Astro Orbiter is a spinner or “hub and spoke” design ride that allows guests of all heights to pilot their own space rocket through the cosmos. This ride is almost identical to two other rides in the Magic Kingdom, Dumbo the Flying Elephant and the Magic Carpets of Aladdin. Dumbo is the most famous of the three Magic Kingdom spinners, but as we will discover today, Astro Orbiter tops that ride in at least one way.
Like many Magic Kingdom rides, Astro Orbiter has its roots in a Disneyland ride. The Disneyland version debuted in 1956. For a short time it was known as the Tomorrowland Jets, before moving and being renamed to Astro Jets in 1967. The Walt Disney World version of this ride was part of a major expansion of Tomorrowland. In 1974, the area saw the addition of Space Mountain, The Carousel of Progress, the WEDWay People Mover, and the Star Jets (what we now know as Astro Orbiter).
Star Jets was a pretty straightforward copy of the Disneyland version at the time. The one difference were the ride vehicles. The Magic Kingdom version had vehicles designed to look like space shuttles, while the Disneyland version looked more like rockets. Both space shuttles and rockets rotated around a Saturn V rocket when they took flight. The Star Jets ran for 20 years before closing for refurbishment.
The ride was once again part of a Tomorrowland overhaul in 1994. Along with the rest of the land, the ride got a new paint job and color scheme. The theme of the ride was changed as well. The Saturn V rocket was removed and replaced with a timeless futuristic looking iron tower. In addition to this, various planets were built onto the perimeter of the structure. Three more ships were added to help increase capacity. The final result was a sleek, stylized flight through the orbiting planets, and the ride was appropriately named Astro Orbiter.
The one thing that did not change was the location of the ride. Astro Orbiter still sits atop the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover at the center of Tomorrowland. I believe the location of this ride is both its worst weakness and greatest strength. Allow me to explain: when you enter Tomorrowland, the ride is directly in front of you, so it seems like it would be impossible to miss. However, with the Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin to your right, Stitch’s Great Escape to your left, and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover just below, there are a lot of distractions from Astro Orbiter. Just listing all the rides surrounding Astro Orbiter is tough! In addition, the ride is up so high it is almost out of sight, out of mind when you get really close.
The Peoplemover, as I will refer to it for the rest of our time today, has an escalator that runs from ground level up to the second floor where that ride is located. As a kid I thought this was the ride entrance to Astro Orbiter. Every few years when we returned to Disney, I would think we were taking the escalator up to the cool looking ride at the top, only to discover we stopped a floor short and landed at the Peoplemover instead. By the time we got off the Peoplemover, we would run over to Space Mountain or another nearby ground level ride, forgetting about the mysterious ride atop the building. I was really confused at how the select few made it to the top. What secret did these lucky riders know I didn’t? Well, the secret is an elevator located on the ground level on the back side of the Lunching Pad.
The queue for Astro Orbiter is located primarily on the ground level. Every few minutes riders are loaded onto the elevator to make the ascent to the third level. If you don’t like tight spaces, proximity to strangers, or the smell of body odor, this won’t be the most pleasant part of the ride. I can only imagine how unpleasant this might be during the middle of a hot August day. Yuck! Fortunately, the elevator ride is very brief and you are soon at the top. Here you will watch the current group of riders finishing up their turn. Next, it will be your time for some fresh air and gorgeous views.
The ride vehicles on Astro Orbiter seat riders single file rather than side by side. This can be a tight fit for two grown adults. I would recommend an adult/child combination for this ride. Either that or some fairly petite newlyweds that don’t mind sitting in each others laps. Once you are situated, take notice of the simple handle located at the front of the rocket. This handle will control your vertical movement once the ride begins. If you are like me, you will be so distracted by the stellar views of the Magic Kingdom that you may just forget about the handle. I was so busy taking in the different landmarks from this unique perspective that I soon began wondering why other rockets were so much higher than my own. About halfway through the ride the lightbulb finally went off over my low flying ship and I quickly yanked the handle back. Soon I was in a higher orbit and the panoramic views were even better.
The ride only lasts a minute and a half, so soak in those views as quickly as you can. Tomorrowland feels so alive and full of motion when you look down from high above your ship. This is the distinct advantage Astro Orbiter has over its spinner cousins, Dumbo and Aladdin. Both of those rides sit at ground level, making the main appeal the individual theming and the spinning motion. While I will certainly give Dumbo the advantage in the theming and interactive queue categories, Astro Orbiter has it beat by lightyears when it comes to the view.
As I said before, I have missed out on this ride year after year due to the confusing queue and lack of Fastpass +. I’m not a big fan of waiting more than 20 minutes for something that will be over in a minute and a half. During peak times of the day the queue for Astro Orbiter can back up fairly quickly. Evidently, most visitors don’t experience the same difficulty in locating the ride’s entrance that I have. With that being said, I went on Astro Orbiter for the first time this year. I have to confess that I really enjoyed it! While it is very simple and lacks the emotional appeal of say Star Tours, I am glad I finally discovered this Magic Kingdom classic. The gentle rush of the air in your face as you go round and round provides the kind of timeless fun that all ages can enjoy.
Having been on Astro Orbiter only once, I have yet to ride it at night. This is definitely on the agenda for my next Disney vacation as I can only imagine how cool the park will look all lit up from this vantage point. If you are going to ride, I would certainly recommend both a day and a night flight if possible. Given the fact there is no Fastpass + on this ride, that may prove difficult. However, here is a little tip I learned on my last trip. Right after one of those pesky Florida rain showers has pushed through, head over to Astro Orbiter if you are in the vicinity. Because the ride is located outside with an uncovered queue, most riders will head for cover when rain pops up. While everyone else is finishing up their indoor rides, you can probably get onto Astro Orbiter without much wait at all.
Well, that is going to wrap up our look at Astro Orbiter today. This may be a ride you can miss on your first trip to Walt Disney World, but don’t be like me and wait 35 years to give it a go! It is a fun ride that young kids and kids at heart will have a blast on.