Home and Away in Los Angeles

Back in 2002, Dan Foster won the chance to spend some time in Los Angeles with members of the Home and Away cast. Here, he tells us his exciting story.

Friday 19th July 2002
We left Nottingham at 4am on a coach to Heathrow Airport. It had been 2 months since my name popped up during the end credits of Home and Away, but it still hadn't hit me that I was a winner of the competition. I'd had no sleep so I knew this was going to be a long day! When we arrived at Heathrow at about 8am we met up with the Channel 5 representative Susan Collins, Head of Publicity for Drama. She has arrived with a freelance journalist, Lorraine, who is going to be interviewing the cast at some point during the week. At midday we left on Virgin flight V007 bound for Los Angeles.

After a 10-hour flight we touchdown in LA. With my inability to sleep on planes I was in rather a daze at this point. I looked at my watch and it said 10pm, yup I'd forgot that I had to take it back 8 hours, so it's still 3pm! After getting held up in arrivals Susan finally meets us outside the terminal, where our transport awaits us. Or maybe not. After about another 30 minutes we find our transport parked around the corner. We had to get to Anaheim just to the south of LA to the main Disneyland complex. 

We were staying in the Disney Grand Californian Hotel, inside the new Disney California Adventure Park attached to Disneyland. To make things better our driver gets lost and ends up taking us to the main entrance of the park. This wasn't filling me with confidence! Eventually we arrived at our hotel, and what a sight it was - certainly worth it's five stars! After some aimless wandering around the Downtown Disney shopping mall, and a ham sandwich the size of California, we decided to have an early night. I'd been awake for about 45 hours.

Saturday 20th July 2002
I woke up and realised where I was, LA! My lifelong dream (with me being a media production student.) We went down to one of the many cafés for breakfast, I was still taken aback at how big American portions are. Today is free time so I hang around the park with one of the other winners.

That night we have a dinner with the Australian winners at their hotel, the Paradise Pier. It's just across the road from ours but not as nice, apparently they were going to stay at ours but Channel 7 didn't RSVP in time. The Home and Away cast are in the same hotel but are resting for the time being. We meet the Channel 7 representatives - H&A publicist Victoria Supple, and the show's producer Julie McGuaran.

Sunday 21st July 2002
Again we have free time today, so we decide to pay a visit to Universal Studios, Hollywood. It is certainly worth the visit!

On the tour of the studios we the sets from many films and television shows, including the Bates Motel from Psycho, where mother still sits in the window. We could have gone on a nighttime tour of Hollywood but we had to be back at 7pm for a very special meal.

We walked down to Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen where we had a room upstairs booked for a meal with the Home and Away cast. After a long wait I saw a glimpse of Kate Ritchie walking around the balcony from the stairs. It was the moment I had been waiting for, for about 2 months. In walked Kate with Bec Cartwright, Danny Raco and Dan Collopy.

Kate and Bec were much shorter than I expected and of course Bec had straight hair, something not yet seen on screen in the UK. Bec came and sat down at our table and we chatted for about 10 minutes, she then went to sit at another table for her meal. Kate went to sit with my mum.

Dan Collopy came over and sat with us for the meal. In the UK we had not yet seen Dan on our screens as Josh, so to us he was just a normal guy who we had a great time getting to know. We were once again overwhelmed with the portions, what we thought was the main course just turned out to be a very big Caesar Salad. When we got to the main course Dan, Bec and myself decided to go for the Pasta Jambalaya - I don't think any of us were quite prepared for how spicy it would be! Just before the dessert (an appropriately named and boozy Bananas Foster) we heard bangs so we went out onto the balcony and watched the fireworks over Disneyland, absolutely breathtaking.

At the end of the meal we had an autograph session and photos with the cast, and then we all had a wander around Downtown Disney. After a long and exciting day we decided to get some sleep, another long day ahead of us.

Monday 22nd July 2002
We set out at 9am for a VIP tour of Hollywood with the cast. We were taken through downtown Los Angeles first and saw many locations from films such as True Lies, Superman, Father of the Bride, Back To The Future and Speed (thankfully the gap in the freeway has now been filled!) We stopped off on Hollywood Boulevard to have a look around, the cast had a little photo shoot outside the Chinese Theatre - incidentally I found that I have the same size hands as Arnold Schwarznegger, but bigger feet! After about half an hour we were back on the bus for the tour of the stars homes in Beverly Hills. One of the highlights for me was seeing the home of 'The Osbournes', with Kate and I laughing as we remembered Sharon Osbourne chucking a ham joint into the neighbour's garden with some rather choice words!

After a very interesting trip we stopped off at Rodeo Drive. I was expecting the cast to go and spend some money in the shops, but no time for that! We had another little photo shoot underneath the Rodeo Drive sign (you may have seen one of the pictures on the official site).

Lunchtime, and whilst we were expecting to go to the Farmer's Market, they surprised us and we instead went to the Hard Rock Café at the Beverly Center - courtesy of the Channel 5 credit card of course! Incidentally it turns out the cocktails some of us were drinking, Hurricanes, were about £10 each...

Next stop was Venice Beach, where they film Baywatch. At this point I was sitting with Bec and Dan at the back of the tour bus where they were having fun with a mirror mode setting I have on my camcorder. We were also playing around with Dan's new DV cam that he bought on the way over. Danny and Dan had some pics taken at Muscle Beach but they didn't quite match up to size. Dan then asked me to take some pics of him standing with the Venice Beach lifeguards; it was then I remembered that he told us he was playing the new lifeguard in H&A. Of course they'd never heard of the show, but never mind!

We got back to the hotel at about 5pm and the cast returned to theirs for a load of interviews. Bec said she would phone me when they finished so we could show her around the parks (she still had not been in them!) but unfortunately they didn't finish the interviews until very late. We discovered the beauty of the parks being open till 11pm, the fact that we can go on a ride, get off, and straight back on again with no queues. We must have ridden the water rapids about 8 times in a row before being able to head straight back into the hotel via the private entrance. After I'd dried out my shoes with the hairdryer it was time for bed.

Tuesday 23rd July 2002
I knew this day would be a special day, due to the fact it was Bec's 19th Birthday, and our last full day of the holiday. Before the park opened to the general public, we joined the cast as they filmed scenes for an Australian holiday programme called 'The Great Outdoors' - with hired extras filling up the empty seats on the rides for the cameras. 

At 1pm it was time for Bec's birthday lunch at the Avalon Cove Restaurant in the California Park. Brilliant food and great company! We gave Bec her card and had our meal. Afterwards a lot of the Disney characters came to wish her Happy Birthday with a little goody bag and cake (again you may have seen some of the photos of Bec with Goofy). We also had some more pictures taken with Dan, while Bec took part in a little Disney band playing the bells.

After lunch the cast filmed a live broadcast back to Australia, I have no idea what the programme was, but Dan and Bec introduced us to the Australian viewers.

Next up was a tour of the 2 parks, VIP style! We were all escorted around both the California Adventure Park and Disneyland itself, and taken on rides straight past all the queues. Without a doubt the most memorable ride for us all was Soarin' Over California. You get the feeling you are actually flying over California, with the wind in your face and the smells of orange groves and pine trees. We were all completely gobsmacked. 

When it came to night we all watched the amazing fireworks show we had seen a glimpse of from the first meal "Believe...There's Magic In The Stars" - a 10 minute firework spectacular perfectly timed to amazing music. After that it was then time to move to the lake and watch "Fantasmic" a 20 minute firework and laser light show, we were overwhelmed!

After being on such a high, then came the saddest part, saying goodbye to the cast. I had grown very fond of them during the week. After a quick goodbye and a hug they were gone.

That night we had an all night party in the bar and afterwards in Susan's room. 

Wednesday 24th July 2002
After about 2 hours sleep we were up again and went for one last trip around the park, it was certainly the hottest day of the whole holiday. At 2:30pm the time we were dreading came. The minibus arrived and after a considerably shorter journey than when we arrived, we were back at Los Angeles airport. After a long plane journey, again with no sleep, we looked out of window and saw we were flying over the centre of London, a spectacular sight in itself! About 10 minutes later we were back on English soil.

Needless to say it was all a bit surreal and a bit of a whirlwind, but certainly unforgettable!