Disneyland, Universal Studios Florida and California, and Legoland VIP Tours

02.8.11

In the past eighteen months I’ve accompanied my children on VIP tours of four theme parks. Disneyland in Anaheim, Universal Studios Orlando, Universal Hollywood, and Legoland in San Diego. If you can swing it I highly recommend a VIP tour at any amusement park you go to. It is quite often more than double the price of admission, but the experience is more than four times as pleasant. You can see a park, sometimes two, in a day, and the likelihood of your child (or of you) melting down is significantly reduced. If you’re in the habit of taking a trip to a theme park every year I’d even suggest cutting the visits down to once every two years and making them VIP trips instead of the traditional trip.
Disneyland:
Surprisingly this was the least impressive of all VIP tours. We were a large group of 30 with three guides between us, so there is clearly more risk. The morning was lovely, the kids were able to get in a half dozen rides before lunch, and then we had lunch at Goofy’s Kitchen. The food here is absolutely revolting. It’s a sugary fatty buffet where everything is overcooked and oversalted. The service was excellent, but the salad bar was an afterthought. I hear that the mac and cheese was good as was the mac and cheese pizza… which to me is a delicacy that should only exist in a college dorm after a night of binge drinking. I do love that there are stands with fresh fruit all around the park, I picked up a few bananas for some quick energy, and bless Disneyland for keeping the water fountains peppering the park so you don’t have to walk around with water bottles.

Our guides were good until one of them got tired, and there was some eye rolling at our children. Sadly this coincided with a horrendous bartender at California Adventure who refused to provide us with proper wine glasses (as opposed to plastic) because the people in the dining room were the priority. This was said in between loud sighs. Explaining to her that we’d just purchased four bottles of wine at $60 a piece as well as a dozen appetizers did little to appease her. An apologetic and embarrassed server brought us water glasses that had been hanging in the rack right over the bartender’s head, and assured us that she would explain the situation to the manager.

It was all very good, and certainly much better than Disneyland would have been without the VIP experience, but still it was Disneyland and they could learn a thing or two from the folks at Legoland and Universal.

Universal Studios Orlando: I’ve documented my experience with Universal Orlando here. I was lucky enough to take my kids there on a press tour, and to date I’ve never seen anything so impressive. I recognize that we (as press) were likely given the best two guides in the park, and treated to the best food that a theme park can offer. It is with that information that I offer you a highly skewed rave review of Universal Orlando (though I do include pictures of our guides so you can have the same fabulous experience).

Universal Studios Hollywood: ($249 per person) The kids loved Universal Orlando so much that we ended up having a similar day at Universal California. The tour was worth every penny, the guide was attentive, efficient, and like our guides at the Orlando location she had a plan that would take us through the park in a way that wouldn’t exhaust everyone and would also give the kids (and I) the theme park experience (the good part of the experience).

Universal Studios is a little more adult than the other parks, so as evening approaches it’s still family friendly, but you’ll get the boozy twenty somethings. In the last few years they’ve done a good job of cleaning up the City Walk at night, but there’s still a skeeze factor at night that persists.

Legoland: This was another large party. Fifteen or so boys and their mothers, three guides and a very difficult day. It was raining so the guides had to maneuver us through the park in a way that made sense in the rain. Legoland was just incredible, the guides were polite and attentive, they gently suggested different areas when the rain would start, and then as sunlight peeked through they’d whip us in another direction and bring the boys to a place where they could ride something.

Even in the most uncomfortable moments, freezing winds (okay it felt freezing to this So Cal native), grey skies, rain, whiny kids, the guides at Legoland never stopped smiling, never stopped helping and they always had another plan. It’s not a great place to go on a rainy day unless you’ve got someone to help you through it and fourteen of your closest friends (the kids had a BLAST). Also, the food there was not nearly as impressive as the food at Universal Orlando (no one’s has been) but it was possible to cobble together a healthy meal.

I’m Not A Good Traveler, but I Play One on the Interwebz

09.1.10

Orlando was a blast. It wasn’t a little bit fun, it was two and a half days of having every second planned. We had theme parks, restaurants, a luau, The Blue Man Group and a movie in the pool (that was impromptu). The kids were tired, I’m not sure that they’ve ever had that level of activity before. A VIP Universal Tour isn’t the vacation I ever would have planned, but it’s the vacation I should have planned. I’ll post about that another day.

I have to say we lucked out. There were a half a dozen families, and a half a dozen terrific kids. Two days can be a very long time if you aren’t in good company, and all the kids were just fabulous. I realize I’m being vague. I’m tired. I’ll have to write a long post about our days, because y’all really won’t believe all we did in just two days.

Last night, after two solid days of running around Universal I got to meet a group of bloggers I’ve been wanting to meet. It was about four years ago that I started to follow Mike online. Mike led me to Steven and then to Keith, and before I knew it I was eavesdropping on the funniest guys online. And some of the kindest too.

When my life was falling apart I would get almost daily emails from Mike. There was so much safety for me when I would get those emails. As I was saying goodbye to my dearest friend Steven I was having a hard time managing my day to day existence. My girlfriends and my neighbors would say, “hi, how are you?” and they didn’t really mean how are you. They just meant “hi”. I’d start to weep, or worse, grit my teeth.

Having friends at a distance can be extraordinarily helpful when you’ve run out of nice. Mike will never know the real impact of his words.

Last night I got to meet Mike, Steven and Keith, and they did not disappoint. It was absolutely magical to meet someone that you feel like you already know, only to find out that all your instincts are absolutely correct. Warm, funny, irreverent… They brought along Manny and Mark, who are also absolutely hysterical. I’m pretty sure I’d abandon all my housework if I lived near these men. Everyone knows that a housewife without her gays is a pot without a lid.

My friends the DeVores came and joined us. I’d never met Tessa before, but I’d met David through Jeff Pulver, and everyone knows David Junior. Being able to introduce two sets of friends is a great joy, and I was pleased that everyone laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.

From nine to 11 pm the eight of us nursed cocktails while the kids watched The Karate Kid in the pool of the Hard Rock Hotel. It was a wonderful night. Saying goodbye was difficult.

Except for the fact that the kids and I had to get up at 3.30 in the morning to catch a 6am flight. You see, last week I got an email asking if I could do a cameo on Funny Or Die. They wanted to know if I was available on September 1. I swear to all that is holy, had I been scheduled for open heart surgery, I’d have postponed it.It’s Funny or Die. It’s WHY the Internet was invented (shut up, not everyone thinks the net was invented for porn).

So we hopped on the 6am flight, the kids were, once again, terrific, and I dropped them off at home, took a quick shower, and ran to be on set by eleven. I had my hair and makeup done, and then I sat in the video tent to watch the actresses do their thing.

As I’d been chomping at the bit to have my cameo I’d forgotten one important thing. This isn’t Momversation, the news, or Dr. Phil, this is acting, and they expected an actress. Once again, I hadn’t really thought things through.

Just after lunch they got to my scene, and with about 800 pounds of makeup on I did what they asked me to. And I realized that it was difficult. i think we had seven takes on the one shot, and two or three on the closeups, and the worst part of it was how nice everyone was.

I know, that sounds weird. But I’d spent an hour watching two very good actresses turn a script into a great scene with tons of energy, and I just felt weird. There were like twenty people watching us, and they kept telling me that I was doing a great job, but it didn’t feel great. I just felt nervous and out of my element, but  it was fun, and then I was nervous again.

And ohmygoodness I’m not an actress, but I’d totally do it again just to have my hair and makeup done. Oh, and to have those guys from Funny Or Die tell me I’m great. I have to say, that in the normal course of my days I’d have to wait weeks to hear that I was “doing great”, but on set with them I only waited about twenty seconds. I don’t even care if they were telling the truth. It felt good.

I was finished with Funny or Die by three, and I came home, washed my face and fell into bed for a two hour nap.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll spend most of the day tomorrow moving very slowly, and perhaps napping again. In reality I’m not a great traveler, but we’ve been just about everywhere this week.

I shot a quick video with my FOD hair and makeup done. I couldn’t quite let it go to waste.