Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Set for Explosive Return to Disneyland

Written by Norman Gidney. Posted in Features, In the Parks

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Published on March 10, 2014 at 4:11 am with 67 Comments

Today, In the Parks steps in for Dateline Disneyland and boy do we have an update for you.  That big BOOM you hear is the newly refurbished Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which is in cast member testing right now and will be open to regular guests a week from today. A little mouse invited us to tag along on a trip around Big Thunder Mountain and we’ve got a quick preview of this exquisitely revitalized attraction for you. We also bring you the latest from atop Space Mountain, the inner sanctum of Innoventions, a summary of refurbishments around the resort and lots more. A fancy new Starbucks™ has opened in Downtown Disney – complete with an interior video wall of artistically framed coffee beans being roasted and a stunning exterior garden seating area backed with an artistic wall of succulents. Not to be left out, Disney California Adventure gets into the act with a bit of news of its own. All this and more for you below. . .

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IT’S BACK!!!!! Let’s find out who can ride the most attractions at Disneyland in a single day . . . it’s the MiceChat Gumball Rally. Rolling your way May 3rd.  Click HERE for more information and to sign up for the ultimate Disney fan event!

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

This next segment is going to start with a “WOW.”  We have watched patiently over the last 14 months as our beloved Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has endured a painfully long refurbishment. Slowly, the tracks were replaced, Rainbow Ridge was reduced to rubble and reborn, and the rocks of big thunder Mesa took on newly revived hues.

Of course, there was more going on behind the scenes than we could see from outside the construction fences. The Imagineers who have been working on this project for over SIX YEARS have a glorious surprise for you. Be prepared for some spoilers below, including video. If you’d like to avoid this segment, please scroll down to the next bold headline.

We have day and night shots for you below from this past Saturday and Sunday.

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As we enter the queue, fresh desert landscaping greets us.

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The queue itself follows the same path as before. Just down and around the familiar bend, we get our first good look at Rainbow Ridge. Although the town was completely removed and rebuilt from scratch, the result is gorgeous and painstakingly restored.

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Yep, the water is as copper as ever.

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As you climb the stairs into the station, you’ll note that the right hand side of the loading platform has been expanded to accommodate guests with disabilities.  A large double ramp allows for guests to not only queue up, but exit as well via their own private ramp. The only downside is that there is no shade for disabled guests. Adding a canopy would, as one cast member put it, ruin the view of the attraction from the load platform. Still, it’s a welcome addition for folks in wheelchairs who once had to dodge exiting guests as they attempted to make their way to the loading platform.

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The highly textured hand rails are pretty cool.

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The ride itself is smooth as glass thanks to all new tracks and trains. Thankfully, however, they have attempted to keep the strange little idiosyncrasies in the layout that you know and love. There are still sudden drops and angle adjustments throughout the ride and that same quirky little wobble during the helix. What they have done is brought the ride up to speed with some modern technology while honoring its heritage. They’ve addressed some Cal-OSHA concerns as well.

Let’s get into the spoilers. Zoom forward to the next bold headline if you don’t want to see the specific photos and video of the attraction.

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The lighting and sound throughout the attraction has been completely refreshed. The entry cave is saturated in an otherworldly glow.

 

We begin in the bat-filled caves as we always have.  But instead of bouncing rubber bats on wires, you’ll find new animated figures flapping their wings, looking a little more realistic. (you’ll have to wait for the video below to see the bats and pools as I wasn’t able to capture a good image for you with my camera and didn’t want to ruin the show for others by using a flash).

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You’ll find plenty of clues to big new things yet to come on the attraction. Watch out for all those explosives. . .

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The goat trick is soon to have new meaning . . .

 

The imagineering team has added to the storyline of the attraction in a way that perfectly fits and helps add detail and nuance to this beloved classic. Boxes of explosives lead to our old pal the goat. His classic chew toy is the set up for a dynamite new climax to the ride. As we head around the helix into the final lift hill scene, you’ll immediately notice that something very new is going on.

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This scene used to feature a rather unconvincing earthquake sequence with shifting boulders and tumbling rocks.  For 1979, the effect was passable.  Today’s audiences require something with a little more realism.  In their place is a dynamic eruption which is sparked at the beginning of the mine and which cascades up the shaft in successive explosions to a grand ball of simulated fire and smoke. The special effects here are exceptional (though they didn’t work on all of our trips).

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That final lift hill is now the grand climax that this ride has always been lacking (as you’ll see in the video below).

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Overall, we simply could not be happier with this refurbishment.  They really went all out in maintaining what worked while improving what was lacking.  That includes the technical aspect of the attraction.  While some may think that the ride little too smooth, others will find the experience more comfortable and every bit as fun as before.

For all the delays, the redo of this 35 year old classic attraction was well worth the wait. The substantial investment in rebuilding all the major show elements, ride system, and improved story will give this ride at least another 35 year lease on life.

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We’ve got a full ride-through video with both day and night shots. Of course, that also means spoilers (this is the 3rd and final warning. . . but we know you really want to see what’s new). During the day ride through, the climactic special effects do not work properly. So, stick to it and watch the final ride through at night to see the full new show. You won’t regret it.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad officially reopens on March 17th.  If you are an annual pass holder, they are also holding previews of the newly refurbished attraction from March 13th to the 16th.

  • Thursday, March 13 – 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM
  • Friday, March 14 – 8:00 AM to 12:00 Midnight
  • Saturday, March 15 – 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM
  • Sunday, March 16 – 8:00 AM to 12:00 Midnight

To participate, you’ll need to show your valid Annual Passport to either enter the standby line or access the attraction’s kiosks to get a Disney FASTPASS ticket. When you return to enter the FASTPASS queue, they’ll ask to see your Annual Passport and FASTPASS ticket.

Disneyland Railroad

The Disneyland Railroad is currently under refurbishment but will return on March 15th.

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Addictometer Crowd Estimates for Disneyland Resort


March 10-16, 2014

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Spring break is here and the crowds are starting to build…

  • With St. Patrick’s Day, Spring Break, beautiful weather with temps in the 80s, and Big Thunder reopening, expect a perfect storm of busyness later this week.
  • Disney’s resort hotels and other area hotels are solidly booked toward the end of the week.
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad reopens after a crazy long refurb, and we expect Annual Passholders to flock to Frontierland for a special AP-only preview starting this Thursday. (We expect Thursday to peak in the late afternoon.)
  • The Mouseaddict Crowd Map is your friend! Keep tabs on the most crowded areas and make wiser choices to maximize your park time.

Looking for the best replacement for Mobile Magic on your iPhone? Download the remarkable Mouseaddict app for iPhone and iPad with the Addictometer crowd map overlay: see exactly where crowds are gathering, right on the map! The free Mouseaddict app features more than five dozen categories of searchable resort information, weather forecasts, park and show schedules, and more. Download on the App Store or at mouseaddict.com.

Spring in Disneyland

More stunning displays of flowers have been planted at Disneyland during the horticulture department’s season to shine.

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Space Mountain

The new ring around Space Mountain is coming along better than we could have hoped.  The peak should be painted white soon, helping it blend into the original structure.  As the schedule stands now, the ride will be going down for refurbishment on May 12th and is supposed to return on June 26th.  So, it should be open in time for the Gumball Rally after all.

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Captain America

Progress report on Captain America. On the official opening day of the new Captain America meet and greet, they added new graphics for the temporary, and admittedly underwhelming, alterna-entrance at the bottom of the former exit ramp.

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One MiceChat reader recently called this building “Innovengers.”  It certainly fits.

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But how is the new meet and greet doing?  We stopped in Sunday at around noon to check things out and found that the latest superhero doesn’t have quite the same pull as his neighbor Thor.

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As guests enter from the right, they are immediately diverted toward the Iron Man exhibit. To get to the new Captain America are, you have to walk counterclockwise around the perimeter of the building to the destination.

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You have to walk past the hour-long queue for the Thor meet and greet to get to Innovenger’s newest superhero.

Let’s hope Captain America finds his footing. Though his meet and greet area is light on the razzle-dazzle and short on the presentation. With some reworking of traffic patterns and promotion, they should be able to fill up that queue.

Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage

Let’s take a look at the Submarine Lagoon.

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Scaffolds are in place around the subs.

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And a platform appears to have been constructed in the entry of the first cave.

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it’s a small world

It’s a small world is currently getting a full backstage safety redesign on the sets and infrastructure. Small World will reopen briefly in April so that the Good Morning America show can broadcast for several days from in front of the ride, playing up the attraction’s 50thanniversary from its initial debut at the World’s Fair. Then Small World will close again until later in May as the last bits of safety enhancements are completed.

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Alice in Wonderland

Last night the classic attraction, Alice in Wonderland closed to undergo a substantial refurbishment that will last through July 3rd.  This will address the “temporary” CalOSHA solution that resulted in ugly tarps and railings boxing in the once climatic outdoor path down the leaves.  We will also see some substantial upgrades to some of the show scenes, including a brand new Queen of Hearts Animatronic.  We are really looking forward to this refurbishment.

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But, for those of you that did not get out to the park for a final trip through Wonderland, we have the next best thing…

Splash Mountain

Splash Mountain has also returned from refurbishment, where some essential work was do to infrastructure allowing for future maintenance of the animatronics.  Those once hard-to-reach figures which had been turned off for quite some time are now functional again.

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The video below shows the attraction days after it reopened, a few more items have since been addressed, but you’ll get the overall idea of just how important all those moving figures really are. This was an important refurbishment for the future of this attraction.

Since posting the video, we have noticed the water effects in the Laughing place scene have slowly been improving.  While other figures in this area have gone dark entirely.  It seems they are still working out the kinks from this refurb.

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One thing that wasn’t addressed on this refurbishment are the exterior details. There’s still a need for some woodwork and painting.

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The Briar Patch is faded and rusting.

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But guests probably don’t notice as they splash by.

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Fancy New Starbucks is Now OPEN at Downtown Disney

Today, the brand new Starbucks in Downtown Disney opens.  Located in the old Blink clothing store, they have gone through considerable effort to shake off the bad mojo that this spot has dealt with (the ghost of the horrid Anne Geddes store had to be expunged).

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The new design is organic and modern.

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A large new garden seating area has been expertly crafted with a shade tree at its heart and an artistic succulent wall at the back.

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According to the cast member at the door, the wood decorating the exterior walls was reclaimed from old boxcars. This was then used to relate a reference to Walt Disney and his love of trains. Yeah, it’s a stretch, but appreciated none the less.

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There is also a beautiful wall planting that carries the aesthetic of the Starbucks™ logo out into the garden area.

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There are some interior details that we just weren’t allowed to photograph which we’ll bring you later in the week. Notably, there’s a large video wall at the back of the store showing Epcot Living with the Land style video of coffee beans being grown and roasted. There’s also a smaller touch screen video den for kids to draw on. We can’t wait to give this new location a shot, pun intended.

Speaking of Downtown Disney…

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It appears that the fountain is getting a full re-tiling. Nice.

Disney California Adventure is also bursting with activity.  At the entrance to the park from the Grand California Hotel, the wisteria are in full bloom.  the fragrance is intoxicating.

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Grizzly River Run

With the increase in temperature, the masses have descended on DCA’s only water ride.  But be aware, the attraction is currently scheduled to go down for refurbishment from April 29th to June 19th (it’s too bad they didn’t plan this refurb for the winter season instead of during a time folks might actually enjoy riding).

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70 minute wait and it’s not even April.  It’s good to note that there is a Single Rider line for this attraction!

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Redwood Creek Challenge Trail

The play area, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, has had its refurbishment extended through March 18th

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The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure

DCA’s only omnimover attraction will be going down for an extensive refurbishment that will last from March 20th to May 9th.  Rumor has it that the ride will enjoy another aesthetic fix which will include a reworking of the Under the Sea sequence and a new death scene for Ursula.  Get your rides in now folks.

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Boudin Bakery

The exterior of the Boudin Bakery is being refurbished. Both the food location and the bakery tour are still open.

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Muppet Vision 3D

In a very cute and understated move, the pre-show for Muppet Vision 3D has been modified to include the nefarious villain, Constantine, from the upcoming film Muppets Most Wanted.

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As the familliar pre-show continues, transmission interferences occur revealing the new character of the upcoming film.  Constantine breaks through to inform guests of his evil plans to rule the world.

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MiceChat Podcast #15: A Spoonful of Sherman

Our latest show was quite a while in the making. We think it was worth the wait. Aside from our usual round up of Disney and theme park news, we’ve got an outstanding interview with Robbie Sherman (son of Disney legend Robert Sherman of the Sherman Brothers). Robbie was quite candid. The interview was conducted at the Disneyana Fan Club show and sale, so there’s quite a bit of background noise, but it’s all in good fun. It’s a spoonful of Sherman and then some. Enjoy!


Direct Link | iTunes Link

That about rounds things out for this Monday edition of In The Parks. Andy Castro will be back soon folks.

Also, the HD filming for the Anaheim version of Soarin’ Over The World is all set for Wednesday morning. The flight plan has WDI’s helicopter swooping over the Cadillac Range in Cars Land before banking over Route 66 to the north and flying above the Carthay Circle Theater and Buena Vista Street, then diving over the Esplanade to finish with the exact same flight over Disneyland as the original movie captured during filming back in December, 1999. Don’t bother trying to wave to the camera, as Disneyland’s security team will prevent anyone from being under the flight plan, and thus in the line of filming, that morning.

So, what do you think of the enhancements to Big Thunder? Do you think the new Starbucks in Downtown Disney sets a new styalistic tone which should be carried over into other parts of Downtown Disney? And even as Spring Break hits the resort, the aggressive refurbishment calendar continues. We’d love to hear your thoughts below.

We’ll see you again on Friday, In The Parks!

About Norman Gidney

Norman Gidney, also known as Fishbulb, produces and edits many of the articles on MiceChat. Tune in every Tuesday for the Orlando Parkhopper and every Friday for In The Parks. But you'll also find his photos in the Weekly Round Up, SAMLAND, and numerous other columns on the site.

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67 Comments

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Comments for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Set for Explosive Return to Disneyland are now closed.

  1. Why on earth are they planning to have 5 rides down at the start of the summer season and in the heart of all the Grad Nite dates(Space,Matterhorn,Grizzly,Alice,Nemo)????

    • I haven’t been able to find news of the Matterhorn going down. Where did you see that? Thanks.

      • The Disneyland website map section is showing Matterhorn down May 27 – August 14.

        https://disneyland.disney.go.com/maps/

      • Thank you! Where do I go on that website to see the refurbs? I’ve never been able to find them. I really appreciate your help.

      • Never mind, I just found it. Thanks!

    • There’s too much work/deferred maintenance to do before the 60th anniversary…but having Grizzly down as well is weird. Maybe the management change has confused folks?

  2. On the sign that at Big Thunder that points out, Grizzly Gulch, Thunder Mesa, Rainbow Ridge and Tumbleweed I get that Grizzly Gulch is Hong Kong and Thunder Mesa in Paris, but what and where is Tumbleweed? Something at WDW?

    • Tumbleweed is the name of the flooded town in the WDW version of the ride. :-)

      • Yes Professor Isobar causes the “Big Rain” storm that ends of flooding the little town of Tumbleweed.

  3. Grizzly Gulch, ftw! Cute nod to the other lands. I like that.

  4. Great to see a classic back. They did a great job! Worth the the wait!

  5. Scaffolding up around the Subs tells me they are getting a new coat of paint and not being mothballed. Love the updates to BTMRR.

    • Agreed. Seeing so much work being done on the subs is a very good sign indeed!

  6. Great update!!!

    So I guess the Alice refurb will hint at the improvements to come for the rest of the FL dark rides… for the 60th anniversary upgrades?

  7. Thanks for another great column! I look very much forward to them!

    Here’s what I don’t get about the additional ring on Space Mountain. I thought the issue here was keeping cast members safe on the top of the mountain. I don’t see how adding the new ring will do that. It creates less roof space. ???

    It also dramatically alters the design of this classic Disney icon. My hope is that they paint this ring a lite blue, to maintain the intention of the original design.

    Anyone know why they’re not just adding some kind of railing?

    • That was going to be my comment as well. What does adding a ring at the top add to worker safety? At least it’s along the same lines as the original design, but why is it necessary?
      Anybody?

      • My guess, because the right side of the middle ring slopes down, a worker can fall there. The new top ring closes the open space of the middle ring. Maybe a safety rope can attach onto the inside of the new ring.

    • The additional ring prevents workers from falling off the (before) open side, and it visually disguises the new anchor mechanism that will hold men and machinery working on the exterior.

  8. The new effects in Big Thunder are great, can’t wait to see them on our late summer visit. Looks like our timing should be pretty good too…most attractions will be done with their refurbs!

  9. Interesting change to the Big Thunder dirctional sign. It previously refernced the scenes of the ride like Spiral Butte and Dinosaur Gap. Also more proof that the town in the attraction is not called Rainbow Ridge. Despite what everyone says. Rainbow Ridge is located 76 miles away and the population sign names the town Big Thunder.

    • The sign reads that Rainbow Ridge is 76 FEET away, not 76 miles. :)

      • You, sir, deserve a Dole Whip for making me go up and look at the photo again to see for myself….

      • You’re right! Wonder if it’s intended to refer to an actual ridge now…

        I get the inside joke of the international towns marked in kilometers, but does anyone know if a late 19th century ghost town would measure distances in km?

    • They ran out of money and could not check with the BTM Legends on the correct signage. Originally the Town of Big Thunder was renamed after Rainbow Ridge was moved from its old location to the present. The residents in recent years decided to take back their towns previous name of Rainbow Ridge from Natures Wonderland Days. The recent painter however did not correct the sign post as he was not getting paid..

      • They ran out of money and could not check with the BTM Legends on the correct signage. Originally the Town of Big Thunder was renamed after Rainbow Ridge was moved from its old location to the present. The residents in recent years decided to take back their towns previous name of Rainbow Ridge from Natures Wonderland Days. The recent painter however did not correct the sign post as he was not getting paid. Spiral Butte and Dinosaur Gap should still be noted on the signage.

  10. It is apparent that the “new” BTRR trains are “new” the way that the last round of monrails and the 2000 round of Autopia cars are new: cosmetic changes to existing equipment. Totally new trains would have redesigned the missing locomotive wheels, removed for inspection / maintenance. There’s no realistic possibility they would have intentionally left what can only be described as a horrendous visual design flaw if they had actually purchased / built brand new trains from scratch.

  11. Note that another website is reporting that several smaller segments of track and the train chassis were not replaced.

  12. We go mid May. I hope POTC opens early from its refurb.

  13. I love the new Thunder! I think that it was a great improvement. Change is good if it is to make things better. The only note I have is taking 14 months for this is a bit of a stretch. Just seems like a whole new attraction could be built in that time frame.

    • Ha! Build a new attraction? This is Disney we are talking about. See: Dwarfs Mine Coaster.

  14. Does anyone else think that the Pacific Wharf area would be improved a great deal (and fairly easily) by adding a wave-maker for the water?

    • There is a wave maker in Paradise Bay but they do not turn it on anymore due to WOC.

    • I agree, a wave-maker would make that lonely little lagoon, appear more like what its supposed to -a Monterrey style wharf along the ocean’s edge.

  15. It sure would be great if the Subs were to reopen as the adventure ride it once was, instead of going underwater to watch a bad cartoon for three year olds.

    Anyhow, I just got my $84 annual pass for Universal Studios Hollywood. It’s a lot cheaper than Disneyland. Hopefully, half their rides won’t be down for refurbishment, either.

    • Not to be insulting, but you can be very cynical and make suggestions that refer to making the park go back to the way it was, when clearly the guests don’t want retro rides, they want, new and exciting adventures featuring characters they know.

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