Disney’s California Adventure Missing the Mark on Customer Experience

During our recent visit to Disney’s California Adventure (DCA), we really learned the pros and cons of what Disney does great, and unfortunately, what they really need to improve on. We arrived right as the park opened, and immediately went to the Toy Story Mania ride to avoid long lines later in the day. From there, we casually made our way around the Boardwalk towards the Little Mermaid ride. The park was amazingly empty on this side of the park and early in the morning, which was nice, but we quickly learned later on in the day where all the guests were hiding.

120611 Disney's California Adventure (1) Boardwalk

We celebrated with an early lunch at Ariel’s Grotto with all of the Princesses. Our little boys have an early affection towards girls, and in particular Princesses in pretty dresses.

The afternoon was filled with the Aladdin show, Bug’s Land, and Muppet*Vision 3D. However, beyond that, the disappointments of the park started to settle in. For starters, we were at DCA 3 days before the grand opening of Cars Land. So we assumed the Cars Land area was either 1) completely closed off to guests, or 2) guests might be able to at least walk through the area and see everything. We had no preconceived notions of getting to actually experience Cars Land by riding the attractions or shopping in the stores, after all, it was not open yet. However, the complete pre-grand opening experience was a complete disaster from a guests perspective.

The entire Cars Land area was quarantined with large walls hiding the attractions from view. That could be expected since it was not scheduled to open for 3 more days. However, what really made us feel like second hand guests was that apparently Disney had been raffling off early admission tickets to Cars Land. As a result, we were practically the only guests in the park that day that did not have wristbands granting admission.

120611 Disney's California Adventure (10) Carsland Entrance

The ominous wall of separation.

One-by-one, hundreds of guests rushed into the Cars Land area to experience the new attraction in all of its glory. Seeing every guest hurry in to see the Cars Land exhibits made us feel inferior as guests and sucked the life out of us. The feeling at that moment was completely hard to explain. After having a great morning in the DCA park, it literally felt like the rug was pulled out from under us, forcing us to feel slighted for the remainder of the day. We would have gotten great satisfaction out of just walking through the area. Instead, we had to hear all of the excitement on the other side of the walls as guests enjoyed the various attractions.

120611 Disney's California Adventure (8) Carsland from Ferris Wheel

This Cars Land view was as good as it was going to get for outsiders.

When it comes to Disney, it is always about the customer experience, the fantasy, and the magic, and this one time, Disney did not uphold its end of the bargain. With all of the expansions going on at both U.S. based Disney parks, the new areas should be either opened or closed. Do not make guests, that have no idea of the early raffling of tickets, stand around wishing they could have gotten a glimpse of what the new areas had to offer. For once, a Disney detail was not well thought out from the guests perspective.

120611 Disney's California Adventure (2) Corn Dog Castle

Some GREAT corn dogs to pass the time.

Following our dismay, we proceeded to try and kill enough time for the rest of the day until World of Color started. This is the second blunder of the day, when we realized DCA is not a full-day park. There simply is not enough stuff to do to fill an entire day, especially when you have young children and riding some of the larger rides is not an option.

By the late afternoon, there is only so many times you can continue walking through the Sourdough exhibit, or going Under the Sea. Keep in mind, our visit was also right before the opening of Buena Vista Street, so another area off limits of the park.

If there is one thing I learned, it is try and avoid visiting the parks during a major expansion project. At least at the smaller California Adventure park, because with select areas shut down, filling an entire day proved to be a monumental task.

120611 Disney's California Adventure (6) 120611 Disney's California Adventure (5) 120611 Disney's California Adventure (3) 120611 Disney's California Adventure (7)

We found ourselves riding stuff like the Little Mermaid ride over and over again, just to try and make it to the finale. However, when the World of Color finally started, we quickly learned that despite the days blunders, Disney really does know how to entertain.

The picture on the left (above) represents the ticketed, standing-room only area for the World of Color show. We pre-purchased the picnic lunches, which also gave us reserve tickets for the close end. The secret is that once inside the gated area, you are free to claim your spot anywhere you would like. So we made our way towards the middle and claimed our perfect viewing location.

(For those reading this post via email, click here to watch the video over on my site.)

The World of Color show is a spectacular array of water, lights, and music from all the Disney movie favorites. The show is approximately 30 minutes long, and well worth the wait. Think of the Bellagio fountains, but more wonderful and mixed with the emotions that Disney movies conjure.

The video above is the complete show, and still brings goosebumps to my skin watching it. The magic of the music, the lights, and the stories is oh so Disney.

If it was not for the World of Color, Disney’s California Adventure would have been a complete bust on this trip. I understand Disney has a system they have worked out, which probably works for them, but when you get shunned aside in a Disney Park, it tends to stand out.

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