employees of Glendale-based Walt Disney Imagineering were at the new park
answering the media's questions about the project, which took more than
five years to complete.
The park is divided into three lands -- Hollywood Pictures Backlot,
Paradise Pier, reminiscent of the former Pike in Long Beach, and Golden
State, which features the state's people, history and natural beauty.
Some of the landmarks one can't miss are the mountain peak shaped like
the California Grizzly Bear and a smaller replica of San Francisco's
Golden Gate Bridge.
Imagineers said the most popular rides throughout the soft opening
since Jan. 6 have been the Grizzly River Run, a white water rafting trip,
and Soarin' Over California, which simulates hang gliding.
What makes Grizzly River Run so unique is its smooth ride compared to
those of other parks, said David Van Wyk of La Canada Flintridge,
director of project management.
"The others are too jarring," he said. "You get soaking wet. We have
done a lot of development and experimentation to make the ride more like
teacups on water.'
There are two "down" ramps along the route. The first drops 15 feet,
while the second is 20 feet. On the second drop, the raft spins, but it's
more fun than frightening, Van Wyk said.
"My 4-year-old boy giggled and laughed," he said.
There are rides for all ages; it just depends on what a guest is
seeking, said ride engineer Don Hilsen of La Canada Flintridge. As
executive technical director, he is in charge of a team that designs,
installs and tests all the rides.
He said younger guests will enjoy the Jumpin' Jellyfish ride, a
fantasy underwater parachute ride, and thrill seekers will choose the
California Screamin' roller coaster.
But for a unique ride that portrays the majesty of California, Soarin'
is the one not to miss.
More than 80 guests are lifted 40 feet into the air and surrounded by
a giant projection dome that screens images of Yosemite, the Napa Valley,
Palm Springs, Lake Tahoe and others. Guests feel wind against their faces
and smell orange blossoms as they fly over an orchard.
But it's not just a park with rides, Hilsen said.
"We're telling the story of California, with its breadth and depth,"
At Pacific Wharf, a waterfront industrial area inspired by Cannery Row
in Monterey, on-site workshops and working micro-factories demonstrate
California food products like San Francisco sourdough bread and Mexican
"Michael Eisner emphasized throughout that we should be weaving
education into the project," Van Wyk said.
Close by is the attraction "Golden Dreams," a film narrated by actress
Whoppi Goldberg that gives the history of the people and events that
shaped the state.
"It's very moving," Van Wyk said. It features early Californians'
dreams, frustrations and successes.
Goldberg came to the theme park to see the film two weeks ago, he
said, and when the lights came up, tears were streaming down her face.