This past summer, on June 15th to be exact, Disney California Adventure Park reopened as a full-fledged family hotspot, as opposed to the half-day time-filler it once was. This included the renovation of Paradise Pier and Buena Vista street, as well as the much-anticipated Cars Land. My family and I visited a couple of weeks ago to see if the park is worth our pretty Disney dollars. Was it? Oh, yeah, baby!
The major changes start at the entry area. The oversized C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A letters are gone and a bold retro design took its place. We missed the letters but this new look is a fantastic improvement. Loved it!
It just got better from there! All the building and streets were built to look like it did when Walt Disney first arrived in the area. The buildings were beautiful and it all had so much character! The bright yellow and red gas station, named Oswald’s (the long-eared predecessor of Mickey) immediately drew us in. When was the last time you could describe a gift shop as cool? It was a total blast the past with classic gas tanks and a Rolls Royce parked on the side. We had to restrain ourselves from spending our entire budget on the unique items they offered there.
The open market and running trolley were great but I was a bit distracted when I saw “STARBUCKS” displayed outside the Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café. My desire for a Frappuccino was greater than my desire to window shop/explore. Before moving on into one of the eight lands, don’t forget to snap a family picture at the fountain with Carthay Circle restaurant in the background – it makes for a super photo op!
Obviously, we HAD to head straight for Cars Land. The photos I’ve previously seen of the area were nothing compared to actually being there. Wow, they did a fabulous job! It looked just like the main street of Radiator Springs, straight from the first Cars movie! There were so many details from the tail light flowers at the Cozy Cone Motel to the leaning tower of tires at Luigi’s. Even the souvenir shops were perfectly themed with Route 66 signs (complete with Mickey heads) and aged wooden siding. It even got better at night when the neon signs were glowing. Oh, and you may get a photo op with one of the movie’s main stars! Too bad we couldn’t get Lightening or Mater to sign my daughter’s autograph book…
Do not miss the rides here! There are only three but the whole family will enjoy them.
- Luigi’s Flying Tires: 1-3 people jump on an oversized tire and float around on what looks like a huge air hockey table. Once the air jets go on, riders lean in the direction they want to go. It ends up being like bumper cars but without the whiplash. You feel (and look) extremely silly but, guaranteed, everyone will be smiling during the ride.
- Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree: Looks like a kiddie ride with 1-3 people jumping in a tractor-pulled cart. This simple little ride actually swings you around quite a bit and, I must admit, was pretty stinkin’ fun!
- Radiator Springs Racers: Cars with six passengers put you in the movie from running off the road and tipping tractors (dark ride portion) to a leisurely tour of the scenery, including the flowing waterfall Lightning McQueen and Sally cruised by. Lastly, you’ll prep for the race, including a full tire change by Luigi and Guido, and go head-to-head with another car to reach the finish. There aren’t any scary moments except when you get caught tipping trailers and the ‘thrill’ part is just speeding up a bit on some hills and curves. Perfect for young, old, thrill-seeker or not.
Radiator Springs Racers was awesome but the wait gets crazy-long. Get here early for a FastPass or go as single-riders (must be at least 7 years old). Otherwise, you will be waiting for 1-2 hours. This is the best dark ride to date, in my opinion, even beating Peter Pan since you don’t get to race other flying ships. Although, the car I went in didn’t have an opponent and that kind of ruined the ‘racing’ thing. It’s similar to Test Track at WDW Epcot but this adds the movie and story element to take it to the next level. Finish off your time in Cars Land with some refreshments at Flo’s V8 Cafe or the Cozy Cone Motel kiosks. My husband really enjoyed his Strawberry milkshake from Flo’s but the ‘gravel’ kept getting stuck in his straw. Cars Land is relatively small, in comparison to other parts, but definitely worth a good 1-3 hours of your time. Just note, with all the open areas and black asphalt, it gets mighty toasty in this area.
The next area that went under major changes since my last visit was Paradise Pier and the other nearby areas. It was a bit odd walking through the Pacific Wharf section that was modeled after the SF Bay Area. Within a few feet, we went from the San Francisco Wharf to Pescadero to Cannery Row – too funny! Locals will know what I mean 🙂 Paradise Pier was so relaxing with its ‘boardwalk’ feel. We had a clear view of the fountains moving in sync to Goofy’s orchestra. Duffy, the Disney bear from the other coast, now has a home here but kids will only get a sticker from him since he has to thumbs to write. Toy Story Mania is such a ‘blast’ and, if the line had not filled back up so quickly, we probably would have gone again to beat our previous scores.
On our visit a few years ago, we saw the Pixar Parade just as the sun was setting and right before Disney California Adventures closed for the night. This time was different in that the water was being shot from the floats. On-lookers with ‘front row’ seats were getting sprayed left and right, as well as some just walking along the sidewalk. Kids loved it and, well, others were very good sports. We thought it was hilarious, especially since we were watching from a good 15′ away (the splash zone). We did get wet on Grizzly River Run but that was expected. That’s a really long raft ride (a good thing)!
We visited The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, was colorful and lively just like the movie, before finding our spot to watch World of Color. Vendors were offering ‘Glow with the Show’ hats which lit up in-tune with show’s music and other hats via radio signal. What a cool souvenir! My daughter was not sure if she wanted one at first but was later very happy she got that has the trip memento. World of Color was beautiful and we enjoyed it more than Fantasmic over at Disneyland. However, it did not ‘wow’ me in the way others have described. That could have been because we were not in the preferred viewing section. To get the best view, you need to get a FastPass (which ran out almost instantly) or buy a World of Color Picnic Meal for $15.99 per person. They have few to available to buy in the park but it’s better to buy it a day or more in advance online. We should have taken the shuttle driver’s advice and ordered some.
Disney California Adventure Park is now a full-day outing, if not more. We found out (too late for us, though) that you CAN bring food into the park so keep this in mind if you’d rather use your money on savory treats and souvenirs. If we had more time, I would’ve liked to visit every store and attraction since there was a lot we had to bypass. Oh well, we’ll just have to come back and do it next time!