Almost two hours into waiting in line at California Adventure for the new Cars ride, I suddenly had the awful thought that perhaps the line itself, mimicking our insane traffic, was the ride. In other words, you stand in line for a couple of hours, edging your way slowly toward your destination, and then they immediately send you out of the area with an expression of thanks for taking the time.
As it happens, there is a ride at the end of the line, and what a ride it is. Disney spent more than a billion dollars of the $4 billion it put into refurbishing California Adventure, and it’s easy to see where the money went. I don’t know if I’d wait two hours in line again for it. In fact, I won’t. But it’s certainly everything that you would expect from the folks at Disney.
Since I spent 22 minutes in line for every minute that the ride lasted, let’s start off talking about the line itself. In order to accommodate first-month queues, the line snakes, in true Disney fashion, through all sorts of twists and turns to give you the illusion that you’re almost there when in fact you aren’t. Disney was actually the first amusement park to take its lines and do something interesting with them, first to give people the illusion that the waiting time wasn’t so god awful, and second in order to entertain them while they were waiting. Other parks have copied this innovation, but innovation it was when Walt first had the idea of curving lines around and giving people something to look at other than each other.
The Disney philosophy is that you may not notice everything, but “you can feel perfection.” Accordingly, they like to design with an idea that perhaps only one visitor in 100 will notice a given motif, material, or piece of background music, but the other 99 will experience the deep satisfaction that attention to detail provides.
So it is on the long way for Cars. First, there’s the vista of the ride itself. If you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon, or even through the Four Corners location where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet. Then you’ve got a sense of what the imagineers have cooked up. It doesn’t look like a Disney version of the Grand Canyon; it looks like the Grand Canyon. That’s not easy and it’s not cheap. But they did it.
While you wait, you see pairs of cars go by. The cars seat six and look like classic 1960s convertibles. One of the conceits of the experience is that you are actually racing against the other car in your pair, although I found myself getting so caught up in the ride itself that I forgot to notice if we won or lost. But now I’m ahead of the story.
Disney of course is masterful at creating rides that load people quickly. (An art they acquired sometime after creating the Submarines, as we all know.) Cars loads up like Small World on steroids—people are in and out of the cars as quickly as in a Parisian bordello.
Did I just say that? Yes. I did.
Once you get loaded, you don’t immediately start to move quickly. Instead, the first two minutes or so of the ride are consumed with a slow-moving interior section where your car seemingly is about to crash into a truck and then veers off at the last minute (think Indiana Jones), passes through big doors into artfully decorated space tricked out to look like a tire store (think the interior of Splash Mountain), and only finally gets you out onto the track, against your “opponent,” for perhaps 75 seconds of spirited racing.
You don’t have to be a roller coaster aficionado to enjoy Cars. In fact, if you are, the ride will let you down. Instead, you move along a twisting track with one steeply banked turn, a couple of quick ups and downs, and some speedy straightaways—a kinder, gentler version of Big Thunder Railroad. If anything, the racing part is just too short. The ride is over all too soon, especially if you spent two hours or more developing shin splints as you circled slowly toward the loading area.
Cars may be brief, but it’s exhilarating, visually arresting, and just plain good fun. If I weren’t so important, I would have stuck around the park and gone single rider a couple of times. If you’re not familiar with single rider, it’s one of the secrets that makes Disneyland bearable on busy days. Just tell the person at the front of that ride, or many others, Splash Mountain and the Grizzly Peak water ride in California Adventure, that you are in fact a “single rider.” You’ll get to cut the line and you’ll be given a place as soon as one opens up, radically shrinking your wait time. Single rider is one of the best-kept secrets in Disneyland, or at least it used to be until now.
Perhaps the wisest course of action is to head over to Cars as soon as you enter the park, get a fast pass, go do a bunch of other stuff, and then return to Cars at the appointed hour. This way, you can avoid the long line and your party can be seated together.
Why would a grown man spent two hours in line for an amusement park ride?
Because it’s fun. Cars is fun. It’s a lot more fun than driving in real cars to Disneyland. But everybody in southern California knew that already.
(New York Times bestselling author Michael Levin runs BusinessGhost.com, America’s leading provider of ghostwritten books.)