Disney California Adventure.. the first decade

I have had a hard time trying to formulate my thoughts on DCA turning 10 into something coherent to share. This has been the first Disney park I have been close to through the planning, construction, and now operation. The other parks that have opened around the world and Orlando have all been viewed from afar. This park I have had the opportunity to watch grow from a parking lot into mounds of dirt and then into its current form. Over the 10 years since its opening I have managed to visit numerous times and shot just over forty-five thousand (45,156 to be exact) photos of the park (remember I am a geek and was curious so looked it up in my archive). Even after all this I still have a hard time explaining the park to people. I think the true identity of California Adventure is still in a state of change and will not really solidify until the current expansion is completed.

I would sum up the first decade as a trial and error period. Many things were tried ranging from promotions to entertainment experiences to new attractions then finally the acknowledgment that a major overhaul was needed to “fix” the park. If I had to give the park a grade I would say an incomplete is the best I could do right now. Things started off underwhelming but the future looks bright. I have talked to several people this past week and we all seem to agree that looking back on the park at the 15th anniversary will be a completely different experience based on the recent trend and what is already known about the immediate future.

On February 3, 2001 I had my first opportunity to visit the new park at an Annual Passholder preview. Even before stepping through the gates I knew this park had a handicap that would be hard to overcome, namely having Walt’s original park right next door, but I had hopes that Disney could pull it off something that would be on a similar level. The first impression of the park was underwhelming, but I kept reminding myself not to compare to the well established and built out park next door, but that really did not go far. Seems I was not alone with this disappointment and things started to evolve almost from opening day and have continued to pick up speed in recent years with the major additions that are in the works.

Many events/activities were offered over the years ranging from Food and Wine Weekends to Soap Opera Weekends to ESPN X Games. Seems like the park tried many avenues to lure Disneyland visitors across the Esplanade and bring in more tourists and guests to the resort.

Some of my favorites from the early years:

  • The Power of Blast @ the Hyperion (11/2001 -> 09/2002) – Hard to beat their percussion pieces
  • The ABC Prime Time Weekend (2002) – Everyone remember the Who’s Line Is it Anyways performance in the Hyperion? Or all the sports trophies in the Sunshine Plaza?
  • The Summer Concert Series (2002) – the Beach Boys were a fun weekend
  • The Wharf Stage performances – Eagles and Elvis tributes to name a few over the early years

Some attractions that have come and gone already:

  • Steps in Time -> Replaced by Blast then Aladdin
  • Super Star Limo -> Eventually replaced by Monsters Inc
  • ABC Soap Opera Bistro -> Replaced by Playhouse Disney
  • Who Wants to Be a Millionaire -> No replacement yet
  • Season’s of the Vine -> Blue Sky Cellar
  • Golden Dreams -> Replaced by Little Mermaid opening in 2011
  • Maliboomer -> Replaced by a park/character meet and greet in 2011

Looking at the present state of the park things seem to be on the uptick starting with the opening of Toy Story Midway Mania back in 2008 and carrying forward to the World of Color in 2010. This year brings the Little Mermaid and a revamp of the Western edge of Paradise Pier. The biggest changes still just getting underway with Cars Land and Buena Vista Street both in the middle of construction with a targeted opening of 2012.

I know I have enjoyed watching this park take shape and evolve over the years and I cannot wait to see how the new additions transform this park. I think each year it is improving and slowly finding its soul/stride. That brings us to the logical question of what is next? What lays beyond 2012 for this fledgling park? Only the Imagineers know for sure, but I look forward to observing (and sharing these experiences with you all).

So what do you all think?

One thought on “Disney California Adventure.. the first decade

  • Unlike most people I liked DCA from the the start


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