Monday, July 06, 2009

A new Disney park

With our Club 33 complimentary park passes in hand, we’re free to do what we want for the next four hours!

Following our plan, we walk past the giant “CALIFORNIA” letters and present our passes at the gate. We’re in!

California Adventure is a completely new Disney park to me, and that’s not a common thing. Let’s see, I guess the first time I visited Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida was on our 2003 trip. Before that, my first visits to the Magic Kingdom and the then Disney-MGM Studios were in 1990 on our honeymoon, to Epcot in 1986 on a college choir tour, and of course Disneyland itself was the first back in ’82.

I have heard a lot of chatter about California Adventure, most of it less than positive – worries about the theming (why have a park about California’s different attractions when with only a few hours’ drive you can visit the real places?), about the quality of the rides (many of them ‘off the shelf’ amusement park attractions, not designed from the ground up by Disney) (oh yes, and “Walt said ‘No Ferris wheels!’”). I also know that park attendance has never been what Disney has expected or wanted.

That being said, the Disney company is also now sinking a cool Billion-with-a-‘B’ dollars into renovating the park, even though it hasn’t even been open a decade yet. And the plans look cool – but those renovations are several years from completion.

With all that in mind and all the criticism I’ve read, I’m probably inclined to dislike the park, but I’m trying to keep an open mind.

Once past the gates, we’re in the entry plaza with its painted flats of cartoony California scenery on either side and the oddly squished Golden Gate bridge in the middle. None of it looks “right” – but at the same time, I can’t make myself dislike it. I’m in a new Disney park! There’s California-style music all around – again, Disney is the master at theming with both sights and sounds – and now Monorail Blue is gliding past across the bridge. It’s just a fun atmosphere.

There’s an official photographer here. I can’t remember if California has the Photopass system here, that wonderful innovation first started at Walt Disney World. You get a little plastic card with a unique number and bar code, and every time you have your picture taken, you simply have them scan your card. Then you can wait until you are home and look up all your pictures online, decorate them with Disney characters and/or the year of visit if you want, and buy some, all or none of them. It’s an incredible deal.

Yes, a quick question to the photographer confirms that they do have Photopass. Yay! He groups the ten of us together, takes a couple of pictures with the bridge in the background. He then has us point to the sky and takes another picture. He tells us that Mickey will appear hang gliding above us in that particular shot!

It’s good to be back in a Disney park.

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