Today we're going to have some fun and speculate and imagine if Disney had gone in a COMPLETELY different direction when they tried to "fix" Disney's California Adventure.
What if they'd stuck to the original concept of making the park different than every other Disney park but still invested money to fix it ...
Written by Gregg Condon
February 8, 2001 - A brand new Disney theme park opens in Southern California. We've seen it being constructed in the former parking lot for years. The intamin roller coaster. The signature mountain that looks like the head of a bear. We've heard about the designer restaurants from Robert Mondavi and Wolfgang Puck. Themes around Soap Opera's and Parades that didn't feature Disney Characters. This was going to be the anti-Disney Disney park. Full of new experiences, more shows and alcohol.
And then nobody showed up ... and Disney panicked.
After the initial failure of DCA 1.0 there were a couple of different ways Disney could have gone. The one direction we're going to talk about below, and then the direction that Disney eventually took.
So first let's start off with the direction Disney took:
Almost immediately they started shutting restaurants like Wolfgang Puck and Robert Mondavi, but in addition to that they also started cutting hours. Most days DCA would close at 6pm. So it's really no surprise that restaurants that are targeted to adults wouldn't do well if people couldn't actually have dinner there.
In addition to shutting restaurants that were targeted to adults they immediately started adding Disney characters to the park. Meet and greets, quickly put together parades and shows and bringing back the Electrical Parade.
The list of closures during the first year of DCA included Superstar Limo (no surprise), Soap Opera Bistro, Eureka Parade, Steps in Time, Lights Camera Chaos, Vineyard Room by Robert Mondavi, Avalon Cove by Wolfgang Puck, and Maliburitos (seriously, did ANYBODY ever get a chance to eat here?)
What came in it's place were some cheap replacements (X-Games anybody), the Christmas show LuminAria and many others.
Soon after the re-theme of DCA began with the addition of A Bugs Land in 2002, Tower of Terror in 2004, Monsters Inc in 2006 (retheme of Superstar Limo), Toy Story Midway mania in 2008 and then the conversion to DCA 2.0 starting in 2010 all the way to it's re-dedication in 2012.
Through all of that, including a multi-billion dollar expansion and improvement, the attendance of Disney California Adventure went from 5 million in 2001 to about 9.5 million in 2015.
But what if they could have kept the original design of DCA in 2001 and expanded using it's original intention of being a different kind of theme park ...
So let's go back to 2001 ... instead of shuttering adult themed restaurants and closing the park early let's say DCA does indeed cuts their hours but does it in a different way.
Now nobody is ever going to deny the original DCA was built "on the cheap". But on the same note I don't think anybody could deny DCA looked MUCH better at night than it did during the day. MUCH better. So let's say Disney capitalized on that.
Instead of opening the park at 10am and closing at 5pm or 6pm every day and thus insuring the high-end restaurants would remain empty, let's say DCA opened at 3pm or 4pm every day and stayed open until 10pm or midnight every day.
Stay with me here ...
As was mentioned above, DCA was supposed to be different, it sold alcohol, brought in high-end brands and was generally made to cater to adults. Not just with food but with rides.
When DCA opened there were only a handful of rides somebody under 40 inches could ride, and they weren't exactly thrilling (Sun Wheel, Carousel, Superstar Limo, Golden Zephyr). At the same time they had the first looping coaster at a west coast Disney park, an S&S Space Shot and other rides that were geared towards adults.
And let me say, having drinks at the cove then riding Screamin' and then drinks and then Screamin', repeat, repeat, repeat is a LOT of fun. =)
So instead of totally changing to become Disneyland 2.0, what if DCA became more of a true "pleasure island" theme park, the possibilities could have been endless.
Sure, the eventual re-do of the front area of the park was somewhat inevitable. It was ugly and needed to be done.
Tower of Terror would have eventually been added, but let's just imagine that instead of a rushed version to get an E-ticket into the park they actually built an amazing original version of it that rivaled it's counterparts in Florida and Tokyo.
Superstar Limo was always never going to last. But instead of having to do a cheap overlay of a children's movie and bring in the Millionaire show what if they had built Rock N Roller Coaster with Red Hot Chili Peppers or No Doubt?
Remember when they first started doing the Food and Wine events at DCA? That was the first time they had brought in a big chunk of DCA's original targeted audience. And the first year it was done very quickly. Imagine if they would have been able to continue to expand events and attractions geared towards adults instead of just Disneyfying the entire park?
But by that time the writing was on the wall. Instead of them seeing the success of those events and being able to expand them, those at the very highest levels had already deemed that DCA needed "fixing" (it did) and the way they were going to do it was to make it like every other Disney theme park.
Could you imagine now, instead of Cars Land that was built (as amazing as it is) if a more grown up land, say based on Marvel or Star Wars Land or even Avatar was built in it's place?
Or instead of having 13 years of Aladdin and now Frozen you had actual "Broadway" type shows in the Hyperion theater? Selling "Show/Park" combo tickets. Allowing people to come into the park before the show, have a nice dinner at one of the parks many restaurants (maybe eventually something like the Carthay).
Seeing touring shows of Wicked or Lion King or any other number of amazing touring productions that make their way through Southern California each year. Even nighttime events like Mad T Party but themed to the show that's playing in the Hyperion.
Obviously none of us know what could have happened had Disney stuck with the DCA concept while in the meantime continuing to improve it. It's hard to tell if an actual "Pleasure Island" type theme park would have actually worked. But the possibilities would have been endless instead of shoehorning themselves into a limited California theme (which let's face it, no longer makes ANY sense).
Imagine with the amount of AP's they have now how a true nighttime park would benefit them, and maybe even after spending all that money to "fix" DCA They wouldn't have to have DCA only Annual Passes.
Maybe one day Disney will give us a park that is different but actually invest the money in that park to make it successful from day one. Instead of being reactionary and adding cheap overlays and last minute shows they do it right the first time.
But sadly it likely won't be in our lifetime.