The Lovely Suzanne and I have been talking about taking a joint family trip to Disney together for over 10 years. Every time we would travel south to Califonia on some court trip Suzanne would tell me about how someday she would like to take her Grandkids with us and do a Disney trip. Each time I would relate to her the tales of one of our family trips to World or Land, she would say someday. So this time when I spotted a cheap hotel package and told her about it, she finally to my surprise, pushed the GO button.
The trip itself officially started at 5:00am with me jumping out of bed to wake up Jayme. Having packed the night before, all we had to do was eat breakfast and wait for the van to arrive.
At 6:30am they arrived; The Lovely Suzanne her husband Robert, her son-in-law and her two grandchildren, ages 5 and 9. We quickly loaded the car and I started down I-205 to I-5 and the 11 hour drive to Sacramento. Suzanne had offered to wave Jayme and my share of the fuel expences if I played chauffeur, something I was more then happy to do as I love to drive. Our plan was to stop over in Sacramento for the night and break the driving into two days, for the kids’ sake and our own.
We made better time than our online maps had predicted, and arrived in Ashland for lunch at the Wild Goose cafe and bar. Not someplace I would recommend, but we were hungry and it was there.
We made a few stops along the way down, mostly to allow the kids a chance to run off their energy. But the extreme heat kept most of our stops short.
By 8:00pm we broke past the Sacramento city limits. As we hit the city limits, we also crossed the kids toleration for the day. The three of them got louder and louder and started to sound drunk. So we rushed as fast as we could to make it to the hotel and by 8:30pm we were checked in and resting by the pool. When we left Portland it was in the upper 60’s, in Sacramento it was pushing over 104. Our hotel was the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham; at $69.00 a night with free breakfast, it was a great budget saver.
We had a nice visit pool side with an old friend Misha, who now lives in Sacramento and then headed back to Suzanne’s hotel room for a late night pizza feast. The pizza box was quite a bit better tasting then the hotel pizza. But everyone was hot, tired and hungry so we muched it down. Jayme and I slipped away to our room and crashed while watching the history channel.
The next day we started out early again. Super early for me as the hotel gave me a 3am wake up call for some strange reason. But once everyone else was up, our first stop was the free breakfast at the hotel. Waffles, coffee, juice, sausage and powered eggs. Not 5 star cuisine but it was hot and filling.
As we departed Sacramento we stopped by the Amtrak station to visit the closest Starbucks to the hotel. YEAH FOR COFFEE!
The drive down to LA was a long and hot one, a shorter drive then the day before, but I was extra tired and the high temps seemed to grate on the adults more then the kids. We also had to deal with flying invaders. At each rest stop we visited somehow every fly for miles would fly into the van. All three of the kids hated the flies, but the insects really bothered Suzannes’s grandchildern a lot. So total insect extermination was critical on day two.
We got into the Anaheim area around 5pm. This was Jayme’s second trip to Disneyland and third time going to a Disney park (we did Disney World for his birthday in February) so our families excitement was NOWHERE near the levels of the rest of the party. Screaming, jumping up and down followed by tears pouring as we rounded the corner on to Harbor Blvd. For once I had to be the Disney killjoy and try and bring it down a few notches! I mean how weird is that?
We checked into our hotel, the Red Lion. Again we got a killer deal. $99.00 a night with free breakfast and free parking. Jayme and I headed up to our room, a nice 2 queen bed room in the south tower. Suzanne had called the hotel the week before, so our room was right next to the two room adjoining rooms she had purchased for her family.
Per our family tradition, our family always has dinner in Downtown Disney on arrival day. It helps get us in the Disney mood and lets us check out the new Disney pins right away (you know Pre-Shopping). Since it was just the two if us we invited Suzanne and her family to join us for dinner at Tortilla Jo’s. The highlight of the evening was all the kids getting balloon animal hats and of course Jayme spilling his whole peach smoothy down the front of his shirt. After a great dinner and a quick clean up we headed back to the hotel and called it a night. Jayme and I again fell asleep watching the history channel.
We woke up early the next day at 6 am sharp. Rope drop was at 8:00am and Jayme and I didn’t want to miss it or the opening show. We were joined by Suzanne’s daughter at breakfast; she flew down the night before. So we were a group of 8 as we made our way to the park. Saddly, we missed the rope drop show and fireworks by just a few minutes, but the crowd level was thankfully low. Both the boys are Star Wars fans so we made a beeline for Star Tours and had our first walk on experience of the day. The crowds were very light, in fact they turned out to be the lightest I have ever seen.
By 11:20am we had finshed all of the big Tomorrowland rides, the Haunted Mansion and the Indiana Jones ride. It was at this point the group wanted to head back to the hotel to sleep. But Jayme and I decided to stay in the park a bit longer as we normaily do our afternoon break after lunch time. So we said goodbye to our friends. Jayme and I rode the Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mt and then had a wonderful lunch at the French Market Cafe. We sat outside and listened to the Disney Jazz band play. I had the Four-Cheese Pasta & Vegetable Gratin and Jayme had the Citrus Chicken breast kids meal. We then split a big slice of chocolate cake.
After lunch, the two of us boarded the Disneyland Railroad and took it to the front of the park. We then headed back to the hotel room for our afternoon nap. When we woke we found the rest of our group still in bed so we headed back alone. Jayme and I headed back into Tomorrowland and explored Innoventions (or as Josh and I jokingly call the Orlando version “Lindsay Lohan’s Interventions”). Disneyland’s Innoventions is a bit different then Disney Worlds. While it has a few of the same OMSI type exhibits, it is mostly centered around Microsoft’s home of the near future (from 10 years ago).
The one cool thing Jayme and I found was the kids bedroom of the future. The room was empty except for one Disney cast member. She explained that this room was setup for a bedtime story from the future. She asked if we would like to hear the story of Peter Pan and we said yes. She then asked Jayme to climb into the pirate ship bed and be a pirate for the story, Jayme was THRILLED. The cast member then looked for some more kids to join us, finding none, we began our private reading.
As she read the story she had Jayme pretend to blow pixie dust, as Jayme did the walls came alive with video of blowing pixie dust. As she read, movies and shadows changed all round us matching the story. At one point the pirates fired their cannons at Peter, this was Jayme’s part. He pulled on the rope attached to a large canon on the pirate ship bed. Smoke puffed out and on the far video wall the impact of Jayme’s canon ball exploded. This was just too cool for Jayme, who had to pull the rope over and over each time aiming at a different point on the wall and each time the wall matching his aim with a nice explosion. The story called for only one shot to be fired, but since we had a private reading the cast member let Jayme go nuts.
After the story we road several of the Tomorrowland attractions again and then headed for pizza for dinner. Right after dinner Suzanne called. She had the kids and was entering the park, her daughter and ex son-in-law were still a bit tired from their schedule change and our morning adventures. We met up with them and watched Captain Eo, the 1980’s 4-D Michael Jackson movie. As Michael Jackson appeared on the screen, Jayme grabbed my arm and asked if that was Michael Jackson. He then said “He looks like a Girl!”.
After Captain Eo we rode the Finding Nemo Subs. All three of the kids loved it.Shortly after that we got a call and the rest of our group was in the park. While the grown-ups had a grownup break (code for smoke break), Since the the kids and I don’t smoke, I took all three of the kids up to It’s a Small World just in time to watch “the Magic, the Memories and You” projection show on the face of “it’s a small world”. With perfect timing just as the show kicked off the rest of the group joined us for a magical show.
After the show we headed down in front of the “tiny” castle for the nightly fireworks. It was an emotional moment for the ladies of our group as Disney used a song that really touched both of them. The fireworks themselves kinda paled compared to a Disney World fireworks display. But the rest of the group loved them, knowing no better.
Once the crowds started to thin out we headed back up to Fantasyland and were able to get some crowd free walk ons to several of the dark rides and Dumbo. The group then headed down towards Pirates of the Caribbean. But as we passed Big Thunder Mt and saw ZERO wait time, Jayme and I just had to ride it in the dark. Agreeing to meet up at the Pirates exit we split up. If you have never done Big Thunder at night, you need to. It’s a whole new ride at night as they don’t light up anything.
As we exited Big Thunder, Fantasmic was just finishing but we made it to the pirates ride exit and waited and waited and waited. As we waited the big voice in the sky announced that the park was closed and Jayme kinda fell apart. Jayme does not do well with fast transitions and after a full day in Disneyland it was a bit too much for him. So I sent the group a text and headed back to the hotel with Jayme.
The next morning we got up even earlier. But sadly everyone but Suzanne and her husband were too tired to get up with us. Which was a really big bummer, Jayme had been looking forward to hanging with his two friends and today was California Adventure with the new Car’s Land. The wait times for the new Radiator Springs Racers hits 120 minutes by 10am or even earlier. The only way to see it without losing half of your day, is to hit it early. So we skipped the free hotel breakfast and got to the bag check que at 6:30 am for a 7:00 am rope drop. Now here is the only moment were all Disney magic almost failed us. When we got to the gate area’s there was a huge roped off area for Annual Passholders only. So we queued in the extra magic hours line (which our pass covered) we were 2nd in line. As the Gates opened the cast members started announcing that the extra morning hour starting at 7:00 am was only for hotel guests and everyone else would get in at 7:30 am. They announced this as we had our passes scanned… as they denied us entry and we stood to the side, JAYME started to lose it and frankly so did I. Thank goodness for Suzanne who asked to see a supervisor. Who once arrived a minute later, waved us in within 15 seconds.
We headed straight to Car’s Land. For those of you who have seen the movie, Disney has recreated perfectly Radiator Springs. Jayme was all smiles and so were the adults. Even falling behind at the gate we still made it to the big ride with less then a 20 minute wait. The ride itself is great. A cross between a classic Disney dark ride and EPCOT’s Test track. It was a perfect start to our day.
After the ride we rode one of the other new rides, Maters Juckyard Jamboree. Just as we got off the ride Jayme and I saw the main park opening. A wall of people flooded down into Car’s Land. It looked like those scary videos of the Japanese Tsunami making landfall, but instead of water it was a solid mass of people, packed in shoulder to shoulder, it was a controlled chaos. This swarm of people all headed to the back of the new area and Radiator Springs Racers. As we walked to breakfast we watched the wait time jump to over 1 hour and a half and really started feeling guiltly that the rest of our group was going to miss out on such a great experiance.
We headed to Flo’s V8 Cafe to drown our guilt with a great breakfast. Jayme ordered the french toast; thick cake like bread with banana’s and carmel sauce… he hated it. But everyone else loved it. Jayme ate my scrambled eggs toast and bacon.
Still feeling a little blue that the other kids had missed such a wonderful morning. So we tried to selectively target things we knew the kids would NOT like to do once they arrived s owe could share much as we could with them. First we headed up the road and rode Soar’in, Robert skipped it and head off to have a grownup break.
After the ride Suzanne headed out to join Robert on his break and Jayme and I headed over to the Redcreek Challenge Trail and worked on earning our Wilderness Explorer patch. It was great fun, Jayme climbed rockwalls, followed animal tracks and even rode a tire zipline by himself!
As we finished up Suzanne called, everyone was on their way but they had mislaid their park tickets… PANIC MODE. Thankfully by the time we made it over to the grownup break area the tickets had been found that the rest of our group was headed in.
While we waited for the group, we walked down to the boardwalk area. Jayme and I took the chance to ride all of the little rides; Goofy’s flight school and the parachute drop. By 11:00am we ended up at the Boardwalk games area. Jayme played several games of chance and won a little duck stuffed animal toy, which he named Ducky.
It was then we got 2 phone calls. One from the rest of our group, they were at the main gate and headed to the Little Mermaid ride. The second call was regarding a HUGE surprise for Jayme (you didn’t think the Dad’s could NOT let there be at least one surpise at Disney for Jayme, did you?).
So we headed up to the Little Mermaid ride, as we approached I turned to Jayme and told him I had arranged for someone to take him on California Screamer (a upside down roller coster that I loath), he asked who and I turned and pointed. There in front of us was his Dad Joshua. Jayme screamed for joy and ran to him and gave him a huge hug followed by kisses and then more hugs.
We did not originally plan on Joshua coming down with, but we found a super cheap $99 flight and the room was already paid for… in the end it was just to hard to break up the family. Of course this was not only a surprise for Jayme but for the rest of our group, as I told no one about it.
Once the family was together again the rest of our group arrived and we all road the Little Mermaid together. But as we exited there seemed to be a desire to let everyone kinda do there own thing. So Suzanne’s daughter and the kids headed one way and Suzanne and her husband orphaned, came with us.
First stop was California Screaming. Suzanne, Jayme and Joshua all rode the coaster while Robert and I scouted out a place for ice cream. We all then headed up towards the Hollywood area. On the way we stopped in to see if we could add Suzanne and Robert to our lunch reservation at Wine Country Trattoria. We had World of Color dining reservations at 1:00pm. They said they could, so we happily headed up to Muppets.
By the time we made it out of the show it was lunch time, our group made it back down to the restaurant quickly. But once there Suzanne decided not to dine with us (and commit to World of Color, more on that in a bit) but to find her own family, which lead to a few minutes of confusion for the waitstaff and us. But it did not detract from the lunch which was great.
It was a price fixed lunch with only a few options as we ordered the World of Color package. The package gets you fast pass admission to a reserved area for the nightly World of Color show. We have done simlar packages in Disney World for Fantasmic, so we understood the value we were getting in exchange for a smaller menu. Both Joshua and I had the lasagna and Jayme ordered the kids pasta. The lasagna was great, but the kids pasta was wheat based and Jayme didn’t even touch it. Again he just ate off our plates. But the show stopper was the desserts. They brought us out 2 identical plates of little bit sized chocolates and shot glasses filled with flavored custards and mousse, and even two shortbread lolly pops cookie things. It was great! After lunch the three of us headed back to the hotel for a well earned nap.
Once we woke refreshed we headed back to the park and rode Tower of Terror. This ride is one that I have not gone on since my first trip to Disney World back in the mid 90’s. But for Jayme’s sake I did it and hated it. Jayme and Joshua of course loved it.
Once out of tower Suzanne called, she had the kids and wanted to hook back up with us. We met the four of them in Bugs Land and rode Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train… I preferred Tower of Terror. But the cool thing is the kids got to spend some fun time together and I was chosen by Suzannes granddaughter to ride with her… so I felt pretty special.
After we left Bug’s land we decided to spring for ice cream for the group. We headed over to the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain. Joshua headed in a bought everyone ice cream cones. Suzanne’s grandson who has this own special needs, really had his heart set on eating ice cream from a ice cream place he saw at the front of the park. So while Joshua fed the masses, I took Suzanne’s grandson on a hunt to find Clarabell’s ice cream, which we did find. It was the same brand of ice cream that the other kids had, but he was SO happy. We took some amazing photos of the three kids pigging out on their ice cream, laughing and smiling. It was a great happy moment and one I will always remember.
After our feast we rode the Little Mermaid again (Jayme hated it) and then had to say goodbye to the group again. It was time for us to get into place for World of Color. We so wished we could have convinced the others to come with us.
Taking our waiters suggestion we arrived 1 hour prior to show time. Here is how Disney discribes it: The World of Color nighttime water spectacular weaves water, color, fire and light into a kaleidoscope of fantasy and imagination. More than 1,000 jets of water form incredible shapes in time to the music as Disney and Disney•Pixar characters come to life on a shimmering veil of mist.
We arrived in our reserved area and were able to get right up to a metal fence that directly faced the lagoon. Within minutes of our arrival we had people standing behind us. Before the show started all the room had been filled in, we had one of the best spots for the show. The show itself is amazing and worth the wait and the lunch reservation. We felt horrible that we could not share this with the rest of the group!
After the show we cut across back towards Car’s Land to escape the rush of the crowd leaving after the show. It gave us a chance to see Radiator Springs all lite up in neon. It also gave us a chance to buy some more Disney pins for our pin board.
Shopping completed, we headed up towards Tower of Terror and caught the last Red Line Trolly to the front of the park. From there, we headed of to our beds.
The three of us woke up and headed down for breakfast with the group. Suzanne’s daughter was still tired so she and her daughter stayed behind to get some more sleep. The rest of us headed over for a 2nd day in Disneyland.
Today was make up day, a day to get all the things we missed before done, and Jayme had a long list.
First stop was Star Tours followed by Matterhorn. By the time lunch rolled around Jayme had lead his two dads around the park twice. We had a snack lunch, we ordered a large meal platter at the mexican restaurant with a side order of chips. The three of us all split it and then headed back to the hotel for our afternoon nap.
We didn’t plan on it, but our last day in Disney kinda became our families alone day on the trip. Once we got back to the park we did not see or hear from the rest of the group until dinner time. I was so happy Joshua came down or it would have been a very lonely day for Jayme and me. We walked out to Downtown Disney and ate dinner at the Jazz Kitchen. Dinner was pricy and just ok, but Joshua really enjoyed the desert (Bread Pudding).
Afterwards, we rode the Monrail back in and used our last fastpass for Space Mt. and a special pass Suzanne had picked up to ride Thunder Mt. again after dark.
The plan was to head out early the next day for Universal Studios. So we called it an early night and grabbed juice and snacks from the 7-11 and had a little TV party in our room before bedtime.
The next morning we woke up and found our group had shrunk. Suzanne’s daughter, son in law and the grandkids had all decided to skip Universal and have a hotel day. It was an expensive decision as the tickets were non-refundable, but they were all just too tired to do another day in a park.
We had planned to rent a car since there was no room in the van for Joshua in for the ride over, but Suzanne offered to drive us over and once there they decided to stay with us.
Both Robert and Suzanne rented scooters at the park. There was just no way the two of them could have handled all of the walking and standing that park required. The upside is it let us line pass some pretty horrible lines in the direct sun. But the down side is the scooters also slowed our day down, Joshua and I have never crawled through a park so slowly before. So it was a very different experience for us, not bad, just differnt. It did made us both very grateful that we still have full use of our legs for hopefully a few more decades.
We rode the Simpsons, the Mummy, the new amazing transformers ride and even Jurassic Park. Once we had knocked those out we had essentially done the park. Universal Studios California is NOTHING like the one in Florida, it’s tiny and everything is so on top of each other. No Men in Black, no Harry Potter, no Islands of Adventure and their CityWalk is more of a town mall then a hip shopping and dining area. It is also a theme park with very little foliage. No matter were we went there was no shade, something the park tried to cover up with mist fans every 30 feet. But this park was just too dang HOT. Jayme, Suzanne and myself all got some sort of heat sickness throughout the day.
The famous Universal tram ride is now a dull ride through the heat. With the exception of the new 4-D King Kong part of the ride (which was amazing). All in all it was just hot and boring. We ended our day with the Shrek movie ride (same as the one in Florida) and a little bit of shopping. It was a fun day, but we will not be going back to Universal for a long time. The Florida version is just so much better and even that one we only visit every other trip.
The next morning our trip was coming to an end. The three of us woke early and drove to LAX and dropped Joshua off for his early morning flight. Once back at the hotel Jayme and I skipped the hotel breakfast in favor of IHOP. Jayme ordered chocolate pancakes and I had a nice omelet. We also had the pleasure of having Robert and Suzanne join us for breakfast.
After breakfast Jayme and I checked out of the hotel and loaded our bags into the van. We then headed over to Downtown Disney, Jayme had been good for the whole trip and really really wanted one of the RIDE MAKER remote control cars. So with Joshua’s permission, I caved, and we got one for him. He got to pick the shell, pick the wheels and even pick the engine type.
It was just after 12:30 when we left and Suzanne was back from dropping her daughter off at the airport so she picked the two of us up, saving us a long walk in the sun.
Once back at the hotel the two of us played around in the hotel and the van as we waited for the rest of our group to finish packing and check out. Once we all were loaded we headed back up the I-5 highway.
Now for the horror movie portion of our trip. There was a detour off I-5 due to some constuction and we ended up on Highway 99. Right before we reached Sacramento the kids needed an emergency pit stop. I pulled off the highway and followed the gas signs to what looked like a gas station from a zombie horror movie.
All the neon was off, the little store had a single bare lit lightbulb. We pulled around to the side of the station to the restrooms and exited onto the set… ahh I mean the park area. A row of broken telephone booths lined the wall, some with what looked like poo scattered around for effect. The bathrooms were in even worst shape. The overhead windows were broken with huge angled holes in the glass, moths and flies swarming overhead, darting in and out of the broken windows and the scary greenish neon bathroom ceiling light. And just to make it all that much more weird and scary, strange pooka music called to us from out of nowhere in the darkened field next to the station.
Those who had to go did, but as Jayme and I finished up a homeless man walked up to Suzanne’s granddaughter and mentioned how pretty she was and how she would “make a real pretty grandmother someday”. This caused her Dad to quickly remove her from the area and back into the van. We quickly all got back in the van and made a new land speed record back to the highway!
We made it to Sacramento a bit later then we had planned to. But so relieved to have made it there alive. We stayed at the Hawthorn Suites again.
The next morning we started a bit later but still pretty early for the group. We made really good time on our drive home… that is until we hit Ashland again.
From the backseat we hear Jayme saying “My stomach hurts, I am going to throw up.” I do a frantic lane change and start aiming for the exit. But… I was not quick enough. Not only did Jayme throw up, he did a Linda Blair explosion of throw up. We found a gas station and I stripped Jayme down, changed his clothing and calmed him down. Suzanne with her years as a super waitress took charge of van clean up, she was a pro!
The small miracle was the two other kids just sat in the car completely unfazed by the whole event. It wasn’t until we were back on the road that they even seemed to notice.
We made it back home in time for dinner. Jayme and I had a wonderful time, but Jayme never wants to do a road trip again. He might be right… well at least not on a full stomach.
P.S. All of the trip photos are up on Shutterfly if you want to see!