Matterhorn Bobsleds Versus Expedition Everest
by, 04-06-2011 at 08:07 PM
Not long ago I tried to compare the Splash Mountain in Disneyland to the one at the Magic Kingdom, I even declared a winner. Time to take a look at another pair of Disney mountains and, if possible, we'll pick another winner. Now, I understand that this is not directly an apple-to-apple comparison. But, in many respects, they share similar details with different execution. So, what do the Matterhorn and Expedition Everest have in common? Well…
Both are based on real world locations
Expedition Everest is set in lowlands surrounding Mount Everest. The Kali Gandaki region in Nepal influences the village of Serka Zong. The Imagineers use forced perspective to make the mountain peaks soar with the tallest peak being the nearby fictional "Forbidden Mountain" where the attraction is based and Mount Everest is in the background.
The Matterhorn Bobsleds is based on the famous and distinctive mountain in Switzerland. Walt was in Zermatt visiting the set of the 1958 Disney movie Third Man on the Mountain and fell in love with the little ski resort. He liked it so much he tried to build his own ski resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California in the Mineral King area (See The Mineral King Story). The attraction is a 1/100th scale model of the real mountain. Walt’s original concept was to have a real bobsled ride on ice. Wisely, they came up with a different solution. When you look at the mountain and notice holes, do not worry, Walt reminded us that it is a Swiss mountain after all and like the cheese… it has holes.Both pushed the state-of-the-art of roller coaster technology at the time they were built
Expedition Everest features a lift hill with a new safety mechanism that doesn’t clank the entire way up; the thrill of going backwards in the dark, and the largest Audio-Animatronic that Disney has developed.
Photo courtesy of Yesterland.com (If you don't know Yesterland, take a look today, it is amazing!)
The Matterhorn Bobsleds was the first tubular steel coaster. Every tubular steel roller coaster can trace its roots back to the Matterhorn (and Arrow Dynamics who developed it with Disney). The mountain was multi-functional. Inside was a tower for the Skyway. In fact, hiding the tower was the functional problem Walt was trying to solve by building the mountain to begin with.Both mountains tower over their surrounding environments
Expedition Everest is almost 200 feet tall and "the tallest mountain in the state of Florida" as the Disney folks like to say.Both have inhabitants
The Matterhorn Bobsleds are set within a 147-foot tall structure. The Matterhorn was one of the tallest structures in Orange County for many years.
Expedition Everest has the Yeti. After an incredible amount of research, many trips to Tibetan cultural regions, and working with zoologists, the Imagineers where able to locate a very special beast and bring him to Florida. He even gets his own museum. This creature was the highlight of many promotional films. However, he is rarely spotted in the wild today.
The Matterhorn has Harold, the abominable snowman. Although he may have been living in the mountain since it was first discovered in 1959, he was first spotted in 1978. While Harold’s arms do move and his eyes glow, he doesn't have much movement. Strobe lights help create a sensation of movement.Both were seen as more than just another new attraction
When the Animal Kingdom first opened, many complained there wasn’t enough to do. Some still do. So Walt Disney Imagineering needed to come up with something that would become one of the park’s signature attractions. Only Kilimanjaro Safaris had the cache to motivate people to get out of bed early in the morning and to visit the park. Expedition Everest was the answer they came up with and has been a wildly successful addition to the resort.
The Matterhorn was the centerpiece of what many considered Disneyland’s second Grand Opening. In one day, on live television, opened a massive expansion including the Matterhorn Bobsleds, the Monorail, the Submarine Voyage, the Motor Boat Cruise, and an expanded Autopia! ABC broadcast Disneyland ’59 on June 15, 1959 and it is an amazing artifact of this historic day. This show is available on Walt Disney Treasures Your Host Walt Disney DVD.THE CASE FOR DISNEYLAND'S MATTERHORN:
The Matterhorn is the mother of all steel roller coasters. For that reason alone, we should all look to its peak and bow in respect. The fact its inspiration was the need to cover up the unattractive tower that held up the Skyway always impressed me. And it sits on the dirt from the moat in front of the castle that was once know as Holiday Hill. I understand that back in the day before the Matterhorn was built, this was quite the place for those hormone-charged 1950s teenagers to make out.
The entire setup is just perfect. Most people don’t even notice the little forest with Aspens and Pine trees out front along Matterhorn way... the themed benches, the little sheds covering the final part of the queue, the queue itself. It was even pretty clever creating a queue along the well landscaped side of the mountain instead of some miserable switchback.
The bobsleds have their own special charm. With the current configuration it can be really fun to ride if you want to get to know somebody better as riders can pair up on the bench style seats. However, the result can be painful if the combination isn’t right. With two tracks, everybody has his or her preference to which side of the mountain is better.
The Tomorrowland side is tighter and features the only real drop on the ride. The Fantasyland side is swoopier with faster long curves. Both sides feature close encounters with Harold, the Abominable Snowman. His growl in the dark at the beginning of the Fantasyland side is the scariest thing. A great ride during the day but even better at night.
A favorite feature is when you are racing another sled. This doesn’t happen all the time but the sight of another speeding bobsled moving alongside then disappearing and then reappearing is quite fun. The urge to interact with the other sled is irresistible. The mountain has gone through a lot of changes over the years. Its Skyway was removed, holes patched as though it was never there. I am as old as the Matterhorn, so I understand the occasional need for a face lift.
And that is not the former Governor of California giving the safety spiel at the beginning of the ride. The ride warning has even been incorporated into a song by the band No Doubt.
THE CASE FOR DISNEY WORLD'S EXPEDITION EVEREST:
I was at the Animal Kingdom in May 2006. Expedition Everest had only been open for a month. It was a brand new attraction with fully working effects, what a beautiful sight to behold. Now this is an E-Ticket I said to myself. This attraction tells an original story and is not dependent upon another property. The whole area is loaded with details. You really sense that magic as you approach. What I mean when I say magic is that moment when your apprehension turns to awe and delight. I was very impressed. So like many others I quickly moved to grab my Fastpass and to take what was to become the first of 12 rides on that trip. It was part Matterhorn, part Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and part something really new and different. This is how I remember it.
Of course the entire setting is pitch perfect. The use of the buildings to frame a small courtyard off of the main path, the clever way they have created an ideal viewing area for those who do not wish to ride, and sense of overall calm with the occasional screams coming from the coaster.
The queue is simply one of the best ever attempted by Disney. This is one of the times when waiting has its benefits. You actually do yourself a disservice by passing through the Fastpass lane or single rider line because you miss the full queue. Even if you don’t want to go on the coaster, definitely take a walk through the whole line. Make your reservation for the Tea Train. For good luck be sure to tap one of the many bells hanging in the temple. You will inspire others.
The queue takes you inside and out, disorienting you from the main path. By the time you enter the camping supply store you have bought into the concept that you are in the Himalayan lowlands and are about to go on a journey to parts unknown. A walk through the Yeti museum just seals the deal. They build a back story for the Yeti then demonstrate how he is real. We also learn the cautionary tale of those who have not had successful encounters with the beast. If you are not excited by the time you have entered the long room with the windows facing the loading dock then something is wrong.
As the train pulls into the station, the tweet from the whistle and the burst of steam belching from the rear just confirm that you have left Florida and are someplace else. A real steam train! (I know I know). The plantings were all new but you got to love that little stroll through the foothills. Today, when I ride I have noticed how lush the area has become.
As you go up the lift, through the temple, and over the crest you dip into a blanket of fog. Yes, fog. Refreshing cool fog. You don’t even notice the tunnel that goes up and the way the track comes to an abrupt end. Okay, the hawk flying along side of the mountain was a bit cheesy and the backwards tumble remains a very unusual sensation. The first encounter with the Yeti is memorable and tells a strong story before you plummet over the first big drop.
Finally there was that first encounter with the Yeti. Wow! I have seen Harold at the Matterhorn hundreds of times but this guy was very impressive. He tried to grab my head! I swear he was just inches away. The movement was so fluid, the red glow of the eyes so frightening, and those mangy hands with the fingers reaching out toward me. I was hooked. I rode the front row the first time and the back car the next time. That puff of steam made the experience more real. I mixed it up for my dozen trips on that day. I even rode the coaster at night. At night it is virtually dark the entire way. Absolutely the best time to ride Everest is at night.
I learned that the Yeti costs millions of dollars and has the physical force of a 747 jet! But rumor has it that he seems to have broken his foundation and has not worked on a regular basis for years. An absolute shame since he is essentially the climax of the ride.
Back in May 2006, if you got the chance to see him working, you would have been amazed. When the Yeti moved and there was fog and steam and the hawk. And everything worked as it should, it was wonderful. During that time I would rank the entire show near the top of my Disney ride list. But the way it is now, the way most of that stuff has gone unrepaired….
SAMLAND'S WINNER: The Matterhorn Bobsleds at Disneyland
But that's just how we see it. What's your winning mountain: Matterhorn or Everest? And what's your case for crowning it the top dog?Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. For the past couple of years he has been the publisher of Samland’s Disney Adventure, a blog dedicated to the history and design of the North American Disney theme parks. Sam is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County.
Sam has recently contributed to a book which celebrates the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World. "Four Decades of Magic" is now available in both hard copy and Kindle version at Amazon.