I finally got to fulfill an adventure I’d had in my mind for a while now.
Back when I was a lad I really loved the amusement parks. Some of my best childhood memories were from trips taken to Adventureland, Six Flags, or Worlds of Fun. When I was between my junior and senior year of high school, my band performed in Orlando, FL at Universal Studios and the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. For my park lovin’ heart, Walt Disney World was the pinnacle of amusement parks due to sheer scope and variety. I enjoyed it so much that I’ve been back several times over the years. My love for amusement parks has waned considerably over the years, mostly due to my distaste of waiting in lines, but I still retain an enjoyment of Disney parks.
As a Disney aficionado, I’d long had a hankering to visit the park that started it all: Disneyland. However, I really didn’t want to visit it on my own as fun is always better when it’s multiplied by others. Luckily my old friend, Mat O’Donnell, and his wife, Carolyn Langlois (also a Disney park nut), lived in nearby Tempe, AZ. I asked Mat if he and Carolyn wanted to join me in Disneyland and it ended up becoming a weeklong visit/road trip.
On Feb 24, I hopped on an American Airlines flight which was delayed a half hour due to deicing the plane. Eventually we got underway and I soon found myself in Phoenix. So happy was I to escape the cold and ice of Omaha that I would have hugged a cactus if I’d seen one.
Mat met me at the airport and we drove to his house. I set my bag and laptop in my room and noted that our mutual friend, John Velasquez, tried to turn a practical joke against me. John and I had a mock argument about the guest bedroom as each of us “claimed” it as his own. John visited Mat a few weeks prior so Mat helped me arrange a photo of myself to greet John with a sign that said, “Christopher Elston proudly welcomes you to his room. Daily rates apply.” John had added the title of Slumlord to my name. Well played, John. Well played.
Shortly afterwards, Mat took me to a little Greek joint called Mika’s where I had a Mediterranean Gyro for dinner. Mat and I had a long conversation over dinner and then we headed back to his place where we watched a little anime, talked, then went to bed.
The next day, Mat took me to worship services at Our Lady of Mt Carmel and then we had breakfast over at Denny’s. We had decided to just take it easy since there would be a lot of travel starting the next day. During his last visit to Omaha, Mat had borrowed Resident Evil 7 from our friend, Jeff Bevirt, so we decided to play through it.
For those of you interested in that particular game series, I found it a return to form and probably the third best in the series. The series returns to its survival horror roots and I genuinely jumped at several points. The story was the most tragic of the series and the nearly lifelike graphics (aided by Mat’s 4K TV) were stunning. The game could have used some more puzzles and it was one of the shortest of the series, especially in this era of epic length games.
Carolyn, who had been on a camping trip, returned in the afternoon and it was gaming and conversation until bedtime.
The next day Mat and I completed Resident Evil and had lunch at Del Taco. Carolyn came back early from work, packed, and we loaded up Mat’s car before beginning the drive to Thousand Palms, CA.
Mat’s dad, Barry, winters in this desert community so the decision was made to stay overnight at his place and we would continue on to Anaheim the next evening. This would allow us to hit Disneyland first thing on Wednesday morning.
It was a really pleasant drive and we arrived at Barry’s home at about 7:45pm. Barry had picked up some excellent brisket sandwiches from a nearby BBQ joint. This was the best brisket I had ever tasted. I’m not a particular fan of coleslaw, but the slaw used on these sandwiches was excellent. A small side of chili filled in the chinks nicely.
We were weary after the drive, not to mention our body clocks were off due to the time zone change (2 in my case), so we called it a night. I borrowed a box fan for some white noise and collapsed on the air bed in my room. Such a restful night’s sleep. The window in the room was darkened so not a trace of light could peek into the room and the bed was so comfy.
Our little group puttered around in the morning before stopping at a pizza joint called Billy Q’s for some lunch. I give this place a hearty recommendation. Billy Q’s is famed for a nice thin crust with lots of toppings or a thicker sourdough crust. I had asked for a personal Cristen’s (taco) pizza and our server arranged for it to be on a sourdough crust despite the fact that the personal is traditionally served on original crust. Barry had ordered a small Works pizza for himself while Mat and Carolyn were supposed to share a small half Mac N Cheese/Reuben pizza. Unfortunately they goofed and made the Reuben side a Cristen’s. To make up for it, they brought out a personal Reuben. Too many leftovers and not enough time to eat them.
About 5pm, we said our good-byes to Barry and began driving towards Anaheim. Anaheim is part of the Los Angeles metro area which is the 2nd largest city in the country. Six lanes of traffic and we caught a bit of the last of rush hour. I’m truly glad Mat is an excellent driver because he handled it like a pro. Things got far more peaceful once we got off the interstate and into Anaheim.
Carolyn had booked a room for us at Portofino Inn and Suites. This is one of many Good Neighbor hotels for Disneyland. This means that shuttle service is available and you can buy park tickets at the hotel. The inn itself is a bit incongruous to its neighbors as it is only about three floors while its fellow hotels are imposing giants.
The walls are a little thin, but the room was comfortable and a bit suiteish as I had my own private sleeping area which also allowed privacy for Mat and Carolyn.
It was still early so we decided to hit up a mini-golf course nearby called Golfland Camelot. It touts itself as the biggest mini-golf course in the country though I can’t make a judgment on that as two of its four courses were closed. On the courses we played, emphasis was placed more on length than obstacles. These were long holes. Carolyn claimed not to be a good putter but slaughtered Mat and myself on the second round. Luckily Mat and I had played solidly on the first round which led to him squeaking out a one stroke victory over me. When the game was done, we headed back to the hotel.
Mat and Carolyn went out for a late dinner at Subway while I ran out and bought some batteries for my camera. I went back to the hotel and caught a shower before retiring for the night.
We were up bright and early the next day. It was a cool day that would top out only at 61 degrees so I found myself wearing a jacket to a Disney park. We stopped for breakfast at IHOP, then walked to the shuttle area and were zipped to Disneyland.
So there I was at the original. Disneyland is pretty much the Magic Kingdom at WDW, but a bit bigger with some extra rides. It was a little strange as the park is so similar to Magic Kingdom, but has its own unique identity. We walked up Main Street USA and saw the park’s centerpiece, Sleeping Beauty Castle. I took a moment to soak up the ambiance and then we started exploring.
We picked a perfect day to visit the park. The last week of February is, historically, the lowest in park attendance and that proved to be the case as there were not very many people at the park. This allowed us to hit all of the good rides multiple times and we never waited in line for longer than 30 minutes. We were also aided by Carolyn’s use of Fastpass Plus. This meant she was able to use her phone to get our Fastpasses instead of us running all over creation to get them. Her Disneyland app also let us check wait times on rides so we could plan appropriately.
What an amazing day!! We enjoyed the classics such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, Star Tours, Haunted Mansion (a personal favorite and I especially loved the Southern plantation motif) along with new rides such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden Eye and the Matterhorn (incredibly awesome at night). I even indulged my inner child and rode on It’s a Small World and Snow White’s Scary Adventures. We even watched a performance from the Straw Hatters and Carolyn and Mat took a photo with Goofy. What’s better is that the rides that exist in both Disneyland and WDW are still different enough to have their own identities.
We closed the night with an amazing dinner at Café Orleans where I had chicken gumbo and shrimp and grits and followed that with Disneyland’s closing show, Fantasmic. Thirteen straight hours of fun and 10 plus miles walked.
The next day we visited the other park, Disney California Adventure. Again, we arrived right at opening. Over a third of the park was closed for refurbishment, but even at full strength, this would be a half day park at best. It does possess a few classic rides.
The centerpiece of the park has to be Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout which used to be the Tower of Terror. Originally, the ride had a Twilight Zone theme, but has been altered to be a story where the riders help the Guardians escape from the clutches of The Collector. The ride has 6 different drop patterns based on the song playing from Star Lord’s mix tape. I loved the Twilight Zone version, but Guardians has a delightful sense of comedy and fun that makes it a must experience ride.
My other favorite ride was Grizzly Rapids. Being a cool day, the ride never had a long wait though I imagine it can get quite lengthy on hot day. Admittedly I scoffed at the sign that said “You will get wet. You may get soaked.” That is a hallmark of any raft ride and usually isn’t the case. Well, we did get wet and did get soaked. Towards the end of the ride, a geyser erupted in front of us and drowned us like rats. A reconstruction of the event can be seen below. On the plus side, it woke us up.
About 2:30pm, we left the park and began the drive back to Thousand Palms to pick up Mat and Carolyn’s dog, Jojo, before heading back to Tempe. Having finally experienced Disneyland, I can honestly say it’s a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t plan an entire trip around it as the two parks can be done in 2 days tops.
It was hard to believe that the trip was nearly done, but there was still fun to be had. The next day was a gorgeous 75 degree day in Phoenix so Mat and I played mini-golf where he creamed me with a nearly perfect final round. Wait, I mean the rat jerk cheated beyond belief in order to best me. Foul! Foul! I call a foul!
In the evening, we had dinner at the Angry Crab Shack where Mat supped on steamed king crab legs and vegetables and Carolyn and I had shrimp po’boys. Then we headed off to Mesa to experience an escape room.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, escape rooms have become extremely popular in recent years. You and your group get locked in a group for about an hour and need to solve a series of puzzles to escape from the room.
I picked Jack’s Cabin. The story was that Uncle Jack had been sending you strange messages so you go to his cabin to check up on things. As Mat, Carolyn, and I searched the room, we found that Jack had become a werewolf and set up a means to stop him in one of his more lucid moments. His desk had seven locks on it and we had to figure out the combinations to them all. It was a tough case and we needed to burn all of our clues to solve the puzzles. But we managed to put a rifle together and located a secret compartment with a silver bullet to escape from the room with less than seven minutes to spare.
For a first escape room, I had a good time especially with the sense of impending doom as precious time ticked away. Carolyn said it was the weakest she had visited due to the focus simply being on locks. She shared tales of amazing rooms with secret passages and creative challenges and said we would visit a proper room on my next visit.
The next day it was back to Omaha for me, though the airport was an absolute zoo. I had never seen so many people for one airline. It took me nearly 45 minutes to check in. Thankfully, the security line was low, but I got to my gate just as boarding began.
It was a grand adventure and I look forward to my next visit to Tempe for another classic series of adventures.
Looks like a fun trip! Are you still going to do DisneyWorld with Brian and fam later this year?