Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Thanksgiving in California: We spent Thanksgiving Day in Disneyland!!!

We spent 16 hours in Disneyland, that is, with a 1.5-mile walk between the park and our hotel on either side of it.

Here's our first day in California--at the beach!
Here's our second day in California--in San Diego!
Here's our third day in California--exploring Joshua Tree National Park!

And now we're at Thanksgiving Day, at approximately 6:15 am, eating motel breakfast with a handful of other Disney diehards (you can tell the Disney-goers because apparently there's a uniform. The kids commented several times throughout the day that just about everyone but us had on some sort of Disney gear--mouse ears of a million varieties, themed T-shirts and sweatshirts, princess dresses on the kids, sometimes entire themed outfits. If I'd known, I'd at least have had Syd save her Goodwill Goofy sweatshirt for this day!). In the past couple of months since I'd hatched our vacation plans, I'd spent at least a little bit of every day on the big Disneyland forum, reading tips and tricks and crafting my method of attack. That's why we were staying where we were: Disneyland is walkable from the surrounding neighborhoods, but the hotels that are across the street from the park entrance cost several hundred dollars more per nigh than the hotel where we were. We were at about the outer limit of walkability for our active family, but the night before I'd sent Matt to preview the route, and he'd found us a couple of shortcuts that were only slightly shady.

That's also why we were eating when we were: the main tenet of advice was to arrive at the park gate 45 minutes to an hour before it even opened, so by 6:30 am we were hiking, by 6:50 or so we were in Downtown Disney--

--by 7:00 or so we were at the front gates of Disney California Adventure--

--and by 7:40 or so we were actually inside the park, in line for Soarin!

I wanted to see as much of Disneyland as we could in one day, so I splurged on their MaxPasses. They were totally worth the money, because you could use it to pull FastPasses right on the Disneyland app, instead of having to walk over to a machine that might be at the far end of the other part, which means that as soon as the park opened for the day I could be walking through the line at Soarin' while choosing a FastPass for Radiator Springs Racer, and then right after we got off Soarin' we could ride Grizzly River Run (that's why we're wet in the next several photos), walk over there, sightseeing along the way--

--and be starting our ride 20 minutes later!

You can see Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout from the top of Radiator Springs--I'd just pulled a FastPass for that while in line for this!

I wouldn't wait in the 2+hour lines that I was seeing sometimes on the Disney app for this ride, but we were all super into it. It kind of has something for everyone--there's your basic dark ride, where you can see some of the characters pop out and they're cute, and then there's a part with excellent special effects, and a part where you split off and can get a different ride experience depending on your car, and a part where you race another group in their other car, and it's fast and thrilling but not too swoopy. Matt doesn't like roller coasters, but even he enjoyed this one.

MaxPass also includes all the PhotoPass photos for every photo taken in the park, which was a total bonus for us, because I've never in my life bought a ride photo. I don't know if I would have bought any of these, frankly--we are apparently not the kind of people who all make interesting, dramatic faces on rides--but still, they're fun to have:

I'd sort of thought that we might use the PhotoPass feature to take cute pictures of our whole family in front of the picturesque sites, but the line for every single one of those was LONG, and we mostly wanted to do all the rides we could, not get all the photos taken of us that we could. So this is the only photo we got, because we were the only people in the park who wanted our photo taken in front of a Cars-themed Nutcracker poster:

Syd and I had just watched Cars while Matt and Will were in California without us, so we appreciated all the theming in Cars Land:

Actually, all the theming overall was my favorite thing about Disneyland. I loved the eye for detail, and yes, the holiday decorations were pretty magical. I mean, those snowflakes are made from WRENCHES!!!

Syd is kind of a reluctant Ariel fangirl--we all agree that The Little Mermaid has a HORRIBLE message, but still! Mermaids!--so we had to ride Ariel's Undersea Adventure, even though it's just teerrrrrrribbbbble. Fortunately, its cheeziness was what made it super fun for us:

Then we rode Guardians of the Galaxy, which was my favorite ride and Matt's least favorite (I thought the effects were awesome and I'm super into free-fall rides, but that's Matt's most hated type of ride of all), and then Goofy's Sky School, which terrified the both of us equally but which the kids LOVED:

It is chicken-themed, though, so it does have that going for it. You can't completely hate a chicken-themed ride:

All those hairpin turns at the very edge of the track, though? SHUDDER.

Syd insisted on riding Grizzly River Rapids AGAIN, because we weren't wet enough, and then before lunchtime we were already walking out of Disney California Adventure (for a while)--

--and making our way to The Enchanted Tiki Room, sharing a Dole Whip while we waited for the next show:

The Dole Whip was on our must-have list, but none of us were super into it. Heathens, I know. The Enchanted Tiki Room also isn't, you know, incredible or anything, but it's one of my most vivid memories from my trip to Disney World as a little kid, and so I have to go every time and drag everyone else with me.

Disneyland was crazily more crowded than Disney California Adventure, and the park was kind of a mass of moving people by the time we made our way to our FastPasses for Matterhorn, which turned out to be Syd's favorite ride:

It wasn't my favorite, but it WAS really cool. Syd and I had watched lots of POV ride videos on YouTube (which is something that I highly recommend if you're at all interested in theme park rides, because many of them are extremely high quality and you really get a good idea of what the ride is like), so we already knew our favorite small details to look out for, like the scary peek at the abominable snowman on the lift and the quaint details in the ride queue that let you know it's one of the original Disneyland rides:

We had a little time to kill before our next FastPass, so we blew it waiting in line for Snow White's Scary Adventures (I wish we'd used that time on Peter Pan instead, because we never managed to get there):

Here's a nice detail of the Peter Pan ride, though--see the pirate ship weather vane?

It's still barely after noon at this point, so we have some time to bum around the castle, making wishes and such--

--before we join the mosh pit that is Tomorrowland, good lord:

Buzz Lightyear in Disneyland is WAY better than Buzz Lightyear in Disney World, for the simple reason that here, you can actually pick up your blaster so that you can actually aim it! Still, I work so hard to shoot everything in sight that I leave the ride and can never actually tell you anything that was on it. I do like Space Mountain in Disney World better, though. We all like Star Tours, and although I remember the submarines as Captain Nemo's, from Disney World--

--the kids still thought that they were pretty magical:

While we were in line for Finding Nemo, I used the Disneyland app to order lunch across the park, so when we were done all we had to do was walk over to Stage Door Cafe and pick it up!

We're eating corn dogs because, again, they came highly recommended, and Syd is a big corn dog fan. I thought mine was pretty greasy, and it took me both lunch and dinner to finish it. Syd's also took her two meals, but she gave it a much higher approval rating than I did:

I didn't have a plan for where to go to see the parade and when to get there, and this was a mistake, because if you don't make a plan in a place this crowded, you're going to be frustrated and disappointed. So I was frustrated and disappointed at our kind of crappy view, and how annoying and pushy-shovey the crowd was, but the kids didn't seem to notice and they enjoyed themselves, so mission accomplished, nevertheless:

See? She liked it!

It gets dark even earlier on the West Coast than it does here in Indiana--they must be misplaced in their time zone, too! So by the time we were heading over to our FastPasses for Haunted Mansion, it's already starting to get a little too dark for photos:

I love Nightmare Before Christmas, but eh, I didn't love the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay of Haunted Mansion. I guess if you go to Disneyland every year then a holiday overlay is a fun novelty, but I don't know if I'll ever go to Disneyland again in my life, and I would have preferred to see the classic version.

By the time the sun fully set and we'd ridden Jungle Cruise (the kids thought that it was great to ride it after dark, and it was good, but I think it would have been better in daylight), we had an hour until our FastPasses for Incredicoaster back at Disney California Adventure, and it was actually getting chilly enough, even for us Midwesterners, that Matt volunteered to run back to the motel and bring back more layers for everyone. This was noble of him, indeed, but also a factor is the fact that the kids and I were about to get on Splash Mountain, and all things considered, Matt would for sure choose a three-mile hike over this:

Although an hour later, he was a total trooper for this!

The Incredicoaster was almost... too long? I enjoyed it for a while, and then I was pretty sure that I was going to die. Seriously, it's a LONG ride!

This was our last ride in Disney California Adventure (I was still holding out hope that I could sneak onto Guardians of the Galaxy again, but it wasn't to be), so we did some sightseeing on Pixar Pier--

--until I got paranoid about finding a spot for the fireworks, having learned my lesson from the parade, and we walked back over to Disneyland for the rest of the night.

Finding a fireworks spot is almost as annoying as finding a parade spot. It's only a little better because you can see the fireworks from most of the park, but if you also want a castle view... well, good luck. If I had this trip to do again, I would have skipped the parade entirely, rode rides right up until the fireworks, and then found any old spot to simply see what I could see from where we happened to be. But what we did, instead, was find a decent spot to watch the fireworks, with the castle in front, and then attempt to guard that spot for the next hour. At first it was cool because everyone was sitting down. Will fell asleep for a while, as a matter of fact. But then people started to interlope and stand right in front of people who were sitting down, so everyone had to stand up and guard their spot better if they didn't want people to come and stand right in front of them. And then people just kept coming and coming, and the space got more and more crowded. People would say, "Excuse me," and want to push by you as if they were simply walking past, but then would push by you and stand right in front of you. The third time it happened to Syd I told her that she was to plant her feet and was forbidden to move from her spot, no matter what, and we just didn't move at all when people tried to push past us--if we had, we wouldn't have been able to see a thing even after holding our spot for an hour!

All that, and then when the fireworks finally started some grown-ass man in the very front of our space had to have three different strangers ask him to please hold down his giant Mickey head balloon so that all the humans standing behind him didn't have their entire view blocked by it. Come on, People!

Thank goodness that when the lights on the street finally dropped, the whole damn thing was so magical that it made up for all the crap we'd put up with trying to simply watch it in the first place. I didn't take many photos because I was, you know, watching it, but these are enough to give you the vaguest of vague ideas. Add more color and sound and cool things happening to the castle, and you'll sort of get the picture:

As soon as the fireworks were over we had to immediately go over to queue up for our FastPass of Fantasmic, and even though I was pretty sure I was going to pee my pants before it was over, THAT was how they should organize all their dang shows, because it was totally easy and worth it. When we'd walked over to Disneyland that morning, we'd pulled FastPasses for the 10:30 showing of Fantasmic, and as the fireworks were over at about 9:45, we immediately walked over and got corralled into a holding area for just our FastPass group. If we had it to do again, I'd have picked up a late dinner so we could have killed some time eating while we waited, but then I'd have drunk more of my water bottle and I probably really would have peed my pants.

Anyway, after they'd cleared out the crowd from the first Fantasmic viewing, we got herded through into the FastPass viewing area, where we had to sit and stay seated through the show. See, because if everyone is sitting, everyone can SEE!!! It wasn't amazingly comfortable to sit on the ground as a big ole' adult, but thoughts of the great view we'd have comforted me, and marveling at this couple who was keeping their BABY awake to watch the show kept me scandalized enough to stay awake, myself.

And Fantasmic? WAS SO COOL!!! We hadn't seen the whole thing at Disney World, because they stopped the show when it started to rain, and I'd been well ready to go back to our condo by then, but this time, I was amazed. We had a perfect view, the effects were incredible, I was super impressed at how they'd rerigged the Sailing Ship Columbia and reused the steamboat, and there was even a dragon:

It was so. GOOD.

I mentioned that Syd and I watched a lot of POV ride videos. Actually, our whole family watched a ton of Disney videos, and even after we got home we watched some to see stuff that we'd missed in the park, or aren't currently running--thanks to YouTube we're all obsessed with World of Color, and we've never even seen it in person. Honestly, I preferred watching the parade on YouTube after we got home to trying to crane my neck past rude tourists to see some of it in person, and with the fireworks show, you can see other aspects that weren't in your line of sight in person. But if you've never seen Fantasmic before and you think that you might possibly go to a Disney park someday and watch it in person, DON'T watch it on YouTube! It's so good that it's not worth spoiling it ahead of time.

Thankfully, by 11:00 pm the park had cleared out a LOT, and we got more rides ridden in that last hour than we'd gotten ridden in our first hour. We had a FastPass for Indiana Jones, which turned out to be one of our favorite rides--it's crazy bumpy, like, you drive over boulders and stuff, but if you catch a glimpse of another vehicle on the track you can see that all the wheels are always on the track, and it's the chassis that is going crazy jolting you around. It's also computer-controlled, so every ride is slightly different. Then we rode Pirates of the Caribbean, which is VERY different from the Disney World version, and a lot longer, too, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and at 11:45 pm, I realized that if we didn't book it over to It's a Small World, we'd miss it entirely.

It's a Small World was my Mammaw's favorite ride. God, I miss her. I couldn't miss this ride.

So we booked it!

Mammaw would have loved the lights. Syd really enjoyed the outside, too--she'd taken an Outschool class on the art of Mary Blair a couple of weeks before this, on purpose because I thought she'd appreciate seeing her work in person afterwards. And she did!

I know I just complained about Haunted Mansion Holiday, but the holiday version of It's a Small World is awesome. Whereas I could probably ride the Haunted Mansion every day happily, Mammaw or not, I've probably seen It's a Small World plenty of times, and the Christmas songs in the different languages were very sweet and cool. It's also, like, a 15-minute ride, though, so by the time we exited, we'd been in the parks for over 16 hours, and Disneyland was finally closed.

Which just meant that I could finally take some photos on the way out that didn't have five billion other people in them!

Mind you, we still had a 1.5 mile walk from the park entrance back to our hotel. I was pretty well dragging, but the kids were actually doing fine, and there were still enough people around for the whole walk that it didn't feel perilous, even after midnight. We also had our minds taken off our feet by watching the train wreck that was another couple walking along with us and very loudly breaking up while doing so. We analyzed this couple the whole trip back home the next day. Okay, he was dressed casually, like you would for a day at Disneyland. She was dressed up, though, in a fancy outfit and high heels, completely inappropriately for a trip to a theme park. So you might think she was wrong, right? That she hadn't dressed for the occasion and was cranky and cold and it was her own fault? But what if he didn't even tell her where they were going that day? What if he just said he was taking her out, and she wanted to dress up nice for him, and then he takes her somewhere where she's going to be miserable in her outfit? They were clearly local, because the accusations he was screaming at her all sounded like townie stuff. And they did sound kind of bad, but he was the one screaming them in a public place, which is highly uncool. And he was swearing. At her. In front of my children. This, in my opinion, automatically makes him in the wrong no matter what she did and what she told her dad about him and what her sister said. She didn't look like she needed rescuing or anything, but I was VERY upset on her behalf. I hope that jerk is far behind her now.

As if the couple was a minor bit of foreshadowing, we, too, were all very cranky on our long, early flights home the next day--like, SO cranky. So VERY cranky. I have so many stories about the crankiness and unhappiness that ensued, but you probably don't want to hear about how pissed I was to have to sit between two strange men for four hours when somehow Matt scored an aisle seat two rows away, AND my TV screen thingy didn't work so I couldn't finish watching Oceans 8 while I could clearly see Matt watching Marvel movie after Marvel movie all stretched out in the aisle, and then in DFW Will almost walked off the tram into a random terminal and then acted like Matt was attacking her when he grabbed her back and a total stranger offered to call the police, and then in Indy the worst couple ever sat on the other side of the aisle next to Matt and when we disembarked the guy totally cut in front of Matt to get off, then Matt went, then when I tried to shuffle the kids and myself off after him the woman made this big comment about how she'd been cut off from walking with her husband so I let her go in front of me even though that meant that she was cutting me off from walking with my husband but whatever it's not a big deal, at which point she walked as slowly as ever-loving molasses while the kids and I, for whom it was something like 3 am, lost our minds behind her, and her husband was waiting right at the end of the plane for her, it's not like he was on Mars, and they both proceeded to walk as slow as a human can walk up the gangway, TAKING UP THE WHOLE GANGWAY so nobody could pass them, and by the time we finally made it up to the gate Matt was pissed at ME because good lord, how can it take me that long to get myself (and two exhausted kids and all our stuff) off the plane, and so I sent him ahead to get the car from long-term parking while I got the luggage, but for fuck's sake I forgot to give him the exit ticket so the kids and I had to get the luggage by ourselves and ride the damn bus out to him, anyway, with our fifty-pound suitcase and nobody, on either side of the airport, was happy about that.

Traveling home from a fun trip is always the worst--I still remember the time that I accidentally caused an international incident in a Switzerland airport, I was so exasperated--but that's kind of a good thing, isn't it? Because if your trip home wasn't miserable, then maybe you wouldn't notice how quiet your house is when you walk in, and how comfy your bed is, and how nice your cats are, and how quick your internet is, and how happy your doggy is to see you. 

Because we LOVED this Thanksgiving trip to California, but we sure were relieved when we got home!

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