two kids, one girl and one boy, who I would estimate were 5 and 6, on the ride with us. The boy got absolutely drenched, and the look on his face was something I wish I had captured on our camera. He wasn't going to cry; he wasn't pissed off; it just looked like he couldn't possibly comprehend what had just happened to him. Priceless.

1:00 PM - Back to our room to change out of our wet clothes and relax for a while, then down to the World of Disney store to do a little more shopping. I got basically shut out this trip, as all the cool stuff was for Tracey!!!! She cleaned up with lots of very nice shirts.

7:00 PM - We have reservations for Steakhouse 55 in the Disneyland Hotel. It's a beautiful, high-end steakhouse and the food is great. Tracey has a New York Steak and I have a great piece of prime rib. They bring us a loaf of sourdough to start, and periodically throughout the meal a guy comes to the table with some sort of instrument and removes the bread crumbs from our table! Now THAT'S service!! The entire meal is great. On the menu they have a glass of cognac that is $135. I don't even like cognac but I'm curious as hell what a $135 glass of cognac tastes like, but I resist.

8:45 PM - Back at the hotel room and we are watching the fireworks from our room again. Love this!! Got another big day tomorrow so we are going to go to bed early.

1:45 AM - Hmm. I am awakened with an impending intestinal requirement which is going to have to be taken care of immediately. I get up and take a couple Pepto-Bismol tablets, that should solve the problem.

1:50 AM - Nope. The first things to come up are a couple of Pepto-Bismol tablets. Don't remember the last time I was this sick, I even wake Tracey up. As much as I enjoyed the taste of the garlic mashed potatoes with dinner, they are not quite as satisfying going the other way. Wow.

2:15 AM - I actually feel quite a bit better. That was quick. Must have been something I ate, I guess, but the only thing I ate that Tracey didn't was the prime rib. Hard to imagine there was something wrong with that but I guess anything's possible. Hopefully I'll feel OK in the morning.

Friday, March 13th

7:30 AM - Our last day in Disneyland and we have reservations for breakfast with Minnie and Friends. We do this every trip, it's a lot of fun, a good buffet, and we get lots of pictures with the characters. I feel pretty good this morning, considering the vomit-a-thon that I was involved in last night.

9:00 AM - Breakfast is $46, I pay the cashier with $100 bill and, as I'm walking to my table, notice she only gave me change for a 50. I go back to get the other $50 and she can't remember me giving her a hundred, so they have to balance her till to make sure I really did give her that. They are nice about it, of course, but it's a little bit irritating as I know for a fact I gave her $100.
We get to our table and start breakfast; I'm not as hungry as I would normally be but I still eat some muffins, french toast and waffles. The food is great, as always, and we get pictures with Pooh and Eeyore, as well as Captain Hook. There are a few characters walking around who we don't normally see here, including Goofy's son, whose name I don't know, and the Baboon from the Lion King as well. Chip and Dale are here as well but we don't wait for them to get to our table as we will see them at breakfast tomorrow. Near the end of the meal, Steve, a supervisor, brings me my $50 and apologizes for the mistake.

10:15 AM - We head to Splash Mountain, the last of our favorite rides that we haven't hit already. I barely get wet at all, Tracey gets pretty wet....wet enough that she would be uncomfortable for the rest of the day, so we head back to our room. I wanted a nap anyway, I didn't have a great sleep last night so I'm pretty tired.

3:00 PM - I like naps. Seriously. Up and into California Adventure, to get a good spot for the Pixar Play Parade. We get an excellent spot.

5:15 PM - The parade starts, I have an excellent view to tape it. It's a good parade, featuring most of the Pixar characters you would expect to see.
After the parade, we head back to Disneyland for the last time this trip. We shop a bit, go on the Finding Nemo Submarine Rides, and then say our goodbyes to the park. We are planning to be back in September, for our 5th wedding anniversary. Can't think of a better place to spend it.

9: 25 PM - We watch the fireworks from our room again, and this time I tape it for posterity. After the fireworks I catch up on blogging, and we pack. Tomorrow is our flight back home.

Saturday, March 14th

9:00 AM - We are having breakfast with Chip N Dale, at the Storyteller's Cafe. It's a buffet, and it's the best buffet here. We have a great breakfast, get pictures with the chipmunks, a racoon and a couple bears (this restaurant has a wildlife problem) and head back to the room to finish packing and get ready to leave. They have delivered our itemized bill, and we don't actually even have to check out; as long as we agree with the bill, we just leave. Everything looks OK so we are heading out. Going to have a few hours to kill between now and when we want to get to the airport so we are going to hit an outlet mall and do a little shopping.
Thus ends another great vacation. T-minus 6 months until our next appearance in Disneyland.

Engemoen OUT.

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