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Dual reViews
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Alex Stroup and Kevin Yee
May 17, 2000

-Bear raft ride
Read about this new park
at the D-I-G Preview Site!
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DISNEY'S CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE 
- will it flop or fly?

Reviewed
:
The "second-gate" theme park built at the Disneyland Resort: Disney's California Adventure (DCA)

 

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ALEX KEVIN
  Perhaps we should begin by defining today's topic. I think we should try to argue only from the standpoint of financial and creative success. That means we'll need to discuss all of Disney's California Adventure (DCA), not just the controversial carnival-themed Paradise Pier. We can also incorporate the resort expansion into Downtown Disney, the shopping district between the two parks. Agreed?
Ok.  
  You can go ahead! Let's hear your opinion in a word. Will it flop?
No.  
  OK, you can say more than one word now.
But that doesn't mean that it will be a rousing success, either. When I think about it I find myself judging DCA on three criteria: Is the park good on its own? Will it make money for Disney? And - most important to me - will it augment (rather than detract) from the Disneyland experience. In other words does it meld well with the existing park? I think that to a certain degree the answer to the first two of those questions will be yes. But regardless of how good DCA is on its own, I think it will reduce my enjoyment of Disneyland.  
  Oh, I have to disagree about that last one. I don't think it's important in the least how well together the two parks "inter-theme," to coin a word. Epcot has nothing to do with the Magic Kingdom in Florida, for example. About the only thing which I would find important really is sightlines. If DCA builds tall things that create "visual pollution" within Disneyland's perimeters, then I would not like that at all. Otherwise, I could care less how well the two parks mesh.
At Walt Disney World (WDW), though, the parks are not within 300 feet of each other. At WDW most people go to one park per day, without a whole lot of jumping from one park to another. At Disneyland, when I walk in the gate at Main Street I am going to have an immediate choice between one park or the other, and if I buy the appropriate passes can easily hop between the two during the day. I don't think the two parks have to be inter-themed, but they need to be a similar level of experience. Personally, I find the quality difference between the Disney-MGM Studio Park and the Magic Kingdom at WDW to be jarring, but I experience them on different days. I think this could prove to be an important element of the new resort.  
  I could mention that WDW does sell a parkhopper pass, for use to jump parks on the same day, but something else you said is distracting me: you seek a "similar level of experience." This is really what this debate is all about, isn't it? The question everyone wants to know about DCA is whether it will provide an experience on par with other Disney theme parks. You've indicated DCA will not really flop creatively or financially. I think my answer to that same question would be decidedly mixed. I have arguments both for and against each side, and I really cannot easily make up my mind.
The best example of what I mean by "similar level of experience" would be the difference between Disneyland and Universal Studios. Both are (in my opinion) high quality experiences but they are on different levels. At Disneyland they provide total immersion into an atmosphere whereas Universal is very ride oriented. If you aren't in line for a ride there isn't much to do. I don't insist that every park Disney does should be like Disneyland, but considering DCA's proximity and ease of hopping I think it will be very jarring to go from the complete atmosphere of DL to the more "real world" of DCA. I think that is why many people don't leave the DL until they done for the day. It disrupts the illusion.  
  Well, that's basically what I meant by an experience "on par" with Disneyland (for the record, Universal Studios Islands of Adventure in Orlando strikes me as on par with Disneyland also). I'm not 100% sure I agree with the idea that DCA is below the bar set by Disneyland. The idea that DCA is a cheap knockoff is in vogue, particularly among some Internet sites. Frankly, I'm excited by a lot of what this park has to offer! Many of the themed settings here are unique to DCA and not pulled from some other Disney park. However, I do have two minds about this, as I said. I'm not very excited by the Paradise Pier section of the park that does seem rather jarring, to use your term.
I guess it could be that I am biased, but the theming ideas for DCA just do not appeal to me. Maybe it is because I see the real Golden Gate Bridge every morning on the way to work. I hope that I am completely wrong and the Imagineers something great but when I try to picture DCA in my head all I come up with is a really nice version of Paramount's Great America (Santa Clara, CA). I think it will have some very nice rides and other attractions (it will be great to see the Muppet Movie again) but I don't really go to Disneyland for the rides, I go for the atmosphere.  
  Hm. "A really nice Great America." What if it were really, really, really nice? How nice would it have to be to convince you that it "works"? For me, the issues are: first, is the atmosphere immersive; and second, is it an atmosphere I enjoy being in? Condor Flats could be really immersive, and quite nice. Same with Hollywood (after all, isn't that basically the theme for a whole park in Florida?) and Grizzly Flats, and so on. I'm in favor of all those lands. But *not* Paradise Pier. That violates my second requirement; it's not an atmosphere I enjoy being surrounded by; it doesn't transport me to a fantastical, mystical, unreal place like the various Disneyland themed areas do.
Like I said, I hope it turns out really, really nice (but I don't think it will). When does it cross the line? It will have crossed that line if it turns out I am completely happy going to DCA for the day and not doing even a single ride, which is something I frequently do at DL. Will it be fun just being there. So, creatively you think the Imagineers were mostly on the mark. What do you think of its financial prospects?  
  There, too, I am of mixed mind. DCA was built cheaply in comparison to other recent Disney projects, so I'm sure that meeting its financial goals would be fairly easy to do. Besides, it's a new Disney theme park! I think people will flock to it at first.... but not for long. And that's the problem. This park will not be a big draw for California locals. It's designed to lure out-of-towners to extend their stay. Given that, its appeal is limited and likely not that strong. So in essence, and sorry to waffle here, I think it could go either way financially. The park has low capacity, we should remember, somewhere around 38,000, so financial success would be defined by having that many on a daily basis. I would think they can do that.
While I don't think this new park is going to be up to snuff creatively, I do think that it is going to pull in money hand over fist. Especially when combined with Downtown Disney. I think it will be particularly successful at getting the locals to spend more money, maybe even more so than the traveling tourists. I don't want to be rude, but other than DL, Anaheim is pretty boring. And Angelinos will tell you that everything is only a 20 minute drive away, but that simply isn't true. It will provide adults and other teenagers with something to do during the evenings (other than see the fireworks again), real restaurants to eat in, and more opportunities to buy. And it will give the local teenagers a place to hang out and spend all that money their parents shouldn't have given them.  
  Well, that last bit about teenagers is an obvious problem (who wants that kind of hangout at a Disney locale?) but I'll respond instead to the idea of Downtown Disney in general. I'm far less convinced this will make money. It seems to me that virtually all guests to Disneyland - even those in Anaheim motels - rent a car and are mobile; they can visit the nearby shopping center "The Block in Orange" just as easily as Downtown Disney. Even easier, in fact: the Block has convenient parking, requires no freeway travel, and doesn't have the teenager problem. Besides, the Block is easily twice the size of Downtown Disney. That means locals have no reason to go to Downtown Disney, and even out-of-towners will probably prefer to get away. The reason? Most visitors to Disney do not stay at a Disney hotel. This is one of the reasons Disney decided to build another hotel inside DCA, the Grand Californian. That, too, will have problematic finances, I think. They want to charge exorbitant nightly rates to match its Four Season-type atmosphere, on the order of $300/night.
Parking is an issue for the locals. But if it can develop a reputation as a fun/cool place to go for an evening then I think Downtown Disney could prove incredibly popular. But then I'm not exactly a party animal so my sense could be completely wrong. I think you may have misjudged how mobile the out-of-towners are, however. Since the singular of data is anecdote, I will just point out that in the three long vacations my family took to DL before I moved to CA, we always had a car available, we were there at least a week and the only driving we ever did was to get to another "attraction." Most out-of-towners are semi-tired all the time, don't know the area, and are probably just looking for an excuse not to drive.  
  I think having a Downtown Disney in WDW is a good idea, but there you have more than a dozen giant hotels feeding the Downtown Disney crowds. Here, with three Disney hotels (one of which is hugely overpriced) there will be far less demand. Guests at other Anaheim area hotels/motels would be just as likely to rest, as you state, or find the Block or some other local mall. But here's the kicker: my sense is that DCA's overall financial health is dependent upon good revenues at both the Grand Californian and at Downtown Disney, which is why I'm spending so much time harping on it. Without good revenues there, I fear DCA may not get extra money approved to create its Phase II expansion, which we all agree would be a good thing. On the other hand, precisely that sort of sluggish returns might *prompt* the expansion. I guess there's no way of knowing.Can we switch directions for a second? I feel we haven't quite covered all there is to say about the creative accomplishments of the park.
By all means.  
  There are two things I wanted to comment on: first, much of the online response to the park has been negative, including reviews here on this site. But not everyone feels that way. Some defend Paradise Pier as properly themed. The second point is that we're working off the now-closed Preview Center, which is little more than conceptual drawings. What if we're premature ... in either direction?
Oh, we may very well be way off . . . Imagineers rarely disappoint if given free reign. But then it is perfectly legitimate to wonder what they will be creating when all we can work off of is what they've shown us. But still, I have to admit that the Sun Wheel is a fabulous looking Ferris wheel, but in the end it is just a Ferris wheel. And I don't know if even Imagineers are capable of getting me to enjoy a Ferris wheel. Grizzly Peak is just a raft ride, etc., etc. I just find it hard to get excited about the park (but would love to be proven wrong).  
  First off, it's a wonder wheel, which is not quite the same as a Ferris wheel. The cars perform separate rotations while traveling along the outside track, and it's much more of a thrill ride. But I do hear what you're saying. Personally, I'm not sure what to expect. A roller coaster with a LIM-launch (basically, this is like the launcher on an aircraft carrier), accompanied by a wave of real water? That could be quite cool. But the immersive element I talked about earlier is a problem here. The theme may be immersive, but how much fun is it to be immersed in a seedy seashore carnival? This is exactly the kind of thing Walt wanted to get away from when he decided to build Disneyland.
There's lots of fun in being immersed into a seedy seashore carnival! I just don't imagine that it will be much fun when the carnies have been replaced by cast members. Are the midway cast members going to be allowed to use all the carnie tricks to get people to play? Probably not.  
  You're helping convince me of my overall (and earlier) point: that DCA really could be quite fun and themed as well as Disneyland. In particular, some of the rides sound impressive. We haven't even mentioned California Soaring - the suspended simulator - and it strikes me as the best thing in the park. There will be new films, the MuppetVision show, It's Tough to be a Bug, and a new dark ride in the form of Superstar Limo. Creatively, I'm not going to complain about DCA (at most, maybe the carnival area). Even crappy rides are preferable to a parking lot, which is what we had before. I *am* a bit bitter that we got this California theme instead of Westcot, however, which would have been a much better park in my opinion.
Well, I'll just reiterate that for me the Disney experience is not about the rides. A Disney thrill ride (such as Rock 'n' Roller Coaster or the Tower of Terror at the Disney-MGM Studios) is always going to be a second-tier thrill ride in the overall scheme of things. But a Disney thrill ride is an experience from the moment of getting in line to the moment of exiting to just sitting around watching other people do it. After all, Rocket Rods sucks as a Disney ride, but it would probably be fine in a lesser park (like Great America or Knott's).  
  The Rods are grist for another Dual reView, I'm afraid. Let me close by saying that despite my optimism, there is one ominous warning sign regarding DCA's creative "accomplishment" that cannot be ignored: Barry Braverman, DCA's chief architect, has apparently been privately apologizing to some Imagineers for DCA and its less-than-stellar theme job. In a suspiciously timed move, Braverman is also leaving the DCA project, supposedly for health reasons. Perhaps he's trying to really distance himself from the project, even in a physical sense? It's also been said that most of the key Imagineers - names we'd all recognize - really don't like the theming in this park.
And while ours may just be the opinions of ordinary fans, we should all bow before the opinions of Imagineers.  
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Dual Reviews

Alex and Kevin debate current events and review Disney books.

This column is about opinions; unfortunately, we don't know any important Disney insiders so they are just our opinions. We are bringing this column to you as two ordinary Disney fans, much like yourself. We hope you enjoy and respond.

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