For decades, the land south of Disneyland was their parking lot, patrolled by trams bustling guests between their cars and the park's main gate. But in 2001, that parking lot became the Disneyland Resort's "second gate", a brand new, 55-acre theme park known as Disney's California Adventure (or "DCA", as many people call it).
What is interesting, from the vantage point of this Hollywood website, is the "Hollywood Pictures Backlot", Disney's own recreation of downtown Hollywood.
Take a look at the large gate to the right . Do those elephants look familiar? That's because they are virtually identical to the giant white elephants atop the towers at the Hollywood & Highland center in Hollywood (both were inspired by the same spectacular Babylonian set from D.W. Griffith's epic silent movie, "Intolerance").
But the Tinseltown imitation doesn't stop at the elephant gate. The main "street" in this Hollywood Pictures Backlot area is made to resemble Hollywood Blvd, copying the architectural style of well-known Hollywood buildings.
One storefront is a dead ringer for the original Max Factor building; the smoothie stand was copied after a corner of Crossroads of the World; the baroque exterior of the art gallery was copied after Chapmen Market on West 6th Street in L.A.; the restrooms' exterior resembles Frank Lloyd Wright's iconic L.A. creations; there's even a corner street sign reading "Hollywood Blvd & Sunset Blvd" (despite the fact that those two actual streets never cross in the real Hollywood).
The building below (left) is modeled after L.A.'s classic Bullock's Wilshire department store.
Other Hollywood facades at DCA were copied after the real Beverly Wilshire Hotel (in Beverly Hills), the Pantages Theatre (at Hollywood & Vine), the Baine Building (at the NE corner of Hollywood & Whitley), Owl Drug (at the SE corner of Hollywood & Cahuenga), and the old ABC Studios on Vine & Sunset (now the new Schwab’s). *
At the east end of the fake Hollywood Blvd is a wall painted to resemble a blue sky, with a matte painting which presents the illusion that the street continues. (You'll find a similar "blue sky" wall in the back lot of Paramount Studios)
Sharing this wall is the marquee of the Hyperion Theatre. It is almost an exact copy of the historic Los Angeles Theatre on Broadway in downtown L.A. (where quite a few Hollywood films have been shot over the years).
The Hyperion Theatre gives the Disney Resort something it has needed for a while: a full-size, indoor theatre for live stage productions. Disneyland has always done wonderful stage productions, but in the original park, they had to be presented in outdoor/amphitheatre areas such as the Fantasyland Theatre.
DCA's Hyperion Theatre is currently showing a live version of "Aladdin", complete with dancing genies and flying carpets. While it's not in the same league as the very best Disneyland shows (such as "Beauty & the Beast"), it a colorful romp in air conditioned comfort.
If you prefer thrills, chills and big drops, don't miss the Twilight Zone's "Tower of Terror" (based on the classic Rod Serling TV series), here housed in the old Hollywood Tower Hotel. The ride (complete with sinister elevator operator) will take you up in an elevator to the hotel's top floor - and then look out!
An Animation exhibit shows off the art of Walt Disney studios, complete with screens showing synchronized clips from Disney's classic animated films, memorabilia from the studio art department, and a gift shop.
Disney now owns the rights to the Muppets, so it's not surprising that nearby, you can join Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and the other Muppets in their own distinct theatre, as they present a multimedia show that mixes 3-D movie with 'live' animatronics.
Not long ago, there was also a "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" attraction, a recreation of that popular Regis Philbin game show. But it is no more...
One original ride,
in the Hollywood Studios Backlot area, was called "Superstar Limo",
and featured a race from the airport to a studio, with caricatures of stars
such as Whoopi Goldberg popping up along the way. Most people hated it.
So in 2007, after Disney bought out Pixar, the "Superstar Limo"
was replaced by a slow, kid-friendly dark ride based on the movie "Monsters
Inc" (called "Mike & Sulley to the Rescue").
It looks that way.
In 2006, singer Lindsey
Lohan took over both DCA & Disneyland
(after they closed) for what was reported to be a somewhat rowdy private
party. In September of 2005, a paparazzo was arrested after he pushed DCA
employees who were escorting actress Reese
Witherspoon and her daughter, who was
celebrating her birthday at the park. A month earlier, actress Scarlett
Johansson was involved in a traffic accident
trying to avoid paparazzi near Disneyland.
OK, so outside of the Hollywood Backlot area, how is the rest of the new Disney's California Adventure?
In a word, problematic.
As soon as it opened, DCA immediately ran into problems.
First and foremost was the fact that everyone naturally compared it to Disneyland, and the truth is that there is no comparison. Disney's California Adventure is a decent theme park, but doesn't even come close to capturing the magic of the original Disneyland (which sits just across the plaza from DCA).
The second problem may have been its concept - a park offering a faux visit to California (complete with replicas of famous California landmarks) might have been a big hit if it had been built on the East Coast or in the Midwest, but in California (where we have the real thing just a short drive up the freeway), it was sort of like trying to sell snow to Eskimos.
The third, and perhaps most serious problem was that the Disney company originally tried to do the new park on the cheap. They didn't invest in the same kind of cutting-edge rides that made Disney famous - rides like Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion.
Instead, they settled for a few carnival-style thrill rides in their Pacific Pier area, as well as a number of 3-D movies (such as "Golden Dreams" with Whoopi Goldberg, "The Muppets 3-D" and "Life as a Bug"). And as you might expect, the park also originally lacked those familiar Disney characters and the association with the classic Disneyland films.
Not surprisingly, attendance at the new park fell far below expectations. Lines remained long at Disneyland, but over at DCA visitors were few and far between. Soon, on "The Simpsons", Homer was joking about hiding his fugitive mother where no one would find her: "in a place where there's nobody for miles - Disney's California Adventure."
It didn't take long before the Disney company started to wise up. They began making improvements to DCA. First, they introduced Disney characters into the new park (don't be surprised to spot Cinderella or one of the other Disney princesses strolling down "Hollywood Blvd"). Then they made a big move by building the "Tower of Terror", a big-bucks thrill ride which had been popular in Florida's Disney World. They revived the retired-but-beloved Main Street Electrical Parade and moved it into DCA (in hopes of luring Disneyland fans into the new park). Then they added the new dark ride featuring the characters from the hit movie "Monsters Inc."
And even more improvements lie ahead... In October of 2007, Disney announced a major billion-dollar makeover for the park, which will include an entirely new entrance area, a new land based on the hit movie "Cars", new rides based on "The Little Mermaid" and "Toy Story", a spectacular new "Disney's World of Color" water show, and a general upgrade of all areas of DCA. Click here for artists' renderings of some of the new attractions.
But criticism aside, Disney's California Adventure does have a lot going for it, in its own right.
The trick, I think,
is to avoid comparing it to "The Happiest Place on Earth" (which,
admittedly, isn't easy). On later visits, I tried to lower my sights by
imagining that, instead of going to a part of Disneyland, I was entering
a county fair, such as the one at Pomona. And sure enough, while DCA may
not measure up to Disneyland, it is a drop-dead gorgeous "county fair".
And while DCA's rides can't match Disneyland's classics, it does have a few worthwhile attractions.
The one sure-fire hit ride at DCA is Soarin' over California: it's a top-notch simulator in which riders are lifted 40 feet in the air above an IMAX-sized screen, to experience 'hang-gliding' over California's scenic wonders (they even spray the scent of oranges in the air as you pass over orange groves).
Another big ride, albeit less original, is Grizzly River Run, water raft ride down roaring rapids (where have we seen that before?) through redwood country. They even built a bear-shaped mountain peak for this part of the park.
If you have kids, you should enjoy DCA's "Bountiful Valley Farm" area. With a rural theme, it is based around an attraction inspired by the movie "It's a Bug's Life" - it's essentially a 3-D movie with a few animatronics thrown in. To reach the underground theatre, you follow a human-sized ant tunnel down past giant vegetables. Nearby (on the surface), there is a small collection of colorful kiddie rides, called "Flik's Fun Fair", themed to both the farm & the "Bug's Life" motif.
As of this writing, there's also a "High School Musical" show (based on the very popular TV movie of the same name) being staged several times a day near the center of the park - a pep rally of sorts, complete with cute cheerleaders and familiar music from the film.
At the "Pacific Pier" area, they have attempted to recreate an idealized version of those old seaside amusement parks, such as The Pike or Coney Island, only without the seedy characters you might have found loitering around those real ocean parks.
I find it hard to get past the irony that it was Disneyland itself which put those old seaside parks (and their giant coasters) out of business in the first place, by setting a standard back in the 1950's that the old carnivals couldn't hope to match. Yet 50 years later, here's the Disney Company copying them - instead of vice versa...
But still, if you can get past the Disneyland comparison (and return to that county fair fantasy), Pacific Pier is a beautiful place, with fanciful Victorian architecture and towering old-style carnival rides, such as the huge "Sun Wheel" (ferris wheel) and California Screamin' roller coaster that takes riders zero to 55mph in about four seconds for a roaring start). Just as those old parks were located next to the ocean, the Pacific Pier area is built atop a man-made lake/lagoon. Recently they improved on that aquatic element by adding a wave-making machine, so you can now see and hear the "surf" lapping below your feet, as you stroll the boardwalk - enhancing the illusion of a seaside resort.
One area where DCA falls short (even by county fair standards) is when it comes to places to eat. Other than the upscale Golden Vine Winery, the park offers the usual amusement park suspects: an assortment fast food places serving forgettable burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and fries, along with carts pushing drinks and churros. I suppose they assume that if you want better food, you can always step right outside DCA and go to one of the many restaurants in "Downtown Disney", a giant outdoor shopping mall (with free admission) that they built alongside DCA. But even if they want to stick strictly to fast food, Disney might want to study the vast assortment of edibles available at real county fairs and try to match their variety. Food is a big draw, in its own right...
Disney's California Adventure is especially impressive after dark, when the lights come on - as the photos below will amply demonstrate.
Word has it that
a huge water & light show (called "Walt Disney's Wonderful
World of Color") is being readied for the lake/lagoon area of DCA.
And rumor has it that plans are now in the works to eventually completely
re-do Disney's California Adventure... so stay tuned, the years ahead should
Admission Price (as of February 2015): (for one-day passports)
(Admission price includes free concerts, parades & shows. Prices keep going up, so phone ahead to check on the current cost of a admission. Disneyland usually offers discounted admission to California residents during the winter season.)
Hours: Open daily, 365 days a year. Hours vary with season. Phone for exact hours.
During the main
summer tourist season, the park is usually open daily from 8 AM to
Getting there: Disneyland is located in the city of Anaheim, at the northwest corner of Harbor Boulevard and Katella Boulevard. / From the Santa Ana (5) Freeway, take the Harbor Boulevard exit. Follow the freeway signs to Disney Drive and it will take you right into the Disneyland parking garage. / Alternatively, from the Garden Grove (22) Freeway, take the Harbor Boulevard exit, then drive north up Harbor about 3 miles and turn left on Katella, then right on Disney Drive.
more information on the Hollywood buildings that inspired DCA architecture
(Disneyland, Disney's California Adventure and the DCA logo are trademarks of the Walt Disney Company)
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