Day two, our first day from start to finish on the tour. Luckily the time change was still in our favor and we were able to get up for the breakfast in our hotel (an achievement). It is nice to always know where your meals are coming from on a vacation and not having to think about it. Waking up late we had to have our day bag packed for whatever the first half of the day had in store. Part of doing a planning trip is to give up knowing what it always going to happen, and more so trusting that the tour will still satisfy you.
Now is a good time to state that the tour has changed many times since its inception in the late 2000’s. Spring is the end of the touring season, and even since my trip they have adjusted the itinerary at least once. On top of that, our vacation fell during President’s Day so our first two days shifted due to closures. I say this to emphasis that overall my trip does not represent all versions of the tour or even what is available now. Starting with this post, all days of the tour involve some special “extra surprises.” I will do my best to warn you and at the bottom of each post will be a spoiler warning., but in detailing my experience it is not always easy to separate known from unknown. If you want the tour to be wholly a surprise, this might not be the best place for you. If you want to proceed, please do so at your own risk of spoilers.
We all gathered in our hotel and began an exploration into the wilds of sanitized Hollywood. A quick tour though Hollywood and Highland shopping complex and a bit of “Film 101” led us to the neighboring Chinese Theater. After years of visiting Disney’s Hollywood Studios and seeing the recreated Chinese Theater I was shocked and amazed at the beauty and craftsmanship of the place. I was overtaken by the spirit of cinema infused in years of glamor and hope. I had never been to a movie palace, being too young to know the days before multiplexes, but even after years of buyouts, renovations, and repairs, the space still held me in awe.
After seeing the home of the stars on the screen, we got into our mini-bus chariots to see the stars homes in Hollywood. I was perhaps less interested in the supposed true homes and more in a pleasant cruise through L.A. It was like a travelogue of film and music history. For such a stereotypical activity it felt intimate and fun, like your buddy was driving you through town. This was in part because I greatly enjoyed our driver, Michael, and because I know a fair amount about the last fifty years of pop culture. The open air buses must be great in that Southern California sun, which we briefly saw, but on a chilly, wet day it was a test of your constitution.
For those playing along the published material by Disney listed that we were to be at the Jim Henson Studio, but they closed for to the holiday. Instead they squeezed the Muppets into the following day. All was well as we stopped off for lunch at the Tam O’Shanter. I had first heard about the Tam just a year before as a popular spot for Walt Disney’s and current Imagineers. This roughly one hundred year old restaurant is like Little Britain dropped right in the middle of Los Angeles. As a fan of old world pubs I was as happy as a clam in the warm, dark recesses of the Tam. We had a quick presentation about the history of the place and were given one of three orders to choose from, though nearly everyone picked Walt’s favorite, roast beef. After our meal some of us wandered about to find little treasures left by Disney employees over the years and to take a sit at Walt’s old standby table – like a gangster or old cowboy, his seat of choice was back to the wall and facing the door.
By this time most of the day had flown by, and we got back to the hotel at just before 5pm. Nearly everyone ran upstairs to freshen up and decided to meet up on our own at the Disney Soda Fountain and Ice Cream Parlor across the street. As we learned many times over, doing a group tour is essentially taking a cruise on land, all you do is eat and follow along. Due to the major cruise issues in the news that month, we were more than happy to be on land. We peaked our heads into the gorgeous El Capitan lobby, and but as we were not seeing a film we couldn’t go inside the theater.
The thing I look forward to most outside of our trip was Griffith Observatory. It is easy to look past the history of Los Angeles, but if you stop and look around there is beautiful architecture and plenty of achievements outside of the film industry. Once again the holiday weekend spoiled our plans, and it was a Monday to boot, so the building was not open but the grounds of Griffith Park were still open. In the cool winter air the city twinkled beautifully below. It’s hard to capture the wondrous feeling of looking out over the neat and ordered lights extending out to the horizons. Be prepared for far too many pictures (Ok, a few of them are a bit blurry, but this was all handheld and it was cold out).
One of the oddest things of our Hollywood stay was the constant changes in terrain in and around our hotel. The clock was ticking to the Sunday Oscar’s broadcast and there were crew and security workers running around everywhere. Each time we stepped out our room door or saw the street a new rope or barricade arise. It was fun to see the evolving changes and behind the scenes of what it takes to put on such a major event, but it did cause some difficulties in trying to do something as simple as cross the street.
That evening we returned for our last night in Hollywood, already, and spent a little bit of time exploring. We got into some fun trying to sneak a peek into the Dolby Theater in hopes of seeing some Oscar activity, but alas the guards were too good. More fun times to come.
Editor’s Note: I am aware of the misspelling of “Amusement” but in the interest of completing these posts I have moved past it, and I hope you can too.
See, I am doing my best to keep spoilers down. After our lunch we drove around Griffith Park to the backside of the mountains. Though many places closed for Presidents Day, one place extra was open. Normally available just on certain weekends, we got to stop at the Los Angeles Live Steamers Railroad Museum. Turns out Sheldon on ‘Big Bang Theory’ was right, this place is pretty cool day. We weren’t just there for any old trains though. This is the home of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society, a volunteer organization that tends to the miniature railroad exhibit, Walt’s actual barn from his Carolwood home, and a combine railcar from opening day at Disneyland. These men had such zest for their charges. We had a chance to ride a 1/8 scale railroad similar to Walt’s, and to explore the extensive train and memorabilia collection contained in the barn from Olly Johnston, Ward Kimball, and Walt himself. It was a real thrill riding the rails with the wind breezing through your hair and the steel gliding beneath you. It was easy to see why Walt was so seduced by trains.