Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Disneyland Review: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Stars: 5 out of 5 (Nostalgia and fun over true thrills)
Pros: Great theming and plenty of fun.
Cons: New effects in third lift; little real thrills for thrill seekers
The Bottom Line:
This mild thrill ride does
Provide twists, turns, old west fun
Smile for everyone

This Here’s Still the Wildest Ride in the Wilderness

Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad will always have a special place in my heart.  That’s because it was the very first roller coaster I went on.  Being the brave pre-teen I was (you can stop laughing now), I held on tight the entire length of the ride only to have a big smile on my face when I was done.  While I waited until college to go upside down (see, I’m still brave), I was hooked.

With Disney theming is everything, and that definitely applies to this coaster.  At any other park, it would be considered an okay attraction because it would just be steel beams holding up the track.  Here, they have given us a runaway train car in the middle of wilderness spires.  You can’t see much of the track while waiting in line because much of it is hidden behind the mountain that has been recreated here.

When you board the ride, you are seated in rows of two with just a simple lap bar to hold you into place.  That should tell you the real level of thrills you are about to have.  There are three lifts with coaster sections in between.  While you are careening around corners or going up the lifts, be sure to check for the little things Disney has added to the attraction.  There’s a waterfall you go through on the first lift (it parts for you so you don’t get wet) and audio animatronic creatures on the second lift for example.  You finish the ride by going by a western town.  Listen for the dialogue and laugh at the signs in the windows.

After over a year closed for a major overhaul, Big Thunder has opened again in March of 2014.  I got a chance to ride it last week, and it’s still just as much fun as I remembered?  Why was it closed for so long?  For one thing, they laid in all new steel rails.  I wouldn’t have said the ride was rough before, but it is very smooth now.  Heck, they should have done this to the Matterhorn during its recent rehab.  The also added bats during the dark part right before the first lift, which is a great illusion.

Then there’s the third lift.  I have a feeling this change will be the most controversial change to the attraction.  Before, while you were climbing, you saw the rock walls around you start to shake like from an earthquake or cave in.  Now?  A lantern accidentally sets off charges and the walls start to explode while you climb.  This is all done with animation projected on the walls.  There is supposed to be smoke that fills the chamber as you climb, but it wasn’t working when I rode.  I don’t know if that would have helped or not, but overall I’m not impressed.  While the projections are fun at the bottom, I grow tired of them by the time we reach the top.  Furthermore, the entire point of this ride is the real stuff you are going by.  This third lift obviously looks fake to me.  I wish they’d kept the rocks that looked like they were about to fall on you, but I always loved that part of the ride.  Heck, they still could have had the fuses on the bottom leading to those rocks at the top.  Yep, in this case they should have left the ride alone.

All told, this ride lasts about 3 minutes and reaches maximum speeds of 35 miles per hour.  It is disabled accessible (and they’ve added a nice new platform for that separate line), but you have to transfer to the ride’s cars.  Additionally, you have to be 40 inches tall to ride.

Of the roller coasters in the park, this is usually the least popular.  I have a feeling that will change, at least for a while, with this rehab.  Waits are often around 30 minutes or so, but again I expect these to climb, at least for a while.  The ride does offer Disney FastPass if you want to come back for a shorter wait later.

As you might have figured out, this ride isn’t high on thrills.  However, it is still very fun and is perfect for introducing kids to roller coasters outside of kiddie coasters.  It worked for me, obviously.

However, it can still move you around in the seats quite a bit.  I’ve wound up scrunched on one side of the car with my riding partner as one or the other of us slid across the seat.  It rarely happens, but it has.

My opinion on the enhanced features for the third lift might change as I ride it more and experience with it the smoke.  However, it is a minor complaint over all.  The heart of the ride – a fun roller coaster with great theming, remains.  Now that it has reopened, I will be back to riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad on every trip to Disneyland.

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