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Dos and Dont’s of Disney’s Cars Land with Kids

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My kids are not just casual fans of Disney’s “Cars” movie. Both my 4-year-old son and my 7-year-old daughter know all of the words to Sheryl Crow’s “Real Gone” right down to the “Uh!” in the middle of this movie theme song. They conduct pretend races across the living room floor with toy cars shaped like Lightning McQueen, Mater, Sally and Mack. My son dressed like Lightning McQueen for Halloween last year and guess what he wants to be when he grows up? No, not a race car driver. He wants to be Lightning McQueen. Whether your family merely enjoys the “Cars” movies or you are all-out fanatics, here are some dos and don’ts of visiting Disney Cars Land with kids.

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Dos and Don'ts of Cars Land with kids

Kids will love meeting Mater at Cars Land

Do get a FASTPASS to ride the Radiator Springs Racers.

Check the Disneyland website in advance and plan to arrive at least an hour BEFORE Disney’s California Adventure Park opens for the day. The Buena Vista Street entry area of Disney’s California Adventure opened before the rest of the park on the day we visited. Get in line for the racers right away. Yes, the line will be long but it’s your only hope of nabbing a FastPass because they will all be distributed not long after the park opens. You can send one adult to stand in the line (with everyone’s entrance tickets, which are required to obtain FastPasses), while another adult takes the kids to get a treat at the Starbucks now located within the park.

Do prepare kids for possible race time disappointment.

I’d rank Radiator Springs Racers among my top five Disney attractions of all time. The theming, the music, the characters, the speed, the Grand Canyon-like backdrop, the race with a different winner ever time…it’s all awesome. Even with a FASTPASS, you should know a couple of things before you go.

First, the ride is only for those 40 inches or taller. At 42 inches tall, my 4-year-old son, Leo, was able to ride. He was terrified throughout the race, though. Some kids at this age might not mind the speed and dips, but it is something to consider when planning to visit Cars Land with kids.

Second, this ride breaks down. A lot. I know because I researched on my iPhone how often this ride breaks down while waiting in line for 2.5 hours. This is a big chunk of time to keep children entertained. Plus, it eats up your precious Disney park time. You are not guaranteed the ride will ever get fixed during your visit, so it’s a gamble.

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree ride, Cars Land

Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree ride (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Don’t look for Mater at Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree.

This spinning hoe down of a ride can be a whole lotta fun for anyone 32 inches or taller, but it was a bit scary for my preschooler son as we whipped around in circles. My 7-year-old daughter, however, adored it. When we came to a stop, my son wandered around the ride platform asking, “Where’s Mater?” He would not leave until a Disney cast member assured him Mater was not available to come out and play. Mater’s voice sings the ride’s square dance songs, but he does not have a physical presence here. For that, you’ve got to go to the character meet-and-greet spots along the main drag.

Do meet Lightning McQueen and Mater.

The highlight of Disney Cars Land theme park for my “Cars”-loving children was meeting Mater, the tow truck. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to meet Lightning McQueen because we kept thinking we’d come back when the line was shorter. Well, the line never got shorter, my friends. Next time, we’ll wait it out. It’s worth it to watch the kids attempt to converse with the cars and for the darling photos.

Luigi's Flying Tires ride with beach balls, Cars Land

It’s pretty easy to see why Disney removed the playful beach balls from Luigi’s Flying Tires – riders were chucking the balls at each others’ heads! Update: This ride has shut down. (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Don’t expect big thrills on Luigi’s Flying Tires Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters.

Luigi’s Flying Tires was a verrrrry slow-moving ride powered by air. Riders (32 inches or taller) leaned from one side to another to make the suspended “tire” float this way or that. When I first rode this ride at the Cars Land Grand Opening, there were red, white and green beach balls that riders tossed to one another that added to the fun but those have since disappeared. Update: This ride has closed down since this story was first posted. It was replaced with the equally ho-hum Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters.

Do wander the shops.

Cars Land is the most extensive recreation of a Disney movie at any Disney park. Take some time to wander through the stores and get a behind-the-illustration glimpse into the make-believe town of Radiator Springs. There are “Cars”-themed clothing, toys, pins and other tchotchkes you can’t find anywhere else but in the Disney Cars Land theme park.

Hilton Garden Inn Anaheim

Playing in the pool at Hilton Garden Inn Anaheim, a Disney Good Neighbor Hotel (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Do stay at a Disney Hotel or a Disney Good Neighbor Hotel.

Guests who stay at one of the Disney hotels (Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier, or the Grand Californian) or who purchase 3-day or longer Park Hoppers gain early entry to Disneyland and/or Disney’s California Adventure on select Magic Mornings. This is especially convenient if you want to increase your chances of riding the Radiator Springs Racers without waiting in line for two+ hours. All three have fabulous pools and offer special Disney touches, like Disney character phone calls, and delivery of your park purchases to your room so you don’t have to lug your bag of goodies around all day. Plus, you never have to leave the magical world of Disney when you stay at one of these hotels.

If you can’t stay at a Disney Hotel due to budget constraints or they’re just plain booked up, choose a Disney Good Neighbor Hotel instead. Disney has given these hotels a stamp of approval so you can expect high quality. During our last visit, my family stayed two nights at the Hilton Garden Inn Anaheim/Garden Grove, which offers in-room fridge and microwave, hot breakfast, an always considerate staff and an affordable price tag.

Cars Land at night with kids

Be sure to cruise Cars Land at night (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Do cruise Cars Land at night, preferably at dusk.

Cars Land is fun during the day, but it is downright magical at night. After exploring the rest of Disney’s California Adventure Park, head over to Cars Land just as the sun is starting to set so you can walk through Radiator Springs as it comes to life with neon lights. You’ll feel like a member of the “Cars” gang as you cruise down the strip. When my family wandered through Cars Land at dusk during our visit, I had one of those moments where I felt all thankful and mushy and full of “wow”.

As we counted down the days to our latest Disney’s California Adventure visit, my 4-year-old son asked me daily for weeks, “How many sleeps until Cars Land, Mama?” He had built up Cars Land to such an extreme in his head, I worried it couldn’t possibly meet his expectations. Boy, was I wrong!

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What’s your favorite “Cars” movie character? Let us know in the comments below!

A Note from The Travel Mama: My family and I received complimentary tickets from Disney’s California Adventure Park and one free night at Hilton Garden Inn Anaheim/Garden Grove. I always tell the truth, no matter who’s paying.

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show,, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. Allison Holm says

    Great tips, Colleen! We went to Cars Land this past September and had a blast! We didn’t do Radiator Springs Racers but did try just about everything else. My 3-year-old had a ball (as did I)!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Allison- So glad you and your little one had fun at Cars Land! My family CAN’T WAIT to go back!

  2. This sounds like Disney has hit it “out of the park.” What a great way to vacation.

  3. Isn’t Cars Land FUN? We visited in October and absolutely loved it. It felt like we were walking right into the movie!

    P.S. Try Flo’s V8 Cafe for breakfast next time: 🙂

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Stephanie – I love Flo’s V8 Cafe for lunch/dinner & hadn’t even thought of going there for breakfast. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Skiorganizers says

    I think this is so cute. Not only the kids can enjoy but also adults! Everybody loves Cars! Thanks for the wonderful post Colleen

  5. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Skiorganizers – Glad you found the post helpful – thanks for the comment! 🙂

  6. Amber's The Mile High Mama says

    Fun, fun, fun! We went to Cars Land a few months ago and my kids can’t stop raving about it. And they’re not even big Cars fans!

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Amber – I bet your kids will be big fans of Cars now that they’ve visited Radiator Springs in real life! 🙂

  7. Jamie Shoufelt says

    My son loves the cars movies he owns cars outfits I would love to take him here but its all depending on my funds hopefully I can though cause he wants to see a live lightning mcqueen and I think this might be the way to do it.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Jamie – Oh! I hope you can bring your Cars-loving son to Cars Land. It really is a magical place to bring little ones who still believe in the magic of a talking Tow Mater and Lightning McQueen. Sending good thoughts your way that this will work out for you & your son!

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