Thursday, August 31, 2017

Honorable Mention Disney Memories: Memory #15: Head First into Paradise

Disneyland 2017 Memory #15Head First into Paradise

I truly love the water slide at the Paradise Pier's rooftop pool. Even as an adult, I feel comfortable using it, and I'm not sure I would be willing to embarrass myself on the slides at the other two resort hotels. The pool area itself needs some love, though. All the bright, colorful decorative billboards I found so charming back in 2014 were totally bleached out this time, like they were eerie murals carved in whale bone. It wasn't a good look. All summer, I'd been desperate to get a new underwater camera and make it last until vacation (since last time we went our faithful original pool camera broke the instant I submerged it), and though I managed to carry out that goal, I felt a bit let down by what was there to be photographed.

The slide was still awesome, though.

We almost skipped our swim day this trip because we had planned to leave California Adventure for a swim break on Wednesday afternoon, but when the time came, our little group loudly protested.

Gray, Nellie, and Merry thought leaving the park to swim made no sense given that we have a lovely pool at home but no themed rides. I thought Mom seemed a little disappointed by the decision to stay in the park, but since Mom and Dad didn't swim with us when the whimsical kids did decide to go on Thursday afternoon, I guess she was probably just tired (rather than hankering for pool time). I was a bit exasperated that I'd fixated so much on getting a new pool camera and saved back Gideon's awesome Star Wars suit for Disneyland, but honestly I didn't feel like swimming on Wednesday afternoon either. With Disneyland right there, who needs a pool?

Don't ask me why nobody wanted to swim on Wednesday, but everybody wanted to swim on Thursday. I think Toy Story Mania being our last ride had something to do with it. The Pier is just so hot and sunny. They're a whimsical bunch. Who knows what they're thinking. I know Derrick was just glad to sit down and drink a Coke in the room.

I was excited for the opportunity to use my camera, though I was a bit concerned about what to do with Gideon. I remembered Penelope at two ready to leave the Grand Californian Redwood Pool in five minutes, before Grayson even had a chance to finish going down the slide. One of my fondest memories is suiting her up in that life jacket and sending her down the baby slide over and over again.

But Paradise Pier just has the one slide, and it's pretty big. I didn't know how I would handle Gideon's jealousy and frustration when they wouldn't let him slide.

Then to my surprise, they did let him slide. The lifeguard over heard me telling him I didn't think he could go down the slide, and she said, "Oh yes he can. He just has to put on a life vest."

When we got to the top of the stairs, we faced an additional hurdle. Gideon could only go down the slide if he climbed onto the slide and got into position and started going down the slide by himself. At the park, I usually helped him get into position and half the time, he still wouldn't slide. (He does now. He climbs up and slides down like a champ now.)

After a lot of effort--and letting a couple of people go ahead of us so he could get the idea--Giddy finally managed to make one trip down the slide...and that was enough for him.

He somehow got turned around on the trip down and entered the trough head first, but the life guard helped him out without a problem. After all of that, I couldn't believe they were still cool with him sliding a second time. It was equally surprising that he very enthusiastically said he wanted to go again and bolted right back up the stairs! He never did slide again, though. Getting seated on the correct place proved impossible for him because now that he'd done it once, the breeze at the top of the slide made him too cold when he moved away from my body.

Still he slid once, and it was glorious. Penelope slid millions of times, and even I slid a few times.

The lifeguard at the top asked Penelope if she'd been before.

"Last time I was five," she said.

"And that was what--five years ago?" the lifeguard asked.

Penelope hesitated, and she asked her, "How old are you now?"

"Eight," Penelope answered.

The girl blinked in surprise and told her, "You are very tall for your age."

Yes, that she is indeed!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Honorable Mention Disney Memories: Memory #14: Crazy Character Encounters

Disneyland 2017 Memory #14Crazy Character Encounters

When I was a kid, costumed Disney characters roamed freely around the park. You would definitely encounter several throughout the day, though you had no way of knowing for sure which characters those would be. When you saw one, you'd just walk up to her and ask for a picture or autograph. Quite often, he would approach you first and do some bit of comic business to make you laugh or blush. My grandma, in particular, had a knack for attracting playful characters, maybe because she always seemed so embarrassed by their attentions but you could tell she secretly liked it.

When I came back to Disneyland as an adult with my kids, the protocol had changed. Now there were particular spots where certain characters regularly appeared and posed for photos with guests. To enjoy a brief moment with a character, you had to stand in line. If a character went on break before your turn, after a short interval, a different character (or two) would come out as a replacement. If you approached a character who was just walking around, they would usually blow you off because they were on their way to take a break.
That's how Disneyland's been doing it for the past decade. But as of this visit, things seem to have changed again. Officially, the whole standing in line at a greeting point thing is still going on, but we witnessed an awful lot of unusual character interactions in the wild.

Probably the weirdest was when Penelope got roped into a Vogueing contest with Daisy on Monday night. We were leaving Cars Land to park hop over to New Orleans Square, but on the way out of California Adventure, someone had to stop to use the bathroom.

Actually, I think that was me. But when I got back from the restroom, a few more people had peeled off to do something else. (Maybe they were in the Men's Room. I'm not sure.) Anyway, while the rest of us were waiting, Penelope noticed Daisy Duck appear across the street.

She had just gotten there, so there was no huge line around her. In a flash, Penelope and I darted across the street to get a quick picture...or so we thought.

"We're going to try something a little different tonight," Daisy's handler said, but then he took his sweet time revealing what it was. The photographer seemed just as perplexed as I was. In fact, the guy speaking gave us the distinct impression that even he hadn't figured out what he was up to yet. Maybe he had a specific plan in mind the whole time, but he didn't seem to. Other cast members who were helping him kept murmuring to each other in confusion.

Then he repeatedly asked if any little girls wanted to come participate--as if Penelope's presence didn't fulfill his needs. We both told him she was a girl, but it was like it took him a long time to believe us. (She does have a really short Pixie haircut, but she was wearing a women's fashion top. I can't imagine a boy wearing that--unless it was Jayden Smith to make a point.) (He's probably moved on to something else now. I just remember him giving a big, long spiel about why he was wearing dresses because society's ideas of gender appropriate clothing are grounded in nothing, and I thought simultaneously, How weird! and He's right! Typically nobody cares how right you are, though, if they can take the lazy way out and call you weird.)

Anyway, the guy ended up lining up a bunch of little girls and starting a vogueing contest. First, of course, he had to explain to them what vogueing was. Then at the end, he had the crowd applaud to vote on a winner. Of course the tiniest girl (with the most family members present) one. I was hoping Penelope understood that such contests always work that way. If there's a cute three-year-old involved, she will be the winner every time.

After Vogueing, the kids did get to hug Daisy, but not one at a time. So this made for a very strange and time consuming photo op. I know cast members regularly orchestrate games like this at Disney World's character dining events. I've never seen anything like it on the streets of Disneyland before, though. (This particular game was especially memorable because even the people organizing it seemed super confused about what was happening, like the guy speaking was just making it up on the fly.)

Maybe because the parks were so crowded, we saw some other unusual character interactions, too. While we were hanging out in Tomorrowland, Peter Pan suddenly sprinted through assigning weird tasks to a group of small children following him. ("Great job! Now can you find...") My mom speculated that it must have been some kind of private paid tour "because you wouldn't want your children just running off with Peter Pan," but I don't know because I swear I saw random children just glomming on and joining in.)

Over in California Adventure, when Black Widow rolled in to sign autographs, Thor invited a bunch of kids calling out to him to come order a hot dog with him. While we were waiting for our table at Cafe Orleans, Tiana just strolled by and graciously took several pictures with Nellie. Storm Troopers putting on a show in Tomorrowland permitted kids to walk with them and paused to interact.

Now we experienced some more traditional line-oriented character photos, too. Giddy stood in line Monday to get his picture with Mater. On Wednesday, when everyone was drinking Mom's pear drinks at Flo's, I took Giddy across to the Cozy Cone to wait for a picture with Lightning McQueen. 

 A cast member warned us that Lightning might have to leave before our turn, and indeed he did. Giddy was stunned to see him drive away. Cruz Ramirez was supposed to come and relieve him, but she was delayed and Giddy refused to wait.  

Mom, Dad, and Merry enjoyed a character breakfast at the Plaza Inn. On our way to ride Grizzly River, we passed by the Photo spot plane just as Pluto was walking out to pose. He's Penelope's favorite character, so the two of us dashed over to be first in line, and the professional photographer snapped a few shots of her as he was running to get in position. 

On Thursday when we were heading over to the Pier to meet everyone at Toy Story Mania, Penelope saw Donald posing and begged me to stop to get a picture with him since in all our visits, we've never gotten one. (I couldn't refuse that! How often does she ask me to take her picture? Usually she plots to evade or ruin my efforts to snap a shot of her.) I even got one shot of Mickey Mouse and Merry because he happened to be riding on the back of the Red Car on Buena Vista Street!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Honorable Mention Disney Memories: Memory #13 One Wild Wednesday

Disneyland 2017 Memory #13

One Wild Wednesday

Wednesday was kind of a crazy day for us. I woke up with ringing in one ear, but I turned upside down and held my nose and blew until it went away. (Derrick has tinnitus all the time, and I don’t know how he stands it.)

For hours (while I sorted through videos, and the kids climbed back up to consciousness more slowly than Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception) everything was normal. I wandered back and forth between the two connecting rooms talking to everyone and making plans, and everything was fine. Then when the kids were finally awake, dressed, and slathered with sunscreen, I looked up from my phone and felt like I was falling backwards through time. First the room spun, and then the ground seemed to be moving strangely beneath my feet.

I never get vertigo, so this freaked me out totally. It seemed like the floor was jumping up at random times. I was sure I was having a stroke, which was very inconvenient because this was our first full day in California Adventure, and I wanted to ride everything.

Derrick (who has inner ear problems and gets vertigo regularly) assured me that I was not having a stroke. But for the next few hours, the ground would seem to spin at random moments. It was like an attraction only I got to experience! As we walked through Downtown Disney on our way into the park, the ground seemed to rise to meet me, like I was on hallucinogens in a bounce house.

I did my best to ignore these symptoms because I was highly motivated not to be having a stroke. (This means that I only mentioned it hysterically to Derrick about seventy times. And I mean, one of my ears was still full, so it was pretty clearly vertigo.) The rising ground really unnerved me. I still kept walking, though, leading the Rayburns into California Adventure and over to Smoke Jumpers Grill where we met Mom, Dad, and Merry for a very early lunch. (I don’t think it was even 11:00.) (They always got up and went into the park earlier than we did, but they also left earlier.)

Smoke Jumpers is just the new name for what used to be Taste Pilot’s Grill. It got a very light re-theming (mostly a paint job), but the food and set up are still exactly the same. We love Smoke Jumpers because it has a fixings bar where you build the burger yourself (kind of like Fuddruckers if they still do it that way) and they let you choose fries or onion rings for your side. (I was having a love affair with onion rings that trip.).

Mom and Dad liked it because they were able to get fries from a dedicated fryer and milkshakes, plus burgers with gluten free buns. Smoke Jumpers also sells the Kids Powerpacks, and Penelope loves bananas and goldfish.

By the time we finally got there, I think the others had already eaten, but they hung around to finish their milkshakes and talk with us. Derrick, Gray, and I left the little kids with Mom and Dad and went into the restaurant to get the food.

The woman who took our order asked where we were from. When I answered, "Texas," she told me, "All of the nicest people come from Texas." Pointing to her name badge (which also lists home town), I said, "Really? I heard all of the nicest people come from Ireland." Waving that aside, she insisted, "No, I'm serious. The very nicest people come from Texas. Everyone must be friendly there, not like in Southern California."

After that, I was painfully self-conscious about trying to seem as courteous as possible while we waited for our order at the counter. (When we went back to Smoke Jumpers Friday (because Gray loves the burgers), she told us the same thing again. Then I really stressed out about whether I should mention that we'd met before on Wednesday. In fact, I was so self-conscious through the whole encounter that I forgot to order myself a drink. I'm so bad at normal, social stuff!)

While we ate, Derrick used the new Max Pass service app (that had become available that day) to get Merry and the four of us Fastpasses for Soarin' Around the World (the ride that once caused my Mom to have an unforeseen, full blown panic attack). At the end of the meal, we could already get more Fastpasses, so we lined up some for California Screamin'. (Being able to do it on your phone like that is really convenient because you can also see return times, and you can cancel a Fastpass if your plans change.)

So after lunch, Mom and Dad took Gideon and said they'd meet us by the carousel on Paradise Pier after the roller coaster. This turned into a big debacle. The line for California Screamin’ is right next to King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea, so we ran into them on the way to the line. Already they were tired and hot, so Mom told me they were going to take Gideon into a nearby store to look around. She said they’d wait for us there. (As I’ve already mentioned, I recorded our adventure on California Screamin’. Bonus tidbit: After the ride was over, I got so dizzy I toppled over sideways into Merry who decided, "I'm going to hold your hand," as we walked down the stairs to the exit.)

Anyway, I wanted to ride King Triton's Carousel of the Sea, but first we headed back to that store on the boardwalk where Mom had said they’d wait. Guess who wasn’t there? Them. (I don't blame them for leaving. That store was boring. I know because we spent a million years in there looking for them.) I tried to text them, but nobody answered. We wandered around through this whole big connecting store on the boardwalk. We couldn’t find Mom and Dad anywhere, but Penelope did find a stuffed Dumbo from whom she could not be parted. Seriously, I looked around, and suddenly she was carrying this elephant.

“They wouldn’t send it back to the room?” I asked Derrick in surprise.

“She didn’t want to wait until tomorrow morning for it,” he explained. Instead she chose to lug a stuffed elephant around all day in the heat. I was skeptical, but she never once complained…about that.

I still don’t know exactly where Mom and Dad were. (They might have been riding The Little Mermaid. I can’t remember for sure.) All I remember is by the time we all found each other, everyone was hot and exhausted and ready to pass out, and I didn’t get to ride King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea. (It’s a favorite of mine because of its beauty. I’m a little scared of what will happen to it now that they’re re-imagining that area as Pixar Pier.) (At least I got to take a short video of Gideon riding the carousel on our way to California Screamin’.)

Paradise Pier is so hot in the middle of the day because there’s not much shade, and even though we had eaten so recently, everyone was dying of thirst. Derrick was literally about to pass out, which is very unusual for him. He said his mouth felt dry, and he was worried he would faint. (Strangely by the time everyone else was dying on the Pier, my vertigo had dissipated, and I felt fine. Maybe going upside down on Screamin' shifted something in my sinus cavity.) But Derrick needed a drink fast. I suggested the Pacific Wharf because the covered tables offered abundant shade, and it was just steps away.

Mom, however, had other ideas. She was desperate to go back to the Cozy Cone and get another one of those pear drinks. She was so determined to push this plan through that she offered to treat everyone. Cars Land was a bit further (and very sunny), but she didn't know how much Derrick was dying because he never likes to let anyone know he's dying (because then, I guess, they win? I don't know.)

So we all ended up in the shade at Flo's V-8 Cafe patio sipping drinks we had hauled over from the Cozy Cone. Then we rode Monsters Inc, had some adventures in the Hollywood backlot, and did Turtle Talk with Crush and Grizzly River as I've previously mentioned.

After that, Derrick, Gray, Nellie, and I grabbed some Cokes and cut over to Disneyland where the girl at the turn style noted we were all wearing Star Wars shirts and said, "Here's a joke for you, Star Wars family.  What temperature is the inside of a tauntaun?  It's Luke warm."  Got a laugh out of me.

After weaving through some parading storm troopers, we met Mom, Dad, and Merry on a bench in Tomorrowland near the Autopia. There was a lot of drama about a bubble wand that I won't get into. It was the hottest part of the day, and the sun was at a horrible angle for photographs and shining right in everyone's eyes, so, of course, we decided to ride Dumbo. That went about as well as you'd expect. (Well, actually it went a bit better than you might expect since Gideon did seem to enjoy the ride once it was finally our turn.)

Then we headed to the Tikki Room where Derrick, Dad, and Merry were still waiting for our Dole Whip as the show was starting. During the opening song, Gideon decided to run away. Since he'd been eating his Dole Whip in Grandma's lap, she and Dad had to apprehend him and take him out because I was blocked in on the row behind them.

After that, Mom and Dad needed a break from Gideon (who somehow ended up with the precious Mickey Mouse bubbler that had caused so much drama, tears, and angst between Penelope and Merry). Our original plan had been to eat dinner at the Pacific Wharf, and Penelope and Grayson were super intent on doing that. Mom and Dad didn't feel like park hopping again, so we parted ways. Merry and Gideon came with us.

At dinner, Penelope decided she wanted Mexican food, and Gray wanted Chinese food. I wanted clam chowder in a bread bowl. This was tricky to sort out since there were only two adults who were not holding down a table and watching the baby. Even with Merry kindly getting Grayson's dinner, Derrick still had to go two places. I offered to get Mexican food to make things easier, but he was like, "YOU WANTED TO GET CLAM CHOWDER IN A BREAD BOWL, AND THAT'S WHY WE CAME HERE, SO WE WOULD HAVE A LOT OF CHOICES NEARBY, SO YOU'RE GETTING THE CLAM CHOWDER." (He yelled it in a nice way. Well he didn't really yell, but it he was kind of forceful to be kind, like, "I insist you have your way!")

It was very stressful because Gideon decided to sit on the table and try to jump into Paradise Bay (presumably for a closer view of the ducks he was chatting up.) Grayson saved the day by letting Giddy watch Mickey Mouse shorts on his phone. Meanwhile I was charging my phone using the battery pack Derick had brought along in the backpack.

After dinner (which was delicious), Mom and Dad texted and offered to watch Gideon for the evening. Given his behavior all day, I was totally stunned, but we were trying to ride as many Fastpass attractions as possible since Derrick had paid the extra $10 a piece for Gray, Nellie, Merry, himself, and me. Rider swap is easy at Disneyland and offers its own perks, but not having to wrestle with someone who always wants to throw himself to the ducks offers its perks, too.

So I decided to take Mom up on her offer but thought it was only fair to bring Giddy to her freshly changed.

This instigated another fiasco. I asked Penelope to come with me into the ladies' room and help me negotiate the backpack and hold my camera while I changed Gideon. As I was finishing up, she asked perkily, "Can I go to the bathroom when we're done?"

"Of course," I said.

Apparently she was done right then. She disappeared. I assumed she'd gone further into the bathroom, but just then, the backpack strap broke. Since that backpack was stuffed full of everything on Earth, I was having trouble managing it, my camera, and Gideon, who had (surprise!) decided not to cooperate. Also my phone was still plugged into Derrick’s portable battery pack, and I had stuffed both into my pocket, which kept making my shorts fall down.

For some reason, I thought Derrick, Grayson, and Merry were waiting with the stroller right outside the bathroom door. They weren't. I had hoped to hand off the dangling backpack at the very least, then go back into the bathroom to find Penelope. Since they weren't by the door at all, I ran way back over to our table. They weren't there either. Finally I found them standing a hundred miles away some place else.

Trying to hand off everything as quickly as possible, I explained that I had to go back for Penelope.

"You left her in there?!!" Derrick exclaimed.

"She left me!" I said, now feeling I'd made a grave error in judgment.

I ran back into the bathroom, but, of course, Penelope was now gone. I ran back to the table. That’s where she had run first, too. But she wasn’t there now. I finally found her sobbing hysterically just as she was closing in on Derrick and the others.

After a tearful reunion during which Penelope recriminated herself needlessly, we all ran to the other park where Mom and Dad had laid claim to a piece of curb on Main Street, so they could watch the electrical parade. They had me wheel the stroller in next to them.

A cast member was trying to get people to either get behind the rope or get out of the way.

"Are you watching the parade?" he asked.

"He is," I explained, nodding at the stroller while I rummaged through the backpack trying to get out everything Mom was asking me for.  They had found the backpack so cumbersome on Tuesday night that now they asked us to keep it, even though all of Giddy's diapers, wipes, and spare clothes were in there.

I was really skeptical that Gideon would behave and felt almost guilty about leaving him with them.

"He'll be fine once the parade starts," Mom assured me.

But it wasn't even quite dark yet!

Nevertheless, I left Giddy with Mom and Dad, handed the backpack off to Gray, and we all cut through the Emporium to go off on a late night riding binge.