Quite a few people have asked me what I thought about the current issue of the National Enquirer – the one with the cover story that says Richard Simmons has transitioned into a woman. “Do you think it’s true?” I’ve fumbled my way through some answers to that question, but really, the truest and simplest answer is this: Read the rest of this entry »
My family was in town recently, for what turned out to be a really wonderful weekend. We headed down to Anaheim and did the whole Disney thing. It was my second time in each of the Disney parks, and it was a really fun and busy time. And even though the family has long since returned home, I can’t stop thinking about my four-year-old niece, Allison.
First, a picture of Allison, along with me, my sister Sarah, and Ariel from “The Little Mermaid.” I’m still wet from Grizzly River Run, the Disney California Adventure water ride we were on immediately preceding our meet and greet with Ariel:
I love theme parks. Love ’em! I love the rides, the atmosphere, the rides, the scenery, and the rides. I’ve written pretty regularly about my theme park adventures on this blog. I debuted this blog with a post that recounted my first visit to Magic Mountain – a momentous occasion, since it was the first time that I wasn’t too big to fit on a roller coaster in almost a decade. Since then, I’ve visited Knott’s Berry Farm and made a triumphant return to Cedar Point, the park I grew up visiting but hadn’t been to since college, when I was kicked off a ride because of my weight (details about that horrible experience here).
At the end of January, I visited, for the first time, the most famous theme park in the world: Disneyland. I had a wonderful time with my friends Heidi, Tom, and Keith – click here to read about it and see pictures. I had gotten a good deal on a park ticket, too – Disney offers southern California residents a 2-day pass for $99 (a basic 1-day pass is $80). And that meant that I had to go back to Disney a second time before my pass expired in June.
Luckily for me, there are two Disney theme parks in Anaheim. There’s the classic Disneyland, and the much newer Disney California Adventure, which is literally a few hundred feet away. So on Monday, I gathered up Heidi, Tom and Keith again, and we checked out Disney California Adventure. I love a theme park I’ve never been to before!
DCA opened about 10 years ago – it was built where the Disneyland parking lot used to be – and since I had never been there before, I had no idea what to expect. I had briefly heard about a few of the rides but knew very little about the park. Heidi and Keith are Disney junkies that know everything about everything – the perfect theme park companions!
I’m squinting in that photo, but here I am with Paradise Pier in the background. Paradise Pier was my favorite themed area – it’s a big carnival midway section of the park that wraps around a big lagoon. Screamin’, the roller coaster, wraps above and around a lot of it, and there are smaller carnival style rides. The ferris wheel, called Mickey’s Fun Wheel, is 160 feet tall and has both stationary gondolas, like a regular ferris wheel, and swinging ones, that add a thrill element. We waited in the longer line for a swinging one, and I snapped this photo of myself while we waited:
Here’s Heidi, Tom, and I on Mickey’s Fun Wheel:
My favorite amusement park rides are roller coasters, and Screamin’ is a good one – it’s fast, has great dives and air time, and it’s long. Paradise Pier is also home to what turned out to be one of my favorite rides: Toy Story Midway Mania. It’s a fantastic mash-up of ride and carnival game. You wear 3-D glasses, and sit in cars equipped with toy guns that whip you through fun carnival-themed environments. The cars stop in front of 5 or 6 giant screens, and you compete against the other people in your cars in virtual carnival games populated with Toy Story characters: there’s a ring toss, and games where you break plates with baseballs, pop balloons with darts, and shoot at moving targets. The ride keeps track of your points, and at the end of the ride, you can see who won! I rode with Tom…
…and I won (I was Player 2)!
Heidi, who was one car over, handily beat me by an additional 30,000 points or so. Well played, Heidi!
While Toy Story Midway Mania was a blast, my favorite ride at DCA was Soarin’ Over California, where you sit in chairs that allow your feet to dangle. When the ride starts, the chairs get repositioned in front of a giant concave IMAX screen. There’s beautiful footage of scenery and landmarks from around California, and it comes together to make it seem like you’re hang gliding over all of it. The ride isn’t scary – it’s simply beautiful, and wonderfully done.
I don’t have too many more pictures to share – I didn’t take many to begin with, and then my battery died halfway through the day (whoops). But I did photograph my lunch, because even though I was at a theme park, that didn’t mean I was going to make poor food choices. We ate at Paradise Garden Grill, which serves Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food – cuisines I’ve never seen in a theme park before!
That’s a beef kofta skewer. Kofta is basically a Middle Eastern spiced meatball. There’s cucumber salad, rice pilaf, and a piece of pita on the side. They offer 4 sauces, but I couldn’t pick just one, so I got all four to try. The white one was tzatziki (a yogurt and cucumber sauce), the green one was chimichurri (an Argentinean herb and oil-based sauce), and I forget what the other ones were, but I think one was a Moroccan-spiced chili sauce.
Later that night, we got a quick bite at Downtown Disney, a shopping and entertainment area next to the park. I got two chicken tacos at a taco stand, with lettuce, onions, cilantro, and salsa (no cheese or sour cream). I’m kinda happy to report that I wasn’t even tempted by any of the unhealthy theme park options, although I did love this vending machine, which we saw while waiting in line for the Monsters Inc. ride:
The “Sugar Salt & Fat” snack is my favorite! (It’s probably pretty delicious, too.)
Apart from the rides, we saw a couple really cool shows. DCA has a Broadway-style musical production of Aladdin that was well done, and, after the sun sets, the lagoon becomes home to World of Color, a very impressive, bright event that involves dancing fountains (like the Bellagio in Las Vegas) that shoot up walls of water that images and film clips are projected onto.
I’m excited to go back to DCA at some point i the future – two big parts of the park were under construction (opening in June): a Cars Land (themed around the Pixar Cars movies), and Buena Vista Street, a tribute to Los Angeles in the 1920s, when Walt Disney first arrived in California.
The best part about theme parks: I was walking all day long. Mile after mile after mile. Normally I’m very diligent about keeping track of my exercise, but every once in a while, it’s fun to have a very physical day (I was exhausted by the time I came home – we were there for around 11 hours!) and not worry about minutes or resistance levels or calories burned.
Keep it up, David!
This summer will mark my 10th anniversary of moving to southern California. In all that time, I never once went to one of the biggest, most iconic landmarks around. That’s right, ladies and gentleman, I’d never been to Disneyland. Ever. Until two days ago.
There was no particular reason I had never been to Disneyland (I have been twice to Disney World in Florida, but not in 20 years), although I’m sure I had the notion, deep in my brain, that I couldn’t possibly enjoy it if I was too big to go on the rides. That’s not an issue anymore, so when I got the Disneyland itch last fall, I started really wanting to go.
One of the big reasons I wanted to go to Disneyland is because some of my friends are giant Disney fans, and I realized that going with them would be a pretty special and fan outing. Heidi is one of those friends. Maybe you’re familiar with Heidi – she blogs over at Finishing the Hat (the title of this post, in fact, is in honor of her blog) – but she’s not just my friend from the blogosphere. I’ve known her since 1997, when we met at orientation before starting our freshman year at the University of Michigan. Heidi is a frequent Disneyland visitor – once every couple months or so, with periods in her life where she’s gone monthly. She knows a ton about Disneyland – in fact, she’s a self-proclaimed Disney nerd, and she jumped at the chance to show a first-time visitor around.
I picked up Heidi and her husband Tom on Tuesday, and the three of us drove down to Anaheim. We talked park strategies on the way down, and, at one point, Heidi stopped me mid-question and asked, “David, are you going to want the full nerd tour when we get there?” I looked over and said, “Heidi, anything less than the full nerd tour would be a waste of time.” And I was serious. I’m going to Disneyland with an authority on the matter, so I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could!
The first stop, when we got to the park, was City Hall, where I was given, free of charge, a 1st timer button:
The full nerd tour was awesome. Heidi pointed out all the Disney hidden secrets – which building had the apartment Walt Disney lived in during the park’s construction (it’s above the Main Street Fire Station), the significance of this and that decorative feature, why certain rides had certain features that other rides didn’t.
We started in Fantasyland, riding all the classic rides. A few hours into the day, our friend Keith joined us. I was already impressed with Heidi’s wealth of Disney knowledge, but Keith is a whole different story. He is a board-certified, fully-licensed, triple-black-belt Disney expert who has been a regular visitor for the past ten years. “Regular visitor” doesn’t do it justice – while waiting in a line, I grilled Keith about his history with the park, and did some fast math in my head. “Keith,” I said, “is it safe to say you’ve been to Disneyland 500 times?” Keith’s response: “Easily.”
Let’s just let that soak in for a quick second: Keith has been to Disneyland over FIVE HUNDRED TIMES. He lives 15 minutes from Disneyland, and swings by a couple times a week. He’s there so often he’s been mistaken for a park employee before. He knows everything about everything. He knows when buildings get new paint jobs. He knows when the soundtracks to the parades get updated or revised. He knows how Splash Mountain in California is different from the one in Florida, down to ride mechanics and how the seats are configured on each log. It’s unbelievable, and, for someone like me who is naturally curious, enjoys learning, and appreciates other people’s passions, it’s completely fascinating.
So, when you add Heidi and Keith’s libraries of information together… holy cow! It is the best way to experience Disneyland. If you have the opportunity to go to Disneyland with them, don’t think about it – just go. You won’t regret it. Here’s Heidi, Tom, Keith and me in front of the Haunted Mansion:
And the four of us on the Casey Jr. circus train:
It was a great day to visit the park. It was a Monday, perfect weather (70 degrees and cloudy), and lines were short. We walked onto some rides, like Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and waited, on average, 10 or 15 minutes for most of the others. Our longest wait was for Star Tours, and that was 45 minutes. Here’s Keith and I with our Star Tours 3D glasses:
Keith is really cute, don’t you think? I do.
As a result of the short lines, we went on everything we wanted to ride. In order, we went on:
Peter Pan, Snow White, Pinocchio, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Alice in Wonderland, Roger Rabbit, Finding Nemo, Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, Space Mountain, Storybook Land Boats, Casey Jr. Circus Train, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Winnie the Pooh, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Indiana Jones, Jungle Cruise, and Star Tours. Heidi and Keith are going to be horrified that I botched most of those names.
Nineteen rides – pretty sweet! We also saw the parade. OH – and I met a princess! This was a goal of mine. My 3-year-old niece Allison is obsessed with Disney princesses, and I wanted a picture with one to make her jealous (I’m such a good uncle, aren’t I?). Heidi and Keith warned me, multiple times, that the princesses were extremely popular, and that I should expect to wait an hour or more for the chance to meet and greet one. But twenty minutes into our day, what did we stumble upon? A row of princesses! Cinderella had the shortest line – I waited three minutes, and Heidi snapped this picture. Eat your heart out, Allison!
Cinderella and I are total besties now. She asked me to say hello to Allison for her, which I did. I texted that photo to my sister Sarah, who reported back that Allison stared it for ten minutes straight. I can’t wait to go to Disneyland someday with her and her brother Sam! I gave Allison specific instructions to bug Mommy and Daddy every single day to visit Uncle David in California so we can go to Disneyland, so it’s just a matter of Allison being persistent and Mommy and Daddy caving in!
I didn’t take tons of other photos that day, but here’s me in a teacup…
…and in the dog pound (I was unaware, at the time, that Pluto was right around the corner):
My favorite ride was probably Pirates of the Caribbean, because it’s so grand in scale and atmospheric. I enjoyed most of the dark rides, because they’re a Disney specialty – you don’t see many of them at other theme parks. Peter Pan brought back childhood Disney World memories and has a special place in my heart, and I loved Pinocchio because it’s so eerie and disturbing. If you’re a longtime reader of this blog, you know I love roller coasters (read about my trips to Magic Mountain, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Cedar Point), and Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain are both well-themed, exciting rides.
At the other end of the spectrum, I didn’t really care for the Roger Rabbit ride, which bummed me out, because I love that movie. And my least favorite ride, by far, was Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. It’s a dark ride, but every rider has a laser gun, and you shoot at targets during the ride and earn points. I rode with Tom, and let’s just say he’s a little bit better than me. My score is on the left:
He only beat me by nearly 60,000 points. Big whoop. What a dumb, stupid ride. I’ve never going on it ever again.
Being a good food blogger, I also photographed my lunch. I had a big breakfast before leaving the house, and ate a late dinner when I got home, so I only needed to eat one meal in the park. We decided on Cafe Orleans, a sit-down restaurant in the New Orleans Square part of the park, and I ordered a big salad:
That’s salmon over mixed greens, corn salsa, orange segments, grapes, and caramelized onions, with a citrus dressing. And iced tea.
I was pleasantly surprised with the food options at Disneyland. There’s all the unhealthy theme park options, like caramel corn and churros, but they also sold fresh fruit all over the place, and fresh veggies and hummus, too. Heidi mentioned that yogurt and a few other healthy options were available, too – so Disneyland gets lots of bonus points.
As for exercise, well, we spent about 9 hours walking around, so I’m sure that adds up to at least a few miles. I also did a little weight-lifting, but I think this dumbbell was too heavy:
I’ll wrap this up with another huge thanks to Keith, Heidi, and Tom for making this day such an ridiculously enjoyable one. We’re gonna do it again, soon, at Disney’s California Adventure! I’ll give the final words in this post to Walt Disney himself. This is my favorite quote of his:
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
Well said, Walt. It sure is!
KEEP IT UP, DAVID!
UPDATE! Two more photos, courtesy of Keith. Here we are on Splash Mountain:
Yep, I’m blocking Heidi completely! It was already dark by the time we got to Splash Mountain, and going on it was a mistake, because we got soaked, and it was cold. However, if we didn’t go on it, I’m sure I would have regretted it. So, a lose-lose situation. And here we are on Space Mountain:
And now I’m completely blocking Tom. (Keep it up, David!) Naturally, Keith knew exactly where the cameras were placed on each ride, so I’m looking at him so I could copy his pose. But I obviously didn’t make it in time!