Coaster Kingdom

Space Mountain (Disneyland Paris)

The following review will go into explicit detail regarding the attraction and the surprises it may conceal. If you choose to read on, be warned that it may detract from your first ride on the attraction.

Space travel is an idea fantasised by millions over the course of generations. Long before man first walked on the hallowed dust of the moon, Jules Verne was exciting the minds of Victorians speculating that man could soon travel to the moon.

The idea then was to put your unwitting explorer inside a rocket shaped projectile, that would be fired from a cannon. Stripping it down to the bare bones, the concept isn't that different from the modern day shuttle, however, Victorians never even came close to leaving terra firma.

Disney themselves made a small departure with regards to space travel in their newest Magic Kingdom park, Disneyland Paris. Before, Tomorrow Land represented Disney's view of the future. Like many other futuristic lands, they date, and so Discovery Land was born. This was a living testament to the Victorians fascination with space travel, and to the average visitor, was much more pleasing on the eye than the retro style Tomorrow Land.

Soon after the park opened, Disney Imagineers started work on what would be one of their most advanced rides to date. They wanted Space Mountain to be a journey into space to the moon as opposed to a coaster ride in the dark.

The lift hill had to go. Rockets aren't launched at the speed of a milk float clanking on the way up with the unmistakable sound of anti rollbacks. They're launched from a standing start. And as if you were a part of the story itself, a rich orchestral score would accompany your flight.

The ride would push the envelope with regards to many features. It would adopt a new style launch for a full circuit coaster, it would be the first ride to have a computer controlled on board sound system, and would be Disney's first multi looping coaster (following the single looping Indiana Jones at the same park).

Long before the ground was broken, Imagineers were finalising the most outrageous concept drawn up by Disney draughtsmen, before Vekoma were called upon to supply the hardware.

The conical building in which the coaster is housed is beautiful. The walls are a pearlesant brown, whilst the roof is a golden cone, enveloped by a green skeleton of ironwork. On the right, an enormous Baltimore Gun Club cannon straddles the roof, pointing towards the sky and the hotchpotch of antennae on the peak of this spectacular showcase of Disney architecture.

Every forty-five seconds, a resonant thud of cannon fire attracts your attention to the cannon as a train erratically climbs the side of the building  before diving out of view. As you wait for the next train to be flung into the darkest realms of the mountain you have ample time to examine every intricacy of this most oversized artillery.

A gold-plated archer decorates the podium on which the barrel stands. Ringed in rivets, the lower part of the barrel has portholes through which you can see the ammunition in the form of a Vekoma train loaded, poised for launch before a trap door slides open on the side before, once again, the train hastily climbs this most atypical lift-hill.

In an effect as unreliable as the boulder on Terror Tomb, with the launch the two furthermost sections should recoil in a puff of smoke. On my last two visits, it neither reacted nor puffed.

After marvelling at this most elaborate of lift-hills, the queue takes you inside, curving around the outside wall in a darkened corridor. On a single television at the end, a woman looking like a pseudo space commander from the Star Ship Enterprise goes through the safety spiel of this ‘roller-coaster-type attraction’.

Why the park couldn’t have just produced a new, and indeed relevant film is beyond me, as opposed to copying the film from the American ride. A right hand turn and some steps take you up to the Stellar Starway.

The Stellar Starway bridges the centre of the building, and intersecting the inky darkness are glittering meteors and the abandoned Blue Moon Mining Company machinery. Every so often, like a frenzied comet, a black-lit train will swirl through the darkness and back out of view.

At the end of the Stellar Starway, you turn to your right alongside an ‘Electro Velocitor’. Slightly garish in its appearance, covered in electric coils and voltage meters, it quietly hums. The hum begins to swell, louder, louder, and then with a flash of lights and an enormous crack of thunder, a train thunders  past into the final brake run.

If you were calmly taking this queue in your stride, the butterflies will begin to show at this point and people often jump to the rafters with alarm.

The queue then degrades into another darkened corridor of corrugated metal. You almost begin to expect a beggar or two, an announcement that the Bakerloo Line has suspended services because of driver strikes.

At the end of this lapse in theming, you enter a small circular room. Paladin lights trimmed in gold light up the lunar constellation above. Two televisions ruin this intricate room, once again showing tactless spiel.

The next room has blueprints for the cannon painted on the wall, constellations marked on the arched ceiling, and golden-orb lights fashioned in an Orbitron manner with branches supporting convoluted globes.

The station is spectacular. Full of the pomp and circumstance that surrounded this magnificent era, the roof arches high above you, trimmed with clear lights, supporting patriotic red, blue and white flags from above.

The queue splits into two, as does the station track. This really helps with the rides capacity meaning that you will never end up sitting on the brake-run awaiting the preceding trains’ departure.

The trains arrive. Each is golden, trimmed in green with an angular front with pipes and tubes littering the side. The ride was originally going to be Discovery Mountain. No effort has been made to remove the embossed DM from the side of the train, but stickers looking like they have been borrowed from the gift shop have been hastily stuck on the front of each car.

Once in, you’ll notice the extra padding on the back of the headrest, and on the over-head restraints. We’ll make good use of that later.

A member of staff does the token ‘tap on the restraint’ and the train is off, on board music accompanying our slalom through a tunnel before we sharply dip down and engage on the lift.

As a camera flashes, we jerk violently to a halt. The music rumbles with trepidation as the loud clicking of anti-rollbacks accompanies a brief advance up the lift. We stop – again. People look through portholes to our left as we grit our teeth and brace ourselves.

And as the music swells to a culmination, we’re off with a sonic boom of cannon fire. Our heads are pinned back before the launch recedes, the pace slows dramatically and we crest the lift, entering the darkened inside of the mountain.

Once in, the track swoops down to the left and unbeknown to you, does a full revolution of the mountain before the track begins climbing in the pitch black before sharply pulling out through a sidewinder, the exit of which customarily rallies your head between the well-padded restraints.

From this, you drop, turn and head into the mid-course brakes, shrouded in rock from the asteroid you just entered. As it glistens around you, you sharply turn to your right, dropping down and into a corkscrew, which, like the sidewinder has a less than graceful exit.

You turn once again before you head towards a projection of a smiling moon on the mid-course tyre-driven lift-hill. So near, yet, as the music turns, so far. As we get close, we twist to the right and drop down into the darkness.

A tight horseshoe turn is incredibly rough and hard to pick out as there is nothing to gauge that you are as-good-as inverted. As you drop back, the train turns dramatically to the right, sharpening in pitch through a fantastic final helix.

And just as it gets good, with a crack of thunder, you hurtle into the final brakes, and without stopping enter the station, the music rounding off with the finale you heard ten times in the queue.

You might get a negative vibe from this review. I feel that whilst the whole concept is just fantastic, it could have been executed with so much more elegance, with so much more chique than it actually has been.

The launch is better than a lift with a good one-second long kick. It falters near the top, though, meaning that you hardly feel like you’re going to make it into next-door’s garden, let alone the moon.

The effects inside the mountain aren’t as good as we’re led to believe. Many fall into the ‘blink and miss’ category, many are spotted on further rides, but they really aren’t as good and ride enhancing as perhaps they should be.

There are at least two good interactions with meteors, one of which you pass through. Early on in the ride, you see the moon; it is, however, 2D. I’m surprised Disney didn’t shell out anything extra to add the third dimension to this most germane prop. The same goes for the ‘mid-course moon’, which this time has a comical smile across it’s face.

The inversions trouble me. To me, they seem to be loops for the sake of loops. I have ridden Space Mountain nearly thirty times, and only recently actually realised that the horseshoe turn was actually there.

It is only the set-pieces that break the darkness. None interact with the inversions meaning that you often miss them. Incidentally, the parts that don’t loop are my favourite parts including the fantastic finale that leaves the ride on such a high note. The loops aren’t the best addition to the ride, it is the music.

With the music and padding, you might not realise how rough the ride is. In certain seats, I found it rougher that the convoluted piece of trash at Parc Asterix, Goudurix, with only the padding making it barely re-ridable. The bars are pivoted far too low, meaning that they rest very uncomfortably on your shoulders and neck.

Space Mountain was the first true coaster to use a sophisticated on-board sound system. If it wasn’t for this, the ride would be like the Corkscrew with a lid on it, but the music is perfectly timed with each effect and element. The cannon is a bit of a farce with the music not knowing what to do (as indeed is the launch), but with parts like the mid-course lift, the music is fantastically emotive and makes the ride far better than it actually is.

The launch compared with many is just, well, incomparable, but it is far better than a lift and is perhaps one of the best looking lift hills ever crafted.

The ride is very well paced, with loops interspersed effectively between the twists and turns, speed maintained very well and an excellent and surprisingly intense finale. Even the brake run and lift-hill are very well masqueraded so that they don’t impair on your intergalactic voyage.

The ride would be fantastic with more effects. With so few effects, I can only judge the course, and with the track bashing me about as it does, I find it hard to rate the ride as highly as perhaps I should.

Whilst the ride isn’t that bad, it isn’t that good - not for Disney. It far beats what any other Space Mountain offers, but doesn’t far exceed what many other dark coasters like Vogel Rok and Space Centre offer.

Many things make the ride – the music, the whole aura, the layout. On the flip-side though, many break it, including the lack of original effects once inside, the roughness and the lacking launch.

In essence, it is the bad points that detract from our final score, not the good that add to it.

3/5 Marcus Sheen