Previews have begun in Cars Land and on Buena Vista Street, and this past weekend over 10,000 people got to experience the new offerings. The reviews are almost all universally positive, with a few notable exceptions, and in this special update we’ll fill you in on what to expect when you can finally enter Cars Land yourself late next week. In addition to the Cars Land and Buena Vista Street previews, we’ve also got a few last minute rumors and pieces of information to help you plan your summer visit.
WARNING, THIS ENTIRE UPDATE IS FULL OF SPOILERS,
so hit the back button right now if you don't want to see them.
Forget the breakfast items this time around - we need an iced mug of A&W Root Beer and a Papa Burger to start our Route 66 themed update today. As we have in the past, we thank both Andy Castro and Fishbulb for the use of their photos. Let’s get going shall we? - Al
On Saturday the first mass preview for 4,000 people of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street was held for Imagineers, their friends and family, and any of Imagineering’s favored contractors who worked on the DCA projects the last few years. Then on Sunday, a similar preview event was held all day for nearly 10,000 people, for those who work for Disney in Burbank or for Pixar up in Emeryville. The result is that all of Cars Land got its first shakedown with real people, including lots of kids, instead of just paid Cast Members brought over on the clock to ride an attraction one at a time.
The following is a basic rundown of what to expect in Cars Land based on reports from the latest preview days, which rides to wait for and which to skip, and a summary of feedback the first preview guests have been sharing with each other.
The preview guests were led into the land this past weekend from the side entrances of Cars Land in Flik’s Fun Fair or the Pacific Wharf area. On Saturday those side streets were full of open buffets and bars where thousands of Imagineers and their families enjoyed the free food and alcohol in between rides. No other division of the Disney Company gets that expensive perk, it’s a tradition reserved solely for Imagineers, although the executive ranks are hosting lavish dinners and cocktail parties in the Carthay Circle Theater for each other during all of these previews.
Even with the free dinner and drinks there was still grumbling, as Anaheim’s banquet service team couldn’t keep up with demand for alcohol and the lines for bars were longer than the lines for some of the rides. But once they got their free dinner and a few Heinekens down, the Imagineers and their families turned their attention to the land itself and found it to be for the most part very good. The run down on each location is as follows;
Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
This musical spinner appears to be the sleeper hit of the land. The music, made up of 8 different songs and lots of different comedy lines from Tow Mater himself, is catchy in the spirit of the Country Bear Jamboree. The queue is themed as Mater’s junkyard, decorated with custom created memorabilia from nearly every adventure Mater has had in his Tall Tales shorts. The ride has a real kick to it, and it’s more fun if you get two or three people in each trailer.
Beware however, the sides of the trailers are hard plastic and small children were smacking their heads against the sides quite a bit this past weekend. Padded sides to the trailer cars seems to be a fix desperately needed to this otherwise charming and thrilling C Ticket ride.
A fun fact; there's a secret ninth song that Tow Mater sings. It’s from the blooper reel from the recording session with Larry The Cable Guy, where he literally forgot the words to one of the songs called “Dad’gum” and just made up some lyrics. The secret song only plays once every few dozen cycles, so it will be a rare occurrence to hear it.
Luigi’s Flying Tires
The general consensus for this ride seems to be… Why? The ride is slow, both while you are on it and while you are waiting in a painfully long line. They’ve added dozens of Italian beach balls to try and distract you while you are riding, and visitors on both days of the previews reported there were seemingly endless Cast Members standing the queue planters telling you over and over again how to lean to get the tire to move, some of the CM’s nearly pleading with you to pay attention to their flying instructions.
The interior queue is the hit, as it is fully tricked out as Luigi’s tire showroom. A back area has a giant wall made up of trinkets and memorabilia collected by Luigi and Guido on their worldwide adventures, and Luigi’s office is full of eye candy and clever inside jokes.
It’s a good thing the air conditioned queue is so detailed, because the line moves painfully slow for this ride. The CM’s staffing it this past weekend stated it has an hourly capacity of barely 450 riders per hour. For reference, that’s much lower than the Teacups or Dumbo. In a panicky move, WDI has added 8 different songs to this ride that was originally designed with no music at all. The lyrics are sung by Luigi voice actor Tony Shalhoub and are mainly remakes of classic Italian pop songs and folk music.
One bit of good news is that the useless spin control nozzles have all been removed; you basically just lean from side to side and try to grab a beach ball until the ride mercifully comes to an end. This one is best left to just watch for a few minutes before moving on. Children under 5 seemed to be pleasantly entertained with the whole thing, but kids over 8 generally deemed it boring. Some of the adults got a kick out of it, but partly because one of the big open bars at the Saturday party was set up just outside of the front doors. A few beers seemed to help.
Radiator Springs Racers
At the very opposite end of the spectrum from Luigi’s Flying Tires sits this new E Ticket. Racers has received very good reviews from everyone who's been on it. This attraction, taking up nearly 6 acres of the 12 acre Cars Land expansion, has aesthetics and visuals in the queue and beginning of the ride on a scale not seen in Anaheim before. After your car leaves the cavern loading station and ascends the mountain past the waterfall, you plunge into a cave and enter the massive show building in back where much of the ride takes place.
The Imagineers have been cleverly keeping a lot of the details on this portion of the ride quiet, and for good reason. The dark ride portion has rooms on a scale of the Haunted Mansion and Indiana Jones, if not quite the giant scale of Pirates of the Caribbean. As outlined in D23 Expo presentations and other targeted information releases, your car travels into Radiator Springs, meeting all the major characters along the way and getting the friendly hospitality treatment of everyone in town.
Animatronic Mater actually shows up three times, with Luigi, Guido and Lightning McQueen animatronics each showing up twice during the ride. The car animatronics are a mixture of fully moving parts (for older cars like Sherriff, Mater and Sarge who speak with bumpers and chrome grills) or projected animation (for the newer cars like Sally and Lightning who speak with modern plastic front ends and no chrome bits). The result is a show that looks to leave riders impressed, just like the old 1960’s animatronic E Tickets at Disneyland have always done.
The sets are large, the special effects are plentiful, and the sum of the whole experience inside the show building is so good that riders surveyed feel the indoor dark ride portion could stand on its own as a soild ride even without the outdoor race portion.
Particularly on Saturday, the Imagineering guests got into heated discussions about which version of the tour through town was better; when your car goes in to Luigi’s tire showroom so Guido can outfit you with a new set of whitewalls, or when your car goes in to Ramone’s paint shop for a new paint job as Ramone and Flo look on through the paint booth windows. (And the digital animation in that scene is an example of a limited use of video screens having a proper place in a traditional animatronic spectacular like this one. Flo even comments correctly on what color car you are.)
If there was one criticism of the dark ride portion, it was that many folks wished the cars would move slower through the interior portions of the ride. There appears to be so much to take in and so many details to enjoy, that many riders wished they had a few more moments in each scene to see it all.
But the outdoor road trip in Ornament Valley and the indoor animatronic show is just the first part of the ride. The outdoor race portion seems to have a level of excitement that young and old alike can enjoy, similar to Big Thunder Mountain or the Matterhorn Bobsleds. The race portion isn’t a white knuckle coaster, and is several notches below more intense rides like California Screamin’, but it’s fun enough and set in a richly detailed environment. The concept of “racing” the other car seemed to get lost by the end of the ride, mainly because people are so focused on the track ahead and the sights around them that they forget to look and see who is winning.
The ending through Taillight Caverns is best viewed at night, and the commentary by animatronic Mater and Lightning near the unload area seems to be ignored as people high five each other and whoop and holler. The audio commentary as you first enter the show building also seems to get lost through poor placement of speakers in the cave walls. But for those trying to figure it out, the voices in that first cave are Mini and Van, the married minivan couple from the movie who are just trying to find the Interstate. Mini says “Van, are we lost again?” to which an annoyed Van replies “Honey!” right before the action starts and things take off. Mini and Van show up shortly after, which can only lead to the confusion over their earlier muffled dialogue in the cave. Let’s hope they can clean up the audio in that opening scene, as it really sets up the reason why the next series of events happen.
But the criticisms for Racers are very minor overall, and it looks like WDI has truly outdone themselves with this one. There is eye candy everywhere once you step in the queue, and lots of sight gags and clever detailing. Radiator Springs Racers appears to live up to its E Ticket billing and then some. It has a combination of traditional animatronic storytelling, nifty visuals, and family appeal that should drive attendance to DCA and Anaheim for years to come. That the ride is full of famous Pixar characters that Disney’s underserved demographic of young boys (and their fathers) already enjoy only makes this ride more unique. Not since the Indiana Jones Adventure in 1995 has the Disneyland Resort offered a full-experience E Ticket to plan a vacation around, but the Racers may be that type of ride.
With the Matterhorn now raising its height requirement to 44 inches for the new lawyer-friendly bobsleds, it would seem that Radiator Springs Racers could slot into the traditional role of the first “big kid” ride a youngster experiences with Dad at Disneyland. And we’ve said it before, but the ride is definitely better at night. Try and time your Fastpass ticket for after sundown, if you can. But whatever you do, do not miss it.
Sarge’s Surplus Shop:
This Quonset hut, with an extra wing added on when Ridemakerz was supposed to sponsor this location, is the headquarters for kids clothing and toys in Cars Land. The shop has a mix of merchandise that is about 75% unique clothing and merchandise created just for Cars Land, and 25% of other merchandise that is made up of the popular Cars toy sets available at your local Target. However, a lot of the toys available here are new to the line and created especially for Cars Land.
I wonder if they come with long lines?
There are miniature Luigi’s Flying Tires to play with (perhaps the ride is more fun in miniature?), lots of Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree toys and accessories, and of course a full line of Radiator Springs Racers toys and play sets. The interior set design of this shop is neatly done.
Lizzie’s Curios Shop:
Oh, this one had such great potential. The original concept that WDI had for this location was as a funky little souvenir stand, just like the weird little shops the Imagineers encountered on their fact-finding trips along Route 66 five years ago when they were planning Cars Land. While the interior set design is a winner, and there are some vintage gas pumps and wonderfully car themed shelving units and lighting inside, the merchandise mix is just a mess. There aren't even any bumper stickers, can you believe that?
The problem lies with the merchandise team still ruled by the “One Disney” monolith mindset, with many of the team members who picked the merchandise for this Cars Land location dictating their wishes from a distant office in the Team Disney Orlando building out in Florida. The result is that Lizzie’s Curios Shop has funky exterior, brilliant interior furnishings and some truly witty sight gags and signage, but is stocked with shelves full of generic Disney junk you can find at a dozen other stores around the Resort, or at your local mall.
Lizzie’s Curios Shop is the official pin trading center and also the Vinylmation outlet for the land. The one tiny bit of control WDI was able to exert over the mindless corporate merchandise mix inside is that the Pin Trading sign hanging on the front porch isn’t the generic corporate logo with Mickey Mouse, but instead is a specially created logo for Carburetor County that is themed to the world of Cars.
The rest of the merchandise mix here is basic Disneyland Resort or Disney Parks souvenirs, although a few shelves have some generic Disney stuff designed for automotive uses, like Tinker bell car window clings or Disneyland Resort bumper stickers. But really, there is nothing for sale in here you can’t already get at World of Disney or The Emporium or the Star Trader or your local Disney Store at the mall.
“One Disney” and the oppressive corporate mindset based in Orlando has struck again here in this little corner of Cars Land, as if to prove that Anaheim will not be allowed to break fully away from the Orlando mother ship, nor from their stifling and clueless perception of the Anaheim customer demographic.
Ramone’s House of Body Art:
Thankfully, this third and final location is a 180 degree change from Lizzie’s Curios Shop. The merchandise here is aimed at adults, and all of the clothing offered is exclusive to Cars Land and created and chosen by Anaheim staffers just for this location. The clothing falls into two main categories; the more suburban Champions Speed Shop line of clothing and souvenirs, and the more urban Low And Slow Car Club line of merchandise.
There are a few items brought in from the outside world, but they work well here. The carefully edited selection of Pendleton Woolen Mills shirts available will be popular with hip car guys, while also harkening back to the 1960’s and 70’s when they ran a popular clothing store in Frontierland. Lots of coffee mugs, shot glasses, car accessories and office supplies round out the selection here, and again it’s all custom designed for Cars Land and Ramone’s.
The surprisingly popular item here is the wacky Luigi’s Flying Tires hat that was flying off the shelves of Ramone’s over the weekend; a silly looking whitewall tire hat that teens and adults alike were wearing all around the land. The ride may be pointless and boring, but the merchandise is very clever and fun.
A basic fruit stand and juice bar, that operates entirely outdoors in front of his hippie geodesic dome. The smoothies and juices were very sweet, and there appears to be some fructose corn syrup added to the drinks here. It’s not entirely healthy or all-natural, but it’s a clever little way to offer some fresh fruit and beverages beyond the usual Cokes and beer.
Cozy Cone Motel:
This is basically a series of snack bars with some outdoor dining tables. The Food & Beverage team deserves credit here for coming up with very unique car-themed twists on their usual menu of popcorn, churros and drinks. They are serving craft beers from Bear Republic Brewing up in Healdsburg, which should impress the foodies who expect only Budweiser on tap at a theme park snack bar. The floats and ice cream and chili all got good reviews, and the location will be a nice food option for snacks or cheaper meals.
The Cozy Cone Motel is also where Lightning and Mater pose for photographs. Don’t expect any of the fancy NextGen concepts being whispered for future meet n’ greets though. The cars here are the same basic parade floats that have been appearing in the park for years, and they have a parade float driver inside who can push a button and say some generic lines written for Cars Land while their eyes pivot back and forth. But there is no real interactivity here, and this is simply the same meet n’ greet concept just moved to a very crowded area in a very crowded land. Every 30 minutes one car leaves while a second car pulls in to replace it. Disney’s PhotoPass army will staff this location to take your picture.
Flo’s V8 Café:
This is the biggest restaurant in the land, and one of the biggest restaurants at the Disneyland Resort. The detail and theming here is intricate, and the WDI team went wild with creating backstory for both Flo and Doc Hudson that was never really been explained in the movie. The details throughout this location are impressive, and people were spending 15 minutes or more just reading all the charts and records and newspaper clippings posted on the walls. The location is large, but the tables in Flo’s Motorama Girl room (that looks out at Ornament Valley) will be very hard to come by.
The food was highly rated during the previews, and it's basic American comfort food with some updated side options and unique beverages. The service here is kind of a hybrid of ordering fast-food style like Tomorrowland Terrace, but plated on real crockery and with silverware like at the French Market. The lines here were very long during the previews, they’ll really need to get it running smoothly to keep up with demand.
Cars Land Overall:
While the individual stores and rides and restaurants in Cars Land universally impressed folks, with two glaring exceptions for the pointlessness of Luigi’s Flying Tires and the horrible merchandise mix in the Curios shop, it’s the land overall that leaves the biggest impression. The scale is large, and even though it amounts to just a main entrance pathway bisected by two secondary walkways out of it, visitors really feel enveloped in the theme and story.
A special comment should be made for the horticulture and landscape architecture in Cars Land. The theme of barren desert could have gone very badly if they’d done it cheaply, or reminded folks too much of the chintzy and shade-less aesthetic that much of DCA opened with in 2001. Instead the landscaping in Cars Land is a stunning bit of entertainment all on its own. There are dozens of species of plants and trees that have never appeared in an Anaheim theme park before or likely any theme park anywhere. The cactus gardens around the Racers queue in particular are extremely impressive. All throughout Cars Land there are over 400 trees and thousands of cacti and plants that have been incorporated into the landscape right next to fabricated flowers made to look like glowing taillights or hundreds of clumps of faux sagebrush clinging to the cliffs and rocks of the Cadillac Range. The end result is a place where the fake plants look real and the real plants look so good they must be fake.
The level of quality displayed here is the polar opposite of what much of DCA’s skimpy landscaping looked like when it opened a decade ago. Disneyland’s horticulture department, long known for cultivating some of the prettiest gardens in all of Southern California, can’t wait to tend the desert landscape of Cars Land. The ultimate compliment however probably comes from Mother Nature herself, as Cars Land is already full of hundreds of hummingbirds, songbirds and lizards who have happily moved in to this detailed new environment.
The environment of Cars Land is dominated by the façade of Radiator Springs Racers, and WDI has created a new theme park icon with the Ornament Valley rockwork and mountains that will represent the entire Disneyland Resort for decades to come. Even if you have never seen the movie Cars, or you dislike Pixar movies in general, it will be very hard to not be impressed by the visuals found throughout Cars Land.
The consensus appears to be that WDI truly did great work here, and the TDA teams for the most part have followed up with some wonderfully themed food and merchandise offerings, aside from the generic junk thrown into the Curios Shop. They can fix the boneheaded merchandise mistakes inside the Curios Shop with just a few calls to Orlando from some well-placed executives. On the other hand, Luigi’s Flying Tires will be a head scratcher for years until it meets the same fate the Flying Saucers met after just six years of operation in the 1960’s.
Overall however, Cars Land is pleasing those who visit, with a mix of detailed storytelling, impressive technology, dazzling design, and mild family thrills.
(We'll cover the Cars Land and Buena Vista Street entertainment offerings in an upcoming report.)
A few notes on Buena Vista Street..
On the other end of the park, the preview days were also allowing sneak peeks at Buena Vista Street. As it’s the first time, and likely the only time, Disney has had to go in and completely rebuild and re-theme an entrance complex to one of their parks, Buena Vista Street presents unique opportunities. The preview days are being limited to short exterior walking tours of the area for a select few, or even just a peek from the Carthay Circle Theater balcony for others.
While the exteriors of Buena Vista Street are nearing completion, the interiors are not nearly ready for visitors, and most people at the preview were only able to view Buena Vista Street by walking up an exterior stairwell to the balcony at Carthay Circle Theater. The interiors of the Carthay Circle restaurants and lounges and its top-flight commercial kitchens are all completed and could have easily hosted tours or even full meals this past weekend. But the entire Carthay facility was being dedicated to executive dinners and cocktail parties hosted by Tom Staggs and John Lasseter, so the lower-management types and their families at the previews weren’t allowed in and were relegated to using an exterior stairwell for a brief balcony viewing session of the street below.
But just wait until the general public gets a look at the lavish décor of the Carthay’s public lounge and dining rooms. It’s going to be a bit hard to explain to the Club 33 crowd that their private lounge has a far more casual and downscale feel to it, while the general public gets the ultra-luxe treatment in the swanky interiors swathed in silk brocade and ankle-deep carpeting at both the downstairs lounge and upstairs dining room. The Snow White mural on the vaulted ceiling of the main dining room in particular is one of those jaw-dropping moments as patrons enter the main dining room.
While Buena Vista Street overall is full of details and design flourishes, and the interiors of the stores and restaurants are also outfitted to the nines with a seemingly endless budget, there are a few throwbacks to DCA’s original entrance complex. The bathrooms and lockers directly inside and just to the right of the main gate have ornate Spanish Colonial or Art Moderne exteriors applied to them, but the actual restrooms and lockers inside are the originals from 2001. The restrooms in particular are the most jarring, as you enter through the 1920’s Sepulveda Building and are met with the late 1990’s design aesthetic of contemporary tiles and generic modern fixtures. In a quirk of corporate funding rules, the restrooms there were not included in the massive makeover of that area undertaken by WDI.
Instead, those restrooms are under the jurisdiction of TDA’s Facilities Asset Management team (FAM for short) and were not yet due for a remodel. The restrooms have an expected shelf life of at least 20 years, and since DCA never got anywhere near the annual attendance it was supposed to over the last decade the restroom facilities were holding up quite well from a maintenance perspective. The result is that the restrooms got lost in the shuffle and the FAM team had no need to push their remodel forward on the calendar since they still have at least a decade of serviceable use left in them. Even in big budget projects like this one, some things just get sucked into corporate politics and the various factions deem them unworthy of putting up a fight over. If you want a reminder of DCA circa 2001, stop in to the restrooms when you visit Buena Vista Street.
But other than those original interiors, the insides of Buena Vista Street are rushing to completion at a frenzy. The simple goal now is to have at least all the main stores and restaurants open for basic service on June 15th, while smaller detailing and final furnishings continue to get installed through late June.
Coffee, Tea or ?
The most important restaurant on Buena Vista Street now is the Pig Café, sponsored by Starbucks. A small army of Starbucks managers and trainers have moved in to the Pig Café to train the Disney troops on the fine art of espresso.
The Starbucks team went through the basic Disneyland orientation called Traditions, and they are officially third party participants who are eligible to wear a Disneyland nametag out in the park. But you can spot them by the Starbucks logo on their black shirts, and their Disneyland nametags that claim their hometown as Seattle, Washington. The Starbucks team is trying their hardest to train the Anaheim CM’s that making a proper Starbucks drink is nothing like pouring a Coke at Tomorrowland Terrace or pushing the button on the mocha machine at Jolly Holiday Bakery.
Moca Moca Moca
It’s an uphill climb for them as they try and integrate Starbucks laser-focused training program with TDA’s looser and sloppier training practices, and the Starbucks crew will stick around for a bit after opening on June 15th to try and ensure the CM’s keep at it correctly. And you can bet Starbucks will be sending in reconnaissance teams to make sure things are still up to snuff, much like Microsoft sends in spies to Innoventions to make sure their corporate message is being presented correctly. Perhaps the Starbucks spies and the Microsoft spies can sit together on the plane to and from Seattle and compare notes?
It’s a bit sad that Disneyland once was so famous for their excellent training, but now has a training group that has become a sloppy shadow of its former self where other corporate trainers wonder how TDA gets away with it. But that’s a topic for another time, as it’s too late to make up for over a decade of bad training decisions.
Notes on Opening Day...
With June 15th rushing forward on the calendar, TDA planners have been tweaking the final few days itinerary. With the big celebrity party and media kickoff planned for Cars Land on the evening of June 13th, the original plan to keep the area walled off until June 15th is falling by the wayside.
The plan now is to remove most of the walls around Cars Land overnight on June 12th, with the walls gone by the time the park opens on June 13th. The general public won’t be allowed in to Cars Land on the 13th, but the stages and media risers needed for the fireworks-laden musical kickoff to the celebrity party will need the entrance area entirely free of walls that evening. So anyone dropping by DCA on June 13th should get some good views of at least parts of Cars Land that haven’t been viewable from the Blue Sky Cellar for the past three years.
The new statue is currently covered over by a crate.
June 14th will still be dedicated entirely to the media, with DCA closed to the public that day. The walls along Buena Vista Street need to come down however, and the morning of the 14th should allow some good views of the new entrance from the Esplanade. And then on the morning of the 15th they will have a final opening ceremony and rededication speech by Bob Iger. Thankfully, the Anaheim suits shut down the original idea to do yet another Cast Member flash mob on the morning of the 15th, and instead they will keep the entertainment that morning professional and well scripted. Let’s hope the flash mob fad can finally die peacefully.
Overnight parking will be available from late on the night of the 14th to the early morning of the 15th at the Mickey & Friends Parking Structure. Previous smaller events, like last year’s combo opening of Star Tours and Little Mermaid, contained all the overnight parking in the 1,800 space Pumbaa Parking Lot. But the TDA planners want to be ready for more cars so they’ll allow overnight parking in the 10,000 space structure the night of the 14th.
You can expect the usual breathless announcements on all this stuff from Disney within a few days, if not hours, as they tweak the details a bit.
The indicators are pointing to a monumental summer for the Disneyland Resort. And let's be honest here, it's due in great part to the customers that spoke up about the substandard effort that was first made with DCA 1.0. It's no secret that the first decade was rocky and challenging and marred by some really bad decisions by executives who have all been let go.
Now the real question: Can you afford it?
This second decade of an expanded Resort brings us some (yes) remarkable price increases, but once again features a property that is maintained and plussed up in both parks with new offerings and fresh new entertainment. The remodel of the Disneyland Hotel, the recent DVC expansion of the Grand Californian, and the updated/revamped retail mix at Downtown Disney all have helped the entire Resort move into a new phase of its life, and for the most part it's being led by executives who generally seem to make the right decisions at the right time. The opening of Buena Vista Street and Cars Land is the ultimate grand finale’ to this metamorphosis, and Southern California has a revamped Disneyland Resort at its doorstep.
Now we just have to see if Cars 2 did any lasting damage to the keystone of this expensive makeover, and if the resort can stand up to the coming onslaught of the million Annual Passholders and countless other tourists chomping at the bit to see it for themselves.