Our Long Amusement Park Weekend

Peter’s been jonesing for a break from his consulting gig, which was recently extended for another 6 months; Kelly had a school break at the beginning of November; and Neil’s Legoland comp tickets were about to expire. So, we booked several nights at an inexpensive motel in Anaheim and planned on seeing 3 amusement parks in 3 days, an experience that turned out to be both fun and poignantly nostalgic.

We started with Knott’s Berry Farm, a place I hadn’t been to since the early 80s, then in the prime of my So-Cal living, teen-amusement-park-loving years. I remember it as a low key amusement park with some great rollercoasters (not as many as Magic Mountain, but also having much shorter lines.) A lot can change in 25 years, but Knott’s Berry Farm has remained true to its character–though it added an entire Camp Snoopy section which we all loved.

Since she was a baby, Kelly has had a beloved Snoopy blanket, and we love getting her Snoopy themed things (such as the two Snoopy dolls she already owns, and a Snoopy shirt Shiaw-Ling gave her.) Many of the rides had a Peanuts tie-in such as a huge Snoopy bounce house, or the kiddie car ride Kelly and Neil went on together.

Neil’s favorite was the sidewinder rollercoaster, an unusual design which spun us around while we were rocketing down the curves. And in the older kids’ section of the park, the coasters were still awesome. Peter got me to go on the Rip Curl ride, which mostly just shook and spun us upside down. I was the only member of my family brave enough to go on the Accelerator, which was like being shot out of a cannon onto a track going straight up–but was just a regular coaster afterwards. Kelly was just an inch too short to go on the Pony Express, so Neil got to ride twice. And my past favorite, the Ghost Rider, a gargantuan wooden rollercoaster, is still my favorite ride today. It’s long enough with plenty of curves and adventure that you feel you got a good ride in exchange for your waiting time.

Neil is currently obsessed with puzzles, so he actually enjoyed the strip-mall like stores part of the park, especially a puzzles and games store, where he bought himself an optical puzzle.

Peter’s camera card gave out, so after our day at the park, we went to the nearest Fry’s, which had a Roman theme, though the red canopy entrance and somewhat cheesy decor has Peter calling it the “Italian restaurant Fry’s.”

The next day, we walked over to Disneyland. I have to confess, from my So Cal years, I can often be jaded about Disneyland, even with young children in tow, who show it to you in a new way. I’m the tedious person who can still remember having tickets, and the difference between E-, D-, C-, B-, and A- ticket rides. In fact, I can still tell you which letters most rides had. And I loathe the long lines, even with the Fast Pass system, which is terrific. The last time we went to Disneyland, it was so crowded, the park closed, and there were even lines for the rest rooms.

But Disneyland more than made up for it this year. Our timing couldn’t have been better. We’d barely waited for any ride at Knott’s Berry Farm, but it was almost as good as Disneyland. Get this: we only waited for 20 minutes to get onto Space Mountain. That’s a miracle, and a fraction of the time I have ever had to wait for it, ever. We waited even less for other rides in the park, and Peter finally got to go on the Matterhorn ride, which he’s never done in his life. And even I was dazzled and impressed by the update to the Haunted Mansion. As the crotchedly old-timer, I have to hate updates. What’s up with the Johnny Depp dolls in the Pirates of the Carribbean? Did you have to push the movie tie-in so hard? How come the Swiss Family Treehouse, one thing I remember from my first trip to Disneyland when I was 5, is now the Tarzan house? Well, the new haunted mansion is really cool, cartoony and clever.

Peter and I were trapped inside and almost eaten by a huge toothy wreath. Hey, even the Nemo update to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was neat, though I recognized the Captain Nemo story frame beneath it.

We still have a picture of Neil hugging Pooh at his first trip to Disneyland when he was three, so I insisted the kids pose with Pooh this time, too:

At some point, I’ll locate that old picture and probably get all weepy about how my children are growing up so fast. Neil bought himself a Disney Rubik’s cube.

If the Pooh moment hadn’t been a clear enough point to highlight the fact that my children are getting older, Legoland really drove it home. We’ve been going there every year since Neil was 3. He’s 13 now, and too big and old to go on some of the rides he used to be too small to go on way back when. Miniland, a marvel when we first saw it, is now aging, with some of the buildings showing heavy UV aging, and some down to be rebuilt. This time, Neil took Kelly in hand, almost showing her his park, as if he were passing it on to her. He insisted she drive correctly so she could deserve her Legoland driver’s license. And he bought a Hello Kitty rubik’s cube, less for the design, than for its size and smooth sliding action.

And guess who hangs out at Legoland before the Christmas season gets completely underway and he’s swamped?

Santa! I wanted to ask if I was on his nice list, but I didn’t want to be like one of those creepy celebrity stalkers, you know.

While we were at the ancient Rome/Italian restaurant Fry’s, I found out there was an Alice in Wonderland Fry’s which we could visit on our way up, and you know we had to see it:

It was one of the best-themed stores I’ve seen, complete with a hidden Cheshire cat you need to hunt a little to find, but the management asked me not to take any more pictures, so if you want to see it, you’ll have to go to Woodland Hills yourself.

All in all, the best amusement park weekend I’ve had, though I realize the time I have to do this with my children is rapidly fleeting away.

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