Welcome to California… albeit that you are already in California when in this park. Though once discounted as Disneyland’s unwanted sibling of a park, Disney California Adventure Park has evolved in the past 13 years to become a must-visit destination. February 2014 marks the 13th anniversary of the place that celebrates all things Golden State. Though 13 could be considered an unlucky number – and equally so, for much time Disney California Adventure was referred to as unlucky – the park has been a fortune for the Disneyland Resort.
Here are 13 Reasons Why Disney California Adventure Rocks (in no particular order).
1. Soarin’ Over California: The signature ride that opened with the park, and continues to draw in among the most crowds, also stands as among the highest-quality attractions Walt Disney Imagineering has ever developed. When Disney California Adventure opened back in 2011, Soarin’ was the biggest draw, combining revolutionary technology with jaw-dropping gorgeous imagery in IMAX format. The hang-gliding simulation, demonstrated by the erector set-inspired piece of machinery that launches guests off the ground, possesses one of the finest pieces of instrumentation currently playing at a Disney park. Thanks, Jerry Goldsmith. Add the smells – don’t you anticipate the orange scent every time you ride? – some Disney magic at the end, and you have a perfect attraction product. Soarin’ will soon see a high-definition upgrade and likely an updated film. As Patrick Warburton would say, “nice work, pal!”
2. Special events: Do you remember The Grid arriving in the formerly named Hollywood Pictures Backlot section of the park, where TRON-themed performers danced to the techno beat? How about traveling back even further in time to when the X Games had a presence in the park during the summer of 2003? Disney California Adventure is no stranger to short-lived, but much favored events that lasted an entire season – or even longer. The Mad T Party, celebrating all things Alice in Wonderland (the Tim Burton version), continues to draw visitors years after its launch. Sometimes these events extend past their set expiration date. Other times, like mentioned, we see a rocked-out Alice in the parks for much longer a period than afternoon tea.
3. World of Color: What a no-brainer, right? The nighttime musical spectacular, which in many ways tops the value of after-dark wonder Fantasmic over at Disneyland, stunned viewers when it premiered in 2010. Projecting familiar pieces of awesome animation onto water screens proved to be a new concept at a Disney park. Far different from anything found in Las Vegas, which displays H20-infused shows, this Disney California Adventure original incorporates light, music, water and ambiance in an indescribably brilliant manner. Additionally, World of Color’s ability to integrate new sections to promote various Disney films (among them, Tron: Legacy and Frozen) and holiday-themed shows (based on the Fourth of July and the recent Winter Dreams production) represents its adaptability.
4. Great places to grab ice cream: Stop by Clarabelle’s Hand-Scooped Ice Cream for premium sundaes or specially made bars to your liking. Want “The Whole Herd,” a bar which contains a mix of flavorful and colorful toppings? It’s entirely up to you and your taste buds. Seeking richer chocolate ice cream treats? Head over to the new Ghirardelli location for a vast selection of delectable desserts. Paradise Pier Ice Cream expands the soft-serve options. Just leave some room in your stuffed stomach for a cone-themed treat in Cars Land.
5. Cars Land: Speaking of Radiator Springs, the largest and costliest addition to Disney California Adventure in its decade-long history, this land leaves other theme park-themed expansion areas in its tracks. Whether you are a fan of Lightning McQueen or may discard this often-criticized Pixar entity, there is no denying that Cars Land created new paths for Disney California Adventure. The main high-speed attraction (Radiator Springs Racers) epitomizes the mastery of Imagineering, while the milder diversions of Luigi’s Flying Tires and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree offer amusement. The overall landscape transports you into the movie with Cars details and unparalleled theming.
6. Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular: The “rift raft, street rat” peddler of Agrabah stars in a Broadway-style show that will actually soon land on The Great White Way. Aladdin, which premiered in January 2003, has been a staple ever since its start. Its amusement, choreography and musical magic makes it a “cannot miss” attraction when visiting Disney California Adventure. Several years ago, when it was announced to close in favor of a Toy Story-themed show, fans reacted to this news with much resistance. This prompted Disney to cancel those plans. While Aladdin’s days may be numbered if a rumored Frozen production materializes in Hollywood Land, we can still appreciate the show while we can. Truly, Aladdin is (almost) worth the price of park admission.
7. Live street entertainment: Performances on the streets of the parks is no stranger when encapsulated in Disney. In its early years Disney California Adventure saw groups like retro Hollywood-themed Chances to Shine, and today the park continues to host an array of live offerings. Buena Vista Street greets Five and Dime, a jazz group straight out of the 1920s, and the Newsies-inspired Red Car Newsboys. You’ll want to “seize the day” by taking a break on a bench and catching these energetic performers in action.
8. Disney Animation lobby: Let’s be clear here. The entire Disney Animation building features a bevy of wonderful amusements, from the animation class to the Beast’s Library, where you can find out which Disney character you are most like. (I’m almost always Jiminy Cricket, by the way.) But where your story begins is where you will option to spend most of your time. The ongoing loop of Disney animation clips, updated a few years ago to include the likes of Ratatouille and Tangled, showcases a mix of sketches, backgrounds and complete film scenes. You almost become launched into a piece of Disney animation, and the appropriate lighting and musical scenes that fill the lobby area make the screens transfixing.
9. Extinct attractions: Gone, but never forgotten (by those of us who fondly recall these attractions), they hold a special place in our DCA heart. The tormented Superstar Limo attraction, which featured the likes of Whoopi Goldberg, Drew Carey, Regis Philbin and others (in Audio-Animatronic form, of course), was trashed from the moment the park opened. But it had its charm in a bizarre kind of way. Unfortunately, it closed before Disney California Adventure’s second anniversary. Speaking of Whoopi, the park actually showcased the Oscar-winner across two attractions. Whoopi played Calafia, the mythical queen of the state, in the beautifully crafted and very under-appreciated Golden Dreams film. Even Regis served double duty, in a way, as the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Play It! attraction allowed Guests to play the game at the park. And win prizes! I even had a chance to sit in the Hot Seat and earn prizes (in the Disney-MGM Studios version) at age 12. I miss these attractions, but I embrace these memories.
10. Celebrity cameos: Speaking of those celebs, very popular during the beginning of the 21st century, Disney California Adventure has honored tons of Hollywood stars, in both visible and vocal form. As I have mentioned, Warburton and Goldberg are among the more prominent faces seen in park attractions. But did you know Neil Patrick Harris voices the spiel for California Screamin’? Comedian Colin Mochrie of Whose Line Is It Anyway? fame stars alongside Rosie O’Donnell in the La Brea Bakery Tour, where guests learn about how the company makes the tasty bread.
11. Grizzly Peak: A giant bear, oh my! It’s the landmark of the park, and it’s a pretty awesome one at that. Mr. Grizzly, symbolic of the Golden State, rests in the center of Disney California Adventure with a roaring expression.
12. Toy Story Midway Mania!: Basically the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters with an extra dose of creativity, the attraction that premiered in both California and Florida parks within a period of a few months reaches new levels of interactivity. This ride, which blends 3-D technology with virtual reality, scores high on my list of favorites. The advanced Mr. Potato Head figure in the queue, which interacts with guests in line, enhances the experience.
13. The park has defied many odds: I first stepped into the park within weeks after its February 2001 opening. The initial crowds that gathered around Disneyland’s sister park had already vanished. Few individuals saw the park’s promise, as it contained more eateries than attractions – and the park often received more complaints than compliments. But Disney California Adventure has changed many individuals’ opinions over the past five years, as it has transformed from a park considered nonexistent of flavor and fun, into a populated and popular destination. I believe the park evoked an unforgettable experience from that rainy February day I first rode Soarin’ and walked around a deserted Paradise Pier. Sometimes many years and many attractions – as well as an altered vision in the park’s focus and theme – must pass before things become appreciated. That has been Disney California Adventure Park’s story, and what an exciting story it has been to watch it unfold before my very eyes, much like many of you.
What do you enjoy most about Disney California Adventure Park? Share your thoughts!
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.