As we move into 2016, we are just mere weeks away from Disney California Adventure’s 15th Anniversary. What came before this current iteration of the park is a long and varied story which I am going to look at.
The land was purchased back in the 1950’s, as the original park in California was being planned. It wasn’t until Walt Disney World was a multi park resort that it was decided a second park in California could be risked.
The original plan was to build a West Coast version of Epcot, know as Westcot.
Due to financial issues with the opening of Euro Disneyland in 1992, the Westcot project was scrapped in 1995. But this wasn’t the end of the plans. That summer, the current CEO of The Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner, called a meeting to discuss re-starting the developement of a second park. It was decided at that meeting that the second park would be themed to it’s home state of California
Alongside the building of the theme park, The Grand Californian Hotel was built alongside refurbishments for The Disneyland Hotel and The Disneyland Pacific Hotel. Another major project started to coincide with the work was the building of the shopping and entertainment district, Downtown Disney.
When the park opened on February 8th 2001, the park was expected to be filled to capacity . This did not happen. Early reviews of the park were poor, a lack of innovative rides and attractions, mainly off the shelf rather than Imagineer created. The only really creative ride was Soarin’ Over California.
Entrance figures dwindled over it’s first year, sitting at 5 million visitors compared to the Disneyland Park having over 12 million visitors.
One of the other main criticisms was a lack of attractions aimed at children, as well as a lack of a nighttime spectacular. With in the first year, The Electrical Parade moved over, alongside the opening of Who Wants to be a Millionaire- Play It
Several attractions also closed including Superstar Limo and more new attractions opened. Disney’s LUMINaria was shown in Paradise Bay during the Holiday season of 2001. This was followed in 2002 with the opening of Flik’s Fun Fair in the Fall.
Then in May 2004, a brand new e-ticket attraction arrived and it was set to become a fan favourite, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
It wasn’t until January 2006 that another major attraction was added, moving into the building Superstar Limo vacated was Monsters, Inc: Mike and Sulley To The Rescue!
It was at this point that the current Walt Disney Company board including new CEO, Bob Iger, realised the park just wasn’t cutting it comapred to their other parks. At one stage the board considered combining both California Adventure and Disneyland Park into just one park, but costs would have amounted to it exactly the same as remodelling California Adventure into something new.
In October 2007, a $1.1 billion refurb was announced for California Adventure, focusing on a more heightened version of California rather than a more modern version that had previously been in place.
In December of that year work began on the refurbishment, but this work would take over five years to complete. Toy Story Mania was the first addition, finding it’s home in Paradise Pier, opening in June 2008.
Paradise Pier would get the bulk of the early work, with The Sun Wheel being re-themed to Mickey’s Fun Wheel, The Orange Stinger was replaced by The Silly Symphony Swings and World of Colour would make it’s debut, all by June 2010.
The next things to change where the removal of the Maliboomer and the addition of The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.
The last change in Paradise Pier was the re-theming of Mulholland Madness, a kiddy coaster, becoming Goofy’s Sky School.
The next project was the closure of the entrance, the removal of the California sign and Golden Gate Bridge to make way for an exact replica of the entrance to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Next came the area situated behind the entrance, formerly Sunshine Plaza, that was a bit of a spoof of California, to be replaced by the 1920’s California theme in the form of Buena Vista Street.
And finally came the last project, the biggest ever build outside of a new park. Based on Pixar’s Cars, came Cars Land. A build of a complete land based on one property saw the introduction of Radiator Springs.
Set in 12 acres of land, it would consist of three attractions, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, an attraction similar to the Mad Tea Party. Luigi’s Flying Tyres, based on the old Disneyland ride The Flying Saucers (a favourite of John Lasseter , the director of Cars, who had a huge hand in designing Cars Land) but which closed in February 2014 to be replaced by Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters . Then the big one, Radiator Springs Racers, an attraction which took a large chunk of inspiration from Test Track at Epcot.
Not only did it consist of three new attractions but we also saw three new dining experiences, including Flo’s V8 Cafe, and three new shops.
It wasn’t just the usual things that you came to expect from Disney, but the whole immersive experience, the whole town sprang (!!) up including the Ornament Valley Range of mountains from the film
At last the Park was complete once more, a re-dedication took place on 15th June 2012, and saw attendance soar by 23%, making attendances across the two parks a far more even affair.
As you can see, California Adventure has a lot of history for a park that is only just about to hit 15 years old, but it is now in a place, that it sits alongside the other parks across the world, at a standard we expect from Disney.
As Hollywood Studios heads in to a period of the same type of turmoil that California Adventure went through, including a land that will dwarf Cars Land, Disney have proved before that this sort of work can be done and done well.
The near future of that park may look bleak, but looking at California Adventure you can see a possible Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow for Hollywood Studios