Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 3: Magic Mountain and Rose Parade Eve.

While Ryan and the rest of the All-Birdville Band were in Buena Park at Knott's Berry Farm, Katie and I headed north to Valencia and Six Flags Magic Mountain.

We had heard that Magic Mountain had more thrill rides, and since we could get in free with our Six Flags season passes, we decided we didn't have to follow the band this time. Besides, Magic Mountain closed at 6 that day, so we knew we wouldn't be tempted to stay out too late.

Our first stop was X2, billed as the world's first "4th dimension" thrill ride. The line was really long, but we waited since (1) lines were long everywhere and (2) this was like no ride we could find at home.
The seats actually extend past the track and since they rotate on their own, riders can rock and roll as the train flies through drops and twists. It is INSANE! We loved it; it was definitely worth the wait. The shooting flames and other effects along the track were cool, but they had me at the on-ride soundtrack. Check out this point-of-view video on YouTube for a virtual ride.

This is definitely a coaster park. In fact, Magic Mountain is advertising that in 2011, it will once again have the most roller coasters of any amusement park on the planet, 18, bypassing Cedar Point. Unfortunately, during our afternoon there, we only got to ride three.

Some, like Superman: Escape from Krypton, weren't open yet, and others had prohibitively long lines. The rides were fairly far apart, too, and since Magic Mountain is on a big hill (duh), moving from one area to another took longer than we're used to. Since our time was limited, we opted for the unusual coasters that were unlike anything we could find at home.

Tatsu was one of those unusual coasters that made the cut.

After boarding, our legs were put in restraints. Right before taking off, the seats tilted forward until our bodies were parallel to the ground. Courtesy of this pic from Six Flags, here's what riders look like when the ride's in motion.

And here's what we saw as a train departed the station:

AHHHHHHHHHH! So very cool. We had ridden the Batwing at Six Flags America back in July, but this "flying coaster" seemed more intense than the one in Maryland.

MM has the Sky Tower instead of the Oil Derrick, but because of our experience with SFOT's tower, we weren't surprised to see that this one was closed.

The third unusual roller coaster we tried was the Ninja, classified as a "suspended swinging coaster." It was different, but because of the long, and I mean LONG time it took to get from the end of the ride back to the station, it kinda fizzled out on us.

We were disappointed that we never made it to the other side of the park to try out the giant wooden coaster, Colossus, or the Titan twin, Goliath. We also missed riding Viper, Revolution, Batman: The Ride, Riddler's Revenge...

So many rides, so little time.

Still, we were glad we made the 40-minute drive to Magic Mountain to see a new park and try out one mediocre and two awesome coasters.

Back in LA, we were thrilled to see our hosts had left us a New Year's Eve feast:

K&D had gone to that night's Lakers game, but they left us this menu AND...

New Year's party supplies!

I made Katie get her party on.

Our hosts left instructions for how to use their TV plus the newspaper story about the parade. It was cool to see the All-Birdville Band listed in the LA paper!

After our huge dinner, I mapped our route to Pasadena (avoiding the 101). We packed as much as we could, celebrated the New Year on Texas time, and then tried to get some sleep. We'd be awake at 3:30 a.m. to get ready for the ROSE PARADE!

Day 3 BONUS: Now and then.

Katie at Grauman's in 2010:
Katie at Grauman's in 2006:

Katie outside the Brady residence in 2010:

Katie outside the Brady residence in 2006:
Pardon me while I sob...

Day 3: Hooray for Hollywood.

On this Dec. 31, known as Rose Parade Eve, the band paid an early visit to Hollywood Boulevard, Grauman's Chinese Theatre and the Walk of Fame. From there they took off for Knotts Berry Farm, an amusement park near Anaheim.

Katie and I decided to kinda mimic the band, but our day started with a delicious breakfast at Lulu's with K&D, our hosts. Because they'd been working and we'd been staying out super late, we'd barely seen them on this trip. It was good to have some time to just sit and visit (and eat!). Besides, when it comes to Lulu's, I'm 4 for 4. We ate there in January and July 2006 and January and December 2010. Apparently, when in LA, you HAVE to get the yummy House Scramble at Lulu's. It's a LAW.

From that restaurant on Beverly Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard is just a hop, skip and a jump away. Right before getting to Hollywood and Highland, we saw Hollywood High School with its giant mural of stars.
All along Hollywood Boulevard we saw TONS of TCU and Wisconsin fans.

Our first stop was the Roosevelt Hotel, another haunted locale from Katie's Route 66 book.

This hotel was home to the very first Academy Awards ceremony, and its lobby is a thing of beauty. Katie wanted to see the Blossom Room, so we walked past and took a quick peek at it. Workers were busy setting it up for a New Year's Eve party.

We avoided apparitions, but it was nice that Katie had the chance to step inside this historic hotel.

After that stop, we turned around and went back to Hollywood and Highland. There we wandered through the famous and crowded forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Among all the hand- and footprints are some pretty incredible names. I'm a sucker for the cement blocks that have bonus impressions, like Al Jolson's knees...

...and Jimmy Durante's nose.

You HAVE to put your hands in a star's handprints. It's a LAW. This time Katie compared her hands to Judy Garland's.

There are so many old stars immortalized there, but some newer names show up, too.

We saw the Hollywood sign a couple of times as we drove around the area, but this was our only photo op.

Inside Hollywood and Highland, we got Katie a smoothie.

We also checked out the view of downtown LA before getting back to our car. Since we managed to bring a battery-less camera with us for this outing, we drove the short distance back to K&D's to get that AWOL battery. Then we were ready for one more celeb sighting.

The Brady house! This is the home that was used for exterior shots of the Brady residence. Instead of being on Clinton Way, this house is at 11222 Dilling Street in Studio City.

When in LA, you HAVE to pay a visit to this oft-photographed home. It's a LAW.

With our Hollywood and Studio City stops behind us, we were on our way to another amusement park.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 2: Disneyland and California Adventure.

The band was visiting Disneyland and California Adventure on Thursday, so Katie and I did, too. Unfortunately, so did jillions of other people! Disneyland during the holidays = MASSIVE CROWDS. Still, we didn't let that keep us from enjoying the Happiest Place on Earth.

It helped that going in, we anticipated the mobs. We'd heard how Disney had closed its gates earlier in the week, saying the parks had reached capacity. I asked Katie to prioritize the rides since we wouldn't be able to do everything. As it turned out, this is about as much as we saw of the Matterhorn. Fantasyland? Not even close. Nary a Dumbo or teacup to be seen.

Except for visiting Mickey, we were able to check off everything on Katie's list, starting with priority #1, the Haunted Mansion.

We were bummed that the mansion had been taken over with The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Now we like The Nightmare Before Christmas.

But we like the traditional Haunted Mansion, too.

So this? This was not what we were looking for when we boarded our Doom Buggies. The ballroom was recognizable, but we heard only the shortest snippet of "Grim Grinning Ghosts" in the big cemetery. And the ghost hitchhiker? Replaced by a stocking. Bummer.

In ANY case, we still went through it twice because, Haunted Holiday or no, it's still the Haunted Mansion.

By the time we left New Orleans Square, it was about time for California Adventure to open. On our way to the Disneyland exit, however, we saw that we could walk through Tarzan's Treehouse without waiting. On that busy day, any attraction without a line was a rare gem.

After the treehouse we got our hands stamped and entered California Adventure, which was also decked out for the holidays.

We made a beeline for the Hollywood Backlot.

We paused just long enough for Katie to take a picture of the backdrop (complete with the sign for the Roosevelt Hotel, another haunted hot spot from Katie's book). Then we rounded the corner to the next attraction on our must-see list:

The Hollywood Tower of Terror!

Even though the park had only been open for about 15 minutes, there was already a really long line AND the Fastpass return time was a couple of hours later. No biggie; we got our passes and headed for another section of the park.

On our way to Paradise Pier, we cut through "a bug's land." There we found Flik's Flyers with a really short line. TA-DAH! Just like that, an impromptu attraction was added to our list.

I like that the whipped topping carton lists "Saturated Fun" with its nutrition facts.

We chose the Chinese food carton for our flight, which was quite pleasant.

From there we walked through a cereal box...

...and ended up in a tissue box,
also known as the restroom. I loved all the giant props and buildings that made us feel small, and I especially liked the antennae on the female bathroom icon! We really didn't spend any time in this "land" back in 2006, so it was neat to get buggy with it this time around.

On our way to the pier we came across these little green Army men.

As we approached the big rides on this end of the park, we quickly noticed the train stuck on California Screamin'. That coaster was most definitely among our priorities, so we were disappointed. Still, we got to ride the Golden Zephyr and then found our place in the rather long line for Mickey's Fun Wheel.
Back in 2006, this was known as the Sun Wheel.

And back in 2006, this was the one ride that severely FREAKED ME OUT. (Please excuse the weird formatting on that old post!)

Those darn sliding gondolas are quite unnerving, and Katie loved watching my reaction. We and our gondola-mates had fun screaming our way from end to end as the wheel moved around. Good times.

Of course, the view from the Fun Wheel was as cool as I remembered.

After riding the ferris wheel, we walked past Toy Story Mania, a newer attraction with a line that was hours (yes, plural) long.

At least we got to see a certain spud. (That ride wasn't on our priority list anyway. So there.)

We didn't pass up this photo op, though.

Funny, but I don't remember seeing, much less eating, churros back in '06. This trip, though? They were EVERYWHERE! So yes, Katie and I had to get in on some of that sugary-cinnamon goodness.

After our churro break, we were within the Fastpass window for Tower of Terror. I remembered the big tip from Ridemax: Once you're in the window for one ride's Fastpass, you can go ahead and get another.
So we did! Sometime between getting in line for the Fun Wheel and actually riding it, California Screamin' had reopened, and that coaster was restored to its rightful place on our "to do" list.

We crossed the park and finally, FINALLY got to ride Katie's fave.

So. Much. Fun. We LOVE the major airtime on this ride! We ended up riding the Tower of Terror two more times, far exceeding our expectations on such a busy day. YAY!

After a wimpy lunch of hot dogs and chips, Katie climbed around on the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.
Yet again, a walk-through attraction with zero line lured us right on in. (We also walked through the Mission Tortilla Factory for the same reason.)

Much of California Adventure is boarded up because of the massive park overhaul that will be completed in 2012. We missed Mulholland Madness and the Maliboomer, but the new Little Mermaid dark ride, not to mention the massive Cars land elsewhere in the park, should be incredible!

People, people everywhere, but at least in DCA we were able to find some open spaces for pictures like this one!
We were also able to get Katie a Mickey ice cream bar with little waiting, a minor miracle considering those crowds.

Katie was good to go for hours more, but my claustrophobia started kicking in around mid-afternoon. Katie indulged me and we left DCA for Downtown Disney. There we shopped and found ourselves an actual sit-down restaurant for suppertime: Rainforest Cafe. We did have a slight wait there, but that just gave us time to try out the photo booth:
The best part of that photo booth was the video that played while we waited for our pictures to print. The video showed us posing and repositioning. Too funny!

Aaaaaah!!! Real food! And a real chair! And a real Dr Pepper in a real (plastic) glass!

We took a potty break and rode the tram out to our car to dump our purchases and my big camera, too.

After that, I was refreshed and Katie was more than ready to get back to riding. We went back to DCA and took a spin on Soaring Over California before heading back to Tower of Terror.

Along the way, we walked through the Hollywood Backlot area again. After dark, it had transformed into ElecTRONica, a massive street party complete with sci-fi effects. (Click here to see one guest's video of ElecTRONica.)

Back in Disneyland (which was open later), we checked out the lights and managed to fit in another visit to the Haunted Mansion.

Next on our list: Space Mountain. We were too late to get a Fastpass, but we didn't care. We bit the bullet and got in the long line.

Was it worth it? Totes.

As was our whole day. They don't call it the Magic Kingdom for nothin'.

By the way, Flat Raider made an encore appearance. He'd been hibernating since July, but even he couldn't stay away from Cinderella's castle all decked out for Christmas.

It was a FANTASTIC day, but one thing kept it from being perfect. It wasn't because of the long lines or the crowds, either. No, my only real complaint is that Katie and I missed seeing the All-Birdville Band parade down Main Street. We didn't find out the parade time until it was too late, and because of all the people, it would've been hard for us to get there from California Adventure anyway. Still, I'm so glad Ryan and the other band kids had that experience, and I'm thankful for the band parent who posted this: