The historic Route 66 runs 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. Route 66 in Cars Land is approximately 525 feet long and 23 feet wide, rich with inspiration from the actual American highway. Guests have been waiting in line for hours to experience the panoramic vistas of Ornament Valley and experience the thrills of three new attractions. While waiting in line, real-life Cars characters like Lightning McQueen, Mater and DJ come to life.
The debut of Cars Land marks the completion of a five-year $1.1 billion expansion at Disney California Adventure, bringing more characters, more adventures and more Disney magic into the park, both day and night. The magicians at Walt Disney Imagineering reveal how technology has enabled a computer-generated world to be translated into the real world.
The re-creation of Radiator Springs captures the authentic feel of Route 66 with three-dimensional versions of familiar landmarks from the film, including Cadillac Mountain Range in Ornament Valley, Luigi’s Casa Della Tires and Flo’s V8 Café. Only in Radiator Springs do guests learn dance moves like the Overdrive, the Reverse and the Hairpin Turn, all part of the fun at DJ’s Dance and Drive, one element of the Route 66 entertainment. DJ spins auto favorites such as “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Car Wash.” When night falls in Radiator Springs, 16 neon signs in bright, luminous colors light the way along Route 66.
Cars Land features three new rides: Radiator Springs Racers, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Flying Tires. Cars Land also treats guests to food and merchandise locations inspired by the Radiator Springs landmarks in the film: Flo’s V8 Café, Fillmore’s Taste-In, Cozy Cone Motel, Radiator Springs Curios, Sarge’s Surplus Hut and Ramone’s House of Body Art.
“There is a lot of technology in the design, and then there is technology in the implementation,” said Jim Kearns, Vice President of Project Management at Walt Disney Imagineering. “When you think of the design, this is one of the first projects where we really embarked on what we call an integrated project delivery process; trying to leverage the talents of our build vendors and our internal design talent.”
“We use a lot of pre-visualization, where we’ll model in 3D, especially the Radiator Springs Racers, and then go into this virtual reality environment to pre-visualize what the ride is going to look like well before construction has started.”
Disney Imagineers are using CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) technology, which they’ve modified and call the DISH (Digital Immersive Showroom). Tom Morris, Creative Director at Walt Disney Imagineering, said his teams use this technology to create environments and worlds earlier in the design process so that they can experience it the way a guest will experience it and validate the creative design and intent, and also begin to quantify things like How much rock work would actually be needed to build this using cement and iron?
“We’re using special camera and projection playback techniques,” said Morris. “The DISH is on a parabolic surface that creates an entire periphery. If you’re standing in a specific spot, you can then experience everything. Your entire peripheral vision is filled up and has a dimensional, almost 3D quality. You can also put a helmet on and experience the attraction in stereo 3D.”
Radiator Springs Racers provides the longest line, and the most immersive experience, at Cars Land. The $200 million state-of-the-art ride is the focal point of the new 12-acre themed world. The five-minute ride transports guests into the computer-generated world of Cars. A leisurely, scenic tour of Ornament Valley turns into an all-out race for the Piston Cup as guests race side-by-side through the mountain range, around Willy’s Butte and past the plunging waterfall, Radiator Falls – all familiar sights to fans of the movie.
Six guests at a time board personalized cars for a scenic road trip, meandering through the countryside and the town of Radiator Springs. After a stop at Luigi’s Casa Della Tires or Ramone’s House of Body Art, guests and their cars get some final racing tips from Doc Hudson. When the race begins, racers split onto parallel tracks, zooming nose-to-nose through the desert landscape. Part of the thrills: Guests will never know who is going to win. New to Radiator Springs is Taillight Caverns, which Disney Imagineers conceived as a stunning finish to the dramatic race.
“Then we have an off board system that we call the Wayside computer that keeps track of all 31 vehicles on the track,” added Goddard. “It knows where they all are, monitors their speed, and makes sure they’re all going the appropriate speeds in the zones that they should be so that it’s monitoring to make sure that there’s never a collision on the track.”
The attraction covers nearly six acres – the largest attraction by acreage at the Disneyland Resort. The Cars movie composer, Jonathan Sacks, composed the attraction score. Each vehicle will travel approximately 36,000 miles per year.
Another popular ride is Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, starring everyone’s favorite tow truck, Mater. The ride’s story has Mater corralling a herd of runaway baby tractors in his junkyard. Guests are invited to an old-fashioned “tow-si-do” in Mater’s salvage yard as they ride trailers hitched to the baby tractors.
The baby tractors are new characters inspired by the movie and created especially for Cars Land. License plates on the baby tractors have letters that represent initials and birthdays of key contributors to the Cars Land project from Walt Disney Imagineering and Pixar Animation Studios.
Luigi’s Flying Tires: At Luigi’s Casa Della Tires, Cars characters Luigi and Guido play host to a “Festival of the Flying Tires.” When the music starts, tires float and dance in the grand tradition of a celebration that first started in Luigi’s hometown of Carsoli, Italy.
Gliding along, guests shift their body weight to guide the direction of the vehicle, bumping into other tires as they float across Luigi’s 8,000-square-foot Italian garden and tire storage yard. Guests may work as a team to guide their tire and, for extra fun, try to catch one of the inflatable balls scattered throughout the attraction.
From a technology standpoint, it takes 6,714 air vents to keep the tires floating ever so slightly above the ground – approximately two inches. The voice of award-winning actor Tony Shalhoub, who voiced Luigi in the movie, is heard throughout the attraction. Nostalgic Disneyland fans will recognize the attraction as a descendant of the Flying Saucers attraction, which operated in Tomorrowland from 1961 to 1966.
I was able to check out the rides early, but also experience the opening day traffic jams as fans from around the world flooded Disney California Adventure to explore Radiator Springs. This attraction, alone, puts Disney California Adventure on the map. It gives Disneyland a worthy companion park (finally) and also serves as an incentive for fans who are accustomed to the much larger Walt Disney World Theme Park to make the trek out West to check out the original.
That said, there will be huge crowds at Cars Land throughout the summer and likely throughout the rest of this year. FASTPASS helps a bit, but it’s probably best to wait until next year to take your test drive through Radiator Springs. Otherwise, you’ll be in for a lot of waiting. If you’ve already waited five years for this park to open, what’s another six months? It’s definitely worth the wait.