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View Full Version : Remillard - April 24 to 27, 2010 - Grand Californian



remillard
05-03-2010, 01:11 PM
Travel dates: April 24-27, 2010
Travel method: Fly OAK-SNA on Southwest, hired car from SNA to DLR
Resort: DLR
Accommodations: GCH
Ages Represented in Group: 38, 38, 9, 7
Disney Resort Experience Represented in Group: Me before kids: 8-10 visits to DLR; DW before kids: 2 visits to DLR; all four of us together: 3 visits to DLR (2004-2006), 1 visit to WDW (2008)
Comments: We always go during weekdays at non-peak times to avoid crowds
Cast of characters: Me, DW, DD9, DD7

We recently had to cancel a non-Disney vacation because of an unanticipated work conflict. To “make up for it,” we planned a surprise trip to DLR. The kids had no idea we were going on vacation, much less where. We secretly packed their suitcase and stuck it in the trunk. The family went out for dim sum in Oakland, then headed toward the airport. It wasn’t until we were looking for a space in an off-site parking lot that the kids figured out that something was up.

SATURDAY

Arrived at OAK around 1:45pm for a 3:25pm flight on SWA. Kids were in a frenzy with excitement and suspense. Parents provided helpful clues like “where we’re going, you will see a camel. Not a camel on a screen, but one that is bigger than you and moves around.” Our flight happened to go OAK-SNA-PHX, so even after we boarded, they did not know if we were going to SNA or PHX, or if this was the only flight of the day. It helped that they did not know what Orange County was, or associate it with DLR (they thought DLR was in LA).

At SNA we were picked up by Prompt Limos. I found this company through limos.com, flat rate of $45 one-way including taxes and tip. The price looked good compared to a shuttle or taxi, and this way we got a Chrysler 300 sedan to ourselves with no other stops. The driver was prompt and courteous. The only knock I have on them was that they advertised they would have cold bottled water and did not. I recommend them and would repeat (and did, for the way back).

Kids finally figured it out with certainty when we were exiting on “Disney Drive.” We arrived at GCH and checked in around 4:30pm. This was our first time staying at a Disney property at DLR (previous trips were HoJo, Desert Inn, and many stays at Candy Cane). We had a good experience staying at the Beach Club in WDW, so we thought we would try out a Disney hotel. And if we’re going to try a Disney hotel, we figured we might as well go for the flagship. We decided this would be a good trip because we were so DLR-focused, just four days in and out with no rental car. Usually we have a car and incorporate DLR into a 7-9 day trip.

By the end of the trip, we concluded that GCH is “worth it” for this type of trip, where you are taking advantage of the property and not just using it for a crash pad at night. The property itself is beautiful, especially the impressive lobby. Overall, I do not think the rooms and facilities are the end all be all. Yeah, I guess it's a 4-star, but it’s not like this is the most fabulous hotel in the world. The main draw is the location, and there were several times on this trip when we were glad to be able to have a 5 minute walk instead of a 15 minute walk. We used the monorail to Downtown Disney a lot, and GCH is very close to the station. The rooms are fairly small (for example, I stayed at the Venetian in Las Vegas the week before and had a much larger room). The biggest knock I had was the lack of 24 hour lobby computer with complimentary access. This normally is not a problem because they have WiFi throughout GCH as part of the resort fee, but my laptop died a couple days before and I had no computer. There is a guest computer in the business center, but it is only open from 8am to 5pm and guess what, I’m in the park during those hours.

First order of business was swimming. GCH has three pools (plus a wading pool) and two hot tubs. The Redwood Pool has a big waterslide and a little waterslide, which the kids liked. The other two pools were kind of boring, standard pools. I had been hoping that guests of one Disney hotel could have privileges at the other two, but they don’t. I wanted to check out the Neverland pool and the sandy pool at DLH. The kids had a good time at the pools for this trip simply because they like swimming, but I was a little disappointed that GCH did not do more with the opportunity.

Saturday was mostly for getting ourselves to DLR and getting familiar with GCH. Dinner was at Napa Rose (prior reservations made through Disney Dining). It’s a very nice restaurant, beautiful interior, excellent service. I think it could be viable in Napa Valley, although perhaps not one of the superstars like French Laundry. DW and I split two appetizers, lobster ravioli and roasted quail. She had a salmon entrée and I had filet mignon, kids had beef tenderloin. Parents had the Scharffenberger cake for dessert. Kids did not like their “treasure chest” cake desserts – for $15.00, you get a cheap plastic chest with cake inside that is like supermarket sheet cake. They would have preferred the Scharffenberger and no plastic chest. Nevertheless, Napa Rose overall was a happy experience. I would recommend and repeat, although next time we might order more appetizers and no entrees, as the appetizers were better.

SUNDAY

Breakfast at Whitewater Snacks. I expected the kids to want the French toast sticks, but they were reluctant because they could not see what the sticks looked like (made to order in the kitchen), so they split a cinnamon roll and chocolate milk instead.

We got to Main Street Plaza at about 7:45am for Morning Magic (started at 7:00) and used our GCH room keys to bypass the people waiting for normal entry at 8:00. The early morning waits were excellent. By 10:00am, we had already hit: Space Mountain, Buzz (x2), Star Tours, Jungle Cruise, Pirates, Haunted Mansion, and Splash Mountain. After Small World and another Space Mounain, wait times were starting to get “high” (20-30 mins), so we headed over to DCA.

In DCA, our top priority was Aladdin because it is closing in August. The Aladdin show is where the camel was, by the way. We went to Soaring, then Aladdin, then lunch at Taste Pilot’s Grill. Soaring again after lunch, then we went back to GCH to go swimming.

Soaring one more time (using a fastpass from earlier in the day) before dinner, then we went to Storyteller’s. I do not recommend Storyteller’s and would not repeat. We did the buffet, which sounded great on paper. Standard fruit and salad section at the beginning of the buffet, some tasty corn chowder, fried chicken nuggets & mac and cheese, tortellini in a cream sauce, teriyaki chicken, teriyaki salmon, and then a carvery station with roast turkey and beef tenderloin. The tenderloin was overcooked (not just one roast either; I went back a few times). It was depressing to pay $11.95 for this tenderloin for my kids when I paid $13.00 for excellent tenderloin for them the night before in Napa Rose. Seriously, I’d take the Sizzler buffet over the Storyteller one. Weak desserts, too.

Here's a "what the heck was that?" from Storytellers. I dropped my fork and asked CM Errol for another one. He said, "you want another fork? HERE's another fork!" He picked up DW's fork and placed it emphatically in front of me, then stomped away. Another CM (forgot her name), zoomed over and said "please don't mind him; he's always like that." She quickly got me a fork. Later, Errol came back over and said the other woman told him to apologize. He said he was sorry and wasn't trying to be funny, he was just trying to get me a fork as soon as possible. Okay, whatever...

After dinner, we headed back to Tomorrowland. A few rides, then we went in front of the castle for the 9:25pm fireworks show (Sunday was the only fireworks night for this trip). It was a good show because Disney always sends a bunch of fireworks up, but I don’t know if any “normal” fireworks show will live up to the 50th anniversary spectacular show that we saw the last time we visited. After the show, we stayed until closing at midnight. Lines were pretty good (15mins or less), and Autopia was only 10mins compared to 45mins in the daytime. Same for Nemo. We took the monorail back from Tomorrowland to Downtown Disney and got to sit in the front cabin with the train driver.

MONDAY

The kids had said they wanted to get up for early entry into DCA, but predictably everyone was sleepy after staying in DL until midnight the night before. We ended up rolling out of bed closer to 10 and had an early lunch at Whitewater Snacks. I had read that the nachos were really good, so we tried the beef ones. Don’t get too excited – they are slightly better than the nachos you would get at a concert or ballpark. DW was turned off by the processed cheese, but I was fine with it.

First stop of the day was Grizzly River Rapids. We got a fastpass for later, then went in on a 10min wait. Just before our raft was about to go up the escalator, they had to shut the ride down due to a technical problem. We were evacuated (kind of interesting, seeing the inner workings of the ride you don’t normally get to see) and given a voucher. The voucher was the equivalent of a fastpass, good anytime that day, for any ride in either DL or DCA except Toy Story. It came in handy later.

So instead we wandered up to Mulholland Madness. I went with the kids in a 15min line while DW checked out the situation at TSMM. When we got out, DW reported that TSMM was a 30min wait so she got fastpasses for Mulholland again. We went up on the Ferris Wheel, did Mulholland, and headed back to check out GRR. As it turns out, the ride was open again and we were at the tail end of our first fastpasses, so we got to go immediately (only a 15min standby anyway) without using our voucher. We got soaked, and it was very nice having GCH right there so we could go switch into dry clothes.

Back to DL. Kids weren’t interested in the parade, so we just did a variety of rides until the park closed at 9pm. On this trip, at 9 and 7 years old, the kids surprisingly were no longer interested in large sections of the parks. We expected that Bug’s Land would be too kiddy, but they had no interest in most of Fantasyland either (Alice, Teacups, Small World were still okay). They didn’t care about either parade, and we ended up skipping the whole Hollywood Backlot area (Monsters Inc, Muppets). At the same time, they were still too scared of Tower of Terror and Screamin. They also were scared of Matterhorn and Indy, but we convinced them to go. We did Matterhorn on Monday afternoon and used our voucher. This was a great use of the voucher because Matterhorn is not a fastpass ride, but we got to cut to the front anyway and avoided a 50+ minute wait. After the ride, the kids said “Was that all? That was boring.” They had tried Matterhorn when they were 6 and 4 and were scared by the abominable snowmen rather than the track itself. Now they were old enough that they didn’t care about the snowmen and the ride lacked sufficiently thrilling drops and turns.
Kids were happy to see that Tiki Room hadn’t changed. When we went to WDW in 2008, we experienced the Tiki Room “under new management” with Iago and didn’t like it. We hoped that it was a test run, temporary, or just WDW, and that DL wouldn’t also go under new management. I don’t know if it never changed, or if it changed and changed back, but it’s the same old Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.

We caught the 9pm monorail out and had dinner at Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen. This was our third time to this restaurant, and each has been a great experience. Calamari for the kids, gumbo for me, and the soup sampler for DW. Then the kids had grilled chicken (yay, not fried), I had seafood jambalaya, don’t remember what DW had. There was a live music act, really good boogie woogie piano by local artist Rick Solem and I bought a CD. I found myself wondering why I didn’t just go to Ralph Brennan’s two nights in a row instead of going to Storyteller’s the night before.

GCH does turndown service every night. It’s not really a big benefit for us since we are not using the beds in the afternoon, but the kids liked getting chocolates.

TUESDAY

This time we hit Morning Magic at the beginning, 8:00am. We zoomed over to Space Mountain, but it was down for repairs. After no-waits at Buzz and Star Tours, we checked again and found Space Mountain had re-opened. Did that once, then got fastpasses for 30 mins later and filled in the time with Autopia. Then we monorailed back to GCH to pack our luggage and check out of our room, bags stowed with the bell captain, and back to DL.

Picked up fastpasses for Indy and hit Thunder Mountain BBQ at 11:30 when it opened. This was the first time we had eaten there, and liked it. Eat all you want ribs and chicken, everything was good – even the cole slaw (uses balsamic instead of mayo) and we generally are not cole slaw fans.

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday were gorgeous warm days. Tuesday was colder and gray, so we decided no water rides. We went to Indy, Pirates, Tiki, Alice, Teacups, and more Buzz and Space Mountain. Then we were ready to say goodbye to DL and head over to DCA.

Our afternoon in DCA was spent on multiple trips each to Soaring, Mulholland and Toy Story. This was our first time on TSMM. It was fun, but we thought that it mostly was like a video game you might play at home, and when video games soon start all being 3D, TSMM might get dated quickly. In contrast, Buzz is a kind of similar ride, but there is more to the ride itself that you couldn’t get out of a home version. Still, we did TSMM twice and would have done more if there had been a sub-30 minute line or fastpasses.

As we're getting in our TSMM vehicle, CM Tristan from Whittier, CA tells the latest joke to another CM: "Did you hear that greasers don't want to be called greasers anymore? They want to be called lubricantes!" Ba dum dum. That's not very friendly, Tristan. I don't think Walt would approve.

At 6pm, we were picked up by Prompt Limo, same deal and same driver as before. No traffic got us to our gate at SNA before 6:30, where we found that our 7:40 flight was delayed to 8:30. I hadn’t thought to check on flight status while still in the park, probably could have done an extra hour of rides. So we ate McD’s and played cards in the airport, which is perfectly good family time itself. Back home, and back to school/work on Wednesday morning.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

We have always done 3-day parkhoppers, including this trip. Seeing how things went, next time we will probably do 2-day hoppers. In a pinch, we could probably even do a 1-day, assuming we got good wait times like this trip (and all our trips, since we also schedule off-peak weekdays). Next trip, we will probably try out Knott’s Berry Farm (haven’t taken the kids there yet), still probably too young for Magic Mountain and not movie-savvy enough to appreciate Universal Studios. We spent most of our time this trip circulating between about four rides in DL (Space Mountain, Buzz, Star tours, Pirates) and two rides in DCA (Soaring, Mulholland). Space Mountain is still king.

socalkdg
05-10-2010, 03:01 PM
Nice trip report. Thanks.

codewoman
05-11-2010, 08:08 AM
... Next trip, we will probably try out Knott’s Berry Farm (haven’t taken the kids there yet),...

Be sure to prepare your kids for the fact that Knott's is not Disney. I'd still go there, but don't expect that Disney Magic there. We made the mistake of going to Knotts mid-trip and found it to be ... lacking. It didn't help that my grand-nephew was a total brat that day! But we were surprised at the poor quality of the park. We found little shade and few water fountains.

Mrs. Knott's Chicken, though, was worth the 45 minute wait. Those biscuits are to.die.for.

remillard
05-12-2010, 03:11 PM
Yeah, I've gone to KBF just for the fried chicken (restaurant outside without buying park admission).