I was invited on a media tour of Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure park in Anaheim — just across the plaza from Disneyland but with separate park admission — and I was appropriately floored. Cars Land is an immersive experience bringing Radiator Springs from the movies to life. And, wow! I sincerely recommend it for any Cars lover.
It was truly magical and nobody asked me to say that. Though I'm a longtime Disneyland fan, I only wish that I had more days at the park to explore the rest of it because this was my first visit to California Adventure and I wanted more.
Things to know before you go to Disneyland:
1. I would splurge on the hotel. Included in the price of a stay at one of three on-site hotels is “Magic Morning”, permission to enter the park before other guests arrive. Taking advantage of this hour will allow you to squeeze in many more rides than you can once the park has opened its door to the masses. These hotels, while more expensive than those located a short drive away, allow families to walk to the entrance of both Disneyland and California Adventure. The pools are attractions in their own rights, and folks who need naps during the day will appreciate being able to separate and regroup with a nearby home base.
2. You really can visit Radiator Springs! Walking around Cars Land feels like you've stepped right into the Pixar movie Cars. Minutes after I arrived, Tow Mater drove down the street.
The restaurants and rides are brilliantly designed and will delight any lover of the film or those who appreciate a fifties-style Americana tribute (my mom). Do note that the height requirement for Radiator Springs Racers, the centerpiece ride of Cars Land, is forty inches. Some four-year old Cars enthusiasts will not be tall enough, so bear in mind which features will be appropriate and accessible to your preschooler. Other rides in Cars Land work well for smaller kids. If your child is big enough, the ride is fabulous. When you arrive at the park, get a Fast Pass for “Racers” immediately.
If you're staying at one of the onsite hotels, use your Magic Morning hour to make a beeline for this ride; if your child is too young, head for Disneyland's Fantasyland where Dumbo and the Teacups sit next to each other.
The ride consists of sitting in a convertible car that races on Route 66. The scenery was so dramatic and realistic that I joked to another parent that we wouldn't ever need take our kids to see the real landscape of America.
3. Admission to California Adventure is separate from Disneyland. A ParkHopper Pass is a ticket option that allows you entrance to both. Google it.
4. Another benefit staying at the onsite hotel is not needing a rental car. If your trip is just to the theme parks, you won't need one. There are many transportation options to both LAX and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport. Visit the shuttle details page on MouseSaver.com to study all the options. The economics depend on how many people are in your party.
5. Restaurant reservations are available. If experiencing the park’s special restaurants is a high priority for you, note that you can reserve a time slot online before your trip. If not, there are plenty of casual and uber-casual options. Fillmore's Taste-In in Cars Land, a hippie-themed snack bar that Bay Area folks can appreciate, offered snack items ranging from Doritos and dried fruit to simple whole foods like bananas and apples. Signs read Soy, Yucca, and Seaweed, but they were just teasing me: there was no seaweed for purchase.
Note: there is booze at California Adventure park. From a brew pub-style restaurant to a wine bar and a margarita stand, I saw it everywhere. I had sangria with my lunch at Flo's Diner.
7. East Bay parents MUST take a walk through the lobby of the Grand Californian to appreciate the Craftsman-Bungalow-On-Steriods feel.
photo: Gabriel Madrigal Photography
8. The Toy Story ride at California Adventure was one of the highlights of my trip. An arcade-themed game, riders shoot at targets as if they are playing a larger-than-life video game. Score is tallied on a video screen attached to the cars. For adults, the friendly competition was exhilarating. My grown-up seatmate and I had a blast, but if I rode with my son, I'd definitely let him win to avoid a meltdown.
9. Add the California Soaring attraction to your to-do list. I’m not sure how much a little kid would appreciate this simulator experience, but I think my 7-year old would love it and that my parents would love it as well. As we were transported into a hanglider over the sights of California, wind blowing literally through our hair and the scent of Eucalyptus leaves wafting in the Disney-manufactured air, I made a mental note that this gentle motion ride is a must-not-miss for a multi-generational trip to California Adventure.
10. New in 2016, this ride opens March 7. It looks 100% fun, 0% scary, which is my family's favorite flavor of ride.
If you're thinking about a trip to Disneyland this summer, do look at the Disneyland Parks websites in advance (Cars Land really is as they show it here!) because there's a lot to absorb. If your child has special needs, seek out specific tips in advance. Disneyland has designed many accommodations for kids with food allergies, physical disabilities and those on the autistic spectrum. In most cases, a real parent has documented their experience online so that you can learn from it.
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My travel, accommodations, and park admission were covered by the Disney Company. All opinions are my own.