NEED FOR CHANGE
Though California Adventure was a massively anticipated addition to the Disneyland Resort, its initial design and premise did not resonate with guests. The absence of Disney charm and characters combined with the lack of rides for children left guests unimpressed and disinterested in leaving the Disneyland section of the resort.
After a few years, Disney executives decided to “re-imagine” California Adventure in the hope of attracting more visitors and matching the demand for Disneyland’s rides and attractions. In 2007, Disney announced a six-year, $1.1 billion project to expand and renovate California Adventure. The project would be done in stages, in order to keep the park open and accessible to guests, and would end with an official reopening of the park.
FIRST STAGE – DISSOLUTION OF GOLDEN STATE
California Adventure’s renovation and expansion began with the dissolution of its biggest land, Golden State. This area was the heart of the park’s original theme; showcasing different scenery and landmarks from California’s most famous regions. But during the renovation, this area broke into several smaller lands: Condor Flats, Grizzly Peak, and Pacific Wharf. Imagineers adjusted the themes of each new land as well, romanticizing whatever region they depicted to match the surrealism and nostalgia of Disneyland’s lands. Condor Flats represented the golden age of flight, Grizzly Peak was a surreal redwood fantasy land, and Pacific Wharf represented the height of Cannery Row’s success and popularity in northern California.
SECOND STAGE – ADDING DISNEY MAGIC
But these small additions of charm and history needed to stay consistent throughout the park. California Adventure needed to convert one of its much larger lands as well, and Imagineers saw their opportunity with Paradise Pier. Formerly a generic California boardwalk, Paradise Pier became a 1920’s Victorian-style boardwalk.
Here is Paradise Pier before the transformation:
The rear of California Adventure immediately transformed into an area with similar nostalgia to that of Main Street USA in Disneyland. In addition, many of the rides in Paradise Pier saw changes as well. These changes weren’t about nostalgia; instead, the rides lost their old themes in favor of newly incorporated Disney character themes:
Goofy’s Sky School – While the infrastructure and premise of this ride stayed the same, riders went from navigating the chaos of Mulholland Drive to pilots taking lessons from Goofy. With the installation of his own ride, Goofy became a frequent visitor to Paradise Pier, and now conducts his own water show throughout the day.
Mickey’s Fun Wheel – The ferris wheel overlooking Paradise Pier changed from the Sunshine Wheel to Mickey’s Fun Wheel. This was an easy way to incorporate Disney characters in California Adventure, but it was also an important one. Now, guests anywhere in the rear of the park could see Mickey in the skyline.
Silly Symphony Swings – Perhaps the most drastic change in Paradise Pier was the re-imagining of the swings. Originally, this ride sat inside a giant orange, called the Orange Stinger and riders flew as if they were hungry bees. But when the boardwalk took on its Victorian style, the orange disappeared in favor of conductor Mickey leading a symphony of swings.
THIRD STAGE – NEW LANDS AND RIDES/ATTRACTIONS
- The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
- Luigi’s Flying Tires
- Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Toy Story Midway Mania!
- World of Color
THE GRAND REOPENING
On June 15, 2012, California Adventure held its official reopening. Although the park had stayed open throughout the expansion and renovation project, crowds actually camped outside the gate the night before in anticipation of the park’s new start. Dozens of characters, performers, and musicians put on a grand show for guests, and CEO Bob Iger officiated the dedication ceremony. The dedication also included the burial of a time capsule, to be opened in 2037.
Today, California Adventure attracts millions of visitors each year. Guests split their time nearly evenly between the two parks, which allows the resort to maintain crowd levels and has dramatically upped sales of “park hopper” tickets. With two fun and magical parks to explore, Disneyland Resort guests never run out of things to see and do during their time in the happiest place on earth.