I always wished I could have ridden the Flying Saucers at Disneyland.
Opened in 1961, the space-age bumper cars hovered like pucks on an enormous air hockey rink, a strange combination of retro and futuristic, like a scene from a Jules Verne novel.
I imagined the spaceship-like saucers zipping about on a cushion of air, bouncing into each other as they wobbled across a silvery alien surface, just like Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder or Doc Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean.
The short-lived Tomorrowland ride closed in 1966, a year before I was born, and got filed away in the Yesterland of my dreams.
So when Disney announced plans to include a modern take on the old Flying Saucers in the new 12-acre Cars Land, I thought my dreams had come true. Much like the science fiction fantasy that the classic attraction depicted, I would turn back time and climb aboard the ride I never rode. I could barely contain my excitement.
Sadly, that unbridled anticipation has turned to utter disappointment.
I’ve tried Luigi’s Flying Tires a few times during test-and-adjust previews and it pains me to say the new version of the old flying saucers don’t live up to the time capsule in my mind. The 9-foot-wide Fettuccini-brand tires, based on a theme tied to Luigi the Italian tire shop owner from the Disney/Pixar “Cars” movie, are about as exciting as a bowl of limp pasta.
The instructions were simple: lean in the direction you want to go. But more often than not, I didn’t go anywhere.
The tires didn’t move very fast or in the direction I wanted. When I bumped into another tire the bounce was almost imperceptible. Occasionally a couple of the 22 tires seemed to briefly spring to life, but most of the time they just floated in place like a balloon on a string.
Maybe I got a dud tire each time. Maybe I need better flight instructions. Maybe Disney will make some adjustments before the June 15 official opening and everything will be as I imagined. Regrettably, barring some magical application of pixie dust, the attraction I’ve waited four decades to ride can be summed up in one word: boring.
Disney ride mechanics removed a hand control that made the tire spin in circles just before unveiling the attraction to the public, but it’s unclear if that would have made a difference. I don’t want to spin in circles. I want to go somewhere. I want to do something.
I studied several ride cycles to see if there was a secret to maneuvering the tires. I asked employees for tips. I even picked the “fastest” tire. But I got nothing.
The ride is unique for a Disney theme park in that there is no track. The rider is in complete control. Maybe it was just user error on my part, but I couldn’t seem to get the ride to work no matter how much I tried. The trick apparently, which I failed to master, is to find the tire’s balance point and then lean slightly -- but not too far -- in the direction you want to go.
So far there’s been nothing but happy faces coming off Luigi’s Flying Tires, thanks mostly to the three dozen green, white and red Italian-themed beach balls the riders play with before, during and after the two-minute ride. Unfortunately, I’m not willing to wait an hour to play hovercraft dodge ball to Italian music.