Thursday, July 31, 2014

There and Back Again: A Tale of an Excursion to, around, and beyond Disneyland

[Part Two: Rides, Shows, Food, Fun! Disney California Adventure!]

For those thinking I would handle my Disneyland park experiences before getting to DCA: HA!! Fooled you!

Actually, the logic I’m employing is that, as far as I can tell, EVERYONE knows about Disneyland. What with it being first and all (and 59 years old as of July 17th). So, as I only knew stories of Disney California Adventure and had yet to personally take it all in I figured I would write about that side of the Esplanade first.

But first, let me take a selfie… Oops, I meant to say: But first, a brief evolution of that particular plot of land. It all started with…

a parking lot for Disneyland.

From what I understand, and please share nicely with me if I am wrong, DisneyCo had been working on plans to expand the offerings in Anaheim for a while. Yes, the park had (and still does) lots of appeal for locals. But, those traveling tourists spend a nice chunk of money on trips. So…how to gain more tourist presence and overnight stays plus an uptick in merchandise and food sales? Add more to do, of course.

Many a-year ago one idea was to have a west coast version of EPCOTCenter in Anaheim (WestCOT). Ideas from that and EPCOTCenter have been used to repurpose the former Carousel of Progress/America Sings building in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland; now called Innoventions. For some reason I have not gone off to research, the WestCOT idea was scrapped. Maybe they did not want to have sciency-edutainment appearing on both coasts. I don’t kn0w.

JoeZer is not a know-it-all. Far from it. I only play one on TV.

In the mid-1990s Disney California Adventure (DCA v1.0) opened. From all reports and such (if one sifts through the reports and feedback), the park was not as loved as much by park-goers as its big sister, Disneyland, is. The sense of what I would find written about it made DCA sound more like a “once and you’re done” kind of experience instead of engendering a “WOW! I want to come to this place EVERYDAY!” type of response from the public.

Be that as it may, DCA lived on. Achieving its Tencennial and receiving a HUGE face lift and refresh.

That’s where my relationship with this park begins: DCA part deux, coocookachoo.

Going in to this trip, I already knew that I would have the chance to experience attractions that were already present in Central Florida. Namely: Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Soarin’ (Over California), Toy Story Midway Mania, The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (yes, the DCA park map uses a tilde in the name for Mermaid). So…I had those familiar touchstones as anchors while I expanded my experiential horizons (…if you can dream it, you can do it…yes, you can, yes, you can…). With Kevin, Paul, and others at my side, it would be easy to light that spark and see where the figments of my imagination would take me. Twas time for me to play the role of rube noob – yet still be sneaky observant in my own inimitable way – while roaming the park, riding rides, taking in shows, eating edibles, and other such touristy shtuph.

Red Car Trolley:
Does just what it says on the tin. It’s a red painted electric streetcar/trolley. Where as Main Street in MK has the various vehicles (horse-drawn trolleys, fire trucks, double-decker busses, etc), BVS at DCA only has the Red Car to be evocative of the time period portrayed (1920s-1930s). The Red Car is used as a two-fold kind of attraction: guest experience/conveyance, and mobile stage/backdrop/prop for the Red Car News Boys: a Newsies-esque traveling live-show. Rode this one after dark on my first night in the area using it to save a bit of walking and just see the park. (“Ding-ding”)

Disney Animation:
A walk-through attraction building that encompasses a few different areas: Sorcerer’s Workshop, Character Close-Up, Animation Academy, and Turtle Talk with Crush. Two of these I had previous experience with from Florida: Turtle Talk (hosted in Epcot’s Living Seas with Nemo and Friends) and Animation Academy (Disney Hollywood Studio’s Animation Studios tour). Did not, and still do not, know what Character Close-Up is…though it sounds like possibly a meet & greet. My friends Kevin and Paul were off taking care of something or some such, which left me to explore this building under the care of my Cali local friends: David C, and Mike B (psst…they’re both totes cool theme park designer people). We hung out in the near-cathedral-like lobby/foyer/main room of the building where both animated clips and still images were displayed showing off segments of animated Disney and Pixar films. That, alone, entices me to want to hang out in that space. Some reminiscing of films and shorts that I’ve seen; some jogging my memory having been nearly forgotten. Other guests had camped out in the general space as well claiming spots on the floor or on couches lining the perimeter. The one specific area we did explore was the Sorcerer’s Workshop.

The workshop is part hands-on playtime learning about animation and voice-overs, part general playtime. It was nice to wander and play with some of the items there. In one section the theme is Beast’s Library from Beauty and the Beast. It has interactive kiosks where guests can take a personality quiz akin to an enneagram. However, instead of being assigned a bunch of alphabet soup (INFJ, NFPQ, whatever), you are matched to a Disney animated character. Go ahead and take a guess as to who their algorithms chose to match me up to1.

One special highlight I want to point out from the Disney Animation building: there is a side room with a 3D animation zoetrope2. It holds a tiered turntable with figurines in a sequence of motions – like setting up a “stop motion” pattern, if you will – using characters from the Toy Story movies. When the turntable is set in motion a strobe light begins going off. The combination of the rotation speed and the flashing light induces the visual effect of the figurines coming to life and doing things.

Note: Comparing to WDW-DHS' The Magic of Disney Animation - I prefer DCA's version. There's more to see/do. Heck, the main room is enough to hold interest for a good while. The Florida version had been, in its early days, a working branch of Disney Animation. Unfortunately, over the years, all that's left of the "Studio Tour" portion are desks and workspaces with no actual artists.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror:
Central Florida’s ToT was the first to come in to operation. I have ridden the Orlando version of the attraction many a-time over the years experiencing it evolve from just a single drop to the random multi-drop version it is today. As I am checking out the west coast version I was prepared for there to be some differences. Here in DCA they opted for more of an Art Deco/Art Nouveau (?) architectural style for the exterior.

Once inside the doors the interior theme remains pretty much the same to Florida with subtle differences in the preshow video, some props in the holding room, and how the load queue is laid out. Not sure how well the exterior/interior theming jives with me in that regard. It almost felt like two competing design elements where you approach seeing one style then, upon entry, get surprised with another. That “flow” is not as smooth, I think. However, I am not an architectural or interior designer.

Seeing their mirror effect in addition to the hotel hallway that dissolves to just the shattering window frame was interesting. I did miss the Fifth Dimension room that Florida has, though. Again, due to available space for overall attraction footprint the Imagineers had to devise an experience that still carried the ethos of the theme. And, in that, they did quite well.

I will add that during one of my times on this attraction, my friends and I accidently ruined the ride photo-op for the people in the row behind us…

Oops…we’re being kinda accidental dicks…
of an Olympic variety

Note: Comparing to WDW-DHS’ ToT – Both appear to stand equally on their own merits. Real close in preference though, if my life depended on it, I’d have to go with the original in Florida as the winner.

Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree:
No real analog of this for me to compare against with the Florida parks. Cute ride. Great if you have smaller children who are cuckoo for Mater. For adults, part of the fun is catching the portion where Mater is saying “dadgum, dadgum” over and over as Larry the Cable Guy forgot the words for the square dance calls. The Imagineers kept the blooper in the attraction’s soundtrack as an Easter egg of sorts.

On this one, the technology for, or rather specifically, the mechanics below, the attraction had me wondering how complex it really was. The design has the ride vehicles do-si-do-ing their way from one end of three rotating platforms to another and back. Having the individual ride cars pass between each other during the transitions between platforms fascinated me. I would enjoy seeing how the below-stage structures are laid out and orchestrated.

Radiator Springs Racers:
This one I was curious about. The ride technology is an adaptation of the one used for Test Track at WDW-EPCOT but themed for fun instead of science (SCIENCE!). Like with its Florida counterpart, RSR’s mechanics can get testy and need for the attraction to go “101” from time to time. Overall I enjoyed the DCA use of existing tech. It had some twists, turns, and such similar to Test Track’s scenes testing various car safety and operational features. You probably would not notice those elements being that UNLESS you had experienced TT to have that comparison with. The part of the “story” with the hidden test elements is part of the interior dark ride where you’re cruising along in Radiator Springs seeing the sights and characters from Cars. The racing portion happens outside along a speed track where you and another car go zooming along a curved and hilly roadway going through Monument Valley.

Note: Comparing to WDW-EPCOT’s TT (based on use of ride mechanics) – Both appear to stand equally on their own merits and differences in theming. Preference, I think, rests in what you want from an attraction: entertainment or edutainment.

The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure:
This one is pretty much what WDW-MK cloned for the New Fantasyland Expansion that recently completed in Florida. DCA’s version did recently receive a couple of updates: repainted animatronics/figures with better UV reactive paint, fiber hair for Ariel and Prince Eric for the “on land” scenes, some additional animatronic figures (I am not sure if Florida received the same updates as of yet). Aside from that, this and the Florida version are pretty much the same.

Note: Comparing to WDW-MK’s LM – overall the Florida one would win out due to overall theming from exterior to interior queue before boarding the omnimover.

Goofy’s Sky School:
Based on the name alone I was expecting a DCA version of Goofy’s Barnstormer from WDW-MK. I was wrong in my assumption. Sky School is a rollercoaster, but more of a “mad mouse” style instead. To be honest, once I got to watch and then ride it, I would liken it more to WDW-AK’s Primeval Whirl in Dinoland. Just a change to the theming and an alteration to the ride vehicles to add the spin element and it’d be pretty much a match.

Silly Symphony Swings:
Another that pretty much does what it says on the tin. This is akin to one of those spinning swing rides that one sees at traveling carnivals or at more locally focused amusement parks (like Six Flags, for example). I had not been on one of these for nigh on 40 years; not since a family road trip to New Jersey to visit relatives and my mother, grandmother, aunt, and uncle took us kids (my sister, me, and our three cousins) to a park then known as Great Adventure, IIRC. DCA's version made for a nice look back to revisit that time as I swung around in circles listening to classic music.

Kevin Vine'd my tubby butt without me knowing...
(Video courtesy of KQuig)

It's not often that I critique Disney on their ride vehicle design as, for the most part, I've not had a problem being accommodated due to my size. However; I believe this attraction was one "bought off the rack" as the swings were tight for my hips (go ahead and joke that I have child-bearing's ok as I say that about myself openly). I was not in pain during the duration of the ride; but getting in to and out of the swing chair felt like I was trying to slide myself through an opening a bit smaller than I should be trying for.

California Screamin':
This is DCA's big rollercoaster anchoring the Paradise Pier section of the park. It can be comparable to WDW-DHS' Rock'N'Rollercoaster, starring Aerosmith in that both use the LIM launch technology (Linear Induction Motor). Whereas Florida's is all indoors twisting, turning, and looping around DCA's metal looping coaster is all outdoors and disguised to look like an old, boardwalk style, wooden rollercoaster. It escapes me at the moment I am writing this if Screamin' has onboard music playing or not. I do remember that the voice for the countdown to launch at the start is Neil Patrick Harris (a confirmed Disney parks fan). A brief critique I have here is that about halfway through the big loop the track feel takes on a bumping vibration like the cars are passing over track bolts that have not been mounted fully flush which carries along for almost the rest of the ride. However; as an overall experience, I would happily partake of this again.

~~ SHOWS ~~

Disney's Aladdin - A Musical Spectacular:
Normally I tend to skip live stage shows that are retellings of Disney Movies at the Florida Disney parks. For me, they seem "over-the-top" and a little ham-fisted with truncating the story to fit a shorter presentation time. Usually, this is done by some form of "...and then some time passes" kind of method. I know that this is ME and my perception at work here. On the flip side of that it was with an open mind and Kevin & Pals describing DCA's staging of Aladdin as near to Broadway calibre as possible. So, since I'm in the park and this is all new to me, I figured why not give it a shot.

The sets and physical effects were quite well done. The acting and singing reflected well on the source material. Though the story was truncated there were not really any moments where "...and then some time passed" had to be used for the production. Genie was snappy, on the beat, and up to date on pop culture references just like the movie had been at the time when it first hit theaters, with just the proper amount of "over the top" personality. Jafar on stage; however, to me, did not feel like he was "living up" to his animated feature counterpart. And, while they did have Iago (handled by a puppeteer), Abu was missing. I guess the reason why would be that as Aladdin's monkey sidekick never spoke on film, why have him on stage cavorting around. On the opposite side of that, though, the Magic Carpet WAS a physical character on stage - mainly for the cavorting and body-language that it shows off in the film. And I want to say that Jasmine's tiger (whose name escapes me as I'm writing this) was not represented either on stage either.

I did catch myself lip-synching with "Whole New World" and possibly others. I can easily see how guests compare this to a Broadway show. That spirit and intention are there in the performance.

World of Color:
I had heard tales of WoC since it opened for performances early-2010. From the initial reports, it could have been thought of as like WDW-EPCOT’s Illuminations, but celebrating Disney movies instead of international cultures…all without fireworks. Then something unique happened with WoC: they swapped out segments to show off the newest Disney movie either in, or about to hit, theaters.

Now that I have been able to catch a showing of World of Color in person I think a better comparison were if that very same Illuminations had a baby with WDW-MK’s castle projection show and still opted to cut the fireworks portion(s). The show as seen performed in the lagoon for Paradise Pier was quite enjoyable. Classic and current Disney films and songs represented. The lights around the viewing area and the ones on the struts/arms of Mickey’s Fun Wheel were all used to enhance the show. One additional element that I did not see very many of: the “Glow with the Show” ear hats. Those first appeared in Disneyland/DCA for this type of show. They were meant to bring the audience/guests in as a part of the performance. The ears link to/pick up on a locally broadcast signal that controls the color/blink rate of the LED lights in the ears. (Use of the hats has now expanded to WDW and have been noted as blinking/changing color in time with the Wishes fireworks show, the castle projection show, and WDW-DHS’ Fantasmic. I do not know if Illuminations has added a programmed signal for the GwtS ears as of yet.)

As World of Color’s presentation relies on mist screens, water jets, and other aquatic machinery, depending on how the wind is blowing there is the chance for guests viewing to get damp/wet. They do caution that those who choose to sit at the edge of the lagoon have the highest chances of getting wet.

One cute thing I got to see DCA do with this particular show space; since it is in the open and guests can plainly see the tips of the water jets in the lagoon, is they have come up with a daytime show where Goofy comes out and “conducts” the water as it puts on a show similar to the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas. Good on you, DCA. (*golf clap and a smile*)

Note: If there are those who have any questions about seeing World of Color, I would say the answer you are looking for is, “Yes! You want to see this show.”

Five & Dime:
Did not get to catch a full set of this musical sextet, but from the snippet I did catch as we passed by this group sounds like they’d be quite fun to listen to. They perform on Buena Vista Street and get the crowd jumpin’ with hits of the 20s and 30s.

~~ FOOD ~~
(QS – Quick Service / TS – Table Service)

Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café (QS):
Though this café in the Buena Vista Street section is named after the protagonists in “The Three Little Pigs” that is not the story behind this coffee shop/bakery operated by Starbucks within the park. In this instance, these are the nicknames for the members of a three-girl singing group that had been known in the 20s and 30s. I do not know all the story details (‘cause, you know, Disney creates a story for pretty much everything they install in the parks), but from what I glean the girls stayed together and opened the café either as a performance space for themselves and others, or they went in to business together when choosing to stop touring with their band. (*shrug*)

Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta (QS):
Another one where it does pretty much what it says on the tin and located in the Paradise Pier section; a counter-service eatery specializing in flatbread pizzas, pasta dishes, salads and such. Not much remarkable to note about this place aside from how well it is melded in to the boardwalk style theming of coastal amusement parks. Good place to grab a snack/quick meal and rest in covered, oversized gazebos with ceiling fans.

Flo’s V8 Café (QS):
This is set-up like its namesake from the Pixar movie Cars…smack dab in the middle of Carsland. I was not hungry, though my friends were. While they opted for different selections of Americana fare with a Disney twist I went for one of their milkshakes. If their food was half as good as my milkshake, then I missed out. The different meals my friends chose all looked tasty. From what I have come to understand from the glances online I took beforehand, quite a few people have enjoyed the food at Flo’s. I will have to keep this on the list of things/places to revisit when I get back out to DLR/DCA.

Lucky Fortune Cookery (QS):
This is a little Asian stir fry place in the Pacific Wharf section (behind/near the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain). I stopped here as I was finally feeling peckish for “real food” a while after the stop at Flo’s V8 Café. My friends stopped in at Ghirardelli for sweet snackies and ice cream while I went and got me a Teriyaki Tofu stir fry. At LFC the stir fry bowls are served in take-away boxes iconic of Chinese restaurants fresh from the grill. Paired with steamed rice this made for a nice, lighter than one would expect, nosh during the middle of a warm summer’s day in Southern California. For quick Asian fare, if in DCA, I say hunt this place down, order something, and enjoy.

Carthay Circle Restaurant (TS – ADRs accepted):
Back to Buena Vista Street for this, and boy howdy is it a good one. Carthay Circle is one of the highline restaurants inside the parks in California. The ambiance evokes a kind of place where you can imagine show business power-lunches/client-dinners being held during 40s & 50s era Hollywood. Kevin had made reservations for us and our entourage. While we waited for our table we relaxed in the lounge area enjoying pre-dinner drinks, light appetizers, and jovial conversation. Once we were seated at table the culinary adventure officially commenced.

I went “safe” and opted for the Tempura Shrimp and Forbidden Rice. The shrimp were of a larger variety, which I prefer. Teensy-tiny shrimps (almost a redundant oxymoron, right?) are best used in salads and pasta dishes. As an entrée’s “headliner”, give me something that takes more than one bite to handle. The tempura was spot on. This was my first time having Forbidden Rice, which is a variety that is black in color. I am not sure if it was due to the sauce used for the meal or if it was the rice itself, but there was a sweet taste to it (I’m thinking that this was from the light sauce used more than likely).

We also had dessert to take us to that point of being stuffed and threatening to tip it beyond bloat to becoming Mr. Creosote. Thankfully, no buckets nor wafer-thin after dinner mints were needed nor wanted. My choice in dessert was a twist on crème brulee: a chocolate custard based filling, housed in a chocolate pie crust  kind of rectangular bowl, and properly torched sugar top. The size was somewhere between a “fun size” and regular sized candy bar…and boy was it rich. If you are a chocolate lover and crème brulee devotee, I recommend this.

Between placing our orders and waiting on the entrees to arrive my friend David ordered some Pimm’s Punch for himself, Kevin, me, and possibly another. I liked it, though I’m not a fan of gins and whiskeys. When he placed the order I had heard it as “Pimp’s Punch”. No, this was not on my first day in Anaheim during my marathon of staying conscious.

~~ FUN & Afterthoughts ~~

I did have fun and enjoyed my tromping and exploring around inside Disney California Adventure. I know I did not partake of everything there is to do within the park (completely missed out on the attractions in “a bug’s land” [though we did find the 4-leaf clover there], passed on Pacific Wharf [except for snacky-time once], and overlooking Grizzly Peak and Condor Flats [pretty much one attraction each and shops/QS places]. Just means I still have items to look forward to experiencing for the first time when I return as well as revisiting things that I enjoyed on this past trip.

While in the most basic of senses one could say that it was a west coast version of Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida...this is a different park overall. Yes, both focus on the entertainment industry. Where I think they diverge is that DHS is a touch of Hollywood/Greater-LA while DCA has more of California represented and mixed in with the entertainment industry patina. For me, neither park is better than the other in this comparison.

As usual, my general disclaimer of “Your mileage may vary” holds as my perception, wants, needs, and reactions can and will be different from yours. If you, my readers (all three of you – LOL), have ANY doubt about whether or not you would enjoy DCA and its offerings…please, please, PLEASE go and take the dive for yourself. Explore! Wander! Laugh! Let yourself be a kid again!



PS: For the foot noted items in this post…
1- I got Genie from Disney’s Aladdin as my Disney character personality archetype.
2- My thanks to David Cobb of Thinkwell for confirming the type of animation device the Toy Story figurines were used in.


  1. LOVE this entry! Very informative and a great read! I can't wait for more!



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Teddy-bearish Atlanta resident from Florida. Enjoys Doctor Who, steampunk aesthetics, Dragon*Con, Disney theme parks, Universal Orlando theme parks, cheesy pizza and lots of other things...