Next week will be the anniversary of Disney California Adventure’s opening. But before it was Disney California Adventure, it was Disney’s California Adventure. Ok, yeah, not much of a difference with the name, but there were certainly differences within the park. It wasn’t that long ago that the entrance, Paradise Pier, Hollywoodland, even Condor Flats (now Grizzly Peak Airfield) looked very different. Here’s a look at a couple of those areas.
One of the biggest changes to the park is right at the front of it. Sunshine Plaza served as the gateway to the theme park from 2001 to about 2010. Believe it or not, from the letters at the entry gate to the hub area, the decor and theme was supposed to resemble a dimensional postcard. Did it achieve that or not? It’s hard to tell. It took me some years before I could tell that it was.
Walls of the buildings had murals of California sights, all brightly painted. Music filled the air with tunes from different decades, all highlighting various California culture and places. Across the middle of the entry boulevard was the iconic Golden Gate Bridge that served as a way for the Monorail to journey across. Once you got into the main area of the plaza and park, a couple of notable icons sat for enjoyment.
One icon was the California Zephyr, not to be confused with the attraction the Golden Zephyr, and was a train that served as the entrance to what is now Fidler, Fifer, and Practical Cafe as well as Clarabelle’s Ice Cream. This replica was to show the history of travel in California.
Elsewhere in the plaza was the aptly named Sun Icon which sat atop the Wave Fountain. This structure which drew guests into the main area of the park was a bit of an abstract representation. It still had an entertaining fountain and photo opportunity for guests. Where it sat is where Carthay Circle now sits and serves as the castle-like icon of the park.
The Sunshine Plaza was the first glance of the original California Adventure. It was a colorful gateway to an active park. The plaza was replaced with Buena Vista Street with many of the structures still intact, but the look and facades replaced.
Although it doesn’t seem like this area of the park has had a lot of change, there has been some differences made.
Take, for instance, the music. The music has become period pieces instead of calliope driven versions of famous California songs. This makes the “land” more of a nostalgic take of California’s boardwalk parks of various time periods and places.
More blatant changes have come in attractions and, of course, World of Color. One attraction that faced dismantling because of the move into a more nostalgic pier is the Maliboomer. This tower ride was based on a carnival game known as the “high striker.” As the game goes, so did guests who were shot up to “ring the bell” at the top and drop back down. “Scream shields” kept sound to a minimum.
Not quite a full attraction closure or complete change, but still something different was the Orange Stinger to Silly Symphony Swings. Orange Stinger used the same attraction mechanisms – suspended swings that spin around with great speed. Around it was a giant orange. Inside was music with a buzzing theme to it.
Another more significant makeover was with Mulholland Madness to Goofy’s Sky School. Though the roller coaster stayed the same, a more compelling theme was put over it all. The original version of the attraction was highlighting the wild ride that drivers could have on the famous street. Road signs and cartoon boards made it a fun ride.
Attractions that have stuck around, but changed some look is California Screamin’ and the Sun Wheel, now called Mickey’s Fun Wheel. Screamin’ changed its Mickey silhouette loop for a sun-centric one. The Sun Wheel lost its sun, of course, and gained a classic looking Mickey Mouse head. It also gained color changing lights that are used in World of Color. Nothing of the rides themselves changed.
Stores and restaurants have been changed in Paradise Pier. Music is different. Rides have been added and changed. But, Paradise Pier has remained as a classic boardwalk. It is has been one of the most popular areas of the park, and remains the same today.
California Adventure has greatly changed over its 15 years, but the theme of California being a great state has remained. The park’s idea of that there are adventures to be had every day is still around. The park continues to grow and evolve, whether it be attractions, entertainment, or simple things like merchandise. It’s a great part of the Disneyland Resort and is becoming more and more a classic park. Here’s to another 15 years and more.
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