You can judge this park by its cover. At the front gate to Disney's California Adventure, just across the way from the original Disneyland, the state's name is spelled out in 11 1/2-ft.-high letters, widely spaced to spread across the entrance. Beyond the logo you see a clever mix of shimmering images: the Golden Gate Bridge (it carries the park monorail) above Hollywood Boulevard and, at the far horizon, a flawless Pacific sunset.
Is this California? Not exactly. You will find no Road Rage bumper-car ride. No Catastrophe California with floods, earthquakes and forest fires. No halls with animatronic Mansons and O.J.s. This is "California": a dreamland built by Disney Imaginers; a G-rated makeover of the tarnished Golden State; a living movie fantasy--the reel thing.
And that's fine for a state that was established on gold fever and whose most famous exports are Baywatch, Tom Cruise...and the Disney empire. Why shouldn't a Disney "California" be Disneyfied? Walt's people invented the idea of an amusement park as a spiffy alternative universe. They perfected it. They still do it best.
Unlike Disneyland Paris and EPCOT Center in Florida, DCA is a relatively intimate park--an easy day's saunter, especially with the Fastpass that allows customers to book their favorite rides early. But this doesn't mean that the park came cheap. On a recent Sunday, Disney CEO Michael Eisner directed a visitor's gaze up to the park's central icon: Grizzly Peak, a concrete mountain in the shape of a roaring bear. When the visitor noted that the bear probably cost more than the entire Disneyland park in 1955, Eisner replied, "The nose cost more."
What matters, though, is not whether DCA is worth Disney's billions, but whether it's worth your $43. Sure it is. (And for another couple hundred, you and your family can stay at the Grand Californian, the handsomest of all Disney hotels: a huge lobby, comfy beds and, from most rooms, a great view of the new park.) The rides aren't heavily "themed"; you needn't worry about story lines as you enjoy the California Screamin' roller coaster (which looks old-fashioned but has a wicked 360[degrees] loop), get soaked in the Grizzly River Run's whirling rafts and shiver in merry mortal peril on the Sun Wheel (Ferris wheel) as your cab seems to rollick out of control. They're just fun.
Best is Soarin' over California. You sit in a chair that, when the lights go down, moves up and forward to put you inside a curved IMAX screen. The effect is of flying in a magic-carpet hang glider, gazing down at rivers, farms, skiers, hot-air balloonists, the coast and the desert, San Francisco Bay and, of course, Disneyland. As you pass over an orange grove, the scent of the fruit tickles your nostrils. You fly over a golf course and--whack!--a ball sails toward and past you. In this vertiginous, multisensory California tour, state of the art meets the art of the state. It's a trip that's worth the trip.