The first question about Disney’s California Adventure was so obvious that it seemed downright stupid: Why would anyone pay Disneyland prices to go there?
When the park opened seven years ago, its deficits were clear even to the children who visited. One fabulous ride -- "Soarin' Over California" -- was buttressed by a small array of standard county-fair attractions, albeit given a Disney gloss: the ubiquitous flume ride, a Wild Mouse coaster, centrifugal-force swings, a giant Ferris wheel. Compared with Disneyland, where delights are tucked into every corner, California Adventure seemed barren, low on rides and big on restaurants and souvenir shops. Mainly, it seemed as if the Imagineers had taken the day off to go to Knott’s Berry Farm.
Somehow, Disney's marketing gurus and sales mavens failed to notice what so many others did: California Adventure didn't give the customer his money's worth. Maybe they missed the value issue because they didn't have to pay the admission price -- which has reached $66 per person, even for kids as young as 10. Maybe they figured working stiffs were too dumb to know when they'd been had.
Over the years, though, the park gave off periodic distress signals. Two restaurant operators pulled out because of low attendance. California Adventure installed a "Twilight Zone"-themed ride to draw thrill-seekers. It opened kiddie rides to draw families. It yanked Disneyland's old Electrical Parade back from retirement, and it lowered prices temporarily.