Look – Avengers Campus doesn’t really fit the brief that Disney laid out when they re-launched California Adventure in 2012. In fact, I'd usually be the person who just completely leaves this land out of my from-scratch park design, insisting Avengers Campus is just a blatant IP-infusion with no effort to match the park's larger feeling or story. So before I tell you what's in my Avengers Campus or how I made it "work" in California Adventure, we need to review what (and where) the land almost was...
The 2017 closure of the Lost Legend: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and its subsequent transformation into Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!, for many, was a sort of “wtf” moment. How – just years after spending $1.2 billion to revitalize California Adventure’s historic, reverent, thoughtful, Californian settings – could Disney transform the Hollywood Tower Hotel into a sci-fi “warehouse prison powerplant” looming over Buena Vista Street?
The excuse then was that Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! was merely the first piece of a larger, Marvel-focused presence at the park, and that eventually, it would be annexed from Hollywood Land and make a whole lot more sense in the context of that then-yet-to-be-announced-but-definitely-coming Marvel land.
Behind the scenes, the story is that Disney intended to convert nearly all of the park’s Hollywood Land into a Marvel superhero-themed land. Though, obviously, a golden age Hollywood Land makes more sense in California Adventure (especially post-2012) than Marvel’s modern superheroes, you can’t fight synergy… And given that Hollywood Land was barely touched by California Adventure’s redesign, it made some amount of sense to use the area’s very large footprint (which, frankly, is massively underutilized) to bring Marvel to the resort.
Sweetening the deal, Disney was simultaneously working out plans for what they called the “Eastern Gateway” project, a massive new transportation hub opposite the existing 10,000 space Mickey & Friends parking garage on the resort’s west side.
One of the Eastern Gateways more controversial effects would’ve been a transformed entry experience for guests staying in hotels on Harbor Blvd. After decades of literally just crossing a crosswalk and walking by the resort’s bus loops to get to Disneyland, “off-site” guests would instead be relegated to a very long, unfriendly, roundabout, shoulda-paid-to-stay-in-one-of-our-official-hotels journey.
The new pedestrian route would force guests of Harbor Blvd. hotels to walk under a pedestrian bridge to the resort, then a half-block away from the parks. There, they’d be funneled down a narrow sidewalk between the back of Harbor Blvd. hotels and a looming parking deck. Only then would they pass through new security checkpoints, joining guests dropped off from the newly-relocated bus loops. That security-screened crowd would then walk a half-block back to Harbor Blvd., rising to finally cross the pedestrian bridge they’d passed under three quarters of a mile earlier.
The result of this relocated transportation hub, though, would’ve been that the multiple acres occupied by the resort’s old bus loops would become available for park expansion, opening up area adjacent to California Adventure’s Hollywood Land… just behind its big, underutilized soundstages (the blue outline in the image above)… So basically,
if when the Eastern Gateway was finished, Disney could build this big, huge Marvel land on the space previously occupied by Hollywood Land plus the park’s bus loops, and voila – Mission: BREAKOUT! would suddenly make sense.
Only, the Eastern Gateway didn’t happen. The hoteliers along Harbor Blvd. rightfully decried the new entry process as Disney’s underhanded way of cutting off the direct access they’d touted as a benefit for years, and the political chess pieces Disney sought to rearrange in Anaheim fell through. Disney ended up building a second parking deck back on the resort’s west side (the Pixar Pals parking deck, right next to the existing Mickey & Friends deck) meaning no extra land became available on the east side, suddenly sending Imagineers working on the Marvel plan back to the drawing board.
When Avengers Campus finally came online in
2020 2021, it was relegated to the much smaller, narrower parcel of land behind Hollywoodland that had once been “a bug’s land.” The result is that Avengers Campus is six acres – half as large as the park’s still-headlining Cars Land – and generally, not nearly as ambitious as fans had hoped. (Plus, its Rise of the Resistance-equivalent U-Ticket anchor was announced to be coming later, in a second phase that now seems highly unlikely post-COVID.)
Here’s my feelings: I started liking Avengers Campus a lot more when people began to refer to it as California Adventure’s Tomorrowland – a “Silicon Valley” campus of innovation and technology that’s hyper-saturated and kinetic and bright and bold, all wrapped into a story of recruiting the next generation of heroes (that’s us) to test out new technologies and find our place as the thinkers, doers, and protectors of improving our world.
So when it came to my “ideal build-out” of California Adventure, I didn’t mind keeping the Avengers Campus concept or setting! But I didn’t use the space from “a bug’s land” for it, nor did I knock down Hollywoodland. Instead, I envisioned fitting the entire Avengers Campus onto the land that would’ve been made accessible by the Eastern Gateway.
One reason is that as guests would arrive to the resort via this elevated, garden path that slowly descends toward the resort’s Esplanade, I felt that Avengers Campus would actually be a great land for those pedestrians to look down into; a place where it would be okay to “break the fourth wall,” providing guest a glimpse into this training ground from above.
It sort of feels… epic…? to imagine guests walking a raised path alongside this massive, white showbuilding emblazoned with the Avengers “A” logo (gives me the vibes of Denver’s Meow Wolf, above), then being able to see down into this land where heroes are swinging through the sky and guests are climbing and the Monorail is zooming through… Like if there’s a place to be seen from raised onlookers, this is it.
From inside the park, the main entrance into Avengers Campus would of course be from Hollywoodland. There, I pictured a transitionary tunnel “through” the Hollywood Hills backdrop, using the Figueroa Tunnel (made famous in Disney Parks by being used at Hollywood Studios twice: as the lunch tunnel of Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, and again as the tunnel to Galaxy's Edge).
Basically, I repurposed one of Hollywood Land’s existing showbuildings to house SPIDER-MAN: WEB ALERT!, which is, of course, the existing Web-Slingers ride. (I’d like to aim higher, but I do recognize that having a no-height-requirement ride in a Marvel land is a must, and that Spider-Man is the hero to carry it.) This would also be the building to house the Spider-Man Stuntronic, which those Hollywood Hills facades blocking view of the stunt from Hollywoodland.
Likewise, I retained the idea of the PYM TEST KITCHEN (a clever way to add “must-try” food to a Marvel land, which otherwise doesn’t bring any particular kind of food or drink to mind).
Since the “story” of Avengers Campus is that it’s a reclaimed Stark Motors manufacturing facility now repurposed as a hero & technology showcase, I added the STARK SHOWCASE – a vaguely-World’s-Fair inspired, small, domed lattice “pavilion” of interactives and exhibits, like the Hall of Armor showcasing each of Iron Man’s Suits, the Treasures of Asgard walkthrough, and more.
At the pavilion’s center would be PALLADIUM PACKS – a glowing spinner modeled after Shanghai Disneyland’s Jet Packs (which are themselves a sort of floorless, thrilling version of the Astro Orbitor), adorned with glowing Palladium cores and spinning at the center of the pavilion’s dome.
In the style of EPCOT’s Wonders of Life, I also added concealed showbuilding behind the dome that could house IRON MAN: ULTRAFLIGHT, giving California Adventure a version of Hong Kong Disneyland’s Iron Man Experience simulator. (I provided enough room for four simulator pods – the same number of Star Tours.)
As for the land’s anchoring E-Ticket occupying that huge, white, A-emblazoned showbuilding looming over Harbor Blvd., I called it AVENGERS: INTO THE MULTIVERSE. Reportedly, the now-likely-cancelled Avengers E-Ticket once planned for California Adventure would’ve used a ride system we haven’t seen before. According to rumor, guests would’ve boarded the Avengers’ Quinjet and been raced off to a battle in the African nation of Wakanda – home of the Black Panther.
There, in the style of all great Avengers films, a massive action-packed crossover event would see the heroes converge. Eventually, guests would apparently be ejected from the Quinjet, revealing that each seat was independently attached to a KUKA Robo-Arm (like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey) initiating a second phase of the ride wherein guests would fly through massive projected and physical sets.
There’s no doubt that COVID is what grounded the ride, and that its undoubtedly massive budget is what’s kept it from being re-added to the parks’ development timeline even as budgets eased. But allegedly, one of the key issues leaders have taken with the ride is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe moves fast… And yeah, it’s a little short sighted to root a forever-ride in the MCU’s “Infinity Saga” (with the events and hero roster of its first 20-ish films when Iron Man, Captain America, and Hulk would star) given that the franchise has already moved on to the “Multiverse Saga”… and more to the point, that that 15-film arc would itself be past by time the ride opened if construction started today!
So even though “Into the Multiverse” is also a short-sighted tether to this “phase” of the MCU, at least it lends itself to KUKA robo arms thrusting guests through portals, where ride film can be swapped to promote whatever heroes and settings the MCU includes next…
Meanwhile, the very last piece of my built-out Avengers Campus is AVENGERS TRAINING COURSE – a high ropes course that would criss-cross the land, with guests passing from rooftop to rooftop by way of balance beams, ziplines, and more. This isn’t unprecedented – Shanghai Disneyland features a “Discovery Trails” course in its Adventure Isle. Unlikely as it would be to make its way to the lawsuit-happy U.S., the sight of guests scurrying across construction girders just seems too great.
As a sort of “tease” of the land, I also wanted a horizontal “spider climb” net to run parallel to the resort’s pedestrian gateway, so entering guests can physically watch as heroes-in-training deftly climb right alongside them.
Anyway, guests could exit Avengers Campus either back through the tunnel toward the Chinese Theater, or around the back of Web Alert and into the Muppets Courtyard. Either way, my idealized, Blue Sky version of California Adventure would then flow from Hollywoodland into the park’s first fully-original space… Read on…