I Went to Disneyland!!


Sleeping Beauty Castle

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.


Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout

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.

Return to the Rising Sun, Day 1: Getting There is Half the Fun

It was a journey 4 years in the making.  After the end of our escapades in Japan (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7), my friends, Mat O’Donnell and David Sundberg, and I decided we would one day return to experience it anew.  With Mat’s impending wedding in November, it was decided that the adventure would take place in August 2016.

After months of planning and preparation, the day finally arrived to begin our return to the Land of the Rising Sun.

It takes a lot of time to get to Japan and I mean a LOT of time.  On August 16, Dave and I awoke at 2:30am.  Our first flight of the day would leave at 6:20am.


Dave is bright eyed and bushy tailed for the day ahead.

My good friend, Jeff Bevirt, picked Dave and I from my home and drove us to Eppley Airfield where we met Dave’s niece, Amy Joy, who would also be joining us on the excursion.

We would be using United Airlines.  This was my first time utilizing their services and it was pretty good all the way around.  When we arrived at the nearly empty airport, a friendly desk agent took our passports and quickly checked us in and checked in Dave’s suitcase.  Using the “gussie” system of packing, I would be checking no luggage so I’d have one less thing to worry about.


Transportation to Japan provided by United Airlines.

United likes to board early and we started getting on board nearly an hour before our flight started.  I happen to think this is a good business practice as if everyone manages to get onboard early, we can leave a little early which is exactly what happened.

After a brief flight, our little group laid over in Denver for an hour, where we scarfed a quick breakfast from McDonald’s (oh, how I hate to rush a meal) and boarded another plane set to take us to Los Angeles.

At LAX, I made my only miscalculation of the trip.  I decided to change my dollars over to yen while I was there.  I got a pretty good deal, but would learn that I should have waited until I reached Narita International Airport in Japan as they give you a much better deal.  My dough would have netted me an extra 15,000 yen had I waited.  So take my advice, if you go to Japan, always exchange your money at Narita.

We waited through a 2.5 hour layover at LAX before finally beginning the long haul of the trip.  I love to fly, but 12 hours is an awfully long time to be on a plane.  They do their best to distract one with a wide variety of entertainment from movies to music to TV shows.  To pass the time, I read a new Sherlock Holmes pastiche, began a new Nero Wolfe novel, watched a little TV as well as the films Money Monster and Insomnia.

There was something profound about this trip, especially as I was taking it in the daytime and could look out the window.  There’s something deep about looking down on the majesty of the Pacific Ocean and seeing nothing but blue as far as the eye can see.  We also went from day to night to day in a flash as we crossed over to the other side of the planet.  And there was something about flying over the edge of Alaska that put a smile on my face as I looked down upon it.

The food wasn’t too bad on the flight.  United prides itself on its 3 course meals and served us a lunch of teriyaki chicken, rice, vegetable medley, and salad with southwestern rice.  For dessert, they served us a wonderful vanilla bean gelato which was some of best ice cream-type food I have ever eaten.  Before touchdown, they served a breakfast of Udon noodles, though Dave had to be a rebel and order the scrambled eggs.

As I said the journey was long and I only napped for about an hour as excitement fueled my body.  Upon arriving at Narita, we waited for Mat who was delayed as everybody on the planet decided to land at Narita at the same time he did.  This slowed down his going through customs and immigration which my little group blew through in about 15 minutes.


Japan, I have arrived.

We collected our resident expert, then got our J-Rail passes so we could travel through Japan.  Then we hopped on the Narita Express for a 90 minute journey to Shinjuku to arrive at the first house we would stay at through Air BnB where we met Mat’s friend, Mauricio, and his girlfriend, Allison, who would be joining us on a part of the adventure.

Despite being beyond the point of exhaustion our little group went out to dinner at a place called Pronto’s which is a bar/restaurant.  I normally don’t like to eat late, but one thing I appreciate about Japan is that we share a similar size appetite as all servings in Japan are small.  I had some juicy fried chicken with a splash of lemon.  After dinner we stopped at a mini-mart to get some things for breakfast.  I grabbed an orange juice and some of the famed pancakewiches of Japan.



I passed out and I mean passed out on my tatami mat to end this day’s adventures.

The Arizona Chronicles, Day 4: Idling in Idyllwild

Miraculously, Tall Square escaped from his, ahem, “accident” at Mount San Jacinto with a few bumps, bruises, and scrapes.  We returned to Barry’s home, where I put him to bed and then gave Arizona Mat a “tsk, tsk, tsk” before I left him at the dining room table and went to bed.

As I headed to the kitchen the next morning, I found Arizona Mat unconscious at the table, with his face in a big ol’ piece of pie.  A goose egg had formed on his head where he had obviously been slugged.  I heard soft chuckling coming from Tall Square’s bedroom and knew what had happened.  (As if there was any doubt.)

Chalking it up to more of the same old, same old, I fixed a bowl of Cinnamon Spice oatmeal for myself and then left for church whistling a jaunty tune.

I attended services at Sacred Heart in Rancho Mirage and I was blown away by the chapel.  This is one of the most beautiful churches I have ever been in.  It was still decorated for Christmas and I could have sat inside and soaked up the atmosphere for hours.
The church was quite full which did my heart good, especially since it seemed people willingly sat up front first which is something I don’t see enough of in worship services nowadays.

It was a great service as well.  The pastor was a warm, welcoming man who gave a terrific sermon on keeping focused on Jesus at all times. 

After services, I was picked up by Arizona Mat and Tall Square, who seemed to have an unspoken truce going on between them.  Arizona Mat drove us up to Idyllwild, CA which is on top of a mountain.  It was an absolutely fantastic drive.  The scenery was pristine and gorgeous as the road twisted and turned on our drive up to Idyllwild.

Once we had reached the town, Arizona Mat decided he wanted breakfast, so we stopped at the Mile High Café.  Having eaten already, I wasn’t very hungry, but opted for something small as I knew I probably wouldn’t be eating again until supper.  I had a ½ biscuit and gravy with a bit of bacon and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice while Arizona Mat enjoyed a chicken fried steak with eggs over hard, hash browns, and toast.  Tall Square enjoyed the same sides as Arizona Mat, but had his eggs over easy and opted for some sausage as his main entrée.  It was a tasty meal/snack with a beautiful view of the mountains and forest, though I thought the freshly squeezed orange juice was a bit overpriced at $4.50 a glass.

We then spent a while helping Tall Square explore the town for a shot glass which we finally succeeded in obtaining at the last shop we visited.   Tall Square also picked up a pocketknife at one of the gift shops we visited.

From there, we drove down the mountain and headed to the Whitewater Preserve. 
This is a massive area full of hiking trails and one could easily spend hours, even days, exploring the trails.  Arizona Mat was in a rush to get back to Barry’s to watch the Denver Broncos play the San Diego Chargers, so he said we’d only do a brief walk around the preserve and stated we might return tomorrow as he had a trail he wanted us to wander through.

Tall Square was not too happy with this and promptly removed his pocketknife and poked a hole in the bottom of Arizona Mat’s water bottle, spilling its contents onto the sand.  In an attempt to avoid a fight, I rushed to a nearby stream and filled my canteen.  I then gave it to Arizona Mat who thanked me before taking a long, deep drink.

Immediately, he blanched, gagged, and his face turned a sickly shade of green.

“Where did you get this water?”  Arizona Mat gasped.

“From that nice, clear stream over there,” I replied.

“That water has been traveling over the desert floor for 67 miles,” Arizona Mat managed to get out before rushing for cover and purging the contents of his stomach.

Tall Square rolled on the desert floor, laughing so hard that his face turned a bright blue.  After he had caught his breath, he helped me carry Arizona Mat to his car.

We returned to Barry’s home where he and Arizona Mat watched the Broncos defeat the Chargers, putting Arizona Mat into a better frame of mind.  Barry cooked some lip smacking ribs and baked potatoes for our supper which seemed to relax the tense atmosphere that had been building for the last couple of days.

After dinner, I suggested a game of poker was in order.  Tall Square’s pockets were quickly emptied of his cash due to his numerous tells.  Arizona Mat was a bit craftier, but I ended up taking his money with an all in on a straight.  I thought he would pitch a fit, but he said, “At least it wasn’t Tall Square” before going to bed.

But I’m willing to share the truth with you, my loyal readers.  I was cheating.  I was going to get paid for this gig one way or another and Arizona Mat had it coming to him.  So as I count my winnings, I wish you a fond good night and shall see you tomorrow for some more adventures.

The Arizona Chronicles, Day 3: Arizona Mat and the Peak of Peril


After 2 days, it was finally time to begin an exploration with the alleged explorer, Arizona Mat. 

My day began with my eyes fluttering open at the crack of dawn.  I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, let loose a mighty yawn, and blearily padded my way to the bathroom for a long, hot shower. 

As I walked down the hallway, I bumped into a solid wall of a man.  Knowing that I was the only one in the house who rose at this early hour, I feared a break-in and immediately leaped back and assumed an awkward karate pose.  My sleepy vision then cleared enough to see that it was Tall Square carrying a glass of milk.  I sheepishly apologized for nearly unleashing my hands and feet of fury upon him and he looked at me with a cocked eyebrow before returning to his bedroom.

After performing my ablutions, I made my way to the kitchen for a bowl of oatmeal and some V-8.  I was heartily greeted in song by Arizona Mat’s electronic parrot, Polly.  I finished my meal and completed organizing my gear for today’s journey.

Two hours later, I was sitting inside Arizona Mat’s Nissan Sentra and he began the drive to Palm Desert, CA.  I looked in the rearview mirror to see Tall Square giving Arizona Mat the finger as he began to chase down the car.
Apparently, Arizona Mat had “forgotten” Tall Square, though I suspected he still rankled over his defeat at the hands of Tall Square in last night’s board game.  After chasing us down for six blocks, Tall Square caught up to us at a stoplight.  Sitting down in the front seat, he gave Arizona Mat the look of death as he struggled to catch his breath.

Three hours later, we arrived at the home of Arizona Mat’s father, Barry, in the unincorporated community of Thousand Palms, CA.  I was quite surprised to learn that they were related as Barry was gregarious, cordial and polite.  Barry has a very nice trailer home in a retirement community.  It reminded me of my grandmother’s house back in Storm Lake, IA and I was looking forward to this little home away from home for the next few days.

After settling in, Arizona Mat drove Tall Square and I to the Mount San Jacinto State Park.  After boarding a tram, we began an 8 minute ride up to the top of the mountain.  It was an amazing experience as the tram rotates as it glides up the rock face, giving us an incredible view of the mountain and the valley below.

Upon reaching the top of Mount San Jacinto, we breathed deeply of the fresh, clean air and began hiking around the park.  Arizona Mat attempted to send Tall Square on a snipe hunt which triggered a rather loud, unpleasant argument between them.  Shaking my head in resignation, I began climbing to the top of one of the peaks.

After reaching the top of the peak, I was greeted by a sight that had to be the prettiest this side of heaven. 

The vista was awesome and the view brought a sense of peace to my soul and gave me the sensation that everything would be all right in my life.  I then succumbed to my inner child and unleashed a roar of “Drago!!!!” from the top of the mountain.  Soon, I was joined by Arizona Mat and Tall Square and the sharing of this spectacular view seemed to spark a truce between the two of them.

After soaking up the scenery, we began to make our way down the mountain.  I heard a grunt and then saw Tall Square go bouncing past me.  I turned to look back up the peak where I saw Arizona Mat grinning evilly.  I sighed and reached into my backpack for my first aid kit, hoping that I could patch up Tall Square quickly enough for tomorrow’s adventure.