Cars Land revs up Disney’s California Adventure

Colleen Lanin

Mater and Lightning McQueen at California Adventure’s new Cars Land.

Some die-hard fans of Florida’s Walt Disney World might ask, “Why would I go to Disneyland when Orlando has all of the same stuff and then some?”

I’ll tell you why: Cars Land.

Cars Land, opening Friday in Disney’s California Adventure park next door to Disneyland, marks the grand finale of a five-year expansion of the Anaheim, Calif., theme park. Disney has upped the amusement ante to lure more visitors and to get those who do visit “The Happiest Place on Earth” to stay longer.

To name just a few of the numerous additions over the past half-decade, there’s the Toy Story Mania arcade ride, the Little Mermaid-Ariel’s Undersea Adventure ride, and the World of Color nighttime water, light and fire show.

Also opening today is Buena Vista Street, a redesigned entry to California Adventure, built with a theme of a 1920s Los Angeles, when Walt Disney stepped off a train from Kansas City with a cardboard suitcase and $40 in his pocket. This area’s centerpiece is the Cathay Circle Restaurant and Lounge, inspired by the theater where the first feature-length animated film, “Snow White,” made its cinematic debut.

The biggest draw, however, is Cars Land, which Disney Chairman and CEO Bob Iger calls, “The Crown Jewel of our Disney California Adventure expansion.” With three rides, new retail stores, a trio of eateries, Cars character meet-and-greets and a nightly dance party, the 12-acre addition is the biggest expansion since California Adventure opened in 2001.

Cars movie enthusiasts can experience a three-dimensional version of the film’s fictional hometown of Radiator Springs, with its 300,000-square-foot Cadillac Mountain Range and the Radiator Falls waterfall along Route 66. “When our guests step into this land and they see the spectacle and the panorama of the landscape, I want them to feel like this is the greatest road trip they’ve ever been on,” says Kevin Rafferty, concept writer and senior director for Walt Disney Imagineering.

Disney has spent nearly three years building Cars Land. John Lasseter, CEO of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, says, “To be authentic, I asked the Imagineers to get out and travel Route 66. It’s feeling it, seeing the light and hearing the stories of the people on the road.”

The food and beverage team embarked on a similar Route 66 trip to bring back authentic flavors of this iconic route. Flo’s V8 Café serves up good old fashioned diner eats reminiscent of the food the Disney Imagineers sampled along their road trip, like a veggie-tater bake or turkey with raspberry jam and mashed potatoes. Then there are the “ugly pies” in flavors like strawberry-rhubarb, chocolate-mud and apple-cheddar, made aesthetically imperfect to mimic the home-style desserts that are a staple of Route 66 food culture.

But it’s the rides that will drive people into Cars Land. Radiator Springs Racers spans six acres and is the king attraction. After a leisurely tour of Ornament Valley, riders zip side-by-side at speeds up to 40 miles per hour through a mountain setting. Adding to the thrill of the race, guests never know who is going to win. (There is a 40-inch minimum height requirement for this ride.)

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Luigi’s Flying Tires is a descendant of the old school Flying Saucers attraction, which operated in Tomorrowland from 1961 to 1966. The ride features slow-moving, somewhat disappointing floating bumper cars of sorts with over 6,000 air vents keeping the “tires” floating about two inches above the ground (minimum height requirement: 32 inches).

On Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree ride, everyone’s favorite tow truck, Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), sings songs while 22 baby tractors dance in a joyous spinning hoedown (minimum height requirement: 32 inches).

Will Cars Land and the rest of the Disneyland additions be enough to draw more visitors for longer stays? I’ll bet you a slice of ugly pie it does.

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