A First Visit to Cars Land and Buena Vista Street

A while back I visited the Cars Land and Buena Vista Street areas of Disney’s California Adventure for the first time.

Buena Vista Street

Buena Vista Street is a nice addition to the park; it does a great job of setting the mood and transporting the visitor to a different time and place.    The area is filled with references to Disney history, such as Oswald’s gas station and the Elias and Company store.    There are no rides or attractions here; the area serves the same purpose as Main Street U.S.A in the Disneyland park — the transition from the outside world of reality to the world of imagination and possibilities.   Oh, and to sell you some souvenirs.

The centerpiece of the new Buena Vista Street area is the Carthay Circle Theater — a reproduction of the theatre where Snow White premiered in 1937.    Here, the building serves not as a theater but as a lounge (downstairs) and restaurant (upstairs).   The restaurant is the nicest of any inside a Disneyland Resort theme park (at least any open to the general public — I unfortunately haven’t had the experience of Club 33 to make a comparison).

I did have a chance to have dinner at the Carthay Circle, and found it elegant and very enjoyable.    I look forward to returning and trying more things off the menu there, and perhaps writing up a review after I’ve given it a few more visits.

Cars Land

While the Buena Vista Street area is a nice addition, it’s Cars Land that has really completely transformed the park.    No longer will guests complain that DCA was better as a parking lot.   With this expansion, DCA has finally become a worthy sibling to Disneyland — what it lacks in legacy and history it can now make up for in theming and the appeal of great ride experiences.

The thing that really stands out about Cars Land is how immersive the theming is.   The rock work is incredible and sets the mood for the entire area.  It’s impressive during the day, but at night it becomes truly breathtaking.  Every detail of Cars Land — signage, road signs, the single blinking traffic signal — helps create the illusion that you’re in Radiator Springs.   I don’t think Disney has ever done theming this well — and while I’m sure Universal’s Harry Potter gets some of the credit here, having heard John Lasseter talk about Cars Land at the 2011 D23 Expo, I know that he was the driving force behind making the theming as thorough and immersive as it is throughout the area.

Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree

There are three attractions in Cars Land; the first one you encounter is Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree.   The ride consists of tractors pulling wagons; guests ride in the wagon.  The tractors are on turntables, similar to the teacups ride at Disneyland.   The tractors actually transition from one turntable to another, interleaving with the other tractors.  The wagons swing first to one side and then the other as the tractors change direction as the weave around the turntables.   It’s quite a fun ride and the experience is enhanced by the soundtrack — a variety of songs sung by Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) provides the music for what I suppose is a giant tractor square dance.

Luigi’s Flying Tires

The next attraction is Luigi’s Flying Tires.   I never got to experience the Flying Saucers ride at Disneyland, and always felt that I’d missed out on something special.   Now I feel like I’ve had the chance to experience something very similar — and it turns out, I guess I hadn’t missed that much.   The ride sounds much better in concept than it comes across in execution.   The ride vehicles are giant tires.  The surface is in essence a giant air hockey table, where air jets (rigged to open only when a tire passes over them) lift the tires, allowing them to float on a cushion of air and glide around the ride area.   The problem is, this ride moves so slowly that the motion is barely perceptible.   A joystick that allowed the riders to spin the vehicles was removed before the ride opened (apparently it made operating the vehicles too confusing).    Movement is controlled by leaning in the direction you want to travel.    I’ve heard there is some skill involved here, and perhaps with practice it’s possible to get the tires moving at a more rapid clip — but if true, I didn’t see anyone managing that during the time I rode or watched the ride.

When we rode, there were giant beach balls that you could bat around the area, in an attempt to create some sense that something was moving, even if it’s not you.   The beach balls disappeared only a few days after we were there … apparently some riders were getting a bit too aggressive with them.

I’ve read on other blogs that the spinning mechanisms (essentially dead weight since the joysticks were removed) are being removed, which will lighten the vehicles somewhat.   I’ll give Luigi’s another try next time I visit; maybe with practice, and lighter vehicles, there’s a fun ride here.   But my initial experience puts it a distant third to the other two attractions in the area.

Radiator Springs Racers

Now we come to the E Ticket attraction.   The basic mechanics of the Races is obviously borrowed from Test Track at EPCOT.    Test Track is a great ride … it’s always been popular, and when I first heard that the Radiator Springs Racers would have a top speed only about half what Test Track achieves, I thought the Racers would end up being the inferior ride … I expected it to be a nice, enjoyable ride, but didn’t think it would come up to the high bar set by the WDW inspiration.

Well, I was wrong.   I think what Radiator Springs Racers does is shows how critical story is to making a truly great ride.    Yes, Test Track has a story line, and it’s well done … but let’s face it, nobody rides Test Track because of the story.    And I doubt many people ride for the various story-related scenarios that you’re put through in the first half of the ride — it’s all about crashing through that barrier and getting to the high-speed outdoor segment.

With Radiator Springs racers, the slow, more story-driven part of the ride is every bit as enjoyable as the race.   Right as you start, as you wind your way through the hillsides and take in the spectacular waterfall, you realize you’re in for an amazing ride.    (This part of the ride is especially enjoyable at night).   You then ride through the town of Radiator Springs (not the one you just walked through to get here … there’s another recreation of the town inside the ride).   Many of the characters from Cars make appearances, and set up the story of the race that’s about to take place.    There are some nice effects here, although a few weren’t working properly during my visit … giving me a reason to make a return trip soon.

After getting new tires or a new paint job (depending on which fork in the road you take), you pull up to the starting line and the race begins.   Although the speed isn’t as great as Test Track, the course is more compact — with tighter turns and quick elevation changes, your need for speed will be satisfied.

Radiator Springs Racers is very popular — Fast Passes were running out within the first hour the park was open, and the standby line was regularly over two hours.   But it is without a doubt worth it.     The ride is best at night — when we were there, fast pass return times weren’t being enforced, so you could get a fast pass first thing in the morning and then ride late at night.   Unfortunately, I’ve heard this is no longer permitted, and that the return times are now being enforced.

Dining:  Flo’s V8 Cafe and the Cozy Cone Motel

There are a couple of dining options in Cars Land.   For quick service, there are the cones of the Cozy Cone motel.   For a counter service, sit down meal, there is Flo’s V8 Cafe.   Flo’s has a much nicer menu than is typical for counter service — turkey and dressing, pork loin, etc.    It can get quite crowded at peak times.

Wrap-up

I really enjoyed my first visit to the new Cars Land and Buena Vista Street areas of the DCA park.   I’m looking forward to visiting again during the holidays, experiencing all the attractions again and seeing how the these areas are decorated for the Christmas season.

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