It hit the Disney community like wildfire. Fans, not yet chastened by the stillborn carny-fests of California Adventure or Disney Studios Paris, or the overpriced botanical garden that is Hong Kong Disneyland, were thrilled. A new park? And so soon? 2003? And would would be in this park, when California Adventure itself was not yet completed? Reading the website, it was difficult to say.
Dinosaur! Typhoon Lagoon! Winnie the Pooh! Buzz Lightyear! Wait… what? These attractions, along with the mention of Ariel and Sebastian, were thrown into the strange theme park goulash hinted at by the website. While the site was promoting a new park, it seemed difficult to fathom what kind of park it was, or what any of these disparate ideas had to do with the other. In true Pressler fashion, it seemed that they were just going to raid the other parks for random ride concepts and throw them all together into… something. And Typhoon Lagoon, too. The idea of “phased” development re-emerged, and there were allusions to shopping, dining and entertainment areas as well as a bit of hedging on whether it would be a theme park, a water park or both. Truth be told, it seemed that Disney didn’t know themselves.
So why the website? It seemed an odd thing for Disney to do considering their typical secrecy, the obviously protean concept for the park, and their then-reluctant approach to engaging fans on the internet. It was an unprecedented step, and many doubted that Disney was actually behind the site. It makes sense, though, that Disney would want to do this. Both Port Disney and Westcot had been plagued by clashes with community activists and civic groups. Disney had been roundly castigated for their secrecy and back-room strongarm tactics. Putting on a show of openly consulting the public early in the permitting and environmental review process showed that they were taking the community’s opinions into consideration, and were behaving like good corporate citizens. It also allowed them to publicly trumpet the benefits of the resort, and the improvements that had already been made to the resort area.
In the fall of 2000, Disney began the process of bringing this new park to life. Draft environmental studies were written, and a series of public meetings were held to reach out to citizens and local businesses. The land for the park had been consolidated and it seemed like this mysterious park was on its way for a 2003 opening. One little thing, though – the fate of the new park depended on the performance of California Adventure.
Amidst all the requisite hype, California Adventure debuted in February of 2001. While the press greeted the new park warmly, guests were wary. Disney fandom had taken off on the internet, and buzz on the new park was not good. News from previews and soft openings were even worse, and this combined with a number of recent missteps in other Disney parks – including Disneyland’s own botched Tomorrowland remodel – to create an atmosphere of hostility for DCA’s premiere. Disney suits admitted that DCA had been designed to meet specific budget windows; Barry Braverman, lead designer on the project and notorious Eisner lackey, admitted, “there are maybe some things that could have been better, but we’ve delivered a very compelling product.”