Space Mountain

Space Mountain

If you have never been to Walt Disney World before, Space Mountain probably won’t be the first ride that comes to mind when you think of high thrills.  However, for those that have been visiting the park since 1975 this is the ride that introduced high thrills to the Magic Kingdom.  This ride has a rich history, containing many firsts in roller coaster design, and continues to offer up screams year after year.

Even if you are new to Space Mountain you are probably familiar with the iconic white cone that dominates the landscape of Tomorrowland.  Now, there are a lot of numbers I can throw out here to put the size of this building into perspective, but I am going to give you just one.  That number is 6, as in 6 feet.  What is significant about 6 feet?  Well, Space Mountain, at 183 feet tall, is only 6 feet shorter than Cinderella’s Castle, which stands 189 feet tall.  Isn’t that amazing?!  I find it fascinating to think about the size of Space Mountain.  In fact, it was the massive size of the ride that allowed it to be built first at Walt Disney World before going into Disneyland.  More on that in a bit.

Space Mountain_07

The other item I find architecturally fascinating is the exterior design of the structure.  The impressive concrete beams that support this structure run along the exterior shell.  There are a total of 72 beams, each weighing 74 tons!  I know, I said I wasn’t going to bore you with numbers, but come on, that’s impressive.  The beams are located on the exterior of the building, not just to look cool (which they do), but to also open up the interior of the building.  By putting the supportive beams on the outside, the main interior is flat, making it possible to create the illusion of space.  This exterior design element reminds me of the flying buttresses found in the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  Those too were born out of functionality, but prove to be beautiful in form as well.  Enough about architecture though, let’s move on.

Once you enter the white mountain, your surroundings change dramatically.  No matter how sunny or hot it may be out in the Florida sun, the queue of Space Mountain is dark and cavernous.  Now, the details of the queue have changed several times over the last 40 years, but the long dark walk has pretty much always been one of my favorite aspects of the ride.  As soon as you enter, your mindset shifts to space.  You are greeted by a large mural which reads, “Starport Seventy-Five, Your Gateway to the Galaxies”.  Next, you travel down a descending ramp, which feels just like being in a space station.  Of course, I base this conclusion on years of research through science-fiction movies, and not real space travel experience.  Eventually, the ramp turns upwards and the climb to your space dock has begun.

Quick side note – I have wondered for years and years why the queue of this ride had such a dramatic decline and then rises up to the loading area.  It wasn’t until I began doing my research for the podcast that I learned the simple truth: the queue for Space Mountain takes riders from one side of the Walt Disney World Railroad tracks to the other!  You are actually traveling underground and passing underneath the train above.  If you look at an overhead map of the Magic Kingdom you will see Space Mountain is the only ride located outside the perimeter of the Walt Disney World Railroad.

Ok, back to the queue. When the queue was updated in 2009, there were over 40 video games added to the standby queue.  These interactive games serve as a way to keep riders entertained during their wait.  The games are simple, but a welcome distraction for those not utilizing Fastpass +.  Regardless of which line you are in, you eventually make it to the top of the queue and the loading area.  The room opens up and offers glimpses of the grand space journey that awaits.  Here you see the lines feed to two sides, the Alpha (or standby) on the left, and the Omega (or Fastpass +) on the right.

When you are finished winding through the queue under the neon lights, it is time to board.  The ride vehicle consists of two cars, each capable of holding 3 riders single file.  Once snug in your seat, your space rocket makes a sharp turn and you are ready to blast off down the strobe tunnel.  While you aren’t moving quickly just yet, the effects of this tunnel provide the sensation that you are traveling through time and space.  This is one of my favorite ride beginnings in all of Walt Disney World.  After this, you make another hard bank and begin the climb to the top of Space Mountain.

The following drops, turns, and twists all take place in the dark.  I mean, dark dark!  One of the updates to the ride in 2009 was to make the ride even darker.  You can still get the effect of space above, complete with shooting stars.  Yet, if you want to see that next turn in the track then this is not the ride for you.  Every move of the coaster is a secret concealed by the black void of darkness.  This guessing game does make the ride feel faster than it actually is.  While many first time riders will guess this is one of the faster coasters in the Kingdom, it actually only tops out at 28 mph.  This puts it a little slower than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  Still, this coaster will throw you around pretty good and the dark void of space is filled with many screams.

As I said earlier, Space Mountain can proudly boast many firsts in the roller coaster kingdom.  This was the first indoor roller coaster, the first coaster to take place in the dark, and the first coaster to be run entirely by computers.  It was truly innovative back in 1975.  This was in part thanks to RCA, who helped fund the initial 24 million dollar cost, and sponsored the ride from 1975-1993.  Fed Ex took over sponsorship from there and the ride was updated to reflect the colors of the sponsor company, as well as theming the post show around the delivery of tomorrow.  That partnership ran from 1994-2004.  Since then, the ride has been without a sponsor, and no sponsor means no funding.

I believe that lack of sponsorship has taken a toll on Space Mountain.  I have always loved this ride and I go every time I am in the Magic Kingdom.  Still, I would also put this ride near the top of my list of rides that need updating.  Yes, I know it just got an update in 2009.  That update included a return to the original color scheme, addition of the interactive queue, a post-show refresh,  improvements to the ride vehicles, and addition of “Starry-o-phonic” sound system.  The latter is a series of over 100 speakers placed throughout the ride to enhance the sound effects and deliver the new composition.

Even with all these upgrades and additions, there are parts of the ride that feel outdated.  Mainly, the static space port and post show.  You pass the space port when making the initial climb up the mountain, and I feel like it could be so much cooler!  The audio-animatronic astronauts look a little dated and the instrument panels they run look like a bank of giant 1980’s computers.  How about some newer looking technology and additional special effects to bring these astronauts to life?!  The post-show, while somewhat updated, lacks the character and creativity that the ride had over the years when sponsored.  With a new sponsor unlikely anytime soon, I have an alternative solution.  Even though it hasn’t released at the time of this podcast, I feel like the movie “Tomorrowland” could be the answer.  A post show that brings to life the world introduced in the film could be a great tie into both the land, the ride, and the spaceport theme.  If there are any imagineers listening out there, feel free to take this idea and run with it!  All I ask is for an invitation to an exclusive first ride when these changes are unveiled in a few years.

Well, even in its current state I give Space Mountain two big Mickey Mouse thumbs way up.  This is a special ride as it was Walt’s idea, but wasn’t realized until after his death.  Yes, he first shared his idea for the ride back in 1964.  Unfortunately, the technology of the day hadn’t caught up to Walt’s vision.  After he passed away the focus turned to the construction and opening of the Magic Kingdom.  The idea for Space Mountain was put on the back burner until it became clear the park could benefit from more thrills.  Luckily, the Magic Kingdom had the room to build such a large attraction, unlike Disneyland.  Of course, a different version of the ride was adapted for Disneyland and opened a couple of years later.  Since then, every Disney park around the world has opened its own version of Space Mountain.

Only the Magic Kingdom can claim to have the first Space Mountain.  Due to the era this coaster comes from, it is appealing for a broader audience than many modern day coasters.  There are no inversions, no loops, and no black out inducing g-forces.  As roller coasters go, it is pretty tame.  I do give the ride a fright factor of 5 out of 5 because it does take place in the dark and can throw riders around considerably.  Also, riders sit single file so any riders on the fence won’t have someone next to them as a security blanket.

The single file seats can be very difficult for some to climb in an out of.  My 6’3” frame would love some more leg room.  My wife, who is also tall, got one of her feet stuck momentarily when trying to exit the ride.  Overall, the seats are pretty tight, so riders with larger frames may find them a little uncomfortable.  Part of my issue here is having to squeeze my backpack into the space by my feet.  The loading and unloading areas are in different spots so you don’t have the option of leaving a bag and then picking it up when you get off.  Guys will want to make sure and hang on to those hats or sunglasses or be prepared to lose them on the mountain.

If you do ride, I recommend using Fastpass +.  The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train has certainly taken over as the dominant attention-getter, but Space Mountain remains very popular.  If do you use Fastpass +, you won’t be able to play the games in the standby queue.  Of course, that’s because you will be getting on the ride!

I hope you enjoy your next ride on Space Mountain.  If you have been before I would like to hear your thoughts on the changes throughout the years.  Is the current version the best yet, or is there something you would change?  You can send us feedback by e-mailing to feedback@wdwridguide.com.  Thank you so much for joining me.  Wherever you are, I hope you have a great week and until next time, make each day a ride worth taking!

 

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