Thursday 17th April
The day dawned much as any other, except that we were to be travelling a long distance. We continued packing our stuff. I was surprised that Viv managed to pack everything into one suitcase. Just around half past eleven, Barry, a taxi driver who goes to our church, arrived to pick us up and take us to the airport. It's only about half an hour if you go at a quiet time of day, so before long we were in the capital's airport. We checked in, which is something of a performance when you have a collection of people spread over a variety of passports, but it didn't take too long, all things considered.
Not long and we wandered over to the domestic departures area and were able to get on our plane to Auckland. Air New Zealand has followed the British Midland style and gone to reduced in-flight service, but we still got coffee and a biscuit. It was a very quiet flight. By this I mean that it lacked turbulence, rather than lacking people. Maundy Thursday is a day when a lot of people travel, because of the long weekend. On arrival in Auckland, we walked the half mile to the international terminal. Viv wanted to catch the inter terminal bus, but I wanted to walk. For once I won.
The connection was a tight one, however, with just an hour and a quarter from our arrival in Auckland to our departure. As well as the walk between terminals, we also had to pay departure tax, which can only be done at a bank in the airport. It seems bizarre that we can pay our US taxes with the ticket, but can't pay our NZ taxes until we reach the airport of departure: we couldn't even have done this in Wellington. After that, it was a quick trip through immigration and onto the plane. There's really very little you can say about an Air New Zealand 747-400 that hasn't already been said. They're nicer up in the premium cabins, but we were sitting in the economy cabin, in row 31. I don't recommend that row. There's an icy blast of air coming from somewhere that makes people feel less than perfect. As I've said elsewhere, the Pacific just goes on and on. A meal, a film, another film, a meal and it's still there, blue and seemingly endless. We were offered a great number of films during the flight, but I don't recall watching any of them on the way there. Having left at 4:15 on Thursday afternoon, we arrived in Los Angeles just before 9:30 on Thursday morning. The International Date Line does that to you. Immigration and customs into the US were pleasantly straightforward, considering what might be expected in the current political climate, and we were soon on our way out onto the street.
We picked up a taxi van on the basis that it wouldn't cost much more than a coach for the five of us and would be (a) quicker and (b) door-to-door. We were soon shooting down the six-lane (in each direction) freeway to Anaheim on a smoggy morning. We pulled into the Anaheim Hilton, dropped our bags and were on our way to Disneyland, a block and half away and "the happiest place on earth". Viv and I had agreed to start off with the railroad right round the park so that the boys could see what they were in for. Matthew, who really couldn't see what could possibly be in a park to make five days worthwhile was amazed by what he saw as we went round the edge of the park - there really is enough for you to spend days there! After the orientation trip, we went up Main Street USA and into one of the lands. I must admit that it gets to be a bit of a fog to remember exactly what we did on each day.
The main disappointment is that Space Mountain is closed at the moment, but we went on all the other mountain rides - Splash Mountain, Matterhorn bobsleds and Big Thunder Mountain. We didn't miss the children's rides either - Dumbo and the magic teacups were two of the very few omitted. The boys were not thrilled by the new Winnie-the-Pooh ride, but it's essential visiting for anyone with psychedelic tendencies, as the bright colours and melodic music. I think the boys are at the age between the innocence of youth and adulthood for them not to appreciate this ride. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was more to their taste, but last time we were at the park as a family, Matthew was too small to ride it, but this time it was a family trip.
I could go on about the different rides for hours, but if you've been to Disneyland you'll know about them already and if you haven't it will be of no interest to you.
The Pirates of the Caribbean, soon to feature in a feature film of their own, were there, but not without problem. One day during the trip (not the first day) I was stranded on the ride as the sound disappeared and the boats stopped. Matthew and Christopher were in a boat a few ahead of me and suffered the same fate. At lunchtime another day, David met us half an hour late for the same reason. I wanted a final trip round it before we left the park, but I was out of luck too.
By evening, we were all tried and starting to get cold. No cloud means that it gets cold quickly after sunset. We went back to the hotel and slept well.
Friday 18th April
American breakfasts in hotels are always a good thing, even on Good Friday, a day when I won't be eating any meat. David found the bacon too much of a temptation, however. I got through the whole day meat free, with an unusual choice for me of a tuna sandwich at lunchtime. The staple diet for the Disneyland guest should be churros, which are about a cubit long and made of soft doughnut dough and sprinkled with sugar. They don't take nearly as long to eat as they should, especially at $2.75 a pop. That's $13.75 if we all have one, and that's starting to be serious money.
However, this does give me a chance to talk about something other than the rides for a moment. I read on a website that the average Disney fan starts to feel he's not getting value for money if he visits less than an average of eight and a half attractions in a day. We certainly exceeded that by a large margin every day.
I may come back to things I missed later, but I'm just trying to get some thoughts down on paper (paper?) while they're still reasonably fresh.
One thing that is worthy of mention is that a huge Jewish convention was taking place at our hotel: it was Passover weekend. Very clearly orthodox Jews wearing orthodox garb were everywhere in the hotel (except the dining areas) for the whole weekend.
Saturday 19th April
A day off from Disney. We went to Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park down the road. This is a quite different proposition to Disneyland. Disneyland, we venture to say, is America as it should be, while Knott's is America as it is. As such, it's a little bit run down, and the accents are slightly harder for an English ear to follow. There are less attendants to keep an eye on you or to pick up the trash, but the rides are not the same as Disneyland either. There are real roller coasters, including an old wooden roller coaster called "Ghost Rider" which has a long queue even at opening time. The Jaguar is newer and still pretty exciting. The boys wanted to have a go at "Perilous Plunge" but were turned away for not meeting the size requirements, which were strictly enforced. This wasn't a height issue, but a girth issue: the belts were too loose for them. We discovered after we got home that the probable reason for this was a death on the ride in late 2002. Details at http://www.themeparkinsider.com which is a very useful site indeed for more cheerful park information too.
Knott's traditional chicken dinners and boysenberry pies are famous and we had them for lunch. If you order beer with it, you also get a wrist band to wear which reads "legal age" which seems ridiculous for adults of 41 and 37. Still, if that's the policy... The lunches are not really to an English palate.
There are other rides at Knott's which none of us were prepared to attempt. We don't like rollers with reverse loops and one had a shape like an inverted U with a literal 90 degree down stretch. No thanks.
Not too late that we hopped into a taxi and went back to Anaheim for the night and to prepare for the next morning.