Opening a little more than a year after Disneyland’s, on September 23, 1980, Magic Kingdom’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is thought to more a realistic interpretation of the Utah/Monument Valley area of the Southwest United States. Special care was taken by the Imagineers to make it appear that the rocks were there originally, and the track was built around the rocks, unlike the earlier mine rides, which were built the other way around (by sculpting the rocks around the tracks).The action of the ride takes place completely in the sagging, rotting tunnels of the mountain. In contrast to most steel roller coasters, where the thrills come from the perception of flying through open air, the thrills on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are meant to come from the perceived instability of the mine and its threats of collapse. Sound effects of a typical locomotive operation are piped into the surrounding scenery to add realism to guests viewing the ride from observation platforms, including the steam whistle sounding, even though there is no whistle displayed on the locomotives
The Magic Kingdom version is almost an identical mirror image of the Disneyland version, except for having an enclosed loading station on a hillside and the presence of an abandoned town and altered section of layout before the second lift hill.
In this version, upon entering the queue, guests make their way up the hillside past old mining equipment to the station building. Once inside, the queue snakes through the upper level of the two level station. Guests can view a panorama of the ride. The queue then travels down a gradual ramp, switchbacks, and reaches the loading station. After a wait, guests enter the 30 passenger trains. On the signal of a flashing green lantern at the head end of the platform, the train is clear to leave the station.
Leaving the station, the trains immediately enter a dark tunnel and make a tight left hand turn. After a short straightaway during which the sounds of bats can be heard, the trains make a slight right hand turn and climb the first lift hill. A series of caverns can be seen on the right hand side of the lift hill track. At the top, once again, it slows down and riders make a drop away to the left, before making a right hand turn and going over two hops while passing under the second lift hill and second lift hill drop. It is typical to make a flyby with another train during this section.
After going under the second lift hill drop (which is a point where it may be possible to see the riders on another train), the trains make a tight downwind spiral to the right into a short tunnel. Emerging from the tunnel, riders find themselves in the abandoned town of Tumbleweed. The Walt Disney World Railroad's track can be seen to the right of the guests. While passing through Tumbleweed, the track goes through several bunny hops, and the train seems to sway from side to side. The swaying is achieved by banking the track slightly. On the left, riders see the wagon of Professor Cumulus Isobar, whose rainmaking machine works too well, and a party being held on the second floor of the flooded saloon. On the right, one sees a remaining resident spinning around in a floating bathtub.
In the early years of the ride, the floodwaters in Tumbleweed were much more torrential than they are today.
After Tumbleweed, the trains pass through a short tunnel called Davy Jones Mine, make a left hand turn, and climb the second lift hill. At the top, the train slows down and the riders drop away to the left and cross back under the lift hill as the trains rise up into a 540 degree downhill helix to the left, before going over another airtime hill before dropping back down. The trains make a right hand turn into a tunnel, and climb the third lift hill. An earthquake is in progress and the rocks seem ready to crush and bury the train. In the early years of the ride, the tunnel exit seemed to collapse with falling rocks. Cresting the lift hill, the trains slow down and exit out into the daylight, and drop away to the left heading for the Rivers of America, before they make a left hand turn through a short tunnel, crossing back over the drop, and then drop away to the right through the boneyard and geysers before hitting the final brake run and returning to the station
Onto the Pins!