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Half park, full price - Part Two

In part one of this review we entered the main gate and took a tour of the Hollywood Pictures Backlot - probably the most detailed area of the new California Adventure park opening next to Disneyland.

In this section we'll visit a good portion of the "Golden State" area, which includes the "Condor Flats," "Bountiful Valley Farm" and "Pacific Wharf" areas of the park. In the installments later on we'll visit the Paradise Pier carnival area along with the San Francisco section and wrap up the rest of the observations of this park that I have.

Before I start though - I want to thank all of you who've taken the time to write me after the first installment went up. As you can probably guess, the response was tremendous (MousePlanet's readership has been expanding dramatically since we launched six months ago) - and it's nice to know folks out there really are interested in this review.

Because of all the feedback, I may add an extra installment at the end to allow reader commentary, and also respond to some of the questions you may have about the park that are of general interest.

OK, we've gone Hollywood - so now we venture out to the rest of Californa Adventure (in case you just joined us, DCA for short). In order to do that of course, we have to go back through the hub. My, my decisions decisions - which of the other two exits from this area should I go through?

Around behind the Sun icon (or hub-cap as I like to call it) is the "Bountiful Valley Farm / Winery" area. And then also directly across the hub from the Hollywood Studios Backlot is the "Condor Flats" area. I check my Fastpass for the "California Soarin'" attraction and see that it's time for me to head there. (The avocado tree display in the farm can wait darn it! ;) )

Condor Flats
Condor Flats

Now you may be asking - "Condor Flats," "Golden State" - why so many names for this area? Simple - they originally had seven named districts planned for this park - but figured out it would probably confuse the heck out of visitors. "Golden State" now encompasses the "San Francisco," "Bountiful Valley Farm / Winery" "Redwood Creek / Grizzly River Run (raft ride)" "Condor Flats" and "Pacific Wharf" areas.

"Isn't this sort of messy?" you may ask. Well yes it is! But remember, this thing got slapped together at a corporate retreat by some executives who frankly wouldn't be caught dead in line next to you at Mr. Toad. It's been a patchwork job ever since, as they have been trying to get this odd concept to work. But enough of that... let's continue with the - what district are we in again? Oh yes, the "Condor Flats" area.

Just as you get your bearings - EUREKA! Now wait a minute - I didn't say "Eureka! I have found it..." did I? No, what happened is that the parade gate just swung open (located between the Sun icon and the Hollywood area) and the new (take a breath here) "Disney's Eureka! - A California Parade" starts charging around the hub on it's way around the raft ride (past the Farm and Wharf areas) then skirting the apparently unnamed lagoon where it ducks behind the coaster.

The Parade
The parade

Now you'd think, after over 45 years of being in the theme park business the Disney folks would have learned a LITTLE about how to place a parade route through a key traffic area. Heck, at Disneyland Paris they even were considerate enough to design an outdoor theater so the parade goes right in front of the stage - making dual use of the seating for both the parade and any shows they may present there. But not in this new park - they route it right through the entry hub - making for all sorts of traffic problems for a] access into the park, b] access into the Hollywood area, c] access into either the Farm / Winery or Condor Flats areas.

The route also manages to cut off traffic flows in the Paradise Pier carnival area and has three "show stops" where they do a little bit of a dance thing. Since on very busy days you will probably be stuck here if you are caught in the area, you may want to stay put and take it in.

"Disney's Eureka! - A California Parade" (God that's a mouthful) is a real odd duck. It salutes all of California's predominant ethnic groups with themed floats surrounded by dancers - so you get a Hispanic- American unit, an African- American unit (complete with what, I kid you not, looks like cuddly versions of the Watts Towers), a Chinese- American lantern bearing unit - and finally, the most important ethnic group of all - convertible drivers, surfers and skateboarders. (I wonder where on the census form you check off that you are a Surfer- American?)

The music is the usual frantic parade stuff - this time jacked up a notch (to up the hippness quotient I guess) - and the rather baroque design involved looks sort of like a Rose Parade spawned by the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. The performers try very hard, bless them for that, but the whole thing just doesn't quite gel.

You can see the money spent on the thing though - the floats have animated elements, they have a roller skater on a small ramp on one unit, there is LOTS of gold paint everywhere, and it is not short. But the whole thing just doesn't have any style or taste, nor is there anything just simple or pretty about it. The music is simply unmemorable.

One comment I overheard in the crowd was interesting, "So, they did a parade about California, great. Now what do they follow it up with?" I had to agree with that thought - for the first time they've selected a theme for a park that limits what they can do here. But who knows, maybe the parade folks will get creative, and we'll get things like "Disney's Sic-Alert" or "Disney's Earthquake." ;)

Ok, they have shimmy-ed on down the route, you can finally get across the hub and into "Condor Flats" on your way to what you find out is the only attraction there, "Soarin' Over California" (such long names for things - did they fire the guy at WDI who came up with the two word names like Splash Mountain, Star Tours and People Mover?)

Entering the Flats, you see it is nestled alongside the Bear raft ride - and you notice the theme is abandoned 1950's military airfield. (And a rather sparse one at that.) The Grand Californian Hotel also looms over everything - reminding you this is the Disneyland Resort damn it. No sense of fantasy here - you can plainly see the mall next door too.

To your left of course is the most important thing here (per the suits at least), the "Fly 'n' Buy" shop, which is adjacent to the bathrooms and phones (oddly they forgot the ATM here). In this one shop to me at least it demonstrated Paul Pressler's real focus for this park. The theming is amazing - see the photos below for the work that went into it.

Fly n Buy

These props are in a shop folks, not an attraction! Look at the sink below, it either belongs on a movie set or in your basement.

Fly n Buy

Mind you, the above decor is wonderful - but you will only see this type of quality in the shopping and dining facilities at this park. (This detail is also noticeable in the "Taste Pilots Grill" burger place across the way.) The attractions themselves (with some key exceptions which I will note as the series continues) have nowhere near the amount of money spent on this kind of exacting detail. The focus here in this park is plainly on just the commerce end of things - they have paired to the bone on the detail within the attractions and in many of the outdoor areas.

I think if you ask people what it is they pay their admission fee for, they will tell you it's the rides. They may enjoy wandering the shops, and may like the food options, but what they really buy that ticket for is the attractions. Maybe Eisner and Presser need a framed needlepoint for their office walls that says "It's the RIDES stupid?" ;)

Speaking of rides, let's cross the runway themed walk over to "Soarin' Over California." This is the big ride the Disney execs are excited about, and as is the case with almost everything in this park, it's also got some major capacity problems. (Making this a mandatory FastPass you need to obtain the minute you walk into the park if you want to ride it.)

With the FastPass, you get to skip the long outside barely themed queue, and you start your walk sloping down a long hallway between the two theaters. You then join a shorter line that will assign you to your seat queues. Once everyone is set up in place, there is a rather off beat safety pre-show video hosted by Patrick Warburton dressed as a pilot - he's known to most folks as Elaine's boyfriend "Puddy" on Seinfeld and the voice of Kronk in "Emperor's New Groove." I think I get the joke, he's more or less doing Puddy here, but most folks probably won't as it is so subtle.

Soarin seats
Soarin' seating

The ride concept itself is simple - they buckle you into your seat, a wing shaped awning lowers over the top of you (to block the view of the ceiling of the theater) then they raise you up silently and smoothly into a half bowl shaped screen, that is angled back a bit so you hang into and over it as you gander at flying footage.

The illusion (thanks to an IMAX projector running the large format film at double normal speed - no flicker here) is a unique one - as you look out into the vistas you zoom through (obviously shot via helicopter) you can actually see things go on past and under you. It's a movie where you can look down in other words, as well as forward. (And yes, it's somewhat like the "Back to the Future" attraction at Universal - only flipped - and without any of the violent motion.) Call it the next generation of CircleVision I guess. :)

Here's a tip for you: There are ok seats, and there are the best seats. The best seats raise you up the highest into the middle of the dome - and are free of the view of other people's dangling legs and feet above you. The ok seats are further down and back and also to the sides - making for less of the impressive illusion.

If you want to sit in that first row, where you will be lifted up the highest and furthest into the screen "bowl" (and not have to gaze at dangling Papagallos) - request that you be able to get into the first loading row up against the door in front of the TV monitor. Also request (once in the theater) that you would like to be seated in the middle of the room.

On the other hand, if you do NOT like heights - and want to feel closer to earth - request the back rows in the theater - as they go up into the screen at the lowest points. Since this ride is new - and people are experiencing it for the first time - you shouldn't have any problems or extra waits to be accommodated. I'm sure once the attraction has been open for a while, people will wise up to the best seating options and your wait may increase at that time.

I know there have been some complaints about how the film is put together - but for me it worked quite well. Granted, they could have disguised the cuts between the individual scenes by flying through clouds and such, but the music swells between the various vistas / scenes making it work rather well I think. (The score is a real highlight.)

There are a LOT of swoops up to the edge of things - whereupon you are going over a ridge and then suddenly the land steeply drops below you - and in more than a few shots you do feel that CircleVision thing as people on the screen below wave to you. The ending is quite a nice touch I thought (it meant a lot to me) - but I won't spoil it for you here.

Of note here, I was kind of surprised at how minimal the seat movements were - I really think they underplayed the motion way too much. There are a lot of turns and banks over things in the movie, and the sensation could have been improved if there was more seat motion. You also get a small breeze aimed at you, and there are scents - which to me at least all sort of just blended together and weren't really all that impressive.

The problems this ride has are two - the minor technical one is the dirt on the projectors - when you blow up film to those sizes, any speck of dust or dirt looks like a hawk up in the air. (The massive static build up at those accelerated projection speeds - which attracts dust - must not help the situation either.)


The other problem is (as with almost everything else in this park), and it is major, has to do with capacity. They can try to rush people more I guess - but it takes some time to get everyone seated and buckled in. Right now estimates are that quite possibly only one third of visitors on a full capacity day of 30,000 will be able to see this attraction.

Unlike the Star Tours simulators as a contrast here - it seems that they made the belts and seats even tighter in Soarin', and much less intuitive - and it takes a bit of time for people to accommodate themselves and buckle in. Not to mention the cast members (CMs for short) then need to check each seat again to make sure.

Could this be speeded up? Maybe. I would have done the seat belts differently - as three point devices with a strap across your chest like a car belt - so they could be pulled out from the side instead of from below (where you have to fish for them) - and also given you a bit more protection. (The use of just a lap belt may be the reason they cannot move the seats around so much come to think of it.) People are familiar with these kinds of belts already from their cars - you wouldn't have to explain them.

I would also have just let people leave their belongings on the floor in front of them during the show - and had the floor lower down a bit as the giant harness pulled the hanging seats up - to let dangling feet clear those taller packages. That would have saved a lot of load time that people spend now trying to stuff big bags of plush in the small underseat mesh compartments. Not to mention wrest the stuff out afterwards.

The one safety thing I did notice and like, is that if a child did not meet a certain height requirement, (marked on the seat) they had to pull their seatbelt through a loop that popped up in the middle front edge of the seat - thereby making it harder for them to squirm out of their chairs and under the seat belt should they get spooked. Nice touch.

Overall this attraction is fun - but I do think it quickly will suffer the fate all film based attractions in theme parks do - once people see the movie, they will not repeat the experience as much, shortening attraction life. Across the esplanade "Honey I Shrunk" is suffering from huge drops in attendance now, and "Star Tours" has been slow for a long time. In the past the CircleVision and Captain EO attractions were the same way. Currently "Back to the Future" at Universal is never more than a ten minute wait, even on weekends. Too many aging movies is what has hurt Epcot too.

DCA has a LOT of movies as "attractions" - six at this count - with which a heavily local crowd will be bored with rather quickly. In comparison, Disneyland has two. Movies are cheaper to put in, (which delights the suits) and probably work better in a resort like Orlando, where the locals don't dominate, but they shouldn't overwhelm a park like they do here. There's a reason there are still lines at Splash, Space, Pirates and other non-film attractions at Disneyland.

At this point after you've ridden "Soarin'" (now that would have been a simpler name for this attraction), you have a choice. You can continue on towards the hotel going around the bend a bit to the raft ride, or you can go back into the hub and over into the Farm area. Since I'll probably be riding the rafts for the first time as you read this, I can't tell you about them yet, ;) so we'll head over to the Farm / Winery area instead.

Walking from the hub it's just a few short steps between the hubcap and the raft ride (this is a small park folks) when you come upon the "Bountiful Valley Farm" area. To your left and tunneling into the ground you'll spot the queue for the Bugs Life 3-D movie - in front of you is a panorama of the farm to Wharf areas, and to your right a little further on down the walkway is the Winery.

Bugs movie
Bug's theater

Heading over to the "It's tough to be a Bug!" show, you'll notice that this particular attraction seems to be the one in the park that has gotten the pre-Pressler super deluxe Disney detailed level of treatment. The rockwork queue area duplicates the Ant Island setting from the Pixar movie - and the hyper-detailing everywhere is wonderful. On the day of our visit they still had not installed some of the signwork inside (the Bug version Broadway show posters) but that was just a finishing touch to this terrificly detailed waiting area.

I'm sure it's not hard to guess who helps butter the bread at Eisner's executive dining table in Burbank - it's clear that Pixar's lone attraction got the detailing that is so sorely lacking elsewhere in this park. Hopefully "Monsters, Inc." will help them keep this elevated status with the suits. ;)

The waiting area has a great music track - basically bug sound versions of Broadway hits - and the theming continues on into the theater with detailed rockwork covering the whole room. No bare exposed metal beam cleanings here, as with some other locations in the park.

Personally I liked this show a lot. (I had not been to Orlando since it opened.) It's very fast (it basically plays like a Looney Tunes short on high) has detailed animatronics that are that much more exciting due to their obvious absence everywhere else in this park, and the gags and effects are quite startling. (Although since everything is based on a surprise element, the repeatability is very reduced).

BUT, and pay attention here, if you have kids, and they are young, and are terrified of bugs - well I would think twice about bringing them in. We watched two little girls in front of us, about 7 or 8 years old screaming in abject terror, trying to get out of the theater during some of the most vivid moments in the show. They weren't just scared, they were crying and really hurt by what they saw. It was painful to watch for me. It can get intense in there for the little ones.

You can't really blame the parents here - they think "oh it's Disney you know," and that the show is probably like a video, only scary for a bit. They don't have a clue about how startling the effects are, or how they can seemingly come out and touch you. Disney makes a point in the attraction signs to warn people, but I don't think it would hurt the park to have CMs watch a bit for groups with kids of that younger age level, and have them advise the parents quietly in advance about what they may see inside.

"It's tough to be a Bug" not only benefits from extra effort in its theming, it also benefits from being the best attraction here capacity wise. It can pretty much accommodate a full attendance day crowd due to its short length, large theater, and easy of entry and exit. I think that "Soarin'" may get the press as being the best new thing, but the workhorse "Bug" show will end up pleasing the bigger numbers in the long run.

As you exit the theater (which is actually located in the huge soundstage like building that has a big painting that is topped with the words "Bountiful Valley Farm" on it), you come into the middle of the actual farm area itself.

Farm area
The Farm area

Let me be succinct, as well as blunt here folks, this area is a BIG mistake - period.

I walked around and looked at the avocado trees (finally) and then walked over to what I thought was a barn - but turned out to be just a facade for a service building. Lots of stuff was growing, but hey, I don't do plants, ok?

I looked at the displays there - boring County Fair stuff you probably would have seen in the Ortho tent - and then looked at the tractors the kids were supposed to be able to play on. Of course to keep them from getting beat up, the driver cabs were sealed off from access - denying the ONE thing a kid would probably want to do, pretend to drive them.

Can't get in it!
Can't get in it!

The adjacent water playground, ("a salute to California's aqueduct system" I heard the CM nearby tell a visitor - really) reminded me of all the problems they've had in Tomorrowland with the "Cosmic Waves" installation. There also is a fruit stand, milk shake bar and garden shop in the area, and that's about it. And before I forget here - this is a park like area with little or NO shade - defeating the stated purpose of this being a setting to relax in a bit.

C'mon guys - why weren't the displays interactive in any way shape or form? Why isn't there a petting zoo? Where's the farmer himself, to tell stories to the young ones about life on the farm, and give gardening tips to the adults? Where are the Watermelon eating contests, and the Farmer's Wife pie shop with baked goods for sale? Even the Fab five (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto and Donald) could have made this their home - all decked out in their overalls.

Didn't they learn (or even remember) anything from the vastly more entertaining and charming County Fair days promotion that Disneyland had in the past? It wouldn't have been that hard to put in pig races. Bring on the giant rubber dancing cabbages for goodness sakes. This could have marked the return of "Veggie, Veggie, Fruit, Fruit" for goodness sakes. ;)

See what I mean when I say Paul Pressler has such a limited vision when it comes to theme parks? But to hand him a compliment here, the garden shop is utterly delightful, with a terrific and rather eclectic merchandise selection. Incredibly themed too. I'm sure all those ticket buyers who don't care about the rides and only buy admission to shop will adore it.

Enough of the avocado trees says Al, let's go get a drink! And funny, right across the way you'll find that they put in a... Mondavi Winery! What were the chances of that just popping up there? Hmmm, maybe they put that farm area right next to the winery for a reason eh? ;)

Before I get too snide here... ;) I do have to say I really liked what they did with the Mondavi Winery. I had feared it would be a liquor store planted in the middle of the park, and they solved that problem by making it a nice adultland- type area.

There are two dining options available to you here - the price fixe (and highest cost in the park) "Vineyard Room" restaurant up on the second floor, and what I was most impressed with and really liked, the "Wine Country Market" - which houses a deli area that compares both selection- wise and price- wise to a higher end supermarket operation like local premium grocers Gelson's, or Bristol Farms. Also flanking the dining areas are two wine by the glass bars.

Mondavi Deli
Mondavi Deli

With the Deli, you finally have a quality (albeit pricier) alternative to theme park food - and the stuff we sampled there (especially the sandwiches) was very very good. I am hoping they don't ratchet up the prices even higher here (as they've been on this kick this past year) - as this will provide a terrific quality meal alternative for folks.

Since this is adultland - they've parlayed some tables around the building to create a nice outdoor dining area where you can enjoy your wine, cheese and crackers. Unfortunately, in looking out at the view, you do see again the limited vision of the folks behind this park in plain sight yet again.

Mostly the view out towards the front faces the BACK of the Cannery Row / Wharf area, where they've done an amazing job of aging and distressing the wood walls so they look very authentic. But despite all the nice work, you still are facing, well ** a wall ** out there across where the water way is. (And when you find out just exactly what this complex is, you really are getting the short end of the view stick here, more later on that below.)

What would it have hurt them to put in an old Tuna boat in front of that wall? And light it up at night? Heck, the synergy guys could have sold it to "Chicken of the Sea" and made it into a little display for Tuna. Or they could have turned it into a stage for some kind of quiet folksy entertainment.

See what I mean when I said that this was "half a park?" WDI before this current regime would have done something like that - added that extra little touch that makes the Disney brand so unique. This is the kind of stuff the suits now in place are so utterly blind to.

Meanwhile, let's say you finish your wine and head over to the Wharf to see what's going on there. Sadly the suits strike again as you walk through. There are actually two "attractions" in the Wharf area. It says so in the guide map. "Mission Tortilla Factory" and "The Boudin Bakery." Attractions you say?

Suddenly I get visions of what these attractions may be, thanks to the magic of Disney Imagineering! In the wild and crazy "Mission Tortilla Factory" you board your tostada salad bowl shaped tortillas and spin around gaily - just as you do in the teacups at Disneyland. In this cleverly re-themed attraction, festive mariachi music replaces the "Unbirthday Song" music loop, colorful Piñatas hanging above you replace the lanterns Alice has, and the wheel you spin the cup around with resembles a giant black olive - the better to theme your tortilla bowl to the tostada salad ride concept!

Oh oh, now I'm dizzy - too dizzy! Time to relax - what's this next door - why it's "The Boudin Bakery" bounce house! I jump into a giant bread oven in this delightfully re-themed DCA version of "Goofy's Bounce House." The giant loafs covering the floors and walls are fluffy and bouncy, and as I hurl a giant vinyl muffin the size of a footstool at my fellow attraction visitors I notice WDI has even piped in a fresh bread smell.

No, no - wait a minute... spinning, spinning... I must be woozy from all the Mondavi wine I had. A rude awakening commences...

Those aren't really fun Disney attractions are they? No they are not, in the tortilla factory you can watch a machine make tortillas, (and yes, get a free nice warm one - a Disney theme park first - the free part that is), and the bakery has Rosie O'Donnell and Colin whathisname from that ABC improv show with Drew Carey hawking bread at me.

Man oh man, maybe that winery IS placed in an optimal location isn't it?

Stunned, utterly stunned I tell you, from the enthralling real life, soul shattering, enriching (I'm running out of words here) experience I just had with the tortilla and bread attractions I go to see what else the themed Pacific Wharf area offers the visitor.

Look Mommy, TUNA CANS!
Look Mommy, TUNA CANS!

Let's see... there's a window display with the history of Tuna cans in it, nice I guess. Then in the area surrounding me as I walk further into the Wharf, I notice the following - "Cocina Cucamonga" (Mexican food), "Pacific Wharf Cafe" (mostly soup and salad, presented by the bread attraction folks), and "Rita's Baja Blenders" or what the sign will really say when the press goes home after the opening week "Rita's Margaritas." (Hmm, the WDI blueprints were labeled simply "Margarita Shack"). Across the way I also see "The Lucky Fortune Cookery" - basically fast food Chinese.

Well it doesn't take too long to figure out, despite the nice tuna can display window, that this area is basically a food court - right? :) Sigh.

A visitor tip here: You may want to save your visit to the bread tour until AFTER the Pacific Wharf Cafe closes. Why? Because what they up until then have not sold in the cafe is then given out as samples on the tour. Hey it's free ok? ;)

To those few out there that can't stand me in my sarcastic mode, well, what can I say, the farm and wharf areas of the park just sparked it.

But in the next part of the report I have a feeling I may be, well, a bit more colorful in my disdain for some of what has been done in this park by the Presslers and Eisners of the world.

Next I'll take you on a tour of DCA's carnival "Paradise Pier" section. Like the area itself - the write-up may be.. well, a bit of bumpy ride...

Disney's California Adventure, where the shops are attractions and the attractions are... um... just where ARE those attractions?

Let me know what you think as the series continues won't you? I may not be able to personally respond to each of you, but I will read all your feedback.


Part One - Entering the park and the Hollywood Backlot area

Part Three - Paradise Pier carnival area

Part Four - The Whoopi movie, Raft ride and other details such as parking, the hotel and mall

Readers Respond

More Readers Respond!


Take a photo tour of the park

Take a photo tour of the Grand Californian hotel



Theme: Agriculture, Winery

Attractions: Tractor play area, California Aqueduct water play area

Shows: It's Tough To Be A Bug film, Seasons of the Vine  Vineyard life film

Exhibit: Demonstration farm

Shops: Santa Rosa Seed & Supply Co., garden shop, Wine Country Market, gourmet shop,

Restaurants: Mondavi restaurant and wine tasting room - Wine Country Market, Golden Vine Terrace, Vineyard Room / Bountiful Valley Farmer's Market / Sam Andreas Shakes


Theme: Monterey Bay's cannery row

Attractions: Boudin Bakery / Mission Tortilla Factory [no kidding, both are listed as actual attractions]

Restaurants: Cocina Cucamongoa Mexican Grill / Lucky Fortune Cookie / Pacific Wharf Cafe / Rita's Margaritas

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