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. . .
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.
As we enter the queue, fresh desert landscaping greets us.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
That final lift hill is now the grand climax that this ride has always been lacking (as you’ll see in the video below).
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.
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.
The Disneyland Railroad is currently under refurbishment but will return on March 15th.
Spring in Disneyland
More stunning displays of flowers have been planted at Disneyland during the horticulture department’s season to shine.
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.
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.
One MiceChat reader recently called this building “Innovengers.” It certainly fits.
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.
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.
Scaffolds are in place around the subs.
And a platform appears to have been constructed in the entry of the first cave.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
One thing that wasn’t addressed on this refurbishment are the exterior details. There’s still a need for some woodwork and painting.
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).
There is also a beautiful wall planting that carries the aesthetic of the Starbucks™ logo out into the garden area.
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…
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.
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).
Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
The play area, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, has had its refurbishment extended through March 18th
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.
The exterior of the Boudin Bakery is being refurbished. Both the food location and the bakery tour are still open.
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.
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.
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!
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!