The River Returns

Disneyland’s Rivers of America has been inaccessible for nearly two years, shelving Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, Fantasmic!, the Mark Twain Riverboat, Sailing Ship Columbia, the Explorer Canoes, and the Big Thunder trail in the process.  While not as iconic as some areas in Disneyland, the river adds a kinetic energy, flow and, as you can see, slew of attractions to it.  The Disney Parks Blog announced today that river and it’s attractions will be reopening intermittently over the summer.  Here are the dates for each opening:

  • Big Thunder Trail – Already Open
  • Pirate’s Lair on Tom Sawyer Island – June 16th
  • Riverboat, Ship and Canoes – June 29th
  • Fantasmic! – July 17
  • Disneyland Railroad – July 29th

Columbia Mark Twain evening

I’ll go through these attractions one-by-one and add a little bit of commentary.

Big Thunder Trail is now open and is probably the least exciting of these reopening because it is simply just a walkway.  While it’s the least exciting, it is absolutely necessary and will undoubtedly help crowd flow.  This trail runs from Frontierland to Fantasyland so guests won’t have to backtrack to the Hub to get from one land to another.  Aside from this helping crowd flow, it was one of the quieter places in Disneyland prior to it closing.  I’m guessing that will stay the same.  There are some nice details and nods to the past in the new trail.  There is also some new rockwork that looks nice and is hopefully a sign of things to come.  Sadly, Big Thunder Ranch is no more but I’m glad this trail is back.

Star Wars sign

Tom Sawyer Island (or Pirate’s Lair, if you want to be annoying about it) reopens today.  I have not read anything about enhancements to the island, but wouldn’t be surprised if they spruced it up some.  I wish they’d get rid of the dumb pirate overlay but can’t complain too much.  Like the Big Thunder Trail, Tom Sawyer Island will help crowd flow since you can fit a lot of people on that island.  If you are new to Disneyland or have never been on the island I definitely recommend it.  It’s nice to take half an hour or an hour to explore the details and have a quiet respite from crowds.  I’m also guessing that there will be some good views of the newly enhanced river.

The boats on the river are one of my favorite parts of Disneyland.  Riding on the Mark Twain just before sunset is bliss.  While the canoes are fairly tiring if you actually do them (enjoyment will vary depending on the person) I love watching them paddle around the river.  They definitely add to the charm of the river.  I’m hoping Sailing Ship Columbia is regularly used and would guess that will be the case at least through the summer.  Before the river closed, the Mark Twain was far more active than the Columbia. The more boats the merrier!

As for the river itself, I was happy to see the Rivers of America retain that name.  The boat travels through the Mississippi, Columbia, Missouri and Rio Grande.  Many of the iconic scenes from before the river was reconstructed are still there.  I’m also excited to see the new rock-work and waterfalls in the Columbia section of the river.

The two most intriguing items to open are, of course, the last two open.  Sitting on the banks of the river, watching Fantasmic! at Disneyland is as good as it gets in my book.  I’m excited to see the new scenes in the show featuring Aladdin and The Lion King.  Once that opens July 17th, Disneyland will again have the best nighttime entertainment of any park stateside.

The railroad is just as iconic as Fantasmic!, if not more.  The Disney Parks blog post revealed that the Dioramas are still intact and will feature a few new highlights.  The railroad will also take a lesson from Nascar drivers and have a left turn upon reopening.  Again, I’m excited to see the rock-work that will hedge your view into Star Wars Land from the train.

As far as how these reopening will affect touring is mostly positive.  In the long run, all of these openings will help thin crowds and are good attractions making this a huge net gain.  Over the course of this summer though, I expect these areas to be a little (or a lot when it comes to Fantasmic!) more crowded than normal.  I don’t think this will last long, if at all.  As nice as a boat ride or walk around an island are, most guests are searching for thrill rides of some sort.  These reopenings aren’t equal to an E-ticket attraction opening, in that they won’t have 2 hour lines.

With that said, people will line up for Fantasmic! very early especially through July and August (and again when the regional passholder blackout dates are over).  I hardly ever recommend standing or sitting in line for over half an hour but you may have to for Fantasmic! this summer.  As I said, I love the experience and wouldn’t miss it but this will take a chunk out of your touring schedule.

Mark Twain night

I think that about does it.  What are you most excited to see reopen along the river?  Let us know in the comments below.

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– Andrew

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