Thursday, July 31, 2014

There and Back Again: A Tale of an Excursion to, around, and beyond Disneyland

[Part Two: Rides, Shows, Food, Fun! Disney California Adventure!]

For those thinking I would handle my Disneyland park experiences before getting to DCA: HA!! Fooled you!

Actually, the logic I’m employing is that, as far as I can tell, EVERYONE knows about Disneyland. What with it being first and all (and 59 years old as of July 17th). So, as I only knew stories of Disney California Adventure and had yet to personally take it all in I figured I would write about that side of the Esplanade first.

But first, let me take a selfie… Oops, I meant to say: But first, a brief evolution of that particular plot of land. It all started with…

Sunday, July 6, 2014

There and Back Again: A Tale of an Excursion to, around, and beyond Disneyland

[Part One: The Journey, or the Destination?]

If anyone had been paying attention to my entries here and the cross-posted notifications in Facebook and Twitter, you would have seen that I had been conducting a countdown of sorts. The last time I had been anywhere near as far west as California was a trip to Las Vegas in Spring 2005 with friends from Atlanta, Chicago, and Phoenix.

As an aside and by way of a qualifier: I DO like to travel. There are usually two competing elements that have to align for me to be able to do it. I prefer to be able to take paid-time off (Vacation Days, PTO, however your respective employer codes it) and be able to afford the travel costs (gas/airfare, hotel, tickets if any, etc). The bigger/further the trip, the more these have to coincide. Now that I am a gainfully employed in a permanent position instead of contracting, the surprise gift of a Disneyland trip was very possible to arrange with my managers. If I had still be a contractor, I would have begged and pleaded with Kevin to cancel as any time I took off would not be covered by any accrued payable time-off system. Contracting/Temping sucks in some regards.

As a silly ninny I held off on doing any kind of packing until the day before for when I got home after work. Part of this was due to me not knowing if I would have to pay for checking luggage or not for part of my flights there and back. The tickets that had been acquired for me had stop-overs each way: ATL-HOU-LAX and LAX-MDW-ATL.

Along with the connections the flights had been set-up to take me on different airlines: Airtran and Southwest. My sweet friend Kevin knows that I prefer Airtran and booked via their website. Within the last couple of years Southwest bought Airtran and they have been merging routes, gates, and services since. Evidently, at least for the dates of my flights there and back, there were no direct flights available on Airtran out of ATL.

Having never flown Southwest before I was…leery…to say the least. I’ve read the complaints of passengers regarding people of larger/girthier bodysize in Coach class; including those flying Southwest. I also have trepidation about SW’s “No Assigned Seating” approach. As an Airtran flyer I knew the deal and had learned to work with it quite easily. I would book a ticket in an emergency exit row then when the online check-in window opened I would upgrade to Business Class (for the better leg room and wider seats) if available. More often than not, the upgrades would be there to be selected. Now, I had to take my chance on even getting a window seat (my preference) and hoping the person in front of me would not recline their seatback bashing my knees which would already be perilously close in the non-existent legroom. But…be that as it may. I checked in online and due to their code/system sharing once I was checked in for my Airtran flight I received my boarding position for Southwest.

To add flavor to my travel and park photographs I chose to take along a couple of toys from my desk at work: my WALL-E figure and a pewter/pot-metal gaming miniature TARDIS. I thought one or the other, or both, would be fun to take pictures of while exploring.

JoeZer's pint-sized traveling companions

I tried to get out of the office early the day before my flight out to LAX. But, as things have a way of conspiring together, while I did get approval to leave an hour early I received a client call that took me past the time I had been approved to leave at. So, instead of burning a tittle of PT minutes I opted to decline so someone else in the office could escape early if they needed. Believe me when I say that I was quite happy and relieved when it came time for me to turn off my desk phone and log off my workstation.

WALL-E, TARDIS, and I had an adventure to begin…and I had not even opened a suitcase to shove full of clothes yet.

WALL-E anxious to begin

Along with waiting to pack until the day before, another “last minute” decision I had made was to stay awake the entire night before leaving for the airport. No naps…just me bouncing off the walls of my apartment until it came time to throw things in the car, get myself to the light-rail, and disembark at ATL to shamble through security.

My ATL departure on Airtran was set for 8:40am ET. I arrived by light-rail at ATL at about 6:45am. Printed by boarding passes, checked my bag (surprisingly I was able to get all my needs for 6 days/5 nights in California all in to one suitcase), and then nearly feinted at the huge line with TSA. I got to my departure gate just as my flight was being called to begin boarding. Being an early Thursday morning I would not have thought that trying to get out via ATL would be so…thick…with people. Humanity, you always have to surprise me, don’t you?

Granted, I did learn something this round through TSA screening: do not pack the pewter/pot-metal gaming miniature in your carry-on/computer bag. For surely it will alert the bag scanners and have to undergo scrutiny for explosives and rescanned on the belt by itself. Admittedly, it is a hefty, solid piece of metal…so I can understand their concern. Minus 5 points for Gryffindor for causing a pause in processing people, JoeZer.

My first leg was comfortable and just as before whenever I’ve flown Airtran. It’s easy to say that I will miss them as a choice of airlines when the merger completes and everything of theirs is flagged Southwest. I have not had a single bad experience with them as a customer or passenger. Au revior, mon ami.

Next stop: Houston-Hobby for a two-hour layover.

Main observation about HOU was “Crimony, this is a teeny airport” when compared to the likes of ATL. Had enough time for a nosh and decompressing while anticipating my first ever Southwest boarding. My boarding position was assigned the code “B5” and my departure gate at HOU was “42”. Could my layover be any more influenced by science-fiction??

Directive?

For those who have not yet flown Southwest, here’s how their boarding process is broken down as best I can tell:
--- wheelchair/medical assisteds first
--- Group “A1-60” which normally encompasses those who are loyalty rewards members with SW or who pay for the ability to jump position in line
--- families with small children
--- Group “B1-60”
--- Group “C1-60”

A peccadillo I have with this is, of course, passengers bringing carry-ons and taking time to search out the seat they want to take near to where they stow their bags in the overhead bins. To me, this adds a layer of hassle that assigned seating does not have. But, whatever. I’m just a lowly fatman on a plane consisting only of Coach Class seats. What do I know?

I found an open window seat in a row where a fellow fatman had taken the aisle seat. The middle had not yet been claimed as I took possession of the preference. He and I looked conspiratorially at each other sharing the same thought: “Who would choose to sit between two heavyset passengers?”

At that point the lead flight attendant made the fateful announcement over the PA system. This was a full flight and all seats were booked. As it happened, there was a bendy, slip of a girl that was one of the last passengers to board. Her choice was already made for her as she was left only with the chair between me and my corpulent compatriot. She was slim enough where a part of me wondered if she was anorexic. She was also fidgety during the flight but never bumped either of us.

Me: I put in my earpods, started a Doctor Who audio drama by Big Finish, and let my mind wander above the clouds as I watched the passing scenery.

Destination: LAX
Achievement Unlocked: Traveling further west than before
Bonus Round Failed: Unable to dabble toes in Pacific Ocean due to time/transportation concerns

Qantas liveried Airbus A380 caught in the wild

The iconic part of LAX - always seemed larger in pictures

Bundling in to the car service Kevin arranged for my arrival at LAX I was whisked off to Anaheim and the Happiest Place on Earth while boggled at the haphazard drivers at Terminal 1’s arrival/departure area and then the LA highways, freeways, and such. I thought Atlanta drivers were a crop of crazies and that Orlando could be temper-testing. Little did I realize. We are NOTHING compared to the Greater Los Angeles area…at least from my perspective. This was one time I was glad to have not needed to rent a car.

Upon landing at LAX I caught up on texting with Kevin (as he had arrived earlier that morning) to make sure he knew I arrived safely and was enroute to the hotel. Our friend Paul had already arrived…so the party was slowly beginning. This was at about 1:30pm PT. By this time I had been awake since 7:30am ET the previous day – roughly 33 hours of consciousness so far. My brain was prepped and ready for the surreal as it was already nearing that boundary on its own.

From the approach the driver used, I had hoped to catch sight of Disneyland from the highway and local streets on our way to the Disneyland Hotel. I was a bit surprised when we were entering the grounds for the hotel to drop me off an I had not seen even a hint of the Matterhorn as of yet from outside the park. However, that would be an easy thing to get past in the grand scheme of this excursion.

Neither Paul nor Kevin were down in the lobby awaiting me; but the room number had been texted to me. An elevator ride later and knocking on the door, and I am reunited with friends I only see but rarely. Hugs shared, greetings greeted, I am allowed to freshen up and change for my first steps in to the fabled homeland: the first theme park Walt Disney built.

 JoeZer on DLR Main Street - unable to locate the castle

Getting to Disneyland, or even Disney California Adventure, from the hotel would take us on foot through Downtown Disney then, when arriving at the esplanade, either choosing to go left (Disneyland) or right (DCA). The main entrances to both parks are about a football field (if not less) apart from each other. SO EASY for park hopping, if I must say. This time, the destination was clear: Disneyland.

In brief, as I do plan on more detailed thoughts in following entries, I will say that the original park felt quaint and cozy to me. The buildings, attractions, lands are snuggled closer together and the exterior queues are coiled and designed in a way as to not hamper guest traffic unless there is an undue amount of attention for an attraction (brand new experience, reopening after long refurbish, etc). However, I can easily see how Walt’s comment about the Florida Project is very apt: for the original concept of EPCOT he needed, and got, the “blessings of size” by purchasing large tracts of land at fair prices before it became known who was actually making the purchase, thereby making the price skyrocket.

On the walk over from the hotel to the parks Paul, Kevin, and I stopped for a meal in Downtown Disney. Was good to get some real food in me after traveling all day and only having plane nibbles and airport Wendy’s in Houston. While in Disneyland for the afternoon I got my first runs through on some classics: Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, explored the “Mechanical Kingdom” exhibit at the Disney Gallery, plus other things that are escaping my brain at the moment.

Due to my self-imposed marathon of consciousness I began to flag on my endurance. My brain barely registered that it should feel like I was in the Twilight Zone or a parallel world while in Disneyland: similar experiences, buildings, and such but not all in the same place as I am used to them being in. We ambled back to the hotel to take in one lest new experience before retiring to bed: Trader Sam’s.

Now, one would think that as I am not responsible in any way for driving anywhere on this trip that I would (quite possibly over-) indulge in some libations. One would be correct in this case. But, knowing my current physical state, I opted to stay with only one drink this evening while enjoying the company of friends and the Tiki infused ambiance of the lounge. Our talks ranged topics near and dear to each of us as we partook of drinks and nibbles: Kungaloosh for Kevin, Krakatoa for me, something margarita-ish for Paul, and a Pu Pu platter for all.

Order this, and you will blow a volcano making it very happy.

This is what I swallowed when making the volcano blast.
And, yes. I got the souvenir Tiki mug to commemorate me
blowing the volcano.
 
Let’s just say, that since Trader Sam’s is designed as a Disney lounge, there are chances for things to happen within the bar when certain drinks are ordered by guests. As mentioned above, I ordered a Krakatoa. Doing so, I got to blow volcanoes.

Me. Blowing volcanoes. Amongst friends. Quite a nice way to wind down and wrap up my day’s travels and quickie peek inside the park that Walt built.

Brain was ready for bed. My spirit was happy and light.

So…I look at the old saying: “The journey matters more than the destination.” I wonder, now that I am physically at the destination for this trip, is my journey over? Or still in progress…?

A selection of "Welcome to DLR, ya First-Timer!"
Kevin had these laying out for my arrival at the hotel
(photo courtesy of Kevin Q)

 
~JoeZer
 

PS: Poor WALL-E and TARDIS never saw inside the parks once I arrived and unpacked at the hotel…

Monday, June 30, 2014

There and Back Again: A Tale of an Excursion to, around, and beyond Disneyland


[Part Zero]

With all the items, topics, and things rattling in the bonepiece I call a skull there is something I need to do to get this shebang rolling. That would be expressing my gratitude with getting to meet people I have only kn0wn via online contact over the years, and my deep thanks to a certain few who this trip could not have happened without.

But first; a prologue by way of a backstory…

As twenty-thirteen was drawing to a close and I was calculating my prorated work bonus that I would be receiving this past March I hit upon something. I realized that my bonus for working a full-year that would be posted to my accounts come March 2015 would allow me the chance to make a journey; a pilgrimage to the homeland, if you will.

What “homeland” is this of which I speak? The place born of Walt Disney’s imagination that was, as told, inspired by spending time with his daughters in a local park: Disneyland.

All the years, decades, I have spent wandering around and experiencing the attractions at Walt Disney World in Florida. Not once have I had the chance to explore the original. Next year would be that would change based on my projections.

In to the story now comes my friend, Kevin. Our friendship started as one of those unique, almost fast-friends, kind of things. We had known of each other thanks to an online service called Livejournal. We officially met in person Spring 2005 amongst a bushel of bears eating at a sushi/teppanyaki restaurant with Chuck Norris less than 40 feet away…all in Dallas, Texas. Not quite two years later as our friendship thickened like thieves, Kevin begins talking about wanting to learn and explore the Disney parks in Florida. I share that I’d be happy to act as tour guide for him. So far, as of this writing, he and I have shared fourteen excursions to WDW now over the years.

Kevin eagerly listened as I shared stories from my early trips to WDW, discussing extinct attractions, and changes that have come to the Florida parks over time. He has taken that information, heaped upon tonnes of his own research and discovery, and formed his own memories and personal legacy there. His enthusiasm has helped to rekindle my own reminding me why I have come to call this place my second-home. The Magic Kingdom there and I grew up together with EPCOT Center as our younger sibling. Disney Hollywood Studios (nee Disney-MGM Studios) is our fun cousin. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is that relative I have had hardly any contact with, but am still trying to learn about.

Then a couple of years ago Kevin stretched his wings and left the metaphoric nest. He took the plunge and made the trip to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. While he traveled there and back alone, once there he met friends old and new – some we both share in common – and began forming a connection to the west coast parks that I did not have. As mentor of sorts in his learning things Disney Parks, I was happy to see him expanding his experience. Personally, I admit, being a little jealous that I could not be there to share those same first steps.

So…we rush back now to the present, minus a few months. Giddy about my permanent employment and my projected plans for 2015 I share the information with Kevin. This past February he jets to Georgia to hang with me and take in a Drive By Truckers concert in Athens. After collecting him from the Atlanta Airport and have him bundled in to my car he gets this secret smile and hands me a blue manila folder.

“Surprise!” he exclaims with a twinkle to his eye.

I open the packet…and I am at a loss for words. This person…this friend…had just handed me confirmations for a Disneyland trip that I am to be part of THIS YEAR. Not 2015 as my plans had begun aiming towards. Kevin had taken it upon himself to up my timetable a year.

He can see the emotions playing on my face; the quiver of my lips and watery sheen in my eyes. I try my best to be the enigmatic one – the quiet one that people tell you to watch out for. Even with becoming as close as friends and Kevin and I have he still has problems “reading” me. I, on the other hand, can easily pick up on his body-language and “tells”. This time…this moment…I cannot hide what it is that is in my brain.

The better part of me wants to refuse this gift. It is too much: plane tickets, hotel, park pass. All he wants me to worry about is food, souvenirs, and having a fun time. In my bleary-eyed haze I want to smack him for doing this; and I tell him so in my cracking voice.

He then shares with me about how he’s been planning and plotting this thanks to an over-abundance of work and compensation from said work. He wanted to do this for me…to be the one to be there with me as I took my first steps in Disneyland as I was there for him in his early days of learning about Disney World. I get this...I understand his feeling, his want, to be able to do for friends when he has the means to do so. I have that in me as well. It’s just…difficult…to consider that I would be the recipient of something like this.

We’ve moved full-circle now. The mentor becomes the mentee.

And while I still think he went way too far in handling these arrangements and should not have done this, I am forever flattered and touched by his actions and generosity.

 (l-r: Kevin & Joe)
 

Thank you, KQuig. I wish I knew how I could ever have earned this…


~JoeZer

PS: More to come about me and my thoughts, opinions, dinglehoppers, and whatnots about Disneyland.

 

 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

DLR/DCA Excursion Cresting on the Horizon

In roughly fifty-one hours from this entry (yes, calculated to include the time change) I will be within sight and steps of Disneyland, Disney’s California Adventure, and Anaheim's Downtown Disney (DLR/DCA/DTD). To admit that I would not have ever imagined being THIS close to the “original” would be an understatement.

Am I excited? Yes.

Am I anxious? Yes.

Am I packed? Not yet. But, isn’t that always the case, my friends?

One thing that has been on my mind since the building blocks of this trip came together is remembering to keep as open a mind as possible while exploring DLR/DCA/DTD. I am hoping that I do not just stuck or mired in the mindset of too criticizing my compare and contrasts between East and West Coast attractions. It would certainly be a disservice to the US Disney Parks as they each have their charms; but, also you, my readers. I realize on some of the things upon which I write can be “preaching to the choir”, but I also hope to leave you with something as objective yet fun as possible enticing you to experience these items for yourself. I hope that seed of curiosity germinates in to something where each of you creates your own memories to cherish.

As a caveat, I do have an admission to share: Yes, I will more than likely be rating, comparing, contrasting attractions between East and West coast. I really do not think that can be prevented. Especially when you have the hallmark/keystone attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion at one's disposal.

But, there's also another layer to that comparison between the Florida and California parks: use of ride technologies but with different themes. A couple of contenders for this layer of contrasting are attractions like Indiana Jones and the Forbidden Temple vs. Dinosaur, or Test Track vs. Radiator Springs Racers.

One attraction that I will not be able to run a side-by-side comparison with is DLR's Space Mountain as it is currently offline for a refurb. However, in a stricter sense, the Matterhorn at DLR is the same ride design as the Space Mountain in WDW-MK with bobsled style rollercoaster cars on a steel tube track.

So much to do! So much to see!

Hopefully I won't forget anything while packing!


~JoeZer

 




Thursday, June 5, 2014

JoeZer Does Disneyland: Prologue & Initiate Final Countdown

With the topic of today's title it felt a good time to scrape off some of the dust and corrosion here in my Mickey Mouse eared sliver of the interwebs...

Thanks to a happy confluence of circumstances - mostly assisted along by my pal Kevin over at Kevidently - I am about to embark on my first ever excursion to Disneyland. Yes, kiddies and pixie-dusted comrades, my first EVAH visit to the Mousey Motherland. (...or, should that be "Furred Fatherland" since Walt was a male and not a female...?)


The anticipation is mounting. I'll be arriving in two weeks on 6/19/2014 to explore and wander the park that Walt built. (Well, he and the team of Imagineers, construction contractors, artists, artisans, etc.) I do not know how I will react once I am within sight of the property in Anaheim.

 
Will it be joyous rapture...?
 
Will it be harsh criticism brought on by comparing DLR/DCA to my years of experience with WDW...?
 
Just how particular and judgmental will your JoeZer be; if even his brain can get past the concept of "HOLY FRAK!! I'M IN DISNEYLAND!!!"
 
As I have mobile access to posting online here, on the Twitters, and Facebook...just keep peeking in on me.
 
 
(I wonder if I should go and make a Facebook page/group for WEDWayJoe...??)
 


Comment and opine away!!

~JoeZer

Twitter: @wedwayjoe

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hello again, my friends...

Seems I keep forgetting that you are here...and that is not kind to you at all. I have been a bad JoeZer with letting this blog languish in the dusty shadows. For that, I apologize.

It seems Fate, in the guide of my pal Kevin of Expeditions Keverest, has conspired against my (extremely) lackadaisical blogging patterns. Over this past weekend he had made a proclamation unto me that has brought forward plans I had been mildly thinking on for 2015: my first ever (yes, really, FIRST TIME EVAH) excursion to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in Anaheim.

Based on bonuses I theorize myself to be receiving this time next year, I was going to take my first trip to the "place where Walt walked" as a treat to myself. Also, if I had timed it right, it could coincide with DLR's 60th Anniversary.

Well, Kevin's decree has forced my hand. This happenstance - with a liberal application of Kevin's pixie dust - definitely had humbled me.

To my friend, Kevin. Thank you...as deeply as I could ever express.

To California, Anaheim, Disneyland, DCA, and Downtown Disney...I'mma comin' for ya!!


~JoeZer ºOº

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Trailer for Saving Mr. Banks

Today we're able to take our first look at the trailer for Saving Mr. Banks, the movie about how Walt Disney approached and P.L. Travers allowed her book to be used for the film, Mary Poppins.

Personally, the filmed version of Mary Poppins holds a special place in my heart. The trailer for the new "how it came to be" between Walt and P.L. has whet my apetite officially to see Saving Mr. Banks. Yes, it is a dramatization (one of the tag lines is "Based on the untold story") of known events. But, to gleen some aspect of what all went in to Disney's process to work with and, ultimately, convince Travers well enough to allow the filming rights, has intrigued me since I learned a while ago that she was not all that keen when first approached by Walt and the studio.

I've got this marked on my calendars now. How about you?

View trailer for Saving Mr. Banks at this link: http://t.co/QO2GsZ9uaK

*Link courtesy of tweet posted by @DisneyD23 at 12:41pm ET 7/11/2013


~JoeZer

- Posted live & onsite via mobile device

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Teddy-bearish Atlanta resident from Florida. Enjoys Doctor Who, steampunk aesthetics, Dragon*Con, Disney theme parks, Universal Orlando theme parks, cheesy pizza and lots of other things...