Judging by the crowds we encountered during Disney California Adventure Grand Reopening weekend and the reported wait times at Radiator Springs Racers and Luigi’s Flying Tires since then, it seems as if 95% of the population west of the Mississippi has experienced Cars Land. If you’re in the 5% that has not, or if you simply enjoy looking at pretty pictures, you’re in luck, as I’ll be sharing my ten favorite aspects of Cars Land here through photos, along with a little text to explain what makes each listed aspect of Cars Land resonate with me. Some will be rather obvious–what Cars Land Top Ten list would be complete without Radiator Springs Racers on it?–but others will be a little less run of the mill. So perhaps even you Cars Land veterans will find something new to enjoy in the land through this article. And, if not, well…here’s hoping you at least enjoy the photos!
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Cozy Cone Motel. Getting the negative out of the way first, I hate the capacity these cones have to serve guests. Lines move slowly here, and traffic can bottleneck back by the cone stands. On the plus side, the detail inside the lobby of the motel and the cone motif that exists throughout this area is pretty clever. I probably won’t order any food here again until Cars Land wanes enough in popularity to make waits here comparable to Flo’s (so what, 2016?), but it’s always worth wandering around here to try to spot all of the details.
Flo’s V8 Cafe is huge, with multiple rooms for seating, but it still somehow feels like an intimate little 50s diner. The walls are littered with details and elements of backstory, and the design-aesthetic screams 50s drive-in. My parents belong to classic car clubs and we visited a lot of hole-in-the-wall restaurants like this when I was a kid, so walking into Flo’s was like revisiting the restaurants of my youth–except a lot cleaner and the comfort food as much healthier. All of these little design touches, plus a pretty solid menu, make Flo’s a restaurant at which we’ll be dining for years to come.
It’s a good thing Disney put so much detail into the queues for Radiator Springs Racers and Luigi’s Flying Tires, because guests are finding themselves spending a lot of time in those queues. I’ve always felt that a good queue or pre-show is important to set the mood for the attraction itself, and Disney often does this pretty well (Indiana Jones Adventure is a great example of this: I prefer the pre-show film to the attraction itself–such great dry humor!). The queues in Cars Land are rife with detail, and make those 100-minute plus waits at least a bit more bearable. Personally, I’m not all that impressed by the interactive queues that have been added to several attractions in Walt Disney World, so I’m pleased Disney went with the “old school” method of making the queues in Cars Land interesting: details.
I am, admittedly, not a huge fan of Cars. Given this, it might seem a bit odd that I’ve included Cars on my list. They’re actually on my list because of how uncommon they are. Sure, there are a few meet and greets and references throughout the land, but Cars Land could have easily relied heavily on the characters from Cars to succeed as “Disney/Pixar Cars Land,” but instead uses a great deal of Route 66 and regular car theming to succeed with the perfect amount of character infusion. It’s abundantly clear that Cars Land is based upon the Pixar film, but to me, it’s a highly detailed land first, and a land inspired by Pixar’s Cars second. By subtly interjecting the Cars brand throughout Radiator Springs, Cars Land has broader appeal.
Background music can make or break a land, and in the case of Cars Land, it helps make the land. While I enjoy the nonsensical humor of the songs recorded by Larry the Cable Guy on Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, I appreciate that the actual background music for Cars Land is composed of classics along with newer songs that sound like classics by the likes of Joe Louis Walker, rather than cartoon renditions of songs about cars. The latter works for Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, and the former helps give more dimension to the town of Radiator Springs, making it feel even more like a real place along Route 66.
I’m not ashamed to admit it: I love Luigi’s Flying Tires. Then again, I’ve always cheered for the underdog. I have the tire hat (yep, I’m one of those people!) and on the preview day my wife and I rode so many consecutive times that a Cast Member stopped us to award us pilot wings cards. I love the throwback to the Flying Saucers, I love the theming throughout Luigi’s Flying Tires, and I even love the attraction itself. We got our tires moving quickly across the course, and it was a really good time. All of that said, I’ve never waited more than 5 minutes for the attraction, have always gone as a single, and realize the attraction has a steep learning curve (as far as attractions go) for some. If I had waited 120 minutes for one two-minute ride on the tires, my opinion might be a little different. If load/unload times can be improved upon, I think Luigi’s Flying Tires will be a well-received little attraction once the initial rush of guests to Cars Land dies down and Luigi’s settles into 20-30 minute waits.
I am a simple man. So simple, in fact, that one of my top ten things to do in a brand new, heavily detailed theme park land is to sit in a particular spot. Hear me out, though. As any semi-regular visitor to Disneyland likely knows, there are only so many times you can do the same attractions again and again. Conversely, there are little spots where you can spend hours simply soaking up the ambiance as the parks pass you by. This rear seating area at Flo’s is my new favorite ambiance spot anywhere in Disneyland Resort. Even if you don’t eat at Flo’s, grab a seat over here and just gaze off into Ornament Valley. Sitting back here with a Racer 5 IPA while watching the cars race past on Radiator Springs Racers is the epitome of relaxation in the park.
The creative minds at Pixar are well-aware that creatures are attracted to bright lights. Just look at Dori in Finding Nemo. While I’d like to think humans function at a higher level than an absent-minded cartoon fish, I must admit that each time I walk down Route 66 at night, I find myself wandering towards the neon lights (this probably comes as no surprise if you’ve seen the prevalence of neon in the hundreds of Cars Land photos I’ve posted). The neon isn’t the only draw, as the ambiance in Cars Land really fires on all cylinders at night. I think you could set some nighttime photos of Cars Land side by side with screen grabs from the first Cars film and some people might have a hard time distinguishing between the photos and the film. That right there speaks volumes about the beauty of Cars Land at night.
Radiator Springs Racers is the best attraction at Disney California Adventure, and is one of the more impressive attractions at Disneyland Resort, period. While it will never surpass classics like Haunted Mansion or Pirates of the Caribbean for me, personally, I can see Radiator Springs Racers becoming the “classic” attraction for an entire generation of kids. The dark ride sequences are filled with detail and the race through Ornament Valley has you looking all around the car as you feel like you’re actually racing through the mountains. Radiator Springs Racers might be appropriately classified as a mild thrill ride, but the thrill component takes a back seat to everything else. I have experienced Radiator Springs Racers close to thirty times, and each time I find myself spotting new details. I also find photography on Radiator Springs Racers to be a lot of fun, as the ride offers a lot of opportunities and challenges for photography.
No, I’m not a geologist. Truth be told, I’m not even a dude who really likes rocks. What I do like is incredibly immersive theming, and I think the rockwork of Ornament Valley is what gives Cars Land so much of its “wow” factor. The rockwork at the end of Route 66 is incredibly detailed, layered, and stretches an incredible distance. Although it is the sum of the theming that captures the look and feel of Radiator Springs, it’s the rockwork that gives guests that feeling of escape. When you see that rockwork, you’re no longer in the middle of Anaheim or even in a theme park. The rockwork is what makes Cars Land such an incredible experience, and it is the element of the land that is most essential to the whole experience. You won’t get a lot of guests who will exclaim, “I’M EXCITED TO GO TO CARS LAND TO LOOK AT SOME ROCKS!” and the enthusiasm for the rockwork isn’t the same as it is for Radiator Springs Racers, the flagship attraction and the land as a whole would not succeed without the amazing rockwork. So, as the kids would say, “rockwork for the win.”
There you have them, my ten favorite things about Cars Land. Which aspects of Cars Land do you like most? Share your thoughts in the comments!