Open just in time for the busy summer season, many travelers are being warned to avoid the popular Disney Pixar film inspired amusement park until school is back in session. Fearing long lines and standing room only, I almost postponed our visit, but – with a few travel tips from insiders – we enjoyed a shockingly relaxed outing to Cars Land even during peak season.
Disney Cars Land
For all the hype, Cars Land is surprisingly manageable. One of eight sections of Disney California Adventure, the 12-acre theme park resembles Radiator Springs, Disney/Pixar Cars’ animated film setting. Like the film’s desert setting, theme park visitors find a run-down town along U.S. Route 66 surrounded by towering red rocks that create a visual break from Disneyland and Anaheim surroundings.
The result is a sense of endless space and solitude, as much as is possible given the throngs of devoted Disney park goers.
It’s also due to smart planning. With only three main attractions – Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, Luigi’s Flying Tires, and Radiator Springs Racers – there aren’t a lot of rides in Cars Land, leaving plenty of space for impromptu character sightings along Route 66, as well as lots of seating at restaurants; whether al fresco at Cozy Cone Motel, air conditioned booth seating at Flo’s V8 Café, or carry out at Filmore’s Taste-In.
Cheap Disney Tickets
While the experience is priceless, Disney is never cheap. However, smart choices can result in better value. Many Southern California residents take advantage of the Annual Passport program to visit both Disneyland Resort theme parks at their leisure throughout the year. These are available with or without block-out dates, as well as for non-residents,at varying price points.
Even better value for the true enthusiast is the Disney Premier Passport, which provides admission to every Disney theme park and waterpark in both California and Florida on any day of the week – even blocked out summer weekends when less expensive annual passes limit entry. On our recent visit, we accompanied friends who make good use of this golden ticket. And we were delighted to discover that the park was relatively empty due to the season pass restrictions.
Because I was traveling with Disney Premier Passport holders, I purchased a 1-Day Park Hopper Ticket ($125 vs. $87 for 1-Day 1-Park) thinking we would want to be able to go between the California Adventure and Disneyland parks. But I didn’t take into account how much Disney California Adventure has to offer on its own!
California Adventure Rides
First off, we did not experience every one of nearly 40 attractions at Disney California Adventure. Not even close.
- If we were that gung-ho to see and do everything, we would have arrived at 8am (in time to get Fast Pass tickets before they reach capacity in early morning hours) and we would have stayed until closing at 11pm.
Instead, we lined up for the parking shuttle at noon, and arrived inside the park not much later. Our strategy was to go for the highest-in-demand ride first – Radiator Springs Racers – a wise choice since, much like its Florida counterpart,the racecar-like rollercoaster was out of commission later in the day.
I fully expected to have to wait in line for a couple of hours, and we would have done so if there with very young kids, but our youngest was 8-years-old – old enough to take advantage of the Single Riders line. Instead of 2-hours, we only waited 35 minutes, which wasn’t that much longer than the 15-20 minute wait for the Fast Pass holders.
After that, we only had two Cars Land rides left to tackle, so we could afford to go at a pace that suited us. We followed the first ride with a leisurely lunch at Flo’s V8 Café, before zigzagging our way through the rest of the rides, making sure to prioritize Cars Land rides as well as old favorites.
Our Cars Land / California Adventure Itinerary
- Radiator Springs Racer
- Lunch at Flo’s V8 Café
- Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
- Grizzly River Run (Wet rides are best during hottest hours of the day!)
- Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
- California Screamin’ (Using the Single Rider line we were able to do this ride twice in less than half an hour.)
- Instant Concert! Just Add Water
- Silly Symphony Swings
- Goofy’s Sky School
- The Little Mermaid Ariel’s Undersea Adventure
- Jumpin’ Jellyfish
- Luigi’s Flying Tires
- Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar
- Dinner at Wine Country Trattoria
- World of Color
Best Tips for Disney California Adventure
- Save on Disney tickets by getting a 1-Day 1-Park Ticket, there’s plenty to do just at California Adventure.
- Visit Cars Land on weekends when season pass holder restrictions are in effect.
- If you want to get a Fast Pass to Cars Land attractions, go early as these run out by 9:30-10 a.m.
- Pack light: dress in fast-drying layers if you plan to do the water rides; wear comfortable shoes for long days of walking; pack a sweater for the evening (even in summer, the nights are chilly); carry lightweight rain gear if you plan to get a good view of Disney’s World of Color.
- Save on Disney souvenirs by shopping at Disney outlets before heading to the amusement park.
- Score a free souvenir Cars Land pin by answering trivia questions from a cast member.
- If you do end up needing a warm layer as the night turns cool, consider getting a fleece blanket from the souvenir shop. At $24 or thereabouts, it’s half the expense of a sweatshirt.
- World of Color is an amazing spectacular, and well worth purchasing a dining package for access to reserved viewing areas. If you have the stamina, hold out for the second, 10:15 viewing. There is less completion for prime viewing spots, and the audience is generally much more easy going.
- Even if you only have a day, remember that a day at Disney is long. Take your time, and save yourself a lot of grief by not trying to do it all.
More Disney family adventures:
- Doing Disney in Bits and Pieces: Epcot’s Behind The Seeds, Teppan Eddo, IllumiNations Cruise, & Typhoon Lagoon
- Fun and Educational Things To Do at Disney World
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Sandra Foyt | Sandra Foyt is a storyteller, photographer, and road trip junkie. A veteran of six cross-country road trips, she drove Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, the fossil freeway, the extraterrestrial highway, and even “the loneliest road in America.” Find her on GetawayMavens.com, an award-winning destination guide to extraordinary travel in and from Northeast USA, on her portfolio site at SandraFoyt.com, and in freelance gigs on Family Travel 411, Minitime, Huffington Post, and Matador Network. Email: email@example.com, Twitter @SandraFoyt.