Cars Land at Disney California Adventure has solidified its place as one of the most popular theme park lands at Disneyland Resort, with guests rushing to Radiator Springs Racers, and waiting hours in line for it other times of the day. While Cars Land is a big draw for this one attraction, there is a lot to see and do in Cars Land.
From saving time in line for Radiator Springs Racers to slowing down and enjoying the details of Cars Land, this post covers some of our tips and tricks for Cars Land.
With that said, let’s get rolling. (Okay, sorry for that awful pun…but it’s pretty consistent with the generally corny writing style of this blog, so are you really that surprised?)
5. Saving Time
Rope drop at Disney California Adventure might as well be called the “Race for Racers,” because you’d have to be crazy to go to Disney California Adventure first thing and have anything else in mind other than Radiator Springs Racers. There are a few different ways to approach Radiator Springs Racers to minimize your time waiting in line.
(NOTE: Disney California Adventure is constantly changing the way it treats Radiator Springs Racers in the early morning hours; the practices may differ from day to day or week to week. Be aware of this and act accordingly if what you observe when you visit differs from the advice here.)
The best option is if you’re a Disneyland Resort on-site hotel guest going during Extra Magic Hours. If this is the case, you want to get in line for Radiator Springs Racers at least 15 minutes before normal park opening (Radiator Springs Racers doesn’t open until normal park opening, but a line usually forms inside the rope drop area before park opening for on-site guests, and if a line doesn’t form, you’ll be in the front of the pack) and go directly to the attraction.
If you’re not a Disneyland Resort hotel guest, your best bet is to go on a day of the week that doesn’t have Extra Magic Hours (so there are theoretically fewer people who can get in front of you in line), and arrive early. Probably about 30 minutes before official park opening, as the turnstiles usually open before the official opening time. Please note that Disney California Adventure is constantly tinkering with how they handle Radiator Springs Racers in the morning, but typically there is just a standard rope drop occurring near Carthay at official opening time. We’ve also heard of them doing a line for Radiator Springs Racers prior to rope drop; if that’s the case during your visit, revise the below plans accordingly.
From here, you have to choose between getting in line for FastPass, or racing to Radiator Springs Racers. It’s actually not much of a race as they tend to walk you back there with the rope, but whatever. The FastPass distribution spot is on the way to Cars Land (it’s nowhere near the attraction), so this works out. Since the line for Radiator Springs Racers usually gets backed up around the corner of the attraction, one of us usually goes to grab FastPasses while the other gets in line for Racers, with the FastPass getter running (literally) to catch up.
Even then, this strategy barely works/doesn’t always work. An alternative is to go straight to Radiator Springs Racers, then immediately go for FastPasses after. The benefit of this is you’ll probably get a FastPass with a nighttime return (if you read on, you’ll understand why this is a benefit). The drawback is that during busier seasons at Disneyland Resort, FastPasses may be gone by the time you’re done with Radiator Springs Racers.
Another strategy is getting in line 5 minutes before Disney California Adventure closes for the night. The line usually dies down a bit by this point, but the real benefit is that you’ll be “wasting” your time waiting in line after the park is closed, anyway, so it’s not like you’re missing out on valuable park time.
The final option (well, besides just getting in the regular standby line during the middle of the day like a total n00b) is to do Radiator Springs Racers via the Single Rider line. Wait times via the Single Rider line are totally unpredictable, but we’ve walked right on with this method. If this line is backed up to near the bridge, we recommend getting out of line and coming back later.
As for Luigi’s Flying Tires, morning or late at night are the best options for avoiding long waits. Wait times are never really all that bad for Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. Make no mistake, though, these are just minor diversions in comparison to Radiator Springs Racers. Think of them as the piece of orange sometimes garnishing a plate with the delicious burger you might order at a restaurant. Sure, oranges are fine, but no one is ordering the burger thinking, “OH MAN, I CAN’T WAIT TO GET MY ORANGE WEDGE!”
4. It Has Great Food
There are two restaurants in Cars Land: Flo’s V8 Cafe and Cozy Cone Motel (click on each name to read our full reviews of those restaurants). There’s also Filmore’s Taste-In, but it just sells fruits and other nonsense that no one wants. Stupid hippy.
We’re not exactly enamored with Cozy Cone Motel, but it does have some decent options. Plus, other people seem to love those “handwich” cones, even if we think they’re disgusting. We recommend sticking to the generally good desserts here. (Consider yourself warned.)
However, the main draw in Cars Land dining is absolutely Flo’s V8 Cafe. It has amazing breakfast options (it currently is not serving breakfast, although breakfast is rumored to return) and lots of great comfort food options for lunch and dinner. Our picks: Brioche French Toast for breakfast and the Pork Loin with the Coke BBQ for lunch or dinner. Both of these and numerous desserts at Flo’s V8 Cafe are contenders for our Best Disneyland Counter Service Foods list!
3. Nightly “Sh-Boom” Lighting Moment
Every night immediately after sunset (no, we cannot give you an exact time…for reasons that should be obvious), the lights go on in Cars Land. You can get the exact time by asking a Cast Member in Cars Land, but in our experience they often don’t know.
Your better bet is to pull up the sunset time on your phone, and to position yourself in front of Flo’s V8 Cafe about 5-10 minutes before this time. The lighting typically occurs about 1-5 minutes after sunset. By positioning yourself in front of Flo’s, you’re right in the middle of the action.
This is just a little thing, so don’t go in with overly high expectations, but if you’re like us, it’s one of those magic moments like the Kiss Goodnight at Walt Disney World that might make your eyes leak a little. There are a lot of videos on YouTube of this moment, but we aren’t going to link to any of them, as we think watching it ahead of time sort of ruins it…
2. Cars Land Hidden Details
Disney is quick to tout the “Disney Details” as the difference between it and competitors. In general, this is the general meticulous level of detail in any (good) project that Walt Disney Imagineering completes. Frankly, this was something that was generally lacking in Disney California Adventure 1.0, with few exceptions (Golden State being the land that immediately comes to mind). Both new lands, Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, rectified this problem in a big way.
In Cars Land, the Disney Details take two forms: layered organic detail and Easter Eggs. The layered organic details are just the types of thing you’d expect to find in an actual environment like this along Route 66. They give the land depth and make it feel real and lived-in, rather than an artificial theme park environment. This is my favorite type of detail, as I think it allows you to lose yourself in an environment, and forget you’re in a theme park. Disney’s best work, from New Orleans Square to World Showcase to Tokyo DisneySea, excel in this department. You can add Cars Land to the list of those preceding three examples.
Easter Eggs are a bit different (and more divisive among fans). These are things that do not organically belong in the land, but don’t necessarily detract from it, and give guests familiar with Disney (or whatever is being referenced) a pleasant surprise when they stumble upon them. We have a list of Disneyland Easter Eggs, but that doesn’t cover Cars Land. These are essentially trivia book and scavenger hunt fodder. A good example of this type of detail is Hidden Mickeys. Cars Land takes this to the next level, with lots of Pixar in-jokes, car culture references, and, of course, Hidden Mickeys. A partial list can be found here (be careful, it contains spoilers).
1. It’s Better at Night
Cars Land looks better at night. Much better. So much better that we highly recommend your first visit to Cars Land being at night, if possible. Obviously this is not going to be possible for many people especially if you’re following our advice about saving time (or if you only have a couple of days at Disneyland Resort), but if you have a longer trip and you can do your first day in Disneyland and Park Hop to Disney California Adventure that night, you won’t regret it.
If you can, here’s exactly what we recommend doing: when you get to the main entrance to Cars Land, instead of turning onto Route 66, keeping walking towards Paradise Pier. On the way, you’ll see a bridge to Pacific Wharf on the left. Take that. Walk all the way through Pacific Wharf, and you’ll come to a bluff that’s part of Cars Land (see the photo above). Walk through that for a real “wow” moment.
Even if that’s not practical, make sure to take the time to visit Cars Land at night. Ornament Valley and the Cadillac Mountain Range in Cars Land are lit beautifully at night, which makes a ride on Radiator Springs Racers at night especially awesome. This is one of the main reasons we recommend trying for a FastPass at night (to the extent that you can plan that type of thing), so the beginning and race sequences of the ride seriously take on a totally different feel at night. Luigi’s Flying Tires is also prettier at night, as it’s many strands of popcorn lights plus that beautiful Italian music really make for a peaceful experience. It’s not as improved of an experience at night as Radiator Springs Racers, but the lines are shorter at night anyway, so hey, why not?
Then, there’s the neon lighting. So much glorious neon. If you are like me, you will be enamored with these neon lights like a raccoon who has just found a shiny piece of tinfoil in the trash. Not that the neon lighting is anything like tinfoil that’s been found in trash, but you get the idea. Thanks to the neon, Cars Land at night truly feels like the “set” from the movie Cars. We know animated movies don’t have sets, but you’ll know exactly what we mean when you step foot in that land at night. Radiator Springs Racers might be the most popular Disney ride anywhere right now, but that land itself at night is the true E-Ticket experience. Do not miss it.
It’s also pretty awesome at night during Christmas at Disneyland Resort. The decorations sort of combine #1 and #2. Some people don’t like them, but we love them.
That covers our tips for visiting Cars Land. By following these you can save yourself a lot of time and potentially improve your experience, but they just scratch the surface of what Cars Land has to offer. The important thing to keep in mind is that Cars Land isn’t just a land to run through to get to Radiator Springs Racers. It’s a place that should be slowed down and savored. If you do, you might be surprised at just how much time you spend in Cars Land!
For actual Disneyland trip planning tips and comprehensive advice beyond these quick and random tips, make sure to read our Disneyland Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
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If you’ve been to Cars Land, what else do you recommend for the best possible experience there? Any tips to add? If you haven’t been, what interests you more: the general ambiance of the land or Radiator Springs Racers? Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below!