My kids are not just casual fans of the Disney*Pixar “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” movie or you are all-out fanatics, here are some dos and don'ts of visiting Disney Cars Land with kids.
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 this ride 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 your Cars Land adventure. 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 two-and-a-half hours (during most of which the ride was broken). This is a big chunk of time to keep children (and adults) entertained. Plus, it just 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.
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?” and 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 Cars Land 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.
Don't expect big thrills on Luigi's Flying Tires.
Luigi's Flying Tires is a verrrrry slow-moving ride powered by air. Riders (32 inches or taller) lean from one side to another to make the suspended “tire” float this way or that. It's not very thrilling but it's part of the experience of Cars Land, so give it a go. I certainly wouldn't wait hours in a long line for this one, though. 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. My prediction? A “Planes” ride will take its place.
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 tchotckes you can't find anywhere else but in Cars Land.
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. In 2012 and 2013, Disney is offering a Good Neighbor Hotel Package, which includes park tickets, Disney souvenirs, and one Magic Morning admission.
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!
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.