Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland skyline has long been marked by the circular dome and star-reaching spiers of Space Mountain, a cylindrical building whose decorative lines constantly point skyward. In Florida, Space Mountain is located near the Contemporary Resort and is easily visible for those taking the shuttle and walking to the Magic Kingdom. It stands as a symbol of optimism, a mid-1970s structure that dreams up and celebrates the promise of discovery through space travel.
The new Tron Lightcycle/Run, yes that’s how it’s stylized, it doesn’t exactly look like a building. Its entrance is a large canopy, designed to match the sense of movement of the roller coaster located below. Complete with gleaming white curves and otherworldly flows, the entrance to Lightcycle/Run is reminiscent of magnificent works of architecture: think of the Frank Gehry-designed bridge and pavilion of Chicago’s Millennium Park, where steel panels take us across a urban park and frame the vegetation and the sky. with a sense of wonder.
As a view, it is a triumph, a building for a walk inspired by a movie about video games, a walk that feel like a video game, which can still evoke a sense of comfort while looking like nothing else in a Disney theme park. It works with Space Mountain, as both are terminals to other places: Space Mountain to the horizons, and Lightcycle/Run to our digital-centric universe of today and probably tomorrow. The attraction, the latest addition to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, opens April 4, with a soft opening scheduled for March 20. The attraction brings a unique vehicle to a Disney theme park and argues that video games are the dominant cultural medium of our time.
The ride is an import, first opening at Shanghai Disneyland in 2016 and announced for Walt Disney World in 2017. It brings a much-needed new attraction to the Magic Kingdom, the most-visited theme park on the planet, and stands as one of the fastest roller coasters ever created by Walt Disney Imagineering. It’s short: The ride takes only about a minute, if one doesn’t count some pre-show magic tricks in the queue, but Disney representatives said it could hit 60 miles per hour, and it does quickly.
Although “Tron” may seem like a bit of an unlikely franchise to bring to American audiences, here in the US “Tron” was a hit, but it’s by no means one of the company’s most recognizable franchises, I see it more as a recognition that audiences today have been weaned off the interactivity of video games and increasingly expect content that reflects that. Disney has created a elaborate backstory to learn how the attraction fits into the world of “Tron,” but no prior knowledge is really necessary: we’re digitized and taken to a black-light video game arena to have a Lightcycle race against another computerized team.
One quick thing to note: the ride vehicles feel great. Even if “Tron” isn’t a brand on par with Marvel or Star Wars, those neon-lit motorcycles, the Lightcycles, are truly recognizable, and one glimpse of them and their panther-like cunning and we wish we could hop on one. . We can, and the attraction stands as Disney’s first motorcycle-like roller coaster, as guests will straddle a seat and lean forward as if they were on a real motorcycle. Pulling back on the metal handlebars and getting caught up in the ride is probably my favorite moment of the ride, as we instantly feel like we’re stepping into a fantasy vehicle.
Early social media reaction has largely focused on the accessibility of the attraction. Getting on the ride will require some flexibility, as these coaster seats are sturdy, but in a series of rides at a pre-launch press event, I saw only one guest have trouble getting locked into a seat. An informal sampling, of course, but I know of no small people who have had no vehicle problems when they visited Shanghai Disneyland, and until the theme parks more openly acknowledge restrictions on new thrill rides, it will be a source of speculation. social media and backlash.
But while it’s true that one’s body type could affect one’s ability to ride a light bike, some roller coaster trains are equipped with fairly large but standard coaster cars at the rear. While some may choose this option to avoid the intense thrills of the Lightcycle, there is a valuable debate going on about theme park design and passenger accessibility, and with the public demanding more thrills and unique ride experiences, that conversation is not going. to dissapear. . (A representative for Imagineering declined to discuss details about the ride vehicle’s accessibility.)
Let’s get to the actual travel experience. The good news: Lightcycle/Run is fun. The bad news: It’s short, and overall, it feels mild.
The actual ride, for example, doesn’t match the ambition of the building it’s in, since once we’re out, we’re out, and the ride could use an extra 20 or 30 seconds, with the understanding that the faster the roller coasters go, the faster the ride. First we travel outside and under the canopy, twinkling at night but brilliant white during the day. I don’t really have a preference for day or night as both frame the riders lightly and allow us to feel like we are traveling somewhere new.
That place is the show building blacked out like a video game, and the moment we enter is the strongest part of the roller coaster, as we dip slightly and spin quickly. As our eyes adjust to the dark, the track is largely invisible, and if you’re on a Lightcycle, expect a liberating sensation as the vehicle leans to the left. There are projections of our ride competitors and digitized gates that we have to pass through to successfully complete the trappings of the game-like experience.
As far as exciting Disney games go, it’s fast, stylish, and actually provides excitement. But after spending a couple of days at Walt Disney World and revisiting roller coasters like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, slightly longer than our version of Anaheim, Space Mountain, Epcot’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, and Expedition Everest from Animal Kingdom, Lightcycle/Run felt a bit lacking in ambition. It is based on the uniqueness of the ride vehicle and its speed rather than the theme or even the design of the roller coaster.
I missed the feeling I got after riding Expedition Everest for the first time, and marveling at the mysteries hidden within an elaborately detailed mountain. While Disneyland’s Space Mountain is superior to Walt Disney World’s version, I feel the ride captures a sense of explorer optimism, and Big Thunder Mountain, on both coasts, is full of lifts and twists with a track cleverly built into the scenery to keep us guessing. . With a variety of critters, fossils, and hazards, there’s no shortage of design to capture our attention and nurture our sense of wonder. Even the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot, while too elaborately set up, puts us in vehicles that go round and round and feels like we’re dancing on a track, a sensation created to wow.
Lightcycle/Run will please guests; After all, I was happy the first time I rode it, but I worry that it lacks the level of repeatability that other roller coasters at Disney possess (many of which better showcase Imagineering’s famous attention to detail). And given how crowded Disney theme parks are these days, the actual time on the roller coaster vehicle—again, around a minute—seems too short. The computerized innards of the tail, as well as a brief illusion that introduces guests to the digital world, are well done, but for a ride that aims to transport us into a video game and set us up in a race against other Lightcycles, opportunities were missed for increase the tension, either in the track layout or in a show building layout that could allow for more elaborate projections of our competitors.
Ultimately, Lightcycle/Run seems like a casualty of Disney’s previous successes. Big Thunder Mountain, for example, remains a masterpiece, and when it was introduced to Disney parks in the late 1970s and early 1980s, its design felt epic, making the case that the coaster could tell a story. story as well as providing emotion. Lightcycle/Run plays it more simply, emphasizing pure entertainment rather than theme park awe.
However, the new journey has time on its side. In an era where theme park attractions are becoming more interactive, and video games are dominating pop culture and being adapted to film and television at a dizzying rate, an attraction that puts us inside a video game race is feels of the moment in 2023. And for taking inspiration from a 1982 film and its 2010 sequel, that may be Lightcycle/Run’s crowning achievement.