On Saturday June 19th, I (Sean Nyberg) met up with Skyler Shuler, the editor-in-chief of The DisInsider, and we spent a day at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim California. It was the first the founder of this website and the parks reporter joined up at a Disney park, but it was for a very important reason.
Two weeks ago, Disney opened the long awaited Avengers Campus in Disney California Adventure, the sister park to Disneyland at the Disneyland Resort. The land is Disney’s first Marvel themed land and we could not wait to check it out.
Over the next few days we will be releasing our review of the separate elements of the land, including: food, live entertainment, and rides, namely, WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure. But before we dive into the minutia and review the singular aspects, we felt it was proper to give an overview of the land. This includes our general feelings of the land, a little history, a breakdown of what the land features, and our experience getting into, and exploring, the new campus.
So forgive the broad statements and overgeneralized opinions, we will be diving deeper into each topic in subsequent articles. But first we need to set the table, before diving into the many courses (both literally and figuratively).
BEFORE THERE WAS AVENGERS CAMPUS
Avengers Campus opened at the Disneyland Resort on June 4th, 2021 at Disney California Adventure. The “second gate” that opened in 2001 in the old parking lot area for Disneyland. The park itself has gone through a number of transformations since it opened twenty years ago, going from one of Disney’s most embarrassing parks, to one of its most loved. All it took was two decades, the finest creative minds in themed entertainment, and a few billion dollars.
The park reached peak creative genius with the opening of Cars Land in 2012. Cars Land is themed after the ‘fine’ Pixar property Cars, but the land itself is one of Disney Imagineering’s most stunning achievements. The opening of this land nearly 9 years ago was proof that Disney California Adventure was something special and was on its way to greatness.
In 2017, the much beloved Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a close copy of Walt Disney World’s drop tower ride of the same name, was re-themed to the Guardians of the Galaxy film series. While the ride’s mechanics were left essentially unchanged, the re-theme was extensive throughout every other aspect of the ride.
When this change was announced, hardcore Disney fans were furious (a state of being they seem to perpetually exist in). However, the first sign that the re-theme might be a success was when famed Imagineer Joe Rohde was attached to oversee the project. As usual Disney pulled it off and the new ride, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, was released to rave reviews and instant acceptance in the fandom.
What many didn’t realize at the time was that the re-theme was not a simple one-off decision to spice up this area of the park, it was actually the first phase in the creation of Avengers Campus. With 2017’s Guardian of the Galaxy actually becoming the first ride for the Marvel themed land, even if the land was still four years away from existing.
Butting up against the new Guardians ride was a small land themed to the 1998 Pixar film A Bugs Life. A Bugs Land was home to an interactive 4D show and a couple of rides suitable for even the youngest child. The land was never a huge hit, but it also wasn’t despised. While it lacked thrills and was tied to a film that most visitors forgot existed, it also provided a place for guests of all ages to enjoy and the lush greenery acted as a perfect source for much-needed shade from the hot California sun.
Seeing as the land did not top most guest’s favorite or least favorite list, the announcement of its closing was met with a collective shrug. With the exception of the ever-present Disney super fandom that screams in physical pain at the slightest suggestion of any change, regardless of the reasonableness of said change.
It was soon announced that the land would be turned into Avengers Campus. A BRAVE decision to replace a land devoted to a forgotten late 90’s animated film, with a multi-billion dollar film and television franchise that dominates in box office totals, consumer products sales, and brand recognition worldwide (sarcasm noted?). It was time for Disney to put their superheroes in the park.
MARVEL IS NOT BI-COASTAL
In the Disney Parks fandom there is the constant debate about which of the two domestic resorts is better, Disneyland or Walt Disney World. We breakdown the two resorts in a previous article HERE. While ‘better’ is too subjective for a definitive answer, no one can argue that Walt Disney World is larger in size and attracts more visitors annually. Most would assume that a Marvel themed land would be built at that resort, if not first, at least at the same time (like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge). But there is a problem with Florida (that’s the understatement of the century!) and that problem is universal, whoops, sorry, I meant, Universal.
Before Disney purchased Marvel Studios the company had already sold their theme park rights to Universal for use in Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure. The agreement is limited in scope, meaning, it only encompasses a specific geographical area, in this case it is east of the Mississippi River. In other words, Disney can’t use Marvel characters (of which they own outright) in their theme parks in Florida. While there are rumors and speculation abound, there is no definitive end date for this agreement with Universal. So for now, Disneyland is the home for Marvel characters in the United States. They are also free to use the characters in their international theme parks in Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, in fact, a number of Marvel characters are already prominently featured in these parks and their own versions of Avengers Campus are being built right now.
THE PANDEMIC PROBLEM
I will keep this part as brief as possible, we’ve heard enough about the pandemic and I don’t need to write a novel to explain that Avengers Campus’s summer 2020 opening date was forced to be delayed due to covid-19.
Disneyland saw the longest shutdown of any of the parks during the pandemic and this pushed the opening of Avengers Campus from July 2020 to June 2021. The construction was frozen in time for much of the pandemic, as major work was completed and finishing work was stalled as the state of California went into full lockdown mode.
As the months dragged on, workers started popping back up on the job site and Disney started releasing some photos of the progress. Disney took to their social media to reveal the completed QuinJet sitting on top of the Avengers Headquarters. The land was nearing completion and Disneyland was about to reopen.
On April 30th, 2021 Disneyland Resort reopened, which included both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Avengers Campus remained closed during the first month as Disney hired new cast members to fill the many new positions, from attraction operators, to food prep, and a whole host of live entertainment actors that ranged from stunt performers, meet and greet face characters, and high-wire professionals. The casting call to staff this land was like nothing anyone had ever seen in the theme park world.
Like everything in the entertainment industry these days, the lead up to the big event was filled with celebrity packed ceremonies, press days for journalists to gather their pictures and have a watered down experience. I say “water downed” because these journalists are going to go back and write opinion pieces about the new land, new ride, new show, and whatever else they are there to report on. But they’ve only been given a sanitized version of the land, because no guests have been allowed in. So, while that doesn’t effect the taste of their food or their actual experience riding the new ride, they miss the experience of having to struggle to get a time to make an order for lunch and have to fight for a place to sit. On press days, these things are wide open, so you get reports that are 60% accurate, because they are reporting on an experience that will never be replicated, meaning, their results will not be the same as yours.
With that said, the doors to Avengers Campus flung open to the public on the morning of June 4th, to an excited and anxious crowd. A lot of guests were amateur reporters and they knew that they needed to get certain video first so that it could be uploaded immediately and then that person would win a new puppy or something. In the world we live in today, where everything goes everywhere immediately, this rush to be ‘FIRST’ makes no sense to me. But, we are not always talking about the most rational people for much of the DisTwitter community.
As expected the land drew a huge crowd on opening day and people were excited to experience Disney’s first Marvel themed experience. The lines started early and wrapped around the east and west entrances into the esplanade (the open space between DCA and Disneyland).
In 2019 Disney implemented a number of operational safeguards for the opening of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, this included timed entrances, priority given to resort hotel guests, and a reservation system. The complicated process to get into Galaxy’s Edge was a major contributing factor to the lower than expected attendance figures that first summer. All of these new procedures screamed “it’s going to be a nightmare with massive crowds,” so the more casual fans waited things out and avoided the area for the first few months.
Disney may have over-learned the lessons from Galaxy’s Edge, since they opened Avengers Campus with no meaningful crowd control system. While everyone got a chance to visit the land, many had to wait in lines for 6+ hours. There was confusion regarding guests with mobile orders being allowed in the park and of course those with boarding groups for the new WEB SLINGERS attraction were allowed in too. It wasn’t a disaster, but it was confusing and many were left frustrated.
In the theme park reporting community there is a fine line between reporting on new additions to provide information for guests planning to visit in the future and to sensationalize stories to get the most clicks. This is not unique to theme park reporting, but it seems to be heightened in this community. People were quick to write stories about the long lines and confusion, even though by the time the story would be published, Disney would have made changes, essentially causing the information in the story to become unhelpful for guests in the future, leaving only the drama.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE TWO WEEKS MAKES
We opted to wait a couple weeks to review the Avengers Campus because we knew the opening weekend would not be a proper reflection of the land’s operations. So many of the reviews from that first week spent the majority of their ink writing about the lines and the confusion. Two issues that would resolve themselves quickly. The morning the land opened I tweeted that if you don’t like lines and you don’t like crowds, don’t visit a new land or attraction during its opening week. I stand by that advice. Especially in the middle of a pandemic, when capacity restrictions were still causing major issues for park operations.
In the last week California has dropped nearly all restrictions and Disneyland quickly followed by increasing capacity, easing social distancing requirements, increasing ride capacity, allowing out of state guests to visit, and removing mask mandates. Most of these were immensely helpful from an operations stand point.
GETTING INTO THE LAND
We visited the park on a Friday, exactly two weeks after it opened. While things have improved, we knew that there was going to be some sort of standby line, at least in the morning hours. That morning, at 7AM, we snagged boarding group 82 for WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure, so we knew that no matter how bad the lines were, we would be able to get in the land at some point.
The land has three enter/exit points, the first coming in from the main arterial, Buena Vista Street, this one sits directly across from the huge waterfall coming off of Grizzly Peak, it adds great kinetic energy to the area. The second is at the end of Hollywood Blvd, over by the Hyperion theater, where you used to enter for Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout. The third is over in Cars Land, running right next to Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. For the first half of the day the Hollywood Blvd entrance was ‘exit only’ and the only way into the land was via Buena Vista Street.
At this entrance there were two entry points, one was a standby line that they used to hold guests to avoid over crowding. Even if the capacity limitations were lifted, Disney still had an interest in keeping the crowd levels manageable within the land. The other entry was for those with virtual boarding groups that had been called for the new Spider-Man attraction. Regardless of how long the standby wait was, if you had a boarding group that was called, you could enter the land without any wait.
Seeing that we snagged a boarding group, we knew we would be able to walk right into the land at some point in the day. Doing some research I knew that group 82 would likely be called right around 12PM.
We entered the park around 8:45AM, about fifteen minutes before the official opening. Disney has been opening all of their parks, on both coasts, about 45 minutes prior to the posted time. This is a huge tip for those wanting to get a jump on things early.
I was staying at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, which has a private entrance into Disney California Adventure, but Skyler was staying elsewhere and had to deal with the parking situation. This caused us to enter the park a little later than we had planned. If you are staying at Grand Californian and using the private entrance, you would have been in the park 45 minutes early. The line at the side entrance might look long, but they move people through fairly quickly. Here is a picture from the private entrance around 8AM. A few minutes after I took this they started letting people in. The line stretched just past the entrance to the pool area, right near the check-in for Storytellers.
Even though we knew we could waltz right into the land when our boarding group was called, which was likely going to be around noon, we still did our due diligence and went straight to the land’s entrance. The line seemed short, but the cast member told us that the wait would be around one hour long. We chose to go hit the near-empty Pixar Pier and come back when our boarding group was called.
We did the Pixar Pier loop, hitting a number of rides. This included our favorites (Incredicoaster), lower ranked rides (Goofy’s Sky School), children rides we almost always skip (Jumpin’ Jellyfish), and our secret favorites (Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure). The waits were essentially walk-ons, the one exception was Toy Story Midway Mania, which I found amusing since the biggest complaint about WEB SLINGERS is that it was too similar to Toy Story Midway Mania. Meanwhile, TSMM had one of the longest waits in the park. Maybe, just maybe, people like family-friendly interactive rides.
Skyler and I have been to the Disneyland Resort over 100 times combined, so there was no mad rush to hit any non-Avengers Campus related attractions. We skipped Toy Story and Radiator Springs Racers due to the long line, it wasn’t even 10AM yet so we were not ready to get wet on Grizzly River Run, and, even though the wait time was very reasonable, we skipped Soarin’ Around the World to grab breakfast. The private entrance to Grand Californian is right near Grizzly River Run, which is where we found ourselves, so we left the park to grab some food at the GCH Craftsman Grill.
We enjoyed our breakfast while solving all of the issues that plague the Disney fandom. From racism to blind hatred of CEO Bob Chapek, the scapegoat for any problem in many blogger’s lives. He has become the “thanks Obamacare” of DisTwitter.
- Your favorite food item was taken off the menu, blame Chapek.
- Ticket prices increase, blame Chapek.
- You don’t like the name of Epcot’s revamped souvenir shop, blame Chapek.
- Your kid is struggling to make friends at school, blame Chapek.
- Your wife is cheating on you, blame Chapek.
- Guest satisfaction is up and Rise of the Resistance is becoming more efficient, credit Josh D’Amaro.
It’s predictable, boring, and lacks basic understanding of how businesses operate. But I digress.
We were still about an hour before our boarding group would get called, but we wanted to see what the line situation was at the entrance. It was around 11AM and the standby line was gone, so we walked right into Disney’s newest land, Avengers Campus.
Right as we entered the land we could feel the energy all around us. There was a buzz that was hard to explain. The music soared, guests gathered to take pictures by the big Avengers sign in the front courtyard, and we started to feel a crowd forming in front of the new WEB building that houses the Spider-Man attraction.
The cast members were getting ready for something, the music started to change, and everyone raised their phones and cameras in unison. The Spider-Man show was about to start, right as we walked into the land.
We will be reviewing the live entertainment, the food, and the new ride in subsequent articles, so I will skip any details in this piece and simply give an overall impression of the land.
The land is phenomenal. The Imagineers did a beautiful job with the design, the buildings are beautiful and the artistic touches throughout are like nothing you have ever seen in a theme park. The land was full of guests who were clearly having a great time. Pictures and meet and greets were happening all over the place. Numerous live shows were overlapping one another, adding an energy that was palpable.
The restaurant was buzzing with excitement, with people walking around with oversized pretzels and the bar was pumping out colorful cocktails at record speed. While most people used mobile ordering, there were standby lines that were long, but moved quickly. When there was a lull in the live action, the land pumped out the epic score from the Avengers films. The stores, like the restaurants, felt full but never stagnant. People were moving in, out, and around one another, the crowds were big, but they were moving and people seemed to be having a great time.
One of the differences between our experience and many people’s I’ve been reading for the past two weeks, is the important matter of expectations. This is a small land, about 1/3rd the size of Galaxy’s Edge and there is one new C-ticket ride, both of these things have been known for years. Those who went in looking for a Rise of the Resistance type ride in a land the size of Galaxy’s Edge were undoubtably going to be disappointed, but that’s no one’s fault but their own.
What I find amusing is that all of these bloggers knew this before they went in, but hating something gets more clicks than liking something, and when your rent is paid for with clicks, these bloggers head toward hate, like a moth to a flame.
Would I have preferred that the land opened with the huge E-ticket ride that Imagineers have planned to open sometime in the future? Yes, of course. But I have known for years that that was not going to be the case, so I did not go into the land expecting one.
Was everything in Avengers Campus perfect? No, there is some room for improvement, as is always the case with new lands and attractions. They’ve made a number of huge changes in the last two weeks, and more are still coming. Disney’s operations team is always adjusting to meet guest’s demands and the cast members working the land are working to find their own groove too.
I will dive more into the critiques in the subsequent articles, but aside from small issues (they need a water bottle filling station near the restrooms) the land is a huge success. The upgrade from Bugs Land is incalculable and it acts as a perfect showcase for one of Disney’s biggest properties, with a lot of room to grow in that area of the park.
The e-ticket will come within the next five years. Until then, there is a highly enjoyable interactive family friendly Spider-Man ride, meet and greets with your favorite Marvel characters, more live entertainment than any other Disney park (or Universal, Six Flags, etc), a fun and creative restaurant with delicious food, an open air bar for the adult guests, and dozens of instagram worthy photo opportunities.
Eventually our boarding group was called, we experienced WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure (review coming), ordered over half of the menu at Pym’s Test Kitchen (review coming), saw all of the live shows (review coming), and soaked in all of the energy and joy beaming from guests as they ran from show to show, taking videos of the stunt performers, taking selfies with their family and friends, and meeting their favorite characters. If that does not seem like a major success to you, then maybe themed entertainment is not for you.
After the last 18 months of lockdowns, death, illness, and despair, the smiles, laughter, and look of awe among guests was enough to fill up my heart with warmth and hope for the years ahead. Like the Marvel movies, Avengers Campus is full of fun, whimsy, and adventure, wholly satisfying on its own, but with room to grow in the future. Guests of all ages will love this land for years to come.
Stay tuned for the specific reviews of WEB SLINGER, food, and live entertainment, including video from the Spider-Man rooftop show. I also have a full review of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa coming and an in-depth explainer for how to snag a boarding group for both WEB SLINGER and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.