At that time California Adventure was less than 10 years old and already declared a flop. In order to boost "first gate" counts, cast members had to sign their friends in at California Adventure before they could then go to Disneyland. It was the park people went to when Disneyland was too crowded. It was the park I would go to when the food lines were too long at Disneyland, I'd hop over, buy lunch and come back in less time than standing in line in Disneyland.
Over the years we saw a few glimmers of change. Our favorite was when they opened Toy Story Midway Mania -- a ride that has since opened in Walt Disney World and Tokyo DisneySea, and which we rode in both parks. You are the ride!
Last June the grand unveiling finally took place, but we did not have any plans to go to Disneyland. I saw pictures, and read blog posts, but it wasn't until August when we saw it for ourselves.
We went to Disney seven of the days we were in California. The seventh day was the tie breaker. We ended up starting that day in Disneyland. The parks are so close to each other, it doesn't really matter where you start, but the first couple of days I wanted Fast Passes for the new Radiator Springs ride.
First big change ... they removed the CALIFORNIA letters at the main gate and replaced them with something that looks a lot like the entrance to Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida.
The first noticeable change is that once you walk through the gates, you feel as if you are transplanted into the 1920s -- the era when Walt Disney first came to California. The gift shops look like department stores. When we were there, it was still decorated for Fourth of July and Labor Day. We popped into Guest Services and First Aid and even they had a classic transformation. The gift shops now sell Oswald the Rabbit merchandise (Walt's first character, who looks a lot like Mickey Mouse).
Even the classic characters (Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Chip and Dale) were dressed in 1920s attire. This just made me want to take more pictures with the characters. Ashley tolerates my habit, but when she hung out drawing pictures in the Animation Studio, I was able to stand in line and have cast members take pictures of me with the characters. They also have people dressed in 1920s attire. It is just a lot more fun.
The best is that they have a statue of Walt and Mickey called Storytellers. It is a nice compliment to the Partners Statue in Disneyland.
Once we left Buena Vista Street, Ashley naturally turned left to see the schedule at the Animation Studio. I'm sure there were other subtle changes to this area, but the one that meant the most to Ashley was being able to see which characters were to be drawn at which times and plan our day around this schedule. I've raved about the ones in Florida and Tokyo, but this is where Ashley first got hooked on drawing. This addition makes it even more appealing.
Cars Land was the other major addition since our last visit to California. The whole section feels like Radiator Springs. It is even more magical at night. Their new big E-ticket ride is Radiator Springs Racers. You race another car through Radiator Springs. Fast Passes disappear within a couple of hours of park open, or you can stand in line for over an hour. The theming is pretty amazing, but only went on it twice. The entire area was very crowded just about all the time.