Walt Disney World’s new Tron ride: Beautiful, but not the next Space Mountain

The skyline of Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland has long been marked by the circular dome and stars of Space Mountain, a cylindrical building whose decorative lines point continuously skyward. In Florida, Space Mountain is located near the Contemporary Resort and is easily visible to those who are shuttled and walking through the Magic Kingdom. It stands as a symbol of optimism, a mid-1970s structure that dreams upward and celebrates the promise of discovery through space travel.

The new Tron Lightcycle / Run — yes, that’s how it’s stylized — doesn’t exactly look like a building. Its entrance is a large canopy, designed to match the sense of movement of the roller coaster below it. All glistening white curves and eerie flows, the entrance to Lightcycle / Run is reminiscent of great architectural works — I think of Chicago’s Millennium Park bridge and pavilion designed by Frank Gehry, where steel panels lead us through an urban park and frame the green and the skies with a sense of wonder.

As a spectacle, it’s a triumph — a rideable building inspired by a video game movie — a ride that feels like a video game — that can still evoke a sense of comfort while being unlike anything else in a Disney theme park. It works with Space Mountain as both are terminals in other places — Space Mountain towards the horizons and Lightcycle / Run in our digital focused universe of today and probably tomorrow. The newest addition to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the ride opens on April 4th, with a soft opening on March 20th. 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 entrance to the Tron Lightcycle / Run at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.


The ride is an introduction, first opened 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 is a of the fastest coasters ever created by Walt Disney Imagineering. It’s short — the ride is only a minute long, if you don’t count some magic preview tricks in line — but Disney reps said it could hit 60 miles per hour, and it does it fast.

While “Tron” might seem like a slightly unlikely franchise to bring to American audiences — here in the States “Tron” was a hit, but it’s by no means one of the company’s most recognizable franchises — I see more in recognition that today’s audience has been weaned on the interactivity of video games and increasingly expects content that reflects this. Disney has created an elaborate backstory on how the attraction fits into the world of “Tron,” but no prior knowledge is really needed: We’re digitized and transported to a black-lit video game arena to have a Lightcycle match against another computer team.

One quick thing to note: Driving vehicles feel great. Even if “Tron” isn’t a brand on the same level as Marvel or Star Wars, these neon-lit bikes – Lightcycles – are indeed recognizable, and one glimpse of them and their beastly sleekness and we wish we could let’s go to a . We can, and the attraction is Disney’s first motorcycle-like coaster, as guests will slide into a seat and lean forward as if they were on a real motorcycle. Pulling back the metal steering wheel and being locked into the attraction is probably my favorite moment of the ride, as it instantly feels like we’re stepping into a fantasy vehicle.

Early social media reaction focused heavily on the attraction’s accessibility. The ride will require some slight maneuverability as these coaster seats are firm, but on several rides at a pre-launch media event I saw only one guest struggle to lock into a seat. A random sampling, of course, but I know quite a few people who didn’t have a problem with the vehicles when they visited Shanghai Disneyland, and until the theme parks more openly acknowledge the limitations on the new thrill rides, it will be a source of speculation and reaction on social media .

But while it’s true that one’s body type could affect one’s ability to ride a Lightcycle, some trains are equipped with fairly large but standardized carriages at the back. While some may choose this option to avoid the intense thrills of the Lightcycle, there is a worthy debate about theme park design and rider accessibility, and as the public demands more thrills and unique ride experiences, such a debate is not is going to disappear. (An Imagineering representative declined to discuss any details about the vehicle’s accessibility.)

Let’s get to the actual driving experience. The good news: Lightcycle / Run is fun. The bad news: It’s short and generally feels light.

The actual ride, for example, doesn’t match the ambition of the building it’s housed in, as once we’re off, we’re off, and the ride could use an extra 20 or 30 seconds, with the understanding that the faster coasters are made, the faster it will be. it’s the ride. We travel first outside and under the canopy — sparkling at night but stark white during the day. I don’t really have a preference for day or night, as both frame riders flexibly and allow us to feel like we’re traveling somewhere new.

This part is the dark video game-like broadcast building and the moment we enter is the strongest part of the coaster as we do a small dip and a quick turn. As our eyes adjust to the dark, the track is largely invisible, and if you’re on a Lightcycle, expect a sense of release as the driving vehicle tilts to its left. There are projections of our competitors and digitized portals that we must pass through to successfully complete the game-like pitfalls of the experience.

A look at the sleek vehicles of Tron Lightcycle / Run.

A look at the sleek vehicles of Tron Lightcycle / Run.


When it comes to Disney thrill rides, it’s fast, it’s stylish, and it does deliver a thrill. But after spending a few days at Walt Disney World and revisiting the coasts like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a little more than the Anaheim version, Space Mountain, Epcot’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, and Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest, Lightcycle/Run felt like a little lacking in ambition. It relies on the uniqueness of the driving vehicle and its speed more than the design of the theme or even the coaster itself.

I missed the feeling I got after riding Expedition Everest for the first time and marveling at the mysteries hidden within an intricately detailed mountain. While Disneyland’s Space Mountain is superior to Walt Disney World’s version, I think the ride captures the explorer’s sense of optimism, and Big Thunder Mountain, on both coasts, is full of lifts and turns with a track cleverly built into the landscape to keep us guessing. With a variety of creatures, fossils and hazards, there is no shortage of design to grab our attention and stroke our sense of wonder. Even the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot, although it has a very elaborate setup, puts us in vehicles that twist and turn and feel like we’re dancing on a dance floor, a sensation built for surprise.

The Lightcycle / Run will delight guests — I had fun the first time I rode it, after all — but I worry that it doesn’t have a level of repeatability that other coasters at Disney possess (many of which better highlight Imagineering’s famous attention to detail). And given how busy Disney theme parks are these days, the actual time on the roller coaster—again, about a minute—seems very little. The computerized innards of the tail, as well as a brief illusion that introduces guests to the digital world, are fine, but for a ride that aims to transport us into a video game and pit us in a race against other Lightcycles, opportunities were missed to increase the intensity, either in the track design or in a demonstration building design that could allow for more complex displays of our competitors.

Ultimately, Lightcycle / Run seems like a casualty of Disney’s past successes. Big Thunder Mountain, for example, remains a masterpiece, and when it was introduced to Disney parks in the late 1970s and early 1980s I felt epic design, arguing that the roller coaster could tell a story as much as and provide a thrill. Lightcycle / Run plays it simpler, emphasizing pure entertainment over theme park awe.

However, the new route has timing on its side. In an age where theme park rides are increasingly interactive — and video games dominate pop culture and are being adapted into film and television at a rapid pace — a ride that places us in a video game race is a sensation of the moment in 2023 .and because it was inspired by a 1982 film and its 2010 sequel, which may be Lightcycle / Run’s greatest achievement.

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