How do you fix a theme park?
If you've not visited the Disney California Adventure
theme park in Anaheim since it opened 10 years ago, you'd likely be surprised by how Disney's transformed this park.
You might have heard about the billion-dollar transformation taking place at DCA. Even though the highlight of that makeover, the new Cars Land, is still a year from opening, California Adventure's already charged toward the upper reaches of the list of best-reviewed theme parks among Theme Park Insider readers.
How did this happen? How did the park so many of us loved to hate become one that many of us now love to visit?
The formula's simple, really: Close the bad stuff, and open more good stuff.
But as with most changes that are simple in concept, the real challenge lies in the execution. But Disney's nailed it with its changes to date at California Adventure, posting a batting average that would lift even the LA Dodgers into playoff contention.
Let's take a look at the changes:
SuperStar Limo became Monsters Inc.: Mike and Sulley to the Rescue
This has been California Adventure's biggest win to date. A truly awful ride, meant to be sarcastic but coming across as cynical, went away, to be replaced by a charming dark ride with a nice touch of personalization at the end.
Here's the lesson: Disney is culturally incapable of snark. Leave that to Universal. Whenever someone at Disney suggests a new ride or show using the adjectives "hip," "contemporary," "edgy" or "sarcastic," someone needs to walk that person from the building and e-mail his or her resume over to Universal Creative. They can pull off that stuff. Disney can't. So it should stop trying.
Disney Animation becomes Animation Academy
A series of small changes, including the addition of the interactive Turtle Talk with Crush, made this behind-the-scenes look at Disney animation more accessible to visitors, though it's not paid off in any larger crowds that I can see.
Seasons of the Vine becomes Blue Sky Cellar
Another solid hit: Disney replaced a boring promotional film with a Disney geek's dream - a look at blueprints, concept art, models and videos of upcoming attractions at the park. Sure, it's also a commercial, just like Seasons of the Vine was, but theme parks would rather see a commercial for a theme park than for a vineyard, wouldn't we?
Sun Wheel becomes Mickey's Fun Wheel
All Disney did here was change the logo on the side of the wheel. But having a 30-foot, old-school Mickey head in the park? Winning!
Orange Stinger becomes Silly Symphony Swings
I'll rate this the second biggest improvement for an attraction at California Adventure to date. By freeing this waveswinger from its orange peel shell, Disney's opened up some wonderful aerial views of the park. Look at the images at the top of the waveswinger, too. They're sequential animation from the Silly Symphony episode that inspired the make-over. That's a nice Disney touch. I love the classical music accompaniment, too.
Still to come: Golden Dreams will become Voyage of the Little Mermaid on June 3
Mulholland Madness will become Goofy's Sky School later this summer
Now let's take a look at the attractions Disney has added to California Adventure, the order of their debut:Aladdin
Flik's Fun Fair
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Toy Story Midway Mania
World of Color
Disney Junior - Live on Stage (originally Playhouse Disney; that show changed last month.)
Still to come: Cars Land
That's two world-class shows (Aladdin and World of Color, currently rated number two and three by TPI readers), two solid rides (Tower of Terror and Midway Mania) and just one flop (the Flik's Fun Fair collection of kiddie rides in A Bug's Land.)
Over the years, Disney's removed the forgettable S.S. Rustworthy play area, as well as the flawed Maliboomer space shot ride. A space shot's not a bad idea in a theme park, but slapping plastic "scream shields" inches from people's faces makes what should be an exhilarating experience feel claustrophobic. Sneeze guards are for salad bars, not theme park rides.
Disney also added, then removed, the Who Wants to be a Millionaire - Play It! game show after that fad played out.
Even the food's improved at California Adventure, despite Disney closing more than half a dozen restaurants over the years. We'll see how the upcoming Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta and Paradise Garden Grill turn out. But California Adventure's current line-up of restaurants offers more variety than the sandwich-and-sweet-potato-fries combinations that seem to be everywhere across the esplanade at Disneyland Park.
Add the Little Mermaid, Cars Land, and the two new restaurants to the mix, and it's possible that Disney California Adventure might approach, or even overtake, Universal's Islands of Adventure as Theme Park Insider readers' favorite theme park.
This is how you fix a theme park.
You're premature. DCA isn't finished yet. I agree it is much better than what it was back in 2001. I remembered it distinctly. The changes are bit by bit; however, it wasn't done and the good stuff still haven't replaced the stinkers notably what was in Paradise Pier.
Walt Disney once said that "Disneyland would never be completed". That phrase applies to all Disney parks, especially DCA. So, you're right.
It's interesting how Disney gets it wrong the first time, but then they start to have good ideas e.g. California Adventure.
if carsland is superior to harry, DCA win.
Overtake IOA in theming? Dem's fightin words!
Animal Kingdom had issues when it first opened, but has started to mature into a pretty good park. The same goes for EPCOT, which was the butt of jokes for years. I think any Disney theme park takes 10 years or more to tweak and grow into its own. Not many theme parks get it right the first time on opening day, and unfortunately too many are not allowed to mature, or get stripped of their themeing in favor of short term profits.
I agree that DCA has become a worthwhile park, and Mermaid and Cars Land look very promising. However, even with the billion dollar makeover, will the park be as good as it can be? No.
I will say it again. I still think TPI was too harsh on DCA from the get go. While I never got to ride Superstar Limo, I was there in 2005 and I was greatly impressed with the park. While I think the park has changed for the better, I still do not believe it was as bad as some TPIers made it.
There are too many midway spinners at nearly EVERY park in the world, but we expect more from Disney, so I guess that's why there's so much backlash.
Never been to Disney Land but probaly when cars land comes I'll be there
Not bad, but I wouldn't say that's the way to fix a park. It's certainly a step in the right direction, but most of the changes thus far have been menial. Mickey heads, improved views, and toned down attraction clones aren't ideal replacements or upgrades.
The real problem is and continues to be ride count.
To Jeff, I agree that DCA has a low ride count, but ride QUALITY is just as important. Knott's and MM have LOTS of rides, but MOST of them can be found at your local carnival.
Let's break down the ride count, using Islands of Adventure as comparison:
I'd agree that Disney has started to fix DCA... but it's far from being "finished". That old adage of Disneyland never completed holds true for all Disney Parks including DCA.
It's sort of a false comparison to say IOA and DCA should be compared to be TPI reader's favorite theme park. The favorite theme park has to compete with every other theme park in the world.
The biggest change is that DCA is finally becoming a true Disney park. Something the company can be proud of instead of a red-headed stepchild. Now, because we hold Disney to a higher standard than any other theme park chain, there will always be criticism. However, it does not take a rocket scientist (or a would-be Imagineer) to see that DCA is a vastly improved park from what it was ten years ago.
Radiator Springs Racers and Little mermaid are designed for never get old, it is a kind of point to exam.
One of the most important aspects to the fix hasn't been mentioned: the entrance. A proper Disney park has a way of transitioning you firmly into a new world as you enter the park. The outside world is banished and the visitor is taken to another place. The original DCA entrance failed to do that. Walking through the turnstiles didn't really create any new feelings or immerse you in a theme. It really didn't feel all that different from the outside world, just some loud tacky design and a big open space. The new Buena Vista street entrance should go a long way to setting the right mood and creating the grand entrance area Disney parks are known for.
Excellent points Robert - and I like your breakdown of DCA vs. IOA. I went to DCA before it opened officially and hated it - but over the years I've found myself spending an entire day there. World of Color is amazing - and I love the FastPass "reserved space" idea so you don't have the crammed - show up 2 hours early - issue like Fantasmic!
DCA is much improved and will only get better. I'm not sure why people dislike Flik's Fun Fair. It's adorable. I love walking around and checking out the clever theming. And the little ones really enjoy the rides. I can easily spend a day or two at DCA. Combined with three days at Disneyland, it's the perfect vacation!
DCA is still a mix of good and bad. The first thing they should have done would be to get rid of the midway games and put in a ride. It is a waste of space, nobody I know is going to spend money to play games after paying several hundred to get their family into the park. Why not demolish that entire side and replace it with the rides that everybody misses and wants from the Old Time Disneyland. I.e. Country Bear Jamboree, People Mover, Etc, Etc. They already revived the electric parade why not continue with that theme. Remove the Tortilla Factory and bread exhibits and put in rides. Definitely needs more rides.
I also have to stick(bug) up for Flik's Fun Fair. Among the best theming anywhere and my 5-year-old would live there if we would allow it.
I'm happy that they are making improvements to DCA. It was time for some things to be updated. I just wish that they would add the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, which is currently located in Magic Kingdom (Orlando). This would be a wonderful addition to the park. This is a family attraction where the Monsters Inc. characters interact with everyone in the room. They talk to the kids and the parents, the tell jokes and they play games.
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