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An Insider's Scoop on Disney California Adventure
Two days before the grand re-opening of the Disney California Adventure theme park, across the plaza from Disneyland, I got a sneak peek at its latest features: Buena Vista Street, Carthay Circle, and the long-awaited Cars Land, inspired by the Pixar movies. I also talked to Imagineers and Disney execs involved in the makeover. Their mantra during the redesign: Storytelling.
“Guests told us they want immersive experiences,” says Tom Fitzgerald, Executive Vice President, Senior Creative Executive, Walt Disney Imagineering. “They said, ‘Put me in the story.’”
Walking with Walt
While Main Street USA in Disneyland symbolizes Walt Disney’s childhood in Marceline, Missouri, Disney California Adventure continues his journey as a young animator arriving in Los Angeles for the first time, with a movie-making dream and just $47 in his pocket. The brand new entrance area along Buena Vista Street is designed to make you feel as if you’re walking in Walt’s shoes through Hollywood in 1923.
The architecture, the trolleys, the music, and the entertainers in period dress bring you back to that golden age. In the street, the Red Car News Boys sing “California Here I Come,” and the jazzy group Five ‘N’ Dime performs old standards like “On the Sunny Side of the Street.” Everything evokes the excitement, opportunity and optimism that Walt surely felt as he stepped off that train from the Midwest.
Even Mickey Mouse is cast as a newcomer and “plucky go-getter,” says Alan Bruun, Creative Director of Entertainment for the Disneyland Resort. Bruun calls him “prequel Mickey,” before he hit it big, dressed in brown pants and suspenders, carrying a “California or Bust” suitcase. (Look closely, though, and you’ll notice elements from Mickey’s modern day garb--the white buttons, the big black shoes, and that trademark red, which here colors his cap instead of his classic vest of later years.)
Mickey and a youthful Walt Disney are also captured in the “Storytellers” statue at the end of Buena Vista Street, designed so you can walk right up and take a picture with them. Across from the statue is the beautiful Art Deco-style Carthay Circle Theater, the new icon of Disney California Adventure. It’s modeled after the motion picture palace where Snow White and the Seven Dwarves premiered, but inside is the Carthay Circle Restaurant and Lounge, with formal dining upstairs, and casual small plates in the lower level. From Carthay Circle, you can set out to explore the other parts of the park, to see how Walt’s dream lives on.
Beep beep to Cars Land
Years in the making, it brings Radiator Springs (the cutest little town in Carburetor County) to life. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped right into the Cars movies. The films’ landmarks are all here: Flo’s V8 Café (with its wonderful comfort food, and gold records from Flo’s stint as lead singer for the Motorama Girls); Cozy Cone Motel (the wigwam lodge is retooled as snack stands where everything is served in cones: pop cone, ice cream cones, chili cone queso…you get the idea); and the Ornament Valley mountain range (where the peaks look like old Cadillac fins). These mountains are the setting for Car Land’s main attraction: Radiator Springs Racers.
(Tip: Get here early in the morning and either ride it or get a FASTPASS that will allow you to return later and board without a line. This ride gets crowded quickly! Also be aware that kids must be 40 inches tall to ride.) Radiator Springs Racers is one of the largest and most elaborate attractions created for a Disney theme park, and is really 2 rides in one.
In the first half, your sports car rolls along Route 66 and through scenes from the movie, on your way to the big race. En route you’ll meet Mater (“one of our most sophisticated Audio-Animatronics figures ever,” says Kathy Mangum, Executive Producer & Vice President, Walt Disney Imagineering), Sally, and Lightening McQueen, among others. Before reaching the track, you’ll make a pit stop at either Luigi’s Casa Della Tires for some new wheels or Ramone’s House of Body Art for a fresh paint job. Then it’s onto the starting gate for the exciting race portion of the ride. Before the flag drops, you’ll notice another car of guests pulling up next to you, and all of a sudden you’re tearing up the track side by side. The race is thrilling, with bouncy hills and steep banking turns. You never know which car will win! (I rode 4 times and won twice.)
Get your kicks on Route 66
After you ride Radiator Springs Racers, board Luigi’s Flying Tires (sort of like bumper cars on a giant air hockey rink) and try to catch the beach balls that float your way. Imagineers say the ride is a nostalgic nod to the now defunct Flying Saucers, a Disneyland ride that ran from 1961 to 1966 and is remembered fondly by die-hard fans. Younger kids will love Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, a classic whip ride done square dance style, with baby tractors and Mater leading the hoe down. (Larry the Cable Guy, Mater’s movie voice, recorded 7 songs for the ride.) So swing your partner and “dosie tow!”
Then take in the rest of Cars Land at a leisurely pace. Imagineers actually went on a real-life road trip down Route 66 with John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studio. They incorporated many of the quirky sights, sounds and food into their final design.
“We want guests to feel like this is the greatest road trip they’ve ever been on,” says Kevin Rafferty, Concept Writer and Senior Director, Walt Disney Imagineering.
Make sure you return to Cars Land at night to see it in its full neon glory. It’s especially beautiful when it’s all lit up!
Disney California Adventure celebrated its grand re-opening on June 15.