When we went to Disneyland last fall, we reached Big Thunder Mountain Railroad early, before any lines, and we got to quickly move through the ropes lines to the platform without stopping. After being on so many other rides, the size of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad platform was notable. The stairs were narrow, and the platform seemed crowded compared to most other rides. We weren’t the only ones who made note of the coziness as the ride shut down a few months later to undergo a nine month, multi-million dollar refurbishment. The facelift for a very popular ride is good news, but the downside is it means one great ride is missed for summer visitors. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad will be open again soon before we know it this fall with a fresh paint job, improved track, enlarged station, and new magic to emerse riders in the story behind the ride. Until then, there is still plenty to do. Here’s what to try instead:
Visit the Big Thunder Ranch Petting Zoo
Yes, there is a petting zoo inside Disneyland. We’ve overlooked this attraction before because it is tucked away next to the Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue, but it is there will all kinds of animals that kids can pet, brush, and feed. It wasn’t until our most recent trip in May that we did a double take when we spotted a donkey. This being Disney, we paused to make sure it was a real, live donkey, which is when we realized that we’ve been overlooking Big Thunder Ranch. It’s a great place for kids to take a break from rides and it’s perfect activity when you have kids of differing ages/heights, where an older child can go on more rides than a younger one. This is the perfect spot to take the younger child while big brother or sister rides the Matterhorn.
The Perfect Frontierland Rest Stop
Looking for a quiet place to sit down? Nearly right across from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad entrance is an easily overlooked platform with a few tables and a view of the water, the perfect place to enjoy a snack and recharge. Buy a frozen cherry lemonade – or a Powerade, if you are my son – and then look out for this platform. It’s up a few steps and kind of obscured, next to what appears to be a storage house. Finding this was a pleasant surprise. We looked out at the canoes and Tom Sawyer Island, and during that time the only other people with us was a family sharing a turkey leg. (That mom was on it – she had plastic forks and a knife and was carving the turkey leg, then dividing the meat among her kids for an economical protein snack.)
Earn those Mickey Beignets by paddling around Tom Sawyer Island. Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes are near Splash Mountain and the line moves fast. There are life vests for kids under age six, making it a ride for nearly all ages. It’s a quick, fun paddle around the island, just long enough to be a reminder why rowing is a tough sport. There are no tracks, and this is truly paddle powered. Key advice is to NOT sit in front of a young child. Ironically, we avoided Splash Mountain to avoid getting drenched, then the very cute, very tiny, young girl behind me front paddled the entire loop around the island, splashing the water forward at me the entire time. It was unintentional, yet I left with wet pants and shirt, thus my new rule is to always sit in front of an adult.
Try a New Ride
This requires leaving Disneyland for California Adventure, where a fantastic ride often gets overlooked as a kids ride: Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. This ride is awesome! The lines moves pretty fast, and it’s fast enough that during the lower traffic times, like morning and night, it can be repeated over and over with only brief lines in between. That’s exactly why we decided to try it – it was evening and the line was minimal. I took the first ride with my son and we had so much fun, way more than expected, that we jumped on again and again. The ride spins, whipping you around fast enough to be fun and really funny, but not enough that it will make you woozy, like the tea cups. We laughed so hard throughout the ride. It’s my new favorite.
Photo courtesy of Disneyland Parks