Monday, December 31, 2007

Disneyland Day Two in Pictures

I gotta go eat b'fast and head out for day 3 - aka NEW YEARS EVE! - but wanted to throw up the best pics of yesterday!
As we arrived, Alice, the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, and Disneyland Band were making some little girl's entire vacation, by celebrating her Un-Birthday!

Cindy trying not to be scared of the giant cobra as we wait to go on the Indiana Jones Adventure.

Happiness on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad!

Safety Goggles: CHECK!
Waiting for "Honey, I Shrunk The Audience".
This show has definitely passed its "Pull-By" date, I am sad to report.

Pixie Dust! PIXIE DUST!!!
That sword is REALLY stuck in that stone... Maybe someone who was recently sprinkled with Pixie Dust can help??
Nope.. That sword is definitely NOT moving... But at least it's more fun with two!

Cinderella's Castle at night... From inside Fantasy Land. Wait 'til you see it from the front!
Thousands and thousands of white LED lights make it look like it really is covered in icicles and snow!
Another angle... So gorgeous, I couldn't quit looking at it every time.
And finally, a kiss at California Adventure, where we're heading right now for day three!

Astro Blasters Day Two

Last night we got in another round of Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, and both of us greatly increased our scores!!

We're feeling pretty good about ourselves, even though we met a guy in line who had never played before, and got something in the 140,000 neighborhood...

Tonight: Third Time's The Charm!..?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Disneyland Day One

We Made It!!

After flawless road conditions throughout the entire trip so far, we finally encountered dilapidating traffic this morning on our way from Carpinteria to Anaheim. Turned out to be a 5 car wreck on I-5, with car-remains on both shoulders of the road, so at least there was a good excuse. But enough about that, because as soon as we got past it, it was mere minutes before we were pulling into our hotel, where they were gracious enough to let us check in early!

Found our room, which is pretty much opposite in every way from the roach motel we stayed in a few nights ago, and headed out to D'Land, which you should know, IS The Happiest Place On Earth!

For the Saturday after Christmas, and heading in to New Years, I expected it to be crowded. And the sign outside the park warning that it was "very crowded" seemed to back that thought up. But it really didn't seem any busier than it had been three years ago when we were here - in fact, in most areas of the park it seemed less full. So we were off and running, and hit several key rides today.

First up was the Matterhorn's Left Side. I love that ride, whichever side I'm on, but I *think* I like the right side even more. We'll know tomorrow.

Then we hit up Autopia. The irony of standing in line for 30 minutes to pretend to drive at 5 miles per hour, after spending the past few days in the real car didn't strike until right before we got into our car... And with that irony still thick in the air, and some 4 year old driving in front of us who seemed to keep forgetting that you need to push the gas pedal down to make the car go, we decided we probably won't venture on to the Autopia again...

Also making the first day was Star Tours, which even though it looks a bit aged, is still one of the best virtual reality rides ever, anywhere.

New in Tomorrowland since our last visit (It was actually built, but still under wraps back then) is Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters. I LOVED THIS RIDE! When we decided to get in line, I didn't even know if it was a ride, a show, or some hokey kiddie hybrid of the two. What it actually is, in case anyone else doesn't know, is an excellent "Dark Room" ride (like all the Fantasyland ones a la Mr. Toad) that adds a Laser Tag element. Your ride buggy (probably some sort of rocket, but who had time to care while shooting the evil Zurg and his minions??) comes equipped with two Astro Blasters, and all the glowing, neon coloured characters in the ride have targets all over them, which you can Blast for points, as well as feedback from the characters, which is pretty much lights and sounds, like shooting anyone in a normal laser tag game. Only cooler. Lots cooler. Unbeknownst to us going in, they take a picture of you during the ride, like so many others... But then they don't try to sell you an overpriced printout, they let you email it to yourself for free! So I present, as a token of our first day in Disneyland, Cindy and I playing Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters!

You'll note from the scores that appear in the corners, that I (as Player 1) was completely whoopin' her... Although when we got to the end and checked our rank, we were both level 7. I really want to play it again now that I know what I'm doing!

We also hit Pirates of the Carribbean, which has received a few post-movie updates, with Captain Jack Sparrow making 3 (or so?) appearances. The Disney Imagineers have really taken the animatronics to the next level, in one of his scenes, it really, honestly looked like a real person popping up out of the big powder keg. Highly recommended!

I think the favorite of the night for both of us was the Haunted Mansion, which once again was taken over for Christmas by Jack Skellington and his gang of merry morbid misfits. It's just so incredibly well done, so many details making it a truly outstanding experience!

But when have I ever been known to end on a high note? As we left the mansion, we saw that Splash Mountain only had a 10 minute wait! I LOVE Splash Mountain! Cindy had earlier said that she didn't want to go on it, but then said she would for me. (Love!! After 5 years of Marriage, there's still LOVE!!) Well the 10 minute wait was an overstatement, we literally walked right on. And it only took the first small drop to figure out why nobody wanted to ride it tonight. They were running the ride in a way that I would call "Very Wet," and after that first little dip, my right leg was more than damp, and both of my shoes were approaching soaked. The next dip finished off my shoes and right leg, and got started on my left leg. Oh, and Cindy, who loves me so much she went on this ride for me, was sitting in the very front of the log, and got hit even harder than me. (Love? After 5 years AND Splash Mountain at Night in December? I Hope So!) But that was all just preperatory for the big drop, after which our coats and hair joined our lower bodies in the "fully soaked" category. They hooked us into buying a picture, since apparantly Critter Country doesn't have the high tech Internet goodness of Tomorrowland. Since the scanner's at home, here's my attempt at taking a picture of a picture of a happy couple riding a log down a waterfall.

After that, our evening was rather abruptly called to an end, as we rushed back to the hotel to take a warm shower and put on dry clothes... But we did get to see the fireworks as we waited for the shuttle to arrive. Now it's off to bed to charge up for day two!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Tales from the Road III

I try not to be a brand-centric snob. We drive a Kia, and in fact it's the 3rd Kia we've bought! We really try to embrace the philosophy that if a product or service does the job well, that's more important than the name on the label. That mindset has, in the past, extended to overnight accommodations. And while I won't argue that there's a noticeable difference between Motel 6 and the Red Lion, I'd never been in a M'6 that wasn't clean, comfortable, functional.

Until we were looking for a place to stay in Stockton, CA. (See post below, "More Yup than Hip") So we failed to follow through with our original plans to sleep in the van like hippies. Around 8:30, as we drove through Sacramento, we decided we'd logged enough time in the van for one day, and it was time to quit messing around and get a room for the night. But not wanting to needlessly spend a lot of money when we were going to literally sleep, shower and leave, we opted for the budget lodging. Found the Motel 6 right off the freeway. Paid for our room, and went on in.


I mean, really, WOW.

From first glance, the room was more sparse than any I'd ever seen before. Not even an alarm clock. And the sheets appeared to be the original ones they opened the motel with back in 1972. Clean, but they'd been washed enough times that you could not only see through them, but read through them. They had all the silky softness of a mid-grade sandpaper. And we got to sleep in them! Well, I use the word "Sleep", but really it was more like "we got to endure them until daylight."

But the sheets weren't the only issue... oh no... A quick check of the bathroom revealed one - yes, one - towel. So Cindy called the office, and asked if we could have more. The answer was "Yes." But upon hanging up, she wondered out loud if "Yes" meant that they would bring them to us, or we would have to go get them. Good question, but not one I really felt like tackling at that time. No big deal, because a few minutes later, the phone rang and the clerk said that security would be bringing our towels. Moments after I hung up, there was a knock at our door, and the 87 year old security guard (complete with badge!) was at the door with TWO towels. SWEET!! Enough for us to each use one, and have a third one just in case. Ahh, luxury and excess, thou art Motel 6.

So we watch TV for a few minutes, and go to sleep. And the quality of the structure surrounding us really began to show itself. I didn't hear anything from the surrounding rooms, but I don't know that anybody was IN the surrounding rooms. But the exterior walls were paper thin. And I'd guess there wasn't any insulation between the layers of paper. Every noise, every footstep, every car on the freeway, sounded like it was inside the room. At least that kind of stuff eventually fades into white noise and you can sleep through it.

But the heater in the room was another story. Looking at it, it looked good! It was made by Carrier, a company that still makes quality heating and cooling systems today. It even had a digital display! Much newer and nicer than the typical low-end motel heaters, made by companies I've never heard of.

And then it turned on.

Right as I was allllllmost asleep, I heard a click, a clank, and a jet engine big enough to power a 747 spin up for takeoff. After about 45 seconds of warm air hitting me like a hurricane, it clanked, clicked and spun down to silence. (leaving the aforementioned white noise) This thing turned on and off every couple minutes. Ridiculously short cycles... And noisy enough that there was NO way I was going to sleep through it. After an hour or two of trying in vain to sleep through the racket, I finally got up to investigate... Thankfully, there were three speeds for the fan, and it was on High. So I switched it to low, and hoped for the best.

That lowered the volume enough that I was able to sleep, though badly, for a few more hours. When Tom Bodette (yep, he really does the wake up calls) called at 6am, I really doubt that I'd slept more than three hours. But wanting to get moving and put the whole ugly ordeal behind us, I forced myself up and into the shower. And if I'd thought the heater's fan was noisy, it was just baby steps compared to the wailing banshee that is the bathroom fan. No exaggeration I can do verbally or bloggally can even come close to the sound that fan made. And since it was on the same switch as the light, and Cindy was still "sleeping" (I use the term lightly), I took a shower in the dark because the sound from the fan would have ended a bad night's sleep with a horrible wake up.

An hour later, we were back on the road, thankful for a shower and sink to brush our teeth in. We were also pretty sure that we'd have slept better in the van, even with the ruts on the floor. So we placed all the value of the motel in the fact that we had clean bodies, hair and teeth. Stockton was quickly fading in the rear view mirror, and we are now much more leery of low-end lodging.

Tales from the Road II

For those of you who didn't know, I run a daily email game called "Fact or Crap." I've been doing it for a couple years, and it's good clean fun, and you get the added benefit of learning stuff!

A couple days ago, the statement which was to be judged was something along the lines of "It is illegal to pump your own gas in Oregon." As an educated reader, you most certainly know that statement as Fact... And to those of us who live on the left coast, it was ludicrous to even ask! But it did get some conversation going about wether it impacts the cost of gas. Well, when we made our first stop for gas in Oregon, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the gas prices there - at a Shell station - were cheaper than what I'd paid that morning at Fred Meyer (with reward card, of course).

So to anyone wondering if they should fill up north of the border, don't! You pay more, and you have to pump it yourself!

Tales from the Road I

I've mentioned before - probably even more than once - that I am terrible at getting the camera out when things happen that really should be captured on film. (or memory card...) Well, here's another case. I present to you, a Mercedes SL, I'd guess from the early '80s.

We passed this car at least four times, in Washington, Oregon and California. Any time we'd pull off for food, gas, or potty-breaks, we'd get back on, and before long, come up on this car again. After the 4th (and ultimately, final) time, Cindy said "You should get a picture of it!" So I did... But if I'd done it sooner, it would have been better.

Now, there are a couple of things that this picture doesn't show. Things that we really wish we'd captured to enhance this post!

#1 - The driver was an old man, we'd guess at LEAST in his mid-70s, with perfect posture, sitting up straight with his hands religiously at "ten and two" on the steering wheel. We were inspired by his adventurous spirit, taking his wife and car on a trip through the Siskiyous in late December. This is the type of life we want for ourselves when we get to those later years.

#2 - The car's left blinker had been on for at least 300 miles, one of the ways we repeatedly identified the car as we were coming up on it from behind. Passing it in Centralia: Left blinker on, car in the right lane. In Eugene: Left blinker still on, car still in right lane. And so on. This is one of the artifacts of aging that we're hoping to avoid, but if that's the worst that happens to us, we'll still consider it a victory. Besides, it confuses, irritates, and amuses the young whippersnappers like us!

Finally, when we passed it after having dinner in Yreka (and what a great name for a town, Yreka!) it was still flashing its ID by way of that left turn signal... But it was in the left lane, and moving to the right. (with the signal indicating otherwise) That's when Cindy made the comment about taking a picture. I decided I'd do even better, and shoot a movie of it! But then while switching the camera to movie mode, framing the shot and starting to shoot it, he finally realized that his blinker was erroneously on. So you get that picture of a run-of-the-mill Mercedes SL... But it had been such a part of our first day's travels that we decided to post it anyway.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

More Yup than Hip

I'm writing this from the passenger seat of the Rocket Van as we speed down I-5. In a few hours we'll be at Cindy's mom's house, spend tonight and tomorrow there, then get up Saturday and head on up to Disneyland! Good times, for sure.

But how did we get here?

Most of you had heard our plan: "We're gonna be hippies and sleep in the van!"

Well, we've learned some things about ourselves. One of those things is that we're more Yuppie than Hippie. Of course, a little pre-planning would have helped figure this one out. Key to our hippie plan was putting our air-mattress in the back of the van so we'd have somewhere comfortable to sleep. Oops, at 10 pm Christmas night, I finally got around to taking the seats out of the van and putting in the air mattress... which was a good 14 inches too wide. So we brought a couple extra sleeping bags to use as padding. Good, right? Well... we also have a couple suitcases, a case of water, a snax bag and some Christmas presents along for the ride... which leaves not a whole lotta space for sleeping. Plus, the floor of the van has these holes where the seats latch in. Looks very uncomfortable to lay on. Perhaps we're not cut out for this hippie thing...

But we're also not quitters, so we jumped in the van yesterday morning and took off anyway! Both Washington and Oregon had some snow on the ground in places, but nothing that impacted driving at all.

Our big fear was Mt. Shasta, which is where we got stuck three years ago when we tried this same trip. But we blew through the entire Siskiyou range without so much as a slushy spot, and even got ol' Shasta to pose for a picture.

Stay tuned for more insight and tales from our California Adventure!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

We've Been Elf'd!

Yeah, we know... Those are the two best-lookin' elves you've ever seen! But a still shot really doesn't capture the full glamour of the Merry Christmas Dance we will perform for you when you click here!

Or, you could watch our four little elflings copy our dance here...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Please Fasten Your Wrist Strap!

It's been a while since I've found a good nintendo related video... This Wii parody is one of the best I've seen yet. Now, if only those airfares were actually that low for anywhere I wanted to fly!