Space Mountain: Lightyears Ahead of Its Time
Space Mountain is a tried and true classic Disney ride at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The iconic coaster was envisioned by Walt Disney himself and built with the help of NASA astronaut Gordon Cooper. It was the first roller coaster to be built entirely indoors and the first coaster to be controlled by computers making Space Mountain a technological wonder. In fact, it was so advanced for its time, that it wasn’t built until 11 years after it was designed. The technology needed to make it come to life had not even been invented yet!
Similar, But Not The Same
The design and concepts for the Walt Disney World Space Mountain and the Disneyland Space Mountain are very similar, and you might even assume that the Space Mountains featured at both parks are identical. The truth is, you couldn’t be more wrong. While they share a name and the same general concept, these two rides couldn’t be more different.
A Space Race
The original Space Mountain opened at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 1975. The iconic centerpiece of Tomorrowland, Space Mountain is the second-tallest building in the park behind Cinderella’s Castle. At 183 feet tall and boasting a 300-foot diameter—it’s huge!
Just two years later, Space Mountain at Disneyland launched for the first time in 1977. Its much smaller at only 118 feet tall and 200 feet in diameter. The reason behind the size difference? Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland is only 77 feet tall and Cinderella’s Castle at WDW is 189 feet tall. With the castles being the focal points of both parks, Imagineers had to make sure to build both Space Mountains to match the visual perspective of the rest of the parks ensuring the castles were still the standout piece of architecture. Disneyland’s Space Mountain was built to a smaller scale to in order to compliment Sleeping Beauty Castle.
You’ll also notice that both rides have displays that pay homage to their opening years. At WDW, the “Starport Seven-Five” logo is displayed throughout the queue and exit of the ride. This mark is symbolic of the year the ride opened. At Disneyland, they have the “Space Station 77” symbol that points to the year Space Mountains first intergalactic journey took place.
Location, Location, Location
Due to the different geographic locations and layouts of each of the parks, you won’t find Space Mountain in the exact same spot at both parks. While it is located in Tomorrowland at both, at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, it’s the visual anchor of Tomorrowland with its massive white exterior.
At Disneyland however, Space Mountain seems to be tucked away into a corner, barely visible from the gateway to Tomorrowland. You might even walk right past it without noticing it’s there! One reason the structure at Disneyland is underwhelming is because the queue is not housed within the mountain itself like it is at WDW. The indoor queue situation at WDW allows for the building to be much larger, but it also gives the added benefit of waiting (in sometimes a very long line) in a nice air-conditioned queue, rather than out in the elements like at Disneyland.
Must Be This Tall to Ride
Once you reach the actual ride, you are looking at two very different experiences. Disney fans across the globe are torn between which Space Mountain is superior. To know for sure, you’d have to ride them both and decide for yourself!
Before the line even begins, you should know that two different experiences await you. WDW Space Mountain has a 44-inch height requirement to ride and describes the ride as being a dark thrill ride with big drops. At Disneyland, there is a milder warning of a thrill ride with small drops in the dark, and it’s loud and scary, but it only has a height requirement to ride of 40 inches.
The thrill-seeker might be more inclined to think WDW’s Space Mountain is a better ride as its two nearly identical tracks, Alpha and Omega, are rougher, unpredictable, and boast a 39 degree drop all in the pitch dark. There is even music playing from speakers throughout the ride giving the effect of actually whizzing by in space. (Tip: To get the absolute most out of your ride time, Alpha track is 10 feet longer than Omega). But, did you know that Space Mountain is actually one of the slowest thrill rides at Magic Kingdom? Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Seven Dwarves Mine Train, and Splash Mountain can all best it’s top speed of 28 miles per hour!
Is Faster Really Better?
The Space Mountain at Disneyland also has a higher top speed than the ride at Walt Disney World, clocking in at 34mph. After a major renovation in 2005 it has a much smoother ride. There are no sudden drops, but rather a softer, downward spiral. Michael Giacchino composed the music played from the headrest of your spaceship. (He wrote the music for Disney-Pixar’s Upand Inside Out). The music is really quite spectacular!
While listening to Giacchino’s galactic notes, you’ll speed through space sitting side-by side in vehicle with room for 12. At Walt Disney World, you’ll ride in a single-file 6-seater rocket-shaped vehicle. Which one is better? It really comes down to you! Some people prefer being able to share the ride with their best friend, while others feel that the riding solo makes for a more authentic outer space experience. Whichever one you prefer, make sure to ride them both before you make your final decision!