Disney's California Adventure logo

Disney California Adventure will celebrate its tenth anniversary on February 8, 2011, at a time when Disneyland's sister park is in a state of major transition. With a $1.1 billion series of upgrades now in full swing, the park is set to look very different to when it first opened back in 2001.

The park's first ten years have hardly gone smoothly, with poor attendance and negative guest reaction becoming major issues. With the radical upgrade plans, Disney's Imagineers have opted to rip up the original blueprint for California Adventure and start virtually from scratch. Although the core California theme will remain, it will be made more exotic with a mix of historically-themed areas and a focus on modern Pixar characters.

With the anniversary celebrations set to take place amidst vast swathes of construction walls, we thought now would be a great time to look at the past, present and future of Disney California Adventure through a mix of photos, concept art and videos.

2001 - Opening

One of Disney's original TV ads for California Adventure.

The park opened on February 8, 2001 under its original name of Disney's California Adventure. The project was not quite the ambitious West Coast version of Epcot that many Disney fans had hoped for (and that had been planned in the early 1990s). Instead, Disney spent "just" $600 million constructing California Adventure, compared to on an estimated $4 billion that was spent on the Tokyo DisneySea park at around the same time.

The Disneyland Resort's new park suffered from poor attendance and negative word of mouth almost from its opening day, managing just 5 million visitors in its opening year where Disney had forecast 7 million. The reasons for this have been well documented, and include bland theming (such as recreating landmarks that were less than an hour's drive away), lack of major new attractions and the absence of Disney characters and theming (a management decision).

The images below show some of the attractions that awaited the first visitors to Disney's California Adventure:

Disney's California Adventure entrance

A recreation of the Golden Gate bridge greeted guests to the new park.

California Screamin' rollercoaster

The California Screamin' rollercoaster dominated the Paradise Pier area, which was criticized for aping the seaside amusement parks that Walt Disney himself sought to distance Disneyland from.Source: Arnold C, Wikimedia Commons

Soarin' Over California

Flight simulator Soarin' Over California proved to be the park's most popular ride.Image © Disney


Off-the-shelf rides such as Maliboomer were criticized for being un-Disneylike.

Golden Dreams

The Golden Dreams show was dedicated to the history of California.Source: Ellen Levy Finch, Wikimedia Commons (License)

Hollywood Pictures Backlot

The Hollywood Pictures Backlot came under fire for its lack of attractions.Source: Ellen Levy Finch, Wikipedia, (License)

2002 - A Bug's Land

The first expansion to Disney's California Adventure was a relatively small one, with the opening of A Bug's Land in Autumn 2002. It added a selection of attractions that are seen from the point of view of a bug, with oversized items strewn around liberally. The land's biggest draw, 4D movie It's Tough to be a Bug!, actually opened with the rest of the park, so the expansion only added minor attractions including Flik's Flyers and Francis' Ladybug Boogie.

A Bug's Land entrance

A Bug's Land is themed around a bug-sized funfair.

Heimlich's Chew Chew Train

Heimlich's Chew Chew Train was among the child-friendly new additions.Source: Wikimedia Commons (License)

2004 - Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Disney's California Adventure received its first new E-Ticket attraction in 2004, when the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opened in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. Although a slightly stripped-down version of the original Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios, the ride still proved a massive hit and remains one of the park's biggest draws.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror exterior

The Tower of Terror dominates the skyline at Disney California Adventure.Source: deror_avi, Wikimedia Commons (License)

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror interior

The interior of the "Hollywood Tower Hotel" is recreated in stunning detail.Source: Carterhawk, Wikimedia Commons (License)

2006 - Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!

The Hollywood Pictures Backlot received another update in 2006, when the short-lived Superstar Limo attraction was replaced by Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!. The dark ride closely follows the plot of the Pixar movie, with guests boarding taxis on a journey through the streets of Monstropolis in the midst of a "human contamination" crisis.

Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sully to the Rescue exterior

The Monsters, Inc. ride was a colorful addition to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot.

2007 - Expansion announcement

The poor performance of Disney's California Adventure had not gone unnoticed by Disney management, which announced a multi-year, $1.1 billion series of upgrades in October 2007. As well as increasing the overall size of the park with the addition of a brand new land (Cars Land), the plans also involve major updates to many areas and the complete removal of several unpopular attractions. The expansion is due to be completed by 2012, when the park will resemble the animated map below:

2008 - Toy Story Midway Mania

The opening of Toy Story Midway Mania in the Paradise Pier area of Disney's California Adventure in 2008 was a sign of things to come. As well as being a major new ride, it signalled Disney's intent to ensure that new rides at the park tie-in with popular Disney franchises - in this case, Pixar's smash-hit Toy Story movies.

Combining 3D animated video with an interactive shooting game, Toy Story Midway Mania joined Soarin' Over California and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror among the most popular attractions at the park. Although its low capacity can cause lengthy queues, the incentive for riders to beat their current high score offers significant re-ride value.

Disney's original advertisement for the ride is embedded below:

2009 - Mickey's Fun Wheel

A major part of the transformation of California Adventure involves the "Disneyfication" of areas such as Paradise Pier, which had previously been viewed as too bland and packed with off-the-shelf attractions. While some, such as Maliboomer, have simply been removed, others have undergone extensive retheming. The Sun Wheel was among the first, with the sun being replaced by the iconic image of Mickey Mouse's head and the ride being renamed as Mickey's Fun Wheel.

Mickey's Fun Wheel by night

Famous Disney characters are front and central at the updated California Adventure.Source: Gonza777, Wikimedia Commons (License

2010 - Silly Symphony Swings

Next for the update treatment was the Orange Stinger "chair-o-plane" ride, also located in Paradise Pier. In place of the previous Orange County-friendly theme, Disney added a new storyline based on the classic 1935 animated short The Band Concert. The short sees Mickey Mouse attempting to conduct a production of the "William Tell Overture" by Gioachino Rossini, before Donald Duck interrupts him and causes chaos. It also served as the inspiration for Mickey's Philharmagic at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

2010 - World of Color

A major issue for Disney California Adventure (which dropped the apostrophe from its name in May 2010) had been its lack of a nighttime spectacular to rival Fantasmic at neighboring Disneyland. In development for over 6 years, and costing an estimated $75 million, World of Color more than fits the bill and opened to rave reviews in June 2010.

The show has been compared to the famous water fountain display at the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas, and indeed fountain expert WET Design was involved in both projects. However, Disney's production combines the Bellagio show's powerful fountains with lighting arrays and fire effects - all synchronized with music from classic Disney movies. An enormous "wall of water" acts as a projection screen for animated video footage, some of which was produced especially for the show. It's a stunning spectacle - and can be seen compressed down into two minutes in the video below:

Continue to part 2...

To see the attractions that will form part of the future of Disney California Adventure, click here to continue to part 2...


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