Originally appeared in amusementpark.com -- April 2001

Holidays are typically family affairs that are chock full of tradition. Many times, it seems that you get together, power your way through a ham and scalloped potato dinner, and then race for the door before you all throttle each other. Our families, like many in America, are scattered all over the country. So, this past Easter, with even nearby relatives headed in different directions, we had the opportunity to cast conventionality aside and create some new traditions with our new little family at Disney’s California Adventure.

A quick bit of background: My wife, Dianne, and I are both long-time Southern Californians and former Disneyland Entertainment cast members. In 1995, I was hired as one of the singing carolers in "The Christmas Fantasy Parade" (That same Holiday season I also subbed as John Smith in "The Spirit of Pocahontas.") Dianne has the more prestigious Disneyland Entertainment career – having worked 12 seasons as a strolling Christmas Caroler. Her last year at the Park, 1996, she was one of the singing carolers in "The Christmas Fantasy Parade" – which is where me met, fell in love, and married shortly thereafter. Megan, now a 6 year old first-grader, became my step-daughter and we live in Pasadena where we are both stay-at-home parents as a new blended family. In our search for family-style outings, we have gotten in the habit of heading to Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure.

Prior to California Adventure opening, I was one of those curious souls who watched the construction of the new park on several websites, read message boards, and watched as Disney fan sites really started picking the place apart. Frankly, as a long-time fan of Disneyland, I was skeptical that DCA was going to meet my expectations.

After first visiting at a February preview, and following up with several more visits (thank goodness for the 2-Park AP), and even with some visual intrusions; continuing arguments about what constitutes a carnival ride; on-line discussions about adding ‘Tower of Terror’ or demolishing ‘SuperStar Limo’ because-it-sucks -- Guess what? I really, really like Disney’s California Adventure. In fact, Dianne, Megan and I all really like it. It may not possess the immediate charm, history and immersion of Disneyland (what theme park does?) but it does have, as Dianne observed, ‘good bones’ – the layout and structure work well – and as more attractions are added on, and various sections are finessed and tweaked, the strong foundation will remain. And we love the light crowds, and it makes us feel like it’s our own park.

Speaking of crowds. Over the last two or three years we’ve gotten a bit tapped out on the crowded feeling at Disneyland. No matter when we went -- be it Sunday, or mid-week – the ‘off-season’ doesn’t seem to exist anymore. We became so frustrated that last year we bought Celebrity Passes to Universal Studios Hollywood, just to get a theme park fix without all the hassle.

On Easter Sunday, crowds at Disney’s California Adventure were light and we made our way easily through the Sunshine Plaza (could someone PLEASE turn down that music) to one of the most lush and beautiful locations in any Disney Theme Park, the Golden Vine Winery sponsored by Robert Mondavi. Very Californian, with a laid-back and classy feel; the mission style building sprawls around a corner like an old Ranch house that’s been standing here for years.

A hidden treasure here is the film presentation called "Seasons of the Vine." Sitting in a dark, cool wine cellar, the well-written and richly photographed "Seasons" is reminiscent of some of the great films and pre-shows at EPCOT. Even those who aren’t wine lovers may find themselves drawn into the whole process when narrator Jeremy Irons seductively describes "Pinot Nooiiirrr….Merloooot….Char-don-naaaay…Wine is Life…" And with all the smelling and swirling and tasting going on in the movie, even Megan leaned over to me and said, "the wine looks good." She was right – it did!


We had a delicious meal at The Vineyard Room; enjoying an excellent and attentive staff, very few other guests (did I mention that it wasn’t crowded?), a breezy, sunny afternoon, and a really neat view. It was there that it hit me – I’m here with my new family, in this wonderful new environment, with great food and great wine –in our brand new Disney Theme Park! In fact, Disney’s California Adventure is the first Disney Theme Park that is a first for Dianne, Megan and me. A brand new place where families and friends can cultivate new thoughts, new memories and new traditions. When do you have the chance to do that as a family?

So, sitting there on the upper terrace with wife and daughter; munching on the last of the bread and olives; nursing my second glass of Pinot Grigio; soaking up the California sunshine, I found myself looking at my little family. And thinking that, if as Jeremy Irons mentioned, wine is life, then right now life is good.

And maybe this is a tradition we could get used to on Easter Sunday -- a little slice of heaven at the new Disneyland Resort.

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