Oh, the House of Mouse, / She ain’t what she used to be, / Many long years ago

Yesterday, we went to the Disneyland Resort (and, yes, I am specifically using that term now). Now, my last time to Disneyland Park was around 1999, when nsshere was around 3, so it has been a while. Of course, I must share with you my observations and what we did.

The park has changed a lot since I was last there. In 1999, there was still a gigantic surface street parking lot that you entered off of Harbor (or was it Ball) road, with the long-standing Disneyland sign (which was actually auctioned on eBay). That’s all gone now. The parking lot has been replaced by California Adventure, the Grand Californian Hotel, and Downtown Disney… and the lot is now a gigantic parking structure. I don’t think this is bad per se — Walt never intended the parks to be static — but it does bring in more people and more crowds. I do believe the crowds are a problem, and I think that Disney is losing its magic at crowd control.

When we entered the park, the first thing I noticed was how small everything was now. As a kid, and in my memory, things seemed so big. The castle was gigantic. The Matterhorn was (deep reverberating voice) a mountain. The storefronts on Main Street were large. Now, through my almost-47 year old eyes, these things seem small. Perhaps it is my height, perhaps it is my knowledge of the history behind the magic, perhaps it is the difference between being a kid and being an adult. Whatever it is, things seemed smaller.

Our first stop was the Haunted Mansion, which was decked out for Christmas. Note that I don’t say “the holidays”, for as inclusive as Disney is in their ads, the only “holiday” you saw at the entire resort was Christmas. Not being familiar with “Nightmare Before Christmas“, I wasn’t too impressed with it (although I was impressed on how they changed things around). I missed the “Grinning Ghosts“. But the rest of our group enjoyed, and the attention to detail was there. After the Mansion, we went over to Plaza Inn for a character breakfast.

It was at the Plaza Inn I noticed that the old Disney was gone. There were lightbulbs out. There were cobwebs and broken crystal strands in the chandeliers. This is something that, in Walt’s day, would not be. The park was spotless — that’s one of the things that differentiated it from the Molehill or Knotts. The illusion was perfect — you couldn’t see the wear and the grime. Not so anymore: you could see that the “wood” poles were really metal due to worn paint on Tom Sawyer Island; there was trash in the bushes. Lines for attractions were backing up into thoroughfares and making walking difficult. I think this is evidence that the park is not keeping up well with the crowds.

As the crowd at Disnelyland Park was growing, we went over to California Adventure (where the lines are shorter). This was quite nice, although I’m not sure it is 100% what Walt would have wanted. After we picked up our Fastpass for S0arin’ Over California, we walked around CA. Much of it was quite well done: I like Grizzly Mountain, and how they captured the different areas. The amusement pier bothered me. Those familiar with DL history know that one reason the park was created was to create an atmosphere different from the amusement parks of the day, where the parents would sit back and let the kids play, where things weren’t always clean. Seeing the recreation of the Pike, with its carnival barkers, ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl made me question whether that was what should be at a Disney park. It doesn’t have the magic; it didn’t seem right.

While in CA, we did get a chance to see both the Bugs Life show and MuppetVision 3D, both of which were quite good. We then went on Soarin’, which was a very impressive ride. One day in the future, I’d like to try more of the rides in CA.

We then wandered back to DL to see if we could get a Fastpass to Indiana Jones. But the time for the pass was already at 9pm in the evening, so we got Big Thunder Mountain instead. We then tried to find lunch, but the lines everywhere were too long… so we hopped the Monorail to Downtown Disney. As we walked through Tomorrowland, I kept seeing in my mind’s eye the park that was: the gondola cars, the people mover, Monsanto, the Circarama theatre, Carousel of Progress, Rocket to Mars. I think Tomorrowland is one of the sadest lands, for it has always been the forgotten stepchild of the park: updated periodically, but never done right or with the right sense of imagination. It is still a mix of “1950 bug-eyed monster”, “1950’s looking ahead”, and “2000-Sci-Fi”. How old is Star Tours now? How long has “Honey” been running (replacing “Captain Eo“)?

It took awhile to find lunch: crowds everywhere, combined with a tired and cranky party. But we did find something, and then walked back to the park. At this point, we split up: gf_guruilla and our friends went off shopping, and I took nsshere to Tom Sawyer Island. That hasn’t changed much, although the Fort was closed. We both agreed that a pirate retheming of the island wouldn’t be that sacreligious: it might draw more folks to the island and permit it to be rediscovered. After the island, we met back up with folks and rode Big Thunder Mountain.

After Big Thunder, it was back to New Orleans Square to queue up and ride the revamped Pirates. Here, more comments are in order. The retheming of Pirates to include Johnny Depp didn’t bother me, but didn’t add much to the ride either. It was just another example of merchandising, which has become more blatent in the park. The problem with the merchandising is the unevenness of it all: some are heavily promoted (“Tink“, the princesses, the cute animals), and some conspicuously are not (Mulan, Pocahontas (although once upon a time they did have a stage show), Uncle Remus [and to my recollection, that’s about the only black character Disney has to promote], Esmerelda… and you never see Treasure Planet mentioned, probably for good reason :-)). The image of 1910 White Bread America nostalgized by Main Street is carried throughout the park, and I’m not sure this is good. Disney needs to present positive role models (“Tink” or “Grumpy” certainly aren’t) of all colors and creeds.

One other thing on Pirates bothered me: The stupid guests. We had folks shining flashlights around the ride. Continually using flash photography. I saw this on the train as well: flash photography of the dioramas behind glass. They do say “don’t use flash”, but folks don’t listen. There really needs to be some education of this at the resort: it does destroy the magic. At least cell phones and crackberries weren’t going off — but I’m sure that’s next.

After Pirates, my wife’s knee gave out (the soaking from being in the front of the boat didn’t help). We called First Aid, and she went to go rest a bit. We walked to Toontown, found long waits, took the train back to Main Street, did some shopping, picked up my wife, and left the park. We had dinner in Downtown Disney (Tortilla Jo’s, quite good), and came home.

It was a long day. My blisters have blisters, and my legs are sore. Everyone else is still sleeping in (as I write this), exhausted. It was a fun day.

I think there is a big difference between those who go to the DL-Resort on a regular basis, and those of us who visit it only periodically. The regular visitors are like the frog in the pot of hot water: the change is so gradual, you don’t necessarily see the contrast. Those of us who visit less often see the contrast. Maintenance at the park needs to be improved. There needs to be a little less merchandising (what happened to the purely fun shops on Main Street?). There needs to be better crowd management (which was the real point of the ticket books, but we’ve forgotten that). There needs to be the ability to do Fastpasses on more rides, and for people to be able to get more than one Fastpass at a time. The visitor experience needs to be enhanced, and this is often bricks and mortar logistical issues and staff training (I had one shopkeeper who didn’t know how to call First Aid) than more rides and more goodies. But just as with security software, what brings folks in and makes the money isn’t better quality, it is feeping creaturism. But we need the quality back in the park; it has begun to slip.

But did I have fun… yes. It was fun spending the day with the family. Do I want to go again in the next month? Nah. But they’re going again a week from today.


Yummy Dinner

To those of you in the (northern) South Bay area: We found a great Southern BBQ restaurant: Uncle Franks BBQ at 2135 Old Middlefield Way, in the back of Francescas Bar. Enter from the rear patio area. Great food, great collard greens. Yum. Yum!

Tomorrow morning, we’re going to the Hayes Mansion for breakfast with ellipticcurve‘s parents. We’ve never been there, so this should be an experience. Then we jump on US 101 S for the drive to LA. We’ve decided to eschew I-5, instead doing US 101 to Route 154 (San Marcos Pass) to US 101 to Route 126 to Route 118 and thence to Northridge. I’m looking forward to getting home; I’m looking forward to seeing Curtains on Saturday. I’m not looking forward to dealing with the mail when I get home, nor the stack of SSAA’s I’ll likely have to review when I get back to work!

Alas, I’m only home for a week — the day after Labor Day, it is off to Columbia MD for an almost-week of Validator’s Workshop.


Cool Technology

Today was another day for visiting museums, this time in downtown San Jose. After dropping my wife off at the San Jose Quilt Museum (as neither NSS&F nor I were interested in seeing it), we headed off to the Tech Museum of Innovation.

The Tech Museum is a real cool museum. We started out by building a roller-coaster, and doing a 3-d image scan of ourselves. When I get home, I’ll download the plugin for the scan and post a copy. We then explored the life sciences section, where NSS&F learned about genetics, and inserted jellyfish DNA into a bacteria. We also explored how to view inside the body. Lastly, we went down to the NetPl@net display, where we played “Whack a Spam” (were it only that easy) and built webpages. It was just really cool.

After the Tech Museum, gf_guruilla rejoined us. We had lunch, and then went to the San Jose Museum of Art. This was even cooler. We started at the exhibit of artwork by Jennifer Steinkamp. This is a series of colorful digital projections that explore ideas about architectural space, motion, and phenomenological perception. It was truly fascinating — I could have just sat and watched the animations.  We then went downstairs to the Kathy Aoki: The Cult of the Cute exhibition. This exhibition featured a Japanese-anime alternate universe populated by female construction workers and teddy bears, with trucks and cranes roll by emblazoned with flowers and hearts and colored bubblegum pink or baby blue. Really cool. It was then upstairs to the Edge Conditions exhibit, with more computer-based and edgier art. Basically, this exhibit explored the boundary between art and technology. It just had some really interesting displays. Last was the Gustavo Ramos Rivera paintings, which didn’t impress me at all.

On the way back to the hotel, we drove through Japantown, stopping at Nichi Bei Bussan, Inc., an interesting Japanese products store.

Tonight, it is dinner with Jon and Von. Tomorrow, we drive back to Northridge.


Of Dim Sum and Baby Bears

Today was our day to visit Oakland and Berkeley. We started with a visit to GB Rattos in Oakland. It seems to be a lot smaller than I remembered it to be. We also had fun visiting the bookstore of the Friends of the Oakland Library and some other stores in the neighborhood. While at Rattos, we met kaottic97, who brought me some neat books from the MTC. We then walked down to Oakland’s Chinatown, where we had dim sum for lunch at Restaurant Peony. After some more shopping in Oakland, we then headed off to Berkeley.

Our first stop in Berkeley was Lacis. I didn’t see much museum, but gf_guruilla had fun exploring. However, our visit was cut short by the limited parking: there were only 24 minute spaces available. All the 2 hour spaces were taken, or when they would open up, they would be refilled before I could even get to my car. GFG wishes she could have spent more time there.

We next went over to Shattuck St. While GFG visited Stonemountain and Daughter Fabrics, NSS&F and I walked to the Hall of Health. That was a disappointment, as it was oriented too much for the little kids. After everyone was done, we went over to Telegraph just below the university. I had fun at Amoeba Music, and it was neat looking at the stores.

Looking at the Berkeley community made me sad for what Westwood was, and what is has become. When I was at UCLA, Westwood was this neat community, with stores such as Old World, the Bratskeller, University Bookstore, A Change of Hobbit, and lots of neat theatres. Nowadays, it has become dead, filled with chain stores and no more college charm. RIP the glory days of Westwood. At least Sepi’s still exists.

Tomorrow is our last full day. Current plans (always subject to change) are to visit the San Jose Quilt Museum, the Tech Museum of Innovation, and the San Jose Museum of Art, and quite likely, Japantown San Jose. They all seem to be close to each other. We’ll try to do dinner with Jon and Von.

Friday, it is breakfast/brunch with ellipticcurve‘s parents, and then down 101 back to Northridge.


Exploring with the Small and Grumpy

Today was our day to drive from Sacramento back to San Jose. It started out with Not So Small and Grumpy waking up on the wrong side of the bed, so to speak. She was just in a pissy mood, which lasted all day. Not that much fun, but it does serve to remind us that, yes, she is only 11.

The drive into “The City” (San Francisco) was uneventful, but driving in San Francisco reminds me how much I hate driving in San Francisco. The rest of the bay area is fine, but The City is a pain. We originally planned to have lunch in Chinatown. However, we had no luck with the parking gods: twice we found lots, twice we found out they were valet only after we got past the gate. This was extremely frustrating, We gave up on the Chinatown idea, and ended up at Mel’s Drive In on Lombard for lunch. Mel’s is a known quantity, and lunch was enjoyable.

After lunch, we drove on over to the Exploratorium, which is in the Palace of Fine Arts originally constructed for the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exhibition. gf_guruilla had fun with the exhibits–it was really neat watching the little girl come out. NSS&G was grumpy–she wanted to be a mouse potato. Me… I was fascinated with the buildings, especially the statues made of staff. Partially, this was due to my fascination with Forest Park and the 1904 Worlds Fair, which was constructed in a similar manner.

After leaving the exploratorium, I let the roadgeek out. We drove out Route 1 to the edge of Golden Gate park, then over to Route 35 to where we could pick up Route 1 again, up to I-280, and down into San Jose. This allowed me to see some of the area that’s got some interesting history: the area near Thornton State Beach where the route was shifted due to earthquake damage. I-280 was also interesting: it goes through some very beautiful country.

For dinner, we found an excellent Indian restaurant: Mezbaan, at 3939 Rivermark Village, where Montague meets Agnew.

The plans for tomorrow (Wednesday) have sort of changed: deedeebythebay needs the day to prepare for teaching on the weekend. We still plan to visit Oakland and Berkeley, however. Our target in Oakland is GB Rattos. In Berkeley, we want to visit Lacis and Stonemountain Fabrics in Berkeley, and my daughter wants to visit the Hall of Health in Berkeley. We also want to show her Shatto Shattuck Street. kaottic97: we would still like to meet you for lunch, but we might need to do it in Berkeley. Call me in the morning. We’re also currently open for dinner, if any of the East Bay folks want to get together. Again… just call me.

Thursday, we’re visiting the San Jose Quilt Museum, and hopefully seeing Jon and Von again. We might visit the Intel Museum.

Friday, we have bunch with ellipticcurve‘s parents, and then it is back to Los Angeles.


A Relaxing Day

Today was a very relaxing day.

It started with a lovely breakfast/lunch with barelyproper at The Farmers Kitchen in Davis. This is a small little restaurant that is gluten-free and casein-free. My wife and daughter had fun, ordering tortes and pizzas, and having cake and brownies and pie for dessert. I joined in, and it was quite good. More importantly, my wife made some connections with the owner, and was encouraged to start her own gluten-free lifestyle consulting business. I think she would be great at it. She’s done it for a lot of our friends, quite successful.

After breakfast, barelyproper and ussens did some shopping in Davis, hitting some weaving, book, and free-trade stores. I do like the downtown Davis shopping district. We also hit the Davis Co-Op, but didn’t buy anything.

After that, we went over to visit ellipticcurve‘s sister’s family. We spent the day with D. and the wonder-nephew. In the evening, C, EC’s sister joined us for a wonderful dinner and conversation. Just a relaxing evening.

I’ve posted the plans for most of the week before, so I won’t repeat them again.