One week ago, Disneyland Resort held a grand reopening for the “new” Disney California Adventure theme park, marking the completion of a 5-year expansion, renovation, and improvement project. Over the last week we’ve extensively covered its addition of Cars Land (with more still to come), today we begin our journey through the park’s other major addition, Buena Vista Street, with a ride on the most unique new form of transportation: the Red Car Trolley.
Buena Vista Street’s many shops, restaurants, and storefronts jam-packed with Disney details that take guests back to the 1920s, in an idealized version of what Walt Disney may have seen when stepping off the train with nothing but a “suitcase and a dream.” The Red Car Trolley system takes Disney California Adventure guests on a similar trip that begins at the Buena Vista Street station, continues down the road rounding Carthay Circle, passing the new Storytellers statue of Walt and Mickey Mouse as well as the namesake theatre/restaurant, through Hollywood Land (formerly Hollywood Pictures Backlot), ultimately arriving at the Hollywood Tower Hotel station, home to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The trolley also takes passengers on that same path back to the front of the park.
Along the route, Red Car Trolley conductors offer information about the new enhancements to the park as well as the Pacific Electric cars themselves. The videos below offer a round-trip ride on the Red Car Trolley system, with glimpses of the Five and Dime street band and Mad T Party along the way.
Video: Red Car Trolley from Buena Vista Street to Hollywood Tower Hotel
Video: Red Car Trolley from Hollywood Tower Hotel to Buena Vista Street
When on schedule, a trip from Buena Vista Street to Hollywood Tower Hotel (or vice-versa) should take 10 minutes. Combined with loading/unloading time and time spent waiting to actually board a trolley, guests looking for the fastest method of transportation through the park should turn to their own two feet. But the Red Car Trolley isn’t about speed, but rather provides guests with a fun and different way to experience the park. It also adds a certain nostalgic charm to the park’s ambiance, much in same the the horse-drawn carriages and double-decker buses do for Main Street USA at Disneyland.
The Buena Vista Street station is located almost immediately inside the Disney California Adventure entrance, immediately introducing guests to the sight of the Red Car Trolley rolling down the street, literally with all its bells and whistles.
Overhead, “power lines” run the span of Buena Vista Street all the way to through Hollywood Land. The real Pacific Electric vehicles after which Disney’s Red Car Trolleys are modeled required such lines electricity. But Disney’s version uses these lines for show, as their trolleys are self-contained electric vehicles. At each end-of-line stop, a Red Car Trolley conductor will use a rope to move the connecting rod atop the trolley from one line to the other, a moment that helps cement the fantasy and story being told.
Disney California Adventure has two Red Car Trolleys, numbered 623 and 717. 623 represents the 600 series of Pacific Electric Railway trolley cars and also references 1923, the year Walt Disney first arrived to California. 717 represents the 700-750 series of cars and references Disneyland’s opening date, July 17, 1955. There is just one spot on the route where trolleys pass each other, located in front of the Animation building in Hollywood Land. Otherwise the trolleys run in opposite directions on the same track.
This moment is an entertaining one for all aboard and those watching from the street, as the trolleys temporarily stop next to each other, making a great photo opportunity and even a conversation starter. But while it’s entertaining, having the trolleys on one track also slows down the system, requiring one trolley to sit and wait for the other to arrive before advancing. The ideal 10-minute ride time often turns into 15-20 minutes as a result.
The Hollywood Tower Hotel station is less elaborate than the stone-decorated archway on Buena Vista Street, marked only by a small hanging sign and much larger billboard showing off a variety of destinations one might see while traveling the Red Car Trolley through southern California “from the desert to the mountains to the sea.” In reality, the places represented on the billboard depict Disney California Adventure sights, including the Hyperion Theater, Paradise Pier, the Carthay Circle Theatre, and Grizzly Peak.
Each Red Car Trolley holds roughly 20 guests, 5 to a bench. When it’s close to full, single riders often fill the extra seats. With 10-20 minute gaps between trolleys loading at each station, it’s important to secure a firm place in line, particularly at the Buena Vista Street station where people tend to clump in a group rather than single file line. With such limited capacity, it only takes one or two single riders discretely slipping ahead to bump others to the next trolley.
Inside, the Red Car Trolley is manned by a driver at the front and a conductor at the back, also serving to get everyone seated and ready for travel. Throughout the trip, the conductor also takes on the role of narrator, spieling interesting facts about the park. As with the variety of Jungle Cruise skippers, Red Car Trolley conductors can range from dry and strictly informational, reading from scripted talking points, or humorous and personable, adding their own flair to the trip. The latter is always more entertaining, as seen in the videos above.
“Advertisements” for Buena Vista Street shops and eateries line the ceiling inside each Red Car Trolley, inviting guests to check out Trolley Treats for sweets, and the Elias & Co. department store for merchandise. Helpful Red Car Trolley tips are also present, including the route the cars travel and a retro-style note to “Watch the ‘Wig Wag’ – Your Sign to Safety!”, referring to the rocking, blinking marker that indicates when a trolley is pulling into a station.
As with any Disney experience, safety is a primary concern, and each Red Car Trolley is escorted up and down the Disney California Adventure streets by a team of Cast Members, alerting everyone walking in the streets that a trolley is coming through. Trolleys can and do occasionally make sudden stops when a guest runs out in front, not paying attention. Their brakes are quite good and the speed of travel always remains low maxing out at just 4 mph. It’s still a good idea to look both ways when crossing the tracks with this new addition to the theme park streets.
After dark, the park takes on a gorgeous form as the soft glow of the many lights illuminating the Carthay Circle Theatre and Buena Vista Street reflect off the Red Car Trolley’s glossy frame. When stopped, lights brighten up the trolley interior.
Though it’s not the fastest Disney ride nor a convenient mode of transportation, the Red Car Trolley offers an extra special element to the “new” Disney California Adventure, aiding in taking guests out of the hustle of a typical theme park environment, slowing down the pace to allow a closer look at the detail-rich, inviting environments created on Buena Vista Street and the rest of the trolley route. It’s a trip worth taking to truly get the feeling of life in a different era, as Walt Disney himself may have seen it decades ago as he began to dream of the promises of tomorrow.
More photos of the Red Car Trolley at Disney California Adventure: