In yesterday’s article I told you how the original Golden State section of Disney California Adventure had six districts. These were Bountiful Valley Farm, Pacific Wharf, Golden Vine Winery, The Bay Area, Grizzly Peak Recreation Area, and Condor Flats. Today I will be discussing The Bay Area, Grizzly Peak Recreation Area, and Condor Flats.
In reality, The Bay Area only had one small street and one attraction. The street featured a row of Victorian buildings, typical of what you might find in a San Francisco neighborhood. Today, these “homes” and “businesses” house restrooms and a shop called Embarcadero.
The one attraction in the Bay Area was called “Golden Dreams.” This was one of the park’s few original “Disney” attractions.
Guests entered Golden Dreams beneath a replica of the Palace of Fine Arts. The original structure was a leftover from the Panama Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915 and is a landmark in this city even today. The theater’s exterior featured a beautiful mural that displayed a number of the people you would encounter in the 22 minute film seen inside.
Golden Dreams chronicled California from its earliest discovery to the present day. But rather than present a boring history lesson, the movie focused on the people who made California their home – past and present. It presented their hardships and triumphs, their disappointments and their successes, their dreams and their accomplishments. It was a moving film that was well scripted, well acted, and well directed. Most everyone who saw the movie liked it. Unfortunately, most people only saw it once. Golden Dreams wasn’t the type of movie that needed to be seen again and again. So those who made subsequent trips to DCA, usually skipped this attraction in favor of more exciting fare. Golden Dreams gave its last public performance on September 7, 2008.
After closing, the entire theater was demolished; however, the replica of the Palace of Fine Arts was kept. In the theater’s place grew a new structure to house “The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.” This attraction officially opened on June 3, 2011.
The attraction’s building was modeled after early 20th century aquariums. Inside, guests ride in clam shells for a six minute journey under the sea and relive Ariel’s adventures.
The new “Little Mermaid -- Ariel’s Undersea Adventure” at the Magic Kingdom in Florida is almost an exact copy of the attraction at DCA with one exception. At DCA, an additional character can be found under the sea, the Incredible Mr. Limpet. It seems that Mr. Limpet made a very small cameo appearance in “The Little Mermaid” movie and he has been included in the DCA attraction if you know where to look.
Today, the Little Mermaid attraction is considered part of the Paradise Pier section of the park and the row of San Francisco buildings are part of Grizzly Peak.
Grizzly Peak Recreation Area was designed to showcase the rugged Sierra Nevada Mountain Range that runs along California’s east border. At DCA, two attractions paid tribute to this area. The first is Grizzly River Run (Grr).
Guests approach Grizzly River Run on a “mountain” road that might be found in Yosemite or Sequoia National Parks. River rock bridges, log benches, old-time lanterns, and an abundance of pine trees fill the area. It’s easy to forget you’re at DCA and not really in the great outdoors.
Along the road you discover “Rushin’ River Outfitters.” This is the place to purchase the necessary gear for any of the outdoor activities offered in the area. For those of you who don’t get the joke, there is a stream in Northern California called Russian River.
Grizzly River Run is located directly next door to the shop. The entrance is marked by a large, wooden grizzly bear.
Grizzly River Run was another off-the-shelf ride. However, in this case, the Imagineers did a magnificent job of giving this attraction some Disney magic. The rockwork, flumes, buildings, and landscaping all combine to create a wonderful atmosphere. It’s all very realistic. I also think this adventure is superior to Kali River Rapids found at Disney's Animal Kingdom. At seven minutes in length, Grizzly River Run is two minutes longer than its Florida cousin. It also has several waterfall down ramps rather than just one. This adds additional excitement to the ride.
For those of you not familiar with the California State Flag, the grizzly bear is the prominent feature on this standard. Thus, the Imagineers decided to make the grizzly bear DCA’s park icon.
Near Grizzly River Run is the “Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.” This is a wonderful area for kids and tweens.
Upon entering Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, kids are given an activity map.
On the activity map are six challenges. Some of these challenges are easy, some a little more difficult. Examples of these are puzzle solving, rock climbing, and tracking. As each task is completed, kids scratch off one of the silver circles on the map and receive a “badge.” When all six challenges have been completed, the explorer reports to Ahwahnee Camp Circle to become a Senior Wilderness Explorer.
Even if someone doesn’t wish to take the challenge, Redwood Creek offers a number of physical and entertaining activities to stimulate a child and help him or her burn off some energy. This is not your typical Disney playground. It is extremely well themed and diverse in its offerings.
The Grizzly Peak section of the park is located directly next door to the Grand Californian as the theming of the hotel blends naturally with this area. This is also where guests staying at the Grand Californian enter DCA through their own, private entrance.
Today, Condor Flats is a land in its own right, but in the early years of DCA, it was one of the districts of Golden State. This area is designed to resemble an airfield and pays tribute to the test pilots and engineers of the 1940s through the1960s. It also highlights the role California played in the burgeoning aeronautics field.
The backstory for Condor Flats goes something like this.
Condor Flats can be found in the high deserts of California, away from most of the state’s civilization. This area was the hub of jet testing and rocket research in the early years of aeronautics. As time marched on, much of this industry was relocated to the Los Angeles area and Condor Flats was forgotten. However, some of the old-timers remained and continued to call Condor Flights home.
Seeing the historical relevance of this area, one of the early test pilots decided to share its significance with the public and created the “Condor Flats Scenic Air Tours.” His company would offer sightseeing flights over Condor Flats and the nearby Sierra Nevada Mountains. A billboard advertising his company and his sightseeing plane can be seen nearby.
As the millennium approached, a new and younger group of aviation enthusiasts arrived at Condor Flats. Witnessing the success of the scenic air tours being offered, they decided to go one step further. These youthful flyers would create a theater that allowed 87 people at a time to be lifted skyward for a simulated flight over the entire state of California, thus, “Soarin’ Over California” was born.
“Soarin’ Over California” is the only attraction in Condor Flats. This was the one and only runaway hit at DCA when it opened. And in the early years, guests would run to this attraction at opening. Even today, it still garners long lines during most of the day.
Soarin’ Over California is housed in a building reminiscent of an airplane hangar. In the indoor queue, guests pass by photographs of aircraft that played a part in California aviation history. The musical pieces played in this area are from many of Hollywood’s epic war and flight themed movies.
As I’m sure you all know, Soarin’ Over California takes guests on a simulated hang-gliding trip above the Golden State. Along the way, our eyes are treated to visual delights, our ears are given a melodic score by movie composer Jerry Goldsmith, and our noses detect the scents of oranges, evergreen trees, and ocean breezes.
Soarin’ Over California was such a hit at DCA that it was duplicated at Epcot’s Land Pavilion, replacing “Food Rocks.” However, the name was changed to simply “Soarin’” to downplay the California aspect of the attraction. Soarin’ opened on May 5, 2005.
Next to Soarin’ Over California is “Taste Pilot’s Grill.” This is your typical counter service restaurant that serves burgers, ribs, chicken sandwiches, and the like. This eatery underwent one interesting change during the recent park remodeling. A large plane, bursting from the hanger, was removed. I don’t know why it was removed, but I’m sad to see it go.
Across from Taste Pilot’s Grill are restrooms and a gift shop.
On hot days, a giant test jet engine cools guests with a blast of mist.
On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. To commemorate this milestone, the number 47 is hidden in various places around Condor Flats. In addition, the clock on the Fly 'N Buy Souvenir Shop is stopped at the exact time the sound barrier was broken.
That’s it for Part Four. Check back next week when I’ll be wrapping up this series with information about Cars Land and Paradise Pier.
The previous post in this blog was Disney California Adventure Part Three of Six.
The next post in this blog is Disney California Adventure Part Five of Six.