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Disney's California Adventure versus Walt Disney World
by Allen Huffman, Staff Writer

December 16, 2000

Shortly after plans for Disney's California Adventure theme park were made public, a large number of die hard Disneyland fans started complaining. As more and more details came out about the park's "off the shelf" rides and lack of animatronic attractions, the complaints increased. With the exception of a handful of useful "pro" DCA web sites on the net, the majority of what one reads (outside of Disney's official publicity) paints a pretty lousy picture of the soon to be open playland.

Is Disney's California Adventure really a step back, or just par for the course? To answer this question we must first rewind to 1955 and the opening of Disneyland.

Walt Disney hated carnivals.

One of the major points anti-DCA folks make is that the new park contains a rather large "carnival" area. It is well known that Walt Disney designed Disneyland the way it is because he hated the carnival atmosphere. He wanted something unique and fun for the entire family. Therefore, including something as gawdy as a carnival in a Disney park seems against the whole reason the Disney theme park empire was created in the first place.

In response it should be noted that the real complaint about the carnivals was the lack of things for the entire family to do together. Not only was the typical carnie atmosphere somewhat seedy and dirty, but most rides were either too much for young children, or too boring for adults. It seems highly unlikely that a carnival operated by even today's corporate Disney wouldhave any of the "dirty" issues the local state faire carnivals have. The "squeaky clean" image of the 1950s and 60s may be gone, but a Disney park still outshines a Six Flags any day.

Off-the-shelf rides are NOT Disney.

With the exception of "Muppetvision 3D," "It's Tough To Be a Bug," and a few other attractions imported from the East coast, DCA offers very little that wasn't just purchased and set up on the lot. You can find a drop ride at any Six Flags! And what about that parachute drop? Even Knott's has one of those right down the road. Why would anyone pay Disney dollars to ride things they could see closer to home, and for less money? Off the shelf certainly will doom this new park...

When Disneyland first opened, very little of what the park had to offer was anything but "gussied up off the shelf carnival rides". Fantasyland was made up of Disneyized carnival "dark rides" and the boats and trains were certainly not groundbreaking. Disney took the technology of the day, applied some Disney magic to it, and offered an improved product. As time passed and technology increased, so did the level of creativity. Today, Disney is known for "Disney type rides" such as Pirates and the Haunted Mansion; yet, Disney wouldn't be complete without Dumbo or the Fantasyland dark rides. Isn't it amazing what a little "Disney magic" can do to make us forget how "off the shelf" something really is, at least in concept?

Disney has used outside companies for many of its rides through the history of the parks. True, there have been many groundbreaking innovations by the Disney company, but many of the core "classics" are still based on stuff that was around long before Disneyland opened its doors.

There are not enough rides!

Disneyland is an amazing value (even at the ever increasing prices) when you break down the cost per ride. At $43 admission, you could easily ride and see enough different things to get your "cost per" down to a very small amount. DCA has so few attractions it hardly seems worth it.

This is quite true, but has any park the Disney company has built since Disneyland come close to the overall number and quality of attractions at the original? In 1971, Walt Disney World opened with The Magic Kingdom - Disneyland's sequel. The park lacked many of the established attractions that made the California original so popular, including the still-new and now legendary Pirates of the Caribbean. Today there are a few items found only at Disney World, but many more found exclusively at Disneyland. Some have found their way into the overseas parks, but not one other Magic Kingdom has everything the original offers.

DCA is mostly films.

Instead of designing groundbreaking new ride technologies, or even continuing to buy off the shelf rides and stuff the park full of them, DCA features tons of film based attractions. Who wants to watch a film more than a few times?

When E.P.C.O.T. opened in 1982, each pavilion in Future World had one slow moving animatronic attraction. In 2000, World Showcase still only offers two boat rides and one animatronic presentation. Everything else is film. Over the years, Epcot has also been the park with (at times) the lowest attendance. Today we see Epcot pushing for new rides (Test Track, Mission: Space, and others). Apparently people do want more than films, and I agree that this will hurt DCA, too.

But...guess what? This is nothing new. Nineteen years before the opening of DCA, Disney created a park with half the attractions made up of mostly films. Two parks past Disneyland, and two steps down the road, it's really nothing new or suprising.

DCA focuses on alcohol too much!

It's just not a Disney park with margarita stands and beer carts all over the place. Just what are they thinking?

In 1982, with the opening of Epcot, alcohol was first served at a Disney theme park. There were restrictions, of course. You could buy a drink with dinner, but it could not leave the restaurant. If you bought a margarita at the Mexico fast food eatery, a cast member would ensure you didn't take it past the gates.

Shortly after the opening Universal Studios Florida, things changed. Universal started selling beer from carts on their streets and it wasn't long until Disney started doing the same. (I seem to recall this transition happening between visits in 1996 and a few years afterwards.) Today it is not uncommon to find a cast member with a strapped on tray offering cans of beer to the crowds waiting for a show to begin. Yes, it may be very "non-Walt Disney," but it's nothing new for the Disney Company. At least the Magic Kingdoms are still alcohol free. (Should we mention how Disneyland Paris sells wine?)

DCA is too small!

The park is going to fill up so fast that they will have to close the gates. There simply is not enough room in the park, and not enough for people in the park to do, to handle the volumes of visitors the Disneyland Resort gets each year.

On many occasions I have been on vacation at Walt Disney World and found Magic Kingdom parking closed before noon due to the park being full. Even with the greatly expanded land in Florida, more people can show up than they can hold at their most popular park. Disneyland will always be the most visited park at the California resort, while DCA will be the West coast "Epcot". Perhaps Disney has actually learned by how "empty" Epcot can be compared to the Kingdom and sees no reason to greatly expand DCA?

Who wants to see bread being baked, anyway?

Bread baking? A winery? Tortilla making? Come on, how can those things be considered attractions!

Some bad ideas sounded great on paper, and some brilliant ideas almost never made it off the drawing board. Why do people line up to take the backstage animation tour at the Disney/MGM Studios? Is there anything exciting about looking down into a room of computers, or seeing someone draw a cartoon character? Maybe...if you like Disney! It is the Disney "style" that makes it interesting. Would we line up at Six Flags to see a tour on "The Magic of Animated Cartoon Possums"? I doubt it. The best thing Disney has to offer is story telling. While everyone would prefer another Pirates of the Caribbean (unless you are a modern Disney visitor who most likely hates those style rides and would prefer another Indiana Jones), that doesn't mean everyone would likely hate what we get instead.

There is nothing "Disney" about this park.

What in the new park says "Disney" if there are no Disney style rides or Disney inspired lands? What's the point?

When Epcot opened, there were no Disney characters anywhere in the park. This was a mistake, and later Mickey and friends soon became regulars. Rumors of turning the Mexico boat ride into a "Three Cabilaros" attraction circulate indicating a further push to bring Disney trademarks into the park. Perhaps seeing Donald telling the story of how tortillas came to be might indeed have some entertainment value after all.

And the list goes on...and on...

Folks, DCA is nothing new, and I don't mean this just because it doesn't have "Pirates of the Caribbean 2000". For years Disney has been building parks with fewer attractions, more film, and less things to do. The number one Florida park remains The Magic Kingdom even though three more parks have been built since the original opening. Even that Kingdom can't totally top the original. Nothing Disney could have built in that parking lot would ever live up to the expectations of a crowd raised on Disneyland.

Cherish Disneyland. For those of us that grew up primarily going to Walt Disney World, it is easy to see how nothing compares to the original. It is also easy for us to see that DCA is very similar to all the other parks Disney has been building...except thatDCA will have more rides and things to do than Animal Kingdom or Disney/MGM Studios. Maybe Disney learned at least a little bit in the past few years.

In conclusion:

No, DCA will not be better than Disneyland. It may not even be better than Animal Kingdom, but I bet there will be many people who would rather go to DCA than "that expensive zoo." Will DCA have as many rides as Disneyland? Never, but it may have more than anything else Disney has built in the U.S.A. in the past decade.

We'd probably all like to see a new and modern Disneyland type park filled with wonderful innovative Disneyland attractions -- but there hasn't been one of those since 1955. Even the original designers of Disneyland couldn't quite capture the magic when the Florida project began, so how can we expect a new generation raised by Corporate Disney to even come close?

I'll be there in 2001 to check out the new park, and I'm sure I'll be griping and complaining along with everyone else -- but then, I've had various gripes and complaints ever since I first saw Disneyland and The Magic Kingdom during a 1976 vacation and wondered why they never finished the bigger park in Florida...

See you in line for tickets!



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