As an E-Ticket, does Radiator Springs Racers compare well to other Disneyland Resort classics? Does the initial excitement hold up through repeat visits? In short, is it really all that great?
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
Radiator Spings Racers is unique; it combines setting, story, motion, characters, humor, sound, special effects and thrills smoothly into one great, perfectly-paced and emotionally uplifting adventure. Its mix of attraction styles keeps guests engaged, wondering what's going to happen next.
The Perfect Ride Story
The story works brilliantly and flows naturally with the speed and motion of the ride vehicles. You start with a scenic road trip through the wonders of Ornament Valley, but soon take a wrong turn into a tunnel.
Continuing the Experience Beyond the Ride
That last bit matters a lot, and helps explain what makes Radiator Springs Racers so effective. On most rides, the adventure ends as you step back out into the park. Here, however, when you exit the ride, you're still in Radiator Springs. You're still immersed in the Cars World, the races continue and the whole town is bustling with excitement and activity. The entirety of Cars Land extends the ride experience.
That's what happens with the one-two combination of Radiator Springs Racers and Cars Land. The two are intertwined and enhance each other to a degree never before achieved in a theme park. It even goes beyond what Universal's done with Harry Potter in Florida, as the outdoor portion of Radiator Springs Racers -- with full-size cars zooming past spectators -- forms a living, kinetic part of the whole picture.
The illusion of life
Radiator Springs Racers represents the most successful instance of bringing beloved animated characters to life in a theme park. The audio-animatronic characters on this ride are absolutely phenomenal, and the way they're gradually introduced to riders works brilliantly. After a beautiful drive that feels like a life-size version of Autopia, guests follow a cave into the show building. For the first frantic moments of swerves and near-collisions in the dark, it feels like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride on steroids. Then, however, you hear Sheriff's siren and you slow down.
The thrill of the race
The race section of Radiator Springs Racers blends thrills, voice acting, music and the amazing surrounding rockwork into a perfectly-designed finale. The steeply banked turns, dips and rises make the cars seem to be going much faster than their 40 MPH cruising speed, and you get a nice sense of weightlessness as you top the camel back hills. The overall effect of racing another car through the rocky landscape is fantastic, and the final swoop/banked turn/tunnel dive/finish line combination always elicits shouts of joy from riders.
The final scene in Tail Light Caverns, where Lightning and Mater share some parting words with your group, ties the whole experience together beautifully, putting riders in a happy, mellow mood. Any thoughts about who won or lost the race are instantly forgotten, as everyone's had a great time. In keeping with the tone of the films, the race isn't about winning or losing, it's about taking part.
Of course, racing to the finish line does provide a great goal for the ride's high-speed finale, and adds a sense of spontaneity to the adventure. When you board the ride, there's no way to know ahead of time if you'll win or lose. In the same manner, you don't know if the ride will send you to Lugi's Casa Della Tires or Ramone's House of Body Art. Combined with varying lines of character dialogue and the live interactions of waving to the folks in the opposing car, Radiator Springs Racers is a bit different each time you ride. Throw in the beautiful outdoor lighting after dark and the hundreds of details you won't catch on the first several trips, and you've got one of the most evergreen attractions in theme park history.