Join the Adventure!                Welcome to Paradise Pier

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The lofty towers of Maliboomer are themed to resemble the old Test Your Strength hammer game, only with sophisticated hydraulic, high speed lift motors replacing the hammer-slamming carny patron, and DCA guests replacing the rubber "bullet" that hurtles up to hit the bell at the top.  Four-sided chair platforms ring the three columns, each fling up to sixteen vertigo-free riders about 180 feet straight up in 2.5 seconds -- enough acceleration to literally pull off loosely-tied shoes and empty one's pockets (trust me on that, my keys flew out into the night, to be found by CMs later). Consistent with the ride's theme, a loud DING signals you've 'hit' the bell (no, you don't win a prize) -- or maybe that was my keys clanging against it?

While you reach the top in under three seconds, your stomach may join you a few moments later . . . which is fine, since you have a couple seconds of eerie weightlessness as you pause at the apex before you plummet about halfway down the tower (feel free to wave to your stomach passing by as you drop). Maliboomer accompanies your up-and-down bouncing finale with sounds of giant springs BOINGING until you finally settle back on solid ground.

Such rides abound at theme parks now, but Maliboomer was my first experience on one of them and I enjoyed it. We saved the ride for late evening and its line was very short -- I wouldn't wait 30 minutes just to ride it, but I recommend saving it for the end of a DCA day if only for the terrific, sparkling overview of the park (and Disneyland next door) which can only be appreciated at night.  Otherwise, Maliboomer is a fun nerve-tester which provides an instantaneous thrill and adrenaline rush.

Like a wheel within a wheel

A much calmer contrast exists in the Sun Wheel, a clever variation on the typical Ferris wheel which contains a mini-loop track for the purple and orange cars: as the larger wheel slowly rotates, inertia and gravity take over and gently fling the cars around their loop, in effect sliding the car either in toward the Sun Wheel's center or shooting it out to the wheel's far edge.  

The cars don't flip over or invert, but the differing loop configurations provide a tricky waiting game for riders who wonder which direction is in store next.  

If you're not up for the thrill, ride one of the stationary gondolas for the classic Ferris Wheel style ride. Either way, the Sun Wheel is nice blend of nostalgic "boardwalk" amusement with a dash of thrill element to tantalize today's audience.

Fun in the Sun Wheel

A carousel spin under the sea

Several other smaller scale attractions fill out the rest of Paradise Pier, including the aforementioned Golden Zephyr rocketship spin, a citrus-scented swing spinning ride called Orange Stinger (the chairs are themed as flying bees), the Jumpin' Jellyfish parachute drop, and King Triton's Carousel which features 56 hand-carved sea creatures, all native species to the ocean waters off the California coast.  

Not your typical jumping white horses

Let's finish our circuit of the park before the sun sets completely -- onward around the bay to complete the tour of Paradise Pier.

DCA's signs of change

Here's another sign of the changing, contentious times in DCA's first year open: Avalon Cove, which debuted with the park as an upscale restaurant by California-beloved celebrity chef, Wolfgang Puck. His creative seafood-based menu and signature dining experience was intended to lend some prestige to California Adventure -- but within the year, after disappointing attendance figures and press reviews of the park, Wolfgang pulled out of his restaurant partnership at DCA, as did Robert Mondavi back out of sponsoring the Golden Vine Winery in the Golden State district.

Avalon Cove remains open today, but now is a more generically themed family dining restaurant, offering specialty fixed-price three course meals. There's no doubt such high profile sponsorship as Puck's can return to DCA as the park emerges beyond its first, rough 'baby step' years -- much as the corporate sponsorship of Disneyland changed drastically since it opened. As long as Disney's park management team focuses on the quality of guest entertainment and experience in its parks -- some would argue, the 'suits' need to return to this concept before they can focus on it -- DCA will evolve into a better and stronger park, and its current difficulties and cash flow hiccups will become a footnote in its history.

Now we'll return briefly to the Golden State district for another popular attraction, then on to a tour of Hollywood Pictures Backlot for some movie magic.

© 2001-2002 scott weitz