I’ve been lucky enough to visit Disney California Adventure in almost every iteration of the park, from watching it under construction in 2000 to the confused mid-2000s to the great DCA 2.0 for Disneyland’s 60th and now to the strange thematic mishmash of current DCA. Every time I’ve visited, it almost feels like a completely different park, and in the 18 years since opening the park has seen many major changes but not all of them for the better. I love visiting this park as part of the larger Disneyland Resort but for every spectacular addition like Cars Land, the park seems to force in another thematically confusing IP tie in like Pixar Pier. But have these additions made the park a fitting second gate for Disneyland let’s find out.
Family Rides – 8/10
Whilst Disney California Adventure isn’t home to as many family favourites as Disneyland across the Esplanade it still brings a strong mix of rides everyone in the family can enjoy together. The Park features two okay dark rides with the bright and colourful The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure and the bizarre Monsters Inc “Mike and Sulley to the Rescue” but the park would greatly benefit from another strong indoor perhaps trackless dark ride to help get crowds out of the sun and into a great ride. (Perhaps Mystic Manor slightly rethemed to be a California Roadside Mystery Spot and taking place in Grizzly Peak).
Other family favourites include Toy Story Mania, I really wish I had one closer to home so I could work on figuring out the secrets to getting that high score. Also, there are some good stepping stones rides like Goofy’s Sky School which give your kids a nice bridge up to a ride like the Incredicoaster. Pixar Pier and Paradise Park are full of generic flats but they’re still a lot of fun, I especially love the great views over the bay that rides like Silly Symphony Swings and the Golden Zephyr give.
One other ride you have to enjoy with the whole family is the amazingly fun but terribly named “Pixar Pal Around”. Just be warned that those swinging carriages are a lot more terrifying than they look from the ground, and you might want to ride the stationary gondolas if you’re after the traditional, relaxing Ferris wheel ride.
Thrill Rides – 8/10
The most thrilling rides at the Disneyland Resort live at DCA. Whilst Disneyland does have a couple of more thrilling experiences, California Adventure is home for the straight-up thrill rides including an incredibly long coaster, a galactic themed drop ride and one of the best themed thrilling attractions in the world.
Whilst I still prefer California Screaming and will miss Neil Patrick Harris as the launch announcer, The Incredicoaster – the world’s longest inverting coaster is still a great ride and the new cookie smellitzer used in the launch tunnel is a delicious effect. I’m still not a fan of Baby’s on sticks though and not sure if I ever will be.
Now I may lose respect here from some of my fellow Huge Disney Parks fans, but I actually really enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, even though Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios will always be my favourite version of the ride. Whilst I don’t believe it fits thematically in the park or that the exterior of the tower was rethemed well, I do love the ride as soon as you step inside the doors of the Collector’s Warehouse. Rocking up and down to a variety of hit tunes really makes the ride a lot of fun and the cheers from your ride vehicle when you realise what song profile you have creates an awesome atmosphere to start your experience.
DCA is also home to one of the greatest all-round experience rides in the world -Radiator Springs Racers. With the perfect mix of a dark ride, stunning scenery and a thrilling finale, the ride is easily one of the best at the entire Disneyland Resort and a true don’t miss attraction.
Experiences – 8/10
DCA contains a great mix of Experiences including some awesome meet and greet opportunities, an excellent challenge trail for the young and young at heart and also one of my favourite experiences anywhere in the World the Animation Building in Hollywoodland. The building is home to a number of fan-favourite experiences including the Sorcerers Workshop, a Meet and Greet space as well as the Animation Academy. Every time I visit the park I make sure to drop by and draw one of my favourites. The artists do a great job of teaching you exactly how to draw a wide variety of well-loved Disney characters. Even if you don’t feel like drawing, the Lobby of the Animation building is one of the most spectacular spaces in any Disney theme park, so make sure you drop on by to escape the heat and absorb the true magic of Disney animation.
If your kids are full of energy and need a way to burn it off the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is the perfect place. Home to a wide variety of climbing nets, rock walls and flying foxes, guests of all ages can explore, climb and play to their heart’s content. Also don’t worry if you’re trying to meet, greet and grab autographs from your favourite characters, DCA has Plenty of Marvel, Pixar and Disney characters to meet all around the park.
Entertainment – 7/10
California Adventure over the years has been home to some spectacular entertainment options including my all-time favourite theme park show – Aladdin the musical spectacular, however, each time we go to the park there seems to be less Entertainment on offer than the previous visit, with things like the Red Car Trolley Newsboys being a huge recent loss, they were always a great energy setting way to start the day.
Whilst sadly Aladdin has disappeared Frozen Live at the Hyperion has taken its place as the big live musical spectacular in the park. Whilst the show is a little too long for my liking and could do with a tightening to say 40 minutes instead of an hour it still is an enjoyable show to watch. The tech used is jaw-dropping, the costumes are perfect and the performers are all incredibly talented, I always love seeing live singing and acting in a Disney Stage Show, it’s incredibly refreshing with all the pre-recorded shows they have around the parks.
World of Color is a criminally underrated show in my opinion that not enough people talk about as a true Disney Parks Spectacular. Whilst it doesn’t have the fireworks you might expect from Disney it does have a fantastic soundtrack, mesmerising fountains and just an all-around fun show. The finale of the show when the entire Pier comes to life in lights also has to be one of the most jaw-dropping moments in any Disney Nighttime Spectacular.
Staff – 9/10
Disney staff are always world-class and DCA is no different with every cast member we interacted with across our visit being great. It was amazing the number of times a Cast Member would come over to you to see if you needed any help or just to have a chat about your visit to the Resort. We also appreciated the amount of pop-up Guest Relation cast member stands around the park, it meant there was always someone around to help you out with the more difficult questions.
Theming – 7/10
The best way to describe Disney California Adventure thematically is confused. It has some beautifully detailed areas like Grizzly Peak and one of the best-themed areas in the world Cars Land but those are contrasted by a confused Hollywood land anchored by a massive alien tower and a Pixar themed land that is better than expected but hurts the overall California theme of the park.
Cars land is one of the very few times the US Disney parks have lived up to the levels of theming seen at Tokyo Disney Sea. It truly feels like you have walked right into Radiator Springs from the Cars film franchise. The land has so much incredible detail to admire and every time I visit I notice something new. Also, don’t miss the land at night when it truly comes to life with the glow of Neon.
Pixar Pier worries me about the future of the park thematically though, whilst the land is quite well done and I enjoyed it more than I expected, I still prefer Paradise Pier from DCA 2.0 as it fit better thematically into the park. Of course, Pixar Pier isn’t as much of a problem thematically as a giant Alien Fortress about to be at the end of a generic Marvel Street land but only time will tell how that turns out when Avengers Campus opens next year.
Merchandise – 8/10
The Disneyland Resort has some of the best merchandise in the World and DCA is no different, whilst it doesn’t have as many quality park specific items as Disneyland does it has some amazing pieces overall. Throughout the park, you will find lots of Pixar, Marvel and other merchandise around to match the IP attractions. Whilst a lot of this is quite similar to what you would find at the Disney Store, it’s always great to grab some high-quality Disney Merchandise.
One thing is though that a lot of the merch is non-park specific and in some stores, it can be difficult to find anything at all with a reference to a specific attraction or even the park itself. Some stand-out stores for DCA specific merch have to be Humphreys across from Soarin and Rushin River Outfitters near Grizzly River Run, both containing some great Disney California Adventure merchandise actually themed to California.
Affordability – 6/10
The Disneyland Resort is not a cheap place to visit for any amount of time and gets more and more expensive every year. Tickets to Disney California Adventure range from $104 – $149 USD for a single day ticket depending on the day and time of year, the exact same price as it will cost you to attend Disneyland across the road which offers so much more in every category. At current exchange rates that means a single-day ticket to DCA can cost you as much as $220 Australian Dollars and that’s before you factor in any money spent on things within the park.
Obviously the park also contains plenty of other places to spend your money on food, merchandise and so much more. One upcharge we do always seem to end up doing on our visit is the World of Color lunch dining package at Carthay Circle which gives you a delicious 3-course meal and a perfect viewing area for that nights showing of World of Color.
Atmosphere – 8/10
Whilst construction walls all around the park, especially near the entrance, bring back some dark memories of DCA circa 2009, most of the park has a great atmosphere with some beautiful kinetics in areas like Grizzly Peak and Pixar Pier. On our most recent trip were lucky enough to visit in an incredibly quiet time at the Disneyland Resort in August of 2019 this meant that the park had the perfect amount of happy guests getting a ton of attractions done that really makes a magical atmosphere. Everywhere we looked people were having a great time and we were amongst them.
Little things like music also help bring the park to life, we were lucky enough to see a limited time Lion King show with some amazing singers as well as bands on Beuna Vista Street, Paradise Park and got to see the incredibly fun Pixarmonic orchestra in what was sadly one of their last months of performing in the park.
Services – 9/10
One thing to know about Disney California Adventure is that the park is deceptively large and getting from point A to B can take a lot longer than expected, especially with current construction works blocking major walkways within the park. This is especially prevalent when working your way towards Mission Breakout which is now in its own little corner, so make sure you don’t leave your Fastpass to the ride until the last minute!
Speaking of Fastpass the Disneyland Resort does feature an upcharge FastPass option Called Maxpass which allows you to select and redeem Fastpasses on your phone as well as providing any photopass photos from both photographers and rides on that day. MaxPass is a $15 per person per day upcharge and whilst not required if the park is quiet, it can be a great way to get more things done in a day no matter how busy it is. Another great time-saving service in the park is Mobile ordering that allows you to order food and beverages on the Disneyland app and have it ready to pick up when you arrive at the dining location, saving you from any waiting in frustrating food and beverage lines!
Final Thoughts –
DCA is a confusing park but one I always seem to have a great time in. It just has a great mix of attractions and shows that give you an all-rounded satisfaction when leaving the park after a full day of fun. But whilst I love visiting as part of the larger Disneyland Resort, I do wonder if in a few years time there will be California left in DCA.
ReviewTyme’s Final Score for Disney California Adventure is – 78/100