|Our oldest son Presley was so excited when he was tall enough to ride The Tower of Terror that he posed for a picture with the Tower and years later asked me to draw a sketch of that picture for him.|
Its hard to believe it has been 17 years since the second theme park opened at the Disneyland Resort, it still seems like a "new" park to me. When we went to Disneyland on our first date in 1998 they had started the demolition of the original parking lot, and I remember driving along the blocked off parking lot and being sent to a surface lot just south of the Disneyland Hotel behind what is now the Paradise Pier Hotel. We would end up going to Disneyland for New Years 2001 and you could see that they were nearly finished, it was very exciting that in just over a month the new park would open. Disney's California Adventure park opened on February 8, 2001, we probably made it there by March or so, May at the latest as that is our anniversary and before we were pass holders we would try to go every year around that date.
|Paradise Pier in 2016, soon to be "Pixar Pier"...the 3rd version of the "Classic" California Boardwalk at Disney California Adventure Park|
It was still very new, and not crowded, I was not following the development very closely and did not really know what to expect. Jon Jerde's Universal City Walk had been a pretty big deal and we covered it in Architecture School, but I don't remember Downtown Disney receiving similar press. I had really liked Universal City Walk's collage like homage to Los Angeles Boulevard culture, it seemed a more organic way to represent "California" and it felt like a "City". The Craftsman vocabulary at Downtown Disney was beautiful and worked especially well in concert with the Grand Californian Hotel to give it a "Resort" vibe. As that Architecture was traditionally used for residences I felt at the retail scale used at Downtown Disney it did not "feel" like a real "City" the way City Walk did. I suppose I have softened a bit on that as I like Downtown Disney but it was never a place we went to outside of Disneyland visits but we would go to City Walk independent of visits to Universal Studios Hollywood.
The new Esplanade "plaza" between the park entrances was very nice and an elegant "front porch" for the the theme parks. It took a little getting used to to make a hard turn to face Disneyland from the Ticket Booths after being used to approaching it straight on, but everything at Downtown Disney and the Esplanade was done to a high level of detail, that it largely remains to this day is a testament to it's quality. On our first visit to then new "Disneyland Resort" I'm pretty sure we purchased Park Hoppers and spent the morning at California Adventure and the afternoon/evening at Disneyland...that would end up being our usual touring pattern for nearly every visit.
I remember they had a new "Disneyland Resort" logo that did not use the famous script. and it was jarring at first. It made some sense to give a "separate" identity to Disneyland Park (which still used the classic script) versus the Disneyland RESORT (which used the new logo incorporating the "Disney" signature letters). We had gone to Disneyland Paris in the summer of 2000 and they had a similar more "corporate" logo. I believe there was some push back on not using the Disneyland Script for the whole resort and they eventually got rid of the new Disneyland Resort logo and now use the classic script logo for both the original park and the resort.
I think our overall impressions were that portions of some areas were really detailed (Hollywood Backlot Street, Pacific Wharf, Paradise Pier Bay, Golden State Rec Area, Condor Flats) while some areas were really sparse and lacking (Sunshine Plaza, Studio Backlot, Bay Area, Paradise Pier Midway, Crazy Roadside area of Paradise Bay, Bountiful Valley Farm), and that there was not enough to do.
While somewhat critical of the park, we never hated it or thought it was awful, in fact there was much we liked. We became quite fond of it as it was a nice break from the Disneyland crowds! After seeing on TV all of the amazing stuff they were doing to Walt Disney World throughout the 80's & 90's it was so exciting getting some "new" stuff and a "Resort" to go with what was one park, a parking lot and at the time an older hotel.
Maybe it was slightly underwhelming because there were so few unique rides and because the place making was very disjointed. There was not a clear diagram of how the park was organized the way Disneyland was. The spine of the park was called "The Performance Corridor", I guess it is as clinical as "The Hub", but somehow it didn't quite work. The postcard entry and Golden Gate Bridge was clever but it led to a largely empty plaza and the "sun and wave wall" did not have a lot of presence as an icon...you felt like there was no anchors...it was just a series of places stretched out along wide walkways. The collage/juxtaposition approach of Universal City Walk(important to note is a shopping center and not a Theme Park), where disparate elements abut each other without attempt to recreate a specific time and place was in use in a lot of places in the park. Sunshine Plaza for example had simple metal storefronts and also a somewhat accurate portrayal of a train station but then the train was clearly set into the ground and there was no where for the train to go.
The collage approach can work as architecture, but it is not the way a Disney Theme Park is traditionally presented. Disney Theme Parks attempt to recreate specific environments with a logic to them. California Adventure had elements that didn't seem logical like a Golden Gate Bridge over a walkway, or a train to nowhere, a 1990's modern "Animation" building in the middle of a 1920's Hollywood Street. Is Hollywood Backlot a movie studio or a trip through old Hollywood, or both? It was not always clear. It was that lack of clarity which made the place come off as a Six Flags or Cedar Fair type park even if the environments were highly detailed.
The raft ride was done well and the Rec Area right adjacent to the Grand Californian was very successful, I really loved the way the walkway was done as if it were a road through a National Park complete with road barrier. But then you had wonderfully detailed "Painted Ladies Bay Area" facades for bathrooms and no attraction.
There were so many shops and places to eat but too few rides. Soarin' Over California was magnificent, and California Screamin' was fun, it seemed pretty wild for a "Disney" Coaster. We went on the very strange Superstar Limo, the style of the ride was very cartoony and the DC Follies/Max Headroom style characters were creepy. The premise had potential but the execution was bizarre, I have enjoyed the Monsters Inc. version much more.
On only one of our visits was the backlot food court open, it was a set of eateries themed to classic LA nightspots...like Ciro's, and The Coconut Grove, Trocadero, etc., I thought that was really neat and have never seen it open ever again. I really loved The Muppets show and it was new to me as I had not yet been to Walt Disney World. The Animation exhibits were top notch, we spent a lot of time there. Overall though we enjoyed it; I suppose it was a mixed bag, but since we had park hoppers we filled the rest of our day at Disneyland.
|Presley meeting Goofy in front of the Frank Lloyd Wright Bathrooms|
Around the time of our oldest son's second birthday we became pass holders and would visit both parks much more frequently. We stayed at the Paradise Pier Hotel several times and appreciated the quiet vibe of the place and were always given park view rooms without an up charge. I fondly remember watching the Electrical Parade travel "The Performance Corridor" from our rooms!
|Theme Park View no charge upgrade every time in those uncrowded days|
|Building the Grand California DVC in the foreground there|
The tortilla factory was a favorite of ours especially when they were handing out flour tortillas. I suppose what we most enjoyed was how laid back and uncrowded it was.
When we moved away from California they were just starting to put up the barriers for Buena Vista Street & Cars Land. We have since been back to see the new "Disney California Adventure"...and have enjoyed it. The new Buena Vista Street is a wonderful counterpoint to Main Street USA and brings a lot of energy and life to the entry of the park.
|With Presley & Ryker on "Route 66"|
Cars Land is of course fantastic, both Radiator Springs and Radiator Springs Racers. Racers is the perfect combination of dark ride and thrill ride, it is one of the best Disney Rides I have ever been on, I think of the "Modern" attractions Indiana Jones is the only thing that comes close to it for detail.
We left California in 2009 and from what I understand the parks have gotten more and more crowded since, but for a while there we really enjoyed our slower paced California Adventure.