LAKE BUENA VISTA — Not since Space Mountain has the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World had such a high-tech, high-thrills ride in Tomorrowland. And Tron Lightcycle Run has been a long time coming.
Opening April 4, the new ride looms just beyond Space Mountain in an enormous canopied structure that is impossible to miss, especially at night. And like Space Mountain, it has a sleek, futuristic appeal that feels both retro and modern.
It is based on the sci-fi “Tron” movies starring Jeff Bridges that take place inside a video game where players on lightcycles travel ribbons of light on “the grid.” The first film was in 1982 and it was a moderate box office hit that built a cult following and drew critical acclaim for its groundbreaking visuals. The fan base grew, and 28 years later Disney put out a sequel in 2010 called “Tron: Legacy.” It’s the basis for the ride, which has been a big hit at Shanghai Disneyland. This one was supposed to have opened three years ago at Walt Disney World, but the pandemic got in the way.
If you haven’t seen the movies, don’t worry. The queue walks you through the essence of the story line before you straddle a lightcycle to go on what Disney calls “one of the fastest coasters at any Disney theme park in the world.” Shanghai Disneyland’s Tron ride has been clocked at 59.3 mph, according to the Roller Coaster Data Base.
That’s fast by Disney standards, on par with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios and the new Epcot Guardians of the Galaxy ride. But other theme parks have broken that speed by many more points.
Though it is fast, taking two minutes to cover 3,000 feet of smooth steel track, there are no looping, upside-down moves or moments of air time, like more daring coasters have.
After snaking through a trippy line queue with lots of computer graphics and helpful demonstrations on how to board the unusual ride vehicle, riders are set side by side in a forward-leaning lightcycle, in a position very much like riding a dirt bike.
A powerful burst of speed hurls riders through a twisting track that zooms around outside before plunging into a dark ride that feels like you are inside a video game. Riding in the back offers the best view of the many graphics detailing your team’s race against an opposing ribbon of light.
Unlike the tamer attractions at the Magic Kingdom, Tron Lightcycle Run is the first Walt Disney World attraction to require the use of lockers for personal items. All bags, hats, drink containers and other loose items must be stored in a free locker. But there is a small compartment on the front of each ride vehicle that can hold very small items like cell phones or wallets, so you can keep those items with you if you prefer.
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It is boarded like a motorcycle, with riders’ legs straddling a center seat. Disney has placed replica seats ahead of the queue, so riders can test their comfort levels for the vehicle. Larger people and those with long legs might be uncomfortable once the security bars are pressing across the back of their calves. Ask for accessibility accommodations, and you can be seated in a benchlike ride in the back.
Passengers must be at least 48 inches tall, which is the height of the average 8-year-old.
Like all of Disney’s most recent attractions, Tron Lightcycle Run will require a virtual queue reservation when it opens on April 4. There will be no standby line option. Visitors will need to use the My Disney Experience app to grab a spot in the virtual queue. Only one ride will be allowed per day.
Jerold Kaplan, executive ride project engineer for Tron Lightcycle Run, was at the media preview event Tuesday and said his engineering team takes particular pride in that powerful first launch and the overall smoothness of the ride. While it’s not identical to the ride in Shanghai, he said, “it’s a fraternal twin.” He noted that there is extensive computer guidance controlling the ride.
“It’s amazing that it is literally sitting next to Space Mountain, the first computer-controlled roller coaster in the world,” Kaplan said.