At Disneyland, makeover at California Adventure renews focus on original brand

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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Disney California Adventure opened in February 2001 in what was once Disneyland's parking lot. The goal was to make Disneyland into a multiday destination like Walt Disney World in Florida, but initial reviews of California Adventure were lackluster for a variety of reasons (not enough to do, generic rides, not enough Disney theming).

In 2007, Disney announced plans for a multiyear, $1.1 billion makeover for California Adventure that's already yielding new rides (the popular Toy Story Midway Mania preceded Ariel's Undersea Adventure), shows (a fountain and light night-time spectacular, World of Color, draws large crowds), more Disney-centric theming of existing attractions (Mickey Mouse's face was added to a ferris wheel; a wild mouse coaster previously called Mulholland Madness will reopen as Goofy's Sky School on July 1); and an ever-so-slight name change for the park, which had opened as Disney's California Adventure.

"Disney doesn't own California," said Mary Niven, vice president of Disney California Adventure. "Disney is presenting California; we are presenting a California adventure."

Bob Weis, the chief Disney Imagineer responsible for the California Adventure overhaul, said dropping the apostrophe-S was also part of a larger company initiative to get away from using an apostrophe-S after "Disney." He said a more noticeable change was the park's logo, which used to feature a generic bear and now features "California" in fun-suggesting canted letters with Mickey Mouse's head in place of the letter "o."

Although there's been some speculation that Disney will change the name of the park altogether, Ms. Niven said the name will remain along with a nod to California.

"The whole new entry of Buena Vista Street [that's currently under construction] is a great counterpoint to Main Street in Disneyland," she said, "and Buena Vista street is [modeled on] Los Angeles in the 1920s when Walt [Disney] first stepped off the train here and began his adventure in California."

Attempts to improve the park's reception seem to be bearing fruit: Attendance rose from 2008 to 2009, the most recent year data is available, by almost 10 percent.

The park's largest expansion will come next year with the addition of Cars Land, home to three rides based on the Disney Pixar "Cars" films, including Radiator Springs Racers, which uses technology similar to (but improved from) Test Track at Epcot in Florida.

Additional efforts to make longer stays at Disney's California parks attractive include a thorough gutting and remodeling of the Disneyland Hotel, which is expected to be complete by Christmas.

All three hotel towers have been re-done (down to the concrete) and re-themed (Adventure Tower, Frontier Tower and Fantasy Tower); new restaurants have been added (Tangaroa Terrace and Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar, inspired by Disneyland's Enchanted Tiki Room but without Audio-Anamatronic characters); and a new pool area features the return of the 1950s-era Disneyland sign alongside waterslides topped by Monorail replicas. When complete, the property will have a Mid-Century Modern vibe that hearkens back to its beginning.

"The hotel has been around almost as long as Disneyland and people have been coming here for generations," said John Mauro, development manager for Walt Disney Imagineering. "It's about going back to the roots of what the Disneyland Hotel was, stripping it back to that architecture from that time period and focusing on nostalgic Disneyland."

TV writer Rob Owen: or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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