Disney California Adventure: Creating the Magic

/Disney California Adventure: Creating the Magic

Disney California Adventure: Creating the Magic

When I started writing this blog, my intention was to title it “Re-creating the Magic”, that was until it dawned on me you can’t re-create something that was never truly there to start with.

That Disney magic we all know and love is something found in abundance at Disneyland.  But let’s face it, she has it pretty easy.  I mean, Walt walked in that park.  With all the nostalgia and history found in every nook & cranny, it would take some serious Imagineering for Disney to be able to draw guests out of that park in order to go visit her baby sister across the way.

Historically, most Disney parks have had their share of struggles in the beginning.  Epcot didn’t become a staple for WDW visitors until several years after their 1982 debut, and Animal Kingdom still has low attendance 14 years after opening their gates. For most of DCA’s 11 year life, the park just wasn’t worth the price of admission to most guests.  There wasn’t a lot to draw people in, and even less to keep them coming back.  Sure, there was Soarin’ Over California, California Screamin’ and Tower of Terror, but the overall theming of the park was boring, uninspired, and most surprisingly coming from a team of Imagineers, unimaginative.  For the most part, annual passholders have made up the majority of the park’s attendance over the first few years simply because their passes allowed them admission to both parks; but why would local Californians want a theme park based on California?

Even still, for all the critics and visitors either opposed or indifferent to DCA’s existence, there was a small population out there that actually appreciated the park, including my husband and me.  While it may not have had the charisma of Disneyland, it was a nice place to escape when the crowds at DL became just too much to bear.  The walkways are much wider, and with so many people uninterested in the park you could do everything in a day and never feel rushed.  The overall feeling was much more grown-up and laid back, which could be considered either good or bad depending on your point of view, but for us, it was a welcome change of pace.

In October of 2007, Disney announced a $1.1 billion overhaul planned for California Adventure in the hopes of making DLR a true resort destination, as it was originally intended in 2001.  The announcement revealed some pretty grandiose plans, including the concept for a Cars-themed land with 3 new attractions, a water show for Paradise Bay and a 9,000 guest viewing area, a Little Mermaid attraction, and a 1920’s themed area as a throwback to Walt’s arrival in Los Angeles.  All the buzz about the renovation was actually starting to put California Adventure on the map, surely the investment itself was enough to draw everyone’s attention.  Just saying the figure out loud makes me want to put my pinky up to my chin and do my best Dr. Evil impersonation.

At the time, the logistics for all the planned construction seemed like it would be nearly impossible to manage (how could they possibly re-do the entire entrance and still allow guests in the park?!?), and the final outcome seemed like a lifetime away.  The construction started soon after the announcement, and as each project was finished, at least one or two more would pop up.

Over the last 4.5 years, the landscape of the entire park has changed in one way or another.  Whether it be an attraction given a new theme (from the eye-sore of Orange Stinger to the eye candy of Silly Symphony Swings), a complete area torn down and brought back to life (from the tacky Pizza Oom-Mow-Mow & Burger Invasion to the delightful Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta and Garden Grill), or a simple refurb with updated paint (the shops along Paradise Pier, the mill at Grizzly River Rapids, and the infamous Corn Dog Castle).  Then there are the completely new attractions that have been brought to life, such as: Toy Story Midway Mania way back in 2008, World of Color in 2010, and The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure attraction in 2011.  It’s hard to believe that today, we’re just days away from the grand re-opening of the entire park and the reveal of the last two, and probably the most highly anticipated, projects: Cars Land and Buena Vista Street.  It’s almost as surreal as the initial 2007 announcement itself.  The park has been flanked with obtrusive construction walls for so long it will almost seem foreign once they’re all down.  As each project was revealed, the park has gained more and more popularity with both the locals and out-of-towners.  The buzz surrounding Disney California Adventure is at a fever pitch.  It’s positively electric, and it’s not just all that new neon in Cars Land.  The charm, magic and passion that are so plentiful at Disneyland have finally found a home in Disney California Adventure.

Recently, I was looking through some old photos and discovered that we inadvertently tracked most of the construction progress throughout the park during our many visits over the last few years.  I suddenly felt inspired to pool them all together and share them with you! I hope you’ll enjoy a peek through the looking glass of DCA’s painstaking transformation.

The Entrance:

As I fished through hundreds of photos, I was shocked to find that I couldn’t find any proper shots of the giant “CALIFORNIA” letters that used to greet as you entered through the turnstiles.

10/2007: The old turnstiles, a peek at the mosaics and the Golden Gate Bridge
6/2010: A slightly more detailed shot of the old entrance, during the debut of World of Color
4/2011: They built the new entrace in front the old one, so when you entered the park you were walking behind the construction walls.
4/2011: The construction walls around the new entrance depict concept art for Buena Vista Street
7/2011: The new Pan Pacific inspired entrance is revealed
12/2011: The first holiday season with the new entrance
2/2012: The new buildings are taking shape
6/3/2012: Almost ready!

Sunshine Plaza/Buena Vista Street

3/2010: Intricate tile mosaics covered the entry up to the Golden Gate Bridge
4/2011: The same area as the photo above, minus the mosaics. They were removed before they closed off the area.
3/2010: Close-up of the mosaic
3/2010: The theme park’s flagship store and iconic Golden Gate Bridge
1/2008: The centerpiece of Sunshine Plaza
4/2011: The mosaics and the sun sculputre have been completely removed as the steel structure for Carthay Circle Theater starts to take shape
1/2012: A scale model for Buena Vista Street is on display at Blue Sky Cellar
1/2012: Reference photos used in the design of Carthay Circle Theater
1/2012: A model sculpture of the Storytellers statue on display at Blue Sky Cellar
4/2011: Construction walls tease the Red Car Trolley line
8/2011: Construction walls block the entrance through Sunshine Plaza and the major renovations begin. Guests are led through a make-shift entrance backstage behind Soarin’ Over California.
1/2012: The Red Car Trolley stop at Carthay Circle is the first structure of Buena Vista Street to be revealed. It’s currently used as an information booth for guests.
4/2012: The dream is starting look like a reality!
4/2012: The buildings that stand where the mosaics used to be are nearing completion
5/2012: Oswald’s Gas Station looking almost show-ready. Minus the pylons, of course.
5/2012: In the former home of Baker’s Field Bakery, which was located inside a Zephyr train car, stands the new Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe and Bakery. This is where the first in-park Starbucks will be located!
6/2012: A peek at the incredibly detailed facade of Clarabelle’s Ice Cream parlour, next door to FF&P Cafe. This is the former home of Bur-r-r Bank Ice Cream, which was also located in the Zephyr train.
6/2012: The incredibly dapper looking Elias & Co. is the new flagship store, taking over for Everything Under the Sun!
5/2012: Carthay Circle Theater looks like it’s almost ready to open. Our first glimpse at how it will look at night, though not fully lit up just yet.
6/2012: The gorgeous art deco fountain in the hub of Buena Vista Street is revealed.
6/2012: The walls around the theater have also been removed. What can be seen of Buena Vista Street is absolutely stunning.
6/2012: For the first time, guests are able to get up close to the theater.
6/2012: Costumed cast members are stationed out front to talk to guests about the Carthay Circle restaurant. They are handing out “business cards” directing guests to call Disney Dining to make their reservations as early as 6/15/12, opening day!
6/2012: One last bit of eye candy before we move on to the rest of the park. Ain’t she sweet?

Golden Dreams/The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

8/2008: Golden Dreams was an often overlooked attraction that featured a film about the history of California. It starred Whoopi Goldberg as Califia, the queen of the state. You can also see a portion of the former Paradise Park. A place that was never utilized for much more than a smoking area. It was set up in an odd circular configuration that would never allow for proper viewing of Paradise Bay.  This photo was taken a month before both were closed to make way for the new Little Mermaid attraction & World of Color viewing area.
3/2010: The show building for Golden Dreams is completely razed, leaving only the exterior replica of Bernard Maybeck’s Palace of Fine Arts.


3/2010: A wider shot shows the new viewing area for World of Color getting ready for completion, but take notice of those blue walls. That is the main pathway for guests to get through Paradise Park back to the Pier area.
6/2010: Just the 3 months later and the new building is well on its way
4/2011: Just 2 months before opening day
4/2011: The dome gets a new coat of paint to match the new theming
4/2011: The main entrance makes use of the King Triton statue that once belonged to the Ariel’s Grotto area in Disneyland. Pixie Hollow now occupies that space. You can also see some detailing of Ariel’s sisters along the archway.
6/2011: The attraction opened to the public on June 3rd
6/2011: The loading area features a detailed mural along the wall and shell-shaped omni-mover vehicles.
6/2011: One of several AA figures of Ariel throughout the ride. This one features her now infamous “soft-serve” hair.
6/2011: Ursula makes a jaw-dropping appearance
6/2011: The setting “Kiss the Girl” is sweet and romantic
4/2012: This photo is a little grainy because it’s from my iPhone, but I wanted to show how even the new attractions are subject to refurb. After Ariel’s ice cream shaped ‘do became the butt of several jokes, they decided to give her a new look before the parks grand re-opening.Stay tunes for
Stay tuned for part 2 to see before/after photos of  Paradise Pier and Cars Land!

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  1. Andrea DeJohn June 12, 2012 at 8:32 am

    Awesome blog!!! I’m convinced you should work for Disney!!!!!

  2. Chuck Brood June 12, 2012 at 3:27 am

    Wonderful job daughter! I loved it!

  3. Kelley Opperud June 9, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Bravo, brilliant! Even though I have been with you throughout this journey that is so close to your heart – I learned a lot! SO excited for part 2!!

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