Disney California Adventure

20th May 2014

We began our day with a pleasant fifteen minute walk from our hotel in downtown Anaheim to the Disneyland Resort. It was interesting to see many other groups of pedestrians along the way, a relative oddity in this part of the world, though hotel shuttle buses, taxis, and private cars were also very much in evidence. When we arrived it immediately became apparent that the park was going to be crowded; there was a lengthy queue at the ticket windows despite it being disgustingly early in the morning on a weekday in school term.


The state of California has a law known as Proposition 65 that requires commercial organisations to post warning signs whenever certain chemicals might be present on their premises. As such, guests entering the happiest place on earth are greeted by a dire warning, noting that "The Disneyland Resort contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm." Everyone else we saw appeared to be utterly ambivalent to the potential risk, so we decided that we'd take our chances.

Our first stop was at the fast pass distribution for Radiator Springs Racers, which took ten minutes to get through. We were going to join the standby line while we waited for our designated time slot, but changed plans when it became evident that the wait time had already ballooned to ninety minutes. Instead, therefore, we decided to go with a coaster.

Goofy's Sky School is the new name for the Mack wild mouse formerly known as Mulholland Madness. The new theming looks exceptionally plain (plane?) by Disney standards, with a few billboards scattered around the track and not much more. Having said that, the ride was running well today, and having beaten the queue we decided we might as well do a second lap. The operators were happy enough to let us remain in our car.

From there we went to Mickey's Fun Wheel, formerly the Sun Wheel, where we decided to try the swinging cars. Ten years ago I wrote that this didn't do much for me, and my opinion hasn't changed, but I'm definitely in the minority given the screams that could be heard coming from other cars; the swinging motion could easily startle less jaded riders. As an aside, photographers should be aware that the windows on the wheel have a narrow grating that is just a little bit too small to poke a camera lens through.

Toy Story Midway Mania is probably best described as a mash-up between a 4D cinema and a traditional target shooting dark ride. Guests wearing special glasses are able to take part in several different games, including pie throwing, plate smashing, ring tossing, and darts. Shots are fired by pulling a string rather than squeezing a trigger, and while this takes a bit of getting used to, the difference from the norm is interesting in itself. The attention to detail typical of Disney was very much in evidence today, as the ride stopped several times while we were on track and the games remained available, albeit with no points being scored.

Toy Story

It was just about time for us to use our fast passes, so we wandered back over to Radiator Springs Racers. As we approached it was impossible not to overhear a man complaining loudly about the posted one hour wait time. He didn't believe me when I pointed out that one hour wasn't bad for a major new attraction in a Disney park, a thoroughly charming demonstration of naivety that brightened up my morning considerably. One wonders how the poor unfortunate might have coped with the reported six hour wait on opening day.

The queue for the new ride gives a great first impression, with pre-rusted railings showing a level of detail that is only possible when one has over two hundred million dollars to spend, or roughly four times what was spent on the world's longest roller coaster. The standard is maintained once on board, as the car wanders through a detailed and lengthy dark ride section with some superbly convincing animatronics that look just like the characters from the Cars movie. There are two different routes available in the indoor section, depending on which side of the track you are assigned, but both end up at the same place; the launch track for a thrilling high speed race around the mountain.

Radiator Springs Racers is a good ride, though it would be wrong to describe it as anything other than an upgraded version of Test Track with different theming. Certain enthusiast blogs have gone thoroughly overboard in venerating the ride, which is dishonest at best for an attraction that, though excellent, breaks no new ground. Furthermore, riders sitting in the middle seat of the back of the car don't get to see much, a fairly significant design flaw given that this is the obvious location for parents to seat their youngest children.

Radiator Springs Racers

Our next stop was at Tower of Terror, one of the few attractions from my last visit to be exactly as I remembered it. Though a cut down version of the Florida original (see Wikipedia for some of the differences), the ride is still well worth queueing for.

Ten years ago I wrote about California Screamin' having two distinct acts, the second being much more intense than the first. Unfortunately for enthusiasts, part two of the ride has been slowed somewhat, and while the vertical loop still works well, the aggressive airtime hills at the end of the ride are now capable of little more than a gentle float. The result is still fun, though I did prefer the extreme thrill ride I rode ten years ago. On the positive side, however, the volume level on the onboard soundtrack has been boosted so it is now clearly audible at all times.

When you travel to a Disney park with a woman it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice some dignity in favour of a peaceful life. That was the thought that went through my mind as I agreed to join the queue for The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure, an omni-mover dark ride featuring scenes and music from the movie. I'll admit that I did enjoy listening to well known Disney songs such as Part of your world, Under the Sea, and more being sung by a cast of animatronics, but once was enough for me.

The last ride of the morning was the only real disappointment of the day. Soarin' over California was a stand-out attraction when first introduced, but today the projector wasn't quite in focus and several segments of the screen were clearly visible, making the show feel more like a knock-off rather than the high quality immersive experience one expects at a Disney park. The scent of oranges was still working, but it would have worked better if the orange fields were slightly less blurry!

World of Colo(u)r

Most of the remainder of our day was spent at Disneyland (see below), though we returned to California Adventure after dark to watch World of Color, an elaborate musical performance that takes place in the Paradise Bay section of the park. The show uses 1200 different fountains and thousands of coloured LED lights to generate beautiful colours and projections in an elaborately choreographed musical performance that lasts almost half an hour and raises the bar significantly for similar shows in other places.

Readers should be aware, however, that there is no seating available. A fast pass ticket or a paid dining reservation is required in order to view the performance from in front, and even then, one needs to arrive very early in order to have a good view. We arrived over half an hour before the advertised start time by which stage the area was already absolutely jam packed, with at least ten layers of people standing between us and the water. Furthermore, the reserved area is very flat, meaning that shorter people (and children in particular) are at a major disadvantage. The show was fabulous, but I'd have enjoyed it far more if I'd been able to sit down, preferably some distance away from other equally tired and smelly guests.



20th May 2014

We began our afternoon at Disneyland with Space Mountain, a coaster that I've written about before in glowing terms. I'd somehow managed to forget just how good this ride actually is. Unlike many other indoor coasters, the track on this one becomes invisible after the train leaves the station, allowing the projected stars, atmospheric music, and forceful layout to combine to give a truly memorable experience.

Our next stop was at Indiana Jones Adventure, a dark ride through a dangerous lost temple guarded by a supernatural power. The ride vehicles, seating eight, are designed to look like military ATVs, and are capable of a range of different motions to simulate driving across rough terrain. Unfortunately it was close to impossible to appreciate the scenery today, thanks to a manatee in the front seat who kept waving her arms from side to side. Megan, who defines manatee as a humanoid species indigenous to the United States, suggested that this specimen might have thought herself at a rock concert. Whatever the case, the only portion of the ride I managed to see clearly was the somewhat dated Harrison Ford animatronic towards the end who made a bad-tempered comment about tourists.

Indiana Jones

Big Thunder Mountain reopened earlier this year after a fourteen month refurbishment that included new track, new trains, and a redesigned third lift hill that replaced the simulated cave-in with an exploding dynamite sequence that really looks the part. The coaster is still a family friendly mine train, but it is one of the best of its kind, and well worth riding even when one doesn't need the credit.

The right hand track on Matterhorn Bobsleds was under obvious maintenance today, but the left hand track was open, albeit with a ridiculously long queue that snaked most of the way around the mountain. The ride was very rough indeed, to the point that the background roars of the yeti could easily have been grunts of pain from the passengers. Though historically significant, one has to wonder just how much longer the Bobsleds will operate in their current form. We followed that with Gadget's Go Coaster, a standard model roller skater fitted with a transfer track just next to the lift hill. There was a half hour wait for this too, but Megan needed the credit and it'd have been very bad form for me to not wait there with her.

Haunted Mansion is one of several attractions within Disneyland that travels beyond park boundaries, in this case to a large nondescript building extending to almost 100,000 square feet. Most guests are unaware that the stretching room sequence at the beginning of the ride is an elevator that leads to an underground passageway into this building. The highlight of the ride is still the dining room scene, where apparently corporeal dancing ghosts appear and disappear every few seconds, though I'll add an honourable mention for the themed breakdown message warning that the spirits have interfered with the ride!

Snow White's Scary Adventures is a somewhat dated dark ride that is memorable chiefly for the fact that Snow White doesn't seem to appear in it after the very first scene. We were given the Sneezy car, although honestly the Grumpy car would have been a better choice given our general state of mind after twelve hours on our feet. If any cast members are reading this, perhaps all the cars should be rebranded with Grumpy decals for the last few hours of each operating day?

Star Tours received a major refresh three years ago, updating the original hardware from the late 1980s with high definition projection, an improved motion simulator, new special effects, and an all new movie sequence set between episodes III and IV of the Star Wars film series. The experience now involves an aircraft being piloted by C3PO with a mission to deliver a rebel spy (selected from an audience member) to safety. There are fifty-four different possible storylines which can be read about in depth on Wikipedia. The ride isn't one that I'd bother to queue for, but it is worth doing just as a way to sit down for a few minutes!

Star Tours

We followed this with Buzz Lightyear's Astro Blasters, a regular target shooting ride where guests attack the Zurg, the sworn enemy of the galactic alliance, and no relation to either the Zarg or the Zerg. Each target had a brightly coloured ring around it that, when lit, drastically increases its point score. We then concluded our visit with a ride on The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, an enclosed dark ride that turned out to be quite a bit better than it looked from the outdoor loading area. The highlight for me was seeing a sign reading Hooray for Pooh, and another advertising Pooh Corner. No, I won't grow up.

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Disney California Adventure

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Reports from this park: