20 Years of Disney California Adventure: An Odyssey

Welcome to the celebration of Disney California Adventure occurring here on Laughing Place today for the park’s 20th anniversary. We have a lot of exciting articles coming out today to commemorate the park and get a chance to relive its transition from one of the most maligned parks in the Disney pantheon to one where many Disney aficionados love to simply hang out.  

Our articles today cover a variety of topics from opening day to our favorite attractions to what to expect from the park in the future. In this piece, we’ll be taking a trip down memory lane and looking at the history of the park, particularly in regards to the attractions that we’ve seen come and go. I’ll be going through the history on a year-by-year basis making the interactive map of California Adventure that we have here on Laughing Place a fantastic companion piece to this article where you can see the changes to the park in “real-time” as you read along.

Opening Day

On February 8, 2001, Disney’s California Adventure opened its gates with a large opening ceremony that served to establish the park as a true companion to Disneyland, albeit one that was completely focused on the great state of California. Try as they might, it was hard to compare the two parks from the outset primarily because DCA only had four lands for guests to explore and one of those, the Sunshine Plaza, was nothing more than an entranceway without much theming (yet).

Even with the limited lands, they were still a lot of exciting attractions for guests to experience, including many that are still around today. Starting in Hollywood Pictures Backlot, a land dedicated to one of the most iconic areas of the state, guests had the chance to ride Superstar Limo, a dark ride through Hollywood where guests would run across various celebrities in their role as a member of the paparazzi. Guests also had the chance to “learn” more about the filmmaking process through the transport of Muppet*Vision 3D from what was then Disney-MGM Studios. But if “visiting” Muppet Studios wasn’t enough of a crash-course on the process, guests could visit the Animation building and experience the Sorcerer’s Workshop or Drawn to Animation. Both of these attractions helped guests get into the mindset of animators as well as learn more about some of their favorite characters.

Of course, the land also had some live entertainment with a small show called Lights, Camera, Chaos! at the Hollywood Backlot Stage as well as the big ticket show Steps in Time. Steps in Time was the first show to appear in the Hyperion Theater and helped establish it as the place to go for Broadway caliber shows in the park.

Next around the horn, we come to Golden State, a land that celebrates the outdoor beauty of the state. From the beginning, guests could ride the major weenie of the park, Grizzly River Run, as long as they were ok with getting a little wet in the process. Right across the way, there was the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail designed for young explorers to travel through some wilderness areas, though it was fun for guests of all ages. Guests could also explore underground with Flik and friends by catching a showing of it’s tough to be a bug, though they needed to be ready to overcome their fears of Hopper and spiders.

Over in the Pacific Wharf area of Golden State, guests could see Disney Legend Whoopi Goldberg as a goddess of California in Golden Dreams, a film all about the history of California Adventure. After that, guests could visit the Seasons of the Vine Theater, Mission Tortilla Factory or The Boudin Bakery to learn more about wine and food that they could get at the park. At the latter two, one could even get the rarely seen free samples at a Disney park.

And of course, Golden State really cemented itself as the land that best celebrated California with Soarin’ Over California. With beautiful views of California on high-resolution IMAX screens, guests could truly understand what it felt like to glide over one of the prettiest states.

Finally, we come to the last original land in the park, Paradise Pier, celebrating the boardwalks of the state, with some traditional carnival-type attractions. Guests could walk through the abandoned S.S. Rustworthy or take a crazy ride through the mountains on Mulholland Madness, a wild mouse coaster. If a guest wanted to go around for a spin, they had a couple choices in the Orange Stinger and the Golden Zephyr, with the former being swings and the latter being a more vehicular seating structure. Guests had a couple other ways to spin around with the more moderate King Triton’s Carousel or one of the headliners of Paradise Pier, the Sun Wheel, with its legendary swinging and stationary gondolas. If the heights of the Sun Wheel weren’t enough, smaller guests could head to the Jumpin’ Jellyfish, while more adventurous guests could take a chance on the Maliboomer and soar to heights with great views of the park and Anaheim. Last but not least, there was the park’s signature thrill ride, California Screamin’, which had a great score to help guests really feel like they were getting the full boardwalk experience.

 

To wrap everything up, guests could sit down for a very Californian parade, Disney’s Eureka! The parade served as a perfect conclusion to the day with references to all of the lands in the park and a catchy song to help guests walk around with a pep in their step.

Later 2001

When California Adventure opened, it was not particularly successful. In fact, most would say that it was a failure. The Disney Company immediately moved to damage control mode, attempting to add some quick fixes as quickly as they could. The first thing that they did was add Disney’s Electrical Parade on July 3 to try and bring in fans of the Disneyland classic that had not been seen at the resort in nearly five years. They also added Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It! to Hollywood Pictures Backlot on September 14 as a way to capitalize on the popularity of the television show.

With the addition of that show, we also saw losses of two shows in the land with the end of Light, Camera, Chaos and Steps in Time (October 14). It took a little while for the former to be replaced, but the latter was replaced barely a month later (November 22) by The Power of BLAST! based on the hit Broadway event and its musical extravagance. The final attraction added that year was Disney’s LuminAria, a nighttime show in Paradise Bay that served as a precursor to World of Color.

2002

2002 started with the closure of a few attractions, namely Superstar Limo and LuminAria. Neither attraction was the success that Disney was looking for, so rather than letting them limp along, Disney decided to cut the cord. Over the course of the year, the Hollywood Backlot Stage got a new show in Goofy’s Beach Party Bash. The live entertainment cuts continued later in the year with Power of BLAST ending September 2 and Eureka calling it quits in August.

But not everything was leaving that year as we saw the first new land added to the park, a bug’s land. Opening on October 7, the fifth California Adventure land was the first land in any Disney park to be themed entirely around an entire Pixar property. it’s tough to be a bug was incorporated into the land along with a myriad of child-friendly attractions due to popular demand for more family attractions in the park. The land featured a couple spin-based attractions in Flik’s Flyers, an aerial carousel, and Francis’ Ladybug Boogie, a nauseating successor to the tea cups. Guests could also splash around at Princess Dot Puddle Park or crash into their friends with Tuck and Roll’s Drive Em Buggies. But the most important attraction added was Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, a wonderful trip through giant food on the loveable caterpillar.

2003

After a pretty even year in 2002 in terms of a balance between additions and subtractions to the park, 2003 was definitely a net positive. The only loss was Goofy’s Beach Party Bash, cementing Hollywood Pictures Backlot as the land with the most movement in terms of attractions coming and going, a trend we will continue to see over the next few years.

On January 16, we got Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, the long-running show based on the classic animated film. On April 11, the land added another show with Playhouse Disney – Live on Stage! moving across the country from Florida to its counterpart land in DCA. Both of these shows added more family-centric entertainment, while also being different enough to justify the creation of both.

2004

2004 saw more changes to Hollywood Pictures Backlot with the first being DCA’s biggest addition since opening day, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. On May 5, the classic attraction made its debut and added to the list of both scary attractions (with it’s tough to be a bug) and height-based falling attractions (Maliboomer). A couple of days later, Drawn to the Magic replaced Goofy’s Beach Party Bash on May 7, adding another piece of live entertainment back to the mix.

To counterbalance that, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire closed on August 20, with no true replacement ever going on to replace that piece of classic early 2000s culture.

2005

In 2005, Disneyland was celebrating its 50th anniversary and unlike the 60th anniversary, California Adventure did not get in on the fun to a major extent. There were only a couple of additions that year, with the first being Block Party Bash, the first daytime parade at the park since 2002.

Additionally, the Animation Building received a major facelift with the Animation Academy and Turtle Talk with Crush joining the party on July 15, rounding out the lineup of attractions that we see in the building today. To counteract these additions, Drawn to Animation closed on October 10.

2006

In 2006, we finally came to an exciting point in DCA’s history because it is the only year in the park’s history where no attraction was closed. Plus, there were two fun editions added with the first being Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!, which took over for Superstar Limo on January 22. Amazingly, even though the limos had closed years prior to the monsters coming in, much of the structure of the original attraction was maintained with the same dark ride path and even some of the figures being repurposed into CDA agents.

When October came around, the High School Musical Pep Rally rolled onto the shores of Paradise Bay. The live show gave guests the chance to hear songs from the hit Disney Channel Original Movie and dance along with some of the “students” from Eat High.

2007

In terms of changes, 2007 was a relatively tame year with only two very notable changes, the first being the transition of the High School Musical Pep Rally to High School Musical 2: School’s Out to coincide with the newest film. Additionally, California Screamin’ transformed into Rockin’ California Screamin’ from January 4 until April 26 with songs from the Red Hot Chili Peppers taking over for that period.

But the most important event of the year was the announcement that Disney’s California Adventure would be going through a $1.1 billion expansion that would serve as a major turning point in the park’s history and help the park lose its reputation as a failed, second theme park.

2008

With the expansion announced, changes began to happen rapidly in the park with the highlight of the year being the opening of Toy Story Midway Mania! The transplant from Disney’s Hollywood Studios gave Paradise Pier a second E-Ticket attraction and marked the completion of the first part of the expansion. Paradise Pier also had a few smaller changes with the High School Musical 2 show transitioning into High School Musical 3: Senior Year: Right Here! Right Now! as well as the closure of the Sun Wheel.

The Golden State area also received some changes with Golden Dreams closing on September 7 as a part of the expansion and the Seasons of the Vine theater closing March 30 to become the Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar on October 20 as a way to showcase all the new and exciting attractions coming over the next few years.

The final change for the year was the closure of Block Party Bash on January 6 to make way for the Pixar Play Parade’s debut on March 14.

2009

2009 was a relatively slow year in terms of the park’s transition with both changes being a part of Paradise Pier. We saw the closure of Orange Stinger to become Disneyfied whereas Mickey’s Fun Wheel completed its transition to become more Disney-centric with its lovely Mickey Mouse centerpiece and gondolas themed to classic Disney characters.

2010

Whereas 2009 was a slow year, 2010 was anything but. One of the most interesting changes was the official name of the park going from Disney’s California Adventure to Disney California Adventure (which still feels pretty silly to this day).

Golden State and a bug’s land stayed pretty much unchanged this year, but Hollywood Pictures Backlot and Paradise Pier both went through some transformations as the expansion began to really take shape. Hollywood Pictures Backlot’s changes were more minor in nature with the first event being Glow Fest from June 11 until September 6. Glow Fest was basically a nighttime party, but some people viewed it as a bit too much of a party leading to ElecTRONica replacing it on October 8 as a more family-friendly nighttime music event in the park. The changes weren’t limited to the night, though, as Drawn to the Magic closed October 20 to make way for a new hip hop show with Mickey Mouse, Disney Dance Crew, on October 22.

Over in Paradise Pier, High School Musical shows ended their run in the park, but Disney Channel live-action properties did not end their time with Disney Channel Rocks taking over the spot on November 26 and basically serving the same function as its predecessors. Elsewhere in the Pier, we had some more closures with the Maliboomer on September 7, S.S. Rustworthy on September 10 and Mulholland Madness on October 12, though only the latter had a replacement in the next couple of years. Luckily, Silly Symphony Swings opened on June 11 to help counterbalance those losses.

Also opening on the day was the long-awaited World of Color, replacing Disney’s Electrical Parade, which closed April 28, as the park’s premier nighttime entertainment. Glow Fest was used to help move some guests away from World of Color when it first opened because everyone and their mother was trying to see the show since there hadn’t been a nighttime show in Paradise Bay since January 2002 with LuminAria.

2011

This year saw completion of Paradise Pier in terms of the expansion work that needed to be done, with The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure officially replacing Golden Dreams on June 3 and Goofy’s Sky School taking over for Mulholland Madness on July 1. On July 9, one last piece of Paradise Pier opened with Phineas and Ferb’s Rockin’ Rollin’ Dance Party taking up some space across from Ariel’s and providing a fun dance party for kids of all ages.

Moving around the park, we saw the end of the Mission Tortilla Factory on May 31 to make way for the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory (and some more free samples). In Hollywood Pictures Backlot, Playhouse Disney closed January 11 to become Disney Junior – Live on Stage! on March 25. Not much changed in terms of the structure of the show, but it did change up the show roster to better represent current Disney Junior shows. And finally, the Pixar Play Parade took a bit of a break starting January 4, so the floats could be adjusted to account for some of the changes coming the next year.

2012

And now we come to arguably the most important year in the history of California Adventure with the exception of the park’s opening. With the big day approaching, Disney closed a few attractions throughout the winter and spring, namely Disney Channel Rocks on January 22, ElecTRONica on April 15 and Disney Dance Crew on April 27.

With these attractions of the books, the magical day of June 15 arrived, generally viewed as the official end of the expansion and the start of DCA 2.0, with the park feeling like an entirely new place. Those changes were evident from the moment you stepped into the park with Buena Vista Street truly giving DCA an entranceway that people wanted to spend time in. With the new land came the Red Car Trolley, the park’s version of the Main Street Vehicles, as well as reappearance of the Pixar Play Parade.

Right next door to Buena Vista Street, Hollywood Pictures Backlot received a rename to Hollywood Land and added in the Mad T Party as a nighttime concert replacement to ElecTRONica. But that land didn’t receive the only name change as Golden State was divided into three separate lands: Pacific Wharf (the food land), Condor Flats (Soarin’ land) and Grizzly Peak (River Run land). Amazingly, this division transformed the park from five lands to eight along with the final, and most exciting addition, Cars Land.

While Cars is not the most beloved Pixar property, its land quickly was regarded as one of the greatest theme park lands ever created and Disney’s first land that truly made guests feel like they had entered the world of the film. The land appealed to its family nature with two simple attractions in Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, a whip-whirling spinning attraction as well as Luigi’s Flying Tires, a retread on the Flying Saucers from Disneyland (that admittedly did not really function correctly). But the headliner of the land was Radiator Springs Racers and its stunning combination of dark ride and thrill ride that still makes it the standout of DCA to this day.

2013

After all the fun the previous year, DCA pretty much took a year off this year with the Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar closing September 29 to cement the fact the expansion was complete since there wasn’t anything new to show off at this point. But there was one “new” attraction as World of Color: Winter Dreams debuted on November 15 and began a new tradition of the show having a winter version.

2014

The expansion hangover continued over to 2014 with no attractions added to the park yet again. But there were a couple of lower profile losses in Phineas and Ferb Rockin’, Rollin’ Dance Party on November 2 and the Mad T Party on November 30. As live entertainment, these were some easier losses on fans, but the toughest loss to bear that year was Muppet*Vision 3D on November 1. The attraction closed without much fanfare as next year, the Frozen fever started.

2015

Frozen fever started early in the year with For the First in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration taking over the Muppet*Vision theater on January 7. That same month saw the end of World of Color: Winter Dreams as Disney tried to stay fresh with different versions of their winter shows.

There were a couple other changes throughout the park with Grizzly Peak and Condor Flats combining to form Grizzly Peak Airfield and bring the park’s land count down to seven. And on February 17, Cars Land saw its first (and to date) only casualty with the closure of Luigi’s Flying Tires, since the tires simply did not move with the guests like they should have.

But the big event of the year was Disneyland’s 60th anniversary celebration that began slightly early on May 22. DCA didn’t go all out for the event, but they did bring back the Mad T Party due to popular demand (including from myself). That wasn’t all that occurred though because World of Color got a brand-new show hosted by Neil Patrick Harris that celebrated all things Disneyland Resort over its 60 years known as World of Color – Celebrate! The Wonderful World of Disney.

2016

After the last few relatively uneventful years, 2016 began a very fruitful few years where there were new attractions popping up every year, all of which excited guests. The first change of the year was the loss of Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular on January 11, though the attraction had been saved a couple of times before when it seemed like it was at death’s door. In its place, Frozen basically swapped out its sing-along, closing April 17, for a Broadway-caliber show with Frozen – Live at the Hyperion opening May 17. Around Hollywood Land, Mad T Party also called it quits on March 30 as Disneyland Resort began to cut a lot of its live entertainment.

In Cars Land, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters opened on March 7 as the first Disney attraction to use trackless technology in the United States. It was kind of a shame that that amazing technology be used in such a simple attraction, but at the same time it was very cool that they’d use such cool tech no matter the story.

That year also saw the addition of the highly anticipated Soarin’ Around the World. After being rumored for so many years, the attraction finally emerged on June 17 with the former California-centric version closing two days earlier, foreshadowing how easy it is to switch the video.

To end the year, the 60th anniversary World of Color show closed September 6, but there was another new World of Color show that year debuting November 2016 called World of Color – Season of Lights that would hold court for the next few years as the holiday show of choice in DCA.

2017

2017 started off with a bang as fan-favorite attraction The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror closed on January 3 to be replaced by Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! Many Disney fans were outraged when they first heard the news, but once they finally got to experience the attraction on May 27, many fans changed their tune as they realized how incredibly fun the new version was, especially with multiple combinations possible on the attraction.

Meanwhile, there was another attraction update in Hollywood Land with Disney Junior – Live on Stage closing April 9 to make way for the Disney Junior Dance Party on May 26, which transitioned the attraction from being puppet-based to screen-based with some walk around characters thrown in. The year also saw the end of the Pixar Play Parade on August 20.

2017 was also the year that Disney California Adventure started to get involved in the holiday season for both Halloween and Christmas. Mission BREAKOUT started becoming Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark quite literally once it got dark. However, the land that really started to step it up was Cars Land with Luigi’s becoming Luigi’s Honkin’ Haul-O-Ween and Mater’s transforming into Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree. Once it was Christmas time, the attractions received another facelift becoming Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl and Mater’s Jingle Jamboree.

2018

This year started off with some closures as the park began gearing up to transform Paradise Pier yet again. The Games of the Boardwalk, California Screamin’, King Triton’s Carousel and Mickey’s Fun Wheel all closed their doors on January 8 to begin their transformations. While guests were waiting, the Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar made its long-awaited return on April 13 as plans began to heat up for the park’s newest land. That same day, Paint the Night joined California Adventure after a multi-year run over at Disneyland.

Eventually, June 23 rolled around and Pixar Pier opened to mixed reviews, especially since it was only the first phase of the land that opened. Included in the opening day ceremonies were the Pixar Pal-A-Round, Games of Pixar Pier and Incredicoaster. All of these attractions were simple re-paintings of the attractions basically, so they were easy to change and fit in their new neighborhoods: Pixar Promenade, Incredibles Park, Toy Story Boardwalk and Inside Out Headquarters. Naturally, many of the attractions outside of the Incredicoaster range no longer fit, so everything from Silly Symphony Swings to The Little Mermaid became a part of a new land Paradise Gardens Park, bringing California Adventure back to eight lands again.

However, that didn’t last for long because the park decided to build on the success of Guardians of the Galaxy by adding an entire Marvel-themed land. For that to happen, it was time for a bug’s land to close, with it’s tough to be a bug departing on March 19 with only a couple of weeks notice. The rest of the land got a nice farewell tour over the summer before closing on September 5. With all of this work happening, Paint the Night also ended its run on November 7, making it the parade with the shortest tenure at the park.

2019

Luckily, DCA made up for those late year closures from the previous year with a lot of new additions and the return of many old favorites in 2019. The first change came on April 5 when Jessie’s Critter Carousel opened in the shadow of the Incredicoaster with a whole array of country animals for guests to choose from. Later that month, on the 26th, Mickey’s PhilharMagic made its Disneyland Resort debut, making it the fifth Disney resort to add the attraction into its lineup. Though the Sunset Showcase Theater isn’t an ideal fit for the attraction, it was still a joy for guests to finally be able experience the Disney classic.

June was a particularly great month for guests with Soarin’ Around the World taking a temporary hiatus as Soarin’ Over California received an HD refurbishment and thrilled guests until August. There was another temporary addition to the park that year in The Tale of the Lion King which ran from June 7 to September 2 at the stage near Paradise Bay. The show was a unique experience because it both celebrated the 25th anniversary of the film and African culture as a whole. The last June addition was Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind, opening on June 28. The attraction actually was more of a return of an old attraction as Flik’s Flyers was simply redecorated and transformed into another Pixar property.

Paradise Bay had one more addition that year in World of Color: Villainous, a special show made specifically for the Oogie Boogie Bash. The villain-centric show will hopefully be around for the long haul, but things are unclear as the attraction didn’t get a chance to show off in 2020.

2020 (and Beyond)

Finally, we come to 2020 where the only notable thing to happen was Soarin’ Over California making another return on February 28. Oh, wait, there was also the global pandemic that led to the park’s closure from March 15 through the end of the year. Well, except for the reopening of Buena Vista Street and some other parts of the park for dining and shopping starting in November as an “extension” of Downtown Disney. Still, there’s a lot to look forward to, especially with Avengers Campus, but for that you’ll have to check back at 2 PM for Mike Mack’s article all about everything we can expect from the park’s newest land.