24.03.2008 - 28.03.2008 34 °C
Here we are in the good old US-of-A! Yeehaa!
Wow – is it friggin’ expensive after Thailand and Cambodia lol! – at least the Dollar is weak and we are getting over two to the pound. We knew this would be the case, but I’ve becoming a tightwad and need to break out of the mindset that something costs “100” – it’s only “50” really if you see what I mean. Still hard to deal with when you buy a coke for $3 and it’s “only” really £1.50 (in a theme park you understand).
1st surprise (I’m sure we are in for many) was at the car hire depot at LAX airport. I’d booked a deal with Dollar car rental called “lock and low” – you pay for a compact and get a random car in the “midrange” bracket (wanted to say midrange range but bracket made it all the much better). We went in, signed the forms, and then they tell you to go to Zone 2 = zone 2 was a garage (pronounced gararsh of course). I then asked the purdy goil in there which car – she just said, “pick one” – wicked! There was a line of cars – all sorts including convertibles – Kirstin made a bee-line straight for a soft top but it was well gay. I steered her successfully to a Ford Mustang. Sorted. V8 Power! And off we drove – and got totally thoroughly lost. And I mean really really lost. I was trying to deal with the new car (which I accidentally power-slid out of the rental “deepoe”) plus understand their road sign system, which is actually totally logical but 100% the opposite of what the UK do. You see a boulevard to your left and the name of the road you are still on is hanging directly in the middle of the road (yep – it’s still a bloody road as far as I’m concerned!) above the new road on the left, so it looks like that’s the name of the road on the left, but it’s not, it’s the name of the one you are still on. We soon cottoned on when the signs suggested there were about 10 La Brea Boulevards in a row. Couldn’t be! We drove round in so many circles it was daft. We could see the Highway/Freeway we wanted but every time we tried to join it there were roadworks, or I missed the turning.
We got there in the end, all the while keeping an eye out for a “Halfords” equivalent to buy a $100 Sat-Nav unit. No luck there. The V8 started to show the signs of illogical car choice – quarter of a tank gone already – hehe.
So we checked into the motel on Hollywood Boulevard and took a mooch down to the walk of fame – you know, the handprints of all the stars etc. Forgot our cameras but hey, you know the scene. When I say a “mooch”, we drove. America is BIG and we didn’t like the look of the locals.
After “mooching” and failing to convince K that we should eat in “hooters” :--p we chose a classy “Americas Grill” – and WOW – what a meal – I had a New York Strip steak and K had Fillet Mignon medallions (that means, in English, 2 x fillet steaks!). We got the typical super attentive US service and tried our 1st American wine – the French choices are severely limited. Somewhat suspiciously we had the recommended Martin Ray Pinot Noir. We had a half bottle as we had to drive, though I figured with my experience I could pass a sobriety test quite easily on a bottle or two how hard can it be?!?! – anyhow – the wine was blinkin’ fab! – our 1st American wine and it was delicious. Half bottle was £10. Nice and peppery, smooth finish, semi-complex, and to me, just missing a little of the French “character” – great none the less, and far easier to get it right than with French wines. I usually find New World wines tiresome after a bottle or so, so time will tell. Next time I won’t be driving and I’ll down a couple and report back… We’ll certainly be scheduling an exploration of the Napa Valley.
This morning we went to LA’s Six Flag Magic Mountain coaster park (notice how I omitted the “roller” before coaster? We are going local). Our receptionist chap tried to convince us to buy his tour package - $85 each for tickets and transfer there - each. In his own words , “with the cost of gas now this is cheaper than driving”. Yeah, right mate. I bought tickets online for $39 each and the drive was 30 minutes tops. And “gas” is half the price of UK petrol. It was a quarter last time I drove here so I can understand why car adverts now promote the MPG before the satnav and “HD” radio (the car itself gets talked about last). We hit the park at 10.30 am and joined the spring breakers – we discovered it was Easter here too. The queues were busy at fist. We queued for a mental coaster where you hang like you are flying like superman and it took 1 and a half hours. After that we spent $20 each and bought 4 “flash passes” each. This meant we could walk straight to the front of the queue on 4 rides. Wicked. The looks on the fat ladies faces when we queue jumped was worth the money.
Actually, there were not too many fat people. It seemed the Latinos had done most of the eating.
Boy oh boy does that place have a lot of roallercoaster. After the initial queuing, things eased off and we didn’t end up needing to use half of our flash passes. We went on every single coaster but two (one broke down and the other, we were far too tired and shaken up by then). We did a total of 9 coasters and 3 water rides. We did normal coasters, mega high, mega fast, standing up, lying down, sitting with legs forward, hanging under, and sitting in swinging chairs. I’m not sure if there can be any other configurations available!.
The highlights were:
Tatsu – you are hung underneath, suspended horizontally, and get sent round upside down, right way up, swirling looping etc, but the real moment was when we reached the top of a HUGE loop and you looked down , straight down as you are hanging underneath, and you can see you are about to drop at least 150 feet and loop, ending up at the bottom of the loop on your back looking at the sky. Even I screamed. (don’t confuse this ride with the rubbish Alton Towers equivalent which is too slow). It was truly fantastic and something we'll never forget. You just can't explain how extreme it was.
(if you zoom in you'll see a lot of people hanging up there! - that was Tatsu)
Colossus – an old wooden coaster – it was a very different experience from what we are used to and all the huge drops and hills, plus the rattling was a nice change and quite a “pure” coaster experience.
Goliath – a HUGE regular coaster on steel rails. The initial drop (370ft at 85 Mph) was terrifying, and then it went into a loooong spiral downwads. The G-force was so strong we wouldn’t see because our heads were stuck sideways on the headrests. I was nearly sick. Seriously, and more and I would have chucked.
All the others were OK – and very impressive individually, but we found they were all just different ways of seating you (or standing) on similar tracks. There are only so many times you can “enjoy” being twisted and looped violently. The real trick, and why the above three were special, seems to be in anticipation – making you see what you are about to be thrown into. Being violently twisted and looped gets boring quickly if you can’t tell which way is up. Might just as will sit in a washing machine.
By the time we went on our last coaster (the “Batman”) – we were commenting on how nice it was to be sitting down and totally forgot what was about to happen. We were just enjoying being comfortable.
We went on ride called the “Tidal Wave”. No surprises I chose what I thought would be the driest seat and got the wettest.
It was a great day. We did everything. As the day got later (It’s open until 10pm) the park started filling with “gangbangers” – at least that’s what we think they are. Hispanic types with sleeveless tops, lots of tattoos, and calf-length shorts with crotches also at calf-height – either they are all well hung or they are fashion victims. This was when we decided to call it a day, an easy choice as we were totally “coastered out”
(we threw half of that cone away - it must have weighed a Kilo!)
Tomorrow we are going to check out LA a bit more – going to drive down Sunset Boulevard all the way to Malibu Beach, and then the next two days… Disney LOL. More coasters!
p.s. gotta love this place – News on the TV just now….”A local man was trying to drill holes in a partition wall in his home. After failing several times he got frustrated and used his gun to fire several holes through the wall instead. His wife was on the other side – she died in hospital later”.
Tomorrow update - this is tomorrow here! - yep - we drove down Sunset Boulevard and then through Beverly Hills- it's astonishing how you can be in one block, drive accross one road and then go from built up city to green mega-bucks land. Really odd.
Oh - I got a pic for the "Arsed" Easter Egg competition (It's a family thing) on Rodeo Drive- can we enter it?
(Our entry is titled "Eggspensive"
We parked the car in Rodeo Drive (valet parking - ouch - expensive!) and took a stroll and bought a coffee, then drove down Santa Monica Boulevard. When we hit Santa Monica a thick cloud base had moved in so we headed North to Malibu and wow, there are some nice houses dotted along the coast. I'm not sure if we went into Malibu proper - we stopped at a pier in the Malibu district and had a burger and watched the surfers. All very Baywatch. The weather was beautiful and the surf good. You can see why people "dream" about California
(K on the Malibu fishing Pier)
26-3-08 – At our motel by Disney Land – very exited! – going tomorrow. Just watched the fireworks from our balcony – we are getting the impression the rides are really well thought out – will be a great change from just being thrown about!
We managed to get here only getting lost once. As soon as we got here I asked the receptionist where I could get a sat-nav from – so we drove down to a huge shopping thingy and I found a Tom-Tom Go - $200! – BUT – the lad I asked about it said, “you can get it cheaper at Best buy” – when I quizzed him and explained I only wanted it for 2 months he said, “no probs, just take it back to any Target store and get a refund – we give a 90 day refund policy on everything” – sweet :-) The car rental company wanted $16 a day to rent a sat-nav, so even if we couldn’t have returned it it would have been a big saving over 2 months. I guess he wasn’t happy in his job.
Talking about savings – I researched car insurance over here before we hired the car. I found out that the rental companies charge, on average, $15 a day for CDW (damage insurance) and another $15 a day for Liability (stops you getting your butt sued off when you hit a “ped”) – both these elements are deemed essential by anyone with any common sense. To quote one chap on the net, “if you don’t take out insurance you are insane and if you have an accident you’ll wish you were the one that died” lol. So that’s $210 a week on insurance. Bear in mind we’ve hired a Mustang for $124 a week. So I did some research… and I’ve bought a 12 month policy from the UK that covers all CDW, and Liability, and Excess cover, for … $200 – for a year! I’m so smart!
p.p.s I think I’ve broken about 4 US laws in the car so far :-p
Talking about language differences, not withstanding everything here is in English and Spanish, we were bemused with frequent markings on the roads saying “Xing Ped” – hmm is there a Chinese community here too I pondered? Took 24 hours to realise it means “Crossing Pedestrians”. Doh! More on language shortly…
28th March – we hit Disney this morning with great expectations. We did a heap of research (see , still getting more American by the day) and accordingly arrived at the park at 7.45 am after a great latte and a warmed cinnamon Danish with lots of icing – something we’ve both been dreaming about since Aspen a few years ago – no one does a Danish like the Americans, funnily.
We had read the reviews of the rides in both Disney Land and Disney California Adventure (the more “extreme” bit of the setup) and they were all glowing, mentioning the amazing special effects, the thrills, etc. So we dived straight in and queued for the Matterhorn. A 20 year old kiddies rollercoaster in a plastic mountain. Fair enough we thought, the newer rides like Indian Jones will be much better! So off we trotted to The Indy ride.
There is a fastpass system that is very well thought out. You hit a ride queue entrance, enter your ticket into the fastpass machine and it spits out another ticket with your time window – so if you arrive at say 9am, it will give you a ticket with a time window of 10am-11am to return and skip the queue. The funny thing was that as the Indy ride the queue for the fastpass machines was longer than the actual queue for the ride! – and people kept ignoring this – so we went straight in. Or so we thought. A lot of the rides are heavily themed inside and you actually end up unofficially queuing inside the ride buildings. No probs, took no longer than five minutes.
As we were lining up and walking “inside” the Indy ride (not queuing you understand) a modestly fat (but not fat by US standards) lady scooted by us on her mobility scooter and went straight to the ride proper. Ahh we thought, a poor disable person, then she got out of her buggy and literally RAN onto the ride. I was gobsmacked! – at least TRY and look a little incapacitated. Lazy cow. Seriously, it was like a miracle when she got up and ran- we laughed our asses off after I picked my chin up off the floor.
The Indy ride was kind of fun, but in essence it was a ghost train with Indy instead of ghosts. We were expecting Disney to lay on much more impressive special effects.
Next was the top rated Pirates of the Caribbean ride – actually it was never connected to the movie, it was created well before it but they have “tweaked it” to suit. It is basically a boat ride past a myriad of animatronic pirate “actors”. Kids stuff for sure.
Then we moved onto the Haunted House. After this we properly understood that Disneyland is most definitely for kiddies. No doubt young ones would be terrified, and they’d also have found Indy “awesome”. It’s not a criticism, we had fun, but it’s for kids, or for parents to watch their kids’ faces.
We also did the “honey I shrunk the audience” 3D movie – which again, was lame to be honest – the “4D” movie we saw in Bangkok was far better. We were both surprised Disney had not updated the experience.
Still, we were having a laugh, but both disappointed that everything seemed dated. By far the best “ride” was the people watching. I’ve heard the real fat people are in Florida. If that’s true, it’s going to be a real shocker. There are loads here. Truly shocking. We’ve never seen anything like it – “front bottoms” everywhere. Most memorable was a fatty family all wearing Mickey Mouse hats/ears and the horrendous mother stuffing cake after cake in her mouth. I counted 8 – and her daughter kept up with her. It was cruel to watch. Without exception, every pair of fat parents had kids that were clearly on their way to catching up. Poor things were consigned to a life of reduced mobility and ill health before they even got old enough to make the choice. Mind you, don’t confuse fat with US fat- its unreal. I saw one woman with her “front bottom” hanging out and I nearly brought up my lunch.
One caveat I’d add is its little surprise. There is literally NO choice of what to eat here. It’s either burgers, pizza, Weiners, corn dogs or… no, that’s it. Not just in the park – once out of a main city you are hard pushed to find “normal” restaurants. Fast food has truly taken over.
(this is typical - they are not disabled as such, they just can't be arsed to walk their bulk around. I missed her stuffing crisps in her cakehole - her basket was full of food - I think her scoot was food-powered)
Anyhow… fattism aside, we had now done nearly all of the main attractions in Disney Land bar Finding Nemo – that had a huge queue and we decided it could not be any better than what we’d already experienced, so we headed over to Disneyland Adventure California – the more “extreme” park next door included on our 2 day tickets.
(Me just before we got soaked through on a rapids type ride)
From the off this was far more impressive. The whole California theme-ing was far better than the Disney theme-ing of the main park. Again, we manipulated the fastpass system and did everything! – the coaster was great – we got front seats. The Tower of Terror was fantastic. You sit in a “lift” strapped to your chair and you are then presented with a “twilight zone” presentation and then hurtled upwards in the dark to then see more illusions like infinity mirrors – all fine and dandy.. but then…. The lift rockets upwards at a seat pressing speed, then stops, and then doors open in front of you and you are well over 100 feet up looking straight out over the park – it’s a surreal experience – you really don’t expect to see outside after being in a dark lift for so long. This is polished off with the lift plummeting at such a speed you go weightless for a significant time (I had to catch hold of my rucksack as it was rising to my knee height). You then shoot up and own “out of control” a fair few more times. We were both majorly impressed. It offered thrills and surprises – what we were expecting of all the rides to be honest.
After that we chewed through most of the other rides. By 2.40pm we were done for the time being. We decided to go back to the motel and sit in the hot tub for a rest.
Not bad going – we’d done nearly all of the main attractions in both parks by early afternoon and hadn’t queued for more than 20 minutes for any ride – some of the rides we walked straight on. Good timing too – it was getting rammed by 2pm and big queues were forming everywhere. We’d been pretty canny with out fastpasses too. You can only get another fastpass when the entry window for your existing fastpass has commenced, so you need to grab a new fastpass for your next ride whilst on your way to your next ride. With simple logic you can milk the system. All the panic we have read on the web about beating the queues seemed unfounded – and we were there during Spring Break (Easter)! Not bad!
Oh!- regarding the language thing - everything in LA seems to be in dual language to support the Spanish. This is not interesting in itself, but, when you are on a ghost train and a classic spooky voice-over warns you of all the "ghouls" and "horror" to follow it's bloody hillarious when it's immedialtely followed by a "spooky" Spanish version! You had to be there.
We are now in our room drinking beers and watching TV. We were supposed to go back to watch the parade and the fireworks but we both fell asleep :--) - seems jetlag caught up eventually! – No matter – we have tickets for tomorrow too so we are going to “cheese it up” and do all the naff stuff like hugging Mickey (no, don’t worry I’m not serious – no Mickey hugging – seriously – adults were queuing up to hug a random guy in a Mickey suit. Adults! – come on!!)
So tomorrow should be a giggle- no rush to do anything, no early start, and no real agenda. The most exciting thing lined up is the Monorail I think :--)
After that it’s probably back to LA to do Universal Studios , then head down to Uncle Pete’s in Phoenix….