The sun's shining, the engine is purring, and the radio is playing classic 50's tunes. My convertible is speeding through the desert, past giant rock faces and towering gorges, but there's no driver… or steering wheel.
I'm on a ride, travelling through the desert of Disney's latest attraction - Cars Land.
Part of the massive five year renovation at Disney California Adventure (DCA), Cars Land is a re-creation of the town of Radiator Springs - from the 2006 Disney-Pixar movie Cars. More than $200 million has been spent on the attraction, and it shows - even the tiniest detail has been made with precision.
One of the things that impressed me at Cars Land is how authentic it feels. You don't have the sense of walking into a theme park, but more of a real town in the middle of a real desert. It captures the retro feel of Route 66, that feeling of nostalgia and adventure, and adds a healthy dose of make-believe.
Walking into Cars Land you've got Mater's Junkyard Jamboree on your left, and Fillmore's Taste In on your right. The Jamboree is what you'd get if you crossed a tractor ride with a barn dance. You sit in 'baby tractors' and swing from side to side in time to music. Sounds odd, but it's great. The Taste In is a takeaway style cafe offering healthy food options, no churros or hamburgers in sight!
Heading a little deeper into town, there's Sarge's Surplus Hut - a bunker looking souvenir ship selling the strangest "hat" you've ever seen - and the Cozy Cone Motel. The motel is actually one of three food outlets in town, the last being Flo's V8 Cafe. The motel has some pretty unusual foods on offer, from pretzel nuggets with melted cheese to bacon and eggs in a cone-shaped bagel.
Take a left at the blinking yellow street light and you'll find yourself at Luigi's Flying Tires, a modern take on the classic Disney Flying Saucer ride. Like a cross between air hockey and bumper cars, your car tire floats on a cushion of air. Tilt left to go left, right to go right. It's a little awkward at first, but once you master the control you’re flying across the field (or crashing into people) at high speed!
At the end of town is Ornament Valley, an impressive mountain range complete with Cadillac fins and radiator cap-shaped rocks. The whole range has been painstakingly crafted to look at real as possible, and has even fooled a population of migratory birds. Why migrate further when your native food source is right here at DCA?! All the vegetation is real, and includes more than 70 native plant species.
Speaking of Ornament Valley, this is where you'll find the town's main attraction - Radiator Springs Racers. After a lengthy wait, you climb aboard a cute 6-seater car which looks like it jumped straight out of the movie. The car speeds off into the countryside, through ravines and past a colossal waterfall. The epic music from the speakers adds to the sense of wonder and excitement as each sight is revealed.
Then it all goes dark. Inside the mountain you bump into familiar characters from the Cars movies; Mater, Sarge, Fillmore and even Doc Hudson. The audio-animatronics, which makes it seem as though the cars eyes and lips are really moving, is so well done that you need to do a triple-take to check whether the car in front of you has actually come to life.
There are a couple of different scenarios within the ride, from a car re-spray at Ramone's House of Body Art to a new set of tyres at Luigi's House of Tires, so you never know which you'll get. Take the ride twice and you'll have a different experience.
Which brings me to the next point, the high speed race! Two passenger cars split onto parallel tracks and stop for a quick briefing by Luigi and Guido, they wave the flag and then all bets are off. The two cars speed off side by side into the desert, never knowing which car will win the race.
After the race is over, and while your heart rate returns to normal, it's a good time to check out some of the souvenir shops in town. Honestly, they're some of the most interesting souvenirs I've ever come across. Where else but Disney would you find someone wearing a spare tyre as a hat?
It goes without saying that I'll definitely be heading back to Cars Land again. In case there was ever any doubt, Cars Land is proof that Disney's Imagineers (the special name for their engineers and designers) are without equal.
Though Disney California Adventure has seemingly struggled to find its footing in the theme park world since launching just over a decade ago, the opening of Cars Land is a jump start in the right direction. They've hit the nail on the head and given the public what they've been craving all along - magic.
IF YOU GOWHERE TO STAY:
For the full Disney experience, you can't go past the Disneyland Hotel. Located right next to the park and Downtown Disney, you'll spend less time travelling and more time enjoying the attractions.DON'T MISS:
Downtown Disney, a shopping and dining precinct located at the entrance to Disney California Adventure, is the perfect place to relax after a long day exploring the park. Downtown Disney is home to great bars and restaurants, including the House of Blues, along with trendy boutique stores and galleries.GETTING THERE
Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.com.au) operate regular flights from Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Cairns and Brisbane to LA via Auckland.
The writer travelled courtesy of Air New Zealand and Disneyland Resort.
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Gallery - Cars Land at Disney California Adventure