Monday, June 21, 2010

My 2011 Toyota Sienna Design & Drive Tour

I recently won the Toyota equivalent of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket—an invitation by Toyota to tour Calty Design Research as part of a blogger group, Toyota’s North American design operation located in Newport Beach, California.  Calty is so exclusive that even Toyota employees would love the opportunity to visit!  It was really interesting to learn about Calty and that part of the reason the location was chosen back in the early 1970’s was to enable the designers to get inspiration from the California lifestyle.  As we entered the building I glanced over my shoulder for corporate spies amongst the swaying palms, the coast seemed clear.  The first few rooms and hallways were a really cool retrospective of car styles, colors, textures and interiors from the past fifty years.  Many of us were able to identify colors, carpets and seats from our childhoods and got a good perspective of how styles have evolved.  We next moved on to a presentation of the car design process.  It easily takes a couple of years to design a car, even more.  The fastest might be a little over a year.  The Toyota FJ Cruiser is an example of a car that was fast-tracked because it received such positive response at car shows.

The next part of the tour was what really fascinated me and caused us all to say, “who knew?”  They actually do clay modeling of every single car that is made.  Full size clay modeling.  It was explained that it is the only way to get the actual, complete design understanding of the car.  As “low tech” as clay modeling is, there really is no substitute.  Then it was our turn.  Each of us bloggers was presented our own basic Sienna shaped clay model (see video) and assigned the task to design our own Sienna.  Yikes!  I’m so not crafty.  Luckily the Toyota sculptors took a break from the REAL car they were working on to step over and help us out with pointers and loan us some of their tools.  A couple of them even took pity on my poor minivan and even worked a couple of maneuvers on my model to get me started.  I think I had better stick to blogging.  But, it was still really fun, I even designed a snowboard rack on the back of my Sienna.  Because I could.  We were presented our Sienna’s encased with a plaque at the end of the event and I have mine proudly displayed in my living room.  I love my minivan!

We then washed the clay off our hands and headed outside, but still within the walls of Calty, to meet with some of the Sienna design team: Chief Designer Ian Cartabiano (shown in video) who does vehicle design, Chief Designer Wendy Lee who is responsible for color design and Chief Designer Benjamin Jimenez who does interior design.  They had a lot of information to share with us with pictures and diagrams as well as samples.  There were also two Siennas for us to peruse and ask questions about.  It was amazing to be at Calty and see how cars go from concept to design to reality.  One question that came up quite a bit from my last post was the run flat tires.  Since I had all kinds of Toyota employees with technical knowledge all around me I thought I’d ask for some input on the 2011 Sienna and the run flat tires.  I got to speaking with Katsuhiko Koganei, Communication Coordinator for Toyota who told me that he has run flat tires on his 2011 Sienna and that he finds the ride to be “quieter, the cabin is quieter and a less harsh ride” than the previous generation run flat tires.

Then I got my chance to try the run flat tires myself!  We bloggers broke up into teams and set off on a scavenger hunt for charity, each team in our own 2011 Sienna.  I maneuvered quickly at the sign up sheet and scored one of the Siennas with the run flat tires.  Off we went to purchase supplies for an Art Therapy program with Amex gift card we were provided.  Since I already have a Sienna I was able to hit the ground running on the navigation system on top of the fact that I’m a So. Cal local and the rest of my team was from out of the area.  I loved driving the Sienna again and again I had minivan envy.  The run flat tires were not at all noticeable to me and everyone else agreed that they didn’t know they were anything other than regular tires.  We spun around Orange County picking up our supplies and took the Sienna through city streets, on the highway and along some twisty Pacific Coast roads enjoying a great little tour of the area.  We finished up back at our hotel where we unloaded our Sienna, which sure held a lot of stuff and got ready for our closing dinner.  That night we presented our charities with everything we bought and had a nice dinner with many of the Toyota team members we had met with during the day.  It was great to be able to follow up with questions and be able to exchange cards and make more connections with some of the people I hadn’t been able to speak with.  What an amazing experience and what appreciation I have now that I understand a little bit more about what exactly went into designing the 2011 Toyota Sienna.

To read my review of the 2011 Toyota Sienna posted on December 20, 2009, click here

Sunday, June 20, 2010

100th Post

For some random reason, I happened to just count the number of posts I've done and realized that yesterday I wrote my 100th post!  Hmmm....Isn't that interesting that the first time I actually thought to do an accounting was a "milestone-ish" number?  Funny that it's Father's Day, considering Surfer Guy has certainly put up with a lot of my blogging craziness over the past couple of years.  What could I do to celebrate this 100 post mark?

One thing I did accomplish tonight is that you can now subscribe to my blog!  Over on the right you can now click on the orange button and get my posts in your reader OR enter your e-mail address and get my posts e-mailed to you.  Much easier than checking back, right?

So, to celebrate the 100 post-mark, I think I'll back up my computer and hit the hay.  Sounds like a plan to start the week off on a strong note.  What say ye?

Happy 100!!!  And thanks for reading!!! Love, Elizabeth

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Here’s What’s New at Disneyland Resort

New Dragon in Fantasmic The day after the premiere of World of Color, I returned to Disneyland for a media presentation of “What’s next?”  Well, there sure is a lot to tell.  Once again this year, The Summer Pass is being offered to Southern California residents.  Valid from June 11-August 29, 2010, for $108 your receive a 3-day park ticket which allows you to visit either park on three separate days within a 45 day period.  That works out to $36 per day and is a really great deal!  Summer Nightastic kicked off June 11 and is a dynamic lineup of entertainment including Fantasmic! with it’s new dragon, fireworks featuring Dumbo and Tinkerbell flying over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, Tommorowland Terrace TLT Dance Club and Pixie Hollow Enchantment all taking place after dark at Disneyland Park this summer and runs through August 29.  New attractions to look forward to are: Star Tours in 3-D at Disneyland and Ariel’s Undersea Adventure at California Adventure, both coming in 2011.  The upcoming attraction generating the biggest buzz is Cars Land, the 12-acre expansion slated to open in 2012 in California Adventure.  We saw a presentation showing the three new rides going into Cars Land, the main one being Radiator Springs Racers.  Somehow, 2012 seems so far away!
Not everything new is happening exactly in The Disneyland Resort.  The Disney Cruise line is coming to the West Coast in early 2011 with its cruise ship “Wonder”.  For the first time, itineraries will include Alaska cruises from Vancouver.  Before and after the summer Alaska cruises, Mexican Riviera itineraries will be offered out of The Port of Los Angeles.  We were also informed of a really great promotion: From Jan. 23 to March 20, 2011, Disney Cruise Line will make it easier to experience the West Coast cruise magic with a special “Kids Free” offer on seven-night cruises to the Mexican Riviera.  Guests age 17 and younger can sail free aboard the Disney Wonder when accompanied by two full-fare paying guests occupying the same stateroom on seven-night voyages (government taxes and fees excluded).  For more information visit
The Disneyland Hotel is undergoing renovations to actually retro-renovate it to be more in the style it was originally designed to be.  I saw some plans and photographs of rooms and suites that are already completed and it looks really cool.  They are also making enhancements to the pool and water play area including a monorail themed waterslide with the original Disneyland sign atop that I know Chip and Lulu would love!  Speaking of staying at the resort, there are several packages this summer.  The 5 days for 3 gets you a 5 day park hopper ticket and 5 days in a resort hotel for the price of 3.  There are also discounts of up to 40% on rooms in each of the 3 resort hotels this summer.
The news I’m really excited about is Aulani, the Disney resort opening in Hawaii Fall 2011.  Located on Oahu, you can find more info at  and I hear you will be able to make reservations well in advance of opening so check in at the website for updates.  Have fun and remember to visit for further info!

If you have extra time to spend exploring the Anaheim area, visit this page on for some great info and reviews.

Premiere of Disney’s World of Color

I recently attended the premiere of “World of Color” at Disney’s California Adventure park.  World of Color is the nighttime show that I’d been hearing was coming for a couple of years.  The Paradise Bay Lagoon in California Adventure had been walled off for so long I was really excited that I was invited to be among the first to view the show.  I wore my typical black but threw on a bright pink wrap in honor of the theme.  My first stop was along the red carpet for the Celebrity Red Carpet Welcome portion of the night.  I joined several of my fellow bloggers who had also been invited to the event including: Caryn, Aracely and Liz.  The carpet was actually blue in honor of the water theme.  Among the celebrities we saw were two of my favorites: Jamie Lee Curtis and Geena Davis.  Next we headed over to the World of Color viewing area, Paradise Park, which is the side of the lagoon opposite Mickey’s Fun Wheel.  The name “World of Color” is a tribute to Walt Disney’s 1960’s tv series “Wonderful World of Color”.  Fountains in the lagoon (1,200 of them!) serve as the screens onto which the show is projected.  There are also synchronized flame projections, lasers and all kinds of special effects.  The show started and I was pulled into an amazing journey of Disney and Pixar characters accompanied by an original soundtrack performed by more than 100 musicians.  I learned that many of the scenes, although familiar, actually had to be recreated for World of Color.  This show is an amazing creative and technological feat!  Toy Story, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Wall-E are some of the movies included in the show.  Be warned, you may get a little wet.  More likely just slightly misted depending on where you are in the audience and how breezy it is.  I was in the left front and only get a little bit of mist.   When the fire shoots up, you really feel it and it warms you up a bit, too.  Wow, I was blown away and can’t wait to go back!  The show runs just under 25 minutes and will have at least two showings per night through the summer with a possibility of a third show if demand is there.  Show times are: 9:00pm and 10:15pm.  A third show will be announced the same day and will be at 11:30pm.
Now, here is the scoop on maximizing your viewing of World of Color: The World of Color FASTPASS, reserved viewing and preferred viewing.  World of Color FASTPASSES will be available every morning at The Grizzly River Run FASTPASS terminals.  A limited number of FASTPASSES are available each day for each show.  The FASTPASS will allow you access to a reserved area in Paradise Park from which you can view World of Color.  For reserved viewing, you can take advantage of “World of Color” Picnic Meals which are available online or by walk-up purchase.  There are a set number of picnic meals each day, thus I strongly recommend ordering online to guarantee yours.  For $14.99 you get a choice of 4 adult and 3 kids meals, each meal comes with reserved viewing.  Finally, Prix Fixe “World of Color” Dinner Packages are available at Ariel’s Grotto and Wine Country Trattoria restaurants and come with World of Color Preferred Viewing.  At Ariel’s Grotto, prices are $36.99 for adults/$20.99 for kids ages 3-9 and at Wine Country Trattoria, prices are $39.00 for adults/$18.99 for kids ages 3-9.  For full details about World of Color dining options, go to  But, don’t worry if you don’t get a FASTPASS or a reserve viewing, you can still view World of Color from many locations around Paradise Bay.
After the Premiere of World of Color we headed over to the after party at Paradise Pier.  The whole pier was decorated with a dance floor and the gazebos were turned into living rooms.  There was tasty food and drinks to by had as well.  But let me tell you the best parts:  Characters and rides! Characters were available for photo opps without lines.  Chip and Dale who are my absolute favorite characters were hanging out right near our table so I went over and took some pictures with them.  They were right near the dance floor and since no one else was waiting to take a picture, we all danced around together for a bit, so funny.  The other absolutely awesome aspect of the party was that the rides were open…With no lines!  We went on Toy Story and then stayed on because no one was waiting.  You should have heard us hooting and hollering as we went back in.  I must have had the biggest grin on my face.  I think I we were all about 8 years old that night.  We didn’t have our kids with us so we could do whatever we wanted.  It was crazy.  We were all saying, “Hey, go on Screamin’ with me!” which is the roller coaster.  I went on that three times in a row because with toddlers I can never, ever do that!  Tee hee!!  Then we ran over to the new attraction “Silly Symphony Swings” which is a ride with 40 swings that you sit in and it swings you up high and out while you go spinning around on a musical journey.  We were having too much fun and the night came to an end too soon.  I knew I had to get home and get some sleep though to get back the next day for the media briefing so I could find out what’s new and what’s next at Disneyland to share with all of you.

For some great info about more to see and do in the Anaheim area, visit

Photo credit for most of the photos in this post goes to Caryn Bailey of  Thanks, Caryn, awesome shots!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pac-Man’s 30th Birthday Party

If you had tapped my little kid self on the shoulder, let’s say in the summer of 1982, and said, “Elizabeth, in 2010 YOU will be attending the 30th birthday party for THIS video game!”  I would have probably freaked out or more likely, totally ignored you, because I was focused on my “Pac-Man Pattern”.  There was a Pac-Man arcade game at my swim club and I swear I spent a good chunk of my parents money in that machine as well as more time playing it than actually swimming.  I got really good at Pac-Man.  To this day I can’t pass a Pac-Man arcade game without tossing a quarter in.  When the invitation to Pac-Man’s 30th Birthday Party hit my e-mail inbox I was totally stoked.  I spent a few hours on Tuesday at E3 (the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo) and then headed over with my buddy Eunice to Nokia Live for the Pac-Man birthday party.  This perfectly coincided with the beginning of the Celtics/Lakers Game 6 of the NBA Finals and required us to walk past the The Staples Center (where the game was) to get between The LA Convention Center (where E3 was) and Nokia Live.  Cops were everywhere and I made a point of asking them WHEN they thought the game would let out.  They said about 8:30-9pm.  I knew that Eunice and I DID NOT want to be on the streets especially if the Lakers lost.  In fact, one might question the wisdom of being in that area at all that night considering the shenanigans of fans in previous years.  But this was for PAC-MAN!  Oh, the further irony?  I grew up playing Pac-Man in the suburbs of Boston, so I’m a die-hard Celtics fan…Who lives in LA.

We sailed right into the party and I made a bee-line for Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man.  There were a lot of people from Namco Bandai, the Japanese company that makes Pac-Man.  I ran into a guy wearing a nifty looking Pac-Man sweatshirt and asked him about it.  He told me he “approved the design for Australia and New Zealand” and went on to say he works for Namco in Japan.  I asked him if he could send me one.  I kind of just asked him to get his response.  He said, “Impossible! Only in Australia and New Zealand!”  It was like I had made an outrageous request.  I also think the poor chap was a bit of a victim of the language/culture barrier.  Next the heads of the company got up on stage and made some announcements about the company.  I learned that Toru Iwatani invented the game and was inspired by looking at a pizza.  Which is funny because I’ve often looked at a pizza with a slice out of it and thought: Pac-Man!  They told us that over 450 items have been licensed with Pac-Man on it.  That Pac-Man Fever was a hit single in 1982—I remember.  Then Hollywood Producer, Avi Arad took the stage and announced a forthcoming Pac-Man movie.  3-D glasses were passed out and we were all directed to watch 3-D HD tv’s set up around the room.  Basically, it was a 3 minute trailer for a Pac-Man movie yet to be even announced from what I can find and Hollywood is one thing I do know.  They had a bunch of different devices set up all over the room: Ipads, Iphones, every home video game console, every handheld video game, we could demo every version of Pac-man available.  They even have newer versions of arcade size Pac-Man machines coming out like Pac-Man Battle Royale.  I tried playing it and just couldn’t really get the hang of it.  Thank god they had two old school, ORIGINAL Pac-Man games.  That’s where I belonged, with my childhood pattern still embedded in my brain.  A glass of cabernet in one hand, the joystick in the other.  I muttered under my breath, “1983, don’t fail me now…”  Tee, hee!  So, what can I say?  Pac-Man for me is that arcade game.  A piece of my childhood.

So, it was coming up on 8:30 and Eunice and I headed out of the party.  As we hustled past a bar, we could see there were a few minutes left in the 4th quarter of the game.  The Lakers had a big lead.  Here was the issue: We had to make it PAST The Staples Center and to the far side of The LA Convention Center to the parking structure where we had parked.  Ugh.  All the cops had riot helmets with face shields in their hands.  Nice.  There were a ton of cops.  As we hit the first corner to cross towards The Staples Center I asked the first group of cops how much time we had.  “Four minutes” was the response.  Honestly, I wasn’t overly worried, but there sure wasn’t any UPSIDE to being out there when the game let out.  As we made it past The Staples Center and were about to cross to walk past The Convention Center, I asked the next group of cops, “Are you expecting trouble?”  One cop said, “If the Lakers lose.”  I yelled back over my shoulder, “But, they aren’t gonna lose, right?”  He said, “Right.”  We made it about the length of two football fields to the parking garage, hopped in Eunice’s car and caught the freeway out.  All for Pac-Man.  All for a piece of my childhood.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Kinect for XBox 360

XBoxPartyRoof2 E3, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo is kicking off tomorrow here in LA and I’ll be attending.  I’m really looking
forward to it!  Many of you know that I’m a big video game fan.  A few weeks ago I got a sneak peek at and chance to play XBox 360’s “Project Natal” which was the working name for Kinect the new add on for the XBox 360 where you are the controller.  The name Kinect was announced last night at a big XBox 360 Cirque du Soleil performance at USC’s Galen Center in downtown Los Angeles.  The performance, although involving Cirque du Soleil, actually heavily showed just how Kinect works: literally YOUR BODY is the controller—that’s it.  The technology picks up points on your body and then you are 1) steering a car 2) running a race 3) bowling 4) dancing 5) doing yoga and the list goes on.  It was really trippy to see the Cirque interpretation of a sort of rainforest meets 21st century video-game technology performance.  I really can’t explain it any other way.  Everyone in the audience wore these white ponchos with shoulder pads that glowed with different colors at different times in the show.  There were regular families up in a box on the side of the Galen Center playing Kinect while Cirque performers dressed as rainforest creatures reacted to their moves.  Periodically a woman would walk across the ceiling (yes, upside down) of the living room the family was playing in.  There was also a fake elephant that at first I wasn’t sure was fake, a family sitting in a couch suspended from the ceiling of the center and people dancing in boxes up high on the walls.  Only Cirque, only XBox and of course, totally out of the box.  That’s what I say.

At the after-party last night, held in the penthouse at a hipper-than-me loft in downtown LA, I got the chance to play Kinect which now has a few different games and experiences from the sneak peek I had.  I went up to the roofdeck and played some of the games up there with the LA skyscrapers all around me.  It was really awesome to see the XBox 360 logo projected onto the building next door.  Then across the block they were actually projecting Kinect games on the wall of the building (see my video).  Wow and E3 hadn’t even started yet.  What a scene to get my game on!  One really fun one is Kinectimals which lets you literally touch and interact with cute animals right on the screen.  The animals mirror your actions and respond to your touch.  I also tried Joy Ride which I show in the video just to the right—air steering wheel!  There are 5 games currently available in the demo pre-release version of Kinect: Sports, Kinectimals, Star Wars (which blew me away in the Cirque show! Hand to hand combat with Darth Vader!), Dance and Adventure.  Within each of those games, there are various activities.  Kinect will also allow you to access Netflix, Facebook and all kinds of online services with a wave of your hand.  It is definitely a whole new way to play video games, with absolutely no technology touching your body.  You will need to have an XBox 360 in order to play Kinect—it’s an add on.  It will be available for holiday 2010, most likely in November and the price has not yet been announced.

Disclosure: I was invited to the sneak peek party, the Cirque du Soleil Kinect launch event, the Kinect for XBox 360 Loft Party and given a FlipCam that I used to shoot this video--all courtesy of XBox.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Taste of the Nation Los Angeles

shareour Today I attended Taste of the Nation Los Angeles as a guest of The National Pork Board.  Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation® Los Angeles is one of 55 events across America dedicated to ending hunger in America.  I saw a poster at the event today that said: “One in 4 kids in this country doesn’t know where their next meal will come from”.  That is just not right.  What an awesome fundraiser Taste of the Nation is and all for such a great cause!  Most of LA’s top restaurants were on hand along with their chefs allowing ticket holders to sample fare from all the hottest restaurants like Bazaar and Street, all in one location.  There were also a number of wine tasting areas and both a live and a silent auction.  There are still several cities yet to host Taste of the Nation events.  Visit Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation to find an event near you.