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An Insider's look at the Disney's California Adventure changes

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Published: October 21, 2008 at 6:21 PM

This week I am debuting a new weekly feature on Theme Park Insider: Tuesday Park Visit. Each Tuesday between now and next spring, I'll bring you an in-depth look at a popular theme park attraction, restaurant or personality, to help those folks who live outside SoCal and Central Florida to get their off-season theme park fix.

Since I live in Southern California, that will be my focus, though I am planning to fly to Orlando a couple times between now and next spring to look in at the Central Florida theme parks, too. This week, I'm starting with a look at Walt Disney Imagineering's "Blue Sky Cellar" at Disney's California Adventure.

This is the new "preview center" for WDI's rehab of Disneyland's second gate, detailing the plans that have been known to Internet readers for more than a year. I'll forgive the curious name for the center ("sky" and "cellar" - huh?), which appropriately reflects the conundrums that have plagued this park since before it opened. (A themed look, or a contemporary one? Family friendly, or adult oriented? Disney quality, or off-the-shelf carny rides?)

The Blue Sky Cellar stands in the old Seasons of the Vine building behind Grizzly Peak, just up the path from DCA's entrance.

Walk inside, and you'll find a cozy display of concept art, scale models and a looped film detailing the planned changes and additions to California Adventure.

Cast members mingle, offering to answer your questions, giving this location what I'm guessing is the largest current cast member-to-guest ratio for any attraction at any Disney theme park. ;-) Hey, that's a good thing. Kudos to Disney for staffing this place right.

Here's the concept board for the retheming of Paradise Pier, already underway with this summer's debut of Toy Story Midway Mania. The sketches here show the revamp of the Orange Stinger wave swinger as "Silly Symphony Swings," complete with Conductor Mickey on top.

Here's the scale model for the new look Paradise Pier, complete with Mickey replacing the Sun Wheel:

Compare that to the same view, in real life, that I snapped this morning:

One problem with DCA that Disney's Imagineers won't be able to fix is the park's orientation. Entering the park from the north, opposite of Disneyland - where you enter from the south, leaves you shooting into the sunlight when taking pictures of many DCA sights.

In addition to the Paradise Pier changes, Disney will retheme Mulholland Madness as Goofy's Flight School, evoking the Goofy Barnstormer coaster at Florida's Magic Kingdom, though the DCA ride will retain its current Wild Mouse track. Disney's also tearing down the Maliboomer space shot and replacing the Golden Dreams theater with a Little Mermaid dark ride. (Previously discussed here and here.)

But my son was drawn immediately to the concept art for Cars Land, debuting (in his opinion) in way-too-far-off 2012.

The image that interested me though, was this one of the planned new DCA entrance:

Hmmm... does that, um, look familiar?

Disney reps said that the new design for the front entrance of California Adventure isn't final (indeed, no concept art ever is... until the final blueprints are drawn up). But the use of the Disney's Hollywood Studios main gate design further demonstrates that the concepts of these two parks are converging: 1920s Hollywood meets today's Pixar animation with a few themed thrills mixed in.

Take a look at the "new" DCA map, as shown on the Screening Room wall at the Blue Sky Cellar:

... and compare it with today's DCA guidemap:

Will these changes and additions work? I hope so. Cars Land looks like a blast. You won't find a bigger fan of historic L.A. than me, either. (Heck, I'd love for Disney to find a way to fit a Philippe's in here somewhere.) As Los Angeles is tearing down its past, I find a smidgen of comfort in being able to see a bit of the "old" L.A. down the road in Anaheim.

Readers' Opinions

From Corey Romberg on October 21, 2008 at 6:47 PM
From looking at the model, to me at least, even though the changes to Paradise Pier arent major, it does look better and more "Disney-like"

Cars Land looks like it will be very well themed and will really put you into Radiator Springs...the only other actual land Disney has built themed to just one film is a Bugs Land and that isnt that well done, so it will be interesting to see what WDI does with Cars Land...it should compete if not surpass Harry Potter from a themed enviornment standpoint alone

From Robert Niles on October 21, 2008 at 7:48 PM
That new map shows how substantial Cars Land will be, and, I think, how it will be the make-or-break attraction for DCA going forward. I can see now how it will take three-plus years to build.

Not to hijack the thread, but I am taking requests for the Tuesday features, so lemme know what else in SoCal (or Orlando) you'd like to see profiled. The farther from these areas you live, the higher priority your request gets. ;-)

From Max LaZebnik on October 21, 2008 at 7:53 PM
wow, i had no clue it opened already- i cant wait until they redo the whole park- finally!!!!
From Amanda Jenkins on October 21, 2008 at 9:14 PM
Kudos Robert for making this a weekly item. I will look forward to seeing what places of interest you bring during the "off" season for us park fanatics. .
From Anthony Murphy on October 21, 2008 at 9:37 PM
Looks Great!

It looks exciting!

From Sylvain Comeau on October 22, 2008 at 3:35 AM
The Little Mermaid ride will be crucial, as well. If they do it right, it will be the only great dark ride in all of DCA (Monsters Inc. is a pretty good dark ride, not a great one).
From James Rao on October 22, 2008 at 3:59 AM
Robert, some things I would like to see as you travel are picture updates of the various construction efforts underway at all the major SoCal/Orlando parks. Pictures of Harry Potter at IOA, Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit at USF, the Space Mountain refurb at MK (beginning in January), Manta at SWO, Transformers at USH, and of course, the continued efforts to bring DCA up to snuff as a park bearing the Disney moniker.

As for the Blue Sky Cellar, I think it is an excellent exhibition for Disney fans (especially those who are just casual fans not loonies like us) to keep current on all the construction going on at DLR. It has to be a bit frustrating for the local DLR travler to have to wade through all the work being done, so at least now they can have a complete picture of the concept being put forth. It should minimize the pain a bit for weary park goers who have to live through all the work.

Definitely keep an eye on the Blue Sky Cellar - it should be updated from time to time as construction progresses at DCA.

If they have a suggestion box in the Cellar, you might print out some of our DCA discussion threads and drop them off for park managers...... ;)

From Derek Potter on October 22, 2008 at 7:21 AM
I like the throwback theme. I've been calling for someone to really do it for a couple of years now because A) I think it can lend beautifully towards themes, and B) I like history. There are a couple of instances of early 1900's theming on a smaller scale at Silver Dollar City and Kennywood, and there are parks that have maintained many of their buildings from that era (Rye Playland, Lakeside Park at Denver), but nobody has really gone all out. The one thing I hope is that it doesn't turn out cheesy and cartoonish.
From Marc Ricketts on October 22, 2008 at 8:20 AM
Anyone ever notice that the current map has the shape of Grizzly Peak? Hard to tell with the one here, but find one that isn't cut off on the right side.
From Dan Rosenberg on October 22, 2008 at 12:04 PM
Yeah I saw that too Marc. Maybe its because they don't want Grizzly Peak to be the emblem of the park, as it is now, but just a mountain there to add more environment.
From Tim W on October 22, 2008 at 12:05 PM
Cool sounds like a better theme park now, but one question does anyone think the ferris wheel was moved in the new concept photo. It looks over about like 10 ft from where it is presently to me.
From Dan Rosenberg on October 22, 2008 at 12:11 PM
I think it just seems that way because of the painting. Its not to scale.
From Bryan Fear on October 22, 2008 at 2:33 PM
I'm not fond of the 1920's movie cinema style entry gates. They seem out of place for a park themed to California. ( Yes, yes, I know California has a rich movie industry but 1920's art deco for a California park?... ) The rest of it looks great. This is looking like a park I'd actually like to go to. I can't tell, is the Bug's Life 3D theatre gone? God, I hope not.

One of my favorite things in any park is a history section. Disneyland's room featuring the history of the park, rooms featuring concept art over the Pirates of the Carribean, etc. Now the Blue Sky Cellar. Perfect. :-) I'm going to DCA in about 10 days. I have to stop by and see this.

Thanks Robert.

From Corey Romberg on October 22, 2008 at 3:04 PM
I really like the idea of a 1920's LA/Hollywood theme for the entry plaza, and I dont think it'll be too cartoonish....Disney did a great job doing this for DHS, where both Sunset Blvd and Hollywood Blvd recreate Hollywood in that era (The Carthay Circle and Hollywood Tower Hotel and all the shops) very realistically, yet not too realistic that its boring...thats one thing Disney does great: the stylized versions of historic architecture that draws more upon collective memories and feelings associated with the era than actual architecture, creating some of the best themed areas of any parks, such as Main St, Fronteirland, New Orleans Square, Liberty Square, and Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards

I expect DCA to be very well done in this aspect...The trolley car, the new Partners statue, the new shops, and the Carthay Circle Theater will be welcome additions, instead of the cheesy sun fountain and giant postcards...and the new DHS-style gates better fits that theme

From Russell Meyer on October 22, 2008 at 3:49 PM
We just missed the opening of Blue Sky Cellar last week. We were in the park on Wednesday, and it appeared they were doing a media event or VIP event. We were on the Segway tour, and were told the attraction would officially open on Friday or Saturday, so a little of bad luck on our part. California Adventure has never really bothered me as much as it has others, but I've only been to the park a few times. It's certainly much improved these days with TOT, Toy Story Mania, and Monster's Inc., and the improvements will certainly make the park even better.

What bothers me the most about this park is the wasted space, espcailly considering the park's smallish size. Empty buildings (Golden Dreams Theater), curiously boring attractions (Animation building, bakery, and torilla factory---they are great for a free bite to eat though), and numerous clones/carny rides (Muppetvision, Bug's Life, Orange Stinger, Mullholand Madness, Jumping Jellyfish, and Maliboomer). There's still a lot to like about this park, but unfortunately Disney's attempt to merge MGM, EPCOT, and Tokyo Sea Disney into one park just didn't work. I'm not even sure the modification will make a huge difference, but it's certainly improved since my first visit to the park 5 years ago.

From Robert Niles on October 22, 2008 at 5:03 PM
My understanding is that the Bugs' Life theater goes away to make room for Cathay Circle. But the front entry plans are the most tentative of all the changes, I was told.

Personally, it looks to me that the current plan is to swap out the current DCA entrance and plaza with the entrance and a modified version of Hollywood Boulevard from Disney's Hollywood Studios. Construction costs on other DCA changes, park revenue and economic conditions will affect the resources available for the rest of the project, though, including the front plaza.

BTW, the exhibit space above Pirates is gone now, replaced with the Year of Million Dreams apartment.

From James Rao on October 23, 2008 at 6:36 AM
There are supposed to be two more rides added to Cars Land besides the E-ticket, Radiator Springs Racers: Tow Mater's Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi's Roamin' Tires. Anyone have guesses as to what they might be? From the look of things, their footprints are very small, and I fear a couple more dressed up midway rides may be in the works. Say it ain't so...

I have read nothing about the Bug's Life Theater getting replaced. However, if it comes with a complete refurb of Bug's Land, then I am okay with the sacrifice. Based on the pictures so far, Bug's Land appears to be left intact. Ugh.

From Corey Romberg on October 23, 2008 at 7:43 AM
Luigi's Roaming Tires is going to be a new version of the old Flying Saucers at Disneyland...which for a B or C Ticket Attraction isnt all that bad

Mater's Junkyad Jamboree I believe will involve spinning cars as well as some singing from Mater, aka Larry the Cable Guy....I love Mater, and this could be a funny little ride

I think Im most looking forward to the atmosphere I expect WDI to bring to the land....I think they will do a very good job of transporting you to Radiator Springs, and it looks like they are going to have the Cozy Cone Motel, Flo's Cafe, Luigi's Tire Shop, and the Thunder Mountain-like mountains to really help put you in the movie

I could do without Flik's Fun Fair, but I reallly hope they dont get rid of Its Tough to Be a Bug....that is the best 3D/4D show in the industry IMO!

From James Rao on October 23, 2008 at 10:04 AM
Thanks for the info, Corey. Do you know how Disney hopes to overcome the low rider capacity of the original Flying Saucer attraction? I can see huge bottlenecks at this slow loader unless they have some new technology at work. Anyway, here is a link with concept art for the ride.

Found a link that describes the new Tow Mater ride as the "Mad Tea Party" on a track. I am not much of a Mad Tea Party fan, but this variation on a theme sounds kind of interesting.

From Joshua Counsil on October 23, 2008 at 1:59 PM
Ha - Robert, you had the same thought as I did regarding the entrance. It's mentioned in the "The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly" thread. It furthers my opinion that the DCA rehash is just a spillover from DHS.
From Russell Meyer on October 23, 2008 at 6:16 PM
We were also told when we were there last week that the letters "CALIFORNIA" were history.
From Bryan Fear on October 27, 2008 at 6:48 AM
Looking at the concept art pics of the new saucer ride, I would imagine the way they intend to overcome low rider capacity is to build two of them next to each other. That pic on the link looks like there's two next to each other, divided by a fence wall.

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