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expectations going into Disneyís California Adventure were not high.
I once said that I didnít think Iíd like the park, but I sure was
enjoying watching it being built. And thatís true. To watch the
Disneyland parking lot disappear and the giant mound of dirt evolve into
what stands today has been a rare treat. Itís not often that one gets to
see a new Disney theme park be born. I am lucky. I live eight miles from
Disneyland and was alive at the right moment in time to be able to witness
the process. I was alive back when Disneyland was built too, but my
parents didnít seem to understand the must-go-to-Disneyland all the
time thing so I missed out on witnessing that process. I doubt Iíd
remember much any way, I was a wee tiny thing back then.
Based on my taste, it was my thought that I would probably like the Hollywood section, hate the Paradise Pier section, and be rather bored with the rest of the park. I donít particularly care for roller coasters, I am terrorized by the heights of Ferris wheels, and I dislike rides in which the rider gets wet. You see Dear Readers, I am a water magnet. If you ride Splash Mountain with me, you will remain dry whilst I get drenched. So it seemed to me that DCA held little to amuse me. California Screaminí would be a one time thing, just so I could say Iíd done it. Never would I set foot on the Sun Wheel. Maliboomer? That would be Tower of Terror without the cool themeing. No, thank you. And Grizzly River Run... no way, not for this water magnet. I heard tales of folks who rode Soariní Over California getting sick. Iím not fond of that either.
So really, what did that leave? Iím sure you can understand then, why I thought DCA would not be for me. Give me my dear old Disneyland, grumble, grumble, they tore out my parking lot and I gave up premium parking for what?
Well Dear Readers, I am reformed. I have seen the glorious light of the Sunshine State and I no longer think it is so stupid to build a park about California in California. With few exceptions, I find that I absolutely love the place and cannot wait to get to go back.
Up until now, I abstained from sharing my experiences with you until I had a chance to do just about everything. Adrienne Vincent- Phoenix gave you a dandy overview of the whole park. And Al Lutz in his four-part overview, was just being Al. But now that I have had the great good fortune to get into DCA three times, I shall endeavor to let you know what it was like for me. I can tell you with all certainty Dear Readers, that I donít think DCA will be a flop. In fact, I think it will be a resounding success. Yes, even the watching bread rise and tortillas being made and that nasty old Walt- wouldnít- have- wanted- it carny sections are fun.
I think one of my favorite things was the anticipation I felt going in for the first time. I got to be four years old again. I havenít been that excited to visit a Disney park in quite awhile. I got to play tourist in my own backyard. My friend Carroll graciously accompanied me on my journey and the both of us agreed that it felt like we were thousands of miles from home.
We approached those big golden letters spelling out "California" and giggled with the pleasure of being amongst the first to enter a brand new Disney park. Carroll handed our tickets over to the Cast Member while I snapped a picture to remember the first time we set foot into Disneyís California Adventure. "Welcome," the Cast Member said as he gave the tickets back, "Your adventure begins." I really rather loved that he said that. "Have fun!" And we were off. What to do? How does one gage where one should head first when no one has gone before you?
It was indeed an adventure.
We chose to bypass the shops on the left, the Bakerís Field Bakery on the right (housed cleverly in a replica of the California Zephyr, a train that used to carry travelers to California), and head straight for Soariní Over California. The first thing we were greeted by was the dulcet tones of an a cappella quartet hanging out across from the attraction. It was perfection. The morning was bright and sunny and lovely music filled the air. In other words, a perfect California day.
We got in line.
The queue for Soariní Over California is not too terribly exciting. Think Universal Studios and you get the picture. The outside of the building is typical metal aircraft hanger thing with several switchback lines divided by typical gray metal poles. Once you enter the building itís all very gray, with little themeing. There are some pictures of famous aviators and planes and a few (very few) aviation props. When you hit the point where you are asked how many in your party, you are sent either to the left or to the right to queue up for your flight (there are two theatres for this attraction). At this point there is nothing to look at but the gray metal walls and spots highlightingÖ.gray metal walls.
It doesnít take too long though and you are directed into the waiting area for the pre-show which is very Star Tours-like. The pre-show is basically just a run through on safety procedures. It features actor Patrick Warburton (the voice of Kronk in Emperorís New Groove) in his most serious Flight Attendant impression instructing passengers to stow their gear in the under seat bins and buckle their seatbelts. As soon as you are fully trained by Patrick, a Cast Member guides you into the theater to your seats.
Iím not really sure how to describe what the inside of this place looks like, so I wonít. You need to discover it for yourself anyway and itís not fair for me to spoil that for you. I also will not describe the actual flight for you Dear Readers. Sorry. That would be like a movie critic telling who did it in his review. You do hate that as much as I do, donít you?
I can tell you it is like nothing you have done before. On all four times I have been on the ride, everyone around me oohed and ahhed and was as absolutely enchanted as I was. The ride technology has been patented by Disney and for the next five years, no one else will be able to duplicate it. It is the most wonderful thing. You do feel as if you are flying. You see the sights and smell the smells. Yes Dear Readers, that is something I believe has not yet been widely told. When you pass trees, you smell the scent of the pines. When you soar over orange groves, you smell those oranges. As for what you see, it is pretty wonderful, but the best of all is at the end. It nearly made me well up with tears and I am not the emotional sort by any means. It was thrilling. It was also exciting to me because I was present the night the last scene was filmed. I remember the helicopter zooming by and wondering what exactly the film would look like. Now I know and itís magical.
If you are afraid of heights, fear not. Although you do go up high (or at least you feel as if you are amongst the clouds), it is not the slightest bit scary. Quite the contrary. For both Carroll and me it had a calming, almost Zen like feeling. I think the next time I am having a no good, horrible, very bad day, I will go take a ride on Soariní Over California. I know it will calm my frazzled nerves and all will be right with my world again. One last thing, do ask to be seated in row number one, that is the best and highest perspective. And try to lean over a bit as you are soaring and look down at the ground below you, itís cool.
From Zen to Zoom
Now that we had attained a Zen-like state it was time to shake things up a bit. Carroll and I headed for California Screaminí. We rounded the bend that took us by Grizzly River Run and I do believe Carroll would have veered right onto that attraction, but I wasnít ready to have my hair ruined and my makeup run by water magnetism. Too early in the day for that. We persevered toward Paradise Pier. We passed the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, one of the few things I have yet to do. During a stay at the Grand Californian, I watched guests (and Cast Members when the park was closed), have fun on this attraction. Itís still on the must try it list for me.
I have to stop the story for a moment and tell you Dear Readers, how pretty I think the Golden State part of the park looks. It makes me think of the summers I spent in Yosemite. I have never been the camping, hiking, type, but I do enjoy the great outdoors in my own fashion. My Grandfather would rent a cabin for us every summer and we would spend a week gazing at the wonders of Yosemite Falls, the glory of the Fire Falls (you can date me by that one), and the delights of the nightly raids on the trash cans by the local bear population. I remember it all fondly and the Imagineers have done a smashing job replicating the feel of this part of California, from the vegetation, to the night time faux campfire of Redwood Creek Challenge, to the ranger-like costumes the Cast Members wear, itís really perfect. When our day at DCA was over and Carroll and I meandered through this part of the park on our way out, we were treated to the most beautiful sight of the full moon hanging just above Grizzly Peak. It was a picture postcard and had I not known better, I would have sworn I was in the mountains.
But, enough about the great outdoors. Letís move on to summers at the beach. You all remember the Pike, donít you (those of you who grew up in Southern California, anyway)? Come on, weíll explore.
We passed by Golden Dreams (which, architecturally reminds me of a building in the big park in San Francisco) and headed on over the wooden bridge into Paradise Pier. Suddenly, I was 12 and back on Balboa Island. When we werenít vacationing in the mountains, we summered in a small house on Balboa Island. I spent a lot of time wandering around the Fun Zone, playing the carny games there, eating cotton candy and frozen bananas, and wishing I was old enough to dress in black and be a beatnik.
It occurs to me as I write this that perhaps for me at least, Paradise Pierís draw is wrapped up in nostalgia and that is why I like something I thought I would not. I loved the seedy carny section of Balboa during the summer. The smell of Coppertone mingled with the sweet scent of spun sugar was like perfume more precious than the biggest bottle of Chanel No. 5. The call of the barkers trying to pry that last quarter from your fingers with the lure of a glorious stuffed animal too large to carry was a temptation too big for a twelve-year-old to resist. I spent one entire summer trying to toss a wooden ring around the neck of a coke bottle and countless dollars trying to win that stuffed animal. The bright red fox with the sparkly silver eyes I took home at the end of that summer (and still have to this day) probably ended up costing a small fortune.
With Paradise Pier, Disney has provided all of the charm with none of the sleaze. Isnít that nice? Carroll and I made a quick stop at Avalon Cove to secure dinner reservations and then hotfooted it over to California Screaminí. The wait was non-existent.
Now, Dear Readers, I am far from what you would call a roller coaster aficionado. I donít know a good roller coaster from a bad one. I do, however, know what I like. I liked California Screaminí. I didnít like it as much as Knotts Berry Farms Ghost Rider, but I liked it a lot. Itís smooth, you get some good air time, the music that accompanies your journey is cool, the G forces in the 360 are nifty and best of all, the beginning reminds me of Space Mountain de la Terre ŗ la Lune at Disneyland Paris. Yep, it feels like you are being catapulted out of a cannon and itís cool. Itís especially cool at night. The twinkling lights are glorious and beautiful and I really like it. We got off the ride, Carroll gave me that I- want- to- go- again look and we got right back in line.
After the second ride, we decided a little food would be a good thing as riding California Screaminí two times in succession made Carroll a little queasy on an empty stomach. I figured I could have gone for a third time, but it probably would have been pushing it so we headed out in search of a snack.
We rounded the curve of the boardwalk checking out all the carnival games. I pretty much squealed with delight at the sight of the skeeball game. I love skeeball. Carroll said, "We have to play then." I tried to resist, there were other things to explore. Carroll would have none of that, plunked down two dollars and we played. It was fun. I am out of practice and was terrible at it. Iím sure I will get better and maybe win a stuffed animal which I will promptly give away to the first child I see who seems to be deserving.
The game section of the boardwalk is also dotted with stores (lest you fail to lose enough of your hard-earned dollars playing games) so I dragged Carroll into the store with the Tattoo sign. I like tattoos, pretty ones anyway. They fascinate me and I wanted to see if the store sold temporary tattoos. That would fit with the themeing donít you think? They did have vintage pictures of tattooed people decorating the store. The store was mostly filled with surf shop type stuff, nothing for me, until... yes, they had a small (very small) selection of temporary tattoos. I purchased a California Adventure logo and we moved on.
We passed on riding Maliboomer. Carroll was still feeling a bit queasy and weíre both afraid of heights and sudden drops. The first place we came to that would satisfy the food requirement was Burger Invasion. Which is a fancy name for McDonald's. We quickly passed. Iím not going to eat at McDonald's in a Disney theme park. Ever. Iím also not going to complain about it. It would be hypocritical to pan McDonald's and rave over Avalon Cove (which is Wolfgang Puckís). After all, itís all about sponsorship, which has been present at Disney parks since the day Disneyland opened. Since I rarely eat at McDonald's Iím not even equipped to tell you how the prices compare, although I did note that a kidís meal was priced at $4.99 which is, I am pretty sure, more that a McDonald's outside the park.
Still in search of food, we passed various fast food venues that featured corn dogs, pizza, and the usual things. Then we got to Mulholland Madness and stopped. "You want to do this now?" Carroll asked.
"You feel okay enough to go on?" I queried.
"Well, letís do it!"
I know that this is an off-the-shelf "Mad Mouse" roller coaster with a topcoat of Disney themeing (and not much at that). I know that as such, I should be disappointed. I was not. I loved it. Carroll and I both loved it. It feels like the cars are careening out of control and at any moment you will fly right off the track. We were both screaming the whole ride. From what I could judge, everyone was screaming and having a grand time riding this thing.
The only problem I can see with Mulholland Madness is in the loading. The loading platform does not stop. It has the capability of stopping, but they donít stop it unless they need to. When we were there, the ride was briefly stopped, a Cast Member directed a guest to get into the awaiting car and the ride started up again as the guest stepped in. I see this as potential for disaster. What if the guest missed a step as the ride started up? To be fair, the Cast Member was immediately told by another Cast Member to never load a guest when the ride is not moving. And since they are all new and havenít got it down yet, I would hope by the time the park is officially open, these things will be addressed.
Our stomachs grumbled and the food search began again. Most of the food in the Paradise Pier section is typical theme park stuff and we were looking for a different kind of snack. So we headed back into the Golden State area of the park where we ended up at the Mission Tortilla Factory. Hosted by Mission Foods, Iím not sure I would call this an attraction. I donít think it rates that high. Iím also not sure what the point is of it being there. Truth be told although itís more than very short, the tour is a bit on the boring side. Yeah, yeah, itís cool to see how tortillas get made. But itís not that cool. And, itís only cool the first time.
Yes, Dear Readers, you read that right. The first time. Carroll and I went on the tour four times. There is a payoff, you see. Hot, steamy, just made, fresh, tortillas. Is your mouth watering yet? At the end of the tour you are rewarded with a tortilla. No words will do justice to describe the culinary pleasure that is a newly made tortilla. Let me just reiterate, Carroll and I went on the tour four times. The last time, we were practically knocking people down to bypass everyone and go straight to the head of the tortilla line. Carroll, clever man that he is, persuaded the kind tortilla person to give us an entire bag of the steamy treats. We went outside and attacked the thing like a pack of ravenous wild dogs tearing at their prey. My only regret was that I am not in habit of stashing in my purse containers of butter and cinnamon sugar because that slathered all over the hot tortilla would have been culinary nirvana.
The fine Mission Inn folks also provide a food demonstration at the end of the tour. If youíre not focused into tearing into your sample tortilla, you can see the many uses of cooking with tortillas. If youíve ever been to a county fair and seen the demonstrations of the use of the latest greatest wonder tool for the ease in the kitchen, you can envision just what the set-up is. There is a large overhead mirror that reflects what the "chef" is preparing so everyone can see. The major problem with this is that they whip up some real tempting stuff. They donít, however, allow you to sample. Iím not sure what they do with all this food they prepare, throw it away, perhaps? It seems wasteful to me. At every viewing I attended, someone in the crowd would request a sample and be promptly turned down. There was a lot of grumbling about this and I think it could be a problem during the height of the summer when the room is packed with hungry people thinking theyíre going to get a taste.
I walked out and remarked to Carroll (only after I had eaten my tortillas, of course), that I thought it was interesting that Mission Foods gives you free tortillas, demonstrates food preparation with said tortillas, and asks nothing in return from you. There is no tortilla store at the end of the tour, no place to buy the array of Mission Foods products. And I can tell you, theyíd sell a ton of things if they had a little store. I would have shelled out a few hard-earned dollars to buy tortillas. It made me like Mission Foods. It made me think that next time I am in the market for tortillas, I will select their product. And that, Dear Readers, is the point of the tour, wouldnít you say?
As for the Boudin bread tour, I cannot say the same. I would not search for Boudin bread. On the contrary, I would avoid it should I come across it in the market. After our tortilla experience, Carroll and I figured weíd satiate our hunger by going on full carbo overload and getting a sample of bread. The Boudin Bakery tour is a slickly produced effort that features overhead screens with a video tour of how sourdough bread is made as you move past the actual bread making factory which is behind large windows. Your hosts for the tour are Rosie OíDonnell and another actor whose name I canít remember. Itís interesting. Who knew it takes so much time to produce that loaf of sourdough bread.
Now all the time, Dear Readers, Carroll and I were salivating over the thought that weíd probably get to sample some of this bread at the end. As you enter the tour it smells so good that the smells of yeast and freshly baked bread are enough to drive a hungry man mad. Unfortunately, there is no such payoff with the bread tour. At the end, they spit you back out into the world with the thought that if you want bread you can buy some at their bakery next door.
I understand this. They are there to sell their product. On the other hand, I also think itís good business to give a sample of your wares to tantalize your audience and leave them clamoring for more. Thatís how Mrs. Fields built her cookie business. She went out into the streets and gave people cookies. Boudin Bakery does not do that. In fact they pour salt into the I- didnít- get- a- sample wound by handing out whole loaves of bread at their whim. In other words if you are there at the right moment of the day, and there is no schedule to this (we asked), an entire boule or baguette of sourdough bread may be placed in your hands. This is nice for those folks. For those in the bread line who only wanted a taste, it creates animosity when they see other guests walking around the park with whole loaves of bread. I think a lot of good will and publicity would be generated for Boudin by having a Cast Member offer slices of freshly made bread at the end of the tour. Not only would this make people happy, itíd probably generate more sales at their bakery next door and get people to remember the Boudin next time theyíre in their local supermarket.
Enough about free food samples, did we ever find a snack? Yes we did. Carroll and I decided, after the great bread disappointment, that we would try what amounts to a food court in the Golden State area of the park. There are two areas from which to choose, the Bountiful Valley Farmers Market and the wharf section (which resembles the Monterey Bay cannery area of California). You can get everything from sandwiches to baked potatoes, to Chinese food, to Mexican food.
I am happy to report that unlike Disneyland where the food choices are severely limited (essentially, bad burgers, pizza, pre- prepared sandwiches on cardboard bread, and fried chicken), here there is a nicely varied selection. For someone like me, whose dining choices are greatly limited by food allergies, itís heaven to have so many choices. And after sampling quite a few places, I can say that I think everyone will be happy with DCAís food.
Carroll and I opted for Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill in the wharf area. I ordered a kid's meal (remember we had reservations for Avalon Cove, I wasnít about to fill up on fast- food when freshly grilled fish awaited). The kid meal consisted of a beverage, three kid sized taquitos, chips, and a small container of that fake melted cheese stuff that nachos come doused in, all nicely packaged in a cute little box with a sun on it. Carroll got a huge nacho thing that had nice dollops of guacamole and chunks of seasoned chicken on top. We were both pleased. I donít remember exactly what we spent, but I do remember the prices seemed fair for what you got.
Time for a little more exploration. We ran through the farm area. Think county fair again. Itís my opinion that this area of the park will be the first to go. Itís a snooze. Thereís nothing to do there and it doesnít do justice as a surrounding area to the splendid It's Tough to be a Bug that is contained here. It does smell cool though. You canít escape that good earthy smell of fresh dirt newly placed in the planting beds. It thoroughly permeates the air. Carroll and I liked it.
If youíre at the farm, the only thing entertaining there is It's Tough to be a Bug so we decided to go in. Carroll and I have both seen It's Tough to be a Bug at Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World so we were interested in comparisons. I donít think the queue is as interesting, but then the queue at Animal Kingdom wraps around the Tree of Life. Itíd be hard to beat that here and certainly they havenít. There are nice little details however. The railing near the entrance that delineates the queue lines is fraught with worm holes and evidence of bug damage (termites?). Once you get inside the waiting area, I thought it was rather plain. Carroll thought it was filled with detail. I guess you, Dear Readers, have to decide what you think.
For me, it didnít feel like we were underground inside the bugís home the way it does at Animal Kingdom. I also missed the very clever and hilarious bug versions of Broadway show posters that are at Animal Kingdom. I did notice there were several blank metal things affixed to the walls around the room so maybe posters or at least some other decoration is on the way. After all, there are still adjustments being made to the park prior to the grand opening on February 8th. I am delighted though, to report that the music played in the waiting area is the same as in Animal Kingdom, namely bugs humming Broadway show tunes. You havenít lived until youíve heard I Feel Pretty a la bug. I love it. I want a recording of it. Anyone have one? Hey Disney, put this on a CD, youíll sell a ton of them.
As for the attraction itself, itís identical to It's Tough to be a Bug in Florida. I loved it the first time I saw it and I still love it. If youíve seen it in Florida, you know exactly what to expect. If not, once again I wonít describe it for you, not wanting to spoil your visit. I will say that I donít think itís for small children. There is one part that could be very scary to a little person. You know your childrenís fear levels, so do use discretion when taking the little ones into this attraction. Big spiders dropping from the sky could scar one for life. As we left, Flick was out greeting guests. He kindly posed for a picture and then we made our way over to wine country.
Iím not a wine drinker. I figured a few minutes in the Robert Mondavi section and Iíd be ready to leave. I figured wrong. Culinarily speaking, this is one of the little hidden gems of DCA. There is fine dining available at The Vineyard Room hosted by Robert Mondavi. After three attempts to get reservations and three strikes out at this restaurant, I hope there are more reservations available when the general public is unleashed in the park. What I am referring to when I speak of hidden gems is the Wine Country Market, also hosted by Robert Mondavi. There are all kinds of delectable treasures here. What it amounts to is an upscale deli with a variety of prepackaged foods available. There are salads, sandwiches, desserts, and beverages.
Before I left the park for the evening, I went a little wild. I bought an array of food to take home and try. So far, I have eaten the roasted turkey sandwich with Sonoma jack cheese and mayonnaise on sourdough bread ($4.75) and the chocolate torte with Cabernet cherries ($4.75). I have yet to sample the grilled chicken and pancetta with sun dried tomatoes, aioli, romaine and tomato on a pan rustique ($8.25), the fresh mozzarella with basil pesto and black pepper ($4.75) and the penne pasta salad with proscuitto, peas, and lemon vinegrette ($5.25).
I have to tell you that the turkey sandwich is right up there amongst the best I have ever tasted. The flavors of the roasted turkey (not the pressed variety, but real thinly sliced turkey with great flavor), the cheese, and the sourdough bread blended perfectly to produce a fine and tasty sandwich. I was surprised, because it doesnít look like much compared to the other sandwiches available. I abhor mayonnaise and even that was so suited to this sandwich that I wouldnít change a thing. As for the chocolate torte, well, I think chocolate is one of the essential food groups (along with bread and good tea). This torte is densely textured little cake that bursts with a positively sinful rich chocolate flavor. A little goes a long way it is so rich. Share with a friend.
Along with all this good food are gift items, bottled wine, flavored honey, and small packaged foods such as madeleines. If youíve never had one of these little cakes, do try a package when you visit the Wine Country Market. In Paris they are so popular you can buy them from vending machines in the metro. When made right, they are light, lemony, shell shaped confections that are sweet and practically dissolve in your mouth leaving a delicious buttery aftertaste. I wish mine werenít all gone. Iím craving them just describing them for you, Dear Readers.
One other note about this area of the park and then weíll move on. You can buy wine here, but you cannot take it from here. Any purchases made will be securely wrapped and sent for you to package pickup. If you sample from the wine bar, you must drink your wine before you exit the area. Iím not sure why, but they even went so far as to do the same for the jars of gourmet honey I purchased. I could not take it from the area and was given a slip to retrieve the honey from package pickup (which I will cover later).
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