Dueling Disney: Disney Mountain Range – Part One

Written by Keith Gluck. Posted in Disney, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Dueling Disney, Features, Keith Gluck, Walt Disney World

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Published on March 27, 2013 at 3:55 am with 25 Comments

Yodelayheehoo! After a recent viewing of Third Man on the Mountain, we here at Dueling Disney feel it may be time to scale a few mountains of our own. And what better place to do it than at Disney? But, which one do we choose? Each resort has their own unique “mountain range” to choose from. So while we’re deciding which one to scale, let’s chat about which one is better…

Topic 6: Disney Mountain Range (part one)

Jeff: Before we even start the arguing, we should establish what mountains we’re going to defend for our home resorts. So, for me, I’m going to have to defend Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Expedition Everest. What do you have over on the other coast, Keith?

Keith: Whoa whoa whoa, “arguing?” I prefer to think of us as two modern gentlemen merely expostulating as we sip tea, pinkies out.

My coast also has: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain. We don’t have an Everest, but we got a Matterhorn! En garde, monsieur.

Jeff: With my pinky out, let me start by saying that two of the above mentioned mountains were developed around the same time for both coasts: Space and Splash. Despite that, each respective mountain opened a few years apart from the other; Space opened first, at Walt Disney World, while Splash opened first, at Disneyland. Current incarnations of each attraction are a bit different on each side, and I think, make up a vastly differently ride experience.

Space Mountain is especially notable at Walt Disney World because it was the first coaster controlled completely by a computer system. This advancement in technology allowed for a much safer ride experience, letting riders know that their safety lay entirely in the arms of a computer AI. And let’s face it, folks, when has a computer AI ever done anything wrong, am I right?!

Keith: “Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?”

In 1964, John Hench doodled a futuristic mountain on the back of an envelope. “I had an idea of a type of architecture which was kind of cartilaginous,” Hench said. “At least that’s what I called it.” [editor’s note: car·ti·lag·i·nous | adjective | of or resembling cartilage] Hench, along with WED sculptor Mitsu, refined its design, and it would soon come to be known as SpacePort. The SpacePort’s original design entailed sections of track emerging from the ride structure (the exterior portions of the track even had their own name–”satelloids”), not dissimilar to another white mountain located over in Fantasyland. SpacePort was meant to be the star of 1967’s New Tomorrowland. It didn’t happen. You see, in 1964, if the project didn’t have “for the World’s Fair” stamped on its documentation, odds are it would get shelved. And shelved, the SpacePort would be. SpacePort was eventually renamed Space Mountain, and opened first in Walt Disney World in 1975, followed by Disneyland two years later.

As mentioned in our Tomorrowland duel, Disneyland’s Space Mountain received a complete overhaul in 2003-2005. With a fresh track, redesigned queue, and dazzling on-board audio, our Space Mountain has become most Disney fans’ favorite of the two.

Jeff: You guys may have a refreshed track, but nothing brings you back to the 70s quite like getting bumped around on Walt Disney World’s Space Mountain. A little rough? Sure. But totally fun! Our queue also has some pretty neat interactive games that help pass the time a little faster.

Let’s take a moment to travel back in time, from the future to the Wild West, so we can talk a bit about Big Thunder Mountain. Despite being on different coasts, both have a similar back story: Sometime in the late 1800s, these small mining towns (Rainbow Ridges at Disneyland, Tumbleweed at Walt Disney World) discovered gold on their Mountains, and became quite prosperous. Unfortunately, the gold was ALSO located on ground sacred to the Native Americans, and soon, tragedy would strike. Now, the trains travel around on their own, cursed by spirits. Pretty spooky for a roller coaster, right?

Disneyland’s design of the ride was based off Bryce Canyon in Utah, while Walt Disney World is modeled after Monument Valley in Arizona.

Keith: You know, prior to this installment, I thought your Big Thunder was longer. It turns out we both have the same amount of track (about half a mile). I do like the little Tumbleweed section of your Big Thunder, and how the track wobbles through it. I have to say, I prefer your Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

However, they are so similar, that decision may be aided by its relative “newness” to me, since I have ridden it far fewer times than I have ridden Disneyland’s. Both Big Thunders are just under 200 feet tall, both are in Frontierland, and both offer FASTPASS. We do have a couple of things going for us, though. Ours is the original. I know that’s not a huge deal, but when two rides are so alike, you gotta find some distinctions! Also, we have a better ending. There’s nothing wrong with your geyser area, however you can’t beat that slow curve into the quaint Rainbow Ridge. Originally the loading area for the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland, Rainbow Ridge is home to a variety of storefronts, and features a Saloon with entertainment audible from the outside. They’re even hiring! Just look for these two signs: “Piano Player Wanted–Must Play Good,” and, “Bartender Wanted–Must Shoot Good.”

I also have to mention that our Big Thunder is currently undergoing a major refurbishment, which will see (per the official Disney Parks Blog), “an all-new track, updates to the mountain itself, and other visual elements.” I’m also happy to report that Rainbow Ridge will not only be surviving the refurbishment, but is getting an update of its own! I’m gonna have to give the nod to Disneyland on this one, big guy.

Jeff: By all means, Disneyland definitely has the hat tip to homage its own past. The Rainbow Ridge section is a great tribute to an extinct attraction, and I really have to give it credit for its detail.

But on the other hand, we have that, too. I mean, look how incredibly detailed Tumbleweed is, especially for a “town” you fly through so quickly! Though the town is now “dried out,” there is still a ton to look out for, such as Cumulus Isobar, the Rainmaker, trying to get the water out of his wagon. The saloon even has some nice hidden details that you have to have a quick eagle eye to even notice; if you look inside, you’ll see a poker game that was left mid-hand when the flash flood came through. Now THAT is attention to detail!

If you’re going to go with new-ness as a factor, then look no further than the new interactive queue that Walt Disney World’s Big Thunder Mountain just received. Want to blow stuff on the mountain ridge up yourself? Done! Want to take a peek into the mines to see what the folks below are doing? Also done! Want to check on the canaries to make sure it’s still safe? Done as well! There is a lot of neat stuff that has been added that really adds to the “lived in” feeling of the ride, and I, for one, love it. Did I mention the sweet nod to the Western River Expedition, the best un-built attraction that ever was? Because that is pretty sweet, too. Also, look at the goat. LOOK AT THE GOAT!

You know, we talked an awful lot about Space Mountain and Big Thunder this week.

Keith: We sure did. We can pick it up next time with Splash and Everest/Matterhorn. In the meantime, allow me to recapitulate: Our Space Mountain is better, since it is a much smoother ride, with a rockin’ soundtrack (although I do adore the queue music in your Space). The win also goes to Disneyland’s Big Thunder, thanks to its nostalgic and humorous ending. Better luck next installment, Jeff! And speaking of next installment, don’t forget to bring your snowshoes.

So who wins round one of the Disney Mountain Range duel? Keith, or Jeff? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! (FYI – the poll for this installment will appear next time, so voting can be done on the entire mountain range.)

Dueling Disney is written by Jeff Heimbuch & Keith Gluck

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

You can follow us on Twitter: @DisneyProject and @JeffHeimbuch

About Keith Gluck

Keith Gluck writes for and volunteers at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco. He also runs a Disney blog called thedisneyproject.com, and travels to Disney Parks as often as he can. A fan of many facets of The Disney Company, Keith's main interest is the life and legacy of Walt Disney. For questions/comments, or to request a certain topic be covered, please send an email to: [email protected] Twitter: @DisneyProject Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Disney-Project/194569877288847

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  • Trumpet

    Great Article Guys

    I have to say the Disneyland’s mountains are better, as Space Mountain is smoother, like travelling in a vaccuum. Also, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has a nod to its original incarnation, which I like alot. There is nothing wrong with WDW’s versions, but DL for me just has the edge.

    Thanks Again Guys


  • LoveStallion

    Disneyland for all in this case.

    But if you opened it up to mountains in the international parks, I think Disneyland Paris would take the crown. It’s hard to fairly compare their Space Mountain to the others, but it is significantly better (even if the original onboard audio was much better than Mission 2).

    And what can I say about Big Thunder in Paris? It is incredible. By a landslide the best Big Thunder of them all. The rush going down the tunnel under the river in the end is incredible. I mean they built the ruddy thing AS the island!

    • DisWedWay

      I must start with Thunder Mesa’s Big Thunder Mountain in Paris Disneyland, which is the Biggest, Tallest, Fastest, Longest, Deepest, Best effects and animation, Best landscaping, and Best themed of all 4 Big Thunders. THEY COULD HOWEVER RELOCATE THE PICTURE FLASH CUBE BOX TO THE RETURN TUNNEL WHERE IT WOULD MAKE MORE SENSE AND NOT RUIN THE SPLASH DOWN FOR ALL THE RIVER AND WALKING GUESTS. I would have to honestly say WDW Big Thunder was the first conceived on the drawing table and in model form. DL’s Big Thunder came second but moved to first place in installation and management needs and is the only rockwork style of it’s kind because of its placement next to Fantasyland. I do hope they correct it’s signage for the town of Rainbow Ridge and not Big Thunder as one marker suggests. I also hope they repaint the original stucco graphics on the Mineral Hall during rehab. Remember it’s 1880′s and not Cowboys and Aliens time when adding interaction in any Big Thunders like Walt Disney World..

      • DisWedWay

        I forgot to vote but would give Disneyland the prize over Disney World’s Big Thunder and Space Mountain.

  • TylerDurden

    How can DL’s BTMRR win for nostalgia and being first while the fact that WDW’s Space Mountain was first doesn’t count for anything??

    Anyway, I’d personally give both to WDW. Space Mountain because it actually has drops, and BTMRR because it feels longer and bigger (even if it’s not true, the bigger plot of land it sits on makes it feel like a more grandiose experience).

  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    Disneyland’s Space Mountain is superior in nearly every way, except size. Disney World’s Big Thunder is slightly better due to the flooded mining town.

    I’d call this a tie.

  • Mickey777

    I think there’s something to be said for actually going “into” BTM at WDW and loading inside of the mountain. That makes all the difference in the world. DL’s Space wins but WDW’s BTMRR crushes DL’s. I don’t care what they do in the refurb, loading into the train under the sun is wack and lame. I also agree the ride feel shorter since it’s all packed together.

  • Lonnie0616

    Obviously both parks have Splash, BTMRR, Space, and then Matterhorn vs. Expedition Everest. I hope I’m not giving away any surprises for round 2 but don’t forget that additional “cadillac” of mountain ranges that exists only at the Disneyland Resort. **wink wink**

  • Illusion0fLife

    I’m calling a tie on this one. We (Disneyland) clearly have the better Space Mountain, hands down, but I really quite like Walt Disney World’s Big Thunder. It could be the “newness” like Keith was saying, but I think overall WDW has the edge on that one.

    Another great column guys, looking forward to next week. I’m interested to see how you tackle the differences of the Materhorn and Everest.

  • Imagineer2B

    I definitely give Disneyland the lead with Space Mountain and I’d call it a tie on BTMRR. But seriously, don’t forget about the Cars Land Mountain Range and while not a huge contender we also have Grizzly Peak.

    • danielz6

      Uh ya! Finally! Its no contest cause Disneyland has 2 more mountains than WDW! Caddy range and Grizzly peak! When WDW gets 2 more mountains then we’ll talk.

  • a-mad

    While I would call DL my “home park”, I recently returned from a trip to WDW so things are fresh in my mind.

    While DL’s Space Mountain is indeed my favorite of the two, I have to admit that MK’s Space Mtn was much better than I remember it the first time I went 10 years ago. Someone mentioned the “drops” in MK’s, and I do have to admit that the 3 drops were extremely well executed and caught me completely off guard. I have grown so accustomed to DL’s Space Mountain that the 1 significant drop, as great as it is, is somewhat predictable since I’m much more familiar with the layout (still fun, though…) I also really liked the queue for MK’s Space Mtn, esp. the music and interactive games. So while DL’s wins… its not the blowout I anticipated.

    As far as BTMRR, I would also call it a draw, but I do have to admit that I like the queue at DL’s better (although I haven’t tried out all of MK’s interactive elements) I love how they’ve integrated the look and feel of the landscape as you go down into the “gully” for lack of a better term, and feel like you’re “there” even if it is outside. With WDW’s, you go “up” instead of “down” and are in a station building for longer. The theming is still great, but I guess I just like the outside elements of DL’s better than the inside elements of MK’s. Certainly a personal taste preference here. Both rides are aces…. (although I love Rainbow Ridge with its Saloon music, occasional voices, etc.)

  • xboxtravis7992

    I would call this first round a draw. While I love Disneland’s Space Mountain, I have a soft spot for Florida’s because I got to ride the TTA through it when the lights where on back in 2007. Also the two Thunders are just mirror versions of each other. Ultimately the decision will come down to the next few mountains. Does Everest’s scenery and story overcome a broken Yeti? Do Blizzard Peak and the Cadillac Range count as mountains? What about past and future mountains such as Cascade Peak or the upcoming Seven Dwarfs Minecar?

  • wdwfan22

    Disneylands space mountain wins for audio however the ride portion is weak and magic kingdoms is 10 times better.

  • daveyjones

    i want to like this column. it’s a great idea! however the format is at once confusing and distracting. the humor (most of it at the sitcom level) detracts from the analysis. also, for everyone of these i’ve read, the attractions and features being discussed lack identifiers. for example “I thought your Big Thunder was longer.” which park is that? it’s confusing. the column reads more like the transcript of a podcast (where the change in voice would indicate things) than something meant to be read.

  • ScottOlsen

    DL’s BTMRR wins because it’s not crammed up into a corner of the park with Splash Mtn. and the Frontierland train station (which you can’t even see) at WDW.

  • chiablo

    Just a suggestion for this article in the future… It’s a little difficult to keep track of which park each person is defending. This one isn’t as bad, due to my familiarity with the parks, but the Main Street debate was confusing. When you say “My park”, “Your park”, home resort, etc… it’s difficult to parse out which park in particular is being discussed.

    My advise would be to color code your names, maybe blue for east coast, red for west coast. Or even just adding the resort letters next to your name [Jeff(WDW) and Keith(DL)]. At a glance, there needs to be a way to identify what’s going on.

    Love the article otherwise.

  • JiminyCricketFan

    First let me say that I love both Disneyland and Disney World. I think Disneyland has a Space Mountain that is more exciting than the Disney World version. When you have ridden both, there is no question. Now Big Thunder is a favorite ride of mine. I think that although both are almost the same, the water element in Big Thunder gives Disney World a slight edge.

    I will be anticipating the next installment because I think that Disney World has a stronger hand than Disneyland for the last two mountain comparisons.