Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Love Lighting McQueen and the world of rundown desert town of Radiator Springs? The nostalgic world of Route 66, vintage trucks and 1050s diners? Opened to critical acclaim in June 2012, Cars Land is the newest addition to Disney’s California Adventure theme park. I took my girls on a road trip to Disneyland just after Cars Land opened and we squeezed in a nocturnal visit to the new kid on the block. Here is what we thought during our brief 2-hour stunt.
Cars and The Frog Mom Gang
For starters, both my girls enjoy the Cars movies tho I’ll admit they’re not obsessed like some little ones I know. However they know all the characters and appreciate the spirit and the fun of it. They have a collection of toy cars, trucks and delivery trucks in their bedroom. I like that the world of Cars glorifies a wonderful slice of Americana, the Sonoran desert and the old gas stations, the Arizona road trip and the obscure little towns on the way. We’ve actually traveled on these roads with our oldest girl and love the atmosphere. In a word, we are a rather Cars-inclined family.
We didn’t know what to expect from Cars Land but it’s fair to say we expected something similar to Adventure Land or Frontier Land – great decor, themed food spots and wild rides. Last week, Cars Land didn’t do it for my girls. I write “oddly” because everybody – and I mean, every single breathing body – raves about the spanking new much-publicized land. What then? It can’t be the design – it’s incredibly detailed and feels like the movie set. It can’t be the rides – they looked cool but there were so many lines that we gave up before even trying. It might have been poor planning on my part as we explored late at night. Whatever the reason, my girls were eager to return to Tomorrow Land where we just went on a wild ride with Star Tours. As for me, I was blown away by the look of Cars Land but like my girls, I felt our visit lacked a little spark.
You may have heard – Cars Land is crazy popular. People wait up to 4 to 6 hours to get on the rides. Yes, 6 hours. It’s nuts. Boys and girls love it equally. Grown-ups take naps in the lines to wait things out. Super not my concept of a fun vacation. Thinking I’d beat the crowds, I plotted to explore Cars Land on the evening of the first day after dinner. Come on, a Monday night, that shouldn’t be too bad? For sure, I thought, they’d be fewer people around at 9.30pm than at 11am. Yes the girls would be tired but we’d be able to bag a couple rides before bedtime. Have a sweet bite even. Wouldn’t it be fun?
Setting the Scene
Entering California Adventure, we walked down the new Buena Vista Street and watched a red car trolley make a turn by the entrance gates. Just like the F-line in San Francisco – minus the Powell Street lines. We love these beautiful retro machines and were even temped to hop on one but it was getting late. “Where’s Cars Land?” asked my 8-year old. I paused to check my map of California Adventure but at this point in the day, I was starting to see cross-eyed. “Let’s follow these crowds!” I suggested. If there were crowds, they’d lead us to our destination. Right on! A few minutes later, the retro Cars Land sign welcomed us right after A Bug’s Land. Oh, it looked like one of these 1920s travel ads for a national park. It was sweet and promised a a real Lightning McQueen adventure.
The yellow-dotted line and the asphalt under our feet, the red rock canyons rising tall against the night sky, the glowing neon signs – we were in a big nostalgia trip down Route 66 seen through the lens of Pixar. Tired after a long day, my girls had little interest in inspecting every single detail so we made for the rides.
Getting in the Groove
Right by the entrance, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree was going strong, baby tractors with trailers merrily wiggling on a dance floor to country tunes. My girls looked sorely temped but the line indicated 45 minutes. At 9.45pm, I simply did not have the energy. I looked at my girls and we moved on.
Right next to it, the Cozy Cone Motel was a sight to behold. You know the orange safety cones used in construction sites? Now imagine five of these blown up to 40 feet and housing various snack spots – “route” beer floats, flavored popcorn in cones, pretzel bites, churro bites with sauces. Again lines stretched out the doors of each cone but had it not been so late, I would have tried every single cone-coction. As I was busy reading the signs, my girls daydreamed fascinated by the cone flowers on the lawn in front of the Cozy Cone Motel. Come to think of it, it might have been their favorite spot because they played on the fence and I had to pull them out of their daydreaming.
Across the street, Flo’s V8 Cafe and its bright neon signs was a picture-perfect retro diner but since food was not on our mind, we feasted our eyes but not our stomach. For vintage-style souvenirs or the movie’s soundtrack, Lizzie’s Curio Shop offered a great sight on our right.
No Rides, No Fun
The second ride appeared on the left. After the long line of the Jamboree, my girls hoped they’d be able to ride Luigi’s Flying Tires. “Go check the wait time!” I urged them. They sprinted to the sign, raised their heads and stopped. “What is it?” I asked. “Is it long?” asked my 6-year old. I was stoked – 90 minutes! Their shoulders sank as they understood the meaning of that. Not that ride. Even Matterhorn or Nemo’s Submarine ride “only” reach 60 minutes of wait time on average.
I sighed and asked the cast member by the sign if there was any chance it’d get better in an hour. Oh yes, he replied, it’s been double that time during the day and it can get down to 45 minutes before midnight. Forget it. “Come” I told my girls, “Let’s walk around the building and see what it’s like.” Fortunately, you can watch the flying tires fairly easily from the sides. Under a canopy of white lights, riders grabbed colorful balls before sitting in big inflated tubes. “What are they doing?” asked my 8-year old. I wasn’t sure. We waited. And waited. And waited some more. Five minutes later, the tires still had not started to bulge so we left.
Last chance for a ride tonight: Radiator Springs Racers! I’d read this was a great ride that zipped through the awesome canyon landscape. Again my girls ran to the wait sign. This time, the number expected my wildest wishes – three digits, 180 minutes. Considering we were 120 minutes from the park’s closing time, this meant that nobody who got in the line now had a chance of making it. And yet, people pushed their way into the line.
“Sorry girls,” I offered, “We’ll come back another day and get a FastPass.” Another day, right. Easy to say when you live in LA and have an annual pass but when you’ve driven down 9 hours, another day means a few years. Walking back on Route 66, my girls were attracted by the colorful geodesic dome of Filmore’s Taste In and ran to play in shiny bead curtains with another kid. There was’t much else we could do if we didn’t want to buy Cars merchandise so we simply left and that’s when both my girls said “It’s more fun at Disneyland mom, let’s go back there.”
What I Learned
While I’m sorry I can’t offer a more enlightened view of Cars Land, I’ll say this. If you plan your visit earlier in the day than 9.30pm, if you manage to score FastPasses for Radiator Springs Racers and if you stop for snacks at the cone stands and trinkets at the Radiator Springs Curio Shop, you’ll probably have a blast. Visually, Cars Land is a huge success. My plan just wasn’t a good one. That’s what happens when you plan a visit to the latest novelty item just 3 days after opening day. I guess I’ll wait a few years until the hype dies down. Maybe then I can experience Cars Land with Frontier Land crowds. Now that would make me happy.