Day 1 - Thursday, October 4 - Anaheim, CA
A Ménage I can get used to
When you think of staying at a hotel near Disneyland, what images come to mind? Kid-friendly primary colors? Goofy bathmats, maybe? "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" on the Muzak? Well, this is not the vibe at the Hotel Ménage, where I have the good fortune of staying for my weekend jaunt to Orange County and Gay Days at Disneyland.
It's hard to believe that just a few years back, the Ménage was a garden variety Holiday Inn off the 5 Freeway, a hop, skip and jump away from the Magic Kingdom. Today, it's a 244-room, boutique-style hotel with contemporary design touches like brown leather headboards, sunflower showerheads and flat-screen TVs. As soon as I check in, I tune in to get my daily fix of "Countdown with Keith Olberman" and it's so crisp and clear, it's like I've never seen it before. The ménage is chic and masculine and reminds me of the W Hotels except, with rooms that go for around $150 a night, I could actually afford to stay here.
After grabbing a shower, I have cocktails with the other journalist on the trip, Michael and his boyfriend David, as well as representatives from the hotel and the local tourism organization. I ask Richard Ham, one of the idea men behind the Ménage, about the hotel's provocative name. "Do the desk clerks have to break up a lot of three-ways in the Jacuzzi?" I wonder.
"The word ménage, by itself, means a grouping of family," he explains. So you have to add the "Ã trois" to make it sexual? Ham nods then points out several design elements in the cocktail lounge, like vases and fixtures, that are grouped in threes. Maybe if Pamela Anderson, Kid Rock and Tommy Lee had checked in here together, they could have worked things out.
After a tour of the hotel's uniquely themed meeting rooms, including a library done all in red (see photo), we hit the hotel's restaurant, k'ya. You know that scene in The Simpsons movie where Bart drinks the hot chocolate left for him by Flanders and it's so good, all he can say is "Oh my God." That's what I'm like through the whole meal. Calamari, spare ribs, mahi mahi, pear salad with goat cheese, salmon in coconut sauce. So so good. I'm literally going to have to spend all weekend climbing the Matterhorn with a weight belt on to burn off the calories I'm going to consume this weekend.
I love this hotel and here's why. I'm not one of those gays that love love love Disney. I don't own all the animated movies on DVD. I don't have cells of The Little Mermaid on my wall. I don't go to the theme parks twice a month and cry during Fantasmic. I like Disney fine but a little goes a long way with me. So I love the idea that I can get my Disney on at the park, then come to a place like the Ménage and feel like a cool, sophisticated, stylish grown up.
Saturday is Disneyland proper, Sunday is California Adventure and Friday afternoon, I'm going to be going to Newport Harbor to ride a Duffy Boat. I don't know what that is. I hope it's a boat with Patrick Duffy's face painted on it. Stay tuned for a full report.
Day 2 - Friday, October 5 - Anaheim, Laguna & Newport Beach, CA
The Real Homos of Orange County
Though your cable TV channels might lead you to believe otherwise, Orange County has a lot more to offer than magic kingdoms and real housewives. Today, we're visiting some of the non-Disney hotspots of the area starting with a buffet breakfast at Las Brisas, a Mexican restaurant perched on a bluff overlooking postcard-perfect Laguna Beach. Though I've never seen a single episode of The OC, I'm tempted to ask Melissa and Elaine, the local tourism reps who'll be showing us around today, if we can snap a few pics at the spot where Mischa Barton died in a SUV crash in the last episode of Season 3 -- but I refrain.
Instead, I ask how all the recent TV exposure -- The OC, Laguna Beach, The Real Housewives of Orange County -- has affected tourism in the area. Elaine shares a story about a man from the UK who called her office and asked where he could find Cohen family home so he could take a picture for his daughter. The consensus of the locals seems to be that the shows have been great for getting the OC name out there, but they hope people realize that not all Orange County residents are shallow, beauties who live in McMansions and spend most of their time planning for or recovering from plastic surgery. Those are just the ones with the camera crews.
After breakfast, a fellow journalist, Michael, and I walk down the beach to the center of town and peruse a few of the galleries stocked by some of the area's over 400 working artists. That's a lot of homegrown talent. Speaking of fine art, everyone tells me that I have to come back to Laguna in July or August to attend The Pageant of the Masters, a yearly stage extravaganza where live actors, sets and costumes come together to re-create famous works of art right in front of your very eyes. Sign me up. Any event with the word 'pageant' in it is worth a look, I always say.
After spying on a culinary class and picking up some sandwiches at the Laguna Culinary Arts' Gourmet Cheese Shop and Wine Cellar, we head to Newport Harbor for our Duffy boat ride. A Duffy boat is not a boat with Patrick Duffy's picture on it as I predicted in last blog entry (see Day 1). It's a 21-foot, canopied boat with an electric motor that seats twelve and drives like a golf cart on water. Our group decides that I'll be piloting the Duffy. I like to think this is because I seem butch and resourceful and not because I bear a striking physical resemblance to Alan Hale Jr., the skipper from Gilligan's Island.
I'm happy to say I only almost wreck twice and that's just because I was trying to steer with a Diet Coke in one hand and a brie and sun-dried tomato panini in the other. Oh, and two brownie bites in my mouth. The Duffy boat ride is a breezy blast and I'd love to bring a group of friends back down and do it again. The only thing I can think of that might be more fun to do in Newport Beach is break into Nicholas Cage's house, strip naked and try on his leather gear but apparently that's already been done. People in Hollywood are always stealing my ideas.
Two shopping stops round out our day tour; South Coast Plaza, a high-end retail mecca with over 280 shops and the Lab Antimall, which features funkier shops like Buffalo Exchange, a recycled clothing chain I used to shop at back in Arizona in the 80's. I'm hoping to find the Shawn Cassidy T-shirt I sold to them back in '87 and buy it back, but no such luck. I buy $8 Puma shirt instead.
After freshening up at the Ménage, we take a white limo to the Anaheim White House, a popular local restaurant currently celebrating its 20th anniversary. It's easy to see why Gwen Stefani chose to have her engagement party here. The ambience is elegant but also fun, sexy and unpretentious. Chef Bruno Serato -- who just released a new cookbook called Temptation that features hot twinks fondling various foodstuffs -- creates dishes that are delicious, imaginative (white chocolate mashed potatoes, anyone?) and beautifully presented. Many of the dishes are named after famous people, like the Donna Karan Pacific Calamari, which I skipped because I feel matronly enough as it is. I did try the Gwen Stefani ravioli, though, and after the first scrumptious bite, I had no choice but exclaim, 'This shit is bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s.' All in all, it's one of the best meals I've ever had.
After dinner, we hit Wonderland, the first of the Gay Days dance parties, held at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen at Downtown Disney. We're greeted by the hardest-working drag queen in show biz, Mama. Also on hand are several of the stars of the here! channel series Dante's Cove. I've never seen Dante's Cove, but I think it's about a group of gay people who aren't afraid of vampires but are clearly have something against carbs.
Quite a way to start a weekend.
Day 3 - Saturday, October 6 - Disneyland, CA
Red Shirts and Matterhorndogs
My boyfriend John Michael and our straight friends Erin and Chil meet me for breakfast at k'ya in my hotel, the Ménage. Then we head off to the happiest place on earth, Dairy Queen. I mean Disneyland -- but the DQ's up there. JM and I are sporting the gay uniform of the day, red shirts while Chil and Erin wear regular straight clothes.
On the ride over, I reveal to my friends that I've had a bit of trouble going #2 the last few days. Too much information, I know, but it'll come up later in a way that I think is amusing. When we get to the park, we see that the gays are out in force. This place is redder than the final scene in 'Carrie.'
The first ride we hit is Space Mountain. It's a good thing this ride is in the dark or I would really embarrass myself and here's why. The music on Space Mountain is so retro-groovy that I can't help but go-go dance in my seat. 'And pony -- and pony -- and shimmy -- and swim.' That's what I'm chanting all through the galaxy. The music delights me to no end. Then there's the ride itself, which is the ultimate first-thing-in-the-morning waker-upper. On the way out, Erin asks me if I'm still constipated after that wild ride. 'Yes,' I reply, 'but now I'm constipated in the future.' That's my only potty reference, I promise.
We stay in Tomorrowland for Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blaster ride, where you shoot at targets. My score laded me in the 3rd level-Planetary Pilot. It's very Disney that the worst level you could do-Star Cadet-doesn't have a disparaging name like Space Cadet or Robo-Tard. Everyone's a winner at Disney, even the losers.
Pirates of the Caribbean is next on the agenda. I love the meta aspect of this attraction; it's a ride that spawned three movies and now the ride's been revamped to echo the movies. While standing in line I spot a edgy-cute gay in a red shirt that says 'Spitters are Quitters.' I assume this is sexual but I don't really get it and tell my friends as much. My straight friend Erin has to explain it to me: 'If you don't swallow, you're a quitter.' Oh, I get it. I was thinking anal.
I have to say, it's really cool to see all the red shirts on parade, but what I find slightly galling is the obviously gay guys who have opted not to wear red. It's almost always hot guys, too. This bugs me because I think Gay Days is kind of like fighting terrorism; you're either with us or against us. 'Do you think it's about internalized homophobia?' Erin asks me. Maybe a little, I reply, but I think it's more about them not wanting to be lumped in with a bunch of people who aren't hot. They don't care if stranger think they're gay, but dorky, pale or fat by association is unacceptable. Special-ness must be maintained at all costs.
Then it's time to board our Pirate's boat. I hate to be star-fucky here but I have to say my favorite part of the whole ride is Johnny Depp. There are three animatronic Jack Sparrows throughout the ride and they all look more realistic and lifelike than anything around them.
Speaking of star-power, I heard that Ellen DeGeneres doesn't do the voice of Dory in the new Finding Nemo sub ride, which we don't go on because the line is endless. I find Ellen's absence curious. What's the story there? I want to go on the Fucking-Over Ellen ride that dramatizes all the legal back and forth that resulted in Ellen not voicing the attraction. You could have animatronic CAA lawyers screaming into their bluetooths and projections of Portia DiRossi getting tipsy at the Ivy and hissing, 'Tell them to take their measely buyout and shove it up their cheap asses!' That's the ride I want to go on. That, and the ride inspired by Georgia Rule.
From Pirates, we head to Downtown Disney to catch a reading of Queens of the Kingdom, a dishy Disney-for-Gays guidebook co-authored by Jeffrey Epstein and Eddie Shapiro. The pair were introduced by the always delightful Alec Mapa, who explained that his red hairstreaks are for a movie he's shooting with Adam Sandler. I forget the name of it but it's not Chuck and Larry 2, which I'm very pleased to report.
Here's how the afternoon and evening go; full-on gorge-a-thon at Tortilla Jo's Mexican restaurant followed by the Main Street lip sync parade, then two of my favorite rides; Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Matterhorn Bobsleds. While walking between the two, I decided that I like Disneyland much better at night. It's more mysterious and you don't feel surrounded by quite to many people. And by people, I mean children.
Our park experience climaxes with the Phantasmic show, which is spectacular and full of wonderful Disney songs-they have so many great songs! I was a little disturbed that in the Phantasmic storyline, the characters who torment Mickey Mouse's imagination are all women; Ursula, the Wicked Queen from Snow White, etc. I wonder if women in the audience are ever bothered by this pattern. I'm not, frankly, because the chick villains are the most memorable.
By this point, we're beyond wiped out but the night's not over. Our final stop is the biggest dance party of the weekend, Kingdom, held at the House of Blues in Downtown Disney. We don't stay long because we're still in our day clothes and everyone else is all fresh and perky but we have fun. The party is hosted by Ana Ortiz from Ugly Betty who shows off her rocking midriff and confesses that she's 'into lipstick princesses.' We also see a live performance by a hot blonde guy named Sean van der Wilt. I've never heard of this guy before -- is he openly gay or just well-groomed? -- but I was really impressed with him. Great dancer, sings live and his back-up troupe were spot on. It was everything Britney's VMA performance should have been.
Then it's off to Beddy-Bye Land to rest up for tomorrow's visit to California Adventure. I wonder if I have time to get another red shirt made that says 'Too Legit to Spit.' Probably not. I'll just have to tell people verbally.
Day 4 - Sunday, October 7 - California Adventure, CA
From Tears to Terror and Back Again
The Gay Brunch at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen is first on the agenda. I have French toast with strawberries and whipped cream followed by beignets covered in sugar. I'm so out of control. You'd think I was gunning for Valerie Bertinelli's gig. I've got to get a grip.
We let our food digest while watching the live Aladdin stage show in California Adventure. It makes me almost cry twice; once during 'A Whole New World' when the carpet flies over the audience-the harmonies are so beautiful. The other time is when the genie finally gets his freedom. The actor playing the genie is terrifically funny and he makes a ton of pop culture references, just like Robin Williams did in the movie.
Topics include Lohan, O.J., Deal or No Deal and Britney, which I don't really appreciate because I go to shows like Aladdin to forget the tragedies of the world. My favorite shameless pop culture joke was when the genie called after a servant who was carrying off his umbrella: 'Hey, come back here with my umbrella -- ella -- ella.' Rihanna's fair game but LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!
Here's something semi-controversial: While watching the Aladdin show, I decide that I don't think his harem-panted love interest Jasmine is that much of a catch. Sure she's hot, but she's also snooty, humorless and really hard on people. I think Aladdin could do better. There, I said it. Still loved the show, though.
Our final stop is the Tower of Terror attraction, which is inspired by the old Twilight Zone TV series. We've definitely saved the best for last. This ride toys with my senses more than any other this weekend. It's genuinely scary even though all you have to do is sit on a bench and strap yourself in. I rode it in Florida years ago and my memory of it is that it's just one big drop, but actually, it's a lot more than that. It jerks you all over the place.
When the doors fly open revealing the sky outside and the park below, I totally lose my shit -- alas, not literally (see Day 3) -- and I have no choice but the let out a sentence that involves doing something untoward to a duck.
I hang out in the T of T gift shop for a while and try to figure out why I love the vibe of the whole Tower of Terror attraction more than the others. I decide it's because unlike the Disney worldview, which is very much good vs. evil, Rod Serling's worldview is more jacked up and ambiguous, not unlike my own.
We find our car in the parking lot easily because my new journalist friend Michael gave me a great tip -- take a cell phone photo of where you park. How brilliant is that? Then it's back on the 5 Freeway and I'm home in about an hour. The OC and Disneyland may be just a hop, skip and a jump away from where I live, but I truly feel like I've had a real getaway. My thanks to everyone who helped make it such a blast. See you next year! I'll be wearing the red shirt that says, 'Spitters aren't quitters. They're just still full from lunch.'