February 8, 2019

California Adventure at 18: Two Steps Forward and Three Steps Backward

California Adventure opened on this date in 2001. When compared to Tokyo DisneySea which opened a few months later, the park was a dismal and cheap disappointment. Crowds turned away for good reason. When the new park was compared to something Six Flags would turn out, Anaheim's second Disney park looks much more like Tokyo DisneySea! The truth is, it falls somewhere in between after 18 years and several hundreds of millions of dollars in changes. 

Did you notice I didn't say "improvements"?

Sure, there have been some great ones, namely, Buena Vista Street and Cars Land. Two steps forward... half a decade ago. 

A tangled mess of an attraction, albeit fun.

Since then, there's been three steps backward: the changeout of Aladdin with Frozen, Guardians of the Galaxy going in place of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Pixar Pier. These have come so close to each other it is as if a new management team is trying to deconstruct everything that was accomplished by its predecessors. I'd say they are doing a good job of it! The park is not nearly as enjoyable and cohesive now compared to the direction it was headed in 2012.

From what's been speculated, the new Marvel  themed land doesn't seem all that enticing (but neither was A Bug's Land), but that could change as the suits gauge fan reaction. Hollywood Land sits with unrealized potential. Pockets of useable space all through the park are hidden in plain view. Much more could be done to create a string of classic Disney worthy attractions in place of carnival rides found in Paradise Gardens. (Would it not have just been better left as part of Pixar Pier?) 

Sometimes less is more.

With all these changes, Disney California Adventure has now had an investment equal to what was spent building Tokyo Disney Sea. Does it feel like it? Absolutely not. Compare the following:

The first one. A 2001 DCA Trip report.
Here's my 2008 DCA Trip report.
Now, my look at the park in 2011.
Again, a couple of years later in 2014.
Here's Len's trip report from 2016.
Lastly, my Summer 2018, two parks and 26 attractions in one day.

(Furthermore, there's hundreds of articles on this blog about this interesting park with the fascinating history. I won't mention them all, but you will find the Bargain Basement Imagineering and Imagineering a New Dream series worth your time. A weeklong look at DCA at its tenth anniversary begins here.)

Going year by year, it seems fairly clear that the suits are moving toward Anaheim's second park being the Studios catch all for easily removed movie themed attractions that please hipster guests in the short term. Hip and edgy is making a comeback. Lessons not learned.

(Photographs copyright Mark Taft.)

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