Lightning McQueen and Mater greet park guests daily outside the Cozy Cone Motel on Route 66.
Lightning McQueen and Mater greet park guests daily outside the Cozy Cone Motel on Route 66. Paul Hiffmeyer / Disneyland Resort

All roads lead to Cars at Disney

WHILE the world's media beats a path to London for the upcoming Olympic Games, another opening ceremony recently attracted almost as much attention.

Entertainment icon Disneyland announced a grand opening of two new themed lands and journalists and photographers came running.

Hundreds of media representatives from the US, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia and New Zealand covered the bright and beautiful streets of the newly created Cars Land with tonnes of electric cables, lighting, radio desks and TV cameras.

At first, this seemed like massive overkill - a giant advertorial for one of globe's most powerful brands.

Surely a few new rides in a theme park don't warrant live broadcasts for brekky TV and radio shows in every town and province from Tijuana, Mexico, to Sydney, Australia.

But, when the world's most famous theme park adds hectares of new lands to its sprawling fantasy world, there's so much more to see and experience than just a few rides.

The opening of Disneyland's newest additions, Cars Land and Buena Vista Street, is the culmination of an ambitious five-year expansion.

Disneyland Resort president George Kalogridis said the new-look California Adventure Park added to Disneyland's reputation as the world's greatest "multi-day, family vacation destination".

And the latest, and perhaps greatest, jewel in the glittering Disneyland crown is the state-of-the-art immersive experience that is Cars Land.

 

Cars Land

With the first look at the much-hyped streets of Radiator Springs, which the movie-going world knows as the home of Lightning McQueen and his Cars cohorts, we were reminded why Disney has no rival.

Much more than another addition to a family fun park, Cars Land is a text- book in Business Excellence 101.

Everything the Disney team touches turns to gold - and with good reason.

Every square centimetre of Cars Land has been painstakingly crafted to give visitors a totally immersive experience in a whimsical world of fantasy.

Cars Land is big on wow factor. The 4ha is an immersive experience that takes visitors out of our beige "real life" into the bright, animated world of Cars.

The addition to California Adventure Park has been rendered in painstaking and intricate detail to perfectly replicate the stunning computer animation of the hit movie Cars.

While Cars Land is a beautifully woven tapestry of rides, theme restaurants, merchandise stores and life-size renderings of Cars scenes, all roads here lead to Radiator Springs Racers - the marquee ride in this animated automotive wonderland.

Disney describes this game-changing new ride as a "pedal-to-the-metal attraction in the great tradition of Disneyland Resort classics such as Pirates of the Caribbean or Haunted Mansion".

Whether you're a bright-eyed, Lightning McQueen T-shirt-wearing young Cars fan or a jaded, middle-aged journalist, Radiator Springs Racers will leave you wide eyed with wonder and shaking your head with amazement at what is simply a masterpiece of imagination, artistic genius and cutting-edge technology.

The media was privileged to take this ride at night -the best time to enjoy the full effect of the lighting and perfectly rendered scenes from Cars.

Ride-goers are buckled into one of the Cars racers, then given a tour through several outdoor and indoor scenes from Cars, during which life-size (or should that be car-size) characters from the film interact with you.

And here is where the magic starts - not only is every scene perfectly recreated, the characters are a stunning combination of animatronics and animation. No soulless, clunky robots here: Radiator Springs, which was designed by the same team which worked on the Cars movies, is a quantum leap in theme park technology and will be a benchmark for years to come.

While I would have given the ride a standing ovation after we cruised through several jaw-droppingly perfect scenes, our Radiator Springs journey was not over yet.

All of the encounters with the Cars characters are just the appetiser, ahead of a main course of high-octane thrills.

After you've been briefed by Lightning and co on the finer points of racing, your car then takes on another carload of thrilled riders for a race, during which you roar around the Radiator Springs canyons at seemingly break-neck speeds.

When the race begins, racers split on to parallel tracks, zooming nose-to-nose through the desert landscape. Part of the thrill is that guests will never know who is going to win.

It's not too wild for kids but certainly fast and furious enough to have all riders squealing with delight.

I left this ride shaking my head in disbelief as the lines between animation and reality are beautifully blurred. It's simply a masterpiece of art and technology and worth the price of your Disneyland holiday alone.

Another must-try ride at Cars Land is Luigi's Flying Tires, in which riders board giant tyres that float on an air-jet covered floor. Picture an air hockey table with your tyre as the puck and you're about there. Riders simply lean to direct their tyres and then enjoy a giant game of floating bumper cars.

For the littlies, there is also Mater's Junkyard Jamboree which gives the thrill of boarding a trailer behind a baby tractor, which dances in a series of figure eights to a soundtrack provided by Mater himself.

 

Buena Vista Street

While Cars Land is set to be a favourite with young fans, Disney's other new land will prove particularly popular with theme park visitors of a more mature vintage.

Using the box-office bonanza from his animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt Disney built his studio on 500 South Buena Vista Street, where it stands today.

And Disneyland's Buena Vista Street has been designed to replicate the vintage Los Angeles that Walt himself experienced when he arrived and started making his timeless films.

One of Buena Vista Street's signature attractions is the Red Car Trolley.

There is a gas station called Oswald's (a reference to Walt's early animated rabbit). Early Disney characters of the bovine and porcine variety are celebrated through names such as Clarabelle's Hand-Scooped Ice Cream and Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café.

Other nods to vintage LA include Los Feliz Five & Dime, named for the neighbourhood where Walt first owned his home, another merchandise location called Atwater Ink & Paint, referring to Atwater Village - once a daily haunt of Walt and his artists, and Kingswell Camera Shop, named for the street where the early Disney studio was located.

The street's main drawcard is the Carthay Circle Theatre: a signature dining experience resembling the site of the glamorous, star-studded Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiere in 1937.

While Cars Land and Buena Vista Street are the new additions to Disney California Adventure, there is much, much more to see and do in California Adventure, which now rivals the adjoining Disneyland Park itself.

Other lands to be explored in California Adventure include Hollywood Land, Paradise Pier and Condor Flats. You'll need at least a couple of days (and nights) to take in all the rides and shows, and make sure you stay for the nightly World of Colour show at Paradise Pier.

Plan to spend at least the same amount of time at the adjoining Disneyland Park: a wonderland of rides, attractions and shows.

You'll enter Disneyland Park through Main Street, USA, before you negotiate a treasure trove of fun at New Orleans Square, Frontierland, Critter Country, Adventureland, Mickey's Toontown, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.

When you enter the Disneyland Park, you'll walk under an arch which features a sign that reads: "Here you leave the world of today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy".

To my surprise, I learned on this trip that more Aussies visit Disneyland than any other nationality, except Canada and the US itself.

Those behind this amazing destination have ensured it continues to honour Walt Disney's dreams.

As he said: "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world."

 

Cars Land fun facts

  • Cars Land construction began in July 2009.
  • The impressive Cadillac Mountain Range in Ornament Valley stands about 125 feet tall at its highest peak, the Pinnacle.
  • At nearly 300,000 square feet, the mountain range is the largest rockwork construction in any domestic Disney theme park.
  • More than 4000 tons of steel were used to erect the mountain range and Radiator Springs Racers attraction.
  • The team of Walt Disney Imagineers devoted more than 28,000 hours to designing the structural system for the rockwork and Radiator Springs Racers show building.

 

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