California Adventure

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In 2013, Disney celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland. This 2-day long celebration was held on June 28-29, which just happened to be over my birthday. I decided I wanted to go to Anaheim for this event, and I planned to do it on the cheap. My wife Jess wasn’t interested in going at first, but when I told her the event was being held at the Disneyland Hotel, she suddenly became interested. Could we also fit in a day at the Disneyland park and a day touring Hollywood? Suddenly, she was in, and the trip would no longer be cheap!

On Day 1, we flew into LAX, rented a car, and hit I-195, headed for Anaheim. Before we went to Disneyland, though, we had a pitstop to make in Whittier. Why? Because this is the home of Oceanic Arts, a Mecca for Tiki geeks and the workplace of LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting, two legends in the Tiki ohana. While we were in Whittier, we decided to stop for lunch at In-N-Out Burger, a western chain we had heard so much about. We weren’t disappointed! Jess had read up about their secret menu, so we knew to order the fries “Animal Style” and try the Neopolitan shake, a mixture of vanilla/chocolate/strawberry all in one. Yum!

After eating our fill, we headed up the road to Oceanic Arts. I was worried that Jess would be bored while I got my Tiki on, but I was pleasantly surprised at how interested she was in the place! We met both Bob and LeRoy, and they were very gracious with their time. We spent 3 hours there, looking at their amazing collection of tropical decor, buying some items that we had shipped home, and talking story. LeRoy especially was a wealth of information about the past and present of the Tiki scene. He told me of their start in the business, his interactions with many of the Tiki greats, and some of the most recent contributions they had made, like their work for the new Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland. Jess took lots of pictures and I had some wonderful memories from the very start of this trip. There was much more to come.

Although we could have stayed at Oceanic Arts all day, we had to see goodbye to Bob and LeRoy and head down the road to Anaheim. LeRoy gave us some pointers on how to get there by avoiding traffic, which was much appreciated.

After a short drive, we arrived at Disneyland. We checked into the Disneyland Hotel and walked around the place, soaking in the atmosphere. Jess had never been to California before, and though she was a Walt Disney World expert, this was new to her.

We first tried to get into the Convention Center to pick up the event items I had pre-ordered, but the line was out the door, so that would have to wait until tomorrow. In the meantime, we had plans to meet friends for dinner, so with an hour to kill, we decided to try the new bar at the hotel: Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. What a great place! Trader Sam’s had only been open for a few months when we visited, so we were basically in on the ground floor. If you can picture the Jungle Cruise meeting the Enchanted Tiki Room and having a boozy love child, you’ll get the gist of this joint. They have since opened a Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World in Orlando, but the Disneyland version was our first experience with it.

On Day 2 in SoCal we decided to visit the Disneyland Park. Jess being the Disney expert she is, we were there for rope drop, which was 1 hour earlier than the general masses because we were staying at the Disneyland Hotel. In Anaheim, their version of Downtown Disney is between the hotel and the park, so we got to walk through it both on the way to the park and on the way back.

Since we were planning to do the ETR 50th anniversary events in the afternoon, we tried to squeeze in as much of the park as we could that morning. Since Disneyland is smaller than Walt Disney World, we covered just about all of it that morning. We started with The Matterhorn, which is a ride they only have at Disneyland. It was pretty cool, but dated, so the theming and the thrill weren’t all that. The rides that caught our attention were the ones that were slightly different here compared to in Orlando. Pirates of The Caribbean and It’s a Small World both started outdoors, which was nice. It’s A Small World featured some Disney characters mixed in with the familiar children of the world, like Lilo & Stitch in the Polynesian area, which I liked. Space Mountain had been refurbished here, and the cars held two abreast as opposed to single file at WDW; it was a much smoother ride and really enjoyable. Splash Mountain was the opposite, with the flumes being single file as opposed to two abreast, though the ride looked and felt pretty much the same.

The area I enjoyed the most at Disneyland was New Orleans Square, which is where The Haunted Mansion resides. Instead of the big Gothic building at WDW, this version truly looks like a Southern mansion, which makes sense as part of the NOLA theme. Inside, the ride itself is pretty much the same. We decided to eat lunch at the Cafe Orleans, where the food was fantastic. Try the Monte Cristo sandwich with the Parmesan pomme frites, which were both to die for! Skip the beignets, though; this is one item Disney just didn’t get right, in my opinion.

After lunch we walked back to the hotel to freshen up, then headed over to the attached convention center for the main event. The 50th anniversary of The Enchanted Tiki Room was the biggest reason we came to SoCal for this trip. I had pre-ordered a bunch of merchandise from this event which we were now ready to pick up. We also got to meet SHAG again, as he was there signing his artwork and spent a good bit of time chatting us up. We had just seen him a few months ago in NYC for a solo art exhibit, but now we were on his home turf for a Disney event, which was a big deal!

As great as it was to see SHAG and pick up swag, one of the unexpected joys of this event was a panel discussion of Disney Imagineers we sat in on. Jess had actually noticed this in the event program and wanted to check it out. Much to our surprise, the panel included Bob Gurr and Rollie Crump, two of the original Imagineers and contemporaries of Walt Disney himself. Jess was awestruck and I was amazed by the stories they told, both about their role in designing The Enchanted Tiki Room and their interactions with Walt and other Disney luminaries like Mary Blair. After the event ended and we went back to our hotel room, we shared an elevator ride with Rolly Crump and his handler. He may be old, but he still had a gleam in his eye and was gracious during our short conversation. This was the thrill of the whole trip!

To end this second day, we went back to the park to explore the rides a little more. The other ride that was slightly different here, and again the reason for this trip, was The Enchanted Tiki Room. Though the show inside was the same, it’s the courtyard outside that’s so much better at Disneyland. In addition to a stand that sells Dole Whip right in the courtyard, they also have seven Tiki god statues designed by Rollie Crump, as we had learned earlier. Knowing this now, it was cool to revisit these statues and watch the animations that made each one special. My favorite is Pele, the god of fire and volcanoes. Listening to her voice and watching as she blew her top with fire and smoke was amazing. I feel so lucky to have seen this in person, and I hope to see it again someday. In the meantime, I have the SHAG print of this statue I brought home, which then became my first tattoo. Hale Pele!

For the last day of this adventure, we decided to do the things Jess wanted to do on this trip that didn’t involve Disneyland. This meant a trip up the road to Hollywood and then ending the day in Santa Monica. I had been to both of these places before, but since this was her first trip to California, we might as well squeeze in as much as we could. Jess is a big fan of Hollywood celebrities, and I’m a big fan of the beach, so this seemed like a good plan. We needed to end the day closer to LAX airport, so we had booked a room in a hotel that had a shuttle service to the airport, as we had a very early flight the next day.

On Day 3 we checked out of the Disneyland Hotel, hopped in our rental car and drove about 32 miles up I-5 and US-101 north to Hollywood. We parked in a garage and started walking around. Our first order of business was to get a good look at the famous Hollywood sign up on the hill. Fortunately, we had a perfect view from just outside the garage.

After seeing the iconic sign, we walked down Hollywood Boulevard to the Chinese Theatre. Outside the theatre we saw the stars on Hollywood Boulevard, as well as some pretty famous hand and foot prints in the sidewalk. Of course, Jess & I both had our favorites!

In the early afternoon we retrieved our rental car and drove a short distance over to Paramount Studios, where we had tickets for the studio tour there. This tour was well worth the price of admission! In addition to many classic movie props and set locations, we also got a sneak preview at the set of a new Nickelodeon show, The Thundermans, which was being filmed there at the time. Hooray for Hollywood!

At the end of the long but fun studio tour, we headed west down Sunset Boulevard, through Beverly Hills and past Rodeo Drive, until we reached Santa Monica Boulevard. From there we followed this road to the ocean, where we parked in another garage, right across the street from the entrance to the Santa Monica Pier. We hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast, so we quick grabbed some burgers and fries on the pier. After we stuck our feet in the ocean, we walked back up into Santa Monica, did a little shopping, then found a nice Thai restaurant where we had dinner. By this point Jess and I were both gassed, as we had covered quite a bit of ground on this third day.

Santa Monica was our last place to see during our SoCal visit. After a nice dinner, we headed back to our hotel for the night, a Marriott near LAX. Unfortunately we still had to return our rental car before checking in for the night. This meant we needed to drop off the car, catch a shuttle bus to the airport, then catch another shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel. By dumb luck, the rental car shuttle bus stopped at a traffic light literally across the street from our hotel. We convinced the bus driver to let us out right there, which saved us from having to go to the airport.

We slept soundly that night, hitting the sack not long after we checked into the Marriott. We caught a shuttle bus to the airport before sunrise the next morning. At 6:30am we boarded U.S. Airways flight 700 headed back to Philadelphia. It was Monday July 1st and we were on our way home. It had been quite the California Adventure.