Disneyland: California Adventure

Today, I'm wrapping up my Disneyland trip reports.  It would've been a very sad Sunday indeed, but I think I've got a pretty good finale! This one is all about California Adventure!

In past years, my interest in this park was at a bare minimum. It didn't quite invoke the same nostalgia or charm that Disneyland could, and many of its colorful shops and eateries were just downright confusing...or...*gasp* tacky. (Again, I ask, who remembers Pizza Oom Mow Mow? Or, better yet, the Soap Opera Bistro?!) My family and I have been able to literally circle our favorites on a map and focus on what worked for us, completely bypassing sections of the park. Half of a day, tops, is all we would need to get our fill of California Adventure.

The theme park's massive billion-dollar expansion, though, truly changed all of that. Dating back to 2007, renovations included the Toy Story Mania ride, re-theming of certain attractions, the Little Mermaid ride, and the innovative World of Color show. The makeover finally culminated in June 2012, with the opening of Buena Vista Street and the highly anticipated Cars Land.

My parents (left), my aunt & uncle, and all of the grandkids
During this particular trip, we wanted to make sure that the boys (big Cars fans) would be able to ride Radiator Springs Racers, so we also had to make sure that we arrived early enough to grab Fast Passes. These passes ensure that you and your party won't have to wait 2-3 hours in line, but they can go quickly, "selling out" as soon as 1 hour after the park opens.

If you'd like to get in line for your family's Fast Passes, there are a few things to remember:
- The distribution machines are actually located at the entrance of A Bug's Land, near It's Tough To Be A Bug!
- Try to arrive as early as you possibly can. The line does move quickly, and passes can be gone within a couple of hours on crowded days.
- Every park ticket that you plan on using to obtain a Fast Pass needs to have been scanned at the entrance gate. Translation: One person can't wake up early, collect everyone's tickets, then head to the park to grab passes for the whole group. Everyone doesn't have to stand in line together, but any one that plans on riding has to actually be in the park already.
Once my family had our highly sought-after passes safely tucked away, we continued right into A Bug's Land. Even before "The Extreme Makeover", A Bug's Land was one of our favorites. The theme caters perfectly to the youngsters in our family. The 3D It's Tough To Be A Bug! show is even one of my mom's favorite things in the entire park, and the more...interactive...portions of the show are fun for the kids! :)

As for character presence, Flik is always around, taking photos, and signing autographs.

The rides in this land are also much gentler, so you can bring even your tiniest tots along.

For me,  the amount of shade in this area has always been something to appreciate. Since you're supposed to feel like you've been reduced to the height of a bug, the super-sized trees and plants provide plenty of shelter from the hot sun.

Have time for a snack? It's time for a churro! Here, you can enjoy your fresh hot churro on a bench that looks like it was made from popsicle sticks (hoarded by insects after humans tossed them aside, of course). I think that's why A Bug's Land has been such a successful themed land for us, because of so many playful and whimsical details like that one.

Later on in the day, we moved closer to Paradise Bay. The nighttime spectacular, World of Color, takes place here. Mickey's Fun Wheel and the California Screamin' rollercoaster even have lights that synchronize with the show. Closer to showtime, park guests fill up Paradise Park (the standing-only viewing area on the right of this photo).

Overlooking Paradise Park is Ariel's Undersea Adventure. As expected with any little girl, Jacquelyn wanted to ride this Little Mermaid attraction about 20 times in a row!

This was also a nice spot for us to catch the Pixar Play Parade. The parade went on hiatus during the park's construction process, but returned in June 2012. This was actually my first chance to watch the whole thing since it underwent a few changes. I loved seeing all of the great Pixar movies represented, from Toy Story to The Incredibles. While I'm a little sad that Ratatouille is no longer included (Little Chef!), Finding Nemo is definitely my new favorite float! The kids really loved the performers with puppets and stilts, and they went crazy every time the audience got sprayed with water.

On the other side of Paradise Bay, we went for a ride on Toy Story Midway Mania (another of the Extreme Makeover additions) and...

...California Screamin'! An oldie, but a goodie :) My sister, Jeremiah, and the grandpas had a blast!

There are also some tasty soft-serve treats to be had at Paradise Pier Ice Cream Co.

Any time we're in this corner of the park, I can't resist the Coca Cola Boardwalk Float!

The frosty refreshments didn't end there, though. We also stopped at the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain & Chocolate Shop, which opened in June 2012 as well. Tourists in San Francisco love to visit Ghirardelli Square, often buying bags of their signature chocolate squares as souvenirs, so this place was a wonderful way to add another San Francisco touch to the Pacific Wharf.

Plus, everybody knows what a big fan I am of Ghirardelli sundaes at Giants games...I was extremely excited to enjoy a Ghirardelli sundae at a Disney park! This time, I had the "Strike It Rich", with butter pecan and vanilla ice cream smothered in butterscotch and hot fudge.

Shakas & Peace Signs!
Finally, we made our way to Cars Land! (There's a pathway that cuts from the Ghirardelli shop straight into Cars Land. Perfect.)

Our first ride was Mater's Junkyard Jamboree! All of the old oil barrels, stray car parts, and rusty road signs and license plates really created a fun, colorful take on an actual junkyard. (Bonus: Mater's voice-over is hilarious.)

Tractors swing you around in circles, moving all across the junkyard. The boys loved this ride so much that they rode it a couple of times in a row!

As awesome as a day in Cars Land can be, I think that Radiator Springs looks even more amazing at night. The glowing neon lights make the whole town a really beautiful sight to see, and you feel like you've been dropped right in the middle of the Cars movie.

The strings of lights and rose garden at Luigi's Casa Della Tires give the ride an unexpected romantic charm. (Well, as romantic as hovering/gliding around on a tire could be...)

At last, our Fast Passes' return time had come along and it was time to head over to Radiator Springs Racers! We showed our tickets to the cast member and practically strolled right up to the boarding station! In fact, while we were walking to the front and passing by a lot of people, we thought we might've gone the wrong way. Nope. Our line was just that short

And, in my opinion, riding Radiator Springs Racers at night is even better than riding it during the day. Certain elements, like the waterfall and the mountain range itself, just look more grand against the night sky.

Once you've ridden all you can and are ready for some sustenance, there are two dining options in Cars Land. For a satisfying snack, pull up to the Cozy Cone Motel and order up some flavored popcorn or a hand-held bread cone filled with chili! I had the churro bites during my first visit to the Cozy Cone Motel last year, and they were delicious. (Mmm churros.)

For a full dinner, try Flo's V8 Cafe. This diner serves up home-style cooking, like the Pork Loin with Coca Cola BBQ Sauce and their signature pies.

The first thing that I tried was Mater's Tulsa Tea, a sweetened green tea topped with a tropical fruit foam. Now, this is the third foam-topped beverage that I've sampled at the parks (after Red's Apple Freeze and the PB&J soda)...and I still don't know how I feel about this foam! Overall, the drinks' flavors are enjoyable, but the texture of the foam will take some getting used to.

My sister and I tried the roasted turkey breast with old-fashioned turkey gravy, mashed potatoes, and a cold pasta salad. On the side, the platter came with a garlic-chive roll and a sauce. My first intinct was that the sauce was just ordinary cranberry, but it had a nice spicy kick to it. The roll was also soft and flavorful, far from a boring piece of bread.

The turkey was served with plenty of gravy, so it wasn't too dry. The "Radiator" Pasta Salad had grape tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and red onions, and the whole salad was coated with a creamy dressing. I loved the shape of the radiatore pasta, an adorable play on the Radiator Springs name!

Other dishes that I didn't get to photograph include my dad's Citrus Turkey Salad with Tarragon Dressing (huge portion!), my brother-in-law's Pork Loin with Coco Cola BBQ Sauce and Vegetarian Baked Beans, and the kids' meals that came in a Lightning McQueen carrier. Everyone was very happy with their food, a filling meal after a long day!

Another memorable feature at Flo's is the dining room. One area is decorated like a doctor's office (for cars, of course), one is filled with memorabilia from Flo's singing career, and the last one is dedicated to Hudson Hornet. My favorite, and where we ended up sitting, is the room dedicated to Hudson Hornet. Checkered floors that mimic racing flags, dark wood furniture, and leather booths...it had a great old-fashioned feel to it! Unique artwork adorns the walls, and all three Piston Cups are elegantly displayed in a trophy case. Thanks to the quality food and the atmosphere, I can't wait to come back to Flo's V8 Cafe!

California Adventure used to be a hodgepodge of...stuff, with many Disney fans deeming the park a failure. Nowadays, we can rejoice and revel in the new-and-improved California Adventure. There are so many exciting and interesting additions to see, from more captivating rides to more enjoyable eateries. (I didn't even get to cover Buena Vista Street in this post!) If you and your family are planning a trip to the Disney parks & resorts, don't be afraid to spend some time on the California Adventure side! I'm certainly glad that my cousin and her sons got to see this version while they were vacationing with us. The park is no longer an afterthought, but a genuine memory-making destination!