Sunday, June 2, 2013

Disneyland Review: Space Mountain

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun roller coaster ride in the dark across the universe
Cons: Long lines; Ghost Galaxy in October
The Bottom Line
Dark roller coaster
With projected stars for a
Thrilling race through space

Atmosphere Totally Makes This Ride

Disney may not be known for their thrill rides, but when they create one, they do it right.  Space Mountain is the perfect example.  This ride would be nothing if it were an ordinary roller coaster.  But since it is mostly in the dark, it becomes a cool experience you can't experience anywhere else.

Not surprisingly, Space Mountain is located in the Tomorrowland portion of Disneyland.  Just look for the big white dome in the back corner of this area.  Or you can follow the people streaming toward the attraction.  This is a very popular ride, with wait times of an hour being pretty standard most days.  This ride does have FastPass, an option that lets you get a ticket to come back during a pre-set hour window later in the day.  They only offer a limited number of those each day, and the FastPass on this ride is usually the first in the park to run out for the day.

The ride vehicles hold six people each, and two cars are connected together, meaning that twelve can go on this ride at the same time.  The only restraint is a lap bar, so that gives you some idea how scary the ride really is.  But before you get on board, look at the ride vehicle carefully for a very clever hidden Mickey.

Those under 40 inches aren't able to ride, but the ride is disabled accessible as long as you can transfer from a wheelchair.  And, of course, there are the standard warnings about being in good health since this is a roller coaster (or roller coaster type ride as they call it in the signs).

All aboard?  Then keep your hands and feet inside the car as we race across the universe.  That's certainly what it feels like as we race across the track.  Surprisingly, the top speed of the ride is 32 mph.  I would have guessed it was much faster than that.  The ride is almost completely in the dark, which is what makes it so special.  There are projections on the underside of the dome of stars and galaxies, and as you proceed down the track, they keep those projections along the walls.  It is light enough you can see bits and pieces of the track, but they aren't enough to ruin the effect that you are in space.

Back in 2007, Disneyland added songs from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to two of their roller coasters, this one and California Screaming over at California Adventure.  During the spring, they had some new effects in the ride.  Part of that meant that it wasn't dark inside.  Not only could you see the track, but you could see what was around you.  Trust me, that's not a good thing.  The ride is basically a big steel coaster with nothing around it.  Frankly, if you can see what's happening, it's kind of boring.  The ride felt plenty fast, but it wasn't nearly as fun.  You want to do this in the dark.

The ride does normally have a soundtrack, composed by Michael Giacchino, known for such movies as The Incredibles and Mission: Impossible III.  It's perfect for the ride and greatly adds to the fun experience.

The ride was shut down for a couple years starting in 2003, and as part of the massive overhaul, the track was completely rebuilt.  As a result, it's very smooth.  My parents find it a bit rough, possibly because they can't see where they are going.  They actually prefer the Matterhorn, which I find rougher (although I love both of them).

Ghost Galaxy

For Halloween 2009, Disneyland changes the ride up slightly, haunting it.  I heard pretty much all negative things about this change.  They brought it back for 2010, and I finally got to experience it this last Saturday.  I, too, was underwhelmed.

Outside the ride, you'll occasionally hear a ghost or somebody give an evil laugh.  I didn't notice too many differences in the line or loading area.  But as you go through the ride, you find at various times that ghosts appear on monitors on the ceiling or beside you.  They look horrid, like a skeleton draped in skin that doesn't fit them.  They point at you and act like they are going to grab you.  It's definitely not fun, like the Haunted Mansion is across the park.  There are big warnings that the ride could scare kids.  It didn't scare me, but it certainly didn't thrill me.  They should just leave the ride alone.  After all, if a ride already has the longest wait in the park, you don't need to do something different to get people interested in it, do you?


By all means, visit Space Mountain on your next visit to Disneyland.  You'll love it.  If you happen to be there during Halloween Time in the future, still ride it.  You'll enjoy the ride in the dark; just ignore the strange, grotesque ghosts and you'll be fine.

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