Disneyland Christmas Trip Report 2011 Pt 5

We headed back to Disneyland and decided to give Village Haus Restaurant a try. I had wanted to eat here in May after hearing pretty positive things about the new menu, but instead we ate at Hungry Bear Restaurant approximately 16 times.

Village Haus was fairly reminiscent of Pinocchio’s Village Haus in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in atmosphere. It had a classic look to it, but at the same time was a little drab and dreary (the drab and dreary day outside may have intensified this impression). Not that this was necessarily a bad thing, but something about it just felt oddly dated. I was a bit surprised by this, as I understood it, this location had not only undergone a menu change in 2011, but had also been refurbished and given a bit of a “new look.” Never having been there prior to this trip, I can’t speak to the old look versus the new look, but I thought it looked like it could still stand to be refreshed a bit.

The menu was intriguing, with a few choices that looked good to me. I had heard that the burger was pretty good here, so I ordered the Angus 1/3 lb. Pastrami Cheeseburger, which consisted of Angus chuck burger, pastrami, pickles, caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, lettuce and a creamy horseradish sauce. Sarah opted for the BLT Flat Bread Pizza, which consisted of thin flat bread crust, cherrywood-smoked bacon, provolone and mozzarella cheese, caramelized onions, marinated tomatoes and arugula-fennel salad.

We both enjoyed our meals, although weren’t overwhelmed by them. I wasn’t quite sure why mine came wrapped up, and I don’t really know why this was significant to me, but at the time it seemed off-putting. After the meal we indicated that we probably wouldn’t go back there for a while as there are much better options at Disneyland, but in retrospect, I think we might have just been tired or something (and being in the heart of Fantasyland, this is a noisy location, even at off-hours). Reflecting upon the meal, I can’t think of anything wrong with it. In fact, I recall my burger being fairly good. So rather than give it a lukewarm review, I think further investigation here is necessary.

After eating, we headed to Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. No more than 2 minutes (I’d guess) into the attraction, we both fell asleep. After this, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel and try to take a quick nap. I was going on very little sleep thanks to my dumb internal clock, and it was a dreary afternoon anyway, so a 45 minute nap seemed pragmatic.

Of course, when the fun-filled gates of Disneyland lie only 5 minutes from your hotel, it’s fairly difficult to sleep. Nevermind that I easily fell asleep on an attraction; I guess it’s easier to fall asleep when you’re not trying to fall asleep. In any case, after about 15 minutes in the room, we realized that this was going to be a fruitless endeavor, and we headed back for Disneyland.

Much to our surprise, as we left the room, we noticed that some blue sky was visible and the sun was peaking out from behind the clouds!

As we walked toward the Esplanade, I called Ryan Pastorino, who is a member of the Disneyland Photography Mafia (consisting of Gregg and Justin Cooper, Bill McIntosh, Michael Greening, Natalie Bell, Ryan–and probably others–rather than mentioning them each by name throughout this, those are the photographers with whom we hung out that evening).

This group is known as the Disneyland Photography Mafia because there must be something illegal about taking photos that awesome (just ask Disneyland Security!) and because I’m fairly certain they co-own a roller-rink that they use to launder money for photography-related purchases. I’m not too sure on the details, but if I turn up floating in Lake Michigan this weekend, that will confirm that I’m onto something!

Anyway, we met up with the DLP Mafia and their families on Main Street. Well, it wasn’t actually that simple. Out of anyone I’ve ever met, Disney photographers have the absolute worst punctuality (myself included). You might say you’re going to be somewhere in 5 minutes, but that time-frame contemplates going directly from point A to point B. By contrast, photographers go from point A to point L to point W to point M to point B. We get distracted by monorails, flowers, and lampposts along our path that we decide to photograph. My point with this was that all of these photographers were arriving separately, so we had a little bit of time before they’d all stagger down Main Street. Given this, I took some time to shoot a few scenes for my Disneyland Christmas Time Lapse Video. Glad I did, as it took around 15 minutes for everyone to arrive!

Once they did arrive, we headed over to Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port. I’ve been hard on this place in the past because we’ve been served cold pizza in the past, but was willing to give it another shot because a fair number of people said the Count Down Chicken Fusilli is really good. So this time we ordered that and a piece of pizza to split.

The Chicken Fusilli was excellent, so Redd Rockett’s has redeemed itself to that extent. The pizza was again cold; HOWEVER, this time it was probably my fault, as I spent a large portion of the meal yapping with the DLP Mafia instead of eating my pizza. So I can’t fairly hold that against Redd Rockett’s!

After dinner, we headed to “it’s a small world” holiday with the DLP Mafia. It was clear that the Annual Passholder crowd had blitzed Disneyland after work that day, as the place was a madhouse! The line for “it’s a small world” holiday was quite long and the place was, generally, a spectacle. We braved the crowd anyway, and queued up.

As awesome as this attraction was during the day, it was even more awesome at night. As you float past the facade and enter the attraction, you really hope your boat will get “stuck,” so you can just stare at those beautiful lights for hours. It didn’t happen, but it would have been nice. It’s really a shame that there’s no way to overhaul the attraction at Walt Disney World so that the clock Blair-facade is outdoors. I imagine that it’s not so much a matter of this not being possible, but rather, not pragmatic given Florida weather.

Once again, as you can see, I took a lot of photos inside “it’s a small world” holiday. I probably have more photos of it after one trip than I do of any other attraction at either Walt Disney World or Disneyland, perhaps with the exception of Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion in Walt Disney World. To see more of these “it’s a small world” holiday photos, check out my eBook, A Disneyland Christmas!

After we exited the attraction we marveled at the facade for a while. The place was still a madhouse, so it didn’t seem feasible to set up a tripod at the time. In lieu of that, I stabilized my camera on a rail and cranked up the ISO to get a shot. When I noticed the awesome clouds in that shot, I knew I’d have to come back to shoot this later. Then I realized nice skies are rare and fleeting in California, so I knew I had to try to set up my tripod and shoot right then.

This was surprisingly easy, as I barely extended my tripod and didn’t put the legs all the way out. I just kept the camera tight against my body and fired a few exposures. I then repeated this in one other location, and we all went on our way (after rounding up the rest of the troops, of course). In retrospect, I wish I had spent a lot more time shooting there.

We did a good number of attractions throughout the night, including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Haunted Mansion Holiday. The attractions weren’t really the key that evening, though. It was all about the photography.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t normally like to shoot in large groups of photographers. Prior to this trip, I was even weary of this meeting, which included (I think) 6 other photographers besides myself. My weariness was quickly dispelled after hanging out with them all for a few minutes. As I’ve mentioned before, photographers travel slowly in herds, and I’m far too impatient for that. That wasn’t an issue with these guys.

Well, these guys certainly each traveled slowly, but they weren’t afraid to leave a man behind to fend for himself (true mafiosos!), move on, and re-group. (This is my style of shooting!) I guess that’s the benefit of them being more familiar with one another and their various shooting styles. They know each others’ tendencies better than people who meet once a year (or less) at Walt Disney World, and they are fine with traveling more loosely in their pack. To be fair, I’ve developed some great friendships with the photographers with whom I’ve shot at Walt Disney World, but we don’t have the same working rapport that you can only gain by doing a lot of shooting with someone.

Knowing that they all had this rapport with one another and I had only shot with these guys this one time (and a few other times for a couple of them), I can only imagine what they were thinking as I clumsily got in their way or slowed them down… Hopefully I wasn’t too much of a pain!

Anyway, at some point we made the decision to get a spot for the fireworks, at which time Sarah headed over to meet Henry at elecTRONica. (I don’t know if I mentioned earlier, but he had gone back to his room quite some time ago to do coding.) This worked out well, as she doesn’t care for the fireworks and I don’t care for dancing. We got spots around 40 minutes (I think) before the show started, which is earlier than I normally would like, but given that just about every attraction’s wait time exceeded 40 minutes, I was absolutely fine with this.

We set up in what is becoming my go-to spot for Disneyland fireworks, right in front of (Train Station side) of Partners. This doesn’t seem to be too popular of a spot, but I think it’s a great spot for shooting. The time passed really quickly as I debated out loud what lens and filter combination I should use for shooting. I had been burned the previous day by my 9 stop ND filter and smoke, so I decided to err on the side of ending up with more usable shots, and I went with my Sigma 30mm and no filter.

Given how heavy the crowd was, I was a little concerned that we’d be crowded out of our spots or have people bump our tripods. Then I realized I was with the DLP Mafia, and SoCal locals know better than to mess with these guys. Their motto isn’t “leave the gun, take the tripod” for nothing. I’ve heard they can do some serious damage with those things!

I was fairly pleased with some of my results, although many were a little blown out because I left the shutter open too long. I guess this is the downside of being so used to the strong ND filter. Seeing the show from this perspective was great because I was right in the middle of the action for the chills-inducing “White Christmas” conclusion of the show.

I’ve seen the “snow” in Florida, and I’ve seen a lot of real snow in Michigan, so I’m not really impressed by that. However, seeing all of the colored lights throughout Main Street turned white and hearing that beautiful music is something else. I don’t know if it’s as special of a moment to others as it is to me, but I absolutely loved it!

After the fireworks, we headed to the “it’s a small world” mall to watch the show back there and The Magic, The Memories, And You! I was surprised at how impressive the “little” every 15-minute show was; in fact, I actually thought it was the MM&Y for a couple of minutes!

Henry and Sarah met back up with us there, and we did a number of attractions, including Casey Jr., Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, and Indiana Jones before starting to shoot that evening.

We started out in New Orleans Square in the Court of Angels. As mentioned previously, this court is quite beautiful, especially with its Christmas decorations. But not with its Christmas ornament stands. I tried to shoot around the elements of this make-shift gift shop, but without a whole lot of luck.

Next stop was the streets of New Orleans Square, but we left there fairly quickly after a member of security made a comment about tripods. We all minded our Ps & Qs and just quietly walked away, but I could tell everyone was agitated.

Luckily, we had no issues again, and went on shooting on Main Street without incident.

With the great sky, I really think I had a very successful night of shooting. I didn’t come away with anything that was off-the-charts amazing or really unique, but I’m still pretty pleased with my results. For a while, I came home from trips with a couple really solid, really inspired shots that were incredibly unique.

I definitely accomplish less shots like that now, but we also go to the parks much more frequently, and it’s more difficult to get the creative juices flowing when it seems like I’ve just taken some of the same types of shots fairly recently (not that I’m complaining about more trips–I don’t want to be the king complaining that his crown doesn’t have enough jewels). Don’t get me wrong, I still think I come away with very pretty shots, just very few that push the envelope. I definitely need to work on that in 2012!

All in all, it was a really fun night. I never knew members of a mafia could be so nice and pleasant. Although according to my sources (Wikipedia and The Godfather), they’re usually pleasant, albeit calm and calculated, unless you cross them.


After a while of shooting, we left the park and headed out. Before going to our hotel, we went to the parking garage to ride to our hotel with Ryan, who was crashing in our hotel so that he didn’t have to drive all the way back to San Diego at such a late hour. The parking garage was insanely large! After wandering through that aircraft–I mean car–carrier, we headed back to the hotel and went to bed.

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9 Responses to “Disneyland Christmas Trip Report 2011 Pt 5”
  1. Rachelle June 13, 2013
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  6. Amy December 23, 2011
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