Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cars Land and Buena Vista Street

The secret door to Cars Land

Though Cars Land, the new attraction at Disney California Adventure (DCA), doesn’t officially open until next Friday, June 15, we got to sneak-preview it twice: last weekend as Disney “cast members” and yesterday with D23. Plus we got to see—and more importantly, go shopping at!—the new Buena Vista Street, California Adventure’s completely renovated entrance. YAY!!

A line of waiting cast members had already formed by the time we arrived at 8:30AM last Sunday. We quickly made friends with the woman in front of us, who had been inside the day before. She told us what to expect and which rides to go on first. But once the gates opened at 8:50AM—10 minutes early!—it was suddenly every man, woman and child for his/herself. 

Because DCA doesn’t open until 10AM, we were escorted to our destination: a secret door, at the far back of the park, that led into Cars Land. I overheard a young boy tell his father, “My heart is pounding!,” and thought, “Mine is, too!”

Our first view of Ornament Valley

As soon as we passed through the door, I yelled, “OH MY GOD! IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL!!” and started to cry. Cheers erupted behind us as we entered Ornament Valley. If I didn’t know better, I could have sworn we had been transported to Zion National Park—except, of course, all the landforms were in the shape of car fins and hood ornaments! Disney’s imagineers had certainly outdone themselves this time.

Welcome to Radiator Springs!

We followed the crowds inside. Now, it’s not required that you watch the movie Cars before entering Cars Land. But it wouldn’t hurt because, there, right before our very eyes, stood the small town of Radiator Springs in complete three-dimensional detail: Luigi’s Casa della Tires, Ramon’s House of Body Art, Flo’s V8 Café (yummy BBQ pork!), Sarge’s Quonset hut, Sally’s Cozy Cone Motel (now a snack bar), and even the statue of Radiator Springs’s founder, Stanley, a Ford model-T. I would have cried all over again, but by now we were practically running to the first—and, hands-down, the best—Cars Land ride, Radiator Springs Racers.

Luigi's Casa della Tires

Flo's V8 Café

 Cozy Cone Motel


If you’re going to create enormously popular rides, why not entertain guests as they’re waiting on line for more than an hour? Thus Walt Disney invented “line technology.” The Racers ride is one of the best examples of this philosophy we’ve ever seen. Not only are there displays explaining the history of Ornament Valley, but you get to walk through cactus gardens, a garage decorated in gas tank caps, and a bottle house—not as glorious as, but still very reminiscent of the old Simi Valley bottle house Tim and I knew as kids. By the time you get to the head of the line, you are thoroughly convinced Radiator Springs really exists.

The ride itself is huge fun. Again, it’s not required that you know the movie Cars, but it does help if you’re familiar with the story before hopping into your racer, an open-topped sports car that looks a lot like Lightning McQueen, the film’s main character. After a short cruise through Ornament Valley, you're then thrust into a dark tunnel, barely missing oncoming traffic and driving past other adventures, until you finally arrive at a nighttime version of Radiator Springs. There you either get new tires, or a new paint job, in preparation for “the big race.” And before you know it, you’re once again outside, racing another car filled with screaming passengers! Everyone agreed that this is one of the best Disney rides ever.

Unfortunately, Cars Land’s other two rides—Luigi’s Flying Tires and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree—pale in comparison, but should be popular nonetheless. I especially liked the Jamboree, where you’re towed behind a miniature Mater truck that tosses you back and forth. Not as good as the Mad Tea Party, but pretty close. On the other hand, Luigi’s Flying Tires, based on the old Flying Saucers—one of my favorite Disneyland rides as a kid—was a disappointment. Just like the Flying Saucers, which floated on a cushion of air, Luigi’s tires are self-propelled and hard to navigate. I'm crossing my fingers the kinks will be worked out soon or the tires, just like the flying saucers, may quickly become a distant memory.

Inside the trolley

The real-life Disney Studios is located on Buena Vista Street in Burbank, not too far from where I grew-up. So the idea of incorporating Buena Vista Street into DCA is very special, at least for me. However, instead of embodying images of old Burbank, the new entrance is designed to look like a conflation of the various neighborhoods Walt would have encountered when he moved to L.A. in 1923. The buildings, which combine Spanish architecture and art deco elements of the period, beautifully evoke the overall historical feel of the “new” California Adventure.

Carthay Circle

The centerpiece of the fictional Buena Vista Street is a slightly smaller replica of the magnificent, but long-since-demolished Carthay Circle theater, where Snow White premiered in 1937. In addition, a battery-powered reproduction of the electric red car, that used to carry folks from one end of L.A. county to the other, now takes visitors through DCA’s Hollywood Land and back. It’s a wonderful piece of nostalgia that literally carries riders back in time.

It’s no secret that California Adventure has never quite lived up to Disney’s expectations. In fact, we’ve been there many times when you could have shot a cannon and not hit a single person. But with these two new destinations—Cars Land and Buena Vista Street—DCA seems ready to, at last, fully compete with its older sibling, Disneyland. We look forward to returning some rainy weekday in February when the excitement—and the crowds—have finally died down.

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