Disney California Adventure Park
Anaheim, California, USA
“To dazzle your mind and your eyes”
Four things made me fall in love with the city of Anaheim: The Cheesecake Factory, Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. And Disney California Adventure, that’s the place I’m writing about today. This second gate lies opposite the original Disneyland Park and it was opened in 2001. Disney actually built several theme parks at that time. In 1998, Walt Disney World Resort welcomed the stunning Animal Kingdom and a few years later, Tokyo Disney Resort opened the Earth’s most brilliantly themed amusement park.
The resorts in Paris and Anaheim weren’t that lucky, though. They both received simple and unattractive new parks. The French Walt Disney Studios was (and is) the least appealing, but Disney California Adventure lacked the typical Disney touch as well. Disney quickly noticed the poor reviews and they started to redevelop the park. With success, by the way. Nowadays, Disney California Adventure Park is on the same level as the neighbouring Disneyland. And what about us, Europeans? Well… nothing. Walt Disney Studios still sucks and we have to travel thousands of miles to visit a decent Disney park. That’s why I’m here.
Disney California Adventure Park is home to two roller coasters and both are located at the back of the park. Goofy’s Sky School is one of Disney’s most uninspiring coasters ever: this Wild Mouse offers a boring ride and the decoration isn’t on Disney level. The second coaster hasn’t got any world-class theming either, but at least it provides a great ride. I’m talking about Incredicoaster. The ride is surprisingly long, incredibly smooth and its onboard soundtrack certainly adds some bonus points. It’s not a heavily themed coaster experience like Big Thunder Mountain or Expedition Everest, but that doesn’t make this ride any less fun. Thanks to the rapidly moving queue, this coaster is meant to be ridden again and again and again. It’s addictive.
As many people know, I’m a dark ride lover. And I’m lucky: Disney California Adventure offers lots of good dark rides. The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is my favourite one. I admire Disney for their courage to build a classic dark ride in 2011. This attraction tells a story without abusive use of projections, 3D screens or laser guns (can you imagine shooting Sebastian?) and that’s pretty rare for such a recently opened dark ride. Another fun dark ride can be found at the Hollywood area of the park. Monsters Inc Mike & Sully to the Rescue may be rather simple, but it offers some cool special effects and the audio-animatronics are nice.
Interestingly, the park’s two most popular dark rides are both interactive. I’m talking about Toy Story Midway Mania and Web Slingers: a Spider-Man Adventure. Wait times for these rides can easily reach the one-hour mark, but that doesn’t feel right. After all, Toy Story Mania is an enlarged computer game in a mostly empty room, while Web Slingers just feels like a slightly better version of Legoland’s Ninjago dark ride. Don’t get me wrong… Toy Story Mania is fun and Tom Holland definitely deserved his own theme park attraction, but these rides’ smashing success remains somewhat of a mystery to me.
Disney California Adventure was re-dedicated on 14 June 2012. This day marked the opening of Buena Vista Street and the highly anticipated Cars Land. You probably know this, but Cars Land is one of the most amazing themed lands on Earth. The level of theming is comparable to that of Tokyo DisneySea, the world’s most beautiful Disney park. Every time I’m here, I believe that I’m entering the real Radiator Springs. Disney has exceeded all expectations by taking care of the tiniest details. Every element of this land is designed with a good reason: to achieve absolute perfection. If you’re not fully convinced during daytime, please come back in the evening. Cars Land is at its prettiest when colourful neon signs blink and mountains are lit in an orange glow.
Cars Land features three different attractions, but it’s not necessary to ride them all. Just skip Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and only ride Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters if the wait is 20 minutes or less. There’s one particular ride where you will need to queue anyhow and that’s Radiator Springs Racers. This currently is the flagship attraction of California Adventure and everything about it is awesome. First of all, the size of this attraction is impressive: the mountains tower over the park and the entire area is landscaped as a dusty desert. The theming is top class and so is the ride. It’s a wonderful combination of a leasurely joyride, a great dark ride section, unique special effects and a semi-thrilling race against another car. Radiator Springs Racers may be one of the most immersive experiences Disney ever created and it’s a true privilege to ride this attraction. I certainly understand why this ride has made park attendance soar since the year 2012.
Talking about soaring things… Soarin’ Around The World premiered at Shanghai Disneyland on 16 July 2016 and it was introduced at the American theme parks one day later. In my opinion, this new ‘global’ flight is on the same level as the previous version. The sublime soundtrack remained nearly untouched and the scenes are just as beautiful as they were before. It’s kind of sad that Soarin’ Over California wasn’t preserved at this Californian-themed park, but hey… change can be a good thing as well. And this update clearly gave a considerable boost to the ride’s popularity.
Soarin’ is set within Grizzly Peak, an area dedicated to the beauty of Northern California’s national parks. This section of the park is named after an impressive mountain range, which towers over the park. On this mountain, there’s a wild river called Grizzly River Run. This is a pretty unique rafting ride which features intense rapids, two steep drops and a high theming level. It’s especially amazing to notice how this enormous ride has been perfectly integrated within the park. Since the actual ride experience is at least as enjoyable as the decoration, Grizzly River Run must be one of my favourite rapid rivers in the world.
Tower of Terror is a fan favourite at many Disney resorts. This wasn’t any different in Anaheim, but still Imagineers decided to give the attraction an upgrade. The result is called Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission Breakout and this was the first Marvel ride in California. I wasn’t a huge fan of the idea, but I admit that this new take on Tower of Terror is amazing. The creepy Twilight Zone atmosphere was replaced with a humorous undertone and the story line feels refreshing. Besides, the actual ride experience seems to be even less predictable than before. I wouldn’t have thought that I’d say this, but I’m a big fan of Mission Breakout.
I’m not that difficult to please. Just give me a ticket for a Disney theme park, let me ride some world-class attractions and give me some cash for cocktails. Yes, theme parks with a cocktail bar always steal my heart. Tokyo DisneySea has the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge, Europa-Park offers several day-drinking options and California Adventure is home to the Lamplight Lounge. This place used to be known as Cove Bar, but it got a big refurbishment while Paradise Pier was being transformed into Pixar Pier. No need to worry: the cocktails are still delicious, the famous lobster nachos remained on the menu and Lamplight Lounge still offers unparalleled views of the pier.
Disney California Adventure’s largest daytime show (a musical based on Frozen) didn’t return after the park’s 13-month covid closure. Fortunately, Disney has brought back its popular nighttime spectacular World of Color. This show makes use of gigantic fountains, water curtains, colourful lighting, huge flamethrowers and a selection of immortal Disney songs. This performance is created with an American philosophy in mind: bigger is better. As a result, World of Color is the best nighttime show I’ve witnessed so far. Be sure to arrive early if you want a good spot to view the show.
BEAT THE CROWDS
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure have a combined annual attendance of nearly 30 million guests. In other words… large crowds may be expected year-round. In contrast to Walt Disney World, the Californian resort relies heavily on local visitors. The influx of Californian annual pass holders can determine the difference between a quiet and a busy day here at Disneyland Resort. Therefore, it’s important to keep an eye on Californian school holidays while planning a trip to Disneyland. In addition, you often notice the parks getting busier in the evening. Locals love to spend a few hours in the parks after work or school and this is clearly noticeable in crowds patterns. Mornings and afternoons shouldn’t be too busy if you’re avoiding weekends and public holidays, though.
During our most recent visit, we discovered Genie+. This is Disneyland Resort’s modern-day FastPass system. Genie+ enables you to make Lightning Lane reservations through your phone and this saves a lot of time. Both parks are linked to the system and you can even make attraction selections at Disneyland while standing at California Adventure and vice versa. Genie+ requires an additional charge, but I experienced it as a way to ride considerably more attractions. My Genie+ priorities at Disney California Adventure are Soarin’, Toy Story Mania and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission Breakout. Radiator Springs Racers and Web Slingers have a skip-the-line option as well, but these two rides require a separately sold Lightning Lane.
WORTH A VISIT?
I’m really in love with this place. There’s just no other way to describe our visit to Disney California Adventure. It’s crazy to notice how much this park has improved during the last decade. I first came here in 2008 and back then, it felt like a mediocre theme park. It offered a few decent rides, but quality simply wasn’t on the same level as Disneyland. California Adventure literally was the second park. We came here for a few rides on Soarin’ or California Screamin’ and we then immediately crossed the Esplanade to spend the rest of our day at Disneyland.
It’s incredible how things can change. Today, Disney California Adventure is a mature theme park that is on par with its neighbour. We are immersed in coherent theme areas, we’re experiencing some unique rides, entertainment is top notch and there are some delicious food & beverage offerings. Projects like Cars Land and Buena Vista Street have shown that Disneyland Resort wants to be in the lead and they certainly succeeded. That’s why Disney California Adventure Park is one of my favourite theme parks world-wide and I really can’t wait for future plans to unfold.
BUENA VISTA STREET
GRIZZLY PEAK AIRFIELD
PARADISE GARDENS PARK
What’s your favourite area at Disney California Adventure Park? Do you prefer the original Tower of Terror over Mission Breakout? And is World of Color the best nighttime entertainment in the world? Share your opinion in the comments section at the bottom of this page.