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Disneyland Article
California vs. Paris: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
ID:
TMS-2719
Source:
MickeyMousePark.com
Author:
Hugh Allison
Dateline:
April 11, 2013
Posted:
May 13, 2013
Status:
Current
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The description in the Disneyland Paris park map for Big Thunder Mountain tells you that riders will "Hurl through an abandoned gold mine at breathtaking speed aboard a runaway mine train!" making this attraction one of only two within this park to have a blurb ending in an exclamation mark. (The other is Star Tours).

Although I do not necessarily believe that the mine is supposed to be abandoned (especially as you can clearly hear a miner call out "Fire in the hole" at one point during the ride) this is still, in a nutshell, what the ride is about. In many ways, this describes all four versions of this attraction (Paris, Anaheim, Orlando and Tokyo) and as well as Hong Kong's Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars although the ride experience on the Hong Kong attraction differs in so many ways (including having bears as a plot point and having a section where Guests travel backwards) that it is not worth looking at that attraction in any detail within this comparison piece.

Of the four actual "Thunder Mountain" rides, the Paris version was the only one to be an opening day attraction. The track layouts for all four are pretty similar, although the opening section of the Paris one differs slightly due to it being the only one to take place on an island; this also makes the Paris ride the longest of the four, at approximately four minutes. This additional length - as well as a perceived longer sense of greater speed- could be why Kevin Yee, in his "Top Tips for Visiting Disneyland Paris" ebook, referred to the Paris ride as "easily the most thrilling of the rides bearing this name around the globe"

For the sake of completeness though, I should point out that whereas the attractions in Florida and California are called "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad", the word "Railroad" is missing from the official titles in Paris and Tokyo.

The queue-lines for all four are very different in some ways (in terms of what one has to look at) and very similar in others, in terms of the styling, the music and the positioning of the Guests. Perhaps the Anaheim version is the least similar as it is the one most unprotected from the elements and intertwines the most with the ride itself. (NB, this version was manufactured by Arrow, whilst the others were made by Vekoma.)

For the rest of this article, I shall be looking specifically at the differences between the versions in Paris and in Anaheim. (It should be noted however that, as the California version is currently being refurbished until Fall, a lot of my musings here may no longer be applicable once it has re-opened.)

Both versions have Fastpass, stalactites, stalagmites, visible dinosaur bones, lanterns, caverns, the "Howdy folks" spiel, an earthquake scene, water features (including going through a fountain at the top of the first lift, and creating a false Matterhorn-esque splash later on), central mountains slightly above 100ft tall and various animals including bats and goats. It should be noted that the "goat trick" doesn't work as well in the Paris resort; the Anaheim ride also features a skunk who attempts to spray riders.

The trains themselves each have five carriages, although Paris has five trains (stored offstage when not in use, yet very easy to find if you know where to look) whereas Anaheim has six, each with marginally witty names such as I.M. Brave and U.R. Fearless.

The storyline is somewhat easier to follow in Paris, as there are more clues to its backstory. For example, Guests see places for the miners to clock in and references to "Thunder Mesa Mining Company". Thunder Mesa is the town that Big Thunder Mountain is set in (the equivalent of California's Rainbow Ridge); although riders don't see much about Thunder Mesa on-ride in France (definitely not as much as they would about Rainbow Ridge on-ride in Anaheim) there is more about the area and the storyline in Frontierland as a whole. For example, there are references to Big Thunder Mountain in and around Phantom Manor, the Lucky Nugget and the Molly Brown (all visible from the ride itself), as well as references throughout the land to the fictitious Thunder Mesa Apothecary, Thunder Mesa Barber Shop and so on.

Incidentally, the equivalent mining company in Anaheim is called the "Big Thunder Mining Company" and its wider area thematically is Big Thunder Ranch.

Whilst you can't see as much of the backstory to the Thunder Mountain ride in Anaheim, in many ways this is a good thing as it also means that whilst on-ride you can't see as much of the resort as a whole (such as tourists or incongruous attractions) which can break the magic. Also, Anaheim's ride has the advantage of more changes occurring for nighttime riders, giving Guests more than one experience from the same attraction.
 
Attractions Referenced

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

 
Lands Referenced

Frontierland

 
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