My Disney Top 5 - Things to Love About Space Mountain at The Magic Kingdom.by Chris Barry, contributing writer
I was born on July 26, 1968. That technically qualifies me as a child of the 1960s, but I suppose I identify much more with the 70s. That's when I grew up. The TV shows, music, movie,s and toys of the 70s are what I remember most from my childhood and are what I'm nostalgic for on any given day. My brother is eight years older than me, so he actually did grow up in the 60s and passed on a lot of that decade's cultural touchstones to me. I grew up listening to his Beatle albums and was forced to watch the reruns of the shows he wanted to watch because he was a lot bigger than me and was in charge of the old black and white television set we had back then. I got him back, eventually, by playing with—and unfortunately destroying—a lot of his now extremely valuable 1960s G.I. Joe dolls, Hot Wheels, comic books, and other classic toys of the time. Someday, when I have an extra hundred or so, I'll replace some of his beloved Major Matt Mason figures that I destroyed to atone for the sins of my youth. In case you're not ancient like my brother and I, Major Matt was an astronaut and was part of a collection of Mattel toys put out in the mid to late 1960s during the height of the space craze. I zeroed in on Major Matt because the space craze has resurfaced over the last few weeks. Just about everywhere you turn, whether it be the television, the internet or newspapers, everyone is remembering the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
I'm writing this article on July 16. On this date in 1969, the astronauts of Apollo 11 blasted off on their voyage to land on the moon. On July 20, they landed and the rest, as they say, is history. Given that my brother was born in 1960 and that our dad worked for Grumman here on Long Island, which at the time was one of the epicenters of the aerospace industry, it was no surprise that the moon landing, the space program, and toys like Major Matt Mason were a big thing in our house. I was a baby when all of this happened, so I can't say I really remember all of it, but there's no denying the fact that it all rubbed off on me. My brother and I were big fans of the original Star Trek series. We watched them ad nauseum as reruns on New York's Channel 11. And then, in 1977, the big one hit. I was 9 and after reading three paragraphs of scrolling text, this gigantic Imperial Star Destroyer filled up the entire movie screen at the RKO Keiths in Flushing and my life would never be the same. Star Wars pushed me over the edge into outer space and I've never truly retreated from it.
There's a reason that Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite franchise in the Marvel cinematic and comic universes. It's the same reason that I'll always watch Galaxy Quest every time it comes on TV, and that growing up, I loved Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Battle Star Galactica, and Space 1999. I actually love Disney's Treasure Planet and The Black Hole as well. That's not a sentence you hear too many Disney fans utter. I guess I'm a space nut. There's just something about movies, TV shows, and comics set in outer space that I'm drawn to.
And that, of course, brings me to the topic of today's Top 5. A certain hero of mine, Walt Disney, was a bit of a space nut too. Almost 15 years before we landed on the moon, Walt was making television programs extolling the virtues and necessity of space travel. It fits in with his penchant for dreaming big, doesn't it? What can be bigger than leaving the Earth and traveling through space? One of my prized possessions is the DVD collection, Walt Disney Treasures - Tomorrow Land: Disney in Space and Beyond. Seek it out if you can. It's a wonderful time capsule that provides pretty concrete proof that Walt's passion for space travel and his presentation of it to the public on his Disneyland television show in the 1950s helped garner more public support for our early space program. It was a no brainer to think that Walt would someday introduce a space themed attraction into Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
As far back as 1964 , there were conversations about a space port themed roller coaster. Disney legends like John Hench and Herb Ryman created concept art for what was being called Space Voyage in the mid 1960s. Once Walt passed away and the focus shifted to getting Walt Disney World completed, plans for a ride similar to the popular Matterhorn in Disneyland, only space themed and in the dark, were put on hold. As the years went by, ride technology improved and the plans for Space Mountain were resurrected and fans like me have been rejoicing ever since. Let's explore the reasons why this Tomorrowland centerpiece is as popular as it is with my Top 5 things to love about Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom.
5 – The Exit
I don't think I've ever put the exit to an attraction on any of my Top 5 lists before, but the Space Mountain exit has always been a favorite of mine. The theming continues throughout the long exit ramp. The notion that I've traveled to space and arrived at my destination to a command center, several cave-like vignettes, and murals of a futuristic looking city has always been fun. We used to love the moving walkway, which, as of fall 2018, has been removed.
The recently reopened Space Mountain exit minus the speedramp. Photo by Alan Dalinka.
The kids always loved to bounce their way through the different scenes and catch a glimpse of what the Imagineers perceive as your destination on some far away planet. It's good storytelling and classic Disney fun.
4 – The Queue
I absolutely love entering Space Mountain, admittedly and most preferably through the FastPass entrance. I love how dark it is and I love that I feel like I'm visiting the aforementioned space movies of my childhood. The thick glass windows that peer out into space, the lighting, and the futuristic looking panels on the walls all combine to transport me to the final frontier.
The design and lighting of the entire queue helps create anticipation for the adventure to come. ©Disney
I know the fun that waits ahead, and that anticipation builds as you walk through the queue, but the queue itself is a key part of the experience, and that's just part of what they call, the Disney difference.
3 – The Dark
It's long been documented here on MousePlanet that I'm a bona fide coaster fanatic. This past spring I was a chaperone on a music trip to Dorney Park in Pennsylvania. Rode every coaster in the park. I love them all, from the rambunctious, rickety old ones to the newer smooth, terrifyingly fast ones. I don't love too many loops. I'd rather just go fast and have big drops, but I'll take inversions in stride. There's simply nothing like riding a coaster in the dark, especially as dark as it gets inside Space Mountain.
I much prefer Space Mountain in the dark, as it should be. But, here's a glimpse of what we're all missing as seen from the PeopleMover during one of those rare moments when the lights are tuned on. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka
Removing the sense of sight and the visual knowledge of what comes next adds a whole other amazing element to this attraction. How many times have I ridden Space Mountain? I can't count. Still, to this day, I never know when anything is coming. When you take away the visual identification of turns and drops, your mind is left to wonder just what the heck is going to happen next. It was a stroke of genius to build a coaster inside and turn out ll the lights. The whooshing sounds that you hear all throughout the track are all there to enhance your experience and make you feel like you're going much faster than you actually are and are another brilliant move on the Imagineer's part. Space Mountain in and of itself would be a great coaster, but the dark is what makes it an awesome coaster.
2 – The Two Tunnels
Without a doubt, two of my favorite attraction moments in Walt Disney World are the two tunnels you pass through on Space Mountain; one at the beginning and one near the end. The first one, known to some as the energizing tunnel seems to prepare your rockets for space travel. The intense flashing lights and sounds make you feel like you're blasting off. It's a great effect, one of my favorites anywhere.
A special wallpaper put out by Disney celebrating Space Mountain's 40th highlights the energizing tunnel from the ride. ©Disney.
The second one is just as good. The red swirling lights in the last tunnel "slow" your spaceship down and prepare you to conclude your voyage through space. These rooms are perfect bookends and never cease to elicit hoots and hollers from guests, even guests like me that have been through these tunnels dozens of times.
1 – The Design
Simply stated, Space Mountain is a thing of beauty. In my very humble opinion, it's an architectural masterpiece and I don't think that's an overstatement.
Space Mountain as viewed from the pathway to Disney's Contemporary Resort. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
I find it to be quite an elegant building. I can't imagine that's something you'd hear as a description for any other roller coaster structure in the world, but I feel in the case of Space Mountain, elegant is the right word. If you don't believe me, take it from the master himself, John Hench, legendary Disney Imagineer and chief designer of Space Mountain from his book, Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show. Here he describes his first sketch of Space Mountain.
In telling a story architecturally, there is great power in beauty. It is pleasing and gratifying to the senses. In this first sketch, I combined beauty with adventure and thrill to evoke a grand level of play for our guests.
Does that sound like someone designing a roller coaster? It sounds to me like a designer creating a work of art. To me, and I imagine to many of you out there, Space Mountain is a work of art.
Space Mountain has been a top attraction in the Magic Kingdom since 1975. It's a must see for me every time I set foot there. I love approaching it as we pull up to the park on the Disney resort busses. i love looking for it from as many vantage points as possible throughout the lands of the Magic Kingdom. I find it inspiring. When it comes to ride technology, roller coasters have come a long way since then. They've gotten faster, longer, crazier, and more daring then they probably should be. So, why is it that this venerable Disney classic in Tomorrowland can still command two-hour wait times after nearly 45 years? This list lays out my reasons, but John Hench summarized it this way:
Space Mountain has an abstract, contemporary form and tells its story architecturally. The ride is above all an experience of speed, enhanced by the controlled lighting and projected moving images. But it evokes such ideas as the mystery of outer space, the excitement of setting out on a journey, and the thrill of the unknown.
That has to be one of the most eloquently succinct descriptions of a Disney attraction that I've ever heard. I certainly can't say it any better than that, so I think it's only fair to let Mr. Hench have the last word on this topic. He proves my point quite effectively.
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below and let me hear your thoughts on Space Mountain and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.
As much as I've loved Space Mountain, and with as many times I've ridden, it's gotten too rough to ride now. Time for a rebuild.
And Chris, you and I are fellow space nerds. You didn't mention it, but what did you think of Babylon 5?
DLís SM is SMOOTH! MKís SM is like DLís Matterhorn. Iíll keep riding all 3, though, as long as Iím physically able!
Great article. I love roller coasters and Rockin Rollercoaster and Everest are awesome but my favorite is Space Mountain. I love being in the front seat of that little rocket so you can't see anything in front of you and it just feels like you're falling through space. I also love Disneylands version even though it's quite different since you sit 2 by 2. Both rides are fantastic.
I completely agree, except I cannot handle Matterhorn anymore...way too rough for this old body!
I'm sorry to say that I missed out on Babylon 5! I go through phases where my life and my Tv plate are just too full and I can't add another thing. For example, right now...one of these days I swear I'm going to buck up for CBS All Access! I can't believe I'm missing out on Star Trek Discovery!
That's the spirit. I feel the same way. As long as they're not causing me any pain, I'm on board!
Thanks for the kind words. Of all the Disney coasters, I ride Rock N Roller Coaster the least. As a matter of fact, it's been several years. I can take or leave the inversions. Much rather ride a coaster like Everest.
Iím not into inversions at all; I much prefer drops. I love Everest except for the part where you think youíre going upside down/spinning. As Iíve gotten older it gives me the weirdest headache. I can no longer do multiple rides on Everest like I used to. Ah, the joys of entering oneís senior years! (Iím 60 in November!)