Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy has officially opened at Hollywood Studios, giving Cars fans an attraction at Walt Disney World. In this post, we’ll cover whether the show meets expectations, share photos & video, and cover how it fits into a day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Since we’re talking about a film from the Cars franchise, the most obvious place to start our discussion of the attraction is Star Wars. (This year, everything at Disney’s Hollywood Studios relates to Star Wars in some way.) Once Galaxy’s Edge opens, the park will need all of the capacity it can get. This is why we’re getting dance parties in the old Pixar Place, Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy, and who knows what else.
There’s a lot of sentiment among Walt Disney World fans who, for some reason, are not interested in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge but are looking forward to “everyone going there so the rest of the park [or the rest of Walt Disney World] is less busy.” That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works!
Let’s assume that the average daily attendance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is currently 30,000 guests. I’m not saying that’s accurate, but let’s start with that assumption for the sake of this exercise. Let’s further assume that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will draw an additional 10,000 guests per day to Walt Disney World. That’s on top of the 30,000 who would show up regardless, for a grand total of 40,000 guests per day. Again, not real numbers or even predictions.
We don’t know what the total capacity is for the attractions, queue, retail, dining, and outdoor spaces in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. I can say with some degree of confidence that it’s far less than 40,000. In fact, it’s highly likely that the demand Galaxy’s Edge will induce is significantly higher than the land’s total capacity at any given moment.
More importantly, people aren’t going to travel all the way to Central Florida, and do (at first) only one ride in one park. They are going to fill out their day with other attractions, and then they are going to fill out their week with other parks.
Remember, Disney’s position with regard to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was that a rising tide lifts all boats. Meaning that Walt Disney World management believed a land in a totally different theme park complex down the road was the cause for increased attendance to Disney’s parks.
This is all hardly theoretical. When Pandora – World of Avatar opened, wait times increased throughout Animal Kingdom. With the exception of rope drop when a disproportionate number of guests race towards Pandora, crowds in the non-Avatar areas of Animal Kingdom are worse than they were pre-Pandora. That remains the case to this day; crowds have not subsided nearly two years after that land opened.
There’s no logical reason to expect a different result with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If anything, demand for the new land will far surpass capacity, and that spillover will push the influx of guests towards other attractions. Hence the need to add offerings elsewhere around the park, lest Disney’s Hollywood Studios start doing phased capacity closures at 10 a.m. opening week and regularly between October and December.
From that perspective, additions like Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy are very welcome. It’s not necessarily a people-eater, but between the show’s capacity and the courtyard outside with its meet & greets and entertainment, this this whole area should help eat some of the Star Wars crowds.
From another perspective, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is still desperately in need to things to do without height restrictions. Cars remains incredibly popular with kids, and is the perfect franchise for inclusion into the park. (I still wish we had gotten Cars Land, as was credibly rumored at one point, over Toy Story Land, but oh well.)
Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy is found in the Sunset Showcase near Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which was previous a private and special event space that has been converted into a permanent attraction. The exterior is simply a big box with Art Deco flourishes, which is fairly common of the ‘old’ Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Upon entering the theater, there’s a brief trivia session on the overhead screens that form a semi-circle around the room. There are three sections of bench seating for guests. We attended the second to last show of opening day, and the theater was only around one-quarter full at this time.
I’m pretty far from the target audience for this attraction, so I’m not sure how much weight my review does or should carry, but I was pleasantly surprised by Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy.
It begins with a humorous song from Mater–the kind that has made Junkyard Jamboree a hit at DCA despite being a fairly pedestrian ride–which sets a good tone for the lighthearted attraction.
Throughout the 10-minute show, Lightning McQueen interacts with the audience with his teachings and also demonstrates what he’s learned over the years by using his brand-new, state-of-the-art racing simulator and its wraparound screen. It’s about half him facing guests, half him facing that simulator (away from guests).
He encounters friends like Mater and Cruz Ramirez, with the salient message being one of teamwork, friendship, and perseverance. He also encounters one of his main foes, Chick Hicks, who interrupts the show to challenge Lightning McQueen. I won’t give away how this all ends, but you can probably guess it.
In terms of pacing, Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy is perfect. He alternates between facing the audience and the simulator quite effectively, so there’s never too much time where you’re simply gazing at his tailpipes while he plays a video game.
Then again, the kids these days seem to love other kids game (I feel so out of touch), so perhaps that’d be superior?
More importantly, the Lightning McQueen Audio Animatronics figure is seriously impressive. It’s very similar to the one at the end of Radiator Springs Racers, except this has more range of motion and dynamically engages with guests.
I was so engaged by the McQueen figure that a lot of times that had my attention over whatever the plot was supposed to be. Kids are going to be blown away by this Lightning McQueen, and I think their parents will likewise find it to be pretty cool. Sure beats standing next to a static prop for a photo.
The other highlight of the show for me is the way it breaks up the simulator action with humor and interactions with other Cars characters.
Mater is obviously a national treasure, so his appearances are welcome, but there are a few other chuckle-inducing moments. I particularly liked the ad from Japan, which has shades of Ichiban, Lipstick for Men to it.
The whole show is imbued with a mild sense of humor to it, and it never feels condescending to its audience. It’s also not the high water mark for Walt Disney World attractions, but I never felt bored or underwhelmed, which is more than I expected. (Perhaps my expectations were just really low; when it was announced, I expected the whole thing to be a screen-based quick capacity add that would be shuttered in a few years. It’s definitely not that.)
If you don’t mind some spoilers, here’s a short video showcasing what to expect from the Lightning McQueen Audio Animatronics figure:
Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy shows run continuously throughout the day, with the posted wait time simply being (at least right now) a permanent “maximum wait: 15 minutes” sign. Presently, no FastPass+ is be available for the attraction, but we could see that changing once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens.
Overall, Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy is a solid addition that provides sorely needed capacity in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, while also upping the experience count for small children. Most importantly, it does so with something that is actually a quality experience that kids are likely to love, with just enough humor and impressive tech that it will keep adults engaged. Probably not something that two adults without children should allocate park time towards, but you can’t win ’em all. Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy is certainly not the most high-profile attraction that will be added to the park this year, but it’s far better than expected and (thankfully) not a phoned-in snooze.
Are you looking forward to Lightning McQueen’s Racing Academy? If you’ve already experienced it, do you agree or disagree with our review? Do you think it’s a solid addition to the attraction roster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!