Alexander: Beginning with resort-saving Space Mountain de la Terre a la Lune in 1995, Disney was the unlikely champion of the modern launch coaster; before Premier Rides, Intamin, and other industry juggernauts had their hand at next-generation launchers, Disney partnered with Vekoma to create the first new catapult-propelled coaster in over a decade (one that, unlike its predecessors, would run multiple trains on a circular track.
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While the modern launch coaster is all but synonymous with regional parks, whether it be magnetic, tire-driven, pneumatic, or a simple catapult like Space Mountain in Paris, the concept as it is today wouldn’t’ve come to life without a little help from The Mouse – and so brings us to the ranking of Disney’s numerous launchers, which guests can enjoy at almost every Disney resort.
5. IncrediCoaster – Disney California Adventure (Anaheim, California, USA)
Bringing up the rear on our list (not counting the Toy Story-themed launch coasters found in Paris, Hong Kong, Orlando, and Shanghai – we figured a mere passing mention was sufficient, so here it is) is California Adventure’s original thrill ride, Incredicoaster. While this enormous Intamin looper remains a must-ride for DCA visitors, re-rides on the 6000ft+ beast aren’t what they used to be, now that the ride’s iconic progressive-rock-meets-Coney-Island theme music has been replaced with tiresome Incredibles-themed banter. Still, Incredicoaster remains a satisfying, forceful, airtime-laden ride at its core despite the hasty incorporation into Pixar Pier.
4. Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster – Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA) & Walt Disney Studios (Chessy, France)
What can we say? We’re suckers for anything weird and hard-to-believe; if ever there was an operating WDW attraction known for raising eyebrows, it could only be Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster: Featuring Aerosmith. In the era of Disney’s mass assimilation of film franchises and intellectual properties, it’s easy to forget that, as recently as 1999, Disney navigated through the quarry of musical IP and settled on Aerosmith and a refreshingly-hip “Hard Rock Cafe – The Ride” aesthetic for the resort’s new signature ride. The “hip” part may be debatable now, but Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster‘s vibe has appreciated in value as the ratio of Disney IP attractions to non-Disney IP attractions continues to skew. Paris’ Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster follow-up showed fans a keen commitment America’s Greatest Hard Rock Band™, and even with the Paris ride now becoming another chip in the Disney IP stack, the OG Rock’N still feels like an integral piece of Hollywood Studios (even if the ride itself is a little rough around the edges).
3. Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars – Hong Kong Disneyland (Lantau Island, Hong Kong)
Surprise. You forgot about this one, didn’t you? It’s okay, Hong Kong Disneyland is used to it by now. Anyway, Hong Kong Disneyland’s lineup may be the smallest of the Disney resorts, but some rides are out here doing double-duty – take Big Grizzly, which is both Hong Kong Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain and their Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster (we mean that strictly on paper – the ride is actually a launched Expedition Everest for families). What the ride lacks in height and drops, Big Grizzly Mountain more than makes up for it in sheer cleverness and terrain usage, and unlike inside Mt. Everest, the audio animatronics here in Grizzly Gulch actually work.
2. Star Wars: Hyperspace Mountain – Parc Disneyland (Chessy, France)
Flying high on its 3rd incarnation is Paris’ Space Mountain, which takes the maid-of-honor spot on our list (not bad considering this is the ride we have to thank for Disney launch coasters even being a thing). Earlier, more thematically-conscious iterations of Space Mountain breathlessly plunged riders into the world of Jules Verne – today’s Hyperspace Mountain of Paris is in stark contrast to this, but clashing thematic touches be damned; this ride is the real deal. Complex synchronized audio and projection mapping is one thing, but gorgeous, one-of-a-kind Vekoma MK-1212s (which tease a return of the original Verne-esque storytelling) and a bonkers ride layout that feels substantially more special in the wake of more-formulaic launch coasters (an upward launch into a diving helix – into a sidewinder – what even?) make Hyperspace both exceedingly unique and greater than the mere sum of its parts.
1. TRON Lightcycle Power Run – Shanghai Disneyland (Pudong, Shanghai, People’s Rebuplic of China)
There was no other choice but TRON. How could there be? Did anyone not immediately think that Lightcycles would make the BEST theme ever for a Disney coaster? And maybe theme an entire area around it, with frosted glass and chrome and dancing lights that follow each Daft Punk-blaring strand of riders? Okay, maybe all of that was beyond any one person’s imagination, but luckily the mad scientists over at Disney Imagineering settled on this concept for Shanghai Disney’s Tomorrowland (whose name is misleading – this place clearly exists somewhere outside of linear time), where the dazzling TRON calls home. For those waiting patiently for Magic Kingdom’s TRON, we won’t give away any spoilers – but we will say it’s all enough to give you a glimmer in your eye and some star-shaped pupils.
And so concludes our review of Disney’s launch coasters – do you agree with our selections? Be sure to weigh in on our social media platforms and check out some of our other recent articles: