Monday, October 20, 2008

Find The Details of DCA? It's Elementary!

Disney's California Adventure Detective: An Independent Guide to Exploring the Trivia, Secrets, and Magic of the Park Dedicated to California, by Kendra Trahan. Mission Viejo, CA: Permagrin Publishing, Inc., 2008; 213 pp.

Before we get started, I need to do a bit of full disclosure. The author of the book I'll be reviewing this time is a friend of mine (and hopefully still will be after this review!) and, as president of the NFFC, is also my boss. I also played a minor role in reviewing the book's content prior to its publication. Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's begin...

I know I've written this before, but it bears repeating: The magic of the Disney theme parks is in the details. Someone can enjoy a visit to Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom, or any of the Disney parks without ever really noticing the details, but to truly appreciate what makes the Disney theme park experience different from going to any other amusement or theme park, a visitor really ought to take the time to find and appreciate all the little things that work together to immerse guests into an environment unlike any other they've ever experienced.

The trick is, how do you discover the details? For a long time, your only options were to find yourself a devoted Disney fan to take you around the park or spend a lot of time doing research. (I've probably spent way too much time doing both.) In 2004, Kendra Trahan came up with a third alternative; she wrote Disneyland Detective, a fascinating book that collected many of the most fun and interesting details and stories from the Happiest Place on Earth, so casual Disney park fans could discover for themselves a lot of what they'd been missing. So if you're Kendra, what do you do for an encore? You write another book about the Disney theme park next door!

Disney's California Adventure Detective is the first book published about Disney's second gate in California. The book covers the theme park as well as the Downtown Disney district and Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, sharing the some of the stories, secrets, and hidden details that guests can find in these places if they take a moment to look. There a lot of secrets and stories to be found at DCA and in this book - everything from hidden Mickeys and subtle references to movies and television shows to references to people and places in California history, as well as tributes to milestones in California architecture. The book is divided into seven chapters, each dealing with various sections of the theme park, and also contains three appendices that each go into greater detail about specific attractions where there are numerous references to be found. The book's layout highlights certain categories of information throughout, such as "lessons to learn" (background information on people and places referred to in the park), "treasures and trivia" (props to be found in attractions and fun facts related to an area or an attraction), and opening day attractions.

Kendra's done a wonderful job with this book. For a theme park that's been accused of not having a lot of "there" there (apologies to Gertrude Stein), Kendra's discovered a lot of interesting facts and details about Disney's California Adventure and its attractions. The book is a fast read, but I never felt like I was being shortchanged as far as content or detail. If someone can make it through this entire book without learning something new about Disney's California Adventure or about California, that person may want to consider applying for a job teaching California history or a job at the Walt Disney Archives! The book has wonderful photographs of the park and very nice illustrations of people who are significant figures in California history or who played a role in creating the Disney films and shows referred to in park attractions.

So, do I have any quibbles with this book? Well, yes (sorry, Kendra), but they're pretty minor ones. First off, while I think anyone from the first-time visitor to Disney's California Adventure to the person who's been to the park many times will get something out of this book, this isn't a book for "theme park commandos"; if your overriding goal when you visit DCA or any other theme park is to visit as many attractions as possible in a day, you're not going to have the time or inclination to really appreciate all the little details that make up the park, and you're not going to get all that much out of this book. (And if I've just described you, you may want to reconsider how you visit a Disney park - trust me, you're missing out on a lot!) If you're a first-time visitor to the Disneyland Resort, I'd recommend getting a good guide book in addition to this book to help you plan your visit (consider the Unofficial Guide to Disneyland or the Passporter Disneyland Resort); be sure to bring this book with you to refer to when you're in the park, though! There are a few factual and grammatical errors, but I don't think they really detract from the overall quality of the book.

I'd like to take a moment to discuss one of the bigger objections people might have to getting a copy of Disney's California Adventure Detective - namely, "The park's going to be totally different in a couple of years - why buy a book on DCA now?" As you may know, Disney's announced a major construction and renovation project that will dramatically change Disney's California Adventure; when the project's done, DCA is going to look a lot different from what it looks like now and is going to have a lot of new attractions. Keep in mind, however, that the project's going to be completed in phases and won't be fully complete until about 2012; while parts of this book already no longer reflect what's actually in the park and other parts of the book will soon no longer reflect what's there, a lot of the things that Kendra points out in her book are still there and will continue to be there for a while -- all the better reason to take a little time to learn about them and appreciate them now while you still can.

Disney's California Adventure Detective is a fun and enjoyable way to learn about the history, secrets and details that make one of Disney's newest theme parks a fun place to visit, and in the process the book challenges the notion that the theme park has very little to discover and enjoy. Some readers will appreciate the book as a historical snapshot of a theme park that will be radically different a few years from now, and others will appreciate having an expert guide to discovering and appreciating a Disney theme park. Either way, anyone who's interested in learning and discovering more about Disney's California Adventure should consider picking up a copy of this book.

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