In Defense of Space Mountain

In my most recent column, I made what I'll admit is a totally outrageous claim: that Walt Disney World's Space Mountain is the best version of the ride anywhere. I knew before I said it that most Disney fans disagreed with me. I had a hard time believing it myself. I mean, Paris's Space Mountain is the most beautiful, right? And Disneyland's revamped version is the most modern. How could WDW's be best?

First, let me concede that the attraction, presentation-wise, needs a lot of work. The outside needs paint. The queue is beat-up. And the long-neglected RYCA-1/FedEx post-show is absurd. I'll also concede that part of what I like about the attraction is pure nostalgia. Space Mountain was the end-all be-all of attractions when I first rode on it back in 1975. Its NASA-themed presentation, foreboding queue audio, and huge scale made it awe-inspiring to my seven-year-old eyes. And the RCA Home of Future Living post-show was, well, beautiful…I wanted to live there. (And, in its defense, has -any- other vision of the future ever been so prescient 30 years later?)
Where Disney World Space Mountain still excels, I think, is in the ride itself. I've never been on another roller coaster with a track design like it. It's fast. It's fun. It's filled with unexpected dips and rises. People complain about roughness, but I didn't feel it. (Sure: it's not silky smooth, but I don't think this particular track layout could ever feel that way, even under perfect mechanical conditions.) Disneyland's Space Mountain is certainly fun, but you pretty much just go round and round in circles. Disney World's track design is full of surprises.
And despite some upkeep shortcomings, there's still enough about the presentation to excite me. I love the space dock scenery on the lift hill, and how the other coasters are perfectly timed to whiz past as you ascend. I love the faux-hologram displays of galaxies and astronauts in the middle of the queue that manage to be creepy and mesmerizing at the same time. Most of all, I love the show building itself; at more than twice the size of any other Space Mountain show building, it's simply awesome…even when it does need paint.