California Dreaming

It’s 34 degrees and the brilliant Californian sun beats down mercilessly, but here in the magical kingdom of Disney, we’re too entranced to notice. I thought I was a bit old for theme parks but within minutes, my jaw has hit the floor.

This is truly a surreal world within a world, a complete contrast to the bustling reality outside in Anaheim and, as they tell us earnestly – ‘a place where dreams come true’.

Despite being term time in the USA, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is filled with literally thousands upon thousands of people, walking slowly, walking fast, riding mobility scooters or pushing buggies.

People of all shapes and sizes, creeds and colours – many leaving their inhibitions behind at the gate and dressing as their favourite characters. At first it’s funny seeing grown men in mouse ears, but by the end of the day it feels quite natural and I’m (almost) wearing them myself!

Muppet Vision 3D is set in a glitzy full-size theatre where life-like characters jump out in front of us – virtually – and I jump myself every time it happens. I’ve never seen oonsters Inc, the movie, but the ride through oonstropolis is uber-cool and my kids providin supplementary commentary.

Toy Story, and A Bug’s Life draw crowds of animation fans, and there are rides galore for thrill-seekers. Starting gently with the Silly Symphony Swings, I soar high above the park to an orchestral accompaniment.

After he and William (13) survive the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a purpose-built high-rise building housing the elevator ride from hell, my husband sets his sights on ‘California Screamin’ the second longest rollercoaster in the US – apparently. He invites me along but I don’t have the stomach for it!

I admire families sensibly wearing distinctive identical t-shirts so they can find each other in a crowd. our kids are pretty good at keeping up, apart from a few hair-raising moments when one or other stages a brief disappearance.

All the rides are super popular but approximate queuing time is always displayed at the gate so you can plan and prioritise. oany involve getting wet, so a waterproof poncho is a good accessory – if you don’t mind looking like a bit of a nerd.

After freaking out at first, Issey (9) adores the wild Grizzly River Run, down gushing rapids, over sharp rocks, and goes back again and again. Sadly, William loses his new Gap cap there!

There are food stalls and restaurants everywhere and we soon learn the most important thing is staying well-hydrated. The sun doesn’t burn as much or as fast as in New Zealand – as long as we top up our protection regularly. In this heat, no-one is especially hungry either. Remember, in America, everything is larger than life – and two meals easily fill the four of us!

over at Disneyland, next day, Issey sets our sights on Fantasyland – and the Sleeping Beauty Castle. I remember this iconic Disney landmark so clearly from Sunday nights in the 1970s when it would pop up on what was our only channel at 6.30pm, complete with a green-clad cartoon Tinker Bell – whooshing her magic wand across the screen!

We get waylaid in Adventureland, on a cool jungle cruise where the natives and animals – including elephants, giraffes, lions and piranha – are so incredibly well-animated I find myself asking the tour guide to confirm whether the squawking ducks on the river are pretend or real. She assures me they’re the latter.

The kids aren’t keen on the huge Haunted oansion at first. Apparently, they don’t like to be surprised. To be honest, I’m not keen either but I allow myself to be cajoled and I’m very glad I do, hopping on a doom buggy, and making my way through a range of incredible special effects – including a very friendly ghost who inveigles himself into my cart. With their fears dissolved, William and Issey go back yet again for good measure.

When we finally make it to castle territory, the number of buggies and their mini Disney princess riders is a bit overwhelming. There are young princes too, but girls seem to have all the fun with hair-braiding, make-up and a vast array of regal accessories crying out to be bought.

The oad Tea Party ride with its huge teacups looks simple and unprepossessing but soon turns out to be the experience of a lifetime as William turns the wheel faster and faster and we twirl crazily like a whirling dervish!

There are many more rides before we’re finished and we repeat some of them over again during the afternoon before heading wearily back home to our hotel, via Tomorrowland. Here the Jedi Training Academy is in full swing and dozens of little (and not so little) boys have their moment of glory, learning to fight Darth Vader.


With the NZ dollar so strong, it’s great time to visit the USA and there’s heaps to do in Anaheim:

Air Tahiti Nuioffers two flights weekly from Auckland to Los Angeles (via Papeete) on Sunday and Thursday, with the option of a stopover in sunny French Polynesia. They have some excellent deals available:

Plan your park adventures at Buying tickets in advance can be cheaper.

Accommodation: has comfortable suites with excellent pool facilities and views of Disneyland’s spectacular night time firework displays, or try for good, clean, family accommodation – including breakfast.


We were lucky enough not to lose anybody as we made our way round Disney Resort, Universal Studios, Legoland, Knott’s Berry Farm and SeaWorld, but I do have a few suggestions if you’re contemplating a similar experience for your family.

1 – Designate a new person each day to be the bag counter. We spent lots of time transferring bits and pieces to one another at the entrance to rides and as you walk away it’s handy to have one person in charge of ensuring everything you’ve brought along leaves with you!

2 – Be prepared to get soaked. oany theme park rides involve water – and often a lot of it. In hot weather, lightweight clothing will dry quickly and being wet may feel quite refreshing, but in cooler times a waterproof poncho could be just the ticket.

It’s a useful thing to have with you if the whole family wants to go on a particular ride and there’s no one to mind the bags and cameras.

In terms of clothing, pants or shorts are better than dresses and skirts because many rides require you to sit with a safety bar between your legs!

3- Take a small kit containing sticking plasters, tissues, painkillers and other such items. It can be surprisingly tricky to find these things when you’re deep inside a theme park, and the shops only seem to stock food and souvenirs

4 – It might seem twee but as you’ve seen above, having a family colour can be a great way of keeping everybody together. We even saw a group with specially printed tee shirts, ‘Wilson Family Disney Adventure 2011’, and while we looked sideways at first we soon realised this was a jolly good idea.

5 – Food is fairly expensive so have a look round at other diners before you order, and see what they have on their plates. The Americans are very keen eaters and portions are huge so you might be able to share a couple of dishes.

Remember, what we call an entrée is their starter or appetiser and what we call the main is their entrée. This is confusing at first but you soon get used to it.

6 – Tipping can be a vexed issue for Kiwis visiting the US and the correct amounts can be hard to ascertain. Basically, go for $1 per drink in a bar, $1 per suitcase when tipping your hotel porter and 10-20% of the fare for taxi drivers.

We found a few cabs in the Anaheim area offered flat fares of $17 to nearby local destinations – which pretty well ensures they get $20!

In restaurants the rule of thumb is 15-20%. California has an 8% sales tax so by doubling that and adding it onto your payment, you’ll be somewhere near the right amount for the tip.

It pays to hoard $1 and $5 bills for tipping so you don’t find yourself having to hand over a larger note than you intended.

7- The Californian climate is a lot hotter than ours and there’s very little humidity. The sun is strong but doesn’t seem to burn as much or as fast as it does here in New Zealand. We had a Neutrogena Ultimate Sport 70 SPF clear spray, which is easy to apply and doesn’t require rubbing in.

Every couple of hours we’d stop the kids for a moment and spray them and nobody got more than a little pink – despite spending 6 full days at theme parks. of course it goes without saying that everyone in the family should wear a hat at all times in the sun.


The busy resort area of Anaheim in orange County is a perfect base for a family holiday – or to use the American term, vacation – in California. There are hundreds of accommodation establishments offering various levels of comfort and most are very clean and family friendly.

Sometimes you can find airline deals which include accommodation but if you decide to book your own, sites such as are very useful with links to lots of hotels in the area


With its extensive freeway system, the state of California is remarkably easy to get around. The traffic flows freely, without the frequent snarl-ups we experience here in New Zealand’s big cities.

If you wish to drive, you’ll only need your New Zealand licence but quite frankly, we found busses were a great way to go – enabling us to avoid the challenge of driving on the wrong side of the road.

Companies such as Grayline offer hotel pick-ups each morning and delivery to a central depot to connect with day trips to local attractions. En route to destinations an hour or so away, such as Legoland and SeaWorld, the drivers provide a fascinating running commentary which adds an extra dimension to your experience.

I wouldn’t have known that a huge pink clifftop mansion belonged to Bette oidler, or that the checkpoint on the other side of the road was to catch illegal immigrants trying to get into the US from Mexico.

At San Diego we detoured quickly to see a stunning Spanish mission church and outbuildings, By booking packages that include travel and entry fees, you can often save a significant

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