Ultimate Photo Tour of Cars Land Part 1: Daytime

On Saturday, Patrick and I got to attend one of the Annual Passholder previews of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure, a week before its official debut. As usual, we took scads of photos, nearly all of which are about to be inflicted upon you. Today’s installment covers the daytime portion of our 6 hours in Cars Land. The next installment will show you Radiator Springs at night, and then I’ll follow up with one on Buena Vista Street. If you want to wait and be surprised, STOP READING NOW.

We signed up for the 6pm—11pm window offered to Annual Passholders, D23 members, and, reportedly, cast members because Patrick had to work that day. If he hadn’t, I probably would have signed us up for all three! This one cost a little more than the two earlier windows, but it was an hour longer and included reserved viewing for World of Color. However, there was zero information provided with our wristbands about what time the show was or where to go for our reserved spot. We later heard that the 11:15 pm time listed on the website was wrong—the show was actually at 10:15 pm, and a bunch of people missed it. We weren’t even interested in leaving Cars Land though.

Our wristbands were waiting for us at the ticket booth. When we got through DCA’s turnstiles at about 5:15 pm, we were directed straight through a door in the construction walls and onto the new Buena Vista Street (but I’ll save those photos for later). We were told that a line was forming in the wharf area for 6pm ticket holders, and by the time we got there, it snaked all the way up the bridge and past Ariel’s Grotto.

However, it was moving steadily, and 5 minutes later we were down at the “back door” in Pacific Wharf. At least, I thought it was the back door until we stepped inside.

As we walked through the door, each of us gasped. Where the heck did all THIS come from?!

I mean, I’d seen all the Cars Land photo updates on Mice Age and the preview stuff at D23 Expo, but none of it prepared me for the fact that an entire Arizona (er, I mean, “California”) valley had been plopped down in the back of California Adventure.

Every inch of it was enchanting. If the people behind us hadn’t still thought we were in a moving line, we probably would have spent 20 minutes stopping to photograph every detail.

As we rounded the corner into Radiator Springs, we were zapped by sensory overload. We didn’t know what to shoot first. About 75% of the people around us were also experiencing the new land through their camera viewfinders, and it’s just lucky there aren’t any real cars in Cars Land or we’d all have been run over.

Our first order of business was to do our business…

Guess the design budget didn't include the restrooms

Then we wandered around some more. I’m not sure why we didn’t run straight to Radiator Springs Racers. Oh yeah! I was starving and wanted a snack from Sally’s Cozy Cone Motel.

"Gee, should we stay at the Cozy Cone or that other, creepy-looking place?"

I tend to avoid Instgram filters cuz I like my photos to look like they were taken, you know, now, but Cars Land cries out for retro-postcard effects

The Cozy Cone is a string of stands selling mostly warm, salty snacks like popcorn, churros and pretzel bites—just what you want in a hot, arid town like Radiator Springs! Disney classifies them as “outdoor vending” so you can’t get any kind of passholder discount on the food.

Having missed out on the late ’80s/early ’90s Walt Disney World phenomenon known as the Handwich, I was eager to try one of the 21st century incarnations (resurrections?) served at Cone-Coctions. I’m not a big chili fan, so I went for the Chicken Verde cone.

It was awful—I threw it out after two bites. It tasted like they’d accidentally dumped in the entire contents of the salt and pepper shakers while seasoning some thick chicken soup. The cotija cheese barely registered, and the cone was like a tough dinner roll. No thanks!

I just found a fascinating blog post that details the real-life people and places that inspired those in the movie Cars—dunno how much is fact and how much is speculation, but I’m in! Here’s a fun comparison…

© Janice Duryea

As we headed back toward Radiator Springs Racers, we met Lightning McQueen rumbling down the main drag.

Radiator Springs Racers has (left to right) single-rider, FASTPASS and Standby queues. It was kinda lame that FASTPASSes were already gone for our preview window, what with how it cost us more and all…

Whereas Buena Vista Street almost looks too new (more on that later), Radiator Springs has been given lots of authentic wear, like these rust stains on the sign and the water stains on the ceiling of RSR’s load area.

Standby is a classic Disney “this line doesn’t look so long” queue, starting in an attractive cactus garden overlooking the valley.

The first patches of shade come from the two bridges that the ride vehicles race over.

Nice detail on the bridge

How'd THAT photo get in here?!

Early in the queue you come upon Stanley’s Oasis, the “original” spring that Radiator Springs was named for, a great touch!

Unfortunately, the spring’s main function is to make you desperately thirsty in a queue that has no drinking fountains but plenty of roving vendors happy to sell you a $4 Coke.

After the spring, there are two giant sheds (carports?) with about four switchbacks apiece. This is when you start to realize just how long you’re going to be in line.

The last time we waited in a queue this detailed with a line this long, we were in Tokyo Disney!

To your left is the three-switchback load-platform queue, which you will eventually get to if you ever get outta the &%$^#@! switchbacks you’re already in…

I think this is the point where the ride broke down for 20 minutes. Patrick amused himself by taking photos, which is why this post is so dang long!


*sniff* THAT's not Tokyo Disney-quality theming!

Finally getting to a place where you can see the ride vehicles again helps pass the time.


There are some awesome cacti in the queue!

Awesome Cactus looks longingly over the fence at the passersby...

At last! We're sorta almost there!


At LAST, we made it to the load area. I guess it’s the hotel Sally opened in the mountains after the first movie, cuz there are garage doors at the back with “suite” names.

The load pattern is just like Test Track, but I’d recommend asking for the back (even numbers) rather than the front—the windshield is not easy to see through and low enough that the frame obscures your view.

WDI *still* hasn't figured out how to make a ride vehicle that allows disco dancing...

Patrick put the camera away during the ride, so you’ll have to use your imagination for this part. (Also, more SPOILERS ahead!) There were a lot more similarities to Test Track than we expected, right down to the near-head-on collision with a truck. The initial dialog that’s supposed to explain what’s going on was completely lost in the din as we whizzed into the cavern, so Patrick never understood what the story was supposed to be.

But it really does feel like the characters are exactly how they’d be if they were real, and seeing Radiator Springs inside the ride after you’ve just left it outside isn’t as jarring as I’d expected. There’s a bit of repeat-rideability in the way your car either goes into Luigi’s for a new set of tires or through Ramone’s for a new coat of paint, which I think we were supposed to see reflected in the mirrors. But since I could never remember what color car I was in to start with, it didn’t have much impact. The awful “spray paint” scent did, though—to me it reeked of public-restroom scent-masker!

Patrick liked the side-by-side racing element and felt it was a big improvement over Test Track, but he thought the ride was too short. My favorite part of Test Track and Journey to the Center of the Earth is always the really fast outside portion, so I loved the much longer outdoor racing portion of RSR, even if it wasn’t quite as thrilling.

(Dramatic reenactment)

Really, though, on my first ride, I wasn’t being this analytical. I had as big a grin on my face as any model in a Disney Parks ad, and I just enjoyed getting to experience a ride I hadn’t ridden a million times before. It’s definitely the best ride in the park now, and one I can see us dashing to at rope drop on future DCA visits. Also, as we discovered later that evening, it is even better at night!

When we got back to the load platform, none of the six of us in our car could figure out which of the identical green doors was the exit (hint: none of them) so we milled around, bonking into each other like tractor-cows until a CM ran over and herded us toward the stairs.

I’ve worked up a sophisticated visual aid for avoiding such embarrassment:

It’s too bad you just wanna race through the exit queue to get right back on the ride, cuz it’s pretty too!

We’d been forewarned that the shop which seems most likely to have unique merchandise actually has the most generic “Celebrate [insert year]” kind of Disney junk, so we stayed outside this time.

I guess the front of the Cozy Cone is a caracter meet ‘n’ greet, which means you can’t get close enough to the office to get a good look in the front windows.


We are usually pretty disappointed by the counter-service options at Disneyland/DCA, but we waited in a 25-minute line at Flo’s with our hopes high.

I coulda stood there all day shooting the various color changes on the ceiling. Fortunately for you, I didn't!

I thought I’d read that Flo’s was a counter- and table-service hybrid where you place your own order but they bring it to your table. No such luck!

I also thought I’d stumbled on Japanese-style fake food displays in the end caps by the cashiers, but it turned out to be real food that only LOOKED fake!

As I stood at the counter waiting for-EVER for our food, I noticed the ginormous Cars-sized jukebox dwarfing the cast members serving up orders. Patrick’s theory that the Cars’ world is supported by unseen human slave labor really hit home…

The backs upon which Radiator Springs was built

Flo’s has a TON of seating. It’s gotta be the biggest restaurant on property. Most of the seats are in two sorta bland rooms facing the main drag; the best ones are in back with a view of Radiator Springs Racers.

Looks like some lightbulbs didn't arrive in time!

It's personification and objectification all rolled in one!

Looks like a Rally's...


Our dinner view!

Most of the dishes on the menu have you pick a type of meat and 2 hot or cold sides. Patrick got the New York strip loin with peas and carrots and pasta salad. It was your typical counter-service roast beef, but the gravy helped. He thought it was pretty dang good.

NY Strip Loin with Pasta Salad and Peas & Carrots

I got the Pork Loin with Coca Cola barbecue sauce, mashed potatoes and vegetarian baked beans. The baked beans were hilarious—it was basically a bowl of barbecue sauce with unidentifiable chunks. The pork loin was thin and bland, but the super-sweet sauce helped. (Basically everything we had here was either super-salty or super-sweet.) Originally this was supposed to be served on Texas toast, but it was nowhere to be found. Good thing, though, since I had some salty mashed potatoes in salty gravy AND a Parker House-style roll filling my starch quota. The roll was also slightly sweet, but very buttery. Not bad! The flecks of whatever that was supposed to be in it were flavorless. (I looked it up: garlic and chive… who knew?)

Pork Loin with Coca Cola BBQ Sauce, Mashed Potatoes & Vegetarian Baked Beans

For dessert Patrick had the apple-cheddar “ugly crust” pie. He’d never heard of the tradition of putting a slice of cheddar cheese on apple pie, but the cheese didn’t taste like anything, so it was a non-issue. The crust was kinda tough and waxy but the filling was “surprisingly good,” according to Patrick. He did say that if you can bear to get back in line, it’s better to order this when you’re actually ready to eat it, because after it cools off the cheese gets crunchy and weird.

Apple-Cheddar Pie... looks kinda like a JJ Abrams alien mouth!

I had the chocolate mud pie, which, mercifully, did not have coffee flavoring in it like so many “mud”-themed desserts do. The thin, flavorless chocolate crust was a total waste of time, but the filling was like a moist, dense flourless brownie. Pretty dang good!

Chocolate Mud Pie

Next time… Cars Land After Dark!

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18 Responses
  • HitchhikingGhost
    February 24, 2015

    I love these photos! They helped me recreate a Cars Land in Minecraft. Thank you so much, you got pictures of the places people don’t normally get, like the very detailed queue.

    • Carrie
      February 24, 2015

      Awesome! I’m so glad we could help!

  • Korin
    June 17, 2012

    Hi Carrie!
    I am a long-time reader and rare commenter, so I feel a bit awkward asking you this, but you’re the only person I “know” who’s been or will go to Cars Land in the near future:
    Do you know if they sell “Greetings from Radiator Springs” postcards? I collect postcards in that style and am tempted to buy the overpriced first day cancellation one online, but honestly I just want the postcard and don’t care so much about the “first day” thing. I have looked through merchandise photos but haven’t seen any postcards!
    Anyways, thanks for your time, and keep writing! 🙂

    • Carrie
      June 17, 2012

      We are going next weekend, and I can look for one for you! Can you tweet me @lurkyloo next Saturday to remind me? One thing we did notice is the merchandise that would make sense in a tourist mecca like RS is supposed to be (like that postcard) is in short supply. It’s mostly your standard theme park junk with Cars characters slapped on it. Vintage-style postcards from the various businesses would be genius!

  • Kaylin
    June 12, 2012

    Thanks for the awesome post! Im glad that I’ve read a rundown of Radiator Springs because I’ll be there next week! I’m leaving tomorrow for Huntington Beach for a couple days beforehand!

    • Carrie
      June 12, 2012

      Nifty! Have SO much fun!

  • Dana
    June 11, 2012

    Hi Carrie!

    Thanks again for the wonderful and very informative post about Cars Land. 🙂 Your writing always makes me laugh and I love all the pictures. Well except for the ones of the food. hahaha.

    I can’t believe I have to wait until the fall to go down South, but it’ll be worth the wait and I hope less crowds.

    • Carrie
      June 11, 2012

      Glad you enjoyed the post. I think you’ll be glad you didn’t go during the initial craziness!

  • John Bengtson
    June 11, 2012

    Great post Carrie! I can’t believe how uncrowded all of your photos looked. I bet when it opens “for real” it will be nearly impossible to replicate your photos without ten times as many people in the shots.

    • Carrie
      June 11, 2012

      Hi John! I bet you are right! 😉

  • Hope
    June 11, 2012

    p.s. I had heard of cheese on pies before, but I’ve never tried it. Thanks for the heads up!

  • Hope
    June 11, 2012

    I think it sucks that you guys paid that much for the preview and that it was still that packed. I’m glad we decided to wait to see it with the “masses” next weekend. The food pictures looked gross. When I saw the cone offerings on the DPB they sounded so weird and now when I saw your picture, it just looked umm…well you know! You did toss it out after two bites! lol

    I’m so glad that RSR has a fastpass. Tell me, what other “thrill ride” could you compare it to at DLR? Is it as bumpy as Indy? Swervy as Matterhorn? Fast as Big Thunder? Does it have any drops? Basically, can a scaredy cat like me ride it? lol

    Can’t wait for your Carsland after Dark post. I’m looking forward to strolling down the main strip to “Sh-Boom” (especially since it was our reception entrance song!) 😀

    • Carrie
      June 11, 2012

      Let’s see…. comparing RSR to something at DLR is hard, because it’s so Test Track-ish. 😀 It is not bumpy at all—it has the smoothness of Screamin’ without the pit-of-your-tummy thrills or speed. It’s definitely not whiplash-inducing like Matterhorn, and there are no drops. I guess it’s sort of like Big Thunder if the grades and curves were flatter and stretched out more. Actually, I think it might be perfect for non-thrill-ride fans. You should try it! And if I’m wrong and you hate it, I’ll owe you a Cone-Coction! 😉

      • Hope
        June 11, 2012

        LoL Thanks Carrie! I’m sure I’ll like it now that I know what to expect. 🙂

  • Claire (Chilly)
    June 11, 2012

    As i’m not sure when I’ll be out West again I decided to read rather than wait to see for myself. It looks pretty darn good, food aside, and I bet after dark its amazing. Might have to move West Coast USA back up the list.

    • Carrie
      June 11, 2012

      Ooh! You totally should! I mean, we’ve also got DISNEYLAND out here! :p

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