Disney California Adventure Park: The Lands That Time Forgot - Paradise Pierby Lisa Stiglic, contributing writer
Disney California Adventure Park will mark its 20th-anniversary milestone in just a few months. TWENTY! How did that happen?! Wasn't I an opening cast member there just a few years ago? Disneyland Resort has only recently opened the gates to eager fans, but just minimally. Last week, Buena Vista Street welcomed back guests for holiday shopping and outdoor eating at a few favorites, including Smokejumpers Grill, Carthay Circle and Award Weiners. While this small piece of magic fills the Disney desire for some, those of us hoping for a 20-year celebration at the park may have to wait a bit longer than February 8th, 2021—Disney California Adventure's actual birthday. In celebration of the big 2-0, for the past few months, I've contributed a series of articles showcasing the original lands of Disney California Adventure Park—Entry Plaza, Hollywood Pictures Backlot, and all of Golden State's wonder. So now, it's time for the final article, which encompasses the amusement parks of California's boardwalks—Paradise Pier.
Paradise Pier, or the Pier as we called it, was basically a large open area with a sizeable lagoon, aptly named Paradise Bay, set in the center. Guests could enter in any direction but the "entrance" was at the boardwalk planked section, near then-Avalon Cove (now Lamplight Lounge). "Fun in the Sun for Everyone" was the Pier's motto as seen on the welcoming sign hanging above the entryway. The boardwalk led toward the thrill attractions, then sloped down curving so guests could look across the Bay to view the nostalgia-inducing scenes of beach amusement parks of yesteryear. The actual boardwalk extended to the end of the shops (Sideshow Shirts) just before the Maliboomer. From there, an asphalt walkway took over, but the planks extended to the (now) World of Color viewing area.
Fun Fact: The boardwalk's original wood was specifically brought in from Brazil. The reasoning was it was more durable to weather the Southern California sun, and occasional inclement weather.
Welcome to the thrill attractions of Disney California Adventure Park! Sure, Disneyland Park had its mountain range, but none could compare to the newest coaster in the Resort—California Screamin'! This steel coaster introduced Linear Induction Motors (LIM) allowing it to go from zero to 55-mph in just under five seconds. The coaster was one of the longest steel coasters in the world at just over 6,000 feet long and is currently the world's longest looping steel coaster. Screamin' was an immediate hit, quickly becoming one of the Park's E-ticket attraction (along with Soarin' Over California).
KING TRITON'S CAROUSEL OF THE SEA
Enter the first Disney character-themed attraction introduced in DCA (not counting The Muppets, who were owned by Disney). This one always perplexed me as Triton was a Disney character in a California-themed park. Not even Mickey Mouse was in the new park (although he and his friends decided to "vacation" in Disney California Adventure later in 2001 in an attempt to bring in more crowds). Aside from the misplacement of Ariel's father in a California pier setting, the carousel paid homage to past pier locations. Since King Triton ruled the sea, of course, the animals on board were aquatic, including the otter, dolphin, sea lion, garibaldi, whale, flying fish and seahorse.
GAMES OF THE BOARDWALK
Along the boardwalk were eight carnival games at which players paid a fee per game in order to win a prize.
- Angels in the Outfield was a baseball throw to knock over a catcher target. The name referenced not only the 1994 Walt Disney Pictures film of the same name but also the Anaheim Angels baseball team which Disney then owned. The prize for this game was a plush rally monkey, which was the unofficial mascot of the team.
- Boardwalk Board mimicked a skeeball game in which the prize won was a plush snake.
- Cowhuenga Pass was a play on Cahuenga Pass, a pass through the Santa Monica Mountains connecting San Fernando Valley to the lower Los Angeles basin. This fun game challenged players to toss a softball into a large, tin milk can. The winners received a jumbo-sized cow or pig to carry around on their shoulders for the rest of the day. Ha! (Actually, package pick-up was still a thing back then so most of the oversized farm animals were picked up on the way out the gates).
- Dolphin Derby players raced a dolphin from San Diego to Sacramento by rolling small balls into holes to advance the dolphins. The winners received…wait for it…a stuffed dolphin!
- "Everyone's a Winner" was the tagline for New Haul Fishery. A magnetic fishing rod hooked a toy fish floating in water. Each fish was color-coded which depicted what size prize the player won.
- San Joaquin Volley referenced San Joaquin Valley, home to several of California's crops. Thus, the theming for the game was tossing a ball into a fruit basket mounted on a slatted board. Plush frogs hopped home with the winner.
- Reboundo Beach was a play on Redondo Beach, just north of Anaheim about an hour. This long-distanced basketball shot game was situated in front of Pizza-Oom-Mow-Mow.
- Shore Shot was the second hoops game, but this was collegiate theme. In fact, winners took home California college logo basketballs such as UCLA, Cal State Long Beach and even San Diego State.
The Sun Wheel, combined with California Screamin's track, created Disney California Adventure Park's iconic skyline. Towering at a height of 160 feet, with a smiling, golden sun in the center, the Sun Wheel was a modern-day Ferris Wheel. But beware of swinging gondolas! Unbeknownst to eager guests, half the gondolas were stationary, the other half swung precariously over Paradise Bay as the giant wheel completed its round-about journey.
Fun Fact: Designer Timothy Burrows created the three metal gates for Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, outside near the pool area. One of the gates, the Sun Gate, has a sun image atop with a hole in the center. This circle aligns up with the Sun Wheel, but almost 20 years later, the trees have overgrown the area, making it impossible to see the wheel (which now has a Mickey image anyway).
Across from the Sun Wheel towered the Maliboomer, 180 feet in the air. This attraction was patterned after a strongman high striker game, typical at carnivals. But in this case, the riders simulated the ball shooting to the top to ring the bell, at a whopping 40-mph. Not many younger guests opted for this attraction because of the high intensity, and the height restriction at 52 inches, which was high for a Disney attraction.
The Orange Stinger was a hard attraction to miss—a gigantic, half-peeled orange with swings, near the water's edge. Paying tribute to the original orange groves Disneyland was built upon, this attraction initially had bumblebee seats which raised up to 40 feet in the air to spin the riders. Due to the clumsiness of the seats with the bee overlays, they were dismantled within the first week.
Fun Fact: The attraction failed at a 4-D effect as it tried to spritz an orange scent into the air as it spun. Ironically, the citrus smell was shut down because it began to attract real bees. Buzz-kill.
More of an adventure than an attraction, the grounded fireboat was a big splash with kids of all ages. Guests could surf the waves on surfboards anchored with springs, or climb up into the boat to ring a bell or peer through the scope. The real fun was the working firehouses. Two metal fireman facades held the hoses, so guests could stand behind them, peek through the eye holes then spray one another with the hoses.
One of the original attractions currently at DCA (meaning no re-theming or overlays), this cheerful ride was perfect for the smaller guests. Similar to the Maliboomer, but at a much smaller scale, guests would sit on the seats, rise up 40 feet, then the jellyfish parachute would slowly drop the seats back down and repeat the cycle until finished.
This attraction wasn't too far off from the real thing. Mulholland Drive is a 21-mile winding route up in the Hollywood Hills that Disney Imagineers conveyed a bit too realistically in the new park. Paired guests boarded this fact-paced, heart-stopping coaster for a two-minute excursion, but it wasn't so much the speed of the coaster, but rather taking the sharp turns on the unbanked curves that got the adrenaline pumping. Riders exited the attraction a bit bumped and bruised but smiling.
Not to be confused with the California Zephyr engine at Entry Plaza, the Golden Zephyr rockets recalled the Circle-Swing rides at various amusement parks in the early 20th century. The two-minute attraction featured retro rockets (think Buck Rogers) orbiting, but without the see-saw effect like Disneyland's Dumbo or Astro Orbitor attractions.
WOLFGANG PUCK'S AVALON COVE/COVE BAR
Besides Robert Mondavi, famed California restauranteur Chef Wolfgang Puck partnered with Disney to establish a high-profile restaurant inside the new location. The result was Avalon Cove and the Cove Bar, named after Catalina Island's Avalon Cove. This high-end sit-down eatery specialized in California cuisine. The adjoining Cove Bar offered alcohol and bar food, including the now-iconic lobster nachos. (Puck, along with Mondavi, terminated the contract with Disney after less-than-spectacular reception. The numbers just weren't there.)
By far, the best tagline in the park—"Catch-A-Flave and you're sitting on top of the swirl." Beach Boys aside, this soft-serve ice cream cone location was perfect for the Boardwalk on a hot, sunny afternoon. But the cones were more than just a typical vanilla whirl. Guests could specify a particular flavor–orange, lemon, grape, strawberry, butter pecan and bubble gum–and a flavored syrup would swirl around the vanilla base. The orange flavor was orange, grape was purple, lemon was yellow. You get the idea. The menu also offered Beachy Floats and typical soft drinks.
BOARDWALK BETTY'S WORLD FAMOUS STRIPS, DIPS, AND CHIPS
Finally! Some deep-fried food! Strips, Dips and Chips served up chicken strips, fish sticks and fries and several types of dips from which to choose—Malibu Ranch, Honey Mustard, Hula Hoop Hot Sauce, Santa Barbecue and tartar sauce. Fried mozzarella with Muscle Beach Marina dip and apples with caramel dipping sauce were popular items, as well. The strips were especially tasty, but honestly, I still don't know who Boardwalk Betty was.
Neighboring Strips, Dips, and Chips sat Malibu-ritos, home of the football-sized tortilla wraps. I'm not kidding. I would order one of these things and it would take me the entire afternoon to finish it. The burritos sold were typical flavors including chicken, Carne Asada and bean/cheese, but the fried tortillas (crispitos) with fruit and chocolate dipping sauce were the stars of the menu.
Every surfside theme park needs some surfing represented. Enter Pizza Oom-Mow-Mow. This beach-themed surf shack sold pizzas and pasta, but with a far-out twist—the pizzas were shaped like surfboards! The decor inside was inundated with surfboards, surf gear and even a giant shark hung from the ceiling. Menu items included Bodacious Sausage Pizza and Far-out Chicken Fusilli.
Fun Fact: One of the posters hanging inside was of Beach Party—a nod to an original, and the most popular Disney Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello.
Next to the pizza location stood an overly exaggerated burger—the home of Burger Invasion which really was just McDonalds. Burger Invasion had a limited menu with Big Mac and fries, double cheeseburger with fries, crispy chicken sandwich with fries, or a large chef salad. There was nothing spectacular about the location, it was McDonald's, just more expensive. Why spend money on an overpriced burger when you could eat fresh fish and chips or a surf-board shaped pizza? Along with King Triton's appearance and the identity of Boardwalk Betty, this was yet another mystery of Disney California Adventure Park.
CORN DOG CASTLE
The last stop in Paradise Pier was Corn Dog Castle, a part of the "Route 66" roadside theming. The menu boasted a deep-fried corn dog, spicy sausage dog and a cheese stick. The billboard-style signage was a caricature of a King Corn Dog and Entire Corn Dog Kingdom, which paid homage to the vintage billboards and diners along Route 66 highway.
TREASURES IN PARADISE
Treasures in Paradise was one of the two anchor locations upon entering Paradise Pier on the actual boardwalk. This merchandise shop sold typical Disney theme park souvenirs, as well as beach-themed items. But what set this store apart was the decor depicting vintage boardwalk icons. Behind the cash register hung carved wooden animals from long-ago carousels. A retro bumper car sat atop a corner display, and placards of famous California pier locations emblazoned the walls.
PACIFIC OCEAN PICTURES
Not to be confused with the California Screamin' cam, Pacific Ocean Pictures was a photo shop with a green screen option. Guests could choose one of several backdrops, such as climbing Grizzly Peak or playing in the Paradise Pier sand with Minnie Mouse. Costumes were also available to lend to the theme of the photo. This was a fun gimmick but not at a cheap cost. Most guests just took silly photos in front of the boardwalk billboards.
POINT MAGU TATTOOS/MAN HAT 'N BEACH/SIDESHOW SHIRTS
These three shops next to The Games of the Boardwalk, melded into one big shop, albeit with different merchandise. Point Magu Tattoos sold souvenirs and temporary tattoos. Man Hat 'N Beach's mainstay was…uh, hats. Baseball caps, sun hats, cowboy hats, fancy hats, etc. The best part of this shop was the cartoony octopus fixture that held up different hand mirrors in each tentacle so guests could look at themselves when trying on said hats. Finally, Sideshow Shirts invited guests to come in and explore the "rari-tees," the "frivoli-tees" and the "absurdi-tees."
Fun Fact: The outside sign depicted circus performers who were "oddi-tees" including Vipera, the snake charmer. Upon closer look at the performer, the snake wrapped around her neck was none other than Kaa from Jungle Book.
Before Cars Land, Route 66 ran through a small section of Paradise Pier. The actual Route 66 starts its journey in Santa Monica and winds its way through SoCal, so there some history represented in the little corner off of Paradise Pier with Corn Dog Castle and the last two merchandise shops in the Pier area. Souvenir 66 was based on the roadside tourist shops that catered to travelers. Here, guests could purchase hats, keychains, autograph books and sundries.
DINO JACK'S SUNGLASS SHACK
If you happened to forget your sunglasses while visiting Disneyland Resort, Dino Jack's–a 33-foot-tall pink dinosaur wearing sunglasses–had you covered. The interior design leaned toward highway decor including various traffic and road signs and a big mural covered in toy cars, hubcaps and sunglasses.
Fun Fact: For guests who were Hidden Mickey challenged (me), Dino Jack's gave a freebie. The pink dinosaur was covered with yellow spots and one of those spots was indeed a not-so-hidden Mickey.
Paradise Pier hasn't changed much over the two decades, mostly just theming overlays. Pixar characters now roam the area and Paradise Gardens is home to several festivals, including Lunar New Year and Plaza de Familia. The thrill attractions are still present (sans Maliboomer which is now the Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind) and the food is almost the same. Yet, even with my face stuffed full with Corn Dog Castle corn dogs, I still yearn for a five-pound chicken burrito from Mailbu-ritos.
For more fun reads about Disney California Adventure Park's history, check out my book, California Dreamin'- Disney California Adventure Park- An Insider's Journey, now available on Amazon.