Monday, September 6, 2010

Grade Seven First Day... almost

Tomorrow is the first day of grade seven!! I'm like the big kid of the school. I'm so excited. Next year I'm in high school, grade eight. The teacher I have this year will prepare me for grade eight. So a lot of home work. Summer has gone by so fast I can't even remember the first of it. I need more summer holiday. The teacher I got is really nice. The teacher I got this year is the one I really really wanted. Have a great school year! Bye,

Posted by Chloe at 5:35 PM
  Friday, March 12, 2010

Disney: Day 4 (or When You Can Take the FastPass from My Hand, Grasshopper, It Will Be Time for You to Leave...)

Today was our final day in the amusement parks of Southern California, and our final chance to implement all of the insider knowledge we had accrued during our time here. We altered our approach slightly this morning, deciding to sleep in a bit and hit the opening of California Adventure rather than be at Disneyland's gates at the crack of dawn. I felt okay doing this because, being Friday, Disneyland was going to be open until midnight, so we could take our last cruise through the Magic Kingdom later that evening.

So, while the kids and I waited at the rope outside of Golden State, April hoofed it over to Disneyland and grabbed some FastPasses for Splash Mountain. She rejoined us about two minutes before the rope dropped and we were off to catch Toy Story Mania for the last time. After shooting the (3-D) lights out, we walked over to the Mullholland Madness roller coaster which had been packed on our previous visit. Luckily this time around we were the only customers so the kids just stayed in their cart and rode in a continuous loop four or five times. Next up was Grizzly River Run which we did twice in a row. Also luckily, the temperature was getting close to 75° F, so we dried out fairly quickly. Our final 4-D show was a repeat trip to A Bug's Life: It's Tough To Be A Bug. This is such an awesome presentation and, in the character of Hopper, has the absolute best animatronic animation of any attraction around. When he pops out just to the right of the screen, it is as if you are watching a seven-foot live-action version of the character. His movements and mannerisms are exactly like his CGI counterpart's. It's amazing.

The best thing about California Adventure this day, without a doubt, was the live-action Aladdin musical. This is a full-scale, Broadway quality retelling of the Aladdin story, condensed down to about forty-five minutes of spectacular goodness. It had everything: flying carpets, giant Jafar-snakes, and enough up-to-date pop culture references to satisfy even the sourest of pusses. The guy playing the Genie was incredibly talented with genius level comic timing. I think I can speak for everyone in the family when I say that this show alone was well worth the price of admission. If we could have, I think we would have turned around and immediately watched it again.

At this point in the day we decided to take a break and go back to the hotel for a while to rest up for the evening assault on the Mouse. April and the kids headed back to the hotel and I headed for Adventureland to grab some Indiana Jones and Big Thunder FastPasses. I had about forty-five minutes to wait between getting one and being allowed to get the others, so I bought myself a double scoop of mocha almond fudge ice cream in a chocolate dipped waffle cone, and I sat down opposite the Jungle Ride and watched humanity pass me by. One thing I quickly determined was that the park was at least 500% more busy than it had been on any other day we had been there. After having the park almost to ourselves all week (relatively speaking), it was a shock to be in this crush of people and their strollers. Seriously, hundreds of strollers everywhere you looked or tried to walk. I can't quite figure out what the point of taking a toddler still young enough to need a stroller to Disneyland would be, but who am I to question these things? Anyway, I finished up my cone, sauntered over to the FastPass kiosk, and then high-tailed it back to the HoJo's for some R&R.

When I arrived, the kids were already hard at play in the water park portion of the hotel pool area. This, I think, was just what the doctor ordered because they were having a blast. After checking in with April, I went upstairs to blog a bit. I thought about napping, but I was just too wound up to fall asleep. Around 4:30 p.m. we cleaned-up and headed off for some supper at Mimi's Cafe, where we continued our tradition of ordering four dinners where two entrés split between the four of us would have more than sufficed. What is with Americans and their big-ass food?

After dinner, we continued on down the street and walked up the boulevard to the gates of Disneyland for the last time. I think we were all experiencing a mixture of excitement and sadness, and I know we were all trying to take absolutely everything in as we walked, knowing full well that we wouldn't be seeing it again for some time. We were hopeful that we might get in the last few Fantasyland rides that we had been shutout of so far, but no dice, there were hundreds and hundreds of people in the line-ups. So, rather than try to squeeze in new rides, we went for a smorgasbord of our favourites, our own personal greatest hits, if you will.

First up was Pirates of the Caribbean. No FastPass, but it's a continuously moving ride so the line always moves quickly. At one point Sam said to himself, "I've got to get everything!" meaning he was trying to commit every little detail to memory because this was the final kick at the can. I knew exactly how he felt. Next, we hit the Haunted Mansion which was as great as ever. I sat out the last ride on Splash Mountain, but the three other Andersons took the plunge. I'm just not a free fall kind of guy, I guess. We back-tracked to Adventureland and took, what was for me, the most important of our last rides: Indiana Jones. This final pass through the Temple of the Forbidden Eye was perfect. I asked the attendant if we could have a front row seat in the car and she happily obliged. We risked being cursed in order to find the hidden Mickey created by the nostrils and philtrum on the giant idol of Mara, ducked when the poison darts whizzed by, and screamed when the giant boulder nearly caught us again. It couldn't have been better. This also marked another instance of the unbelievable luck we had been having the entire trip. We used our FastPasses and headed up the corridor, arriving in the holding room with no fuss; but as we left, for whatever reason, the entire passage leading into the ride had somehow filled with hundreds of people who were not there 12 minutes before when we walked straight through. Maybe all those rides spent avoiding Mara's gaze were paying off!

April and I had one of our very few, very brief moments alone as we next sent the kids on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad one more time. We sat in the (relatively) peaceful corner of Frontierland and talked about how wonderful the trip had been so far and how it didn't seem possible that tomorrow we would be getting on a plane and leaving. The kids came off the ride pumped full of adrenaline and glowing like really glowy-type things.

We tried the classic Fantasyland rides one more time, but there was no way we were getting anywhere close, so we did what any logical people would do: we joined the line-up for the newly re-opened Matterhorn which wrapped almost completely around the base of the ride. The sign a few dozen people ahead of us stated that it would be a thirty minute wait from that point, but we bit the bullet anyway. About twenty-one minutes later we were at the front of the line and Sam asked the attendant, "How's Harold?" The guy was great and replied, "Oh, he's really good. We fed him already, so he shouldn't give you too much trouble." (Harold is the name of the Abominable Snowman who lives in the Matterhorn ride and ever since Sam read about him in his guidebook, he'd been itching to lay that question on someone in the know.) Chloe and I weren't big fans of the ride, but at least we can add it to the list of the iconic Disneyland attractions we can say we've been on.

At about quarter to nine it was time to find our spots for the fireworks display. We picked a spot just past the end of Main Street and stood there for the next forty-five minutes as people milled around us. I'm sure some people wondered what we were doing in the middle of the street, but when it came time for the show, we could not have been in a better position.

I don't think there are words potent enough to describe the overall effect of the "Remember...Dreams Come True" fireworks show. It starts with the ubiquitous Disney Announcer Guy introducing the show with Julie Andrews taking over shortly after that. Ms. Andrews' melodious voice, played over "When You Wish Upon a Star," begins to take everyone watching on a tour of the past fifty-five years of Disneyland history. The music swells, and two shooting stars criss-cross each other over Sleeping Beauty's castle, and then the sky erupts with colour and light. The projected lighting on the castle changes to suit the mood of the music (which ranges from "Wishing" from Snow White to "Indiana Jones") and at one point a real live Tinkerbell flies out over the castle, her wings aglow, setting off various bursts of fairy dust just like the opening to the old Wonderful World of Disney show. It is, quite simply, Magic.

I stood there holding Sam in my arms, his eyes saucer-wide, looking at Chloe and April standing arm-in-arm, and I started crying. I didn't know it was going to happen, it just kind of washed over me in a wave. I guess I just suddenly came to the realization that I was, in that moment, truly happy. It is a memory that I have placed in my breast pocket. One which I will take out every now and then for the rest of my life, holding it close to my cheek and spending some time basking in the warm glow of its joy. I am so glad that we have made this trip, I am so glad that I have my family, I am just so...glad. Tomorrow we head back to reality, but for now I'm going to lay here and love my life for a little while...

P.S.: Here is some video footage of a similar fireworks show to the one we saw.

Posted by Sean at 11:46 PM

My new pet...

When we were in Universal Studios I saw a store and it had a stuffy place where you can fill your own stuffy with stuffing. You get to put a star in it and you make a wish and it comes with a birth certificate and you get to get a name for it and you get to write the date down on it and my blue dragon stuffy is called Draco. You can buy shirts and backpacks for him and I bought a Spongebob backpack for Draco and if you get a dinosaur stuffy you can get a Jurassic Park t-shirt for it.


Posted by Sam at 9:01 AM
  Thursday, March 11, 2010

Our Day at Universal Studios (or No! I Don't Want a F***ing Picture! Get Out of My Face!)

Today was a break from the wonders of the Magic Kingdom. We were up early once again and outside waiting for our tour bus by 8:00 a.m. Once again the role of Creepy Bus Driver Guy was played by Philip Seymour Hoffman's brother, Hank. The unbelievable luck we have been experiencing this entire trip was still in place this morning, as well. We had been hoping we were going to be first in line for our bus so we could get the top front of the double-decker again. Unfortunately, we arrived to find a long line waiting for a regular-sized bus. So, we figured we would just sit wherever and get to Universal as best we could, no big deal. However, when we arrived at the front of the line, the lady bus driver stopped us and said her bus was full and that another one would be along in a minute. As a result, we found ourselves in the front of the line after-all, and, to top it all off, a big black double decker pulled up in front of us and out stepped Salvador Barta, our lovable driver from our trip to Sea World! Score! Tickets were taken and up we scrambled to our familiar top deck, front row seats. Double score!

The ride into Hollywood was pretty neat with all the recognizable sights and signage along the way. We saw the Hollywood sign and all that stuff which was pretty cool. Unfortunately, that's about where all the really memorable stuff from this excursion ends. Universal Studios to put it...a fairly lacklustre affair overall. Kind of like Disneyland without the budget, friendliness, or joy. The difference between the two parks was immediately made clear the second we walked through the front turnstiles and were descended upon by a horde of camera-toting, blue-Universal-polo-shirt-wearing lackeys who were all but demanding that we let them take a picture of us in front of this sign or that building. This wouldn't have been so bad if it wasn't for the fact that we were hit by another wave of them just a few yards down the street. Again and again we were accosted by these guys (and girls) and it fast became old. It got the point where we would throw ourselves behind the nearest cotton candy stand whenever we saw a blue polo shirt in the distance.

In terms of the rides we had a couple of positive experiences starting with Shrek 4-D. Of all the 4-D attractions at any of the parks we visited, Shrek 4-D was the hands-down winner. It was kind of like all the humour and excitement in Universal Studios had been used-up on this show and there was none left for anywhere else in the park. Our hopes were pretty high after walking out of this one.

The next ride we hit was The Simpsons. I actually had no idea what kind of ride this was and it took us nearly a half-hour in line to find out. Turns out it was exactly the same deal as Soaring Over California at California Adventure. The only difference being that while you soar gently over California in one, in the other you careen with a vomit-inducing intensity over, around, under, and through Springfield. Kids loved it, April kept her eyes closed, and I almost threw-up. The whole experience was not improved by the fact that the kids who were operating the thing were surly and uncommunicative about where we were supposed to go and what we we supposed to do. Definitely not a score.

Next, we made our way down the seventy-five escalators to the lower level where our main objective was housed: Jurassic Park-The Ride! We were all looking forward to this one (except Chloe, who was nervous about the 84-foot drop at the end) and luckily we were able to just walk directly onto the ride. We prepared ourselves for the amazing animatronic dinosaur goodness we had read about on the internet all those months ago. Though it wasn't quite as good as we had envisioned, it was still pretty neat. Some second-rate mechanical dinosaurs populated a quite detailed Jurassic Park set and the T-Rex popping out just before we took the final plunge was appropriately scream-inducing. It really helped that we were able to just go around again and climb right back into a boat with no wait. The second ride was marred only by the failure of the T-Rex to pop out at the end. I'm not sure if this was a by-design randomness kind of thing, or a simple malfunction. Either way two go-rounds were enough for us.

For lunch we left the park proper and headed over to what they call the City Walk. This is essentially Universal's attempt to mimic Downtown Disney, with it's shops and restaurants, etc. We ended-up at the Hard Rock Cafe which was fine, but a little sad as we were served by a guy named John who was so obviously an out-of-work actor waiting tables to make ends meet. City Walk did provide me with my first souvenir of the trip: a Star Wars travel mug. Yay, me!

The afternoon was the classic Universal Studios Tram Tour. I remember this being very impressive when I was a kid. Things change, I guess. It was actually pretty lame, though the kids were impressed by the fact that some of the things on display had actually been used on screen. The earthquake set and, of course, Bruce the shark were impressive, but overall? Meh. After the tour I took off to the House of Horrors and April and the kids went to meet Shrek and Fiona. The House of Horrors was more like House of We Have the Opportunity to Make a Great Attraction but Instead Let's Only Present a Mediocre One. Other than the atmospheric recreation of Dr. Frankenstein's Laboratory, this was a giant miss. Too bad, it could have been great.

The last big show was Universal's Animal Actors which was pretty cute and provided Chloe an opportunity to meet the little white dog from The Proposal (which is now a medium-sized white dog).

After wading back through the sea of Universal picture-taking zombies, we ended-up waiting outside early for our beloved Salvador Barta to return because we couldn't muster the enthusiasm to be there anymore.

I know this post reads as a somewhat down and negative (and I know the kids had a much more positive experience than I did), but i guess there is just no substitute for the real thing!

Tomorrow: The Mouse Day 4: The Last Kick at the Magic Kingdom

Posted by Sean at 11:21 PM
  Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Disney: Day Three (or So This is California Adventure...Can We Go to Disneyland Now?)

Today started very early because we had reservations at the Storyteller's Cafe for breakfast with some Disney characters and we couldn't be late! The restaurant was in the Grand Californian Hotel which is where I'm going to stay the next time I'm rich. We only really saw the lobby and the restaurant but just being in the building made me feel all fancy.

Breakfast was a buffet-style affair with an omelet bar and as much as you could eat of every type of breakfast food you could imagine, including the requisite Mickey-shaped waffles. We were shuffling along the buffet line, filling our plates here and there, when Sam saw the giant bowl filled to the brim with bacon and sausages. He turned to me, saucer-eyed, and said, "!" before loading 3.2 metric tonnes of pork onto his plate. It was all extremely delicious!

As we ate, several B and C-list Disney characters worked the room, mugging and posing for pictures. We had Chip & Dale, Kenai and Koda (from Brother Bear), and Turk (from Tarzan). The kids didn't seem to mind the fact that the A-listers were all working a gig over at the Disneyland Hotel and they hugged and high-fived with enthusiasm.

After breakfast we were off to get our first taste of Disney's California Adventure. The plan of attack, you ask? Well, the ride that loads-up the fastest and stays loaded the longest is Pixar's Toy Story Mania, so that's where we were headed as soon as the gates opened. This, my friends, is a spectacular ride. You essentially ride in a funhouse cart with a small cannon mounted on the front. As you are whipped around the ride, you shoot at various types of midway-style targets on giant video screens, Pixar characters offering up copious praise as you go, all in glorious 3-D. Very, very fun! We made it there early enough for me to post the second highest score of the day, but as we left the ride, there were hundreds of people in the line. The only downside of the ride? No FastPass!

Other standouts were the Grizzly River Run (a whitewater rafting ride), Monsters, Inc. (a funhouse-style ride), and the two 4-D shows: Muppet Vision 3-D and A Bug's Life, It's Tough Being a Bug. Another cool experience was Soaring Over California. In this one you essentially strap yourself into a chair lift and they haul you up so that you are just a few feet away from an enormous concave movie screen. The image fills your entire vision and, as your seats twist and turn, it really feels like you are flying over, well, California.

We spent some time in the playground area, with it's rope ladders and rock climbing, but by dinner time we were ready for little more Disneyland action. The girls wanted to watch the Main Street parade, while us boys just wanted to hit some more rides, so we split-up into teams. Sammy and I hit, in order, Indiana Jones, Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Roger Rabbit, Gadget's Go Coaster, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. We exited our last ride at exactly 8:01 p.m., met up with the girls on Main Street and hobbled back to the HoJo's for some rest.

Pro Tip If you don't want to pay exorbitant roaming fees on your cell phone while in Disneyland, do what we did: invest in a moderately priced pair of Motorola two-way radios for those times you are separated. These things are priced at around $40 and we can communicate easily between one in the park and one back at the hotel. They are ideal for reconnecting after solo excursions! Plus you get to say cool things like, "What's your 20?" and "There's a bear trap just past the double nickels on the 105!"

Tomorrow: Universal Studios: The Mediocre-iest Place on Earth

Posted by Sean at 9:45 PM
  Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Disney: Day Two (or Honorary Citizens of the World, Unite!)...

Well, after our close brush with the Disney cops yesterday, we were determined to keep our heads down and go in with everyone else like good Mouse people, but, try as might to blend in, we once again got to enter the park before the huddled masses. The only difference was this time we did it legally. We were first in line at our gate again, following our plan of attack with Finding Nemo's Submarine Voyage as our first-of-the-day-line-beater. A gentleman in a Disney coat approached us from the other side of the gate and asked how many were in our family, we told him, and he asked if we would like to come in the gates a little early and help him officially open the park! We accepted the offer immediately and he cracked the gate, handed each of us an "Honorary Citizen of Disneyland" button, and let us slide through and take our positions in front of gate-after-gate of perplexed looking Disney-ites. At the proper time, after the pre-recorded spiel, we counted down from ten and shouted, "LET THE MAGIC BEGIN!!" and the crowds flowed in. Mr. Disneycoat then shook our hands, thanked us and sent us on our way. It was pretty awesome! (The picture to the left of this paragraph is the view from our vantage point as Honorary Citizens of Disneyland.)

The only downside of the the whole park opening affair was that it put us a few dozen yards behind the mob. We followed our pre-planned route, NOT through the main Tomorrowland entrance, which is the route all the suckers would take, but back around behind the Matterhorn, finding ourselves second in line for the ride. We got to talking with the family in front of us and it turns out they were there because they were using the RideMax software, too! It is a small world, afterall. (Incidentally, when we resurfaced and disembarked from our Nemo sub, the line for the ride must have had over 300 people in it. It's crazy!)

The rest of the day we devoted to catching as many of yesterday's missed rides as we could. The stand-outs were the Jungle Cruise, Autotopia (which I didn't go on when I was here as a kid), and the best ride of the day, Buzz Lightyear's Astroblasters. The kids rode the Teacups (or Mad Hatter's Tea Party as it is officially known) by themselves because I'm pretty sure it would have been bad form for me to spew my sausage McMuffin in a 360° rain of bile on the other guests. We, went through It's a Small World which, oddly enough, I enjoyed way more as an adult than I did as a teenage boy...go figure. We also did a couple of FastPass trips through Indiana Jones and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Faces were painted and all was right with the world.

We had reservations for dinner at The Rainforest Cafe so we hopped on the monorail around 3:00 p.m. and headed for Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney is essentially an extension of the Disney chain hotels housing outlets for a bunch of high-end retailers and Disney-branded stores. We walked around and shopped while we waited for our reservation time to roll around. It was particularly difficult to drag Sam away from the Lego® store, but we managed to lure him with the thought of animatronic gorillas. We didn't sit beside any gorillas, but we did sit next to Tookie, a baby elephant. Every 15 minutes or so Tookie would spring to life and wave his trunk around. There was also a simulated thunder storm every half hour or so. The restaurant really was pretty cool and the food was gigantic, effectively prohibiting anyone from finishing their meal. What it did not prohibit, however, was my ordering the Chocolate Volcano for dessert which we split four ways. Yum!

After dinner Chloe and I decided to call it quits and walk back to the hotel while Sam and April headed back on the monorail to take another run at Splash Mountain and Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin. Chloe was asleep by 7:00 and the rest of us were out by 9:30...another great day!

Tomorrow: No Mouse! (Sort of!)

Posted by Sean at 11:46 PM
  Monday, March 8, 2010

Disney: Day One (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the FastPass)...

Today was our first day in Disneyland. Today was the culmination of years of dreaming and months of planning. Today was perfect. Except for the part where we were almost arrested by the Disney cops and thrown out on our ears. Before the park even opened. Let me explain...

We woke up extremely early today because, well, let's get real, WE WERE GOING TO FREAKIN' DISNEYLAND! It's hard to describe the excitement you feel as you walk toward the gates of Disneyland, the music piping in from hidden speakers along the walkway. It was pretty overwhelming, all of us walking along, hand-in-hand, all vibrating at more-or-less the same frequency of exhilaration. The kids were so excited I thought they weren't going to actually make it to the park, but rather they'd just explode all over the various hotel shuttle buses parked along our route.

The gates opened at 8:30 a.m. and we knew we wanted to be at the gates by 7:45 because that's what RideMax recommended for optimal line placement. (Click on the link for RideMax and read about it, it really works!) We ended-up first in line at our particular gate and once we were allowed in, we hung around and took a few pictures in front of the Mickey flower mural. Unfortunately, this put us way back from the front of the roped-off area at the head of Main Street where they hold everyone until the park officially opens at 9:00. This was bad because we needed to get to the Peter Pan ride before the rest of the crowd as it is one of about a half-dozen or so attractions that fill up at opening, each maintaining massive lines until closing. Missing it by mere moments can mean an hour or more in line if you want to see it.

To remedy our poor starting position, we relied on a tip gleaned from RideMax which stated that you can enter a store during this time and walk all the way down to the end of Main Street because all the stores are connected to one another. The part I apparently didn't read was that you are supposed to wait at the last door until opening. Instead, we just walked through the door, blissfully unaware that the only people who should be where we stood were those who had reservations for birthday breakfasts at the near-by restaurant. As a result, we ended-up in the park abouty twenty minutes before the official opening and about 100 yards ahead of the crowd. (The picture to the left of this paragraph was taken from our vantage point as Disney lawbreakers.)

It was obvious right away that this was not something that should be happening, so, like any good Mouse-fearing citizens would do, we pretended to be waiting in line with the birthday goers and we just kept letting any legit customers into the line ahead of us. The only trouble was all the customers who were supposed to be there had on special badges that identified them as being legit. Really big, obvious badges, but we continued to mingle, even as the line of breakfast-goers dwindled away to almost none. We kept our heads and managed to avoid the Disney PD right up until about two minutes before the official opening. At that point a grizzled Disney smokey came along and decided to ask if we were going into the breakfast festivities. We could tell he wasn't happy when we said, "No, sir," but, to his credit, he simply told us we would need to stay put until the official opening rather than roughing us up and tossing us out. We replied that we had been planning on doing just that and he let us off with a steely-eyed gaze and a no-nonsense, "Have a nice day." A very close call, indeed!

So, the park opened and we headed for the Peter Pan Ride. We weren't the first, but we were pretty close! The ride was even more amazing than I remember from my first trip as a kid...the Disney designers and artists are unbelievable. The trip through Peter Pan took about three minutes and, when we emerged back into the sunlight, there were easily 300 people in the line-up...and it stayed that way until closing. Thanks RideMax!

One thing that became quite clear very early on was that utilizing the FastPass system is the only way to really get the most out of the park. Another thing that became quite clear very early on was the fact that hardly anyone else in the park seemed to understand the benefits of the FastPass system. How it works is you don't simply go stand-in line and wait with all the unwashed masses, instead, you pick up a FastPass ticket which gives you a window of time in which to return, present your FastPass, and thereby by-pass the entire line-up. The real secret, however, is that even if your FastPass ticket's window of opportunity has come and gone, they will still be accepted no questions asked. For those rides that offer FastPasses, essentially, it's a golden ticket allowing you to walk passed all the sweating, angry slobs waiting in line practically anytime you feel like it. You can only get so many at a time, but if you plan your day out properly, you'll never have to stand in a line for more than a few minutes all day. Our RideMax itinerary even told us the ideal times to pick-up our FastPasses. Fool proof!

FastPass availability or no, we hit all the big, classic attractions the place has to offer: Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Peter Pan, Star Tours and more...most more than once. The kids loved them all and we all thought things couldn't get any better...until we went on The Indiana Jones ride. The Indiana Jones ride, my friends is, quite simply, the best amusement park attraction ever made. Ev-er. We rode it three times, which was as many as our FastPasses would let us get away with, and I'm sure we would have ridden it another three if the park stayed open later than 8:00 p.m. It perfectly captures the balance between thrills and humour that Raiders of the Lost Ark did so well. We liked it, it was better than Cats!

We closed down the park with a trip down Splash Mountain and we walked back to the HoJo's in an exhausted daze. A daze under the influence of which, I might add, I am currently writing this post, so errors be damned! I have to go to bed now because it's either that or I pass out on the laptop. Just one last comment about how amazing it is to be experiencing these fantastic sights I enjoyed as a kid, only now seeing them through the eyes of my own children. I found myself tearing up every now and then during the day as the emotion of it all kept creeping up behind me and smacking me in the back of the head. I couldn't have asked for a better day than today. The Happiest Place on Earth? Well, right now that just happens to be this hotel room.

Tomorrow: The Mouse 2: Electric Boogaloo!

Posted by Sean at 11:55 PM
  Sunday, March 7, 2010

He's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes.

On this, our first full day in California, we were up bright and early and waiting outside the hotel for our bus to Sea World. The role of Creepy Bus Driver was played by Philip Seymour Hoffman's evil twin, Hank, today and he buried himself in the part. Super creepy. Luckily, he was only driving us to the tour bus depot and the role of Awesome, Helpful and Funny Bus Driver was played by Salvador Barta. Great, great guy. We were lucky enough to get the front row of the top deck of our double-decker bus and we had a great hour and forty-five minute trip down the Santa Ana Freeway.

Once we arrived in San Diego it started raining, and it didn't quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin' rain...and big ol' fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night...but we didn't let it dampen our spirits...much. It was, however, colder than something that is really, really cold. Luckily we had outfitted ourselves with Eddie Bauer water-repellent shells while we were in Spokane, though we still got soaked. And cold. And maybe a bit bitchy, here and there. But we survived.

We saw the classic Shamu show which was more impressive than I expected it to be. The whales were incredible, but I couldn't help feeling like they were being exploited for our benefit. It kind of coloured my whole experience with the various forms of wildlife we encountered. Sam, on the other hand, was determined to experience the Shamu show in the "Splash Zone" and no amount of trying to talk him out of it was going to change his mind. So, April and Chloe joined him in about row 10 or 11 and waited for the splashing to commence. From my safe (and relatively dry) vantage point in row 358 the "splash" looked more like an ungodly wall of sea water that came crashing down on the unsuspecting heads of my dear family courtesy of Shamu's tail. It sounded something like, "Shamu! Shamu! Sham--Holy shit! What the hell is th--S-S-S-S-P-P-P-P-A-A-A-A-L-L-L-L-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-H-H-H-H-H-H-H-H!!!!!!!!" And then I laughed.

The coolest thing in the whole park was the shark exhibit which has a fifty or sixty-foot long glass tunnel that takes you underwater and right through the shark tank. It was amazing! We seriously had sharks floating 24 inches above our heads. Plus it was really warm in there...which was nice.

Chloe's favourite attraction was the Pets Rule! animal show. They had to modify the show somewhat as the various dogs and cats were understandably skittish about performing in a monsoon, but after some coaxing and a few heated phone calls to their agents, the animals came out and put on a little bit of a show in the form of a "meet and greet." It was pretty cute, but it wasn't exactly the thrill-a-minute pet extravaganza Chloe had been hoping for. Luckily she was able to stem the disappointment a little by purchasing a plush dolphin with whom she would later be snuggling in bed.

Unlike Chloe, who is charmed by soft, warm, furry creatures, Sam couldn't get enough of petting the bat rays. Yes, that's correct...bat rays. He stood there a good half-dozen times, sleeves rolled up to his shoulders, petting the vile, slimy, gelatinous creatures like they were Care Bears®. Seriously, if he could have picked one up and hugged it, he would have. In fact, he did the next best thing and he bought himself a stuffed bat ray at the adjacent souvenir shop and slept with it nestled against him that night.

The bus departed around 6:30 p.m. and it was a nice quiet, relaxing ride home. Salvador put Dr. Doolittle on the DVD player and I napped as we rode through the Southern California darkness. When we got back to the hotel, I sent the family up stairs and I dashed across three adjacent parking lots, and one surface street, to grab some McDonald's to feed them. We then went down to the pool deck to watch the Disneyland fireworks and it was lights out by 10 p.m.

So, even though it was cold and wet for most of the day, we ended-up having a really fun, memorable outing at Sea World. Bigger things, however, are on the horizon...

Tomorrow: The Mouse!

Posted by Sean at 10:30 PM
  Saturday, March 6, 2010

Apparently, Albert Hammond had it wrong...

3:10 p.m.: Day two of the grand California adventure and things are going according to plan. I'm writing this in the air, en route to John Wayne Airport in Orange County. There is no wi-fi on the flight so I will post this, along with an update, when we get there later this evening.

The day started pretty well, albeit somewhat earlier than the time I had set on my watch. Everyone fell asleep last night remarkably easily, but we all ran out of sleep around 5:30 or 6. So, up we got, showers we had, breakfast we ate, last minute preparation and organization we did, and the airport shuttle we took. We ended-up at the airport about two hours before the flight was scheduled to take off, but that's okay, because might have otherwise missed the grumpy ass manning the main entry at airport security had we arrived any later. Officer Barky McJerkface of the TSA was snapping at everyone who came along about how if a single contraband water bottle or non-regulation pair of toenail clippers made it through his checkpoint, then, quite frankly, the terrorists win. I just nodded and said "yes, sir" and put my shoes in my plastic tub, praying to God he wouldn't find the 3.2 ounce bottle of liquid Imodium I had taped to the small of my back.

Boarding the plane was a breeze in comparison and we made it to Seattle with no hiccups, just a lot of excitement on the part of the kids. I'm talking palpable, leg shaking, talking a mile a minute excitement. "Gasps!" and "Wows!" from the first rush of acceleration to the last declarative bump of the touchdown. It was pretty cool.

We had about an hour in Seattle, where we spent $437.26 for four sandwiches at an airport snack bar. I have a feeling this only foreshadowed what eating in Disneyland will be like.

Anyway, as mentioned above, this is just one leg of today's journey and I'll update later on tonight.

UPDATE -- 7:57 p.m.: We touched down around 5:30 this evening after being batted around by some turbulence on the way in. It was pouring rain, but that didn't do much to dampen-see what I did there?-our spirits. The shuttle bus process was painless and we are now nestled at the HoJo's right across the street from Disneyland. We can actually see the Matterhorn from our balcony! The monorail has passed by once or twice as well...pretty cool. We opted for a quick McDonald's meal so we could get back to the hotel and settle-in a bit. Tired now, Sea World tomorrow!

UPDATED UPDATE -- 9:45 p.m.: The kids are both asleep and April and I just finished watching the Disneyland fireworks from our balcony. This has already been better than we had hoped!

Posted by Sean at 9:04 PM
  Friday, March 5, 2010

One more token, Dad! I know I can beat this thing!

Well, we are officially on our way to Disneyland. We left GF about 8:45 a.m. and are now nestled in our room at the airport Ramada here in Spokane, ready to hit the hay in an hour or so. The plane doesn't leave until 11:30 tomorrow, but I have a feeling that we might get an early start all the same. The trip here was pretty smooth-a couple of frayed nerves here and there-but we managed to do the last minute running around we needed and I think we're ready for the Magic Kingdom.

Dinner was a first: Chuck E. Cheese's! The kids had pizza and a couple of fists full of tokens so they were pretty happy. I am a little concerned about the predominance of games of chance in the mix, though. I guess it's never too early to introduce the kids to the joy and excitement that is the life of the degenerate gambler...

I wonder if anyone will sleep tonight? (Between April and me, I mean!)

Posted by Sean at 8:29 PM
  Saturday, December 19, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like...a diabetic coma...

I don't think I'm going out on a limb here by saying that I'm pretty sure we're not going to make it to the 25th without somebody's head exploding, but at least the first couple of days of the holiday have been good.

On Thursday, the last day of school, we had an early supper of Panago pizza and then we headed out for our traditional Anderson Family Tour of the Christmas Lights®. The kids had showers and climbed into their PJ's and we drove around the valley ooo-ing and ahhh-ing over the various lighting displays, Christmas music playing on the iPod in the background. This is one of my favourite traditions that we've established over the years.

Friday saw the rapid melting of the very little snow we had, much to the chagrin of at least two frustrated toboganners, both of whom just happen to live in my house. If nothing else, the wet snow was perfect for sculpting a multi-layered, tunnel-filled fortress for various army men, giant insects, and Pokemon to wage battle over. Unfortunately, by the afternoon we lost the battle with the temperature and the ice palace crumbled into so much slush.

Saturday was the gingerbread building marathon which consisted of 5 cousins, 2 aunts, 2 sleighs, 1 castle, 2 cottages, 1 A-frame and 14,000,000 assorted candies. The end results are pretty spectacular, even if I don't want to see another Reese's peanut butter bell for a long, long time...

Pictures of the gingerbread houses are forthcoming, but in the meantime, here's a gratuitous picture of a very cute elf.

Posted by Sean at 7:31 PM
  Sunday, December 13, 2009

The tale of the tree...




Posted by Sean at 9:56 PM

Whose-nuts roasting on a what-now?

Sam was asking the other day why it was exactly that I don't write about the stuff that's going on in our lives anymore. The only answer I could give him was, "Um, I don't know?" So, he suggested that I start doing it again. So, I am.

Today was a a pretty big day on the calendar of Anderson family traditions: The BDTA Kids Christmas Party. Every year my union brothers and sisters hold a movie party down at the theatre at which Santa shows up and hands out presents and what not. To get the day off to a special start, I was down at the Overwaitea by 8:15 a.m. picking up the ingredients for breakfast. There's nothing like wandering around an empty grocery store early in the morning, Christmas music piping in, to really get those holiday spirits flowing. A quick trip home, some Huey Lewis and the News on the stereo (not exactly holiday music, but inspirational in its own way), an entire package of Maple Leaf 33% Less Sodium bacon in the pan and soon we were feasting on my cinnammon-nutmeg French toast.

Sam and I ended-up being the only one's who went to the movie as Chloe wasn't feeling all that great, but we enjoyed ourselves as best we could anyway. The flick was "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" and I'm not ashamed to admit that I was not looking forward to it in the least. I'd like to take this opportunity to issue a formal apology to the makers of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" because it was, in fact, a hilarious movie. The story itself was pretty weird, but the one-off gags were laid on with a trowel and they were FUNNY! The capper was that Santa showed-up just as the credits were starting and Sam received a personal hand-shake from the big guy. Sam's pre-movie wish that Santa would bring him a Bionicle came true as well, so the whole morning was one we could put in the "win" column.

At this point in the day, we are waiting for April to finish wrapping the tree with gingerbread man ribbon (note to self: if the wife asks how the tree looks wrapped in gingerbread man ribbon, do not, I repeat, DO NOT tell her that it looks like somebody toilet papered me) and, when she is done, we will commence Operation: Decorate That Honky MoFo.

I'll post some pictures later, once we've got the tree all decorated.

Also, Sam wanted me to tell the tale of how we drove up past Phoenix Ski Hill last weekend looking for a choice spot to do some sledding and he ended up doing a massive face plant. So there.

Posted by Sean at 12:13 PM
  Saturday, April 4, 2009

Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin...

Me: Y'know what? I think I might try and grow a beard.

Sam: NO!

Me: Why not? Will I look horrible?

Sam: Well, you'll still be cute, but when you have a beard it makes you look like you're a little old man.

Me: Really?

Sam: Yes! It makes you look like you're 50 or something!

Posted by Sean at 8:47 AM
  Saturday, March 28, 2009

The end of an era...

Spring Break has come and gone with not much fanfare. We stuck pretty close to home which was just as well since the kids tag-teamed being sick over the first eight or ten days. We still managed to have some fun what with all the dinners out, the playdates, the sleepovers, and the what-nots.

(Photo Break #1: Here are a couple of pictures of the kids with their various missing teeth)


There have been some changes around here in the past little while, the most notable of which is the fact that we've stopped doing piano lessons for the time being. In discussing the kids' progress with their teacher, we realised that they were both at the point where they would need to get very serious about their practice regimes to make any forward progress. As it was, we were experiencing a little resistence to the practice schedule and it was either start being piano Nazis or stop lessons for now. I've always believed that learning music needs to be fun and as soon as it becomes a chore, there is no point in pursuing it further. It was sad saying goodbye to Bruce. He did a great job with the kids and they loved him.

To fill the gap left by the end of piano, we are looking at a couple of possibilities. Chloe is interested in taking horse riding lessons and Sam is up for some karate, so we will see how it all pans out.

(Photo Break #2: Here are a couple of pictures of the kids just being kids)


Posted by Sean at 11:40 PM

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