Disney keeps parks fresh with new attractions

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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Disneyland has mastered the art of freshening up its product to keep visitors returning. Two years ago, the opening of the adjacent California Adventure park created a resort with attractions for all ages.

Now, Disney has set its sights on rejuvenating both parks.

Disneyland will feature a new attraction called the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Slated for completion in 2005, it will incorporate a museum, a haunted house and a 13-story elevator drop. Also undergoing a face-lift is the perennial favorite, Space Mountain, scheduled to reopen in 2005.

After 30 years of frequenting Disneyland -- as a child and now as a parent -- I discovered on a visit this summer to both parks that the most recent improvements hit just the right note with the family.

The Sunwheel at Disney's California Adventure.Disneyland thought about the younger set by adding The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh to Critter Country. The ride debuted in April in place of the Country Bear Jamboree. Here, kids who board "hunny beehives" won't feel left out if they didn't make the height requirement for Splash Mountain next door.

Another updated Disneyland attraction, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, has revamped Abraham Lincoln himself. He's rumpled and more authentic-looking than ever as he delivers the Gettysburg Address.

There's also new surround-sounds emitted from headphones, coupled with tactile effects -- like the feeling of hair falling on your neck when a Civil War soldier gets his hair cut.

New attractions for kids have come to the California Adventure park, as well.

One example is The Magic of Brother Bear, an interactive show and experience found at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, a new adventure trail.

Its debut coincided with the national opening of the Disney animated film "Brother Bear."

One resort, two parks

Those who had been to Disneyland in past years but have not experienced the California Adventure park should know the differences between the two.

Disneyland revolves around a fantasy world of stories and characters; California Adventure strives for reality.

For example, one area of the latter resembles Cannery Row in Monterey, Calif. Another mimics a Hollywood backlot, and yet another, Paradise Pier, recalls old California beach communities with roller-coaster rides, carnival games and a Ferris wheel.

California Adventure also features a river-rafting attraction, but its signature ride is Soarin' Over California, which takes participants on a virtual trip around the Golden State.

Strapped into a movie seat in front of a surround-screen, they are lifted off the ground and swept into scenes depicting such sports as hang-gliding, skiing, whitewater rafting, horseback riding and surfing.

Young children will find more to do in California Adventure than at Disneyland, such as Heimlich's Chew Chew Train in the section called A Bug's Land, an entire area with oversize decor to make you feel, well, the size of a bug.

Partying in the parks

And who said the parks are just for the kids?

About 300 custom-designed weddings and receptions take place at the two Disneyland parks each year, according to Disney.

Guests also can enjoy a ceremony at Sleeping Beauty's Castle or a barbecue at Big Thunder Ranch.

Parties are popular and come in a wide range of prices. On the high end is an intimate dinner in the Haunted Mansion, costing upwards of several hundred dollars per person, a spokesman said.

Other ideas include a gathering in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot or dinner followed by the "Aladdin" musical at the Hyperion Theater.

Meetings planners and other group leaders can arrange for an entire "land" all to themselves after hours.

The number of rides kept open as well as the size of the group dictate the price, according to the spokesman. Meanwhile, Disney launched a Web site for meetings planners at www.disneylandmeetings.com.

Ain't it Grand

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, adjacent to Downtown Disney and offering private access to California Adventure, opened in 2001.

We found it a definite improvement over the charming but tired Disneyland Hotel and the budget Paradise Pier property. The Grand Californian offers fine dining in the Napa Rose restaurant and Storytellers' Cafe.

Paradise Pier is set to undergo a renovation beginning in November and finishing in April, though the spokesman said the work will be undetectable to guests.

Restaurants and shops in Downtown Disney supplement the traditional offerings with nightlife and more dining choices, such as ESPN Zone and House of Blues. So many options for easy meals help ease congestion even during the busiest seasons.

Passes and packages

Two-day Park Hopper tickets allow unlimited access to both Disneyland and California Adventure. The price is $99 for age 10 and up; $79 for ages 3 to 9.

The Walt Disney Travel Co. still has commissionable packages available for 2003. Each includes a Park Hopper ticket. One package, Disney's Resort Magic, starts at $289 per person for two nights at Paradise Pier.

For those who want to go beyond the park walls, Disney's Land & Sand Getaway is a six-night vacation featuring three nights at Disneyland and three in San Diego.

This package includes passes to SeaWorld, the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Wild Animal Park and the Old Town Trolley Tour. Prices start at $549 per person. Honeymoon/romance plans also are available.

For more information, call Disney's travel agent number at (800) 854-3104.

To contact reporter Katherine Nichols, send e-mail to [email protected].

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