It’s no secret, or surprise for that matter, that Cars Land Radiator Springs Racers is the breakout hit at Disney California Adventure theme park. From regular guests all the way up to retired Disney Legends, the attraction has already been touted as Walt Disney Imagineering at its very best. Having had the opportunity to ride it a few times myself, I’m certainly not here to contest that assessment. The attraction is everything you could hope for it to be: it’s incredibly immersive, painstakingly detailed, stunningly beautiful, and most importantly, good ol’ family fun.
There are at least 4 different paths into Cars Land, and naturally the most popular choice will likely be the main entrance that takes you directly into Radiator Springs. The roadway here boasts a giant billboard welcoming you right onto Route 66, and you’ll be sure to be drawn in by the majestic Cadillac Range in the backdrop.
However, if you can hold out long enough, I would highly suggest walking straight past the eye-catching billboard and heading over to the Pacific Wharf area of the park to enter. Even if only for your first time, the view is phenomenal and makes for a grand “how do ya do”. While I may sound a bit dramatic, once you’ve seen it you’ll know exactly what I mean. The forced perspective is unreal, you just cannot believe you’re in the middle of Anaheim, in what used to be a parking lot!
As soon as you step inside, you’re immediately transported inside the world of Cars, Ornament Valley, in this case. Although not just by the obvious sights, but also by the sounds. The cars are actually racing along the tracks right beside you as you make your way inside.
No matter what time of day you visit, the landscape is stunning, but dusk and after dark is when this not-so-sleepy 12 acre town really shines. Literally. The lights and the neon are simply spellbinding. If you’ve ever wondered what its like to actually be a moth to a flame, this is it.
If you’ve been following the project at all since the announcement of Cars Land way back in 2007, the reality of actually being inside is a bit surreal. For me, I feel like I’ve seen so much concept art & countless design renderings that I could’ve provided intelligible input had I ever attended a meeting at Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale. I’m sure I’m fooling myself here, but its been a long road; and its one I’m thrilled to finally be able to travel down.
Many have made comparisons to Test Track at Walt Disney World’s Epcot. While there are definitely similarities in that the ride vehicles have the same design, and they both follow a basic concept of “testing” the car then taking it out for a spin, Cars Land Radiator Springs Racers is so much more. Although, it does take a few trips around the track to really even understand what the plot of the attraction is because there’s just so much to see. So much so, you’ll even be able to forgive that at 40 miles per hour, Cars Land Radiator Springs Racers doesn’t match the top speed of Test Track which hits upwards of 60 mph. On the flip side, at least on Racers you’re holding that top speed for more than what seems to be just a millisecond on Test Track.
So you might’ve been following the progress of the attraction for years and now you’ve come to visit Cars Land (hopefully through the Wharf), and you hear the engines revving as the cars kinda speed by you…what next? You run to get in line, of course!
Fastpass for Cars Land Radiator Springs Racers is available, but these are likely to be gone very early in the day especially during the busy summer months. There is a single rider line available that features a posted wait time, which is nice because not all single rider lines have this. I’ve seen several reports from couples that said they were able to get through the queue much quicker this way and still ride in the same car, just not next to each other. While that’s never a guarantee, that might be a good option if you’re in a party of all adults, or maybe even with older kids/teenagers. Then there’s the good old stand-by queue, which is handicapped accessible for those in a wheelchair or that have an ECV. If you have children that don’t meet the 40″ height requirement, child-swap passes are available.
If you end up in the regular stand-by line, don’t dismay, there’s a lot to see! As you weave through the sea of switchbacks, you hardly notice you’re in line because there’s so much there to distract you. While it doesn’t provide the interactivity of some of Walt Disney World’s queues, the theming is exceptionally detailed.
One of the (many) great things done by Imagineering is the amount of back story they’ve decided to create and tell, in all of Cars Land. One of the more expanded storylines is about Stanley and how he founded the 8 3/4th Wonder of the World! It’s the spring that gives Radiator Springs it’s name and Stanley has created this “Oasis” around it. The loading area for the ride is the Comfy Caverns Motor Court, which seems to be what the Wagon Wheel Motel from the film has become. Almost everything you see in the queue is reflective of the Oasis and the Comfy Caverns. As you look through the photos, I should note that these were taken over different times of the day.
As you make your way beyond the spring you’ll be greeted by several buildings, each has been made into a garage with its own theme. Because they’re separated and themed, they really help to break up the monotony of the switchbacks so that you don’t feel like you’re in an endless line. The garages also provide nice shade from the hot California sun and have lots of cut-outs in lieu of windows to allow for a breeze to come through. For those days when it’s especially hot, there are fans affixed to the walls to help everyone keep cool. They also provide a great soundtrack with what seems to be at least a 45-60 minute long loop of different songs. What was nice about the music is that they weren’t just instrumental melodies, they are actual songs from the early 1900’s featuring artists such as Billy Murray, following the time line for when Stanley founded the town. If you find that you’re still bored, I’m happy to report that mobile service in the parks has been much faster these days.
There are vendors walking through the line, ready to sell you various snacks and beverages. While there, we saw them selling ice cream, frozen lemonade, popcorn (just regular, not the specialty ones they have over at the Cozy Cones), cotton candy, water, soda and energy drinks. Just be aware that the closest restrooms aren’t all that close, especially as you make your way further up to the front of the line.
Once you’ve made your way through the different garages, marveled at the funky varieties of cacti all around, and squealed in excitement as each car drives past you up into the mountain, you just have one more queue to get through.
There are 2 rows per car, and they sit 3 people to a row. The seat belts are quite generous if you happen to be “pooh-sized”, like me. Once you get buckled in, you’re sent off to cruise through Ornament Valley. For our first ride, we sat in the back seat of a red car, and on our second ride we were in the front seat of a yellow car. With two adults in our party, we both preferred the back seat, although neither are bad, the back is just slightly less obstructed by the windshield.
After breezing through the canyon and passing the enchanting waterfall, you’re brought inside to meet the folks of Radiator Springs. It may seem kind of odd that the town is just right outside, and then you come in here to see it all again, but it’s really not that jarring. Everyone is excited to see you, and they’re all eager to show you around. That said, it’s a bit of sensory overload, and it really does take a few rides for it to all sink in. Once you notice that some of the characters have mouths that actually move, that will most likely boggle your mind until your whizzed outside for the race. It looks so life-like, or as life-like as a talking cartoon car could, I suppose. As you make your way through town, there are two options for your car to take. You’ll either be brought into Luigi’s Casa della Tires for a new set of fancy tires, or over to Ramone’s House of Body Art for a new (and stinky) paint job. We were lucky enough to get to see both, and while both are fun, we did have a preference. I’ll let you decide which is your favorite. The time you’re in there allows for a 2nd car to catch up, and as you make your way out of the shop, Doc is there to coach you for the big race.
Once the two cars are side-by-side on the track, Luigi and Guido send you off for your big race! It’s a nice ride outside as you zip through the valley, and you don’t feel short-changed after waiting all that time.
As you exit, you go up a set of stairs and into a room to check out your ride photo. If you’re unable to take the stairs, they do have a viewing area along the handicapped accessible exit.
Once you make your wait out of the attraction, you have a great vantage point for watching riders pass through the finish line. You’re also closer to the Cadillac Range on this side, so needless to say there are beautiful sights to see everywhere you look, especially at night.
Cars Land Radiator Springs Racers is an attraction that’s fit for every generation of the family, it hits the mark on every level and is definitely not to be missed. I know where we’ll be spending most of our summer, so if you see us in line, be sure to stop and say hello!
Editor’s Note: Chrysty Summers is a Disneyland local and an enthusiast of most things Disney; the music, movies, theme parks (both coasts), the resorts, the food, and learning about the history of it all. Follow Chrysty as she tastes & photographs her way around the parks! Find her on Twitter: @PenelopePeach. For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.