Kicks on Route 66

After a four-year billion dollar upgrade, Disneyland's California Adventure Park has opened it latest attraction based on the hit movie Cars. Angie Kelly took a test drive.

Screaming, as it turns out, is fun. I discovered this during one cheek-wobbling minute of excitement speeding around hairpin bends and clinging to steep embankments while strapped into a Radiator Springs racing car, the signature ride at the just-opened new "land".

Designed to re-create scenes from the 2006 animated hit movie Cars, phase one of the indoor-outdoor ride lulls you into a false sense of security - gently sending six-seater cars through Hollywood-worthy scenes and a so-real-it's-amazing drive through the mountains.

Phase two is when the screaming starts. Once aboard, there is no way to stifle big smiles and even bigger shrieks as you are steered along, racing riders in another car right next to yours.

And if wanting to run around and line up for a second go is the test of success, then the Racers ride speeds through the chequered flag on top.

It's a bucket-list destination for good reason.

At a reported cost of $US200 million, it's one of the most expensive theme park rides ever built. Together with Mater's Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi's Flying Tyres (two tamer rides suitable for younger kids), they are the main drawcards of a visit to the impressively re-created Route 66 retro town of Radiator Springs.

Complete with a classic '50s-style diner, Flo's V8 Cafe, an ice-cream parlour and popcorn stop, all the props, shops and entertainment on the five-hectare site are show-stopping quality and G-rated fun.

You don't need to know who Lightning McQueen or Doc are, or even feel a connection with the four-wheeled stars of the movie, to enjoy the place - revheads big and small will love the car themes of everything in sight. (Note to parents: like the rest of California Adventure Park and Disneyland next door, a dazzling merchandising explosion means you'll need a will of steel or the negotiating skills of the US Secretary of State to resist pester power.)

A new "land" opening is big news in southern California. Locals are such rusted-on fans of their famous neighbour that up to 500 were reported to be camping out in the car park the night before the doors opened so they would be first into the driver's seat. They must have high-fived each other as they walked on through at 7am because by 9am the wait for a spin around the Radiator Springs racetrack was conservatively estimated at five hours. Fastpass ticket-holders (which allows visitors to pre-book a berth) didn't fare any better on day one as by 11am the first slots available were at 11pm.


Also new inside the revitalised California Adventure Park is Buena Vista Street - a "main street"-style entrance into the park with numerous dining and shopping options. Designed to emulate Walt Disney's Los Angeles of the 1930s, the centrepiece (and great meeting point for groups) of the new street is a replica of the Carthay Circle Theatre, where Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered in 1937.

The art deco street is bursting with entertainment and attractions, such as big swing band shows, street dancers and vintage red trolley cars.

As part of the four-year project, Toy Story Mania!, The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Undersea Adventure and the World of Colour water and light show have already opened. It's hoped the array of new attractions will drive visitor numbers up from an unofficial seven million a year to somewhere nearer the 17 million who flock to neighbouring Disneyland.

Also new last month was the Mad T Party. The nightly outdoor rock show stars a Lady Gaga-esque version of Alice in Wonderland and her band mates, who perform crowd-pleasing anthems. An absolute must for teens and twentysomethings.

A visit to California Adventure and its twin park, Disneyland, is a guaranteed rollicking good time no matter how old you are or whether or not you take children. With kids, it certainly isn't a cheap holiday but a few days of Disney immersion is a standout memory in the story of any family. It's a bucket-list destination for good reason and now, with all the new attractions, there are even more reasons to go.

The writer travelled as a guest of Disneyland and Air New Zealand.

Disneyland 101

Consider staying inside the park Although much more expensive than other hotels in the Anaheim area, there are advantages to staying at the Disneyland Hotel, which is a short stroll from all the action. Apart from being able to get back to your room and into bed quickly after hours of walking, you can take youngsters for day naps so they'll have the energy to keep going after dark, when there is still a lot to see and do. And if you forget something, it's not such a big deal to retrieve it. Having a pool and water slide close by is also a winner. A delivery service from Downtown Disney shops means you won't have to carry bags around the park all day and you will get into the parks an hour earlier than the official opening time of 8am.

Get a Fastpass Organise a pre-booked timeslot so you don't have to wait in line for the most popular attractions such as Star Tours, Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, California Screamin', Pirates of the Caribbean, Radiator Springs Racers and World of Colour.

Buy water before going Once you're inside you'll pay $3 or more for a bottle, which quickly adds up if you're buying more than one a day for each member of your family. You will definitely need it in the midday California sunshine, especially if you are waiting in line for hours to get on non-Fastpass rides.

Go in autumn or spring US summer holidays in July and August guarantee good weather but big crowds mean you will wait and wait and wait (two hours at a minimum).

Take the single entry line If you're prepared to be separated from your mates or family members, you'll whiz through to your seat on many rides in a fraction of the group waiting time.

Pre-book Make reservations for dining and nightly shows wherever possible.

Trip notes

Getting there

Air New Zealand flies twice daily from Sydney to Los Angeles via Auckland. 13 24 76,

Staying there

Creative Holidays offers packages at both on-park hotels: Three nights at Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel, a three-day Park Hopper ticket and return transfers from Los Angeles airport costs from $879 an adult, $329 a child (nine years and under).

Three nights at the Disneyland Hotel including three-day Park Hopper ticket and return airport transfers costs from $1035 an adult, $329 a child (nine years and under).

Conditions apply. Valid for travel August 26 to October 4. Valid for sale until sold out.

More information

1300 747 400,;