Dueling Disney: Best Second Gate

Written by Keith Gluck. Posted in Buena Vista Street, Cars Land, Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Dueling Disney, Epcot, Features, Keith Gluck, Walt Disney World

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Published on June 19, 2013 at 2:00 am with 35 Comments

The term “second gate” refers to a resort’s second theme park. Disney’s first second gate, EPCOT Center, opened in Walt Disney World in October of 1982. Disneyland didn’t get its second gate, Disney’s California Adventure (as it was known then), until February of 2001.

In terms of when they opened, these gates will always be #2 in their respective resorts. But today, we shall venture to determine which #2 is #1!

(As usual, Keith is representing Disneyland, while Jeff represents Walt Disney World)

Topic 11: Second Gate

Jeff: When it opened in 1982, EPCOT was the crowning achievement in edutainment, creating the perfect cross-over between a learning experience and having fun at a theme park.

Keith: Um, what.

Jeff: What what? Was there a part of that you didn’t understand? I’m trying to state why EPCOT was practically the pinnacle of Disney Theme Park entertainment in its heyday.

Keith: Um. WHAT.

Jeff: You know, EPCOT? As in Walt Disney World? As in the superior second gate, especially when compared to California Adventure?

Keith: We’re doing Epcot vs. California Adventure? Really?

Jeff: Yes, really. You agreed to this one!

Keith: I thought you were joking!

Jeff: There are two things I never joke about, dear Keith. And one of them is EPCOT.

Keith: What’s the other thing?

Jeff: None of your business.

Keith: Well, here goes. Disneyland’s second gate, Disney California Adventure, opened on June 15, 2012–

Jeff: Wait, wait, wait…that’s not right. It opened in February 2001…not in 2012. You’re a bit off on your years there, buddy.

Keith: No I’m not.

Jeff: Uh…yeah, you are. You want to go back and fact check, Mr. Know-It-All?

Keith: Oh! You’re talking about the park that was said to open on February 8, 2001? The one that was meant to emulate the experience of the entire Golden State, and after walking through or around 11-foot tall letters that spelled out “California,” you entered what looked like a side entrance? And upon further walking, you could hear basically the same six California-themed songs played over and over, as the visual feast of: shops designed to look like a train, a “Greetings from California” retail store complete with “understated” huge postcard sign adorning its entrance, and a gaudy tin-looking Sun Icon which became known by many Disney fans as “the hubcap,” all vied for your attention? All of this before you sprinted to such E-ticket attractions as the Maliboomer, or SuperStar Limo?


Jeff: Yeah, that’s the one.

Keith: Never happened.

Jeff: Never happened?

Keith: Don’t be so naive, Jeff! It’s just a story grown-ups tell kids around campfires to scare the crap out of them.

Jeff: Oh. Well…it works.

Keith: When Disney California Adventure opened on June 15, 2012, it was home to eight themed areas: Buena Vista Street, Hollywood Land, Condor Flats, Grizzly Peak, Paradise Pier, Pacific Wharf, A Bug’s Land, and Cars Land.

Jeff: Alright, well, if you want to play it that way, then you must already know how beat you are. Because allow me to talk a little bit about Walt Disney World’s second gate, EPCOT Center. And watch me NOT lie about it.

EPCOT Center opened in October 1982. AND it was a huge success, unlike some other Parks I can think of. While it wasn’t Walt’s original idea for EPCOT, as an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, it was a step in the right direction. The Park opened as a form of “edutainment” for families; this meant it snuck a bit of learning into all the fun kids were having! It was a sort of permanent World’s Fair, in a lot of ways.

EPCOT Center opened with two distinct areas, each with own sub-themes. The first half of the Park is known as Future World, which explored innovative new concepts, and how they could be applied to everyday living. In its heyday, there were 8 Pavilions that were part of Future World, including The Land, CommuniCore, World of Motion, Imagination, Horizons, Spaceship Earth, Universe of Energy, The Living Seas and Wonders of Life.

Keith: I sure do love Epcot. I wish I were there right now. I think walking around World Showcase at dusk might be one of my favorite things to do in all of Disney. Did you know that the Eiffel Tower in the France pavilion was built using the very blueprints drawn up by Gustave Eiffel? It is one-tenth the size of the real Eiffel Tower, and was constructed without its base since that part was never intended for guests to see, as it would throw of the illusion of the landmark being “off in the distance.”

Oh wait, what am I talking about again? Oh yeah, DCA. Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue! is fun. Although why it’s in Hollywood Land, I have no idea. Grizzly Peak is nice to walk through. I actually miss Golden Dreams. It was corny, but inspiring. And as a Californian, it was cool seeing some of our history acted out. I enjoyed the montage at the end. Who doesn’t love seeing Ice Cube in a Disney attraction? Plus it obviously reminded me of the American Adventure in Epcot.

Ahhh, Epcot. Hey Jeff, did you know that the mechanism that changes the scenes in the American Adventure show is 65-feet wide, weighs 175 tons, and is controlled by over two dozen computers? I think the American Adventure may be one of the best shows Disney has ever done. When Ben Franklin traverses those stairs, then walks towards Thomas Jefferson… I mean, wow.


Jeff: Why am I even bothering to make any sort of retaliation? You’re doing all my work for me! I mean, I clearly don’t mind. But heck, don’t you have a park you should be defending?!

Even though you were just going on about World Showcase, let me back up to talk about Future World again. Because it was amazing.

Now, each Pavilion had a distinct focus, to help guests learn about the achievements of the past while looking toward the improvements of the future. For example, The Land (my favorite pavilion, even to this day), teaches you all about how plants are grown and cultivated, even in the harshest of climates. One of the most interesting bits in the pavilion is learning about hydroponics, in which plants grow without soil. Living with the Land is a slow paced, but highly entertaining, attraction in which you can learn all about it.

Moving along, Spaceship Earth, though different today than it was 30 years ago, is all about the history of communication. You’ll learn how it was formed in the earliest of days, all the way up to how it may be used in our future.

And even though World of Motion, Horizons, and Wonders of Life may be defunct, the messages they carried are still alive and well in EPCOT today, in some form or another. Yes, I miss the desert of Mesa Verde as much as the next DisGeek, but it will always live on in our hearts.

And I’d be remiss without mentioning CommuniCore, the namesake of the podcast I co-host with George Taylor, Communicore Weekly. In case you’ve forgotten, it’s the Greatest Online Show ™. The pavilion was dedicated to technological advances, and allowed guests to interact with highly entertaining exhibits, such as chatting with SMRT-1 or Compute-A-Coaster.

Surely you had things like that at DCA, right, Keith?

Keith: Oh! I’ve heard of that Communicore podcast. How often does it air, again?

Jeff: …weekly, Keith. It airs weekly.

Keith: Oh, and no, bud. While over there nothing was astuter, than your computer, over here we were giving guests tours of a working tortilla factory, and letting them guess their weight in tortillas. We were letting people guess their weight in tortillas.

Jeff: For the record, I probably weigh about 17 tortillas. Soaking wet.

Keith: I’ll bring you to the gym with me.

Jeff: Thank you.


Keith: On the upside, Cars Land has proven to be a bona fide success. I was puzzled at first as to why they selected such a mediocre movie from the rich bank of Pixar films to choose from. But then, oh yeah, Route 66. “California” Adventure. Got it. That said, is Monstropolis in California? And was The Little Mermaid set in California? It may sound nitpicky, but this was the short-sighted problem with theming an entire park around one state in the first place.

Back to the upside: The Tower of Terror is a fantastic attraction, with one of the best queues in all of Disney. Soarin’ Over California has been a staple since DCA’s opening day. Truth be told it’s been needing an update for a while, but it still remains an enjoyable attraction, with very reasonable wait times (ha! take that, Epcot!). I love the lobby of the Animation Building, and sometimes sit through the entire movie loop. I also dig the Aladdin stage show, which is now Broadway-bound!

In June of 2010, World of Color joined the Disney ranks of “nighttime spectaculars,” and has been an enormous success. When it first premiered, it utilized brand-new technology that was created specifically for the show. World of Color uses music, lasers, fog, fire, surround sound, and close to 1,200 fountains to tell its ever-changing story.

Jeff: You know, I didn’t even get over to World Showcase yet, and it’s pretty obvious that I’m going to cream you on this one.

But anyway, yes, on the back half of EPCOT sits World Showcase, where one can go to experience the culture (and food!) of the many different countries that sit along the lagoon. In the mood to learn about Mexico, while sipping a margarita, and riding on the Three Caballeros boat ride? Mexico has you covered! Perhaps the far east is more your style, and you’d like to take in a 360 degree film while learning a little culture. China is the place to be for you! Or maybe you’d even like to have some fresh water from something that looks like a shampoo bottle, while going “back…back over the falls” to get away from some trolls. Then the NOOOOORWAAAAY PAAAVILIOOOOOON is your destination. World Showcase has tons of stuff for the young and old to do (and learn) while strolling through.

And if you want a nighttime spectacular, look no further than IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, which is a laser, firework, and sound-filled delight.

You really can’t beat me, Keith.


Keith: Winning was never an option.

I positively, wholeheartedly, unequivocally, unabashedly concede to you this round, my friend. On no planet in no galaxy is there a California Adventure that trumps Epcot. What makes it worse is all the research you and I did recently on WESTCOT (hey, we should give a presentation about that one day). Knowing how amazing WESTCOT would have been, and seeing what was handed to us in 2001, makes matters that much worse.

I will say that Disney did a terrific job leading up to the 2012 Grand Re-Opening. Buena Vista Street is insanely gorgeous, and in my opinion captures the spirit of Walt beautifully. Many times while there I’ll just sit on a bench and relax, enjoying the atmosphere. I would rather have seen the Carthay Circle open as a film, or some sort of attraction, but it is a lovely restaurant, and 1901 is a nice compliment to Club 33. I also adore the Red Cars, Elias & Co., Oswald’s, the Storytellers Statue, etc. I’ve stated more than once that I feel Buena Vista Street is the crown jewel of DCA 2.0, not Cars Land.

But it’s still not enough to hang with Epcot. I am not a fan of Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. I like Toy Story Midway Mania, but the whole Paradise Pier area will never sit well with me. I know what they were trying to do, but it’s still the exact thing Walt didn’t want. My friend who hadn’t been to Disney since the 90s went to Disneyland recently, and he commented on California Screamin’: “I liked the roller coaster, but it was weird because it didn’t feel very Disney.” And what’s up with the raves? At night when I board a majestic Red Car in Buena Vista Street headed towards the Tower of Terror, and upon passing the Animation Building begin to hear the thumping sounds of trip-hop as grown men with pacifiers saunter in and out of the Monsters, Inc. area, it does not exactly enhance my Disney experience.

While it may sound like I hate DCA, haha, that is not the case. Since June of 2012 (I was actually there on “Re-Opening Day”) it has become quite the viable park, and I do spend time there when I head down south. Sure it’s heartbreaking that there will never be a Spacestation Earth across from Disneyland, but we’ve got to make due with what we’ve got. That said, it’s no Epcot.

Hey, that rhymed.

What are your guys’ thoughts? Does Epcot really trump DCA, or are Keith & Jeff (in this case) both wrong and DCA is the superior 2nd gate? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Dueling Disney is written by Jeff Heimbuch & Keith Gluck

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

You can follow us on Twitter: @DisneyProject and @JeffHeimbuch

About Keith Gluck

Keith Gluck writes for and volunteers at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. He also runs a Disney blog called thedisneyproject.com, and travels to Disney Parks as often as he can. A fan of many facets of The Disney Company, Keith's main interest is the life and legacy of Walt Disney. For questions/comments, or to request a certain topic be covered, please send an email to: [email protected] Twitter: @DisneyProject Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Disney-Project/194569877288847

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  • Jabroniville

    I enjoyed DCA just fine (I’ve never been to Disney World/Epcot), but I found it to be a rather disjointed place, full of “well THIS movie is hot, and we can’t fit the ride in Disneyland, so…” stuff rather than actual themed areas that fit well. I guess that’s what happens when you flounder a park badly the first go-around, and have to rebuild things later. At the rate they’re going, it might be wiser to just re-coin the whole thing as a Pixar-themed place with a few token “extras” out there, because the general theme is very weird.

  • Aotphks

    Funny, this report is about Disney’s BEST 2nd gate but no one talked about it: TOKYO DISNEY SEA. California Adventures and Epcot? yes they are adequate, but neither is close to being the best.

  • kingcooger

    Is there a reason, Keith, that you did not at least put a little pressure on Jeff about the fact that Epcot has more restaurants than actual attractions?

  • PecosBill

    Next time give Keith a fighting chance and debate DCA vs. DHS.

    • Johnny

      I agree. Comparing DCA to EPCOT is like comparing the Magic Kingdom to EPCOT. They are far too different.

  • holierthanthoutx

    Epcot will win for me every time. On any given trip to WDW, we’ll spend at least half the trip in Epcot — more than the other three parks combined. Can’t say the same for DCA, which, while vastly improved, only occupied roughly a third of our time at the Disneyland Resort on our last visit.

  • Anonymouse

    1) Cars Land makes DCA feel fresher because it’s new, but thats very deceptive because it masks the fact that, while Cars Land is impressive, the wonder of it all quickly fades on multiple visits because it’s all theming and no content.

    Epcot may be viewed as “boring” but it’s a cohesive concept rather than a jumbled mess. The layout and planning made sense. DCA was someone using extra frosting to hide that the cake broke apart during baking because DCA is a compilation of mistakes.

    2) They are nitpicking about Monsters Inc and Ariel not fitting the “California” theme, but Cars Land isn’t actually California either. It’s based more off Arizona which doesn’t make sense.

    3) Buena Vista street is worse where it’s theme ONLY appeals to people who want to read about why it’s interesting. Most people walk right through and completely ignore the shops, the lady with the dog or the ‘historic” monuments. (The themed Mickey and friends are cool photo ops, but sadly the Mickey/Disney statue NEVER has people lining up to photograph)

    4) The Entire California Theme. The biggest flaw in DCA is that they had to revolve around this California Theme that just didn’t work and if over-influenced the choices they made. Paradise Pier? Buena Vista Street? Condor Flats? Radiator Springs? These are such vague representations of the state that mean very little to Californian’s or tourists.

  • Terrytiger

    As a Californian who now lives in FL, Epcot is a very stale park. If it wasn’t for Flower & Garden in the spring and Food & Wine in the fall, I doubt many would even visit that park regularly. I don’t. It is my LEAST favorite Disney park. I love the restaurants of World Showcase, but I don’t care about shopping and there isn’t a lot of other things to do there. FutureWorld is sadly UN-futuristic (Test Track redo is the ONLY fururistic thing now in the park). DCA was very inadequate for it’s first 11 years but is now a worthy 2nd gate to the MotherPark. But in reality, DisneySea is by far the best Disney 2nd gate.

  • Primogen

    I love Epcot — or rather, I love the idea of Epcot. Unfortunately, Epcot has been losing potential rather than living up to it. Attractions in The Land and Wonders of Life pavilion have closed and never been replaced, and several planned World Showcase country pavilions never became a reality.

    Meanwhile, DCA has dramatically improved with the additions and changes made last year. While its theme is probably irreversibly jumbled, it’s now a worthwhile entertainment experience and likely to continue to improve as Disney takes advantages of property acquisitions that don’t fit into the more cohesively themed Magic Kingdom park across from it.

  • LoveStallion

    Arguably one of the funnier Dueling Disneys I’ve read. Thanks, guys.

    I agree with the comments about DCA’s obvious shortcomings. And while the quality is better now, the overall cohesiveness is not. The disastrous 2001 version at least sort of made sense from a thematic standpoint, even if that theme in and of itself is flawed.

    I do wish that MiceChat would devote more energy to the non-US parks. In no world would Walt Disney Studios in Paris beat even, um, Knott’s Berry Farm, but DisneySea is the crown jewel of global theme parks. I challenge anyone to find a way to refute that.

    • Jabroniville

      I think it’s just WAY too difficult to get all the way out there- you can’t just get a yearly pass like they probably do to all the local Disney parks in the States. Maybe some kind of foreign correspondent could, but that would still cost a TON of money, I would imagine.

    • Jeff Heimbuch

      If someone wants to pay for me to go out there all the time, I will gladly cover it more often!

      There are a few folks on here who do cover the overseas parks, mostly DLP, but if there are any folks who would be willing to do Tokyo, I’m sure MC would love it!

  • ttintagel

    I voted for my beloved EPCOT, but it’s weird how much better DCA has gotten over the years, while Future World has been allowed to decline. If they keep going in these directions they may meet in the middle.

  • horizonsfan

    Please. When it opened in the ’80s, EPCOT was equal (if not better than the Magic Kingdom). Now I can’t make that claim, but it’s still great. Nice job making this a fun post. When I saw the title, I thought you had to be using DisneySea since DCA is a silly choice.

  • eicarr

    I have to be honest, and it pains me, but if they were side-by side I would enter the tightly packed with fun DCA every time. EPCOT’s comically stretched out layout and sparse and dry museum-like attractions seems to stretch out a visit and book another night at a WDW hotel. There will be a clear passing of Epcot with the next round of updates to DCA. Disney Sea however, would still be the best second gate for now.

    EPCOT is turing into DCA 1.0.

    Epcot’s slide makes me so sad. EPCOT was my favorite WDW park and was justification for going to that oppressive climate. It was the one park I looked forward to at WDW, but it went downhill so much from its original cohesive master plan that its advantage over DCA as almost a double park (future world and world showcase) is slipping away as it turns into a middle america dinning experience with smaller attractions replacing its older massive awe-inducing rides.

    • Professor Brainard

      Just the thought of middle Americans dinning makes my flesh crawl.

  • davidrusk

    Epcot = too much concrete and not enough attractions.

  • LoonAZ

    We just visited WDW for the first time this past spring. So I have no nostalgia for what EPCOT used to be, but in its current state I found EPCOT to be a let down and relatively boring. Like others have said, too spread out, too many shops and restaurants, old attractions getting long-in-the-tooth and run down, and very little must-do attractions. In fact, my wife and I got so bored that we park hopped to the Magic Kingdom to bide time while we waited for Illuminations later that evening.

    I give in to the fact that EPCOT is very beautiful and World Showcase is stunning. But as we are planning our trip back to WDW next spring with my daughter and grandkids, we have already decided to skip a visit to EPCOT because I’m sure the kids would rather spend another day at Magic Kingdom rather than the “boring museum” (and I love me a good museum).

    Mark another vote for DCA from me.

  • Malificent2000

    Why are there people saying that they should have compared Disney Seas? Have you not been following this post? Its about comparing the two coast, not Tokyo or any other park around the world. Ok, enough with my rant!

    This is a hard one for me to pick. I worked in Guest Relations at Epcot back during the Millennium Celebration, and loved every minute of it. From opening day to the end of the Millennium Celebration, this was my favorite park. Grabbing a frozen margarita from Mexico and watching the Tapestry of Nations parade was a highlight for me on a day off from work. But now I go to Epcot and I find it so sad and depressing. While World Showcase is still a amazing part of the park, I find that I tend to just wonder through the park and then leave.

    DCA 2.0 on the other hand has me falling in love all over again with Imagineering and the potential of what Disney can do. Yes, the opening and 1st decade of operation were sad, but now the park holds its own and is busier than Disneyland some days. Carthay Circle is one of Disney’s best dining experiences, World of Color is by far the best night time entertainment out there, and who doesnt love having their own private entrance to the park from the Grand Californian?

    I would have to say that these two parks are on equal footing. Epcot being the once awesome park and DCA the once sad pathetic park… now have switched spots. I only hope that Epcot will someday get the TLC that it deserves and that DCA keeps getting better and better.