Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

So you think you know all about Big Thunder Mountain. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. Let’s take a deeper look. Big Thunder Mountain was originally meant to be a water ride, called Western River Expedition. Marc Davis, the Imagineer responsible for animatronics on Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and more, designed the Western River Celebration to be a celebration of the wild west. Imagineers feared that with Florida being so close to the Caribbean, people wouldn’t be interested in pirates, so Davis wanted to create something unique. It would have taken guests through everything from the prairie wilderness to a classic western town to an escape from bandits down a waterfall. Davis envisioned an entire pavilion, featuring other attractions, including hiking trails, pack mules, and a runaway train.

Instead, guests arrived at the Magic Kingdom wanting to know where the pirates were, so Imagineers quickly built the Pirates of the Caribbean. That meant there wasn’t enough money left to build Davis’s original pavilion. Enter Tony Baxter (and before you ask, yes, Marc Davis and Tony Baxter are two of my three very favorite Imagineers).

First they built the stone mesas. Looks like a big pile of stone, right? In actuality, Big Thunder Mountain is 6,500 tons of steel, 90,000 gallons of water, 4,675 tons of mud, and 4,000 gallons of paint. Tony Baxter and the Imagineers took the train ride, that was originally meant to be a minor accompaniment to the main water ride, and turned it into the main attraction.

The Wildest Ride in the Wilderness has a height requirement of 40″. The Magic Kingdom’s version is a near exact replica of the Disneyland version, but it is about 25% bigger and has just a smidge more track. You may have noticed that there is are rainbow colored caverns. This is a nod to the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train, the ride Big Thunder replaced in Disneyland. And at Walt Disney World, you can find Mine Shaft #71, a nod, of course, to the opening date of the Magic Kingdom: 1971.

Of course, the Big Thunder Mining Company is owned by Barnabus T. Bulion (T is for Tony, as in Tony Baxter), and Barnabus excavated the mine, even though the locals believed it to be haunted. There were runaway trains, after all!! So the mountain is haunted, in case you didn’t know.

The ride façade is modeled after Monument Valley in Utah and Arizona. The trains go 36 MPH (by comparison, Space Mountain only goes 28 MPH), and the ride operates with 6 trains. The Trains are I.M. Brave, I.B. Hearty, I.M. Fearless, U.B. Bold, U.R. Courageous, and U.R. Daring.

Some notable details that you should try to find:

  • the mining equipment around the mountain is real. It was meant to make you think you were really visiting an abandoned mine
  • Dallas McKennon, the voice of Ben Franklin at American Adventure, voices the safety announcements (he does the announcements for many other rides, too. See if you can tell which announcements are his!)
  • While you are in the line queue, you can set off actual explosions in the mountain
  • look for a crate meant to be shipped to Fire Chief Richard Le Pere Jr. He is the real fire chief of Reedy Creek, the fire department that services Walt Disney World
  • have you ever been in the Tiki Room and wondered what happened to the canary Rosita? Jose brings up that she seems to be gone. Well…..there is a canary cage in the ventilation room in the ride queue. It is labeled Rosita. Canaries, of course, were used to check for toxic gases in mines
  • in addition to animatronic animals, see if you can find the old man in pink pajamas in the bathtub!
  • look for hidden Mickeys! You can find them in the groups of cacti and the gears toward the end of the ride
View from the top of one of the hills in the Magic Kingdom

Of course, about a decade and a half later, Frontierland received a second mountain featuring….a water ride, just a little bit like the entire pavilion originally envisioned by Marc Davis. Pro tip #1: try to ride in the day AND AGAIN at night. It’s a completely different experience riding at night. Along with absolutely amazing views, it just feels faster and more wild! Pro tip #2: try to ride in the back. It’s absolutely crazy!

Is Big Thunder Mountain a must do for your family?

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