Disneyland‘s classic Big Thunder Mountain Railroad emerged from its extended 14-month refurbishment project over the weekend with Annual Passholder and Disney Vacation Club previews that showed off the ride’s impressively smooth new track and explosive new finale. The highly-anticipated official reopening of the attraction is today and we have an in-depth look the the refreshed and updated roller coaster for you here. We also take a look at Downtown Disney‘s gorgeous new Starbucks Coffee shop, update you on new and on-going refurbishments in both theme parks and enter the gift shops for a look at some new Disney merchandise on the shelves now.

Don’t miss your weekly Disneyland Resort crowd forecast — provided by our friends at MouseAddict — in the Weekly News and Information Roundup at the end of today’s update!

Get a closer look at today’s update! Click on any photo in today’s blog to see a larger, high-resolution version.

We have a big update for you today, so let’s get started!


Welcome to Disneyland!

The first spring break crowds of the season have arrived at Disneyland. Add in the on-going So Cal resident ticket offer and warm temperatures and you’ve got some very busy theme parks in Anaheim.

The parks are always particularly gorgeous in the spring.

If Disneyland feels too busy to you, some time at Disney California Adventure might help. The park felt light on crowds Friday afternoon whereas parts of Disneyland were packed.

Carthay Circle Lounge was recently recognized as the “Best Cocktail Bar” by the Nightclub & Bar Media Group. Congrats to the team over there – it really is a great place to relax and enjoy some drinks and small plates.

Radiator Springs Racers continues to be the hot ticket at California Adventure…

But demand has seriously dropped off at Luigi’s Flying Tires…

The Wildest Reopening in the Wilderness

The big news is the long-awaited and highly anticipated reopening of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The attraction is returning from a 14-month refurbishment project that included track replacement, upgraded ride vehicles, mountain repainting and show enhancements including a complete overhaul to the show scene in the final lift hill.

On the backside of the mountain, along Big Thunder Trail, audio of mining activities now comes from this mine shaft. A nice, subtle addition.

The sign now names the town Rainbow Ridge (it was previously called Big Thunder), a nod to Disneyland’s classic Mine Train Thru Nature’s Wonderland attraction where the town facades above the queue originated from.

Those classic Rainbow Ridge mining town facades have, more or less, all been completely rebuilt with some props, fixtures and doors retained from the originals. The whole little town looks fantastic and it looks like a lot of care went into making sure every last detail was faithfully recreated.

Rumors had originally circulated that Rainbow Ridge would be removed completely due to wood rot, without being replaced. Whether or not Disney had ever considered not rebuilding Rainbow Ridge, it’s great to see it lovingly restored here. It’s a great little piece of Disneyland history and it would have been a mistake to remove it completely.

Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club Members could preview the attraction with little wait over the weekend. The process was quick and I was able to ride six times over two days without waiting more than 25 minutes combined. The preview was a great opportunity for Passholders and a nice gesture from Disneyland.

On-ride, the experience is as great as ever. The newly-replaced track provides an insanely-smooth ride but the track layout is unchanged so the turns and dips retain the “wildest” part of the “Wildest Ride in the Wilderness”

New bat animatronics in near-pitch darkness have replaced the old flappy bats-on-fans in the first lift hill and they look great. Further up the lift, the Rainbow Caverns scene has been refreshed and bathed in intense blue and purple light.

Throughout the ride, all of the wildlife animatronics are still here and in working order.

Of course, what would Big Thunder be without this guy?

Big Thunder’s beloved goat is now a perfect segue to the newly re-imagined final lift hill. Gone are the shaking rocks in what used to be a mine shaft being rocked by an earthquake. In its place is a new projection-heavy scene in which a broken lamp has accidentally lit the fuse on explosives lining the tunnel.

The projections interact with fuses throughout the tunnel, and the lit fuses trigger loud blasts and smoke cannons throughout the tunnel that fill the mine shaft with smoke. Overall, the new special effects are surprisingly effective and when everything works, the effect is pretty spectacular.

Below, take a ride-through of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with the special effects in the last scene fully functional.

Unfortunately, Disney seems to be having a hard time keeping the fog effects reliable and too often does everything in the scene work except for the smoke. Below, the final blast without working smoke (you can spot the fog cannon).

Below, video of the ride running without the smoke effect.

On the way back to the station: a fun directional sign with references to different western-themed Disney mountains around the world.

Hats off to the Imagineers for doing a great job sprucing up a classic. The attraction looks fantastic, Rainbow Ridge is restored and looks great, the track is incredibly smooth and is pure joy to ride, and the re-imagining of the final lift hill is a great example of incorporating new projection effects into an existing space without them feeling forced or out-of-place. Hopefully the projection effects are well-maintained and the technical difficulties with the smoke effect are ironed out soon, as the fog cannons are really what sell the scene and without the fog the whole thing kind of falls flat. This isn’t like Radiator Springs Racers, where the frequently non-functional steam tunnel near the end of the ride is inconsequential to the overall experience — the new fog/smoke effect in Big Thunder Mountain’s final lift hill really makes or breaks what is perhaps now the ride’s most memorable scene. As for the rest of the ride, kudos to Disney for refreshing a classic — Disney’s goal was to give the ride the major maintenance needed but to “bring it back to exactly the way it was” and they certainly succeeded.

Refurbishmentland

Meanwhile, various refurbishment projects continue or prepare to get underway in both parks.

[center]Railroad Restrictions[/center]
The Disneyland Railroad has reopened following a brief refurbishment.

Unfortunately, the Disneyland Railroad reopened with new restrictions on the opulent Lilly Belle parlor car. Since being restored and returned to Disneyland in 2006, the Lilly Belle could be enjoyed by anyone who asked – as long as it was on the tracks and there was an available Disneyland Railroad conductor to chaperone guests while inside the Belle. Priority has always been given to special guests and Club 33 members but now that priority has changed to exclusivity. Now, only Club 33 members, special guests and special tour groups are now allowed to ride in the Lilly Belle. “Disneyland is your land”? Maybe, but increasingly more and more of it is only for Club 33 members.

Luckily, if you still want a more unique Disneyland Railroad experience, the caboose is still open to regular guests – just ask a conductor if it’s on the tracks and if you can ride inside. It’s not as fancy but still a lot of fun.

[center]Temple of the Forbidden Refurbishment[/center]
In Adventureland, the Indiana Jones Adventure is now closed for refurbishment through early May for some much-needed work.

[center]Alice in Blunderland[/center]
Over in Fantasyland, the Alice in Wonderland dark ride is now finally closed to get a permanent fix for its outdoor ride track that has been surrounded by temporary safety scaffolding since an incident in July 2010 when a Cal/OSHA inspector noted the track could be a potential safety hazard for maintenance workers.

The ride is now behind construction walls and is rumored to get a complete reworking that includes shortening the track and having it hug the side of the show building more closely.

Alice in Wonderland should reopen in early July.

[center]“it’s a Cal/OSHA world”[/center]
Meanwhile, “it’s a small world” is still closed while work to install new Cal/OSHA-approved safety railing continues.

[center]Out to Dry[/center]
And in Tomorrowland, the Submarine Lagoon remains dry, with the subs on blocks and surrounded by scaffolding while work continues on that ride’s refurbishment (and previously rumored shuttering) that will stretch into late September.

Nearby, Tomorrowland Terrace reopened after a brief closure.

No changes to the menu.

[center]Space Junk[/center]
The new ring on the top of Space Mountain is coming along. The addition is a new safety addition for maintenance workers but comes at the cost of altering the attraction’s iconic exterior. It’s nice to see Disney trying to blend in the safety addition but still frustrating. All of these additions are reportedly being done on a voluntary basis by Disney in an effort to cater to state officials at Cal/OSHA.

So, the effort to make it blend in is nice, but is that enough when none of this was necessary to begin with?

Nearby, new banners and signage have gone up at Innoventions to announce the addition of the new Captain America meet-and-greet.

[center]Refurbishment Wharf[/center]
In Disney California Adventure, the Boudin Bakery building is behind tarps for refurbishment. The Bakery Tour and Pacific Wharf Cafe remain open during refurbishment.

[center]The Little Refurbishment[/center]
A little further down the parade route, the Little Mermaid dark ride will close later this week for a refurbishment project that will run through early May. The closure is rumored to include notable enhancements in several show scenes, including a dramatic black-light re-working of the “Under the Sea” room as well as a proper conclusion for Ursula.

This video ride-through from May 2012 shows the ride more or less as you can experience it today. We’ll see how much it changes when it reopens in a couple months.

Merch Madness

Lots of new merchandise has recently hit store shelves, below is a sampling of some of it.

Nice new Disneyland Railroad t-shirt

Spring Break apparel

A fun new line of retro-style Disneyland merchandise

New line of California Adventure merchandise:

New Disney Side merchandise

New Captain America: The Winter Soldier toys and kids apparel

Tons of new Frozen merchandise, including new t-shirts for kids and adults

And finally, a couple Easter-themed items…

Starbucksland

In Downtown Disney, the new Starbucks Coffee store opened in what was previously a denim store by Wet Seal and before that, the flagship retail store for infant photographer Anne Geddes. The addition of Starbucks is long overdue for Downtown Disney, which hasn’t had a dedicated coffee bar since the closure of the Compass Books store and cafe in March 2012.

Starbucks and Disney teamed up for the store design in what Starbucks is describing as a “reflection of two iconic brands coming together.” The new coffeehouse is built to handle Downtown Disney-sized crowds and features Starbucks Reserve coffees brewed on Starbucks’ rare Clover brewing machines. The new location was built with sustainability in mind and meets LEED standards. It features a large outdoor patio designed around an existing tree, which includes a “living wall” of over 1,000 native plants.

A couple exterior night shots from Starbucks.

Inside, the coffee shop is big, has plenty of queue space, and features your standard Starbucks drink, food and merchandise selection.

Nice reference to Orange County’s citrus history

There’s a small waiting area with seats that includes interactive touch screen “chalk board” that’s popular with kids

Clover brewing system

Compare/contrast prices with your local Starbucks. (click for larger image)

Below, some interior photos from Starbucks

Overall, whether you like Starbucks or not, the new coffee shop is a very attractive addition to Downtown Disney. And if you are a Starbucks fan, you’ll be happy to know that as a corporate-run store, Starbucks in Downtown Disney is equipped with free WiFi and participates in the Gold card program (free coffee and tea refills!). Unfortunately, Annual Passholder discount doesn’t (yet) apply here.

This and That

Nearby the new Starbucks, the big poppy flower fountain in Downtown Disney is still behind walls for refurbishment.

In California Adventure, Muppet*Vision 3D’s queue and pre-show have been updated to promote the upcoming “Muppets Most Wanted” movie.

A theatrical movie poster in the outdoor portion of the queue

Inside, a couple of these WANTED posters are up. The pre-show movie has a new interruption by Constantine, the villainous Kermit look-a-like from the upcoming film. It’s a clever addition that doesn’t dramatically change the existing pre-show.

In candy shops, new Kermit candy apples are available.

While we’re talking candy, green dominated the candy counters in the parks for St. Patrick’s Day over the weekend. Easter candy should be on its way next.


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Weekly News & Information Round-Up
Weekly Theme Park Hours
March 17-23, 2014
[B]Disneyland Park[/B] [B]California Adventure[/B]
Mon.-Thur.: 9 am – 10 pm
Fri.-Sun.: 9 am – 12 am
Mon.-Thur.: 9 am – 9 pm
Fri.-Sun.: 9 am – 10 pm
[CENTER]For a complete listing of theme park hours,
visit the Disneyland.com Theme Park Calendar
[/CENTER]
[center]Closure and Refurbishment Schedule[/center]
[b][center]Disneyland Park[/center][/b]
  • [B]Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage:[/B] Closed through September 26, 2014 for major refurbishment.
  • [B]”it’s a small world”:[/B] Closed through April 24, 2014 for fall safety equipment installation.
  • [B]Alice in Wonderland:[/B] Closed through July 3, 2014 for enhancements and redesign of outdoor portion of ride track.
  • [B]Indiana Jones Adventure:[/B] Closed March 17 through May 8, 2014 for refurbishment.
  • [B]King Arthur Carousel:[/B] Closed April 28 through May 8, 2014 for refurbishment.
  • [B]Pirates of the Caribbean:[/B] Closed April 28 through May 22, 2014 for refurbishment.
  • [B]Space Mountain:[/B] Closed May 12 through June 26 for refurbishment.
[b][center]Disney California Adventure[/center][/b]
  • [B]The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure:[/B] Closed March 20-May 9, 2014 for refurbishment and rumored enhancements.
  • [B]Grizzly River Run:[/B] Closed April 21-June 19, 2014 for refurbishment.
  • [B]It’s Tough to be a Bug!:[/B] Closed April 21-May 8, 2014 for refurbishment.
[b][center]Downtown Disney and Disneyland Resort Hotels[/center][/b]
    None.
[center]
A weekly look at projected crowd levels at the Disneyland Resort.[/center]

March 17-23, 2014

MON
TUE
WED
THU
FRI
SAT
SUN

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Expect some pegged out Addictometers this coming weekend…

  • The annual United Spirit Association Spirit All Stars & College Nationals begin on Thursday at the Anaheim Convention Center, running through Monday. Add to that the continuing Spring Break crowds, and we can see a perfect storm coming this weekend.
  • With the Sprit group and several other events, hotel rooms are scarce toward the end of the week.
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is finally open again, and we think plenty of thrill-deprived Mouseaddicts will be hankerin’ to climb aboard the Wildest Ride in the Wildnerness again.
  • 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.

[center]Headline Roundup
A quick look at noteworthy Disney theme park headlines from around the web.[/center]
  • Big Thunder Ranch will host a Springtime Roundup with meet-and-greets with the Easter Bunny and other Disney rabbits starting March 28. (Disney Parks Blog)
  • Special Space Mountain t-shirts are available for order online only through March 16. (Disney Parks Blog)
  • Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg could be next in line to replace Disney CEO Bob Iger in 2016 (LA Times)
  • Anaheim Convention Center will open a $180 million, 200,000 square foot expansion by fall 2016. (OC Register)
  • Disney Interactive recently laid off 700 employees as the division works toward “getting to profitability.” (Cartoon Brew)
That wraps up this week’s edition of Dateline Disneyland. Did you get a chance to preview Big Thunder Mountain Railroad over the weekend or are you lining up to ride it today? Let us know what you think of the newly-enhanced classic in the comments section below!

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Thanks for reading. See you at Disneyland!
[B]- Andy[/B]

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