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California Thrills From Disney
Their newest California theme park is a fun ride for the family.


By Donald Leibenson
(5/21/01)


The last time Disney opened a theme park in California, Eisenhower was president, "Rock Around the Clock" was No. 1, and McDonalds sold its first burger. Nineteen Fifty Five, in fact, was something of a career year for Walt Disney. In addition to the opening of Disneyland, the Mickey Mouse Club made its television debut, and coonskin caps popularized by Fess Parker's Davy Crockett were a craze of Pokemon proportions.

And now, something new has been added; Disney California Adventure (or as the locals call it, DCA). The stats: 55-acres; 22 attractions; $43 for adults and $33 for children. If you're going to anywhere near Anaheim add it to the schedule. The wide range of activities should captivate the entire family.

A departure for the brand-conscious company, DCA celebrates California history and heritage rather than Disney's own legacy. The first thing moused-out Disney park veterans will notice when they enter the park is an atypical low-key Disney presence. Visitors are greeted not with "When You Wish Upon a Star," "Heigh-Ho," or "Hakuna Matata," but by classic California-themed songs performed by the original artists, such as Dionne Warwick's "Do You Know the Way To San Jose?" and the Beach Boys' "Surfin' Safari."



The park is divided into three areas. Golden State has two must-ride attractions. Your first stop should be "Soarin' Over California," located in the Condor Flats airplane hanger. Accommodating 87 riders suspended 40 ft. aloft in front of an IMAX-like screen, this ride simulates a hang-gliding tour of California from Yosemite and Napa Valley to a Palm Springs golf course and Disneyland's nighttime fireworks extravaganza. The feel of sweeping wind currents and the smell of pine needs and orange blossoms heighten the sensation.

The ride is appropriate for children. The simulated dives are not as steep or severe as warned in the rider's advisory. Also, try to sit in the front row, lest your field of vision be framed by dangling feet.

Another of Golden State's golden attractions is the Grizzly River Run, a mountain river rapids ride said to be the longest, tallest and fastest of its kind. A poncho is recommended.

Children will naturally gravitate to Paradise Pier with its amusement park rides and midway games (not included in the price of admission; most cost $2 a pop). The California Screamin' and Mulholland Madness roller coasters were not in operation during my visit.

The 150-ft. Sun Wheel is a Ferris wheel with a stomach-turning difference. In addition to the traditional stationary red gondolas, this ride-within-a-ride has cars that slide along curved tracks. There are separate lines for each.

The Orange Stinger is a swing ride encased in a gigantic half-peeled California orange. Way fun, but way too short, as was typical of the rides in this area.

The Maliboomer catapults riders 200-ft. in the air in seconds. The Jellyfish is a less drastic version for smaller children. King Triton's Carousel is a toddler-appropriate ride.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot includes two attractions imported from Walt Disney World. Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3-D never ceases to amaze and delight. Never mind a long wait. Just sit down in the waiting area and enjoy the preshow, which unfolds on suspended television monitors (Don't miss the special guest appearance by "Mickey Mouse")

"Back to Neverland," a filmed presentation narrated by Walter Cronkite and starring Robin Williams, illustrates the animation process. It is located in the Animation Pavilion, a fascinating exhibit in which activities range from screenings of clips from classic Disney animated films, getting a sneak-peek at works in progress, and adding sound effects to a cartoon.

"It's Tough To Be a Bug," located in the Golden State area, is another Florida import. Hosed by Flik from "A Bug's Life," this nearly 10-min. 3-D presentation is funny with some mildly rude humor. But it may be too intense for younger viewers. It is loud at times, and there is one brief period where the theatre is plunged into darkness.

"Bug" is just one of the park's premier Fastpass attractions. This new Disney park innovation allows visitors who do not want to stand in long lines to reserve a time to return at their convenience. The other Fastpass attractions are: Grizzly River Run, Soarin' Over California, California Screamin', Mulholland Madness and Muppet*Vision 3D.

Other diversions located in the Golden State area include Bountiful Valley Farm (comparatively heigh ho-hum) and mini Tortilla and sourdough bread factories. In Napa Valley, adults can enjoy wine, a welcome first for a Disney theme park.

Parents can enjoy a brief respite and children can burn off even more energy on the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, a play area with hiking trails, suspension bridges and rock climbing. Get in line quickly for the sliding cable run.

DCA is part of Disney's $1.4 billion expansion that includes a new resort hotel and Downtown Disney, a stretch of retail stores, restaurants and nightclubs that includes ESPN Zone, House of Blues, LEGO Imagination Center, a bookstore, Haagen-Dazs, and the inevitable World of Disney emporium. If you are walking through DD to get to either of the theme parks, be sure to stop at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen for a take-out order of beignets.


Donald Liebenson lives in Highland Park, Illinois and covers entertainment for national magazines. His 6-year old son caught the pilot and now asks his friends, "Did you see Cardcaptors?"






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