Why Disney California Adventure Park is Better than Disneyland Parkby Lisa Stiglic, contributing writer
Last month, I posted an article focusing on what deems Disneyland Park the better of the two at the Disneyland Resort. This month, it's time for a look at what makes Disney California Adventure Park (DCA) the best one to visit. Remember, this is all in fun. Some people might argue that I'm comparing apples to oranges, or nothing will best Disneyland, because it's the original. The posts are just to emphasize how diverse the parks are and the multitude of options that appeal to so many guests. Maybe you'll read about something that will spark your interest and you'll put it on your must-do list the next time you visit. Now, let's go on an adventure…
A Little History Lesson
A quick backstory on DCA. Many ideas for a second theme park floated around for a good decade, including a DisneySeas project in nearby Long Beach, which eventually sailed off to Tokyo. Then-CEO Michael Eisner pressed hard for a West Coast version of Epcot, but it was considered too expensive. Finally, it was decided the second theme park would be California-themed and be built directly across from Disneyland itself.
Disney California Adventure (then Disney's California Adventure, the apostrophe and "s" were dropped a decade later), opened February 2001 to dismal crowds and negative reviews. Add in the tragedy and regrouping from 9/11 terrorist attacks and the first year was a difficult struggle. Attractions and restaurants came and went, new lands were added (A Bug's Land, Cars Land, Buena Vista Street) and now, almost 20 years later, DCA is a destination in itself. As a former opening cast member, I'd have to say DCA edges out Disneyland Park, just by a mouse ear, for me.
Food, Wine and Festivals
Disneyland Park may have the iconic foods, like Mickey Mouse shaped beignets and Dole Whips, but DCA has its own brand of eats. Plus, it's now the go-to spot for food festivals at Disney's West Coast theme parks.
- Festivals: Disney California Adventure hosts not one, not two, but three culinary celebrations throughout the year for gastronomes to gleefully gorge on tantalizing tastes from around the world.
- Lunar New Year Festival (Coincides with Lunar New Year Festival, January-February)
- Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival (March-April)
- Festival Marketplace (Coincides with Festival of the Holidays, November-January)
- Alcohol: From opening day, the list of libations has been a huge draw for guests to visit DCA. Robert Mondavi wines even hosted a short documentary on wine making (Seasons of the Vine) so guests could learn about the process, then of course purchase the Mondavi wines to take home. Now, in addition to the wine terraces, beer carts, and Rita's Baja Blenders (margaritas), guests can order a plethora of cocktails and drinks. Cheers!
- Lobster Nachos: These original menu items from Cove Bar (now Lamplight Lounge) have accumulated quite the fan following, There's even an Instagram page dedicated to the succulent, savory snack! You can order them at both the upstairs bar and downstairs dining area, but I'd highly recommend the sit-down area. The restaurant is Pixar come to life with original sketches, props from the animated movies, and even a Cars-themed table. Reservations highly recommended and discounts apply.
- Pulled Pork/Mac 'N Cheese Cones: Cars Land drove into DCA in 2012, bringing with it a set straight out of the movies. Sally's Cozy Cone Motel was a lodging location in Cars, but in DCA, has been transformed into a whimsical food location complete with five different individual cones or concession stands. At Cone Queso (No. 3), you find tasty treats including Barbecue Pulled Pork and Bacon Mac 'N Cheese, each in an edible bread cone. You can also request a combination of the two. Funtastic fuel for your travels!
- Kitchen Sink Oswald Sundae: Clarabelle's Hand-Scooped Ice Cream shop is adjacent to Fiddler, Fifer, and Practical Cafe (Starbucks) on Buena Vista Street. I love everything about the menu, but I'm choosing the Oswald Sundae because Oswald is an icon in DCA. (He was Walt Disney's original animated character prior to Mickey Mouse). The sundae is available just in a disposable bowl, but the Kitchen Sink is a fun, take-home souvenir that's…well…a kitchen sink! The Oswald Sundae consists of two scoops of vanilla and chocolate ice creams, chocolate fudge topping, whipped cream, chocolate morsels, a cherry (optional), and topped with two chocolate-covered frozen bananas. Yum! This location accepts mobile orders but no discounts.
Grab and go! Another great option about Crazy Cone Motel foods is that they are portable! Photo by Lisa Stiglic.
One of the earliest concerns about DCA was "There's nothing to do for the kids," followed by "Where are the characters?" and "Where is the monorail/railroad/insert Disneyland attraction here?" The Park emphasized the bygone days of boardwalk amusement parks, mostly made up of thrill rides, along California's pier cities. The stomach-dropping Maliboomer has since been replaced by Pixar Pier's Emotional Whirlwind (a repurposed Flik's Flyers from Bug's Land), but several of the opening day thrill attractions are intact, albeit with different facades.
- Incredicoaster: Debuting in 2001 as California Screamin', this 0-55 MPH coaster not only has an inversion, but is tallest of any of the Disney Parks' coasters. It's fast, it's furious, it's incredible! Props re-theming in 2018 of The Incredibles chasing Jack-Jack throughout the coaster.
- Goofy's Sky School: This coaster may not seem like a thrill ride but once you're on it, you're hanging on for dear life. When DCA opened, this gem was billed as Mulholland Madness, named after Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. It closed briefly to reopen in 2011 as Goofy's Sky School as part of the Paradise Pier facelift.
- Soarin' Over California: Again, probably not an authentic thrill ride, but a definite thrilling ride. This original has to be one of the best attractions every built for a Disney theme park. Soarin' Over California easily became DCA's E-ticket attraction almost immediately. With invigorating smells of orange blossoms, pine trees, and suntan lotion filling your senses as you glide over the Golden State's iconic wonders, the multi-hour wait was worth it. The original closed in 2015 and, a year later, Soarin' Around the World debuted. The new version is not even close to the original, which was actually filmed, not CGI'ed, and without warped images if you sat on an edge seat. Yeesh! Soarin' Over California makes special appearances for events and festivals. And, I'd expect to see it next year as DCA celebrates its 20th anniversary.
- Radiator Springs Racers: Cars Land was a much-needed addition to Disney California Adventure Park and replaced "A Bug's Land" (which had replaced the Bountiful Valley Farm area). With three new attractions to boast, the new land was an immediate success. The anchor attraction, Radiator Springs Racers, immediately became the most popular of the three. Fastpasses ran out almost immediately and queues were hours long. Why not? Zooming up to 40 MPH while racing in Ornamental Valley? Everyone feels the need for speed!
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!: Yet another facelift on a familiar attraction. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was added to the park in 2004 to entice more guests to visit the park. Florida's version was extremely popular, so it seemed an easy transition to the West Coast, especially with the Hollywood Tower Hotel tie-in. But, Tower of Terror aficionados were a little leery when the attraction received a new face touting the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters. Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! opened in 2017 with a brand new space adventure and a rockin' soundtrack. Mission accomplished!
Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! is the anchoring attraction for the soon-to-be Avenger's Campus area. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.
Disneyland Park has Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and now Disney California Adventure Park has Avengers Campus. Although construction is still continuing (it was resumed at a closed Disneyland Resort last month), the anticipation for a Marvel Cinematic Universe inside a theme park is at an all-time high. In addition to character meet-n-greets with your favorites—Spiderman, Black Panther, Captain America, Thor and Loki—you'll immerse yourself in A Spiderman Adventure; visit Dr. Strange in his mysterious, mystical sanctum; and eat large and small creations from the Pym Test Kitchen. Avengers, assemble!
Still under the watch of Stark Enterprises, Avenger Campus is set to open sometime in the near future. Photo courtesy of MousePlanet.
World of Color
DCA opened with a day parade called Disney's Eureka! A California Parade which told the historic journey of the Golden State. Not exactly a big draw, although the parade floats were amazing (roller blading and a trapeze), not to mention the bouncy stilts which still used today. Then, Disney's Electrical Parade (renamed because there was no Main Street in DCA) made a surprise appearance to draw in more guests. It wasn't until 2010 that Paradise Bay was utilized for a spectacular water show titled World of Color. This nighttime extravaganza has proven to be a must-see staple at Disneyland Resort and includes different themed presentations, including holiday and special events.
The nighttime show welcomes the Year of the Rooster during one of the specialty-themed presentations. Photo by Todd Pickering.
Tucked away in the Disney Animation Building in Hollywood Land, is this fun little secret cove. The Animation Academy offers you the chance to be a real animator. Learn tips and techniques from a trained professional in drawing your favorite characters. Character times are listed on a clapboard in the Animation Building rotunda and, during the holiday season, you'll find some special characters including Santa Mickey, and Jack Skellington. And, you keep your drawing to take home and frame (or not).
Disney Animation Building, a DCA original. Draw as many characters as you like at the Animation Academy. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.
So, whichever Anaheim Park does call to you, whether you like the nostalgia and Monte Cristos of Disneyland Park, or the thrilling adventure of festivals and fun at Disney California Adventure Park, we all know Disneyland Resort is home and we look forward to returning soon.
Just because it's bigger, does Walt Disney World Resort offer more than Disneyland Resort? Next month, I'll coast hop to share what Florida's Disney Resort has to offer.
If you'd like to read a bit more about the history and changes during the first 20 years of Disney California Adventure Park, you can check out my new book on Amazon.com: California Dreamin'- Disney California Adventure:An Insider's Journey. It's full of fun facts, some trivia, and a little bit of adventure!
I wish Galaxy’s Edge had gone into DCA rather than ruining DL park.
Late reader here, but nice article!
Is this part a little off? Much of Bugs Land survived until the Avengers Campus construction started, didn't it (A Bugs Life theater, and all the kiddie rides)? I though a lot of Cars Land was builton the old Timon parking lot?
Fully in agreement on Animation Academy being a nice little gem. I missed this a lot when they removed it from DHS in Florida, so I made sure to visit when I visited DCA a couple of years ago. Lots of fun!
Looking forward to your article on DLR vs WDW. I'll save my detailed thoughts on that until the article appears, but in short I'm thinking the answer is there are A LOT of things you can see in DL that you can't see at WDW! (especially when directly comparing WDW Magic Kingdom to Disneyland Park).