One of the benefits of raising a family in Los Angeles is the proximity of Disneyland. Talk about convenience! Every parent I know can recall at least one impromptu trip to the theme park. However, the past year has been somewhat marred: as Disney California Adventure has undergone a massive renovation (the second biggest in Disneyland’s history), the closed-off areas, closed attractions and rides, and long panels blocking views of construction have been an eyesore. What’s going on behind those walls? At long last, all that work is about to be revealed. June 15 will mark the opening of the new California Adventure, and after spending a media preview day in Disneyland, it’s easy to see that the new California Adventure will be worth the wait. As Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs said (on video) during our media preview day, the wait of “five years is now down to five weeks” before the big unveiling of the new Disney California Adventure at Disneyland. Goodbye scaffolding and temporary walls, and hello to…Cars Land and Buena Vista Street! These two new attractions will make California Adventure an equal partner with Disneyland Resort next door. Both will be immersive, story-telling experiences that enrapture children and Disney-loving adults alike.
Cars Land at Disney California Adventure
Walking under an archway where a parking lot once stood instantly transports theme park guests into the world of Cars Land. Designed to look like the red rock terrain of Radiator Springs, Arizona (where Pixar’s movie is set), Cars Land at Disneyland’s California Adventure has rides, restaurants and activities set against a backdrop of seemingly soaring cliffs. A bit of visual trickery called forced perspective makes the 12-acre Cars Land park seem even bigger. Once in Cars Land, guests can feel the rest of the world slip away; it’s that immersive.
It’s really the attention to detail and authenticity to the feeling of optimism in the Cars movies that makes Cars Land special. There is not a detail out of place here, and it feels like the fantasized version of the American Southwest. Nostalgia takes hold of adults as we see all the Route 66 details — remembering times before we were born, perhaps, but idealized and romanticized in our culture for decades.
New Disney characters, stars of Pixar’s Cars movies Lightning McQueen and Mater will be strolling (um…driving) around Radiator Springs greeting and interacting with guests. Red the Fire Truck will spray water — he’s bound to be one of the most popular new theme park characters on hot summer days — and DJ, the boom box-like “party car” will create spontaneous, interactive street parties.
Five large Cozy Cone Motels, shaped like traffic cones as seen in the Cars movie, will have food in cones; frozen conecoctions, they call them, and chili cone queso, pop-cones. Sure, the puns are corny, but that’s part of the fun of a Disney theme park vacation, isn’t it? Walking around Cars Land on this media preview day, I found it easy to get swept up in the sense of optimism and story-telling of the scenery. 1950′s music at Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and comfort food at Flo’s V8 Cafe complete the transportive experience.
Buena Vista Street at Disney California Adventure
Disneyland has Main Street leading to the castle and rides, and now, the Disney California Adventure side of the theme park will have Buena Vista Street leading to Paradise Pier. And, just like Cars Land transports visitors to the idealized version of 1950s Americana, Buena Vista Street is designed to immerse guests in the optimistic feeling of being on a boardwalk dotted with the Victorian-style buildings of 1920′s America.
New characters will wander up and down Buena Vista Street, interacting with visitors. There are Red Car Trolleys, run on batteries but designed to look electric. The trolley conductors say “All Aboard!” and talk in that speeded-up old-timey way, again harkening back to the Roaring Twenties. There are lots of trees: these are for shade, to cool down the street, and to add authenticity to the experience of strolling down a Victorian-era boardwalk. This helps make Buena Vista Street a place where theme park guests spend time in, not just walk through to get to the rest of Disney’s California Adventure.
The romanticized version of 1920′s Hollywood is intended to reflect Walt Disney’s sense of positivity when he first came to Southern California to create the theme park. To this end, there is a new statue of Walt Disney (with Mickey Mouse), this one cast of him as a young man.
The Carthay Circle Theatre includes a lounge and Carthay Circle Restaurant, which is the best, and swankiest, restaurant in Disney California Adventure. The Theatre is designed to be reminiscent of the original Carthay Theatre, where the premiere of Snow White was received with great success. Also new at Disney California Adventure this summer is the Mad T Party in Hollywood Land, which ratchets up the hip quotient a notch; this will appeal to older kids and teens. The Mad T Party is inspired by Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Bright neon colors, modern music, and dancing will prevail.
The new Disney California Adventure will open to the public on June 15, 2012. From what I’ve seen, I can tell you, it’s going to be a big deal. Disney California Adventure is finally just as exciting and fun as Disneyland. It hits all the right notes for a theme park. As I heard several times during the media preview, “The happiest place on earth just got happier.” If you’re considering making Southern California part of your summer travel plans, be sure to set a weekend aside to be part of Disney California Adventure’s new story.