Sunday, January 20, 2013

On to California Adventure

On my second day, I opted to start across the esplanade at Disneland Resort's second gate, Disney California Adventure.  Now when last I'd been to California Adventure, the park was undergoing major renovation, which finished this summer.  An entire new land based on the movie Cars was added, a major renovation to the entry area was completed, and a dark ride based on the movie The Little Mermaid opened.  Plus the major nighttime water and light spectacle World of Color.  I hadn't seen any of this completed yet, so I was excited to check things out.
Oswald's gas station on Buena Vista Street.
(Does everyone know who Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was?)

Now I actually liked the old entrance, with the colorful (and cheesy) tile murals, the Golden Gate bridge, and the giant "California" letters out front, and I admit I was a little sad to see it go.  But I also have to admit that the new entry land (Buena Vista Street) is in fact better.  It's beautiful, it feels intimate and detailed, and it does feel that you've entered a specific time and place.  It does indeed have some of the vibe of Disneyland's Main Street.  I'm impressed.

More of Buena Vista Street, still decorated for Christmas.
I headed back to the new Cars Land section of the park, themed to Radiator Springs from the movie Cars.  The land is also spectacularly themed, with Ornament Valley in the background (which I could see the back of from my hotel), but I'm headed straight for the new E-ticket ride that's built into that scenic backdrop:  The Radiator Springs Racers.
Yes, it's spectacular, and you get to ride through it.
The line is already at 90 minutes when I arrive in the morning, and all FastPasses are already gone (again).  But there is a single rider line, which promises to be much shorter, so I head on in.  It's still a noticeable wait (probably about 30 minutes or so), but the queue is really pretty lovely too.  And I notice that Disney doesn't miss a trick these days:  There are now people with drinks and snacks for sale sent up and down the line as you wait.

That's all well and good, but eventually I get to the front of the line and get loaded into a car.  Your trip starts on a winding road through a beautiful, winding road through a southwestern desert, past a scenic waterfall and into a tunnel which leads into the main show building.  Here, you start meeting other characters from Cars, and the animatronics are great.  (Of course, it helps that all the characters are, well, cars, and therefore supposed to look like objects rather than people or animals.  But the characters are very well done.)

Time to race! (And there's Cadillac Range in the background, which means my hotel was
just behind there.  Not that you can tell from here.)
After a brief tour of Radiator Springs (and an adventure in tractor tipping with Mater), you're ready for a race with another car of guests.  You whip around a race course at high speed, and one car is declared the winner.  (Randomly assigned, but on my first trip, my car won.)  And based on the picture below (which of course Disney tries to sell you a print of), I seem to have had a pretty good time:

It's no wonder the ride is popular; it's pretty much a perfect Disney attraction.  There are wonderful, lavish, immersive sets and backgrounds, well-done characters, and a little bit of a thrill (but not too much).  And the outdoor setting of Ornament Valley is absolutely stunning.  Now unfortunately, the thrills may actually be a bit of a problem for some.  I know that at one point, the thrills of the racing segment would have been a bit much for me, and are still too intense for some people to feel comfortable riding.  That's a shame, because there is a lot of magnificent scenery, characters, and story to see.  (But if you are among those who will skip the ride, someone has helpfully posted a full video on YouTube.)

I ended up going back for a second trip through the single rider line (the attraction really is that good), and found out (by chance) how they load and unload people with physical disabilities.  There's a separate bay off behind the main loading area in which a single car can be "parked".  People who need to transfer from a wheelchair or something similar can do so at this vehicle, and leave the chair to wait for them.  Then when everyone is loaded, the car can be slid back into line and it takes off with the rest, but comes back to the separate loading bay in the end.  I got assigned to one of these cars on my second time through the single rider line, so I got to watch the process.

And it turned out to be handy that I did end up in one of those pulled-aside cars. When I was getting out, I seemed to have a problem with my seatbelt getting caught on my camera strap for some reason.  I finally freed it, and got out, heading for the exit and looking for my clip-on sunglasses.  Where the heck were they?  Oh, right, I think I had them attached to ... my... camera strap... oh, I think I know what the seatbelt was caught on.  So I turned around, went back up the exit, and told the young lady working there that I thought I may have dropped my sunglasses.  They weren't anywhere visible, and I said "Probably in the car," with a disappointed shrug.  She told me I could wait there for the car to come back (in less than five minutes) and check then.  And lo and behold, when the car came back, there were the sunglasses sitting in the seat.  (I don't think this would have been as easy if I'd been in the main line where most of the cars ran through.)  So my sunglasses rode the racers one more time than I did on this trip.

I also hit the single rider line for the hang-glider simulator Soarin' over California,  which is among my favorite attractions because as you "glide" over the filmed landscape, you can really get the sense of flying.  It's as close as I can get outside of my dreams.  (By the way, I seem to have less ability to fly in my dreams these days.  I used to be able to soar, but these days when I realize I'm dreaming and try to fly, usually the best I can do is to hover about six inches off the ground.  And no, I don't want to talk about Freud's theories about flying dreams.)
Work for (very talented) percussionists at California Adventure.
"Aren't you a little old to be...?"
"Yes.  Yes, I am."
To finish up the morning, I saw street show featuring Phineas and Ferb, another street show featuring a percussionist trio of "street cleaners", tried the new Little Mermaid themed dark ride (very nice, with great effects; video ride-through is available on YouTube).  This one is not a problem for those who are avoiding thrill rides.

I also opted to try out the Golden Zephyr, which is basically a "spin you around up high" amusement park type ride on Paradise Pier (video on YouTube).  Given my increased ability to handle wild rides like the Matterhorn and Big Thunder Mountain, I thought this would be OK, since it looked a little milder, but this turned out to be a little rougher on me than I thought.  Maybe the spinning was too much, but I had to give up and shut my eyes when it got a little higher.  And then be very grateful when it was finally over and could get back on terra firma.  (Of course, the average six year old probably thinks the ride is boring.)

Having hit most of my "must sees" (and a few incidentals) at California Adventure, I decided to cross the Disneyland to pick up lunch and grab a FastPass for the revamped Star Tours attraction, then head back to the hotel for an afternoon nap.  (I'd been up early, and I planned to stay late today.)  And for lunch, I opted to try the much vaunted corn dog from a cart on Main Street in Disneyland.  (Lots of people rave about how awesome these hand-dipped corn dogs are.)  I can say I've tried it, and I can say that it was reasonably good, but I don't really get the excitement.  Of course, I had about the same reaction when I tried the (supposedly) legendary Dole Whip (a frozen ice-cream-like treat): fairly good, but not exceptional or worth worrying about repeating.  I guess I'm a heretic on some Disney food items.

But I do have to say I think the work done in the last few years on California Adventure has been exceptional.  It really does feel like a full theme park now.  Unfortunately, that means it's also drawing crowds like Disneyland does.  Five years ago when I felt like Disneyland was too crowded, I could slip across the way to visit a few attractions in DCA, but this year they both feel pretty crowded all the time.   Obviously that's good for Disney, and I'm glad to have the improvements, but I guess I'll kind of miss having a quieter place nearby.

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