Disneyland (CA)

Cars Land With a Toddler: Part 2

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This article is continued from last week’s Cars Land With a Toddler: Part 1, which begins our story of visiting Disney California Adventure during its Grand Re-opening on June 15, 2012. Having covered rides and characters, I move on to dining…


We started taking Nathan to Disneyland when he was four months old, and his eating habits seem to change the most. We went from formula and baby food to milk and kids meals all in a year. Toddlers don’t typically enjoy a long sit down meal, and Nathan is very hit or miss when it comes to his eating habits outside the house. We plan by bringing more cookies and treats than we would normally give him, because it really keeps him occupied in a line or while he is in the stroller. We always have Goldfish, Nilla Wafers, and baked pretzels. I put them in a cup with a baby proof lid that he has complete control over. This makes him feel independent and keeps him occupied. However, we still try to give him something that contains nutritional value, so we do still attempt actual meals! Cars Land has a ton of new food options and, of course, we wanted to try them all! Whenever possible, we try to just feed Nathan from our food. Portion sizes at Disneyland and California Adventure tend to be big for adults, and the kids meals are really meant for kids ages 3-9. I can’t always justify spending $5.99 on a something he may take three bites from.

At the Cozy Cone Motel we bought popcorn in the Lightning McQueen bucket. which was worth its weight in gold! Nathan not only ate the dill pickle popcorn (a first!), he also spent hours playing with McQueen for the rest of the weekend! We also sat down at Flo’s V8 Café for two meals, breakfast and lunch on two different days. For breakfast we got Nathan his own meal: waffles that had Mater stamped into them. He loved the fact that Mater was on the waffle, so he happily ate those up. I also brought along table toppers, a plastic disposable placemat you stick on the table that was Cars themed. He had never used the Cars themed ones, so he was pretty happy to play on the placemat with his cars and eat his waffles. At our lunch, we decided to share with him and not get him his own meal. I got the vegetable tater casserole, and my husband got the pork tenderloin with Coca-Cola BBQ sauce. We chose mashed potatoes, corn, and BBQ vegetarian beans as our side dishes. We also picked up an apple cheddar pie and a milkshake. Nathan really enjoyed the casserole, beans, and mashed potatoes. He normally likes corn, but after two bites he wouldn’t take anymore. He wasn’t a fan of the pork at all. We didn’t end up sharing the milkshake or the apple cheddar pie, as we limit the amount of sugar he gets. But the pie was outstanding! It had a sweet cinnamon apple flavor with a crunchy buttery crust, and somehow that cheddar cheese just added to the sweet and savory combination really well. The milkshake was only alright. They add “gravel” to the milkshake for theming purposes. I thought the road gravel would have been oreo cookie crumble, which made sense to me. But instead it was little pink and blue candies that looked like Nerds. Every time I sucked one up through the straw, I was sort of surprised! And I wasn’t crazy about that sensation.

Nathan has the attention span of a toddler when it comes to sitting in a highchair, but Flo’s has seating that overlooks Radiator Springs Racers, so Nathan was more than happy to sit and watch Cars go by. I highly recommend sitting in the seating overlooking the ride. It’s not only beautiful but incredibly entertaining for the kids.

Finally, we decided to take a serious risk and eat at Carthay Circle Restaurant. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect as we heard that Carthay Circle was similar to Napa Rose at the Grand Californian, so we were expecting a white tablecloth type of meal. We have never attempted to take Nathan to a fancy sit down meal before, so this was a serious experiment.

We were eating with another family who had a toddler, so we thought this could either work really well, or be a huge disaster. The key to a successful meal with a toddler is fast service and lots of distractions. Not knowing anything about the service (it was slow), we brought along our iPad and loaded it up with the movie Cars. The other toddler was watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on her Kindle Fire. With the kids mostly distracted, I decided a kids meal would be easier here because the adult meals seemed too fancy for a child. I ordered him a grilled cheese sandwich. It was supposed to come with vegetable crudite chips and ranch dressing. When the world’s smallest grilled cheese showed up with a couple pieces of broccoli and carrots, I realized this was not worth $7.00. I asked the waiter many times what a crudite chip was, and he said he would be back with the ranch and the chips. By the end of the meal, he came back and said the vegetables are the crudités and he forgot the ranch. I wasn’t impressed and didn’t believe him. The other toddler got four small hot dogs wrapped in pastry puffs with fruit – this was the better option: definitely more bang for your buck. Nathan happily ate his grilled cheese and was mostly distracted by his iPad and his toy cars. Although, by the end of the meal he was trying to throw his cars and the iPad (much to Daddy’s dismay).

Carthay Circle has a few different rooms, and we were placed in a room adjacent to the balcony and away from the main dining room. It’s a small room and only has four tables and is not nearly as fancy and ornate as the main dining room. At first, I was a little upset we were getting a plain room off to the side, but I realized it was a blessing with two small toddlers. They were able to yell and throw toys without interrupting anyone else’s meal. And at the end of the meal, when everyone was relaxing with a glass of wine, I took Nathan onto the balcony to watch the shows on Buena Vista Street. The balcony is perfectly situated with a view onto Buena Vista Street, the park’s center stage. It’s also a great viewing spot for Disneyland’s fireworks, but we were there too early to experience that.

Cars Land at Night

Around sunset, Cars Land rolls out its best moment every night. As the sun starts to set, the lights in Cars Land must be turned on. And if you have ever seen the movie, you know what’s about to happen. The sound of the music “Sha-Boom” blasts through the air, and the neon lighting of the signs lights up one by one down the street. It becomes a fun party, and you can hear the oohs and ahs across the land. This is Nathan’s favorite scene in the movie, so his eyes lit up, and he started dancing! It was another precious moment for all of us. Once it’s dark, the street entertainment rolls out in the form of DJ the car. The crowd was too heavy around him, so we didn’t get a good look at him, but the music was blasting, and Nathan was boogying away! He didn’t care about seeing DJ; he only cared about the music.

The bottom line when it comes to enjoying yourself at a crowded theme park with a toddler: enjoy each precious moment as it comes along. Those are the ones you will remember forever. After all, experiencing precious family moments was Walt’s inspiration to build Disneyland.

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Becca Braunstein

Disney Travel Planner for MEI-Travel & MouseFan Travel, Mom to a beautiful and spirited little boy, Wife to a fellow Disney nut. My husband and I spend our days dreaming & planning our next Disney vacation! Follow me on twitter @beccabraunstein or email me for a quote at beccab@mei-travel.com

8 thoughts on “Cars Land With a Toddler: Part 2

  • I don’t know what the menu actually said, but “crudites” is just French for raw vegetables. If they were sliced, maybe that’s where the
    “chips” came in.

  • Am I the only one who thinks it at least a little selfish/inconsiderate of the author to take her 18 month old to a restaurant as nice as Carthay Circle? I mean, I understand her child loves Cars, so I was willing to overlook the temper tantrum discussed in her last post. However, there is no call for the child to go to the nice restaurant, let alone go with another family with another toddler.

    I understand Walt Disney wanted the parks to be for all the family to enjoy, but even he had restrictions (Club 33) and designed rides that not all kids could enjoy (e.g. Matterhorn). Is the Carthay Circle not in the same boat? The child will not remember the experience; the author is not attempting to expand his palette nor have him experience fine dining (she ordered him a grilled cheese and had him spend most of his time watching the same movie he has watched daily for the past 3 months); and she was miffed when placed in a side room.

    I would be quite upset as a diner if there were children yelling and throwing toys and electronics at the table next to me. Yes, the restaurant is in a theme park, but that doesn’t mean civility should be ignored, especially in the nicer locations.

    I don’t know. Am I the only one who feels like this? I feel compelled to comment only because the author seems so cavalier about inconveniencing others. What are your thoughts?

    • Becca Braunstein

      I just wanted to respond to a couple of your comments. First, thanks for taking the time to read my post and I appreciate your thoughts on the subject. I did want to clarify that I am extremely cognizant of my son’s behavior in public. I know I said he was throwing toys and yelling, but I was slightly exaggerating for comedic effect-my husband and I definitely don’t want to ruin anyone’s trip/dinner etc by letting our child run rampant around a nice restaurant. We both said before the dinner, if he starts to act up-one of us will leave so the other can enjoy a nice meal with friends. Also, the couple we were with had the same attitude as us. The video players weren’t loud at all, and really both kids were watching their shows on mute-at their age, it’s more about the colors and actions than the sound. Near the end of the meal, the kids were getting restless and Nathan tried throwing the iPad, but this is when I took him out on the patio to watch Buena Vista street, I don’t think he disrupted anyone’s time at this dinner.

      I also wanted to mention that while I was, as you stated “miffed” about getting put in a side room, at first, I did state that I realized it was a blessing because there were far less people to disturb-in fact only two other tables were there.

      Finally, Carthay Circle is a nice restaurant but after eating there, I don’t think it’s as nice as Napa Rose-it more closely resembles Blue Bayou in my opinion. Have a great holiday weekend!

      • Hi Becca,

        Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment. I knew while I was typing it that there was no good way to express my sentiments without coming off at least somewhat condescending/judge-y/intolerant, so I’m even more appreciative of the reasonable reply.

        Having heard the rest of the story (your discussion with your husband, the comedic exaggeration, etc.), I can now better understand your perspective. I guess it comes from having seen too many misbehaving children and, probably even more frequently, parents that I felt the story wholly believable and not in the least exaggerated.

        I’m glad to hear my initial reaction was misguided and that all parties involved were able to enjoy their dining (and pyrotechnical) experiences. Cheers!

        P.S. – If I had to guess, I think Carthay Circle and Blue Bayou seem more similar than Carthay Circle and Napa Rose because of the locations of the former pair (theme park). I mean, Andrew Sutton helped design the menu for Carthay Circle; however, it seems the service and ambeince are more similar to the Blue Bayou, as well as visitors’ perceptions.

      • Just some guy

        James, I felt the same regarding your original assessment after reading parts 1 & 2. The convenient backpedaling only served to convince me my first impressions were correct.

      • Just Some Guy, I appreciate the confirmation of my first impression. Despite my years on the internet, I still usually take people’s words at face value (though I hear some do lie. Shocking, I know.)

        Provided the author’s justifications were truthful, I stand by my second comment. If less than honest, as you seem to be leaning, I’m in your camp with my sentiments being reinforced with the power of dishonesty.

  • micah

    Wo…lighten up people! Disneyland is for kids and families! You sound ridiculous- and that
    is a nice way of putting it….the author sounds like a very responsible and attentive parent, and
    she and her family have just as much if a right to be there as anyone else. Obviously the restaurant didn’t have a problem with it, so if you do, you should eat somewhere else- maybe not in an amusement park made for kids and families! You sound like the kind of people who specify “no children” at their weddings, then wonder why no one wants to come!

  • Hi, I know this is a few years after your post, but I wanted to thank you for taking the time to write about Cars Land with a toddler. Kudos to you folks for braving it! My son is two, and a HUGE fan of Lightning McQueen (I can relate to watching Cars and Cars 2 every day). Been thinking about Disneyland for a while, and your post has really helped me get an idea of what I could likely expect, as well as tips for all of the waiting. Greatly appreciated. -Sherry


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