California, here we come! (Road trip 2018 – part 5)

Day 6 – Disneyland California Adventure Park

If you have never been to Disneyland before, there are actually two theme parks vis-à-vis one another: the original Disneyland (established in 1955) and Disneyland California Adventure Park (opened in 2001). To remain frugal, we have stayed outside of the resort and purchased cheap(er) tickets – that meant we had to pick which of the parks we explore during a day (no hopping between them). Since we were staying in Anaheim for 2 days it was not a big deal and we decided to check out the Adventure Park first. Unfortunately I was under the weather on that day, so I decided rest at the hotel and would join my girls later in the afternoon. That gave them the opportunity to explore all the attractions by themselves first. My wife already had an action plan for the day – thanks in part to her brilliant logistics skills and in part to the Internet where plenty of people readily share their useful tips, they were well equipped to maximize the time spent in the park. They quickly queued for their favorite rides and even managed to secure some fast passed for the afternoon, when I came along. Did I mention that my better half got some logistic skills? 🙂

One of my favorite attractions was Soarin’ Around the World. While waiting in the hangar for our turn to be seated one could learn and develop a new appreciation for the rich history of aviation that can be attributed to Southern California. It was all on display above our heads and on the adjacent walls.


The ride itself was worth the long wait. I won’t spoil it any more, but do make sure to check it out if you visit. You won’t regret.

The best part of the park (in my opinion anyway) is the Cars Land, themed after – you guesses it – the Cars movie. If you’re as big of a fan of the movie as we are, you won’t be disappointed. Usually one can expect an animation to reflect the real world, or at least to draw inspiration from it. The movie is full of analogies and tributes to Route 66 – that is probably why we love it so much. The park has achieved an incredible feat doing the opposite – transforming an animated theme into reality without sacrificing that cartoonish and magical aspect of it in the process. We’ve been also blessed with being at the right place at the right time, so I managed to capture the moment when the light was about perfect.

We’ve been so absorbed by the world of Lightning McQueen and Radiator Springs that we have almost missed the parade! We quickly followed the music and managed to catch the best part. We (at least the two adults present) felt like children again! What an experience!

Day 7 – Disneyland Park

After a good night’s sleep it was time to check out the other theme park – the one and only, the original Disneyland. I was entering with mixed feelings. As a child, I used to wish that one day I would be able to visit the magical world of characters created by Walt Disney. Many years have passed since then, will it live up to that childhood dream? Or will it… oh, just stop it old man, go and enjoy yourself! And I did! I was still fighting whatever the bug that got to me, so I wanted to take it easy again. My girls were off to exploring the crazy world of rides while I took my time to wander around and photograph all the attractions. It actually worked to our favor – I could document all the picture worthy scenes, so we can relive these moments after coming back home.

It’s absolutely astounding what human imagination paired with skillful hands can accomplish. One minute you are in the whimsical world of Mickey and friends, the next you are cruising down the river on a steamboat, just to jump to the future later. Another amazing thing is how clean and well maintained everything is. Considering that some of the exhibits are as old as the park itself, the maintenance crew is doing an amazing job keeping things in top shape.

While I enjoyed the whole park a lot, there’s only one favorite attraction: Star Wars Launch Bay. One of the best memories I have from my childhood is that of watching “Return of the Jedi” with my father on a big screen (it was big – they converted the whole sports arena into movie theater!) when I was in the elementary school. Every one we knew was there watching the movie, it was truly a lifetime event. Till this day nothing can top that experience. Exploring the world of Star Wars and walking around props and memorabilia from the original Lucas’ trilogy brought all those great moments back. Having Chewbacca to pose for a picture for me was a perfect icing on a cake.

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Tired, but completely satisfied we slowly headed for the exit. It was time to wave goodbye to Mr. Disney. Thank you for the world you created and the legacy you left behind. We are very glad that we could experience the park at last. For me personally, another big item can be struck off the bucket list.

Continue to Part 6…

On our Nissan LEAF buying experience and how we became a “3/4 EV” family

Our very first car that we bought (and the very first car I have ever owned, I might add) was a 2007 Mitsubishi Outlander XLS. It served us well over the 11+ years of ownership: a number of short- and long-distance road trips, driving around the town to make our then-baby daughter fall asleep, moving from an apartment to a permanent house, towing a trailer full of raw lumber for my woodworking projects or serving as my bicycle carrier.

When my wife passed her driving test (which she did on the Outlander, too) it became her primary vehicle for running errands. It is only natural that we wanted to keep the car until our girl is mature enough to drive by herself, too – she will be ready in just a few years after all. That WAS the plan.
Unfortunately, age has caught up with Andy (that’s what we called it!) and the last year or so of ownership brought a list of unexpected expenses and repairs. As Murphy’s law would have it, some of the incidents left my wife stranded when I was away on a business trip – a rather stressful experience when I cannot be around to help. Facing a prospect of yet another expensive repair in the near future we had to make a decision: should we keep prolonging its life while its value continues to diminish or would it be better to get something affordable, hopefully electric, that would come with a peace of mind and a new factory warranty? With mixed feelings we decided to search for an alternative.

Now, I am an early reservation holder for Tesla Model 3. Like many others, I put my deposit down right when the car was being revealed, thinking at that time that this will most likely be my entry way to the world of Tesla ownership. Amazing how things can turn out at the end!
Encouraged by our experience with already owning an electric car we promised ourselves that our next vehicle will be an EV as well. No more fussing with mechanical failures and repairs, rattling engine or gasoline. We really wanted our next car to be another Tesla, but it would be rather hard to justify the Model 3 at its currently available configuration and price – the promised affordable version won’t be out till sometime next year, provided Tesla can ramp up the production and clear the backlog of orders and reservations.

So what are the viable alternatives? Not many at the moment, unfortunately. Kia Niro and Hyundai Kona are expected in their EV version by end of this year or sometime in 2019. Given their low initial production volume and the fact that they won’t be immediately available outside of California, makes it difficult to consider at the moment. Chevrolet Bolt could be the contender, provided one could get hands on one and if it would be a tad cheaper. We were really looking for an affordable car, leaning towards lease vs purchase, so we can wait it out till other manufacturers catch up and there will be more models to choose from.
That leaves us with Nissan LEAF. The 2018 edition looked like a good choice though, especially with the new 40 kWh battery (~150 mile range) and updated design. I’ve read and heard good opinions about it, so we decided to give it a go. We wanted to keep it simple though (to keep the price down), so only S or SV variants would be considered.
I went to Nissan’s website and looked at S version first. I kept it pretty much default, adding only the Charging Package (so we can benefit from faster charge times using higher current/voltage). It looked promising:


Looks like we might be in luck, as there is an ongoing offer until end of July:


Looks even better! I am sure we can negotiate the down payment when we commit to lease it. Just to compare, I have also configured SV variant – adding a tech package and pearl white paint option (to match our current car, why not!):


As expected, Technology Package and premium paint increased the base price a bit, but it should not have much impact on the monthly cost of leasing, right? Wrong:


That is a significant difference! I assume the special applies only to the basic (S) variant. So be it. Let’s schedule a test drive!

The test drive only assured us that LEAF is a viable choice. Quiet as you would expect from an electric vehicle, responsive, decent trunk space and roomy (in the front row at least). Unlike Tesla, it lacks a frunk cargo space (at first glance it looks like someone packed a V6 engine in it!) but it is not a deal-breaker. The one we tested had a ProPILOT Assist feature too – it had no problem keeping in the lane or distance to the car ahead of us during the short drive. Again, would be nice to have, but my wife is not going to drive any long distances, so we will be fine without it. Let’s go back to dealership and talk financing details!

This is where it all fell apart, unfortunately. As I was going back and forth between S and SV, I asked the financial adviser to provide the data on the latter one. It came to over 600 dollars a month with 4,000 dollars down. I could not help but to make a reference to a fully loaded long range Tesla Model 3 that can be had for similar amount (well, you can’t lease it at the moment, but it would come to $721/month for 72 months with $5,000 down payment and a rather hefty 3,7% APR if you place an order now). Surely, this cannot be right!
I then asked the adviser to show us the numbers for S version – still, the monthly payment was $350 a month (far from $249 deal on Nissan’s website). No go – he promised to contact me when they come across the deal that would match our expectations though. Sadly then, we shook hands and left. Not the outcome we were expecting.

I must say that all this while we were getting plenty of attention from the sales representative that greeted me when I first visited the dealership, as well as various other Nissan personnel, including general manager of that particular location. What beats me is that it doesn’t seem to be any interest on their part to make a deal. No negotiations, no room to wiggle. Almost as if they didn’t want to sell the car. Our sales adviser was trying to explain that the residual value of LEAF is pretty low after the end of lease, but that should not be my concern – it should be Nissan’s to think of their sales and marketing strategy. To add to the insult, while browsing the available inventory in the 100-mile radius from where we live there were 32 cars matching or in similar specifications to what we were looking for. 2 weeks later now, there are still 31 listed, so it’s not as if the car is selling like hotcakes. Disappointing. Very.

* * *

Call it a compromise, but we have settled for a hybrid instead. Since I’ve had previous experience owning a Hyundai I was interested to check out Kona – neither my wife not me were particularly crazy about the design though. Then Ioniq caught my attention. Cheaper than Kona, better equipped and definitely better looking sounded like a much better of a deal. It is worth mentioning that the Hyundai dealership nearby make the whole experience absolutely worthwhile. From the get-go, we were greeted by a very friendly and polite sales adviser who would help us through the whole process. Patient and tactful, transparent about sales conditions and never pushy – this is how the car sales experience should be like. While signing the paperwork I was greeted by one of the brothers that own the place, then received a personalized thank you note via email for being their customer. It all made us quickly forget about the negative experience we had with Nissan.

For what it is worth, my wife enjoys the new car a lot. It is a bit of an adjustment coming from a SUV to a compact car, but she is happy to have a reliable car again. The gas mileage is great (52+ mpg and climbing, the car is EPA rated at 58 mpg) thanks to combined 1.6 liter gasoline engine and 32 kW electric motor coupled with 1.56 kWh battery. The technology is up to speed (it comes with Apple CarPlay as standard) and I am sure it will serve us well till we can decide on what electric car will replace it. To think of it, we are three quarters of a way there! 😉

California, here we come! (Road trip 2018 – part 4)

Day 5 – Carlsbad, CA – Los Angeles, CA – Anaheim, CA

If we were to leave Legoland and head to our final destination for the day, it wouldn’t be much of a trip (Anaheim is only about an hour away). No worries, we had a plan!


While we don’t necessarily qualify as art connoisseurs, we definitely have an appreciation for fine art. Being in proximity we couldn’t have passed the opportunity not to visit the famous Getty Museum in Los Angeles. We couldn’t care less about the typical tourist traps attractions that LA has to offer, so we had the luxury of spending as much time as we wanted checking out various exhibits at the museum – and it didn’t disappoint. The place itself, planted firmly on a hill, is a a great escape from the city buzz. Beautifully designed and well maintained, it invites you to relax and enjoy some quiet time.We took upon this invite and had a mini-picnic first, devouring the sandwiches we have prepared earlier. Before we entered the gallery, we spent some time exploring the facility and admiring its architecture. We even caught a glimpse of the downtown from up the hill.

Jean Paul Getty spent most of his life collecting art and many of the fine samples are on display. Our family has developed a taste for impressionism over all other art forms (thanks in part to visits to Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and Albertina Museum in Vienna), so we were in for a treat. Famous masterpieces from Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne and others – all under one roof! As if it wasn’t enough, there were a few paintings committed by no other than the famous post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh.

If we were into any step-counting game, I am sure we would accomplish the daily challenge and then some – our legs definitely demanded a rest after hours of exploration. As the saying goes, the best things in life are free, and so is the case with the Getty Museum – it is admission-free. Yes, you have to pay for the parking if you come by a car, but that’s rather common in any metropolis. If you come by EV though, there are many charging spots to chose from and they are all free of charge.

Tired but content we continued on. The very next experience: rush hour traffic. Thanks to updated Tesla in-car navigation we have avoided hopping on the freeway and instead continued on a parallel street, slowly crawling forward (as opposed to being completely stuck). I would not be surprised if there was a snail or a turtle passing us by at some point. Eventually we managed through. Bucket list item “experience LA traffic” – checked.

Speaking of traffic, there’s a lot of stereotypes floating around. You’ve probably heard of California, New Jersey, New York or Texas driving. While I’d be biased providing my opinion on the latter one, I can debunk at least some of the myths and generalizations related to Californian motorists. In general, people are patient and if you signal they will let you in. Speaking of signaling, everyone seems to wait for at least few seconds before changing the lane – we’ve seen it across the whole state, in case someone will say it is a Southern or Northern part of the state thing. Seems excessive, but it works. I do like the traffic lights at the on-ramps – one car at a time (more if there are parallel lanes) helps to keep the flow of traffic while allowing others to merge. I also like the flashing yellow light when approaching a stop (especially around the bend, where you don’t see what’s coming). Overall, I found it rather stress-free to travel across the Golden State. So, go and experience it yourself before you judge or repeat the half-truths you have overheard somewhere else.

Since we knew that our destination hotel will not provide the charging, we decided to top up in Hawthorne before arriving in Anaheim. Wait a minute… isn’t that where… you betcha! That’s where the SpaceX headquarters are, and so is a Tesla supercharger. Both companies share the space – Tesla Design Studio is right across the wall (or heavy-duty curtain rather) from the rocket factory. Although you are not allowed to take any photos while inside, you can definitely hear the sounds coming from the other side when sitting at Tesla’s lounge: welding, hammering and various power tools – music to the ear of any mechanical engineer.

Once Nikola received its daily dose of electrons we resumed our trip, eventually reaching the hotel Indigo – a nice, modern looking hotel located a walking distance from Disneyland. We’ll be staying here for two days, fulfilling childhood dreams 🙂

Miles driven: 156
Teslas spotted along the way: I lost count (or stopped bothering 🙂 )

Charging stops:

  • Level 2 (ChargePoint) at the entrance to Legoland – plugged in while visiting park
  • Left fully charged (~240 rated miles)

Continue to Part 5…

California, here we come! (Road trip 2018 – part 3)

Day 4 – Twentynine Palms, CA – Carlsbad, CA

There was pretty much a single item on our itinerary for the day: Legoland. I will freely admit that the road trip idea started as a desire to visit the theme park. Call it daddy’s influence, guilty as charged. When I was little, my family had no means to afford even the tiniest LEGO sets – they were prohibitively expensive for what my parents were making. The first real “hands on” experience came when I was 12 – my father bought us our first set. The magic happened and never left since. Me and my younger brother would spent countless hours applying our creativity to get the best of the limited pieces and would wish for access to other sets, so we can build more advanced structures. You would be amazed what one can come out with given so little. The true power of imagination.
Ironically, as years passed by and priorities have changed,  I don’t have as much much time to “play” with LEGOs anymore. I do buy a Technic set here and there on occasion, to keep that childhood’s spark alive. The ultimate dream was always to visit Legoland one day. Since we were planning a trip to California there was no way I would let this idea go. Other points of attraction were for the family, this one was to satisfy my inner ego :).

There was only one stop needed to charge on the way, at Cabazon supercharger, so the journey was rather uneventful. Good – the sooner we get the mundane out of the way, the better! We were all getting excited to enter the theme park as soon as possible, to beat the crowds. A nice (and unrelated) surprise upon arrival – there are free public charging stations (Level 2), courtesy of ChargePoint.


It was interesting to see some of the latest EV (or PHEV) models from Volvo, Chevrolet and Honda sipping the electrons upon arrival. Yet another example where California dominates in electric vehicle adoption in US – some of these cars are not even available for purchase in other states. Hopefully this will change soon.

Since we were staying at the Legoland hotel we would have an “early bird” advantage (we could enter the resort 1 hour before others). This was helpful in exploring the park without rushing or competing with the crowds for access to individual attractions. Since we were spending the whole day there it helped to get a bit more organized and plan ahead, so we could make the most of the visit.

It was a long day, filled with excitement and joy. I grew even stronger in my admiration to what a global phenomenon LEGO has become – from a simple wooden toy to inspiration for many generations.
The words cannot describe what I’ve experienced – that is not the point anyway, to give an accurate account of what I’ve seen. I also don’t want to spoil the fun by posting any giveaway pictures (where’s the fun in that?). Everyone who has an inner child in them should come and visit at least once in their lifetime, period.

For what it’s worth, here are a few shots of the hotel we stayed in though:

While the one in California will not remove or replace Billund on my bucket list any time soon, it comes really close to fulfilling that dream. I’ve had a blast.

Charging stops:

  • Twentynine Palms, CA (44 miles left; avg 280 Wh/mi; charged to 121 miles)
  • Cabazon, CA (64 miles left; avg 276 Wh/mi; charged to 170 miles)

Continue to Part 4…