Like any kid, I wanted to go to Walt Disney World as soon as I could understand there was an actual place where Cinderella lived. I had to meet this Princess to let her know I was her biggest fan. I knew she would absolutely love me, we would be best friends, and I was going to move into her castle ASAP.
When my family went to Walt Disney World for the first time, we drove from Western New York to Orlando in a wood paneled station wagon. I remember driving through West Virginia (which seemed to have no lights on any roads), ordering McDonalds in Georgia (when my dad yelled while in the drive thru that “I can never understand why our family can never order off the damn menu!” My mom quietly said, “Larry, don’t swear! They can hear you in the restaurant!” It was a quiet trip to the payment window.)
Once the McDonalds debacle was in the rear view mirror, we arrived at the Contemporary and checked into the hotel. We dropped our stuff off in our one room (yup, two queen meds and a twin rollaway bed for six people…the kids can fight for who sleeps on it), let my Dad sleep for a few minutes after driving non stop from our house in New York, and hit the pool.
Now, I should disclose some information at this point:
- I had, and still have, a massively active imagination.
- As a kid, I did not have a strong stomach.
- I had never ridden a roller coaster.
- I hated the dark.
Eventually, we got to Magic Kingdom. Like every other family, we were going to maximize this day by riding as many attractions as possible.
We toured Haunted Mansion, most of which I spent hiding my face in the Doom Buggy behind my mom’s torso. I vaguely remember the ghostly visage in the buggy, which absolutely petrified me.
After that event, we rode other attractions (tea cups, carousel, all of the rides that spin and made me kind of green). We ate Mickey Bars. We enjoyed the Country Bears, Splash Mountain, and all of the attractions in the park.
Then, we came to Space Mountain.
Now, I know kids have to be a certain height to ride the thrill rides.
I am not sure anyone checked my height.
The queue to the ride seemed hours long. My dad told us “we are all riding this ride, and no one is going to the bathroom or getting another Mickey Bar until we are done here.” At this point, my mom tried to appease the hungry masses by “pretending we had food.” She pulled this trick every time we took a car trip and shouted for my dad to stop at ever McDonalds we saw. She told us to pretend we got a hamburger.
It did not work.
Anyway, I digress. We got to the front of the line and they sat us in the car/rocket. My mom was behind me, and the rest of our family was in front of us.
If you have not ridden Space Mountain before, there is a bar that sits on your lap and keeps you in the car. Although the roller coaster does not invert, it does move quickly, has big drops, and jerks around a bit.
Did I mention it is also pitch black in the attraction? All you see are stars…and blackness.
Okay, back to the ride.
I pulled my safety bar down as far as it would go. When it stopped, I could still move quite freely in the seat. My dad, who was in the front of the car, was ready to go and laughing with my brother. My sisters were both secure in their seats.
My mom, at the very back of the car, saw that I was not secured and started to say to the ride operator, “Excuse me? I think this might be a problem. My daughter is not…”
That is as much as she got out, because someone pressed go.
And, go we did.
For the next three minutes (but it felt like hours), my mother had the five fingered death grip on me in the seat ahead of her as I careened in and out of the car.
I vaguely remember shrieking at the top of my lungs and thinking the following things:
- Well, eight years old. It’s been a good run.
- If I am ejected into Space Mountain, will they ever find me, or am I orbiting space?
- Amy (my older sister) had better take care of Paddington for me (my best buddy).
- I did not know mom was this strong.
My mom alternated between hollering, “Jenny! It is going to be alright!” and “LARRY, YOUR DAUGHTER IS FALLING OUT OF THE CAR BACK HERE!”
Now, there was not one thing my dad could do about the situation, but I guess my mom wanted him to know.
We made it through the ride and came to the final stop. At that point, my mom got out of the car, grabbed me, told the Cast Member that “my daughter was NOT SAFELY IN THE CAR,” glared daggers at my father, and stalked out with me in tow, sobbing.
There used to be an exit queue in Space Mountain where they took your photo or had mirrors to show you what you looked like after the ride was over. Our family photo from that moment was of my dad holding me, his sobbing daughter, while my mom glared at him. My siblings were standing there, looking downward, hoping we could still ride more attractions.
It was not a magical moment.
Since that day, I have shied away from Space Mountain. I did not ride roller coasters until last year.
(Sidebar: That was my sister’s fault. She tricked me into riding Expedition: Everest. But that is another story.)
I have returned to the Magic Kingdom several times in the past year for runDisney events. I never rode Space Mountain.
Until February 2019.
I was in Orlando for Princess Half Marathon. For the first time, I was by myself. So, I sat in front of Space Mountain, stared at the behemoth on a sunny day, and texted my sister 1500 miles away.
Me: Dude, I am going to ride Space Mountain.
Amy: Dude, don’t fall out.
Me: LOL…that’s not funny, but it is.
Amy: You’ve got this.
Me: Just know if you never hear from me again, I went down swinging.
Amy: I love you, Dude.
Me: I love you too, Dude.
(I know. We call each other Dude. It has been that way for decades).
Into the belly of the beast I marched, buoyed by my newfound confidence created by almost four decades and 100 pounds.
As I weaved through the Fastpass queue, I was both excited and nervous. I was finally going to ride this bad boy and enjoy it. I hoped.
I stood in the single rider line (thanks for the tip, Phil!), ready to make new memories. As I climbed into the second car, I realized I was in the seat my mother occupied many years ago. Smiling, I lowered the safety bar, and was in no danger of falling out (thanks, carbs!).
As the ride meandered to the starting point, I raised my hands, gave a mighty yell, and proceeded to have the best three minutes a person could possibly have on Space Mountain. I yelled, I laughed, and kept my eyes open the entire time.
I did not fall out.
As I exited the ride, victorious from conquering the Mountain that had almost made me a memory, I smiled and exclaimed quietly, “We did it, mom!”
Out in the sunshine with Space Mountain standing behind me, I texted my sister.
Me: Dude! I DID IT!
Amy: Dude! I am so proud of you!
Me: I did not fall out.
Amy: Hooray, Dude!
Me: I love you, Dude.
Amy: I love you.
As I wandered away from the white shrouded attraction, only one thing crossed my mind…
I cannot wait to ride Space Mountain again.