Ask the average tourist which top attractions they are planning their Disneyland Resort visit around, and she’ll probably name-check modern marvels like Radiator Springs Racers or vintage E-tickets like Space Mountain. Tom Sawyer Island, on the other hand, isn’t the kind of headliner anyone heads towards at rope drop. Yet Frontierland’s immersive playground environment is essential enough to the Disney theme park formula that a version appears in each of the first three Magic Kingdom parks (Anaheim, Orlando, and Tokyo), with Adventureland-based close cousins constructed in Paris and Hong Kong.
Lately, two of the Islands have been the subject of intense Internet scrutiny. The “escape tunnel” leading from the fort on Walt Disney World’s TSI was recently unceremoniously sealed off, leading to speculation that this popular feature might be permanently off-limits. And rumors are circulating that Tokyo Disneyland’s entire Rivers of America region, including Tom Sawyer Island, could be replaced with a copy of DCA’s Cars Land.
Luckily, Disneyland’s original Tom Sawyer Island (whose shoreline was sketched out by Walt himself) doesn’t seem in any imminent danger. A “Pirates Lair” overlay installed last decade to cash in on the Jack Sparrow craze added some cheerfully gruesome effects without doing any serious damage, and the fort was unfortunately commandeered by the Fantasmic! crew long ago. But despite these changes, TSI still feels like an untamed oasis amid Disneyland’s overstimulating delights. Whether or not you have children in tow, a raft ride to the time of Tom and Huck can be a heavenly refreshing pause during the peak afternoon hours of any touring plan.
Of course, the most memorable elements of TSI are inanimate, like the spooky caves and floating barrel bridge. But if you’ve followed my blogs before, you know I have an inordinate affection for the fauna found around Disneyland. They might not be as affectionate as the animals at Big Thunder Ranch petting zoo, but TSI is the best place in the park to get up close and personal with the Disney ducks — and I don’t mean Donald or Daisy.
Waterfowl can be found almost anywhere in Disneyland that there is a body of water; ducks can sometimes be spotted waddling along the castle canal near the hub, for example. But Tom Sawyer Island, particularly along the southern shoreline near the mill, seems to most consistently draw a crowd of quackers. Stop by and say hello to them on your visit; just beware that as wild animals they should not be touched, and don’t do well on a diet of popcorn and corn dogs.