Guide book author Seth Kubersky compares similar attractions at both Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort with a look at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to see which version of the “wildest ride in the wilderness” comes out on top.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad has long been one of the most iconic attractions at both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, and each version has its own devotees. Of course, globe-traveling Disney fans know that Disneyland Paris’s Big Thunder Mountain is by far the best iteration of the attraction, but for our purposes we’re only evaluating its cousins in Anaheim and Orlando.
On both coasts, this coaster through and around a Disney “mountain” re-creates a runaway mine train careening through a Gold Rush frontier town. Along with the usual thrills of a roller coaster, the ride showcases some first-rate examples of Disney creativity, with colorful caverns and humourously animated lifelike scenes along the way.
A superb Disney experience—but not too wild a roller coaster, the emphasis here is much more on the sights than on the thrill of the ride itself. In terms of intensity, we put this coaster at about a 5 on a scary scale of 10—it has tight turns rather than big hills or drops, and no loops or upside-down parts. Because it’s outdoors and kids can see most of the ride, it’s a better introduction to “real” roller coasters for young children than Space Mountain.
Here is our full POV of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Walt Disney World:
And here is a complete POV of Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad:
Regardless of the resort, it’s a not-to-be-missed attraction in both parks. We especially recommend giving Big Thunder a try after dark, as the lighting gives the attraction a whole new feel. Seats in the back give the best experience, as the front row’s view is blocked by the faux locomotive.
Walt Disney World’s ride benefits aesthetically from a more monumental mountain, and its standby queue features Easter eggs and interactive distractions. The track itself is about 100 feet longer, and its top speed of 30 miles per hour bests Disneyland’s by over 5 mph. However, that comes at the expense of a much bumpier ride, as Walt Disney World’s track has aged noticeably since opening in 1980.
At Disneyland, the train ride’s ramshackle exterior (featuring reconstructions of the Rainbow Ridge storefronts from 1956) belies a remarkably smooth track, which was completely replaced in 2014, making it far more pleasurable to re-ride. Disneyland’s ride also includes some impressive special effects, including a fog-fueled explosion inside the final lift hill, which are sorely missing from the Florida version. And Disneyland is the exclusive home of the fan-favorite animatronic of a dynamite-chewing goat; try to keep staring at him to enjoy extra disorientation as you snap around the curve (known as the “goat trick”).
Finally, in terms of touring, nearby Splash Mountain affects traffic flow to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Walt Disney World, since guests who ride one usually ride both. This translates to large crowds in Frontierland all day and long waits for Big Thunder. Disneyland guests often overlook Big Thunder in their rush to Indiana Jones or Star Wars, and Genie+ Lightning Lane reservations typically remain available for the ride much later in the day at Disneyland than at Walt Disney World.
For all of these reasons, while we rate both attractions as 4 stars in the Unofficial Guides, we feel that Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is superior to Walt Disney World’s ride.
Do you agree or disagree with our verdict? What duplicated Disney attractions would you like us to compare next? Let us know in the comments below!
For all there is to see and do at Disneyland, check out The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland by Seth Kubersky with Bob Sehlinger, Len Testa, and Guy Selga Jr. All Disneyland fans should also check out The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey. For all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, or to plan your family’s trip to Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids.