March 11, 2012

Up through the atmosphere

Anyone who knew Disneyland well when Tomorrowland wasn't whatever it is today can tell you where this photo was taken. Can you identify the costume? The white, dark orange, and black color scheme should make it immediately clear.

Back then, you didn't need your souvenir guide to know where you could "pilot your own space craft to optimum speed." As the Rocket Jets swooshed around and around dipping and rising above the PeopleMover's loading area, they were no less a landmark than Sleeping Beauty's Castle. They were Tomorrowland's "weenie at the end of every street," drawing guests from the Hub into the "world on the move" that the right-hand side of Disneyland used to be. At night, their red nosecones lit up a long-exposure path in what must have been tens of thousands of amateur photographers' lenses. By day, they were part of a constantly moving landscape.

I remember the Rocket Jets as creating a feeling that I found only in some parts of the Park. There were lots of places to "lose yourself" in Disneyland then, even in the midst of 85,000 summer guests (some times were easier than others!). Leaning against the railing on the top deck of the Mark Twain as she drifted past the Hungry Bear Restaurant, putting along in a motor boat, or strolling through the Alpine Gardens were a few.

But the Rocket Jets gantry elevator took you even further away from everybody else and did it with a terrific adrenaline-building sense of anticipation. It could only carry a small number of people, and you could see those on the ground getting smaller as you ascended. When you got to the top platform, only the Cast Member at the controls was there. From that perspective, you couldn't see the ground below. It was like Disneyland was all yours.

Now, of course, the Rocket Jets are all gone. Thankfully, youtube can give you a hint of the feelings that flew with them. This video is from the early '90s, but things were still much the same. You even get a great view of riding up in the gantry! So keep your hands and arms inside your rocket at all times, and pull back on the stick to make it climb higher.