Big Thunder Mountain Railroad explodes from refurbishment as Starbucks opens in Downtown Disney

Written by Andy Castro. Posted in Dateline Disneyland, Disney, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Features

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Published on March 17, 2014 at 5:05 am with 53 Comments

About Andy Castro

Andy is a Southern California native, raised with Disneyland and a life-long fan of Disney theme parks and animation. Andy wrote the long-running weekly Dateline Disneyland photo, news and opinion blog here on MiceChat from 2007-2016. Andy continues to make occasional special guest contributions on MiceChat.

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  • eicarr

    Glad to see merchandise from more current Disney films like Captain America & Frozen. Hopefully they’ll have some Guardians of the Galaxy stuff out soon. The retro DL merch looks cool.

  • LoveStallion

    No shocker that Luigi has a short wait. I wouldn’t even wait 10 minutes for that thing. It’s a total bore. I give it five more years, tops, before they just rip it out and put in something better (or, as I would prefer, extend the track of Racers – not gonna happen).

    I love the updates, but sometimes I think that you could exercise a bit more editorial license and pare down what is posted, especially since the same story basically runs in three different columns each week. How many times to I need to see the same Small World story or see the fifth “update” on Big Thunder that is just the same thing as from a few days ago?

    For example, the news about the the Lilly Belle is important and useful, but as a reader, do I expect to see it beaten to death over the next few weeks? Yup. Or what of the subs. We all know they are closed through at least September. No amount of weekly coverage is going to change that.

    It’s great coverage and I know you have different people writing, but if you are worried about prominent stories staying prominent, WordPress allows posts to be “sticky” and remain at the top of a list, regardless of publication date. Otherwise, there’s no shame in skipping news that isn’t really news anymore.

    Thanks for all the great work, as always.

    • Larry Parker

      I disagree regarding rehashed stories-they contain new bits of info for us extreme Disney fans. So I say keep them coming!!

      • Figaroj


      • LoveStallion

        Really? Did this Big Thunder story tell you anything more than what has been posted for the past three weeks? If anything, it was devoid of extra content.

    • sixalex

      Not everyone tunes in every week or to every column. If I have seen a story before, it is fairly easy to scroll down. This is a site that delights in detail and comprehensive (dare I say, obsessive?) updates. In principle I agree that there are times when a story is seemingly “Beaten to death”, but I tend to read them anyway. If they don’t carry ongoing interest for me personally, why would I deprive anyone else from their fun?

      Page down.

      • LoveStallion

        First off, Page Down would be great, but each post is so incredibly long and photo-intensive that even with a great Mbps it takes some time to load.

        Besides, what of my point that WordPress allows a post to be pinned to the top? This site is built on WP. No reason a “big” story can’t be pinned so that anyone who shows up over time can see it.

        And this is less that a weekly update consists of the same stuff but more that there are so many different columns throughout a week that carry the same material. There are tons of great ones with all sorts of stuff, but I’ve easily seen three columns a week with the same Big Thunder story because different writers are working on different features that all talk about the same thing.

        Don’t get me wrong. I love the fine work of the people behind MiceChat and wish I were worthy to be among them as a writer, but the same news is the same news no matter how one packages it.

    • Laura P

      Adding on to the disagreements of this comment. I love seeing photos of Disney, give me as many as possible, I don’t care how long the post is or if it repeats a bit! (Also I love seeing the same story from different writers because every photographer seems to notice different little things and that’s just so cool) basically, keep it coming please!

    • Hello LoveStallion,

      Thanks for your feedback.

      Dateline Disneyland and In The Parks are written by two different columnists here at MiceChat. As you’re aware, both columns cover Disneyland news, so there will always be overlap. We provide two Disneyland-based articles per week because of our site’s very Disneyland-focused readership and while there is overlap in readership between those two columns, there are also many folks who don’t read Dateline Disneyland but read In the Parks and vice versa.

      Hopefully you’ll keep reading, despite the overlap in coverage.


    • Internitty

      Some of us only have time to read one entry a week, so I read the most thorough one which is Andy’s. If Andy hadn’t written about Lilly Belle I wouldn’t have known a thing about it. Do you read every newspaper released every week?

    • Marko50

      I love Ligui’s tires. I know many people don’t. But to keep complaining about it is just like the “rehashing” of news (or “news”, if you prefer). It’s kinda like beating a tread horse.

  • MrOCT31

    Yep, rode Luigi’s Flying Tires just once ever and never wanted to again! Snoozefest to say the least. Even my kids have never wanted to go on it again, that should tell “them” all they need to know about that mistake!
    As far as the Lilly Belle goes, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Club 33 exclusive areas in the park and it worries me a bit.

    • jcruise86

      We love Luigi’s tires, and its honoring an old Disneyland attraction while being unlike other rides at other parks makes it even more wonderful to me.

      I too am worried that the creeping Club 33–which used to be so inconspicuous–will make Disneyland guests start to feel like coach passengers forced to pass through first class. Disneyland should note that some of the more popular American airlines have had one class and treated every passenger like their most important passenger.

      This catering to the wealthiest is one of the bad trends from the (overpaid) Disney executive era that began under Eisner whi (like Iger) served as both CEO and as the Chair of the Board that hires and compensates the CEO.

      See Andy Warhol’s excellent Coca-Cola quote which is applicable to Disneyland–though Disneyland always has been and always will be more expensive/exclusive than Coke.

      • jcruise86

        Here’s the outdated, unrealistic yet still kind-of-wonderful Warhol quote:

        “What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can watch TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”

        –Andy Warhol

      • jcruise86

        ^ ^ Don’t let a more conspicuous Club 33 ruin FANTASYland.

        Disneyland should be an escape from a more realistic, often rotten real world. It should strive to not to reflect the more obnoxious parts of society. Provide the best possible experience to every kid who enters, or at least try to appear to. Exceptions: if a kid has cancer, or if a couple just got married, or if a Marine is back from serving her country, go ahead and put their families in the Lily Belle.

  • goofypirate

    Got my AP discount at the new Starbucks last week. 10% off.

  • BuckyRister

    We all loved Luigi’s Flying Tires…novel and unique and fun. Big, big smiles all around. The Mater, ride, however, flung us into each other and against the side of the seats. Our heads knocked together…not fun.

    • Figaroj

      Luigi’s Flying Tires was much better when they had the beach balls. I enjoy the ride now but had a completely different experience with the beach balls…way more fun! Wish they would bring them back!

      • jcruise86

        ^ ^ Unless you were wearing glasses and some jerk through a ball at your face as hard as he could while you weren’t looking at him. (If the guy I hit is reading this, my bad!)

  • Katie1228

    Beautiful photos…especially those of the new Starbucks! I can’t wait to see it in person. Thanks for your great updates each week Andy!

  • Wreckless Abrandon

    I enjoy both Mater’s and Luigi’s attractions. Getting whipped around is a different experience than say the classic tea cups. And the Flying Tires? Just gotta learn how to “fly” them… it’s all about subtle leaning and not having instant response… when you get some speed on those things it’s a blast!

    Diggin the new Marvel and Frozen items in the stores. I may have to check those out this month!

    While I’m annoyed by the voluntary OSHA fixes, I think I’d rather have Disney be pro-active instead of just waiting for OSHA to say something. Considering people will sue for anything these days, I can see why Disney would wanna protect itself from possible injuries from contractors and CM’s alike.

    • DLFan1995

      While OSHA may want safety fixes, Disney’s approach appears to be “passive” (railings) in that they just install barriers to prevent CM’s from injuring themselves instead of the less obtrusive “active” restraints (harnesses) that depend on CM’s actually making the effort to secure themselves. It doesn’t appear that Disney has made any effort to use “active” restraints in any of the modifications.

      Barriers and railings are certainly good options in areas where CM’s aren’t visible to guests, but I would think they could use at least some “active” restraints in the visible areas.

    • jl925sanders

      Not to mention the annoying mandatory ride closures when Disney fails to comply with the safety orders in the time frame specified. Remember a year ago?

    • HollywoodF1

      The latest incorrect-yet-popular fan rumor is that that OSHA regs are voluntary. They couldn’t be any further from voluntary. They are mandatory, there is no “grandfathering”, and non-compliance is a criminal offense.

      As far as the harnesses vs guardrails argument is concerned, here are a few points:

      –The Disney standard “4-Keys” are Safety, Courtesy, Show, Efficiency; in that order. Safety is first, and Show is third.

      –All things being equal, working in harnesses is not the safety-equivalent of preventing a fall with guardrails. Harnesses are far more dangerous, and considered to be a last-resort in safety equipment. Many people are seriously injured or killed while working in harnesses.

      Given these two parameters, Walt Disney Parks & Resorts has decided that its mandatory compliance will be executed with the safest system available in all situations.

      I emplore you to consider the lives and well being of the tens-of-thousands of Cast Members of Disney’s parks and resorts when you are asserting ideas on how the value of their lives should be weighed for your entertainment.

      • bfdf55

        Tens of thousands of Disney CM’s have been safe for decades with the existing safety measures. Generally, CM injuries have been due to CM negligence, not environmental issues. A CM could be injured or killed by tripping on a street curb or step (even with railing).

        The more people expect to have their environment protect them, the less they will be capable of taking care of themselves.

        Yes, there do need to be prudent safety measures applied. But they should be applied as necessary, not in an attempt to totally shield everyone from every potential hazard.

  • Algernon

    Don’t worry. Justin Beiber will still be able to go on the Lilly Belle railcar, even though you can’t. And why put in a new ride when they can expand Club 33, so that rich people like him can have more room to party? They might even add another bar, so the elites can stand on the balcony and laugh while you wait in line, maybe throw a few ice cubes. Go Justin, go! Disneyland is your land. You and Johnny Depp, Oprah Winfrey, and the like…

  • Skimbob

    It is unfortunate that Club 33 has so much power. I am fearful as well that they will take even more of the parks perks and special places away. It was never meant to be this big thing it has become. I am a Premier Passholder and a regular guest at The Grand Californian and pay a whole lot less than Club 33 members but I don’t expect to have a huge advantage over other passholders or even a day guest that pays less than I do. I don’t think it fair that a priveleged few who can afford it are getting everything.

    • Dizzey

      According to Wikipedia:

      “A 2011 study by the CBO found that the top earning 1 percent of households increased their income by about 275% after federal taxes and income transfers over a period between 1979 and 2007, compared to a gain of just under 40% for the 60 percent in the middle of America’s income distribution. Other sources find that the trend has continued since then.”

      Disney will likely continue to increase benefits to the 1% since this is where the high margin cash is. It’s capitalism, plain and simple. I wouldn’t expect it to change unless societal trends change. Besides, if they kept “everything for everybody” they’d certainly get labelled as “Socialist” by certain news media.

      In any case the parks are still crowded, so I guess they know what they are doing.

      • danielz6

        You just defined the single biggest problem with the US economy. I recommend watching the documentary “Park Avenue” as well on netflix.

      • Internitty

        Without wanting to get into some political debate it should be noted that when the 1% of capitalists went broke a few years back in the GFC and the US government bailed them out, they used to money to pay themselves huge bonuses for the great job they did destroying the US and World economies. By this definition all organised crime is the ultimate form of capitalism.

  • judearmstrong

    BTM LOOKS AMAZING!!!!! So happy with the refurb, cant wait to experience it in June!

  • airick75

    Thanks for the merchandise update!

  • Tinkbelle

    Phenomenal pictures as always, Andy.

    I’m soooo sad to hear about the Lilly Belle. I never got to ride in it and it was on my Disney Bucket List. During our last trip in September (our wedding anniversary), I began each morning at the train station waiting for it to open, and every morning the conductor came out and said it wouldn’t be out that day. Now this. Also on my bucket list was dinner at Club 33, but I couldn’t find a Micechatter willing to help with that, either. Sigh.

    • sixalex

      Same boat! I am less and less interested in Club 33. The elitism it now represents is not my cup of tea.

      The Court of Angels, now the Lilly Belle; what next? Only the elite can be in the hub for fireworks? Only the elite can walk through the castle gate? All others must enter Fantasyland by the side door? Special elite hours of operation for Pirates or Haunted Mansion or even for entry into New Orleans Square? I may be being extreme in my examples, but how many of us expected what is already happening?

      I can now envision a point in time where I no longer want to visit Disneyland.

      Jeez! Do I sound like an old man yelling “Get off my lawn.”? Now I’m just depressing myself. 😉

      • CaptainAction

        Let’s all be honest here. We waited 14 months for better flapping bats and some flashing lights which travel in a line and smoke which doesn’t even work on 3 of the 4 videos I’ve seen. 14 MONTHS. Wow.
        New track and town aren’t obvious to anyone.
        Disneyland, the whole park, was built in 18 months.
        Someone had to say this because many of us are thinking it.
        What’s next?
        I hope not the Magic Handcuffs.

      • Tinkbelle

        Oh, I agree. They all ready charge for fireworks (the Halloween party, and there was a rumor they would start doing it for Christmas fireworks too). Didn’t they already rope off the prime viewing spot in the hub for people who took a tour or something? It seems like I saw benches lined up there and roped off on our last visit. Of course there is also the viewing area for WoC for those who buy meals etc.
        They keep finding ways to give the general audience less while raising ticket prices.

      • Marko50

        Excuse me? The new track isn’t obvious to anyone? That is patently ridiculous. My…um, body…found it completely obvious. As obvious as the new Matterhorn track was when it was rebuilt, though in the opposite direction – bad instead of good. The town would have been obvious to everyone had it not been rebuilt, at least repeat customers. And you are wrong about the whole park being built in 18 months. Much of it wasn’t ready on opening day including almost all of Tomorrowland. Of course, that’s probably a valid statement for today, too, but it was certainly complete between these two times.

    • Internitty

      It seems to me that most people missed the part that says some tour groups can ride it, maybe those tour groups are the ones run by Disneyland like the In The Footsteps of Walt tour and so forth, so don’t give up hope until those tour groups are defined. Even though they are an additional cost the Disneyland tours are fun and worth doing at least once.

  • Tiny Mermaid

    Very disappointing news about the Lilly Belle. Not cool, Disneyland.

  • bayouguy

    Couldn’t go to Disneyland this past weekend due to illness. We were getting ready for Thunder Mountain. May do so this weekend.

  • michael darling

    Great pics of BTMR especially the one of the mine train entering the mountain. One of the best I’ve ever seen. And ‘Never Mine 79 mi.’. Classic.

  • stevek

    Rode Big Thunder 2X on Sunday morning and wow, have they really done an amazing job on the refurbishment. The ride was incredibly smooth and that last lift hill…really hit it out of the park. As others have commented on the boards, I’d suggest the best spot for viewing the new effects is about in cars 3-5. We were in the second row our first ride and row 10 the second ride and definitely saw alot more that second ride. Fantastic job by all involved, well worth the wait to get it perfect.

  • RX-24

    Fantastic report. The video of Big Thunder’s new scene was excellent and its nice to get to see the little changes between the long waits of when I can actually see the park. I do find it to be a terrible move by the park to make riding the Lilly Belle a Club 33 exclusive. dividing the park into classes based on membership and the associated fees is breaking an illusion I have held for years- that at Disneyland we were all equal, we all had to wait our turn and that if you used the tools given to you, you had just as much chance to visit The Court of Angels, Pilot the Mark Twain or ride the Lilly Belle. Now bit by bit everything is going to a pay per view and soon for many of us, we will be on the sidelines developing a bad case of class envy that should have been left at the gate. One of the finest times I ever had at Disneyland was a trip I made last year by myself ( ). One of the absolute high lights of the trip was a ride on the Lilly Belle. That day I felt like I was the king of the world as we went around the berm. I find it sad that I will never enjoy that pleasure again and nor will many, many others.

    • CaptainAction

      I would be completly embarassed to stand up there on the Lilly Belle and look down on all the poor kids, folks, and families who will not be allowed to ride.
      Can’t imagine being arrogant enough to stand there and enjoy seeing people who are not able to ride because they have no idea how to even get the resources to have a shot at club 33.
      How does that feel to the person riding the Lilly Belle?
      I get a little embarassed walking past guests at Universal Orlando when we have front of the line passes from staying at the resorts.

  • QPerth

    Terrific update, as usual!!

    Terrible decision on Disneyland’s part to make the Lilly Belle a rich person’s privilege. After learning of the history of the gorgeous interior on this cabin it had been my dream to one day see it. Same went for what is now destroyed and exclusive in New Orleans Square. Was so looking forward to seeing that perfect design one day. Those dreams are now dead. So thanks for that Disneyland.

    Some decent new Merch there, and some truly hideous shirts also. WTF with those patterned ones!?>!?!? The Retro items are pretty great though!

    The gardens are looking truly incredible, well done to the amazing Horticulturalists of Disneyland. They truly bring the Parks to life.

    The new DTD Starbucks looks INCREDIBLE! Great job capturing that for us, especially at night. How stunning!

    So glad the Muppets 3D got a small amount of attention. Such an underutilized property and area. Glad it hasn’t’ been completely forgotten. Now for an update or expansion there please!

  • jl925sanders

    Looking forward to checking out the new merchandise. Haven’t bought a t shirt since the 50th.

  • jcruise86

    P.S. I liked this excellent update, Andy! Thank you!

    I don’t mind at all if there is some overlap with another weekly update, and I find it comforting that there are others out there who love Disneyland as intensely as I do.

    We are fortunate to live near the most near the most wonderful park in the history of the world (despite the currently improvable Tomorrowland), with another great park across from its entrance.

    • jcruise86

      ^ ^ “near the most near the most” is what happens when I use Micechat to fight my insomnia at 2:32 a.m. 🙂

  • Freddie Freelance

    I’m actually excited by the Disney Rabbit meet & greet: White Rabbit, March Hare, Thumper, Roger Rabbit, Rabbit, and maybe possibly Oswald! I really, really want to meet Oswald!

  • SteveColorado

    Andy, I used to be a professional photographer a couple of decades ago and I find your photos of Starbucks (and many others) are simply breathtaking and awesome. Very well done and thanks for the update.

  • DisneyLover66

    Enjoyed reading the update and seeing the beautiful pictures, as usual! The new Starbuck’s looks really, really cool, and, yes, those menu prices are a bit more expensive than what I pay locally in Tucson. Can’t wait to see it in person in June. Thank you for the update.

  • mgronenthal

    Do you have any idea if the new merchandise is going to be online any time soon? The retro items are really cool, and I don’t think I’m going to be in the park anytime soon.

  • amarikimura

    The Lilly Belle now has a special place in my heart forever! This past weekend my boyfriend and I went to Disneyland, as annual pass holders. After taking a slow and enjoyable morning we went to get on the train. While waiting he left to refill our water bottle. Needless to say, he was gone a long time because of the construction in New Orleans Square. The train came and left with me waiting, but I didn’t mind. He came back and the next train arrived. We both noticed, excitedly that the Lilly Belle was at the end! He said he was going to ask if we could go on it. Now even though I consider myself a Disneyland fanatic, but admit I do not know a whole lot about how to get on the Lilly Belle, just that it was hard. Well, to my surprise the conductor said he would check, but they usually do not just let people on it. He came back seconds later and said there was ROOM!!! As we walked towards it I felt like this might be it, and as I opened the door my friends were sitting in the back. My boyfriend got down on one knee and proposed!!!! A very special and magical moment… the best of my life I think.  Now, after hearing what my friends had to go through to make this happen was unbelievable. The Lilly Belle is open now for ONLY Club 33 members and…. quietly “special occasions” and the cast members of the Disneyland Railroad made it a truly special occasion!!