Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stupid things I have done

The flight from Toronto to California takes about five hours. You can watch a couple of movies in that amount of time. And I did.

The first movie I watched was Crazy. Stupid. Love. It was the perfect movie to watch on an airplane. The second movie I watched was a poor, poor choice. And yet I kept watching even once I realized that it wasn't the best pick.

What movie did I watch?


Perhaps it wasn't a good idea to watch a movie about a strange new virus that spreads to millions of people around the world killing a lot of them. Especially not great when travelling with a seven-year-old who likes to touch everything. And sticks her hands near (let's pretend not in) her mouth. All the time. Yup. There was a lot of hand washing going on during our trip.

At least we didn't catch anything. And I suppose the movie choice could have been worse. It could have been Final Destination, Alive or Passenger 57.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Chicken? What has chicken got to do with it?

Apparently the kid has chicken on the brain.

While we were in California, our friends were cat sitting for our two beasts. Alas, our house key got misplaced at some point. This led to me spending a couple of hours and $50 getting my set of keys sent overnight from California to Toronto. Not coming home to find two dead cats - priceless.

The kid was with me while I coordinated the delivery. It seems this is not something they often have to do at the business centre at Disney's Grand Californian. I especially loved when she wanted me to assign a value to the keys. The kid wasn't worried. She figured that the cats would drink water from the toilet (sad, but true) and that they'd just catch mice and rip the chicken out of them.

Yup. That's what mice are made of - chicken.

Incidentally, the keys arrived in Toronto and when we got home a week and a bit later the cats were perfectly fine. Alas, they had not caught any mice and ripped the chicken out of them. They had to settle for Iams and Friskies. Poor things.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What is wrong with people?

Last night, while we were driving home from a shopping trip in Buffalo, the kid noticed an advertisement for Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours.

"Aren't those dangerous?" she asked. This led to a discussion with her father about all the bodies buried under the silt near the falls. He mentioned that if you went down the whirlpool they'd probably never even find your body.

"And people go into the whirlpool on the jet boat everyday?" she sounded stunned and disturbed. We quickly realized that she thought the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours was a way for people to commit suicide. And apparently popular enough to warrant roadside advertisements.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Home again, home again

On Friday we came home. I finished up packing our suitcases and we headed downstairs for breakfast. We tried to have breakfast at the Hard Rock Cafe. The restaurant opened at 9 a.m. We were there at 8:59 a.m. The hostess was very confused when we walked up to her. In seemed to blow her mind that we wanted to have breakfast. She led us to a table. We were the only patrons. I asked if we could sit in the booth next to the table she was going to sit us at. She refused because there was no one to serve the table. I am not joking when I say the two tables were right next to each other. Since we were already annoyed with her attitude towards us we left.

Yes. We did.

And went upstairs to Johnny Rocket's for essentially the same breakfast at a lower price. We walked around the mall for a little bit and then returned to the hotel so that I could return our rental car. Once that was done, we headed to the lobby to wait for our airport limo to arrive. He arrived promptly at 11 a.m.

I wish I had realized at the beginning of the trip that they were giving away the tastiest lemonade in the lobby. I must have drunk two glasses while we waited for the car. It was so delicious.

And then we were off to LAX. We were quite early for our flight because I had heard that security is a nightmare at LAX. It wasn't that bad. We had quite a few lines that we had to wait through but we finally got settled at our gate. The kid and I wandered around the airport while Hubby read his book at the gate. I must admit that LAX is super boring. There were three stores and a couple of restaurants. Not much to see and do. We were very happy to get on the plane.

Hubby was seated separate from the kid and I. The flight was delayed a little bit while the flight staff rearranged the passengers so that a mother could sit next to her 6-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. They ended up sitting right in front of us. And yes, all three of them reclined their seats for the entire 5 hour trip. The lady sitting next to me actually volunteered to relocate for the family.

The journey was fairly uneventful although the flight was a little delayed because of a storm in Toronto. We actually got to see lightening from the air. That was pretty cool.

After getting our bags and going through customs we went to wait for our airport limo. It was well past midnight and I was feeling a little cranky. So, I may have called out the woman who was smoking in front of the nonsmoking sign (literally, 2 steps in front of the sign) at the airport limo station. She informed me that she just didn't care. Good thing our car arrived then.

We got home safe and sound. And were we ever happy to be home!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Glutton for Punishment

For some bizarre reason, I decided that we should do the Starline Tour Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour on Thursday. I guess I didn't learn anything from the previous day? Or I really didn't want to drive in Los Angeles?

Either way, we braved the streets of LA in the worst bus(es) ever! But, we did get to see Hollywood and Beverley Hills. We tried to go to Millions of Milkshakes but it was closed. Kitson was disappointing. Most of the time we stayed on the bus but we did walk around parts of Beverly Hills, the Beverly Centre, The Grove/Farmers Market. We also decided to take the kid to the Harry Potter store, Whimsic Alley, which she loved. We had lunch at a random restaurant in Beverly Hills, Pinkberry at the Beverly Centre and cold beverages at the Starbucks in the Barnes and Noble at The Grove. Did I mention it was hot?

We took a bus back to our hotel from Whimsic Alley because it wasn't on the Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour route and we couldn't find a cab. We made it back in one piece. Oddly, the LA buses, although crowded, were still better than the Starline Tour buses.

We had a late lunch at Johnny Rockets followed by some shopping. We really wanted to see Spiderman at Grauman's Chinese Theatre but it was no longer showing. We weren't interested in any of the other shows so we just wandered around for a bit longer. The kid wanted to see famous people so we (okay, I) told her that the people we saw inside the theatre getting interviewed were famous. They might be. They were there for the Hollywshorts Film Festival. We had dinner at California Pizza before packing and heading to bed.

Like Clifton Hills, but without the natural wonder

Hubby and I woke up early on Wednesday. The kid, she slept in.

For breakfast we had "craps" at French Crepe Company. We struggled to get her to realize that Crepe actually rhymes with grapes. However, I must admit, mine tasted a little crappy so....

After breakfast we wandered around the Hollywood and Highland area. Looked at the Walk of Fame, etc... and experienced a bit of Hollyweirdness. It had a lot of similarities to Cliffton Hill. Crummy stores, weird people hitting you up for money and lots of tour guides selling their stuff.

We did decide to sign up for the Warner Bros. VIP Tour with Starline Tours. It was the same cost as booking it through Warner Bros. but we got transportation. It seemed like a good deal. It wasn't. We waited forever for the bus to pick us up. It wasn't air conditioned. The drivers didn't do anything but hit us up for tips - except for the one time he blasted music and rocked the bus back and forth it time to it. He dropped us off and didn't tell us where to go or anything. Good thing the Warner Bros. tour guides knew that we had no idea where to go. After the tour, our bus driver ended up leaving without a couple of the people in our party of 14. They were a little late coming back from the gift shop so they were out of luck.

The Warner Bros. tour was cool. We didn't see anyone famous but we toured the Mentalist set and saw all sorts of cool things - props from the Harry Potter movies, parking spots for the staff at The Big Bang Theory... It was cool and well worth it!

After returning to our hotel at Hollywood and Highland we had lunch at Disney's Soda Fountain and prebought tickets to see Brave at El Capitan that night. We went back to the hotel for a nap and then walked back across the street for our 7pm show.

The movie was awesome. So, was the LIVE preshow. Although the kid was pretty anxious for the movie to start. She kept telling me that she wished they'd stop singing and dancing and just show the movie. Kids.

After the show we wandered around for a bit and then had a late dinner at Mr. Koji's. The hubby loved his sushi. The kid enjoyed her roll and white rice drenched in soy sauce. My shrimp tempura was pretty good but a little soggy.

It was a good day.

Lions, Tigers and Marines, oh my!

We spent Tuesday at the San Diego Zoo. It was cool but not much better than the Toronto Zoo. We saw the 4D version of Ice Age (15 minutes but it kept snowing!), took the guided bus tour and took the Skyfari. Sadly, the Skyfari didn't really let us see the animals.

I am really glad that we did the Discovery Tour - an enhanced version of their guided bus tour. I would have liked to try the Backstage pass but there wasn't space for the three of us. The Discovery Tour teamed us up with seven other people and took us on a 60-minute tour of the exhibits we chose. It meant we got to see the Pandas! And a pregnant giraffe. And cheetahs, etc... It was pretty cool. But very, very hot.

We must have brought the humidity with us to Southern California. People kept telling us it was way hotter than normal.

I discovered my new favourite snack at the zoo - Smart Puffs. They are way better than Cheetos or Humpty Dumpty Cheese Sticks. And a bit healthier too. Might have to get some of my next cross-border shopping excursion.

At about 5 pm we left the zoo for Hollywood. We didn't get to our hotel until about 8:30 pm. Partly because my GPS lied and told us to go right instead of left in Los Angeles. Also, because I wasn't paying attention to the gas gauge and ended up begging for gas at Camp Pendleton. Yes, my evil GPS told us where the nearest gas station was and it turned out to be a Marine base. Good thing we had our passports and that the Marines had a sense of humour about this stupid Canadian.

And I got a migraine while driving. Apparently, in Southern California when you drive North on a highway you actually drive North. Several hours of staring at the sun gave me a killer headache. So, when we got to the hotel, Loew's Hollywood Hotel, hubby and the kid ended up going for dinner at Trastevere Ristorante Italiano while I "recuperated".

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sea World is better than Marineland. Not that it is hard to beat Marineland.

Our first full day in San Diego was spent at Sea World. We had dinner at Denny’s first and then headed off to see how Sea World compares to Marineland.
There is no comparison. Marineland is laid out so that everything is miles apart. Or so it seems. You have to walk forever to get anywhere. That is not the case in Sea World. And there is a lot more to do in Sea World.
We saw the One Ocean show with Shamu, watched Cirque de la Mer, got drenched in the Shipwreck Rapids (yes, I have a new pair of pants to prove it). We went on the Wild Arctic ride, Manta! (although I skipped this one thanks to nausea) and the Bayside Skyride. We checked out the penguins, freshwater aquarium, Beluga whales, etc. It was a busy day. We even went on Journey to Atlantis which is just a flume ride. A flume ride with a freakin’ elevator.
We headed back to the hotel to jump in the ocean and relax in the pool. After hearing that California has no humidity, I was shocked and dismayed to discover that we were visiting during two atypical weeks with high humidity.
After destinking ourselves, we went to the Gaslamp Quarter for dinner and to wander around. I decided to leave the car with a valet located on the road. Luckily, he was legit and we got the car back at the end of the night.
We ended up having a delicious Mexican dinner at Fred’s Mexican Cafe. Our new rule is, we will eat somewhere provided they have other customers at 5pm. We had dessert at the kid’s favourite – Pinkberry – and wandered around the stores. I discovered I love Bettie Page clothes (and I think they love me back). We thoroughly enjoyed checking our Chuck Jones Gallery. If only I had an unlimited art budget.
We then returned to the hotel, packed and got organized for the next day – our trip to the San Diego Zoo and Hollywood.

San Diego isn't Dodgy

The drive to San Diego was fairly uneventful. The highlight of the trip for the kid was our stop at Subway for breakfast. Apparently, breakfast was THAT awesome. She spent the rest of the ride reading an Archie comic book instead of checking out the scenery. In her defence, she is seven. I had to keep reminding myself of that as we saw the mountains and the ocean.

We arrived at our hotel at around noon. Hubby was not impressed. It looked like a dive initially. We quickly learned, that is just the way it is. The inside of the hotel was gorgeous and it was great to have a view of the ocean from our balcony. I also appreciated the heated pool and hot tub located steps from the ocean. We could watch the surfers without having to get chilled to the bone.

While we waited for our room to be prepared, we headed over to the Wave House so that the kid and I could try surfing in a controlled setting. It was a bit of a fail. The kid lost the bottom half of her bikini but I kept my top on. We had fun and I’m glad I can say that I tried surfing and body boarding. Even if I didn’t go in the ocean to do so.

Our room was ready when we got back to the hotel. So, we unpacked and walked across the street to Tony Roma’s for a nice steak dinner. Followed by a long dip in the pool/hot tub. And sleep. Glorious sleep!

Done with Disney (for now)

Saturday was our last Disney day so we got up bright and early to make the most of it. We wanted Hubby to get to see everything
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Big Thunder Mountain
  • Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
  • Snow White’s Scary Adventure
  • Space Mountain
  • Splash Mountain
We spent some time poking around the stores. We even ended up eating at a character breakfast in Disneyland at the Plaza Inn. Quite overpriced but tasty.

Hubby and kid spent a few hours at the pool while I got our car rental organized. And had a nap. :D

We then went to California Adventure. We went on Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue. We also had dinner at Flo’s V8 Cafe which was very good. And then we staked out our spot to watch World of Color. After the show, we tried to go on Soarin’ but the ride broke down so we didn’t get to go on it again. We returned to the hotel, packed and went to bed.
I knew that we were all finished with Disney when the kid said, "Mommy, do we have to go to Disney World for my birthday?" It seems we may be changing our vacation plans for the Fall.

Vacation really begins

Hubby was very happy to have his presentation done early on Friday morning. And the conference wrapped up at noon so he got to spend a lot of time with us!

The kid and I spent the morning being lazy and considering our shopping purchases. Once, hubby was done we headed to the parks.
We had a very expensive lunch at Blue Bayou which is located in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. After lunch we went on the following rides.

We also went on
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
  • Enchanted Tiki Room – and had Dole Whip
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Jungle Cruise
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Star Tours
We ended up having a light dinner back at our hotel before calling it a night. We also walked around Downtown Disney and let the kid make her own Customized Big Wheel Remote Control Sally car as her "silly souvenir".

"Bored now"

On our 5th day in California, the kid decided she did not want to go to the parks. In fact, she did not want to get out of bed. Hubby headed off to the conference for 8 am and we lazed around the hotel room until he came back at 12:30 for a lunch break. The kid actually wanted me to just take her to Pinocchio’s Workshop for the day. They don’t open until 5 pm.

We walked him back to the conference at Disneyland hotel and decided to stop for lunch at ESPN Zone. We enjoyed watching the Olympics on the big screens but the food was “meh.” She also played a few arcade games after lunch.

We wandered around the stores of Downtown Disney and ended up taking the monorail in to Disneyland and right back out again. It wasn’t thrilling. I’m sure it will come as no surprise that we spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool.

When Hubby came back he had made plans for us to meet his colleagues in California Adventure. After much pleading from the kid that “4 adults is too many!” we agreed to enroll her in Pinocchio’s for the evening.

We ended up walking around the park and riding Radiator Springs, Tower of Terror and Soarin’. We ate dinner at the Pacific Wharf Cafe  - soup, sandwiches or clam chowder. We also got to experience part of World of Color. At the same time, the kid got to watch the Disneyland fireworks on a private balcony through the club. She was the only kid there at the time.

We then went to bed. Hubby’s big presentation was the next day – at 8:10 am!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Day 4 - a little lazier

On Wednesday, the kid and I headed to California Adventure in the morning. We walked on to Toy Story Midway Mania. We decided to wait the 50 minutes to ride Luigi's Flying Tires and then headed in to "a bug's land". We went on all the little rides at Flik's Fun Fair. They really were meant for the 3 and under crowd. We saw It's Tough to Be a Bug and then wandered around a bit before stumbling in to Disney Junior - live on Stage! After the show it was almost 11 and we were peckish so we had lunch at Cathay Circle Restaurant.

The kid wanted to eat there because they had pot roast on the menu. Alas, that was the dinner menu. She ended up with sloppy joes and ate some of my pasta. We wrapped up the leftovers for Daddy and went back to the hotel where she watched a tv show and then hubby came back for lunch. He ate our leftovers and a rice krispie drumstick! When he went back to the conference, we headed to the pool.

After our trip to the pool, he was back from the conference. But, he was tired so the kid and I wandered around Downtown Disney for a little while so he could nap. We were trying to decide what one unpractical souvenir we would like to buy. We still haven't figured that out.

We returned to the hotel and took hubby to California Adventure. We rode Ariel and wandered around Cars Town. We then decided to go back to the hotel and send the kid to Pinocchio's Workshop for a couple of hours. She loved it! We spent those hours quickly walking around Downtown Disney. After we picked her up, it was time for bed.

It took her some time to fall asleep which might explain why at 8 am on Thursday morning she is still fast asleep. :D

Day 3: swimming like a fish

The three hour time change has worked in our favour. Hubby's conference starts at 8 and the parks open at 7 for hotel guests. So, as soon as he heads off to the conference centre, the kid and I go to the parks.

On Tuesday we got to Disneyland around 7:20 or so. We headed through Sleeping Beauty's miniature castle and promptly rode
  • Peter Pan's Flight
  • Snow White's Scary Adventures
  • Pinocchio's Daring Journey
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  • Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Storybook Land Canal Boats
We then lined up for 30 minutes so that the kid could met the newest Princess, Merida from Brave. She even got to practice her archery skills. Yup, hit the target dead centre.

We then rode It's a Small World before visiting Mickey's Toontown. In Toontown we rode both rides: Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin and Gadget's Go Coaster. The kid decided that adults must prefer the coaster to the kids because she bumped her head. I think she is crazy.

We got french toast from the Tomorrowland Terrace and snagged Fast Passes for Space Mountain. We then went back to the hotel because the kid had a tummy ache. It was 10:30 am.

We rested until noon and then went out to the pool. The kid didn't eat any of the tuna salad sandwich she insisted on ordering. But she did play in the pool with some kids for four hours.

The kid and I then spent a few hours watching the Disney Channel. Her dad came back from the conference to get ready for the banquet. We walked him back to the conference centre for the banquet, talked to his coworkers and headed back to Disneyland.

Our fast passes worked on Space Mountain so we went on it. And then Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. Then, we decided to go get food from Downtown Disney (we may have popped in some shops along the way). The kid decided she "needed" kettle corn. So we got some of that. We also picked up chips, guacamole, salsa and nacho cheese from the quick service place next to the restaurant we had eaten at the day before. The kid thought that was the best food option. We sat on the hotel room floor, watching Disney shows and eating our dinner until the husband came back around 8:30.

East coast vs West coast

We are a Disney World family. We have been annual passholders and the kid could give you directions at any of the parks and detailed descriptions of the rides by the time she was 4. But, this is the first time we've visited Disneyland.

I was really excited to see Walt's original theme park. I can now see that, in some ways, Disneyland was the trial run. There are some elements that are superior in California but overall I have to say Florida does it best. The actual rides are great in Disneyland/California Adventure but the ques are outdoors, and make everything seem so much more crowded than it actually is.

However, I LOVE that everything is within easy walking distance in California - even closer together than Universal Studios Orlando.

The Disney magic is differently stronger in Florida. Maybe it is because of the college program which brings people from all over the world to live and work there. They're so happy to be there. Not so much the staff here in California. They're just a little less into things. I've overheard numerous inappropriate for the customer to overhear conversations between staff as they "work" in the quick serve restaurants, the stores, work the rides and even perform cleaning duties. I can't recall that once in Disney World.

We're having a great time. Even if the kid seems to prefer the pool to the parks. And she definitely preferred the babysitting service to us tonight.  So did we. Hubby and I didn't do much with our two hours of kid free time but guess what, we can do it again tomorrow, Friday and Saturday if we so desired.

The Kid's favourite ride is California Screamin'. Her least favourite was the Ferris Wheel.