ACUI 2009 Annual Conference

Disney's California Adventure from Chip

chipwelcomeWhether you will try to come in early for the 89th annual conference in Anaheim (April 5–9, 2009) or stay late, you must find time to visit Disney’s California Adventure (DCA), the newest Disney theme park, opened in February 2001. DCA, adjacent to Disneyland,  is a 55-acre theme park constructed as a major expansion of the Disneyland Resort.  The park provides visitors a full “Californian” experience with five unique and distinct areas: Sunshine Plaza, Hollywood Pictures Backlot, The Golden State, A Bug’s Land, and Paradise Pier. The park has a great mix of adult-oriented thrill rides, educational experiences, great Californian cuisine, children’s activities, and of course a little bit of Disney magic. I have an Annual Passport, which allows me to visit the parks 365 days a year. I would guess that since the park opened in 2001, I have been to DCA more than 200 times—so I thought that I should put together a little “tip” sheet for you all so when you visit you can maximize your park experience! 

First and foremost, you can see and experience most of the park in about six hours,  so it is a perfect half-day experience for people who want to see a bit of Disney, but don’t have all day to do it. I love DCA; the lines are typically shorter, the crowds are mostly older (although the park does have a lot of children’s rides and activities), and I think the food is wonderful! I have taken my orientation leaders and other student programmers there for “celebration” or “thank you” days several times over the last few years. Make sure that when you head to the park you don’t forget to bring a backpack to hold bottled water, your camera, and any Disney merchandise you purchase throughout the day. 

chipminnieTip 1: As you enter the park, you will be greeted by the Golden Sundial and the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a perfect photo opportunity, and Disney staff will be wanting to take your picture. I know we are often trained to walk right by “sellers,” but stop and have your picture taken. The photographers will hand you a disc after they take your picture and for the rest of the dayother Disney photographers can add more photos on the disc for you. Trust me, this comes in handy when you are trying to get your whole group in a photo with Mickey Mouse! At the end of the day, you can go to the Disney store at the front of the park, view all of your photos, and decide which to purchase. It is a great service!

Tip 2: There are LOTS of great shops at the start of the park, but I typically wait until mid-day or evening to do my shopping (who wants to carry stuff around all day?). So, I head past the shops and go right toward Condor Flats and Soaring Over California. I think that “Soaring” is one of the best Disney rides ever conceived. This ride is for everyone! Even if you hate thrill rides (which I do) and are scared to death of heights (which I am), you will not regret going on this ride. I have taken more than 200 people on this ride for the first time, and not one has ever not said to me “let's do it again!” I won’t spill the secrets of the ride—you have to experience that for yourself—but trust me, it is worth it. If the line is long, remember to “fast-pass” the ride.  You just take your park admission ticket to the “fast-pass” station, put it in, and it will tell you the time to come back to walk right on the ride; this maximizes your time in the park! I personally wouldn’t wait in a line longer than a half hour. 

mikeTip 3: After Soaring, head up the hill to what looks like Northern California. This is one of my favorite areas. The path resembles a California mountain road with guard rails and lush landscaping like the Redwood forests of Northern California. The Disney Grand Californian Hotel is on your right (I have never stayed there, but I hear it is amazing!) and the Grizzly River Rapids are on your left. The Grizzly River Rapids is a classic intertube six-person water ride with a twist: a few extra-steep falls. The sign says, “You Will Get Wet,” and you do, so don’t think you are going to get lucky. I like to do this ride at the beginning of the day so I can dry off by mid-day, but if you don’t want to get wet, walk right on by.      

Tip 4: Following the path around the River Rapids, there is a huge Brother Bear-themed nature trail for kids. If you have kids ages 4–10, this is a perfect place for them to play for a few hours and burn some energy. When I go to DCA with my nieces and nephews I like to let them play here, while I sit on the bench and have a churro (the churro stand is right outside the trail). The shade is great, and there is a great view of the beautiful mountain scenery.

Tip 5: Rounding the corner, you see you are in “San Francisco” with the city landscape and Golden Dreams Theater (which has a great educational movie, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, about the history of immigrants who moved to California—it is sad, but good, so bring tissues!). This area leads into major “thrill ride” area of Paradise Pier. Paradise Pier has tons of shops, food, and rides for everyone from kids to Grandma. It is a great place to hang out in the beautiful California sun, buy some Disney merchandise, or scream your head off. The middle of this “land” is a large lake. You will just follow around the lake to your right (which I have found is the best route).

mrincredibleTip 6:  If you are a thrill seeker, Paradise Pier is for you. California Screamin’ (the only Disney coaster that goes upside down), Maliboomer (a ride that shoots you up in the air), Golden Zepher (nostalgic tribute to the old seaside rocket swings), Mulholland Madness (a small but fast coaster than resembles its famous curvy street namesake), Orange Stinger (a large “Orange” ride with swings), and the Sun Wheel (a 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel with gondolas that move!). Here are some tips for this area: If the California Screamin’ line is long, remember to fast-pass it! Also, because I am not a thrill-seeker, I tend to walk right by most of these rides or watch my friends scream their heads off! Maliboomer’s line is almost always short, so that one you can easily hit multiple times. Recently I have stopped being what my students affectionately call “a wuss” and have started to ride Mulholland Madness—it is good ride!

Tip 7: After leaving Paradise Pier, I am typically hungry. I always head to the wharf area. In the Sour Dough bread factory tour you get free slices of sourdough bread (so good!) and at the Mission Tortilla Factory tour you get a free warm tortilla (mmmm!). There are also other places along the way to sit down and have lunch. The broccoli cheese soup in a bread bowl with half a turkey sandwich on focaccia bread is one of my all-time favorites! There is also a great Mexican restaurant (which also serves margaritas) and a fresh fruit stand right close by. A pineapple spear or some mango from the fresh fruit stand on a hot day always hits the spot!

mikeandyjenzTip 8: A Bugs Land, right next to the wharf, is mainly for kids. But, it is worth just walking through to see the creative way that the Disney imagineers designed this area. There are four rides in this land that makes you feel like you have been “miniaturized” to the size of a bug. The show, “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” is a great for everyone and incorporates 3-D animation with live-action animatronics. It is should not be missed.

Tip 9: For those of you who might enjoy California wines, make sure to stop by the Winery outside of A Bugs Land for a wine tasting. It is well worth the extra price and fun way to relax in the park and people-watch at the same time. The wine tastings “teach” you how to select wines you like by experiencing all the flavors and textures of Californian wines. 

Tip 10: The path takes you back to the front of the park, where you will veer right and head into the Hollywood Backlot. This area has a ton of Disney shops (the Animation Studio Shop is my favorite, so buy me something there!), but the most important thing to see is the Disney Animation Studio on the right. This studio has several great attractions including Turtle Talk with Crush (where you can talk with Crush), The Beauty and the Beast Library (where you can find out which Disney character you are most like), Ursula’s Grotto (where you can add your voice to a Disney movie), and Animation “Off-the-Page” (where you can learn about the animation process behind all the Disney blockbuster movies). I can literally stand in the outer area that unites these attractions for hours; words can’t describe it!

snowwhiteTip 11: After the Animation Studios, you have to hit the other backlot attractions including the Tower of Terror, Monsters Inc., or Muppet Vision 3-D. These are all great, but if you are tired and want to sit down, you have to check out the times for the “Aladdin” production in the Hyperion Theater. This is a Broadway-caliber production right in DCA that is not to be missed! Make sure you check showtimes and don’t worry about lining up early (there are tons of seats in the theater); get there right before the show starts and trust me there will be plenty of room still for you!

Tip 12: Don’t forget to shop till you drop! Once you have explored all these areas, make sure you check out not only the stores in front of the park, but also the stores and shops in Downtown Disney. There are some tasty restaurants here too, so make sure as you exit DCA that you head to the left toward these attractions!

chipdivasignI hope that these tips help you in maximizing your park experience! I can’t wait to have you all here in Anaheim in April!




Updated Aug. 3, 2009