For our final meal in San Diego, we returned to the Cottage. (As we'd hoped, the wait was much shorter on Monday morning than on Sunday afternoon.)
Our beverages were themselves noteworthy. Lori got orange juice; I got a smoothie because I remembered wanderingjew's recommendations of California smoothies. Both drinks were great; the orange juice had the bright, clear flavor of really good fresh-squeezed juice, and the smoothie had a really rich full flavor of berries and banana.
I was tempted by the granola, because I remembered wanderingjew's picture (seriously, check out the link, because it's a gorgeous picture). But I was more intrigued by the description of the Baja Chicken Hash: "grilled tortillas, poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, hash of apple chicken sausage, chiles, corn, peppers, onions". It was quite good, but the flavors were delicate. But I noticed one thing: this was the first apple chicken sausage I've eaten that really tasted of apple and chicken.
Lori quite liked her blueberry pancakes with apple chicken sausage.
Everything we had at the Cottage was very good, but I didn't feel that it was very different from a nice restaurant Prep Kitchen, where we'd eaten the previous day. One way to interpret this is that I eat in so many different semi-upscale restaurants with an emphasis on good food, fresh local ingredients, and creativity in the kitchen that places that might have been standouts a decade or two ago all become part of the general chorus of good eating, and don't thrill me as much individually. It would me a shame for me to get used to such blessings, but it would be very plausible for me to do so.
From there to our hotel, and from there to Disneyland. We didn't take good notes or lots of pictures from Disneyland, and Disneyland is on the whole not a hidden gem, so instead of a strict narrative, I'm going to tell assorted stories from our days there.
A story of trompe l'oeil: as we were walking toward the Hollywood area of Disney California Adventure, something was tickling my brain that there was something wrong about this scene:
I finally realized what it was: we hadn't seen clouds since leaving San Francisco. And that made me look around and realize that the clouds were just part of a backdrop. Here's a different angle. I haven't edited this picture at all, but to me this looks like a half-clever Photoshop job.
The picture doesn't convey it, but in the parade, Minnie Mouse was really dancing enthusiastically, with lots of kicks and turns. I was very impressed by her ability to pull off these moves in a giant head and shoes like boats.
On Tuesday, our friend Suz joined us at Disney. She's a local and comes to Disney often, so she was able to tell us about the hidden gems of Disney, such as the location of the secret bathroom. Our experience was definitely enhanced by her presence.
Disneyland's fireworks were the best fireworks I've ever seen. I sat on a bench for two hours on Wednesday to try to save a place to watch the fireworks, and it was worth it. (I enjoyed the Fantasmic and World of Color shows a lot as well, but the fireworks displays wowed me much more.)
I was very impressed with the effort to which the lines for rides were themselves made interesting. According to reports, it was a rather crowded day, but it didn't feel horribly crowded and the lines didn't feel miserable. And I noticed that rides like Ariel's Undersea Adventure and the Haunted Mansion had their cars packed as tightly as possible and had moving walkways to board them so that they never stopped in normal operation. I'm sure that a whole lot of labor and craft went into making the lines as fast as pleasant as possible, but that labor only gets really noticed when it fails.
I also noticed that Disney has put a lot of effort into being accessible and welcoming to people with various disabilities. I'm sure that I'm too oblivious to those issues to make a good judgement of whether they succeed at being disabled-friendly, but I did get to ride the Indiana Jones ride with a kid who normally rides a wheelchair.
I was also very impressed with how polite and helpful all the staff was. Everyone we met was willing to talk with us well beyond their role. For example, a food vendor gave us great advice on where to see the fireworks, and a guy taking a survey about our Star Tours experience cheerfully chatted with me about the tablet computer he was using. The photographer hanging out in the central courtyard offered us the chance to purchase the picture he took, but he also took a picture of us with our own camera; I interpret that as an attitude that says that it's more important to be pleasant than to be mercenary in the short term, and I really like that.
On Wednesday, we happened to go by the Jedi Academy show while it was in progress. We hadn't planned to try to watch it for a few moments, but we found it so engaging that we watched it until the end. Kids from the audience were chosen to be padawans and taught a little light-saber routine. Then suddenly a part of the stage rose up, revealing Darth Vader and Darth Maul. (Oh no!) One by one, the padawans engaged one of the Sith in a duel in which their just-taught routine turned out to be ideal strategy, until finally the Sith were driven off by the last of the padawans. I noticed a bit more, though: I noticed that some of the padawans were young enough and uncoordinated enough that Darth Vader had to work to be threatened enough to parry the padawan's light saber. Darth Vader's approach to light saber combat reminded me of a story my father tells about playing softball with me and my friends, and his efforts to "pitch the ball to where a clumsy eight-year-old would swing the bat." It's not often that Darth Vader gets mentioned in the same paragraph as good fathering, but there you go.
There's no reason to go into much detail about the food, but I was pleasantly surprised. Everything we ate was pretty tasty, and I saw a lot of healthier options like fresh fruit and vegetable sticks available. There certainly was a price premium, but was not nearly as bad as I'd feared.
I entered Disneyland with an anti-Disney bias. I watched Warner Brothers cartoons as a kid, not Disney, so I never really bonded with the characters, and I tend to associate the word "Disney" with "bland" and "saccharine". But I concluded that Disneyland really is an excellent park, and there are very good reasons to like it a lot.