Category: Places (Page 4 of 5)


Monday I went to Disneyland for the first time in 20 years. My last visit had been during the 30th anniversary and I barely remember it. My first visit, only three years later, is instead chiseled into my memory.
Like every other kid in the world I had dreamt of going to Disneyland one day. From the shores of the La Plata river in Argentina, that dreamed seemed fully unattainable. But the illness of my sister, the search for an ever-ellusive kidney, had deposited us in Southern California and after checking into the hospital and securing a car and a place to live, going to Disneyland was the first thing in the agenda.
For months before our trip to the US I had wished myself to dream about Disneyland before I went to sleep. But I didn’t know what to dream about, the few pictures of the place I’d seen had not given me a fair image of what Disneyland was. I’d been to one amusemant park before, the Italpark in Buenos Aires. Its bumper cars, ghost train, small rollercoaster and even its flying dumbos assured that however high my dreams, the reality of Disneyland would not disappoint. Today, after having been to several amusement parks in the US and Europe, Disneyland just seems like just one more. But back then, it was a complete new universe.
Lines must not have been much of an issue in 1981 because I remember jumping from one ride to the next, being enchanted by the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean, feeling included by the little gaucho in It’s a Small World (my mom’s favorite ride), being amazed by the submarine ride and excited to drive a car in Autopia. Even the tea cups and Tom Sawyer’s island were amazing fun. That first visit, and the one that followed a few months later when our aunt came to visit, was pure magic. As I recalled it and recounted it to my husband, I wished that our daughter could feel the same, while knowing there was no way she could. Without much exposure to Disney, much less awareness of Disneyland, for her this would be just another place.
And it was.
The park
We “ chose” to go to Disneyland a Monday in April, right before the celebrations for its 50th Anniversary. I thought the park would not be crowded, that people would chose to wait a week and see wha new Disneyland had to offer. I was wrong, as the place was full of people. Who knows? Perhaps Disneyland is never uncrowded anymore.
toontown_car1-1.jpgThe park has not changed much in the last twenty years. There were several new rides of which I tried four, but in general they’ve replaced others which have closed. There is a new section, Toon Town, which is very cool for little kids, as they have things to climb into and explore in addition to rides.
This time around, Disneyland didn’t feel any different to me than any other amusement park. Watching the people rush from ride to ride, wait in interminable lines and in general look hurried and tired, took away from any magic I might have once felt.
The rides
We started our visit in the New Orleans area. We were able to go to both Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion without having to wait in line. Both rides were very much like I remembered, I was once again amazed at the special effects and animatronics (considering how long ago they were built), though of course, they weren’t as cool as I’d once thought them to be. We also took on the Winnie the Pooh ride, which was nice and colorful but it went too fast for a 3 year old. Indeed, this was a general complaint about all the children rides at Disneyland, they moved too fast for little kids to take in the action.
We then continued to the Indiana Jones ride, for which we’d gotten fast passes. Even then, it took like 20 minutes to get out of the ride, including the loooong walk to the carts and standing in the shorter line. The ride was enjoyable (and it also went too fast) but not particularly thrilling. I would have been terribly disapointed if I’d had to wait more than what I did. One particularly cool special effect doesn’t work well if you’re not seated in the front seat, though another one is more thrilling if you’re further behind. Next time I go to Disneyland, I’ll probably skip it.
Little kids are not allowed in this ride, so while we went Mika spent time at the Tarzan Treehouse, she seemed to enjoy herself there.
We were then off to fantasyland. We took on the Snow White and the Pinocchio rides, both were too short, too fast and a bit scary for Mika, but mostly uninteresting to her as she didn’t know the stories. Without knowing the stories, they don’t make much sense. Still, the lines for these rides were fairly short which made them worth it. We also stayed in a LOOOOONG line for the Peter Pan ride. I’d forgotten about it, but I’d read you went on flying ships and wanted to do it. It was cool, but once again way too short for the wait time and there is no way I’d wait in line for it again. Mika, again, was unimpressed.
She was much more thrilled by the King Arthur Carrousel, it’s amazing how for little kids the basics are often the best.
We then headed to Toon Town, where we’d gotten fast passes for the Roger Rabbit Car Toon Spin. We didn’t need them as even at mid-day, there was no line at all. The ride was OK, fast and colorful, but again nothing special. None of us were impessed.
The rest of Toon Town was fun, specially for a toddler. Mika loved Chip & Dale’s tree house, Donald’s Boat, and the other little buildings and props she could explore. Next time around we’ll spend more time in this section.
We went to the Blue Bayou for lunch, which ate about an hour and a half of our day. After that we headed to Tom Sawyer island. Waiting for the rafts was a drag, but Mika enjoyed herself exploring all he caves and jumping on the suspended bridges. This section made me wish I was a kid again.
We tried to go to the bountiful farm, but it was closed by then, so we headed back to Fantasyland, where Mika and Kathy braved the long wait for the Flying dumbos. Mika loved it, though, which made it worth it.
It’s a small world was also a winner, we all could agree it was great. The dolls are beautiful and seeing them gives you a nice, warm feeling. The song is also catchy and had us sing it for the rest of the day.
We were then off to Tomorrowland where we waited in line for what’s probably the 2nd most stupid ride (after Muholland Madness in California Adventure) in all of creation: Autopia. I’ve never been in a more boring ride in my life. Alas, Mika LOVED driving the car and she wanted to go again – the wait was too long, however.
buzz_blasters-1.jpgBuzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, another new ride, was actually a blast. You go in two-person carts which you can turn around, and have guns that you aim at targets that you try to shoot. Mike was quite good at it, but even little kids can get points by just shooting aimlessly. At the end of the ride, you get a digital picture which you can e-mail home. It was great and Mika enjoyed it.
astro_orbitor-1.jpgFinally, Mika headed to Astro Orbitor, a ride where you spin around in rockets that you can direct up and down. She loved it too.

In all we had quite a good time. I was annoyed by the long lines, and next year I’ll try to find even a less busy time to go, but getting there right at opening time was good for at least getting some rides in. Next year I’ll also get Mika more acquainted at least with the stories behind the rides so she can be more excited about it. Who knows? perhaps by next year she’ll be into princesses like practically every other little girl anyway. She’ll also be tall enough to be able to take on other rides.

California Adventure

California Adventure gets a bad rap. Amusement park aficionados complain about the lame rides (and for the most part they’re right), Disney fans are disappoined at how generic the park looks (and they’re right too) and parents of small children complain there isn’t much for them to do there. They are wrong. Thursday I took my 3 year-old daughter to the park and we had a great time. She enjoyed herself much more there than at Disneyland, and I’m already planning to take her back next year.
We wouldn’t have gone to California Adventure at all but we got “free” tickets with our Disneyland ticket purchases. It was a deal for residents of Southern California, they only asked for one ID when we purchased the tickets at the park, and not at the entrance. The tickets had to be used by April 28, so we (my brother, sister, Mika and I) went yesterday.
The park is considerably smaller than Disneyland and most amusement parks I’ve gone to (though it’s probably about the size of Parc Asterix in Paris). It has a limited amount of rides, and perhaps for that reason it’s only open from 10 AM to 6 PM during the day. We got there probably a little after 11 am and we still managed to only do about 2/3rds of the park even though we didn’t stop for lunch. Most of the rides are for children who are at least 40″ tall; our daughter is considerably shorter than that so that limited what rides we could all go into. For much of the time, Mika and I went together while my sister and brother rode the big-kid rides. Sometimes we switched and Kathy took care of Mika. We got several fastpasses, which made standing in line not as big a deal (and we went on a day which was supposed to be rainy, though it was beautifully sunny) and a couple of child switch tickets.
We started at the Paradise Pier section, an area made to look as a waterfront traditional amusement park, and thus reminiscent of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This is were most of the big rides are located. Mika and I went to King Triton’s Carousel, a run-of-the-mill merry-go-round with whimsically shaped and colored sea animals. There was no line when we got there and Mika enjoyed herself. We then headed to the Sun Wheel, a large ferris wheel with swinging carts. As is the case with ferris wheels in general, the line here moved very slowly and when we got to it, the ride wasn’t that thrilling. The swinging was kind of nice, and at first it scared Mika, though once we started making funny noises when the car swang she started enjoying herself. Still, even though you only get two rounds around the wheel I was bored before we exited. I wouldn’t go again unless there was no wait at all.
David and Kathy went to all the rollercoasters on this area, and they weren’t thrilled by any of them. They said some were fine, but in general not as thrilling as those at Magic Mountain. I don’t like rollercoasters so the only I went to was Mulholland Madness, which must be one of the lamest rides in the world. It’s just a small rollercoaster with some sharp turns and short falls and nothing else. Take my advise and skip it altogether.
Mika enjoyed the S.S. Rustworthy, a small area with two water cannons (they really should have put some more, even in a day with so few children it was hard to get any time at the cannons) and some “sprinklers” that shot water randomly. She had a blast trying to guess when the water would come and get herself wet. She wasn’t too succesful, but she played here for a loooong time. She also loved the Golden Zephyr, some rocket-shaped gondollas suspended on wires that go around and around. She’d liked a similar ride at Disneyland. The line was pretty long but she wanted to go on it again after she was done going once.
Our second stop was the Golden State, a small area made to look like the California wilderness. There isn’t much in this section, the only ride is the Grizzly River Run, where you ride in a circular “raft” down “rapids” and get wet in the process. The ride is made to look like it’s going through an abandoned mine, and the scenery is quite nice, but the ride itself is less than thrilling. You get more wet and have more fun at similar rides at Great America and Magic Mountain. I wouldn’t have bothered going twice, even though with the fastpass we didn’t have to wait at all.
Our 3-year-old was too short for this ride, so she spent her time at the Redwood Creek Challenge, a little outdoor playground that has a couple of stands, several high-platforms (where Mika decided to play house) and lots of hanging and rope bridges. For older kids they also have tire rides and a rock climbing wall – Mika wanted to do it but once again she was too short. She had a great time in this section, though and was able to spend about an hour playing here with no purpose. Also in this area they have the “The Magic of Brother Bear” show. Kathy saw it with her but she said Mika enjoyed it. She did like seeing the bears, once she got over her fear that they would eat her. She hasn’t seen the Brother Bear movie yet, but I’m planning to rent it now that she’s seen the show.
This area of the park also features examples of California’s industry – from a tortilla factory to a winery. We didn’t have time to explore this section, but I’d like to next time.
Our next stop was Soarin’ Over California, which I loved. This is an IMAX theater where your seats rise so that your feet are hanging down. The movie are scenes of California’s scenery shown from the air, so you get the impression that you are flying through the whole state. It’s quite wonderful and I really enjoyed it. The only down side, aside from the wait (and we had fast passes) was that we were in the second row, so we couldn’t avoid seeing the feet of the people on top of us hanging down. That took a bit away from the illusion. Try to get the first row you can.
mist.jpgMika was too short to go on that ride, but fortunately there was a mister outside and it’s amazing how much fun a little kid can have just playing in the fine mist.
Our next stop was a bug’s land where we hurried to It’s Tough to Be a Bug!, an amazing 3-D movie. Mika has seen A bug’s life so she was at least familiar with the characters (she hasn’t seen most of the Disney movies, which was really a minus for enjoying the two parks). We were able to get in with no wait, and after a bit of trouble Mika actually put on the 3D glasses. The movie was amazing, I won’t give up any of the “secrets” that make it so enjoyable, but let me just say that I had no idea 3D effects had come so far. You really feel like you can touch the bugs flying in front of you. Indeed, the second time Mika saw the show she tried to grab one.
I went off to pump after that, and Mika stayed with my siblings who after taking her to see the show again, took her to Princess Dot Puddle Park, a water play area. Fortunately it was nice and sunny by then and Mika enjoyed herself a lot. She also got very wet, fortunately we’d brought a change of clothing.
Unfortunately we didn’t have time to sample any of the other rides in this area as I wanted to catch the Aladdin Show. Mika decided to throw a tantrum on the way there (she wanted cotton candy, I wouldn’t buy her any) so getting to the show wasn’t fun and we were pretty late getting there. We grabbed seats at the last row of the balcony, so we were pretty much as far away from the stage as we could be. Still, I really liked the show. The production values were very high, the staging was gorgeous and the show pretty interesting. Mika hadn’t seen the movie before, so she couldn’t really follow the action much, but she was still mostly interested and even though she was really tired by then, she paid quite a lot of attention. I’d certainly recommend you see it.
It was 5:30 PM by the time we got out and as we were so exhausted we decided to head home. On the way out we passed on the Disney Animation building and we decided to go in. I’m glad we did because it was really cool. We headed to the Sorcerer’s Workshop area, which is divided into three rooms. In one, you can look into Snow White’s stepmother’s mirror and hear it talk and see how animation works. In another, you can find out what princess you are most like (Cinderella, in my case, which seems very unlikely) and in the last and most fun part, you can sing part of a song or read a couple of lines of dialogue and hear it juxtaposed to part of the movie in question. We had a lot of fun doing that. It works better if you’ve seen the movies in question, but fortunately one of them was “The Lion King” which Mika really likes (unfortunately, we didn’t see any other Lion King references in either of the parks, Mika would have LOVED to meet Simba).
After that it was time to go and off we went.
In all, we had a great time and as I said above I’m looking forward to going again next year.

Birthday at Sulphur Creek Nature Center

Last Saturday we threw our 3 year old a birthday party at Sulphur Creek Nature Center. It was great, we couldn’t have chosen a better place to have a birthday party.
Sulphur Creek Nature Center is a wildlife education and rehabilitation facility nested in the middle of Hayward’s suburban sprawl. It seems almost miraculous that such a slice of nature, complete with its tall trees, singing birds and humming critters, can appear so suddenly after blocks and blocks of houses. The park is pretty small, but large enough for 3 yo’s to run around. They have cages with rescued animals, lots of birds (even a huge golden eage) and a couple of coyotes. The children LOVED looking at them.
The nature center building includes an exhibit hall, with aquariums/terrariums with life fish and lizards, and a birthday room/classroom in the back. Birthday parties ($120-160) include a one hour presentation plus 3 hours use of the birthday room. In summer/nice days you can have the party outside on the picnic tables, but it was rainy the day we had the party so having the birthday room was great.
The presentation is carried out by Christine, a wonderful docent that knows both how to entertain and how to control raucous little children. It includes an introduction to two animals, a puppet show and a craft. You get to chose the animals from a long list of small mamals, snakes and a couple of others. We chose a chinchilla, as we figured it’d be a treat for everyone to pet this, the softest animal on the planet, and a duck, as I figured kids often get to chase ducks but practically never touch them.
I was extremely happy with the way all of it went. The puppet show was first, and about half the kids paid attention half the time – not bad for a bunch of 3 yo’s who were mostly interested in chasing each other. Then they got to see the animals, they had to seat on pieces of carpet as the docent talked about the animals and had everyone pet them (twice!). They also got to feed them – a seed in the case of the chinchilla, a worm in the case of the duck – either out of their hand or out of a plate, that was great as some of the little kids were reluctant to get the animals so close to their hands. Kids also got to see the chinchilla take a “bath” in extremely soft ashes – and got to feel these ashes. The kids also made a circle around a sheet that was placed on the floor for the ducks to walk around, as they quacked and pooped. They all LOVED it. Hey, we adults loved it too!
After that the kids were taken to the birthday room for a craft. They seemed less interested in this.
The birthday room includes two long tables – one tall for the adults and a short one for the kids. It’s a classroom so the room it’s pretty crowded, but there is some counter space, a sink and you can refrigerate/freeze a couple of small things (the refrigerator/freezers are mostly filled with the staff’s stuff). The room is mostly a classroom so it doesn’t have any birthday decorations and there isn’t any room for them, though we managed to hang a Happy Birthday sign over the wall. There wasn’t a place to hang our pinata, so Mike held it while the children pulled the strings. We had about 7 children and 10 adults and the room was pretty much at capacity – you can have up to 20 children, but that would be too many for the room. About half the people we invited came, however.
In all, the birthday party went great and I will probably hold another one for one my daughters at Sulphur Creek in the future.

Places to take my 3yo in LA

I asked for suggestions of places where to take my 3 yo when we’re visiting her grandparents in the Los Angeles area. These are some of the suggestions we’ve gotten. If you know of other places, please make a comment.
You’ll see that this list doesn’t include the LA Zoo – my parents took her during her last visit and they were very disappointed. There were very few animals and these were far away from each other.
The Long Beach Aquarium
Santa Monica Pier
Train Museum in Griffith park
Kids Zone @ 4th and Broadway (indoor play area)
Huntington Botanical Gardens
Descanso Gardens
Exposition Park

  • Natural History Museum (dinosaur exhibit)
  • California Science Center & IMAX
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