Last week I began a detailed article about Disney California Adventure (DCA). In it, I discussed the changes that have occurred to Sunshine Plaza and Hollywood Pictures Backlot and their transformation into Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Land respectively. Today I’m going to continue my tour of DCA and further this story of how this park went from disappointing to impressive.
One of the lands found at DCA in 2001 was call Golden State. Within Golden State were six districts: Bountiful Valley Farm, Pacific Wharf, Golden Vine Winery, The Bay Area, Grizzly Peak Recreation Area, and Condor Flats. Let’s first take a look at Bountiful Valley Farm.
California is an agricultural giant in the United States. California is the world’s fifth largest supplier of food, cotton and other agricultural commodities. The state boasts more than 400 different crops -- everything from world-renowned wines to specialty items such as almonds and raisins. Since DCA was designed to promote California, it was only natural that the Imagineers wanted to cover this topic in an area to be called Bountiful Valley Farm.
The anchor for Bountiful Valley Farm was the attraction “It’s Tough to be a Bug.” This show would be an exact copy of its cousin at Disney's Animal Kingdom. However, there would be no towering Tree of Life to draw guests to this second DCA 3D movie. Instead, a giant building, reminiscent of a Hollywood soundstage, would house the show. Guests would enter the attraction by descending into an earthen pit. Although a realistic entrance if you want to visit a bug’s domain, it wasn’t particularly inviting.
Surrounding “It’s Tough to be a Bug” were a number of agricultural exhibits. Guests would wander around actual crops and look at farm equipment. In addition, a few “A Bug’s Life” statues could be found in the area.
There were also several free-standing food facilities and souvenir shops scattered around the area. These were all designed with an agricultural theme.
These exhibits were hardly worthy of Disney. How many people really want to see a tractor or watch plants grow? Guests would wander the Bountiful Valley Farm section of the park and ask themselves, “Did I really pay $78 (2001 prices) to see this? I can experience the same thing at my local county fair for significantly less money.”
With the exception of “It’s Tough to be a Bug,” Bountiful Valley Farm was a major yawn. However, I’m not through with my story about this “farming” section of DCA. Check back next week to see what eventually happens here.
One of the initial complaints Disney received about DCA was the total lack of activities for small children. Realizing the guests were right, the Imagineers hastily threw together “a bug’s land” and located it next to the “It’s Tough to be a Bug” attraction. Once again, Disney bought off-the-shelf carnival rides and spruced them up with a few Disney flairs.
The backstory for “a bug’s land” goes something like this. Flik and his pals lived in a grassy area of the old Disneyland parking lot. When construction began on DCA, Flik decided to build a fair for the other bugs living in the area. A few years later, work began on the Tower of Terror and Flik’s little park was discovered by the Imagineers. So Disney and Flik made a deal and opened up “it’s a bug’s land” to DCA guests. Evidence of this story can be seen on one of the signs in this area.
Today, guests can enter “a bug’s land” from three entrances. One entry is near the Tower of Terror. However, there is nothing noteworthy about it.
The second entrance comes from the direction of Cars Land. Along Route 66 are two billboards advertising this wondrous fair.
As you near this entrance, many of our familiar friends line the gate, welcoming us to Flik’s fair.
The main entrance into “a bug’s land” branches off of the primary walkway that radiates off of Buena Vista Street. Here guests walk beneath a large, overhead sign announcing their arrival to this miniature world of Flik’s.
As you venture further into this land, you encounter a box of “Cowboy Crunchies.” This is a reference to Sheriff Woody as seen in the Disney/Pixar film “Toy Story 2. As you walk through the cereal box, you discover that the owner of this carton of “Cowboy Crunchies” is the winner of a fabulous trip to “Flik’s Fun Fair.” You also see a number of cut-outs of the Bug’s Life gang.
Once in “a bug’s land” proper, you realize you’re now the size of an insect. The concept is the same here as the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure” at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Everything towers above you. The plants are giant, the water faucet is enormous, and the overhead Christmas lights are huge.
The first attraction we’ll look at is Flik’s Flyers. When building this attraction, Flik used what was readily available. He had no fancy materials. The seating compartments are constructed out of old food containers like a Chinese take-out carton and a box of Casey Jr. Cookies. The overhead balloons that supply the lift needed for flight are constructed out of stitched together leaves. Twigs attach the balloons to the boxes.
“Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train” stars our favorite German caterpillar. On this ride, Heimlich takes us through an oversized garden that has both natural and man-made food items strewn about. Along the way, Heimlich narrates our journey and scents of the various food stuffs can be detected as you pass by. At the ride's end, Heimlich bids guests farewell and reminds them to eat their fruits and vegetables.
Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, although cute, is intended for very young children. Kids ages 7 and above will find it pretty lame.
The sign for “Francis’ Ladybug Boogie” appears on the song label of an old 45rpm record. Notice the spindle adapter in the middle so it can be played on a standard 33rpm record player.
This attraction is similar in concept to the Tea Cups in Fantasyland. A wheel in the middle of each ladybug causes Francis and his pals to spin while navigating a figure-eight. All the while, jitterbug music can be heard in the background.
The last attraction in “a bug’s land” is “Tuck and Roll’s Drive ‘Em Buggies.” This attraction is nothing more than an old-fashioned bumper car ride – and probably the most fun kids over five and adults can have in this area. Everyone smiles devilishly when aiming their Hungarian pill bug toward another pill bug.
Besides the four attractions, “a bug’s land” has a lot of cute details if you take the time to look. For example, a Popsicle stick bench, firefly lamps, and cute bugs.
When “a bug’s land” was first constructed, I was not happy. I felt Disney’s upper management was continuing their cheap ways and adding more, less-than-Disney quality attractions to an already suffering park. But my opinion has softened greatly since my last visit. Now that this area is surrounded by quality, rather than inferior attractions, I can accept “a bug’s land” as a cute playground for young children. And adults can enjoy the bumper cars without their kids.
Today, “Pacific Wharf” is considered a land in its own right. But this wasn’t always so. In the beginning, Pacific Wharf was one of the six districts of Golden State.
Pacific Wharf is based on Monterey’s Cannery Row. Here, a number of weathered warehouses and factories line a Pacific pier. The effect is quite convincing and the atmosphere intoxicating.
This area was designed to be a collection of counter service restaurants. As the Spanish, Mexican, and Pacific Rim countries all played a major role in California’s history, some of these cuisines are offered here.
For south-of-the-border flavors, Cocina Cucamonga Mexican Grill serves up tacos, burritos, and tamales. For Asian delights, check out Lucky Fortune Cookery.
But for me, the best option is the Pacific Wharf Café. Operated by San Francisco’s Boudin Bakery, this spot offers a number of soups and salads served in a sourdough bowl.
There are several seating options in this food court, all outside. But I prefer the area that sits next to the water. This area was designed to represent a coastal tidal basin and the water actually rises and falls as if the tides are coming in and going out. I think the atmosphere is wonderful here and it’s a great spot to lose yourself in fantasy.
One of the best memories of my most recent trip to DCA revolves around the Pacific Wharf Café and this seating area. The sun had just set, the temperature was dropping, and there was a slight mist in the air. Since my stomach had begun to grumble, I decided to get a bowl of New England chowder served in a sourdough bowl. Once I received my food, I selected a table with an umbrella to shield me from the mist and began to eat. The chowder was hot, creamy, and delicious and the sourdough bread was chewy and tangy. The atmosphere was superb and the weather was perfect for the occasion. With very little imagination, I was transported in my mind to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The moment was magical and I savored every mouthful and moment.
For those of you who like sourdough bread, Boudin Bakery of San Francisco makes some of the best. They also offer a kitchen tour of their DCA bakery. Using overhead television monitors, Rosie O'Donnell and Colin Mochrie walk guests through the bread-making process. Behind glass walls we see how the dough is mixed, proofed, formed into loaves, and eventually baked.
I think the bakery tour is worth the few minutes of the time it takes to witness the bread-making process. It’s educational and presented in a light-hearted manner. However, in the early years of DCA, this simple tour was a good example of the entertainment Disney was promoting as a first-rate attraction. The park had so little to offer they were touting everything as a “must see.” In the days of ticket books at Disneyland, the bakery tour wouldn’t even garner an “A” ticket. It would have been a free attraction because it was so blatantly advertising a product.
Another example of a mediocre attraction could be found directly across from the bakery tour. Here, Mission presented a tour of the tortilla making process. Once again, it was interesting, but not something you would really consider as a full-fledged attraction. And not something that would compel you to return to DCA again and again.
Ghirardelli recently took over this spot. The offerings here are very similar to those of Downtown Disney at WDW.
The third section of Golden State we’ll be talking about today is Golden Vine Winery. As the name implies, this area of the park pays homage to California’s vast wine industry. One of its main features here was an elegant restaurant named “The Vineyard Room” hosted by Robert Mondavi Wineries. But just like Soap Opera Bistro located over at Hollywood Pictures Backlot, this eatery was sparsely attended. There were just too many other dining options to choose from. Mondavi pulled out of the project within the first year of operation. Today, this section of the park is considered part of Pacific Wharf and still honors California’s wine industry.
On the east slopes of Grizzly Peak, a small vineyard can be found. Each year these vines are pruned, tied, fertilized, and harvested.
Next to the vineyard is a large, stone building. This structure is fashioned after many of the wine barrel rooms found in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. In the early years of DCA, this building housed an exhibit about wine making, including a seven minute film on the subject. Today this edifice houses “Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar.”
Blue Sky Cellar currently presents a look at the new Cars Land. Sketches, concept art, models, and maquettes are on display. In addition, a wonderful film titled “Time Travel Mater” is shown. This six minute cartoon takes us back in time and recounts how Stanley and Lizzie first met and how the town of Radiator Springs came into being. This is a great featurette and worth your time.
Next door to Blue Sky Cellar is “Mendocino Terrace,” a counter service restaurant where you can order wine and snacks. Sitting adjacent is “Wine Country Trattoria.” This full service restaurant offers Mediterranean and Californian choices while surrounding the diner in a Tuscan villa ambiance.
That’s it for Part Three of my detailed look at Disney California Adventure. Check back tomorrow for Part Four.
The previous post in this blog was Disney California Adventure Part Two of Six.
The next post in this blog is Disney California Adventure Part Four of Six.