Photo Tour: Disneyland readies California Adventure for Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, completing 5-year upgrade

in Disney, Disney's California Adventure, Disneyland Resort, Entertainment, Movies, Theme Parks

Disney is hard at work to reinvigorate the Disney California Adventure theme park with new life. A whole new land and entrance area will become the final pieces of the renovation puzzle when they open in a few months. In the meantime, Disney is proud to show off glimpses of what’s to come.

For the first time ever, I was truly excited to be at Disney California Adventure during my quick trip to the Disneyland Resort this past weekend. Yesterday I shared a look at how Disneyland celebrated the Lunar New Year and today I continue my Disneyland updates with a photo tour around the changes that are rapidly progressing at Anaheim’s second Disney theme park.

I normally don’t offer construction updates, as I find piles of dirt and concrete to be rather, well, un-magical and prefer to focus on the final products, but I make an exception in this case. It’s been around 6 months since my last trip to Disney California Adventure during the time of the 2011 D23 Expo and I was amazed at just how much has changed. Nothing below will be news to those who frequent the California parks, but those who don’t, I hope this update will emphasize the impressive transformation this park is undergoing.

And it all starts outside the entrance:

Entrance

Standing in the esplanade between Disneyland park and Disney California Adventure, I was surprised to see peaks of recent additions rising high above the new Pan Pacific-themed turnstiles. I had seen the new turnstiles on my last trip, but never realized the new entrance area elements inside the park would be visible from outside. It’s a different feeling than, say, not being able to see Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom until you pass underneath the train station.

Guests will ultimately enter Disney California Adventure into the new Buena Vista Street, replacing the old kitschy post card-themed area. But for now, construction walls direct traffic elsewhere:

Construction walls

Construction walls

These highly-themed and decorated walls bring guests all the way behind Soarin’ Over California and into Condor Flats. It’s a temporary walkway into the park, with posters lining the walls serving as advertisements for what’s to come. I’m sure regulars to the park will be happy to have their direct entrance back in a few months.

Since guests are directed far around the entrance construction zone, the only view of Buena Vista Street can be seen after backtracking, and it’s not much of a view yet:

Buena Vista Street construction

Ultimately, that construction site will become an elaborate Main Street USA-style entrance area, themed to California in the 1920s. The Blue Sky Cellar within the park offers guests a preview of what Buena Vista Street and all its storefronts will ultimately look like:

Buena Vista Street model - Blue Sky Cellar

Buena Vista Street elevations - Blue Sky Cellar

Be sure to click the photos to enlarge them for more detail.

Disney is even proud to show off the period-inspired costumes Cast Members will be wearing in the area:

Buena Vista Street costumes - Blue Sky Cellar

But the highlight for me during this visit to Disney California Adventure was seeing the grand Carthay Circle Theater nearly complete. This towering building is far larger than I had anticipated, built at a 3/4 scale to the original (now demolished) in Los Angeles. Rising up to 89 feet in the air (that’s 12 feet taller than Sleeping Beauty Castle!), this new structure is certainly the centerpiece of the ongoing upgrade project.

Carthay Circle Theater

While I am excited to see what experiences will be offered inside, the outside alone offered a new “feel” to the park that was unfamiliar to me. The tourist trap motif has been replaced by something more tangible and inviting, but also with a sense of history. If that feeling evoked by the impressive Carthay Circle Theater continues throughout the surrounding area and down Buena Vista Street, I anticipate Disney California Adventure turning into a park fans want to spend time exploring and relaxing in, rather than simply hopping from ride to ride.

Signs like this help build the excitement:

Carthay Circle Theater sign

Down the way, Disney is also working on Cars Land. I’ve been hearing about this massive expansion to the park for years, repeatedly being told how impressive, detailed, and immersive it will be. But what I never fully grasped from the countless presentations I attended about it was how it would integrate with the rest of the park. So on this trip, I was surprised to see just how close the entrance to the new themed area of Radiator Springs was to A Bug’s Land and the nearby main park streets.

Cars Land

For some reason, I had always pictured Cars Land set back further, with a bit of a walk required to reach its entrance. But that’s definitely not the case, with the row of shops and restaurants located immediately off the main path.

The nearby Blue Sky Cellar offers a great view into Radiator Springs, which is finally taking shape:

Radiator Springs - Cars Land

My first impression upon seeing the town for the first time: It’s small. The Cars Land mountain range is massive, particularly the portion that will be part of the E-ticket ride Radiator Springs Racers. But the actual town of Radiator Springs is not nearly as big as it looks in this photo. Disney has used forced perspective well to achieve a grand feeling to the area, particularly in pictures like this, but it’s still not quite the enveloping immersive environment I had pictured in my head. Compare the photo above to the artwork below:

Something about the scale didn’t quite match for me, but perhaps that will change once I have a chance to step foot inside when it opens this summer.

Looking deeper into Cars Land, the detail is evident, like the signs for Flo’s V8 Cafe and Ramone’s Body Art, down to the rock mosaic “RS” in the distance behind the court house:

Flo's V8 Cafe - Cars Land

Another surprise to me was just how close Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, one of the three rides of Cars Land, is located to the entrance. It’s placed directly to left of the path into Radiator Springs and alongside the park’s main street. Again, I had expected it to be pushed back further, fully enveloping the attraction into the world of “Cars.” Instead, it seems riders will catch glimpses of A Bug’s Land and other nearby areas of the park. I hope additional rocks and trees will be added to block sight lines for guests inside wanting to feel like they’re truly in Radiator Springs and not just in a theme park land.

Testing was in progress on Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree while I was there, with a low but loud rumbling coming from behind the construction walls:

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree - Cars Land

I am looking forward to seeing Cars Land fully completed and unveiled in a few months, but my perception of exactly what the new land is has drastically changed after recently visiting the park.

Elsewhere, connecting Buena Vista Street to the Hollywood Pictures Backlot will be the Red Car Trolley system. Not much is visible in the park yet short of the tracks laid down on the pavement, but the Blue Sky Cellar does offer artwork detailing what’s to come:

Red Car Trolley - Blue Sky Cellar

Again, click to enlarge the photo.

Even with all the changes and updates to Disney California Adventure, some classic and popular attractions needn’t be touched. The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror continues to thrill guests daily, and is particularly photogenic at sunset:

Tower of Terror

But the Tower of Terror and Soarin’ Over California are receiving a bit of an update in the form of new stylized posters currently hanging in the Blue Sky Cellar and on entrance construction walls, ultimately for sale on Buena Vista Street:

Attraction posters - Blue Sky Cellar

Not all changes at Disney California are for the better. Sadly, this weekend’s trip to the Disneyland Resort was my last chance to see ElecTRONica before it is replaced by the Mad T Party. I spent several hours across two nights absorbing all of the “Tron: Legacy” inspired excitement, making sure to capture the whole experience before it’s gone. I’ll be sharing a complete ElecTRONica tribute some time between now and its springtime removal, but for now, here are few photos to mark the occasion:

ElecTRONica

ElecTRONica

ElecTRONica dancer

The transformation of Disney California Adventure from a half-day side trip into a full experience began with the debut of World of Color, surrounding Paradise Park, and Silly Symphony Swings, continued with the introduction of The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, new boardwalk games, Goofy’s Sky School, and Paradise Gardens, and will be completed this summer with the opening of Buena Vista Street and Cars Land. The Paradise Pier back half of the park has become a beautiful and fun place to visit and once the front half reopens soon, guests visiting the Disneyland Resort will for the first time in history have a true two-park experience.

California Screamin'

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