Friday, May 11, 2012

[Disney] Day 2: Disneyland Park, Napa Rose

This is a ridiculously long update. I doubt that many of them will be this long in the future, but there was a lot going on today.

Day 2 dawned at 6 AM, which by my usual West Coast standards is luxuriously late. I can remember my second trip to Anaheim when I simply could not sleep past 4 AM. Driving around the streets of OrangeCounty at 4:30 is about as boring as one can imagine.

Warning: soccer talk ahead this paragraph. I spent the first few hours watching in delight as first Newcastle and then Spurs blew their opportunity to take the commanding position for third place. My beloved Gunners, despite their best attempts to choke it away, still control their own destiny. It should be interesting watching the last game of the year at 11 PM in Hong Kong.

This was my first opportunity to try out the Anaheim Hilton's continental breakfast. The voucher was good for one of two options. Since the nice clerk at check-in had given me two vouchers per day, I decided to try both. I started at the hotel's restaurant, which I believe was called Mix. They tried to upsell me on the full breakfast buffet, but I had my fruit cup, cranberry juice and assorted pastries and headed back up to the room.

Breakfast of champions
 On the way to Disneyland I decided to stop into the Starbucks. I think I prefer that option for the breakfast voucher. I was not especially hungry but I realized I wouldn't be eating again for a while so I had half of a scone and an iced green tea courtesy of the Hilton. Thank you, Hilton.
More carbs for my morning

The walk to the park went quickly. I'd say at most it is fifteen minutes from the door of the Hilton to security at the entrance to Disneyland. I found this a welcome change from my usual ten minute drive from the Sheraton followed by the tram. When I reached the parks I realized I'd left my camera (and my sunglasses...that would be a recurring theme) in the room. So apologies for the all of the iPhone photos. I worked with what I had.

In detailing my three days at the parks I'm going to take some liberties in rearranging things otherwise today's entry will have pretty much everything and the next two days will be a steady stream of "and then I went on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride shfifty-five times".

Disney had the park scheduled to open at 9 but, as is often the case on busy days, they allowed us all through to Main Street at 8:30 so that we could spend lots of our hard-earned dollars on their goods and services. While walking to the parks that morning I had experienced some doubts as to how much of an idiot I was for basing a round-the-world trip on going to Disney parks. Then I stepped onto Main Street USA and I could not stop smiling for like thirty minutes. All was right in the world.

Happiest place on earth
 Touringplans had today at a 4 out of 10, with Disneyland Park coming in at a 3-something. The crowds definitely seemed heavier than that to me but I'm also used to the far more spacious Magic Kingdom. It can see how similar crowds in a smaller Disneyland Park space would seem more crowded.
Awww, there castle is so tiny out here in California - adorable!

Damn straight I made a wish
 I headed off to Star Tours to grab a Fastpass. Awkward admission time: despite my being an avowed geek, I don't actually give a damn about Star Wars. There, I said it. Give me Jean Luc Picard and his sexy bald dome over Luke, Leia and the lot of them. Perhaps because of that, I've not actually been on the "new" Star Tours/Star Wars attraction since they redid it last year. I'll give you my reactions in a bit, because I am sure you are all dying to know what random guy on the internet thinks about Star Tours ;)

My first ride of the trip had to be Mr. Toad. I <3 Mr. Toad. I would ride that all day if it wasn't likely to attract the attention of the mental health professions. I can't explain why - perhaps it's because I have these really fond memories of the ride from my childhood trips to WDW but because it no longer exists there I have to get my fill at Disneyland. A plurality, and possibly even a majority, of the photos on my iPhone are of the ride from various Disneyland trips. 
Perhaps that will be the new family crest?

This was my phone wallpaper for years
Greatest hidden mickey ever
 After a wonderful trip through Hell (for those who don't know, MTWR has the satisfaction of being the only Disney ride I can recall that takes you to Hell as the closing scene), I headed over to Snow White's Scary Adventure. Holy heck that ride would scare the crap out of me if I was a kid. Now that the Magic Kingdom version has gone the way of Mr. Toad and left my life forever, it makes me happy that the remaining version in Anaheim is legitimately frightening.

As an aside, there is absolutely nothing in my life that is half as embarrassing as being a grown-ass man who enjoys Fantasyland rides. I am lucky when I can get people to go with me to Magic Kingdom so that I don't look completely creepy going on Peter Pan at 9 AM. And the Fantasyland rides at Disneyland are, as a lot, much stronger than the ones in Orlando so I really can't help myself. I had a delightful interaction with the cast member working the Pinocchio ride as I tried to share my sense of shame with her. She wasn't having any of it and encouraged me to own my love of the dark rides. I can't wait until I hit the Asia Disney parks, where I'm sure I will stand out for so many other reasons that I'll hardly even notice everyone staring at me riding Dumbo.

After enjoying the wonders of Fantasyland it was off to the Single Rider line at Indiana Jones. This was the first time I've ever been on it where all of the effects worked properly. The ride goes down more often than...well...this is a PG-13 trip report so you finish that metaphor however you'd like, but I'll be damned if it's ever worked right before. It is such a strong ride when things are clicking. It's like Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom except less frightening to kids and more fun for everyone. Plus it's got Indiana Jones theming. What more could you want?
Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?

Now that Disney is enforcing the return times on Fastpasses I had to make my way back to Star Tours. Having now ridden it twice (once on a later day in the trip), I can say that it's an improvement on the old Star Tours but not so much of an improvement that I'll mind giving it a pass in the future. Must be really cool if you're a Star Wars fan, though. I eagerly await the day that someone finally builds a Discworld simulator ride.
You aren't Lieutenant Commander Data
Lunch was still about 90 minutes away so I decided to stop for a snack. I have been impressed by how many healthy snack items they have for sale at Disneyland. Definitely more than I remember from the Magic  Kingdom. This morning's snack contained some mango slices. I'm not going to lie and say that I thought them tasty mango slices, but at least they had some fiber which the alternative snacking choices (churro anyone?) lacked.

Rather not remember these, thanks
The Jungle Cruise beckoned from next to the mango stand. I have a complicated history with the Jungle Cruise. Being a Jungle Cruise skipper is my dream job and I am quite serious on that. You want to pay me to stand up there and tell really corny jokes with just enough self-knowledge to draw the guests in and make them enjoy their eight minutes? Yeah, I think I can do that. Heck, it's basically what I do now when lecturing except minus the political science, and I think everyone wins from that exchange.

Every time I go on the Jungle Cruise I can't stop myself from judging the skipper's performance, which is not exactly fair. Today's skipper, who even shared my name, was off his game. That's being nice about it. I'm guessing he was relatively new as he even managed to screw up some of the really basic jokes (I don't think I've ever seen anyone mess up on Schwitzer Falls). I felt bad for him.

Now that's my humor!

 I spent the next hour or so taking photos and enjoying the ambiance of New Orleans Square. It kills me that there's no New Orleans Square in Orlando. I've read the justification - Disney worried that with the real New Orleans so close to Orlando it wouldn't be as appreciated - but it's easily my favorite part of any Disney park that I've yet been to.

Here's a picture of the Club 33 sign. If you have no clue what Club 33 is, feel free to google it. About a day before I left they announced that they were opening the waiting list for memberships back up again and I sent my fax in. I had the pleasure of going in there last year as a friend-of-a-sister-of-a-friend is a member. I loved it and hope to someday go back.

Maybe if I ring the bell often enough they'll let me in?
 It was just about lunch time. That meant a trip to Cafe Orleans. Cafe Orleans is my absolute favorite restaurant. Not just in Disneyland or at a Disney park, but period. I tried to talk my friend Jaime into taking a side trip from Vegas to Disneyland just so I could have these fries (sorry Jaime - the truth finally comes out!). If I somehow found myself in a Kafkaesque world where I was on death row, Cafe Orleans would be my final meal on this earth and I'd die happy.

Here is a photo of some food. I'm not going to even describe it because thinking about how long I will have to go before having it again is making me die a little inside. Damn you all for that.
The actual happiest place on earth


Oh god oh god oh god so good

Not really beignets but are you complaining about donuts?

Posted without further comment
 The afternoon was spent wandering Downtown Disney with two of my good friends who live in the area. We spent an hour or so enjoying the Hearth Stone Lounge in the Grand Californian Hotel. We then made our way through Downtown Disney to the House of Blues. Finally we returned to the Grand Californian for one of the culinary highlights of the trip: the chef's counter at Napa Rose.

We started dinner in the bar area while we waited for the restaurant to open. For the many of you reading this who have never met me, I am not a huge drinker. There are all sort of good reasons for that (hmm, that does make me sound a bit of a recovering alcoholic - I'll leave it a mystery), but I've decided to relax it a bit on this trip not least because there will be a few opportunities to drink things that I'd never otherwise be able to have and to do so on someone else's dime.

I decided to start the meal with a glass of wine. I was raised on soda and so I basically only drink things that are sweet (well, at this point it's all diet soda, but that is at least artificially sweetened). When people offer me a sweet wine I have to explain to them that to my abysmally unrefined alcoholic palette, Mr. Pibb is sweet and anything short of Manischewitz isn't rising to that standard. About the only wine I enjoy is ice wine.

Thinking I would be sophisticated, I ordered a glass of ice wine. Lesson learned: look at the wine list first. Let's just say that I paid more for that glass of wine than I am likely to spend on the rest of my booze this trip combined. On the bright side it was absolutely delicious and if I could get it for a quarter of the price I'd have a serious drinking problem.

Dinner was fantastic. I've done the chef's counter before at Napa Rose and came away even more impressed this time. The restaurant features an open kitchen with twelve seats broken into three separate counters. The vast majority of the restaurant's customers sit in the regular dining area, but up to 24 people a night (12 seats X 2 seatings) can sit at the chef's counter and watch the kitchen in action. Seeing as how the chef's counter costs nothing extra and you can order the exact same things as you can in the rest of the restaurant, I can't understand why anyone wouldn't sit there. Plus sitting at the counter allows you the option to order something that isn't on the regular menu: the chef's tasting menu. Basically you fork over a small handful of cash and the chef makes whatever the heck he or she feels like for you.

As soon as I knew I was starting my trip in Disneyland, I invited my friends Jesse and Sam to join me at the chef's counter. Unfortunately the two main counters were booked at 5:30 and considering my history with not being able to adjust to time zone changes, the 8:30 seating was going to be a disaster. Thankfully they did have some seats at the pastry chef counter and that ended up being a blessing in disguise as our conversation during the night frequently veered into risqué topics that would likely have gotten us a few stares had we been sitting at a more central location.

Once we were seated the waiter came over to take our orders. All three of us decided to leave our fates in the hand of the chef. Chef Francisco (hoping I got his name right - I did a horrible job of documenting the dinner) introduced himself to us and asked if we had any allergies or preferences. We were not a picky lot and he rewarded our open-mindedness.

Unfortunately the photos came out really poorly and my complete lack of documentation on the food means I am going to pass on uploading those. Suffice to say the chef wowed us with his abilities. He served each of us something different for every course. We decided to share, meaning that we each got to try fifteen different dishes instead of five. The highlight for me came during dessert. We'd spent the night watching the pastry chef put together these awesome plastic treasure chests for boys and girls celebrating their birthdays at the restaurant. Fairly early on my desire for a pink treasure chest became a running joke among the three of us and when I asked tongue-in-cheek for one as part of my dessert I definitely did not expect to receive one. Let's just say that it's my new prized possession and it's coming around the world with me :D

After dinner I said goodbye to my friends. Hopefully I can lure them to Florida with the promise of an even more spectacular feast at Victoria and Alberts. We shall see. I then returned to the hotel room, watched the fireworks from bed, and shortly thereafter collapsed, grateful to be getting some much-needed rest.
The Precioussssss


  1. Amazing Report Gooner,

    I felt like I was there ! I can't wait to read the rest. Have an amazing time.

    I did google 'Club 33' and at 25K initiation + 10K per year in dues, not including meals, that's a lot of money. Perhaps you should buy a small store on Mainstreet instead and you can live there ;-)


  2. Hah - I thought individual memberships were a bit cheaper. That's too rich for my blood! I wouldn't mind living on Main St. USA though, possibly in the store that used to house the Wizard of Bras Intimate Apparel Shop ;)

  3. Sounds wonderful....making me hungry reading it. Love the hidden mickey found in Mr. Toad, great fun fact.

  4. If they ever build a Cafe Orleans in Orlando, I'm taking you and the family and we're going to town on those fries!