Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Heading to Santa Monica
On the Pier
Friday, 25 January to Sunday, 27 January 2013 – Our last day in America!  Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun!  It was an early start for us as Justyn and I were driving mum and dad to LAX for their flight to Hawaii and the aim was to be there around 8.30am.  After stripping beds, emptying bins and having a cup of tea, we farewelled W Laster, loaded up the Red Baron (left the others sleeping as they too were flying to Hawaii that day but not until the afternoon) and hit the various highways and freeways at 7.00am as we were not sure what the notorious Los Angeles peak hour traffic might throw our way.  Easily making our drop off time, we said goodbye to mum and dad who were looking forward to a week of rest and relaxation by the beach and drove across the LAX Embassy Suites Hotel.  I had booked a day room here as our flight didn’t depart until 8.30pm and we wanted to have a place to check our packing and shower before the long flight.  Breakfast was included in our accommodation so after checking in, parking and taking our bags to our room, we headed down to the buffet.  Fuelled up, we took Red Baron back out on the road to fuel him up too and headed to Santa Monica Pier which is where we thought we’d spend most of the day.  
Santa Monica Pier - Pacific Park Amusement park
Located only 20 minutes from LAX, we found the pier and parked, and jumped out to explore.  Most of the attractions and stores were closed for the winter but up the end we watched a pod of dolphins enjoying the weather a lot more than us!  Did you know that Santa Monica is the end (or start) of the original Route 66? 
It is also the home of the original Baywatch but we didn’t see Pammy or the Hoff strutting their stuff along the beach.  Halfway back down the pier, the rain decided that it would stick around and we were rather drenched!  Purchasing the obligatory magnet souvenir, we thought perhaps a movie and a spot of shopping might be a better waste of time than any outdoor activities! 
Can you spot Pammy & The Hoff on the beach?
Our first port of call was t
he Promenade at Howard Hughes Center.  There was a cinema but the times of the movies didn’t suit.  I was a bit grumpy as my shoes were completely drenched and I had been planning to wear them on the plane so we did find a department store and found not only new shoes for me, but jeans, shirts and a backpack for Justyn!  On to the next centre!  Villa Marina Marketplace Mall was located in Marina del Ray so we thought that sounded nice so off we went – only to find a mall in major construction…  We could use the gym if we felt so inclined…  Oh well, we stopped into the Starbucks and I almost had to slap Justyn to stop him staring at the lady who was waiting for her coffee who had soooooooooo obviously been through plastic surgery as she was botoxed and pulled and sucked to within an inch of her life – you know that platypus type face!  Hilarious!  Onto the next shopping centre!  Completing our circle, we headed around to Manhattan Beach to the Village centre which turned out to be the same one Kelly and I had wasted time at on our visit in 2004!  With a Macy’s, Sephora, CVS, sporting goods, cinema, food and many other options, we had found the right place to while away the rest of the day.  Again the cinema times worked against us, but we stocked up on items we’d forgotten and decided to have a very late lunch at Islands Burgers. 
With a very kitsch Hawaiian theme, we thought with everyone else flying there today, we would eat there too as our tribute!  After out late lunch, we took Red Baron back to the hotel, repacked our bags, showered and readied ourselves for the trek home. 
The Red Baron!
We farewelled the car, shuttled to the airport, checked in and had a very boring 2 hour wait in the very small terminal for Virgin Australia!  With bulkhead exit rows, we were able to stretch out, I took a head cold pill and promptly slept for most of the flight home!  A special mention to the stewardess in our row who was a delight and looked after us (from what I remember) the whole way.  Due to the time difference, we left the US on the Friday night, completely missed Saturday (Australia Day) and arrived bright and early Sunday morning!
A wonderful, wonderful holiday with great people (thank you again to Kay and Dave, Patty and Keegan, mum and dad, Peter and the kids) who are as just a part of the fabric of our holiday as the places and experiences we relished.
Home!  Bags exploded!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Justyn, Taylor & I racing in Lightning McQueen!  Ka-chow!
Thursday, 24 January 2013 – Our last full day in Anaheim and we had yet to conquer Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure!  The weather had finally caught up with us again with early morning rain, and a forecast for overcast and much cooler temperatures.  We decided to all drive to the Disneyland parking station and catch the tram in to keep as much out of the drizzle as possible.  We all has our fingers crossed that Radiator Springs Racers would be working….  And it was!  The weather and being a weekday had kept the crowds way down so we grabbed Fastpasses for a 1.30pm ride and joined the small 40 minute queue for our first experience on this much-hyped ride.  Taylor, Justyn and I were in the front seat of a ‘Lightning McQueen’ and the others were in another car which meant we got to race each other – just like we were in a slot car!  After we boarded our car, we went for a bit of an idyllic drive through Ornament Valley Range before entering the dark portion of the attraction where we ran into several Audio-animatronic characters including the Sheriff, Mater and Frank the Tractor.  At this point, we turned one way Ramone's House of Body Art for a quick paint refresh (that meant we were squirted with water mist…) while the others went into another section where they had their “tyres changed”. From there, both of our cars lined up ready to race outdoors a top speed of 65 kph.  Pretty good fun although we really, really wanted to go faster!!!  

Everyone (on the right) enjoying the Tower of Terror!
Agreeing that we all needed to ride the Tower of Terror again, we all went on it this time and it was just as great during the daytime as it was when we rode it during the night.  We all then went our separate ways to ride or do things in California Adventure that we did not do last time and meet everyone back at the Racers at 1.30pm for our fastpass second ride.  The kids went to ride California Screaming while Justyn and I went over to Soarin’ Over California which we had been told was a great experience (and it was!).  
On the Soarin' Over California ride
The attraction, which lasts nearly five minutes, takes you on a simulated hang glider tour of California, flying all over the state from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Napa Valley, Yosemite National Park, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Disneyland itself during the Christmas season.  The last few scenes transition from daytime to dusk and then to night, culminating in Disneyland's Holiday fireworks surrounding the riders in the nighttime sky.  With each change of scene or recreation, scents (citrus, pine, sagebrush, ocean mist) fill the air as the ride vehicles themselves move gently to simulate the sensations of flight.  It was pretty damn cool!  As a huge Muppet fan, Justyn and I went over to Hollywood Land to enjoy Muppet Vision 3-D, featuring “live” Statler and Waldorf heckling from their balcony while mayhem ensues during the show.  Some trivia for your, this was the final Muppets project that Jim Henson voiced Kermit.  It was now time to head back to meet everyone for our second ride on Racers and this time Justyn and I rode on our own but unfortunately we went through the same section with Ramone’s body painting rather than through Luigi’s tyre change.  Lucky Taylor was the only one who managed to have both experiences!It was creeping closer to 2.00pm and we still wanted to head back across into Disneyland.  
Space Mountain!
Mad Tea Party spinning cups!
Agreeing to meet up later in Disneyland, the girls went to track down the Disney princesses, the boys were having caricatures drawn and Justyn and I took off straight to Space Mountain!  We did grab Fastpasses, but there was absolutely no waiting so we jumped on to explore the deepest darkest recesses of space!  Again!  After lunch, while we were still in Tomorrowland, we went on Star Tours again which meant that we only have 52 more times to ride it to have experienced all of the possible adventures you can have on this ride!  One of my classic favourites is the Mad Tea Party, the spinning tea cup ride.  In case you are from another planet, the ride theme is inspired by the Unbirthday Party scene in Alice In Wonderland.  The ride has gained infamy over the years for the number of people who get motion sickness!  We also Fastpassed the Indiana Jones ride again and while waiting, headed around to Critter Country.  Unfortunately Splash Mountain was also undergoing a major refurbishment (I get that winter is the best time to refurb water rides, but all of them at the same time??), so we jumped in the beehive that is the buggy vehicle for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh dark ride.  More suited to the younger age group, we still manage to enjoy ourselves through Pooh’s mishaps!  Another classic favourite is the Haunted Mansion (Disney does love a dark ride) in the New Orleans Square realm.  This has a great lead up with lots of special effects going on with portraits following you, breathing doors, stretching rooms and other great illusions.  Jumping in our ‘doom buggy’, the ride took us through various haunted rooms, cemeteries and theatres – the scariest encounter was a weird lady who recited word-for-word the Ghost Host – including maniacal laughter!  Obviously she is a fan of this ride…   Still fondly remembering our beignets from our time in New Orleans, we found a little café were we could enjoy banana flavoured, Mickey Mouse shaped beignets so of course we had to indulge!  After we had ridden Space Mountain and Indiana Jones ride again, it was after 6pm and with the park closing at 8pm, we just had some souvenirs to buy.  We’d found out that mum and Sally had already caught a taxi back to the house and dad, Peter, Taylor, Britts and Byron were still going hard.  So after we purchased our souvenirs, Justyn and I walked around back into Tomorrowland to catch the monorail to Downtown Disney.  One of the park’s signature attractions, the Disneyland Monorail System opened in Tomorrowland in 1959 as the first daily-operating monorail train system in the Western Hemisphere.  The monorail guideway has remained almost exactly the same since then and five generations of monorail trains have been used in the park, since their lightweight construction means they wear out quickly. It follows a 4 km long route designed to show the park from above.  Alighting in Downtown Disney, we found our way to the tram back to the parking lot and then drove back to W Laster to wait for the boys.  Farewell Disneyland – it has been a blast!

We’d decided that for our last meal together, it just had to be In n Out burger; a US institution.  While Justyn and I had indulged on our previous trip to America, everyone else was pretty keen to give it a try.  Although he really wanted vegetarian, Peter had to make do with the same beef patty as everyone else.  Because the In-N-Out menu only consists of three burger varieties: hamburger, cheeseburger, and "Double-Double" (double meat/double cheese).  The hamburgers come with lettuce, tomato, with or without onions, and a sauce.  Peter, Justyn, Brittany and I drove the closest restaurant, joined the queue and placed our order for 8 cheeseburgers, 2 hamburgers, 10 serves of fries, 2 chocolate thickshakes and 5 lemonades…  Your order is made only after you have placed it, so we found a spare booth and sat down to wait for our order.  Dashing home after we picked up the order, we munched through our burgers, slurped up the thickshakes and commenced packing!  What a bummer!  We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Anaheim and managed to pack a lot into the week but packing is a real downer!

Friday, February 8, 2013


Wednesday, 23 January 2013 – The plan for today was to head into Los Angeles to knock over Universal Studios in a few hours, then head to Hollywood Boulevard and take a walk along the Walk of Fame and having a reasonably early night.  Oh the best laid plans!  I had pre-booked preferred parking at Universal so our aim was to be at Universal Studios around the opening time of 10am but had not taken into account the notorious LA traffic.  It was a lovely day for a drive; the Red Baron had satellite radio so we were entertained, there was not much smog around – we actually were able to see the Hollywood sign on the drive!  That was a first for me as there had always been too much smog layering the metropolis of LA to be able to see it up in the Hollywood Hills.  Eventually we arrived at Universal City, parked and made it into Universal Studios closer to 11am.  Crowds were very light as it was mid week and most of California was at work so we just had to dodge the overwhelming number of Australians and jump in and have photos with the many characters from the Universal studios collection.  

Entry into 'Krustyland' for The Simpsons Ride
The first ride of the day was the Simpsons Ride - a simulator ride and uses computer generated 3D animation and state of the art technology.  The ride itself is four and a half minutes long and is based on riding a rollercoaster in the In cartoon theme park Krustyland built by Krusty the Clown.  Sideshow Bob, however, is loose from prison to get revenge on Krusty and the Simpson family.  And so mayhem, water squirts and discombobulating 3D ensues!  Heaps and heaps of fun!  We then went to watch the Shrek 4-D show which turns out is exactly the same as the one in MovieWorld on the Gold Coast (could’ve missed that one….) 
We decided to head down the 5 sets of escalators to the lower lot known as the Starway.  There are 3 thrill rides at this section of the park and we were gonna ride em all at least twice!  Easily done as most rides we walked straight through and on and away!  Of the big three, The Revenge of the Mummy was up first.  This ride is an enclosed steel roller coaster based upon the popular Mummy movie franchise.  
Entry into the Mummy Revenge ride
Once we had made it through the maze of the queuing area based on Ancient Egypt, we jumped into the buggy, had our seatbeats checked and were promptly launched complete standstill to a top speed of up to 70 kph!  The ride featured warrior mummies, treasures and tombs, a scarab beetle attack, forwards and backwards motion and surround sound speakers inside the vehicles.  @#$!!! Awesome!!!  (Did I mention that you get squirted with a water mist??)  As we came out of the ride, we could see up the end of the street a queue to have a photo with Bumblebee from the Transformers.  The eternal child that wells up in me when I’m at a themepark squealed with joy as I took off with Justyn behind me to have my photo with Bumblebee.  Those that know me that I love, love, LOVE Scooby Doo and love, love, LOVE Transformers (so Universal is the best!!!)  The Transformers ride was still being built on our last trip and when everyone caught up with us, we headed into the new Transformers 3D: The Ride.  Reported to have cost US$100 million to build, expectations were high!  The ride vehicles are modelled after an Autobot named Evac and moves on a track through each show scene and around 360 degrees at different angles.  It was like all the action of a Transformers movie was crammed into one five-minute, 3-D package and it was jaw-droppingly amazing.  (Surprise surprise your get squirted by water during the ride.)  Back out into the sunlight and Bumblee had been replaced by Megatron so back into the photo-queue we went to have our pic taken beating up the evil leader of the Decepticons.  While deciding if it was warm enough to ride the Jurassic Park ride, a soft-serve Ben & Jerry’s ice cream jumped into our hands so we milled around with the various characters including tall Eyptians, Dora the Explorer and her cousin Diego while we watched the splashzone of the next ride.  
Splashdown! Jurassic Park the Ride
Most of us decided that we were up for the risk (how wet could we get??).  The Jurassic Park ride is a water ride about the Jurassic Park movie adventures.  Lasting for about 5 minutes, the ride starts out with a lovely quiet ride through scenes with very life-like dinosaurs of the non-threatening type.  The ride starts to get bumpier and yes, you guessed it, wetter.  Meaner dinosaurs start appearing and ends with a humongous T-Rex looming down at us before we plunge down 26m into the splashzone.  With the exception of dad, we all though we survived without getting wet until near the end when a little dinosaur popped up and squirted me directly in the face!  Oh well, it wouldn’t be a Universal ride without a squirt! 
We all definitely wanted to ride The Mummy and Transformers again, so after experiencing these again, we headed back up the Skyway to the Upper Lot for lunch, and went our separate ways for a bit.  Mum, dad, Justyn and I went to take in the Blues Brothers show and then catch up with the others to finish with the Backlot tour.  Unfortunately the Blues Brothers show was cancelled with no reason, but we could see fire engines and areas blocked off so we weren’t sure if there was an issue in the area where they were building a new ride but the Universal people kept on smiling!  
Fire engines on the job - no props!
Jake and Elwood still made an appearance so we managed to grab some photos with them and went to grab a late lunch.  I found out later that a firefighter was hurt in the process of extinguishing a minor blaze in the former Terminator 2 building – starting around 1.15pm, the fire was brought under control in around an hour with no one the wiser!  
After lunch, we found everyone and headed down to catch the last Backlot tour of the day – so much for whizzing through Universal in a few hours!  The Studio Tour is a 45 minute ride which uses tram vehicles to take you through Universals back-lot.  The tour is the signature ride at the theme.  After passing the Starway, the tram arrives at the lower lot and passes through the stages where film productions take place.  The television show ‘Parenthood’ was filming that day so on various parts of the tour we had to keep quiet until we passed through the various studio sections.  The tram then takes the guests to Courthouse Square section and then other buildings in the backlot. Afterwards, the tram enters a tunnel leading to the attraction: King Kong 360 3D.  
This is the world's largest 3-D experience.  You don 3-D glasses as the tram enters a sound stage dressed as a re-creation of Skull Island.  For 2.5 minutes you watch in 3-D glory as all around you (in all your peripheral vision including the ceiling) King Kong and a Tyrannosaurus Rex fight.  Another astounding visual effect that needs to be experienced to believe!  Travelling through various sets from the Universal films we see the Bates Hotel from Psycho, War of the Worlds after the plane crashed into the street and How The Grinch Stole Christmas are visited in the tour.  We also saw 'general purpose' sets, such as the neighbourhood Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives, and a neighbourhood that is made to look like an old west town.  Apparently this ‘western area’ has six streets, each with the essentials of a saloon and sheriffs station.  Before the advent of sound, up to six westerns could be shot at once here!  The trams also stops at The Fast and the Furious: Extreme Close-Up show and it then travels to the Flash Flood attraction where we of course got splashed!  We were attacked by Bruce the shark from Jaws, and finally the Curse of The Mummy's Tomb which is a spinning tunnel so you feel like you are falling…  
Parting of the seas
The backlot changes each time you tour it which always makes it a highlight of the visit.  By now it was late afternoon and the park was closing at 5pm so it was decided that unfortunately we would give Hollywood Boulevard a miss on this trip.  The boys all wanted ride The Simpsons again so while mum and I did some souvenir shopping they hit the ride once more.  
Bruce the shark from Jaws!

At 5pm, it was time to head back on the Los Angeles freeway and set a course for Anaheim.  But with one stop on the way!  Peter took the kids directly home, but we wanted to hit the Citadel outlet mall as it was open until 9pm.  That gave us a few hours of shopping (well a couple of hours after we limped our way there in the traffic).  Shopping bonanza!  Mum and dad went one way and we went the other – lucky Red Baron had a big boot to fit all the shopping in (including another bag for us to bring our purchases home in!).  We arrived back at W Laster around 9.30pm to a home cooked meal that Peter and Sally had prepared for us – a great way to end the day!

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Tuesday, 22 January 2013 – The plan was to be on the road by 10.00am as we were driving down to spend the day in San Diego.  Unfortunately the busy day / late night put us a little behind schedule but we were soon on our way following Patty and Keegan in their scooty Prius down the I-5 which hugs the coastline.  Peter and the kids went on ahead of us as they were going to hit Legoland and then catch up with us later in the day for dinner Mexican style.  A very comfortable drive, it was stress-free following Patty in our Red Baron for the 90 minute drive – even Simon had it easy! 
Baja fish taco from Margarita's Cantina
Arriving around lunch time, our first stop was the San Diego Seaport Village on the San Diego Bay.  A popular tourist location, there are lots of little shops for browsing and many options for dining.  And dining was the main reason we were there.  On our last visit to San Diego, Patty bought us here to try a popular local meal – the fish taco.  It was really delicious and we thought that mum and dad would love to try it while enjoying the beautiful surrounds.  The restaurant called Margarita's Kitchen & Cantina had a queue and after securing a table in the outdoor area, the boys joined the line to place our order.  Also joining us was Patty’s mum Barb who had so generously given up her room for us on our visit in 2010 – it was wonderful to catch up with her again too!  With exceptional margerhita’s, Mexican beer, corn chips and guacamole to interest us while we waited for our tacos, we soaked up the glorious winter day in the mid 20oC’s listening to the live music.  In the middle of our catching up, we had a phone call from Peter who had three very disappointed kids who upon arrival at Legoland found that it was closed for the winter!  So they decided to tag along with us for the rest of our day in San Diego.  By this time, our baja fish tacos had arrived - a scrumptious piece of golden fried fish, shredded cabbage, chipotle sauce and salsa fresca in a fluffy corn tortilla, with a wedge of lime perched on top.  What a lunch!  And what could be better to finish it off but Ben & Jerry’s ice cream! 

After we finished our ice-cream, it was time for a ride on the famous carousel.  Last time Keegan and I rode, this time Taylor, Brittany, Byron, Keegan and I all rode the nearly 120 year old hand-carved wooden horses.  Some trivia for you about the Seaport Village; it was built on landfill over Punta de los Muertos (Spanish for Point of the Dead), where the Spanish expedition of 1782 buried those who had died of scurvy!  In later years it was a railroad yard where goods and other materials used to come through the area.  
While Patty, Barb, Peter and I moved the cars closer to our next stop, the rest of the group wandered around the paths and headed down towards the USS Midway, our planned afternoon activity.  Commissioned a week after the end of World War II, the Midway was the largest ship in the world until 1955, she served for an unprecedented 47 years, saw action in the Vietnam War, and was the Persian Gulf flagship in 1991's Operation Desert Storm. Decommissioned in 1992, she is now largest museum devoted to carriers and naval aviation.  With an audio guide and ‘doscents’ (ex-military) available for any other questions, we spent a couple of hours checking out the crew's sleeping quarters, the engine room and ship's jail, and pilots' ready rooms, as well as primary flight control and the bridge high in the island over the flight deck.  It was actually very interesting and of course the highlight for everyone was pretending to be Maverick from the movie Top Gun requesting a fly-by…
Say Cheese!

Be tourists!

Ready for Takeoff on the deck of the USS Midway

The Pilots Ready Room

Taylor captaining the boat

The sun was now setting and it was time to head across to Old Town where we were having dinner with Patty, Keegan, Barb and Patty’s sister Julie who I had last seen in 2004 in Boston!  Unfortunately we did not have enough time or day light to wander around Old Town, a national park that commemorates the early days of the town of San Diego and includes many historic buildings from the period 1820 to 1870.  During the day, you can wander through these historic buildings which include a schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, San Diego's first newspaper office, a cigar and pipe store, houses and gardens, and a stable with a carriage collection.  Many have demonstrations of what life was like during this era.  There are also stores, with local artisans demonstrating their craft.  The restaurant of choice was Fiesta de Reyes’s Café de Reyes.  Located in the centre of the courtyard, we enjoyed Mexican beers, sangria and one of their famous frosty margaritas while dining under the stars.  The atmosphere was warm and festive and the food was delicious.  An added plus was the live Mexican music and dancing while we ate.  I attempted to make my way through the giant plate of slow roasted tender pork carnitas and tomatillo sauce enchiladas, topped with cheeses, whilst Justyn tackled the chicken burrito which had juicy stewed chicken with cheddar and jack cheese, pico de gallo, and rice, all stuffed in an oversized flour tortilla.  Whew!  Way too soon it was time for Patty to take Keegan home as she had had a couple of HUGE days entertaining us and after hugs with everyone we said goodbye to the McEvoys until next time.  Thanks again Patty and Keegan for visiting with us!!  Peter also decided it was time to hit the road and get the kids home and into bed so mum, dad, Justyn and I took the opportunity to have a wander through the shops that were still open, buying some beautiful Mexican tiles and other souvenirs before we too pointed the Red Baron back to W Laster, Anaheim.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Keegan, Carolyn & Britts with Cruella deVil
Monday, 21 January 2013 – Happy Birthday Mum!  Today was going to be a big day as not only was it mum’s birthday, but we were spending the day in Disneyland!  The granddaddy of all themeparks started by a mouse!  To a chorus of cats meowing ‘happy birthday’ from the card (as well as kids who thought it would be hilarious to mimic the card cats), we were all up and ready to go and meet Patty and Keegan out the front of the Big D.  Dad, Justyn and I walked to the tram while Peter drove the others to save the little feets from the big day ahead.  With everyone wearing Happy Birthday Grandma badges, we joined the throngs heading into the wonderful world of Disney.  And what a magical place!  Straight up Main Street Sleeping Beauty’s castle can be seen from wherever you are in the park.  To our left, Mickey Mouse was conducting a big band and numerous other characters from Disney movies were posing with lots of excited people.  Unfortunately I only managed to nab a pic with the infamous Cruella De Vil, who was at her charming evilest best!  Heading into Tomorrowland, our first ride of the day was to be the newly revamped Star Tours, The Adventure Continues.  Patty and Keegan jumped on the Astro Orbitor which we heard was heaps of fun while we queued to ride with R2D2 and C3PO on a 3-D chaotic flight through space.  Did you know that with multiple beginnings, middles, and ends, there are 54 possible routes the ride can take!  Only 53 more times to ride!

Happy Birthday G'ma!
After our tour through space, it was time to head to the Plaza Inn where we had booked a surprise birthday lunch for mum including a Minnie Mouse cake.  This was fantastic as we had reserved seats in an air conditioned restaurant and we were thoroughly looked after by the ‘cast members’.  The birthday badges we were wearing indicated to all ‘cast’ in the park to wish “happy birthday” to group and ensure that they acknowledged the birthday person.  I would recommend this to anyone who is at any Disney park around their birthday!
The Minnie B'day cake

After lunch, we headed back into Tomorrowland to grab our Fastpasses for Space Mountain (we were able to by-pass the queue and ride between 9.40pm and 10.40pm!) and have a shoot out on the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters.  Teamed with the Brittster again, this is a ride that is equal parts shooting gallery and dark ride.  Once on-board our space vehicle we grabbed our laser pistol and shared the joystick which controls the 360-degree spin of the buggy to give your greater aim.  As you can see by the pic, I won that round!  
We also Fastpassed Autopia and went to catch the Disneyland Railroad (Justyn does love a train!).  The track encircles Disneyland and provides a grand circle tour around The Magic Kingdom through each of its realms including a visit to the "Grand Canyon/Primeval World" dioramas.  After the train ride, it was back to Autopia and this time Byron was in the drivers seat.  Literally.  This is a self drive ride, where we steer specially designed cars through an enclosed track on guided rails but there still serious steering involved!  Byron did pretty well chauffeuring me around the park!  On our way to the next ride, it was definitely ice cream time and Justyn and I just couldn’t go past the Mickey Mouse shaped ones!  We thoroughly enjoyed our treats while we were in the line for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, an adventure through the Australian waters with Marlin and Dory as we searched for Nemo.  Although the viewports windows are below water level, the "submarines" do not actually submerge when "diving".  It was pretty cool as it involved the Pixar animation amongst the sculptured seascape. 
Mickey Icecreams

We had been in Tomorrowland for most of the day so with Space Mountain the only ride left to tackle in this Disney realm we headed across to join the queue for the Matterhorn Bobsleds.  It is modelled after the Matterhorn, a mountain in the Swiss Alps and is the first tubular steel continuous track roller coaster ever constructed and thus a coaster landmark.  Closed for six months in 2012 for a major refurbishment, the mountain was painted to make it more reminiscent of the real Matterhorn Mountain.   Justyn, Patty, Keegan and I were in a train together; each in our own section in single file.  Most of the ride happens inside the mountain and once we are at the top, the bobsleds descend unpowered through the Matterhorn's many caverns and passageways past the growling Yeti before plunging into a water break.   I think this was Keegan’s favourite ride based on the giggles behind me!  Some trivia for you - in the 1980's, The Matterhorn Ski Club began buying Seeing Eye Dogs with the unclaimed coin change and items that fell out of pockets during the ride.  

After the Matterhorn, it was decided that it was finally time to tackle the ‘dinosaur in the room’; the ride that brings either squeals of delight or groans of pain at the perceived torture ahead, “It’s a Small World”.  A Disney staple, it is almost mandatory that first time visitors endure this ride!  A couple of us were seasoned professionals, however it was still set up still for the Christmas so it was a mash-up of the well known song with Christmas caroles….  Happy happy joy joy! 
All of us on It's A Small World
Located in the realm of Fantasyland,  this musical boat ride features over 300 brightly costumed audio-animatronic dolls in the style of children of the world, frolicking in a spirit of international unity, and singing the attraction's title song, which has a theme of global peace.  Did you know that this ride goes for 15 minutes!!  Now the Disney first-timers can truly say they’ve been to Disneyland!  (Yes Justyn, I promise you that I will never, ever drag you through It’s A Small World again…)  The Disneyland parade was starting soon and we managed to grab a good place to watch it from so while everyone waited or went to get jumpers, I found a pretzel in the shape of Mickey’s head – well I just had to try it!  We heard Mickey’s Soundsational Parade before we saw the first float.  The parade included Disney characters from throughout the years over about nine floats, each with many characters singing the catchiest tune from their movie.  Some amazing drummers led the first float with Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Pluto following behind on their music float accompanied by Chip 'n' Dale and Goofy – I was certainly singing along with “M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E”!  Other floats celebrated Aladdin, Princess Ariel from ‘The Little Mermaid’, The Frog Princess, The Lion King, Peter Pan and Donald Duck’s ‘The Three Caballeros”.  
Mickey's Soundsational Parade
One of the larger floats presented some of the many Disney princesses such as Snow White, Cinderella, Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) Belle (Beauty & the Beast) and Rapuzel (Tangled).  Brittany and Keegan were very cute blowing kisses to the characters hoping for a wink or return kiss.  16 was the final count that they received!  The final float was my favourite with Mary Poppins and Bert riding carousel horses up the street surrounded by the chimney sweeps singing ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”! 

Parade over, we headed over to Adventureland (bypassing Frontierland as the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was closed until October 2013 for extensive renovations) to ride Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye.  Unfortunately this was where we said goodbye for the day to Patty and Keegan as it was close to 9pm.  While they watched the fireworks, we queued for the Indiana ride which is an enhanced motion vehicle dark ride attraction based on the Indiana Jones films.  The queuing area is pretty amazing as it is very detailed queue and leads you through dimly lit temple chambers and eerie passageways containing booby-trapped sections reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies.  Boarding military vehicles, the ride takes you on a turbulent high speed adventure, which includes the rolling boulder from the first Indy movie.  It is very fast and very bumpy and very cool!  We had time to fit in one more ride before heading back to Tomorrowland to ride Space Mountain.  Pirates of the Caribbean was the universal choice.  In New Orleans Land, the Pirates ride is a dark log flume style indoor boat voyage float through a larger-than-life pirate adventure featuring gunshots, cannon blasts, burning buildings, and carousing and pillaging pirates, all accompanied by the song "Yo Ho Ho A Pirate's Life for Me"  (Disney does love a tune that burrows deep down into your brain encouraging you to sing aloud for the next 3 days…)   Did you know that the film is based on the ride and not the other way around? 

Taylor, Justyn, Peter & Sally on Space Mountain
Feet weary and hungry, we weaved our way back to Tomorrowland for a very late dinner before riding the much anticipated Space Mountain.  In 2010 when Justyn and I were in Disneyland with Patty, we queued for close to three hours to ride this rollercoaster as the Fastpasses had been exhausted.  And we did it again although the queue was a shorter 90 minutes….  So to walk through and by-pass this lengthy wait was awesome.  I was paired with Byron again for this ride and he was a little nervous to say the least!  Space Mountain is an indoor steel roller coaster that has been thrilling riders since 1977 (with a number of upgrades along the way including an on-board soundtrack and a complete track replacement!).  The special effects while on the ride change at night giving a different experience dubbed "Rockin' Space Mountain".  Because of the darkness, it is near to impossible to gauge exactly where the ride is going to go next, it offers no drops any steeper than 40 degrees, and there is no point in the ride that would cause anything more than the most pedestrian of thrills for even a mild fan of coasters.  That said, this ride is an absolute classic and a screaming heap of fun!  So much so that we ran around and did it all again!  Nearly 11pm by the time we had ridden Space Mountain again, it was time for us to head home.  Another magical day of a full on 12 hours at the self proclaimed “Happiest Place on Earth”!  PS Happy Birthday Mum!
Byron and I front row on Space Mountain!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Gospel Brunch performers at House of Blues
Sunday, 20 January 2013 – Today was planned as a reasonably quiet one to catch up on laundry, blogs, postcards, television and enjoy the house.   Justyn had planned for us all to head into Downtown Disney to the House of Blues for a Gospel Brunch.  Starting at 11am, we walked to the Disney tram and caught it to Downtown Disney.  Dodging the many fans of the San Francisco 49ers who were queuing to get in to the various venues showing the semi final live, we collected our tickets and headed into the House of Blues.  An astounding buffet was part of the brunch – we enjoyed southern specialties such as cornbread muffins with maple butter, pecan caramel sticky buns, hickory smoked bacon, sausage links, homemade biscuits and country gravy, breakfast potatoes, homemade waffles, omelette station, southern fried chicken, homemade macaroni and cheese, Creole chicken and shrimp jambalaya, carved smoked turkey breast and baked ham, and even brunch dessert!  After fueling up, we sat back and watched a great gospel show with the most amazing singers – by the end the entire crowd was up on their feet clapping and dancing along.  Regardless of your religious persuasion or lack thereof, the music and their passion was very uplifting and you couldn’t help but get into the spirit of the occasion. 

After being entertained by the gospel show, we decided to go separate ways for the afternoon.  Mum and dad found a shady spot to listen to the musicians playing in the square, Peter and the kids hit the Lego store before going to the outlet mall for some shopping and Justyn and I wandered around Downtown Disney mixing people watching with some shopping.  Finally we collected mum and dad and caught a taxi back to the house to have a bit of rest and relaxation!
Justyn & lego hulk
Later this afternoon, our friend Patty and her daughter Keegan who live in San Diego were coming to visit so Justyn and I decided that we needed a few items from the grocery store so we took the Red Baron (the name of our Dodge Journey SUV of course!) out for a drive around the local streets.  Visits to the diverse American grocery stores are a huge source of entertainment for Justyn and me as we love checking out the different items and especially gazing longingly at the cereal aisle!  There was no cinnabon cereal but we danced a little jig when we discovered find Ben and Jerry’s Late Night Snack icecream in the freezer section! 
Dinner at W Laster with family & friends
Before long Patty and Keegan were knocking on the door.  We had last seen them nearly three years ago when we were riding rollercoasters so it was wonderful that we were able to catch up again.  They had booked a hotel not far from our house and stayed for dinner.  When the shoppers returned, it was wonderful to be able to introduce Keegan to Taylor, Brittany and Byron and the two girls got along instantly.  For dinner, we decided to try The Cheesecake Factory based on Patty’s recommendation so with order in hand, Peter and Taylor braved the traffic and queues to fetch our dinner which included a Banana Cream Cheesecake!  Dinner was great (even though the cheesecake was completely frozen…) and there was lots of laughs and stories over glasses of wine and beers.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Buena Vista Street

Saturday, 19 January 2013 – Well we heard the kids long before we saw them as Justyn and I were in the room next door to them.  Sound asleep when we arrived last night, they were up and buzzing and ready to hit Disneyland as soon as they could drag us out of bed.  Our house in Anaheim was wonderful – it had everything you could think and things you didn't think of, but while Disneyland was on the other side of the wall, we had to walk a few blocks around the wall to find the tram to take us into the Park.  We counted the tram as the first ride of the day!  Santa had bought everyone a Southern California CityPASS which gave us a three day hopper pass to Disneyland / California Adventure, one day to Universal Studios and one day to Sea World San Diego.  This weekend was also a long weekend in California with Monday a holiday for Martin Luther King Jr so we were expecting a few queues!  First stop was to be Cars Land in California Adventure.  The weather was unexpectedly warm – about 26oC – so we went just wearing tshirts and leaving the jackets and jumpers behind.  
The boys in line at Luigi's Flying Tires
After a coffee and hat stop (because we left the hats at home too….) the first ride in Cars Land was Luigi’s Flying Tires – a dodgem car style of ride that of course was over too soon to justify the wait.  All the fast passes to the big ride of the park – Radiator Springs Racers – had already been given out for the day, but as the park was open until 10pm tonight, we didn’t fear that we would get our chance to take on the one of the most expensive theme park attractions in the world at an estimated cost of over $200 million!  Posing and chatting with Lightning McQueen and Mater, we headed across to Paradise Pier to take on the California Screaming rollercoaster.  
Screaming on the Screamer!

California Screamin' is the 8th longest roller coaster in the world 1,851 m long and it is also the longest ride with an inversion (or as Brittany calls it, a loopy loop).  Though built of steel, the structure as designed visually mimics the features of a wooden coaster found throughout US at seaside amusement parks (eg Coney Island).  We survived!  Although we weren’t too sure about Brittany who couldn’t quite work out whether she loved hated it!  Through the tears, we learned that it was ‘fantastic’ and we just had to do it again!  We grabbed fastpasses and went to ride Mickey’s Fun Wheel before doubling back to ride the rollercoaster again.  Checking the queue for Radiator Springs, it had moved to a 3 hour wait time so we gave that another miss - there were still many more hours left in the day!  Moving through the park, we headed to lunch with return fastpasses for the The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror that I was really looking forward to experiencing.  
Chatting with Lightning McQueen "Ka-chow!"
With a frozen Disneyland margherita under my belt, we took a spin underwater on the Ariel’s Adventure riding in little shells through the retelling of the movie – very cute and a good way to ease ourselves back in the rides.  We watched the Pixar Parade and helped Mike and Sully rescue Boo in the Monsters Inc ride.  (Taylor, Justyn and I may have ridden Monsters Inc without anyone knowing while Brittany was having her face painted – shhhhh don’t tell anyone!)  Finally it was time to ride the Tower of Terror.  
The Pixar Play Parade
Peter and I with the three kids were the only ones who decided to be brave – it was quite dark inside and the lead up to the ride is a bit scary so while Taylor was excited and Byron went very quiet, Britts was becoming quite anxious as to what lay ahead.  The ride is an accelerated drop tower thrill ride and based upon the television show The Twilight Zone (duh).  The attraction takes place in the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel and the story of the hotel, adapted from elements of the television series, includes the hotel being struck by lightning in the late 1930’s, mysteriously transporting an elevator cart full of passengers to the Twilight Zone and causing an entire wing of the building to disappear.  A bit of trivia for you - all of the “cast members” (that is what Disney calls their employees) wear a costume that resembles that of a 1930s bellhop, and is the most expensive costume in any park in the world.  This was one of my favourite rides of the whole trip!  As we still had three fast passes to use within the allotted hour, Peter comforted Byron who really didn’t like it and Brittany dragged Taylor and I around to do it again all the while shouting “I loved it!  I loved it! Let’s do it again! Let’s do it again!”  In true Disney style, the second ride was different to the first and it was to become one of our favourite rides of the trip!  
By this time we had been at California Adventure for about 9 hours and we decided to join the queue for the Toy Story Midway Mania ride – our longest queue of the day at 50 minutes!  But a huge interactive Mr Potato Head entertains you while you wait, and he is hilarious!  Finally our turn arrived and I was paired with Brittany.  Wearing 3-D glasses we boarded a spinning vehicle that travels through a virtual environment based on classic carnival midway games.  Your little buggy stops at each ‘carnival game’ and your score is recorded by an onboard display screen as points are acquired with individual toy cannons firing simulated projectiles at virtual targets.  A lot of fun!  It looked like we had missed our opportunity to ride Radiator Springs, but we still had two more days at the Disneyland parks so we were sure to fit it in somewhere!  With half an hour to go before the World of Color show was on as our final activity for the day, we trawled along the various vendors looking for jumpers as we had forgotten that it was winter time in America!  And the night time is quite cool!  Unfortunately we were unsuccessful so we took up our spots to watch the amazing World of Color.  The show has more than 1,000 fountains and includes lights, water, fire, fog, and lasers, with high-definition projections on mist screens.  Did you know it cost $75 million to create??  It was pretty spectacular as well as memorable.  Now 10.00pm, we managed to crawl our way home after a pretty exhaustive first day on the rollercoaster that is Disney!  
World of Color - Disney style