Frontierland

Frontierland is located in the northwest corner of the Magic Kingdom, above Adventureland and to the left of Liberty Square.  The theme is the American Wild West in the early 1800s, which should be evident from the saloons (that don’t serve alcohol), red rock buttes, log buildings, and general cowboy and Indian vibe.  Frontierland is one of the most popular sections of the Magic Kingdom, despite only having two rides, a dated animatronics show, and an exploration and playground area.

This popularity, of course, is due to the fact that those two rides are Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which are among the best rides in all of Disney World.  Country Bear Jamboree, the 15 minute audio-animatronics show starring a variety of robotic wildlife, will serve as a nice air-conditioned break, but may not be worth visiting if you’re short on time.  Only accessible via a raft, Tom Sawyer’s Island is located in the middle of the Rivers of America.  On the Island, you’ll find a large fort-themed playground for kids, caves and wilderness to explore, and plenty of benches to relax on while enjoying time away from the hustle and bustle of the world’s most popular theme park.

Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Café is Frontierland’s main counter service and one of the three best at the Magic Kingdom, although it’s probably third on that list behind Columbia Harbor House and Cosmic Ray’s.  Visit primarily for hamburger/wrap/salad fare.  Of course, shops outnumber attractions or places to eat.  You’ll find five shops offering the usual merchandise as well as Old West themed goods.

Must visit: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain

Visit in the afternoon or whenever you need a break from walking: Country Bear Jamboree, Tom Sawyer Island

FASTPASS Available: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain

Morning Extra Magic Hours: None

Evening Extra Magic Hours: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain

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Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

by josh on May 14, 2010

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Opened: September 23, 1980

Location: Frontierland

Extra Magic Hours: Evening

FASTPASS: Yes.  Since its lengthy January – May 2012 refurbishment concluded, FASTPASS return times have been further out than they were before.  Still, return times are usually 40 to 90 minutes in the future, which is sooner than Space Mountain or Peter Pan’s Flight.  When it’s hot out, Splash Mountain’s FASTPASS return time will also be further out.  Overall, Big Thunder is usually your third or fourth FASTPASS priority.

Type: Roller coaster

Similar To: A tamer Expedition Everest

Requirements: Must be 40” or taller to ride

Scary Factor: Medium.  Big Thunder Mountain is tame for a roller coaster by just about any definition, but it still moves forward with a maximum speed of about 30 miles per hour.  There are no corkscrews, inversions, or significant drops.  If you adamantly “hate” roller coasters then this probably won’t be for you, but anyone who enjoys Space Mountain, Expedition Everest, or any similar roller coaster will enjoy Thunder Mountain.  If Expedition Everest is a 7/10 on the intensity scale then Big Thunder Mountain is about a 4, if that.

What to Expect: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’s queue is long, winding, and incredibly boring.  While mostly covered, it’s still outside and gets very warm when temperatures are 80+ degrees.  While the refurbishment was supposed to bring air-conditioning, it hasn’t done much to lower temperatures and there is very little to see or do while waiting.

The ride is themed like you’re on a runaway train as it careens down Thunder Mountain without a conductor or crew.  Each train has five cars that can seat up to three people in each of its three rows, for a maximum of 45 people per train.  Most rows usually seat one or two people.  The emphasis is on the scenery and theme rather than exciting drops or turns.  Pay attention to the authentic mining equipment strewn throughout the ride and the 20 animatronic animals.  Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is a good “beginner’s coaster” for people who aren’t sure what they can handle.  If this is too much for you, then you probably want to stay away from Disney’s other coasters.  If you thoroughly enjoy it, then you should enjoy Space Mountain and be ready to try Expedition Everest and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster.

Where to Sit: The ride is wildest in the back and tamest in the front.  This is due to the train slowly making turns after it ascends a lift.  By the time the train speeds up again, the front car is already preparing to slow down again as the back car whips around the turn at much faster speeds.  Request the front if you’re looking for an easier ride or the back for the most exciting ride.

When To Go: Visit before 10:00am, in the final two hours of operation, or use a FASTPASS.  Lines are generally short after 10pm if Magic Kingdom remains open.  This is also a ride that is even more fun in the dark, so you may want to return late in the evening if possible for a second ride.

Expect to Wait: Before 10:00am, wait times are usually less than ten minutes.  After that, waits will build to peak levels that usually last from 11:30am – 6pm.  Expect to wait 40 to 60 minute during that timeframe, though waits can hit 80 to 120 minutes when Magic Kingdom is particularly busy or other nearby attractions are down.

Length: 3 minutes 30 seconds

Rating: 9/10

Commentary: While not really a thrill ride compared to coasters at Six Flags or Universal Studios, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is one of Disney’s best-themed rides and a real treat for anyone who appreciates Disney magic.  On the other hand, it may be a bit of a letdown for diehard “thrill junkies” because thrills aren’t what this ride is about.  Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is also a good introduction to roller coasters for anyone who isn’t sure what they can handle and I would recommend it to people who are uncertain about whether they will enjoy Disney rides.  Do your best to get here during your vacation because this is really what Disney World is all about.

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Country Bear Jamboree

by josh on May 14, 2010

Country Bear Jamboree

Opened: October 1, 1971

Location: Frontierland, in between Pecos Bill and Liberty Tree Tavern.  As you’re walking through Frontierland on your way to Splash or Big Thunder Mountains, you’ll see it on your left before arriving at Pecos Bill quick service.

Extra Magic Hours: No

FASTPASS: No

Type: Animatronic theater show

Similar To: Enchanted Tiki Room, Hall of Presidents

Requirements: None

Scary Factor: Zero

What to Expect: Country Bear Jamboree is another of the older audio-animatronic theater shows, this time featuring 18 bears, a buffalo, a raccoon, a stag, and a moose.  The bears put on a 17-minute show full of corny jokes, songs, and gags.  The theater is comfortable and air-conditioned. Refurbished in 2008, the Country Bears now have better audio and slightly improved animatronics, but the show otherwise remains the same.

Where to Sit: This is another show where cast members ask guests to move down all the way to the end of a row.  Because the theater is rarely more than half full, they aren’t as persistent as they are at other more popular attractions.  Let 15 to 25 people in front of you in a row half way or further back from the front.  This will put you close to the center of the theater and you’ll be back far enough that you won’t have to turn your head from side to side.

When To Go: This is another good one to visit in the afternoon heat, whenever you need a break from standing, or while you’re waiting for a FASTPASS to become due.

Expect to Wait: Shows run continuously and it’s unlikely you’ll have to wait any longer than it takes for the previous show to end.  Check the clock outside the theater’s entrance to see when the next show begins.  There’s no reason to enter any sooner than three minutes before it begins.

Length: 15 minutes

Rating: 5/10

Disney’s Mineral King Ski Resort: Ever heard of Disney’s Mineral King Ski Resort?  No?  It’s probably because it never came to fruition.  In the 1960s, Walt Disney wanted to open a ski resort.  The final plans included 27 ski lifts and housing for more than 2 million visitors per year.  Although the Sierra Club had originally backed a ski resort in the area, they changed their minds when they realized the size and scope of the plans.  After years of lawsuits the preservationists finally won and the land was annexed by the United States government and became part of Sequoia National Park.  Country Bear Jamboree was originally planned as entertainment for that resort, but was moved to Florida after the project was canceled.

Commentary: Country Bear Jamboree is more likely to be favored by kids under the age of ten and adults who appreciate classic Disney attractions.  Teenagers and adults that don’t care much for dated animatronics and corny jokes are better off skipping, unless an air-conditioned theater sounds like a pleasant place to spend 15 minutes in the middle of the day.  Country Bear Jamboree is somewhat popular due to its proximity to Splash Mountain, but it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll have to wait for more than one show to end before admission.  If you enjoyed the Enchanted Tiki Room then you’ll enjoy this one as well.  On the plus side, seating at Country Bear Jamboree is much more comfortable.

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Splash Mountain

by josh on May 14, 2010

Splash Mountain

Opened: October 2, 1992

Location: In the back of Frontierland to the left of the entrance to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Extra Magic Hours: Evening

FASTPASS: Yes.  When high temperatures are 85+ degrees, you’ll want to rely on FASTPASS between 10:30am and 9pm when lines are long.  Along with Space Mountain and Peter Pan’s Flight, FASTPASS return times will be two or more hours out by noon when it’s hot out.

Type: Log flume

Similar To: Unique, though the drop is similar to other log flume rides

Requirements: Must be 40” or taller

Scary Factor: Medium.  The “big drop” is clearly visible to all Disney World visitors and may make some guests apprehensive about riding.  It’s really not that bad though and if you could handle any of Disney’s other roller coasters or a similar attraction at another theme park then you should be fine.  The drop is a little over 50 feet at a 45 degree angle and is a lot more fun than it is uncomfortable or unpleasant.  Even people who adamantly “hate” roller coasters enjoy Splash Mountain.  I would try to work up the nerve to ride Splash Mountain, even if it looks like the drop is too intense.  You’ll be fine.

What to Expect: There is a lot more to Splash Mountain than “just a drop.”  The ride is actually about 12 minutes long and follows the story of Br’er Rabbit as he attempts to leave the briar patch in search of his “laughing place.”  First, you’ll have to make it through the queue, which is mostly covered but not particularly interesting.  Once you make it to the front of the line, you will board the log flume which has four rows of two people, for a total of up to eight riders per log.  Once aboard, your flume will take you slowly through a series of scenes featuring more than 100 animatronic characters.

The following contains spoilers:

There are three small drops before the “grand drop” which happens just before the end of the ride.  If you’re anxious about the drop then it will probably be difficult to pay attention to the story.  Do your best to take it all in because the story is really one of the best examples of Disney genius.

How to Stay Dry and Not Lose Anything: You won’t get anywhere near as wet as you would on Kali River Rapids at the Animal Kingdom, but riders sitting in the front row may still get a healthy dose of water.  I would recommend placing purses, cameras, phone, and other electronics in a plastic bag of some kind.  A shopping bag would do the trick and you can request one from any shop if you need one.  I would also recommend removing any hats or loose glasses because they have a tendency to fly away.

Where to Sit: The animatronic scenes occur throughout the attraction on both sides, so riders in any row have a good view of what’s going on around them.  Riders in the front row have the best view, but also risk getting the most wet after the drop.  Request the back row for the best chance of staying dry or the front row for the best view.

When To Go: Visit before 10:30am or in the final hour of operation when temperatures are 85+ degrees.  When the high is closer to 75, wait times are much lower because Splash Mountain isn’t as popular in cooler temperatures.  In November – February, you can visit before 12pm or after 5pm and find much shorter waits.  For the shortest waits after 10:30am, use FASTPASS.

Expect to Wait: Waits of 10 minutes or less are common before 10am, regardless of season.  After 10am, waits will build to 40+ minutes depending on season and temperature.  When temperatures are 85+, expect peak waits in the 60 to 100 minute range.  When the high is 75 or lower, peak waits are usually closer to 30 minutes unless overall crowd level is an 8+, in which case waits will still be 60+ minutes even with the low temps.

Length: 12 minutes

Rating: 10/10

Commentary: Splash Mountain is one of Disney’s most prolific attractions and a must-do for all visitors tall enough to ride.  The drop may be off-putting to some, but it’s not nearly as “bad” as it looks.  While you may see some people swearing off the Tea Cups or Space Mountain after riding, it’s rare to hear about anyone who doesn’t want to ride Splash Mountain again immediately after disembarking.  I would recommend it, even if you don’t like roller coasters or thrill rides because there’s so much more to it than the drop.  Do your best to get here before 10am or use FASTPASS.

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Tom Sawyer Island Playground

by josh on May 14, 2010

Tom Sawyer Island

Opened: May 20, 1973

Location: The raft to Tom Sawyer Island is located to the right before you arrive at the entrance to Splash or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Extra Magic Hours: No

FASTPASS: No

Type: Exhibit and playground

Similar To: Unique

Requirements: None

Scary Factor: Zero

What to Expect: Tom Sawyer’s Island is only accessible via a motorized raft that boards near the entrance to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  Once on the island, visitors can explore numerous caves, a mine, two bridges, a working water wheel, and Fort Langhorn, a play area geared toward kids.  Benches are plentiful and the Island is a terrific spot to take a break while enjoying a treat.  Unfortunately, you’ll need to bring that treat with you.  Aunt Polly’s, the old ice cream and snack bar, has closed permanently.

When To Go: Visit in the early to late afternoon.  Tom Sawyer Island usually opens later and closes earlier than the rest of the Magic Kingdom, so make sure you check your schedule for the hours.  The last raft usually departs two hours before Wishes Fireworks is scheduled or 5pm when Magic Kingdom closes at 7pm.

Expect to Wait: There is no wait once you reach the island, but you’ll have to wait for the raft to take you to and from it.  The line shouldn’t be longer than ten or so minutes either way.  If it is, try again later.

Length: You may spend as much time as you like.  Expect to spend at least 20 minutes if you have kids or plan to enjoy a snack and another 15 minutes to travel back and forth on the raft.

Rating: 5/10

Commentary: Tom Sawyer Island is a fabulous retreat from the Disney World crowds, even though it’s literally right in the middle of the Kingdom.  It isn’t necessarily a “must-do” attraction without kids and I wouldn’t recommend it over riding one of the major rides, but if you’re looking to get away without leaving the Park then Tom Sawyer Island is your best bet.  Just be aware that there isn’t a lot to keep most adults occupied.

The Paint Brushes: For many years, Disney placed Tom’s paint brushes in hidden locations around the Island.  Guests could seek one out, and when found, could exchange them for FASTPASSes to Big Thunder Mountain or Splash Mountain.  As of January 2012, Disney no longer places the paint brushes out for guests to find.

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