Disneyland (CA)

Cars Land Survival Guide: Early Entry

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7 a.m., seconds before rope from in Cars Land for Early Entry. (All photos by Seth Kubersky)

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“trick” that allowed non-hotel guests to enter early if they had a same-day receipt from a hotel shop or restaurant is no longer valid.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.
This is what your wait will look like if you are among the first people in line for Luigi's.

Can’t take advantage of early entry? Check back later for part 2 of this series, featuring our survival advice for general admission.


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Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

8 thoughts on “Cars Land Survival Guide: Early Entry

  • We were there June 28 – July 1 and used DCA early entry on June 29th. Just FYI, they did not let anyone in before 7:00 on that day – we were at the front gate at 6:45. Since we didn’t have your advice yet, we sort of winged it but it worked well. We went straight to Soarin’ and were first on board (only 8 people on the entire ride), then to Tower of Terror, where we were also first on board (only six in our elevator!), then to Mater’s (walked on), then the RSR single rider line where the posted time was 10 minutes but we literally walked on the next car (and were in the same car – one in front and one in back). We did all that before 8:00 :). When we got off RSR, it was after 8:00 and the park was open. The new posted line for single rider was 20 minutes, so we got in it… but the ride was shut down at 8:15 so we gave up and considered ourselves lucky to get one ride with no wait! For two adults who like thrill rides and didn’t want lines, this was a nearly perfect morning.

    • Thanks for the feedback, I imagine they open the gate early or not based on each days expected early attendance.

  • Do the early morning admission passes that come with some of the Good Neighbor packages work the same as the Extra Magic Hours provided to on-site guests? My package comes with one early morning admission pass, but I don’t know much about it.

    • You will need to examine the fine print, but I believe EMH (DL & DCA) is for the 3 onsite hotels only. Good neighbor packages are Magic Morning (DL only).

  • I appreciate you reacting to the new Carsland demand, and getting this post up and running before summer is over. I do, however, disagree a little bit with your comments on RSR. While we toured the park on day 11 and day 13 of it being officially open, we at no time were ever denied use of our Fastpasses to this ride, and on two separate occasions did not used our passes within the required window. Once, we rode the ride after dark when our passes expired at 3:20. Perhaps this is just a sign of how often the ride was breaking down during the day that we did not notice. I am not sure if that was the reason, so I felt obliged to point this out.

    One other thing I would point out is that while in line for Fastpasses for RSR, the rest of my family enjoyed 3 to 4 other attractions with nearly no wait, including Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, Toy Story Midway Mania, Goofy’s Sky School and Mickey’s Fun Wheel. Just another tip for those who don’t need to stand in the queue for RSR Fastpasses.

    • As I mentioned, they will be accommodating hours after a downtime, but if you don’t use your Radiator Springs Racers fastpass before it expires, you may have problems. Considering how hard they are to get, I dont think it’s worth the risk. I’ve confirmed with guest services that RSR is the only Disneyland Resort ride where return windows are being enforced at the current time.
      Great tip on riding other attractions while the fastpass retriever is waiting. I wrote this guide to focus on Cars Land, but it’s also a great time to walk on other major rides.


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