By Charly SHELTON
Last week we looked at the reopening of Disney California Adventure park and the fantastic new opening statement of a land – Buena Vista Street, harking back to the ’20s and ’30s in Los Angeles when a young cartoonist named Walt Disney stepped off the train with a cardboard suitcase and a pocket full of dreams, ready to make a name for himself in Hollywood.
This week, we will look at another new land added to the park. This one is drawn from reality as well, but populated by fanciful automotive characters from the “Cars” films of Pixar. This is the town of Radiator Springs and home to the all new Cars Land.
In doing research for the film “Cars,” the Pixar crew took a road trip down Route 66 to experience the sights, sounds, smells and flavors of what life was like for those who live along the Mother Road. This trip inspired everything found in “Cars,” specifically the shops, eateries, locales and location of the town where the main story takes place.
The small town of Radiator Springs, once a bustling travel center located on Route 66, is now a sad and dejected little forgotten town, forsaken for the allure of the new freeway that cuts a line through the desert rather than flowing with the land as the Mother Road does.
The citizens of the “Cars” universe have chosen the freeway, a less scenic route, all to save a mere 10 minutes of drive time. The film follows racecar Lightning McQueen as he discovers the small town’s charm and learns to love its inhabitants that have stayed on in hopes that one day the visitors will return. Well now they have.
After watching the film, stepping into this new land at DCA is like stepping into the movie screen. The completely faithful adaptation of the town is uncanny. It fits the set of the film so perfectly and to scale that you can honestly imagine that anthropomorphized cars really do exist and live in this town.
The characters are all celebrating at their shops, diners and rides because we human tourists have come to patronize their town, which gives a very energized feel to the whole land. The towering rock formations that surround the land are all hand carved, and seeing the massive Cadillac Mountain range off in the distance as your car whips through the Lincoln Continental Divide while in Radiator Springs Racers or even sitting down for a nice meal at Flo’s V8 Café gives a sense of realism that makes you believe you actually are in the desert, not in what used to be a Disney cast member parking lot.
The rides in Cars Land are hit and miss. The three rides – Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, Luigi’s Flying Tires and Radiator Springs Racers – each have their own benefits and faults, but overall make for a good balance of rides without trying to cram too much in.
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree is a scrambler-type ride that sits guests behind a dancing baby tractor that whips them around the dance floor in a series of spinning circles while the detached car behind the tractor swings wildly back and forth. Based on the concept art and promotional sneak peek videos, this looked to be one of the worst rides Disney had conceived. After waiting for it and not expecting much, I now completely eat my words. It is so much fun.
A simple principle, but with all the excitement of speed and spins, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree is one of the better new attractions in the park. However, with wait times on the weekends of over two hours to get on the ride, you might consider postponing Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree until the crowds thin a bit. Wait times are usually about 30-60 minutes on a weekday, so that might be a better option.
Luigi’s Flying Tires is an old Disneyland attraction from back in the day. It was over in Tomorrowland under the name Flying Saucers. Essentially, guests board tire vehicles that are lifted by air jets that can be maneuvered around on the cushion of air. It’s like sitting on the puck during a game of air hockey, except you can drive your puck wherever you want to go.
This ride is not as much fun as I thought it would be. It is slow to load, long to ride and, all in all just not that great. It takes several rides to really be able to drive your tire like a pro and with wait times almost always over two hours, one ride is enough for a day.
And finally the main event. The E ticket attraction in the land is definitely Radiator Springs Racers.
Guests board their own Cars character vehicle to go for a scenic drive around Ornament Valley, seeing the beautiful rock work, plant life and waterfalls that make this land so engaging. Traveling inside the mountain, guests go tractor tipping with Mater, drive through the town’s main drag and prepare for a race by either going to Ramone’s for a new paint job or to Luigi’s for new tires.
Then it’s time to race.
Flooring it around the curves and windy roads of the American southwest-themed area, you race another vehicle as you power through the hills, dig into the curves and eat up the track like a real dirt hound, finishing the race in beautiful Tail Light Caverns (a location originally planned for the film but was cut after the development stage). It’s a great ride, but hardly worth the four to five hour wait that is common on weekends. Weekdays are resting at around three hours as well, so unless you have a Fastpass, you may want to put this one off for a while as well.
Next week we look at more of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, including the amazing new restaurants Carthay Circle and Flo’s V8 Café.