Saturday, April 08, 2017

Disneyland post #5: surprises and survival

1.  Biggest Surprise: Frozen: Live At the Hyperion. This stage play is only an hour but very efficiently tells the entire Frozen storyline, complete with singing, dancing and special effects. All of which are done at a very high level.  I went for my daughter's sake but actually found this much more bearable than the film itself.

2.  Runner up: Storytellers Café. This restaurant was in the bottom floor of our hotel and offered a buffet that was fully stocked with fresh roasted meat, salads and bakery items late into the night. Delicious.

3.  Uber/Lyft: We didn't rent a car. If you're going to Disneyland, whether flying into LAX or SNA, and mostly staying at the park, it's a little less costly and way less hassle to use a ride share service when you need it. (Using basic math it would have cost us about $350 for a rental w/parking compared to about $200 spent on ride shares including two rides offsite to other places in Orange County. Mostly that was for a minivan or SUV that seats 6+. Plus not having to be behind the wheel in LA traffic.)

4.  Lost and found: Among the several times Disney went stratospheric with their service was on the second-to-last day when my daughter lost her shoulder bag with her character autograph book. They hadn't found it by the next morning, but said they would keep looking. They took down our info. A week later a purple shoulder bag arrived in the mail. Disney paid $4 to send it to our house.

5.  Time of year and weather: we were in Anaheim in the middle of winter. The coldest day was 65 degrees; the warmest was 85. All with a slight breeze and a trace of rain on the last day only. I guess it rained pretty bad off and on in the few weeks following Christmas, but that weather is not typical. I would say in general that any time of year is a good time to go to Disneyland as far as weather, but with the summer potentially being very hot. We set our trip up with Disney and SW Airlines' help to be able to cancel within seven days, whether due to a medical situation or another freak set of storms. The weather ended up being perfect for our original January/February dates. We're glad because the crowd was half the size of the busy season.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Disneyland post #4: characters

1.  Characters: Wondering what to do between fast passes? The Disneyland app has GPS on all the costumed characters in the parks. (If you have young children) find one and get in line. The character will take about 1 minute with each person/group, so count the people in the line. It's a good way to burn 20 minutes before the next ride. Our kids met about 30 characters (really). For posterity, here's the list: Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Mary Poppins & Bert, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, a Stormtrooper, Woody, Buzz, Flik (Bug's Life), Snow White, Ariel, Cinderella, Donald, Chip 'n Dale, Cruella, Fairy Godmother, Belle,  Tiana, Rapunzel, Olaf, Daisy, Anna & Elsa, Fawn (fairy), Tinker Bell.

2.  Fine print concerning characters: If you take the time to buy an autograph book, characters at Disney will sign it with very unique signatures. Ballpoint pen is awkward for someone wearing big Mickey gloves, so think more along the lines of a Sharpie. Star Wars, Cars and Zootopia characters do not sign autographs. Characters with masks and "mascot heads" do not talk, but will respond non-verbally to anything you say. The exception is the Star Wars characters. They have masks, but still talk. Except Chewbacca who growls.

3.  One more thing about characters: Is it just weird to me? Or does waiting in line for a grown woman to stop fawning over a costumed Disney character seem a bit troubling? (This happened multiple times.)

4.  The only rude person in Disneyland: We were impressed repeatedly by the level of service we received over the phone while planning, at the hotel during off times and in the parks during the main part of the day. Everyone was very patient and pleasant. This was with one exception. Cruella de Vil was completely condescending and pompous to everybody.

5.  Most Seriously Underrepresented Franchise: The Incredibles. I saw about two Incredibles-themed items in a gift shop. That's it. Others who got ignored: Ratatouille, Aristocats, Uncle Scrooge.


Thursday, March 09, 2017

Disneyland post #3: the bad

1.  Missed out on: Almost nothing, but Hollywood Tower of Terror, Grizzly River Run and Enchanted Tiki Room were not options. First two were closed and the last serves all stuff I'm allergic to.

2.  Biggest Disappointment: ESPNZone. After hearing about this amazing sports place for a decade, I had to go see it for myself. It's like going to Big Al's down the street from my house but with a bunch of surly Golden State Warriors fans. Don’t get me wrong, Big Al's and ESPNZone are both cool, but not enough to waste my time and Disney money (and Disney loves charging Disney tax).

3.  Runner-up Biggest Disappointment: Hyperspace Mountain. Disney StarWarsified this ride in ridiculous ways. Please just switch off all the lights and call it good. It's better than the uneven mess of projected clips and LED lights scabbed on to this otherwise classic roller coaster.

4.  Biggest Waste of Time and Money: The Disneyland Resort Express Bus. We took this special Gray Line bus as the "official coach service from terminal to resort". The exterior was decorated for Universal Studios. It got us there, but was slower and more expensive than Uber.
5.  Most Overrated Experience: Early admission. "Magic Morning" or "Early Magic Hour" lets you into one of the parks an hour before the gates open. Guests at Disney Hotels and holders of special tickets are offered this special privilege. The thing is, crowd at the gate is almost as big for the early opening as it is the normal one. No Fast Pass machines are available and no characters are out yet, so pretty much after you ride that first ride (which pragmatically should be Star Tours, Space Mtn. or Radiator Springs Racers), you're stuck standing in a line for 30 minutes anyhow. So run to that high demand ride and enjoy it. It's likely all the magic you'll get out of that morning.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Disneyland post #2: 5 more things about rides (or, Why don't people use Fast Pass?)

1.  Fast Pass: Fast Pass is a genius system for making ride queues manageable. Basically you scan your park admission ticket and a machine sets an appointment for you to come back in an hour or two and cut straight to the front of the line. I have no idea why half the visitors in the park have no interest in using this system. Apparently people like standing on concrete in the blazing sun for an hour. The only catch to Fast Pass is that you can only check into one ride at a time. Disneyland's network tracks that you used the system and will deny you if you try to get two Fast Passes at a time. Bummer. Wish they could make an exception. But that brings us to…

2.  Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters: This ride is the exception. Buzz lets you check in with a Fast Pass anytime (it's apparently not hooked up to a network and just prints passes out like Monopoly money). So if you're about to go to lunch, check in at Buzz first and after lunch you can slowly walk in the express lane past 200 people that have been waiting for an hour to the front of the line. Good filler for when you got nothing else going. However, there is one other way to get on rides really quick.

3.  Being In a Wheelchair: (or in Disney terms "having visible need of assistance") Now, I am not recommending fraudulent behavior, but if you are injured or disabled you get to cut in line. The biggest qualifier for this is that you need to be "visibly" disabled (in a wheelchair, cast or boot or on crutches). Anne-Marie was too tired to walk around after three days, so the last two I pushed her in a rented wheelchair ($12/day). Most rides at Disneyland just let you right on through the exit, since 90% of the park is too old to offer ADA accessibility. Occasionally the staff at Disneyland will check you in and tell you to come back in an hour, similar to a Fast Pass. California Adventure, because it is built to be fully ADA compliant and has wider spaces in the waiting areas, will many times just make you wait in line.

4.  The Every-Ride Challenge: Our kids rode every ride at Disneyland Park and California Adventure. That's right. Every single one of them. We weren't making it a goal at first, but after 3 1/2 days, they only had about eight more to go. Then we started putting them on every carousel and kiddie ride left. With one hour left to go, our kids rode the 45th and final ride: Jungle Cruise. (Grizzly River and Hollywood Tower were closed. Mariah was too short for Screamin'.)

5.  Scariest Ride: Probably California Screamin'. It looks like an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster. It's not. Twice as fast and with one extremely tight loop. If we're going to talk about most frightening attraction? (I can't call it a ride.) It's Tough To Be a Bug. This A Bug's Life three-dimensional stage play/augmented reality whatever is terrifying. Sit in the middle at right about the 4th or 5th row. You'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Disneyland post #1: rides and food

This is my first post about our 2017 trip to Disneyland Resort. Instead of giving a blow-by-blow of everything we did in chronological order, I decided to throw out a bunch of random stuff and some photos. Here is the first 5 of 30 random things about Disneyland:

1. Favorite Rides:
  • The kids liked Goofy's Sky School (at DCA Paradise Pier) 
  • Mom liked Pirates of the Caribbean (in DL New Orleans Square) 
  • Anne-Marie has always been partial to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (at DL Frontierland) 
  • My favorite was Radiator Springs Racers (in DCA Cars Land) 
2. Consensus Favorite Ride: Soarin' Around the World (at DCA Grizzly Peak). This was awesome because our hotel room overlooked the "hangar" that houses Soarin' and we ALL loved this one. We only went twice, but could've gone every night.

3. Best Food: (maybe besides Storytellers Cafe, which I'll talk about later):
  • Stage Door Café's corn dogs for me, which I hear are the same as Little Red Wagon and Corn Dog Castle 
  • Anne-Marie liked the French Market in New Orleans Square 
  • Kids freaked out over Beignets from Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen (Downtown) 
  • Mom loved Earl of Sandwich (also in Downtown) 
4. Runner-up Best Food: Flo's V8 Café and the giant smoked turkey legs.

5. Worst Food: The two pizza/pasta cafeterias (Redd Rocket and Boardwalk). These places actually weren't terrible, but just not very memorable.

Next post: 5 more things about rides

Monday, February 27, 2017

Everything just changed, Part 2

Remember this post?  That was from less than two months ago.

At the time the cancer had spread to who knows how many new locations and a bunch of other scary stuff like that.

Then there was this post.

That day we learned that the cancer wasn't near Anne-Marie's collarbone and hadn't spread any further than the chest cavity.  We knew that the team at Compass would push us to investigate further, most likely with a biopsy in the chest area.

However, Dr. Smith had mercy on us and honored our request to not be scheduled for anything in late January/early February so we could go to Disneyland.  By the time Compass figured out we were back from California, they considered everything urgent and immediately scheduled us for a consult with a pulmonologist (respiratory specialist) which led to being scheduled for a biopsy.  Dr. Smith told us the biopsy was being performed in order to "molecularly analyze" the cancer.  Getting a look at the cell structure of the cancer cells in the newly-enlarged lymph nodes was the best way to find a more effective treatment.  (Whatever you say, doc.)

The biopsy was to be surgical in nature in that we would be at Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital, have an anesthesiologist and be in a short stay room.  The procedure would be camera-guided through Anne-Marie's airway to the target location near the sternum.  The tissue samples would then be extracted with a needle and immediately analyzed on site by the pathologist.

On Thursday, February 16, we went in for the chest biopsy ordered by Dr. Smith and The Vancouver Clinic.  I don't think I've ever been less nervous on hospital day.  The morning was boring for the most part.  We did the paperwork, waited the normal two hours, said a simple prayer and they wheeled her back to the OR.


Cafeteria, staring out the window, waiting room.  I have a routine.  It's not superstition, but it is methodical.  I know how to distract myself just enough but not cause any unnecessary stress.  I want to be relaxed enough for the doctor to come into the waiting room and tell me anything.

I also know how long the procedures are supposed to take.  This time the doctor was a little late.  Not enough to be worried, but late.  He came quickly into the waiting room.

"Is it all right if we talk here?"
"Sure.  That's fine."
"I'm sorry I'm late.  We tried and tried but we took a bunch of samples from different areas and we couldn't find any cancer."
"Really?" (Relaxation regimen had not prepared me for this type of news.)
"Yes.  The results are preliminary, but were so clearly some kind of benign granuloma that after that many tries we decided to stop."
"OK.  Doctor, this is very unexpected.  We're here because of the cancer."
"It is apparently some other type of inflammation on the scans."
"Well, can I go see her?" (I start to get up.)
"No. I just finished five minutes ago, cleaned up and walked here.  She's in recovery now.  They will call you back within the next hour."

Granuloma. It's what they found near the collarbone, too.
And so I sat surrounded by a fog of shock for the next hour.  I used the time to text a few close friends and family before the nurse called me back to see Anne-Marie.

When I got back to the room Anne-Marie was awake.  I waited until the nurse left before I asked, "Has the doctor talked to you yet?"

I won't share it here, but you can imagine the conversation and the joy that followed.  We were back home before the kids even got out of school.


Fast-forward a week to Friday, February 24.  Post-op with Dr. Smith.  It was planned even before we went in for the procedure, but for a totally different purpose.  This was the day we were to learn the new treatment plan developed from the molecular analysis of the cancer.

They had nothing to analyze.  And Dr. Smith told us the obvious: the result of last week's biopsy was very good news.  No presence of cancer in Anne-Marie's lymph nodes did put us on a brand new treatment plan.  The new plan is to maintain and resist against the one place where they believe cancer is still located in the upper left lung.

Anne-Marie is now required to get a shot every two to four weeks to help keep any rogue cells at bay.  The injection has few side effects and will combine with the quarterly CT and bone scans to make sure everything is still OK.  No chemo.  No harsh hormonal treatments.  That's all.  Seeya in a couple weeks.

So since everything changed back in December, everything changed.  And it just keeps getting better.

We are thankful to God for His mercy and know these are miraculous results.  The doctors have worked very diligently to make sure this wasn't what they thought it was and believe they have provided us with a thoroughly-sought-out solution and we appreciate that.  We're also thankful for all of you and your prayers, kind words, text messages, gifts.  It's meant so much more than you'll ever know.  We don't know exactly what's next, but believe that we can see this last tumor killed off, too.

To God be the glory for the things He's done thus far.

Now maybe we can move on and talk about Disneyland.