The Magic Kingdom Space Mountain roller coaster attraction, closed for improvements since April, is now currently in a soft-open/test mode for theme park guests. Its official re-opening is Sunday, Nov. 22. Folks who get aboard the indoor ride this week will notice new games in the pre-show, a more overt storyline, an altered color scheme, changes in loading area and post-ride areas, and an even-darker, close-to-pitch-black experience.
Walt Disney World’s Imagineer Alex Wright, who was creative director on the project, walked us through the changes Monday. The entire look isn’t finished yet, but the ride is operational. The heavy lifting of the project is complete, Wright says, “but not the fine tuning.”
Here are some of the changes, more or less chronologically.
The exterior of the Space Mountain area has been spruced up and unified in graphic presentation and color scheme. The orange lettering — a relic from the days of Federal Express sponsoring — is now green. The video arcade/gift shop has been painted a neutral tone, away from the salmon hue of the past. The demolition of the neighboring (and abandoned) Skyway station gives Space Mountain a bigger presence from within Tomorrowland. Wright calls it a “cleaner, open vista.” The colors throughout are whites, blues and metallics with some bright green thrown in. “We needed some punch color to give it an accent,” Wright says.
The storyline starts right inside the door. You’re no longer in Tomorrowland. You’re entering, according to the large sign, Starport Seven-Five, “Your gateway to the galaxies.” The sign also makes references to Space Mountains in Disney parks in California, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong. (”Seven-Five,” of course, is a reference to 1975, the year D isney World’s Space Mountain opened.)
The queue goes downhill (starry scenarios remain on the right), bottoms out and along the incline are lighted panels of galactic route maps (note Disney-centric references to Hyperion, Pluto and dwarfs.)
Where the line flattens out again are big-screen video-games. It’s a similar idea as the games within Epcot’s Soarin’ queue, but more individualized and in tighter quarters. There are 87 player positions and eventually there will be four games there. Right now, an asteroid-based game is in place and testing is ongoing on for a “Lost & Found” game using “sorter bots.” Upcoming: a game with cargo modules moving across lanes of traffic and a game where players build out Starport with “expando-bots.” All four games are expected to be operational by mid-December.
The merger point of FastPass line and stand-by line has been moved farther into the main loading area. This will help get FastPassers on as quickly as promised, Wright says.
The main loading areas — Alpha and Omega sides — are much more enclosed than before, which obscures more of the view of the ride and makes it more mysterious. The hole in the “roof” reminded me of the old Texas Stadium, former home of the Dallas Cowboys. This limits the amount of light that makes it up to riders, who are now even more in the dark.
Up through the hole, guests can see a space station, nebula and a planet with moons. Keep an eye on the space station as a rocket occasionaly comes into view. The queue rails are silver and the panels in the loading station have been painted fuchsia.
The loading station holes are outlined in blue lighting and the floor has a new sparkling look. On-deck riders are now separated from the ride vehicles by gate doors. Tile indicating the waiting spots on the floor will be added by next month.
The “rocket” vehicles are the same but with alterations. The seat is new and more padded. The “arm” along the side is now sturdier — tough enough to stand on when entering. Gone are the glow-in-the-dark strips along the side. Wright says even with less light in the building, the strips were giving off a surprising amount of light, which was counterproductive to the deep, dark goal.
The takeoff tunnel has a new effect. Rather than rolling toward a mirror, passengers are aimed at a glowing blue orb, which is meant to represent the energy that launches the vessel, followed by strobes and a flash (hint: Smile!).
The ride itself? Well, it’s the same track and design and a similar experience as before. But it is indeed noticably darker (try it out in the Tomorrowland Transit Authority for a taste) and the stars are brighter. It kind of seemed faster, though it isn’t, and I’m chalking that up to disorientation. It’s that dark.
A lot of fiddling was done to keep even more light out. For example, the lip of Tomorrowland Transit Authority was extended to prevent exterior light from leaking in.
To my lower back, it felt smoother. That could be a product of my imagination or the tightening and maintenance of the rails. Basically, they line up better now. It’s also eerily quiet now. “The noise level is notably reduced,” Wright says. Or maybe it’s the old “In Space Mountain, no one can hear you scream” saying.
At the unloading station, riders can preview on-board photos, available for purchase in the gift shop.
The long, slanted, moving sidewalk to the exit remains. More de-FedExing is found on the left as the cargo hold is now luggage claim. The Lost & Found Distribution Center harkens back to a video game from the queue. Also here is the video game host robot (Name: DRL.)
On the right are post-show vignettes presenting intergalactic travel destinations such as the Crater Caverns and the Coral Moons of Pisces 7.
The last scene, which housed monitors with images of ascending/exiting guests, now has a sign that says “Thanks for Flying with us.” It’s temporary. In the future, updated technology will do the same trick, but placing folks’ images into the scenarios of the previous vignettes. That’s why the back wall is so, so green. It’s not just the color scheme, it’s a green screen.
Finally, here’s Wright’s take on the storyline. “We’re no longer in Tomorrowland, we’re off to planets somewhere. We’re at this futuristic starport where people are taking off on rides around the galaxies. You could go anywhere. We’re taking a stylistic que from the golden age of jet travel back in the ’60s. It’s not so much about design detailing but more about the mind-set and the attitude and this view that it was a new future and you can go anywhere you wanted. This is taking that idea even farther and relating it to our tomorrowland as a stepping off point for a trip around the galaxies, anyhwere you want to go.”
“When we return, we have now landed at Tomorrowland Station MK-1, so they brought you back to Tomorrowland and you exit back into the land and we make our re-entry.”
Please contact our office if you need to purchase your Disney tickets.