Disney California Adventure – Guide for First Time Visitors
by Mark & Dawn
If you’re considering a trip to Disney California Adventure in Anaheim, CA, you’re probably wondering how to get the most bang for the buck from your time in the park. We hope you will get something useful from reading about our experiences at DCA.
Disney California Adventure has so many impressive attractions that we found it impossible to rank them, so we’re just going to highlight our favorite things. The age range of our group was from 13 to 45, so this review is not geared toward those with young children. (Also see our Disneyland review.)
Radiator Springs / Cars Land / Route 66 (And Radiator Springs Racers)
This is currently the highlight of DCA, and the attraction that has everyone standing in line. If you take anything away from this article, it should be this: Get to the park early enough to be one of the first through the gates, and immediately get in line for the Fast Pass for Radiator Springs Racers. On the day we visited, the line was 180 minutes, but our Fast Passes cut the wait to about 25 minutes.
The Radiator Springs Racers ride:
The cars ride starts off slow, taking you through various scenes with life-sized animatronic versions of the movie character cars moving around and talking to you (with their bumper-mouths flapping as they speak). There are some close calls to generate a little excitement as you pass through the indoor portion of the ride.
Although all of this is very well-done and amazing to look at, you can’t help but notice that you’re in a race car that isn’t moving very fast. But not to worry: Once you get outside again, the car next to you lines up for a race, and the real fun begins as you race over hills and through sharp turns like a roller coaster. This ride is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, but it did leave us wanting a little more than we got: The racing part of the ride seemed too short (unlike Space Mountain or Tower of Terror, which seem to give you more than you’d ever expect). We also felt that the cars should have gone a little faster, but maybe that’s because we used to race real cars. We’re not complaining – it’s one of the best amusement park rides we’ve ever experienced. But would we wait in line 3 hours to ride it? No.
The town of Radiator Springs:
Disney did a fantastic job of making the animated town of Radiator Springs into a real town you can explore. The most visually stunning part of Cars Land is the ultra-realistic mountain range in the background that seems to blend in seamlessly with the foreground landscape. It feels like being in Sedona, AZ, but knowing that it’s all man-made is awe-inspiring.
Tower of Terror
This ride truly lives up to its name. We knew there would be a vertical drop involved, but we were not expecting multiple vertical drops, and being launched upward just as quickly (which turned out to be just as insane and terrifying).
For those with height issues, this really is a tower of terror, and you may want to think twice about riding it. I have to give this ride an A+ for truly being the most pants-soilingly scary amusement park ride I’ve ever experienced. Most of our group wanted to get on it again. I decided that once was enough. For the rest of my life, I’ll have vivid memories of hanging on to my seat for dear life and hoping it would end. Despite my love-hate relationship with the Tower of Terror, I must also give it an A+ for amazing visuals and sounds leading up to, and during the ride, which build suspense and add to the intensity of the experience. The immersion into the Twilight Zone world is so well executed that I can’t think of anything they could have done to improve the experience. The attention to detail given to the “Hollywood Tower Hotel” is staggering, both inside and out. Tower of Terror will blow your mind make you fear gravity. Enjoy!
Mickey’s Fun Wheel (Ferris Wheel)
This is not an ordinary ferris wheel! There were mixed reviews among our group. Some of them loved it, while some of them couldn’t wait for it to end. In either case, it was much more of a ride than they expected, due to the way some of the cars ride along a small track. The incline of the track changes as the wheel turns, causing the car to move and start swinging. This movement can be rather intense for some riders, especially if they aren’t comfortable with heights. But one thing everyone agrees on: The view from Mickey’s Fun Wheel is fantastic.
Soarin’ Over California
For those who aren’t good with heights (like me), this one can make you feel uncomfortable at the start. This flight and motion simulator puts you in front of a huge screen and gives you realistic sensation of flying. At first, I had the same unsafe feeling as when we took a doors-off helicopter tour over the island of Kauai – a very uneasy feeling that you easily fall out of your seat and fall to your death. But after about the first minute of Soarin’ Over California, I was able to get comfortable and enjoy the beautiful scenery and the ride without the vertigo sensation I had at the beginning.
World of Color
The nightly production of World of Color is a huge production of sight and sound that happens in the evening. We highly recommend viewing this impressive display of water, fire, lasers, high-powered lighting, and music. Motion picture images are projected on a wall of water, while choreographed jets of water shoot upward and move back and forth, in time with the music. It’s a great way to end the day, but do get a fast pass for this to get a better location to view it closer to the water.
Muppet Vision 3D
During our visit, the Muppet Vision show was temporarily replaced by a 3D preview of the Great and Powerful Oz. There was no line or wait, so we decided to check it out. We got to see some of the best scenes from the movie on a huge 3D screen, which was impressive. But our friends told us the Muppet Vision 3D was a better show.
Toy Story Midway Mania!
This is a fun 3D shooting gallery, in which you wear 3D glasses, and a car transports you to different screens full of animated targets to shoot at with your “toy gun.” This is a well-executed interactive video game, in which you compete against everyone else riding in the same car. We had a lot of fun with this one, and we think you will too.
California Screamin’ Roller Coaster
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to ride, but our friends did, so we will pass along their review: It’s worth standing in line for, and a lot of fun. The coaster starts out by accelerating you forward toward the first hill. The ride is somewhat similar to Cedar Point’s Blue Streak, but a little better, longer, and smoother. So it’s not a super coaster, but it gets the job done, and we regret not being able to join our friends for this ride.
Animation Academy in Hollywood Land
If you have the time, be sure to check out the creative offerings you’ll find when you walk through the door of the Animation building. We didn’t get to see everything in here, but what we did see was fascinating. The Toy Story zoetrope is a must-see! It’s a giant spinning turntable full of characters that come to life when a strobe light is flashed on them. Hard to picture? You just have to see it to understand.
It’s Tough to be a Bug 3D Adventure (A Bug’s Land)
This was a nice break in the day; A short movie that is quite interactive and full of surprises. It’s a chance to sit down, and an attraction with a short wait. The entire theater room comes to life beyond just what you see on the screen. You’ll not just see the show, but feel it, smell it, and find out what it’s like to be a bug.
Grizzly River Run
This is a very fun water ride, but not all riders are treated equally with this one. It simulates a white water rafting adventure, and it’s a complete blast. Some riders will get a little wet. One or two riders will get completely soaked. The ride has two significant drops in which a big splash occurs, and the forward-most rider (who is also facing the wrong way) gets the majority of the splash. Fortunately, this ride has a short wait, so if you like water rides, you can do it a number of times.
If you’re staying in a nearby hotel on or near Harbor or Katella, you may want to consider walking or taking a shuttle. Our group drove, parked in the parking garage, and took the Tram from the garage to the park entrance. We felt that this was an unnecessary waste of time and money, and that simply walking to the park is less hassle, frustration and expense.
Booking your hotel:
We suggest calling the hotel directly to book your rooms when traveling, instead of using a 3rd-party travel website. The (usually small) discount you might be able to receive is not worth it if there is a problem. These pre-paid discount purchases come with a lot of fine print and disclaimers that protect both the hotel and the website from being responsible to help you out if something isn’t right.
We’ve stayed in four hotels in Anaheim (near Disney and the Convention Center). We had great service at the Hyatt Regency, and also at the Candy Cane Inn on Harbor. For a family trip to Disney, we’d probably go back to the Candy Cane as a good value that is a short walk to the park entrance.