Three things are for sure in life, death, taxes and Disney theme parks having guided tours. Disney California Adventure now has a tour to call its own, but is it worth the $109 asking price? Read on and I will help you decide.
I’m not surprised DCA hasn’t had a tour up until now. Before the park’s billion dollar refurbishment was completed in 2012, there wasn’t much fodder for a Disney tour. Maybe they could have went through and pointed out all the puns (Bur-r-r Bank Ice Cream, get it?). But there weren’t many Disney references to go through and talk about. But now that Buena Vista Street exists as the park’s entrance area, there are Disney references every couple of feet. The tour takes advantage of this and starts off at DCA’s flag pole. Immediately the tour guide starts going through all the references, tributes and gags that are tied to Walt and the company’s history. There are so many references on Buena Vista Street that it wouldn’t be practical to point out all of them. But they still manage to cram a lot of information in to this portion of the tour. For fans of Walt Disney, and the history of the company in general, this will be the most interesting part of the tour.
After making several stops at points on Buena Vista Street, the group pauses for a moment in front of Carthay Circle Restaurant and gets a brief introduction to the building and its significance to Disney history (for those who don’t know, the original building is where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937). After that, our tour group was taken inside the 1901 Lounge. This lounge is usually exclusive to Club 33 members, but the tour enters in the morning before it is open to its usual clients. The walls inside 1901 are filled with vintage photos of Walt and his animators. One of the highlights is the wall of caricatures of the likenesses of Walt’s “Nine Old Men” group of animators. If you’ve already been inside 1901, then this part of the tour is no big deal. Especially considering you don’t stay long (the tour takes you through in about 15 minutes) and there are no pictures allowed. This is especially strange because pictures are usually allowed when you visit with a member, and pictures are also admitted when taking the Adventures by Disney tour that takes you through the club. If you’ve never been inside 1901 before this will be a good, but short, highlight of the tour.
From here the group is led to Condor Flats. Our guide gave us a brief explanation on the inspiration of the land (it was inspired by Edwards Air Force Base in California). We were also told the story you’ve probably heard a hundred times about how Soarin’ Over California was based on a erector set model by Imagineer Mark Sumner. After this, our group was taken to the front of Soarin’s line and immediately loaded front row center.
Before the tour began, each person in our group was provided with a headset and receiver. The tour guide talks in to a microphone and his or her voice is directly transmitted in to the group’s head sets. If you’ve ever taken a guided tour before you know that these head sets aren’t the most comfortable things in the world. But you have to get used to it because they’re crucial for clearly hearing the tour guide. The head sets are also used for transmitting voice clips from Walt Disney himself. After our ride on Soarin’, we walked through the Grizzly Peak area of the park while another voice clip of Walt played. After this we stopped near a Grizzly River Run and the guide shared a few facts about the land. This portion of the tour also includes a 15 minute rest stop where we were able to rest our feet or use a bathroom. At this point we were about one hour and fifteen minutes in to the tour.
The next stop was Paradise Park, where our guide gave us information on the inspirations behind the attractions in Paradise Pier. He shared some tidbits about The Little Mermaid and the importance the film had to the renaissance of Disney animation in the 90s. This part of the tour was short, which is strange considering Paradise Pier is the biggest land in the park.
Next up was a stop in Cars Land. We gathered at the beginning of Route 66 to hear a sound clip from John Lasseter about the story of Cars. Our tour guide told us how the land was originally planned as simply “Car Land” but then Pixar released Cars and those original plans were used as inspiration for the Cars Land we know today. Our group then skipped the line and were loaded on to Radiator Springs Racers.
After a brief stop in Bug’s Land, we were taken in to Hollywood Land. Our guide pointed out the Red Car Trolley and told us about the real life inspirations behind all the buildings that are in this area of the park. The group was then taken in to the animation building where we got to attend a class at Animation Academy. If you’ve never experienced this before, you are given a pencil and a sheet of paper and a artist will teach a class on how to draw a Disney character. I thought it was a bit strange for something like this to be on the tour. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun and other people in our group seemed to enjoy it. But I expect something a little but more special or unique to be on a tour that costs over $100. Animation Academy is a regular park attraction that runs from the park’s opening to closing, and while the group is given the front row of the theater, it doesn’t usually require a lot of waiting.
After Animation Academy our guide led us further down Hollywood Land and back on to Buena Vista Street. We were taken in to the lobby of Carthay Circle Restaurant where we were told about the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and given a bit more information on the history of the building itself. After this our tour was wrapped up and we were invited into Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe and given our lunch. This lunch is included in the price of the tour and includes entree, dessert and beverage. The food is simply not good at Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe (you can watch a review I did of one of their sandwiches), which is a shame considering DCA has a lot of good quick service dining options. Besides the food, lunch was nice because at this point you get a chance to chat with your tour guide and the other members of the tour. Our guide Steven was very friendly and knowledgeable. He made sure to give everyone in our group a good amount of face to face time. You never really know if Disney cast members are genuinely interested in what you have to say but Steven seemed like he was. Overall he was a nice guy that could easily hold a conversation with each person in the group. After lunch I looked at my clock and it was just past 1:30 PM. Overall it lasted just about three and a half hours.
So is the tour worth $109 (or $87 if you use an Annual Pass discount)? That depends on what you want out of it. If you just want to have access to rides or shows then it may not be worth your time or money. The tour only takes you on to Soarin’ Over California, Radiator Springs Racers and Animation Academy. There is also no backstage access on this tour, which I know a lot of people care about. But this tour may be for you if you’re a Disney, or more specifically Walt Disney, history junkie. However I will say all of the information on the tour can be found in the Imagineering Field Guide to Disney California Adventure book that was released a few months back. Thankfully the tour is never cheesy, it appropriately pays respect to Walt Disney and his legacy, as well as the many other people that made it all possible.
Have you taken the Disney California Story tour? Are you planning on taking it? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.