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Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

15 Out-Of-This-World Facts About Space Mountain

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Space Mountain isn't the fastest ride around, but that hasn't stopped it from becoming one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World. Since its debut in 1975, the rollercoaster has attracted millions of visitors—and inspired counterparts in Disney Parks across the world. Read on to find out more about the classic ride.

1. THE SUCCESS OF THE MATTERHORN BOBSLEDS CONVINCED WALT DISNEY THAT THRILL RIDES COULD WORK AT THE PARK.

Disney wasn’t sure that fast rides had a place in his family-friendly park, but his mind was made up after the Matterhorn Bobsleds proved to be a huge success.

2. AFTER THE RIDE WAS CONCEPTUALIZED, DISNEY HAD TO WAIT 11 YEARS FOR TECHNOLOGY TO CATCH UP.

Disney Legend John Hench designed the attraction in the early '60s, more than a decade before the technology needed to make it come to life was readily available. And the technology that was available was too slow. In fact, it would take hours just to model the data for just one curve. When the machinery finally caught up, work on the roller coaster resumed, and the first Space Mountain debuted at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in 1975.

3. EARLY NAMES FOR THE RIDE INCLUDED "SPACE PORT" AND "SPACE VOYAGE."

By 1966, however, the roller coaster had been dubbed what would eventually become its iconic name: Space Mountain.

4. THE DISNEY WORLD AND DISNEYLAND RIDES ARE SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT IN HEIGHT.

Florida's mountain is more than 180 feet high and 300 feet in diameter. Because Disneyland is built on a much smaller scale than the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland’s Space Mountain would have towered over Main Street and ruined the illusion of scale had it been an exact replica. A precise copy also wouldn't have fit, as Magic Kingdom is a bigger space. As a result, the California Space Mountain is significantly smaller at 118 feet tall and 200 feet in diameter.

5. DISNEY HIRED ASTRONAUT GORDON COOPER AS A CREATIVE CONSULTANT.

When Disneyland started working on their version of the ride, they called in Mercury 9 and Gemini 5 astronaut Gordon Cooper as a creative consultant. “Space Mountain is about as close as you can safely get to actually being in space," he later claimed.

6. THE RIDE COST MORE TO BUILD THAN THE ENTIRE DISNEYLAND PARK.

By the time Disneyland officially opened on July 17, 1955, the final price tag was $17 million. Twenty years later, the construction of the Space Mountain complex cost $18 million, including an arcade and a permanent amphitheater.

7. SPACE MOUNTAIN WAS THE WORLD'S FIRST COMPUTER-CONTROLLED COASTER.

Imagineers used computers to create the path of each track, making the ride feel as much like flight as possible. The innovation wasn't limited to just the design phase—it also became the first roller coaster in history to be controlled by computer.

8. IT'S ONE OF THE SLOWEST THRILL RIDES AT THE MAGIC KINGDOM.

Though the darkness, the projections of the galaxy, and several sudden drops make the roller coaster seem like you're careening wildly through space, the rockets only reach a top speed of 28 miles per hour. By comparison, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad can get up to 30 miles per hour, and the Splash Mountain descent can reach 40. The only thrill ride that goes slower is the 25-mph Barnstormer, a coaster intended for smaller children.

9. THE RIDE ONCE ENDED WITH RCA'S "HOME OF FUTURE LIVING."

Disney convinced RCA to sponsor the ride by pitching them “Home of Future Living,” a post-show feature at the end of the ride that allowed guests to see themselves on RCA color televisions. Riders could also look out “spaceports” to catch a glimpse into outer space, where they would see RCA communications satellites at work.

10. THE GRAND OPENING INCLUDED FIREWORKS, ASTRONAUTS, AND A 2000-PIECE MARCHING BAND.

Space Mountain's grand debut at the Magic Kingdom was quite the affair, including NASA astronauts and Disney astronauts (Mickey and friends wearing spiffy new space suits), along with a 2000-piece marching band that the music director had just four hours to organize. When the ride launched at Disneyland two years later, U.S. Mercury Astronauts Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, Donald “Deke” Slayton and Betty Grissom (widow of Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom) were all there to experience space from Earth.

11. NEIL ARMSTRONG STEPPED IN TO RE-LAUNCH THE RIDE IN 2005.

In 2003, Disneyland closed Space Mountain for two years in order to rebuild it in time for the park's 50th anniversary celebration in 2005. When it reopened, Neil Armstrong himself was on hand for the unveiling.

12. WANT 10 MORE FEET OF RIDE? PICK THE "ALPHA" TRACK. 

There are two tracks to choose on the Magic Kingdom ride: Alpha and Omega. For a slightly longer ride, opt for the Alpha track, which is 3196 feet long versus Omega's 3186 feet.

13. LOOK FOR A FEW EASTER EGGS THE NEXT TIME YOU WALK THROUGH THE QUEUE AND EXIT.

The next time you walk through the queue for the Disneyland attraction, look around for the “Space Station 77” symbol that pays homage to the year Space Mountain first took flight there. And at the Magic Kingdom, space travelers are welcomed to Starport Seven-Five, a nod to the ride’s debut year in Florida. When exiting the ride, there's a blue panel at the end of the moving sidewalk that mentions "Closed Sectors." The acronyms listed actually stand for closed attractions and the lands they were once located in:

  • FL-MTWR=Fantasyland, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
  • TL-SK2FL=Tomorrowland, Skyway to Fantasyland
  • MSU-SB=Main Street USA, Swan Boats
  • FL-MMR = Fantasyland, Mickey Mouse Revue
  • TL-M2M = Tomorrowland, Mission to Mars

14. IT'S AN ATTRACTION AT FIVE OF THE DISNEY PARKS.

Even though it's more than 40 years old, Space Mountain has continued to be so popular over the years that there's a version of it at five of Disney's resorts. The Hong Kong and Tokyo Disney versions of Space Mountain were almost identical to Disneyland's Space Mountain; Tokyo's received a bit of a facelift in 2007. Disneyland Paris originally had Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune, a Jules Verne-inspired design that included inversions. It was renovated in 2005 and re-emerged as Space Mountain: Mission 2.

Shanghai Disneyland is expected to break tradition when it opens later this year, however—instead of a Space Mountain coaster, guests will experience a thrill ride based on the lightcycles from the movie Tron.

15. THE RIDE GETS REVAMPED FROM TIME TO TIME.

Disney isn't afraid to mess with a classic. Disneyland has featured "Rockin' Space Mountain" with a Red Hot Chili Peppers soundtrack, and also transforms the ride into "Ghost Galaxy" during the Halloween season, a tradition started at Hong Kong Disneyland. Last year, riders got to join in on an X-wing Starfighter battle in the "Hyperspace Mountain" overlay, part of a seasonal Star Wars event called Season of the Force.

BONUS: EVER WONDER WHAT SPACE MOUNTAIN LOOKS LIKE WITH THE LIGHTS ON?

Wonder no more.

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15 Facts About Disney's Jungle Cruise
Flicrk // Thomas Hawk // CC BY-NC 2.0

Everyone turn around and wave goodbye to the folks back on the dock … they may never see you again. But then again, you probably never saw them before, either. Here are 15 facts about Disney's Jungle Cruise.

1. WHEN IT DEBUTED, IT WAS A VERY SERIOUS TRIP THROUGH EXOTIC LOCATIONS.

For the first few years, the Jungle Cruise was more of a documentary-style attraction. All of the funny scenes and jokes were added years later—and thank goodness. The ridiculously bad jokes delivered with perfect apathy (“And now, we’re approaching beautiful Schweitzer Falls, named after the famous African explorer, Dr. Albert Falls.”) are the best part of the ride for many people.

2. WALT DISNEY WANTED TO INCORPORATE LIVE ANIMALS.

 Baseball legend Stan Musial and his family are seen on the Jungle Cruise attraction at Disneyland Park in July, 1965 in Anaheim, California
Disney/Disney Parks via Getty Images

When the ride was still in development, Walt Disney wanted to use live animals. When a zoologist explained that many of the animals were nocturnal, which would leave daytime guests gazing at catnapping creatures, Walt opted for creatures he could control. For a time, however, the ride queue did feature live alligators.

3. DISNEY DROVE A CAR THROUGH THE DRY "RIVERBEDS" TO PROMOTE THE RIDE.

As Disneyland was being constructed, Walt often gave TV viewers a preview of what was being built. Before the Jungle Cruise had water, he drove a Nash Rambler (one of the show’s sponsors) through the “riverbeds” to show off Schweitzer Falls and the crude mechanics of the animals.

4. IT'S THE RIDE THAT LED DISNEY TO VIEW HIS PARKS AS NEVER BEING COMPLETE.

It may be apocryphal, but the story goes like this: Walt was strolling through Disneyland when he heard a young boy asking his mom to take the eight-minute trip through the jungle. Not even slowing her stride, the mother replied something to the effect of, “No, we did that last time we were here.” Hearing that, Walt decided he had to keep changing and improving things in order to keep guests coming back.

5. SOME JUNGLE CRUISE SKIPPERS HAVE GONE ON TO BIGGER AND BETTER THINGS.

Famous wisecracking skippers include Kevin Costner and Ron Ziegler (Richard Nixon's press secretary). 

6. MOST OF THE "EXOTIC" JUNGLE PLANTS AREN'T EXOTIC AT ALL.

Jungle Cruise at Disneyland in Anaheim, California
Boris Dzhingarov // Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

How do you get the tropical aesthetic provided by exotic plants without shelling out the big bucks for shipping and maintaining them? Just use Disney’s tactic: “plant” an orange tree upside down and let vines grow and twine around the exposed roots.

7. THE WATER IS CLEANER THAN IT LOOKS.

That murky water passengers sail through is dyed brown, dark green, or muddy blue. The coloring serves two purposes: It provides a more realistic portrayal of swampy waters, of course, but it also conceals the fact that the cruise ships are on a track in a pool that’s less than four feet deep in most areas.

8. DISNEY WAS THRIFTY WHEN IT CAME TO THE AIRPLANE USED IN THE RIDE.

If you pony up the cash for a Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior airplane, you might as well get your money’s worth, right? Disney used the back half for the scene near the Jungle Cruise's hippo pool at the Magic Kingdom, and the front half for the Casablanca scene in "The Great Movie Ride" at Hollywood Studios. 

9. SOME OF THE SPECIAL EFFECTS ARE PRETTY LOW-TECH.

You might think that getting the animals’ eyes to glow as you make your way through the Asian temple is a high-tech trick, but it’s really just the opposite. Their eyes are really just marbles painted with a reflective coating.

10. LOOK FOR INSIDE JOKES HIDDEN IN THE QUEUE.

At the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, a pair of crates sits bundled with some barrels as if they’re cargo ready to be shipped. A close look at the addresses reveals that one is going to “Thomas Kirk, Esq., M. Jones, Cartographers Ltd. Field Office, Island of Bora Danno.” The other is addressed to “Kenneth Annakin, Director of Imports, Wyss Supply Company, Colony of New Guinea.”

This is a reference to the Disney movie Swiss Family Robinson. Tommy Kirk played Ernst Robinson in the 1960 film, then went on to play the title character in the 1964 movie The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. James MacArthur, the actor who played Fritz Robinson, later played Danny Williams—you know, “Book ‘em, Danno” on Hawaii Five-O. So that’s the first crate explained. The second crate refers to Ken Annakin, the director of Swiss Family Robinson, and “Wyss Supply” is a little wink to the author of the original book, Johann Wyss.

11. A JUNGLE CRUISE MOVIE STARRING TOM HANKS AND TIM ALLEN WAS PLANNED, AND SCRAPPED.

Buzz and Woody meet Jumanji? It almost happened. Entertainment Weekly first reported on a Jungle Cruise movie starring Tom Hanks and Tim Allen back in 2011, which clearly never came to be. But that doesn't mean that a movie isn't happening: Though no release date has been set, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Emily Blunt, and Jesse Plemons have all signed on for starring roles in the film.

12. ONE OF THE BOATS ACTUALLY SANK.


Wikimedia Commons // DearCatastropheWaitress//CC BY 2.5

Perhaps its name was prophetic, because “Sankuru Sadie” at the Magic Kingdom did, in fact, sink. In 2004, the boat took on more water than it could hold and went under—though, given how shallow most of the water is, it probably didn’t go far. The boat was refurbished and put back into rotation.

13. THERE USED TO BE A KATHARINE HEPBURN CAMEO.

The ride was largely inspired by the movie The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. As a somewhat macabre homage to the film, the Florida Jungle Cruise once featured a little nod to Hepburn—literally. Near the end of the ride, Trader Sam the headhunter cheerily holds up a couple of shrunken heads. “Trader Sam has a deal for you. Two of his heads for one of yours,” is how the joke typically goes. Riders who looked closely would have noticed that one of Sam’s shrunken heads looked an awful lot like Hepburn.

14. ED SULLIVAN RODE THE JUNGLE CRUISE IN A 1959 KODAK COMMERCIAL.

If you want to see what the Jungle Cruise looked like just a few years after Disneyland’s opening day, check out this commercial for Kodak’s innovative new Brownie camera, available for just $74.50!

15. DISNEYLAND'S JUNGLE CRUISE FEATURES A PALM THAT PRE-DATES THE PARK.

Located just outside the entrance of the Jungle Cruise in California is a large palm tree. Referred to as “the Dominguez Palm,” this bit of vegetation has been around way longer than Mickey has been; it dates back to 1896. It’s named after the family who lived there before the land became a theme park. The rancher who sold the land to Disney requested that this particular tree be spared, and Disney obliged, moving all 15 tons of tree from the parking lot area to Adventureland.

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See the Spot That Inspired Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

When Walt and Lillian Disney took a European vacation prior to the construction of Disneyland, they were particularly inspired by one location in southwest Bavaria, Germany: Neuschwanstein Castle. Built by King of Bavaria Ludwig II starting in 1869, the castle was meant to have serious dramatic flair; the king hired a stage designer from Munich, Christian Jank, to design it.

Walt Disney went on to use Neuschwanstein as the basis for Sleeping Beauty's castle in Disneyland, but Ludwig II—known as the "fairytale king" for his love of plays, stories, and music—had far from a fairy-tale ending. In fact, he only lived in the still-unfinished castle for six months before his cabinet had him declared insane and replaced him. He died under mysterious circumstances, found drowned in waist-deep water, not long after.

You can learn more about the castle, and see some beautiful footage, in this video from Great Big Story.

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