Frontierland: Rivers, Islands and Mountains
February 21, 2018
Heading through Frontierland is a bit like strolling through Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, only infinitely more awesome. Featured attractions include all of the water vessels on the Rivers of America, Tom Sawyer Island and the towering Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in action. Photo Courtesy of Mouse Planet
– Ride Type: Mine train Roller-coaster
– Height Requirements: 102 cm
– Attraction Duration: 3 mins 30 seconds
– Height: 32 Metres
– Area: Frontierland
– Fastpass: Yes
-Rider Switch: Yes
– Year Opened: 1979
– Recommendation: Unmissable
– Hours: Open-Close
– Average Queue Time: 30-45 minutes
The legends surrounding the accursed Big Thunder Mountain, tells tales of driverless trains, pyromaniac poltergeists and damaging earthquakes. So grab your kids and let’s go for a ride!
The Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a brilliantly themed mine train coaster and is described by its safety announcement as “The Wildest Ride in the Wilderness.” However, while it is high in fun, it contains moderate thrills, with banking turns and special effects taking the place of big drops and high speeds. These characteristics have since caused it to be seen as a “Gateway Coaster”, for children and adults, terrified of rides.
That being said, Big Thunder is still among my top five rides at the Disneyland Resort, due to its beautiful scenery and general “rideability”. I also really enjoy its history , with much of what remained of its predecessors (Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland and Rainbow Caverns Mine Train), included in the construction of the Roller Coaster.
As you embark on your perilous journey through Big Thunder Mountain, you immediately ascend through the breathtaking Rainbow Caverns. This is followed by the shrieking screams of those on-board, as you undertake your first descent through the scenic mountain range.
On your second climb, explosives are strewn about, while a very irresponsible goat holds a stick of dynamite in his mouth.
From here your runaway adventure continues. You reach the final ascent through a cave, littered with the aforementioned TNT. This time it is ignited. Large explosions ensue.
Conveniently escaping this catastrophe, you manage to quickly find your way back to the safety of the Rainbow Ridge township.
As mentioned Previously, Big Thunder Mountain is one of my favourite attractions at Disneyland and the perfect family roller coaster. What it lacks in hair raising thrills it makes up for in theming and fun. It is simply a must do for everyone!
Top Tips: Normally on Roller Coasters the prime seats are at the front. The opposite is true for Big Thunder. Try to snatch a back seat. It feels faster and your view is not obscured by the train engine. At some point you must also ride this attraction at night. Simply amazing (Especially during the fireworks show).
Spoiler Alert: Please find the POV of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, courtesy of The Coaster Views
Rivers of America
View of the Rivers with Davy Crockett Canoes, Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer Island. Sourced from Solgrundy
(Mark Twain Riverboat, Sailing Ship Columbia, Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes, Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island)
– Attraction Type: Gentle Water Rides, Interactive
– Height Requirements: All Heights
– Attractions’ Duration: Between 15 and 20 Minutes
– Area: Frontierland (Davy Crocket Canoes: Enter at Critter Country)
– Fastpass: No
-Rider Switch: No
– Year Opened: Mark Twain (1955), Davy Crockett (1956), Columbia (1958), Rafts and Island (1956)
– Recommendation: Must do at least one!
– Hours: Open-Dusk
– Average Queue Time: 0-15 Minutes (One Circle of the River)
The Attractions on the Rivers of America take up 75% of what is on offer in Frontierland. They not only provide a great atmosphere but are a great way to calm down, relax and maybe even wait for your next Fastpass ride. Furthermore, the recent re-development of the River, due to the construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, has also improved this area exponentially.
Aside from the Rafts to Tom Sawyer’s Island, these attractions do a full circuit of the River, with each focusing on a particular aspect of the scenery as you pass by. Below is a brief description of each of these rides and what they offer.
Mark Twain Riverboat
The Mark Twain Riverboat is a fully functional, old style Paddle Steamer, seemingly lifted off the pages of Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. It was an important opening day attraction that has barely changed in its 60+ years of history.
While on your journey around the Rivers, you can experience four different areas on board, which are listed below:(Source: Disneyland Website)
- Pilothouse, also known as the top deck, features the wheelhouse and Captain’s Quarters
- Promenade Deck includes a salon and a collection of vintage photos and maps
- Texas (or Sun) Deck is the perfect place to catch some rays as you float down the river
- Main Deck includes the boiler and pistons that run the paddle wheel.
All this while enjoying the beautiful scenery and a lively soundtrack (with narration).
The Sailing Ship Columbia
The Sailing Ship Columbia is a replica of the 18th Century vessel that discovered the Columbia River and was the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe. While it follows the same path as the Mark Twain Riverboat, The Columbia offers a look into traditional maritime history.
Below the main deck you can explore a recreation of the living arrangements of the sailors; from the Captain to the Cook. Speaking of Captain Cook, even though it is an American ship, I can’t imagine The Endeavour looking too much different, so something for Australians to consider as well.
Much like the Mark Twain, there will be some narration on your journey, along with the added excitement of cannon fire.
The Columbia. Photo Courtesy of Disneyland.
Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes
Previously “The Indian War Canoes” until 1971, this attraction is named after the legendary frontiersman and Disney’s 1950s mini series. It provides an entirely different experience to the other water craft due to its size and maneuverability.
I would not, classify it as a ride but more of an interactive experience. There is obviously some exertion involved but that is the price you pay to get up close and personal with the sights and sounds of the river.
Even though you can take children on the canoes (they are fitted with life jackets) I would probably opt for the vessels that don’t require paddling.
Note: Even though it is classified on the map as being in Critter Country, I feel this attraction suits Frontierland much more.
Be a King of the Wild Frontier on Davy Crockett’s Canoes. Photo Courtesy of Magic and Imagination
Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island/Pirates’ Lair on Tom Sawyer Island
Opened in 1956, this artificial Island was created using a lot of the left over soil and clay from the original construction of Disneyland. It was initially designed to be reflective of Sawyer’s adventures but in 2007 (in a characteristic act of synergy) was re-themed to suit the Pirates Franchise; hence Pirates’ Lair on Tom Sawyer Island.
There is much to explore on the Island, including:
- Rope Bridges and Pontoons
- Caverns of Pirate Treasure
- Tom and Huck’s Treehouse
- Smuggler’s Cove
To get there all you have to do is hop on one of the log rafts near The Haunted Mansion and you’re away!
A useful map of Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island. Map sourced from Disney Pal
Much like Mainstreet USA, The Rivers of America provide a uniquely beautiful atmosphere that impacts the entire western portion of the park. In relation to the attractions themselves, it is essential that you go on either the Mark Twain or Columbia to view the Rivers. This option is especially good for families with young children. For the older ones the Canoes, while not essential, are a good alternative. I also always like a visit to Tom Sawyer Island, to escape the crowds and experience something different. Plus it allows the kids to have some freedom too.
Spoiler Alert: Below is a video of an experience on the Mark Twain Riverboat thanks to Inside the Magic. In the video you can also see a docked Columbia, the Rafts and the Canoes.
The Golden Horseshoe Saloon: The Laughing Stock Co.
Dinner and a Show at the Golden Horseshoe. Photo thanks to Disneyland
– Attraction Type: Show/Restaurant
– Height Requirements: No
– Attraction Duration: 12 Minutes
– Area: Frontierland
– Fastpass: No
-Rider Switch: No
– Year Opened: 1955 (Laughing Stock Co: 2013)
– Recommendation: Not essential
– Hours: Shows generally conclude by 6pm
– Average Queue Time: No Queue
Essentially the Golden Horseshoe is on old Western style Saloon that uses the tried and true”Dinner and a Show” formula. Here you can enjoy the comic stylings of the Laughing Stock Co. improvisational group, while you chow down on some deep fried, fatty goodness.
The show itself is basically am improvisational pantomime, featuring a fair bit of audience participation. If you want a table get there early just in case it fills up.
If you’re not interested in the show,the building alone is quite beautiful and intricately detailed, so definitely worth a look.
This attraction is certainly not essential, however, it does provide a decent break from a busy day. We all have to eat at some point so you may as kill two birds with one stone. It can also be used as another “Waiting for my Fastpass Option”.
Spoiler Alert: Here’s a little snippet of the show featured at the Golden Horseshoe, thanks to Dland SMK
Frontierland Shootin’ Exposition
Grab a rifle and get rid of your loose change here! Photo Courtesy of Disneyland
I really don’t need to go into too much detail here. The Frontierland Shootin’ Exposition is simply your run of the mill, arcade style shooting game. Place your loose change in the slot, pick up your rifle and try to out score your friends.
You really don’t need to do this. I’ve seen one at the local Timezone with a very similar theme. However, if you are sick of the ridiculous amount of change you have received on your trip so far, it’s not a bad way to get rid of it here.
Largest area by size and attractions to boot, Frontierland has plenty to offer everyone. You could spend a good two hours here or as little as 30 minutes depending on what you’re keen to do. I would say though, that if you are spending less than an hour exploring this area and its impressive attractions, then you are definitely missing out!
Next Stop Fantasyland!