We conclude the Cars Land Test Drive with Radiator Springs Racers, the signature attraction of Cars Land. Utilizing almost half of the 12 acres devoted to the Disney California Adventure park expansion, Radiator Springs Racers combines elements of both "dark" and thrill rides, taking riders around Ornament Valley and through Radiator Springs before sending them on a high-speed race to the finish line.
It's race day in Radiator Springs, and you're invited. But before you board your race car, you'll take a tour of Stanley's Oasis, the setting of the extended queue. A sign in the queue relates the tale of Stanley, identified in Cars as "our founder," and how he came to settle in the Ornament Valley.
The Original Radiator Spring
On this site in the summer of 1909 Stanley, exploring out west, overheated as his radiator water boiled away. Coasting into the shade, he happened upon a life-saving natural spring. Upon this most fortunate discovery, Stanley founded the first settlement in Ornament Valley, and in honor of the oasis, christened it Radiator Springs
A new animated short titled "Time Travel Mater" explores the founding of Radiator Springs in greater detail, and helps introduce the world of Cars Land to a wider audience. "Time Travel Mater" debuts in the Blue Sky Cellar at Disney California Adventure along with the opening of Cars Land, and will be televised on June 16 on ABC during the network broadcast of Cars.
The buildings of the queue, staged to look like roadside stands, provide additional details and serve as an interesting distraction during the wait.
The queue also has themed music, but after waiting in the same spot for 45 minutes when the ride broke down during previews, we wished that the song loop was longer, and the music quieter.
The whole area is richly landscape with shrubs, wildflowers, trees and cactus varieties you can find along Route 66, including Indian paintbrush, prickly pear, bottlebrush, saguaro, barrel cactus, Joshua trees and a really striking wrinkled cactus that my Arizona-raised husband described as "crested." Some of the cacti are even in bloom, adding a welcome splash of color to the desert landscape.
The loading area appears to be carved into the side of the Cadillac Range (still hard to believe that it's really a steel structure, built over the last 24 months in what used to be a parking lot). Signed as the Comfy Caverns Motor Court ("Low Rates, Lincoln Continental Breakfast"), it has a row of guest rooms with names like the "Idle Time Suite" on the far wall, and it's decorated with hanging cavern lamps and a Dinoco Gasoline pump.
When it's finally time to race, you'll board a six-passenger convertible (they come in eight colors, with male or female faces). While there is a red car and a blue car, these are officially not Lightning McQueen and Sally—though it's easy to make that assumption when you see the eyes on the windshield.
The ride vehicles are modified versions of cars from the Test Track attraction at Epcot in Florida's Walt Disney World, with the center seat having a standard lap belt, and the side seats having cross-body seatbelts.
The first portion of the ride evokes the scene from Cars when Sally led Lightning McQueen on a drive to see the Wheel Well Motel. While you don't visit that Cars landmark itself, you ride around Willy's Butte and drive past Radiator Falls, as the onboard audio plays the "McQueen and Sally" theme Randy Newman wrote for the Cars soundtrack.
As you enter the show building, you come headlight to headlight with Mack. Swerving to avoid him, your car then narrowly avoids a collision with Minny and Van, the lost car couple from the film. After rounding another curve, you encounter the Sheriff, who tells you to slow down and asks Mater to lead you into town. First, Mater wants to take you tractor tipping, which leads to a confrontation with Frank the combine.
After making a high-speed getaway from Frank, you round the bend into Radiator Springs, where you are greeted by Sarge, Fillmore, and Red. It's always nighttime in this version of Radiator Springs, which is great for the show effects but is a bit of a continuity break from the rest of the ride. Next, Lightning McQueen and Sally greet you, and send you though one of two doors to get ready for the big race.
The door on the left leads to Luigi's Casa Della Tires, where Luigi and Guido (both animatronic figures; Guido is in a "pit" on the right side of the car) stand ready to install your new whitewall tires. Be sure to watch the mirror on the left wall to see the transformation.
The door on the right leads to Ramone's House of Body Art, where Ramone and Flo (animated characters behind a glass window) offer to touch up your paint. This room is reminiscent of the corrosion chamber from Epcot's Test Track, and robot arms "spray" you with a fine mist.
Fun fact: the lighting and walls of this room change to match the color of each car.
These rooms also serve to put ride vehicles on parallel tracks for the race portion of the ride. Once you're appropriately accessorized, you pay a quick visit to Doc Hudson, who will give you pointers during the race, then it's on to meet (or rejoin) Luigi and Guido at the starting line. Another car should pull up alongside you on the adjoining track; that's your opponent for the final race scene.
As Luigi lowers the flag, your car speeds out of the show building and back outside for a race through the Ornament Valley. This is a fun, fast course with high banked turns and great camelback hills, and there's no way to know which car will win until you cross the finish line.
After passing the checkered flag, you head back inside to visit the Taillight Caverns, a new scene created by Imagineers for the ride, where Mater and Lightning McQueen wait to congratulate the winner. While I enjoy the race portion of the ride better in the daytime, I love the way the Taillight Caverns glow after dark. Like much of Cars Land, this ride takes on a whole new look at night, and it's worth experiencing both.
The exit walkway leads past a kiosk where you can purchase your on-ride photo, then outside and along a portion of the racetrack where you can watch other cars roar by. This view gives you a better appreciation for just how steep the bank is.
If you're like my friends, you'll want to immediately get back in line for another race—but you might want to grab a Fastpass first and come back later. Though Radiator Springs Racers has an official capacity of 1,500 riders per hour (which is more than the other two Cars Land attractions combined), this will easily become the most popular ride in Disney California Adventure.
Though the ride has a bank of Fastpass machines tucked inside a "garage" near the attraction's entrance, a second bank of machines installed near the entrance of a bug's land will be used instead this summer to help prevent crowding inside Cars Land.
Like the other Cars Land rides, the Radiator Springs Racers queue is fully accessible to wheelchairs and ECVs, but riders must be able to transfer from their chair to the ride vehicle. The ride has a separate loading area for guests who need a little more time, with a system that sends two cars onto a spur track.
In what I believe to be a first for any Disney attraction, riders can choose from two loading platforms depending on their specific needs. The "standard" height platform is used by passengers able to step down into the ride vehicle, while a second, lower platform is designed to make it easier for guests who need to transfer straight across from wheelchair to car. As with Mater's Junkyard Jamboree ride, this attraction does not offer transfer boards, so pack your own if you're used to using one.
In another first, the accessible loading area also has its own ride photo kiosk. Since the main kiosk is accessible only by stairs, Disney added a second set of screens so riders using the accessible entrance could also view and purchase their ride photos.
With a 40-inch height requirement, your children might not be tall enough for Radiator Springs Racers. Fortunately, Lightning McQueen and Mater take turns greeting visitors outside the Cozy Cones on Route 66, and Red the fire engine usually hangs out on the path to "a bug's land," so your younger children won't leave Cars Land without having met some of their favorite Cars characters up close.
Described by many—including Pixar chief and Cars director John Lasseter—as one of the best rides ever built in a Disney theme park, Radiator Springs Racers has exceeded all of my expectations. One reader commented to me that he wished Disney would return to the classic ticket book system just so they could create an "E-plus ticket" for this new ride.
This is the kind of ride you plan your theme park day around. For once, Disney's advertising slogan of "Get Ready to Be Floored" may be an understatement.
Radiator Springs Racers facts at a glance
- Number of different car colors – 8
- Vehicle capacity – 6 riders
- Official ride capacity – 1,500 riders per hour.
- Approximate ride length – four minutes
- Attraction size – six acres
- Number of tail fins represented in the Cadillac Range – 6
- Miles Disney says each car will travel in a year – 36,000
- Height requirement – 40 inches
- Fastpass – Yes
- Single Rider line – Yes
- Baby Swap – Yes
- Ride Photo – Yes