This post is a mushy love letter to the folks at Disneyland, whose kind invitation to their annual #Halloween Time Media Day allows me to bask in all my Disney dreams… despite the fact that my child is no longer a little kid. I am living proof that you don’t have to be a kid or have young children to have a good time at a Disney park. You can even be a woman in your 50′s and have a great time there. It’s just that the experience becomes a little different.
This giant Jack o’Mickey greets visitors to Disneyland ‘s main park at Halloween Time. And every year, I take its picture.
My sister, Linda, is also a Disneyland devotee. She dropped everything this weekend and drove down here from Sacramento so she could enjoy the Halloween festivities with me.
“I really want to spend some time at California Adventure,” she told me. The last time we visited the Disney parks together, California Adventure was torn up for its $1.1 billion renovation, and she didn’t get to see much of it at all. It’s gorgeous now and better than ever. But she wanted to see that for herself.
As it turned out, the Media Day event included a reception in a “soundstage” on the Hollywood Backlot area of the park, so that was our first stop. On the way, Linda got her first glimpse of what a billion dollars buys you these days.
I took this photo last year, the first time I got to see the new Buena Vista Street entrance to California Adventure.
“This is beautiful,” she said as we wandered down Buena Vista Street, Disney Imagineering’s re-creation of Los Angeles circa 1923, the year a young Walt Disney arrived in Southern California. Buena Vista Street is very similar to the original park’s Main Street: It greets visitors by setting the stage for all the magic that’s to come, with period buildings, shops, restaurants and transportation (in this case, a replica of the old Red Cars, which criss-crossed the region and enabled residents to travel from one end of the city to the other).
Saturday was the final day for high school seniors applying to college to take the SAT, and so it was already past lunch time when we arrived at the Park and once we had checked out the reception, my daughter and her friend went off on their own, promising to check in with me by text every couple of hours. My friend Marsha (who blogs at Sweatpants Mom) joined us in a quest for something good to eat. Our first stop was the Carthay Circle, a restaurant designed to look exactly like the movie theater where Disney’s Snow White premiered in 1939. I remember seeing that theater, and also remember it being torn down in the late 60′s. This is probably the most elegant dining establishment inside either of the Disneyland parks — it is also tough to get a reservation on as busy a day as Saturday (I know — I tried to get one two weeks ago and the only available time for dinner was 4:00 PM).
So I suggested we mosey over to the Wine Country Trattoria, where I’ve always had good luck being seated. I had tried to take my sister here on her ill-fated previous visit to California Adventure, and we simply could not find the entrance behind all the construction. We were ushered to a table right away, and that’s where we made our first California Adventure discovery: There were cocktails on the menu. Now, California Adventure has always differed from the original Disneyland Park by selling wine and beer… but it you wanted a real mojito or martini, you still had to go to one of the hotels or Downtown Disney.
“Do you really have a full bar here?” Marsha asked. Our waitress assured us they did, and in the spirit of “if you build it they will come,” she ordered a margarita with her lunch. I toyed with the idea of having a cocktail and decided I might fare better on a hot afternoon with something a little lighter, so Linda and I each had a glass of white wine. Either way, we decided that feeling free to order a drink was a major benefit of enjoying Disneyland without our kids.
Yes, when bloggers get together for lunch it is totally normal for them to Instagram their drinks.
With lunch out of the way, it was time to explore the Parks. Our first stop — as always — was Space Mountain, my all-time favorite Disneyland ride, which adds a fiery ghost for Halloween excitement this time of year. For the few of you reading this who do not know, Space Mountain is a high-speed, high-tech thrill ride — the kind of attraction women our age are thought to avoid. And I will be honest: I am not as hardy as I used to be, especially when it comes to things like motion sickness. That’s one reason why I stay away from the Tower of Terror attraction at California Adventure. I think it’s a great ride — but the only time I tried it, I thought it was going to give me a heart attack. (My daughter, however, loves it and rode it twice on this visit.)
“Uh, maybe this isn’t such a great idea right after lunch,” Linda noted as we climbed into our “rocket.” By that time, it was too late. Thankfully, we made it through the ride with no ill effect, and later rode the California Screamin’ roller coaster, complete with 360-degree loop. What can I say? We may be middle-aged but we’ve still got it.
From there, we journeyed to the other side of the Park, past Frontierland and New Orleans Square to the Haunted Mansion. I was fortunate on a previous Disney excursion to enjoy this ride beside Disney’s Michele Himmelberg, who offered up lots of background on this most appropriate Halloween time attraction. I love how they pay tribute each holiday season to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Michele is the one who told me that the huge cake in the ride’s party scene is made of real gingerbread, baked by the Park’s pastry chef — and each year, he whips up something different. (This year it’s a Skellington-themed Advent Calendar.)
We did a few more rides in both parks and a bit of shopping before we met Marsha back for dinner at Catal’s UVA Bar in Downtown Disney, which is becoming a part of our new Disneyland tradition (this is my third year dining at either Catal restaurant or UVO). And this time, I did opt for an actual cocktail because the menu offerings all sounded yummy. (And they were.)
We finished by watching the spectacular Halloween fireworks show. This is another feature that is all-new every year: The one thing you can expect is that you will walk away saying it was the best fireworks you’ve ever seen.
The Park started to empty out after the fireworks, and we toyed with the idea of getting on at least one more ride. But my daughter and her friend put the kibosh on that plan: We found them sitting on a bench and looking really sleepy. They were tired and wanted to go home.
HAH! Score another one for the middle-aged moms, who were still up for more Disney fun. Then again, by the time we hit the freeway, we realized the girls’ wisdom in exiting when we did. We were tired, too. The Fitbit I wear reported that all in all, we had walked over six miles.
“You know, it really isn’t possible to do all of Disneyland in one day any longer,” my sister remarked.
She’s right. There is so much more to see than there was when we were kids, and the wait times for the “E-ticket” rides seem even longer. I’ve gotten used to leaving the Park still wanting more — which isn’t bad for an attraction that’s thought of as just a children’s place. I guess it just goes to show you that some kids never grow up.
DISCLOSURE: I received four park-hopper tickets from Disney to visit the park during their Family Media Day event, so I could experience this year’s Halloween Time. I was not compensated to do so and all opinions are my own. The print and broadcast media who were also invited don’t have to offer one of these disclosures — just those of us publishing on the Internet.
That old Frank Sinatra tune has been playing in my head since I landed at O’Hare Tuesday night — which is not really a bad thing. (It could be worse, right? Like a Justin Bieber ear worm?)
How can you help singing when the view from your hotel window looks like this?
There’s no shame in being a total tourist when visiting a new city, and I had hoped to get some big time sightseeing in yesterday, but that was not to be. Between the MOMocrats’ regularly scheduled Wednesday podcast and my sister’s business dealings, we were unable to meander too far away from our temporary home at the Chicago Sheraton and Towers.
Fortunately, we’re in a prime location, with easy walking to the Magnificent Mile — fabulous shopping and restaurants on Michigan Avenue, not to mention the absolutely gorgeous buildings I was clued in to by friends who have lived here.
My sister had already been here for several days, having attended another convention that concluded just as BlogHer was starting. So she already knew where we were going to have lunch: a trendy, noisy, foodie spot called the Purple Pig.
It was an excellent choice: We each had salads (hers was a classic wedge with slices of heirloom tomatoes; mine a stack of heirloom carrots, shaved fennel and avocado) and split a dish made of fresh peas, mint and bacon. Not quite vegetarian, but light, fresh and delicious.
Of course, as this was the eve of BlogHer, there were plenty of old friends to catch up with in the hotel lobby. On top of that, the hotel held a happy hour event called Sheraton Social Hour: A Taste of Chicago, co-hosted by Wine Spectator magazine. This was basically an all-you-can-drink buffet of truly excellent Oregon and Washington state wines, paired with yummy appetizers.
This had the effect of loosening people up, and even though I’m naturally kind of reticent and shy with crowds of new people, we found ourselves making new blogging friends — which is what this event is all about
Today, I will be learning some new photo and video-making tricks at the BlogHer Viewfinder event. I have always done some form of live blogging here and will likely attempt that again (despite the challenges of my iPad’s virtual keyboard). I’ll keep you posted.
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Dec. 1991: Upon landing at Heathrow, we took the Tube so I could get my first glimpse of Buckingham Palace before going on to Wales.
I recently became a member of the Generation Fabulous group of midlife bloggers, which runs a monthly bloghop. This month’s topic is “Transformative Travel.”
I rarely went anywhere in my 20s and early 30s. I was too focused then on trying to stay employed in the entertainment industry… and looking for love in all the wrong places.
And then: I finally found it, with someone who was here on a student visa. And a few years later, I found myself on a plane to London so I could meet his family.
It was Christmas, and as a lifelong Californian, I expected to be cold. That frightened me.
“I’m kind of a hothouse flower,” I reminded him.
But you know what? Weather conditions that would keep me indoors here in Los Angeles didn’t phase me in the United Kingdom. OK, there was that one outing on the top of Caerphilly Mountain that brought tears to my eyes that I swore at the time were frozen — but I discovered that I could handle freezing temperatures, rainy weather and cold, blustery wind just fine… so long as I was experiencing them anywhere but California.
Dec. 1991: The Norman Keep and me. At Cardiff Castle.
That trip taught me a few other lessons:
- That my American accent was just as incomprehensible to my future in-laws as theirs was to me.
- That the United States and Britain are indeed two countries separated by a common language. (Helpful tip: Do not put “salad cream” on your salad — unless you want said salad to taste like cole slaw.)
- That socialized medicine is a beautiful thing in action. (Both of my husband’s parents ended up in the hospital – for separate ailments – over my two weeks in Britain on that first trip. And the care they received was impressive. With no scary bills to pay.)
- That I love to travel.
I love seeing new places, trying new foods, learning new histories, taking photographs (prior to that trip, I did not even own a camera). And as the years have passed and we married and became a family, this love is something we shared with our daughter. She made her first trip to meet her British grandparents when she was just four months old and we visited as often as our budget would allow — until the economy crashed. By then, my father-in-law had passed away. We could have saved a lot of money by staying home, but I’m proud that our girl has a relationship with her cousins and wonderful memories of her grandpa.
She has also been to big cities like New York and Paris and natural wonders like Yosemite and Alaska’s Glacier Park. And I know she won’t wait until her mid-thirties to get out of her comfort zone and see the world outside Los Angeles. Because we are a family of travelers.
Read the rest of the BlogHop Entries at Generation Fabulous:
It started in January 2012, when my sister forwarded me a Groupon: $165 for a two-night stay in an ocean view room in Mendocino, plus a bottle of wine.
“This is a great deal,” my sister said. “We should do it.” She did not have to do a lot to talk my husband into it. We bought the Groupon and set about trying to find a date that would work for the four of us. The problem is that the coastal town of Mendocino is a four-hour drive from my sister’s home in the Sacramento area — which is a six-hour drive from our house. This would make it tough to do over a weekend. We needed to identify a school holiday and then arrange for my husband to take a couple of days off work to accommodate the travel time.
We decided on the first weekend of Spring Break. But a funny thing happened on our way up to Sacramento in March of 2012: my niece got home from school feeling sick, and her parents did not feel comfortable leaving her home alone (albeit with her cousin and older siblings). My sister suggested that Gareth and I go alone — but we did not want to do that, either.
So we re-scheduled for the next holiday on the calendar where all the pieces might fall into place for a getaway: Thanksgiving Weekend. But by the time November rolled around, we realized that this was not going to work, either: Linda always hosts a huge dinner with lots of guests, and we were not the only ones coming in from out of town. There was no way to graciously leave town the next day. So we rescheduled again — for Spring Break of this year…
…and once again, we found ourselves unable to make it.
By this time, we had lost the “deal” part of our Groupon: We each had our $165 on account, which we could redeem whenever we actually showed up to stay. We reduced our time from two nights to one at $200 per night. So by the time we actually got in the car and made the drive to Mendocino, we were determined to make sure our money did not go to waste. We were also pretty sure that the staff had started a pool to bet on whether or not we’d actually show up this time.
I was relieved not to be greeted with sarcasm upon check-in. In fact, everyone we met at the Hill House Inn was friendly and pleasant. Our rooms were spacious and clean. The furnishings were a little bit dated (which you can get away with in a historic hotel) and the televisions were older models — but we had free wi-fi, which I really appreciated since my phone didn’t work so well up there.
And as my sister had promised, the town of Mendocino is absolutely charming:
My youngest niece graduated from high school last week, and so we packed up our things and drove up to Sacramento to celebrate — just as we did when her older brother and sister reached that milestone.
But this year, we did something different: we stayed a while. My sister and I have been trying to arrange a couples’ trip up to Mendocino for the longest time, but between the restraints of work and school, it’s been hard to coordinate. With the start of summer and all of us in the same place, we were finally able to make that happen.
And as it’s just silly to rush back home so you can get back to work mid-week, we extended our holiday until Friday, and made a pit stop in one of our state’s natural wonders: Yosemite National Park.
It was our first real vacation – not just an extended weekend – in three years.
As you all know, I’m not the outdoors type – but I still found plenty of ways to enjoy the beauty of Yosemite, including a morning art class that had me wielding a paintbrush for the first time since I was a kid. The resulting watercolor wasn’t great – but it didn’t totally suck, either. And I got in touch with a part of myself that’s been dormant for a long, long time.
My first attempt at painting in something like 40 years.
In fact, I think just the fact of being on vacation – without the usual workday stress – allowed each of us to be our authentic selves again. You know, the people we were before we became parents and homeowners and had to act like responsible adults. For one week, we were relaxed. For one week, we weren’t bickering with one another. For one week, I felt at peace.
Now that I am back, I am trying to figure out how to hold on to that authentic self I got to meet again while on vacation. I may make some time to do more painting, if only for myself.
And start planning my next vacation. Hopefully, I won’t have to wait as long.
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Los Angeles International Airport (LAX/KLAX), Westchester, Los Angeles, California, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’m back from my business travel to Denver.
I was one of the unfortunate souls who were supposed to fly yesterday on American Airlines.
I arrived at a terminal that was in chaos:
I was one of the lucky ones. I only had to wait about twenty minutes before the computer system went back online. I checked myself in to my 3:25 pm flight and stood in line to get my back checked.
Unfortunately, the system was busy printing out bag tags for hundreds of other people who had checked in prior to the system outage. And most of those people were on a Dallas-Fort Worth flight that had already been canceled. People were not happy. I decided that getting angry at the situation would not help.
Air travel these days requires patience, I told myself. And a sense of humor. After what happened in Boston on Monday, I expected security delays at the airports. Boston was a tragedy. This was just a nuisance. I stayed calm.
“Your flight to LAX is still on,” I was assured by the poor ticket clerk who was dealing alone with angry passengers and the backlog of luggage tags.
My own tag eventually spooled out of the printer. He placed it on my bag and instructed me to put it on the belt and I headed downstairs to the TSA checkpoint.
According to my boarding pass, I had just 10 minutes to get to my gate. I wasn’t going to make it. But I figured I wasn’t the only one, so I stayed fairly calm (mostly fixating on the fact that I was hungry and wouldn’t have time to grab any lunch before my flight). By the time I got to the gate, it was 10 minutes past my scheduled flight — which was OK, because it had been delayed until 5:00 (I was trying so hard to get there on time that I didn’t think to stop and check the flight schedule board).
So now, I had time for lunch. Hooray. I bought a sandwich, found a seat near the gate and settled in.
There was a long line of people at my gate. I wondered if there was some kind of additional check-in procedure for this flight. I asked one of the women in the queue. “We’re all trying to reschedule our flight to Dallas from this morning,” she told me. She had a toddler with her. They were not happy campers. I felt bad for them and grateful that my flight was merely delayed a couple of hours.
Five o’clock came and went. I stayed calm.
At 5:15, the airline announced that our plane had arrived. “We just need to get these passengers off, clean it out and then we’ll get you all to Los Angeles,” they said.
At 6:00 they let us know that they were waiting for one more member of the flight crew to arrive.
I texted my husband and daughter updates on my flight status. My original plan — when I was landing in the middle of rush hour — was to take the Flyaway and get picked up by one of them in Van Nuys around 6:00. Now that I’ll be landing around 8:00, I might be able to get my husband to pick me up at LAX, I thought.
Twenty minutes later, a notification from my Tripcase app flashed on my iPad. It said that my flight was now canceled, but the info board at the gate listed it as going out at 6:30. I got into the line behind the last two remaining Dallas folks — and was in position when American finally announced that my LAX flight was canceled.
“We can get you on a United flight that’s going out at 10:00,” the airline rep said. That meant I wouldn’t get back home until after midnight. Not ideal, but I was happy to take it. By now, all I wanted was to get home. There was just one problem.
“I checked my luggage. Do I need to go somewhere to get it?”
“No, we will move it over to United for you. You just need to check in to your flight over there,” she said. She handed me a meal voucher and my original boarding pass from American. The receipt from my luggage tag was stuck to the back of it. “You’ll need this to get your bag,” she said.
At the United desk, I asked again about my checked luggage. “Is it going to make it on to the plane?” I asked. I was assured that it would.
You know how this story ends, don’t you? The flight to LAX went smoothly and arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I made my way to baggage claim, where a clerk was arranging bags from another flight.
“Are these the ones from Denver?” I asked.
She told me I had to wait.
So I waited.
I was nodding off against a column when she called me. “Are you waiting for someone from Denver?” she asked.
I told her I was on the flight from Denver and was waiting for my bag. She shook her head. “I thought you were waiting for a passenger,” she said. “We got all the bags from that flight. We’re done.” She looked at my tag from American.
“Your bag is not lost,” she said.
I was tired. I wanted to cry. “It’s not here, so it kind of is,” I whined.
“The problem is, because the computers were down, your bag never got scanned. It has to be matched with your name manually. It’s probably still with American. You can either make a claim to have it traced here, or go over there to look for it.”
It was now 12:30 in the morning and the last thing I wanted to do was march across LAX to the American terminal. Besides, if I wasn’t able to fly to LAX on my canceled American flight, how could my bag have made it here?
I made the claim at United. “They’ll find your bag and deliver it to your house tomorrow,” she assured me. “And you can trace it on our website here.”
As of this writing, it is nearly lunchtime. And so far, the United website is reporting that “the tracing process is continuing” and I should check back later.
I wish this was the end of my pitiful tale — but it’s not. While I was eating my dinner alone in the United terminal last night, I arranged for Super Shuttle to take me home. The van I ordered did not arrive until nearly 1:00 A.M. And on the ride, I noticed that my battery was running low. I turned the phone off and placed it back in my computer bag. Or so I thought. Because once I was finally home and had access to a charger, I could not find it.
One of the traits I really hate in myself is absent mindedness. It gets worse when I’m tired, as I was last night. I waste a lot of time trying to locate things I’ve misplaced. I spent an hour this morning trying to reach Super Shuttle’s Lost and Found.
So far, my phone is in the same boat as my lost luggage.
At least, I made it home all right. And after I get a little more sleep, my sense of humor may return.