Remote Out Of Control

This is how my family watches movies together. Sitting down for a viewing of the 1964 Disney movie The Three Lives of Thomasina…

Me (pausing DVD): “Hey, look, it’s the girl from Mary Poppins!”

Movie resumes.

Me (pausing DVD): “Cool. Her father is Patrick MacGoohan from The Prisoner.”

Movie resumes.

Me (pausing DVD): “Kids, see that little boy? He played the girl’s brother in Mary Poppins.”

Movie resumes.

Me (pausing DVD): “Whoa. You know who that is? The vet’s assistant? That’s the actor who played Paul’s grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night! He looks so different.”

Movie resumes.

Me (pausing DVD): “What? I don’t believe it. Honey, do you recognize her? C’mon, we just watched the last season of her TV show. Hello? Monarch of the Glen? That’s Molly McDonald, only 40 years younger.”

Movie resumes.

Me (pausing DVD): “Did you know that the girl playing Mary is the daughter of…”

Everyone Else: “Somebody take the remote away from Dad!!!”

The Horrors of Disneyland


“The tranquil water-way leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky–seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.”

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was on my mind as we made our way from one attraction to another at Disneyland. Your first assumption is that the Magic Kingdom is all sweetness and light. After all, it bills itself as The Happiest Place on Earth.

But that can be misleading. Walking through the cheery front gates onto a bustling Main Street inevitably leads you toward a darker subtext of the Disneyland story. Continue reading

Goodnight Disneyland

One last post about our Disneyland trip. I wanted to make some recommendations to anyone planning to take their kids to the Magic Kingdom. Plus, I have a bunch more photos to post!


Our first night at Disneyland, we stumbled into one of the most expensive restaurants I’ve ever eaten at — Storyteller’s Cafe at the Grand Californian Hotel. The prime rib was awesome, and the cheesecake was excellent, but the prices were astronomical! My eyes popped out like Roger Rabbit when the waiter brought the check.

Silly me, I soon learned that the prices there were right in line with every other eatery in and around Disneyland. In other words, take a deep breath and just eat. You can’t worry about how much the food costs, unless you plan to starve your family for the week.

Kids PB&J; Palette at the Carnation Cafe

The best meal we had was at Yamabuki, the Japanese restaurant in the Paradise Pier Hotel. The worst was at Redd Rocket’s Pizza Port inside the park. In fact, that pizza was the only bad meal we can remember. The whole week we were constantly surprised at how good the food was everywhere we went. Other awesome meals are to be had at: Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen, LaBrea Bakery, Carnation Cafe, and Cafe Orleans. I highly recommend the Monte Cristo sandwich at the Cafe Orleans.

Singing pirates!


All the rides are great, but none reach the perfection of Pirates of the Caribbean. I’ve been on this ride well over a hundred times in my life and I never tire of it. Disney added a few movie tie-ins, like an audio-animatronic Captain Jack Sparrow, but it’s tastefully done and takes nothing away from the classic feel of the ride. The same can’t be said of Space Mountain, which was recently transformed into Rockin’ Mountain. Gone is the sensation that you are rocketing through outer space. Now it feels like you’re down at the local planetarium watching a laser light show. Ugh. I hope it’s a temporary change.

Tomorrowland needs to be completely overhauled. AstroBlasters was fun, and Star Tours is turning into an old friend, but the rest of the place is sorely lacking. It was my favorite area of Disneyland when I was a kid. But now, it was where we spent the least time.

Oh. Wait. I forgot about ASIMO. I take it all back about Tomorrowland, because it was my son’s ultimate thrill to see ASIMO, the state-of-the-art robot made by Honda, live and in person at the Innoventions exhibit. I haven’t been inside that rotating building since a family friend was killed there, but I made an exception for ASIMO.

ASIMO the robot waves to the crowd


Do yourself, and your kids, a big favor. Study the park map and memorize the locations of every single bathroom. At home, my daughter can hold her pee for hours and hours. At Disneyland she was good for about fifteen minutes. Hey, to all those people behind us in line at the Storybook Land Boats, sorry about the puddle. Goofy distracted her.

“Hey Pluto, did you make that puddle over there?”


Don’t worry too much about shopping for souvenirs and gifts. You will have an opportunity to give Disney more money at EVERY TURN. There are literally gift shops within gift shops. Half the rides seem to exit into gift shops. All of Main Street seems to be one long gift shop. And if you miss anything inside the park, just outside the gates in Downtown Disney is the massive World Of Disney store, which has everything you can imagine. Except Donald Duck shirts. Donald is apparently persona non grata in the Disney merchandising department. I think it has something to do with his refusal to wear pants.


The new park across from Disneyland is an afterthought to most folks. It was for us … we spent just one of our five days there. But I was pleasantly surprised by the place. It might have been the fact that everything was new to me. A few of the rides were spectacular, including Soarin’ Over California, Tower of Terror, and Screamin’ California. The kids loved the Monsters Inc. ride, the Mulholland Madness coaster, and the child-friendly Bugs Land area. We could’ve used another day to explore California Adventure a bit more.


Definitely find time for the Parade of Dreams that runs through Disneyland each night (and during the day on weekends). It was a dazzler for the kids. I’ve never seen their eyes open so wide. Hand it to Disney, they know how to put on a good show. We staked out a curbside seat on Main Street about 45 minutes before the parade started and dug into some snacks while we waited.

Goodnight, Disneyland. Thanks for the unforgettable family vacation. And the credit card bills… did I really tip that much?!

Waiting For The Princess

Yes, we waited over two hours to get pictures of my daughter with the princesses.

Disneyland has this cool (or so we thought) service called PhotoPass where photographers are stationed at various areas of the park and will take a picture of you with their expensive Nikon cameras. You carry a little card, which is scanned by each photographer, and all of your photos go into an account which you can check in the park or later at home via the Internet.

Or you can get some good pictures of your family by simply handing the photographer your little Canon point-and-shoot and asking them to use that instead. Not only is it free, but the quality is better.

There’s really nothing you can do about the photographer’s lack of actual photography experience. Out of nearly 40 pictures we had taken with their cameras, only two seemed to be properly framed. How hard is it to not cut off my head? But I also had them take pictures with my camera, and the difference was remarkable. Which only leads me to believe that these Disneyland employees need more training with their digital SLRs.

So if you wait two hours for the princesses (and you will), remember to take your own pictures. Your daughter will cherish the images forever. Leave it to PhotoPass and the only thing she might remember is the long wait.

“The Horror! The Horror!”

“The tranquil water-way leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky–seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.”

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was on my mind as we made our way from one attraction to another at Disneyland. Your first assumption is that the Magic Kingdom is all sweetness and light, but it is decidedly not. And that realization really hit me for the first time on our most recent visit.

I’ve been to Disneyland dozens of times as a visitor, but for some reason I never noticed all the death and darkness around. The first thing that clued me in were the skulls. They’re everywhere! Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, Indiana Jones Adventure, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Peter Pan’s Flight… There’s even a giant skull rock at the Disneyland Hotel’s Neverland pool.

If it’s not skulls, it’s scares. The Matterhorn features two appearances by a ferocious demon-eyed Abominable Snowman. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride actually concludes by sending you to hell, complete with blasts of hot air and a meeting with Satan himself. Alice in Wonderland is like some sort of freaky LSD trip.

There’s only one truly innocent ride in Disneyland — It’s A Small World. But the case could be made that cruising through room after room of singing dolls is actually kind of creepy.

Don’t get me wrong. I love every ride at Disneyland, and so do my kids. We went on every one of them last week. Some of them more than once. Haunted Mansion, three times… Big Thunder, four times… Pirates of the Caribbean, six times. We all had a blast being scared and bedazzled by the sights and sounds.

Of course, as you get older you start to think that the best ride is in the little circle at the end of Main Street, next to the statue of Walt and Mickey. There you can find a lovely green bench, from which you can comfortably sit and watch the crowds go by. The way tourists dress and act can be scarier than anything else you see in the park.

Disney Magic

There’s something magical that happens to kids while they’re at Disneyland. Suddenly they stop bickering, they become the best of friends, and they walk hand in hand with mouths agape at the visual thrills around every corner of the Magic Kingdom.

They also start minding their parents, like little Stepford Kids… “Yes, Daddy, I will do what you say, just let me ride Big Thunder Mountain one more time.” For five whole days I had these two bright and eager children who never complained or whined or said a cross word to anyone.

I wondered if Disney put something in the water.

But wait, there are exceptions. Many of them. And thank God my kids were not one of them. See the photo above? Look past my two temporarily sweet children at the little family in the background.

You see the mother beating her kid? We saw a lot of that. Huge meltdowns, on the part of both kids and parents. My kids couldn’t understand why anyone would come to Disneyland to scream and cry. It’s supposed to be the Happiest Place On Earth, don’t they know?!

There’s something about Disneyland that can bring out either your best or your worst. I guess some people just can’t handle spending a day in a fantasy world. Or maybe they’re stressed out because they’ve mortgaged their house to pay for the park food. And to some kids I suppose pirates and ghosts and a gigantic talking mouse can be the stuff of nightmares.

Speaking of nightmares, it almost seems like the best rides at Disneyland are based on the most horrible things. I’ll write about that tomorrow.

The Ultimate Family Vacation

I wanted to take my family on the ultimate family vacation. Plus, my son has done so well with his first year of homeschooling that I felt a reward of sorts was appropriate. I don’t know about you, but in our house the words “ultimate family vacation” can only mean one thing: Disneyland.

So off we jetted to Southern California, where the temperature was 97 degrees when we landed. I told my wife, “Aren’t you glad I made you bring your shorts?” Luckily it didn’t stay that hot, dropping down to the high 80’s the next day and the rest of the week. It was nice to be in shorts and sandals the whole time, especially after the long winter.

When I started planning this trip, I knew there was only one place to stay … the overly-expensive Disneyland Hotel. Why? Because it was on my List Of Things To Do In My Life. Ever since I was a little kid I had wanted to stay at the Disneyland Hotel. So that was my logic in booking a room there. And it turned out to be quite nice. Here’s the view from our balcony…

The Disneyland Hotel is old, and showing its age in places, but it’s fun and comfortable, and has a very cool pool (complete with pirate ship, mermaids, and skull rock). We stayed in the Marina Tower and all we had to do to get into Disneyland was walk out the lobby, turn left, and walk about 100 yards to the monorail station (I have a whole other post to write about the monorail). Or we could make the 15-minute stroll through Downtown Disney, a jumble of trendy shops and restaurants, to the main gate.

It was like being on a cruise. We never left the confines of the hotel or the parks, only dealing with the outside world driving to and from the airport. For five days we were in a Disneyized fantasy world.

A couple of things about this fantasy world, though… In this world food costs three times what it does on the outside. Also, there are lines for everything. 10 minutes to get on a rollercoaster, 20 minutes to eat prime rib, 2 hours to meet fake princesses! Lastly, this world makes you buy things, like an ear-piercing Astro Blaster for your son, or a frilly pink princess dress for your daughter, that you normally would dismiss as junk. You can enter this place as an avowed non-consumer, but you will not be able to resist the siren call of the Disney marketers. Oh no, don’t even try.

I’ll have more to write about our Disney vacation over the next week. Plus, I took over 700 pictures… You don’t think I’m going to share a few more? All in all, it was a great week. Very relaxing and full of awesome family memories. Most of all, it was nice to just get away from the laundry and the dishwasher.

Oh, and I made a new friend at Disneyland! She was very curious about how many dogs we have here in Idaho…