During my recent Thanksgiving trip to Walt Disney World, I managed to catch a near walk-on to ride the newly refurbished Space Mountain. So I thought I'd give you my take on the changes.
First, the queue is much, much better, especially for the standby line. Imagineers have added a bunch of interactive games along the main tunnel near the loading area that are similar to the old Asteroids game (kids, that was a game many years ago where a small triangle-shaped spaceship blew up asteroids). There is room for somewhere around 80 people to play. I didn't get a chance to try it out as the line was moving way too quickly at this point.
The loading area is very, well, blue (as you can see in the photo above). There are a series of blue neon lights in the ceiling that casts the loading area in a dim blue light. It's not as bright as the photo appears.
As for the ride itself, Disney said they wanted to make the ride experience darker so guests wouldn't know where they were going and boy did Disney deliver. It is DARK!! It's not completely pitch black, rather you get a much more immersive experience as you race through the stars. You can still see small points of light projected all throughout the attraction, but you can't tell what the ride path is (unless you happen to know it). I should note that the track layout hasn't changed, but it did feel smoother. You still get jerked around a bit as you whip around tight turns, but at least you're not rattled to death like before the refurb.
Disney also gave some significant attention to the ride vehicle itself. It's the same car with three guests riding in single file. The seat cushions, however, are greatly improved, which may account for the overall smoother ride experience.
Something that's new is on-board photos. As you exit the launch tunnel, you come around a turn and are greeted with a bright flash. This is your ride photo being taken. After the ride, there is a bank of monitors to see your photo.
I have to say I'm not impressed with the ride photos for a couple of reasons. First, Disney decided not to include the option to add the pictures to your PhotoPass card, like at TestTrack in Epcot. For me, this is a big disappointment. The only on-ride photos I ever get are those I can include on my PhotoPass CD. I would have thought Disney would have realized the benefits of making the PhotoPass option available.
Second, the angle of the shot is not the best. It's just about from a side view, so you get a profile shot of the guests, which isn't a great angle. I understand this is a three-person single-file ride vehicle which makes for a more difficult shot to take, but I think Disney could have found a better way to take a 3/4 angle shot or shoot from a higher angle or something. As it is now, I won't be purchasing any Space Mountain on-ride photos.
As for the post-show, nearly everything is new. There are some nice references to old Disney attractions including a sticker for Mesa Verde (remember Horizons?) and what looks like a hidden Spaceship Earth. Also, the final part of the moving sidewalk includes a portion where the tunnel is painted a vivid green. This is obviously for some sort of chroma-key (or green screen) effect that hasn't been unveiled yet. The right side is just covered with a banner that reads "Thanks for Flying With Us."
All in all, the newly updated Space Mountain was worth the wait. It's a better, more thrilling attraction that purist fans will still enjoy and appreciate. So on your next trip to Walt Disney World, be sure to check out Space Mountain!