Space Mountain soft opening report and detailed overview

Nov 16, 2009 in "Space Mountain"

Posted: Monday November 16, 2009 by WDWMAGIC Staff
Space Mountain began it's first round of soft openings over the weekend, and some of our WDWMAGIC contributors have had a chance to ride and to share their views. We've compiled the observations together for this run-down of the new Space Mountain. The attraction is still being tweaked, so do keep in mind that this report is based on the preview and not the final version.

We've been watching this one since the refurbishment began, so no great surprises here. There is new signage featuring the lime green color, new concrete flooring at the entrance, a new planter, and new digital FASTPASS signage. There has been some pressure washing of the exterior, and those parts are looking great, we assume work is ongoing with that. For a look at the exterior, check out the photo gallery that we have been updating during the refurbishment.

One of the main objectives of this refurbishment was to restore order to the queue, and to properly combine the standby and FASTPASS lines. Space Mountain was one of the very first FASTPASS enabled attractions, yet it was done at a time when the queues were simply not designed to handle FASTPASS. Often, the queue would extend way out into Tomorrowland, with a large portion of the indoor queue not being used due to the way FASTPASS was handled. The new queue contains a lot of changes, both visually, and to manage the guest flow. First up, all of the signs inside have been replaced and updated - this gives everything a fresh look, but without radically changing. The original music remains in the queue, along with the silver balls underneath the staircase. The peppers ghost effect windows on the right hand side remain, but they have been greatly improved. New flooring is found throughout the queue tunnel, along with all new railings and lighting. The most significant change to the queue tunnel is the addition of the video games. Approximately 20 video screens, each with several sets of controls, allow guests to play a version of the classic Asteroids game while in the standby line. Each game is fairly short, around 60 seconds, so shouldn’t cause a problem with the line moving. There are some large screens that support around 5 players, while the smaller screens support 2 players. For a look at the video game, see the video below.

Moving towards the old FASTPASS merge point, the original safety video remains, but is displayed on a new screen. Perhaps the only thing left in the mountain that feels like it’s from the 70s, and something that really needs an update. Looking forward from this point, the control tower now features totally blacked out windows and new signage.

Load Area
This is where the most significant changes have been made, and really brings the attraction up-to-date. Firstly, the load area has been totally enclosed, meaning you can no longer see the track or the trains. Overhead, there is a lot of blue lighting, very similar to that used in the Soarin' queue. Various space images are projected onto the ceiling, giving an impression of looking out into space. The flooring has been coated, new railings installed, and the actual queue line reconfigured. It isn't yet clear how the FASTPASS line will operate (it hasn't been running during the previews), but I think we can be sure it will be a lot more efficient than it was previously. Interestingly, the area behind the queue that formed part of the chicken exit is now part of the main queue which should increase capacity.

As with most other coasters at Disney, automated air gates have now been installed, which should greatly improve the safety of the load area, and also helps to organize people at loading a bit better than before. The air gates have a neat embedded LED lighting effect.

There are new load consoles for the ride operators, and all new graphics along the rear wall. Everything looks very modern and fresh, and ties together the new look given to the queue and load area.

A large amount of money was spent on upgrading the ride control system, and making structural improvements to the track and support structure. In terms of the actual feel to the ride, we didn't really detect much of a difference. It is perhaps slightly smoother, but the bumps remain, and it still feels as “out-of-control” as it did before. We felt that to be a good thing, but some may be disappointed that it isn't smooth like Space Mountain at Disneyland.

Some small show changes have been made to the tunnels and lift hill area. In the first tunnel, an LED star effect has been added to the end of the tunnel, and a flash is fired for the new onride photo (more on this later). Moving onto the lift hill, the astronauts have been updated, and look great (not animatronics though). All of the old FedEx references have been removed, and the audio has been tightened up. The clanking chain lift remains, and is not silent like Expedition Everest.

While the ride is now darker, thanks to the enclosed load area, it is not as dark as expected from riding the TTA. On the TTA, you can barely see your hand in front of your face, but on the actual ride, a lot of light leaks onto the track from the lift hill lighting effects. It is darker, we estimate perhaps 10 to 20 percent darker than before, but nowhere near as dark as the Disneyland version.

The vehicles have been refurbished including new paint and new seat coverings, but otherwise remain the same as before.

Unload Area
Similar to the load area, the unload has been refurbished to match the updated look. The biggest change here is the screens to view your on ride photo. From the photos we saw, it looks like the position of the camera may be a problem. It's positioned right at the beginning of the ride, and it doesn’t seem to capture very interesting expressions on the guests. This is obviously a subjective thing, and many guest will appreciate the ability to capture an on ride photo. There were also issues with the camera missing the front row of the second car, but this is most likely something that is still being worked on and will be fixed prior to official opening. Photos can be purchased in the gift shop at the exit.

Post-show Exit
The post show has received a fair amount of work and looks nicely refreshed. All of the scenes have been updated, and some are completely new. The robotic butler gives an interesting nod back to Horizons. The camera effect at the end of the tunnel is still under work, but it's expected it will be an updated version of the green screen effect that we saw previously. For a look at the tunnel, see the video.
Gift shop and arcade
The gift shop has also received a makeover and looks great. Only one piece of Space Mountain specific merchandise was available, it would be great to see more.

Largely unchanged since it opened in 1975, the update to Space Mountain has brought the ride in line with the modern world, and with the exception of the entry music and the safety video, nothing remains in the attraction that even hints of the 1970s. For those who were expecting major additions, you may well be disappointed. Space Mountain could certainly have received a much larger makeover, along the lines of the very extensive refurbishment that Space Mountain at Disneyland underwent a few years ago. However, for the amount of time spent, and for the scope of the work that was actually give the go-ahead, we believe it's been a great success. Fans of the original ride will be glad of the improvements to the queue and load area, and glad of the fact that the essence and ride experience of the original attraction has been completely preserved.

Space Mountain is currently in soft opening, so will be open for previews whenever possible, but may close at anytime. The official opening date remains November 22 2009.

Visit this discussion board thread for any questions or comments.

Space Mountain refurbishment news and gallery archive

Complete walk-through and ride-through video