The afternoon was slowly changing into evening, and we had forgotten about Grizzly Rapids. It would certainly be less advantageous to an all day excursion at the park to be left wet for the rest of the day. We chose to ride anyway, and the queue was surprisingly full.
This choice yielded some unexpected benefits- time to take in the detailed queue, great photo opportunities, being immersed in the beautiful forest atmosphere- and getting partnered with a fun-loving family from the United Kingdom once it was our time to board.
While I firmly believe Disney settled for the expected and fairly cheap circular rafts instead of letting research and development come up with a true rafting experience, the ride is undeniably enjoyable. Would I like animatronics? You bet I would (and I hope they are added one day)! But overall, this is still a winner. (Animal Kingdom’s Kali River Rapids only dreams of being this good!) The views of the surrounding area are great, and the environment is rich. The spinning drop was not in operation, but that may have saved us. Our friendly Brits were absolutely soaked while we had a few splashes, nothing more.
We were left in good and dry shape to continue to the Challenge Trail. This was a new experience for both of us. The lower levels seemed fairly ordinary, and in the past, this had kept us from continuing on. This time, we did- much to our delight. The sun was now going down, providing a beautiful backdrop to our evening photos. The park ranger stations and theme transported us to another place. This was surprising as California Adventure has been rightly criticized for not doing this well. Feeling far away from the crowds of Southern California, it was awhile before I realized the best views of the area and the majestic mountain came from the rooms of the resort behind me. Conclude what you will about the designer’s motives in this being so.
By this point, the park’s crowds were thinning, making for a fairly short wait on another underrated attraction: Monsters Inc. This great ride with the strange facade holds up well visit after visit, earning the place of my favorite dark ride after Peter Pan Flight. Even though remnants of the odd Superstar Limo can be found, this ride has it all: detailed sets, a clear story (even if our on vehicle television screens didn’t work- poor show!) and endearing characters. How can you not love Sulley and Boo?
Surprisingly, I enjoyed our next stop more than I thought- Muppetvision 3D. The visuals were crisp, the theater looked brand new, and Kermit was as engaging as ever. Too bad the Muppets are past their prime. I’d bet that it is soon to go, however, as the show was a walk-on and our theater was almost empty.
Last of our pre-Screamin’ trio was the park’s other 3D experience. It’s Tough to Be a Bug was enjoyable as well, with another near empty theater. Let’s get real here: 3D attractions age quickly, and it is a poor choice of Michael Eisner’s to have this attraction housed in the centerpiece of the amazing Animal Kingdom theme park. Yet another example of a "C" ticket attraction found at an "E"ticket location.
It was now time for a newer tradition. Screamin’ left us breathless with laughter! Having been blessed with the front row, my daughter and I were delighted by the dark skyline and lit up park as we zoomed by. With the ugly Anaheim Convention Center and backstage areas more difficult to see, this attraction takes on a whole new feeling during the evening. Paradise Pier finally sparkles, taking on new life and energy. Buildings in the Golden State transform with an elegance unseen during the day. Disney’s lighting experts have reason to be proud of there work here.
After a disappointing ride on Mulholland Madness, (can we please just get rid of this embarrassment?), there were a few attractions left for us to experience. We wandered through Condor Flats, again stunning at night, and journeyed into A Bug’s Land to complete our rides for the day. Heimlich’s train was short but sweet, and Flik’s Flyers a little more thrilling than expected. The area was deserted except for a few other families, making for some great photos and walk on attractions. Heading toward the entrance area to view the Electrical Parade, we’d had a full but overall satisfying day.
Disney’s California Adventure is evolving, and mostly toward a better park than at opening. (Like the photo below says, Start Over!) There was Disney magic to be found. Recent changes have brought a mixed bag of unexpected successes and minor failures. Mistakes like removing the Eureka parade are balanced by some wonderful additions. There is still not much variety between thrills and films, with a low amount of attractions the whole family can enjoy together. Daytime clearly reveals the park's weaknesses and much of that involves outside diversions and the framework of Paradise Pier. Yet, the plans look promising to change some of California Adventure's harsher realities, even if it does involve many character additions. Our thoughts? We will be returning in 2012 when the amazing proposed changes are now realities in concrete.
Walt's original park was our destination for tomorrow- and we had to get some sleep.