Just Published: Theme Park Insider: 2016 Year in Review
The Grand Pacific Palisades wants us out by 10 a.m., so Laurie and I used our best passive aggressive tricks to get the other to dress the kids and pack while we slept in. In the end, we both slumbered too long and raced to shower, dress and pack in the few minutes we had remaining before check out.
My parents drove ahead to Anaheim, where we would stay in adjoining rooms at Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel that night. They'd try to get into the room early, while the rest of us joined them for a late lunch. Laurie and I each had a car, thanks to Laurie's late arrival, but we'd both driven this stretch between San Diego and Orange County so often that there was no need to stick close on the drive. Laurie caffeinated at the Carlsbad outlet mall Starbucks and we picked up some sunglasses for the kids before finally getting on our way.
While getting to Anaheim was easy, I'd forgotten that Laurie hadn't much experience actually getting into the right parking lot at Disneyland itself. So she blew nearly an hour circling the resort, trying to find the correct road for the Paradise Pier, while I flew off the highway straight into the Pier's rather sad little parking garage.
Strike one against the Paradise Pier. The parking garage. In every decent hotel with a garage, you can wheel your luggage onto an elevator and straight into the hotel. Not here. You have to drag your luggage down a staircase and across the drive to get into the hotel.
Where... we encounter Strike Two. Construction. Again. Every time I've visited this hotel over the past three years, it's been under renovation. Today, the stairs to the second floor were closed, and the lobby and coffee bar were behind construction walls. Crews were to be found throughout the building as well, working on everything from plumbing to elevators. Last time we stayed here, the power went out. This time, we were informed that the water was to be shut off the next morning at 10 a.m.
Excuse me, I thought this was a Disney hotel?
Anyway, we track down my folks and together walk over to Downtown Disney for a bite before hitting the parks. We try Napalino, the new counter service sibling to Naples and enjoy a few cheesy slices of pizza. For a change, Brian eschews the ketchup hot dog for a slice of pepperoni.
My mother still had a few complimentary one-day park-hoppers from her days as a cast member in Celebration, Fla., so we try to use those to get everyone else into the park. (I have an annual pass.) Allow me to rant once again about Disneyland's ridiculous ticket policy, where park-hoppers expire two weeks after their first use, whether you've used all the days or not. This forces locals into buying annual passes if they want to park-hop on a one-day visit. The predictable result? Visiting Disneyland becomes a chore, instead of a joy, as passholders scramble to visit the park often enough to justify the cost of an annual pass. Or, disappointment as those who bought cheaper, restricted passes find the days they want to come blacked out. C'mon cast members, whom would you rather see in the park? Grumpy annual passholders trying to get their money's worth, or happy four-day ticket holders enjoying one of their days as a unique treat?
In our case, we just don't go to Disneyland that often, as I don't want to deal with blackout days, and I can't justify the full adult price for Premium AP for my kids. (That's right, there's no child's annual pass at Disneyland.)
Getting off the rant and back to the trip report, Disney's decision to fight ticket piracy by making employee comps unmarked slips of coded paper comes back to haunt us at the front gate ticket-taker has no idea what we are presenting her. (Disney World veterans should note that there is no cast entry gate at Disneyland, either.) So we wait for 10 minutes as various hosts, leads and supervisors huddle in an attempt to figure it out. Finally, someone decides to just scan the tickets and see what happens, and sure enough, we're in.
Not that this is the first time I've been party to causing a scene at Disneyland's front gate with Florida employee comps. About six years ago, I used the last comp tickets I'd earned working at Disney World between 1987 and 1991 -- from back when comps were fancy illustrated tickets, without magnetic strips. Then, the ticket taker had to call over her lead and several others, not to verify the ticket, but just to gawk at the ancient relic.
Our goal was to see the new Snow White musical, then do whatever else we could accomplish before our 6 p.m. reservation at Catal. The newly painted Main Street looks great, and I commend whoever decided to cut down the olive trees and prune back the vegetation on the hub. Visitors finally can see the castle from Town Square once again! (Now, if Disney would just reopen that castle, I'd have one very happy six-year-old daughter to stop by City Hall with a rave review.)
Despite the spring break, the crowds at Disney did not seem too overwhelming. Most attractions had auxiliary queue up, but there were few bottlenecks, and the crowds moved around the area smoothly.
Until... we got to the Snow White theater. There, two hapless cast members stood by passively as the exiting crowd mashed together with a swarm of guests trying to find where to queue up for the next show. Too bad attractions didn't choose to direct the queue to the west, away from the theater's exit, allowing folks to line up for the next show while not blocking the exit or splitting the queue.
Did I say "choose?" Maybe I shouldn't, because standing there to the west, right where the Snow White queue ought to be, are two outdoor vending merchadise stands. And Lord knows, nothing can displace Disney ODV.
Let me state here for the record: ODV must die. Disney's used ODV as a way to expand merchandise and food locations without going through Imagineering for design work. Carts and stands are cheaper than new storefronts, too. But with FastPass already removing people from queues to put them out on the street, extra ODV stands further jam Disneyland'd already narrow walkways. Imagineering is (or used to be) the best in the business for designing walkways that allowed foot traffic to flow efficiently. Let's kill ODV, bring in Imagineering to design extra shops and food counters to take their place, and once again enjoy a Disneyland that looks like Disneyland rather than a cheap county fair.
(I've reviewed Snow White in a seperate post.)
After the show, we snaked through the departing crowd and grabbed seats on the Carousel for Brian and Natalie. They loved the ride, as always, and we appreciated the relatively short wait compared with the other Fantasyland attractions. By then, the kids were hungry again, and I was homesick for the west side, so we walked over to Frontierland.
The kids tried the new Big Thunder Ranch petting zoo, and had an okay time with the goats and horse. But five minutes later, they'd seen all there was to see here. As we walked by Thunder, I noted to myself that despite the rather long line, the ride seemed to be in two-train timing, which seemed rather odd. I figured they must be coming up from a downtime, since I didn't learn until checking the site that evening the Thunder operators actually had wrecked the ride's other trains. Oops.
My dad wanted a mint julep. I offered to pour some of Listerine over ice back at the hotel instead, but he passed. So I threaded our way through New Orleans Square back to the hidden Mint Julep Window across from the train station. Dad got his iced mouthwash, er, julep, and the kids split a chocolate chip cookie. (Which is not on the menu, by the way. But, hey, it's California. Everyone orders off the menu anyway. Even at Disneyland.)
By the time we waited for a spot on the train, and made our trip around the park, it was quarter-'til, and we needed to get to Catal. We met my Dad's father, brother and sister-in-law, who'd driven over from Huntington Beach for a mini family reunion. This was the first time we'd seen my grandfather since my grandmother passed away last year, so we welcomed the chance to visit for a bit. (Okay, lemme back up and clarify here. My grandfather lives in Florida, close to my parents, but he was visiting my uncle in Huntington Beach for the month. Is everyone confused yet? Good. Let's proceed.)
Skipping the boring (to y'all, not to us) family chit-chat, I had the paella and all the other adults had the steak. Natalie stared at some chicken nuggets and Brian had the... yep, you guessed it. The paella was a little light on the seafood for a Paella Valencia, but otherwise flavorful. Everyone else seemed to like their steaks. I'd rate this my third favorite restaurant in Downtown Disney, behind the Jazz Kitchen and Naples.
After much visiting, we said goodbye to my grandfather, uncle and aunt and headed back to the Paradise Pier. The kids watched the Electrical Parade and fireworks from the window, while listening to the music via the room's TV. This arrangement provides a very nice way to cap off the day, while still getting the kids into their jammies and into bed at a somewhat reasonable hour. It almost, almost makes up for the other hassles from staying at the Paradise Pier.
Why almost? Well, the next morning, as we hustled to get ready and check out before losing the water, we got Strike Three. The elevators didn't work. So we joined with everyone else on our floor in hauling luggage down the stairwell, or queuing up for the one working service elevator. That's it. Between the ongoing construction hassles, the broken utilities, lack of amenities and lack of working elevators, I'm through with this hotel. If you've booked the Paradise Pier this year, call Disney and switch to the Grand California (which is a delightful hotel worth every penny). And if you can't, cancel and stay off-site.
Don't miss the Snow White show if you visit Disneyland this year. And please, refuse to buy anything from those darned outdoor carts, simply to send a message to Disney management. The Grand Californian is a wonderful hotel (we enjoyed breakfast the next morning at the Storyteller's Cafe) and your only choice if you must stay on-property at Disney. We love simply sitting in the hotel's lobby, the kids listening to a storyteller by the fire, and us chatting the time away. Avoid the Paradise Pier hotel at all costs.
Brian rode home to Pasadena with me, which was fortunate for my car's interior, as five days of excitement and junk food caught up with Natalie, leading to a rather fragrant protein spill in Laurie's car on the 5 northbound. This keeps alive at three the streak of consecutive visits to Disneyland with the grandparents resulting in someone tossing cookies. At Disney World, someone in the family inevitably comes down with a 103+ degree fever instead. Gotta love family traditions.
After finding a half-hour wait for the breakfast with Minnie Mouse at the Pacific, we walked over to the Grand Californian with the intention of continuing through to the La Brea Bakery if we couldn't get seats at the Storytellers' Cafe. Fortunately, we had just a five-minute wait.
Feeling pretty stuffed from all the eating out over the past five days, we skipped the $19.95 breakfast buffet in favor of entrees. Laurie and I each had the Eggs Benedict, Brian had the Mickey Mini-Waffles and Natalie ordered off the menu to get pancakes (which for some silly reason are not on the kids' menu.)
I was a little surprised that the pancakes ended up being the traditional round style, rather than Mickey shaped. But I suspect that was the case since they likely just came off the buffet, rather than being a regular kids' menu item.
But the food was delicious, the eggs coming with potatoes and grilled aspargus that, honestly, wasn't as good as the spears at Legoland.
Brian enjoys playing hide-n-seek with Dale before we sat down, and the kids got a picture with Pluto on our way out. It struck me as odd that the characters hung around the front door, rather than circulating through the room, but, oh well.
Can't speak to the breakfasts at the Pacific or the Disneyland Hotel, but the breakfast at the Storytellers' Cafe, like everything else at the Grand Californian, is well worth a visit.
Embassy Suites has to be some of the best hotels - if not the best!
C'mon free breakfast in the morning...can't be that!!!!
Trip reports provide folks the opportunity to share their experiences, so that everyone who reads them has more information with which to make decisions such as "where should we stay?"
It's a bit pointless to tell someone that they should have stayed elsewhere once the trip is over. But a report of that experience can help others to avoid the place in the future.
As for the rest of the stay, well, it is all in the report. :-) Next time, I'm lobbying hard for the Grand Californian!
Just a quick story---we arrived on June 10, 2004. Upon check-in, we asked the reservation clerk where the best place to see the fireworks was in the hotel (hoping there was some new place other than that mentioned in this trip report). Apparently not. This person told us the best place was indeed by the pool. I asked if there might be a better place around downtown Disney. (I had actually seen them from the freeway the week before---but I was looking for something a little safer!) Anyway, the clerk told me I should check with a Disney castmember. (Hmmm, and you work here?) Eventually we found the place. Waited, waited, waited. No fireworks. (Now my relatives think I'm nuts.) Went back to our rooms, called down to the front desk and asked if there were any fireworks that night. The SAME person who helped us check-in, I'm positive, told me there were no fireworks that night!!!! Hysterical.
Further, the elevator situation was a nightmare. Did they work? We didn't think so. We found the back stairs and kept the door propped open for our return in and out of the hotel--down to the pool, etc.
Parking was a nightmare too. Lost a great parking spot because the bellhops were not permitted to take luggage to any cars parked on the upper levels (and we couldn't take the cart apparently). I can't tell you where we had to re-park the car so we could finish our trip at the Disney Hotel pool (it was really far away). (In hindsight we should have stored the luggage with the bellhops until we were ready to leave--but . . . .)
(Ok, one more!) The character breakfast at the hotel was fantastic. The characters had a lot of fun with the guests. They also put on a show--encouraged all the kids to dance and play with them. The younger kids in our group loved it. (Well, we all had fun.) The food was good, nice buffet, fresh omlettes, the works. Pricey, ($20.00 per?) but for Disney? Typical.
(In-state relatives, including myself, stay at Howard Johnson on Harbor. Great price, great amenities, great location.)
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