The first ride visible in Tomorrowland at Disneyland in California, is Astro Orbiter. It's also the first ride you come to at Discoveryland at Disneyland Paris (Discoveryland being their version of Tomorrowland). In the other parks, their versions of this attraction are slightly more central and often raised above the main concourse.
Each version of the attraction has a slightly different name: Astro Orbiter (Disney World); Astro Orbitor (Disneyland); Orbitron (Hong Kong Disneyland); Orbitron, Machines Volantes (Disneyland Paris); Star Jets (Tokyo Disneyland). The newly-opened Shanghai Disneyland has a very similar ride called Jet Packs.
Essentially each of these rides is the same mechanism as used by the various flying Dumbo attractions - and also by the Aladdin-themed magic carpet ride found at some parks. A rotating central globe has arms extending from it which move up and down. Guests sit in a themed carriage at the end of each of these arms whether that's an elephant, a magic carpet or, in the case of most of the 'orbiter' attractions, a rocket ship.
The ride experience, therefore, is very similar in each park with the only real difference being entry into the ride. Let's talk about the Disney World version first.
Guests queue at ground level in an unthemed area which just consists of metal barriers to guide the queue line. Around you, guests enjoy the other attractions of Tomorrowland and eventually, you find yourself at the entrance to two lifts - Lift A and Lift B. Guided by a cast member, you will load into one of these lists to be taken up to the 'Rocket Platform'. The paintwork on the lift shaft was once green, but more recent videos show it to have had a spruce up to become bright red. Between the lifts is a large sign naming the attraction. The lift interiors are basic, grey metal as you might expect to find in many a service lift around the world.
Rising up two levels to the platform, the lift stops, the doors open and guests emerge to see the Astro Orbiter's rockets revolving ahead of them. Holding areas, hosted by a cast member, are soon filled by guests. Now is an opportunity to admire the attraction from close up. The design is very 'functional' with large, grey metal struts supporting the structure and arms holding the rocket ships. The rockets themselves have varied in colour over the years. They are currently red and silver with gold accents. The shape is streamlined with tail fins and a green nose cone which lights up.
When the ride is ready for the next group, guests climb into the rocket ships - a maximum of two per ship seated one in front of the other - and set off on their voyage.
It's probably true to say that the ride isn't the most thrilling; revolving around and around the centre point and moving up and down isn't going to entertain for very long - although it is a ride which would prove popular with children. But with three different versions of the same experience around the parks, what can Astro Orbiter offer visitors?
Disney World has the advantage over the other parks in that its ride is raised above ground level. This means the 'attraction' of this attraction is the opportunity to see the whole of the Magic Kingdom from on high. Watching online videos, it is clear to see that this is especially magical after dark when the World of Disney is lit up.
To be honest, for Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, the ride being set at ground level means it loses a lot of its appeal. When we visited Paris a couple of years ago, their iteration - Orbitron, Machines Volantes - always had a long queue and as it was so similar to the Dumbo attraction (which we had queued a good 40 minutes for) there was little compulsion to ride it. If it had been set up high as in Disney World, I may have been more tempted - particularly, as I say, after dark.
The three iterations of the ride in Florida, California and Paris all have a similar design aesthetic - although Paris's is a little more steampunk to fit in with the general feel of Discoveryland (which is far more Jules Verne than the 50s sci-fi feel of Florida and California).
Tokyo Disneyland's version, Star Jets, however has a far more American feel echoing the design of shuttles during the 'Space Race'. As I understand it, this is very similar to the design of the original version of this ride at Disneyland - Rocket Jets (which, as with the current Florida iteration, was raised above ground level).
The iteration at Hong Kong Disneyland departs from the aesthetic of the other versions even further in that the ships are more like flying saucers and have a larger capacity, seating 4 guests in pairs. It is far more colourful with bright oranges and pinks. The central column still retains the orbiting planets design favoured by Disneylands Paris and California.
One last attraction of note is the similar Jet Packs ride at the newly opened Shanghai Disney. This uses a similar ride mechanism to the versions already discussed. Guests are seated side by side in chair like seats with their limbs hanging free. The theming is far more streamlined and futuristic than the retro feel of the other parks. It was unclear from the online videos I watched whether riders have control of the vehicles or it is a predetermined movement.
Astro Orbiter/Orbitor/Orbitron/StarJets etc is not an essential Disney attraction. It is one you could pass by and not detract from your Disney experience. The exception, one could argue, would be where the attraction is set up high allowing for otherwise unattainable views of the park. As it is, the ride's 'experience' is identical to Dumbo and the magic carpets. However, the theming is good - my favourite is probably the more Jules Verne-esque version at Disneyland Paris - and it is an attraction with a long history at the Disney parks.