Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Something Different at Disneyland

Well, we didn’t expect it to be so crowded today, what with the impending rain and the fact that it is Monday. Don’t you people work? Of course not; you go to Disneyland. I’ve never seen so many strollers in one place before, like a convention for the American Stroller Pushers Society. I was bobbing and weaving and it was all I could do to dodge endlessly sequential wrecks, and it seemed that I was always going against the flow of traffic no matter which way I was headed.

And I’ve discovered that there are some people in this world that heartedly deserve a set of stroller wheels to the ankles. I mean, who is callous and selfish enough to stop suddenly in the middle of the street to check out the map? Unless you’re wearing a “I’m a jerk and I make sudden and unexpected stops” sign on your butt, try pulling over out of the way so you don't bottleneck the whole street. Are people that self-absorbed? I hope the bruise on your Achilles tendon is a gentle reminder that, at Disneyland, there always someone behind you. Without question.

Today, since it was so crowded, we set out to do some of the things that don’t involve waiting in line. Now, granted, we failed at most every turn, as we lingered in the bowels of claustrophobia while waiting in the cramped 20-inch-wide line for 40 minutes for the Storybook ride and we languished in three switchbacks to sit on the boat in It’s a Small World… where I just completely checked out. I have been on that ride so many times that the two things I absolutely love—the yak on the plaid mountain and the fat hippo with the glowing eyes—didn’t even register with me, and the next thing I knew, we were back outside again and the ride was over.

Long lines were everywhere, and our old mentality of cutting our loses and returning on a less busy day were coming back to us. As both Kara and I wanted to leave the moment we arrived, and although we vowed that we could skip dropping a good portion of a $50 bill on food that hasn’t yet been fully exorcised of its demons, instead we did just the opposite: Spent $63.33 on shoe leather, dried dough, flaccid wedges of potatoes and a withered clump of lettuce, not to mention convention-style chocolate cake to top it all off. And anyone who has ever eaten at a convention hall knows what I’m talking about, the dry crusty chocolate cake they make for 10,000 people, the kind that tastes like chocolate-flavored bread. Yeah, that.

At any rate, just how we ended with such a hit on my AmEx card is quite a journey.

Long about 2:30, my stomach reminded that part of my brain that controls my temper that it had been sucking the nutrition out of a hastily eaten cupcake since nine o’clock that morning and it finally run out and was looking for something new. My brain responded to the request by threatening to shut down the portion that controls tact and decorum if it didn’t get the stomach fed…not to mention, for every moment that went by without food, my impending crankiness was further adding to my lengthy list of things I hated: those stupid Bluetooth cell phones people wear on their ear all the time even when they’re not talking to anyone; long lines for short rides; double-wide strollers; handicap people who don’t act handicapped; that red flower;

Then, everyone got crabby and we decided that eating a late lunch/early dinner was in order. We had just walked all the way over from Critter Country after riding on the ever-craptacular Winnie the Pooh ride and we were standing next to the Mexican place in Frontier Land, so for the sake of convenience, I saw it as a good idea to eat there. Last time we did, I enjoyed it. It was filling and it didn’t taste half bad, proving that even Disneyland can’t screw up beans and rice. However, Kara wanted a hamburger from Hungry Bear, but acquiesced and agreed to settle on a burrito instead. Natalie didn’t want to eat at all, and frankly, I didn’t care as long as I began eating before I tore off someone’s head and started gnawing on that.

Now, I’ve known my dear wife for many, many years. She doesn’t have to say a word to me and I know what she is thinking, as she has been blessed with a bevy of expressions that tell me more about how she feels than any of her words could ever. As we were standing at the counter waiting to order her burrito, tray in hand, Kara had a look of disappointment. No, let’s call it a look of disgust, really, as she just oozed a sudden loathing for burritos. I groaned, put back the try and we left for the long return to Critter Country to dine in high style at the Hungry Bear.

At that point, I didn’t care where we ate, or what it was we ate, I just wanted to eat. But wouldn’t you know it? Once we had trekked all the way across half the park to the Hungry Bear, it was closed. Kara bought me a churro as a consolation prize, which is nothing but a stretched-out wet cinnamon doughnut, but sugar makes the rage go away.

A while later, we found ourselves across the “street” at California Adventure, plying the boardwalk in search of food. At the onset, Kara had suggested that we dine with the characters at Ariel’s Grotto, a themed restaurant where Ariel and the other princesses visit your table, pose for pictures and talk to you while you eat. Most of my poor judgment involving food is a result of a lack of it, and this proved to be no exception. We went in and inquired about any openings (it is always crowded and the last time we made a plea for a table, they were booked for the day), but today, they had an opening.

Now, for a word of advice: If the host asks you, “Do you know how our menu system works?” it is a good time to abandon all hope of eating a frugal meal. Each plate was $20.99 for adults and $13.99 for children 3 to 10-years old (I guess if you’re 11, in the eyes of Disneyland, you should be tried as an adult), but for kids under 3, it is free… so we had that going for us.

Quite surprised with myself, I agreed without question, just wanting some sort of food regardless of the price, but murmured to Kara as we walked down the stairs to the restaurant, “What did we get ourselves into?” I had felt like I had just purchased a car and paid too much and there was nothing I could do about it but drive off into the sunset and rue the day the bill comes. And rue I did.

The hostess paraded us through the restaurant to a booth in the very back, not just the back, but the back corner, set off from the other booths by the kitchen door, where our view consisted of an empty table, the bright setting sun and nothing else. Meanwhile, there is jocular activity going on in the center of restaurant, well out of view. Someone is announcing the arrival of a random family as the meal’s host and they are reading a proclamation about something and we can’t see a damn thing. Now, remember, I’m paying $20.99 for this… for just me, not to mention the cost for the rest of the brood, and all the while Natalie’s craning her neck to get a better view of what was going on and the setting sun was in her eyes. Cripes!

Granted, I’m still remarkably hungry, nay, famished, and I’m getting a little pissed off at all this. Why would anyone build a booth in the very back corner of this freakin’ place and then expect people to be able to see out of it. It’s called “Ariel’s Grotto” and that’s not lost on me, but every both doesn’t have to be a mini grotto all to itself, does it? This isn’t a romantic restaurant where I would like some privacy with my date. I’m paying good money to look at princesses.

Then, insult to injury, some server sets down one of those big round trays full of dirty dishes on a fold-up stand in front of our table, blocking part of our view of the empty table in front of us and replacing it with dirty dishes, someone else’s dishes, someone else’s half-eaten food. Is that what my hamburger’s going to look like when I don’t want to finish it either? Furthermore, our booth was situated, apparently, behind the spot where servers stand when they’re assessing their tables. You know that corner in every restaurant where waiters and waitresses congregate, peer out over the restaurant and decide whether or not they’re going to “forget” to bring you an extra napkin or a side of ranch dressing to dip your sweat-socks fries into for a speckling of flavor… well, behind that spot was our table and a further good percentage of our view was blocked by Burly Waiter Number Two.

All this for $63.33.

I had had enough. I told Kara that we’ll wait and ask the waitress if we can move to the empty table in front of us, a table that won’t have the sun in our face and will afford a great view of the rest of the room. I sat there for a while, waiting for her to come back and chewing on bread and steaming. I’ve come to a point in my life where I’m not going to sit around and complain about something and not do anything about it. Why should I settle for compromise, especially when I’m paying handsomely for it? What was I doing sitting there? “We’re not waiting for the waitress. We’re moving.” I announced and began picking up our stuff.

Just then, she came back, and I told her, “We’re going to move to that table there,” I said, pointing to the open one.

“Did you request it?” she asked, somewhat put out.

Request it? Request it? If I want eat off the floor, I sure as hell will. Request nothing. “No.”

“Well, I check with the host.” Which she did, and after she left, I told Kara, “Did she think I was asking permission.”

Then I began to prepare scenarios for both situations upon her return. 1) She comes back, says it’s okay and we move, graciously thanking her; or 2) She comes back, explains that a move would violate restaurant policy… and I get irate, demand to see the manager and threaten to leave while making a scene (yes, I was that hungry). Fists on tables, raised voices, those sorts of things.

Lucky for all parties involved, we moved and had a great view of the whole place (picture above). They sat another family at our old booth (you can see it in the picture behind Ariel below), I was tempted to do one of those, “Psst, hey buddy, don’t sit there. Over here’s better,” but then I remembered the first rule of Disneyland: “Every man for himself.”

The parade of regrettable foods emerges from the kitchen, each course worse than the one that preceded it. The kids’ food topped the list as the poorest of affairs. Remember that Natalie’s plate cost me $13.99, but guess what it consisted of: About a 1/3 of a box of Macs&Cheese, one boiled hot dog cut to look like an octopus and a handful of Goldfish sprinkled throughout. Street value of her entire meal (including the three carrots, three pieces of celery, caramel drizzled apple slices and a cup of milk): $2.14; net profit for Disney, roughly $11.00. Nice going Walt.

But really, what made it all worthwhile—and this is where Disney really gets me—what washed down the soggy fries and the tepidly arid shank of cow leather was seeing the delight in Natalie’s eyes as she got to meet, in person, all of the princesses she has grown to love and admire, especially Ariel, The Little Mermaid, her heroine.

To Ariel, Natalie told her that her name was Natalie when she was asked, but after that, for the other princesses, Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, and Jasmine, she started to announce that her name was “Ariel.” The first thing they would ask Natalie was, “What’s your name?” and each time, she answered “Ariel.” They didn’t think anything of it, of course, but I find it funny that she told Ariel her real name instead of saying her name was Ariel too, as if she thought, you don’t lie to The Little Mermaid, not your idol. She’ll see right through you.

Each princess stopped by our table for a brief chat, some small talk: how are you doing, I’m glad you came, it was nice meeting you, would you like to take a picture, what is your name, you’re so cute, etc., and it wasn’t until we met Cinderella, did she reveal a little more about herself.

Both of the kids were given shiny paper crowns, similar to the ones you used to get a Burger King for your birthday (and I had to ask for them… another checkmark), and Matthew didn’t want anything to do with it, of course, yanking it off every time Kara put it on his head. So it ended up on the floor, and when Cinderella sauntered up between Matthew and Natalie, she noticed that his crown was on the floor, saying something to the effect of: “My, little one, you seemed to have dropped your crown.”

Then she bent over to pick it up. And wouldn’t you know it, but her blue dress falls wide open and I’m staring down her top, face to face with Cinderella’s flaming red bra that seemed to only be doing half the job. My, Cinderella, what do you have planned for after the ball? It was quite unexpected, and it felt as though I had seen a nun’s habit blow up in the wind. We're talking about sacred ground here, only tread upon by Prince Charming…but then again, she was just a woman dressed up like Cinderella who likes to wear skimpy underwear to work.

So, for $63.33, I got four plates of crappy food and quite a eyeful of Cinderella; now how many of you can say that?

After that, we went back to Disneyland as it seemed that a lot of the crowds had dispersed, so we were able to go on a few more rides. All day, I had been trying to convince Natalie to go on The Haunted Mansion to see some “ghosties” but each time, I was shot down because she wanted to go on her “favorite ride,” which seemed to always be the next ride she wanted to go on. While we were waiting for the Casey Jr. Train, she wanted me to pick her up. She begged, held onto my hands and jumped up and down… so I traded her, I’d pick her up and carry her if she’d go on Haunted Mansion with me. Surprisingly, she said yes.

Of course, she loved it and claimed she wasn’t scared one bit, but when the lights went out in the elevator and everybody screams at the guy hanging from the ceiling, she grabbed onto me pretty tight.


That was it. We ended the day with a nighttime Jungle Cruise ride (much better than during the day) and walked back to our amazing awesome parking spot.

Three minutes later, both kids were dead asleep, and we made it home in record time.

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