Disneyland has been with us now for a little over 60 years. In 2001 Disneyland got a little sibling, Disney California Adventure. It was a park that was met with a variety of opinions. Many of the opinions weren’t favorable. Growing up in the Midwest we never went to Disneyland, instead my family was a Walt Disney World family. My first trip to Disneyland, and California for that matter, was July of 2007 with my husband. Quite honestly I wasn’t expecting to really like Disneyland, let alone California Adventure. Boy, was I wrong, and during that first visit I was blown away with Disneyland and I developed a lasting crush on DCA.
I went to California Adventure before the re-imagining of the park, and I might be in the minority, but I found this park to be fascinating. When the re-imagining of the park was announced in October of 2007 I was intrigued to see where it would go. In 2007 I found quite a few things about California Adventure charming and in this Midwesterner’s mind it was representative of a state I had only seen in the movies or on television. I liked the murals in the entrance way, the Golden Gate theme on the monorail, the California Zephyr train that was also an ice cream shop, the mountain shaped like a grizzly head, and don’t forget about the California letters in front of the park entrance; those were really fun to pose with. My husband and I giggled that the Hollywood Land area was a mini Hollywood Studios from Walt Disney World. What made the park unique for me was the Paradise Pier and Condor Flats/Grizzly Peak areas. This area to me symbolized the state of California and made me wanted to explore the state further to see the real California. A lot of that is gone now but still is a fond memory to me.
Moving ahead to the present day I have not only explored the state of California but have also visited DCA through its reconstruction and seen it emerge into the greatness it is today. Yes, that is right I said greatness. So let’s take a look top 5 reasons why I have a crush on California Adventure.
- The music of California Adventure. Like any Disney park, the music is carefully chosen and blended with the scenery to set up the story. Upon entering the park, Buena Vista Street is our gateway to the rest of the park and in the background is the jazz and music of the Roarin’ 20s, in Cars Land there are background tunes of Route 66, and in Paradise Pier the music is reminiscent of seaside adventures. The music that makes me love DCA is the live music. Take time out the the touring schedule to enjoy the Red Trolley News Boys show with their lighthearted version of Walt and Mickey’s story with their song “Suitcase and a Dream” with the great backdrop of the Carthay Circle Theater and their Red Trolley. Five & Dime is a treat to the ears as well, with their spin on Big Band music, and their performance even features a performance with Goofy. The Paradise Pier has also served up live music with the Ellis Island Boys and I have even seen the Mariachi Divas perform in that area as well. Listening to the live music is a nice break and a time to slow the touring pace down.
- Buena Vista Street: I’m sure some of us will remember the original entrance with the Golden Gate, Zephyr train, and huge Sun, and while some of that may have been interesting and eclectic, Buena Vista Street is the perfect complement to Main Street USA in Disneyland. It evokes an old Hollywood that never was and always will be while providing so many small details to explore. This new entrance is more cohesive to the California theme of the park. One particular detail I love is about halfway down the street to the left, there is an area that some mailboxes for some of the “residents” in the building and sometimes there are notes sticking out of the boxes. Those provide a fun read, but please put the notes back for other guests to find. It is also fun to look at the window displays and the continuing theme in the stores like Elias and Company. Adding kinetic energy to this area are the Red Trolley Cars which provide guests an opportunity to ride down to the Hollywood Tower Hotel so they can drop into the Tower of Terror (make sure you get FASTPASS). If you are lucky you might even get to meet some of the residents of Buena Vista Street as they wander around town. Near the Circle guests will also find a great photo opportunity with the Storytellers statue. Unlike the Partners statue in Disneyland, guests can stand right next to Walt and Mickey for pictures. Also, Mickey and friends have meet and greets around the Carthay Circle area and they are dressed in 1920s-style clothing.
- Cars Land: This one might be a no brainer. Millions of dollars were spent on this land and some argue that it is the land that brought DCA back to life. Well, it is money well spent. It truly does feel like you are stepping into the movie when you enter Cars Land, but it also feels like California culture as well with the roadside diner, and the large canyon area. Overall it is just fun! Radiator Springs Racers is a perfect Disney attraction, half dark ride and half a thrilling road race. You will definitely want to FastPass this or if you don’t mind being separated from your party, use the single rider line. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree offers a fun thrill to spin in the cute little tractors. Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, a new/re-themed attraction, has been getting some positive reviews, so I’m looking forward to experiencing that. I love sitting at the back seating area of Flo’s eating scrumptious food at breakfast or dinner overlooking Radiator Springs Racers and not only watching the ride but taking in the scenery of the area. Flo’s has a great breakfast menu with a brioche French Toast with salted caramel sauce and a slightly spicy chicken breakfast tamale. For lunch or dinner, Flo’s serves up Coca-Cola BBQ sauce pork ribs….amazing! And the Cozy Cone has food in a cone and a hidden Buzz! What’s not to love!?
- Grizzly Peak: I definitely don’t like this area for Grizzly River Rapids. While I would love to enjoy this ride I just don’t enjoy getting soaked and I always do on this attraction. So why even mention this? Because it is one gorgeous area of the park, I dare say the most gorgeous part of the park. This is the area of the park in 2007 that made me want to explore the real state of California more, although some of that credit also lies with the original Soarin’ film too. One of my favorite things to do in this area is sit on a bench near the Grand Californian Resort overlooking Grizzly River Rapids where I can see a little peak of the Grizzly Peak. With all the water and trees it is really a calming area, and maybe it is all the trees but the air just seems cleaner here. Recently, on the California Adventure Story tour, I also found a “secret” path that leads past a waterfall from the river rapids. It is just lovely, grab a coffee or a Coke and wander through. Of course when you get done wandering around Soarin’ is right there!
- Carthay Circle Theater Restaurant: This restaurant is so elegant yet casual and represents such a turning point in Disney history that it feels like stepping back in time and modern all at once. As soon as I stepped inside the lobby I knew I would be in for a wonderful experience. The decor and design of the restaurant is so carefully detailed, to the Hollywood pictures on the wall, Snow White themed forest ceiling, and the rich looking tables, it’s so representative of the old Hollywood I think about. I have heard that the Evil Queen makes an appearance in some of the wood grain on the tables, but I haven’t seen it yet. I guess I’ll have to force myself to eat here until I see her! When it comes time to order, the food does not disappoint. The menu varies seasonally but does keep some of the favorites on there (like the Carthay burger and duck wings), but since it varies the menu doesn’t get boring. The food items always have an interesting twist and offer something that might be slightly out of a comfort zone (like goose or duck) while still “safe” to picky eaters yet intriguing to the adventurous eaters. I really think the star of the restaurant is the Carthay Signature Fried Biscuits, with jalapenos, cheese, and bacon inside. I probably could write an ode to these delicious lightly fried gooey balls of heaven. They are excellent plain, but the apricot butter they are paired with add just a touch of sweetness to the savory and slightly spicy yumminess. The restaurant also offers a World of Color dining package and has its own viewing area for the show.
- World of Color: I have seen a few versions of World of Color: two versions of the original, the Winter Dreams/Christmas, and Celebrate. I have loved them all, although I must admit that the winter one was my least favorite. Disney has used the whole Paradise Pier area to help exhibit this show, it uses Mickey’s Fun Wheel, California Screamin’, as well as Paradise Bay to make up their show. Sometimes in the viewing area there are even a few surprises with the show. The Paradise Pier area is an area that is even better at night, it develops a magical quality and the World of Color adds a vibrancy to this part of the park that was missing on my first visit. The version of the original I saw had a nice blend of popular Disney tunes and scenes but it was also easy to stick in new movies too like Brave and Frozen. The ability to change a show quickly without a long refurbishment is a plus for me. The current version of Celebrate is a wonderful tribute to the sister park of Disneyland. This version is loved and hated, I personally love it. I love the tribute to Walt, Mickey, the collection of Disney animation, and to Disneyland. Is Neil Patrick Harris a little campy in it? Maybe. Am I a big fan of his? Fan, no, but I think he is talented. I don’t mind his narration because I know he is a Disney fan, and as a fan I like that there is another Disney fan leading the tribute. I also like the viewing options; there are dining packages at Wine Country Trattoria, Carthay Circle and Ariel’s Grotto, regular FASTPASS, and a new dessert party, but I have also walked up to areas (in summer season) around Paradise Pier and had a decent view. There is even a Fun Wheel Challenge game you can play with your smartphone that interacts with the colors on Mickey’s Fun Wheel.
There are so many other reasons why I love Disney’s California Adventure; honorable mentions could go to the Animation Building, Corn Dog Palace, Fiesta Navidad at Christmas, their New Year’s Eve celebration, Paradise Pier with its games and Mickey’s Fun wheel, and Bug’s Land. I am not blindly devoted to this park; it still has a lot of growing up to do. While I miss some things like the Zephyr (I mean ice cream in a train!?), I don’t miss others like the Maliboomer. I appreciate that Disney was willing to say “Hey, we made some mistakes with DCA,” (*not a real quote) and that they were and are improving the park. I am looking forward to the future of this park, it will always be Disneyland’s little sibling, but it is clearly a park with its own identity and it is making its own mark in Disney history. My crush continues on…