Last week, I described my antagonistic relationship with California’s number one attraction. No, not Napa, Venice Beach, Yosemite, Hollywood, the Golden Gate bridge, or even the agent who convinced the world that Ryan Seacrest possesses any kind of charm or charisma. I’m talking about Disneyland.
Despite my dislike for the idea of the place, I am unable to say no to both my son and a great deal on two-day park-hopper passes, so I drop $350 on the three of us.
Plus hotel. I had bought two-day tickets so we would want to stay overnight. I had heard good things about the Grand Californian hotel, the only one connected to the parks, but evidently, other people had heard good things about it too, and with sufficient demand, they could charge 400 hundred bucks for their littlest, viewless room. A suite will run you $1,500 at least.
When I booked the tiny, viewless room, the woman chirpily verified every spelling with a phonetic alphabet based on Disney characters: “Mr. Peterson, that’s P as in Pocahantas, O as in Oliver, T as in Tigger, E as in Eeyore, R as in Roger Rabbit, S as in Simba, O as in Oliver, and N as in Nana?”
She also asked if we were celebrating something special. Always on the lookout for a possible freebie, I said yes, and told her that we were celebrating the two-year anniversary of our son’s arrival as a foster child. Which was actually true.
For the next couple of weeks, we brandished the promise of a weekend in Disneyland and the threat of not doing it as the ultimate carrot and stick. It was a powerful card, and no doubt we overplayed it. You could see it in Mikey’s eyes, some instinct that said that the tickets were non-refundable and we wouldn’t get the deposit back on the hotel room, so he was probably safe not eating all his green beans. But just to be sure, he ate them anyhow.
We told Susan and Lee, psychotic Disney fans and parents of Mikey’s buddy Lucas, that we were going, and they reported that Lucas had never been so well-behaved than when the prospect of Disneyland was revealed. We arranged to see them on Sunday.
We arrived at Disneyland mid-morning Saturday, and entered the vast lobby of the Grand Californian. Mikey, of course, had begun the litany, “Where is it? Where is Disneyland?” and we knew the timer was ticking before too much anticipation detonated something thermonuclear in scale. There was no wait in line, but the girl checking us in disappeared for a couple of minutes.
“Congratulations,” she said when she returned. “We like to honor certain families celebrating a special day with us, and we have selected you.”
We later saw lots of folks celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and even one bride and groom in their tuxedo and gown wandering the parks, but we knew we won the jackpot. They upgraded us to a suite and gave Mikey a backpack full of plush toys and snacks. Could Disney buy my affection with such things? Damn straight.
The Grand Californian is charming – and roomy if you’re upgraded to a suite – but it is really about its location. You step out the doors and you’re swallowed up by the sea of humanity washing through Paradise Pier in Disney’s California Adventure.
There is an old-timey boardwalk carnival atmosphere to Paradise Pier with its focus on a 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel hanging over the water, emblazoned with Mickey Mouse’s ubiquitous mug. The cages come in two varieties: stable, traditional platforms, and ones that swing wildly throughout the ride. Obviously, Mikey chose the latter, and screamed “Oh my God!” throughout, and then chose to do it again. Over the next two days, we did train rides, two shooter rides, bumper cars, face painting, whirling teacups, puppet shows, and a spectacular nighttime water show called the World of Color, where they project lasers on sheets of mist spraying up from the lagoon.
Food at Disneyland beats the hell out of the defrosted burgers seen in typical theme parks. For lunch the first day, we picked up some lunch box picnics at Sonoma Winery; miso-marinated salmon, soba noodles, fresh veg. We had dinner at the Napa Rose, which has one of the best-designed wine lists I’ve ever seen, and a breakfast buffet the next morning, where various D-list Disney characters like Chip, Dale, Rafiki the blue-assed baboon from The Lion King, and some other assorted background mammals, go from table to table for hugs and photo-ops. Mikey was in ecstasy and the buffet wasn’t half bad. Even the characters Mikey didn’t recognize – like a big bear and a little bear from a 2003 movie we haven’t seen called Brother Bear – were greeted with hugs.
“Are you lost, little bear?” Mikey asked with genuine concern when he saw the little bear on his own. “You need to find your daddy.”
We carried our son, who was nearly delirious with overstimulation, to the car mid-afternoon on Sunday and he was asleep in his chair before we hit the first slow-moving mile out of Anaheim. He woke up when we were pulling into our driveway, and when he realized he was home instead of Disneyland, Mikey burst into tears.
He’s pretty much recovered. I don’t know when we’re going to buy an annual pass, but undoubtedly, it’s in our future. There’s just so much to do in Los Angeles besides shlep down to Orange County, no matter how admittedly wondrous Disneyland really is. We have parks and zoos, swimming pools and parties, and aquariums and farms, and Mikey is wildly enthusiastic about them all.
Though this weekend, we were leaving a carnival charity event, and Mikey said thoughtfully over his third mini-cupcake, “It was really fun, but I thought there’d be more rides. There were only two.”
“Yes,” I admitted. “I thought there would be more rides too.”
“Oh!” he said, as I snapped him into his car seat. “I know where has lots of rides!”
“Where?” I asked with a smile.
That’s a dad’s job. To ask the dumb questions sometimes.