Disney California Adventure, Anaheim, CA
Happy Friday, folks! If you haven't sensed a pattern, I've been compensating for less frequent updates lately by just packing the heck out of each update with more and more photos. Today is no different, so I hope you've set aside four hours, because we're going to dive straight into the newest bit of fancypants (I use that term loosely) at Disney California Adventure: the debut of Pixar Pier!
Actually, Pixar Pier opened a couple of weeks ago, and if the crowds are to be used as a measurement, it's actually been a pretty popular hit. As divisive as the concept has been among the internet Disney community, people have still flooded the backside (teehee) of the park to see the new Pixar offerings. And truthfully, as critical as I've personally been, there is a fair amount of a quality work here. But there are aspects of thematic inconsistency that also boggle my mind. So lets take a stroll through Themed Land Previously Known as Half Paradise Pier.
Pixar Pier retains a lot of the Victorian seaside amusement park aesthetic that characterized Paradise Pier. In fact, in some areas (directly across from the former Mickey's Fun Wheel), the Victorian look has even been extended. By and large, the refurbishments of the Victorian-inspired facades have turned out great. From Knick's Knacks and the Lamplight Lounge to the repainted Toy Story Midway Mania to the boardwalk games area, the vibrant colors and charming facades create a lovely ambiance that looks fantastic during the day and really sparkles with extra magic at night. Drawing inspiration from Tokyo Disney Sea's Toyville Trolley Park, Pixar Pier's entrance area, Toy Story Boardwalk, and Pixar Promenade all provide vibrant, articulated architecture that retains a hearty sense of nostalgia, and I consider those to be the strongest parts of Pixar Pier.
One thing that must also be said is that the opening of Pixar Pier has restored the energy and flow that has been missing from the entire Paradise Bay half of the park the past half year. The first two weekends have seen throngs of guests flock to experience the new Incredicoaster, enjoy the re-imagined Pixar Pal-A-Round, and play through Toy Story Midway Mania--not to mention take in the ambiance of an IP (intellectual property) that has--at this point--produced its fair share of classic movies for a whole generation of viewers. The crowds will likely die down as the novelty wears off, but it's nice to have foot traffic through the area once again.
The major non-attraction highlight of the Pixar Pier transformation was the Lamplight Lounge--the remodel of the former Ariel's Grotto and Cove Bar into a high end, luxury-casual establishment featuring gourmet cuisine and beverages in the vein of the Carthay Circle Restaurant. Cove Bar and the restaurant itself are part of the same unit now, and lines have been quite long to get in. Advance reservations are available and are the only way to obtain downstairs seating, which has access to the full food and drink menu. Walk-up's are also accepted, but they only allow for seating upstairs, with a limited lounge food menu but full bar offerings.
The interior furnishings are a tribute to all things Pixar--from the doodles and ideas of the storytellers and animators to the whimsical characters to the set art. The wood, brick, and metal in the downstairs portion enrich the cozy gastro-pub feel, providing a nice place to relax and take in the great views of Paradise Bay. By night, this area also provides a special viewing area for World of Color (whenever it comes back).
The food is gourmet California cuisine, similar in feel to Carthay Circle Restaurant, and the prices reflect it! The quality is very good, but the cost of a meal is pretty steep, even by theme park standards. Still, the drinks are pretty tasty, and appetizers like the Crispy Piggy Wings, Deviled Eggs and Toast, and Potato Skins have been big hits. Of course, the Lobster Nachos have returned too. Just pad your wallet before stopping by!
If you're looking for more information on the cuisine itself, our friends at Disney Food Blog posted a great review of the establishment a couple of weeks ago!
We looked inside Knick's Knacks when it opened a couple of months ago, so here are a few shots of the exterior. As the across-the-road neighbor of Lamplight Lounge, Knick's Knacks retains the same lovely style as Lamplight Lounge, inspired by the classic California seaside amusement parks. The dominant turquoise and red hues and yellow accent reflect the Pixar logo color scheme--a chromatic motif found throughout Pixar Pier--and the resulting entrance from what is now Paradise Park into Pixar Pier looks fantastic.
Rounding the path over the eastern side of Paradise Bay, guests come into the first Pixar Pier "neighborhood," Disney's jargon to explain the deviations in aesthetics to support the different IP's collected within. Thus, the scene changes from the classical turn-of-the-(20th)century feel of Lamplight Lounge and Knick's Knacks to a sleek mid-century modern that defines the look of The Incredibles.
Going along with that is the new Incredicoaster--or rather, the redone Incredicoaster. The former California Screamin' has been given an overlay just in time for the new Incredibles 2 movie, and it's... interesting. I think a lot of people will love it, but more critical fans can find plenty to nitpick. I personally think that the aesthetics of the whole area look pretty great. I'm a fan of mid-century modern myself, and I think the Imagineers have attained a pretty nice romanticized version of it. The only problem is that it doesn't actually fit within that classic seaside promenade look that neighbors it on both sides.
The Incredicoaster itself is the same ride as it was before, but with added theming and static scenes that play off the Parr family. Some will say that adding a story to an attraction that previous had none is an improvement in and of itself, but I am not quite a fan of how the execution came about. Theming a roller coaster is always difficult, given the quick rate of speed by which one passes scenes. The issue with the Incredicoaster is that the theming is done in a way that is designed for slow moving dark rides, but the ride itself is a roller coaster. As such, there are moments that literally just fly by without the ability to fully appreciate, while other moments (see Jack Jack On A Stick) come off a bit awkward.
Ultimately, the ride isn't bad, and the re-theme isn't really ugly either (a few details aside). It's just a little disappointing, with a notable lack of dynamic scenes and more advanced effects (although Jack Jack dashing through the water at the launch is a fantastic touch). One feels WDI could have done better, given either greater budget or additional time.
Toy Story Midway Mania
As we've covered before, the central portion of this part of the Pier has primarily received a facelift, with new paint and some TLC applied to the Victorian facades. I love the turquoise roofs and red trim of the Toy Story building, and it really anchors this Toy Story Boardwalk portion of the Pier. Little details like the signage and the lights add to the enchanting feel. In addition, opening up the queue to allow Mr. Potato Head to be unobstructed to the main walkway gives the animatronic a much better presence. Now, he's an actual barker calling out to passers-by, making his positioning and purpose actually meaningful rather than be obscured behind part of the attraction's ride. It's a clear improvement over the pre-Pixar Pier arrangement.
Pixar Promenade is the third of the neighborhoods in Pixar Pier. This one comprises the promenade, the boardwalk games, and the Pixar Pal-A-Round. The main feature here is the Promenade's function as the new home for the Pixarmonic Orchestra--relocated from the Paradise Gardens Grandstand. The arches in the background evoke a great sense of a stage backdrop--similar to the Hollywood Bowl or Greek Theater (in my mind). It's a nice setting for an outdoor performance space.
The boardwalk games adjacent to the new bandstand area derive several Pixar movies and short films--La Luna, Wall*E, A Bug's Life, and Toy Story. The facades have been rethemed, but the previous aesthetic remains. They're fronted by a series of hexagonal seat wall planters whose design is questionable at best--the benches are nice, but the planter portion is so tall that one of the sides needs to be left open for maintenance, rendering it wasted.
Across the way from the Pixarmonic Orchestra performance area is the Pixar Pal-A-Round, home to the worst attraction name Disney has ever produced. The "A-Round" conjures up images of a merry-go-round, but this is the rethemed Mickey's Fun Wheel, now with Pixar characters on the carriages (but Mickey's face in front still). The backside, facing the actual boardwalk, remains uncovered (the Pixar ball would have been a nice element to place here), but there is a new entrance marquee and new fabric shade structures pulled across. The ride experience itself remains the same, with swinging and non-swinging cars in the style of Coney Island's famous Wonder Wheel.
Inside Out Headquarters Under Construction
You undoubtedly noticed the alliterative title of this update noted a partial premiere, and that's where we come to now. Pixar Pier was announced last year, with work beginning at the start of this year and an opening date of June 23rd. It did open on June 23rd, but the entire pier was not actually finished. Among the incomplete portions is the entire fourth neighborhood, Inside Out Headquarters, home to the Bing Bong's Sweet Stuff confectionary (scheduled to be completed later this summer) and the recently announced Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind, a swing ride that will literally be Flik's Flyers (from A Bug's Land after it closes down next month), relocated and rethemed and opening next year.
In the meantime, here's construction photos from last weekend.
Jessie's Critter Carousel Progress
The Inside Out neighborhood isn't the only incomplete part of Pixar Pier. Jessie's Critter Carousel is also slated to be under construction until spring of next year. Apparently, when you start on a complete redo of a merry-go-round, you can't expect it to be done in three months. There's a sort of cute sticker on the work walls indicating a preorder shipment for the critters, though. So it is what it is. At least the concrete planter and fountain wall fronting the Incredibles Park was completed. It should also be interesting to see how the ride interfaces with the interior of the wall, given that most merry-go-rounds are open all around, and a third of this one will be spinning next to a walled surface.
Pixar Pier Food Options
Aside from Lamplight Lounge, there is an abundance of food options at Pixar Pier--all of them the quick serve or food stand/cart variety. Here, though, is my second major quibble with the area. Once again, the deviation in the aesthetics of the theme is drastic. But whereas I might give Incredibles Park a pass because it at least looks very stylish and cool, the food stands at Pixar Pier are intentionally caricatured and cartoon-y, carrying over the oversized regular item motif from Flik's Fun Fair, which glaringly clashes with the refined ambiance of the rest of the Pier. It just doesn't jive with that aforementioned Tokyo Disney Sea inspiration that informed the rest of area.
That being said, if you like soft serve ice cream, fried chicken, churros, or hot dogs, the quick serve lines at Pixar Pier will definitely have food for you! (If your goal is the soft serve, however, be prepared for long lines. Adorable Snowman is still racking in those lengthy waits, and things do not figure to die down anytime soon, given the summer season and warm--extremely warm today--temperatures.)
Nighttime at the Pier
Aaaaaaand, we're just going to end the update with some nighttime photos of the Pier that I shot a couple of weeks ago. It's very vibrant and pretty, and the colors add to the visual magic. I did notice that the color temperature of the LED bulb lights feel a little too pure white for the era that inspired the Pier. A little warmer would have felt more natural. The lights on the Incredicoaster are also much better as red than white (which was seen during testing a couple months ago). Still not a fan of the uneven spacing of the light bands up the scream tunnels, though.
Still, the Pier does sparkle at night, and it's certainly photogenic.
That does it from Disney this week. What do you think about Pixar Pier? Do you love it, hate it, fall somewhere in between? Overall, though I have my own issues with the area, the result is better than I expected, and with time, I'll get used to this new permanent IP-based land. California Adventure is headed that way anyway, so in future context, it will probably end up in greater consistency than the park appears today.
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.