I'm starting our Cars Land Test Drive with Luigi's Flying Tires, my personal favorite of the three new Cars Land attractions, but one that received decidedly mixed reviews during previews. Luigi's Flying Tires are a new take on Disneyland's fabled Flying Saucers attraction, the ride I consider the Woodstock of Disneyland—the one everybody's parents claim to have ridden on.
Walt Disney is often quoted as saying "It's kind of fun to do the impossible." John Lasseter's slogan might be "It's kind of fun to do the impossible twice." And as Principal Creative Advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering, Lasseter was in a unique position to bring the Flying Saucers back as part of the new Cars Land, using new technology to address the problems that led to the original ride's closure in 1966.
During a media preview of Luigi's Flying Tires, Imagineers explained the story behind the ride. When Luigi's uncle Topolino discovered the mysterious floating capabilities of Cuscino D' Aria (cushion of air) tires, his Italian village responded by hosting the first Festival of the Flying Tires (incidentally, Topolino is both the name of a classic Fiat model as well as the Italian name of Mickey Mouse). Luigi and Guido brought the tires—and the festival—to Cars Land. I admit to paying only limited attention to this tale, being entirely focused on finally getting to experience the ride I've heard about my entire life.
The queue takes you first through Luigi's showroom, filled with displays of Fettuccini tires, and then into his office. This is my favorite section of the queue; the souvenirs displayed all around the office help distract you during what ought to be a long wait. Officially Luigi's has a capacity of just 600 riders per hour, among the lowest of any Disney rides. In practice the capacity is lower, especially when riders each demand their own tire.
The ride takes place in a 8,000-square-foot "tire storage yard" behind Luigi's shop, and the last section of the queue winds through Luigi's garden. Here, cast members instruct you on how to make the tire move, and offer tips to avoid common problems. Then CMs pass out small colored pennants, like the magic feathers distributed at Dumbo the Flying Elephant attraction in Disneyland, and send riders into a waiting area. The pennants are used to let the CMs accurately count ride vehicles for each cycle, and the process of collecting them once riders are seated gives CMs a chance to verify that every seatbelt is properly fastened.
Most riders will board their ride vehicle from the main ride floor, stepping over the black "tire" section and onto the center platform. The tire may look solid, but the fabric base doesn't support weight. By the time riders reach the tire, they will have seen and heard several warnings not to step on the tire, and there is even a "no step" symbol sewn onto the tire itself.
The single bench seat can accommodate up to three passengers; two adults and a child or one adult and two children. Each tire has a single seatbelt, and a recessed bin behind the bench to store loose objects.
As Luigi gives the countdown and the 6,714 air vents open, each tire lifts about two inches off the floor, turning the floor into a giant air hockey table, with the ride vehicles being the puck.
While the ride does admittedly has a learning curve, most of the complaints I heard were from riders whose tires wouldn't go very far or very fast. The key is to find the balance point of the tire, which varies depending on the number and weight of the people in the tire.
To make the tire move, riders lean in the direction they want to go. The concept is similar to that of the two-wheeled self-balancing Segway. It sounds easy, but it's also easy to lean too far, "grounding" the tire on the ride surface. You can immediately feel when that happens, and just need to ease up a bit to restore balance. Once you have the hang of it, and assuming you can get clear of other riders, it's time to fly.
While the technology has changed, so too, have Disney's safety standards, and the Flying Tires are radically different than the ride our parents claim to remember. The bumper car aspect of the ride has been considerably reduced from that of the Flying Saucers—you can still collide with another tire, but the impact won't knock you out of your seat. Take a look at this video Disney posted of the Flying Saucers, circa 1961—some of those collisions actually look painful.
Similar to the balloons dropped onto the Flying Saucers platform, riders on Luigi's Flying Tires navigate through a floor filled with giant beach balls. I am of two minds about the beach balls, as they very much change the nature of the ride. I grumbled to a friend that I was changing the name of the attraction to "Luigi's Beach Ball Fight," because so many of the riders spend all of their time trying to catch and throw beach balls at one another instead of flying their tires.
Cast members actively encourage riders to play with the beach balls, even distributing them to each tire during the loading cycle. Sure, the balls add energy and interactivity to the ride, but they detract from the fact that you're floating on air. I often found myself stuck in a group of people intent only on grabbing a ball, oblivious to the actual ride experience.
The balls also make it more difficult for riders to properly maneuver their tires, especially when one person in a tire is trying to steer in one direction, and the other passenger is leaning the opposite way to grab a beach ball. Ff you can break free of the ball crawl and make a break for an open patch of floor, however, the experience is like nothing you've ever felt before.
Riders can view a ride vehicle outside the attraction entrance prior to getting in line to determine if they can manage the step up onto the tire, or need to use the alternate boarding area. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
For riders with mobility issues, Luigi's has a alternate loading area that allows passengers to walk across a ramp straight onto the tire, avoiding what can be a tall step up and down. A ride vehicle parked outside the ride entrance allows potential riders to evaluate the step; anyone with balance or lower joint problems should consider whether they can navigate both up and down (and the step down may be more difficult), or if they should use the alternate access ramp. The indoor portion of the queue is fully wheelchair and EVC accessible; once in the garden portion, a cast member will direct you to the accessible ramp if needed. Riders can also wheel directly onto the ride platform and transfer into the tire from there if you're able to manage the step, and this is usually much faster than waiting to use the ramp.
The only really clunky part of the accessible loading process is the need for cast members to push the tire back into the loading area after the ride cycle concludes. This only takes a minute, but can add to what can already be a long loading cycle.
Luigi's has a posted height requirement of 32 inches, but parents of taller children who are used to riding alone on other rides should encourage them to stick with the family for this one, as they may not be heavy enough to steer the tire. Even empty tires float, but you need some rider mass to make them move very far.
Some claim that Luigi's Flying Tires was built just to satisfy John Lasseter. If true, I'm OK with that. If you were in his shoes, given the resources at his disposal, isn't there a classic Disney ride you'd try to re-create? It's definitely not the star of the new Cars Land for most visitors, and there are some justifiable complaints about the slow loading process and navigation challenges once onboard. But in a land that is completely steeped in nostalgia, an updated Flying Saucers seems a perfect fit.
Luigi's Flying Tires facts at a glance
- Number of ride units – 21 Flying Tires
- Vehicle capacity – 2 or 3 riders per tire
- Official ride capacity – 600 riders per hour. In practice, considerably fewer.
- Ride length – 2 minutes
- Ride floor – 8,000 square feet
- Vehicle size – 9-foot diameter
- Air vents in the ride floor – 6,714
- Air volume generated to float tires – 1.86 million cubic feet per minute
- Height requirement – 32 inches
- Fastpass – No
- Single Rider line – No
- Baby Swap – Yes
- Ride Photo – No