But California Adventure nevertheless stands as one more influential theme parks in industry history. In the early 1990s, Disneyland's then-President Jack Lindquist advocated for a second theme park next to Disneyland, in order to convince more tourists to extend their stay at the resort. In 1989, Disney had gained control of the Disneyland Hotel by buying the company that had owned the hotel. Along with getting the Disneyland Hotel, Disney obtained the lease to operate the Queen Mary ocean liner, which was moored as a tourist attraction in Long Beach.
That gave Disney two options for a second theme park in Southern California: One, to build a west-coast version of Disney World's Epcot, to be called Westcot, on the Disneyland parking lot, or, two, to build a nautical-themed park, to be called DisneySea (a play on "Disneyland"), next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Ultimately, Disney decided against building a second park so far away from Anaheim and gave up the lease on the Queen Mary, abandoning its Long Beach project. But the Oriental Land Company liked the plans for DisneySea so much that it decided to build that park as the companion for Tokyo Disneyland at its Tokyo Disney Resort. Anaheim would get Westcot, instead.
But Disney killed those plans in 1995, after the lackluster debut of Disneyland Paris. But Disneyland still needed an expansion to boost attendance and guest spending. Later that year, Disney's then-CEO Michael Eisner revived plans for Disneyland's second gate, but with a much lower budget and less ambitious scale. The new version of the second gate would be themed to the park's home state of California.
California Adventure marked the end of the "Disney Decade" of hit after hit. The park's failure to live up to Disney standards for theming, popularity, or income fueled criticism of Disney management from fans and critics outside the company as well as from many influential persons within it. Disney management's case for California Adventure wasn't helped when Tokyo DisneySea opened to rave reviews later in 2001, eventually winning multiple Theme Park Insider Awards as the world's best theme park.
California Adventure wasn't the only disappointment at Disney back then. But unlike movies or TV shows that soon fade from public memory, theme parks stay there as a constant reminder of failure. The criticism ultimately boiled into to a public split between Walt's nephew Roy E. Disney and Eisner, which contributed to Eisner's exit as CEO in 2005.
In 2007, new Disney CEO Bob Iger announced a $1.1 billion makeover and expansion of the park, which concluded in June 2012 with the opening of a new park entrance plaza, Buena Vista Street, themed to the Los Angeles Walt Disney arrived in during the 1920s, and Cars Land, a beloved recreation of the town of Radiator Springs from the Pixar Cars movies. Along the way, Disney dumped the possessive in the park's name, which now is simply Disney California Adventure.
So a project was conceived as a way to get tourists to spend more time at Disneyland in California ultimately resulted in the creation of the world's best theme park in Tokyo and a change in management at the Walt Disney Company, before evolving into the wildly popular theme park that Disney California Adventure is today.
When the park opened in 2001, Disney touted that the park had the same number of attractions as Disneyland had when it opened in 1955 (which didn't address the quality of those attractions or lack of theming). I believe they even split the California section of the park into five or six "districts," to make it seem like the park had more areas than it really did.
We were in LA for the weekend and went to Disney for the day this past Friday, and WOW what a difference! The Entrance Plaza was beautiful, and set the tone for a great day. The improvements to everything, and California Adventure in particular, over the last 10-or-so-years are tremendous. We spent roughly 16 hours in the parks, mostly in California Adventure, and had a fantastic time.
The upgraded California Adventure definitely exceeded our expectations in a big way.
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I always thought the Disney Cruise Lines should have been called "DisneySea"...since they were mini floating parks out on the oceans.