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