Thursday, January 31, 2013

Big Thunder Rolls to a Stop, and the Legend of the Last FastPass

"Hang onto your hats and glasses, folks, cause this here's the wildest ride in the wilderness!"  And with that announcement, your little mining train glides around a bend into a cavern, swerving past the glowing eyes of bats, rattling up a lift hill past stunning scenes of stalactites and iridescent pools, then diving under a glowing, flickering waterfall to begin a wild race around the tracks of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland.  Set in a landscape reminiscent of Bryce Canyon, Big Thunder replaced the more sedate Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland in 1979.  It's supposedly tame as roller coaster's go, but it kept me on the edge of my seat as a boy, and it took a while to warm up to it as an adult.  But on my last trip, back in 2010, I found myself really loving it.  Once I got used to the motion (and decided it really wasn't just a trick to lure me into a false sense of security and then kill me), I found myself really digging the ride, the excitement, and the scenery. I was coming back to Big Thunder again and again, checking out the differences in riding in the daytime and at night.  (Supposedly, in addition to the difference in the view, the trains move faster as the rails warm up through use during the day.  I'm not sure how true this is, but you could certainly believe that the trains move faster at night.)
"This here's the wildest ride in the wilderness..."
There could have been good arguments for making the Disneyland trip after visiting the Joint Meetings this year instead of before.  In particular, the parks would have been less crowded.  (Things were still pretty heavy on 1/3–1/8 while I was there.)  But I also would have missed out on some things:  Park hours would be reduced, and Christmas decorations would be coming down, including the Haunted Mansion closing to remove the holiday overlay.  And perhaps worst of all, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was scheduled to shut down for a roughly ten-month refurbishment on January 6.

I am actually absurdly pleased to
possess this object.
Big Thunder was my first stop on this visit, and while it couldn't be my last, it would be the last thing I'd get on the night of January 6, when it was going down.  This was where I headed after finishing up my dinner and World of Color at California Adventure: to say farewells and ride a few last times on Big Thunder.

I got to visit a few times that evening.  As I stood in line amongst the narrow rockwork canyons, I felt the rocks and posts, drinking it in, and willing myself to be a part of this in the same way it was a part of me.  I also grabbed a last FastPass valid after 10:30.  (The park was closing at 11.) I figured it would be packed with people like me, wanting to get in a last ride at the end of the night before it went down, but surprisingly when I went back, there weren't many people in line.  No one actually bothered with the FastPass line much, and no one actually collected my ticket.  So as a result, I have a cool souvenir: One of the last FastPasses for Big Thunder before it shut down until the end of October.

The next day, not only was the mine train itself down, but the sidewalk past it (which wraps around into the back of Fantasyland) was also closed off.  (This made navigating the park just a bit harder, especially since they do seem to like to have shows in front of the Castle, which partially blocks off a second route from Fantasyland to Frontierland.)
Farewell Big Thunder.  Until you open again.
I'll look forward to seeing the new and improved Big Thunder the next time I manage to make it out to California.  Until then, my first loved coaster lives in me.

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