After our last duel on Disney Mountains, we left you in a bit of a cliffhanger. You know…because we were talking about mountains. You see what we did there? Cliffhanger? Mountains?
We didn’t get a chance to talk about the last three mountains on our list. So, this week, we are back again to determine who will win the crown of having the ultimate mountain range! We bring the last few mountains to the table: Splash vs Splash and Everest vs Matterhorn! Let the great expedition begin!
(As usual: Keith will be representing Disneyland, and Jeff, Walt Disney World)
Topic 6: Disney Mountain Range (part two)
Keith: I think I’ve just located my laughin’ place. Splash Mountain opened in Disneyland in June of 1989, in an effort to breathe a little life into Bear Country. It worked. Not only did it bring the crowds, it brought a name change as well. Just a few months before the attraction’s opening, Bear Country was renamed Critter Country. Chickapin Hill, Splash Mountain’s peak, is the smallest of the Disneyland mountains at 87 feet. What it lacks in size, however, it more than makes up for in entertainment value.
The first day Splash Mountain was conceptualized, the Imagineers invaded the Disney Library to collect every character reference sheet the company had from the film Song of the South. Now for those of you who remember America Sings, you know that the majority of Audio-Animatronic figures featured in Splash Mountain were recycled from the beloved salute to America’s musical heritage. Those figures were created by Disney Legend Marc Davis. In somewhat of a happenstance, it turns out Davis also worked on Song of the South. Many of the characters he designed that didn’t make it into the film eventually wound up in America Sings. So it should come as no surprise as to where Splash Mountain gets its unassailable charm.
Splash Mountain was an instant hit in Disneyland. During its first summer, lines stretched all the way back to Frontierland. The single-row log (which, let’s face it, is vastly superior to a side-by-side setup) takes guests on a roughly 10-minute journey that features: over 100 Audio-Animatronic figures, wonderful music, the vocal talents of Nick Stewart (the same actor who voiced Brer Bear in the 1946 film), a 52-foot drop which produces speeds of up to 40 miles per hour, and a rollicking finale which boasts the largest animated set in all of Disneyland.
Jeff: While the Magic Kingdom may not be the original version, I will definitely stand here and cry out that we have the best…especially after the recent (and lengthy!) refurb we just went through.
Because Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom didn’t have a Critter Country of its own, it was decided that the next logical place for Splash Mountain to call home would be Frontierland. So, in the early 90s, construction began. Since this was going to take up a large chunk of real estate, the original Frontierland station had to be demolished. The railroad, during the construction, was temporarily changed from an around the World tour of the Magic Kingdom to a shuttle between Main Street and Mickey’s Toontown Fair. But that’s OK, because the ride was WELL worth the wait.
What Keith didn’t mention about our vastly superior, people sitting side by side version, is how awesome it is. Not only is our version is a little longer (just under 11 minutes, while Disneyland is about 9 minutes), but it also just seems fresher. Sure, it was looking shabby for a while, but as of March 2013, everything is in working order, and looking zip-a-dee-doo-dah-tastic again!
I do have to mention that the attraction got it’s name from then-CEO Michael Eisner. Despite having nothing to do with the film, he suggested the name of Splash Mountain to help cross promote their brand new Tom Hanks Daryl Hannah film, Splash. Genius marketing, I’m sure.
The only thing that Disneyland beats the Magic Kingdom out on is that Ernest P. Worrell himself was the very first person to ride Splash Mountain. You know what I mean, Verne?
Keith: Speaking of vastly superior single-row setups… In 1958, Walt traveled to Switzerland to check on the filming of the adventure film Third Man on the Mountain. The film was based on the true story of a young man’s quest to scale the Swiss mountain (The Matterhorn in real life, referred to as The Citadel in the film) that took the life of his father. While there, Walt found himself staring at the mountain for hours. At the time, they wanted to add an E-ticket attraction to Disneyland. Additionally, there was a huge unsightly Skyway tower surrounded by a hill (comprised of the dirt that was dug up to build Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and its moat) called “Holiday Hill” that Walt also wasn’t crazy about. In late 1956, he and head of Disneyland construction Admiral Joe Fowler had a conversation while standing on that hill. “Do you suppose we could get some snow and have a toboggan ride here?” Walt asked. While the logistics of having an actual snowy hill in Anaheim wouldn’t work, less than two years later Walt discovered the perfect solution to all of the aforementioned issues. He sent a postcard featuring the Swiss Matterhorn back home to WED Enterprises, and scribbled on the back, “Build this.”
Jeff: Comparable to Disneyland’s Matterhorn, Walt Disney World ALSO has a coaster that uses a snowy mountain and spectacular beast in its execution: Expedition Everest! Using that age old adage “if you build it, they will come,” they applied the same philosophy when it came to Expedition Everest. Despite Animal Kingdom being an amazing, full day park, Imagineers decided it needed a little extra oomph to help bring in the crowds. And so, a fast paced thrill ride was conceived in the form of this technological marvel of a roller coaster. It was announced on the park’s 5th anniversary, and opened took almost 3 years to build. Imagineers, including Joe Rohde, traveled to Nepal with other researchers and scientists to study the culture of that region. That journey was actually chronicled over three separate TV specials for the Discovery Channel, and they are pretty informative themselves. Using that knowledge, they were able to create an amazing backstory for the ride, making it feel all the more authentic. The fictional town of Serka Zong is rich with details that will make any Disney nerd’s head spin!
Keith: It’s too bad while in Nepal they didn’t grab a brochure on how to maintain a functioning Yeti.
Switching gears to a mountain with a properly-working snowman, the Matterhorn was a breakthrough in roller coaster technology. Up until 1959, roller coasters sat on wooden tracks consisting of long, wide turns. The Matterhorn utilized hollow steel tubes (allowing for a smoother ride and tighter curves), making it the world’s first tubular steel track coaster. When it opened, it was one of Disneyland’s first E-ticket attractions, and Walt himself was one of the first passengers (along with his family, and Vice President Nixon). The mountain itself is exactly 1/100th scale of the real Matterhorn, standing 147 feet tall.
And no, I’m not done just yet bud. But it’s your turn to tell us all about a pretty good coaster that has made history by… er… how did it make history again?
Jeff: It made history by being pretty innovative for its time, that’s how!
I think it’s worth mentioning that you’re not actually visiting Mount Everest on Expedition Everest. You’re actually on one of the mysterious mountains near it, and can see Everest’s peak in the distance. So, with this new mountain range to play with, Imagineers let loose and created a unique ride experience.
The coaster is especially notable for its switching tracks, allowing it to go forward in the beginning, throw you a curveball with a broken track a few minutes in, and then plunging you backward into the darkness as you try to escape the clutches of the Yeti.
Now, I’m sure that Keith will mention the fact that the Yeti hasn’t worked in years. And you know what? That’s fine, that is a pretty big bummer. The Yeti, in its working state, was a technological marvel. Standing just under 25 feet tall, it used more force than a 747 engine to power his mighty swipe. Even in its current, B-mode (Disco Yeti!), I still think it is a mighty impressive sight as you fly by.
Keith: Wait, your Yeti doesn’t work??
Haha, Yeti-teasing aside, I actually really like Expedition Everest. The ride itself is cool, and the queue is nothing short of amazing. In fact I’ll be running by it in just a few weeks when I take part in the Expedition Everest Challenge. I’ll say hi for you.
That all said… no, Jeff. Just, no. Everest can’t hold a candle to Disney’s original snowy peak. In addition to all of the awesome things I’ve already mentioned, the Matterhorn: had the Skyway travel through it, has real-life mountain climbers scale it (including Mickey himself), is used to shoot fireworks from during the POTC portion of Remember Dreams Come True, is the base for Tinker Bell when she takes flight, is so awesome it’s had entire lands fighting over it for years (when the Matterhorn first premiered it was categorized as a Tomorrowland attraction–now it stands stoically in Fantasyland), is home to a basketball court (yeah, that’s right), and was also the first ride anywhere to feature a “splashdown” finale. Oh, and I have four words for you: Permanecer sentados por favor. Jack Wagner for the win!
Jeff: I will actually say that I do love the Matterhorn, without a doubt…but if we are fighting over stuff in its current form, then the Matterhorn has to give in to Everest. Ever since they recently refurbed it, your seats are way too small to be comfortable (even for a small guy like myself!), and it seems to be a rougher ride than it has been in years! I’m sorry, but Expedition Everest definitely disco dances its way right past Harold and the Matterhorn!
But before we end this column, I’d just like to mention that we only covered the Disney Mountains that have comparable Disney counterparts on both coasts. Therefore, ranges such as Grizzly Peak, Mount Gushmore, and Cadillac Range were ineligible for this installment!
That does it for these two this time around! So what do YOU think? What resort has the superior Mountain Range? Is it Keith & Disneyland or Jeff & Walt Disney World? Vote in the poll, and let us know in the comments below!
Dueling Disney is written by Jeff Heimbuch & Keith Gluck