Between January 2018 and May 2019, Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris went under an extensive 16 month refurbishment. Whilst many things in the Manor did change following the refurbishment, one thing remained constant: the dedication of the Disney Imagineers to their craft and creating the best illusions to surprise guests.
To celebrate the reopening, Disneyland Paris have released a 17 minute documentary which goes behind the scenes with some of the key creative figures involved in this magnificent refurbishment.
It’s 8:20am on Saturday 17th 2016 and like many people, I am waiting at the entrance to Frontierland. Excitement is building, it’s a big day; after 13 months of absence, Big Thunder Mountain is back!
The reality, however, is that Big Thunder Mountain has been back for a few days through soft openings. In fact, I rode it on the Friday although some of the new effects were not working. But today was different, it was actually opening and all the effects had to work or else it would be categorised as a failure.
The Opening Ceremony
At 8:35 we were lead slowly through to Thunder Mesa where we waited until 8:45 for the opening ceremony.
The ceremony was a very basic occasion but to fans, such as myself, was an invaluable moment filled with poignancy and delight. Daniel Delcourt, Chief Operating Officer of Disneyland Paris, who delivered a short speech about how important the attraction is to Disneyland Paris and how wonderful it was to have an integral part of Thunder Mesa returned. He also paid tribute to all the cast members who work on the attraction and the imagineers who have worked on the attraction over the past 13 months. Finally, Mickey and Minnie came out to cut the rope and that was that.
Then we waited for 9am and the opening spiel and to be allowed onto the ride.
9am, The return of Big Thunder
The spiel ended, the rope removed. Some guests opted to run. But I went for a nice walk past all the clapping cast members who were waving souvenir newspapers in the air. And then I joined the queue.
I say joined the queue, I walked all the way through it and straight onto the ride. The queue line sparkles and shines as if new, however the interactive elements have not made the jump from our American cousins meaning the queue remains one of the least inspiring in Disneyland Paris as you simply zig zag through to the trains.
The ride itself is looking beautiful, the newly refreshed colours make the ride seem as new and all the effects are working as they should.
My big surprise on the first ride on this special day was to come off the first lift hill and to turn the corner and see the geysers working! But the gifts kept giving, the splashdown effect was simply wonderful and then turning the corner to see smoke coming from the buildings on the lift hill.
The new explosive finale is a delight. As you enter the final lift hill there are warning signs plastered across the entrance, then as you continue up the hill the projection mapped fuses lead up to the top of the hill before a giant explosion and smoke filling the hill. The new scene is short, but thrilling and worth the 13 month wait.
The final delightful surprise were the bats on the final lift hill which have been newly repainted and look more 3D than previously and is a fitting end to a wonderful ride experience.
As I disembarked the ride, I was handed a souvenir newspaper. A unique souvenir which is to be framed and placed on my wall as one of my most prized Disneyland Paris possessions.
Thunder Mesa Riverboat Landing
I then rushed immediately to Thunder Mesa Riverboat Landing and was joined by a few Disneyland Paris fan sites to enjoy the newly refurbished rivers of the far west. The effects across the trip were amazing to see. A highlight was Smugglers Cove which has plenty of echo and sound effects which took me by total surprise.
As the final section of the crossing arrived, the geysers were in full force showing their might and beauty. I remember, as a child, running away from the geysers as I thought they would get me wet (and as a child, this was an odd fear of mine). Seeing them alive again brought life to this area of Frontierland and are absolutely mesmerising.
And then it broke…
And then Big Thunder Mountain broke. The ride was down the whole day Sunday 18th December and then the majority of the following days. But now it is back in its full majestic might and delighting fans once again.
Welcome back Big Thunder!
In conclusion, Big Thunder Mountain is back with a vengeance and looks and rides fantastic.
Project Sparkle is the best refurbishment schedule we have ever seen in Disneyland Paris and will make the park look at its 1992 levels and will ensure that 2017 is the year to visit Disneyland Paris!
Step back in time whilst at Disneyland Paris with a trip into the old far-west United States. Disneyland is a product of America, and America’s Gold Rush is one of the country’s richest moments in history. Frontierland at Disneyland Paris takes the American vision of this land and improves upon it by adding one of the deepest and best stories available at any Disney Park. But is it your favourite land in Disneyland Park?
Frontierland: The most beautiful land?
The vistas in Frontierland at Disneyland Paris are among the most breathtaking in any theme park in the world. Who can forget emerging from the Grand Canyon tunnel on the Disneyland Railroad and seeing the Rivers of the Far West before us with Big Thunder Mountain sitting in the middle? The entrance to the land is a wonderful Cowboy fort waiting to be explored by cowboys both young and old. The buildings all look very authentic, stepping into Frontierland feels very much like one has stepped back in time. As evening hits, the dim lighting only adds to the environment.
Frontierland only has two shops within the land, but both shops offer an exceptional range in a themed environment. The first of these is the Pueblo Trading Post, this store is located in an isolated corner close to the Cowboy Cookout Barbecue restaurant and is only open on weekends and for special occasions. However, the shop is home to some of the most passionate Cast Members you will ever find on all things collectible. The shop specializes in pin badges and often attracts the most passionate traders you will find anywhere. The shop also sells a range of Vinylmation.
Secondly, the Thunder Mesa Mercantile is the place for all you Frontierland souvenirs. This store is especially useful for the Nightmare before Christmas and Phantom Manor ranges of merchandise. The store is themed as a Western town store and is a delight to shop in thanks to its spacious layout and friendly Cast Members.
Frontierland is one of, if not the, best places to eat in the entire resort. The price points and range of food is very strong, but more importantly specialist food options are present here.
The Fuente del Oro restaurant offers a Mexican food option including Tacos, Burritos and Fajitas. These are the kind of food options that Disneyland Paris fans have wanted for years – and they’ve been sitting right under their noses. The Cowboy Cookout Barbecue is another themed restaurant in Frontierland which sells a range of tex-mex style cuisine – and relies heavily on Barbecue sauce!
The Lucky Nugget Saloon is a one-of-a-kind restaurant in Frontierland, its quick table service cuisine in a western saloon bar. It is one of the best themed restaurants in Disneyland Paris and has recently been upgraded to include fun puppet shows whilst you eat. The food is of a high quality as well, meaning this is the complete entertainment and dining experience.
For those wanting a refined option, the Silver Spur Steakhouse is a table-service restaurant near the Phantom Manor attraction, this offers primarily steak dishes and has an open-kitchen – something that is unique within Disneyland Paris – meaning you can see the chefs cooking your food!
Frontierland does not offer an abundance of characters, but does offer a Tiana and Naveen meet-and-greet which has proven to be well-liked and offers the rare chance to have a guaranteed chance to meet a princess of your choosing. At Halloween and Christmas you can meet Jack Skellington and Sally, something that other Disney resorts envy Paris for!
The Cowboy Cookout area often sees a random range of meet-and-greet characters meaning you never know who you’ll meet if you time it right. Finally, the Chaparal Theatre provides a chance for guests to see their favourite characters in shows such as The Forest of Enchantment and Frozen Sing-a-long.
Frontierland has some of the most fantastically themed rides of the entire resort including Big Thunder Mountain and Phantom Manor. Paris’s version of Big Thunder Mountain is regarded as the best in the world; it is faster and longer than any other resort and boasts that it is situated on its own island in the Rivers of the Far West. The Phantom Manor attraction takes the Haunted Mansion, which is found in the United States Disney Resorts, and alters it for a European audience. Most Disneyland Paris fans love the attraction, and most US-based Disney fans at the least have a strong desire to try the ride.
Frontierland at Disneyland Paris is perhaps the best version of the land anywhere in the world. It offers fantastic shopping and dining and classic Disneyland Paris attractions that are an object of envy for other Disney resorts.
45 years ago to the day, the Haunted Mansion opened in Anaheim, today imagineers held a Q&A session in which Alice Davis said that Phantom Manor would have driven Walt mad as the attraction is designed to look ‘run-down’. This prompted Disneyland Paris fans to react in defense of the classic Frontierland attraction, but the response was not quite what was expected:
Enjoy it while we can? What was this supposed to mean? Well, rumoured for the 25th Anniversary of Disneyland Paris are 10 attraction updates of which Phantom Manor seems destined to be one. It is important here to remember than a previous update in Disneyland Paris was the switch from Space Mountain: De la Terre à la Lune to Space Mountain: Mission 2, a change that most fans still lament to this day. The update kept the same track but ripped out the Jules Verne inspired storyline and the original music. This attraction lost its charm.
All we know for the moment is what @InsideDLParis has tweeted, which is that ‘Time will tell what will happen to it’, ‘It won’t remain the same as today’ and that he is ‘afraid that most of us won’t be happy’ .
An update could consist of many things: The ideal would be a ride system renewal which Phantom Manor is in dire need of, or a total story change. Disneyland Paris fans love the stories and tales of the resort and how each little thing is a clue to the story, this is especially true in Thunder Mesa which has arguably one of the greatest storylines in any Disney Park. It’d be a great shame to see anything major occurring to change it.
Could updating 10 attractions be Disneyland Paris’ biggest gamble yet? From a marketing perspective its genius, come 2017 you can market 10 brand new rides though from a story perspective it’s a risk – and a big one at that. How many times have guests been heard grumbling about the story of Phantom Manor as opposed to a genuinely troubled attraction such as Armageddon? 10 failed attraction updates could be a huge downfall for the resort; on the other hand 10 successful updates could bring a real breath of fresh life into a park that has not seen much attention since the 2006 opening of Buzz Lightyear: Laser Blasters.
Let’s remain positive for now – we do not yet know what the update entails, it could just be a technology update which really could bring added enjoyment to what is already a Disneyland Paris classic. And of course until anything official comes from Disneyland Paris, it is just a rumour.
This update would land around 2017 at the earliest, so there is still time to head over to Phantom Manor and join those 999 happy haunts, before they finally take their final ghoul.