A Disney California Adventure

JAMES CROOT
Last updated 13:52 02/07/2012

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As many Kiwis head to Southern California for the school holidays, James Croot offers advice on the must do activities at the recently revamped Disney California Adventure.

Much has changed since I last visited Disneyland's sister theme park a decade ago. The company has spent $US1.1 billion overhauling California Adventure in a bid to boost flagging attendances. Their tinkering has culminated in the opening in mid-June of Cars Land, based on the popular Pixar films. Based on my experiences over two days recently, the crowds are back in force, which makes planning your day(s) vital. Here's my tips for the top 10 attractions:

Radiator Springs Racers - The park's newest ride and by far the most popular. Punters are placed in six seater cars which initially meander through talking tableauxs inspired by the Cars films. Then the ride shifts gears as you meet up with another car load and head outdoors for a high speed race, involving fast jumps and turns. A perfectly pitched light thrill ride that makes the currently lengthy wait worth it.

Toy Story Midway Mania - A ride so good it inspired a Wii game. Takes the traditional slow-moving revolving car ride and turns into an interactive shooters which will have coming back again and again. Placed in two-seaters, riders  don 3D glasses and are confronted by a series of shooting galleries where they try and get the highest score possible.  Great competition for couples and families.

Sorcerer's Workshop - Entertainment for all ages, especially if you need a break from the sun or a change of pace. Think Science Alive for Disney addicts, this labyrinthine attraction showcases a number of animation techniques via interactive displays. Two of the highlights include a recreation of the Beast's library (from Beauty and the Beast) where you can find out which Disney character your personality matches and a booth where you can try your own voiceover on some classic animation moments.

Muppet Vision - 3D - An attraction which really showcases Disney's attention to detail. A stunning recreation of the Muppet Theatre plays hosts to this short 3D cinematic and live-puppet spectacle. Viewers sport 3D glasses as Muppet Labs test out their latest experiments - expect bubbles, wind and plenty of laughs .

It's Tough To Be a Bug - Like the Muppets, this is another theatre-based four-dimensional viewer experience. Based on Pixar's film A Bug's Life, this offers a guide to some of the weird and wonderful creatures on Planet Earth. Of course, our presentation gets hijacked which means the audience gets sprayed and monstered by some very large spiders. Surprisingly scary, even for big kids.

Soarin' Over California - Part of the park since its inception, this ride is particularly popular amongst Dads. Riders are placed in one of three long rows which are then elevated and pushed out towards a massive IMax-esque projection of aerial views of the Bear State.  Feels like a chair-lift ride that seems hundreds of metres off the ground and moves up and down.

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Grizzly River Run - Every good theme park needs a water ride and this one is a doozy. Riders sit in an eight-seater circular, tyre-like vessel and are initially hauled to the top of the mountain before slowly wending their way back down and eventually being confronted by a couple of serious white water rapids. Warning - you will get wet, and have lots of fun.

Animation Academy - Situated in the same area as the Sorcerer's Workshop, this is basically a fun art class which runs every half-hour throughout the day. After suppling each audience member with a pencil and sheet of paper, a Disney animator teaches everyone how to draw a particular character step-by-step. I'm a terrible scribbler and even I managed a passable version of Daisy Duck, much to my wife's astonishment.

Disney's Aladdin - A Musical Spectacular- Can't afford tickets to the stage versions of The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast, then check out this all-singing, all-dancing version of the popular 1992 animated adventure. Plenty of humour, puppets and wirework ensure this take on Disney's "diamond in the rough" never drags and the vast auditorium usually means seats for all who want to attend.  The show is performed around five times a day.

World of Colour - Forget the nightly fireworks over the road in Disneyland, this is the hot evening ticket. Audiences huddle around the Park's Paradise Bay while a spectacular 40-minute sound and light show plays out. For older viewers, it will bring back memories of the Dunedin and Christchurch fountain shows, while younger ones will be in awe of the animated scenes projected onto the towering jets of water. Make sure you come early to get a good spot for either of the two nightly performances.

Hot Tips

Make sure you make use of the FastPass system. This allows you to reduce your queuing time by pre-booking a timeslot later in the day. Vital for rides like Radiator Springs Racers and the rollercoasters.  There's also one for World of Colour if you want to pre-book a good spot.

If you can bear splitting up, being a solo rider has its advantages. There are always single spots available on some of the bigger rides. For example, I had a 45-minute wait instead of 150-minutes for Radiator Springs Racers.

Don't attempt to take any food into the park. They'll take it off you.

Make sure you drink plenty of water and take breaks between thrill-rides.

- (Live Matches)

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