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A Whole New Disney California Adventure
It was a long time coming -- five years, in fact -- but when Disney California Adventure Park at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., premiered Cars Land and Buena Vista Street last week, Disney fans, many of whom camped out at the front gate, couldn’t get in fast enough.
My husband and I were among the lucky few who were already inside, watching as Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, officially reopened the park with the help of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters. And when the gates opened, Disney fans flooded in to see the new developments -- the grand finale of a $1.1 billion re-imagining of Disney’s second gate in Anaheim.
I remember when Disney California Adventure Park opened in 2001, as well as the tepid response it received from people who knew and loved Disneyland for the way it immersed them into another world. That response did not go unnoticed. Disney executives and Imagineers sought to create an immersive experience in the newer park. By the response I saw last week, they have succeeded.
As guests passed through the main gate, they walked down Buena Vista Street, a representation of a typical Los Angeles commercial street from the 1920s, when Walt Disney arrived to pursue his Hollywood dream. In fact, Alan Bruun, creative director of entertainment for the Disneyland Resort, says that Buena Vista Street is portrayed as a “street of dreams.”
It’s where “moving entertainment” features Five and Dime, a band that arrives on a jalopy at Carthay Circle at the end of Buena Vista Street, looking for fame. And the Red Car News Boys, a singing and dancing troupe, arrive on the Red Car Trolley (which guests can ride) and perform. In the center of Carthay Circle is a statue of a young Walt Disney with nothing but a foot locker and Mickey Mouse at his side.
Buena Vista Street complements Disneyland’s Main Street USA. But instead of Victorian architecture, this street features the blend of architectural styles that defined Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s, including art deco and Spanish revival. Among the shops here are an ice cream parlor and a souvenir emporium. Buena Vista Street also boasts the first Starbucks inside a theme park, disguised as the Fiddler Fifer and Practical Café and Bakery. Strolling around the area are not only recognizable Disney characters but also “citizens of Buena Vista Street” dressed in period costumes.
The Carthay Circle Theatre at the end of Buena Vista Street is the focal point. The theater, which was designed after the original Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles, where Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” premiered in 1937, is actually a restaurant and lounge. Overseen by Chef Andrew Sutton, who is also executive chef of Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel, the Spanish revival Carthay Circle Restaurant serves cuisine using sustainable, local ingredients, with an international wine list and an array of microbrews and classic cocktails.
Reservations were booked up for days when we were there, but we decided to see if there was an opening for a late lunch/early dinner, and we scored a table. The food and service were top notch -- quite a feat for opening day. Try the cheese and jalepeño biscuits. They have a kick but aren’t too spicy. Other menu items include Korean pulled pork sandwich and halibut ceviche. And for kids, there are items like Sloppy Joes and green apple caramel push pops.
The largest piece of Disney California Adventure’s expansion is the 12-acre Cars Land, based on the Disney-Pixar animated film “Cars.” This is where everyone headed when the park reopened last week. Cars Land’s attractions, shops and dining establishments are set along a stretch of “Route 66” for about a quarter mile. Along the way, we saw characters from the film, like Lightening McQueen and Red the Fire Truck, posing for photos with guests.
At the end of the street is Radiator Springs Racers, which starts out as a dark ride through Radiator Springs and turns into a race, where two cars carrying up to six people each are paired up to zoom through Ornament Valley. We were among the first guests on that ride on opening day, and when we got off we saw a line of people running the entire length of the street. There was even a line for Fast Passes.
Knowing that everyone wanted to sample Cars Land that day, we went on other attractions in the park. It was the first time I ever walked onto my favorite ride, Soarin’ Over California, with no wait. We also went across the way to Disneyland and rode several of our favorite attractions without so much as a five-minute wait.
Back at Disney California Adventure, we went on Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, where tractors pull guests in trailers, swinging them around while Mater sings a hoedown tune. Along the street, we also found themed shops and restaurants, including Sarge's Surplus Hut, a corrugated metal enclosure offering a variety of merchandise; Radiator Springs Curios, a country-style mercantile; Ramone's House of Body Art, featuring clothing, accessories and other items; Flo's V8 Cafe, modeled after the roadside diners along old Route 66; Sally’s Cozy Cone Motel, offering cone-themed snacks from oversized orange traffic cones; and Fillmore's Taste-in, a kiosk that offers fresh fruit, bottled water and juices. The most popular retail items? We saw a lot of people carrying souvenir orange cones filled with soft drinks and others wearing “tire” hats reminiscent of Luigi’s Tires.
Speaking of which, when we got to Cars Land’s third ride, Luigi’s Flying Tires -- a bumper car-like ride, where guests sit in oversized tires powered by air thrusts from below and steer by leaning -- had a 105-minute wait. So we headed to the Tower of Terror. But we weren’t disappointed -- now we have a reason to return to what is effectively a brand new Disney California Adventure.
Mimi Kmet is executive editor covering travel agents and the U.S. West Coast for TravelPulse.com.
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