Sunday, 16 April 2017

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure



Well it’s not every year a chap gets to celebrate his 50th Birthday so with my daughter, Jasmin, visiting from the UK we thought it would be a great opportunity to relive family holidays past and arrange a trip to Disney. When we lived in the UK this would typically involve driving to Disneyland Paris, but as we are now in pastures new it would be a great opportunity to visit Disneyland in Los Angeles, Victoria and I have been here a couple of times over the past few years (blog reports here and here), but Jasmin has not been since April 1996, just before her fifth birthday.
While Jasmin and her boyfriend Neil were visiting us in Wisconsin in October we booked some flights and arranged an hotel and it was all arranged that we would visit just after my 50th Birthday on the 2nd January this year.

Jasmin arrived on the 30th December and spent New Year’s and my actual birthday with me, then on the 4th January we loaded up the snot-rod and set off for the four and a half hour drive to Minneapolis-St.Paul. Driving through the snowy landscape, we stopped a couple of times first for a coffee and then for a bite of lunch at Perkins before arriving at Minneapolis-St.Paul airport, going first of all to the wrong car park then eventually finding the right one – more stressful than it sounds!
Catching the shuttle, we were soon in the terminal. Having booked with Spirit Airlines, who can give Ryan Air a run for their money on the ‘extras’ front we were only carrying a small amount of baggage. Colleagues are amazed at how little I take away with me but still manage to cover all the options. 

Just over four hours after leaving MSP we touched down at LAX and summoned an Uber and were soon zipping across LA with Samantha arriving about an hour later at the Super 8 – Spirit then Super 8, we were doing this on a budget as you can see. One word about using an Uber, with three of us the return bus transfers worked out at about $50.00 each, neither of the Ubers cost us more than $50.00, so we made quite a saving on the trip.

We were quickly checked in and dropping our bags in the room, spacious, clean, functional we were soon walking the 15 minute stroll to the park and checking out Downtown Disney where we had a snack of scrummy Beignets from Ralph Brennans Express before picking up our park tickets for the following day and walking back to the hotel, grabbing a Subway for support.



Thursday morning we were up super early having had a good nights sleep – although some idiot woke us around midnight hammering on their car horn – to a light drizzle, no problem we are English and used to this although the locals did seem a bit unsure what the wet stuff falling from the sky was. Jasmin slipped on the wet steps of the hotel and suffered a bruised arse for her troubles, the breakfast at the Super 8 is nothing to write home about so we set straight off for the park and fifteen minutes later were going through security and entering Disneyland.

We had not bought ‘Park-hopper’ tickets so we would be spending all day in the park. Despite the drizzle, it was already getting rather busy and we found out that today, Thursday, was the first day that the SoCal Passholders were allowed in the park after the Christmas celebrations.

We had set ourselves up again with RideMax and our first port of call was to get some Fast-pass for Hyper-Space Mountain, but the machines were down so we headed straight into Buzz Lightyears Astro Blasters and only queued for about five minutes before boarding and were soon zapping away at the minions of Emperor Zurg. Exiting the ride we picked up some Fast-passes for Star Tours to be used later.



Tomorrowland was now getting very busy and to make it worse was infested with baby-strollers. Walking through Fantasy Land we notice no queue for the Tinkerbell meet and greet so we use our Photo-pass for the first time and have pictures with her.






Next we are heading into Adventure Land and again not no queue for Pirates of the Caribbean – a family favourite ride – and are soon Yo-Ho-Ho-ing our way into Port Royal.

Exiting Pirates we go straight into The Haunted Mansion with under five minutes queueing are into the ride. As the Christmas ‘skin’ is still on Disneyland the Haunted Mansion has been taken over by Jack Skeleton for the Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s very well done!



Having already been on three rides and had a character meet-and-greet it’s time to get some breakfast where we have a coffee and a chocolate croissant at the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café. Tasty as they are, the chocolate croissants are a dead ringer for a Greggs pastry.

We now head up into Critter Country and I try to talk Victoria and Jasmin onto Splash Mountain but as you are very likely to get wet and the drizzle persists I am out-voted and instead we go on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh followed by a meet and greet with Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore. We stroll back up Main Street and pick up some 50th Birthday celebration badges at Disney Gallery, they don’t do them at the Town Hall any more.



Now it’s time for Jasmin to try one of Victoria and my favourite Disney snacks and we head over to the Tiki-Bar to pick up a Dole Whip, it’s a thumbs up all round.



Our Fast-passes for Star Tours are now active so making our way through the crowds to Tomorrowland we are soon boarding our shuttle and off to Naboo via Endor, we’ve not ridden this mission before so again another thumbs up. As an additional bonus, the Fast-pass system for Hyper-space Mountain is now working again and we pick up tickets to ride later this evening. We also check out the new meet and greet area at the Star Wars Launch Pad, but only half the system is open and the queues long so we browse the very well presented exhibits and elect to come back later.

We decide to try out Toon Town and it’s a little quieter than the rest of the park, when Jasmin last came in 1996 we queued for about 90 minutes to get on the newly opened Who Framed Roger Rabbit ride, this time we only had to queue for about 15 minutes before we were whiling through the adventure.

It’s now well into the early afternoon and time for us to grab some lunch, looking at the many options available we elect to have Mexican themed food at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante. Victoria and I share a Red Chile Enchilada Platter while Jasmin elects to have the Bean and Cheese Burrito. It’s very tasty and we would certainly eat there again on future visits. After lunch we can now pick up another set of Fast-passes so pick up ones for the Indiana Jones Adventure.



As we plan to spent quite some time this evening in the park we decide to head back to the hotel for a rest, from Tomorrowland we take the Monorail out to Downtown Disney where Victoria and Jasmin pick up a Cake-pop  and I suggest an alternate route back to the hotel – 30 minutes later, having travelled about twice as far as the normal route I’m getting some stick but we eventually reach the hotel and settle down for a couple of hours kip.

Heading back to the park it has now stopped raining and the crowds seem as busy as ever. We first of all head up to Hyper-space Mountain, the standard queue is now closed, but, our Fast-passes gain us access. The old Space Mountain has had a Star Wars skin applied and it’s very well done and the ride is as exhilarating as ever.



Heading into New Orleans Square we see again that the queue for Pirates of the Caribbean is quite short and as it is a family favourite take another ride before joining a 15 minute queue for another trip around the Haunted Mansion for another session with Jack Skeleton and his buddies.

We decide to check out the queues at the Star Wars Launch Pad and it’s only a 15 minute queue to see Chewbacca for a meet and greet then another 15 minutes to meet Darth Vader for a meet and greet, Victoria and Jasmin cannot wait to grass me up as Rebel scum!




Time for supper, a favourite of Victoria and I is the Vegetarian Gumbo from Royal Street Veranda and Jasmin is now a new convert, we now have the recipe and it is often cooked at home. The Fast-passes for the Indiana Jones Adventure are now active and we are soon speeding through the cursed temple, avoiding the gaze of the Forbidden Eye and being rescued by Indy!



Emerging into the night the park is packed and we are all rather footsore. We had planned on staying until midnight, but decide instead to watch the Paint the Night parade then head back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.





Waking up on Friday morning the rain has stopped and the sun is shining brightly as we complete our ablutions and walk to the park. Today we shall be visiting the Disney Californian Adventure park, when Jasmin last came over 20 years ago, this was the parking lot! We are ready at rope-drop and head straight for Toy Story Mania only to find when we arrive that it’s closed for maintenance for at least another hour. We circle Paradise Pier and are straight on to the Golden Zephyr, then straight onto Goofys Flying School and again straight onto the Little Mermaid ride, a new favourite of Jasmins.



After three rides in quick succession we decide to grab breakfast at Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café following which I go to get our Radiator Springs Fast-passes for later in the day. Victoria and Jasmin join the queue for the meet-and-greet with Daisy Duck and I soon join them.



We have a Disney Visa Debit card which gives you a few perks in the park including exclusive meet-and-greets so we head over there, to meet Daisy Duck again, she is a busy gal!

Heading into Grizzly Peak we board the Grizzly Rapids log flume ride, it’s better to get wet on a sunny day like this! We actually have quite a smooth ride, judicious choice of seating sees us emerge with hardly any splash. We head into Redwood Creek Challenge Trail where we have a meet-and-greet with Chip and Dale and another meet-and-greet with Goofy in his Santa outfit, that’s the Christmas cards sorted for next year.



It’s all very thirsty work so we stop at Sonoma Terrace for a selection of Californian craft beers – yes, in Disney! – and a lovely cheese board, unfortunately they have run out of the warm pretzels.



We enjoy our drinks in the warm California sun before heading into Cars Land for more adventures. Victoria grabs a pickle from Fillmore’s Taste-In and we all ride Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree before exiting Cars Land and shrinking down in size we enter ‘A Bugs Life’ riding on Francis’ Ladybug Boogie and Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train which makes us all laugh!




We walked down to Hollywood Land to meet Spiderman and Captain America, the line was quite long so as Victoria and Jasmin waited I fetched ice-cream from Clarabelles, returning the girls had hardly moved so we gave up waiting as a bad job. The park was getting rather busy now and picked up fast-pass for Soarin’, It would also not be long before our Radiator Springs fast-passes were active so we made our way towards Cars Land, on the way we noticed that the queue for the Little Mermaid was not too long so we rode that again – this is one of Jasmin’s favourite rides. We also had some photos taken with the Big Cheese himself – Mickey Mouse.




In Cars Land we shared a Cozy Cone vegetarian chilli and had photos taken with both Mater and Red before buckling up and racing around the Radiator Springs track – our car won that day.




Our fast-pass for Soarin’ was now active so we made our way over there and were soon flying around the world with our feet dangling below us – if you get the opportunity ask for a ride in B1 as it’s the best seats.

Back at Grizzly Peak we have our photos taken with Pluto by the vintage airplane and head back down to Hollywood Land where the queue is rather shorter and after about a twenty-minute wait have photos with both Captain America and Spiderman.





The park is now about as busy as Disneyland had been the previous day and it seems that there is little chance of getting on any rides. We head over to California Screamin’ but that is about a 90-minute wait so instead wait a few minutes and board the Carousel. It’s quite late, the park is busy and we are all footsore so decide to head back to the hotel, stopping at the 7-11 for fruit, snacks, coffee and donuts before crashing out in the room.




Saturday morning and our last day in the park, Thursday and Friday the parks had been very busy and it was now the weekend, this could be a nightmare. As it transpired the park was much quieter than the previous two days. We had a choice for the last day, Disney Land or Disney California Adventure, as the birthday boy I picked the latter as it’s my favourite of the two.

We were very near the front for rope-drop and again made straight for Toy Story Mania, it was down again. It seems that over the Christmas period a lot of rides were running at full capacity and they were taking the opportunity to do some much-needed maintenance. We instead grabbed some California Screamin’ fast-passes and went onto Mickeys Fun Wheel – the first riders of the day. Not a great idea, although the sun was out it was early January and it was quite breezy, it was bloody freezing up there!



Walking back around Paradise Pier we again went on The Little Mermaid ride. Exiting we noticed that Toy Story Mania was running again and the queue time was only 15 minutes. It was about our breakfast time though so we shared a churro in the line before boarding the ride and donning our 3-D glasses and were soon blasting away at the fairground attractions.



Our California Screamin’ fast-passes were also active now so we went straight onto that and had a thrilling ride on this boardwalk style roller-coaster.



We decided to head back into Hollywood land where we met Princess Sophia and then rode the Monsters Inc. ride before a light breakfast at Fiddler, Fifer and Practical café. After breakfast we picked up some fast passes for Radiator Springs that evening before heading over to the Chase Visa meet and greed where this time we had photos with Stitch.



In ‘A Bugs Life’ we rode both Fliks Fliers and Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies, probably the slowest dodgems ride ever! On into Cars Land we have photos with Lightning McQueen himself and then ride Mater’s Junk Yard Jamboree. We see that the queue for the new Luigi’s Rollikin’ Roadsters is only about 20 minutes, this is the newest ride in the park so we join the line. It’s well worth the wait, check out some YouTube videos.



On our way to Grizzly Rapids we pick up fast-passes for Soarin’ before running the rapids, well yesterday’s good fortune has deserted us, we all get soaked!



We first pick up fast-passes for tonights World of Colour show and then walk around the shops taking the opportunity to dry out a little, a few souvenirs are purchased, but not too much, we are flying Spirit after all. We head out of the park to Downtown Disney for a bite to eat and have the healthy option, cake pops and beignets, well we are logging about 20,000 steps per day. We do need something better to eat so head past the hotel and on to Johnny Rockets for a burger stopping at the 7/11 again for snacks to take on tomorrow flight.

We crash out in the hotel for an hour before heading back to the park. Our Soarin’ fast-pass active but the queue is horrendous, 45 minutes with the fast-pass so we hand them to another family and make our way to Radiator Springs as that fast pass is also active very shortly. Another blast around the race-track again sees us as the winners!



We browse the shops and purchase a few souvenirs before riding Monsters Inc. again. The ride breaks down and after a few minutes stuck in the car we are escorted off the ride and out through the emergency exits, exciting!

Back in ‘A Bugs Life’ we think that a final ride on Heimlichs Chew Chew train is in order and we have the ride to ourselves and mimic the crazy faux-German accent “Candy corn, my favourite” as we do the circuit.

Walking back towards Paradise Pier we see the queue for the Little Mermaid ride is very short and it is Jasmin’s favourite so we head under the sea for another adventure, along Paradise Pier we enjoy another ride on the Golden Zephyr and ride Jumping Jellyfish for the very first time, much hilarity as Victoria and Jasmin share a car and get the safety belt completely wrong.




Heading up to Buena Vista we have our photos taken with Minnie Mouse, we’ve got the complete ‘Big Five’ set. It’s getting dark and it’s about time to watch the World of Colour show, but again the Little Mermaid ride has no queue so we think it would be our opportunity to have our last ride of the holiday before the show.



We take our allotted spaces for the show but it’s not a great view and after about 15 minutes decide to head off back to the hotel where we crash out for the night with another massive count on the pedometer. We’ve had a great time in the park and our purchase Photopass has been excellent value again. Ridemax, usually so useful in the past has been a real disappointment this time, never on plan for more than a couple of rides.

Sunday morning we awake and have a makeshift breakfast before summoning an Uber back to the airport, we catch our flight and are back in Minneapolis-St. Paul mid-afternoon, it’s bloody cold. A bottle of water we left in the car is frozen solid. An easy four hour drive, stopping once for coffee and we are back in Madison picking up a Chinese take-away we get back home. Whoops, newbie Wisconsin mistake, we had turned the heating down before we left and it’s only 6C in the house when we get home, heating on full blast we enjoy the takeaway and crash out in bed. Disneyland is great fun but very exhausting.


Wednesday, 5 October 2016

South Dakota road-trip (days 7 & 8)



It;s our last day at the Battle Creek Lodge and we wake at a reasonable time and have a leisurely breakfast of French Toast. After chatting to the lovely hosts and some of the other guests we load the car for the trip home and check out.

Glancing at the odometer we have done 1240 miles so far this trip. We leave Keystone and pick up the highway to Rapid City where we stop and fill the tank and I gave the windows a wash to remove the bugs.



We then get back on the I-90 heading towards Wall, our previous stop-over. Our first destination today would be the Badlands - the park ticket we purchased being valid for the entire week - on Sunday we had seen the beautiful Badlands at dawn, dusk and during the blazing heat of a late summers day, today it was more overcast and we saw yet again another set of stunning hues. We do love it here!






Driving west to east we stopped at many view points, some we had used on our previous trips and some entirely new ones, all felt new in the overcast light. We were delighted to see some Longhorn sheep taking in the stunning scenery and others running along the roads.




Driving out of the Badlands we stopped at the shop and visitors centre for postcards and souvenirs before picking up the I-90 heading east again towards the Missouri River. Getting ready for some lunch we stopped at Al's Oasis on the west bank of the Missouri River for another 5c coffee and grilled cheese sandwich each. These 5c coffees that we get in South Dakota are actually rather good and include free refills! Als is a strange place with some 'interesting' clientele.



Crossing to the east bank of the Missouri we again stop at the Chamberlain rest-area to take another look at the fantastic 'Dignity' statue that we had seen the dedication of on the previous Saturday. We got to get much closer and had a really good look at this impressive edifice.





About eight and a half hours after setting off from Keystone we arrived at Sioux Falls, first stopping for fuel and then on to the Super 8 - when in South Dakota and all that! - for the evening. We crashed out in the hotel and had a decent enough coffee from the lounge. It was not that late but although we were quite tired we thought we should do something. Brew-pub it is then, Victoria located the Hydra Beer Company about 15 minutes drive away and we headed over there.

The Hydra Beer Company has a metal aesthetic and we shared a lovely flight of Hefeweizen, Hexenbiest V1 (a nitro coffee brown ale), Unholy Vanilla Stout and Morning Star Berliner with a generous helping of the free popcorn and pretzels and a chat with a really nice bloke we met in the bar. We bought a bottle of Morning Star Peach Berliner to take home with us before heading back rather tired to the Super 8 where we crashed for the night.




Up for breakfast we went down to the lounge and had a passable repast but the most disgusting coffee we have ever tried before again mounting our trusty Honda for the last mere 450 miles! First stop was the post office to post the last handful of postcards (Jasmin likes to have one from everywhere we go!) and then on to the I-90.

First stop was a McDonalds somewhere in Minnesota so that Victoria could start her day with a decent cup of coffee and myself a Coke, our next stop would be an hour or two later when we stopped at the rest area just outside Austin to 'lose' the aforementioned coffee and cokes from earlier.



The weather was pretty miserable by now with quite heavy showers as we crossed back over the Mississippi and into Wisconsin, the last fuel stop at Tomah and then heading back to Madison. We were getting hungry again so stopped at Wisconsin Dells for a pretzel and coffee before blitzing the Disney Store for some goodies - Cheshire Cat, don't ask!

The last 50 miles back into Madison to unpack and crash out with a lovely Chinese take-away and Deadwood season 3.



2084 miles all told, what an adventure, bye bye South Dakota, you certainly have a lot of geography!