Posted on Leave a comment

An In-Depth Look at the Biggest Problem of Disney California Adventure

As a Penguinator, does it make sense to be critical of Disney California Adventure (DCA)? No one at the Disney Company is likely to read this post and think, “Oh, yeah, we did forget that,” or “Schnikey! We need to fix that ASAP,” especially if I were to leave this post private and for Penguinators only instead of giving you an advanced viewing opportunity. I don’t have any Disney employees on my Patreon list that I’m aware of, and I’m decently certain there aren’t any that visit my blog. Even if there were, the company is notorious for not accepting unsolicited ideas from outside.

Besides, anything I say has already been said by someone else and probably thought of by the imagineers. Still, as a mental exercise to improve creativity, looking at DCA provides the opportunity to unleash the judge, find what’s wrong with the current park, and figure out how to make it better. Imagineers can talk about the idea of Blue Sky thinking where everything goes and there are no rules, but in the end, they are constrained by the park’s current footprint and the bean counter’s budget, which would include the opportunity cost of any major renovation that would significantly change the park. We have no similar constraints if we choose to offer up possible solutions to the DCA problem. We can truly engage in Blue Sky thinking without reference to financial consequences, thinking only about what’s wrong with DCA and what would make the park better.

Where’s the Theme, Park?

Disneyland changed the amusement park industry by, among other things, theming itself and its lands. Walt Disney established early on that spacemen and cars don’t go into Frontierland, and the cowboys stay out of Tomorrowland. The sightlines were created so that people viewing a building on Main Street, U.S.A. would see a different roof than they would see when viewing the same building from Adventureland.

The berm with its train and trees was devised to keep the rest of the world from interfering with the guests’ ability to suspend disbelief. When coupled with the negotiated rules that Anaheim passed for buildings outside the park, guest don’t see anything that Disney doesn’t want them to see (beyond the occasional plane or helicopter flying overhead). Even with Tomorrowland’s current shortcomings (there are plenty of them) and the addition of Star Wars: Galaxy Edge, Disneyland is all about theming – right down to the dolls making the popcorn in the popcorn carts.

As ill-conceived as it may have been to put a theme park about California in California when a majority of Disneyland visitors are from California, DCA was themed appropriately when it opened. The Sunshine Plaza was upbeat and California themed through and through. Hollywood Backlot Studios had the glamour of the 1930s. Golden State celebrated the architecture of the Bay Area, and Paradise Pier took its cue from the Beach and Boardwalk parks. Condor Flats took on California’s aviation history, and Grizzly River Peak with the neighboring Redwood Trail were a tribute to California’s north. The park may not have been good when it opened, but it was themed.

Unfortunately, the theme wasn’t the right one, and the Disney Company had to come up with ways to get people to spend their money to go over to their second gate. Bug’s Land was added to appeal to youngsters. Not really California themed, but it didn’t intrude on the rest of the park, and there were bug’s in California. “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” was built in the backlot; the perfect place for it. As a hotel from Hollywood’s glamor days of the late 1930’s, the Tower of Terror fit in with the rest of the theme.

When “Monsters, Inc.: Mike and Sulley to the Rescue” opened in 2006, it signaled the beginning of the end for DCA’s theming. Placed in Hollywood in the same area as the defunct Superstar Limo ride that lasted less than a year; Mike and Sulley weren’t (and still aren’t) Hollywood themed. Still the monsters occupy a prominent place in Hollywoodland as one of the two rides in the area – the other one being the Tower of Terror.

In 2008, Paradise Pier saw the opening of the beloved Toy Story Midway Mania. Set within the games of the pier, Midway Mania could be forgiven its intrusion; even if its story, guests being shrunk down to the size of toys so they could play the game, didn’t fit with the theme, the game element of the attraction worked. With Mr. Potato Head playing the Midway Mania Barker, the Toy Story characters didn’t do much to detract from the theme though no self-respecting boardwalk would have such a sophisticated game during the time that Paradise Pier was supposed to reflect. (And let’s face it, Midway Mania is one of the best attractions in either park.)

Other rides on Paradise Pier were rethemed over the next three years to include Disney characters. Mickey’s Fun Wheel received a new paint job and a giant Mickey Head. The Orange Stinger became the Silly Symphonies Swings and Mullholland Madness became Goofy’s Sky School. Within the singular concept of the ride, the retheming of the last two was brilliant. The Silly Symphony Swingers opens up to reveal a painting of Mickey Mouse conducting the band from “the Band Concert,” which isn’t from the Silly Symphony series (highlighting the theming problem again). Still, the use of the whirlwind cartoon on the swings support pole is a great idea. Goofy’s Sky School is just “plane” fun. The problem is that none of the changes align with the area’s theming at the time, and these rides are exactly that – rides – not attractions. These are off-the-shelf, experience-them-at-your-local-carnival rides.

While hyped tremendously as a new attraction for the park, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure quickly became DCA’s version of Snow White’s Scary Adventure. At seemingly twice the size and half the fun, this show-stopping, audio-animatronic disappointingly doesn’t carry the story far enough or strongly enough. Still, it’s routinely 5-minute wait time makes it a nice place to take a break from the heat, and it features some interesting advances – the descent into the sea and the Ursula figure. It’s still in the wrong place. The Little Mermaid has nothing to do with California or Paradise Pier.

In 2012, DCA attempted to keep with the California theming and connect to its mythical beginnings. Missing a golden opportunity to capitalize on its largest changes, the park turned the Sunshine Plaza into Buena Vista Street of 1923, the time when Walt Disney arrived in California with a suitcase and a dream. The Carthay Circle Theater was opened and fit in with the Tower of Terror in the background, but Cars Land with its decidedly Arizona feel debuted at the same time. Arizona isn’t California. How is Cars Land a part of the California Adventure? It’s not, thematically speaking.

In 2016, the popular Soarin’ Over California was replace with Soarin’ Around the World. California is not the world, and the world is not California. In 2017, the Guardians of the Galaxy took over the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and, in one fell swoop destroyed the themes of Hollywoodland, Grizzly Peak Airfield and Buena Vista Street. These are both popular and fun attractions, but popular and fun aren’t a theme, and the original versions were just as popular and fun.

Pixar Pier
Pixar Pier

In 2018, Paradise Pier became Pixar Pier. Pixar isn’t a theme. It’s a collection of (if the Internet is to believed) vaguely related films with different settings. Even if Pixar properties were relegated to Pixar Pier, the them wouldn’t work. Mixing the superheroes of “The Incredibles,” the shrinking you down to toy size of Midway Mania and Jessie’s Critter Carousel, and the Inside/Out characters of the mind isn’t a theme; it’s a cacophony. Add to it that Mickey’s Fun Wheel and Flik’s Flyers just received paint jobs, with no significant changes otherwise, to go along with the Pixar theme and it looks like Disney has just decided to throw in the towel. They probably could’ve left Flik’s Flyers alone since it was a Pixar film and the theming would’ve worked with Midway Mania, but “A Bug’s Life” has other problems when it comes to theme parks.

Leftovers from Paradise Pier, the Golden Zephyr and Jumpin’ Jellyfish make no sense in terms of theming. They aren’t related to Pixar or Disney characters and only represent the former California Beachside aesthetic. With all of the incohesive changes, Disney California Adventure doesn’t really celebrate Disney or California. Instead, it focuses on providing Pixar a place to put its movie franchises. Things won’t be much better when Marvel joins the scene with its own land. Marvel Land will be able to adopt Guardians of the Galaxy, but this will leave the Red Car Trolley out in the cold and gut the main attractions of Hollywoodland – the Marvel Meet and Greets.

This mishmash of rides and attractions keeps DCA from achieving greatness through theming. Instead it’s a great example of what Disneyland never wanted to be – an amusement park (except DCA is clean and the cast members are friendly).

Why Bug’s Land Had to Change

While the new Marvel Land may not fix DCA’s theming, it does address another relatively small problem: the relevancy of A Bug’s Land. Based on the 1998 Pixar film “a bug’s life,” the land opened in 2002. The land itself was made to be attractive to the younger set, except the 4D film experience “It’s Tough to Be a Bug,’ which was terrifying for some adults. It’s environmental and educational feel was a welcome respite from some of the larger areas of the park, but there was no way these bugs could survive.

The film itself was not one of Pixar’s best. It earned $363 million at the box office, but without a sequel, TV shows, or a cuddly, iconic character, the film has no relevance to today’s children. How many people even remember the film without confusing it for “Antz”? Disney’s classic animation fare has been able to remain relevant through marketing (specifically, the creation of the Princess line, which keeps all of the princesses in the public light as long as new princesses are added every couple of years or so) rereleases and remakes. These movies hold up even through the changing times, and the theming of the lands act as a crutch.

Attractions at Disneyland also remain relevant through the sheer size and scope. The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are iconic, beloved attractions that create their own atmosphere and fans. Flik’s Flyers? Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies (which were not bumper cars)? Francis Ladybug Boogie… Does anyone even remember this ride? These were all rides with no real creation to them and without a Dumbo to keep them aloft. Only Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train seemed to make an effort to provide something akin to a new place to visit.

With nothing new on the bug front, DCA needed to come up with something new. Marvel provided the answer. As long as they stay away from the now deceased Iron Man, the land will remain relevant for the next few decades.

World of Color’s and Incredicoaster’s Footprints

The World of Color, which debuted in 2013, is arguably the best show in DCA. The fountains are spectacular, the water screens are amazing, the pyrotechnics are amazing, and the show is flexible enough to be changed almost on the fly to advertise new movies subtly and include new animated sequences. One Christmas show featured the magic of snowflakes a foot in diameter that floated up into the sky. Even the dining options and the viewing areas that go with them are incredible.

The investment in the equipment that Disney made and the popularity of the show make changing the venue area around the show basically impossible. Imagineers are constrained by the World of Color’s space needs.

Just as constraining is the space required for a lesser attraction, the now-called Incredicoaster. Wait times for this attraction hover around 25 minutes, but it is still large enough and technically advanced to warrant protection by the bean counters. It’s change over from California Screamin’ is also an advance in storytelling, especially when it comes to roller coasters.

By Any Other Name

When it first opened, the park was called Disney’s California Adventure. Ironically, it didn’t include Buena Vista street, but was more the company’s interpretation of what California was. Wine country, the Bay Area, the Redwoods, these were all represented. Yes, critics wondered why people would want to see the Disney version of the Golden Gate Bridge when it was just a seven-hour drive up north or a 2-hour flight. Still, that’s what Michael Eisner and his team came up with.

It changed its name to Disney California Adventure in 2010. Linguistically, this could mean that this park is an adventure in California Disney-style. Something along the lines of “have yourself a Disney California Adventure.” It doesn’t have to have the California theming in order to work, except it’s already associated with its first incarnation, and the California parts haven’t been drummed out of it. Choosing another name might work better as far as managing expectations, but it doesn’t change the fact that the park has no cohesive theming.

People come to Disneyland and its related theme parks for the cleanliness, the wonderful cast members and the theming. In its effort to cash in on its acquired IP, the Disney Company has forgotten about the theming at least as far as Disney California Adventure is concerned. Maybe they’ll get it fixed sometime in the future, but for now DCA will suffer from its continued lack of relevance and inability to inspire people to come for more than a day.

It’s our turn for Blue Sky thinking! What could Disney do to make California Adventure better?

If you would like more of this type of discussion, check out “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” Join our email list and Patreon!

Posted on Leave a comment

One Image that Explains the Problem with Disney California Adventure

The second gate at the Disneyland Resort continues to perform poorly and disappoint guests. With three-day, single park passes costing around $100 per day, it makes sense for most guests to skip Disney California Adventure (DCA) altogether – especially if they are on a budget.

While there are several problems with DCA, the most glaring is the problem of theming, and the problem is easily illustrated with one photo. Taking the photo from Grizzly Peak Airfield toward the Carthay Circle Theater, the Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout towers in the background and creates a dissonant sight line that doesn’t make sense in the theme park context.

Walt Disney thought that controlling sightlines was important enough that he built a berm and planted trees on top of it to keep people from seeing what was outside the park. The Walt Disney Company has repeatedly lobbied the Anaheim City Council to keep other hotels from rising above certain heights, so that they can’t see in and they can’t be seen from the park. The Jolly Holiday Café was built with two styles of roofs – one to fit the aesthetic of Main Street, U.S.A. and one to fit the theming of Adventureland.

Disneyland and its progeny have all been about theming when they work. The current regime seems to have forgotten its company history and the innovations that it brought to amusement parks. Theming is Disney’s strongest characteristic. They use it to keep stories cohesive, and they should be using it to keep the stories of their parks understandable.

With Pixar all over DCA and not just on the pier and the Little Mermaid’s huge fin- or footprint (depending on the part of the story you’d like to reference) on the opposite side of the pier, Disney California Adventure has a theme problem. Its name no longer matches its content, and it’s been caught in a no man’s land of California references that don’t fit in the Cars landscape, the impending arrival of Tony Stark’s Marvel land, which will likely incorporate the now poorly placed Guardians of the Galaxy attraction at least in name and zone, or many of its other attractions.

It’s time for the Disney Company to let it go and speed up the retheming of the park, which will necessarily include getting rid of Buena Vista Street and Hollywoodland, which is currently the default play place for Marvel superheroes, Monsters, Inc, and Mickey’s Philharmagic – none of which actually represent the heyday of Hollywood and together they present a dissonance that does the park more harm than good.

Even with a 90-minute wait at Radiator Springs Racers and not using any FASTPASSes, my wife and finished the park between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm. We didn’t ride the Incredicoaster (She doesn’t like loops) or Goofy’s Sky School. We also skipped all of the rides, we could find almost everywhere else – Ferris wheel, giant swings, the Zephyr…

Our 6 pm departure was facilitated by the lack of good, moderately priced food choices in the park. Corn dogs, hot dogs, and hamburgers get old. The Pacific Wharf Café and the nearby Mexican and Chinese restaurants weren’t appealing, and the pasta at the end of the pier just hasn’t ever been that great.

You can still find spectacular shows like “Frozen” and “the World of Color.” When you’re not on a budget and you’ve made reservations, the Carthay Circle and Wine Country Trattoria are still two of the best restaurants in the parks. For those of us that are on a budget, Disney California Adventure isn’t worth the price of admission. I keep hoping, but it looks like it’ll be another two decades before the park finds its footing – if it ever does.

Posted on Leave a comment

Disney California Adventure 2019 photos

Posted on Leave a comment

Disneyland Resort Photos at the Penguinate Table (A1) Lilac City Comicon 2019

Do you miss the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror or Bug’s Land at Disney California Adventure? If so, stop by the Penguinate table (A1) at Lilac City Comicon and see what photos we have to take you back to the great memories you formed while visiting the Disneyland Resort. Our photos focus on details of the park, are very limited and cost only $3.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was based on Rod Serling’s classic TV show. With its 1930’s design, it was the right fit for DCA’s Hollywoodland theme. When the Guardians of the Galaxy moved in, fans of the original were upset. While the new attraction doesn’t fit the Hollywoodland theme, it is arguably better than the TZ version.

To fix the theming problem, DCA is retheming Bug’s Land to feature Marvel characters. While few details on the new land have been released, it makes more sense for the Walt Disney Company to focus on their Marvel division. Marvel movies will continue to provide advertising for the land, and DCA will not be providing advertising for CBS Twilight Zone reboot.

With every theming change, details are removed or rethemed. Our small collection of photos has captured some of those items. Stop by our table (A1) and ask to see our Disneyland Resort photos. We look forward to seeing you at Lilac City Comicon!

Posted on 1 Comment

Disney Crowd Survival Guide: Quick Tips

Main Street USA Christmas

For those who don’t want to read the long version, here are the quick tips for dealing with crowds at Disneyland:

  • Put down the phone!
  • Step to the side.
  • Don’t spread out.
  • Find the empty areas:
    • Sneak peeks at Tomorrowland
    • Movie theater on Main Street, U.S.A.
    • Critter Country
    • Tomorrowland Skyline Terrace
    • Former boat dock near the Matterhorn
  • Say “Excuse me.”
  • Say “I’m sorry.”
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Eat something.
  • Be patient.

Click if you want the longer version. Click for more on Disneyland.

Posted on 1 Comment

The Disneyland Crowd Survival Guide

Partners statue in Disneyland

Disneyland attendance keeps going up, and even with increased prices and annual pass block out dates, there’s just no sign of attendance really slowing. It used to be that cast and fans could count on a slow down during the school year; that’s no longer the case. (Check out “Cleaning the Kingdom” to see how the expanded programs have affected maintenance.) With the slow periods getting shorter and farther between, it pays to be prepared with a plan for dealing with the crowds.

Aside from the increasing popularity of the park and its newest additions (Galaxy’s Edge, anyone?) bringing in more people, the individuals in the crowd are taking up more space. Americans are getting larger. Guests are using more wheelchairs and ECVs, and strollers now come in double-wide or double-long versions. All of this results in greater difficulties in maneuvering and the greater likelihood that you will run into someone.

The first thing to remember is that EVERYONE(!) is trying to do the same thing you are, and they have the same over-arching goals – have fun and get away from the cares of the world. They may have different smaller goals, like see all the characters or ride Haunted Mansion 999 times, but in essence, they are you and vice versa. No one is actively trying to keep you from accomplishing your goals.

You WILL run into someone. Someone will also run into you. How you and the other person react to the situation can make all the difference to improving the experience or causing an issue and not letting anyone have any fun. Disneyland is full of distractions: lights, details, characters, the castle… the list is long and diverse. Throw in a heaping helping of smart phones, texts and selfies while walking or driving a wheel chair, ECV or stroller, and you have a recipe for disaster and possibly dangerous collisions, especially as night falls and people become more tired lowering their reaction times.

Fortunately, most of the time, people bumping into one another won’t result in injury. A step on the back heel that causes a bruise may be painful and result in a “flat tire” or a blown-out flip flop. However, as long as no one gets truly hurt, there’s no need for throwing shade or exchanging dirty looks – even if the other person doesn’t apologize. When you take on an attitude of animosity toward someone or toward his or her actions, you hurt yourself and your ability to have fun far more than you hurt the other person. Walk it off, and like Elsa, let it go. (Easier said than done if you’re tired, hot and/or hungry.)

When a stroller or wheel chair are involved, the pain can be greater, but it’s the ECVs that can wreak the most havoc. If you’re in charge of maneuvering any of these vehicles, pay attention. You must actively scan more than the immediate foreground because people who are walking will believe they can cut in front of you. They will overestimate their abilities, and you will hit them. Some people in front of you may change their mind and come to a sudden stop, you must be prepared for this, or you will run into them. (It happened to me.)  If you’re in an ECV, this could mean a trip to the hospital for the person you hit.

Regardless of how you’re getting around the park, put away the distractions. Do not text, call, iPad, iPhone, App, use an etch-a-sketch, read a paperback or anything else while you’re moving. Simply walk or navigate your vehicle and that’s it. If you’re doing it right, it will take all of your awareness and leave no room for the latest cat video on your social media feed. (If it’s that important, you’re friends will tag you, and it will be there when you get back online at your next stop.) Only use your electronic devices when you are stopped and to the side of the street or walking area away from the intersection or any openings.

There are times when you will want to stop in the middle of the street. DON’T. Unless you’re trying to get a scenic shot of the castle, somewhere in the middle of Main Street, U.S.A., do not stop in the middle of any walking area. Move to the side and let those behind you continue on unimpeded. Do not stop in entryways or on ramps.

Families will want to spread out and walk side by side. A group of six people quickly becomes a wall that blocks everyone else from getting where they want to go, especially when the children are holding the parents’ hands and running out to as far as the parent’s arms will extend. If possible, walk like the animals of Noah’s ark, 2 by 2, to allow others to pass.

As the sheriff at Radiator Springs says, “Whoa! Slow down. You aren’t racing, yet.” Great words for getting around Disneyland. SLOW DOWN! Rushing from attraction to attraction will lead to more accidents, and you’ll get tired more quickly. Pace yourself. Take in everything Disneyland has to offer by walking at a comfortable pace. This may seem like a contradictory recommendation, but slowing down allows you to be more predictable, which allows others to make better decisions. It also gives you more time to compensate for the other people on the route while mitigating possible damage from collisions and cluing you into the things that others may miss in their headlong search for the next great attraction.

The two most important words for anyone trying to get through a crowd are “Excuse me.” Don’t try to wheel your vehicle or self around a group that may or may not know you’re there. (They don’t know you’re there even if they all looked at you and wished you a merry unbirthday.) Your ECV horn is also useless. People don’t listen to electronic noises anymore (even if it’s their ring tone). There are a lot of other sounds competing for attention, and horns get lost in the cacophony. Slow down, say “Excuse me” and wait for them to move. If there’s nowhere for anyone to go, don’t bull your way through, just go slower.

The second most important words are “I’m sorry.” Sure, you can shorten it to “sorry,” but the “I’m” takes responsibility for the mistake. Far too few people are willing to take responsibility in the real world, don’t be that person in Disneyland. Even if it’s not your mistake, a well-placed “I’m sorry” can defuse a situation that may otherwise go sideways. Do not assign blame! “I honked, and you didn’t move” is no excuse for running into someone. Acknowledge the mistake and apologize. (This is not legal advice; it’s human decency advice.) If someone bumps into you, there usually isn’t any malice or intent in it. Even if there is, you shouldn’t let it get to you and ruin your vacation.

For those who get annoyed with crowds, it’s important to schedule time to get away. This may mean going back to the hotel and enjoying the room, a nap or the pool. It could mean visiting a less crowded space in the park, like near the Wishing Well or the former boat ramp across from the Matterhorn on the “it’s a small world” side. Critter Country has expanded its Hungry Bear Restaurant footprint and, when it gets colder, it benefits from fewer people riding Splash Mountain.  The movie sneak peeks also tend to be less crowded places, especially when a film has already debuted. Check out the cartoons on Main Street, U.S.A. Do some shopping earlier in the day. Or just grab something to eat at one of the upscale restaurants (as long as you’ve booked a reservation). Some tours offer special parade seating, and the Tomorrowland Skyline Terrace, a dining option for the fireworks, is a great place to get away from the crowds.

People can be one of the joys of going to Disneyland. With the right attitude, good people watching skills, an increase in patience and a plan, your Disneyland trip will be even more amazing. Click for more on Disneyland. Check out the quick tips for crowd management. Leave a comment if you have any advice on dealing with the crowds when you’re at Disneyland.

Posted on Leave a comment

Photos from Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure

Pixar Pier sign

The Disneyland Resort is still trying to figure out what it needs to do to get more people flowing into its second gate: Disney California Adventure. Retheming Pixar Pier is the start of the Disney Company’s ambitious plans. However, it does nothing to change the equation on a higher level. Pixar Pier is laid out the same way. With the only space left to occupy being the place where the old Maliboomer used to be, it’s hard to see anything drawing more than Toy Story Midway Mania does now. The Incredicoaster did have a long wait on a night when there was no “World of Color.” Gone are the days of 20 minutes to get on the only inverted loop in the Disneyland Resort.