October 28, 2011
The jet lag still hasn’t entirely left me (or maybe this is just my new level of tired), but at least it’s Friday and I’m not feeling spinny anymore. So yes, Mr. Karen and I went to California to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. In October of 1986, we got married on a Saturday night and flew off to California the following day for a week’s honeymoon. I’d never been to California before, but Mr. Karen had, and thought he might like to live there someday. I don’t remember everything we did on that trip (and this was long before Flickr and online journaling so I can’t just look it up); I know we spent some time on the beach, I know, and visited various tourist attractions: Knott’s Berry Farm (twice), Universal Studios, Disneyland, Medieval Times, the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose. We also sat in traffic jams at odd times of day and started to think maybe it wasn’t a place we wanted to try and move to after all. Now, of course, we’re entrenched in Michigan and have chosen Idaho as our second home, but we still like to visit California.
This trip started out with some stress because the early morning flight that seemed like a good idea at the time we booked it (cheaper, would give us more of the day in California) seemed like a really bad idea when we had to get up in the dark and stand/shuffle/stand in a scary long security line (selected because it was the least long of the three lines in that terminal). We did make our plane (and then sat at the gate for a lengthy interval while some paperwork was changed) and got to Los Angeles (we flew into LAX) pretty much on time. We then waited in another long line to get the rental car, and only had one minor disagreement on the drive to the hotel. (I could not immediately tell Mr. K which compass direction we were heading as we were leaving the airport area—though I did know we had to turn left at the next stoplight—and he felt that was unacceptable; we worked this out by having me drive and him navigate for the rest of the trip—my driving sometimes bothers him too, but less than my navigating. Even after all these years together, we’ve still got stuff we haven’t quite worked out, which keeps things from being dull.)
That first Saturday of our trip we got checked into the hotel and explored the neighborhood a tiny bit before spending the rest of the afternoon with family. One of our nieces and her husband and daughter live in L.A. now, and coincidentally Mr. Karen’s sister Kathy was visiting this particular weekend too, so we had a mini-reunion of sorts. Baby Joan was not too sure about Mr. K and me at first—she’s only seen us twice in her life, after all—but soon warmed up and provided much entertainment with her antics and new verbal skills. After dinner, Mr. and I had to say our goodbyes before we fell asleep right there; not only was the time difference working against us but we’d gotten up so early. Baby Roma was still raring to go, though!
Sunday to Wednesday we spent at Disneyland Resort, quite a change from the single day we spent there on our honeymoon. They did built a whole new park since then, and Downtown Disney, and two new hotels with restaurants, and have more special events in the fall. We splurged and stayed at the Grand Californian, though we were in one of the smaller, less view-endowed rooms in the hotel. As soon as we’d checked in and gotten our bags delivered to our room, we were off into the parks. One of our first stops was the Little Mermaid attraction that had opened earlier this year. I was delighted to see all the details they put into this one; I think I liked noticing all the touches in the queue as much as the ride itself: shell fragments in the sidewalks, seaweed-y looking plants in the beds alongside, sea urchin-shaped knobs on the railings, bubble motifs on screens and floors, and on and on.
One of the reasons for spending so many days at Disney was so we could be leisurely about it and still see most everything. Somehow that didn’t quite work out. There were so many special events we wanted to experience that we ended up not doing a lot of the attractions (though we did do some of our favorites multiples times). The crowds were more oppressive than we’d hoped; I guess some schools were on fall break, and locals with annual passes seem to flood the parks most nights after work. If we’d been willing to get up early to hit the parks before the crowds every day we’d have gotten more attractions in, but getting up early is not vacation to us. We did make it to California Adventure for rope drop one day, but we had to make an effort even though the park didn’t open until 10 that morning.
One of the special events we ended up doing that we hadn’t planned on (because it was supposed to end on Labor Day) was ElecTRONica, a party included with admission to California Adventure. It was only going on one night during our stay, and we couldn’t experience it all because that same night was the only time Fantasmic was on at Disneyland Park (we’d missed in on our last visit in 2005 due to it being rained out). What we did see, I liked very much. It was fun to see characters from the movie come to life, and the Laserman show was very cool, but I got the biggest charge out of Flynn’s Arcade, which took me back to college days, when I spent many quarters and much time at Pinball Pete’s across from the MSU campus. They had Galaxian and Asteroids and Donkey Kong and on and on. If they’d had a Journey machine, they might have had to kick me out at the end of the night.
We’d debated about reserving seats at the dessert party for Fantasmic, since that guarantees a seat with a good view, but it’s very expensive and somewhat of a hassle to sign up for, so we took our chances on being able to find a decent spot for the second show of the night. When I saw how crazy crowded the street was for fireworks between the Fantasmic shows, I wasn’t hopeful, but Mr. Karen found us a patch of pavement with an even better view than the dessert party folks. Sure, we didn’t get dessert, or chairs, but we also didn’t have to spend a big chunk of time and money on the show. I was happy. On our actual anniversary, we did spend the extra money to attend Mickey’s Halloween Party. It was sold out, which meant more people in the park than I’d hoped. To our benefit, a lot of them spent their time waiting in long lines for the trick or treat stations. Mr. Karen observed that it was like they’d never seen candy before. He was right, and it made no sense to me to spend hours to get the same candy available at Kroger, but if it kept ’em out of the lines for attractions, great. The other nighttime event we did was World of Color at California Adventure. This is included in the admission price, but to get an even semi-decent spot requires planning ahead, either getting a dinner package or a “FastPass” in the morning. It’s a great show, and they did things with water and light that I have no idea how they were accomplished, but having to spend so much time on logistics took some of the shine off. Maybe it’ll be more relaxed when it’s not so new.
Thursday we headed east toward Barstow, a part of California we’d never been to before and probably wouldn’t have explored this time if another of our nieces weren’t living there now thanks to her husband’s job. This is the niece who was in our wedding in utero, so it seemed quite fitting that we’d include her in our 25th anniversary trip. Now she’s expecting her own baby; time flies. Before we met up with her and her husband, we stopped at the Route 66 Museum in Victorville and then drove part of the Route, trying to spot the places noted on the guide we’d picked up at the museum. It was great to get out of the smog around L.A. and into the clearer desert air. Our time with our niece and her husband was fun but we couldn’t make too late an evening of it (not only is she expecting and needs her rest, but he’s working nights). It was great to be able see them for the time we had, for sure. I was delighted to be able to give her a baby jacket my mom had knitted for me when I was a wee one; it’s amazing it survived all the moves and chaos in my family.
A trip to Southern California really should involve some beach time at one point, and we got ours in by going to Santa Barbara, another place we’d never been before. On our drive there on Friday, we avoided the interstates, stopping for lunch at a little local burger joint that had green tea milkshakes and later making a side trip for a nature walk outside of Ojai. We got to our hotel in Santa Barbara in late afternoon; it was a small place a couple blocks from East Beach that I’d found on Trip Advisor. For a hotel, it had a definite bed & breakfast feel, with a couple who lived onsite and ran the place and provided plenty of recommendations and conversation and a hearty continental breakfast every morning. After getting settled in the room, we took a long-ish walk along the beach to have dinner on Stearns Wharf. Saturday morning, we took a short walk to the Santa Barbara Zoo, which is small but nice. I was happy to see capybaras there, one of my favorite animals. After the zoo, we stopped at the hotel to change into warmer clothes and then walked back toward the wharf and had lunch before boarding a trolley tour to see some of the highlights around town. Fortunately the fog had pretty much burned off by the time of our tour, but it rolled back in that night so there was no point in having dinner near the water. Instead we drove to a Thai place away from the very touristy areas before returning to the hotel to pack our bags.
Sunday was purely a travel day. We left Santa Barbara early in the morning so we’d have plenty of cushion in case we ran into bad traffic on the way to the airport, which I’m glad to say we did not (the people heading the other direction could not say the same). After turning in the rental car and clearing security (which moved pretty fast for a change, but not fast enough for the lady in the priority lane next to the normal folks line we were in; she kept complaining to her husband that they should not have to wait in that line since they were in first class), we had lots of time to find our gate (which involved taking a bus from one gate to another) and have lunch and soak up the under-construction ambience of terminal 6. Our flight was overbooked, and when the offer got up to $400 vouchers and first class on a later flight, we got up to volunteer, but another couple beat us to it. As it turned out, they didn’t end up get bumped, so I didn’t feel bad about missing the chance, and we got home late enough that night as it was. Both our bags arrived intact, and the house didn’t burn down or flood or get vandalized while we were gone, so it was a successful end to our trip. Now it’s time to start planning for ski season!