Disney's California Adventure, a 55-acre homage to the park's home state, is divided into three sections: Hollywood Pictures Backlot, a quirkily nostalgic take on the movie industry; Golden State, a roundup of the state's natural and economic bounty; and Paradise Pier, a sunny evocation of a classic seaside amusement park. A lot to see and do?You bet.
The scene: you're late for your premiere at Mann's Chinese Theatre, the freeways are clogged, and the only way to the red carpet is a roundabout ride in an open-topped limo. Your agent's on the videophone delivering a running commentary as you ride past gag-filled facsimiles of L.A. landmarks and wisecracking animatronic celebrities such as Tim Allen, Cher, Cindy Crawford, and Drew Carey. Who'd have thought being a movie star could be such a hoot?Of course, what you really want to do is direct.
When you're not looking, Disney slips in some edutainment among the thrills. In this interactive hall, kids learn about animation while taking a personality test that shows them which cartoon character they most resemble, and in a dubbing room that lets them put their voice to a toon.
ABC SOAP OPERA BISTRO
You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll do lunch. The look of this family joint is straight out of daytime drama, with sections lifted from the sets of General Hospital, Port Charles, and other ABC soaps. And keep an eye on your waiter: service comes with a smile, a flurry of tears, a treacherous cackle, or whatever melodrama your server sees fit to dish up. Actors as waiters—what'll they think of next?
BOUNTIFUL VALLEY FARM
Kids might actually ask for veggies after seeing how they grow on this patch of dirt. Alongside the sprouts, there's full-size Caterpillar farm equipment to clamber on and a water maze fashioned from irrigation pipes.
Recalling the heyday of experimental aviation, this area looks like a desert flight-test center of yore. The central attraction: Soarin' over California, a swooping virtual reality aerial tour of the state, complete with strategically wafted scents of pine forest and citrus grove.
GRIZZLY RIVER RUN
Three million gallons of water sweep you around the amazingly realistic faux-granite outcropping of Grizzly Peak, whooshing and plunging toward a doozy of a finale: just before your river raft launches out over a cataract, it starts to spin, sending you twirling and plummeting into a watery abyss—and then one more drenching surprise. . . .
GOLDEN VINE WINERY
One for the grown-ups: a tile-roofed Mission-style mini-winery courtesy of Robert Mondavi. Here, amid the barrel room and wine-tasting areas, visitors learn about wine "in a friendly, non-threatening environment," thereby gaining "powerful knowledge to be used against some snooty waiter at a fancy restaurant." Sorry, tiny tipplers, no booze for youse.
How do you fold a fortune cookie?Make sourdough bread?Bake a tortilla?Food-loving kids will find the answer here—and then get to eat what they discover in this combination hands-on exhibit and food court that occupies an artfully ramshackle rendition of Monterey's Cannery Row.
AVALON COVE BY WOLFGANG PUCK
Time was, theme park cuisine meant burgers and corn dogs. Celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck is changing all that, with a seafood restaurant that combines his signature California cooking with great views of the park. The restaurant, Puck's first in a theme park, seats 250 in a building that looks like a giant sandcastle on the outside and an underwater grotto inside. In other words, it's no dive.
You'd never expect Disney to just build a normal old roller coaster, would you?Here, instead of slowly ascending a hill (so old-school), you start on a flat stretch of track and shoot from zero to 55 miles per hour in four seconds via a magnetic induction drive. Whee-hoo!
The huge golden sun face emblazoned on this 168-foot-high Ferris wheel makes it one of the park's most distinctive landmarks. Look closely and you'll see a twist: while some cars dangle at the edge of the wheel, others roll back and forth on oval tracks between the spokes. Pretty loopy.
REDWOOD CREEK CHALLENGE TRAIL
If overstimulation is making your little ones run amok, steer them to this scaled-down version of a national park forest, with hiking trails, swinging rope bridges, climbing walls, and zip lines. Once they burn off some energy, they can settle down for a spooky campfire tale in one of the storytelling nooks.
DISNEY'S GRAND CALIFORNIAN HOTEL
Disney's nicest hotel ever, this 750-room Arts and Crafts—style lodge aims for the ultimate level of service (think Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons). Don't expect whimsical touches like animatronic bellhops or in-room cell art—but the kids haven't been overlooked altogether: in addition to character breakfasts and a Mickey-shaped pool, the hotel has costumed baby-sitters and its own guest entrance to the park.
Yes, even something as mundane as parking gets its sprinkling of fairy dust at Disneyland. The resort's six-story, 1,174-foot-long, 10,242-space car park briefly held the title as the largest in the country. Here you'll see Disney's real magic, the art of throughput: moving visitors happily from color-coded parking spots along pedestrian walkways, happily down escalators and onto trams, and happily into the park. Let's hope they happily find their car at the end of the day.
For park information, call 714/481-4565 or see www.disneyland.com. For hotel reservations, call 714/956-6425.