This month marks Disney California Adventure's 16th anniversary. It's hard to believe anymore that it used to just be a parking lot because now it's a beloved addition to the ever-growing Disneyland Resort. To commemorate this momentous occasion here are, in my opinion, the top 5 experiences you simply have to do the next time you're in DCA. But of course you can't really talk about DCA without bringing up a bit of its coloured past...
5 Best Experiences
Step inside the Disney Animation pavilion and you can find the Animation Academy where you can learn from professional Disney artists to draw some of your favourite Disney characters. They have classes every half hour and they rarely draw the same character twice. We go all the time! I've drawn Mickey, Minnie, Winnie the Pooh, Jack Skellington, Phineas & Ferb, and Oswald to name just a few. The best part? You get to keep your masterpiece!
PRO TIPS: Ask next door at Off the Page for a rubber band and bag to carry your artwork in. Check outside the pavilion to see what characters they'll be drawing when.
4 - CARS LAND
Cars Land is just flat out cool! Every detail has been thought out and everything seems so real and just like the movies! My favourite part, though, is nighttime along Route 66. The neon signs flicker on and the jukebox keeps playing down the street. Even if you don't go on any rides it's just such a fantastic atmosphere!
3 - "FROZEN - LIVE AT THE HYPERION" (Hollywood Land)
It doesn't matter if you're a fan of Frozen or not - this show is stunning! The musical arrangements present the songs in a whole new light and the production itself is a wonder in technical theatrical achievement. My jaw dropped within the first few minutes of the show the first time I saw it because I couldn't figure out how they did the special effects! The show is over an hour long, but don't think that means your kids won't be glued to the action. They love it as much as the adults! Go see the show and you may find yourself wanting to see it again!
I know I said "experiences", but those who know Soarin' well know that it really is an experience. I have so many friends who are all about huge thrills and intense coasters who leave DCA and declare than Soarin' was by far their favourite attraction. The sights and smells as you glide over natural and man-made wonders is so immersive and feels so real yet is tame enough that even those with motion sickness will not have an issue. This is a classic DCA attraction that has become a worldwide phenomenon!
I know some people will disagree and say that Soarin' Over California was better, but I do have to argue. Soarin' Over California was fantastic and blew people away, not to mention the fact that it had clear ties to the park's California theme, however, compared to the new version, the film was grainy and dated and would have needed to be reshot anyway. I do wish something could have been worked out so that both versions could be seen, but Imagineers did try to keep the original California theme alive by keeping the exhibit honoring California aviators in the queue.
PRO TIP: Never wait in the stand-by line. FastPasses do not go quickly for Soarin' and you'll often only need to wait an hour or so to return.
This is truly the ultimate experience at DCA! The lights and fountains in Paradise Bay astound in any rendition of this amazing show inspired by the classic Disney television series The Wonderful World of Color. The dancing fountains were designed by the same company who created the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas but now they've topped themselves with new effects and a purely enchanting show. I don't think any trip to the Disneyland Resort is complete without seeing World of Color because you will keep talking about the show hours after it's over!
PRO TIP: Already planning on eating at the Carthay Circle, Ariel's Grotto or Wine Country Trattoria? Book a dining package and get passes to a more select viewing area for World of Color. Reservations are typically required, but often Wine Country Trattoria has enough left over that walk-ins can be accommodated as well.
5 Worst Experiences - A Look Back
5 - BOUNTIFUL VALLEY FARM
THEN: What could be more fun than playing around a group of Caterpillar tractors while you learn about farming? Disney thought it would pay tribute to California's agricultural industry by showcasing tractors and other farm equipment in the park for guests to see and, in some cases, climb on. That's right - that's the extent of the attraction. For some reason children didn't get a huge kick out of the area and it was slowly phased out after Caterpillar dropped their sponsorship.
NOW: Much of the area formerly host to Bountiful Valley Farm is now Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, though the attraction off to the side of the Farm is still running: "It's Tough to Be a Bug". That makes total sense alongside tractors, right?
THEN: The idea was great: have a show teaching guests about the history of the state of California. Execution? A simply-made documentary-like film that most guests wanted to see only once. The most memorable parts were those featuring Whoopi Goldberg as the goddess Califa from whom California gets its name, not necessarily because they were well done but because it was weird.
NOW: Most of the theatre has been torn down and replaced, but the entrance was repainted and now you can ride The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure in its former location.
3 - ABC SOAP OPERA BISTRO
THEN: Love soap operas on ABC? Step into this restaurant where you'll actually dine in recreations of the sets from some of your favourite soaps and be waited on by servers dressed to fit the sets. That's it. That's the extent of the experience. Overall the bistro drew small crowds and a lot of raised eyebrows.
NOW: The restaurant did not last long and within a couple of years was converted into the Disney Theater where they still show "Disney Junior - Live on Stage". That's right - from soap operas to kids' shows.
Many of the titles of attractions, restaurants and shops throughout the park consisted of a never-ending barrage of California-related puns which got old really fast. California residents often found them demeaning since this alone was the major connection many things had to the state. Here are some of the more notable ones:
- Bur-r-rbank Ice Cream
- Pizza Oom-Mow-Mow
- Baker's Field Bakery
- Mulholland Madness
- Man Hat 'n' Beach
- Catch a Flave
- California Screamin'
- Award Weiners
1 - SUPERSTAR LIMO
THEN: When the park opened this was the only dark ride in the entire park. You would climb aboard a limousine to take you to a movie premiere starring you! Along the way you would speed through the LSD-induced version of Hollywood and run into B and C-list celebrities whose charicatures were more frightening than funny. You would even talk to your "agent" frequently through the limo's video phone en route. The ride was so bad that it was determined that DCA would be stronger without a dark ride than with Superstar Limo open. It closed within the first year.
NOW: The original track layout was kept and the limos given a fresh coat of paint so now you can take a taxi ride through the streets of Monstropolis on Monsters, Inc.: Mike & Sulley to the Rescue! I think this is an adorable ride, by the way, and you should definitely check it out!
Disney California Adventure has improved leaps and bounds since it first opened 16 years ago. They couldn't get anyone to come to the park then and now it's almost as popular as Disneyland anymore. I personally love what they've done with the place so far (cough, cough, Guardians!) and hope that it will continue to get better with time.