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Old 06-17-2012, 10:52 PM   #1
valanie
vbradl1
 
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Dallas
Posts: 7

trip report- Disneyland, Carsland, Seaworld, & Universal

I wanted to give my take on the southern California theme park scene.

I took my 15 year old niece on a trip to southern California from June 8 to June 13 in celebration of her upcoming Sweet Sixteen in August. She had not been since she was a pre-schooler, so it was all new to her. I had been a couple of years ago, when Disney California Adventure (DCA) was pre-transformation. So, this would be relatively new for both of us. I was also wanting to get the perspective of a teenager on some of the parks and attractions that are offered in SoCal.

On our first day, we took the earliest flight possible from Dallas on Southwest and arrived in LAX just before 9am- gaining time rocks! (Side note: SNA- Orange County/Santa Ana/John Wayne airport is the closest to Disneyland, but there was a $99 1-way fare to LAX, which was much cheaper this time around... ) I had arranged for passage to Disneyland aboard GO (Prime Time) shuttle. At first we could not locate them and they had not provided instructions on where to go. The volunteers at the information desk had never heard of them and the shuttle service's phone number was not working. At last we saw one of their burgundy colored shuttles drive past and followed it. It was located with the other ground transportation at the airport and was the last provider in the row. They put us on a van to Anaheim and we were on our way.

Despite being the last to board, we were the first dropped off. We were staying for 3 nights at the Best Western Park Place Mini Suites. This hotel is located at the pedestrian crosswalk that leads to the entrance of Disneyland. This hotel and the Park Vue hotel, located on the other side of the crosswalk, are the closest hotels to Disney's entrance other than Disney's Grand Californian Resort & Spa. That hotel is pretty much located inside Disney's California Adventure park. But beyond that, the Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Paradise Pier are both actually further than we where we stayed and cost twice as much. With my AAA discount, and by not bringing a car, I paid $96/night. Paradise Pier & Disneyland Hotel, by contrast cost about $250/night, and Grand Californian was even more. (I must admit, there were a couple of times when leaving DCA that I would have been willing to fork over $300+ to be back in my hotel room resting my feet without the additional 5-10 minute walk.

The Best Western is basically a motel. It is only a place to rest in between park touring. It is not a place to explore and has no Disney magic. But we had limited time- 3 days in Disneyland (DL) and lots to try and see in that short time. For a more relaxed tour of the 2 parks and Downtown Disney, 4 days would be recommended... As it was, we raced from park to park on this trip. Our room had 2 double beds a coffee machine, refrigerator, microwave, dining table w/ 2 chairs and a bathroom with sink outside the door. The last time I stayed here i was in a mini-suite (for the same price) with 2 Queens and a pull-out sofa. They also have King rooms available.

I had ordered the Southern California CityPass ticket which included a 3 day park hopper to Disneyland w/ one extra magic hour morning; a 1 day pass to Universal Hollywood; and a 1 day pass to Sea World San Diego. The cost was about $250 each with my work discount (regular price $279)... about the same as a 5-day WDW base ticket and about $100 less than a 5 day WDW park hopper ticket. I really wanted to see Universal Studios Hollywood and the new Transformers ride, so the price of the 3 day DL ticket plus the Universal ticket individually added up to more than buying the CityPass, which had SeaWorld added in. So i viewed SeaWorld as a bonus. Additionally, Sea World had the pay for a day, play for a year promotion going on as did Universal... So in essence with this pass, you got 2 annual passes in addition to the 3 days at DL. Excellent deal!

On our first day, we checked in, but our room was not ready. The hotel is usually full and rooms are generally not ready until around 3:00pm. We left our bags with the front desk and headed to the parks. We went first to DCA because it was just after 10 and that park had just opened. I like to get to parks at opening b/c you can avoid crowds that way. The problem with DCA is that since it opens so late, most of the crowds are waiting there with you, and the benefit of touring early is somewhat lost. We picked up our passes from guest services along with our tickets to the Fantasmic Dessert Party (more on that later) and went into DCA. We headed straight for California Screamin', the gigantic roller coaster that dominates the landscape of the Paradise Pier section (the very back) of the park. If you like Rockin' Roller Coaster, you will love this one. It is also a launch coaster, although as my niece pointed out, it does not launch quite as fast. Nevertheless, you feel it. It also has the added bonus of being much longer than the 2 1/2 minute Rockin' Roller Coaster. You get a lot more bang for your buck. It is not inside in the dark, so you don't get that thrill factor, but you get awesome views of the pier and the rest of the beautiful Disney park. I enjoy them both but I give the slightest edge to Screamin' just for the additional time- it makes a difference.

We then made the huge mistake of heading to Mickey's Fun Wheel, the gigantic ferris wheel with Mickey's face emblazoned on the front (replacing the odd looking sun that had previously adorned it). The ferris wheel has stationery buckets and swinging ones. I had not gotten the chance to ride this on my previous trip, so i wanted to cross this off my list. My niece headed toward the right fork in the line- toward the swinging buckets. Fine by me as it looked tame enough. She had not read the sign and did not realize it until we were just about to board. Those things swing rather wildly and after 2 go rounds, I thought I might need to use the barf bag that was discreetly placed on the side of the seat. My niece found it and had dibs on it as she was feeling sick too. I have NEVER gotten sick on a ride and do not get motion sick, so I was kind of surprised at how this thing affected me. This is one of those rides that looks tame enough but will eat your lunch. I pointed out that since we hadn't eaten lunch, it was eating a lunch we hadn't even ingested yet. Not sure if it would have been worse if we had eaten first.

We staggered off of the ride in search of food, hoping that would calm our stomachs and heads. Note: never eat corn dogs or battered fried meat on a stick AFTER being nearly ill. We went to Corn Dog Castle and got the Link Corn Dog... it was spicy and good, but greasy- and kind of made us feel a little worse. We ate sitting on one of the planters near a merchandise cart. A couple of little mini parades came by with Phineas & Ferb and later with the Green Army Men from Toy Story. After relaxing and giving ourselves time to recover, we headed off in search of less taxing entertainment. We toured the Boudin Bakery and the newly opened Ghirardelli's chocolate fountain where we experienced the bliss of the free chocolate square filled with luscious gooey caramel. Sweet!

We headed towards a Bug's Land, the mini park with lots of kiddie rides and It's Tough to Be a Bug, the 3-D movie. There was very little wait, maybe 5 minutes. The attraction was actually better than the one at WDW's Animal Kingdom, which i have experienced several times. There was an additional animatronic to our left and a couple of additional effects. I was quite surprised as I had skipped this on my last visit, considering that it would be an exact clone. It was slightly better, plussed just a little bit. We headed to Hollywood Land and caught the Monster's Inc Mike and Sully to the Rescue ride- which was OK. Very well themed and the animatronic at the end had my niece asking me how they did that.

We then went to see the Aladdin Show, a musical in the vein of Beauty & the Beast at Disney's Hollywood Studios (DHS) in FL and Finding Nemo at Animal Kingdom (AK). Not to keep banging the drum but... it was better! I love Beauty & the Beast at DHS & Lion King at AK, but Aladdin was superior. It is held in the Hyperion Theater in the Hollywood Land section of DCA. The theater has 3 sections: orchestra, mezzanine, and balcony. If you do not arrive early, you will be in one of the upper sections. We arrived about 20 minutes before the start of the 2 o'clock our show and ended up in the mezzanine section. This means we had to climb stairs outside of the theater. I counted 50 steps! The balcony section required even more. The inside is beautiful and reminds me of the Walt DIsney Theater on the Disney Cruise Line ships. The show was great, the music was wonderful, the acting and singing were amazing, and the Genie stole the show! My niece said she wanted to see it again, this time from the floor! Note: if my teenaged niece is any indication, Aladdin is an awesome show for teens and the main character is a cutie

We explored the new fountain at the Carthay Circle Restaurant and took pictures of the beautiful new building, a throwback to the original theater that first premiered Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and other classic movies. We then left the park to go get our room and put away our luggage. Oh yeah, and rest.

After about a 3 hour break and naps, we headed over to Disneyland. We ate dinner at the Plaza Inn restaurant. At WDW the Plaza is a full service restaurant. At Disneyland, it is a counter service (of which there are an abundance). I had heard much of the chicken dinner- lots of praise. So we went in, grabbed plates, ignored the yummy looking desserts walking by and headed to the line for the chicken. The meal came with 4 pieces of chicken- an entire half- plus mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, and a biscuit. The price was $13.99- not bad for theme park and more food than I could eat. Although, my niece managed to finish hers somehow. We washed it down with free water that they provided. The staff was extremely friendly and helpful. The decor reminded me of Crystal Palace at WDW.

We left there to check in for the Fantasmic Dessert Party. Fantasmic at Disneyland on the Rivers of America, so there is no dedicated theater like in Florida. People, therefore, grab pavement extra early and sit along the banks, sometimes for hours. I had no intention of doing this and also considered this a special trip- my niece's sweet sixteen trip. So I paid for the Dessert party, which gives you prime viewing in seats along with a little dessert tray for the price of $60. Check-in for the Dessert Party begins at 8pm, but people begin lining up at about 7pm. We headed over after our dinner, so it was about 20 minutes until 8pm. There were 2 Fantasmic shows that night, one at 9pm and one at 10:15pm. I had booked the later one, but both check in at the same time. I figured the second would be less crowded, and I was right. We were able to get 2 front row seats for the second show. Once that was done, we headed over to It's a Small World to see the new Magic Memories and You Show for the summer season. It was great, but I think the 2 previous versions may have been a little better. Nevertheless, Disney Imagineers are AMAZING with what they can do.

We then staked out a spot for Magical, the fireworks show. They announced there would be a delay, and I began to think we might be late for our Fantasmic seats, so I made the bone-headed decision to leave our spots in the Hub and start heading back to Frontierland. As soon as we reached Frontierland it started. So we only got a side angle view. Still good, but not as good as what we had. Once it was over, we were held behind a rope in Frontierland as cast members allowed people exiting the 9pm Fantasmic show to file out of the area. One girl was rather anxious as she had dinner reservations at Blue Bayou and her family was waiting. It was inconvenient, but I do understand the reasoning. The last time I was at DL and the early Fantasmic let out, it was a MADHOUSE of people and movement of seemingly only a few inches at a time. This was much more oranized and orderly.

Fantasmic was fantastic! Murphy the dragon (Maleficent) worked just fine, Mickey triumphed over the bad guys, good won over evil, the effects were brilliant. The hot chocolate, of which I had two cups, was wonderful. My niece opted for tea. Our dessert trays are handed to us once we reach our seats before the show starts and our drink orders are taken. The tray included 5 or 6 cheeses, 2 packs of water crackers, a brownie, a cheesecake square, a key lime tartlet, 2 chocolate truffles, a macaroon (American), a jelly filled tea cake/cookie, and grapes/fruit. To drink they had lemonade, bottled water, a large variety of hot teas, coffee, soda, and hot chocolate. It was chilly, so we both had warm drinks. My niece was unaware that SoCal, unlike Florida, can get chilly at night. She was so cold that she was actually rooting for the dragon and her fire, so as to keep warm.

We headed to our temporary home and made preparation to be at Disneyland at opening. So ended day 1.
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Old 06-18-2012, 08:19 PM   #2
valanie
vbradl1
 
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Dallas
Posts: 7

Smile Day 2

Day 2
We had brought bagels and cream cheese, ready to eat bacon, granola bars, and pastry bars since we knew we would have a fridge and microwave. We grabbed breakfast on the go and headed out. We were at Disneyland half hour late for our Magic Morning hour. So we only got the benefit of getting in a half hour before the general public was allowed in. We headed straight for Space Mountain which had a 15 minute wait... 10 of which I am almost certain was just to walk through the queue area. Long and winding does not begin to tell the tale of that queue. Yes- better than at WDW. I am noticing a trend here... We then got to ride the new Star Tours. I have not ridden the new one at WDW, but I understand the queue there is far superior than the one in DL. (A win for Florida!) We exited that great ride and headed over to Buzz Light Year's Astro Blasters. I am partial to the one at WDW, although at DL you can remove the blasters and not have to turn the whole car. I have gotten a perfect score at WDW... at DL, this time, my niece out scored me... but she doesn't know it. We rode in separate cars and she was seated in the one ahead of me. She thinks I scored 550,000. It was only 55,000... I let her believe it, so she thinks she still has only beaten me once in this game... lol! I'll tell her eventually

We then raced over to the Indiana Jones Adventure, which was down... So we rode Pirates (far better at DL), Haunted Mansion (better at WDW), Splash Mountain (my favorite ride ever-better at WDW when it is working, but only slightly), and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (WDW- no question). We then went to ride Big Thunder Mountain, but that was down, so we rode the Mark Twain Riverboat which is a paddlewheeler... my niece's choice as I still have not ridden the Sailing Ship Columbia, which is on my list as an absolute must for the next time I go back. We next caught a comedy show in Frontierland in front of the Golden Horseshoe Saloon... the troupe was super funny and well worth taking the time to go see. Hilarious!

By then Big Thunder was back up and running, so we rode that (better at WDW) and then walked back to catch a quick view of the ranch area where the horses and animals are kept. We both felt like we were starving at this point. I sent my niece over to Indiana Jones to get fast passes if it was back up, because the late morning crowds had just arrived and it was starting to get a little thick in the place. Disneyland does not hold crowds as well as Magic Kingdom because it was not built for them. MK definitely has the blessing of size and fewer attractions crammed into one park. Disneyland is small and intimate, so when it gets crowded, it FEELS crowded.

We met up at the new Jolly Holiday bakery and cafe and grabbed lunch. I had the roast beef sandwich and she had the turkey. A lot on the menu sounded really good, so we both had a hard time making up our minds. Both sandwiches came with housemade chips... and as good as the sandwiches were (mine needed salt), the chips were the stars of the plates. She finished all of hers, I finished most of mine. For dessert she had a Mickey shaped sugar cookie, covered with red sprinkles. It was the size of her hand and quite good as she let me taste it. I chose the Matterhorn Macaroon cookie, which is shaped like a mountain. I mistakenly thought this would be the French style macaroon as I am not a fan of coconut. The cookie and the cream at the top were good, but the rest went in the trash. We then headed over to take in Billy Hill and the Hillbillies. My niece napped as we waited, but once the show started, the Billies were very entertaining. We left there and caught a ride on the Indiana Jones Adventure. I was the "driver" as I sat on the front row at the far left. My niece decided that I was driving horribly and I pointed out that the steering wheel did not move and I had no control over the vehicle. I saw a different scene than on my previous visit. My niece looked into the forbidden eyes and we almost got run over by a boulder. SO AWESOME! My niece declared this was better than Dinosaur at Animal Kingdom. I refuse to make that concession as Dinosaur is one of my favorite rides. I declare them equally great... but in the back of my head I know that truthfully Indy was better. Darn it.

We then entered the Enchanted Tiki Room waiting area and got in line for Dole Whips. As much as I enjoy these, my niece loves them that much more... I think she is an addict and she blames me for introducing her to them at WDW years ago. She got the soft serve, I got the float and we entered the show, treats in hand. The Tiki Room at Disneyland is better for 2 reasons- they still have the fountain and you can bring in your Dole Whip, which makes any show that much better = ). Admittedly, there were at least 2 or 3 people asleep in the show. So it is also a good place to escape the heat and get in a good nap.

Regarding the heat- it is NOTHING like the heat in Florida. A friend of mine from Florida said it is like this: California heat is like sticking your hand in a hot oven whereas Florida is like placing your hand over a pot of boiling water. I know from experience, you can hold your hand in the oven or even over an open flame longer than the boiling water. That humid heat is no joke. We live in Texas, so the 70s and 80s in California were a Godsend. The 90s in Florida impede effective touring and lead to exhaustion and dehydration much quicker. After our last trip to FL in August 2010, we decided to go in January the next time. This past January, we took a DCL cruise on the Dream with a few days to explore Orlando... it was a revelation. I have also been in May and in September. Bottom line- summer in FL is a no go for me.

Anyway, back to the DL trip, we headed back for an afternoon break. For dinner we headed over to the Disneyland Hotel to see if we could get inside Trader Sam's or the Tangaroa Terrace... Both were full as it was prime time on a Saturday night. We walked back through Downtown Disney again where the swing dancers were learning steps and people were hawking their wares and people took photos of the new Lego store (including us). It was a hive of activity and so bustling- like a real downtown area. It felt more alive and vibrant than the one at WDW. We stopped at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen and went to the Express counter next door. I got a shrimp po' boy and my niece got Cajun popcorn chicken or something. Both came with fries. We also got a side of hush puppies, icees, and beignets for dessert. The few tables were full, so we laid out our wares and ate on a planter outside of the new Wonderground Gallery. I did not realize that was what we were looking at- a big beautiful contemporary building with big pane windows. Inside I saw a painting of a hipster/nerdy Mickey, which was super cute. I then noticed a man directly in front of me painting. He was in the building, not 10 feet away, and fully visible in the show front window. People inside the gallery would periodically come by and talk to him and ask about his painting. People outside would gather for a few minutes and watch him paint. I thought, OMG, here I am in Downtown Disney, eating delicious Cajun food, listening to a live jazz musician on the other side of this planter, and watching the famous artist, NOAH paint the Evil Queen from Snow White. How does it get this good?! (Similar styled painting of Cruella)

The painting was all shades of black. The only color used was a dark violet for the box that was to hold Snow White's heart, and a hint of pink for the mouth. The rest was all shades of black. It was amazing. An entire painting with almost no color, just infinite shades of black. It was gorgeous, and I was privileged to watch it being created.

Once we finished, we headed to DCA to catch the new Mad "T" Party. The band starring the Mad Hatter, Alice, the Cheshire Cat, the Dormouse, the Caterpillar, and the March Hare were rocking "Don't Stop Believing", a song my niece was unfamiliar with, despite their having sung it on Glee (one of her fave shows). The band played a mix of 80s, 90s, and current music. The current stuff, like Rihanna, she liked. The older stuff, she did not. Once the band left the stage, Tweedle Dee & Tweddle Dum, the MCs for the night, introduced some dancers and later a strange human slinky act called Who R U, and then the White Rabbit- an ultra-cool DJ. He played mostly current stuff, with a few oldies mixed in. There was a lot of techno remixing going on and my niece and all the other teens in the area loved it. They were dancing and having a good time. There was cute little toddler girl in a kitten costume who soon became the star of the dance floor as everyone gathered around to watch her bounce up and down to the music. It was a party that was good clean fun. The stage, the screen, and the DJ really impressed my niece, who declared she wanted her senior trip or her 18th birthday to be held there and she wanted the White Rabbit to be the DJ. We tried desperately to find light up ears like his, but only found a cheap imitation. We also kept trying to find the large Mad Hatter hats without the fake hair attached. oh well... the party was fun and we enjoyed it immensely. Nighttime at Disneyland is just incredible. We went home to prepare for our final day at DL.
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Old 06-18-2012, 08:27 PM   #3
valanie
vbradl1
 
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Dallas
Posts: 7

Day 3

Day 3

We made it to Disneyland at opening and proceeded to try and knock out Fantasyland. I had missed Peter Pan and Storybookland Canal boats on my previous trip, so I was determined to see them this time. We headed straight for Peter Pan, which was already listed at 25 minutes for the wait. (Disney tends to overestimate by about 5-10 minutes.) We then rode the Canal boats, Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Toad's WIld Ride, Pinocchio's Daring Journey and Snow White's Scary Adventure (which was better at WDW until they closed it last month). Since she wanted to be behind the wheel on the Mr. Toad ride, I made sure to point out that she was driving terribly and was apparently not ready for a license. She drove right into a truck and then drove us straight to hell, where it was rather hot. I advised her, she needed to practice more before she tried driving again. At this point, it was just about time for DCA to open and we had a lot of ground to cover over there. So we left without seeing It's A Small World (better in DL), the Sleeping Beauty Castle walk through, and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln- all of which I saw on my previous trip and that my niece did not get to see, but should have. All are well worth the time and I regret not having seen them. I finally got to ride the train around the park and there is far more to see on the Disneyland version, but my niece found it boring. I enjoyed it, however. I still have not seen Innoventions, my niece did not see the DL version of Captain Eo, and I still have not ridden the monorail here. Innoventions, Monorail, and Luigi's Flying Tires are on my must do list for my next trip to Disneyland... more on Luigi later...

We hopped over to DCA... we exited Disneyland, walked across the Esplanade (a plaza) that separates them and walked into DCA... park hopping here is quick and easy.

We grabbed fast passes for Soarin' Over California and headed straight back to Toy Story Midway Mania, next to Screamin' Over California in the Paradise Pier Section of the park. We got there at about 15 after 10 and the wait was listed at 60 minutes. The time was changed to 50 minutes and I started my timer on Touring Plans to time out how long the actual wait was. My niece was bound and determined to ride this ride. I did not understand why as she had ridden it several times at WDW. I did not feel it was worth the wait for a short ride. But we waited. The time turned out to be 45 minutes. So the 2 times I have ever waited more than 20 minutes for a ride were both for Toy Story Mania... 45 minutes at WDW the first year it opened and 45 minutes at the DCA version. As pay back for making me stand in line, I beat her by about 10,000 points on this version. I have never beaten her at WDW. So she thinks I defeated her twice on this trip... honestly, I am going to tell her the truth about Buzz... soon

We then marched over to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid, which was new to both of us. Very enjoyable. (The ice cream hair is gone and a flattened ponytail is in its place. The ice cream had to look better... ) We rode Grizzly River Rapids, on which my niece got soaked. She thought it might be payback for celebrating her non-soaking on Splash Mountain the previous day, as the family in front of us, unbeknownst to her, got drenched. We then rode Soarin' Over California... (no difference between WDW and DL). We then decided to see the Aladdin show again, and she was determined to get floor seats. She went to go get in line while i went to go get hot dogs at Award Wieners. We did not think this through very well as I did not know where in the line she was and she did not know where to meet me. I had the food and sat on a bench across the street from the line and hoped she would see me. She got a family to hold her place in line and found me across the street. We took our food into the line, which we were told was ok so long as we finished before the show. We ate hurriedly. She finished just before the line started moving. We left our green baskets on top of the nearest trash can as we did not want to toss them... And we made our way to aisle seats in the Center section of the Orchestra area. As good as the show is from the mezzanine area, it is that much better from the floor and well worth waiting in line a little extra to be close up.

This is the point where we hopped back over to DL and then, headed for the hotel as we were beginning to run out of steam. After our break, we ate dinner at the IHOP. The Best Western is next door to a restaurant called Captain Kidd's, where breakfast is served for free to guests of our hotel. Next door to Captain Kidd's (sharing a building actually) is IHOP. The prices were just as high as DL, however, my niece ate from the kid's menu and since it was after 4pm, her meal was free. A homeless and possibly insane man walked in. He was talking to someone outside the restaurant that did not appear to exist. The restaurant gave him some free food, purportedly donated by another family in the restaurant. He finally left after much negotiating. On our way out of the restaurant, we saw that he had laid out his food on the sidewalk. My niece was scared, I felt sorry for the man, and the restaurant workers were not quite sure what to do. I work at a veteran's hospital with a large mental health unit; if this man were a veteran, there would be a place for him to receive free assistance. As it is, it was quite sad to see.

We left and headed over to Disneyland. I absolutely had to see the Soundsational Parade and my niece felt like she had to get another Dole Whip. I staked out a spot for the 6:30 parade at the top of the Main Street train station and told her that would be where I was when she got back. The entire parade happened and I still had to wait an additional 10 minutes for her... that is how long the line for Dole Whips was. The parade was the best daytime parade I have ever seen and possibly the best period. I am not a parade person... I have never seen the one at Animal Kingdom, only saw part of the previous Pixar Bash at Hollywood Studios (and that on accident), I have seen the rather stale and crusty one at Magic Kingdom twice and was bored by the 2nd time. I keep missing the Main Street Electrical Parade, but it looks great online. I do enjoy Spectromagic, but it seems to just overstay its welcome by about 3 minutes. This one was just the right length, super high energy, awesome floats, and the drum corps at the beginning- SPECTACULAR. (I used to be in the marching band, so maybe it brought back memories- whatever... it was awesome!)

That little foray into Disneyland, however, cost us an hour of our preview time at CarsLand. The parade may have been worth it though. We went to guest relations, got our special wrist bands, and headed back to DCA for one last time. We entered a secret little door in the construction wall, thanks to our wrist bands and took a stroll down the new Buena Vista Street. I explored the red car trolley, went inside the Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Pig Cafe, spoke with a streetmosphere character and her little dog (puppet)... The theming is so beautiful. The mission California, 1920s & 30s L.A. decor is so spot on and perfect, you just want to stare and soak it all in. You really feel transported, just like when you walk down Main Street in DL or MK. Disneyland's Main Street is turn of the Century in a small town. The Main Street at MK is just a decade or so beyond that. And DCA is now just a decade or so beyond that. It is like a progression of time in America. Beautiful!

We then headed to CarsLand and entered from a little door in the Pacific Wharf area of the park. OMG! I don't know if you have seen the movie Cars (not so much Cars 2 as that is not focused on Radiator Springs), but this looks just like the little town from the movie. I mean, it is like you just stepped into a little desert town on Route 66. We have driven on the Mother Road, and this detail is stunning. There are just not enough words to do it justice- you have to see it for yourself. The rock work, the striations, the paint job are all magnificently done. The orangeish, red and brown rock work look just like what you see in the Southwest United States. You literally feel like you are entering another world or at least another part of the country. If you go to DCA and this is all you see, you will have gotten your money's worth- even with the recent price hike... (but don't tell Disney that part as the prices are high enough thanks!) It is quite simply- Amazing.

I chose to go at night and I am glad that I did, as we got to see the streets light up with all the neon. The She-boom song came on and everyone was singing and bopping along in time and watching as the neon came on bit by bit. Lovely!

Flo's V-8 cafe (which had I known it was open, we would have eaten here rather than at the IHOP!) was open and crowded. The lines at Luigi's Flying Tires was at 50 minutes and considering how short a time we had left, we were not willing to wait for it. We rode on Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, which was super-fun as my niece and I kept sliding into each other! It may be considered a kiddie ride, but I advise everyone to take a spin on it. They have 2 ride areas, which cuts down on waits... and our wait time was only 5 minutes. We then headed over to the Cozy Cone for some snackage. My niece got the churro bites and the wait was LONG. While in line we saw Lightning and then Mater meet and greets and heard them talking to guests. After about 15 minutes in this line, my niece volunteered to go wait in the line for popcorn for me, as she knew that is what I wanted to try. This is a problem, kind of like Cosmic Ray's in the Magic Kingdom... if your family wants items from more than one cone, you will have to split up and wait in more than one line...

I ordered the churro bites for my niece which come with cinnamon chocolate sauce. I had one of them and it was quite good. My niece did not like the sauce. I ordered Ramone's Pear o' Dice soda... I don't drink soda but decided I wanted to try these specialty drinks. The cast member assured me it was delicious and she was SO not lying. The best soda i ever had. It was Sprite mixed with Mojito flavoring and prickly pear juice. I could not stop myself from drinking it; and by the time I met my niece at the other cone and got in line for the popcorn, it met its full end. My niece never had a chance. When I got up to the window for popcorn, there were 2 flavors: dill and nacho. I ordered both because I wanted to try the dill but got the nacho just to be on the safe side. My niece said she wanted dill, so I let her have it. Big mistake as that was the winner. It did not taste like pickle, just had a slight dill flavor with butter. I helped her eat hers, she tried mine, and we both agreed the dill was better. I also ordered the Doc's Wild Grape Tonic and got two straws. After tasting it, my niece asked why I had not gotten her one. It is Sprite mixed with grape flavoring and topped with a wild berry foam. So good! My niece drank most of it and I had to basically pry it away from her. She thought it was the best. I told her that was just because she had not had the Pear O'Dice one.... It was great, but the first one was better. The foam on this one was yum!

After our snacks we headed over to Radiator Springs Racers... which was down. We took photos of the statue of town founder, Stanley, and my niece headed into Ramone's shop to explore and warm up a little. I just took it all in from a park bench near the statue. The ride opened and I ran into the store and grabbed Viara and told her we needed to hurry. The line had already gotten to 15 minutes. We waited while listening to some old country music that was quite humorous... something about shooting your mother-in-law?? The 5 minute single rider line flew by and we thought we maybe should have done that. Hint: Single Rider and Fastpass lines appear to be most efficient on this attraction... definitely consider these options. Let me just say that this ride is AWESOME. My niece sat in the far left, I sat in the middle and a single rider sat on the right. The wheel-well comes up inside of the car, so the legroom on the left is decreased because of this. So it was good that my niece was on that side. I did not notice if the right side was the same, but I assume so. There is no place to store loose items, so you have to hold onto them. But other than these two issues, i have nothing bad to say about this ride. The queue area is long because Disney expects there to be long waits. This is an E-Ticket attraction of the 1st magnitude. Possibly the best ride we experienced on this trip,.. (Viara refuses to choose between this and Transformers as the experiences were so different). The animatronics are some of the best Disney has ever done and they partially use projection technology to make them talk. This may make the ride a little better at night. The details are tremendous. The tractor tipping part was fun! The waterfall was gorgeous to look at. And since you are supposed to be in Radiator Springs on this ride, the places you stop look just like the places outside... you feel like- "Hey, I was just there!" when you see Flo's and Luigi's. Your car will either get a new paint job at Ramone's (veers right) or new tires at Luigi's (veers left). We rode twice and the first time we went to Ramone's and when we came out, the car that went to Luigi's was waiting for us. We then set out on a race and our car won. My niece took credit for the driving and for the win- lol.

When we got off the ride Viara declared that Test Track now needed to come up as this was way better. We both love Test Track, but this is in a different league. I told her that this does not go as fast as Test Track, but she surmised that because you are racing, it makes it feel faster. Every part of this ride was great... the theming, the animatronics, the race- everything! We immediately wanted to ride again, but we had prime viewing reservations for World of Color, which she had never seen and check in time was upon us. We asked a cast member if we would be able to get back and get in another ride on the Racers and she said if we left early we probably would as CarsLand would be open until 11pm and World of Color should be over by 10:45pm. We sadly left and more and more regretted not having seen World of Color (WoC) on a prior night. My niece did however say that WoC was absolutely "wonderful" and that it was even better than Illuminations at Epcot. I could not agree more and pointed out the marvel of what they did with what amounts to simply water and lights... ok and film projections. But no fireworks, no lasers... just water, lights, and films projected onto mist. This show is not to be missed!

We raced back to CarsLand, just over the bridge and were suddenly hit with a dilemma. Luigi's Flying Tires had a wait time of 10 minutes; the Racers- 15 minutes. If we had been thinking better, maybe we would have ridden the Flying Tires and hoped the Racers would still be open when we got off as we had 15 minutes. Or maybe we would have gotten in the still 5 minute long single rider line. We did not. We got in the 15 minute stand-by line and when we got off it was 11:01 and the line for Luigi's was closed. While in line at the Cozy Cone earlier, I heard another guest say that the Tires were fun, but not so much that it was worth a long wait. She said the Racers was much better. So I consoled myself with that though as I had been anxious to ride the tires... however, with the choice of riding an E-Ticket or a C-Ticket, it did not stand to reason to take the lesser of the 2 over the greater. So, we rode the Racers and got in what looked to be the exact same car and we took up our exact same positions in the front seat. Our car veered left into Luigi's Tire shop this time... so we got to experience both. We also got to experience losing the race this time. I figured we might when Luigi said to us, just because you have new tires does not mean you will win the race... or something to that effect. Vi thinks that if you go on the tire side you will lose and if you go to Ramone's you will win. It was still a blast and we cannot wait to go back and do it again. Hopefully next time I will get to ride the Flying Tires. (Note: While in line for Mater's Junkyard Jamboree we saw EVERYBODY giggling and laughing while riding, which increased our desire to ride it and see what was making it so fun. By contrast, as we left Carsland by way of A Bugs Land we passed Luigi's and we saw a few people smiling, but mostly people's faces looked bored or showed no emotion at all. I have heard some report that it is fun and others that they just didn't get it. If the ride is short- GO FOR IT! If not, It may not be worth an hour long wait. As this was the first place we stopped upon arrival, she looked at the ride and said, "That's it?")

We left Disneyland tired but exhilarated. We had seen some awesome shows and ridden incredible rides and experienced amazing theming. We skipped all of the rides in A Bug's Land and missed some key attractions at DL (including the Jungle Cruise- which is better at WDW) and DCA (including the Blue Sky Cellar). We probably could have gotten them all in if we had skipped our 3 hour midday breaks, but then we would have been more tuckered than we were. And this was before the crowds descended upon DCA for CarsLand and before the Matterhorn reopened. So, to take it all in probably takes 4 days, unless you plan to run yourself ragged.
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Old 06-18-2012, 09:50 PM   #4
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Sounds like you and your niece had a great time! I love that you two don't let little things bog you down and make the most of a trip! I have the same attitude. I really appreciate the food reviews too, especially the new CL food!! I am anxious to read about Sea World! We will be going there for 2 days,then DLR for 4 days. I agree with you..it takes 4 days to go at a relaxed pace! Thanks for sharing your trip!!
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Old 06-19-2012, 12:39 PM   #5
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I love it so far!!
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Old 06-19-2012, 06:29 PM   #6
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Thanks for the great trip report!
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Old 06-19-2012, 08:24 PM   #7
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Days 4 & 5

Day 4

The Freebie day in my opinion. We went next door to Captain Kidd's and saw a sign with an arrow pointing up the stairs for the buffet. There was no greeter and no one checked our little green ticket that Best Western had given us for entry into the buffet. I got 2 croissants and some link sausages. Viara got waffles, sausages. They also had little discs of scrambled egg, which tasted better than they looked. I told Vi to grab one to see if it was a pancake or egg... that is how flat and round they were. There was also an assortment of cereals, about 5 or 6 I believe. There were some pastries, orange and apple juices, coffee, and a couple of other items. Not bad for free. Our main concern was that no one verified anything, so anyone could have come up to get free breakfast because this building is where the ONLY Pedestrian Crosswalk to Disneyland is. So everyone staying in hotels along Harbor BLVD that walks to DL crosses here.

We saw a couple of people grab the paper plates load them up and head to their rooms next door. After we finished our breakfast, we went back to our rooms to pack. I had reserved a car with Budget so that we could drive down to San Diego. The rental car was located about a mile south of our hotel and we figured we could walk it rather than get a cab. On a hunch, I called them to see if they offered pick up service, which they did to the hotels located along Harbor Blvd. We checked out and Budget picked us up. I signed the paperwork, piled in our luggage, taught Viara to take photos of rental cars at pick up and at drop off (so as to avoid future damage claims), and we were off to San Diego on I-5 South. We were staying at the Best Western Island Palms Resort. Holy Moses this place was gorgeous and NOT a motel. It was located directly in front of the pier on Shelter Island. Our room was not ready, so we headed off to Sea World. We had lost most of the day and it was just after noon by the time we arrived. I told my niece I had no intention of riding any rides, which angered her. I told her she was free to ride by herself and meet me at the shows since she had her phone with her. She did not want to ride by herself. So we headed first to the dolphin tank and then to the Shamu show- One Ocean- with a stop at the orca tanks first to see these beautiful creatures.

The show was wondrous because these animals are breathtakingly beautiful. I understand why some activists feel they should not be caged in these tanks. The tanks will never suffice for the ocean. However, I feel privileged to be able to see these astonishing beings. After that we grabbed pretzels (awful) and pickles (tasty) and saw the Clyde and Seamore Sea Lion show. This is a very funny show, with a great comedian opening. He does nothing but recreate famous scened from musicals like Grease and Singing in the Rain and is hilarious. Viara thought this was the funniest show of the trip. We then went over to the shark exhibit which featured a conveyor belt that takes you through the shark tank with them swimming over head and all around you. Creepy and Cool! Next up was the dolphin show, Blue Horizons. This was my least favorite show. Viara thought that was unfair- that they were all equally good. I liked them all, but this was just my least fave of the bunch. Largely because there was not enough dolphin and way too much human acrobatics. This is ironic because I LOVED the Cirque de la Mer show which was- human acrobatics. There were no animals involved at all. Just amazing Cirque du Soleil style performers that do amazing death-defying, awe-inspiring stunts. They also pick on one poor chap from the audience who has to be a great sport. This may have been my favorite, but Shamu and the Sea Lions make it hard to pick a favorite... so I understand Viara's point. She also finally understood mine because after the dolphin show she asked what other shows there were and opted to see this one over the Sesame Street one (despite her inexplicable adoration of Elmo; I argued that Cookie Monster was better- she argued that he could not even speak correctly- but Cookie is a monster who knows what he wants).

At the end of the trip, Viara declared that Sea World had the best shows of any park. I agreed- despite our love of the Aladdin Show. I pointed out to her that with only half a day at Sea World I was not going to ride on rides that I could experience at any other theme park and thereby miss out on shows that I could see nowhere else. She got it. She agreed. What Sea World does best are their animal exhibitions. I would highly recommend a trip to Sea World and I can now say that I have been to all 3 of their US Parks. If you have time for the rides, Manta and Journey to Atlantis are purported to be excellent. There is also a 3-D simulator ride and a raft ride. Simulators are everywhere as are raft rides. If you have to choose between rides and shows- go for the shows. They are not to be missed and well worth the 90 minute drive!

We left and went back to our hotel. I had booked a junior suite that consisted of 2 Queen beds, a kicthen and dining area, a huge 2 part bathroom and the longest balcony that I have personally ever experienced (Floorplan; CDM_Queen_Junior_Suite_Water_View.jpg). It looked right out onto the water and was in the Casa Del Marina building. We went to a place called the Noodle Company, which we do not have in Texas that I am aware of, grabbed food and brought it back to our hotel. I ate dinner on the balcony looking out at the ducks in the grass below and beyond out to the water as the sunset cast a happy warm glow over the pier. After dinner we took a stroll along the pier and looked out over the bay. This was a very quiet and peaceful island. There were several people out fishing and someone apparently caught a lobster but had to throw it back as it was not caught with a trap. This was so lovely and my second time in San Diego that I came away thinking how much I would love to live there- or at least visit longer. Hint: give yourself an extra day in San Diego and stay near the water as there are plenty of waterfront and beachfront hotels in the area.

Day 5

The next day we started late as we regrettably had to leave after only a day. We packed up quickly and set our for Los Angeles... My niece asked why we didn't start in San Diego and move up to Anaheim to whit I answered: I do not know.

L.A. traffic is awful on the 101- even at 10am... AFTER rush hour. The maps app on my iphone told me to take I-5 to the 101 and while passing through Southern L.A. I decided that although I was born there, I would not want to live there. We were late for the opening and I was concerned that the lines at Universal would be awful with us arriving mid-day. I held to the hope that maybe since this was a Tuesday, and according to the Disneyland Unofficial Guide, the least crowded day of the week for the park. Surely summer crowds had not quite hit yet and locals were at work. After taking an hour to get from the Los Angeles County line just north of Orange County to the Universal City exit in Northern Los Angeles, we finally made it to the Sheraton Universal. This, along with the Hilton next door, are the 2 official Universal Hollywood hotels and offer free shuttles to the park. I got a Govt rate of $125 a night and this was the first hotel to check my I.D. strangely enough. I am glad they did. Possibly this is because the regular rate is about twice that amount. The parking is $18 self-parking and $23 valet, I believe.

We checked in, (our room was ready this time), dropped our luggage in our room, parked the car and hopped on a shuttle to Universal, which comes every 10 minutes. It either goes directly to the park first or stops at Hilton next door. Either way, it takes no more than 5 minutes. The shuttle dropped us off at City Walk, outside of Johnny Rockets restaurant. City Walk is the Universal version of Downtown Disney. This was also vibrant and bustling and humming with activity like the one at Disneyland. Both are better than Downtown Disney in Florida.

To get to the park, turn left at Johnny Rockets and head straight to Universal, less than a 5 minute walk to the entrance.

At Disneyland, they issued us separate tickets on DL stock paper. At Sea World and Universal, the CityPass itself was the ticket and as I said could have been used for an annual pass at both parks due to promotions they were running.

Universal Hollywood's layout is the most confusing of any park I have ever been in, and I have been in lots of them. The map was just about useless as there was just so much busyness. We saw on an electronic bulletin board that the wait for Transformers was 15 minutes and I said "Let's Go!", to which Viara said, "Which Way", and I replied, "I don't know"! There are, fortunately, little directional signs, like street signs that have the names of attractions and point which direction to go to get there. These were far more useful than the maps to us. I knew Transformers was on the lower level of the park (Note: Universal Hollywood is built into the side of a mountain, so some attractions are at the base of the mountain and others are at the top. They have escalators to take you up and down or accessible elevators.) We took 4 (or 5?, we lost count) escalators down to the lower level, but not before stopping to take a look at the breathtaking view of Los Angeles and the hills of L.A. from this amazing hilltop location. That is a million dollar view right there. There are 3 rides at the bottom of this set of escalators: Transformers, The Mummy, and Jurassic Park. We rode them in that order.

Transformers is a motion simulator ride like Star Tours- sort of. The vehicle also moves along a track like Dinosaur or Indiana Jones. And it has amazing 3-D that melds into live action scenery. It is stupefyingly incredible. A how do they do that kind of attraction that is, again, Not To Be Missed. Things fly at you, and you feel they are really flying at you. I mean, you literally duck. When the bad guy grabs your vehicle and shakes it... you literally feel like it is really happening. I thought this was the best ride of the trip... But then Radiator Springs Racers is the only ride we did twice. I give them a tie. They are both about perfect! And no, I am not a Transformers fan. I saw the 1st movie and liked it. Saw the 2nd one, I think, and didn't like or remember it. And I did not see the 3rd one. But a ride's effectiveness does not necessarily depend on the property on which it is based (like Water World which I will talk about later... and for the haters of Avatarland-coming to Animal Kingdom-who disliked the movie).

We then rode The Mummy, which has previously won Theme Park Insider's Best Theme Park Attraction Award as voted on by the fans. I was looking forward to this ride. (Note: I had to ride in a special seat due to the overhead restraint not giving the necessary clicks and locking down far enough on my ample upper torso, shall we say. Regardless of this, neither my niece nor I enjoyed this ride. Later, when I remarked that Universal might be closing down the Terminator attraction to make way for Harry Potter, she said: "Whyyyyy? They need to take out the Mummy instead." This ride gave me a little bit of a headache and apparently did the same for my niece who did not like the going backward in the dark part. Note- I also do not like that part on Expedition Everest, but the rest of that ride is more fun and less like hallucinogenic drug induced nightmares. (Throwback to In Living Color- Hated it!)

Jurassic Park was fun, but Universal has some strange obsession with spraying, dripping, dousing, and soaking you for some reason. You do not come off of this ride dry. Even before the drop, you go through a conservatory like greenhouse, and you get sprayed or dripped on... everywhere there is water falling or being spit at you by the fake dinos. One set of dinos was under rehab and blocked off by cardboard looking walls on the left at the beginning of the ride... a little odd, but oh well. Nice ride, not as good as Splash Mountain though.

We then went back up the never ending escalators and rode The Simpsons ride. It is a simulator ride in the vein of Star Tours, but on steroids. The queue area has little clips from the tv show. We saw meet and greets that featured Lisa and Marge together and then Homer and Bart together. Inside are little vignettes featuring characters from the show giving random funny little asides and tales. Go through this area just for the super funtastic queue. If you get sick easily, skip the ride... My niece got a headache on this ride. I had to look with one eye or look down on some of the roller coaster scened because it was a bit too wild for my brain. Seriously headache inducing. However, one boy that we rode with said, "Best Ride Ever!" So, try it and see, but be forewarned. If Body Wars or Star Tours (neither of which ever bothered me) ever ate your lunch, you probably want to skip this one.

(Universal has some great character meet and greets- Bumblebee and Optimus Prime from the Transformers, The Simpsons, Spongebob, Scooby-Doo and the gang next to the Mystery Machine... so don't discount Universal on that score.)

We then saw the Shrek 3-D film. 15 minute wait, large theater, the seats move and shake along with the scenes. Kind of like It's Tough to Be A Bug, but up a level. However, I enjoyed the Disney film better. Viara and I both thought this was just ok. Someone near us remarked on how fun it was. The voice talent is great, I thought the attraction was nothing special. Just outside of Shrek, and really the only way to get through the attraction, is a carnival style midway area that Viara said reminded her of Six Flags. I asked if that were good or bad, but she was just being matter of fact. I did not like this area. Universal has pockets of greatness interspersed with areas of cheapness. I wish it were more universally great.... but they are improving! I had not been back to Universal (Florida or California) since I was a kid.

We grabbed a bite to eat- Dodger Dogs and chips for $6.99... not a bad price for theme park food. We had intended to go see the Studio Tour since we were next to it, but upon looking at the schedule figured if we wanted to see all the shows, we needed to switch some things around. We went to see Terminator 3-D. One of the best theme park attractions ever. Live performers mix seamlessly with 3-D film, a humorous pre-show, and 3 screens that nearly surround you in 3-D. We both loved it and will be sad to see it go if they tear it down for HP.

We next went on the Studio Tour, which along with Transformers and Terminator were my 3 favorite Universal Studios attractions and all are Not To Be Missed. The tour is located on a lower level down an escalator on an opposite side from the set of 4 or 5 that take you down to Transformers, et al. This one only requires one escalator, thankfully. The tour takes you through the backlot of Universal Studios where numerous tv shows and movies were filmed. The Bates motel is here as is Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives. Interspersed between sets you stop for a couple of ride attractions, the best of which is King Kong 3-D. Another 3-D attraction, another spectacular one, where you are immersed in the scene. You feel like you are on Skull Island and as your tram is attacked by dinosaurs, you are rescued by King Kong. The 3-D surrounds you on all sides and it really is the most immersive 3-D attraction around. Another scene is from Jaws, which did not do much and another is from Earthquake, which shakes you around a bit. It's pretty good, but kind of a let down after the awesomeness of the King Kong portion. The tour itself is of great interest and special in my opinion.

After this we headed over to Water World and discovered my niece had lost her phone. We went back to the tour but nothing was located. Before we left, we stopped at guest relations to fill out a missing item report... There were several people that came through to fill these out, so lost items are apparently not uncommon. We saw the Water World show. Great show, spectacular effects, including a plane crash, high dives, and fire. The featured actors were actually stars of TV and movie shows. I guess work in L.A. is work. We left there and caught the Special Effects Stage Show which shows practical effects as well as visual effects and how they work and are used in movie production. Quite fun and informative... and very funny.

We left for the hotel and stopped at a huge souvenir store at City Walk. Very reasonable prices, including $5 t-shirts, magnets, keychains, and miscellaneous other junk that us tourists like to bring back. I got something for my parents, sisters, me and Viara for about $25.... Well I started to, but then my debit card did not work. I checked my bank account and the money was available. I did not have any other cards or cash with me and my credit union had long since closed... So we had to leave it.

We went back to the hotel, I grabbed another card and headed back to City Walk. We were decidedly hungry and grabbed dinner at Johnny Rockets- to go. Game 1 of the NBA Finals was on, so we watched as we waited... about 10 minutes. The shuttle came just about a minute after we got outside, so we did not go back and get the souvenirs. Se la vie. We went to the room, enjoyed dinner, could not finish the humongous burgers... and went to sleep to get ready for an 8 am flight back to Dallas the next day.

It has only been a week and I already want to go back... I think I need to move to California
To the oh so nice commenters, thank you so much for the positive feedback!
Thank you for taking time out to read... hugs all

Last edited by valanie; 06-19-2012 at 08:27 PM. Reason: title correction
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Old 06-20-2012, 10:05 PM   #8
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Great trip report. Sounds like you guys had a lot of fun! Thanks for sharing.
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Old 06-21-2012, 09:04 AM   #9
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Great report!
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