New park adds to Disney's successful recipe

Eric Lassiter, a freelance reporter, took a hard-hat tour of Disney's California Adventure theme park last month.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Disneyland, the venerable if sometimes prim theme park carved out of orange and walnut groves 45 years ago, is about to find itself with a vivacious and rambunctious sibling.

Rising up from where the main parking lot of Disneyland used to be is Disney's California Adventure, the centerpiece of a $1.4 billion expansion of the Disney complex in Anaheim.

The new 55-acre theme park, along with a handsome new hotel and the addition of the Downtown Disney entertainment complex, marks a considerable effort to add to Disney's presence in Southern California.

Although Disneyland continues to be a success by most measures, the new projects will undoubtedly infuse the existing park with a new energy and bring a more adventurous and sophisticated feel to the complex.

The projects also are designed to broaden the resort's traditional appeal beyond families with young children.

The new park's goal is to give "guests a taste of the fun, diversity and lifestyle found only in California," according to Disney officials.

Considerable attention has been given to both the broad vision and the small details.

Park designers clearly were encouraged to be fun and quirky; one gets the impression that the designers had active imaginations and reasonably generous budgets.

The new park, with a few exceptions, offers new rides, restaurants and other elements that are not found at Disney World. And although many parts of the park should appeal to all age groups, designers worked at creating elements that appeal specifically to young children, teen-agers or adults.

Guests entering either Disneyland or California Adventure will first make their way via monorail, trams or buses to a broad plaza. The north side of the plaza offers entry to Disneyland, while the south side leads to California Adventure, its entrance framed by 20-foot-high letters spelling out California and a stylized Golden Gate Bridge.

A sampling of what lies beyond follows:

  • Hollywood Pictures Backlot celebrates moviemaking and offers an ideal that is impossible to find in the real Hollywood.
  • Disney's California Adventure Hollywood Pictures Backlot.Guests enter through grand studio gates, topped with a gigantic pair of sitting elephants. Straight ahead at the end of the street and dominating this portion of the park is a towering outdoor mural featuring the bluest sky and fluffiest clouds ever found on a backdrop.

    In between is a quarter-mile street featuring the facades of some of Los Angeles' most architecturally distinct buildings, including the art-deco Wiltern Theatre Building, the streamlined moderne May Co. Building and the post-modern Disney Imagineering Building.

    Among the attractions housed inside these facades will be Jim Henson's Muppet Vision 3-D, a 2,000-seat theater for stage productions, and Disney Animation, where guests explore the art of film animation.

    There also will be the ABC Soap Opera Bistro, a restaurant that seats guests in the middle of replicas of the sets of several ABC daytime shows.

    Considerable attention was focused on the details, and the restaurant looks to be a fun experience.

  • Paradise Pier will re-create the California beachfront amusement centers popular in the early 20th century and promises to have a carnival-like atmosphere, complete with many bright lights and amusement park noises.
  • One of its main draws will be California Screamin', a 6,000-foot-long steel coaster disguised as a white wooden coaster, which features a loop inside Mickey Mouse's head.

    Also, the Sun Wheel, a huge Ferris wheel, is expected to be very popular. Most individual carriages are on tracks that slide toward the center of the wheel as it rotates.

    There also will be a variety of other rides, some aimed at the park's youngest visitors.

  • The Golden State section of the park features six distinct districts and is highlighted by a bear-shaped "mountain" called Grizzly Peak.
  • One ride in this part of the park may well be the high point of a visit for many: Condor Flats will mark California's aviation heritage by presenting the illusion of flying.

    Sets of movable seats will rise up and place guests inside a white, half-spherical movie screen that has a diameter of about 40 feet.

    Guests will be able to look down below their feet, above their heads, to either side and forward to view a film of California from the air.

    Because it creates the illusion of motion and free flight, the ride probably won't be suitable for very young children.

    Another major draw of this part of the park will be Grizzly River Run, a white-water rafting ride that twirls guests 360 degrees as they drop down two waterfalls.

    Several attractions will celebrate the state's agricultural heritage, including a walk-through area, where citrus, walnuts, avocados and artichokes grow, and "It's Tough to Be a Bug," a comical 3-D presentation.

    There also will be a Pacific Wharf district giving guests a first-hand look at sourdough bread and tortillas being made.

    In partnership with Robert Mondavi Wines, this area of the park will feature a mini-winery complete with a small vineyard, a wine-tasting area and a restaurant for fine dining.

  • Occupying several acres adjacent to the new theme park is Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, an upscale property evocative of the Craftsman architectural style of early 20th century California.
  • The centerpiece of the 750-room hotel -- the first to be designed and built by Disney on the West Coast -- will be a spacious and dramatic six-story lobby with soaring wooden beams and a huge fireplace.

    The hotel will be one of the most distinctive in Southern California and will provide a sharp contrast to the bland convention and roadside properties long associated with Anaheim.

    While the dominant architectural look is a modified, updated arts-and-crafts style, the extravagant use of beautiful wood finishes and large hardwood beams and the cultivation of young redwoods around the hotel are reminiscent of some of the best elements of grand hotels found in some national parks in the West, such as the Ahwahnee in Yosemite, Calif.

    The hotel will have 38 suites, at least two of which are suitable for hospitality and have a patio or balcony.

    The size of standard guest rooms will be about 360 square feet.

    The hotel will have fine and casual dining and an indoor-outdoor space overlooking two swimming pools that will double as a daytime coffee house and as an evening lounge.

    It also will have a licensed day-care facility, the only one in the Disney complex.

    In addition to being a few steps from Downtown Disney and the theme parks, the hotel will have its own public street entrance and vehicle parking.

    It also will have 20,000 square feet of technically advanced meeting space, including a ballroom, breakout rooms, a boardroom, a catering kitchen and a separate entrance from that of the main hotel.

    Winter season rates for a two-night package start at about $400 per person, double.

  • Downtown Disney echoes the look and feel of the similarly named entertainment complex at Disney World.
  • Connecting Disneyland, California Adventure and three Disney hotels, it will feature a variety of restaurant, entertainment and retail operations.

    Tenants will include AMC 12 Theaters, House of Blues, La Brea Bakery (a popular Los Angeles-area establishment), Naples Ristorante & Pizzeria, Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen and Rainforest Cafe.

    A Latin-theme dining and entertainment club called Y Arriba! Y Arriba!, the Catal Restaurant and Uva Bar and ESPN Zone also will occupy retail space.

    'A resort destination'

    ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Clients who want to get the most out of the new Disney's California Adventure park and Disneyland itself should plan at least a three-day visit, a Disney official recommended.

    The opening of California Adventure and the Downtown Disney dining-entertainment district "really rounds out the vacation options that we have to offer," said Claire Bilby, Disneyland's vice president of sales and travel operations. "We are becoming a full-scale resort destination, with a wide variety of daytime and nighttime entertainment, dining and lodging options."

    The entire resort will be a walking destination, Bilby noted; guests staying at Disney or other nearby hotels will not need to use a car during their time spent in Anaheim.

    At least a day's visit will be needed to fully appreciate the new 55-acre park, she noted, while new attractions at neighboring Disneyland, notably the totally revamped Tomorrowland, are worth additional time.

    Bilby said that Disney officials will concentrate on marketing the resort as a self-contained, three- to four-day getaway to clients from the western U.S.

    For those coming from farther away, she said, a week's trip could work well, with two or three days spent at Disney theme parks and the remaining time spent exploring other Southern California attractions while using Anaheim as a central base.

    Bilby said that Disney will focus on marketing California Adventure, Downtown Disney and the new Disney's Grand Californian Hotel to agents through the end of the year.

    The Walt Disney Travel Co. recently released its 2001 California brochure to agents.

    For more details, call (800) 854-3104 or visit Disney's agent-only Web site, www.disneytravelagents.com.

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