The new Cars Land attractions are barely three weeks old, but their popularity has already pushed the Disneyland Resort in general, and the Disney California Adventure park in particular, to record levels of attendance. The old conventional wisdom was that the sparsely-attended second gate didn’t require the same assiduous planning as its older sibling to enjoy in a single day. But at least until the Cars Land hoopla dies down — which we don’t expect to happen any time this summer — you’ll need an efficient itinerary to absorb all the relaunched park has to offer.
The 2013 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland will soon be winging its way to the presses, packed with our brand-new optimized touring plans for tackling Disney California Adventure’s latest additions. Unfortunately, it will arrive on store shelves too late to help those of you planning to visit within the next few months. Therefore, in honor of the recently-passed Independence Day holdiay, we wave the flag of freedom from frustration, and offer you this “survival guide” to liberating yourself from the long lines in Cars Land.
As always, our number one advice is “Arrive early, arrive early, arrive early!” For the foreseeable future, as far as Cars Land is concerned, you’ll want to add at least two more “arrive earlies” to that mantra. Much of your touring strategy depends on whether you are eligible for one of the park’s Early Entry programs.
Extra Magic Hour is the new name for Disneyland Resort’s bonus to guests staying at one of the three on-site hotels. Anyone with valid admission and an active room key from Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier, or the Grand Californian, is eligible to enter DCA one hour before the general public on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Purchasers of 3-day or longer tickets with Magic Morning are only eligible to enter Disneyland Park early, not DCA.
Hotel guests may enter through the main gate or the private entrance in the Grand Californian. An old “trick” that allowed non-hotel guests to enter early if they had a same-day receipt from a hotel shop or restaurant is no longer valid. Note that on the other four days of the week, hotel guests may enter the park 30 minutes early through the Grand Californian entrance, but are only permitted to retrieve World of Color FASTPASS tickets; Cars Land rides will remain off-limits until the official opening time.
For this summer, Disneyland is running a separate early entry program exclusively for Annual Passholders, who can register to attend DCA and Disneyland on one morning each between now and mid-September. The program is held on the opposite days of Extra Magic Hour, meaning that DCA is available on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings. Passholders must register online in advance, and will have to show their passes to receive wristbands before entering the park.
If you are able to participate in either early entry option, we highly recommend you do so, since it is easily the least crowded way to experience the park. Here is our early entry touring strategy:
- Arrive at the park entrance, ticket in hand, at least 90 minutes before the official opening time. For this summer, that means 6:30 a.m. Allow for extra time if you need to purchase admission, or receive a wristband for Annual Passholder early entry.
- Guests may be allowed into the park 30 minutes or more before the early entry period begins. Proceed to Carthay Circle at the end of Buena Vista Street, where you will be held until 7 a.m. If you are early and sleepy, you can grab a Starbucks eye-opener from Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe.
- Once permitted to progress forward, move straight to Cars Land, walking with the restraining rope to the end of Route 66. The majority of the crowd will head directly to Radiator Springs Racers. However, that ride frequently opens a few miniutes (or more) late due to morning safety testing. Instead, get in line for Luigi’s Flying Tires (inside the Casa del Tires shop facade, with the tire tower out front). If you are among the first in the queue, you should be on and off the ride in about 10 minutes.
- After riding Luigi’s, look at the posted wait time for the single rider line at Radiator Springs Racers. If the wait is 30 minutes or less, the time is before 7:15 a.m., and your group doesn’t mind being separated, get in the singles queue. Otherwise, skip to the next step.
- Ride Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. Your wait time should be under 20 minutes.
- If the time is 7:30 a.m. or earlier, consider grabbing some breakfast from the Cozy Cone Motel (beware the overcooked scrambled eggs) or Flo’s V8 Cafe.
- Send a member of your party with all of the group’s admission passes to get in line for Radiator Springs FASTPASS tickets no later than 7:45 a.m. The distribution location is outside Cars Land near the entrance to It’s Tough to be a Bug! Make sure you get in the FASTPASS line with other early entry participants several minutes before the official park opening, at which time the queue will be merged with the general public.
- FASTPASS distribution begins at official park opening time. If you’ve followed these steps, you should get your passes within 20 minutes of opening, with a return time around mid-morning. Pay close attention to your return window; Radiator Springs Racers is the first attraction at the resort to enforce the printed one-hour time frame, though exceptions are made if the ride breaks down.
- At this point you’ve experienced the slowest-loading rides and secured a coveted FASTPASS to the park’s top attraction. Grab some food if you need to, pick up a FASTPASS to World of Color if you want to see the first performance, and start touring the park. If you’re not following one of our time-tested touring plans, at least prioritize Toy Story Midway Mania, Soarin’ Over California, and Tower of Terror. You’ll find that Cars Land sucks up so much of the arriving crowd that lines at the other former top draws should be pleasantly short.
Can’t take advantage of early entry? Check back later for part 2 of this series, featuring our survival advice for general admission.