SeaWorld Orlando has officially announced the grand opening for the long-awaited Infinity Falls raft attraction, set for Oct. 4 at 12 p.m.
After a few days of Universal Team Member previews, Fast & Furious: Supercharged has begun to soft open for guests at Universal Studios Florida. [Read more…]
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley doesn’t open until July 8, 2014. But you can get into the new land right now. The shops, restaurant, entertainment and more are now under a soft opening. [Read more…]
We’ve been preparing for battle for months, now the time has come help defend the Allspark and save the world as Transformers: The Ride – 3D has started its technical rehearsals (AKA soft openings) at Universal Orlando. [Read more…]
For the past few days, some regular Islands of Adventure park guests have been allowed into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The previews started last week just guests staying at a Universal hotel, but each morning since Tuesday, a few non-hotel guests have been let in. [Read more…]
Upon hearing of Space Mountain soft opening to guests yesterday after a seven-month refurbishment, I rushed over to the Magic Kingdom only to be denied a ride as the roller coaster was shut down for further maintenance and testing.
I returned to the Magic Kingdom today at around 1 p.m. to find Space Mountain once again open for testing with guests. Around twenty minutes later, I finally had a chance to board a vehicle and blast off into space once again. The verdict on the update? The same classic ride experience, but better.
Before I elaborate, let me share a full POV (point-of-view) ride video from the back seat. I’ll warn you now that the majority of this video is nearly pitch black, as the star field projections along the ceiling are too dark for my camera to pick up while zooming by. However, you do catch a great view of the updated launch and reentry tunnels as well as the on-ride photo preview and purchase areas after the ride. Plus the ride portion of the video features binaural audio, so put on your headphones to enjoy it the most.
Other than the overhauled queue, load area, and post-show scenes that I posted video and photos of yesterday, the ride itself is largely the same as it has been for many years. The single-row seating configuration remains the same in the ride vehicles and the seats feel the same as I remember them. The paint scheme on the vehicles is updated with a shiny metallic blue color for the main body and grey replacing the former glow-in-the-dark stripes along the sides.
The launch tunnel features the same blue flashing lights but with all-new sound effects. At the end of the launch tunnel is one of the only major differences during the ride. Just before the sudden U-turn toward the lift hill, a multi-colored star field of sorts appears straight head (it’s slightly visible if you watch closely in the video above). Just as the car takes the hard turn, the on-ride ride photo is taken. It’s an odd place for a photo as the ride hasn’t really started yet at that point, so the resulting photo is less “I’m having fun on a roller coaster” and more “What was that bright flash?”.
Photo preview area just after getting off the ride
The area surrounding the lift hill, like everything else, is improved but basically the same. Everything looks better, with more colored lights along the walls and up and down the spaceship in the center and the upside-down astronauts are new and look modern, not decades old.
Once you reach the top of the hill and begin the ride, it’s the same Space Mountain you remember, but darker. Projections along the ceiling and walls are crisp and brighter but are mainly the same swirling cosmos and shooting stars – nothing new. Throughout the ride, the track is practically invisible due to the lowered light level, presumably as a result of enclosing the load areas. I didn’t notice any difference in the track itself. The layout was the same as I remembered and it was no more or less shaky than before the refurbishment. Some have reported that the ride is a little smoother now. I didn’t think so, but I have a high tolerance for rocky rides. The near-total darkness did enhance the thrill level a bit.
On this second day of guest testing, the Space Mountain arcade and gift shop has now reopened as well. In the center is the photo purchase area with Disney’s usual prices of $18+ for each print. I noticed one retro-style Space Mountain shirt but no any other new merchandise related to the ride.
In the end, Space Mountain is still the same classic attraction you’ve ridden your whole life, but now it has been brought into the 21st century. The average guest will likely notice the changes to the queue and load area (especially the new inability to see the actual ride above) but not on the ride itself. However, most visitors will be happy to be able to once again experience world’s first Space Mountain just as they remember it.
Space Mountain officially reopens on Nov. 22. It is likely to open for guest testing in daily soft openings between now and then, though it may only remain open each day for an hour or two. For a look at the newly-updated queue and post-show scenes, read my post from yesterday’s first soft opening. We also have new photos from today’s trip through Space Mountain added to our photo gallery.
At around 4 p.m. today, Space Mountain at the Magic Kingdom reopened for the first time to guests since closing for refurbishment in nearly seven months.
Still in testing, the classic roller coaster remained open for roughly two hours before being shut down once again due to technical difficulties. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to ride before it closed, but I did get to check out the updated queue, including the newly-added video games.
Before I give you my impressions, here’s a video that walks you through the enhanced queue, through the load area (which was being emptied at the time due to the sudden shut down), and past the updated post-show displays:
For anyone concerned that the addition of interactive games to Space Mountain’s queue would ruin the calm atmosphere, you need not worry. The first third of the queue still features the same fan-favorite “Star Tunnel” music as you walk by the warped star field “windows” on the right side. In fact, other than improved lighting throughout the queue, the right hand side of the area has largely remained untouched.
Just past the first third of the queue, you’ll find a series of large screens on the left walls. Along the left side railings are sets of buttons that control short interactive games that appear periodically on the screens. The game is rather simple. Guests simply pound colored buttons on the railing to blast astroids on the screen. Each game lasts around a minute after it begins after which a message exclaiming “Well Done!” appears on all screens simultaneously, prompting guests to move forward in the queue.
After months of delays and a brief employee test phase, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster at Universal Studios opened to park guests on August 15, 2009 at a few minutes before 6 p.m.
Around 30 minutes prior to the new ride’s opening, guests (including myself) began to line up outside construction walls hoping that we would have a chance to ride. After around 50 guests formed a line, Universal employees began asking the crowd to step toward the concert stage in an effort to keep the line under control. They did not disband the group, so all were hopeful that we would indeed get to ride.
At around 5:45 p.m., a brief drizzle prompted Universal employees to go ahead and open the gates, allowing 10-15 guests in at a time, to avoid a stampede. I was within the first 30-40 guests to be let in. After a brief trip to the lockers to put away my wallet, cell phone, and other loose items, it was time to head through the queue and up the nearby stairs for the first time and board the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster.
Before I give you my thoughts on the ride, watch the two videos below. One is an unedited point-of-view (POV) video that I shot while riding. The other is video of the coaster going up the lift hill and around the track, edited together with bits of the POV video. I personally prefer my edited version, as it gives you a better feel for what the ride is all about, but I’ve included the unedited version because I know many of you reading this want to see it as well…
Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit including POV and ground-level shots:
Full POV ride on the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit:
So how was it? As I tweeted earlier right when I got off the ride, it wasn’t as good as SeaWorld’s new Manta coaster but it was still fun.
The Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is a unique breed of roller coaster. It is definitely not intended to be the fastest or most thrilling. If it tried to be either of those things, it failed. What it does succeed in doing is making a large-scale roller coaster available to the average park guest. As long as you are 52″ or taller, you can handle the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit coaster.
The coaster features no inversions, so those afraid of being turned upside down can set their worries aside. The only big drop comes at the beginning after ascending the 90-degree lift hill (which is the coolest part of the ride, in my opinion). There is also very little “air time” (when your rear-end leaves the seat) as there aren’t any large hills and the restraint holds you in very tightly. In fact, all in all, the ride is fairly tame – perhaps on a thrill level just above Big Thunder Mountain at Disney’s Magic Kingdom one or two notches below Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
But just because Rip Ride Rockit isn’t thrilling doesn’t mean it’s a bad ride. In fact, it was the ride designers’ intentions to create a roller coaster that can be enjoyed by more than thrill-seekers.
Visually, the ride is a lot of fun. Riders twist and turn through and around the buildings of Universal Studios, which gives the ride a unique flair. There are certainly a lot of turns throughout the ride, none particularly tight.
The real gem is the sound system, which allows you to select the song you’d like to listen to while riding. For my first ride, I really wanted to choose “U Can’t Touch This” by M.C. Hammer, but I couldn’t find it in the list (even though I know it’s there somewhere) so I went with “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, which worked out great. The music really enhanced the fairly easy-going ride and sounded great pumping through the speakers. I didn’t hear anyone else’s music while riding.
Two of the other technological additions to the coaster didn’t excite me as much. I thought the flashing lights on the sides of the coaster cars just looked silly during the day. I haven’t seen them in action at night yet, so perhaps at that time they’ll remind me less of those mall kiosks that let you decorate your cell phone with blinking LEDs. The much-discussed moving load platform was not moving today and each car took anywhere from two to five minutes to load and dispatch. Today was, of course, a technical rehearsal so I’m sure they’ll have all that worked out by the time the ride officially opens – whenever that is.
All in all, for the average guests at Universal Studios looking to enjoy themselves on a fun ride, the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is sure to entertain and will likely have you coming away smiling and laughing. Thrill-seekers, however, may want to head to Islands of Adventure for the Incredible Hulk coaster or hop on over to SeaWorld and ride Manta instead. Personally, I look forward to heading back and riding it at night. I’m willing to bet it’s a completely different, and better, experience.
Today’s soft opening was not guaranteed nor are any more in the coming days and weeks. The ride may open again tomorrow, but it may not, so if you head to Universal Studios expecting to ride, don’t be disappointed if it’s not running. No official opening date has been set.
Here are a few more photos: