Celebrating Twenty Years of Disney California Adventure Park: The Attractionsby Lisa Stiglic, contributing writer
In celebration of Disney California Adventure Park turning 20 this month, I thought it would fun to take a look at some of the attractions that have called the Park home since opening. Well, let me rephrase that—some of the better attractions. Some past attractions are best left in the past. Ahem—Superstar Limo. This list is nothing more than my interpretation of the most memorable attractions DCA has offered in the last two decades. I was there from the beginning as a cast member so some of my choices are based on nostalgia. Others are established on theming and details, and some are rated on pure awesomeness. (Ya, I just dated myself with that word). OK, grab a FASTPASS, and let's go adventuring!
This 180-foot tall thrill attraction opened with the park, anchoring then-Paradise Pier's boardwalk theming. Inspired by the carnival high-striker games, a high-powered air compressed system launched riders to the top of the tower's simulated bell. The ride would wind down as riders continued shooting up the tower, albeit at a slower rate until settling back at the starting point. The seats had plexiglass face coverings, but not for the reason you would think for this thrill attraction; they helped alleviate the noise factor. There was a lot of screaming on Maliboomer, including myself. I managed to lure my brother-in-law on it a few times in the early years. I'm not a big thrill ride fan, but Maliboomer was a fun one. Maliboomer lasted almost a decade in DCA, permanently closing in 2010.
19. Mission Tortilla Factory
A lot of critics thought it a stretch for Mission Tortilla Factory to be labeled as an "attraction," but it had its merits. The tour started with a look through windows as you watched animated characters creating the beloved tortilla. You would then tour different rooms while learning about the history of the tortilla and its cultural impact. In the production room, guests could watch the balls of masa (dough) run through the press then through the ovens. On the way out, you could grab a fresh, hot tortilla (corn or flour) as a quick snack. Honestly, after one or two trips through the factory, the only reason to return was for the tortilla. And, if it was your birthday, workers would gift you a small stack of tortillas to take with you. The Mission Tortilla Factory closed its doors in 2011, leaving the spot prime real estate for another San Francisco based industry to scoop it up. Hello, Ghirardelli's!
18. s.s. Rustworthy
I'd have to guess that this attraction was the most overlooked experience in DCA. Stationed where the current Paradise Gardens Park restaurants stand, this playground was a grounded fireboat that had split in two. Here, you could hop on springing surfboards, climb in the captain's quarters and ring the fire bell, or hose down your friends with the fire hose. s.s. Rustworthy was one of the few locations geared at smaller guests so it was always filled with kids having a grand time. For me, I had a blast blasting water at my friends and family, especially on hot summer days. Disney eventually realized the area was underutilized and s.s. Rustworthy sailed away during 2010 to make way for what would become Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta, and Paradise Garden Grill.
17. Flik's Flyers
A Bug's Land was not an original land as most may think. Due to the lack of children's attractions initially, DCA added the fifth land in the summer of 2002. In this microscopic realm, you became a bug yourself as you joined the cast of Pixar's a bug's life at Flik's Fun Fair. The area housed five attractions for guests of all ages, but mostly little critters. Flik's Flyers was an anchoring attraction, hosted by Flik himself. Taking inspiration from Dumbo the Flying Elephant and Golden Zephyr, the innovative ant built the spinning ride, utilizing empty Chinese take-out boxes and animal cookie boxes as the circling vehicles. This was a cute, mellow attraction that my kids enjoyed. I liked it for a quick reprieve. Flik's Flyers flew away with the rest of A Bug's Land in 2018 but reappeared as Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind in the newly themed Pixar Pier.
16. Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue!
Tucked in Hollywood Land's backlot stands a slice of Monstropolis. You can't miss it. Just look for the giant pink door. One of the few dark rides in the park, Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue! was an easy overlay to the previous attraction Superstar Limo. The original attraction drove out of sight mere months after the Park opened due to criticism and lack of interest. The location sat empty for more than four years before Disney Imagineers added Mike and Sulley to the mix. Taking a page, or scene, from Monsters, Inc., the two scarers must find a lost Boo in Monstropolis, so you hop a car and follow the duo throughout the city, hoping to find Boo. This attraction wins for the cuteness award and utilization of the Smellitzer in Harryhausen's restaurant scene. You can almost taste the sushi as the ginger and soy aromas permeate the air. The highlight of the attraction is the final scene as Roz welcomes you back to the start of your journey. She is an interactive animatronic, meaning a cast member is in the back controlling some of her comments. If you're wearing Mickey ears, be prepared to chat with Roz. Fun fact: The CDA (Child Detection Agency) figures are redressed Superstar Limo figures. Hmmm, I wonder which one is Drew Carey?
15. Jessie's Critter Carousel
My kids were older when this attraction debuted, meaning I go on this because I want to! Replacing King Triton's Carousel of the Sea, Jessie the Cowgirl and her critters joined the rest of the Toy Story pals when Paradise Pier transitioned to Pixar Pier in 2018. We first met Jessie in Toy Story 2, learning she was part of Woody's Round-Up gang. The critters on her carousel–armadillos, deer, rabbits, turtles, raccoon, buzzard, snakes, and backward skunks–followed her from Woody's Round-Up and helped her create her carousel. (They're also a part of Toy Story Midway Mania). The theming on this attraction is on point! I never thought King Triton fit in with the original boardwalk, (some may argue), but with vibrant colors, crazy critters, and accompanying western music, Jessie's Critter Carousel is a perfect mesh for the new area. Bonus points for the nod to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad's dynamite loving goat painted on a surrounding mural.
14. Mickey's Fun Wheel, Stationary Gondolas
Pixar Pal-A-Round, Disney California Adventure Park's iconic wheel, started out as the Sun Wheel. Based on Coney Island's Wonder Wheel, the concept included stationary gondolas and swinging gondolas which moved with intensity when the wheel circled around. My first and only trip on the swinging gondolas ended with my nails embedded in my co-worker's leg. Over the years, my kids and I have enjoyed the bird's eye view of the Park while safely NOT MOVING in the stationary gondolas. The wheel operation has remained the same through the three different overlays. Mickey's face replaced the giant sun in 2009 with newly repainted gondolas showcasing Mickey and friends. With the Pixar Pier re-theming, Mickey's face remained, but Pixar characters were added to the cars. I'm choosing Mickey's Fun Wheel as my favorite of the three because…well, Mickey. Fun fact: Sculptor Timothy Burrows designed three metal gates for Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, one of which was The Sun Gate, It's located at the pool near Storyteller's Cafe. If you peer through the sun icon atop the gate, it lines up with the Sun Wheel/Mickey's Fun Wheel/Pixar Pal-A-Round, although 20 years later the overgrown trees block the view.
13. It's Tough to Be a Bug
"We're pollinators!" I can still hear this song when remembering this original attraction. Basically a copy of Disney's Animal Kingdom's attraction, It's Tough to Be a Bug told the story of the difficulties of living as a micro-unit. Flik the Ant hosted this 4D presentation in Bountiful Valley Farm. You'd enter the theater, then don 3D glasses upon command. Flik would tell his story as the theater came alive—black widow spiders would drop down from the ceiling, a dung beetle would stink up the room and my favorite, creepy crawlies would scurry out from under your butt upon leaving the theater. The show was delightful in many aspects, including the punny posters in the waiting area. "Beauty and the Bees", "Ant-ie", "Web Side Story" were insect-inspired nods to great Broadway plays. I took my mother on this attraction and still chuckle at her reaction to feeling her seat wiggle. It's Tough to Be a Bug dropped its webby curtain in 2018 to make way for Avengers Campus. I guess it's fitting that the new WEB Slingers takes over the theater. From one spider to another.
12. Orange Stinger
Walt Disney purchased an orange tree grove in Orange County and built his dream park. Disney Imagineers paid homage to this fact as well as recognizing California's orange grove production with the giant swing attraction Orange Stinger. Initially, the dangling swings featured bumble bees wearing aviator goggles, indicating that riders were part of the bee colony, all buzzing together. A telescoping base extended, raising the swings up high, then with accompanying music, and another Smellitzer, this one pumping out an orange scent, the attraction commenced. The seat overlays were cute, but not user-friendly and within three weeks of debuting, they were removed from Orange Stinger. The rest of the orange theme remained until 2010 when Mickey took the conductor's wand and led his band concert aboard Silly Symphony Swings. I'm a fan of the swings, and even though I'm a former band geek who loves some classical music, I'm bypassing The William Tell Overture on Silly Symphony Swings in favor of the vintage orange attraction and its cartoony flying bees. Nostalgia wins every time.
11. Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout!
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror debuted in 2004, welcoming unsuspecting guests into the Hollywood Hotel for a wild ride. Literally. Yet another attraction straight from Walt Disney World, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was a much-needed thrill ride in the new park, and it was a huge hit! But much to fans' dismay, in 2017 a new overlay was revealed, catering to the vastly growing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Straight from Guardians of the Galaxy, the ragtag group of misfits, led by the scoundrel Peter Quill, was suddenly locked inside The Collector's Fortress and it was up to guests to save them. With a rockin' soundtrack and rotating storylines, the re-theme quickly gained new factions of fans. I've put myself out there and have experienced both versions. My son, then 8, wanted to ride Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! so I took a deep breath, and off we went. I don't remember a thing other than closing my eyes and holding on for dear life. Upon walking out of the exit, my son smiled and said he liked it. By the time we entered neighboring Hollywood Land two minutes later, he told me he never wanted to go on it again. Same Dude. Same. But, I had to add this to the list because I'm a HUGE Marvel Cinematic Universe geek and the attraction has one of the best queues in the entire Resort. Just start with The Collector's collection in the lobby. Kree artifacts, Asgardian armor, Cosmo the Space Dog, and if you look up, you'll see Walt Disney World's Figment in one of the containers! I'm still trying to find a way to get a copy of The Collector and The Grand Master painting. Fun fact: Look for a bellhop hat and bookmark from the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror hidden in The Collector's offices.
10. California Screamin'
For most people, this attraction would be higher on a list. I'm not a thrill rider, so I listed it lower, but nostalgia and the debut of the first inverted Disneyland Resort coaster put it in the top 10. Easily one of the E-Ticket (most popular) attractions in the park, this coaster could reach a top speed of 55 mph in seconds flat thanks to LIM, linear induction motors. Originally, the coaster had a big not-so-hidden Mickey in the center of the loop, but a "Paradise Pier" logo and a big sun icon appeared during the refurbishment years. Currently, the ride is called the Incredicoaster with a new theme revolving around The Incredibles chasing Jack-Jack throughout the coaster. Since I've only ridden California Screamin' I have to go with the original. But, I'll still stop at Jack-Jack Num-Nums for a cookie. It's incredible!
9. Dot's Puddle Park
This water area was more a playground than an attraction but it was an immensely popular experience for younger guests. Located in A Bug's Land, Dot's Puddle Park offered wet fun for kids of all ages with shooting water fountains and overhead sprinklers. Since guests were the "bugs" in A Bug's Land, the area was fashioned as a water puddle created from a leaking hose. Giant-sized grass blades and clover leaves provided a canopy for the play area with mega sprinkler heads showering kids with water. The squirting fountains were a hit because they were sporadic meaning no one knew when or from where the next shot of water was coming. This attraction is high on my nostalgia list. I have wonderful memories of my daughter as a toddler getting drenched at Dot's Puddle Park.
8. Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
In a park about California, of course, there must be a district dedicated to the mighty redwoods and rugged Sierra Nevadas. The result? Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, which I think is the most underrated attraction in DCA. In the first few years, the area was bypassed for the more thrilling attractions, especially the nearby Grizzly River Run. But, once word got out, this recreational haven grew in popularity. Filled with slides, hollowed-out logs, lookout towers, cargo nets, swinging bridges, a rock climbing wall, a zip line, and a secret cave, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail has everything for kids of all ages to enjoy! Families can spend time together guessing the animal tracks and even walk through the base of a giant redwood, straight from Big Sur! Not much has changed with Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in 20 years other than a few overlays. Brother Bear characters took over the area briefly, followed by Dug and Russell from Up. The Ahwahnee Amphitheater closed, but it's fun to walk around and look at the totem carvings. All in all, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail offers a ton of activities. I absolutely love everything about the area from the rock collection hidden in the lookout tower, to the working two-way radio, to the Hoot 'N Holler slides. So much fun!
7. MuppetVision 3D
I grew up with The Muppet Show, which immediately put this original attraction in the top 10. I first saw MuppetVision 3D at Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World before it made its way to the west coast. As a fan, I was thrilled when it was added to the park lineup. The show consisted of Dr. Honeydew and Beaker working on a formula for 3D imagery. The duo accidentally create a 3D mischievous character named Waldo who tries to take over the show. Hijinx ensure. The final scene involves a patriotic line-up led by Sam the Eagle and featuring Miss Piggy as The Statue of Liberty. But, The Muppets being The Muppets, you can only expect hilarious results. I never cared for Waldo—he's a bit off-center for The Muppets, but the preshow was the highlight of the attraction. Almost 15 minutes of watching the zany cast prepare for their debut presentation was worth listening to the annoying cartoon character. Sadly, Kermit and his gang went in search of new adventures in 2014 to make way for the Frozen fever that flurried over Hollywood Land. You can catch the preshow on Youtube. Note: The Muppet Show is now on Disney+!!
6. Radiator Springs Racers
The Cars Land E-Ticket attraction is probably tops on most lists. Disney Imagineers created a masterpiece in this racing simulation, from the tiny details of each car to the wonder of Ornament Valley's backdrop to the interactions with the Cars characters. As a whole, Cars Land is a first-place winner, and Radiator Springs Racers is the Piston Cup. Cars Land parked permanently in Disney California Adventure Park in 2012 bringing with it an amazing replica of Radiator Springs. From the get-go, Radiator Springs Racers was the most popular aspect of the new land, often running out of Fastpass tickets within hours of the Park opening. Nothing has changed in the almost last decade. The attraction continues to bring long queues and eager racers. For a shorter wait, try Single Rider Line or utilize Fastpass from the Disneyland Mobile App. But, waiting in line isn't a bad thing because Radiator Springs Racers' queue is full of Cars trivia and backstories. Next time you're in line, look for the seven license plates that represent Route 66's trail. I'd rate this attraction higher if I was given more time to get in the car and fasten my seatbelt before the car moves forward. Ka-Chow! Ka-Ow!
5. Grizzly River Run
Disney California Adventure's only water ride was an automatic E-Ticket before the Park opened. Water rides are a must in Southern California. With an added element of the backstory of how some miners and loggers turned their station into an enterprising business, the attraction is more experience than ride. Plus, the fact that your raft spins and you just never know who is going to get drenched makes for a crazy, exciting trip around Grizzly Peak. Spend a few minutes before or after your excursion to view the surrounding landscape. You'll spot the basalt columns patterned after Devil's Postpile as well as a few cascading waterfalls, perfect for a photo backdrop. Grizzly River Run has been one of my favorites from day one of Disney California Adventure Park whether I go alone or with the family. Props to GRR Bear who has stood as the guarding sentinel every single day for the past 20 years. This 20-foot-tall character even has a Halloween candy bucket and an ugly Christmas sweater to celebrate the holidays. Note: Take advantage of the lockers behind GRR. You can stash your items free for up to two hours.
4. Animation Academy
Disney's Animation Building in Hollywood Land is another experience for the family, filled with displays, shows, and the chance to be a Disney animator. The Animation Academy lets you channel your inner artist with daily opportunities to draw your favorite characters. Stop by the first chance you get to see the session times for each character then plan ahead. Just arrive 15 minutes or so before the scheduled time, and once you enter the studio, find a seat and learn the magic. An animator takes you through specific steps to create your masterpiece—Mickey Mouse, Pooh Bear, Roger Rabbit, Olaf, and just about any other character you want. And, during holiday periods, you can create special characters including Vampire Mickey, Jack Skellington, and more. This experience is so much fun for everyone, and you can take home your own souvenir, for free!
3. Heimlich's Chew-Chew Train
Even thinking about this attraction puts a lump in my throat. Heimlich's Chew-Chew Train was an adorable slow-ride attraction in A Bug's Land. You would board a cartoony train in the shape of Heimlich the caterpillar, then he would narrate the ride as the train traveled through oversized versions of Heimlich's favorite foods, in an appearance of him eating through it all. Heimlich stressed the importance of eating your fruits and vegetables as he tried to do based on the half-eaten carrots, apples, and discarded box of Brussel sprouts. A Smellitzer added the sweet aromas of watermelon and animal cookies as you passed through their respective tunnels. The train ride ended with Heimlich apologetically belching as he gleefully spies his favorite candy corn. "Candy corn is my favorite!" Like many parents, I was sad upon hearing A Bug's Land was closing to make way for Avengers Campus. My kids grew up with the pint-sized land, but my best memory is with my son on Heimlich's Chew-Chew Train. We were the only two on the train. Upon exiting Heimlich, my 2-year-old thought it necessary to shut all the doors on the train. The cast member just let him do his thing and as he and I walked out the exit, I could hear the cast member push the button, swinging Heimlich's doors back open for the next set of riders. I must have laughed all the way out of A Bug's Land. Fun fact: Heimlich still calls part of Disney California Adventure Park home. Check out Heimlich's Candy Corn Toss at the Games of Pixar Pier. You might just win your own Heimlich!.
2. Toy Story Midway Mania!
Toy Story Midway Mania! is the one attraction for which I'll wait in the queue. There's so much going on I don't even know where to begin. Starting with Mr. Potato Head calling out his zingers as you wait in line, the attraction only gets better from there. This interactive 4D attraction urges riders to shoot at moving targets in five different games—Hamm & Eggs Egg Throw, Rex & Trixie's Dino Darts, Green Army Men Shoot Camp, Buzz Lightyear's Flying Tossers, and Woody's Rootin' Tootin' Shootin' Gallery. Each game is a hoot, but my favorite has to be Green Army Men Shoot Camp. "Break those plates!" There are tips and tricks to accumulate higher points that work best if you have a partner. My husband and I are still trying to unlock the Gigabot in Buzz Lightyear's Flying Tossers. At the end of the game, you are assigned one of Jessie's critter friends with your score. I've yet to move above the feral cat. Goals.
1. Soarin' Over California
What can I say about the original Soarin' attraction? When we were setting up the stores, attractions offered all-calls meaning they needed bodies for test runs. Since Greetings From California was just around the corner from Soarin' Over California, I volunteered, a lot. Disney Imagineers created the simulated hang-gliding attraction, a new concept for a theme park, and Soarin' Over California quickly became the go-to ride. It took almost two years for the production crew to film all the California icons presented in the film—Golden Gate Bridge, Redwood Creek, Napa Valley, Monterey Bay, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite National Park, Palm Springs, Camarillo, Anzo-Borrego Desert State Park, San Diego, Malibu, Los Angeles, and Disneyland Park. From the pre-show with Flight Attendant Patrick (Warburton) to the scents of pine, orange, and suntan lotion, to an incredible crescendoing soundtrack, Soarin' Over California was the golden attraction of Disney California Adventure Park. In 2016, the attraction went dark to make room for an updated version, Soarin' Around the World. Thanks, but no thanks. I'll stick to the original. I don't need to see the CGI crooked version of The Eiffel Tower. (If you sit on an edge seat, the images are slightly warped). But, luckily for me, Soarin' Over California makes limited appearances at special events such as Disney California Food and Wine Festival. "Nice work, Pal!"
Thanks for bearing with me through the list. Twenty years is a long time and Disney California Adventure Park has changed so much in the two decades. Hopefully, some of these attractions sparked a few magical memories for you from the earlier years. Stay tuned as I tackle the top 20 foods next month. Date shakes, anyone? Meanwhile, tomorrow Todd Pickering lists his 20 favorite entertainment productions throughout Disney California Adventure Park's two decades. Enjoy!