A Disney amusement park at Disney’s California Adventure : Part ten of our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

California has a rich history of seaside amusement parks.  When Disney California Adventure was thought of as the replacement for the Westcot and DisneySea projects planned for Long Beach, CA, the idea was to explore the diverse sights of California.  Imagineer Tim Delaney was put in charge of a Disneyfied amusement park, eventually known as Paradise Pier.

Seaside parks traditionally featured a wooden roller coaster, a carousel, dark rides, and older rides.  Morgan Manufacturing built a beautiful sea animal carousel called King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea and rebuilt a long gone spinning ride, the Harry Traver Circle-Swing, called here the Golden Zephyr.  The dark ride initially didn’t make the cut, but the rest came to be as part of phase 1 of Paradise Pier. 

Mack Rides was contracted to provide a tamed version of their Wild Mouse roller coaster, removing a sharp airtime hill at the end and applying harder braking.  Originally called Mulholland Madness, it featured walls around two sides to dampen sound and various billboards recalling Los Angeles road and sights.  Zierer Rides delivered a classic Wave Swinger, placed high above the water on its platform, inside an orange structure.  It’s name?  Orange Stinger. 

Disney had discreetly signed an agreement with S&S Power, out of Logan, UT, to build a 200 feet triple thrill tower.  Composed of three Space Shot, which accelerates riders up the tower in two seconds.  Disney wanted higher capacity than the standard S&S tower, so each tower is wider to accommodate 16 riders.  Universal had previously done that at Islands of Adventure (Orlando, FL) with Dr. Doom Fearfall and the Stratosphere Tower with the Big Shot.  

Intamin, who had worked with Disney on the Temple du Peril at Disneyland Paris, Maelstrom at Epcot, and many other projects were called to provide four attractions for Disney California Adventure.

The first of those attractions is the massive Grizzly River Run, the largest River Rapids attraction in the world at the time.  Part of the Grizzly Peak Recreational Area, which integrates the Grand Californian Hotel, Grizzly River Run used new eight passenger boats from Intamin.  The smaller boats allowed for a more intense attraction with improved rapid sections.  Two drops expanded on the Kali River Run attraction, which had opened in 1999 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and included the first drop sequence on a river rapids attraction in the world.  That one used the standard 12 seat rafts. 

Over on Paradise Pier, the other attractions from Intamin were designed according to WDI specifications.  Jim Shull, an Imagineer, had a soft spot for tower attractions and the Jumpin’ Jellyfish reflects that.  Intamin sold massive 200-250 feet Parachute Towers to the following parks: for Six Flags (Six Flags Over Texas, Six Flags Over Georgia,  Six Flags St-Louis which was later relocated to Six Flags Great Adventure), Lotte World (Seoul, South Korea) and,  the Korakuen amusement park (Tokyo, Japan, now Tokyo Dome City).  A tower was sold to Kings Dominion (Doswell, VA) but never installed.   Knott’s Berry Farm, Expo 86 in Vancouver, BC, also features observation cabins on the same tower.  They also produced smaller towers for clients in Saudi Arabia and the UAE in 1987-1988.

The idea behind those attractions originated at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, where a massive 250 feet tall hexagonal open-frame tower was constructed.  Twelve arms extended to an outer ring at the top, and each arm held a cable system.  The cable system consisted of two portions:  cables connected to the parachute inner portion, which supported it and kept it open.  A second set ran to the ground and helped guide the parachute as they rose and dropped down.  In this case, each parachute was connected to two canvas seats, where riders sat, restrained by seatbelts.  The ride was labor-intensive, as each parachute required three attendants to close the parachutes and operate them. 

The ride operated as follows: the parachute was taken to the top after loading.  Once there, it is released from the drive system, falling toward the ground.  The parachute acted as a brake to keep the speed under control before it reached the bottom, where shock absorbers stopped it.

Intamin was founded in 1967 by three ex-employees of the Willy Buhler Company, a Swiss maker of observation towers and other transportation equipment.  Intamin then started selling the Willy Buhler, later Von Roll, observation towers and marketed various ride concepts around the world for European companies.  They then extended their portfolio to attractions offered by Waagner-Biro, an Austrian heavy equipment manufacturer.  Given the rest of the Waagner-Biro portfolio sold at the time, we can presume they made the modern Parachute Towers for Intamin throughout the 70s and 80s.

Coming back to Disney California Adventure, while the park was under development, Tokyo DisneySea was also in the design phase.  That park would feature Mermaid Lagoon, a large part of which consisted of Triton’s Kingdom, an indoor section of Mermaid Lagoon.  Compact attractions were needed indoors, of which three were selected.  Those consist of a modern take on the PTC Crazy Daisy, called the Whirlpool, the Blowfish Balloon Race, a themed Zamperla Balloon Race, and Jumpin’ Jellyfish.

Jumpin Jellyfish interests us, as they were the first new Parachute Towers to open in over ten years.  At 40 feet tall with an elaborate appearance, the attractions stood out a lot at both parks.  Disney went with two towers for added capacity, as each tower only has six cars for two riders, and they were expecting huge crowds at both parks. 

The third Intamin attraction was also a direct lift from Coney Island: the world-famous Wonder Wheel.  Operating continually since 1920, Charles Hermann added a lot of thrills to your standard 150 feet ferris wheel.  Instead of just having cars attached to the outer part of the wheels, you added many small coaster track loops inside the wheel structure where the vehicles can freely roll?  The result is a wild, unpredictable experience that many consider the scariest ride in the world.  The Wonder Wheel was operated until 1983 by the Garms family, who then sold it to Deno D. Vourderis.  The Vourderis family have been the proud owners of the attraction since then. 

At Disney’s request, Intamin came to Deno’s Wonder Wheel and comprehensively analyzed the design.  They took dynamic measurement tests to create a modern version for Disney California Adventure.  The most significant departure from the original is how the coaster loops were constructed: Wonder Wheel uses flat iron, which generates a lot of speed and noise as the cars roll.  Intamin version uses tubular steel track with polyurethane wheels on the cars, keeping speed at a slower pace and noise at a minimum.