Thunder Mountain, Disneyland Paris
With the best
chef, the best ingredients and a meal that is likely to appeal to
anybody with good taste, you would obviously have a recipe for success.
The same could be said of theme
park rides. Cooking up a meal to be proud of are the so-called
Imagineers, supplying the ingredients, one of the largest manufacturers
in the world, Vekoma, and the already renowned feast they were to
prepare for the opening of Disneyland Paris (then EuroDisney), was Big
Thunder Mountain, a ride almost anybody who isn’t under a rock can
Like all attractions at
Disneyland Paris, modest changes were made to the
method in which the
ride was presented. The principle theme remains, but a few tweaks and
modifications made sure this ride surpassed similar rides at the other
Magic Kingdom parks the world over.
It is Frontierland that is home
to the rustic wooden buildings with verandas and walkways of Thunder
Mesa. These buildings and the pathways of Frontierland surround the lake
in which the 200ft tall red-rock island home to the Thunder Mesa Mining
Company, around which the huge paddle steamers orbit.
Often trains will curl around
the many tri-coloured peaks of the mountain supported by the
superficially rotting wooden track-work. Dilapidated buildings perch
precariously on the rock, and towards the front every minute a train
will dive into view, skimming the lake and disappearing briefly behind a
splash of water before turning out of view once again.
The sharp bands of rock that
make up the rugged landscape are interspersed by ramshackle buildings,
wooden track-work and lush flora of the mountain, whilst in front the
turquoise blue water of the lake contrasts well with the opulent red and
brown rock of the land mass.
The entrance to Thunder
Mountain is to the right of where you enter Thunder
Mesa. Making use of
the Fast Pass system that now operates on most major means that you can
either effectively book a ride by taking a ticket and returning at the
time quoted, or by joining the more traditional stand-by queue meaning
you literally queue for the ride.
Initially the queue takes place
outside in front of the station building. From a mineshaft to your left,
every minute-or-so, a train will come thundering out from the darkness
before heading around a corner back to the station.
As proof of the mines’
hey-day, rusting mining machinery corrodes and dilapidated buildings
rot. Attention to detail is remarkable, and you soon enter a large
tin-roofed building in which the queue relentlessly zig-zags.
Fortunately, by this point the queue has split in two so you will only
walk half of the queues that confront you.
Once into the depths of the
building you descend down a ramp into the station. The station is huge
with the two queues going downward in tandem to the centre of the
platforms. The two tracks into the station run parallel with the control
booth directly in front.
Should you either wish to ride
in the back or front of the ride, ask nicely
and the staff are more
often than not happy to hold you back for the next train. Once the
preceding train is unloaded and the air-gates open, you are free to
board the roomy train.
There is just one loose-fitting
lap bar per bench, of which there are three per car adding up to a total
of 30 riders per train. As mine train cars go, these are perhaps the
most comfortable you could ask for.
A red lantern hanging from the
corrugated tin roof goes out and the train
gradually begins to roll into
the darkness. As the back of the train approaches the end of the
platform, the pace gets more and more rapid before the train lurches
into a pitch black tunnel swooping in the darkness to the right-hand
side before a deafening clatter of anti-rollbacks drowns out the screams
as the train comes to a halt on the first of three lift hills.
Bravo. The lift hill takes
place deep inside the mine with stalactites hanging from above, and
glistening pools of water created between stalagmites reaching towards
the roof. Towards the top of the lift, arms outstretch into the
waterfall that skims the right-hand ride of the train as you come out
It was through the tunnel you
crossed from the mainland station onto the island section of the
attraction, a unique feature that no other Disney Thunder Mountain ride
As you curl over the top of the
lift, you begin the coiling descent around the mountain. Smooth and fast
helixes take you around the mountain, surrounding the many peaks and
through the gorges created by the spectacular landscape.
A tight spiral takes you to the
front of the mountain where you dive under a family of possums hanging
from a dead branch above which spin as you race down towards a
precarious bridge taking you over a stretch of water.
You dive down to this
treacherous structure, buildings to the right perched on the red-rock
mountain are a blur as the train lurches downwards appearing to skim the
water. From the right, a splash of water will spray a dense mist into
the air, often refreshingly hitting your face.
You turn sharply to the left
before you clatter to a halt on the second lift. As you climb behind the
tumbledown buildings you just stormed by, a goat heaves on drying
clothes hanging on a line. The train curls over the top of the lift into
the frantic section following featuring more tight helixes and even a
reasonably straight drop.
As you approach a mine entrance
the train passes a sign warning of the TNT in the next cave. As the
train ascends the final lift, the rumble of dynamite loudens to a
thunder as rocks move and threaten to fall as the train lurches to the
side as it scrambles to the top of the lift.
Once at the top, you dive off
into the inky darkness as you frantically make your escape back under
the lake. The pitch black is broken by the eerie eyes of bats glowing,
and as you get faster and faster, you turn harshly to the left before
heaving back up into sunshine and hitting the final brake run.
Get your coat, El Diablo –
this is how a mine train SHOULD be done.
In perfect measurements, it is
almost impossible to get a more varied ride. There are some really fast
sections taking place high up the mountain. Often, the track will bury
its way into the mountainside offering some great visuals.
Both of the tunnels are long
and house more than just straight track. The water splash doesn’t add
too much to the ride, but comical tongue-in-cheek aspects like the goat
tugging at the clothes on the washing line and the possums spinning from
the branch break up the chaos of the coaster.
It has obviously been accepted
that lift-hills are dead boring. Therefore, the boredom is kept at bay
by having beautiful pools of water below the first, the second the view
(and that pesky goat…), and the third almost has half of Thunder Mesa
showering down on you.
The idea of having the mountain
completely independent to the rest of Frontierland is a great one and
means that you are guaranteed at least two tunnels.
Whilst the ride wouldn’t be
dead boring without the mountain, it really would lose a lot through not
having the great visuals, the little touches that make the ride so much
better than the meagre copies that have spread throughout the world.
Thunder Mountain really
highlights what rubbish we take for granted at theme parks. Supposed
rival parks insist on copying what is now one of the most unoriginal
themes and end up butchering the concept, watering it down and ending up
with a weak family coaster where the theme rarely stretches further than
a chimney on the lead car. It is like A1 covering Ah-Ha – why bother
if you are going to end up with an inferior product? Disney has shown us
how a mine train SHOULD be done and at the end of the day, Big Thunder
Mountain is in my opinion the best coaster in the park because of this.
Has set Thorpe Park up
well to be one of the best parks in South England
▪ Very unique to almost
everyone who rides it
▪ Powerful first half and unique second half
▪ Chain-lifts are
▪ Cannot see much of the
ride without going on it
▪ Popular ride means
that it can get long queues
▪ The queue line is simply a terrible, terrible design