This episode of Theme Park Rangers Radar includes throwback moments from Space Mountain, but has topical touches such as Russians, government leaders descending on Walt Disney World, and the Goodyear Blimp. Then we’ll have a snack (Mickey bar alert) and some smiles.
Radar is a weekly roundup of topical bites and theme park memorabilia. It posts on OrlandoSentinel.com on Wednesdays.
The hype surrounding Epcot’s upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster: Cosmic Rewind, news of vehicles on the track of Magic Kingdom’s in-development Tron, and the announcement of a Tokyo Disneyland Space Mountain redesign me have propelled through the Orlando Sentinel archives in search of the opening days of Disney World’s Space Mountain.
It was a big deal in 1975. Tomorrowland was the park’s first major expansion, and it gave locals and analysts the idea that tourists could return to the Magic Kingdom again and again. The world was still going crazy for space, and the idea of a coaster in the dark was exhilarating.
The Sentinel has written a multitude of stories. Here are five pieces that I have taken from the ride’s first month of operation.
>>> On January 15, 1975, the day Space Mountain opened, there was an invitation-only dedication event for 2,000 people.
The front page of the Sentinel Star newspaper featured astronauts Gordon Cooper, James Irwin and Scott Carpenter as well as Robert Sarnoff, CEO of RCA, the attraction’s corporate sponsor, and Mickey Mouse in a lunar rover.
But the headline on the banner: FORD LAUNCHES TAX PLAN. Secondary title: State of the Union “not good” – President.
The article on the ride notes “Before boarding your capsule, you can stand ready in what Disney calls a ‘chicken line’ to gather your courage.” Also in Tomorrowland that day: Carousel of Progress (“a free attraction with audio-animatronics”) and StarJets, a later redesigned attraction renamed Astro Orbiter.
>>> In figures, according to 1975:
Space Mountain is 175 feet high and 300 feet in diameter. The structure has 72 precast concrete beams weighing 149,000 pounds each. Capacity was estimated at 3,000 passengers per hour on both sets of tracks. At the end of Space Mountain’s dedication ceremony, 500 pigeons were released.
It cost more than $15 million to build, bringing Disney World’s total development cost to $600 million.
At the end of its first day of operation, the cast found 18 pairs of glasses, several sets of keys, and a ticket holder under the roller coaster tracks.
>>> Also on location, but in the sky, for opening day like the Goodyear Blimp.
Later, Charlie Wadsworth, editor of the newspaper’s Hush Puppies column, reports that he was told that Disney had an agreement for the blimp’s hitch location to move from Herndon Airport (renamed Orlando Executive Airport in the 1980s) to a small airstrip at Walt Disney World. It’s still there, sort of, but no airship.
Wadsworth also had a source tell him Space Mountain’s top speed was 18 mph, but Bill Watkins, who led the roller coaster’s design as an engineer at WED Enterprises, called him to say that it was really going 28 mph.
>>> It was the “Annual Legislative Appreciation Weekend” February 15-16, 1975 at the Magic Kingdom.
“We are not planning any special presentations or special activities,” a Disney World spokesperson said. “We just want them to see what we have new.”
Bigger names had beaten lawmakers to the park. Actress Lucie Arnaz, Broadway performer Tommy Tune and Lyle Wagoner of “Carol Burnett Show” fame were there for the roller coaster’s opening day and to tape an episode of “Wonderful World of Disney.”
In early February, visitors included flashy pianist Liberace, who was in Orlando for sold-out shows at the Municipal Auditorium.
>>> Finally, in mid-February of that year, American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts training for the Apollo-Soyuz mission that summer visited Magic Kingdom. For weeks there had been light talk of Space Mountain as a good experience for off-world travel.
But American astronaut Vance Brand from the United States said: ‘The only time we would feel anything like this in flight would be during an abortion. And we are not planning to abort.
The group spent an entire day exploring the ‘It’s a Small World’ attractions, Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. They watched Country Bear Jamboree, which must have suffered in translation.
The cosmonauts and astronauts had lunch at King Stephan’s Banquet Hall inside Cinderella Castle and dined at Pioneer Hall in Fort Wilderness. No report of vodka.
They were being followed by 60 reporters and photographers, but Disney said no additional security was needed.
Here is proof of a simpler time. The Sentinel printed that the cosmonauts were staying at the Holiday Inn in Cocoa Beach.
Sometimes you just want a Mickey bar. That was my mindset recently at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. As fate would have it, I then stumbled across the upscale Mickey’s 50th Anniversary Celebration bar at the park’s little Drinkwallah.
This ice cream option was announced at the end of September, but I had forgotten about it. It’s plain Mickey sea bass dipped in a blue raspberry flavored coating and nuggets and “a little pixie dust,” according to the menu.
It was hand-dipped by a cast member in front of my eyes. The dusting colors are very Disney at 50/Cinderella’s Castle makeover.
The flavor was a slightly tart and fruity blend on top of chocolate and vanilla. It was like an upgrade, and its price is $6.99.
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It was also served in a small cardboard boat like you might get at a food stand at an Epcot festival. It seemed odd, but the coating tended to fall apart as it was eaten, so I’d rather it fall into the container – still suitable for human consumption – than on the floor for the DAK birds to descend .
I’m told this 50th Anniversary Mickey Bar is at this location and of course it’s a limited time offer.
Three little things that made me smile during the last WDW outings.
· The very idea that a Disney merchandiser could have said these four words during a meeting: “rebel leader’s hat”.
The wording on a sign for a Joffrey’s drink at Epcot, where they sell a mint melon refresher (watermelon-cucumber mint juice with strawberries and blueberries). But you can get the “fiery option” with watermelon-basil vodka. We see what you did there, Joffrey.
Kevin the big, brightly colored bird character from “Up”, who technically isn’t a small thing, but his presence brings joy to Animal Kingdom guests. She reigns.
What’s on your radar? Email me at [email protected]