A Travellerspoint blog


The Last Day in the USA

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

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The prospect of a long flight and the extended waiting time at the airport was daunting and we spent as much time as possible in the comfort of our hotel. With check-out at 12:00 we wheeled our luggage to the bus-stop and waited for the LAX Shuttle. Right on time the coach pulled up and we piled aboard. At $30 each this transfer was only half the cost of the trip from the port to the hotel last Saturday.

An hour or so later we were dropped off at our departure terminal to join the multitudes and their mountains of luggage looking for a check-in desk. We found the QANTAS desk but the sign indicated that there would be no check-in until 16:00 and our flight was not scheduled until 23:55. Seating was at a premium or just not available and passengers were reduced to sitting or lying on the floor using their luggage as seats or pillows. We didn't look forward to standing around for the next 10 hours.

While we waited there was an announcement inviting serving, ex-serving military and their dependants to use the facilities of the USO. As an Australian Veteran I wasn't sure if I was eligible to visit the lounge. I spoke to a very helpful man at the Information desk who made a phone call and assured me that we'd be welcome. He said to come back and he'd provide directions. With the prospect of a sanctuary we patiently stood in line, moved to another line and finally checked in our luggage.

Back to the Information desk where there had been a shift change. As a stark contrast to the helpful guy from my earlier visit the current one pointed vaguely in the direction of the outside concourse. In the confusion of the LAX Terminal buildings the USO is not the easiest to find. A few questions from other airport staff and we found our way to what at first glance looked like a construction site office.

Any lingering doubts about our welcome we quickly put to rest by an enthusiastic receptionist who guided us through the facility. The friendliness of the volunteer staff was exceeded only by the range and quality of the services available. There's a room to store your bags, a play-room for parents with kids. There are showers and restrooms supplied with towels, tooth brushes and tooth paste. There is even a slumber room for those who need to sleep over. Then there is the lounge with large couches, TV, computers and free WiFi. Just to top that off there are drinks, fruit, snacks, sandwiches and hot food served up by a pair of lovely volunteers. I can't speak highly enough of the overwhelming hospitality and all of it is free!

Eventually we had to make our way back to the departure terminal to face the prospect of the security screening. What a surprise to be told that we didn't need to remove our boots, our belts could stay around our waist and electronic devices could stay safely in our carry-on. Yet another surprise at LAX was the ample seating at the departure gate and the boarding of the 747.

All this has been written well after the event and there are no photos to go with this story.

Wishing you good health and safe travel.
Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 10:03 Archived in USA Comments (0)

A Late Night for Us

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

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We woke late this morning and staggered into the day. Managed a simple breakfast of a banana, two oranges, a tub of yogurt, a small muffin, two granola bars and a cup of coffee. Then spent the remainder of the morning writing up yesterday's activities. We've no plans for this afternoon so will use the time to have a siesta.

After 16:00 we walked down S Harbor Blvd to the Disney Shuttle Plaza. We were waiting for the 17:00 Anaheim Resorts Transportation (ART) Line 18 Bus. The ART Line 18 bus services a number of resorts and attractions along a 60 minute loop. Our destination was the Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament located in Buena Park. These ART Shuttles are based on a Ford F550 truck and are designed for economy of space but not for comfort. When the bus arrived we were the only passengers for the 25 minute trip to the Medieval Times castle.

We arrived at the venue well before opening time and there was a bit of a queue but it didn't take long to get things moving. We'd bought our tickets from the Discount Tours and Tickets store and we were required to convert our vouchers for proper tickets. The whole place was themed and all the staff dressed in appropriate period costumes. We were addressed as "Lords and Ladies" by the magnificently dressed Lord Chancellor who was the MC for the event. The ticket collector handed us two coloured plastic cards, our colour 'blue' and numbered 5.

Next we were handed cardboard crowns also coloured blue. The colour indicating the section of the stadium where we would be seated. Adorned with our crows we were directed to the forecourt, an area devoted to bars and gift shops and a growing number of people. For many it appeared to be a return visit and there were optional additional services such as being 'knighted' by the king and having your photo taken.

With less than 15 minutes to show time there's an announcement from the Lord Chancellor explaining how the entry and seating was to take place. Two sets of doors were opened one to the left and one to the right. Proceeding by crown colours each of the six were asked to make their way inside. I was amazed at the size of the auditorium and the arrangement of the seating. We found our colour and our table which consisted of a row of theatre style seats arranged as bleachers with a shelf/table for our plate.

The activities in the arena started pretty much on time and lasted for a full two hours. Horses, knights and pages demonstrated they skills all accompanied by great lighting effects and powerful sound. In front of each of us was a bowl and a plate made of a pewter like metal and a plastic mug. The 'serving wench' filled the mugs with a beverage of choice, water, soda or iced tea. Next came a large slice of garlic bread and a bowl of tomato bisque which was hot and very tasty. Activities in the arena continued uninterrupted.

Another visit by the 'serving wench', this time to deposit half a chicken on each plate, no utensils, so had to be finger food! It was quite a task to handle and demolish that piece of hot meat but it was delicious. Soon after the chicken delivery our 'serving wench' was back deftly dropping a roast potato and a cob of corn alongside the carnage of the chicken. It took some effort to do justice to the feast. Meanwhile, back in the area the knights have moved on from displays of horsemanship to mock battles. Sparks flew from clashing swords and lances smashed into many fragments as they jousted.

Our 'serving wench' returned to clear the 'table' and top up the drink mugs. With about half an hour to go and after a decent amount of time for the meal to settle she was back with a warm sweet pastry and cups of coffee. We paid $25 each for this outing and it was worth that for the meal alone, the 'show' was a massive extra bonus. Did we enjoy it ?? YOU BET !!

Exit from the stadium was quite orderly and I had time to visit the restroom before making our way to the ART bus-stop. There was no need to rush as we had about 20 minutes to spare. Right on time the bus pulled up and we were driven the 30 minutes back to the shuttle plaza at Disneyland. The ART one-day pass cost us $1 each from the Discount Tours and Tickets store

It was after 22:00 when we got back to the HoJo and I didn't have the energy to write this up so it is our last day here as I post this.

If you want to look at what I've been up to you can view my latest photo by following this link to the image for Today

Wishing you good health and safe travel.
Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 10:07 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Disneyland All Day

Monday, 23 March 2015

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We took our time having a light breakfast and packed our jackets and water for the day at Disneyland. We left the HoJo at about 11:00 and walked about 10 minutes to the Disneyland entrance. There is a huge plaza and bus station to cross and then had our bags checked. Despite the 'early' hour there were already queues for rides and special events. Many of the signs indicating 30 to 40 minutes delay. We wandered somewhat aimlessly towards "Tomorrow Land" while marvelling at the many futuristic buildings and structures.

Inside the Innoventions building there were many futuristic displays and activities but all very dark and loud. We drifted along and found that Honda's ASIMO was due to perform at 12:30 so we stayed there and formed the head of another queue !! Once inside the theatre we were shown a short movie clip outlining the developments of robots over the ages. The curtains parted to reveal a stage set to look like a family room complete with the lady of the house and appropriate furniture and props. She introduced the start of the show as ASIMO walked into the room. He is recognised as the most advanced humanoid robot in the world. He's about 4 feet tall and weighs just over 50 Kg. He performed many tricky moves, kicked a football, walked up and down some stairs, danced and finally RAN across the stage at 6 kph. He's on show six times per day and was one of our highlights for the day, having seen him on TV is one thing, seeing him live is quite a different experience.

We found the Disneyland Railroad and took the train for a circuit of the park. We started at the Tomorrow Land station, there are only three other stops, Main Street, New Orleans Square and Mickey's Toontown. When we got off that train we found that we were close to the Monorail station and decide to try that too. This train makes a complete circuit of the complex including the adjoining California Adventure Park and the Disney Downtown shopping and hotel/resort area.

Toontown was a fun place featuring many of Disney's famous cartoon characters and some of the most unusual structures that truly look like they were lifted from the screen. This area is somewhat of a dead end with only one way in and out. Next was Fantasyland where we had another short 'rest' in the Theatre to watch the performance of the Magical Map. A wonderfully staged and presented show mixing song and dance and great film and live character interaction.

On through Frontier Land to see the Mark Twain Riverboat and the Sailing Ship Columbia. Once again the queues for these attractions stretched out for miles with a minimum of half hour waiting times. Adjoining this area was New Orleans Square, the main attraction being the restaurants.

As it was approaching the Parade time of 16:00 we headed in the wrong direction and had to do a U-turn to find our way to the Main Street area.
There were roped-off areas for people in wheelchairs and scooters. Elsewhere we were required to be seated - on the ground !?? Managed to squeeze in between a lady on a scooter and two refuse bins. Turned out to be pretty good spot. Mickey's Soundsational Parade was brilliantly staged and the costumes beautiful with the emphases being on the music of Disney cartoons and films. There were nine floats and many individual street level performers.

After an essential rest-room stop we wandered through one of the Emporiums and arrived at the 'Town Square' for a performance by a military style band. They played a number of tunes and then performed each of the 'marches' of the five US Military Services. Serving and retired members were encouraged to come forward. Just a small diversion. Most countries recognise three armed services, the US has the 'standard' three, Army, Navy and Air Force then adds the Marines and the Coast Guard. I'd not previously realised that being the case. The band then conducted the Flag Lowering Ceremony, playing Taps, the National Anthem and God Bless America.

Jenny still hadn't found those items to take back as presents so we went through the big shop on the right of Main Street. She still didn't find what she was looking for but I bought myself a great coffee mug. One of the themes around the park were various takes on Grumpy from the Seven Dwarfs, Jenny felt that the mug reflected my personality (hurt look). What almost more impressive was the packing material to protect our purchase. The mug finished up the size of a football.

I figured there were parts of Fantasyland we hadn't seen so I dragged Jenny back through there. By the time they were setting up for the 18:30 Parade we were done. Time to head for the exit where we elected to have our hand stamped, "Just In Case". In a final desperate attempt to 'find those items' I convinced Jenny that we should call in to Disney Downtown. An interesting area that eases one into the Disney thing without entering either of the ticketed parks. There was a huge store and Jenny found an appropriate 'item' but couldn't get it in the right size. Bugger !!

I decided that best way out of the area was in the opposite direction to the people coming in. Not a brilliant idea as they were coming in from a carpark and was HUGE !! Distances that were no big deal for cars and buses are quite daunting at the end of a long day for pedestrians. We managed to dodge the fences and locked gates and finally found ourselves in the real world but a long way from HoJo. It took another 30 minutes to make it to Mimi's Café where we collapsed in a booth. Didn't have the energy to cross the road to HoJo and unload the backpack and camera first.

A great and HUGE meal again. Between us we polished off five glasses of Diet Coke and almost the last of the fries on the plate. Staggered across the street to the HoJo and decided to just crawl into bed. We did stop to drop our gear and splash some water in the face. A long, 10 hours, and strenuous day with most of the time on our feet.

I wrote this on Tuesday morning based on my best recollection.

If you want to look at what I've been up to you can view my latest photo by following this link to the image for Today

Wishing you good health and safe travel.
Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 11:27 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Anaheim - Day 2

Sunday, 22 March 2015

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The main task this morning is to writeup the events of yesterday. It took a while. No specific plans for today except that we needed some supplies for breakfast. We decided to walk to the nearest Neighbourhood Market. Google maps estimated 20 minutes each way and proved to be correct. From the HoJo we walked North on Harbor Blvd and crossed the Santa Ana Frwy. Fortunately there's a bridge over this massive expanse of concrete. There appears to be at least six lanes of cars in each direction and despite it being early on Sunday each lane was quite busy. On reaching Ball Rd we turned right and walk Eastward to Anaheim Blvd. Thankfully there were pedestrian lights at the intersections as both thoroughfares were 10 lanes wide. An incredible amount of traffic and surprisingly tolerant drivers. At a number of minor intersections the drives waited patiently for the two of us to waddle across.

There's a coffee brewing machine in the room and it makes a fine coffee but Jenny can't stand it and needed some hot water. I tried running the machine with an empty capsule but couldn't get a clear cup. We asked the housekeeper and the solution is simple, get an electric jug from the Front Desk. Coffee is so much the 'standard' drink that hot water for tea is considered 'unusual'.

Jenny snoozed in an effort to catch upon a sleep deficit and I walked around the complex. The most interesting and active area being Castaway Cove a kid's watery playground with water slides and water jets. The thing that impressed me most was a huge bucket that slowly fills with water and then upends itself. The park-like surrounds provided a softening effect to the stark white buildings.

Started writing this blog and stopped for a quick snack and snatched a short siesta. Actually lasted longer than I expected. We walked down to Katella Ave to P. F. Chang's China Bistro. The place was certainly popular, it was only 17:30 and we were told there would be a 15 minute delay. We didn't have to wait quite that long and were seated. The menu was extensive and not too expensive. We ordered two main dishes and a Fried Rice. The waiter explained that the dishes came with steamed white or brown rice. We dropped the Fried Rice. Once again we'd underestimated the size of the serves. Even without the rice each of the main dishes would have fed both of us. If we had a microwave in the room we'd have asked for a left-over box to carry half of it home. Jenny surprised me in that she left very little of the Chicken with Almonds and Cashews for me to clean up. Despite the growing line of people waiting to be seated we didn't feel rushed and the waiter was quite happy to chat.

Walked back to HoJo for a cup of coffee and some fruit.

That's about it for today, tomorrow it is Disneyland, it will be interesting to see how long we'll last.

If you want to look at what I've been up to you can view my latest photo by following this link to the image for Today

Wishing you good health and safe travel.
Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 20:08 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Checked in to HoJo Anaheim

Saturday, 21 March 2015

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Today promised to be a bit chaotic and lived up to expectation. There was no time for my regular visit with the sunrise and the camera had been packed away to reduce the number of 'attachments' I had to carry off. A quick breakfast, hugs from some of the wait-staff and we were off to the Medical Centre for Jenny's final visit. Then on to Disembarkation.

There were lots of people to process, a complex procedure, lots of luggage, delays at lifts - many mutterings of doom and gloom. This is how it panned out for us. After the visit with the Doctor on Deck 4 Midship, carrying only our passports and immigration documents, we proceeded to the Casino on Deck 6 where we were directed to the Conference Room on Deck 6 Forward. No delay, didn't even stop. The US officials were set up at tables and the line moved very quickly, we were out of there in under 5 minutes. Back to the cabin on Deck 11, last time up those stairs. Crowds of people and cases on each landing as we went up. Collected our two large cases, a duffel bag and out carry-on bags and negotiated our way to the Deck 11 Forward lifts to join dozens of likewise encumbered passengers.

The four lifts were fully loaded each time they stopped on our floor. Finally managed to squeeze into a lift going up to Deck 16 along with another couple who had come up from Deck 8, so were still on when it started down. It filled up at Deck 15 and stopped at each deck on the way down to Deck 6 passing a lot of frustrated people on the way.

Now the easy bit. The 'Elite' Lounge was set up in the Da Vinci Dining room where we parked our luggage and enjoyed a fruit juice, iced water and some pastries. Very comfortable and nothing to do until we wanted to get off. There were many others in the room not in the same state of mind !!

One couple, with a number of carry-on plastic bags had misunderstood the directions and had fought their way to the Immigration lounge only to be sent back because they were at least two hours ahead of their 'scheduled' appointment time. At the correct time they had to lug their plastic bags all the way forward to Immigration, process through there and then come back to the Da Vinci to await the call for 'Disembarkation'. They were not permitted off the ship until their 'checked' luggage had been unloaded and assembled for collection.

While we may have had the inconvenience of our heavy luggage we had a much simpler route. With the shuttle booked for 10:00 we dragged our bags out to the lifts outside the dining room and used the staff controlled lift to Deck 7 and rolled off along a long but easy walkway. Walked straight past the luggage hall and out the door. Next Finding the Shuttle.

The scene outside the terminal building was extremely busy aggravated by the presence of another Princess in the port. In the space of just eight hours they have to unload 7,000 people and bring in 7,000 new passengers. Think about it and add the trucks that are delivering food and supplies and carting away refuse from both ships. And we have to connect with a driver.

Found one of the most helpful people in the area, 'Bob' wore a straw hat and the livery of Princess shore staff. He answered question and directed people with no fuss and he explained that the shuttle would drive past that area near the palm trees and would meet us there. The car would have our name in the window. Were early by about 45 minutes so we practised our car spotting technique for some of the others waiting in the same spot.

We also observed one of the 'Porters' going well beyond her job description. She'd transported the luggage for an ancient old fellow, found him a seat and helped him find the details of his booked car. It transpired that his Travel Agent had booked a car for 07:00 !! We were not due to dock until 08:00. She then spent time with 'Bob' who organised a seat on an airport bus for him. All this time the 'porter' guided him along and took care of his luggage.

Meanwhile time passes and we've seen nothing of our car. Allowing for traffic delays, not uncommon, we waited until 10:30 and still no sign. Call on Mr Fixit, good old 'Bob'. Had we called the company he asked, can't, had my phone stolen in Brazil. What's the number, show him the sheet of paper, two to three minutes on the phone and he assures me it will be there soon. Walked back to where Jenny was minding the bags and soon after our car arrived. He's been waiting near the other ship, it wasn't clear on the booking form, certainly not his fault.

As we climbed into the cute little car I observed the line waiting for a taxi, even with the delay I think we were away quicker than they were. The little car is a Ford but looks like nothing we've ever seen. Sliding doors on both sides for the passengers, plenty of luggage space, huge picture windows and a roof so high Jenny could almost stand up inside. Guided by his GPS the driver whisked us out of the port area and into a web of freeways, overpasses and exits. He's doing at least 115 KPH and in just over 30 minutes we're pulled up outside the Howard Johnson Plaza.

Their web address is hojoanaheim.com seems appropriate therefor for me to use the abbreviation when referring to our hotel. Howard Johnson (HoJo) is not just a building, it is a complex of structures requiring a map to locate your room. Our room is on the ground floor of building 6, it has two double beds and all the essential facilities. The free WiFi is phenomenal !! There are gardens, water slides, two swimming pools, a small 'Market' for snacks, sundries and souvenirs and just a short walk to Disneyland.

With the availability of the high speed WiFi I checked the credit card and bank accounts. All appear to be in good shape. I also checked the Global Currency Card intending to use it to withdraw some US$ cash. To my surprise the balance is more than $1000 lower than expected. Checking the transaction history I find a number of 'pending' transactions which have reduced my available balance. Using HoJo's fine WiFi and the magic of Skype I ring the contact number in Australia. Twice the line drops out but on the third attempt I get connected to the help-desk for 'on-line banking', not the Global Currency desk. I gave the young lady my details and she promised to have the correct people ring me back within 30 minutes. An hour later I decided they weren't going to call so we went for a walk. The primary aim was to find somewhere to eat. All of the popular fast-food outlets were represented and even some upmarket eateries.

We also found a Discount Tours and Tickets store. They also had a good range of brochures and the most helpful young ladies we've met in along time. They spent the best part of 15 minutes explaining the available options to fill in our three days. We settled for a Disneyland visit on Monday and a visit to the Medieval Times show on Tuesday evening. I'm sure we can find things to keep us occupied for any time between.

On our way back to HoJo we settled on Mimis Café for dinner. We should have known that American meals are HUGE. I ordered 'fish and chips' and Jenny a 'Chicken Pot Pie'. We both gasped when the meal was delivered. Excellent food but a challenge to get through it. We staggered back to the HoJo and I decided to leave the write-up to the next morning. I laid down about 20:00 and apart from waking briefly for the Disney Fire Works - sound only - slept until about 6 this morning. Jenny didn't sleep well at all and obviously still not 100%.

Nothing much planned for Sunday, perhaps a decent walk to get the circulation moving.

If you want to look at what I've been up to you can view my latest photo by following this link to the image for Today

Wishing you good health and safe travel.
Have a great day and stay well.
Cheers .. Tony

Posted by greynomadm 08:17 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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