We Crash Club 33 Part II: Club Harder

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I’d apologize for the delays between posts, but anymore that’s pretty old hat, so if anything, I’ll apologize for this brand new post throwing off our consistent pattern…!

As a wrap-up of sorts to our blink-and-you’ll-miss-it tenure living in California, let’s discuss our trip to Disneyland’s hallowed Club 33.  If y’all don’t know, Club 33 is a super-duper exclusive, members-only (and for a price!) dining experience in Disneyland.

We’d been before, though I was such a nervous wreck the first time (where’s the lorazepam when you need it??) that the whole experience was a bit of a fog.  Of course, given the nigh impossibility of securing a reservation for us common folk, that’s NOT the kind of recollection you want to have.

So, when we had a pretty decent idea that we would be moving back to Philadelphia (though neither of us had gotten final, official offers yet), I decided to see if I could snag a reservation to celebrate new jobs/a farewell to California/Christmas-y sorta time/creating a hopefully memorable experience for us and our best pals in the Golden State.

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And yes, if you’re wondering, I do know, however indirectly, a member of Club 33, and no, I will not tell you who he/she is and will not get you a reservation. I feel incredibly fortunate to have stumbled into this person and won’t risk any goodwill between us, no matter how much money you wish to make rain on me (I think that’s grammatically correct…?)

Tucked into the New Orleans Square land of the park, Club 33’s open air waiting area is a modified version of the old, publicly-accessible Court of Angels. I’d never seen the space myself, as it has already gone behind construction walls on my first visit to Disneyland. Vaunted by many in the Disney online community as Imagineering at its purest, I was excited to experience it–and it did not disappoint, especially the free hot chocolate made available on this chilly December night.

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After the requisite photo shoot on the staircase, we were called upstairs. The restaurant, renovated and expanded since our first visit,  takes up a significant chunk of the second floor of many New Orleans Square storefronts. The main dining room overlooks Disneyland’s Rivers of America, where the Fantasmic! nighttime show plays.

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Excuse my bleary eyes and dark circles in the photo above. We were on a redeye back from New York City the night before and had worked a full-day before dinner. My hair was about as on fleek (is that nu-gay for “en vogue” or something?) as its ever gonna be, though.

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The only place in Disneyland where you can get alcohol. LIVE IT UP.

Dinner was pre-fixe at $105 (::crying emoji::) a person, and we could’ve opted for a caviar accompaniment for an extra…I don’t know, a lot of money. I don’t do fish, and it would’ve reminded me too much of the opening scene in Finding Nemo, anyway. Not for the faint of heart or wallet.

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The chef sent out this little meat shooter thing before our courses began. I’m not fancy and forgot to write down the name, but it was tasty!

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First course: the Prime New York of Beef Seared Black and Blue with Tarragon-Roasted Garlic Purée. 

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Second course: French Quarter “Five Onion Soup” with Tasso Ham and Gruyere.

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Third course: Grilled Diver Scallop and Gulf Shrimp.

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Fourth course: Petit Angus Filet Mignon.

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Final course: MONKEY BREAD HECK YEAHHH

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The “Just Kidding, Here’s More Food as a Palette Cleanser” Course.

Compared to our first visit, I would have to give this meal the edge. Along with the physical overhaul, the menu was also revised by renowned Chef Andrew Sutton, who is also executive chef at Napa Rose and the wonderful Carthay Circle restaurant in Disney California Adventure. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to try both, but these courses seemed more confident and flavorful than the old Club 33 standards.

Now that the foodie shots are out of the way, time for more restaurant photos. Since we visited pretty late on a Monday night just before the crazy busy holiday season, we nearly had the place to ourselves. As you can tell if you compare photos from our first visit to these, the renovations were quite substantial (and, I’d argue, mostly for the better):

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The new bar area, the Salon Nouveau.

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This used to be a working French lift, commissioned by Walt Disney himself. Now, it is a much-maligned booth for one (??)

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Let us know if you find us in the guestbook!

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Note to self, never trust Lance alone with a camera:

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All in all, our second visit to Club 33 was more magical (and definitely less stressful!) than the first.  With my expensive exclusive Mickey ears on to rub in everybody’s faces, we strode out of the restaurant like kings.

What a night.

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Travel Tuesday: Faith, Trust…and Pixie Dust

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The thought of traveling with a group of people can create a lot of apprehension among those of us with social anxiety. But for our first trip to Disneyland, I took–what was for me–a leap of faith (or craziness? Aren’t they sometimes the same thing?) and invited our friends to join us. (more…)

Photo Friday: Gratuitous Pictures of Your Husband at Disneyland

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After six-plus years of being together, it’s always nice to step back, assess the BIG PICTURE, and come to the same conclusion: my husband is quite the catch.

Now I present the best way to cap off your work-week, a series of photos of Lance enjoying Disneyland.  What better way to enjoy the Happiest Place on Earth than with such an adorable guy? (Cameos by two other handsome gentlemen, Brian and Phil.)

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Mayhem on the Matterhorn!
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Splash Mountain super-selfie.
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In the queue for Haunted Mansion Holiday. The guy on the left is not a hitchhiking ghost; he just has naturally dark circles under his eyes.
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Waiting to catch the Aladdin stage show in Disney California Adventure. Lance’s smile will disappear 40 minutes later once he realizes we spent $100 a person to buy tickets for the upcoming Broadway production, which will likely not be as good.
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Mad T Party in Hollywoodland.
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Okay, so maybe Lance didn’t enjoy EVERY aspect of Disneyland…
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Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree selfie.
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Well, I know all those pics put me in a better mood. Happy Friday, everyone!

To The Park That Walt Built

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What could be Mecca for Disney fans but Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom, Disneyland?

I’d been discouraged from visiting Disneyland before. “It’s so small. You’ve been to Disney World; you won’t be impressed.”  And there’s the never-ending East Coast/West Coast rivalry, trying fruitlessly (wait, wait, I’m setting up something good…) to compare the apples-versus-oranges natures of the Anaheim and Lake Buena Vista resorts.

After my Adult Disney Renaissance (a term I think is attributable to @macabresalad over at Food*Fitness*Fantasy), I read up a lot on the creation of the Disney parks, and I kept feeling drawn toward California.  Regardless of how much more expansive and operationally impressive Walt Disney World is, I became obsessed with seeing this little nugget of a park, the park that changed the amusement and entertainment industry forever, the park that’s rooted deep in the history of a corporate canon so engrained into my psyche.

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I was fortunate enough to sucker two of the best fellas and Disney parks companions a guy could ask for into attending our first Disneyland visit with us. The promise of a Club 33 reservation didn’t hurt none, I’m sure! (More on that in a future post.)

When Lance, Phil, Brian and I walked under the Disneyland railroad archways and through to Main Street, U.S.A., it was like we were escape artists pulling off our biggest trick, slipping out of reality.  It was early December, and the park was dripping from head-to-toe in festive decorations, Christmas background music carrying through the air, characters greeting in Town Square in holiday garb…there was an energy in the air I’ve never experienced to such a degree before.

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I’ve been trying to put my thumb on it for awhile, and I’m sure my eventual conclusion is nothing new: there’s such an emotional investment in Disneyland by the majority of its guests, locals who have been attending since they were kids. Disneyland is their land. They have a special sense of ownership over it, and they treat it with respect. Disneyland is not a once-in-a- or few-times-a-lifetime experience for visitors like Walt Disney World is; it’s part of the community.  Disneyland often meets the standards these return visitors expect.  In the same vein, people who go to Disneyland, for the most part, go because they love it, not because they feel compelled to lug their kids to a big resort as part of the American Dream/Requirement.

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There are loads of live entertainment: jazz musicians in New Orleans Square; Mary Poppins, Bert and their big brass band in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle; the Mickey and the Magical Map stage show and the vaudevillian Fantasy Faire Royal Theatre productions; the bands under the tent of the Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree.

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…and that’s not even counting Disney California Adventure!

Disneyland is chock-full of attractions, doubling(?) the number in Florida’s Magic Kingdom close to the point of claustrophobia, though I’d like to think of it as cozy.

That’s actually how I feel about the whole park.  It feels cozy, like a warm blanket or a cherished stuffed animal from your childhood.  It feels like a home away from home, a truly idealized mix of fantasy and nostalgia, both for Americana and the pop culture icons of my youth.

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I have so many other thoughts on Disneyland, on California Adventure, and our whole experience which I’ll elaborate on soon, but for this post, I just wanted to share how immensely enthralled I was by the whole park.  Disney’s California operation is a park-based experience, unlike Florida, which is an all-encompassing resort experience once you get off the airplane. Now, I’m not saying one approach is better than the other; as mentioned above, it’s apples-versus-oranges, and which coast is better is based on your personal preferences.

What I want from a Disney park right now is the in-park experience, the attractions, the entertainment, the “show.” I was disappointed with our most recent trips to Walt Disney World, where we easily knocked out  most of a park’s attractions in a half-day.  I was concerned after our visit to Tokyo Disney Resort that the American Disney parks had just given up on the park experience by comparison in favor to finding new ways to milk their guests out of money.

I think about this inaugural Disneyland trip every day. Disneyland assuaged my fears and made me a believer again.

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Waimea Canyon Drive

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On our last day on Kaua’i, with a late evening flight to Honolulu ahead of us, we didn’t want to lay out on the beach or do a strenuous amount of hiking since we didn’t want to sit on a plane, even for a 35 minute trip, being all sweaty and gross.  So we hopped in our little Mazda 2 rental and made our way south from Kapa’a.  Our destination? Waimea Canyon.

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I remember the first time I’d even heard of Waimea Canyon, on a friend’s Instagram of all places.  Like Na Pali, I was immediately drawn to its natural beauty (we don’t see a lot of this jaw-droppin’ stuff where I come from.)

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While the label “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific” is erroneously credited to Mark Twain (who, in his travels to the Aloha State, never stepped foot on Kaua’i), the title is an appropriate moniker.  While not as deep or wide (that’s what she said?) as ol’ GC, Waimea is a gorgeous watercolor of greens, reds, oranges.

“Are you crying?” Lance said, obviously delighted over my emotional reaction to…well, anything.

“No, it’s windy up here and suntan lotion and shut up, you stupid jerk!” I whimpered, wiping tears from my eyes.

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If you take 550 further inland, up to it’s dead-end deep inside Waimea Canyon State Park, you’ll dead-end at the second Kalalau Valley lookout, which straddles the top of a ridge overlooking rolling trees to the east, the grandeur of Kalalau Valley to the east, and Wai’ale’ale ahead of you, one of the rainiest spots on earth.

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For two kids from topographically-challenged areas of the United States, this double-whammy of incredible sights was hard to comprehend.  It definitely made me appreciate, right in that moment, how fortunate I am and my ability to even be there to see these things.

The Last Year

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As an old fuddy-duddy wrapping up another year, it’s hard not to feel that particular wave of anxiety every time my birthday approaches.

OMG, what have I done with my life? I haven’t accomplished anything! I’ve wasted a whole year!!!

…You know, that.

That was me yesterday, the last day of what could be called, at a stretch, my mid-20s.  I had a sharp sense of disappointment in myself, about not doing, seeing, experiencing more.  I’m almost 30, dammit! I don’t have much time left! ::sniff::

Thankfully, I saw a few fortuitously-timed tweets by my pal @bkroz_, who, aside from catfishing me, is also wiser and more articulate than I ever was at his age.  They read as follows:

@bkroz_: This is weird, but today I realized my 2013 travels include Orlando, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Williamsburg, NYC, Philadelphia, and Puntarenas.

@bkroz_: In other words, I’ve had a pretty great year and I’ve seen a lot. I’m proud and thankful for what I’ve seen and done! I’m a globetrotter!

…And those got me thinking.  It’s always easy to think about what you don’t have or haven’t achieved.  It’s easy to never be satisfied, to not put things into perspective.

I’ve done a lot since my 27th birthday.  I traveled (a lot!): Walt Disney World and Dollywood at Christmastime, Chicago to see my favorite singer, New York to see some amazing shows.  I went to Hawai’i (twice!) and Kaua’i stole my heart.  Lance and I spent a day with new, awesome pals at Hersheypark and I almost threw up.  Oh, and we went to freaking Japan (!!!) and rode the shinkansen and ate udon in a tiny little shop in Kyoto and made a traditional Japanese meal in a family’s home.  We went to Tokyo Disney and have no regrets (except not spending more time there.)

I got to go back home to Michigan several times this year…oh, and I went skydiving!

I earned a promotion at work and have been able to work on some really great, challenging projects.

We were lucky enough to meet some amazing people because of this blog, in person for the very first time!

And, of course, I got to do all of the above with friends, family, Ripley, Kitty Boo, and especially Lance.  Even though I have the itch to do more, I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.

It’s been a good year.

Na Pali

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If you’re sick of more Hawai’i posts after our vacation absence from the blog, well, I hate to break it to ya, but…

Instead of our normal day-by-day trip report, we’re gonna break down our latest, greatest Hawai’i trip into “experiences.”  This one came from our third full day on Kaua’i (which we’ll talk more about in another post).  I am a faithful user of TripAdvisor and had seen in the zygote-stages of our trip planning that the #1 rated activity on the island of Kaua’i was the Na Pali coastline.

The Na Pali coastline, like everything in the Hawaiian island chain, has been formed by millennia of volcanic activity, erosion, etc. etc. (Wikipedia, to my aid!)  The ruggedness of the mountains, cliffs and valleys of Na Pali have made roadbuilding untenable, so the only way to access the northwest side of Kaua’i is by helicopter or to hike (I couldn’t afford the former and am seriously too lazy to do the latter.)

After seeing trip report photos of Na Pali, I knew, in the deepest parts of my shallow soul, that I had to go to there.  It seemed beautifully, naturally impossible, and I had to see it.  I poured over several dozen reviews of different boat and catamaran tours of the Na Pali coast, and finally settled on the Southern Star sunset cruise run by Captain Andy’s out of Port Allen.  It wasn’t cheap (about $145 a person), but it included a freshly made-steak dinner and as many drinks as you could drink, so after doing some fuzzy math, Lance and I were able to justify the expense.

As soon as the boat left the dock, dozens of spinner dolphins came up along side to greet us, jumping and (duh) spinning wildly in the air.

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I don’t have the greatest photographic equipment, so no fancy jumping photos for you, dear readers!

Lance, of course, sobbed like a baby upon seeing a school of dolphins play in their natural habitat. “It’s the salt in the air!” he said, wiping away tears.

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The first half of the tour had us motoring up the coast, and the water was pretty choppy (and it’s supposed to be rougher in the winter!) so we got fairly soaked if sat anywhere outside (though why you’d sit inside the cabin at all during this tour makes little sense to me.)

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Sea cave!

The first stretch of Na Pali along the south side, right after you pass the naval station, is pretty “flat;” lots of red and brown and gray rock, shorn by pummeling winds which, we were told, only surpassed by the Cliffs of Dover for their intensity.

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Ahoy, mateys!

As we made our way north, the cliffs became much more rugged and fantastical.  These photos with my shitty point n’ shoot don’t do them justice.  Vibrant greens, reds, and browns highlighted this impressive, practically alien terrain.  Not only did we spot waterfalls cascading down these cliffs, but mountain goats too! (Unfortunately, no photos exist of the mountain goat because he was SUPER far away.)

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Once we approached Ke’e Beach on the north shore of the island, which is the last beach you can access via car from the opposite direction, the catamaran shut off its motor and the crew began hoisting the sail.  They also starting passing out “Sneaky Tikis,” a rum-based cocktail of which Lance took full advantage.

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As the sun set behind Niihau, the Forbidden Isle, (just behind Lance’s head in the photo above), our tummies full and, at least with Lance, heads a little fuzzy from too many cocktails, the Southern Star swept closer to port.

This post was hard to write because trying to articulate, much less justify, what we saw seemed impossible.  Nevertheless, we both said to each other, afterwards, that the expense was totally worth it.  Heck, it wasn’t even worth considering.  The sail was a marvelous experience, Na Pali spectacular.

Lance summed it up in a way that made my heart all tingly: “Best day ever.”