sinanju: The Shadow (Default)
My lovely and talented wife [ profile] snippy and I left Portland Saturday evening.  As she reported in her own livejournal, we got to the airport about two hours early.


When we tried to use the self-check-in we got an error message and had to see one of the live human clerks.  She told us that our flight was delayed but we could be put on an earlier flight if we wished.  We wished!  So rather than spend two hours waiting around, we dashed for the gate, went through security as quickly as possible and got there just before they started loading the plane.  Aside from having to wait a long while to get something to drink, the flight went well.  We were on the ground in L.A. before our repeatedly delayed original flight would have left the airport in Portland.  (Orbitz sent Snippy at least two updates via her cellphone.)

We spotted the HOLLYWOOD hillside sign on our way in.  We also noticed that our flight circled for a bit before we landed.  As far I know, I've never been on a flight that had to do that, but LAX is a very busy airport.  Once we hit the airport we had to go collect our checked bags before we got into a Super Shuttle for the hour long trip to our hotel in Anaheim.  Great Scott!  Talk about aggressive driving!  At times it felt like the van was whipping around turns or darting from lane to lane on the highway on two wheels.  It never felt out of control, though, and we got to our destination without incident.


Disneyland wasn't nearly as crowded as I'd feared, at least initially. I hate crowds. My mental picture of Disneyland was of a mob of people shoulder to shoulder like the overpopulated planet in Classic Trek. There were a lot of people, and it did get pretty congested by the time I left in the early afternoon, but it wasn't anything like that. Snippy and I took the shuttle from the airport to Disneyland and had our bags searched (grrr), then entered the park. Snippy took great pleasure in telling me about the park (she's a big, big fan) as we walked down Main Street.

We turned into Adventure Land, where she got us a Fast Pass for Indiana Jones; then we got into line for the Pirates of the Carribbean ride. Pirates was an entertaining ride. Many of the effects were quite convincing. The bayou by night was keen, though the cannon battle between pirate ship and town wasn't nearly as impressive as I'd expected.

I have to say, though, that I liked the Indiana Jones rides better. But my favorite by far was the Tower of Terror (of which more later). We wandered around looking at things between and after those rides, and got lunch at Bengal Barbeque. I'll say this about the food at Disneyland--it's very expensive, but you get plenty of it and it's generally quite good. (Snippy says that wasn't always the case, so I suspect they made a big effort to improve the quality when people started deciding it wasn't worth the price.)

By early afternoon, I could myself reaching my limit for dealing with crowds. Snippy led me back to within sight of the gate and I left, taking the tram back to the hotel while she continued enjoying Disneyland alone. I relaxed in the room for a while and played online until she showed up. We frolicked in the air conditioned comfort of our room, then took a nap. A long day of travel and exploring the park in the heat of the day really took it out of us. But after the nap we were ready to go again.

So we went back to the park, this time going into the California Adventure park. It's quite different from Disneyland proper. I'm told that it's never been as successful, and I'm not surprised. Disneyland is a densely packed experience. There is nowhere you can go where you aren't presented with rides, food offerings, shops, and so forth. California Adventures, on the other hand, was far more like a movie set. Lots of fake storefronts and the like--you could walk the streets and see them, but you couldn't do or buy anything. Actual shops and rides or shows were few and far between.

Which has an upside as far as I'm concerned--it wasn't nearly as crowded as Disneyland. We ate dinner on the deck overlooking a big "lake" with ducks. Bread bowls full of clam chowder (me) or corn chowder (snippy). Very tasty. So tasty that we had it again the next day. We wandered for a while, noting the relative lack of entertainments and eventually took a ride on the Tower of Terror.

We go into a "haunted old hotel" with a Twilight Zone theme, and eventually climb into an "elevator" that nonetheless has seats with seatbelts. It goes up, stopping on several floors to give us some remarkable special effects as the story unfolds, then it reaches the top. The doors open to show up the park through the missing wall at the top of the tower. Then the elevator plunges faster than gravity (good thing there are seatbelts to hold you in your seat!) for a bit, stops, rises, falls again, lather, rinse, repeat. Snippy got a little motion sick, but I loved it.

Afterward we stayed to see the Electrical Parade. It was amazing, bright and colorful and obviously gloriously expensive to operate. I really liked the music, too. As we were heading out of the park, we could see some of the fireworks from the nightly show in Disneyland.

The next day we visited Universal Studios (see below), and returned to Disneyland on Tuesday. Or Snippy did. I didn't feel up to still more touristy stuff during the day. She went by herself during the day, but we returned to California Adventure again that the evening. I had the clam chowder bread bowl for dinner again; Snippy got a taco from a different nearby food stand, then we crossed over into Disneyland. It was quite crowded and I quickly decided I didn't want to stay, though Snippy stayed until closing again.


We had to get up early on Monday to catch an early bus for our trip to Universal Studios. We were taken to a bus terminal where we transferred to another bus for the 45 minute drive to Universal. Snippy had purchased VIP Tour tickets for us. They're about three times the cost of ordinary tickets--and worth every penny. The few people who had VIP tickets got off the bus first, and were escorted immediately to the VIP window. Everyone else had to get in line to get tickets.

At the window we were issued VIP badges and ushered into an elevator to a lounge to await our guide. There was bottled water, and various muffins and sweets to occupy us while we waited. Only a few minutes later our guide, Mark, showed up. He introduced himself, then told us what was on our agenda. Our badges gave us the privilege of going to the head of just about any line in the park, and a discount on most purchases. We didn't need to stay with our guide for these things. If we wanted to take off on our own, the badge was all we needed.

In addition, our guide would show us a lot of things that weren't on the tour. Mark was very enthusiastic and said that he was very enthusiastic about the park, unlike some of the other guides. I thought he was just blowing smoke, but I was wrong. It was true--or it was a standard spiel, but he lived up to his billing. We learned during the tour that he is an actor, as are all the guides at Universal--it's a requirement. And as he said, it works well; though unpaid, it gives him access to the studio and facilities, and the studio fully understands that they'll be available only when they don't have a gig--something that non-biz employers aren't so understanding about.

Mark walked us out to a vantage point from which he could show us the whole of Beautiful Downtown Burbank, pointing out the WB lot (including the water tower "where the Warner Brothers live, and the Warner Sister, Dot"), the NBC and Disney buidings, the private golf course now owned by Bob Hope's estate (he had enough money at one point, he wanted a private golf course--and they gave it to him), and the extent of the Universal Studios.

After that we boarded a small tram for a tour of the studio. Our guide was very informative and friendly, and showed us various studio office buildings and told us what they were used for. (Which includes exterior shots for buildings in various tv shows and movies. As he said, they use everything on the lot when necessary.

He showed us several soundstages, describing what was being filmed there currently as well as famous films or shows that had been filmed there in the past. We went into one of the sound buildings and saw a couple of the recording studios used for looping dialogue or adding sound effects and music. The control boards are huge and horribly expensive.

We were able to tour the office sets for Crossing Jordan (they were filming elsewhere on the lot). Snippy didn't get much out of it (as she mentions in her post on the subject), but I enjoyed it. Just as when we saw props in the SF Museum in Seattle, I was struck by how much more realistic many props and sets look filtered through a camera than when seen with your own eyes. The cityscape seen through windows in the show is essentially two humongous shower curtains with a 360 degree photo of the city taken at the height of the tenth floor on which the sets are supposed to set. One for day. One for night. With additional lighting effects, they can simulate any time of day or kind of weather they want. (It occurs to me that this will be a significant issue when/if HD TV becomes commonplace. The standards required for sets and props will be much higher.)

We also saw (the largest, but hardly the only) props and costumes warehouse on the lot. A few of the props were interesting (the rubber shovel that looks completely realistic but can be safely whacked over someone's head, for instance), but otherwise it basically looked like what it was--a big warehouse. We toured a number standing exterior sets after that, including a western set, a desert southwest/mexican set, a "european" cityscape, the street on which Desperate Housewives is filmed (which has been around for a very long time, and was also home to Leave it to Beaver and the Munsters, to name two others). We also saw Amity Island/Cabot Cove, and encountered Bruce (the shark from Jaws).

We drove past a display of vehicles from many shows/movies, including the "Mule" from Serenity. We saw a...facility? where they did some of the special driving effects for Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift. Not terribly interesting to me until we saw that the two cars were mounted on gigantic robot arms so they could spin, flip, roll and whatnot through the air for spectacular action scenes without chewing their way through countless stunt cars (uh...and drivers). That was pretty cool.

After lunch, at a burger joint on the lot where they opened an additional line just for us (yay VIP status!), we hit the park itself. We saw/rode the Shrek, Back to the Future, Terminator 2 3D shows/rides. In each case we got to jump to the head of the line. By the end of the day, we'd saved about four hours of waiting in line. Considering how cranky I get when I have to stand in line, the price of the VIP ticket was totally worth it, quite aside from how enthusiastic and helpful our guide was.

I really can't praise him enough. Maybe he's really bored to death by it all, but if so he's a damn good actor. Whether his enthusiasm was feigned or real, he made the whole day enjoyable and was always happy to answer questions and make sure we got to do or see whatever we wanted. Well, within reason. There were a couple of buildings we might have been able to tour on another day that we couldn't tour because they were in use, but otherwise--if we wanted something, Mark would make sure we got it.

If you're ever in a position to tour Universal Studios, I heartily recommend the VIP pass. It's well worth what we spent on it, and I officially retract my expressions of sticker shock and admit that Snippy was right to buy them.


One sentence summary:  It's bigger than Orycon, but it isn't better than Orycon.  I have a renewed appreciation for Orycon now. 

I attended a number of panels, but if you've been to panels at any real SF convention, you know what they're like. Nothing phenomenal stood out compared to Orycon.

There were lots of nifty displays in the dealer's room. Long, long display cases full of props from all kinds of SF/F shows and movies, lots of costumes on dummies, a row of famous robots, including Robby from Forbidden Planet--the only one who actually talked. Lots of conceptual art from decades gone by, showing us what the future was going to be like (only now we know it isn't--still no flying cars, dammit).

I never got to the art show. The dealers room was fun, but not all that much better than Orycon's. Much bigger, yes, but the essential nature of the dealers was unchanged: books and magazines, mostly. Comics, DVDs, CDs, some weaponry, jewelery, costumes and so forth.

I do have to say that I attended a presentation by Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi on ST:TNG). It was almost a stand-up routine. She's very funny, and outspoken about the business and people in it. Not mean, but certainly a bit blunt about her opinions on things. She seemed completely comfortable dealing with the crowd and talking to them, but apparently she does a lot of cons* so that's not surprising.

The one story I'll repeat is about the Stargate SG:1 episode she did (Watergate). She, Amanda Tapping and Michael Shanks had to film some scenes in a very tiny submersible set. This was before Shanks left the show for a season ("They always come back, don't they?") and he was being, quote, "a bit of a pill." She admitted that the set was rather claustrophobic, but he was harder to take than usual. At one point (she says), he said, "Who do I have to fuck to get off this show?"

She said, "Oh, honey, that's easy. The same person you fucked to get on it!" Amanda Tapping reportedly fell off her chair laughing, and she was the darling of the crew for the rest of that week.

*During the Q&A someone asked her her opinion of fandom, and she said that it seems to be fashionable to look down on fans somewhat, but that she's very much aware that if not for the fans, she wouldn't have pretty much everything she has now. Her house, her car, her nice shoes--but also her husband, who is American and whom she met when she was working here on Next Generation. So she's happy to do the con circuit.

Room Parties: LOTS of room parties, far more than you'll find at Orycon. On the other hand, Snippy and I knew virtually no one at Worldcon. That makes the parties a lot less entertaining, at least for us.

The Dances: Really, really sad. There were maybe a dozen (okay, two dozen) people at the dance on Friday night, and again on Saturday night. As opposed to the Orycon dances, which are generally quite crowded and get absolutely packed around midnight.

Overall, Worldcon was fun--especially once I readjusted my expectations--but it wasn't magically delicious. It was just another con, albeit a much bigger one than Orycon. It was fun, but not worth traveling halfway around the world to attend (even if I had the money to do it). But I'm glad we went.


sinanju: The Shadow (Default)

August 2017

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