A Photo Essay
Yester California Adventure at Yesterland

King Triton’s
Carousel of the Sea


The Out-of-Place Landmark at Paradise Pier
King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2001

This Yesterland article is not about something that’s gone. It’s about something that should be gone—and probably will be gone some day. But not the whole thing. Please let me explain…

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, February 21, 2014.


The official Disneyland Resort website described Paradise Pier with these words in 2001:

Add a dash of the bygone days of California’s legendary surfside boardwalks to the excitement of a seaside resort and top it off with a heaping helping of Disney magic, and you’ve got Paradise Pier — a land at Disney’s California Adventure™ park dedicated to the fantastic “Golden Age” of amusement parks, jam-packed with wild attractions, delectable diners and unique shops. It’s “Fun in the Sun for Everyone!”

When was the “Golden Age” of amusement parks? It would be hard to determine the answer by visiting Paradise Pier in the early years of California Adventure.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2001

King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea and its neighbors in 2001

Paradise Pier was of an indeterminate time period. Some parts featured Victorian style “gingerbread” decorations, while other parts seemed much newer. Stucco buildings with plexiglass or neon signs made no effort to transport guests to the 1920s or any other specific period that could be considered a “Golden Age” for seaside California amusement parks.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Tony “WisebearAZ” Moore, 2002

Paradise Pier, lacking a sense of time and style in 2002

More than anything else, Paradise Pier’s style seemed to be influenced by regional theme parks built around the United States in the 1970s. At such parks, detailed theming usually took a back seat to cost effectiveness. Style consistency and historical authenticity were not priorities.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Carousel in 2013

King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea, one of the park’s original rides, was—and still is—an example of a quasi-1970s look.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

Sign with King Triton

The attraction’s sign, looking like Disney DVD cover art, made no attempt to represent any year other than the present.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Cutout dolphins

Six pairs of flat polychromatic dolphins jump from waves around the top edge of the carousel. These decorations are the work of a skilled designer, but the design seems to suggest the 1970s or 1980s, not the heyday of seaside amusements.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

King Triton mural

A mural of King Triton on the curved wall of the restroom complex is rendered faithfully in the style of the 1989 animated feature, The Little Mermaid. There’s nothing about it that hearkens back to the heyday of California amusement piers.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Homage to California amusement parks

The carousel gets better as you get to the part that turns. Although newly built by D. H. Morgan Manufacturing for Disney, the 47-foot carousel has the classic appearance of those built in the early 20th century—the golden age of carousels—with ornate scrollwork, fanciful flourishes, and softly glowing light bulbs.

The canopy is decorated with sixteen shields, each representing a California amusement pier or beachfront amusement zone, along with its opening year:

  • Venice of America, Venice, 1904
  • Abbot Kinney Pier, Venice, 1905
  • The Pike, Long Beach, 1905
  • Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz, 1907
  • Looff’s Pier, Santa Monica, 1908
  • Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica, 1909
  • Fraser’s Million Dollar Pier, Ocean Park, 1912
  • Pickering Pleasure Pier, Ocean Park, 1920
  • Lick Pier, Ocean Park, 1923
  • Belmont Park, San Diego, 1925
  • Venice Pier, Venice, 1925
  • Playland At The Beach, San Francisco, 1928
  • Ocean Park Pier, Ocean Park, 1929
  • Virginia Park, Long Beach, 1939
  • Nu-Pike, Long Beach, 1950
  • Pacific Ocean Park, Santa Monica, 1958

Most of these places are gone, but a few of them still offer old-fashioned rides for 21st century guests. The 1916 Looff Hippodrome carousel building at Santa Monica Pier now houses a vintage merry-go-round built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in 1922; it came by way of Nashville and Venice Pier. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and Belmont Park are best known for each having a classic wooden roller coaster—both named Giant Dipper—from 1924 and 1925, respectively.

Missing from the list is Orange County’s own Joy Zone, which opened in 1916 in Seal Beach. The highlight of the oceanfront amusement zone was a huge roller coaster, The Derby, which had originally thrilled guests at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Colorful sea creatures

The best part of King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea is its collection of 56 sea creatures—instead of the horses like King Arthur Carrousel at Disneyland or African land animals like many old and new merry-go-rounds.

The only horses are seahorses. The only lions are sea lions.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

California sea otter

In short, the carousel itself is a fine combination of originality and homage to the golden age of carousels—but that’s not how it comes across because of how it’s “packaged.”

In October 2007, The Walt Disney Company announced its intention to invest $1.1 billion to revamp Anaheim’s lackluster second gate. A year later, Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar opened in the former Seasons of the Vine theater to show off the wondrous artwork and models of what might come.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2008

Model at Blue Sky Cellar, 2009

A presentation model and renderings showed Paradise Pier’s time period rolled back to the early 20th century. Many of the same attractions would remain, but they would be redressed with new queues, new architectural features, and new signage. A walk around Paradise Bay would take guests back in time. Paradise Pier would finally take guests to the period originally promised. The Orange Stinger would be peeled; Dinosaur Jack’s Sunglass Shack would become extinct.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2009

Presentation model at Blue Sky Cellar, 2009

The model at Blue Sky Cellar showed King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea housed in an old-fashioned carousel pavilion—a perfect complement to Toy Story Midway Mania!

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2009

Model at Blue Sky Cellar, 2009

A sign at the Paradise Pier model warned guests not to expect everything in the model to become reality—at least not right away:

A presentation model exhibits the overall vision of a new project. Of course, not every idea makes it into the park. But with a model like this, good ideas are preserved for future use.

Here, Imagineers envision a Paradise Pier set in the first half of the 20th century. the hey-day of seaside amusement parks.

Toy Story Midway Mania!, which opened June 17, 2008, begins the transformation with its Victorian architectural style; soon it will be joined by many more exciting changes around the lagoon.

The sign was right about not every idea making it into the park

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

View from Mickey’s Fun Wheel, 2013

King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea still looks as it did in 2001, back when most of Paradise Pier lacked a cohesive style. But now, with Toy Story Midway Mania! nearby, it looks particularly out-of-place.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2008

Model at Blue Sky Cellar, 2009

Many improvements promised by the model became reality, including welcome changes to the tallest landmarks of Paradise Pier—redecorating the former Sun Wheel, removing the not-so-hidden Mickey from California Screamin’, and eliminating the Maliboomer.

But some of the planned improvements at the ground level never happened. Mickey’s Fun Wheel was supposed to get a boardwalk around its base and an old-fashioned shade roof over the queue and load area. The wheel’s base is still just an open concrete box, as when it was the Sun Wheel.

King Triton's Carousel of the Sea at Disney California Adventure

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

California Screamin’ queue area

The other queue and load area that would benefit from a period-appropriate redo is California Screamin’. It currently suggests a Six Flags park in the 1970s.

So far, the transformation of Paradise Pier has only been partial. Let’s hope that the sign at Blue Sky Cellar was right—“good ideas are preserved for future use.” And let’s hope this future isn’t too far off.

Imagine a time when a walk around Paradise Bay is a delightful experience, with charming enhancements all along the way—art, imaginative posters, fountains, flowers, street entertainers, and rich layers of details—in an idealized setting far better than real amusement zones of a century earlier.

After all, this is Disney.


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Updated February 21, 2014.