Note: This review was written in February, 2001
Disney has reinvented their original Disneyland and turned it into exactly what they
wanted - a convention and real vaction resort. If Disneyland was a place you felt you knew well, be prepared for a
shock. The changes will overwhelm you. We almost got lost when we got off the freeway at our usual exit because
all of the landmarks we knew were gone - even though we were just there about 6 months earlier! And then we
spotted the Matterhorn off in the distance and other things that helped us get oriented and we started to feel
better. But there were many surprises ahead for us.
The new California Adventure theme park has a lot to offer. Die-hard Disney fans will bemoan the addition
of "scream" rides. Walt didn't like them and some people have quoted him as swearing he'd never have them in his park. Well,
California Adventure is definitely NOT Walt's park. That's the first thing you have to get used to - California Adventure
IS NOT ANOTHER DISNEYLAND! Actually, it's closer to becoming another Walt Disney World.
From the monorail that now runs through the Grand Californian Hotel like it does through the Contemporary Resort in Walt Disney World, the new Disneyland Resort is a smaller version of the company's flagship resort in Florida. Hollywood Backlot owes most of its inspiration to the Disney/MGM Studios Theme Park - including several directly transplanted attractions. But the entire rennovation has been done with a single goal: to get more people to stay for longer periods of time and, ultimately, to spend a lot more money when they visit. Turning Disneyland into a multi-day vacation destination has been The Company's plan since the mid-1990's when they persuaded Anaheim to finally rennovate the neighborhood around the park and they remodeled Tomorrowland. Disney went on to make bold moves like buying the Mighty Ducks hockey team, taking a stake in the California Angels, and buying the Queen Mary and the Spruce Goose up in Long Beach - all in an effort to give visitors more reasons to stay longer during their visit to Disneyland.
Just like Walt Disney World, visitors to the Disneyland Resort can easily spend their entire vacation and stay safely "on property" with Disney's overt merchandising permeating the experience. You start the day at breakfast with the Disney characters, spend the balance of the morning and afternoon in the theme parks, and then in the evenings you have your choice of nightclubs, shopping, and movies - along with all of the other amenities of your Disney hotel with you even as you lay your head on the pillow.
Now that's not to say you won't have a good time here. Quite the contrary. We had a blast in California Adventure. There's so much to do that there are still over a a half-dozen attractions that we didn't get to see during our 3-day stay. Granted, we don't move very quickly these days - old age being the hell that it is. But we're sure that your family will also find that you'll have difficulty fitting everything into your vacation schedule.
There are aspects that disappoint us, certainly. The relentless merchandising inside the new theme park and Downtown Disney area is exhausting after a while. California Adventure suffers from its hasty design in that so much of it is copied from other parks - and not just their own. Several attractions are aimed squarely at the youngsters who enjoy Magic Mountain, Six Flags, etc. And the cost of everything in the resort is very high. The hotel rooms start at nearly $200.00 per night. Passports are $43.00/day for adults. And while multi-day passes get you a slight discount, they suspended the sale of Annual Passports for now so frequent visitors face a real increase. A Coke in the park will now set you back well over $2.00. Entrees at the steam-table restaurants in the parks average about $9.00. And the souvenirs will take their toll from your budget, too.
But we still had a great time and recommend the new park to all. The highlight of California Adventure for us was definitely the Disney Animation pavillion in the Hollywood Backlot. We're animation fans and there's no getting our fill of it. We're also always pleased when Disney INC. realizes its heritage is firmly rooted in animation and that teaching people about the history of Disney animation is a worthwhile exercise for many reasons beyond the money they can make in doing it.
Update Fall 2008: Disney's California Adventure has not been a great
success. In the seven years since it opened, attendance has been very disappointing. So there are plans
afoot for a major rennovation that will include replacing many of the original attractions and pavillions.
Disney's new Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter of Pixar fame, has brought his vision to bear with plans
for a much more Disney-like experience. We'll try to update this review as the plans are revealed and
implimented. Stay tuned!