California Adventure turns Five

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Five years ago on this day I was camping out in the new Disneyland Parking Structure (and then inside Disneyland) for a chance to be one of the first to enter (I was number seven) the second theme park to be built at the Disneyland Resort – California Adventure*. Management was expecting tens of thousands of people (they had flown in specialists from WDW), but the numbers turned out to be unremarkable. The final count for those who camped out over night was around two thousand and the final count for those who actually entered the park on its first day was around twelve-thousand. It was a sign of things to come.

The park had been running ‘soft-openings’ for nearly a month by the time it officially opened. So the newness had worn off for many. The whole point of camping out was just to say that you had done it. I won’t get into the details of the night and the shabby way the paying guests were treated that morning, but in retrospect, I don’t think it was worth it. (Remind me I wrote that if a fifth gate ever opens here in Orlando.)

For those who are nostalgic for the ‘good-old-days’ of California Adventure may I recommend a new fan-created DVD called "5 – A Look Back at DCA Entertainment." On this DVD you’ll see rare video of five early California Adventure shows and attractions. The 5 segments are:

  • Disney’s Eureka – A California Parade (early version before changes were made to costumes and choreography)
  • Steps In Time (original version never seen by the general public)
  • Superstar Limo (on-ride footage of this infamous attraction)
  • Chance to Shine (the most popular of the atmosphere shows added to the park)
  • Disney’s Luminaria (early version before complaints of smoke caused the show to be edited)

All but ‘Chance to Shine’ are just memories now. The original ‘hip and edgy’ vision for entertainment in the park has been sacrificed for a re-lit Electric Parade and variations on Pixarland (which is not always a bad thing).

Where California Adventure goes from here, the future is uncertain (and in motion now with the recent Pixar purchase). Expect more changes to the various lands. Some minor – like a retheming for the Route 66/San Francisco area, and some major – like a complete overhaul of the main entrance (which I like, but the concept is too high for most guests to observe). Whether the ‘California’ theme goes away completely (it is slowly disappearing as new attractions are added that have nothing to do with the CA theme (Monsters, Inc)) remains to be seen. But the park must repackage itself and resell itself to the world to reach its potential.

A second and third gate at Disneyland can be made to work. This first try hasn’t been successful. The bandaid solutions have not been working. Turning Disneyland into a 5-6 day destination resort is doable, but you can’t forget about the locals in the process. It was insulting to build a ‘California’ themed park and then expect Californians to provide the attendance base. Someone needs to show some fortitude and admit that fact so we all can move on and get the theme park that is deserving of being located next to Walt’s original Magic Kingdom – Disneyland.

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*Note: I refuse to call the park by it’s full name. I feel the park was done on the cheap, quality was sacrificed, bad themeing choices were made, and deliberatly violated many of the golden rules Walt wanted his parks to follow. So until those problems are fixed, no Disney for California Adventure from me.

3 thoughts on “California Adventure turns Five”

  1. There are two theme parks in Orange County. The other being “Knotts Berry Farm” which was not really ever big enough to be a competitor to Disney, but was lots of fun just the same. In order to keep themselves “up to date”, they invested in some rather tacky “Coney Island” type carnival rides in the 70s. This kept them going for years, but it also spoiled the 1890s Americana rustic flavor of the park and gave it a tacky, urban 1930s ish feel.

    I was rather surprised, then, when I first saw the California adventure. Disneyland had stolen a page from the tiny across town theme park to build basically a slightly larger version of the Knotts Berry Farm carney rides. What kept occuring to me was Walt’s quote about how he wanted someplace nice to take his kids. Not the dirty, carneys that were prevalent in those days. Yet here was a slightly less tacky version of those same amusment parks which he was repeled from.

    California adventure to me is just a low cost signpost on the way to Disney oblivian. With any luck, the Pixar deal will turn things around. To my mind, that means getting rid of the cheap-o carney rides and get back to imagineering some new adventures. They can sell the California adventure rides to Knotts, I’m sure they take them.

  2. Once, I too was a hater. I was disappointed and felt cheated. I wanted my money back and maybe an apology from Eisner. I was mad as hell and I wasn’t going to take it anymore.
    Then slowly my family and I started spending more time in DCA in order to get a break from the crowds of DL. In DCA we were able to relax and slow down and add those much needed elements to our vacation.
    Does it need more stuff? Of course. It needs at least 2 more E-ticket rides to up the gate. However, I think that it has made steps in the right direction with the new attractions. Aladdin is remarkable, Tower of Terror, while weaker than the MGM version, is still really cool. Monsters Inc., which seems both technologicaly advanced and still somehow cheap (mostly in the outdoor/queue theming), is leaps and bounds beyond that limo thing.
    I no longer hate. I enjoy and I wait. It is a work in progress that seems to be going in the right direction.

  3. When I first heard about the plans for DCA, I was kind of hoping that Knott’s would make a deal with a studio (Fox?), add a studio/Hollywood-themed area before DCA opened, and thereby offer a much better version of the same park.

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