Describing Cars Land to the uninitiated is a difficult task. Usually such a thing can be accomplished by analogue to something that resonates with personal experience of the listener. In this case, the closest analogue is a delicately crafted concoction: one part the vivid bright lights of Las Vegas, one part Utah’s scenic Monument Valley, and one part those colorful CGI cars from Pixarland. Of course this analogue will resonate with approximately no one, at least no one who resides in reality, so Cars Land remains something that can only be experienced through actual experience. The rest of what’s written here is thus largely in vain (I pay myself by the word), but try I will anyway. On the upside, there’s a chance that many of those reading this have experienced the land themselves. To those, I recommend breezing past my rambling text and letting the photos speak for themselves. As a matter of fact, that’s probably good advice for just about everyone.
If you are trying to form a mental feel for Cars Land, the first two pieces of imagery above are things that actually can be experienced in reality, so they largely speak for themselves. However, an entire essay could be written breaking down the last element. Ahhh, Pixar. It’s as if the minds at Pixar have tapped into some sort of unknown part of the creative subconscious, or perhaps have engineered some sort of magic elixir that produces vivid hallucinations of unconventional storytelling genius. “Storytelling genius” might be a bit strong for Cars, but it’s still an undeniably remarkable film. Think about it. Talking cars running their own city without even a passing explanation of humanity’s role in the whole scheme? A mom and pop economy that is somehow viable despite being ravished by the “big” road down the way? Reproduction despite, well, despite the obvious?
All of these chances (and more) for losing the audience through disbelief, yet disbelief remains suspended throughout the film. Just like it does in all Pixar films. Just like it does when you first walk into Cars Land. You’re no longer in California. You’re no longer in Anaheim. You’re no longer in a theme park. While the visitor to the theme park is not required to suspend inquiries of logic directed towards the existence of animated caricature-ish cars, it is still quite an accomplishment that the visitor is convinced that they are in Radiator Springs.
That’s how Cars Land can best be described: as a land so perfect that the suspension of disbelief at the idea that you’ve just walked into a real town that only exists in a CGI film is the natural reaction.
Even though Cars Land is truly an example of a land where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, let’s take a look at each part of Cars Land with overviews and capsule reviews:
Cars Land has three attractions: Radiator Springs Racers, Luigi’s Flying Tires, and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. Radiator Springs Racers is the only E-Ticket attraction of the three and is truly a marvel. Luigi’s and Mater’s are both really fun attractions with nice detailing, but are fairly superficial. Even though I enjoy them both, I do wish they weren’t such simple “kiddie” rides.
Radiator Springs Racers
On Walt Disney World-oriented fan forums, I’ve seen Radiator Springs Racers (click for more photos) described as “Test Track set to Cars.” This absurd description is laughable, and clearly did not come from anyone who has ever set foot in Cars Land. While I have high hopes for Test Track when it reopens after its refurbishment, it’s not even comparable to Radiator Springs Racers. The comparison is about as valid as saying Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin is “Haunted Mansion set to Toy Story.” In both cases, they use the same ride system technology, and that’s where the similarities end.
The scope and scale of Radiator Springs Racers is apparent when you first enter the queue and pass through a winding queue that takes you through Ornament Valley. There is rock-work on all sides of you, and the immersiveness of the experience is really tough to describe. Cars race overhead as you pass under bridges, and you encounter Stanley’s Oasis, home to the original Radiator Spring. These are just the tip of the iceberg on queue details, and there is plenty to see and examine during that 100-minute plus wait for the attraction.
Radiator Springs Racers itself is a very well balanced attraction, starting out with a fun safety spiel before beginning a nice leisurely drive through Ornament Valley until the first of three “WOW” moments. After this moment you head into the dark ride portion of the attraction, where the second “WOW” moment occurs, and where you encounter incredibly detailed aspects of Radiator Springs, along with some truly impressive Audio Animatronics. We experienced Radiator Springs Racers numerous times opening weekend not because we are thrill junkies, but because we wanted to see as many of these details as possible. After one of two possible sequences to conclude the dark ride sequence, you begin the third leg of the attraction, which is also the third “WOW” moment (perhaps not quite so much a moment as a sequence).
Overall, Radiator Springs Racers is the most impressive and fun attraction that Disney has built in a couple decades. Tower of Terror (Walt Disney World’s version) is the last attraction of the same caliber, I think. This will be an attraction around which people plan trips to Disneyland Resort. As hinted at above, Radiator Springs Racers can have some ridiculous wait times. It’s worth the wait. I recommend trying to get a FastPass for it at park opening (they go quickly!) or using Single Rider, but regardless of the wait, it’s one attraction that you can’t miss.
Luigi’s Flying Tires
Luigi’s Flying Tires (click for more photos) is a pretty straightforward attraction that doesn’t demand as much explanation. One thing that should not be overlooked about this simple attraction is its queue: the queue is incredibly detailed with lots of car memorabilia. Given the long wait times for Luigi’s Flying Tires, this queue is definitely important! On Luigi’s, you board a large tire in an Italian garden; when the attraction starts, the tire is lifted off the ground by thousands of vents that blow air under the tires. From there, you lean (slightly) side to side to pilot your tire. To spice things up, Disney has added large beach balls to the garden.
Luigi’s is already a divisive attraction, and some folks are taking bets as to when it will close. The criticisms are two-fold: first, that it’s impossible to pilot the tire, and second, that the load and unload cycles take too long. After successfully piloting a tire a number of times, I can tell you that the first criticism is entirely unfounded. Sarah and I had our times flying around the garden, and most people we saw looked like they were having a lot of fun. To be fair, some people did have issues getting their tires moving, but this issue seemed largely due to user error.
As for the second criticism, it’s entirely valid and is a big concern. The time it took Cast Members to get one set of guests off the attraction, another set onto the attraction, and the attraction started was insane–sometimes over 5 minutes, which is much longer than the duration of the attraction itself. Disney needs to address this unless it just hopes that Luigi’s quickly wanes in popularity once it’s not so new.
Overall, we had a ton of fun on Luigi’s Flying Tires, and it’s our second favorite attraction in Cars Land. However, if we had waited 120 minutes for it, we surely would have been disappointed. It’s a fun little attraction, but much emphasis needs to be placed on the “little” part. This attraction isn’t worth much more than a 20 minute wait, unless you really, really want to experience it.
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree (click for more photos) is another smaller attraction in Cars Land. This is a whip style attraction in which guests are towed by tractors on Mad Tea Party style turntables and whipped from side to side as the trailer turns. There are occasional near-miss moments as the tractors come “close” to crashing into one another, too.
The queue isn’t quite as detailed as Radiator Springs Racers or Luigi’s Flying Tires, but depending upon which line Cast Members send you to, you might be able to spot some junk Mater has collected or some of his memorabilia detailing Mater’s exploits. There’s also mater’s jukebox, which plays all of his hilarious tunes.
Overall, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree is a surprise hit. I think the hilarious music is the high point of the attraction, but the ride itself is surprisingly fun, too, especially given the very simple premise. You’ll find yourself humming the tunes for days, though.
Cars Land expands the dining options at Disney California Adventure with two new restaurants, both of which offer a host of unique menu items. The highly touted cone “handwiches” type options at Cozy Cone Motel were a bit of a letdown, but overall the menus for both restaurants represent a step in the right direction and demonstrate Disneyland’s continued efforts to undo the homogenization and “burgerification” of menus that have occurred in Disney theme parks over the last decade. In addition to these restaurants, there’s also Filmore’s Taste-In, a snack stand.
Flo’s V8 Cafe
Although we haven’t gone around counting tables, it appears to us that Flo’s V8 Cafe is the largest counter service restaurant at Disney California Adventure. Flo’s seems much more intimate than its seating capacity suggests, thanks in large part to the division of the restaurant with multiple rooms and multiple outdoor seating locations. The best of these seating locations is near the Pacific Wharf entrance to Cars Land, and offers a great view out into Ornament Valley. Each of the interior rooms has a slightly different design aesthetic and offers a different thematic motif. There’s plenty to explore, from items from Flo’s singing career to trophy’s from Doc Hudson’s racing days.
Flo’s V8 Cafe offers American comfort foods with a bit of a twist. Unique options like the Veggie-Tater Bake balance out the menu along with home-style rotisserie pork loin, citrus turkey and New York strip loin. Every meal ends with single-serve fruit pies including apple-cheddar, strawberry-rhubarb, and cherry flavors!
Overall, Flo’s V8 Cafe is a dining gem in Disneyland Resort. From the stellar ambiance to the menu, Flo’s can’t be beat. It raises the bar for counter service with quality dishes on par with the Plaza Inn at Disneyland. Our favorites included the New York strip loin and the strawberry-rhubarb pie. Flo’s also has amazing milkshakes and good beer options.
Cozy Cone Motel
The Cozy Cone Motel is not a counter service restaurant in the traditional sense of the term (Disney doesn’t even classify it as one, but instead as an ODV (food cart)). Essentially, though, it’s a counter service restaurant spread out in four different cone stands, each serving a different cone-based food. Stand 1 is called “Churros,” Stand 2 is called “Ice Cream Cones,” Stand 3 is called “Cone Queso,” and Stand 4 is called “Cone-coctions.”
Here’s another example of Disney doing an excellent job with the theming in Cars Land. Not only did Disney create separate cones, just like in the film, rather than combining them into one easier to run venue, but the cone motif is carried out flawlessly throughout the Cozy Cone Motel area. This area is rife with detail, and even if you don’t get food at the Cozy Cone Motel, you’ll want to head over here to do some exploring.
Overall, the Cozy Cone Motel is a bit of a letdown, unfortunately. The theming and accuracy actually works to the detriment of Cozy Cone Motel, as capacity at the Cones is incredibly low, and the time it takes to serve guests is often way too long. Beyond the ridiculously long lines, the food at Cozy Cone Motel is somewhat disappointing. The cone sandwiches (similar to the classic “Handwiches” at Walt Disney World’s The Land pavilion) were all subpar (the breakfast ones and the lunch and dinner ones). The specialty beverages, like Fillmore’s Fuelin’ Groovy Ades, however, are incredible. If the cone sandwiches improve, Cozy Cone Motel will be a great dining option once crowds die down…in a few years.
Fillmore’s Taste-In is not so much a third full-fledged dining option as it is a mini-market where you can purchase healthier items or unhealthy prepackaged food items. Juice and fruit are available, as are potato chips and bottles of Coke. Disney advertises Fillmore’s as a healthier option, but I think this is due to its association with the Fillmore character. I really don’t think Fillmore’s has more healthy or all-natural items than Moritmer’s Market on Buena Vista Street.
Fillmore’s does excel at theming, and there is actually quite a bit to see here, from the spinning windmills to the organic fuel tanks. The area really comes alive at night, when psychedelic lighting makes everything a lot more groovy and photogenic.
In addition to its three attractions and three dining options, Cars Land also has three shops.
Sarge’s Surplus Hut
The first shop you approach as you enter Cars Land is Sarge’s Surplus Hut. Shaped like a military Quonset hut, Sarge’s seems to specialize in Cars-themed playsets. While the shop itself is fairly small, there are a number of Cars items in there, most of the playset variety. There is awesome some general Cars Land-specific merchandise (such as the Luigi’s Flying Tires hat) here.
Theming is pretty interesting, with the “cargo” look carried out everywhere from shelving to the counters. Merchandise unique to this location includes Sarge’s Surplus Hut shirts.
Radiator Springs Curios
It’s ironic that the most unique shop in Cars Land sells the most generic merchandise. I expected this curios shop to have all sorts of unique merchandise, perhaps akin to Sid’s at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Unfortunately, Radiator Springs Curios had nothing unique when we visited, but instead was the pin and Vinylmation shop for Cars Land. There are also some Cars Land items here, as well as some general Disney California Adventure merchandise.
The design and detail in the shop (interior and exterior) are flawless, though, with lots of handpicked items and in-jokes throughout the displays. Look for Pixar and Route 66 references throughout Radiator Springs Curios.
Ramone’s House of Body Art
From the perspective of merchandise, Ramone’s is the best shop in all of Cars Land. Here you can find the “Champions Speed Shop” and the “Low ‘n’ Slow Car Club” apparel lines that can only (for now) be found in Cars Land. Ramone’s offers some other merchandise, including leather jackets, attraction shirts, and office supplies, all of which are unique to Cars Land. The “gearhead” theming is also well done here, making it the best (and largest) option for Cars Land shopping.
With three dining options, three shopping locations, and three attractions, plus a variety of non-functioning spaces to explore, Cars Land has a lot to offer guests. For most guests, Cars Land will be what makes Disney California Adventure a full day park and Disneyland Resort a bona fide vacation destination. For us, Cars Land adds unparalleled depth and theming to Disney California Adventure, and makes for a great place to hang out, explore, and relax for an evening. We could easily spend an entire day in Cars Land (and we have!). It along with Buena Vista Street help tip the scale in Disneyland’s favor when determining whether we should visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World. Disney really hit a home run with Cars Land that will have guests talking for years to come.
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