Saturday, May 15, 2010

GRR.... California Adventure

I mentioned in an earlier post on our most recent vacation / learning adventure) that we are not exactly gated community kind of people. Well, we are also not exactly Disney people either. I'll admit that their princess style story lines have gotten slightly better over the years with less of the weak "Oh, please save the day so we can live happily ever after" type female characters, but still, my kids aren't exactly growing up watching all their movies and dreaming about being a princess.
We aren't big theme park people either, as large crowds and long lines tend to annoy me, especially since I've had kids. I had been to Disneyland a number of times in my pre-child life while going to college in Southern California, and it always amused me how many wanky, cranky, tired children were throwing fits at "the Happiest Place on Earth" while their frustrated parents who had just spent a fortune drug them by the arm to go on yet another ride hissing "We're having fun here whether you like or not, so stop your crying right this minute and get in that darn giant teacup!"
But, I don't want my natural cynicism of things to mean that my children never get to experience these foundations of American culture, so I took them to the original Disneyland once a few years ago. We had a whole lot of fun that day, although none of us wanted to take on the multi-day, multi-park, breakfast with the characters Disney vacation marathon that costs as much as college tuition and some people feel is what the Disneyland experience is all about. One day, one park was about all I could do.

This year though, I thought Disney did an incredible thing  with the "Give a Day, Get a Day" program. Volunteers could give a day of service to an approved charity, and in exchange, get a voucher for a 1 day pass at a Disney theme park. It's a great situation where everyone involved wins- Disney gets a tax write off, a million people get to spend a day in a park that would normally cost them about $75 a pop, and the charities get a whole lot of volunteer help that they probably wouldn't have otherwise. I think three months into the promotion, they had already given out a million tickets .
Well, this was a great opportunity for our family. I'm a big fan of both giving back to the community, and free fun. So, we signed up, spent a morning giving away food at our local homeless mission and got a chance to experience Disneyland again. The food give away was an experience in itself which deserves it own post, and I'll have to write about it later.

For our theme park, this time we wanted to try out the California Adventure Park next door to the original Disneyland. My kids are totally into roller coasters, so we checked out the website to find the best rides and attractions ahead of time. There was no way to avoid being at the park for one of the "High School Musical" parades, but we always enjoy new things to make fun of, so that was fine.  Unfortunately, a few things that looked fun online were closed when we got there, but we all agreed that "California Screamin" was one of, if not the best roller coaster we've been on. It was smooth (as opposed to the ones that jerk your neck and spine in rough ways and opposing directions) and had lots of crazy spins, turns and loops. It was super fun, especially the rapid take off. Our other favorite was the water raft ride "Grizzly River Rapids" (also known as GRR, which ended up being quite appropriate later that day) Since it was fairly hot, getting wet was a blessing we happily appreciated. By the end of the day though, our appreciation of refreshing wetness waned, but I'll get to that later.

Every ride had an important safety sign to let people know that unbuckling your seat belt and trying to jump out of something traveling at high speeds and going upside down was a bad idea. No reading necessary for this important message. They also had a friendly recording playing that had a super sales guy voice and reminded in multiple languages "Parents, please watch your children."

My homeschooling mom mode kicked in at some point, and we had to check out the educational opportunities like the 5 minute Mission Tortilla Factory experience where you could learn about the history of tortillas and corn and watch them being made. We got a tasty tortilla hot off the press at the end. We probably should have stopped by there before buying $50 worth of miniature taco salads for lunch, but oh well.
We also did the sourdough bread bakery, and sampled some of the the most delicious, warm, chewy sourdough bread I've ever encountered. Our delight was spoiled though when my husband noticed the sample server was fondling the door handle (which is I'm sure one of top 10 germiest surfaces in the world) with his gloved hand, and reaching back into the bag to give unsuspecting people samples. I made the children spit / throw their samples out, and they were starting to sadly protest, until I pointed out that the server was now running his gloved fingers through his hair and then dialing his cell phone. At that point, we were all both disappointed and disgusted. We were really enjoying our bread up until that point, and then it not only ruined my sample, but also made me think about all the other food I had eaten that had been prepared by strangers that day. How could he not know that the gloves were supposed to be keeping the samples sanitary, and that by fondling every germ covered surface in reach he was defeating the whole purpose of the gloves?!?

Earlier that morning, I had laughed and said that the handy hand washing tips provided in every bathroom were one of the stupidest things I ever saw, because what idiot knows how to read, but not how to wash their hands. Well, Mr. Grubby Fingers and his bread samples helped me realize that maybe they need to add something on these signs about the fact that your hands, or hygienic gloves for that matter, are no longer clean once you start touching filthy things. Maybe picture directions would help too. So, on top of our little factory and baking lessons, we also got hygiene, food safety and common respect lessons as well. We truly are learning all the time.

Anyway, despite the fondling bread boy, one thing I have to say about Disney is that they really emphasize the service with a smile attitude with their employees. I didn't see anyone who worked for the park scowling- from the Princesses in the parade to the guy driving the shuttle bus to the parking lot, those people all had the friendly act down. That is a refreshing change from the attitudes you get with a lot of service people who don't rely on tips. All of those smiling faces were contagious, and really helped the mood when shuttles were late, and other annoyances happened.

We ended our Disneyland Day with what was kind of a big annoyance, but it was hard to get too mad with all those toothy grinned employees saying they were sorry for any inconvenience. We had less than an hour before the park closed, and really wanted to squeeze in a couple more rides, but we got stuck behind this musical Bug's Life parade full of singing, dancing, back flipping people with the most insanely over caffeinated huge smiles of all for about 20 minutes. It was a little scary for toddlers and me too. Just when we thought we could cross, one of the security people told us we had to wait. She had the Disney smile too, but she also had a look in her eye like "Don't even think about it lady." I thought she'd probably jump me if I tried running across between floats, and since seeing your parent be tackled to the ground by a smiling security guard at Disneyland may just cause emotional scarring, I waited it out.
When we were finally released to get past our mandatory entertainment, we ran like linebackers through the crowd to the Grizzly Rapids. There was hardly a line and we thought we were in luck. Despite the lack of line, the boarding seemed to take forever. When we got in and started floating, my son commented that he thought we were moving awfully slow. I thought it was just his perception because he knew we were running out of time, but soon we bumped into a stopped raft. A few minutes later, another raft bumped up behind us, and then another. We were right before a big drop- the thrill of the ride, and wondered why the employee wasn't opening the lever to let our rafts go.

Well, then she announced the "unexpected technical difficulty" and asked that we remain seated and buckled while they drained the ride so we we could be evacuated! We were wet, in the shade, and one of the kids really needed to use the restroom. We were good sports and waited- of course we had no choice on waiting, but we did choose the good sport part. My poor kid had to hold on for at least 20 minutes with the sound of water sloshing down drains the entire time, but thankfully made it. The interesting part was that we got to see the "Cast Members Only" behind the scenes view during our emergency exit.

We went under the man made mountain, and saw all the not so pretty gears and rusty parts and things that make the rides run. By the time we got out of there, the park was closed, so we were out of luck on taking one more spin on the roller coaster. My Boy Child was sure that the rusty parts were responsible for the breakdown, but apparently, there had been a power failure, and several other rides, including our beloved roller coaster, had stopped too. Surely it would have been more alarming to be stuck on a ride 100 feet in the air, and it probably would have ruined my admiration for the ride and given me new phobias, so it was probably best we got stuck where we did.

We laughed about our Disney dreams being dashed, made sad pathetic faces, and thought maybe they would give the kids a balloon or a sucker or at least a sticker for our troubles. They gave us big smiles and apologies, and pointed to the exit.
Regardless, we had a great time on this leg of our California Adventure.