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Fear and Trembling: A Chicken’s Review of Big Thunder Mountain

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“Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man . . . .. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place.”

I am not that man.

Big Thunder, Big

As I moved resignedly toward the tumblin’ town of Tumbleweed, that sad fact was once again made painfully apparent. My time and place does not involve thrills. Although I’ve never been especially frightened by regular thunder, I have more than my fair share of reservations regarding Big Thunder, and not just of the FastPass+ persuasion. Coffee and creamed-colored crags cast troubled shadows at my feet as we inched closer; it was very clear to me I was in the wrong place. My wife, unfortunately, was not persuaded.

I’ve heard the claim before. Upon our return from a quick Christmastime visit to the Magic Kingdom with my immediate family, my wife and my brother both suggested that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad might actually be an attraction I would enjoy, as it lacked the typical large drops that so twist my stomach in knots—as well as not’s, as in “I’m not going on another of these rides, I’m not going to eat again, I’m not feeling especially manly . . .”, and so on. At this point, my faith in other people’s assessment of whether  or not I will enjoy/survive unscathed any thrill ride has been shaken, not to mention roughed-up and made queasy and more than a little cranky.

Non-chickens just don’t understand how unthrilled we chickens are of thrills, and how little it takes to cause them—at least the kinds of thrills that result from too much gravitational exhilaration. I prefer to refer to this sensation as feeling butterflied or enqueasened, or simply as being made cranky.

Shortly after that conversation with my family, a foolish, yet relatively harmless idea crossed my mind. I should experience all of these so-called “mild” thrill rides to disabuse non-chickens of the notion that what they find mild is a universal sensation, or rather,  non-sensation. That would show them. Of course, what it would show them would probably be about as interesting as showing someone the Studio Backlot Tour, only with less crying. I quickly dismissed the thought, grateful I had no reason to pursue such a foolish quest, and confident I never would. I laughed at the notion.

Ah laughter, I think I miss you most of all.

big.thunder.3As with the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, we arrived early in the day and with the addition of our FastPass+ reservations, I had no time to stop and enjoy the interactive queue or contemplate the level of detail in every nook and cranny. From what I could tell, none of the crannies were quite large enough to hide in anyway. I had no time to check the nooks. As usual, the theming was impressive; I really felt like I was in what was once an old-timey mining company, granted one established in the middle of a theme park.

Briefly, I wondered if there were some way to suspend my admittedly self-inflicted obligation to complete the so-called “thrill ride challenge” at Walt Disney World. The question was especially irksome, considering it was I who so-called it. If I never rode another thrill ride again—even a mild one—who would know? Well, besides my wife. Trust me, she’s not telling anyone—first of all, it’s very difficult to work my thrill ride chickenness into polite conversation, and secondly, she’s much too nice to humiliate me in public. In all honesty, I don’t the need help.

We loaded our train, and soon it was off. Making our way up a small incline, we were treated to a lovely cavern of stalagmites and stalactites and I thought for a moment of how nice it would be to go spelunking, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the lap belt off. I listened for the sound of happy little miners singing a happy little tune, but instead, all I heard was the voice inside my head making a big to-do about shaking its own, albeit disembodied head. Outside, there was only the clickety-clack of the train inching ever upward, and an eerie silence, which is my least favorite kind. If experience is any indicator, the kind of silence I’m most comfortable with is awkward.

We dropped and to my surprise, the descent was slow and measured. Gone, however, was the silky smooth glide of the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train tracks, the happy little dwarfs, and my posterior’s sense of well-being. In their place, the rickety, clickety-clackety, shake-you-uppity twists and breaks of Big Thunder’s railroad. Apparently, the Mining Company of the Magic Kingdom learned a thing or two in track design between their first operation and their most recent. Of course, both mines are relatively small, which makes me wonder why they bothered with trains in the first place. Couldn’t they have just walked back to headquarters? Walking I can do all day. I could do that in my sleep. Walking, that’s where I’m a viking.

Despite the differences between this and the Mine Train, I had a disturbing sense of deja vu, less the singing of course. I started to yell “heigh-ho,” but was quickly silenced by the second incline quickly approaching. I think somewhere along the way, we must have passed Tumbleweed, but I was so distracted by my body’s attempt to occupy more than one point at the same time, I hardly noticed. We reached the summit, and I caught a glimpse of the craggy red-brown spires of Big Thunder Mountain and thoughts of the Grand Canyon failed to come to mind, along with many other thoughts, since the voice in my head had now taken to clucking its disembodied tongue with a disdainful sanctimony. We reached the peak and rushed down the other side almost as quickly as the honey oozes down the wall in Winnie-the-Pooh’s infamous queue, and with just as much shudder-inducement.

Once again, we were subjected not so much to gravitational contempt, as railroadal bumpery. The worst and most memorable parts of the experience were the deceptively-named “bunny hops,” which are small and seemed to multiply like rabbits, but weren’t nearly as furry or gentle. Of course, I’ve fortunately never run over one in a train or otherwise, so I can’t say for sure, but I have my doubts. No sooner had we jumped up we were immediately yanked down and dropped what felt like inches. To my stomach, it felt as if we’d jumped and fallen twice as far. The bunny hops definitely pulled the rug out from under my stomach, but they also really tied the ride together. As we shook from side to side and up and down, I resisted the impulse to flail about like a marmot in a bath of warm, soapy water.

Then we entered another cave and approached the third spire. There had to be a third spire. Why did there have to be a third spire? My mind raced with all manner of dreaded expectation, once again certain they were saving the best/worst drop for last. My stomach fluttered for a second, then decided not to speak to me the rest of the day. A couple of smart-alec mountain goats looked down upon us from the smug security of their cliffside and I began to plot my revenge. Like the other drops, however, it appeared more intimidating than it actually was. Suddenly, I was filled with something akin to cautious hopefulness, even as we were unceremoniously tossed and bumped and shaken.

The Big Thunder experience was an odd mix of merry-go-round and jump castle. Any number of bad birthday parties with legions of screaming children came to mind, but were quickly dislodged by a sudden, sharp turn or bunny hop. The screaming child, however, was never far away. Fortunately in these situations, he usually just curls up in a ball and waits for everything to be over with.

As brief as the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was, this one felt ten times longer, but not in the way I expected. For the first time in a roller-coastery ride, I wasn’t filled with visions of death and calamity—I never actually thought/worried that the car was going to free itself from its railing home and sail, carefree and briefly into the thick, Florida air. That is in itself odd, as the coaster is supposed to give riders the feel of a train on a rickety track on the verge of collapse. I never got that. I probably never got to the point of enjoying myself long enough to do so. Instead, it simply felt like a movie that had gone on just a few minutes too long—granted a movie where the guy behind you is constantly kicking your seat.

As we departed from underneath the shadow of Big Thunder’s formerly ominous peaks, I took comfort in knowing that although bumped and shaken, rattled and nearly made cranky, my stomach and I survived, unenqueasened. I could take comfort knowing that despite its best attempt to thrill me, this dude abides.


My rating scale for chicken-related thrill tolerance is one to five chickens–five being the most stomach-churning. For Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, it gets 2 chickens.

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Bob Whitten

I made my first trip to Walt Disney World in 1973, but for some reason, did not return for 23 years. Fortunately, that year I married into a Disney family and my lovely wife eventually set me straight. We now make regular trips to the World, despite not having any kids. We do have one cat, though she has yet to express any interest in going with us.

10 thoughts on “Fear and Trembling: A Chicken’s Review of Big Thunder Mountain

  • I absolutely love this post! Every time I ride Big Thunder Mountain – the scariest ride I will ever go on, I can assure you – I am pretty sure I’m going to end up with the fishes in the Rivers of America. That turn always gets me.

    But I always try to ride it at least once a visit, because I do actually like it, and one of these days maybe I will enjoy it all the way through, without wishing there was one less lift hill.

    The Disneyland Big Thunder, by the way, I could ride all day long. I never feel like I’m going to die, which is nice, because it just doesn’t have any of those truly precipitous curves. And, as another commenter mentioned, it was recently refurbished and the track is smooth as butter.

    • You know, not feeling like I’m going to die is one of those features I look for in a ride. Funny how many rides are out there that don’t accommodate me. 🙂

      That’s pretty cool you ride Big Thunder despite that one turn, but I know what you’re talking about. It may seem silly, but sometimes, the tiny little drop on Pirates gets to me–usually when I think about too much beforehand. But I like Pirates too much to stop riding it. Of course, that’s just a little drop that churns my stomach; it doesn’t prompt the semblance of mortal fear. My first roller coaster, however, I was in the front car and the safety bar didn’t lock down entirely. That’s always in the back of my mind when I get on roller coastery rides.

  • As much as I was teasing about RRC, I can relate to people who are not fans or don’t want to try some of them.

    My first time at DL (around 10 years old), the only coaster I went on was BTM due to my like of trains in general. Didn’t do Space Mountain (the concept of the dark really freaked me out) and I also was sort of scared of Matterhorn from what I saw of it going through the holes in the side of the mountain on the Skyway. I did get adventurous and add the Matterhorn to my “done” list when I was there after High School graduation ~8 years later. Still didn’t like the idea of Space Mountain in the dark (I was at that time still really afraid of any risk of going upside down, and it wasn’t like today where you can find out pretty much everything about a ride on the internet before you go).

    It wasn’t until 20 years later when I finally ended up on Space Mountain. It was my first time in DL since the post HS trip, and I said to myself “darn it, I’m here, and I don’t know when I may ever be here again, I’m trying this ride!”. That may have permanently cured me for the most part (at least for Disney coasters), as I’ve since been on every offering in WDW in Florida on more recent trips.

    The point is, I was definitely in the chicken club for a lot of my life too, so I can relate and understand. (there’s still probably more than a few non-Disney coasters that I would probably chicken out, some of the six-flags type stuff scares me with the statistics of how high, etc)

    One final thing I’d mention for those considering trying BTM (or trying again after a long hiatus), both coasts have somewhat recently been upgraded(DL reopened this year, WDW I think was renovated 1 or 2 years back). I believe the rails are much smoother on this ride than they were in the past. Perhaps that will change a bit as the new rails and trains age, but my most recent experiences on BTM on both coasts was that it was a smoother ride than I ever remembered before.


    • Thank you for this very well-thought-out post. You make some really excellent points.

      I’m actually a big believer that “accidental” or “authentic” experience is sometimes essential to objectively assess/confirm one’s opinions–at least on some issues. I know what you’re saying.

      For instance, I really don’t care for cheese, but sometimes I unsuspectingly eat it in food and when it turns me wrongside out, I confirm my dislike. I’m grateful for those experiences, as they keep me from becoming a caricature. Well, almost.

      I may be wrong, but I think what you’re recommending is something similar, even if it is a little harder to experience thrill rides unwittingly. Not all thrill rides are created equal, and in the past, I never would have bothered with a ride like the 7 Dwarfs Mine Train for the simple reason that it looked like a roller coaster. Because I said “Darn it” like you, I got to try something new and actually enjoy myself . . . in retrospect (I was too worried the first time that my apprehensions were going to be confirmed at the next drop). I will, however, ride it again.

      Of course, jumping on the Mine Train isn’t the same as jumping on Space Mountain (something I know first hand). I definitely tip my cap to you for intentionally taking it on.

  • Thank you so much for this review and the one for 7DMT. My once adventurous child gleefully rode Splash Mountain over and over with his dad at 3 years old. He tried again at 4, it scared him to death, and now at 5 he won’t even go near the Barnstormer. I’m hoping he’ll trust your words and give some rides a chance when we are back at WDW in a couple of months. I have to admit that I am a chicken too and haven’t been on BTMR since I was in elementary school (I’m 38 now). I just might give it another go. Keep the reviews coming. You are convincing me, and hopefully my son, to be a little more daring!

    • I hope it helps. I was the same way when I was younger. I really enjoyed log flumes, but the older I got, the less and less I liked them. Never liked coasters though. Ever. 🙂

  • Next Stop…. Rock’n Roller Coaster…. 😉

    • As long as it stays stopped. 🙂

    • Still, the only remaining roller coaster in WDW, that I’m too chicken to ride. If you go before October 20-25 (my next trip), I look forward to reading the review.

  • “nearly made cranky” – ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!


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