It is the jewel of most Magic Kingdoms and always its most popular attraction. Kids and Parents both enjoy one of the still longest roller coaster among every Disney Theme Parks, this article is about the 4 Big Thunder Mountain of the 5 Magic Kingdoms!
The correct title should have been 2 Big Thunder Mountain and 2 Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The last two creations of this great park Franchise dropped the ‘railroad’ due to their non-anglophone audience.
But why a Railroad ? Here comes the modest history fix.
Thunder Mesa, as Big Thunder surroundings will be called 23 years later in Paris, was supposed to be a big part of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Phase 2. This Marc Davis initiative called Western River Expedition was supposed to host a Pirates-like western themed attraction, a mine train ride, and other little pluses.
But when Florida visitors started asking why there wasn’t a Pirates of the Carribean in Walt Disney World, management hurrily added it to Phase 2 plans and rubbed out its then useless western-like counterpart.
Western River, along with its mine town Thunder Mesa was scrapped.
Years later Tony Baxter started working on a now stand-alone Mine Train ride and used Marc Davis’ Thunder Mesa concept to inspire the design we all now today. It was the first Disney attraction to use computer technologies and it openned in California in september 1979, in Florida the following year, in Tokyo in 1987 and on Disneyland’s Paris opening day in 1992.
We could start by the similitudes in saying that the tracks are for the three first attractions somehow similar. The tracks have been lenghened a bit for the Magic Kingdom Park and then copied from it for Tokyo at the exception of the ending which, there, have the guest ride around the station before reaching it. In Disneyland Paris, due to the particularity of this one, it had to be rethought.
You see, In Paris, when it was decided that the Tom Sawyer Island climbing and treking experience, instead of sitting in the midle of Rivers of America would be relocated to Adventureland under a whole new themeing, the Imagineers had plenty of room for Big Thunder. They placed it right in the middle of Rivers of the Far West (as it is called there). Yep, in Paris, Big Thunder is more than a mountain, it’s a whole island. So the tracks had to be adjusted because the entrance and queue area could not be on the island, it had to be across the river, on the dry bank so guests could embark paddle-free.
The french ride starts with a long tunnel that goes below the river and on the mountain. When you’re out again, it is layed in a similar fashion that in the others parks. You climb up the track slope passing by the geiser down below, under the water fall and down with screamers !
Then what follows is pretty much the same in every Thunder Mountains, you stay outside for a few curves, then climb up in the outdoor passing a cabin and a goat, down again for some speedy tracking, high and down, and inside for a new climbing up underneath some threatening rocks. Then you’re out and waving at the people waiting in lines before all engine stops and you look at your partner in amazement.
That’s the universal story line of every Big Thunder Mountain.
The Parisian track configuration does make the ride longer though. It’s almost 4:00 in Disneyland Paris, against between 3:15 and 3:40 in the three other locations. Note that the famous Dinosaur ribs you fly through at the end is only absent in Disneyland Paris, because of its finale being “back to the dark tunnel (for what seems an eternity of black light streaking bats) and out for the station”.
In Anaheim the little scale tricking houses of Rainbow Ridge which used to theme the loading area of the defunct Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland area are still present but nowaday you ride pass them approaching the unloading station.
Another difference is the rockwork. It is inspired from the hoodoos of Utah as the three other mountains owe their look to the Monument Valley butes. This makes Disneyland’s a rounder and more cartoonesque mountain. General shape remain equivalent in every Kingdom. In Eastern or Western Kingdoms, Big Thunder Moutain shall always be a giant rocky peak to the sky from which rushes out toyish train cars.
In the american and asian Kingdoms, they indeed bare this very familliar plastic looking, cheese sauce-yellow (more brownish in Tokyo and Orlando) wagon with a black railing for bracing and screaming. This design is to remind of the ‘Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland’s. In Disneyland Paris, the Imagineers wanted the train to look more real, and chose darker color scheme of brown and green. The wood casting also serves realism.
In the distance is how a decent Disney mountain should shine. In term of disposition inside the parks, Big Thunder usually sits by the bank, and act as a magical Frontierland background. Only Paris, where it was designed along with its whole Kingdom, was it given the role of Frontierland centerpiece.
In matter of crowds in every 4 locations, this is one of the most popular rides of its Kingdom. Lines can easily reach the 3 figures ‘from this point’ sign on busy days. Understand it’s a mild coaster that evey member of the family bold and less bold can ride with not too many butterfly in the stomach. It’s longer than any other Disney coaster and it’s always as fun !
As a result queue have been a thourough concern. Among the 4 there are two types of queueing area, the california weather one and the precipitation/burning sun weather ones. In Anaheim the queue are for most of its part uncovered and consists of walking through rocks and western props along with trekking underneath the tracks until you walk the stairs up to an elevated station. In Orlando, Tokyo and Paris, large barracks have been joined together so you can spend most of the line protected from those 3 locations’ continental weather. Along the queue you can spot the train not so distant in Tokyo but very far in Disneyland Paris through those square openair windows.
Then in those 3 locations you have to walk down the stairs as the trains depart from beneath the main building.
No matter where is encountered the most famous Disney mountain, Big Thunder is always welcomed as the most successful attraction of its Kingdom ! It has the greatest length, the greatest outdoor theming and a thrill perfectly tuned for guests of all ages, even coaster-shy.
Their surrounding vista make each riding unique and worth the line. Now change the location, and disposition inside the park : a whole different Big Thunder experience !
So next time you visit a new Kingdom, make this line, for this is sure gonna be a whole new Big Thunder Mountain !