There wasn’t much of a plan for the main park as we headed in. Still hadn’t quite managed to avoid the full spite of the fateful school visit years ago as Space Mountain was known to be undergoing a bit of an overhaul during the visit, but there were plenty of other exciting things on offer.
The ‘educational’ reason for that school trip was so that we could learn about marketing and product design for theme parks (pretty cool, looking back on it now). Literally everyone else was boring and did Space Mountain with generic space stuff (and no research into the Jules Verne styling) but on park I was much more taken with the aesthetic of Big Thunder and became it’s sole advocate in class.
That looks like a ride I can get behind advertising.
It still managed to spend most of this visit broken for extended periods of time, so each ride we managed to get felt a little extra special. There’s something rather endearing around breakdowns that attract a crowd of dedicated followers who will camp outside the entrance and wait to be the first back on it and this was a common sight here, with us included of course.
It’s fully justified too, as I cannot fault this attraction. The theming, attention to detail and overall interaction with riders is world class. On top of that, it feels like it goes on forever, with 3 separate lift hills (all painfully loud) and the ride just keeps on giving.
The isolation of the main layout with the surrounding water makes it extra special, with a cool and breezy underwater tunnel trip out of the station at the start. Of course to get back at the end, the train has to navigate another tunnel and this section is the standout part of the ride, gaining speed relentlessly and feeling more and more out of control as it plunges deeper into the dark.
The nearby Phantom Manor is another stunning looking attraction. I particularly like the gardens out towards the side of the building – they’re a dead end and for that reason absolutely no one goes there. It’s a lovely quiet spot to appreciate the surroundings and attention to detail that almost nobody else will see. All the while, the house looms ominously, with spooky shadows catching your eye in the windows. Spine tingling stuff.
The preshow room, story and effects maintain that fear factor before riders board the classic omnimover transit system. A cracking soundtrack and several clever magic tricks throughout help to elevate it well beyond your average dark ride.
With my reluctance to ride Rock’n’Rollercoaster back in the day, this one also greatly scared the younger me, imagining it to be some immensely sophisticated ride (I believe it was operating backwards at that time) with it’s terrifying inversions.
Now I know that it’s an Intamin-built Pinfari looper layout all that mystique has faded to nothing and it’s almost annoying to me that it exists in a Disney park at all. I say almost because the theming is still amazing, but the rollercoaster itself? A poor excuse for an attraction.
The other dark ride I had had my eye on forever was Pirates of the Caribbean. The one that was so compelling it inspired a film franchise, rather than the other way around. It didn’t disappoint, with the smooth but breathtaking drop into the darkness kicking off a lengthy and stunning experience of sights, sounds and smells.
In our lack of things to do as well as not knowing what to do, we discovered that we had missed so much the first time around. There’s a massive animatronic dragon under the castle which would have been a great spot to while away a few of the more tedious hours as youngsters.
It’s notorious for being annoying but I actually like ‘its a small world’. It’s a good little sit down.
As is the confusingly clever powered coaster. Didn’t know Vekoma made them and didn’t know you could operate more than one train on them simultaneously, assuming the powered rail system was like scalextric track, so I spent most of the time marvelling at those revelations.
Oh, the hours we had spent on this ride. Aside from Phantom Manor, all I had ever done before was Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, though never actually seeming to get any better at the shooting. The main journey to improvement was in waiting for it to pause operation (usually for disabled access or guests causing chaos in the station) in the final boss room to rack up as many points as possible.
As a massive Star Wars fan I was surprised at how underwhelming an attraction Star Tours managed to be. It doesn’t seem to capture any of the magic of the franchise and ends up as a rather unremarkable and outdated simulator ride. I’m struggling to pinpoint why, but I believe my issue lies in the way the storyline pivots around forcing us, the guests, into being part of a more mundane portion of the universe (a tour bus in space), rather than giving us the opportunity to observe something more thrilling or emotionally stirring as a spectator.
There’s a large number of other dark rides in the Fantasyland area of the park, all the Peter Pans, Snow Whites and Cinderellas that are the staple of Disney castle parks. I don’t have much interesting to add about these, just that they benefit the already large stack of compelling attractions and all range from good to great.
As time ran on we found ourselves settling down for the night time show in front of the castle. It was a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere, everyone spread out and chilling on the ground from here and as far back as the entrance in the warm summer evening.
It was an exciting build to a spectacular pay off. The show blends together a projected storyline, the music of the films, fireworks, pyros and everything else into a wonderfully emotional culmination of the days experiences. A masterclass of park entertainment and one of the main reasons Disney parks are so special.
Overall we had a fantastic few days here and I look forward to returning for Space Mountain V3 and whatever else they conjure up in the meantime.