From Flop to Fortune – DCA

The Beach Boys are the ultimate band to represent California, so naturally you would hear the Beach Boys’ California Girls as background music as you and perhaps 400 others entered Disney’s California Adventure Park through Sunshine Pier in 2001. Yes, you and only 400 other people were entering the park on February 8, 2001. The opening of California Adventure was a complete flop. In 2001 the park hosted about 5 million people, while just around the riverbend, Disneyland held 12.3 million visitors.

The lack of success in Disneyland’s sister park was due to its low-budget build at only $650 million. Guests said the California theme was redundant, there were no rides for the children, there were no real “E” attractions and the park overall did not feel the spirited way a Disney park should.

With so many complaints, and so little visitors, Disney had to change something about this new park. In 2005, the Company removed Michael Eisner as CEO of Disneyland and replaced him with Robert Iger. Iger dreamt up grand things for the California-themed park. In 2007 he announced a major $1.1 billion reconstruction and expansion of the entire park. It took five years to do it, but in the end, Iger transformed Disney’s California Adventure into Disney California Adventure, the new and improved sister park to Disneyland, hosting around 8.7 million people in 2012. On June 15, 2012 (two days before the anniversary of Disneyland’s opening day) Iger rededicated Disney California Adventure, with its new, non-possessive name.

dca transformation
Paradise Pier in 2001 versus Paradise Pier in 2015

The extreme change in Disney California Adventure resulted in a complete conversion of the entrance as well. Before 2012, huge letters spelling out “CALIFORNIA” in front of the park’s entrance greeted incoming guests. These letters now live at Cal Expo in Sacramento. A miniature version of the Golden Gate Bridge built in Sunshine Plaza could be seen behind the entrance gates. This all changed during construction. Sunshine Plaza became Buena Vista Street and leads into Carthay Circle.

Disney’s California Adventure entrance before reconstruction

Disney California Adventure became a new park within a decade, but not everything changed. You can still hear the Beach Boys singing California Girls as you stroll into the revamped California Adventure Park.