Thursday, August 29, 2013

Call Me Sparky

Six years ago we took the first of a series of family vacations to Disneyland, a locale known as "the happiest place on earth." In my current occupation at See's Candies, though, I have customers who argue that See's actually owns that title. I respectfully disagree with both notions, because we all know that the happiest place on earth is actually this little corner of cyberspace that has British people doing voice overs for animals.


Here are the stories of the three trips to Disneyland that we have made as a family. I'm doing this in preparation for an upcoming trip that we have planned next month to the one and only Disneyland Resort in Southern California (Registered Trademarks and all that).

Trip number 1: Taken in October of 2007. This was a difficult time for our family. I had just graduated from BYU in April, and had imagined to myself that I would be working as a Seminary teacher full time, but I didn't get a job teaching Seminary. So following graduation, I worked for a little while as a server at Carrabba's, but by October I had given that up in hopes that I would find some solid full time work somewhere. At the time of the vacation, I had not found anything (I think in some ways I was a little relieved about this, because it worried me that I would have to try and get a week off from a brand new job ... I guess I worry about silly things).

We had two children, Joshua and Morgan. Josh was three and Morgan was one. The thought of having two small children in a place like Disneyland kind of terrified us a little, so we invested in some of those harness things (child leashes) and thought that we would use those a lot. We didn't. What we eventually did was purchase a second stroller, one of those cheap umbrella strollers, so that we had one for each child.

We flew to the Los Angeles Airport (the one known as LAX), and rode a shuttle (actually a bus, it looked nothing like a space ship) to our hotel. The not-really-a-shuttle-but-only-a-bus stopped at what felt like three hundred hotels before it reached ours, The Tropicana, located directly across from the entrance to the parks. We went on this trip with Jessica's family (as we did the others and we will on the one next month), and so our "party" (and what a party it was!) had four rooms, give or take. We got settled into our rooms and one of the first things I noticed was that the hotel lacked a swimming pool, which was kind of disappointing, because ever since I was a little kid the idea of a vacation was intrinsically linked with water and swimming. In fact, when I was young, my family could have saved a lot of travel time and just stayed in a local Provo hotel, and as long as it had a swimming pool, I would have considered it the greatest vacation ever (also, I probably wouldn't have thrown up quite as often if our road trips only went a few miles).

Where was I? Oh yes, the hotel. It did have cable TV, though, and that was the other element of a vacation that I considered essential as a kid, so one for two wasn't awful. Most of the channels were some variation of a Disney-themed channel (or so it felt). I came to really love the show, "The Replacements," about two orphan kids who found a cell phone that allowed them to call in any kind of favor they could ever want, including asking for parents (their parents were a secret agent mom and a dare devil dad). I thought this show had remarkable comedy for a kids' cartoon; my favorite moment was when the kids had created duplicates of their parents, and when their dad saw his duplicate, instead of wondering what on earth was going on, he just greeted it with a, "Hey there, handsome!"

That one still gets me.

We had an enjoyable time at the Disney parks. We rode the Buzz Lightyear ride 783 times or so, and also some other rides too. I was really timid to ride anything too thrilling, and so when everybody finally talked me into trying California Screaming I was very nervous, so much so that in the picture that gets taken at a certain point on the ride, I looked as if I was going to pass out. I think I had a fear of getting nauseous. That's still one of my biggest fears. What's it called? Upchuckaphobia? I'm not sure, really, but it scares the daylights out of me (but not the puke out of me, that would be torture).

Jessica and I went back to the hotel early every evening to put the kids to bed. They were absolutely exhausted each day, and it gave us a chance to hang out and talk or watch TV or whatever, but just to be together. Those were some of my favorite moments of that vacation, just being with Jessica and focusing on her while the kids slept peacefully.

Trip number 2: Taken in February or March of 2009. Joshua was four, almost five, Morgan was two and a half, and Jack was about six months old. Actually, Jack's age was the inspiration for writing this blog, since this next time we go to Disneyland we will have Lucy, who is six months old, and I was trying to remember if we had ever made the trip there with an infant before. And sure enough, we have.  Things were more stable in our family at this point. Following that first trip I was hired by Saturn of Orem to work as a sales consultant, a job that lasted all of nine months. But then in November 2008 I was hired by Seagull Book to be a manager in training, and that was where I was working when we made this trip to the theme park.

We flew again this time, but we opted to fly to an airport that was nearer to the park than LAX, so we went into Long Beach. I had hoped that an airport located in Long Beach would be near an actual beach, but was disappointed to see no ocean very near the airport (I had a false memory in my brain of ten years prior when I flew into the same airport for a school trip when I was a senior in high school; I thought for sure the airport was just a few steps away from beautiful sandy beaches with the tranquil sounds of waves crashing on the shore, but I was sorely mistaken). Also in contrast to that first trip, instead of riding a (ripoff-fake-not-really) shuttle, we rented cars. Minivans! With car seats for the kids and everything.

We picked up our cars, an ordeal that seemed to take much longer than it should have, and made our way to Harbor Blvd or Ave or Rd or St, or whatever it is, and found our hotel, not The Tropicana this time, but the Candy Cane Inn. Jessica's family had stayed at this hotel years before and had fond memories of it. It is located on the same side of the street as the entrance to the parks, but a short distance further down the road, so it was a little bit longer walk every day for us to and from the parks. This fact became the catalyst for a well-intentioned yet poor executed adventure one of the first evenings we were there.

There came a point that evening that Jessica and I were ready to head back to the hotel with Morgan and Jack (I think we had Jack anyway, though he may have still been with Jessica's mom). We didn't want to necessarily walk all the way out of the park and then back down the street to the hotel, and I thought I had seen on a map that if we went through Downtown Disney (Copyright, FBI Warnings, etc.) that we could make a much shorter trip back to the hotel. As is my habit, though, I made a huge mistake (do I have to cite Arrested Development if I say that?), and I misjudged where we should turn heading out of Downtown and we quickly found ourselves walking through residential neighborhoods in Anaheim. We kept turning toward what we thought was the direction of the hotel, and eventually, after walking for what felt like an hour and a half, we found The Candy Cane Inn. Morgan was an amazingly good sport for this walk, and so was Jessica. I owe them big for this to this day.

The Candy Cane Inn had delicious, but small, flaky, buttery croissants as a part of their continental breakfast. I ate lots of those croissants.

This trip was marked by Josh's fearlessness in riding any ride he was tall enough to ride, including the ride that became his favorite that trip, Tower of Terror. He had the ride memorized, including all of the video introductions and sound effects, and he repeated these to us multiple times. We also rode the Buzz Lightyear ride, probably 316 times. The kids and I spent many fun hours in the hotel pool.

When the day for our departure arrived, though, things got a little difficult. We had discovered (happily we thought) that the company we had arranged for our rental cars through, had a location just around the corner from our hotel. What a wonderful coincidence! Instead of having to go to the location in Downtown Disney, where our reservations indicated for us to go, we figured we could just go to this other, much more convenient, location and pick up our cars there. We even began to put the plan into place the night before we left, by visiting the nearer location to make sure we could pick our cars up there.

But it was not so easy. We had to spend hours waiting for the rental company to figure out how to arrange for us to get our cars at the other location, while in the meantime checking out of the hotel and trying to find a place to wait with three children for everything to work out. Eventually it did, we got our cars, went and had some lunch, and then went to the airport, where we waited in a very long slow moving security line as the guy who checked id's spent a painfully long time looking at every passengers license, carefully inspecting it with a light, front and back, and staring at the passenger to verify it was really them.

All in all, good times had by all. (If you are still reading at this point, my congratulations to you, you deserve a prize. But all I can offer is a few hundred more words. Sorry.)

Trip number 3: Taken in May of 2011. Josh had just turned seven, Morgan was four, and Jack was two. And Jessica was eight and a half months pregnant. We decided to try driving this time, instead of flying and having to either take a bus (not a shuttle, come on!) or rent a car. Jessica's extended family, including her uncle, aunt, and cousins, came along as well, and we considered it a family reunion. We drove half way and stayed for a night in a hotel in Primm, Nevada. I made this wise decision based on the fact that the last time I had made that drive (6 years before), I remembered seeing these hotels perched right on the Nevada/California border that advertised their very low room rates, and I thought it would be a great place to stay for a night.

I was wrong. These hotels were casinos first, and hotels second. They were smelly, hot, sticky, and when we checked in, at 6:00 in the evening, our room had not been cleaned yet. We decided to get something to eat, and so went to an in-house Denny's that had a long line. The kids were not thrilled with the wait, nor with the food. Thankfully, by the time we finished eating our room had been cleaned and we went up and went to bed. In the morning we packed quickly and left Primm with a vow never to stay there again (including the night I had booked for the drive home; I will give them this, they refunded the money no questions asked when I canceled the future reservation). Lesson learned: if you are staying in Nevada, stay in a hotel that does not double as a casino, at least if you are not in Las Vegas itself, and if possible, find one that is smoke free, like the Comfort Inn we'll be staying in this time in Henderson. Oh, also lesson learned: Primm, Nevada was not built with young Mormon families with small children in mind. (Duh, you say? I deserve it.)

If it seems like I'm doing a Clark Griswald impersonation on these vacations, I promise it is not intentional.

Maybe I can be forgiven for the Primm debacle on the merits of my hotel selection in Anaheim for this visit. We decided that, this time, we did not want to stay at the Tropicana or the Candy Cane Inn, so we began searching for a different place. For a while, we considered a Marriott, not a bad choice since Marriotts are typically very nice, but it was a little bit further away from the parks than the Candy Cane was, and that was one of the things we had hoped to improve on. We were working with a travel agent, the same one who had booked our other trips, and he was doing his best to meet all of our needs, but it was hard to do that. So I decided to see what I could find myself.

I did a Google street view search of Harbor and found the images of the hotels most conveniently located in relation to the entrance to the parks, and then researched those hotels. One of them, The Park Vue Inn, seemed pretty decent, in fact, it seemed great, maybe even ideal. So I talked everyone into giving this hotel a try, because they promised a good, free breakfast every day, rooms big enough to fit families with a number of children (we got a room with two queen beds and a bunk bed), and even a complimentary dinner each night. If it's any indication how we felt about the hotel, we are staying there again this next time. (Warm cookies in the lobby every day!)

The parks were a lot of fun, especially for Josh, who was old enough to really appreciate most of the rides, though he still wasn't tall enough for some of them. But he had a great time going on rides with his uncles and aunts. Morgan had a lot of fun too, but the poor little guy was sick most of the week we were there, so he took quite a few midday naps. Jack had a blast, and won over the hearts of nearly everybody he met, including the characters who roam the parks. Goofy and Chip (of Chip and Dale fame) took especial liking to Jack, giving him extra attention while making others wait a little longer to greet them. Jack has that affect on people.

One of the days we took advantage of having a mode of transportation available to us, and we drove down to Laguna Beach, and spent a few hours there, playing in the surf, and exploring tide pools. The boys found tons of shells, including one that, after getting back to the hotel, we discovered still had a little hermit crab living in it. I drove the crab back to the coast that evening.

We also gave Knott's Berry Farm a visit one day. It's less kid friendly than Disneyland.

On the drive home, we opted not to stay over in a city on the way, and just drove straight home, arriving sometime after midnight. This was Sunday night/Monday morning. On Tuesday, Jessica gave birth to our fourth little boy, Lewis.

So this trip will technically be Lewie's first, and also Lucy's first. We are looking forward to it, and are excited to see how the kids enjoy it.

Wish us luck.