Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ride Review - Space Mountain

“Space Mountain may be the oldest ride in the park, but it still has the longest line!” – Ric Flair

Intro: Arguably the most famous ride in Disney World and most famous roller coaster anywhere, Space Mountain opened in 1975. When it opened, it was the first of what would become five different “Space Mountains” at Disney parks around the world. The Magic Kingdom version serves as a “bridge” between the original Disney roller coaster, Disneyland’s Matterhorn, with the high tech and more thrilling future incarnations of Space Mountain.

The ride goes down for extensive refurbishment today, so let's take a look at this version for the last time.

Queue: The line usually begins outside in Tomorrowland before making its way into the large white “futuristic” building meant to represent some type of mountain. Inside, guests make their way through slightly illuminated hallways and televisions playing some kind of goofiness that has nothing to do with anything before finally approaching a “space port” (or, so Wikipedia tells me.) It’s here where we can do fun stuff like look up and try to spot phantom chocolate chip cookies being projected on the ceiling, or wave at the TTA cars going by, or ride a roller coaster.

Ride: After boarding incredibly uncomfortable for anyone over 5’7 and/or 120 lbs. “rockets” the ride blasts off through a cleverly constructed tunnel thing. First a lighted sign on the wall reads “All Systems Go” and then the rockets make their way up a life hill inside of a tunnel with moving lights all around, apparently to indicate that the cars, err rockets, are moving much faster than about 2 miles per hour. The whole experience is kind of like an episode of Battlestar Galactica only without the robots, crazy British scientist, or Edward James Olmos.

After the thrilling (??) lighted tunnel sequence, the rockets move into ANOTHER TUNNEL. Joy. More helpful lighted signs note that only ten seconds remain before takeoff. Once things finally do, in fact, “take off” the rockets careen down some dips and over some hills and around in circles, all in the dark, with various white dots projected all over to indicate stars or something. The monotony is broken up with another lighted tunnel (novel idea, I know) just to make sure the eyes don’t get too accustomed to the darkness, thus ruining all of the space travel fun.

Things come to a conclusion after about two minutes of flipping and flopping around in the dark when the rockets return to a totally unthemed drop off point that, chances are, is in direct proximity to a gift shop.

Thoughts: Let’s see, there are some things Space Mountain is and some things Space Mountain isn’t.

First off, Space Mountain is not a very good roller coaster. It’s basically a wild mouse (and not an especially great one) in the dark with some “special effects” that are absolutely cheesy compared to what Disney is capable of producing. It also has no easily discernable storyline, although I do remember some type of craziness about a shipping company being involved when FedEx was the sponsor.

However, Space Mountain IS a fun ride, and a really great coaster for younger thrill seekers who need to build up their bravery before tackling Rockin’ Roller Coaster, Expedition Everest, or any of the mammoth coasters at Islands of Adventure, Six Flags, Busch Gardens, etc. (or, for that matter, any riders who just aren’t into loops, G-forces, and other vomit inducing ride mechanisms.)

Space Mountain constantly has long lines with 60, 120, or even 180 minute waits possible depending on the season. It is absolutely not worth that kind of wait for any reason. I think it’s continued popularity and reputation as a great roller coaster has a lot more to do with the fact that (and especially in decades prior) it is one of the only thrill rides at Disney World. The Jungle Cruise and the Country Bear Jamboree are fun but if you want to scream your lungs out while flying in a little train at 60 miles per hour, the options are slim. Plus, Space Mountain is how many coaster enthusiasts got their first taste of a thrill ride and fond memories remain.

Unfortunately, for a roller coaster, it’s nothing spectacular and really, in the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing all that special in terms of theming or effects for Disney either. In fact, it’s not even the best roller coaster in the Magic Kingdom. Disney would take the idea of a roller coaster for the masses and perfect it, Disney style, just a few years later in Frontierland. But that’s a review for another time.

Overall Rating: *** 1/2

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