Part 3 -- Disney California Adventure
Tuesday, September 11, 2018
As I mentioned in this thread's intro post, a family trip to Disneyland was the centerpiece of my whole California vacation. Timing it out with West Coast Bash was not just convenient, but also made sense from a crowd/price standpoint. It also meant that we'd be visiting near the beginning of the Halloween celebration, so we'd be seeing special decorations and dining items all around both parks.
We planned out four days (Tues-Fri) at Disneyland, though I had sometimes asked myself -- is four days too much? Ultimately, it worked out perfectly
for several reasons.
1) This was the first visit to Disneyland for everyone in our group. Absolutely everything
was new to us.
2) Traveling with my parents and my grandmother, I knew the pace would be a little slower than I'm used to.
3) I tend to be able to occupy myself with photography for long periods of time.
By the end of the week, we'd completed everything important that we wanted to, and I got second (or third) rides on the best attractions. Even with four full days, there were still a couple minor attractions that we had to skip, plus two big items -- Matterhorn and World of Color -- that were not in operation.
Our plan was to spend the first two days as full-day visits to one park each. For crowd control purposes, we aligned our schedule opposite
the Extra Magic Hour, and that led us to start our adventure at DCA.
I won't do a full play-by-play, but we essentially got through the entire park in one shot. We started with a Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass run, then rode Soarin' while the line was short. From there, there wasn't any need for an overarching strategy, as crowds were manageable. Strategic use of Fastpass helped us out with Toy Story Mania, and even afforded us a second ride on Radiator Springs Racers after Toy Story went down for a while. We had time to split up for shopping / photography purposes in the afternoon (guess which one I was doing) before reuniting for the "lighting" of Cars Land at sunset. We also watched the Paint the Night parade together in the evening. After the parade, my family left, and I stayed in the park for night photography until well past closing time.
I should note that we did not
budget for MaxPass. It wouldn't have been cheap with five people, and with four full days, we got through everything just fine using the paper Fastpass system. Sure, over the course of the week, we had a few 15-20 minute waits. The problem at Disney is that in most cases, a Fastpass (or MaxPass) doesn't bypass the final 5-10 minutes of the queue. It's a big difference compared to something like Fast Lane at a Cedar Fair park, where you may very well just walk right onto a coaster train. That being said, I'd get MaxPass on a short visit with a small group, but it just didn't make sense for us.How Was DCA?
Loved it. At first, I think some of my family members thought it wasn't "Disney" enough, but by parade time they had come around. I never saw the original version of DCA, which is probably for the better, but I think the current state of the park is an even more well-tuned microcosm of California than the original one could have ever dreamed of being. Rather than the prototypical whimsy one typically associates with Disney, the theming at DCA is a bit more realistic and natural. The Disney elements are the accents, rather than the theme itself. And to that end, I think the park is just
enough Disney to go along with the rest of the experience.
Theme isn't enough, though, and a park like this needs standout attractions to make the visit worthwhile. That's no problem here. I'll put Radiator Springs Racers, Guardians, Incredicoaster, and Toy Story Mania up there with the best of any other Disney park I've been to. Add in some great second-tier attractions -- Mater's, Monsters Inc, Turtle Talk, Pixar Pal-a-Round, a really good parade -- and there's no shortage of things to do. I should note that while I didn't ride Grizzly River Run (rapids ride) a few family members did, and gave it a glowing review.
Have I gotten this far without mentioning Cars Land? I have zero
interest in the Cars franchise, and yet I was blown away by both the grandeur and the detail of what is probably DCA's most fully-realized accomplishment. If we can expect this level of work from what's coming in future expansions at Disney parks around the planet, it's going to be a really exciting time to be a theme park fan when they all open up.
Any complaints? The Halloween specialty pizza was $8-per-slice or $40-per-pie, which even by Disney standards is completely insane. We skipped that. Overall, I thought the restaurant options at DCA were good, but not great. Maybe Carthay Circle would change my mind, but that wasn't in the cards for this trip. I thought the west end of the lagoon felt like some of the "Disney on the cheap" had yet to be cleaned up. The attractions over there never pulled any kind of a wait. I thought the wharf area was under-utilized, though it's probably too late to expand that section now. This is all pretty minor. DCA is a fantastic piece of work, and it's become a place that I thought was easily worthy of its location directly across from the original Disneyland.How were the attractions?Radiator Springs Racers
-- How could this ride possibly live up to the hype? I won't say it exceeded my expectations -- which were quite high -- but it met them. This ride is a fantastic mix of outdoor scenery, dark ride elements, great animatronics, and the thrill of the race at the end. It's also one of the most immersive attractions I've been on anywhere -- outside of a brief glimpse of the Guardians tower, you're fully enveloped within Radiator Springs the whole way through. I like Test Track at Epcot, but this one wins out for sure.Mater's Junkyard Jamboree
-- Leave it to Disney to take a simple flat ride concept and turn it into something really fun and well-themed. It's like a Whip on a series of interconnected turntables, and it's slightly disorienting in the way each vehicle moves through the ride cycle. I've heard enough of Larry the Cable Guy singing to last the rest of my life, but it's certainly something I'd ride again -- maybe with earplugs.Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters
-- I really don't know what to think of this. Unlike Mater's, it's probably more fun to watch than it is to ride. It's really something to behold -- the synchronization of the individual cars into one cohesive dancing unit.Incredicoaster
-- Fantastic! This is exactly what a "fun" higher-end family roller coaster should be. A coaster enthusiast can find things to like -- the launch, some airtime in the back of the train, and especially the unexpectedly-intense vertical loop. Still, it's not too much for the whole family to enjoy. One of my favorite parts about the ride is its length -- it's no one-trick pony. The themed tunnels are a lot of fun, and the visuals really pop at night. I'm also not ashamed to admit that this coaster might be the world's best cookie commercial. One minor complaint: the seats are kind of an uncomfortable hard plastic without any contouring, and the OTSRs aren't really needed. Nothing bad to say about the ride experience, though. This is of my favorite attractions at Disneyland.Toy Story Mania
-- A favorite in Florida, and a favorite here too. You'd need wrists of steel to marathon this, but that won't be an issue, because it pulls in consistent lines all day long. Having just been on Iron Reef
and Justice League
, I was wondering how this one would hold up. Quite well -- though I love Justice League, this one is my favorite of the three.Pixar Pal-a-Round
-- I didn't ride this on the first day at DCA, but later in the week I did one cycle each on the swinging and non-swinging cars. Having been on the original at Deno's (Coney Island), I knew what to expect from the swinging, and thought it was pretty fun. The full cages on the cars made photography a big challenge, but when I get to the pictures from later days of the trip, I'll share some results with the zoom lens that I'm pretty happy with.Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission Breakout
-- I've been on the original Twilight Zone version in Florida and Paris, and I love that theme. I also don't really keep up with modern movies, so I had little knowledge of the whole Guardians franchise. None of that mattered too much, as I thought this was a really fun version of the tower! The ride experience is about the same, but the storyline is more exciting than creepy. Well, perhaps bump up the "creepy" a bit for the Monsters After Dark
overlay, which we rode later in the week! That was a cool change as well. This is a top-flight attraction in any version. I guess my preference would be to keep the Twilight Zone theme in Florida, and keep the Guardians theme in California, so I can ride them both!Soarin'
-- I have never been a huge fan of Soarin', but as this was my first time on the Soarin' Around the World
version, I was hoping I might enjoy it a bit more. Nope. It's still just a glorified IMAX motion simulator. The scenery on the film is fantastic, but then it's ruined by obvious (and unnecessary) CGI effects. The best part about Soarin' is that it still draws crowds away from the better attractions elsewhere in the park.Goofy's Sky School
-- It's themed really well, but it's still a mouse at a Disney park. One ride was plenty enough.Golden Zephyr
-- It's kind of pointless, but at least it's unique. I don't think I've seen a spinny flat ride built like this one anywhere else. Actually, the calmness of its motion makes it a decent ride to get pictures from.Silly Symphony Swings
-- It's a wave swinger! At a Disney park! I mean, I guess there's nothing wrong with that.Monsters Inc - Mike and Sulley to the Rescue
-- It's a cute dark ride, and it's also quite funny. The door scene near the end is great.The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Undersea Adventure
-- Another cute dark ride, but not a new experience, as I've been on the one in Florida. Honestly, I'm kind of one-and-done on straight-up story-based dark rides like this one. Consider that a preview for my review of Fantasyland in the next trip report.Sorcerer's Workshop
-- Kind of neat for a quick stop, I guess, especially if you are into animation. It's pretty hidden, so I'm guessing most guests never even get in there.Turtle Talk with Crush
-- The world needs more digital puppetry attractions. Turtle Talk is great. You can do a lot with the whole surfer/stoner character, but pulling off humor for the kids and
adults in the room is a bit of a balancing act. Whoever they had portraying Crush during our visit nailed it.The Bakery Tour
-- It's bread. They're making bread. Yep.Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
-- Every Disney park needs one of these. Actually, every theme park on the planet needs one of these. It's nature! It's a play area! It's educational! It's a place to let off some steam! As someone who enjoys national/state parks as much as theme parks, this was an unexpectedly fun little mix of the two.Red Car Trolley
-- Yeah, we rode the trolley! I still don't know exactly why we did, but we did. There was a spontaneous little show element as we stopped in front of Guardians
and some cast members tried to bring a caged animal on board -- perhaps an escapee from the tower? Give the staff some credit, I guess, for making some fun out of an otherwise-inconsequential transportation ride.