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WEEKEND ESCAPE: BUENA PARK

A Boy and His Snoopy

A tot's first trip to a theme park is dogged by disappointment, but wild rides and a new water park save the day

September 03, 2000|CRAIG NAKANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BUENA PARK — It was my nephew's first visit to an amusement park, a trip to celebrate his third birthday. So as we stood in line for the log ride at Knott's Berry Farm, my brother prepared little Daniel for the experience ahead: "We go high, it gets dark, we go down, we get wet. Fun."

But Daniel didn't seem so sure. Sitting in the faux-log cart, he looked spooked--body tense, lips clamped and eyes wide with fear. As the ride reached its finale and the cart plunged down a 42-foot simulated waterfall, an ear-piercing shriek rang out behind me.

I looked back and saw Daniel's face--wet but not with tears. He shook off water that had splashed onto his head, then broke out into a goofy grin. "Mas, Daddy, mas," he said. More, daddy, more.

Phew. Saturday afternoon at Knott's and its Camp Snoopy section for kids was a successful start to a Peanuts-themed getaway in July. The rest of the weekend promised more fun for the birthday boy: a stay at the recently renovated Radisson Resort Knott's Berry Farm next door, which in January opened 16 rooms decorated with Peanuts comic-strip characters. A bonus: Snoopy tucks children into bed each night. A visit on Sunday to Soak City U.S.A., Knott's new water park across the street, filled out the itinerary.

The weekend had a different appeal for each of us. Daniel was excited to meet a cartoon celeb. My brother, Brad, and my sister-in-law, Gloria, who had driven from San Diego, were happy the hotel was convenient to both amusement parks. And my partner, Todd, and I were glad we had found a fun way to celebrate Daniel's birthday with him.

Brad booked a Snoopy package for his family that included one night in a Snoopy room, two adult and two child tickets to Knott's Berry Farm (one of which would go unused), two kids' meals in the park and breakfast in the hotel cafe. Todd and I reserved a second (non-Snoopy) room and bought our Knott's tickets separately.

My nephew knows English, Spanish and even some Japanese, but pronunciation remains a challenge. So all day at Knott's Berry Farm, in anticipation of the night ahead, Daniel shouted: "Schnoopy! Schnoopy! Schnoopy!"

Knott's kept him occupied, though. He fed a goat at Pig Pen's Petting Zoo, zipped around on Charlie Brown's Speedway and rolled in rainbow-colored plastic spheres in the Beagle Ballroom.

We had so much fun that it was 7:30 p.m. by the time we returned to the Radisson, cutting it close to Snoopy's 8 p.m. tuck-in. We had planned to order room service, but the hostess at the hotel's Citrus Cafe promised us that Snoopy would stop at the restaurant.

We weren't sure if Daniel would recognize Snoopy. So my brother explained: Snoopy is a big, white, friendly guy with long, droopy ears--nothing to be scared of.

Daniel seemed to understand. A few minutes later he yelled "Schnoopy!" and pointed to the open kitchen. There, preparing the roasted chicken and rib-eye steaks we were about to enjoy, was the cook: a tall guy with a white apron and, sure enough, big ears.

By 8:20 p.m., Daniel was chanting "Schnoopy!" nonstop, and I was getting nervous. I had promised to deliver the cartoon canine, and my reputation as a reliable uncle was on the line. The hostess vowed that Snoopy would arrive.

Fifteen minutes later, after we finished eating, I asked for an update. "Ummm, Snoopy has left the building," the desk clerk said. I complained, but the clerk insisted he couldn't call the pooch back. I relayed the message to my brother, who broke the news to Daniel: "Snoopy went home," Brad said gently. "He had to go to sleep."

Daniel lowered his head on the table, then sank face down on the seat, covering his eyes with his hands. No crying, just silence.

The hostess looked on, horrified. She rushed out, returning with a stuffed Snoopy doll and a promise to bring Snoopy to Daniel's room Sunday morning. She also knocked $20 off our dinner tab, but that did little to erase Daniel's disappointment.

After confirming with the desk clerk that Snoopy would visit Daniel's room at 8 a.m. the next day, I went to my room hoping I'd be out of the doghouse in the morning.

By 7:45 Sunday morning, Daniel was bathed, dressed and ready for his VIP visit. "Schnoopy! Schnoopy!" he shouted, bouncing on the bed and clinging to his Snoopy doll like Linus to his security blanket.

But an hour later, after three calls to the front desk and one plea to the manager, still no Snoopy. Good grief!

Snoopy eventually arrived, but it was too little, too late. After getting stood up Saturday night and left waiting for an hour Sunday morning, Daniel just wanted to leave. He wouldn't talk to Snoopy, he wouldn't hug him, he wouldn't even look at him. Schnoopy got the cold shoulder.

Oh, Daniel finally gave in to our pleas and posed for photos with Snoopy. But it was some sort of poetic justice that, as we checked out, the kid announced he'd rather see Mickey Mouse.

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