Disney takes the plunge
With theme parks everywhere competing for dollars, the Mouse ups the ante with a new park right across the street from Disneyland.
Bigger, faster, more high-tech. In a word or four, that's where theme parks around the world are heading, just as fast as their space-age designers can take them.Skip to next paragraph
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"The challenge that theme parks face is to find new and intriguing attractions," says Paul Ruben, North American editor of the London-based trade magazine Park World. No theme park is going to rest on its laurels, he says. With the competition for entertainment dollars expanding daily, parks can't afford to stand still.
The granddaddy of them all is no exception. Yesterday, after spawning progeny and inspiring competitors for decades, Disneyland finally got an in-state sibling of its own in California Adventure, a highly touted second attraction just across a parking lot from the original. But in stark contrast to 45 years ago, when the original park opened as a unique attraction, the new venue shoehorns into a southern California theme-park market second only to Orlando, Fla., in competition for guests. Just up Interstate 5 in Valencia, Calif., Six Flags Magic Mountain is gearing up for its most extreme spring, ever. Three new coasters are coming online: "Deja vu," "X," and "Goliath Junior." The first two have G-force ratings of 4.5 and 4.0 (during takeoff, space-shuttle astronauts experience about 3.0 G's, three times their body weight).
As Disney broke ground on "Adventure," its nearby neighbor Knotts Berry Farm splurged on a $65 million water park, the nation's tallest flume ride, and a 320-room hotel. That's in addition to its $22 million, nationally recognized wooden roller coaster, "GhostRider," and its $10 million "Supreme Scream," offering the tallest "drop ride" west of the Mississippi.
These competing southern California parks are just part of the dash to own the bragging rights of being the world's hottest theme park, and they offer a good glimpse of the shape of things to come for theme-park goers everywhere, for better and for worse.
Same price, smaller park
The first reality check hits at the gate to California Adventure. Tickets cost the same as Disneyland ($43 for adults, $33 children), but the park is only two-thirds the size (55 acres) of its sibling and has 22 attractions, compared with three times that many in the Magic Kingdom.
And unlike Disneyland, "The Happiest Place on Earth," California Adventure is strictly reality-based.
"We want to celebrate the California Dream," says Barry Braverman, Walt Disney Imagineering executive producer for California Adventure, on a walking tour of the park. Mr. Braverman is a 17-year veteran of Disney's real-world-in-miniature, Orlando's Epcot Center.
"California has always been and continues to be a place that people are drawn to for a variety of reasons, so we created a series of lands and districts that are inspired by real places in California," he says.
This vision has produced an assortment of attractions to appeal to virtually every age and interest group. They are divided into three "lands": Paradise Pier (an homage to old amusement parks, complete with a pier and a midway); Golden State (mountain river-rafting, as well as an honest-to-goodness agricultural area with vineyards, fruit trees, and garden vegetables); and The Hollywood Pictures Backlot (moviemaking and Hollywood).
As for the big-ticket thrill rides, "California Screamin,' " a modern metal monster made to look like an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster, is the only high-speed entry. It stands for the moment as the world's longest looping coaster, but it is far slower (55 m.p.h.) than last year's new coaster at nearby Six Flags Magic Mountain, "Goliath" (85 m.p.h.).