This week on WDW ESCAPE, take a journey of the imagination with us, as we IMAGINE Seven Dwarfs Mine Train!
Imagine- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
At my house, there is a picture on the wall that captured a milestone moment in our family’s adventures at Walt Disney World, and it happened in our most beloved place, Fantasyland, many years ago.
It is a ride photo, the only one that we have ever framed, and it was taken on that living fairy tale, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. You probably have a very similar photo yourself, maybe more than one.
This is from the camera that captures you on the first big drop, and it features my son and I seated a row ahead of my wife and my daughter. My son, then seven, and with no history with rides to speak of, appears to be having a less than magical time.
He is gripping my arm with an expression on his face that suggests he is about to fall into a pit of molten lava, or perhaps the blades of an enormous blender. One barrel back, my little girl had no fears of any kind.
The wind had whipped her Rapunzel-like locks into a tornado of blonde hair, her expression one of utter, and somehow fiendish delight.
As if she knew that there was a photo being taken that would even up all of those times when her big brother did things sooner, or better, as she took her first step into the wide world of Disney coasters.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Starting in 2010, Walt Disney World undertook a major re-imagining of Fantasyland into “New Fantasyland”.
Like any change at Walt Disney World, there were fans who took some convincing, and one of the changes that caused the most distress was the loss of the attraction Snow White’s Scary Adventures to make room for Princess Fairytale Hall, where I believe more wishes have come true per square foot, and in a more efficient manner than any other place in the world since it opened.
You can read more about the transformation of New Fantasyland in the excellent article by Jamie Cattanach in this month’s issue of WDW Magazine, and a look back at Snow White’s Scary Adventures is coming up in the September Issue.
Suffice to say, fans felt strongly that it just wouldn’t be Fantasyland without the very first Disney Princess and her friends, and of course the imagineers felt precisely the same way and had things well in hand.
On May 28th, 2014, Snow White made her triumphant return in spectacular fashion, and to the delight of her many fans, with the official opening of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
In recent years, Disney has had an astonishing run of success with new attractions, and we have almost come to expect the impossible and the miraculous.
Experiences like Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Rise of the Resistance at Disney’s Hollywood Studios changed our idea of what is possible in an attraction, with innovations and new technology.
This trend looks to continue as construction proceeds on Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT and TRON Lightcycle Run in Tomorrowland.
But in all of this wonder, you have to be impressed by the way Seven Dwarfs Mine Train took a much more traditional approach, and still managed to astonish by getting absolutely everything right.
Disney Imagineers knew this ride would have incredible demand and took the time to develop entertaining, interactive queues that could keep families happy while they waited two hours for a two-and-a-half minute ride, and then hid them from the eye of passers by, so the line-up never became the story.
And sure, at its heart, this is still just an old-fashioned steel track roller coaster, but the Imagineers wanted to ‘plus’ the experience and added a novel mechanic where the ride vehicles could rock side to side independently, creating a feel that is unique, and while Mine Train is gentle enough to be enjoyed by very young guests, it is still exciting enough for thrill seekers to feel like they got a good ride too.
The Imagineers envisioned the ride as an amalgam of roller coaster and dark ride and here again they hit it out of the park, building a trip through the Dwarfs’ mine itself into the long climb up, and allowing guests to travel into the world of Snow White and her friends like never before, through beloved songs and advanced audio-animatronics.
The voyage into the beloved story feels safe and familiar, and yet the whole while there is that relentless clicking, clacking and climbing that tells us that soon we will burst into that light ahead and rocket through the hills and dales, heading for the Dwarfs’ cottage, just like our friends heading home. Heigh-ho, heigh-ho.
In a final piece of magnificence, the advanced audio animatronics of the mine are balanced by some familiar friends in the cottage.
A number of figures, including Doc, Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, and Bashful performing the Yodel Song were rescued from the late, lamented Snow White’s Scary Adventures attraction, bringing the history and future full circle, and making this then-brand-new ride feel like a beloved old friend instantly.
Yes, they got absolutely everything right and the outpouring of love was enormous.
When I was planning Fast Passes for that very first trip, it was inconceivable to me that a roller coaster of any kind was in our future, but I got some very sage advice.
“Just book it”, I was told “They’ll want to try it, and you’ll never get on otherwise.”
And so it was that when we rumbled back to the boarding platform and my son announced “That was great! Let’s never do it again.” I was able to tell him that we had a second Fast Pass a few days later.
And by the time the pass had come around, so had he. He had even worked out where the camera was and tried to put on a suave “cool guy” face, in the hopes of getting less ribbing about the first photo.
It didn’t work, but by the next trip he was ready for Big Thunder Mountain and more experiences that he never would have gone for without the perfect family “gateway coaster”.
And his sister? The little one with the taste for danger and derring-do that she earned in the mine car that day?
She has never looked back, much to the occasional distress of her loving parents who have had to ride with her as she pushed the envelope again and again, with one brilliant attraction after another, each one a chapter in her Walt Disney World story.
Perhaps that is what Disney does better than anyone else. Each attraction, each experience, becomes part of your own tale of adventure, one that you share with family, with friends, and with a small army of like-minded total strangers who happen to be nearby, but which is also yours and yours alone.
Every story is a unique history of challenges met and bested, and those two little words that carry so much magic; Next Time!