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Cars Land at Disney California Adventure

On June 15, 2012, Disney opened the newest land in the Disney California Adventure theme park, Cars Land, based on the Disney/Pixar animated films. Cars Land is the centerpiece of a $1 billion-plus transformation of the California Adventure theme park.

Doc Hudson
Doc Hudson has some advice for you on Radiator Springs Racers, in Disney's Cars Land.
  • Radiator Springs Racers
    A high-speed race through Ornament Valley, inspired by the first Cars film.
  • Luigi's Flying Tires
    You'll hover on air, floating on "flying" tires in the back of Luigi's shop.
  • Mater's Junkyard Jamboree
    A musical whip-style ride with Radiator Springs' favorite tow-truck.
  • Flo's V8 Cafe
    A new restaurant, featuring Route 66-inspired comfort food, such as roasted meats and pie for dessert.
  • Cozy Cone Motel
    Serving snacks and light meals... in a bread cone, of course.

Disneyland brings Cars Land to Pasadena, in a 2013 Rose Parade float

By Robert Niles
Published: January 1, 2013 at 11:38 AM
Happy New Year 2013 from Pasadena!

We're sitting at the corner of Orange Grove and Pasadena boulevards on New Year's morning, watching the 124th annual Rose Parade, which includes this year's float from the Disneyland Resort -- a 125-foot-long floral recreation of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure (and, if rumors prove true, coming soon to Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida -- we'll just ignore the existence of the severely abridged version at the Walt Disney Studios in Paris).

Cars Land float
The Rose Parade float depicts the town of Radiator Springs, along with all three Cars Land attractions

Cars Land float
But since it's a theme park ride, something has to go terribly wrong. In a flash of fireworks, the float "breaks down."

Cars Land float
Fortunately, Cars Land is home to a certain tow truck, who drives up to give the float a jump, and save the day.

Cars Land float
Lightning McQueen and Sally ride at the front of the float

Cars Land float
Here's Sally, from the other side.

Cars Land float
Here's Mater's Junkyard Jamboree

Cars Land float
And Luigi's Flying Tires, followed by dancing waiters and waitresses from Flo's V8 Cafe

Cars Land float
It's flowers depicting car parts depicting flowers!

Cars Land float
Radiator Springs Racers brings up the rear of the float. The only thing missing? The two-hour-plus queue of visitors, of course.

Cars Land float
Here's another view of the entire float. Click for a larger view.

Cars Land float
And Mater and friend, bringing up the rear.

Here's a video of the float going by - I was sitting in the "TV bleachers" located across the street from the TV cameras at turn on the corner of Colorado and Orange Grove boulevards. Unfortunately, the sun came out just as the Cars Land float approached, so I was shooting into the sun.

This year's Rose Parade theme was "Oh, the Places You'll Go."

Rose Parade opening float

So, yes, Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat made an appearance, for you Universal Islands of Adventure fans:

The Cat in the Hat in the Rose Parade

As did Thing 1 and Thing 2 and a certain fish in a pot:

Dr. Seuss float in the Rose Parade

Happy New Year, theme park fans!

* * *

Of course, the Rose Parade leads up to the annual Rose Bowl Game, which this year features Wisconsin versus Stanford.

Wisconsin cheerleaders

The uh, somewhat infamous Stanford Band behaved themselves for the TV cameras, though it made the turn at Colorado Boulevard in its own, distinct way:

* * *

Earlier, the people at Disney released a couple of videos documenting the construction and decoration of the Cars Land float:

Remember, every surface of a Rose Parade float must be covered in flowers or other organic material. That creates a huge last-minute rush to decorate these floats, as participants need to ensure all that flora will be fresh on New Year's morning.

Here's what the crew from Cars Land was wearing (from the Tournament of Roses' press release): "[Lightning] McQueen will be covered in red carnation petals, strawflower and seaweed. Sally will be covered in cut statice, lunaria and clover seed. The tractors will be covered in a variety of seeds, mums, seaweed and black beans. The animated signs will be decorated in a variety of seeds, strawflowers, mums and marigolds. The mountains and rocks throughout the float will be covered in lentils, clover seed, mums and strawflowers. Throughout the deck of the float will be live pinon trees, cactus, succulents and a variety of grasses. There will be thousands of roses, carnations and gerberas spread throughout the float."

P.S. Disney's other big event today is the opening of entries for Disney's 2013 sweepstakes - one Disney vacation given away every day in January.

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How to fly Luigi's Flying Tires

By Robert Niles
Published: June 19, 2012 at 10:54 AM
Of all the new attractions in Disney California Adventure, Luigi's Flying Tires holds the most re-ride appeal for me. Why? Not only is every ride different on Luigi's, it's one of those rare and welcomed attractions where your input makes the difference in your enjoyment of the ride.

Luigi's Flying Tires

Luigi's Flying Tires rewards you for paying attention back in your math and physics classes. The tires themselves float on a cushion of air, like a puck on an air hockey table. But it's up to you to make the tires move around the platform. Take a look at this video:

For the TL;DW (too long; didn't watch) crowd: As you lean to one side, you're tilting the tire, changing the angle of the underside of the tire relative to the platform. That changes the angle at which the air coming up from the platform is hitting the underside of the tire, pushing the tire to one side. That is what moves your tire around the platform.

The trouble is, if you lean too far to the side, the edge of your tire will hit the platform and the friction between the tire edge and the platform will bring you to a stop. So you've got to find a balance that gives you a push without scraping an edge and slowing to a halt.

It's easier for beginners to get the feel for the ride if you go alone. But if you're in a group, breaking up is going to reduce the ride's hourly capacity and blow up the line - so at least try to get everyone in your group to work together when you ride. Select a leader who'll make the decisions when to shift direction, and try to steer your tire in a circle for a moment so everyone can get a feel for the ride when you start.

That's Tire Flying 101. Now let's move on to more advanced flying technique!

Remember momentum. If you keep leaning in one direction, your momentum will build, moving you faster across the platform. If you need to change direction, try to do so gradually, so you don't scrub off your speed with a sudden change in direction.

Watch for traffic. The last thing you want to happen is to get boxed in by a bunch of other tires. Look for open spaces on the platform and aim for them.

Use traffic to your advantage. This is the really cool part of the ride. If you remember force vectors, here's your chance to test that in a theme park. Look for tires going in your general direction, and try to glance off them to get a get a momentum boost. If you're really good, you might even be able to get your tire to start spinning when you do. Be careful, though. If you hit the angle wrong, you'll lose your speed.

As crowds settle down in Cars Land this summer, I recommend going to get a Radiator Springs Racers Fastpass first thing when you arrive in the park at opening. Then go make Luigi's your first ride in the morning, as it doesn't have Fastpass and a low hourly capacity will result in some pretty long waits later in the day. Keep riding Luigi's until the line backs up over 15 minutes or so, then move on to Racers, or wherever else you'd like to do in the park. But take a moment to think about the physics before giving Luigi's a try. If you know what you're doing, Luigi's Flying Tires can be one of the more unique and delightful ride experiences you've ever had in a theme park.

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Ride review - Radiator Springs Racers and Cars Land at Disney California Adventure

By Robert Niles
Published: June 14, 2012 at 4:58 PM
Pixar's "Cars" provides what might be Hollywood's purest depiction of story from a child's perspective. Like a child imagining a narrative for his collection of toy cars, "Cars" creates a world where every character is an automobile, from a Porsche working as a lawyer to a Fiat who sells tires. It's as if Douglas Adams' Ford Prefect actually got it right in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy," and the cars really are the dominant life form.

Lightning McQueen

Yet unlike other movies where toys come to life - most notably Pixar's own "Toy Story" - there's no attempt in "Cars" to ground the movie's narrative in a human world. The cars don't revert to inanimate form when the people happen by. In "Cars," there are no people, so the cars are free to go on being whatever imagination dreams them to be. It's pure fantasy, with no concessions - or apologies - for its conceit.

But now, people are entering the land of "Cars," in Disney California Adventure's simply just-as-simply-named Cars Land, the new theme park land which opens to the public tomorrow.

Cars Land

As in the movie, Disney's made no attempt to explain how Cars Land fits into the human universe. Cars Land is just here, and now you can visit it. Disney didn't take the route Universal Orlando did, when it stretched Harry Potter canon by explaining that Professor Dumbledore had invited us "Muggles" to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the day. Hey, we're playing here. There's no need to explain it.

Not that "Cars" didn't have its conflicts. Fitting with its child-like perspective, "Cars" told the story of a child-like racer named Lightning McQueen, a spectacularly talented rookie who turned away his crew and many fans with his selfish immaturity. Heck, Lightning McQueen was so young, so inexperienced, that he didn't even know how to make what might be the most basic move in auto racing, driving in "opposite lock" to carry maximum speed through a turn. But when Lightning's selfish insistence on rushing to California for a championship race landed him in the forgotten Route 66 town of Radiator Springs, he was forced to grow up, by learning how to make friends.

In Cars Land, Disney's Imagineers have faithfully recreated the entire town of Radiator Springs, from its courthouse square, framed by the towering rockwork "tailfins" of Cadillac Range, to Mater's weathered junkyard on the edge of town. Disney's even shown us more of Radiator Springs than we saw in the movie, with a queue for its centerpiece Radiator Springs Racers which shows us for the first time the "Original Radiator Spring" which gave the town its name.

Radiator Spring

While the physical setting dazzles, the time setting for Cars Land looked to me a bit fuzzy - the Lightning McQueen that drives around town greeting guests sports "Allinol" stickers from "Cars 2," but Doc Hudson, who died before the events of "Cars 2," appears in Radiator Springs Racers. Then again, it's just play. There's no explaining Cars Land's place in the human universe, or in the human timeframe.

So what of the rides? We often joke here on Theme Park Insider about that moment in every theme park attraction when something goes terribly wrong. But Radiator Springs Racers is one major theme park ride where nothing ever does go terribly wrong. It's a day in the "Happily Ever After" instead - when Lightning McQueen's made his friends, there are no villains to be found, and there's nothing more important facing us than a high-speed race around Carburetor County.

Racing through Cars Land

We're along for the ride as 'toon convertibles race through the desert surrounding Radiator Springs. Using the same high-speed, flat-track ride system as Epcot's Test Track and Tokyo Disney Sea's Journey to the Center of the Earth, Radiator Springs Racers starts us with a drive past the Ornament Valley waterfall before returning us to Radiator Springs at nightfall, where Mater's tipping tractors, and Lightning McQueen and Sally await us before we prepare for our big race.

At this point, the track splits and we are sent into one of two alternative routes on the ride - a visit to Luigi's tire shop for fresh whitewalls, or a trip through Ramone's body shop for a fresh coat of paint. (Ride enough times and you might also notice the interior colors in Ramone's shop changing to match your car's color.) From there, Doc Hudson offers you a last-minute tip before Luigi and Guido drop the green flag for our high-speed race through Ornament Valley. At the finish line, we pass through Tail-light Caverns, where Lightning and his best friend Mater congratulate us before we exit.

It's all in good fun, without the high-stakes, good-vs.-evil conflict that defines Universal Creative's Transformers ride, which debuted at cross-town rival Universal Studios Hollywood last month. That absence left me without the same adrenaline rush I felt after riding Transformers for the first time, though I remain amazed at the animation quality in Radiator Springs Racers' Audio-Animatronics. The lifelike eyes and mouths of the cars leave you completely convinced that these are the animated characters of "Cars" brought to life in front of you. The rich detail throughout the ride rewards repeat visitors (keep your eye on the moon after you escape Frank in the tractor-tipping scene), and for the best experience, ride at night, which not only better fits the narrative of the ride, but also gives you some sweet views of the awesome neon display that Disney's created for the town of Radiator Springs.

The land's other rides - Luigi's Flying Tires and Mater's Junkyard Jamboree - offer simple physical thrills, each with its own twist. On Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, one of six original songs crooned by Larry the Cable Guy (the voice of Mater) serenades you as you whip around the junkyard behind one of Mater's tractors.

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree

On Luigi's Flying Tires, you're floating on a cushion of air (like on an air hockey table), which forces you to learn how to shift you weight to change the angle that your tire sits on the air, allowing the air to push it in different directions. Get the feel right, and Luigi's rewards you with a truly unique ride experience, where you can bounce and glance off other tires to race your way around the yard. Get the feel wrong, though, and you'll stay glued in place, unable to get your tire moving.

Luigi's Flying Tires

But the greatest attraction in Cars Land is the land itself - a buffet of eye candy that keeps rewarding visitors even as they slow down to linger over its details. That planter over there? A tire on its side, filled with "flowers" of tail-lights. The waterwheel in front of the Cozy Cone? Upside-down traffic cones. And Cars Land's greatest highlight might be that moment in the twilight each evening when the land's abundant neon comes to life - bathing the land in waves of color.

Cars Land at Night

For in a land where nothing goes terribly wrong, it's nice to get to savor a moment, instead, when something goes wonderfully right.

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Disney California Adventure celebrates its Cars Land grand opening

By Robert Niles
Published: June 13, 2012 at 12:53 PM
Tonight Disney California Adventure celebrated its celebrity grand opening ceremony for Cars Land. Now, even though the "Grand Opening" was tonight, remember that the new land won't be open to the public until Friday morning. (Disney California Adventure will be closed to the public tomorrow, June 14, for its media day.)

Larry the Cable Guy
Larry the Cable Guy, the voice of Mater in the films, walks the red carpet. See Theme Park Insider's Facebook page for the complete red carpet photo gallery.

After the red carpet, everyone made their way down the pathway toward the entrance to Cars Land for the opening ceremony, where Disney Park chief Tom Staggs and Cars director (and Disney Creative Chief) John Lasseter opened the land with a jump start.

Cars Land opening
Tom Staggs, lower left, and John Lasseter declare Cars Land open

Cars Land party
Thousands of invited guests pour into Cars Land for the post-premiere party.

We'll be in Anaheim tomorrow for the media day, and Friday morning for the rededication ceremony for Disney California Adventure at 8am. Keep watching Theme Park Insider here on the Web, on Twitter and on Facebook for updates.

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Disney opens Cars Land to its annual passholders

By Robert Niles
Published: June 10, 2012 at 3:21 PM
Disney is letting the public have its first look at the final stages in its $1-billion expansion and makeover of Disney California Adventure theme park. Today, we'll take a look around Cars Land.

Cars Land
Annual passholder preview day crowd at Cars Land. AP-holders could visit Cars Land for a morning or afternoon this weekend for an extra $50 charge.

Cars Land faithfully recreates the town of Radiator Springs, the setting for much of the first Cars film, where Lightning McQueen gets stranded on his way to the Piston Cup final, only to learn some lessons about friendship while he's there.

Lightning McQueen

You'll see Lightning, along with other Cars characters, driving the streets, greeting guests throughout the day. But let's not dawdle too long out on Route 66. Let's take a look at each of the rides and restaurants in the new land. I'll have more details and full reviews, plus additional photos and video, after Cars Land's media preview day this Thursday. In the meantime, you can follow the links below to submit your own ratings and reviews for these Cars Land attractions, if you were among the preview crowds this week.

Radiator Springs Racers is the centerpiece attraction in Cars Land, a high-speed race through the desert-scene Ornament Valley.

Radiator Springs Racers

You'll want to pick up a Fastpass from the machine located next to A Bug's Land on your way into the park, to avoid what promises to be an hours-long wait when this ride opens to the public, starting Friday, June 15.

Inside the queue, you'll find Stanley's Oasis, home of the Original Radiator Spring (and the source of the town's name).

Stanley's Oasis

I was among the first to board the ride this morning, only to have the ride stop just as we entered the main show building. The work lights came up, and Disney cast members evacuated the car in front of us. But after working on the car ahead, the cast members retreated off stage, dimmed the lights and allowed us to continue.

Work lights on

Within moments, we were flying through Ornament Valley.

Racing through Ornament Valley

Around the bend

And crossing the finish line.

Crossing the finish line

Lightning McQueen and Mater congratulate the racers at the end of the ride. (And the cast members at unload allowed us to ride again, since our first journey was interrupted.)

Lightning McQueen and Mater

Luigi's Flying Tires is a unique attraction where riders float on air in giant tires around Luigi's back yard.

Outside Luigi's Flying Tires

I don't want to get into too much opinion here, but I absolutely loved this ride. And I found making the tire move around the giant "air hockey"-like platform to be a snap. It's just basic geometry.

Riding Luigi's Flying Tires

Did you ever stick your hand outside a car window, or in front of a fan? Do your remember how, if you tilt your hand in one direction, the rushing air pushed your hand in that direction? The same principle's at work here. Your tire is floating on a cushion of air. If you lean your body weight to one side, it will create an angle underneath your tire that the air coming up from the ground will push against, pushing you in that direction.

But if you lean too hard, the edge of the tire will hit the ground, and the friction between the tire and ground will stop you immediately. You've got to find the right balance to ride the air. I think this will be much easier for single riders, since you won't have to coordinate with anyone else. I got the hang of this almost instantly, and enjoyed making my tire spin, bump into and avoid other tires, and even race around the platform a bit.


One of the many "planters" inside Cars Land

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree is a classic "whip" ride.

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree

You ride behind Mater's tow trucks, which will whip you around the junkyard, as Mater serenades you with several original songs, written and recorded for the ride.

Riding Mater's Junkyard Jamboree

The action on this ride surprised me. It's quick, you move from side to side quite a bit, and the songs are fun.

Now, on to the food. The Cozy Cone Motel serves snacks and light meals in five different giant roadside cones. Cone 1 serves churros bites. Cone 2 offers soft-serve ice cream and root beer floats. Cone 3 has bread cones with scramble eggs for breakfast, and chicken verde or chili con queso for lunch and dinner. Cone 4 serves pretzel bites and "Red's Apple Freeze," a frozen drink. Cone 5 offers two different flavored popcorns daily.

Cozy Cone Motel

Since it was early, and I needed breakfast, I chose the bacon and scrambled egg cone, with cheddar cheese sauce ($6.49)

The bacon was pretty much just a garnish, a single thin and crispy slice. The scrambled eggs were covered in a thick, though not very sharp, cheddar sauce. The bread cones at the Cozy Cone tasted like a pretzel bread (without salt) - firm and not doughy. The people in front of me chose the salsa verde-sauced scrambled eggs, and I'd wished I'd gotten that instead.

For the grown-ups, Cone 3 also serves a pomegranate limeade with vodka. Yep, the booze flows in Cars Land, with speciality beers and hard liquor available in the land. Throw in the huge amount of neon that will illuminate Cars Land each night, and this place has the potential to seem more like a club than a kiddie land.

Cars Land's main restaurant is Flo's V8 Cafe.

Flo's V8 Cafe

Look up when you enter Flo's to see the light fixture mounted inside the "air filter" rotunda. The light display changes color every few moments.

Inside Flo's

I was amused by the inscription on the back of the many cans of "Quality Oil" stacked in front of Flo's, too.

Quality Oil can at Flo's

Flo's is a counter-service restaurant, serving roasted meats with vegetable sides, salads and vegetarian casserole, in addition to those speciality beers and wines by the glass. For dessert, Flo's offers milkshakes, as well as individual pies, including apple/Cheddar, and chocolate Mud pies.


Inside Flo's

I opted for the citrus-marinated roast turkey breast, sliced thinly and served with turkey gravy, cranberry sauce and a roll. For my two sides, I picked the mashed potatoes and a roasted corn medley. ($11.49)

Citrus-marinated roast turkey breast

This is old-fashioned diner food, just like I've had in several family-run joints on the real Route 66 over the years. (But tastier!) Yet one family next to me in line just had to complain that they couldn't get hamburgers at Flo's.


Check out the giant rear-view mirror, mounted above the back dining room at Flo's.

Just kill me now. Let every other freakin' theme park on the planet have their cliche, 50's burger joints. Thank goodness Disney's trying for something better with Cars Land. I'll get into more detail later this week, but Cars Land abounds with such touches where Disney could easily have opted for the conventional, but instead chose to try something quite a bit more ambitious. To me, that's something to celebrate - and not to complain about.

Cars Land opens to the public on Friday, June 15. Tomorrow, I'll write about Disney California Adventure's new Buena Vista Street.

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Magic Mornings coming to California Adventure?

By Robert Niles
Published: April 4, 2012 at 11:24 AM
Al Lutz reports that Disney will extend Magic Mornings (the west coast equivalent to Disney World's Extra Magic Hours) to Disney California Adventure this summer. Disney's expecting huge crowds at Anaheim's second gate this summer, thanks to the opening of Cars Land and the park's new Buena Vista Street entrance plaza. Lutz is also reporting that DCA will operate on an 8am-11pm everyday this summer, with Magic Mornings starting at 7am three days a week.

Cars Land
A view down Route 66 into the new Cars Land, under construction at Disney California Adventure

Magic Morning admissions at Disneyland traditionally have been available to guests staying at one of the three Disneyland Resort hotels, as well as guests who buy a multi-day ticket with Magic Mornings eligibility. In addition to the new Magic Mornings at California Adventure, Magic Mornings will continue to run at Disneyland the other four mornings each week this summer.

But that's not all. For the first time, Lutz reports, Disney will extend Magic Mornings admission to annual passholders. They won't get in early into Disneyland, or to California Adventure on its three "regular" Magic Mornings days. But APs would be admitted at 7am to California Adventure on the four days a week when the "regular" Magic Morning is at Disneyland.

That means that California Adventure would be open at 7am for selected guests seven days a week. So a "regular" guest - one who's not staying at a Disneyland hotel, doesn't have an annual pass, and doesn't have a Magic Mornings-eligible multi-day ticket - wouldn't have any day when he or she could be first in line at one of the Cars Land attractions, including the new Radiator Springs Racers. More incentive from Disney to stay at its hotels?

It reminds me of the situation at Universal's Islands of Adventure, where Universal Orlando hotel guests get first crack at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter every day. (Of course, this wouldn't be the first similarity between the Disneyland and Universal Orlando resorts.)

Cars Land and Buena Vista Street open on June 15, when California Adventure will celebrate its "Grand Reopening," including renaming of most of the lands throughout the park. Disney California Adventure will be closed to the public on June 14 for a media preview day, but we're planning to be there, so keep following Theme Park Insider on Facebook and Twitter for all the details on the "new" DCA.

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Disneyland makes June 15 opening official for Cars Land, Buena Vista Street

By Robert Niles
Published: March 7, 2012 at 4:01 PM
Disneyland today made official the poorly kept "secret" that Disney California Adventure's expansion will open on June 15.

That's the day that everyone will "officially" get access to the new Buena Vista street entry plaza and the new Cars Land, including Radiator Springs Racers. I would expect some soft openings, at least for Cars Land, in the days leading up to the press debut on June 14.

Disneyland today released a new promo video, with plenty of construction footage from behind the walls at California Adventure:

Check out our recent Cars Land construction update from last week for more photos, too.

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Cars Land construction update: March 2012

By Robert Niles
Published: March 1, 2012 at 8:16 PM
In the middle of yesterday's One More Disney Day at Disneyland, I took a few moments to hop across the esplanade to check out the construction at Disney California Adventure.

Buena Vista Street construction

Workers are making progress toward the planed June 15 opening date for Cars Land and the new Buena Vista Street entrance. In fact, the exterior of the park's new centerpiece, the Carthay Circle Theater, is already complete.

Carthay Circle

As is much of the exterior work on the big new attraction, Cars Land.

Main street of Cars Land, under construction

Zoom in for a closer look, and you can see the facade detail on the Radiator Springs Courthouse, as well as the sign for the Flo's V8 Cafe restaurant,

Flo's V8 sign

The Cozy Cone counter-service restaurant,

Cozy Cone sign

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree,

Tow Mater sign

And the Route 66 sign that will welcome visitors to the town of Radiator Springs.

Welcome to Radiator Springs

Yesterday, Disney opened its latest exhibit in the Blue Sky Cellar at California Adventure, focusing on Cars Land. In the center of the room, you'll find a scale model of the new land.

Scale model of Cars Land

Along one wall, you'll find concept art for the land's new attractions, including the high-speed track ride Radiator Springs Racers.

Radiator Springs Racers concept art

The images here show some of the early scenes in the ride, where your car will go through Test Track-style stations where your tires are checked and the car's paint is touched up before you race out onto the open road. Radiator Springs Racers will use the same basic ride system as Test Track, but the inclusion of an indoor cave scene raises my hopes that Radiator Springs Racers also will offer some moments reminiscent of Disney's other ride using that same system, Tokyo DisneySea's Journey to Center of the Earth.

Cars Land plans

That's an early design scheme for the new land, and here's a "tour map" of the caverns that Radiator Springs Racers will explore.

Caverns Tour Map

After seeing what Disney's Imagineers can do with this ride system when I rode Journey to the Center of the Earth in December, I'm eager to see what they've done with Radiator Springs Racers. We'll be there for the opening in June.

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Disney releases ride test video for Mater's Junkyard Jamboree in Cars Land

By Robert Niles
Published: December 21, 2011 at 12:39 PM
Disneyland today released a video snippet of ride testing for Mater's Junkyard Jamboree, one of the three new rides coming to Cars Land at Disney California Adventure this spring/summer.

As you can see from the video, Mater's really appears to be a basic spinner ride, with some whipping action. How much action will it get? I suppose that will depend upon the weight in each car.

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree looks to be a fairly low capacity attraction, putting through a few hundred people per hour, at best. But the big attraction in the Cars Land will be the much higher capacity Radiator Springs Racers - and if it turns out anything like Journey to the Center of the Earth at Tokyo DisneySea, which uses the same ride system, expect Radiator Springs Racers to be a huge, huge it. I'll write more about Radiator Springs Racers during Tokyo DisneySea Week on Theme Park Insider, starting Monday.

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A look behind the construction wall at Disney California Adventure's Cars Land

By Robert Niles
Published: June 3, 2011 at 5:47 PM
The Disneyland Resort wrapped up its summer media event this morning with a presentation on "What's Next" set, appropriately enough, inside the Cars Land construction site within Disney California Adventure.

Disneyland President George Kalogridis

Disneyland President George Kalogridis described the changes still to come at the California Adventure, including the debut of the new entrance turnstiles, the Buena Vista Street entrance plaza and the Carthay Circle Theater, which will occupy the place once held by the Sun Sphere. The Carthay Circle was theater where Walt Disney's first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, debuted in the 1920s. California Adventure's Carthay Circle will house a new table-service restaurant and lounge, Kalogridis said, putting to rest rumors that a new Club 33-style private club might go into that space.

Next up, Disney Imagineers Kathy Magnum and Kevin Rafferty talked the crowd through the construction progress in Cars Land. As they spoke, a live video feed from the top of the Tower of Terror panned across the land, shooting close-ups of the construction that were displayed on a video screen. (So you're going to see pictures of a picture here.)

Today's event took place at what will become one of two entrances into Cars Land. The main entrance will stand across from the Blue Sky Cellar, where the Lightning McQueen and Mater meet-'n-greet now stands. Visitors entering Cars Land at that point will walk up Route 66 on their way to Ornament Valley and the land's iconic Radiator Springs Racers ride.

The other entrance, where we sat today, will welcome visitors entering from Pacific Wharf. They walk along the cross street to Route 66, then on to the various attractions and shops in the new land.

Magnum and Rafferty described some of the coming features in the land, as the camera showed them under construction.

The Cozy Cone won't be a motel, as it was in the movie. Now, Sally's property will be a snack food court, selling as sorts of "cone" food, inkling "popcorn" and "chili cone carne," among other groan-inducing puns.

Sally's Cozy Cones

The main restaurant in Cars Land will be Flo's V8 Cafe. There, you'll find "comfort food," inspired by many mom-'n-pop diners along Route 66. (Think Roadfood, I suspect.) Magnum mentioned mac n' cheese as one menu item, and both mentioned that the restaurant will offer pie, the food the two said Imagineers overindulged in on their research trip across the remains of Route 66.

Flo's V8 Cafe

The cafe, which is built to look like a giant air filter, also will provide a backstory for Flo, who they said used to be a Motown-style singer, and whose gold records you'll see on the wall in the cafe. The cafe also will house Doc Hudson's Museum, providing additional backstory on the character voiced in the film by the late Paul Newman.

Luigi's Flying Tires will run in the backyard of the Luigi's tire shop. Here, the story is that Luigi's fired up the air compressors to allow visitors to "fly" on floating tires, levitated by the compressed air.

Luigi's Tire Shop

Finally, the two talked us through Radiator Springs Racers. Visitors will encounter several of the Cars characters, including Lightning McQueen, Mater and Doc Hudson, in the queue for the attraction. Then it's off to the track, where Luigi and Guido will wave the flag as you race against another car of visitors.

Ornament Valley

Radiator Springs Racers will run on a similar ride system to Test Track at Epcot in Florida. Except that this ride will dispense with all that indoor faux ride testing in favor of just that exhilarating speed run outside, with dips and several turns through Ornament Valley, making this more a thrill ride experience than Test Track.

But there are some surprises at the end of the ride, too. "We have a really wonderful part of Ornament Valley, which is a natural wonder called Tailight Caverns," Rafferty said. "It's filled with stalag-lights [I don't know if he meant "stalactites" or if Disney's coining a new term for those spire-like features in its Ornament Valley caves], which are designed in the style of old '50s-style cars, and in that scene, you come back from the race and we're going to create different ride profiles so that you cross the finish lines at different times. You may get a different one each time you go."

So what exactly does he mean by "multiple ride profiles"? Rafferty wouldn't say, insisting that people would have to ride to find out. But it seems that a welcome back from Lightning McQueen and Mater will be part of the end of every ride.

As I left, I did capture a couple of other shots of the construction. Here's the ornament arch under which visitors will enter from Pacific Wharf:

More Ornament Valley

And here's a close-up of the Radiator Springs Racers track, with Ornament Valley in the background.

Radiator Springs Racers, under construction

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Disneyland Resort grows its Enchanted Forest of Construction Walls

By Robert Niles
Published: January 26, 2011 at 3:51 PM
The kids are in school and crowds are light at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California - making plenty of space for the construction crews to move in and get to work.

There's no longer any "California" in front of Disney California Adventure. Nor is the old sun icon standing behind the Golden Gate bridge, either.

Plaza construction at Disney California Adventure

Disney's put the letters into storage and torn down the middle third of the entry turnstiles as it remakes the front entrance of the park.

Concept art of the new California Adventure entry

Hmm, do you think that artist concept of the new Disney California Adventure entry plaza that looks a bit like the entry to Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World?

I like what Disney's done with this construction wall, though, evoking the new 1930s theme for the entry plaza by featuring many of Disney's original toons, including Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mortimer Mouse. (It gives the park an "Epic Mickey" spin, as Imagineering effectively erases much of the park to recreate it.)

Disney toons

Inside the park, construction's broken the circuit around the lagoon, at the site of the now-removed Maliboomer.

DCA construction wall

The new Little Mermaid show building is almost complete, preparing for an expected soft opening in April.

The DCA Little Mermaid show building under construction

Little Mermaid construction

And work's coming along on Cars Land, set to debut sometime next year.

Cars Land construction

The Playhouse Disney show is gone now, soon to be replaced with Disney Junior: Live on Stage.

Disney Junior construction wall

And the Red Car Trolley tracks are ready to go in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot. But they'll have to wait for the new front entry plaza to be complete before we see trolleys on those tracks.

Red Car Trolley track

Across the esplanade at Disneyland, the Enchanted Forest of Construction Walls grows, as well.

Town Square

Behind some walls, we'll eventually find new attractions, such as the new version of Star Tours, set to debut in May.

Star Tours construction wall

Behind others, we await the completion of more traditional refurbs, such as that happening now to Splash Mountain.

Splash Mountain refurb

Not only is Splash down, Disney's shuttered the entire Critter Country land for refurbishment. It's been ages since I remember Disney closing an entire land.

Critter Country construction wall

Yet, if you can find your way around the walls, most of the rest of Disney's top attractions remain open (Pirates, Indy, Thunder, Subs, etc.), with the shortest wait times of the year.

Disneyland wait times on Jan. 26, 2011

Later today, I'll post my review of the new menu at Fantasyland's Village Haus Restaurant.

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Disney's California Adventure - April 2010 construction update

By Robert Niles
Published: April 13, 2010 at 4:16 PM
The kids and I took a trip down to Anaheim over the past couple of days, so I thought it a good time to bring you up to date on the construction at Disney's California Adventure.

If you're unfamiliar with the project, here's what California Adventure will look like in two years:

Concept art for Disney's California Adventure

Note the Disney's Hollywood Studios-style front gate, as well as the new Pixar-themed Cars Land standing between Tower of Terror and Paradise Pier, in the space that used to be a parking lot.

Here's a picture of what that area looks like now, looking from the south north toward the park. (You can see Grizzly Peak and the Grand Californian Hotel in the background.) If you look to the left in the photo, you can see the steel skeleton of a show building, while just above the palm trees you can see what sure looked to me like a banked track, already taking shape.

Cars Land under construction

Radiator Springs Racers, a high-speed "Cars"-themed track ride, debuts in 2012.

In 2011, California Adventure will debut a new family dark ride, The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Adventure. Construction's just begun on the show building, which you can see emerging behind the construction wall.

The Little Mermaid ride, under construction

The "Palace of Fine Arts" entryway to the old Golden Dreams show remains, and will be part of The Little Mermaid building's facade, as seen in this concept art:

Concept art for The Little Mermaid Ride

Here's more concept art, of the Paradise Garden Grill and Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta restaurants that will debut later this year. (I don't know about the "Spring" date mentioned in the caption.)

Concept art for new Paradise Pier restaurants

The concept art shows that the Jumping Jellyfish and Golden Zephyr rides will survive the park's makeover. But I have yet to see the Maliboomer on any concept art, seemingly confirming the widespread rumors that the space shot ride's days are numbered. (FWIW, Mulholland Madness will be rethemed as Goofy's Sky School.)

Finally, I leave you with this shot of the soon-to-open Mickey's Silly Symphony Swings, which I caught at night. The sky seemed appropriately turbulent for this tornado-themed waveswinger ride....

Mickey's Silly Symphony Swings, at night

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D23 Saturday Trip Report

By Kari Harrison
Published: September 14, 2009 at 9:36 PM
My day at the D23 Expo did not get off to a good start. After waking up at 5am on a Saturday morning and taking the long journey on public transportation from West LA to Anaheim, I arrived at the convention center a little after 8:30. I made my way up the escalator to the Storyteller’s theater for the 9am “So You Want To Be An Imagineer” presentation, and I was shocked at the length of the line to get in. There had to be at least 500 people in line, with more people constantly trickling in. They made an announcement at 8:50 that the capacity of the theater was only 350, and most of the people in line would not get in. Once the theater was full, they opened an overflow room where you could watch the presentation from a TV, but that also quickly filled to capacity, and I was left with disappointed with at least a hundred other fans. After a few failed attempts to sneak in, I finally accepted the fact that I would have to find something else to do. I took the opportunity to visit the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Pavilion.

This was probably the most interesting thing I did all day. The first area was dedicated to the new cars land – with a 1:50 scale model of the new Radiator Springs Racers, and some concept art for the land. I have not visited the Blue Sky Cellar, but I imagine you can see pretty similar stuff there. They did however have a mock-up of the Lightning McQueen character. It’s done in the same way as the Mr. Potato head character at Midway Mania. Of course as soon as I took my camera out to take a picture I realized it had been open in my bag all morning and was now out of batteries (hence the picture-less report). There were several interesting exhibits on the evolution of animatronics. One showed the original control panels compared to the current one. They also had the original Mr. Lincoln animatronic from Disneyland. But the big ticket item was the unveiling of the new “Autonomotronic.” This is an animatronic with facial recognition, voice recognition, and the ability to make decisions in real time. In the demonstration it was able to detect people who were smiling, hear and repeat guest’s names, and recognize when they said specific words, like colors. I talked to one of the guys who worked on it and he said the technology is still very new and they haven’t really decided what to do with it yet.

Another new item they had was called Storyteller’s Sandbox. They were doing play testing at the expo of this new demonstration. Six blackjack like tables were set up in a room, with a cast member working at each. The tables were filled with “magic sand.” A man was at the front of the room, telling a story, and then images were projected on to the sand. With the help of the cast member, the guests could shape the sand so that the images looked more life like. For example, in my group we were talking about Hawaii, and we created a topographic map of the island of Oahu out of the sand. It was interesting, and different, but I can’t think of anything they would use it for. There were also models of the new resort at Ko Olina, Hawaii, and the two new Disney cruise ships.

At the end they had an exhibit on the expansion for Hong Kong Disneyland, adding a Toy Story Land, Mystic Point, and Grizzly Trail. The big ticket attractions from each are the RC Racers, Mystic Manor, and Grizzly Mountain Coaster, respectively. No information was really given on the RC Racers, but Mystic Manor is a new, Haunted Mansion type ride, but with a more elaborate story of a collector and his curious pet monkey who accidentally opens this enchanted music box. Each room will have a theme, like Chinese artifacts, or ancient masks, and these intimate objects will come to life when the magic music reaches it. There will also be more rooms than you can see in one ride, so each ride will be different. Grizzly Mountain Coaster is sort of a combination between Thunder Mountain and Expedition Everest. It is a launching coaster, with a backwards section that sounds similar to Everest, but it’s set in a runaway mine car. However, unlike both rides it will go all over the Grizzly Trail land, instead of being contained to a smaller mountain. It was described to me as if you unraveled Thunder Mountain and spread it around all of Frontier Land.

The highlight of the Future of Parks and Resorts presentation was the Fantasyland expansion, which was already talked about earlier today. They also announced the addition of two more cruise ships to the Disney Cruise Line, and that the Disney Wonder will be moving the west coast. There was also mention of an addition at Castaway Cay. Then of course the announcement of Star Tours. They showed a clip from the new ride which was a scene from Episode 1 with the pod racers.

After that I went to the Science of Imagineering presentation. It was originally designed for little kids, so the science part wasn’t too advanced, but it was certainly entertaining. They did show a new gadget that was pretty cool – it is a speaker that projects such a high frequency, you can’t hear it until the sound wave hits your ear directly and vibrates off of your skull. It basically makes it seem like the sound is coming from inside your head.

The last presentation I went to was on the evolution of It’s a Small World. The most interesting part was when they were explaining the reasons they decided to put characters into the Disneyland version. This was because every so often, the rides need to be completely refurbished and restored. In this particular case, the flume was still the original one from the 1964 World’s Fair, and it needed a complete overhaul. Whenever a ride is going to be closed for a long time like this, they find it necessary to add something to the ride, so that guests can feel excited about something new, instead of disappointed that something is closed. This was the case for Pirates, and it was also the case for Small World.

The “Making of the US Presidents” presentation was rescheduled for later in the day, so I wasn’t able to make it, but I spent the rest of my afternoon walking around the showroom and looking at the different stores, collections, and exhibits. There are a few kinks that I think will have to be worked out before next year. Every presentation was full to capacity, with many people being turned away. And with every presentation only being shown once, this created a lot of unhappy people. The staff was all extremely friendly, but there seemed to be little communication between staff members, when I asked multiple people the same question, I always got different answers.

All in all, it was a really good day. I enjoyed the presentations I was able to go to, and the Theme Park exhibit was really interesting and a lot of fun. I will definitely be returning next year.

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An Insider's look at the Disney's California Adventure changes

By Robert Niles
Published: October 21, 2008 at 6:21 PM
This week I am debuting a new weekly feature on Theme Park Insider: Tuesday Park Visit. Each Tuesday between now and next spring, I'll bring you an in-depth look at a popular theme park attraction, restaurant or personality, to help those folks who live outside SoCal and Central Florida to get their off-season theme park fix.

Since I live in Southern California, that will be my focus, though I am planning to fly to Orlando a couple times between now and next spring to look in at the Central Florida theme parks, too. This week, I'm starting with a look at Walt Disney Imagineering's "Blue Sky Cellar" at Disney's California Adventure.

This is the new "preview center" for WDI's rehab of Disneyland's second gate, detailing the plans that have been known to Internet readers for more than a year. I'll forgive the curious name for the center ("sky" and "cellar" - huh?), which appropriately reflects the conundrums that have plagued this park since before it opened. (A themed look, or a contemporary one? Family friendly, or adult oriented? Disney quality, or off-the-shelf carny rides?)

The Blue Sky Cellar stands in the old Seasons of the Vine building behind Grizzly Peak, just up the path from DCA's entrance.

Walk inside, and you'll find a cozy display of concept art, scale models and a looped film detailing the planned changes and additions to California Adventure.

Cast members mingle, offering to answer your questions, giving this location what I'm guessing is the largest current cast member-to-guest ratio for any attraction at any Disney theme park. ;-) Hey, that's a good thing. Kudos to Disney for staffing this place right.

Here's the concept board for the retheming of Paradise Pier, already underway with this summer's debut of Toy Story Midway Mania. The sketches here show the revamp of the Orange Stinger wave swinger as "Silly Symphony Swings," complete with Conductor Mickey on top.

Here's the scale model for the new look Paradise Pier, complete with Mickey replacing the Sun Wheel:

Compare that to the same view, in real life, that I snapped this morning:

One problem with DCA that Disney's Imagineers won't be able to fix is the park's orientation. Entering the park from the north, opposite of Disneyland - where you enter from the south, leaves you shooting into the sunlight when taking pictures of many DCA sights.

In addition to the Paradise Pier changes, Disney will retheme Mulholland Madness as Goofy's Flight School, evoking the Goofy Barnstormer coaster at Florida's Magic Kingdom, though the DCA ride will retain its current Wild Mouse track. Disney's also tearing down the Maliboomer space shot and replacing the Golden Dreams theater with a Little Mermaid dark ride. (Previously discussed here and here.)

But my son was drawn immediately to the concept art for Cars Land, debuting (in his opinion) in way-too-far-off 2012.

The image that interested me though, was this one of the planned new DCA entrance:

Hmmm... does that, um, look familiar?

Disney reps said that the new design for the front entrance of California Adventure isn't final (indeed, no concept art ever is... until the final blueprints are drawn up). But the use of the Disney's Hollywood Studios main gate design further demonstrates that the concepts of these two parks are converging: 1920s Hollywood meets today's Pixar animation with a few themed thrills mixed in.

Take a look at the "new" DCA map, as shown on the Screening Room wall at the Blue Sky Cellar:

... and compare it with today's DCA guidemap:

Will these changes and additions work? I hope so. Cars Land looks like a blast. You won't find a bigger fan of historic L.A. than me, either. (Heck, I'd love for Disney to find a way to fit a Philippe's in here somewhere.) As Los Angeles is tearing down its past, I find a smidgen of comfort in being able to see a bit of the "old" L.A. down the road in Anaheim.

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Disney makes DCA revamp official today

By Robert Niles
Published: October 17, 2007 at 7:12 AM
Today's the day that Disney confirms its planned makeover of Disney's California Adventure with a press conference, featuring Disney CEO Bob Iger.

The details are widely known: Toy Story Midway Mania will be the centerpiece, followed by redos of the park's entrance and common areas. Most major attractions will stay, though Maliboomer and some of the other off-the-shelf-style rides in the midway will go. Cars and Little Mermaid attractions should follow in 2009-10.

The LA Times chases the story this morning, citing the plans being first reported in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Maybe that's where The Times' Richard Verrier first read of them. But the story actually was first reported by Al Lutz on MiceAge months ago, and picked up by fans on multiple theme park websites, including Theme Park Insider. (My $.02: The Times should let Kimi Yoshino cover *everything* regarding the Disney theme parks. Unlike Verrier's, her reports don't always lag the Disney blogosphere, and if they do, she always properly credits it.)

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