Splash Mountain vs. Splash Mountain

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Most of the Samland posts have been about various design elements at the parks. Welcome to something completely different. My home park is Disneyland. But I go to WDW a couple of times a year (based on the Crowd Calendar). I realize that there are a lot of cross-continent park goers out there and it is time to answer the question that must be asked. For rides that exist on both coasts, which version is better? Let me know what you think. Thanks for playing.


DISNEYLAND: Disneyland is home to the original Splash Mountain. Opened in 1989, it was one of the most expensive attractions ever developed by Walt Disney Imagineering. The initial inspiration was the Timber Mountain Log Ride at Knott’s Berry Farm, which opened in 1969 (with John Wayne being the first rider no less).

Tony Baxter, Bruce Gordon, and other Imagineers were challenged to create an exciting thrill ride using the now familiar amusement park log transportation technology. They decided to use the theme from a movie (Song of the South) that has barely seen the light of day in the United States since it was released in 1946. There is one place where you can still see some of that historic film. It is on the very first episode of Disneyland, broadcast on October 27, 1954. Walt showed a segment from Song of the South that parallels the attraction’s story. Look for the Walt Disney Treasures Disneyland U.S.A. DVD box set.

One of my favorite things about Disneyland’s version is very personal. It gives me an opportunity to revisit some of my old friends who were kicked out of a Tomorrowland attraction called America Sings. Marc Davis designed this brilliant production. It was a review of American music performed by dozens of animals. America Sings was starting to struggle with attendance and was soon to be closed.

Tony and Bruce were working on Splash Mountain and needed a bunch of Audio-animatronics figures for their new attraction. They figured out a way to save a bunch of money. They decided to recycle the America Sings characters. The link was Marc Davis. He was an animator on Song of the South and the man behind America Sings. They noticed that the characters in the attraction resembled the ones from the movie.

So the Imagineers matched the characters from the film to characters from the attraction. All of the characters that didn’t fit were put into the paddle wheeler at the grand finale. Of course, the needed to add a few Brer Bears, Brer Rabbits, a Bluebird, and a mean old Brer Fox. All of the America Sings characters (with the exception of Sam the Eagle) have found a happy home within Chickapin Hill.

The ride logs were modified a few years ago. Originally it was a bench that allowed a couple to snuggle together much like you can on the Matterhorn Bobsleds. But the lawyers got involved and, after much testing, they added backs to the seats. They also built in a little bench so that a parent can sit side by side with their child. For visitors with no patience, I recommend the single rider line. Just go to a cast member at the Fastpass entrance, ask nicely, and they will hand you a slip of paper. You will be instructed to enter through the exit. Once at the loading dock, you will be guided over a little bridge and will fill in an empty seat. The wait is rarely more than 10 minutes on the busiest of days and is usually a walk on. If you want to get wet sit in the front. However, there are no really safe seats. During the summer they flip on jets at the bottom of the drop that are sure to splash you. After the first lift hill there is a splash from another falling log that can really douse you with nowhere to hide. I highly recommend riding at night. It is a better experience.

By the way, that snoring you hear just before the first drop. That is Rufus and he has been sleeping there since the area was called Bear Country. Man, what hibernation!

WDW: The attraction was such a hit that the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World had to have one. The WDW version opened in 1992 and the lines have never stopped.

The Imagineers learned a lot of lessons and they applied this knowledge to the WDW version. The logs seat 8 side-by-side increasing its capacity. The story makes more sense and is easier to understand. The queue includes Brer Frog providing a bit of the back-story while you wait. The narrative is more linear. You get new special effects such as Brer Rabbit hopping away.

All of the characters have been duplicated in Florida but I find the ride experience to be richer and more rewarding. Its placement in Frontierland is rather odd and disrupts a carefully thought out plan (go here to see why).

So, where did the name of the attraction come from? I bet many of you have guessed it is due to the climatic splash at the end of the ride, right? Well, not exactly. Welcome to that famous Disney synergy. The attraction was originally called “Zip-a-Dee River Run”. But the movie Splash was about to be released and Michael Eisner asked the Imagineers to add the mermaid played by Daryl Hannah into the ride.

The Imagineers thankfully ignored him but they liked the name.

WINNER: Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

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Posted on July 13, 2010

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