Disneyland Gems: Calling “Shotgun” on the Autopia

| April 7, 2011 | 5 Replies

What better thing is there to do on a Sunday afternoon than take a leisurely drive through the country?  Feeling the wind through your hair because the top is down on your jeep or convertible, creating that smooth rhythm as you shift between the clutch and the gas pedal, and the intake of the undeniable scents of the the woods and fields are all tangible reminders of this classic pastime. The curving roads, the billboards, the roadside stands – even a traffic cop hiding around a bend – are all part of the experience.

Okay – so I lied. It was a Monday morning, it was in the middle of an urban area, and the smell of gas was heavy in the air. The only reason the top was down on the car was to allow any size of person to descend into the tiny vehicles.  We were about to embark on our leisurely drive through the Disneyland Autopia, and if you haven’t done this before, you should ride shotgun with car-lovers Chris and Laura Imig and me.  We’ll take you through this gem of an attraction and

      1. you can click here to listen to our thoughts about it!
It’s way different than its Walt Disney World counterpart!!!!

I thought it would be fabulous to visit this attraction with folks that really know the world of classic cars and see how they felt it chalked up to the hype.  Now you should keep in mind that there is both a Fast Pass machine and a height stick at the entrance to the attraction.  Guests needing special assistance board at the exit ramp’s elevator, since there are stairs that lead down to the boarding zone from the main queue.  Children need to be above 52 inches to drive alone and minimum age of 12 months to drive with a parent and the Cast Members are strict.  Once you know that, you can curb any potential disappointment.

Since we were all confident that we could drive our own vehicles, Laura, Chris, and I hit the Autopia early, with no lines in sight.  We figured that would give us some time to leisurely soak up the atmosphere!   Now, this is fairly rare, because when we came back later, the line had grown substantially!

Now, they can do several things with this queue area.  The line can be guided through only a portion of the stands, or it can be opened to the whole thing at busier times.    Of course, this being Disneyland, there is pre-show entertainment while waiting it out under the shady stands – the JumboTron.  This is actually one of my favorite parts about the queue.  It features a wealth of family friendly car-themed jokes, tongue-in-cheek advertisements for all sorts of things,  driver education, and even a blast through Disneyland’s past.   It’s also a great time to play the time-honored tradition of guessing which car you will end up with.  Frankly, my photos don’t do these cars justice.  Many of them are painted in a rather expensive, multi-colored/faceted paint that allows the car to change colors, depending on the angle you are viewing it from, as well as the refracted light tone.  So, besides having several colors to long for, there are three different body styles, as well.   Decisions, decisions.  Will it be Dusty the SUV, Suzy the convertible VW bug, or Sparky the sports car?  How do we know their names?  A question to be answered in a few photos….

Either way, everyone passes through that little round section at the end, where we meet up with the current sponsors of the Autopia – the Chevon cars.   We are introduces to them in a series of animated vignettes, such as Laura’s and my favorite – the camping trip, where Dad is giving advice about the “birds and the bees”.

Another favorite is the gas station.

Once you do the double pass through this little bit of advertisement, which houses the Chevron VIP lounge in its base, you meet a cast member who provides you with your new Driver’s License!   These little babies have the name of one of the three cars chassis found in the attraction!  See.  Told you I would answer that!  There is also a spot where you can place a photo sticker of yourself, to permanently commemorate your visit.  And just so you know, the photo-sticker machines are at the bottom of the exit ramp…  These make the best souvenirs of your child’s first time driving an Autopia car with you.  We did this for both of my girls to keep in their memory boxes.

Now you are ready to pass back through the stands and get down to the road!  Of course, before you do, make sure you take note of the sign that talks about how Disney is planning to refurbish the ride with fuel cells in the cars, instead of gas.  Something we can’t wait for, because this attraction can be super-pungent on hot days!

Once we descended the stairs to the boarding area, we got into our vehicles and were off – like a herd of turtles!  This signpost tells us why…

We were okay with that, though, since we were driving down the famous “Route 55”!  (Get it – Disneyland opened in 1955…)

Once we started our journey, it was time to take in the sights.  There was a handy road map…

that took us past the billboard for the local Chevron station,

and past the official Mouse Crossing!

Cute signs aren’t all that the Autopia has.  One of the scenic parts of the drive takes us through the Autopia’s version of an urban necessity – the CARPARK!

This urban ode to Mother Nature is a place where cars come to frolic and celebrate life!  That is evidenced by the presence of several sculptures, such as this fountain depicting car ballet!

As in any city park, there are historical statues.   On the left side of the road, the sculpture that some would call a “Tin Lizzie” is actually a replica of the famous “Mr. Toad” cars.

Turning our attention to the right side of the road, homage is paid to both the original chassis design of the Autopia cars, as well as Disneyland’s third Autopia track – the Midget Autopia.  This track, which was used from 1957 to the end of 1965, was closed to become the home of “it’s a small world”.  The two original Autopia tracks, the Fantasyland and the Tomorrowland Autopia tracks, were eventually re-imagineered into the current design in 2000 and the older Mark-IIV vehicles were retired to make way for the new Chevron-esque ones in use today.

Of course, no park is without street vendors and the Autopia’s CARPARK is no exception to that rule.  As we drive along, the right side of the road has a place to stop for some hot, rusted nuts to keep a car happy!

A closer look shows the slogan on the front.

That pretty much says it all.

After having a good chuckle, we move a little further down the road.  The monorail weaves in and out of our experience and passed over our heads at least once on our leisurely drive.  In fact, riding the monorail into the park from the Downtown Disney station is a great way to see Tomorrowland for the first time!

See that friendly reminder sign – the “No Bumping” one?  You should know that there are plenty of Cast Members throughout the course to watch for you bad-boys of bumping, as well as those 7-year olds that are tall enough to drive by themselves and then get stuck…

After having enjoyed a bit of the multi-layered dynamics of motion that surround the Autopia (Did I mention you also get great views of the Finding Nemo Submarines and the Disneyland Railroad while driving along?), we come to one of the favorite surprises of the Autopia – the end of the road.  Literally.  The pavement ends and you find yourself off-roading!  There are even cool little effects – like hitting a “puddle” and water splashing!  (They even do a pretty good job of blending in/hiding the guide rail, too!)

Note the subtle location of a fire extinguisher in the bushes – just in case of engine trouble!  (I honestly hadn’t noticed that until I started writing this adventure!)  I assume the “Bump Cops” are there to help with that, too!

After traversing the rugged terrain, we find that the Autopia goes “downhill” from there.  Once again, literally.  The road takes a rather curvy path with a slight descent back to where it all began.

Unfortunately, the end is never exciting.  It’s like a visit to Los Angeles and Orange County traffic.  You get to sit in one spot while the motor hums and you wait your turn to move.  This is the time to have a little fun.  Time to study the license plates around you.  These plates are famed for representing the initials and birthdates of Imagineers.  I’m assuming this one was born on March 1st…

It’s also time to watch and see who will get busted for bumping or to make fun of the people you are enjoying it with.  After all, the Autopia is all about one thing – the time honored tradition of the family drive!

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Disneyland Podcaster for the DIS Unplugged