The Disney California Adventure, though slightly smaller than the neighbouring Disneyland Park, boasts an impressive list of attractions and entertainment. Unless you have two full days at the California Adventure park and a great strategy to get around, you will not be able to get on all the rides and watch all the shows.
And so, here are the top 9 rides and shows that you should prioritize when you’re there –
9. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
A nondescript ride on first glance, the Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree in Car Lands feature a bunch of tow trucks twirling to an upbeat tune. The vehicles spin around in the shape of the number ‘8’ as though the trucks are dancing. Definitely more exciting than it looks.
A pretty good filler ride in between.
8. Soarin’ around the World
Take a trip around the world with this immersive ride!
Guests are seated on rows of seats that are elevated in front of a large curved screen. The seats simulate the movements of a soaring aircraft and bring you on an immersive journey around the world. The reel, projected on the large screen, is masterfully edited and brings riders from landmarks to heritage sites to iconic architecture, one after another. A great ride in California Adventure for those who are not into blood-pumping attractions.
7. Grizzly River Run
Every theme park needs a water ride and in California Adventure, you have the Grizzly River Run!
Sit in a circular boat and navigate through a series of rapids and currents. You will get seriously wet during the process! As with any typical theme park ride, the small rapids build up to a final fall. In the case of the Grizzly River Run though, the final descent was rather disappointing as (1) it was not that high a fall and; (2) boats have to ‘queue’ up to fall. This greatly discounts the surprise factor though overall, the ride was still rather enjoyable.
Coupled with the long waiting times, this ride ranks only a #7 on my list of rides and shows in California Adventure.
6. Frozen – Live at the Hyperion
A 60-minute musical that retells the entire story of the hit movie, Frozen. The highlight? Watching Queen Elsa go through a total transformation on stage as she belts out the crowd-favourite hit “Let it go”.
I was never a huge fan of the movie but with a relatively strong cast and ingenious sets and stage designs, it was not difficult to be taken in. The musical was enjoyable and they managed to recreate the iconic scene, where Queen Elsa unleashes her magic to conjure the ice castle, with some magical light projections and creative costume engineering.
5. Radiator Springs Racers
One of the most popular attractions in California Adventure Park, Radiator Springs Racers brings you on a road race through the desert terrain. Queue times for the ride can go more than 100 minutes! We waited for almost 30 minutes even with the fast pass. I know a lot of people actually helm this as their favorite ride, but it was just not the best for me.
The ride offers a combination of storytelling and thrill. Once you get into the car, you will be brought through the town to meet other characters (animatronics) who will help you get ready for the race. This portion of the ride was rather lengthy and bland.
Once you get that out of the way, the race begins and the car will zoom across the terrain, competing against the cars of other riders. This part was good. I wished they cut the race preparation shorter and focused more on the tracks.
Worth a try but no repeats for me.
Meet the Incredibles and experience their regular day of mayhem on this rollercoaster.
Not the most thrilling rollercoaster I’ve taken but definitely the most cohesive in terms of storytelling. The usual rollercoaster attraction delegates the storytelling component to the waiting areas and neglects it during the actual engineering of the ride. What’s amazing in Incredicoaster is how they’ve managed to weave in the day of the Incredibles family with the motions of the rollercoaster.
The ride starts with Jack-jack escaping under Edna’s care and the whole family being mobilized to catch him. Among other hilarious antics, Elastigirl stretching out across a tunnel trying to catch Jack-jack as he teleports to different spots in the tunnel is one of the most memorable for me. There’s also background audio for riders to follow the dialogues.
I took it twice and felt like I could appreciate the storyline better the second time around.
3. Toy Story Midway Mania
My first time taking this ride because queue times for this ride were so ridiculous in Tokyo Disneyland when I visited! Lucky for me, the queue times for this same ride in California Adventure is much more acceptable.
Toy Story Midway Mania is an interactive ride where riders go through a series of bounty-hunting arcade-style games. Compete against your fellow riders by using the ‘gun’ to shoot the coins appearing on the screens in front of you. Scores will be tabulated (obviously) so you’ll get a kick when you beat your partner. 😏
2. World of Colors
Definitely one of the best night shows for me in Disney parks! The World of Colors is a wonderful tribute to all the Disney films and characters.
Set in front of Pixar Pier in California Adventure Park, the man-made lake transforms into an enormous fountain as the show begins. Multiple light beams cloak the water jets with a gorgeous array of colours. Within the first few minutes of the show, the sprays of water mist transform into a canvas where a montage of endearing scenes from classics is projected onto it.
We were in the front section and got pretty soaked after that. Made it more immersive I’m sure!
1. Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
I didn’t have high expectations for Mission: BREAKOUT! since I knew it was refurbished from the previous Tower of Terror, which was slightly lacklustre.
However, Disney did such a huge revamp that the only similar thing to Tower of Terror is probably the gist of the ride, which is a high-speed, rough plummet. The new ride capitalised on this best element and introduced a much more thrilling experience.
Mission: BREAKOUT! takes place in the Collector’s Fortress. As you enter the fortress, you get to admire the collection of intergalactic loots amassed by the collector, Tivan, from the first installment of the series. Racoon intrudes and interrupts a video of Tivan introducing the tour, letting in that the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy crew is being locked up in the fortress.
Security scans in the fortress only allow humans to admit. So Racoon enlists you, a human, to help the crew break out. You scan your palms, get past the scans and get into the tour carriage. At the same time, this unlocks the cells for the crew.
What ensues is a series of unpredictable high-speed ascents and plunges as the breakout happens. And the ride doesn’t leave you out of the action as you’re flying off your seats! At well-timed intervals, windows to the carriage open up to let you in on the crew’s escape situation. The clips are deliberately filmed to have a realistic depth, making it even more engaging.
We took the ride four or five times (lost count!)! I think we only managed to fully appreciate all the nuances of the ride on our third. The engineering of movements and even the clips shown could be different from ride to ride. We observed only two variations but I understand that there’s up to six.
The ride also marries storytelling with the thrills desired from a theme park ride. It brings the much-loved onscreen cast in front of the viewers in a way that riders feel some sort of interaction. I loved this update and is looking forward to see what Disney theme parks can do with the rest of their equally well-loved franchises.
At #1, Mission: BREAKOUT really is one of those rides that you can take again and again and still be caught by surprise.