A new Marvel superhero-themed land is set to open at Disney California Adventure on Friday, just in time to take advantage of pent-up demand for big-thrill theme park rides, high-calorie snacks and pricey souvenirs.
The six-acre Avengers Campus was scheduled to open last July but was put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its opening may alleviate the popularity imbalance of the Anaheim resort's two theme parks, drawing visitors to Disney California Adventure and away from Disneyland.
The new land, built on an area of the park that previously held A Bug's Land attractions and parts of Hollywood Land, features characters from the Marvel Entertainment empire, which Walt Disney Co. bought in 2009 for $4 billion. Disney has released a slew of Marvel movies since the purchase and now is leaning into the theme park perks of the deal. A similar Avengers Campus is being built at Disneyland Paris.
The land offers only one new ride, Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure. It also features Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout, which was called Twilight Zone Tower of Terror before its superhero makeover in 2017. Fans can also indulge at a few eateries, including Pym Test Kitchen, where purported scientific experiments have made some foods — such as meatballs and hamburger buns — either tiny or oversized.
Park workers dressed as Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Wakandan warriors and other heroes will perform stunts and magic tricks at scheduled times throughout the campus.
Disney park developers say the pandemic-induced closure gave them time to perfect the technology and special effects that are the stars of the expansion.
"It's a ton of technology," said Brent Strong, executive creative director for Walt Disney Imagineering. "It's a lot of computers."
On Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure, riders use hand gestures to throw virtual webs, hitting as many out-of-control robotic spiders as they can. The ride uses gesture-recognition technology, 3-D imaging to create the rampaging spiders and a virtual background, as well as a dashboard to tally each rider's score — a combination of components that Disney developers say is new to the park.
Near the ride, the park sells a device called a web shooter ($24.99) that you can strap to your wrist and wear on the ride to increase your shooting accuracy, according to Disney store employees. If you are an Iron Man fanatic, the park also sells an Iron Man "repulsor" ($24.99) to combat the spiders.
A larger retail shop, located in a massive hall on the northern edge of the park and dubbed the Disneyland Resort Backlot Premiere Shop, features high-end Marvel collectibles and merchandise, including a superhero statuette priced at $685.
A Spider-Man stunt show takes theme park animatronics to a new level, with a robotic Spider-Man that launches from one tower to another and flies 85 feet in the air. The character reappears as a costumed human who scales down the walls of the building to pose for photos with parkgoers at ground level.
The pandemic closed Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in March 2020, less than a year after Disneyland opened its $1-billion Star Wars Galaxy's Edge, the largest expansion in the park's history. The park closed only two months after the opening of the expansion's second and most anticipated ride, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
The next attraction slated to open at Disneyland, Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway, was originally scheduled to launch next year but has been delayed by the pandemic until 2023.
California coronavirus safety guidelines limit the Disney resort's theme parks to no more than 35% of normal capacity, but most restrictions are expected to be lifted June 15, the same date the Anaheim parks will begin welcoming visitors who live outside California.
The pent-up demand of Disney fans is already evident. The Disneyland reservation website shows tickets for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are sold out throughout most of June.
To manage an expected surge in visitors to the new land, Disney will require parkgoers to enter the campus via the Web Slingers ride — regulated by a virtual queuing system managed through the Disneyland app.
Disney representatives declined to say whether the Anaheim parks will lift their capacity limits and physical distancing rules after June 15. "We will continue to update our health and safety processes based on guidance from the state of California and local health officials," they said in a statement.
During a business conference last week, Disney Chief Executive Bob Chapek said the company's goal is "to try to get to normalized operations as soon as possible, as soon as practical and as soon as responsible."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.