Thursday, April 20, 2006
The Decline of the River
Once upon a time along Disneyland’s Rivers of America guests could truly feel as if they’d been transported to another time and place. Along the waterfront beside New Orleans Square and across the busy waterway every last detail added to the impression of a somewhere totally removed from the present day. This was easily one of the most beautiful and charming vistas in the entire park.
Across the river was Tom Sawyer Island, its dense foliage draped paths snaking along the shore beckoning explorers to discover their hidden secrets. Against the backdrop of majestic Cascade Falls the Mark Twain Steamboat or Columbia could be seen coming 'round the bend. On the southernmost tip of the island sat 'Ol Harper's Mill, half covered in creeping vines, its waterwheel slowly spinning through another lazy summer's afternoon.
At night the riverfront was never more lovely; as romantic and evocative as could ever be imagined: the sound of a jazz band drifting from the alleys of New Orleans Square, the Mark Twain, trimmed in thousands of tiny lights, churning peacefully beneath the stars, the old fashioned gas lamps flickering along the water's edge, the moon hovering over a stately southern mansion as it peeked from behind the trees.
Over the last fifteen years, however, so many changes have been made to the area that the illusion of being back in Frontier America has been severely compromised. Today Disneyland’s Rivers of America is looking far more like the Rivers of Marriot's Great America than the very special place it once was.
Cascade Falls was torn down some time ago due to age and neglect and the Keel boats are history too. Fort Wilderness is still there on the back of the island but it’s long been shuttered and is currently rotting away.
By far the biggest changes to the area were done to accommodate the Fantasmic show. Walkways in front of New Orleans square were re-graded and built up into a series of tiered amphitheater levels, giant metal planks were thrown down along walkways near the river’s edge to hide the show’s gargantuan lighting rigs and the once charming home of the ‘Ol Mill was turned into what appears to be some sort of bizarre overblown plastic grade school playland.
It’s time to bring the Disneyland river front back to it’s original glory.
• Time to move Fantasmic over to the DCA lagoon where it’s badly needed.
• Time to repair and reopen the fort with perhaps some new and exciting show elements.
• Time to bring back another impressive waterfall, one with integrity and authenticity.
• And most importantly, time to redesign the front of Tom Sawyer Island so that it looks like something you might actually see along a 1850’s American river.
Here’s hoping there's a bright new frontier on the horizon for Imagineering.