The Magic Kingdom – Anaheim
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  Posted November 2nd, 2012 by Zdenko  in Travel | No comments yet.

Travel USA

By: Zdenko Kahlina

SHARE Conference in Anaheim
Just like every year, I was once again attending the Information Technology (IT) conference called ‘SHARE’, which was this year held in Anaheim (CA). As usual on my trips, this was opportunity to write a blog about Anaheim and my experiences in this city.

Marriott hotel in Anaheim

But first few words about the conference itself. SHARE organization is an independent, volunteer run association providing enterprise technology professionals with continuous education and training. Anaheim was a perfect place for a conference like this… the only place on earth where after a long day sessions, you can relax in the evening watching fireworks right in front of you… for free!! I provided conference review here.

While in Anaheim, we also lived through couple of earthquakes, but everybody stayed cool. The earth shakes Anaheim, but the SHARE conference goes on…

Marriott hotel lobby area was impressive

Hotel Marriott Anaheim
We stayed in the Marriott hotel for seven nights and were very pleased with the hotel. When we arrived, the lobby area was very busy. The area is very large and inviting. It seems to be a business/convention type hotel, especially since it is located so close to the Anaheim Convention Center, but there were plenty of families around as well.

Our room was on 10th floor with a small balcony facing towards Disneyland and hotel Hilton, just across the street. It was nice to get outside on the balcony every evening (at 21:30) and watch Disney fireworks. We had a double queen size beds and lots of room, but it was located too close to the elevators. There was a small coffee machine and fridge in the room, flat screen television, a sitting area, and a large bathroom. The rooms were very clean and the beds were heaven, so comfortable.

Lidija and Nikolina on our balcony on 10th floor

Cleaning staff was very nice and very accommodating and did a great job. The food was good but not great; basically we ate at the Cafe Del Sol for lunch a few times (great buffet) and had a pizza once at the small Pizza Hut place. Drinks were pricy, but what can you do? The common areas are very nice, and the staff was excellent. The small hotel pool was not overly jammed with people, but the kids were loud and splashing water everywhere.

Lidija and Nikolina by the pool. The small hotel pool was good enough for us

The front desk area was available for internet use, but there was a charge for internet time ($12.95/day) and for printing. The Anaheim Marriott would not allow even boarding pass printing at the front desk for free. I used my Marriott’s membership and received complimentary access to the internet as part of the package.

This hotel is adjacent to the Anaheim Convention Center and across the street from a Hilton property, which makes it ideal for large scale business meetings. The hotel staff is top notch and the meetings rooms are optimal for several hundred people to feel comfortable. The Share conference I was attending had approximately 800 participants. The property is very well lit and I felt safe at all times.

The hotel location is convenient to all the Disney attractions and the nearby convention center and that was good. Also it was within walking distance to some good restaurants which were a little more reasonably priced.

Construction work in front of the hotel in August 2012

Future Grand Plaza by the Convention centre in Anaheim

There are only a few setbacks to this property. Its distance from all other eating establishments makes it challenging to grab a bite to eat between sessions so pack snacks if you have a long business day. My only other gripe is that during the time we were there, there was a construction work being done on the street in front of the hotel. They are working on future Grand Plaza and the whole street is changing its look. Some nights we could hear the machines beeping even at midnight. We were forced to sleep with closed balcony door… but it was hot anyway, so we would close the door to have our air conditioning on.

The following eating establishments are located within Marriott hotel:
Cafe Del Sol – This full service Anaheim restaurant offers fresh California cuisine and other family friendly dishes in a casual atmosphere. It is adjacent to the hotel pool.

Degrees Wine and Patio Bar – Relax at this Anaheim restaurant near the convention center and enjoy drinks, fine wines, quiet conversation and delicious food. They serve very good buffet meal during the lunch hour.

JW’s Steakhouse – Enjoy the best of Anaheim restaurants near the convention center at JW’s, an intimate, unique steakhouse offering prime meats and world-class wines. Open select days. I was invited here to have a dinner with IBM representative Jim Elliott, who was as traditions inviting all customers from western Canada.

Pizza Hut – Enjoy a quick and delicious snack or meal. I had a slice of their pizza, but didn’t like it. They are open for lunch and dinner…

All in all, it was a nice hotel. Probably won’t stay here again if I go again. It was the host hotel to my conference, so we needed it to be convenient.

Other nearby restaurants:

Mi Casa – Mexican restaurant
Another good restaurant in the area was a small and very simple Mexican place called ‘Mi Casa’. This place was only a 5 minute walk from our hotel.

It was easy to find, in a strip mall. Small place with 7 booths, 3 four top tables, 1 two top table, and 1 six top table. The margaritas were good. Waitress was courteous and friendly, she came back to check on us multiple times. Both of us ordered something different and each dish was delicious. I had the chicken quesadillas, served with lettuce and sour cream. They were only $5.99. Not sure what my wife ordered but she said it was really good. There was plenty of it and the cost was inexpensive, which we were surprised by, seeing how close we were to both the Convention Center and Disneyland.

Mi Casa – Mexican restaurant

The menu has a smaller variety, enchiladas, tacos, carne asada, ect… but they had multiple combos and family meals. Our total bill was only $28 for two entrees, one margarita and free baskets of chips. Atmosphere was really festive, very clean. There was a take out counter separate from the restaurant. Overall, clean, nice restaurant. Good food!

Spicy-Thai restaurant
The two of us also discovered this Thai restaurant where the food was really yummy at a reasonable price. This place was only several blocks from our Marriott hotel, on Chapman Avenue. We really enjoyed their food! I think I have tasted the best red curry in town for sure! So yummy I can taste it now while I am writing this review! We also chatted with our very young waitress and she told us how she was expecting her boyfriend from Thailand to come and visit her in the USA. She is also still supporting her family in Thailand by working at this restaurant.

Spacy Thai restaurant on Chapman Avenue

About Anaheim city
Located in the famous Orange County region of California, Anaheim is a city that is well known around the world not only for its various sports teams and Convention Center, but for its collection of theme parks, better known as Disneyland, although these are broken up into Disneyland and California Adventure, which is the latest addition to the empire.

In Anaheim it’s all about Disneyland

Tourists walking the streets of Disneyland

Prior to Disneyland opening in the mid 20th century, Anaheim was simply an industrial town founded by German wine makers back in 1857. Unfortunately the grapes were destroyed in the 1880s by a plague of insects and the city began to transform and grow until it was a major orange grove and farming community. Than one day Walt Disney took the town as his own and transformed it from simple agricultural town into an empire that changed the face of America. Once Disneyland came, the town transformed from rural center to industrial town and a major tourist destination for visitors from all corners of the globe.

These days Anaheim is largely a tourist town, with its major industry being tourism as a whole. The Walt Disney Company is the city’s largest employer, but beyond that is the Anaheim Convention Center, which is a major hotspot for various national conferences throughout the year. That’s the reason why I was there. But I didn’t come alone. This time along came my wife Vera, her niece Lidija and her friend Nikolina both our quests from Croatia. Of course I brought them to Anaheim to experience Disneyland and see famous Hollywood.

In Anaheim all of the hotels and resorts offer some form of package to Disneyland and the affiliated theme parks. In addition, the LA Angels of Anaheim were the 2002 World Series winners, and the NHL team, the Anaheim Ducks, won the Stanley Cup in 2007. All in all, the city boasts more than just the Disneyland theme parks, although those are by far the main attraction of the city. Recently, the city underwent a 4.2 billion dollar facelift that not only cleaned up the city but installed one of the first-ever police forces that specifically looks after tourists.

Disney Downtown

Disneyland
I love Disneyland. I have now been here two times and it is still magical. Maybe this is because I love the warm weather, but this entire trip was phenomenal. To me Disneyland is like an old friend who can change with the times but still retain all the things that made that person special. I will create a different blog to review my Disney experience…

Anaheim Convention Centre

Convention Centre
It was very easy to get to from our hotel. We just walked by the Hilton Hotel and the center is adjacent. I was impressed with the size of it. It has enough space to accommodate any type of conferences from small to extra big. The location is very good being in walking distance to Disney so the accompanying members from the family (if you stay at a hotel close to the convention center) can walk or take the bus to Disney. The food inside the convention center was pricey but convenient.

Convention Centre viewed from hotel Hilton

The only inconvenience is that the escalators from second floor to third are very far apart so if you have a seminar on the third floor and the next one on the second you have to walk a lot to get there. The main exhibition floor is huge – can accommodate huge machineries and equipments.

The Crystal Cathedral with the bell tower

THE CRYSTAL CATHEDRAL – the famous glass church in Garden Grove
If ever there was a “Hollywood” church, in the true sense of the word, it is the Community Church in Garden Grove, better known as The Crystal Cathedral. Ironically, it isn’t even located in Hollywood; it’s just a couple miles away from Disneyland, out in Orange County. But the Crystal Cathedral is pure show biz, from its movie star guest speakers to its artful use of the power of TV.

The Crystal Cathedral with the bell tower

The largest glass building in the world, the Cathedral was built by the Rev. Robert Schuller. Schuller started out in 1955, as pastor of California’s first “drive-in” church, in Garden Grove. (Yes, it was actually situated in an old drive-in movie theatre, and Schuller preached from the roof of the concession stand.) After significant success on the airwaves, Rev. Schuller opened the Crystal Cathedral in 1980.

Made almost entirely of glass (and a spiderweb framework of white steel), the star-shaped “cathedral” is something to behold: over 400 feet long and 200 feet across, rising some 12 stories above the ground, with an angular, mirror-like exterior, its transparent, sun-lit interior features a giant television screen, and an altar of rich marble (bearing a natural image that some think resembles Christ on the cross).

The church seats almost 3,000 worshipers for Sunday services. But giant, sliding glass doors on the side of the church allow even more worshipers to watch the services from their cars in the parking lot.

Adjacent building and reflection in the glass

Statue of Job in the gardens around the Cathedral

Boasting over 12,000 panes of glass, and a sparkling, contemporary bell tower, the “cathedral ” is an Orange County landmark visible for miles around.

The new glass tower was added in 1990, and is a stunning edifice in its own right; at the tower’s base you will find a tiny, dome-shaped chapel housing an uncommon, cross-shaped crystal. And that’s not to mention the cathedral’s pipe organ (with 16,000 pipes, it’s among the five largest pipe organs in the world), the 100-plus voices of the Hour of Power Choir, or the electric fountain/stream that runs down the middle of the central aisle.

Contemporary bell tower

But the real star of the show was the building itself; each week its soaring heights are captured in glittering detail by the television cameras. The mammoth church is indeed impressive, and it was open daily for free public tours.

In the simple gardens on the south side of the church, you’ll find statues of Job, and of Christ as the Good Shepherd. The patio (like all of the walkways here) is studded with marble plaques bearing short, inspirational Bible verses and the names of contributors (somewhat like a religious version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame).

Besides hosting weekly televised services, concerts, and seasonal events, the church also offered guided tours for visitors. No appointment was necessary. Just drop by on most weekdays (as long as no special event is planned).

The “tours.” of the church were informal, and access is limited. Most visitors simply walk in through the main church doors (on the south side), and gaze in awe at the Cathedral’s sparkling interior; others opt to sit down and listen while as a guide in a red jacket recites a short lecture on the history of the church.

The statues of Christ as the Good Shepherd

But the main and side aisles are roped off (as is the altar), restricting visitors to the back rows of the church, and you are not allowed upstairs at all. The electric fountain is inactive during these tours, and of course there are no celebrities or choirs on these weekday tours. So the “tour” of the church isn’t exactly an exciting experience; in fact, it’s not really a tour in the strict sense of the word, since you don’t actually explore the church – you simply sit down in the back row and appreciate the unique architecture. After the brief lecture about the building, the guide will also answer any questions you might have about the Cathedral. But even including the lecture, it’s unlikely that you will spend over 30 minutes inside the church.

You can see silhouette of Christ through this piece of crystal glass

At the base of the structure is an intimate prayer chapel named the Mary Hood Chapel. Inscribed above the marble walls of the chapel are the words “My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer for All People.” The spire has been named the Crean Tower honoring John and Donna Crean who provided a large gift to begin construction in 1988.

The Crystal Cathedral congregation recently announced that it will vacate its modernist steel-and-glass church by June 2013. The Diocese of Orange renamed the church Christ Cathedral earlier this month and plans to turn the Protestant landmark where the “Hour of Power” TV ministry is based into its spiritual and administrative headquarters. The fast-growing, 1.2 million-person diocese bought the church campus for nearly $58 million last year.

The Outlets at Orange
The Outlets at Orange, Orange County’s only outlet shopping destination, is home to more than 120 outlet and value retail stores including Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH, Last Call by Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom Rack, Off Broadway Shoes, DKNY, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and more. The Outlets at Orange also offers fun and entertainment for the entire family with over 25 incredible eateries plus a Vans Skate Park, Dave & Buster’s, Lucky Strike Bowling and a huge AMC 30 Theatre with IMAX.

The Outlets at Orange

The Outlets at Orange

It is an outdoor mall but it feels very connected together and has a lovely ambiance. Lots of stores to choose from and good prices, compared with our Canadian prices. This mall is close to all the hotels in the Disney area so great for visitors to stop in at. It’s not huge and therefore not overwhelming. The deals were plentiful, especially on clothes and shoes. Great prices if you are there during a sale time, which seems to be quite often. Super cool Van’s store with a massive skate/bike park attached.

Anaheim Garden Walk
I actually like this place at night when it’s loud and crowded with people especially around the restaurants! Walking around and sitting in the wooden chairs around the water fountain was relaxing! There’s a movie theater but I didn’t get a chance to watch any movie! The parking is free for first hour and I believe its about $3 an hour after that, which is very reasonable! The place is very close to Disneyland!

There are some good restaurants and already mentioned cinema, but row after row of empty shops… shame, as it is a nice centre with ample parking. Looks like another victim of the economy…

Our little group by the waterfall at Garden Walk. Katella Avenue was named after the Kate and Ella figures depicted in these bronze statues. Link to The Katella Avenue Myth.

China Bistro at Garden Walk

McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant
My wife and I had very enjoyable meal at McCormick & Schmik’s Grille restaurant. We’ve choosen to have a table outside on the patio. The service was outstanding as we were first couple sitting on this patio at the time. They bent over backwards to make up for the fact that we had been left unattended for 10 minutes at the beginning. Food was great and we do tend to be fussy when it comes to meat and fish. We even had a candle on our table which was a special touch that we enjoyed.

Eating on the patio at this busy restaurant

Orange County Coast
When in Anaheim, don’t miss the opportunity to drive only about 25 km to the Orange County coast. We drove south-west from Anaheim to Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. Just stay on Harbor Boulevard and it will take you straight to Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. This is a must see area with a typical Californian beach and its pier. Also if you like to surf obviously this is where you go.

At the Balboa Beach

Newport Beach is quieter than Huntington and parking is good. You can park in one place, and enjoy several different flavors of the area. Park in a large parking lot at Newport Pier area, which I have never seen full, and enjoy the classic Newport Beach, known for its surfing and bike trail. Parking is also $15 with no reentry where in other places you can park on the street for free. There is bike rental here though and access to the 8mi trail so that is a fun thing to do. There are single and multiple person bikes. The beach was very clean however and in general it was a neat place to go.

Welcome to Balboa harbor

Bike rentals in Newport Beach

At the Newport Beach harbor

Eat at Rubie’s at the end of the pier for breakfast, burger, salad or fish and chips, stroll to Balboa Fun Zone for shopping, fun food, games for the kids and boat rentals (which I highly recommend).

Bring your car or a boat across the ferry, and get on Balboa Island… shop til you drop… (don’t forget to go to Rachel’s for great ladies clothes at an awesome price… never pass it up!). All with the 30′s and 40′s architecture, for a classic charm … all Americana baby.

Beautiful beach along the coastal highway

Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach is 10 minutes south of Newport Beach on coastal highway 1 and has its own character. I think it would be a shame to miss it. There is a beautiful coastline, great restaurants, shops, galleries, and interesting locals. Newport Beach has a more urban vibe but there is also the Balboa Fun Zone, a great shopping center and excellent restaurants. You can’t really get the feel of either city on a “drive through.” It would be a shame not to stop and walk around.

Driving south on Hwy 1 towards Oceanside

California Coastal highway was busy

From Laguna Beach we continued on coastal highway 1 south all the way to Oceanside and Carlsbad, but this will be story for another blog.

So, this is all about Anaheim. I’m sure there is a lot more to Anaheim, we just ran out of time. If we had more time I would’ve loved to visit Angel’s stadium and watch a good game of baseball. Maybe next time…

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