Frontierland is unique among the lands of the Magic Kingdom because it has only two true “rides” – and both of them are headliners or E-Ticket (to use vintage Disneyland parlance) attractions. Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are two of the most popular attractions at the Magic Kingdom. Ideally, you’ll make Frontierland your rope drop destination – in which case you can ride both Splash and Big Thunder in less than 30 minutes. You could also come to Frontierland later in the day and use fastpasses to ride with short waits. The downside to a fastpass for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is missing the magic in the stand-by queue. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad represents Disney attraction theming at its best.
A mine of backstory detail has been added to the stand-by queue to tell you the story of the Big Thunder mine. You’ll learn what Barnabas T. Bullion, president of the Big Thunder Mining Company, has concealed in the cabinet of his office (hint: it’s not pixie dust, but it looks like it!). You’ll pass the glass window of the paymaster (Mr. G. Willikers) and enter the Explosives Magazine Room. Here the kids (and adults, too) will love a row of crank and detonator cases that you’ll find along the railings which face Big Thunder Mountain and its encircling trains. Follow the instructions on the cranks and plungers to control a series of explosions, and look out on the mountain to see the plume of smoke you just triggered! (The “booms” you create add to the excitement of guests who are careening by on the train.) As you can see by examining the wooden crates nearby, the dynamite has been supplied by “Bume, Bume, & Bume” as well as explosives from “Lytum & Hyde!”
Further in the queue you’ll find the Ventilation Service Room. This room is dedicated to monitoring the air in the mines for a buildup of dangerous toxic fumes. Inside you’ll find the bird cages once used for canary air monitors. Enchanted Tiki Room fans will remember that Jose asks what has happened to Rosita – she’s been busy at Big Thunder Mountain where a large golden cage has her name on it. Here are also large rusted machines labeled “Autocanary – Air Quality Analyzer 1865.” Don’t forget to turn the cranks on the Autocanary machines and look in to check on the (animated) canary in each machine – they’ll sing for you, and one will salute you. Fortunately, none of them seem to be keeling over from poisonous gas in the mines!
The Foreman’s Post at Shaft 7 will give you a unique perspective on the miners, as you can look down through a series of mirrors which Disney has called a “Subterrascope” to see exactly what’s going on below. The wacky proceedings of Miner Sam, Miss Clementine, and their friends may surprise you! (There’s even a proposal scene!)
Miner Sam will give you his frontier blessing at the loading platform, “This here’s the wildest ride in the wilderness!” and you’re off! You whip through a few darkened tunnels (are those bats blinking their sightless eyes at you?) and find yourself in a subterranean cavern. The cries of the screeching bats are deafening as the aged mine train labors to pull its cargo (you) up and out of the cave. Looking down, you see iridescent pools of bubbling sulfuric water, the bats wheel madly above, disturbed by your intrusion. Now you’re passing under a crashing waterfall, and suddenly you see daylight! You tear down the side of the hill in open air, zipping past sandstone towers. Atop these spires sit disinterested goats, watching your mad descent. You fly through arches, inspired by Utah national parks. Eventually you peel through Tombstone, the abandoned mining town, birthed by the Gold Rush and flooded by the machinations of Professor Cumulus Isobar, a rain-making frontier scientist. Wave at a family of dangling possums and glimpse the town’s last resident, mustached Cousin Elrod, taking his annual bath in his long underwear. Some of the pieces of mining equipment out there are real antiques, used in western mines. Leaving Tombstone behind, you blast further through the sandstone caverns. As the locomotive attempts to haul you out of yet another cave, you see that dynamite has gone off, the tracks ahead are broken, and the whole cavern is set to collapse (is this place haunted??)! All seems lost before you once again find open air and fly out of danger, through a fossilized Tyrannosaurus rib cage, and safely back to the depot.
As you exit, you may spot a couple of final magical touches. On the track that riders exit to the right to step onto the platform, there’s another canary cage – this one with a little yellow canary. (The birds in the queue were replaced by the Autocanary.) Also from that exit (the lower one as seen from the outside pathway) you’ll see a charming Hidden Tinker Bell carved into the red rock wall on the left side, just as you walk out into daylight. Depending on how recently the landscapers have been at work, the grasses may have grown high enough to obscure her a bit. The overlook to the geysers beyond the exits is a great place for non-riding members of the group to wait – and possibly to snatch a quick photo of you on your Big Thunder Mountain Railroad adventure.