When Disney California Adventure opened nearly 12 years ago as a second gate to Disneyland it was immediately, and almost universally, booed as a misguided concept done on the cheap, and as such it never garnered the numbers that Disney hoped for. They (finally) decided to do something about it.
Today when guests walk through the gates of Disney California Adventure Park they are not blinded by bright tiles and sun glare, but rather they are greeted by Los Angeles as Walt Disney would have seen it on his first visit in the early 1920s. The streets are wide and clean, and the Red Car Trolley can take you from here to anywhere. It isn’t so much a gate that you enter, but a rip in time and space, and that is what DCA had been missing for the past dozen years. It had been missing that trademarked Disney magic.
Buena Vista Street is filled with shops and dining, and it also plays host to some of the park’s new entertainment. One act is already a fan favorite, the Red Car News Boys jump off the trolley and share the headlines of the era through song, dance, and a special appearance by Mickey Mouse. Then they ride off into Hollywood Land to chase the dreams of a cartoon mouse and a man named Walt.
Buena Vista St. also has a Starbucks, so there’s that.
Walk straight through the hub, past the beautiful new Carthay Circle Theatre and the too small Bug’s Land, and you will find the biggest draw of DCA’s makeover, Cars Land, which is based on the popular Pixar films “Cars” and “Cars 2.”
It is vast (12 acres!) and impressive. The town of Radiator Springs is replicated in amazing detail from the two films and provides three much-needed rides to the park:
Luigi’s Flying Tires
Luigi’s Flying Tires puts a new spin on a classic Disneyland ride, Flying Saucers, and combines the best of bumper cars and air hockey within the world of Cars. The guests actually steer the vehicles with their bodies which makes the ride interactive in the most throwback of ways. That said, the steering isn’t exactly easy to get the hang of and may require multiple rides, which in turn will require multiple waits in one of the longest and potentially hottest queues in the park (there are a lot of trees, but they are all saplings and won’t provide much shade this summer).
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree features the musical stylings of everyone’s favorite tow truck, Tow Mater (as performed by Larry the Cable Guy), and a herd of dancing tractors. The classic whip ride is a lot more fun than people might think upon first glance. The motion of the ride and the atmosphere in which it is set provides a great experience for all levels of rider and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree is sure to be a family favorite for years to come.
Radiator Springs Racers
Radiator Springs Racers is exactly what DCA needed. It is the best of Disney Imagineers and Pixar storytelling, and it is an instant classic. The ride places you in one of the car inhabitants of Radiator Springs and starts as a beautiful drive through some of the more awe-inspiring scenes from the movies. Then it becomes a dark ride that drives right down the main street of the town and immerses riders in the neon-lit wonder of Radiator Springs before turning into a full-blown thrill ride that pits one team of racers against another. The details, theme, and fun will have everyone riding Radiator Springs Racers over and over again. And again.
Helpful hint: The Fastpass distribution for Radiator Springs Racers (Fastpass is a free option available to all park guests that will provide a scheduled ride time which will cut their queue wait immensely. Only a limited number of Fastpasses are available per attraction per day.) is not located by the ride. It is situated outside of Cars Land between the aforementioned Carthay Circle Theatre and the entrance to Bug’s Land.
New Dining Options
In addition to the rides there is, of course, plenty of new shops and dining. For a fun spin on food there is a whole slew of cone-themed treats (the vegetarian Chili Cone Queso was a personal favorite) and cone-shaped souvenir beverage cups which every kid (and many adults) will want the minute they see one. Be prepared!
Other new additions to DCA include a Ghirardelli ice cream shop in the Pacific Wharf area and the Mad T Party (nighttime entertainment) which offers a rocking and gothic spin on the characters of Wonderland, complete with dancing and adult beverages (all ages welcome, but state liquor laws apply).
World of Color Update
The very popular nighttime water show World of Color also has some new twists. In addition to footage from Pixar’s newest hit Brave, there is also an opportunity for audience participation (and not just the part where you get really wet). Guests may purchase a special set of Mickey Mouse ears that light up, and when standing in the proximity of the show the ears will be controlled by hidden sensors and the lights will change as part of the performance. That’s right, you are the World of Color, which is nice.
Overall the additions to Disney California Adventure are done very well, and they should provide park guests with new Disney magic and memories for generations to come.
In fact, the new experiences can best be summed up by paraphrasing the words of Cars star Lightning McQueen: Ka-chow, DCA, ka-chow.
There are a number of deals, promotions, and packages that determine individual ticket prices, including, but not limited to, SoCal resident discounts.
Current prices for Disney park guests are 1-Day 1-Park for $81 (ages 3-9) and $87 (10 and up), or the 1-Day Hopper Ticket that allows same day access to both theme parks for $119 (ages 3-9) and $125 (10 and up).
Each additional day, when purchased together, will result in discounted per day prices.
From I-5 south: Exit Disneyland Drive and turn left (South). Proceed across Ball Road. Use the left three lanes to access the Mickey & Friends Parking Structure ($15 parking fee required).
From I-5 north: Exit Katella Ave / Disney Way. Proceed on Disney Way for approximately 0.5 miles to Harbor Boulevard and turn left (South). Disney parking will be on your left ( $15 parking fee required).