Disneyland's new attractions pull in some of the biggest crowds the park has seen, writes Kristie Lau.
A BLOOD-CURDLING scream stops the crowd in its tracks. Wide-eyed couples grasp for their children as they search for the source of the offending sound. A dripping ice-cream cone tumbles to the ground as a young girl stands frozen above it, her eyes frantically darting about. Then we hear it again, only it's more desperate this time, more barbarous than before.
"Iiiiii'm noooot goooooing," a small boy in a stroller blares into the face of an exhausted-looking woman. She's obviously the child's mother (not quite the predator one would imagine after screams like that) and swiftly bundles the boy into her arms, pushing her way out of the crowd. As we glance her way in sympathy – she's also dragging an empty stroller and handfuls of brightly coloured plastic bags overflowing with merchandise – it's hard not to feel sympathy for the boy as well.
Leaving the shiny surroundings of Disneyland can be painful – especially during a time like this.
Two new attractions have been unveiled inside Anaheim's Disneyland resort. One is the Little Mermaid Ride, Ariel's Undersea Adventure, in the Disney California Adventure Park. Just a skip and a hop across the massive 200-hectare space, to the original Disneyland Park itself, lies a revamped Star Tours ride. But today it's all about that red-haired firecracker of an animation, Ariel, whom we were originally introduced to in 1989's The Little Mermaid.
Strolling along Paradise Pier under the beating summer sun, we pass a number of other attractions along the way to the new ride.
There's Toy Story Midway Mania, an interactive homage to the 1999 sequel, Toy Story 2. Then there's California Screamin', a slick steel roller-coaster that features pre-recorded safety instructions by the How I Met Your Mother actor, Neil Patrick Harris. The modern attractions lead one to wonder why the park's creative team would pour significant dollars into a ride centred around a two-decade old movie rather than a newer one. According to Walt Disney's principal concept and show designer, Larry Nikolai, the park's creatives had to wait until technology caught up with their ideas before they could give a Little Mermaid ride the green light.
"We began sketching some things for a ride when the movie came out but we've waited for things like skin technologies to catch up and they finally did," Nikolai says. "We even have different hardnesses of skin now."
It's those details, not to mention Ariel's brilliant flowing hair (it looks as though it's floating under water), that make the new attraction sparkle. Although it's obviously targeting the park's youngest guests – Ariel's Undersea Adventure moves at an absolute snail's pace compared with most of the California Adventure park's other features – the ride is an immersive experience for all ages. From the moment the ride's operators request that you "watch your flippers and fins" while you enter one of the brightly coloured plastic "clam shell" carriages, we're reminded of everything we love about this undeniably classic Disney film.
Once your carriage begins rolling along the giant conveyor belt-like track, dancing starfish spin in one corner while an enormous recreation of the film's villain, Ursula, looms in another. Flounder, Eric, King Triton pop up before long.
The whole gang's here and they're looking fresher than they did on screen. The singalongs have been included, too, including those infectious Under the Sea and Part of Your World melodies. In typical Disney form, Ariel's new ride brings out the child in everyone.
But the best is yet to see. Despite the four-hour queue (those Star Wars fans are a dedicated bunch, aren't they?), Disneyland's latest star attraction is without a doubt the revamped Star Tours – The Adventures Continue 3D simulator.
What was once a dated experience, compared with the park's newer attractions, is now pulling some of the biggest queues Disneyland has seen. Offering 54 story variations, riders are queuing to be buckled into one of several "space crafts" before being taken on a journey with one of the film series' best-loved characters, C-3PO. That's the gangly gold robot for anyone less than familiar with the films (including me – but it's not a problem because you don't have to be a diehard fan to get a kick out of the adventure).
Riders are then shown a digital presentation that mashes together various film scenarios: you get to experience a new adventure every time you jump on board. While one digital presentation may see you dodging ATATs as you zoom through the snowfields of planet Hoth (as seen in The Empire Strikes Back), then suddenly swerving your way through the skyscraper jungle of planet Coruscant (as seen in Attack of the Clones), the next ride will feature a different sequence of events. Keep your eyes peeled for a slobbering Chewbacca in one of the better scenarios. You'll hear your fellow passengers squealing in delight as the wookie's saliva is made to look as though it's dripping down the screen. It's a fabulous rush of an attraction.
Yet, arguably, the most exciting part about Disneyland is the anticipation around California Adventure Park's forthcoming Cars Land. Set to open next year, the project is being built across four hectares and is being touted as being a fully interactive re-creation of the animated film's (Cars) best moments. Fans of the movie will be delighted to hear a roller-coaster ride based on the fictional town of Radiator Springs is under development as well as a "flying tires" attraction. A new 1920s-style entrance called Buena Vista Street will lead ticketholders into the park's new "land", much like Disneyland's Main Street does now.
Expect a new strip of stores and cafes to blow your holiday savings in. As one would imagine, Cars merchandise is already being stocked in most of the resort's stores and the kids can't seem to get enough of it. Parents should be warned: expect further hysteria. Disneyland is only just warming up.
The writer was guest of the Disneyland Resort, California.
V Australia flies daily from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles, California, priced from $1541. 13 82 87, vaustralia.com.au. An express shuttle from the airport to Anaheim hotels operates daily and takes about 45 minutes. allanaheimtours.com.
The Grand Californian Hotel and Spa has rooms (two adults and two children) from $312 ($297) a night. The Paradise Pier Hotel has rooms from $203 a night. Both hotels overlook the California Adventure Park. +1 714 635 2300, disneyland.disney.go.com.