We’re made to care about strange things. Cosplayers pour out of Comic-Con, the next costume even more detailed and obscure than the last. Will your favorite team score more than someone else’s favorite team from halfway across the country? Who knows, but countless hours will be devoted to finding out over the course of a season. And of course, there are theme parks. The last day of Splash Mountain operating at Disneyland brought out fandom, a lot of caring, and confirmation that we’re better off embracing our interests.
I was in Disneyland for most of the day on May 30th, 2023 hanging out with friends and soaking in the last hours of Splash Mountain’s life. About a month ago I incorrectly predicted that May would be one of the slowest months at Disneyland since reopening, the last day of an iconic attraction was more of the same – crowded! Between Grad Nights and guests coming into enjoy one last ride, there were lines everywhere, especially at Splash Mountain where the wait times were routinely over 200 minutes throughout the afternoon and evening..
Critter Country’s most popular attraction (that title has now been passed off to… Winnie the Pooh?) has always been a favorite of mine. Between the characters, soundtrack and love of water rides from a young age, Splash Mountain was a must do on so many trips. I know I’m far from alone in that sentiment.
Rehashing the debate of whether a beloved attraction should close or not is not worth our time and frankly doesn’t matter anymore. One of the nice surprises of being there on the last day of operation was that it didn’t seem like the crowd that had gathered for Splash Mountain was interested in that debate either, outside of a few here and there. As has been the case since the closure was announced, I support the change due to Song of the South’s troubled history and will miss Splash Mountain because of the amazing animatronics, well told attraction story and memories I’ve had on it. I think there’s room for both of those thoughts.
Around 7 PM, Melissa headed for home after we watched Magic Happens and I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get in line for Splash. The wait time as I was walking over was 250 minutes but did drop to 200 almost as soon as I got in line. So, we’ll take our wins where we can get them! It’s the longest I’ve ever waited for an attraction but I was lucky to get to go on it on the last day. Definitely a perk of being local is that spending so much time in a line isn’t as big of a deal.
Once I got in line, I met some lovely people around me that made the three hours we ended up waiting go much faster. Dauwila, Nathan, Chris and I covered a lot of topics and shared a love for the attraction. By the end of the queue we decided to all ride together in the same log and had a great time. There’s the one benefit of long lines, there’s ample time to make new friends!
When we were actually on the ride I tried to balance wanting to try to take photos of all my favorite characters while soaking it all in, no pun intended. I managed to stay pretty dry so keeping my camera out wasn’t too hard. There was a nice mix of singing, screaming and excitement as our log careened down the dreaded inside drop and out above the 50 foot plunge. Splash Mountain has been a bit rundown for a while with plenty of animatronics not working. It’s cheesy, but I don’t remember the characters that didn’t work that night.
I was off the ride about half an hour before closing, but they had already closed the queue off for Splash Mountain. I headed up to the bridge over the drop and spent the next couple of hours watching people take their final rides. Tony Baxter passed by at one point and the crowd in the area kept growing until there were a few hundred people watching.
There started to be cheering at nearly every drop. After a few empty logs passed by and cast members started taking their ride after the guests. It was the best part of the night, watching those who have put up with so many guests and angry people all day getting to take the last ride on Splash Mountain. They got the biggest cheers of the night and they deserved them.
Even after the last few rides, the crowd lingered for a while. There was a special announcement as the barn closed its doors for the last time and it was a series of beautiful moments. There was an incredible amount of YouTubers who wrapped up their coverage and others bragging about their bottles of Splash Mountain water they smuggled. Some just sat quietly and took it all in. Security was very kind and everyone was in high spirits. It made for a great night!
Right after I got off the ride with my new friends, I shared that this was my dad’s favorite attraction and I was able to ride it with him just a few weeks beforehand. One of them said their father had passed away a year or two ago and that Splash Mountain was his favorite ride, as well. Then he showed us a photo of their last ride.
Theme parks are an interesting medium because even if you don’t look at them as an art form like I might, they are experiences gift wrapped in storytelling. That means they make for special moments with whoever you’re with. Whether that’s three new friends or your father. I think of the time my brother and sister-in-law got drenched or the time I rode twice in a row on a January night with one of my best friends. I remember my dad’s hat flying off and trips down the mountain with friends who have come and gone and those who I hope will stick around forever. We’re meant to care about strange and minor things, like a ride that sends us to the laughing place and an alligator band. That’s what brings us together until the next thing we care about comes along.
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