Disney California Adventure Park Saturday, Jan 25 2014 

World of Color

World of Color

By staying at the Grand Californian Hotel we could enter the California Adventure Park near Grizzly Peak. The main entrance to this park enters on Buena Vista Street, reminiscent of the 1920s Calif bear-shaped California that inspired Walt Disney when he was a young animator. We listened to the Five & Dime perform some of their jazz tunes from the 1920s and 1930s. The main attraction of Condor Flats is Soarin’ Over California, a simulated hang glider flight that showcases the state’s spectacular scenery. On our second time on this ride we didn’t need to clutch the handles as tightly as we would during our first flight. The Grizzly Peak terrain includes the Grizzly River and Grizzly Peak, a 110-foot-high mountain. The Grizzly River Run features a white-water rafting ride that drops down two waterfalls. Plan to get wet. Hollywood Land, of course, celebrates the magic of the movie business, especially the art of animation. We flagged down a cab for a ride through Monstropolis as we helped Mike & Sulley to the Rescue of Boo. Roz added a personal touch by asking that I photograph her good side. Muppet*Vision 3D allows Kermit and friends to dazzle us with special effects. Disney Junior – Live on Stage featured an entertaining story with puppets on stage that was supplemented by youngsters jumping up and down (dancing) on the floor in front of the stage. It’s Tough To Be a Bug, located in “a bug’s land,” is a comical 3D show about the perils of being a bug. The major attraction in Cars Land is Radiator Springs Racers. We had our longest wait, about 50 minutes, for this popular ride through Ornament Valley before heading through town and then racing another car to the finish line. The lighting at night in Cars Land is spectacular. We were distracted before finding the Bakery Tour on Pacific Wharf. Paradise Pier resembles a beachfront amusement park with boardwalk games. Toy Story Midway Mania gave us the opportunity to take aim on this so called 4D attraction. Mickey’s Fun Wheel is a 150-foot-high Ferris wheel. We chose a non-swinging car which allowed me to more easily take pictures. Operation Playtime! featured a squad of Green Army men. The Pixar Play Parade presented several dramatic, colorful floats. Our last evening concluded with a World of Color, a visually stunning night-time water spectacular using 1,200 fountains where images from Disney animated classics are projected on a football-sized water screen. Eating a lobster and tri-tips dinner at Ariel’s Grotto allowed us prime viewing space near the water’s edge directly opposite Mickey’s Fun Wheel. Our California Adventure was a success!

Disneyland Park Saturday, Jan 25 2014 

Fantasyland Castle

Fantasyland Castle

This past week we traveled to Anaheim, California to visit an area where my wife’s father’s maternal side of the family owned land they sold to Walt Disney. On Martin Luther King Day we visited my wife’s sister and husband in nearby Riverside and shared a meal with them and their daughter and her family at the Salted Pig. On Tuesday we arrived at Disneyland Park in time for the general opening at 10 a.m. Disneyland is a fun filled extravaganza with attractions for all ages. It is also one of the greatest marketing ploys of all time; attractions are self promoting with stores at each venue selling Disney-related items. Here is a review of our three days in Disneyland Park. We visited the Opera House on Main Street, U.S.A. for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. The breakfast buffet at the Plaza Inn with “Minnie and Friends” provided us photo opportunities with several Disney characters. In Adventureland we enjoyed the 13-minute long Enchanted Tiki Room where we sat in the back row near the parrot Jose while taking in the 225 audio-animatronic birds, flowers, tiki-poles, and drummers. The skipper of the Jungle Cruise punished us with one pun after another as we viewed water spouting elephants and attacking natives. On the Indiana Jones Adventure we ventured to the Temple of the Forbidden Eye in a four-wheel drive vehicle, encountering clouds of smoke and bubbling lava pits along the way. Tarzan’s Treehouse is an interactive climbthrough of Disney’s movie with artifacts and sound effects. New Orleans Square recreates the city of a century ago with iron-trellised balconies and narrow winding streets. Animatronic buccaneers burn and plunder a town in Pirates of the Caribbean. The Haunted Mansion is the domain of 999 ghouls, ghosts, and goblins who covert through dark, cobwebbed halls. The Blue Bayou is hidden away in the shops of New Orleans Square. I tasted their seafood jambalaya with four jumbo-sized shrimp, andouille sausage et al. The Mark Twain Riverboat in Frontierland is a pleasant voyage around the Rivers of America. Since the water flume ride Splash Mountain was closed, not much was happening in Critter Country. In Fantasyland we enjoyed a humorous presentation of “Beauty and the Beast” in the Royal Theatre. The Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough tells her story through diorama windows. In Peter Pan’s Flight we flew over the streets of London and into Never Never land. The Matterhorn Bobsleds took us for a high-speed run through the Alps. It was fun watching youngsters at the Jedi Training Academy. Mickey & the Magical Map is a musical stage show that combines dancers with creative animation twists. Mickey’s Toontown includes Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin where I boarded a taxi for an unpredictable chase featuring some very good special effects. The lighting at the Chip ‘n Dale Treehouse offered a picaresque setting. Strollers lined the street as parents took advantage of photo opportunities at the homes of various Disney characters. Tomorrowland touts futuristic ideas and out-of-this-world adventures. My wife convinced me to travel to Space Mountain which sent us on a dark thrill ride among satellites and shooting stars. She was sorry she did. Star Tours – The Adventures Continue allowed us to travel to favorite Star Wars destinations. As a Space Ranger in Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters we earned points by taking out enemies throughout the galaxy. The Captain EO Tribute is an original 3D movie starring Michael Jackson. Innoventions hosts corporate exhibits. Xbox was the most popular among young guests. We were amazed at Honda’s presentation of ASIMO (Advanced Step in Mobility), the world’s most advanced humanoid robot. One of our only wastes of time was when we stayed in a line without knowing its purpose only to discover it was a photo opportunity with Thor. The Disneyland Railroad makes four stops as it circles Disneyland. An otherwise dark tunnel between Tomorrowland and Main Street features not to be missed Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas. The monorail travels between Downtown Disney and Tomorrowland. We road in the nose cone for a great view. One of our lunches was at La Brea Bakery, which serves a wonderful California Salad. On our first night we ate at Ralph Brennans’ Jazz Kitchen. We were seated immediately in front of the colorfully decorated piano where Kirk Wilson entertained us. He crooned different tunes for three women celebrating a birthday. On our second night we picked up a pizza at the Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria and enjoyed it from our room in the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa which had a table and two chairs on an outside terrace overlooking Downtown Disney. Surely, Disneyland can be a place “where dreams come true.”

Chromecast Sunday, Jan 19 2014 

My sister-in-law gifted us with a Chromecast device for Christmas. We waited until after New Year’s to give it a try. After initially trying to set it up using a TV remote and computer with an outdated operating system, I successfully used my smartphone. It is easy to setup. The device itself can be attached to either a TV’s USB port or an HDMI socket. The setup involves connecting the device to the internet through wi-fi. We almost immediately decided to drop our Netflix DVD plan in favor of internet access to Netflix. The cost is the same but we using Netflix much more now than receiving a single DVD plan through the mail. We recognize that some films available through the DVD plan are not available through the internet. We may make more use of YouTube content now that it is easy to access and provides a better viewing experience on a TV. Finally, we are enjoying Pandora music, too. Additional Chromecast apps are already available with more likely to be offered in the future. Thank you, Dianne, for this terrific gift!

Falletta & Kondonassis Play in the Valley of the Sun Saturday, Jan 11 2014 

Last night’s Phoenix Symphony concert featured harpist Yolanda Kondonassis in Albert Ginatera’s Concerto for Harp & Orchestra, Opus 25. How often does one get to hear a harp soloist with a full symphony? This interesting piece has dance-like features with strong contributions from percussion. In fact, at one point the harpist responds to the percussion by knocking on the harp’s sound board. The soloist’s unique and impressive harp, 75.5 inches high by 39.75 inches wide, is a 47-string concert grand pedal harp designed by Salzedo for Lyon & Healy. Kondonassis graced us with an encore of a short piece written by, I believe, Carlos Salzedo which again displayed the range of sounds a harp is capable of producing. Kondonassis is on the faculty at Oberlin where the former Phoenix Symphony Music Director and Conductor Michael Christie received a degree. Phoenix is much warmer right now than Oberlin, Ohio.

Guest conductor JoAnn Falletta, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, also escaped brutal winter weather by visiting Phoenix, the Valley of the Sun. This small but dynamic maestro did not need a score for Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Opus 67. The orchestra responded with gusto in performing this familiar piece. Falletta, I leaned, is also a virtuoso guitar and mandolin player. She is an expressive force atop the podium.

The evening’s performance started with George Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1 in A Major, Opus 11. This work in the folk dance tradition starts with oboes and clarinets. There is even a viola solo. Our seats in the sixth row were centered with the conductor’s podium.We enjoyed another great evening of music with the Phoenix Symphony.

Arizona Museum of Natural History Sunday, Jan 5 2014 

Arizona Museum of Natural History

Arizona Museum of Natural History

The Arizona Museum of Natural History is an unheralded treasure located in downtown Mesa. A dinosaur sculpture near the entrance alerts one to an emphasis of this museum. Inside large dinosaur representations are supplemented with fossil casts examining their likely history from 230-65 million years ago during the Mesozoic Era. I especially liked the representations of triceratops and stegosaurus. I learned that the coelophysis lived in Arizona during the Triassic period and the amphibious buettineria perfecta was found in the American southwest during the same period. We eyed a bowfin and garfish in an aquarium; the garfish closely followed certain visitors. The Museum currently has a special exhibit, “Rulers of the Prehistoric Skies.”

Olmec Colossal Stone Head

Olmec Colossal Stone Head

An interesting video display suggested the evolving nature of the earth’s land mass over millions of years to the present. We learned about meteorites such as the one that formed Meteor Crater in northeast Arizona. Did you know that between 1977 and 2000, the number of minerals first identified in Arizona increased from 48 to 81? This museum has a display showing each one. In an outdoor exhibit one can pan for gold.  We learned that rattlesnakes only live in North and South America. Did you know that Arizona is the home to more than half of the world’s species? Another interesting area of the museum explored the cultural legacy and contributions of the Hohokam people. We found especially interesting the display about their irrigation technology. A Mesoamerica display includes an Olmec colossal stone head along with smaller ceramics such as a protoclassic standing male effigy.

Mesa Jail Cell

Mesa Jail Cell

The museum’s biggest surprise was the Mesa jail from 1937 to 1975. This jail was originally opened in 1894 as part of the Maricopa County Territorial Jail. In 1936 what exists today was moved to serve as a county facility and Mesa city jail. Male prisoners slept on bare steel bunks with no bedding. There were only 19 bunks yet at times, especially on weekends, as many as 70 men were housed while waiting for arraignment. The Arizona Museum of Natural History is well worth a visit.

Mesa Arts & Crafts Fair Sunday, Jan 5 2014 

Catching "Big League Dreams"

Catching “Big League Dreams”

About a dozen booths lined two sides of a half block of Mesa for yesterday’s Arts & Craft Fair. One of the jewelry booths displayed interesting pieces at very low prices. Another booth had nice looking ceramics. I purchased a moisture wicking headband with black-and-white squares made by Terri of 3Ps Photos N More. I snapped a picture of a costumed artisan who also shows at the Renaissance Festival. Mesa’s arts and craft community must be much smaller than that in Prescott. Almost every summer weekend Prescott gathers more than ten times more booths around the Yavapai County Courthouse. We did discover that Mesa has a permanent sculpture collection on downtown street corners. The first piece we encountered was “Big League Dreams” which features boys as pitcher, batter, and catcher. This sculpture, donated and dedicated in 2005, recognizes that Mesa is the spring training home of the Chicago Cubs. The whimsical “Humpty Dumpty” uses color for the egg’s arms and legs. In the future we need to explore more of Mesa’s sculpture collection.

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