Following in the footsteps of a standout older sibling can be a daunting experience and pose a heavy burden. The comparisons are inevitable, and the expectations can be overwhelming. Were it located anywhere else, Disney California Adventure would have been hailed as a wonderful theme park when it opened in 2001. But the scrappy property, which not only had to follow in the footsteps of its older, bigger, and beloved sister park, but actually compete in its shadows (Disneyland is the big park on campus that never leaves the campus -- and the BPOC keeps getting better), was woefully underprepared for the task.
Realizing its folly, parent company Disney announced an ambitious five-year, $1.1-billion Disney California Adventure expansion plan in 2007 to bring some parity to the parks.
Filled with a sense of enchantment and optimism, and able to weave magical stories, Disneyland is the standard-bearer for all theme parks. Disney California Adventure, however, seemed more like a collection of attractions (some of which were quite spectacular) rather than a cohesive theme park experience when it launched. And there weren't all that many attractions.
"When we opened, we knew that overall [DCA] didn't quite measure up to where it should or could be," says Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. So, what has Disney done to infuse the park with more storytelling, more charisma, more excitement, and more appeal?
The overarching theme that gives DCA the magic spark it's been missing will be none other than Walt Disney. The iconic founder of the company that bears his name resonates deeply with generations of fans, and the focus on Walt at DCA will allow the Mouse House to celebrate a legacy that is uniquely theirs. Instead of a generic California adventure, the emphasis will be on Disney's California adventure.
Rather than a mishmash of Golden State markers, the entry area has been recast as circa-1920s California, the vintage Los Angeles and Hollywood that Walt Disney encountered when he first headed west to chase his dreams. The new tone is established at the front gate. The entrance itself looks like the main entrance to Disney's Hollywood Studios park at Walt Disney World in Florida. Both entrances take their inspiration from the facade of Los Angeles' art deco-ish, Jazz Age landmark, the Pan Pacific Auditorium.
The classic building is no longer standing.
By appropriating twelve acres from what remained of Disneyland's original parking lot, DCA has added a new land based on the Pixar film, Cars. (Isn't there something at least a bit ironic there?) It's not Disney per se, but Cars Land is exactly the kind of grand-scale, immersive, story-rich environment that DCA needs to achieve Disneyland-level status.
- See my Cars Land photos and overview.
- See my Radiator Springs Racers Ride Review.
Buena Vista Street and Carthay Circle
Like Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A., the idealized Buena Vista Street leads to a stylized landmark, a building designed to evoke the Carthay Circle Theatre. The real Carthay Circle (which is no longer standing) hosted the world premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. DCA's new theater hosts a two-story restaurant, the upper floor of which is an upscale table service eatery. To help establish a sense of place, Red Car streetcars, reminiscent of L.A.'s old Pacific Electric Railway, ply the thoroughfare.
The re-creation of a classic seaside amusement park has been retrofitted with more retro to give it a pleasing Victorian-era ambiance. Gone is the off-the-shelf Maliboomer drop tower ride. Other off-the-shelf rides have been given Disney-esque makeovers. The Wild Mouse Coaster is now known as Goofy's Sky School, and the wave swinger ride is now known as Silly Symphony Swings. The Ferris wheel inspired by Coney Island's Wonder Wheel is now known as Mickey's Fun Wheel and sports a giant "pie-eyed" Mickey Mouse face.
The boardwalk games all have Disney themes, such as Goofy About Fishin'. Interestingly, the Mickey ears have come down from the loop on the California Screamin' roller coaster. The Imagineers determined that the Mickster clashed with the revamped vintage look of the seaside pier area.
The highlight of Paradise Pier, Toy Story Mania! is an interactive ride-through attraction featuring the characters from the Pixar hit, Toy Story. Befitting its seaside amusement park location, the ride offers a series of carnival-style midway games. Guests wear 3-D glasses and use an electronic activator to shoot targets and rack up points in the games.
Disneyland has rousing fireworks and the wild Fantasmic! show. Now DCA has its own nighttime spectacular. Located in a new 9,000-capacity viewing area alongside the Paradise Pier lagoon, the show uses water effects, lasers, and flame projections to highlight classic Disney animation.
- World of Color video
A dark ride featuring the wonderful music and characters from the hit film now graces the edge of Paradise Pier. It uses an Omnimover system and "clammobile" cars that are similar to the ones found at The Seas with Nemo and Friends ride at Epcot.
In addition to all the great things going on at the Disneyland Resort, you can find out about other exciting developments in what's new at California theme parks for 2012.