Cars Land, a twelve-acre addition to Disney California Adventure (DCA), opened to the public on June 15, 2012. It instantly changed the entire balance of Disneyland Resort, drawing record crowds to DCA and transforming the rookie park -- at long last -- into a compelling, must-see destination.
Does it live up to all the hype? Yes. Cars Land astonishes, and in ways more deep, charming and effective than anyone expected. There is, literally, nothing like it anywhere else on Earth.
Cars Land, based on the Pixar motion picture Cars, consists of the entire town of Radiator Springs and the surrounding mountain and desert lands of Cadillac Range, Stanley's Oasis and Ornament Valley, which are all part of Carburetor County. It contains three excellent rides, including one of the best theme park attractions on Earth. Visitors will also find three shops, three dining locations, a character meet-and-greet and many fun, hidden details to discover.
The place is breathtaking during the day and eye-poppingly dazzling at night.
WILL YOU ENJOY IT IF YOU'RE NOT A FAN OF THE CARS FILMS?
Yes. Fans of the Cars characters will, of course, feel as if they've died and gone to Heaven as the little town of Radiator Springs (all of it) comes to life around them. If you don't care for the films, however (or have simply never seen them), you can still feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole into a magical alternate reality of lovable, full-size living automobiles and the whimsical reflection of our own world that they inhabit.
Plus, the rides are a blast!
WILL MY SMALL CHILDREN ENJOY IT IF THEY'RE TOO YOUNG FOR THE RIDES?
From our experiences, yes. If they're old enough to recognize and call out to the characters, they'll enjoy the sights (and food) even if they don't yet meet the height requirements for the rides (40" for Radiator Springs Racers, 32" for Mater's Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi's Flying Tires). It's easy for them to meet Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater up close at a well-run meet-and-greet location. There's a great viewing spot of Radiator Springs Racers where children and their parents can watch the cars zoom past while the kids call out which car they think will win -- then see the same racers emerge from a tunnel and cross the finish line a moment later. And the Lightning McQueen lunch boxes (see below under Flo's V8 Cafe) are a huge hit with all ages. Don't forget, Radiator Springs Racers allows the "swapping" option: one adult can ride while another waits at the loading area with the small child, then the adults swap places so the second adult can ride.
As a bonus, the park's area for small children, A Bug's Land, is located right next door.
DO THE CROWDS RUIN THE EXPERIENCE? SHOULD I WAIT A FEW YEARS?
Although Cars Land is usually very, very crowded, it maintains a joyful, exciting atmosphere and -- all things considered -- the place handles crowds very well. In fact, if you play your cards right, you can experience all the attractions with minimal wait times (see below). If you can visit now, by all means do so. Word of mouth is quickly spreading about the high quality of Cars Land, and it will probably draw huge crowds for years to come. Don't postpone a visit; this place is too much fun to miss.
For more information about dealing with the crowds, please see our Travel Tips for Cars Land toward the end of this article.
RADIATOR SPRINGS RACERS is Cars Land's headliner attraction. Park expert Lou Mongello of WDW Radio called it the "perfect Disney attraction," and I couldn't agree more. Combining thrills, humor and amazing effects with likable characters and a compelling storyline, RSR whisks you off on a five-minute road trip you'll never forget. Beginning with a scenic outdoor drive through the mountains, it soon zips indoors for a frantic, funny dark ride portion in which full-scale, amazing audioanimatronics bring all of Radiator Springs' automobile citizens to life to interact with you.
The high-speed finale hurtles you back outdoors for a side-by-side race against another car. After roaring over camel-back hills, around steeply-banked turns and through a fog-filled tunnel, you cross the finish line (you don't know who'll win 'till the very last moment) and return indoors for a terrific ending scene.
MATER'S JUNKYARD JAMBOREE has a wonderfully crazy premise: Tow Mater's discovered his singing attracts a herd of square-dancing tractors, and he's attached small trailers for you to ride in so you can be pulled around by the mechanical critters. The ride surprises nearly everyone, because at first glance it seems like a gentle children's ride. Once aboard, however, older kids, teens and adults find themselves whooping and laughing as the vehicles whip and swing around the ride platform with sudden, unexpected intensity. The frenetic motion (wild but not nauseating) and Mater's funny, good-natured songs combine to create an extremely fun, joyful ride. Don't pass it by. And, yes, the soundtrack's available.
LUIGI'S FLYING TIRES, a modern tribute to the short-lived 1960's Flying Saucer ride at Disneyland, is a hoot. Basically, you climb aboard oversized tires that scoot around a playfield on a cushion of air. Oddly, this ride garnered a lot of negative word-of-mouth before its public unveiling as preview riders posted comments deriding the ride's slow pace and supposedly difficult controls. Y'know what? Phooey to that! Luigi's Flying Tires is great fun and genuinely easy to control. The ride does load and unload slowly, but not unbearably so, and the waiting line through Luigi's showrooms is a kick. If the line does not protrude out the building's front door, I say give it a shot. You just might fall in love with this giant air-hockey table.
Dining at Cars Land can be nearly as much fun as the rides! The land contains two main food venues, both full of imaginative theming and excellent menu items.
FLO'S V8 CAFE has become the unexpected star of Cars Land, second only to Radiator Springs Racers. The food is (mostly) wonderful, the attention to detail boggles the mind, the music's perfect, the staff is terrific...and its views rival the famous Blue Bayou restaurant at Disneyland. Although you can order excellent milk shakes, you'll find no burgers, hot dogs or fries; Flo's offers delicious comfort food based around the kind of diner fare you might find on the real Route 66. We're talking Barbecued Pork Loin with Coca-Cola sauce. Citrus Turkey and Mashed Potatoes. New York Strip Loin. Amazing Veggie Tater Bakes. Apple Chedar Pie. Seriously, just thinking about the food at Flo's makes me want to drop everything and head to DCA for dinner!
The children's meals at Flo's are well designed, with a choice of Mac and Cheese or sandwich (turkey or roast beef), plus fruit and beverage (milk, juice or water). The optional Lightning McQueen lunch boxes are awesome, and cause many adults to order the kids' meals for themselves!
The Churro Cone - Churro bites (in a cone) with chocolate sauce, plus Ramone's "Pear of Dice" soda.
Ice Cream Cones - Delicious, soft-serve (dipping optional). Great "Route" Beer Floats.
Cone Queso - Frito-&-Cheese-topped Chili in a bread cone! Plus Filmore's Lemonade or Pomegranate Limeade.
Cone-Coctions - Pretzel Bites (in a cone) & Cheesy Sauce, plus Red's Apple Freeze.
Popcone - Wild-flavored (pickle, bacon-cheddar) popcorn in a cone, plus Doc's Grape Tonic.
The food's satisfying and every single one of those drink offerings taste amazing. Seating's limited, but it's easy to carry your food across Route 66 and find a seat at Flo's.
The three souvenir shops in Radiator Springs offer a truckload of Cars-themed gifts for all types of budgets. Although we'd certainly like to see more items featuring the Cars Land attractions themselves, it's a diverse and fun selection.
SARGE'S SURPLUS HUT is the land's toy shop, featuring -- you guessed it -- Cars play sets, Cars Lego, Cars hats and Cars shirts (children's sizes), as well as die-cast collectible cars for all ages, including miniature replicas of the ride vehicles from Radiator Springs Racers and Mater's Junkyard Jamboree. You can also find the Cars Land soundtrack CD here.
RAMONE'S HOUSE OF BODY ART features clothing and souvenirs geared more toward adults, with clever logos and stylized art. You'll also find keychains, coffee mugs and art prints, including replicas of the attraction posters.
RADIATOR SPRINGS CURIOS is an eclectic little shop, featuring souvenirs of Cars Land, Route 66, and Disneyland Resort in general as well as lots and lots of trading pins.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR CARS LAND
It's no secret that Cars Land is drawing huge crowds to Disney California Adventure, and most of those visitors have a trip on Radiator Springs Racers as their top priority for the day. Waiting times for that headliner attraction tend to hover around the two hour mark. Waiting times to get a Fastpass can be an hour or more -- and the Fastpasses usually run out within an hour of park opening.
What to do? There's one very simple answer if your party consists entirely of folks old enough to ride by themselves:
SINGLE RIDER LINE!
Take advantage of the Single Rider Line; that's the best piece of advice anyone can give you for Radiator Springs Racers. Even on the most crowded days, the Single Rider Line can get you aboard in less than an hour -- and often in under twenty minutes. If you're with a group, you can all enjoy each other's company as you wait in the scenic queue. Plan on sitting alone with a group of friendly strangers, but often you'll be assigned to sit alongside another member of your party anyway -- or you might end up racing against each other! It's easy to meet up again with your group at the photo booth or the ride's exit.
While it's always great to sit with family and friends, the ride is such an intense sensory overload that you'll spend the entire trip staring at what's happening all around your vehicle, then whooping and laughing as your car zooms around the race course. In other words, splitting your group into single riders for this one does not hurt the experience in the slightest. The time you save by not waiting in the full queue (or waiting an hour just for a Fastpass) makes this option our #1 tip.
The Single Rider Line is located at the ride's main entrance, to the left of the main queue and Fastpass line. If you encounter a huge line stretching out past the ride entry, politely make your way around the line's left side and proceed toward the entry to see if the Single Rider Line gate is open. Usually, you can walk right in.
|The Single Rider entry is on the far left.
A) You have children who are too young to ride unaccompanied and meet you at the exit.
B) You really, really want that on-ride photo of your group.
C) The Single Rider Line is mysteriously closed. (occasionally, it's closed off when it extends too far toward the ride's main entry. In these cases, it usually re-opens within fifteen minutes.)
If Single Rider is not an option, things become a bit more complex, but workable. Read on!
I CAN'T DO SINGLE RIDER. NOW WHAT?
If you're a Resort Hotel guest:
The Disneyland Resort hotels (Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier Hotel and the Grand Californian) all offer early entry (one hour early) to Disney California Adventure on certain days. If possible, try to book at least one night at a Resort hotel to take advantage of that offer.
Be sure to show up at the park gate, tickets (and hotel key cards to prove you're eligible) in hand, at least a half hour before the Early Entry begins! Yes, that can mean, on some days, getting to the DCA entrance by 6:30 AM. Trust us, it's worth the effort. After you go on the Cars Land rides, you can get breakfast at Flo's.
When the gates open, you and the thousands of other early-entry folks (yes, thousands) will be escorted to Cars Land. No one's allowed to run ahead. As you approach, you might get a fun bonus: Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater are usually waiting by the Cars Land entrance, and they proceed to lead the crowd, parade-style, down Route 66 toward the entrance to Radiator Springs Racers. If you have young children with you, this is another reason to get there early to secure a spot near the front of the crowd; the mini-parade really kicks the morning off to a fun start.
Head directly into Radiator Springs Racers, enjoying a brisk walk through the winding, detail-packed queue. Then prepare for a fantastic ride!
Exiting the ride, anyone old enough should immediately enter the Single Rider Line for a second trip: you'll most likely walk right on.
If you're not a Resort Hotel Guest:
Find out ahead of time if Early Entry is in effect for Resort Hotel Guests that day. If not, you're in luck. Get to the DCA gate, tickets in hand, at least a half hour before the park opens. You want to be near the front of the crowd to get on Radiator Springs Racers as quickly as possible.
And, as stated above, once you exit the ride, anyone old enough to ride alone should immediately get in the Single Rider Line for a second trip with little to no wait.
But...what if Early Entry is in effect that day, and you're not staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel?
First of all, same rules about getting into the park: Show up at least a half hour before the posted opening time.
Forget about Fastpass. You'll either find the Fastpasses are already gone for the day, or else there'll be a ridiculously long line.
Head straight to Radiator Springs Racers.
If you can take advantage of the Single Rider Line, by all means, do so. You'll be on board within an hour, usually less.
If circumstances dictate you must wait in the full queue, enter if the line is two hours or less. Relax, enjoy the amazing scenery all around, and strike up a nice chat with your group (if you're not in a group, switch to the Single Rider Line immediately!) The time will fly by. No, not really, but the line does move fairly briskly, and there's lots to look at along the way.
Bonus Tip: The queue twists through the ghost-town remains of Stanley's Oasis, a little boom town that -- in Cars history -- led to the founding of Radiator Springs. Its story is told in a recent Pixar short film, Time Travel Mater. For added enjoyment, you might want to download the film from iTunes and view it before your arrival at DCA, because you'll see many landmarks, props and photos that come directly from that story.
The wait time for Radiator Springs Racers ebbs and flows during the day, but the regular Standby Line is rarely less than 100 minutes. If it stretches much beyond that on your first swing-by, you might try again later, but don't press your luck too much; as a new and technically complex headliner attraction, Radiator Springs Racers is subject to occasional technical problems which cause the ride to shut down temporarily, so don't wait until the very last hours of your visit.
WHY DO WE REFUSE TO RECOMMEND GETTING FASTPASSES FOR THIS RIDE?
Seriously, if you're going to stand in a crazily-long line anyway, wouldn't you rather just be in line for the ride itself, surrounded by the spectacular scenery of Cars Land? And, remember, Fastpasses do not guarantee immediate entry to a ride. Sometimes it works out that way, sometimes it doesn't.
Under the right circumstances, Fastpasses are great. This isn't one of those circumstances.
PART TWO: GETTING ON MATER'S JUNKYARD JAMBOREE & LUIGI'S FLYING TIRES
Mater's Junkyard Jamboree is the easiest ride in Cars Land to board without a huge wait: just keep checking back occasionally during your stay and enter when the posted waiting time is 30 minutes or less. The large roofed waiting area is fan-cooled, and fans of the Mater's Tall Tales cartoons will find lots of great props from the tow truck's adventures decorating the area. As mentioned earlier, this isn't a kiddy ride; it's great fun for anyone over the 32" height requirement.
Luigi's Flying Tires also features a fun ride, a sheltered waiting area and lots of great character-related details in the queue. Any posted wait time of 60 minutes or less is a good time to queue up for Luigi's. If the line winds through the entire interior of Casa della Tires but does not extend out the shop's front door, your wait will be about fifty minutes. Any family members who don't wish to ride can get a great view of your tire escapades from the side area on Cross Street.
PART THREE: EATING IN CARS LAND
Try to eat your meals a little bit earlier or later than "normal" to avoid the breakfast/lunch/dinner rushes. This advice is true for all of Disneyland Resort, but is especially important in Cars Land, where two dining locations (I'm not counting Filmore's, which is more of a snack vendor) are available to serve hundreds and hundreds of hungry guests.
COZY CONE ADVICE:
We actually love every single food item at the Cones, and all the drinks, too. Our favorites, however, would have to be the Chili "Cone" Queso in the bread cone and either Red's Apple Freeze or Doc's Wild Grape Tonic. Procuring either of those particular drinks, however, involves a trip to a second cone; one more reason to visit the Cones when the crowds are elsewhere.
FLO'S V8 CAFE ADVICE:
Where to begin...we absolutely love Flo's. Long story short: the breakfasts here are fine, but lunch and dinner are much, much better. The best reason for breakfast at Flo's are the Children's Meal waffles, which any age can enjoy. We also recommend the delicious Brioche French Toast.
For lunch and dinner, we can't choose a favorite between the NY Strip Loin and the Pork Loin; both are fantastic. You get to pick two of six delicious side orders; don't miss the mashed potatoes -- possibly the best mashed potatoes in California!
Flo's handles large crowds very well with smart, friendly service; even long lines move fairly quickly.
As mentioned earlier, Flo's offers incredible views of Radiator Springs Racers. Try grabbing an outdoor table on the Cafe's mountain range side and spend some time relaxing and enjoying the sights.
PART FOUR: MEETING LIGHTNING AND MATER
Easy as Apple-Chedar Pie! (Sorry...still thinking about Flo's). You can find Lightning McQueen or Tow Mater (they take turns all day) parked in front of the Cozy Cones. There's a short queue for your personal meeting with the automobile superstars, and the cast members are happy to use your camera to snap a shot of your entire group. You might even receive some parting words of wisdom from the four-wheeled celebrities.
Note that -- about every half hour -- Lightning and Mater exchange places by driving slowly through town, chatting with passerby as they come and go. The sight increases the smiles in the crowd every time it happens.
PART FIVE: SHOPPING IN CARS LAND
Remember, Sarge's stocks toys, die-cast collectibles and children's clothing. Ramone's carries adult sized shirts and art prints, and the Curios shop has a large trading pin section.
Popular shop items, often selling out, include the Music of Cars Land CD and the crazy Luigi's Flying Tire hats. Two other popular souvenirs actually come from the dining venues: Traffic Cone drink cups and the clever Lightning McQueen lunch boxes.
PART SIX: SH-BOOM!
Make no mistake, though Cars Land handles large crowds well, and there are plenty of spots there to shelter you from the Southern California sun, the best time to visit Radiator Springs is not in the middle of a huge noontime rush hour in hundred degree heat. To experience Cars Land at its best, try to visit first thing in the morning, in the mid/late afternoon (when other folks are heading to their hotels for a break), and after dark...
...especially after dark!
Try to visit at dusk for the Lighting of the Neon. If you've seen the movie, you know what's coming. The music in town stops. Everything's unusually quiet as the sky grows dark. Then, the song Sh-Boom starts up and the town's buildings, one-by-one, light up with flashing neon and twinkling bulbs. It's a lovely, heart-tugging moment for everyone. If you happen to love the movie -- and know what the neon-lighting meant to the cars of Radiator Springs -- you just might find yourself getting a bit misty-eyed.
PART SEVEN: MORE CARS LAND POSTS
Cars Land is a grand-slam-home-run for Disneyland Resort. It's an amazing place with a scope and attention to detail that are absolutely mind-boggling. You forget you're in a theme park called Disney California Adventure. You forget you're in Anaheim. You feel as if you're hundreds of miles away from any large city, and that you've tumbled through a portal into an amazing world where tires fly, tractors dance, and a once-conceited race car became best friends with a rusty old tow truck.
THE LAND AND ITS DETAILS
Cars Land Song List
The Doc Hudson Museum
Memorabilia at Flo's: Jeep Date
The Things Cars Eat at Flo's V8 Cafe
Mater Waffles at Flo's
The Cozy Cone Fountain
Sarge's Night-Vision Goggles
Red Welcomes Visitors
The Amazing Alternate Entrance to Cars Land
Where Lightning Got Sentenced
Lightning McQueen on the Move
Mater Takes a Break
Radiator Springs Highway Poetry
Cars Land Trash is...Magical?
Mater & the Tower of Terror
Cozy Cone's Consistent Kookiness
Cozy Cone Souvenir Cups
Lightning Greets Fans at the Cozy Cone
The Cars Look Like the Rocks -- Not the Other Way 'Round
Breakfast at Flo's V8 Cafe
Lightning Takes the Scenic Route
The Lived-In Look of Cars Land
RADIATOR SPRINGS RACERS
Tips for the Cars Land Rope Drop and Mini Parade
Don't Let This Happen To You
Temporary Ride Shut-Downs Can Be Fun
A Look at Red
The Cars Land Luigi Vs. Ramone Mystery
Why You Need to Arrive at Cars Land Early
Inside the Loading Station
The World's Biggest Slot Car Track
RSR's First Summer: Joy, Beauty & Crowds
Cacti 'Round the Racers
A Misty Morning at Radiator Springs Racers
Hands Up for Radiator Springs Racers
Ride Breakdown Fun: Stuck in Doc Hudson's Garage
MATER'S JUNKYARD JAMBOREE
Parking Area 51
Mater, Private Eye
Do Not Feed the Tractor
Mater's Junkyard Jamboree is About to Get Comfier
Junkyard Jamboree Spins Its Tale in Book Form
LUIGI'S FLYING TIRES
Flying Saucers, Tires, Fish Heads & Crumbs
Cars Land Details: Angus A. Ackley
Forget Bad Reviews: Flying Tires Rock!
Better Without the Beach Balls?
Thanks for checking out the Mouse Troop Cars Land Guide! We'll update as changes occur, and we welcome any suggestions. If you have any questions about Cars Land -- or anything else at the Disneyland Resort -- please post a comment below, and we'll do our best to provide answers!
Guide written by R.P. Tobin
Photos by Cal Whitham & R.P. Tobin