Saturday, August 5, 2023

Disney California Adventure

While I've spent a year covering the more famous park across the Esplanade on this blog, Disney California Adventure should by no means be known simply as the "other park" secondary to Disneyland. With some richly-designed pockets, DCA has developed into a quality theme park that must be a much worthier complement to Disneyland than it was in its original 2001 incarnation. Even so, we only spent one day at DCA out of our five in Anaheim. After all, DCA is home to some great rides, but it's hard to not be distracted by its 1955-built sister! 

I'm happy that I also took a few minutes to check out the Grand Californian Hotel, even if staying at a place as expensive as this was only a dream for our family!
Looking out one of the hotel's windows, I was able to see the Disneyland Hotel's DVC tower under construction.
The lobby of the Grand Californian was stunning, and it was fun walking around the top floors--up and down the staircases between them--while peering down and taking pictures, including of the lobby piano player.
Downtown Disney was home to some of the most elaborate floral displays I had ever seen! I didn't know what they were supposed to represent, but I can tell by just looking at them that someone put hundreds of hours into their design.
While Downtown Disney and the Grand Californian were two successful elements of the "Disneyland Resort" rebrand of the early 2000s, DCA certainly was not a success right off the bat. However, we are lucky that things have changed for the better many times over in the ensuing decades!
Buena Vista Street is a short and quaint tribute to Walt's legacy. It's easy to breeze through this area, but there are lots of nice details if you take the time to look.
This statue is a perfect counterpoint to the Partners statue a few hundred yards north, and it works because Walt Disney=California. (They should hire me as an Imagineer.)
When I arrived at the park at 8:00 AM (my family was still sleeping), I was surprised to find the walkways absolutely devoid of people. The lack of crowds continued as I made my way to Pixar Pier.
As a massive fan of classic amusement parks, I find this area fascinating: it's a 1990s-designed tribute to old parks that had its most anachronistic elements replaced by Pixar-inspired features, which are more subtly out-of-place. Overall, the Pixar overlay is effective and suits the area well.
I still have never ridden the Wonder Wheel at New York's Coney Island, so I have to content myself with having experienced this ride--the "Pixar Pal Around." That evening, I only caught a glimpse of the World of Color fountain show that is performed on the lagoon in front of the ride, but it looked spectacular.
Some of the park's E-Ticket attractions like Toy Story Midway Mania and Soarin' were only mildly interesting to me, as I had experienced them at other Disney parks. The Golden Zephyr, however, was an unexpected delight, and I'm not kidding! 
This ride is about as simple as a ride can be, yet despite being a modern recreation of an old design, it still holds historical significance. First known simply as the "Circle Swing" and invented by Travers Engineering (based out of Beaver Falls in Western Pennsylvania), every park--and I mean every park--had this ride beginning in the early 1900s. However, while there were once hundreds of Circle Swings, they have all been removed, leaving only this modern tribute.
The rockets' glide above the lagoon is relaxing and timeless, and I find it special that this is the last place you can have this experience, a mainstay of turn-of-the-century parks.
Although the Golden Zephyr may not be especially noteworthy to most guests, I could appreciate it on many levels.
A slightly less unique ride is the Silly Symphony Swings, a stock Wave Swinger.
Now we're up on the Ferris wheel! When I think of Southern California, this is the landscape I picture: a theme park, high-rises, and palm trees through the haze. 
The Incredicoaster is one of the longest roller coasters I have ever ridden, and it's a solid family ride that has the perfect first inversion for kids. I'm impressed that it has remained so smooth after 20 years of use, and the on-ride audio sounds great.
Pixar Pier and Cars Land were the two main areas that interested me, but the rest of the park is also worth more than a cursory glance!
The Spider-Man Web Slingers attraction in Avengers Campus was confusing, an inferior version of Toy Story Midway Mania that is redundant with that attraction. It wasn't really a ride for me, but it's hard not to enjoy its neighbor, Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout. Although it is an entirely different ride than the Tower of Terror it replaced, everyone smiles when the music starts to pump and you're surrounded by people who are screaming and having a great time.
I can see how Grizzly Peak was the best-received area of the original version of DCA, and although I didn't ride Grizzly River Run, it was the most beautiful and best-themed rapids ride I've ever seen. The adjacent Grizzly Peak Airfield and Redwood Creek Challenge Trail were both gorgeous as well, even if they didn't interest me much in regard to attractions.
By far my most anticipated part of DCA was Cars Land. I grew up with the original Cars movie, so it was surreal to walk around Radiator Springs for myself. Approaching the area from Pacific Wharf, a rockwork arch forms the perfect frame for perhaps the most incredible fake mountain range ever created.
Radiator Springs Racers was one of the all-around best rides I have ridden, and the rest of the land was delightful as well. I love American roadside culture. I love neon. I loved Cars. I love theme parks. It's a match made in heaven. ;-)
Cars Land might be the best place to be in the park at dusk, when all the neon flickers on to the tune of "Sh-Boom." And there's nary a burnt-out or broken tube to be seen, quite the refreshing change from so many neon signs across the country.
With Buena Vista Street in front and Cars Land in back, DCA brings together two of my favorite architectural styles: Art-Deco and Mid-Century Modern.
When it comes to modern recreations of classic Art-Deco, you can't get much better than this fountain surrounded by trees filled with twinkle lights.
I mostly avoided the problematic Hollywood Land, but like Cars Land, that area's neon shines bright after dark.
Paradise Pier is also stunning at night, including the hundreds of lights on the Golden Zephyr. With lights attached to the cables of the ride vehicles, it's even lit in the same style as the classic ride it replicates.
While each area of DCA has its own unique lighting, it's hard to beat the neon of Cars Land. It's a Route 66 fantasy come to life.
Not to mention the dramatic spotlights shining on the Cadillac-inspired mountain range!
I was amazed by how spot-on the land's designers were in replicating the signs of the movie, right down to the animation. Purchasing this much neon had to cost at least a million dollars alone.
I didn't ride Luigi's Rollicking Roadsters, but this trackless ride looks amazing after dark, with the strings of popcorn lights hanging above.
Radiator Springs Racers has all the aspects of a great Disney attraction, aside from perhaps emotional appeal. But the competitive feature of racing another ride vehicle during the speedy finale is hard to beat among Disney's thrill rides.
The detail put into the area's rockwork is impressive considering how little time you have to study it while flying by on Radiator Springs Racers.
This is the last picture of Luigi's, I promise! I guess I was just enraptured with this facade.
Flo's V-8 Cafe might take the cake as the most stunningly lit building in the land. I love the neon "spark plugs" reflecting on the overhang.
Thanks to Disney, we have a perfect real-life neon wonderland of the American roadside that everyone can (and should) visit today.
I love this shot of the Carthway Circle, a beautifully lit example of Art-Deco that again, thanks to Disney, lives on today.
A stroll through a quiet and moody Buena Vista Street is a great way to end your day at DCA... except it's more like you're wading through a crowd of screaming guests wielding strollers. Ah, Disney...
We may have swept through an entire park in one post, but DCA surprised me with its delightful examples of design work and especially its wonderful lighting. Like the rest of the Anaheim resort, I'd love to return someday. And although it's now been over a year since we visited Disneyland, there is still one more post to come!