Cars Land With A Toddler: Part 1

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My husband and I have watched Cars almost every day for the last three months. No, we don’t have OCD, we have a toddler. Last Christmas, my sister gave my son, Nathan, a toy car play set, and a new obsession was born. One night, a few months later, Nathan sat down in front of the TV and watched 20 minutes of a NASCAR race without moving a muscle. For a toddler this is an eternity to not move. We knew what we had to do next: introduce him to the movie Cars. The next thing we knew, we were watching Cars every day. On the weekends he would yell “CAHS! CAHS!” and excitedly point to the DVD. And then he started learning names: QUEE and May (Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater). So we bought him every McQueen and Mater car. Slowly, our home started to fill up with all things Cars.

One day, it dawned on us that Cars Land was opening at Disney California Adventure, and suddenly we couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than seeing our son’s face for the first time when he walked into Radiator Springs! We weren’t going to go opening weekend because we thought it would to be too crowded, but – at the last minute – we decided we couldn’t resist! After all, it’s for the kid, right? Right? So off we went to Radiator Springs….

Long Waits & Cranky Kids

We arrived opening day at 7:45 a.m. The park was opening at 9:00 a.m., and the line wrapped around the Esplanade. Nathan lasted about 8 minutes sitting in the stroller before we had to start carrying him! Luckily, once the line started moving at about 8:15 a.m., it moved fast, and we were in the park by 8:45 a.m.. Bringing a toddler into an overly crowded theme park comes with its own set of challenges, especially on opening day, but we were ready to face them head on. Nathan just meets the 32-inch height requirement for two rides in Cars Land: Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Flying Tires. Since it was opening day and we heard Luigi’s line was slow-moving, we decided to get a FASTPASS for Radiator Springs Racers and then jump into Luigi’s line. This was 9:00 a.m., and the line barely stretched out of the building. The sign said the wait time was 75 minutes. We thought it would be 45 minutes since the line didn’t stretch out that far. We were very, very wrong.

Luigi’s Flying Tires has about a five-minute load and unload process, making it one of the slowest loading attractions in all Disney theme parks. It’s highly inefficient, which we didn’t learn until watching the process over and over again. It’s important to know that if you plan on waiting in a really long line with a toddler, you should come prepared with many distractions!

I started off in the line carrying Nathan and pointing out all the exciting scenery: tires (“Wheels, Momma!”) and pictures of the characters (“Quee!”) from the movie This held his interest for a bit, but then he wanted to explore on his own. I don’t personally believe in putting a leash on my child because I know he would just fall to the ground and throw a fit, but for some this might be the way to go. I set him down and allowed him to explore, which requires my full attention so he doesn’t go running. With my husband, myself, and a friend who was with us, all eyes were on Nathan while we tried to keep him in the line with us. I have to admit, at one point we became “those people” with the kid:, on the floor, arms flailing, piercing scream, annoying everyone. We let him have the tantrum (only lasted a few minutes) because honestly there was nowhere to escape from the line, and we were 90 minutes into what was supposed to be a 75 minute wait. At that point, we were committed. We were giving him cookies to eat and cars to play with, and other little kids were distracting him and keeping him occupied. But he isn’t even two, so after 90 minutes of being cooped up in a line, I can’t blame him for losing it. When we finally got on the ride, Nathan was extremely happy…for three minutes. Then the ride ended and he cried because he didn’t want to leave! Even at his young age, he can understand that waiting almost two hours for a three-minute ride isn’t fair! My recommendation for Luigi’s Flying Tires: get in this line when the park first opens because that’s when it will be the shortest.

Meeting Mater & McQueen

Luigi’s Flying Tires was one of our biggest challenges in three days, so it was nice to get that out of the way right away! Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree loads much faster, and we barely waited 20 minutes, but we did see wait times of up to 60 minutes. You can see the ride from the entire queue, and you can hear Mater singing, so Nathan was very interested in the music and the surrounding scenery. Again, I started off holding him and then set him down to wander. He held onto the fence to watch the tractors go round and round – very entertaining for him! Another tip for waiting in line: always have drinks on hand. I brought along juice boxes, bottled water, and got milk at every meal. Nothing soothes my son more than milk, so whenever we are in public and he is having a major fit, I try giving him a drink first. His sippy cup is his safety net, and it works like a charm (mostly).

One of the happiest moments for Nathan was meeting Lightning McQueen, better known in our family as “QUEE!” McQueen is located in front of the Cozy Cone Motel, and the line was never too long. We only waited about ten minutes. Nathan was SO excited that he really wanted to jump the line. He doesn’t quite get the concept of waiting. Instead, I brought him up to the front of the line (while my husband held our place) to watch McQueen from a distance. This comes with a price of course: on the one hand, he was watching McQueen intently and was very distracted, but he kept trying to run up to McQueen, as well. Luckily we made it to the front of the line very quickly and had a few precious moments with Quee. Nathan couldn’t believe he was seeing a life-size Quee. The reaction from him was worth the entire trip and by far my favorite moment from the whole weekend. Even if he is too young to remember this, I will cherish it forever.

Cars Land also brings out Mater and Big Red, but we never saw Mater and only got a glimpse of Big Red when we were heading into Luigi’s. I think the crowds may have been too big for them that weekend. But it’s on our list for our next visit to find them both.

Next week, I’ll talk about food, Cars Land at night, and tackling eating at Carthay Circle Restaurant with a toddler.

Continued in Cars Land With a Toddler: Part 2.

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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

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