Why Disney California Adventure Park’s billion-dollar overhaul and Cars Land will send you into overdrive

As the early-morning rays oozed through the blinds, my husband Jamie rolled over toward me in bed and sang, “When you wish upon a star.”

That’s when two things hit me. 1) We were going to Disneyland in a few hours and 2) He sings really off-key in the morning.

This wasn’t just any trip to the Happiest Place on Earth but Jamie’s first visit ever. We planned our trip around the opening of Cars Land, the culmination of a five-year, billion-dollar expansion of Disney California Adventure Park.

I’d only visited California Adventure Park for a few hours last spring and though the attractions were fun (favorites include Grizzly River Run and Soarin’) it lacked the magic of nearby Disneyland.

That is no more.

Cars Land’s new 12-acre spread makes you swear you were plopped onto Route 66 during its heyday. In addition, the premiere of the many shops and entertainment on Buena Vista Street (California Adventure’s equivalent to Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A.), offers a nostalgic step back in time to 1920s Los Angeles when Walt Disney arrived.

Cars Land First Glimpse

Though Jamie kicked off our trip with Disney’s iconic song, he would have been more accurate in belting out “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” because that’s what happens in the re-creation of Radiator Springs.

The 300,000-square-foot Cadillac Mountain Range in Ornament Valley is the awe-inspiring backdrop (4,000 tons of steel were used to erect it). From the moment you step onto the property, you’re on sensory high-drive with 16 neon signs in luminous colors, three new rides and a number of eclectic food and merchandise locations. (Click to enlarge)

We gobbled up the lip-smacking food from the Cozy Cone Motel’s cone-shaped huts. Choices included ice cream, popcorn, churros and I was delighted when, as the staffer handed me my chile “cone” caso, he proclaimed, “That cone-pletes your order.”

I’m a sucker for corny puns…and great food.

The Rides

Radiator Springs Racers, 40-inch height requirement

I predict this will become one of the most popular attractions at the park (the six-hour wait on opening day confirmed it). Six people pile into a convertible cars and start on a leisurely road trip through Radiator Springs.

Prior to our trip, my kids were not huge fans of Cars and I made them do their research by re-watching the movie. As we wound around on a leisurely road trip through scenes like Luigi’s Casa Della Tires, they fell in love with the characters as they came to life.

But then the real fun began.

We pulled up beside another car on a parallel track, engines were revved and we zoomed nose-to-nose through the desert as if vying for our own Piston Cup. Speeds reached as fast as 45 mph as we squealed around corners and over bumps in a thrilling finish that is different every time.

Except for us—we lost all three runs.

But that didn’t stop us from sprinting to the back of the line to do it all over again.

Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree—32-inch height requirement

Cars tow truck Mater has his very own herd of 22 runaway baby tractors in his junkyard and they “tow-si-do” around in a figure eight.

I had high hopes Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree would play out like a tilt-a-whirl but it was much tamer and geared to the younger set. Though you have a safety bar, you’ll do a lot of sliding around so make sure to hold onto your little ones—my 5-year-old got a nice goose egg when his head hit the side of the tractor.

Larry the Cable Guy (the voice of Mater) recorded seven hillbilly songs for the attraction.

As we hee-hawed along to the music, I wasn’t quite sure if that was a selling point or a drawback. :-)

Luigi’s Flying Tires, 32-inch height requirement

The concept of this ride is cool: Huge tires double as hovercraft bumper cars as you float two inches above ground on what seems like a giant air hockey table. To move, we shifted our weight to guide the direction and bump into other tires.

Over-sized beach balls were thrown into the mix because there’s nothing quite like bumping into and bopping complete strangers on the head.

Here’s a word of caution: don’t wear a skirt like I did. When you’re walking to your tire, those 6,714 air vents will make you feel like that famous picture of Marilyn Monroe when her skirt was blown up by the subway vent.

And not in a good way.
(What a giant beach balls looks like before hitting your face.)

But you’d better believe with the panoramic views of Ornament Valley, the three new attractions and immersive interactions with your favorite fuel-driven friends, life at Cars Land is all good.

Photos: Disneyland and Yours Truly