At first glance, the opening of Disney California Adventure Park’s newest ride, Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters, may not seem like a groundbreaking event, and certainly not an “American Ride Revolution.” It is, after all, the successor of the under-performing Luigi’s Flying Tires – a ride that, in the eyes of the public, just wouldn’t float.
“Roadsters” may appear to be a mere bagatelle: a mid-level carnival caper. But the carefree, dancing, cartoonish Italian cars belie a powerful digital program, which is the first of its kind in the U.S. Disney Parks, and likely to control much of the next generation of theme park attractions.
As you can see from the pictures and videos, the ride operates without a track. Instead, a system akin to GPS (but not actually GPS), positions the little Italian cars as they dance, spin, and do-si-doe to unheard and unseen instructions as if by… um, fiat. The vehicles make their moves across a mostly featureless concrete surface, on the former footprint of a ride that once used beach balls to distract guests from its inaction.
Trackless ride systems do exist in offshore Disney Parks, including Pooh’s Honey Hunt at Tokyo Disneyland, Aquatopia at Tokyo DisneySea, Ratatouille at Walt Disney Studios Paris, and Mystic Manor at Hong Kong Disneyland. Pooh’s Honey Hunt, a traditional dark-ride with ride vehicles that also can’t resist a chance to dance, was the first, debuting over a dozen years ago.
Possibly as interesting as the high-tech choreography, is the charging system that keeps the ride rollicking through long operational days. The final dance move is where cars take turns positioning over a nondescript round metal plate, where they nest, plug in, and remain for the roughly two minute unload/load cycle. This short respite is apparently all they need to get through a few sets. (Editor’s note: Although speculation on the Internet has hypothesized an induction charging system (like that used at Universe of Energy), this charging system is most definitely not induction. Careful observation reveals the contact points that make an electrical connection while the cars are stationary.)
The result is a pleasant family attraction akin to Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. A suitable supporting player to the headlining Radiator Springs Racers on the Cars Land slate.
Bothans relate that the becoming Star Wars areas at Disneyland and Disney Hollywood Studios will use similar trackless tech in a “chase ride” featuring the First Order and the Resistance.