Change Around The Riverbend

This illustration by Disney reflects the amount of room needed to build the new Star Wars Land.
This illustration by Disney reflects the amount of room needed to build the new Star Wars Land.

There has been much said about the removal of the Big Thunder Ranch/Barbecue area and even more so about the shortening of the Rivers of America as Disneyland prepares to create a new Star Wars Land in that region of the park. On the outset, my belief that not only will Star Wars Land be amazing, but I think they will do a thoughtful and respectful job on the revised river bend. But that doesn’t mean people will like this–or that it’s the right move to make. I thought I would armchair imagineer several aspects of this.

If there's good news to a shortening to the river, it won't be quite the workout paddling in Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
If there’s good news to a shortening to the river, it won’t be quite the workout paddling in Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

1. Losing Walt’s Touch. Some say this Rivers of America revision shaves down Walt’s vision for Frontierland. In my view, that day happened long ago. While Big Thunder Mountain is one of my favorite rides, it in no way holds my heart like the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland. Cascade Peak, Bear Country, Beaver Valley, The Living Desert, The Devil’s Paint Pots and most of all The Rainbow Caverns were truly wonderful–even if the ride was a little lame. If you wanted excitement then they should have kept the Rainbow Ridge Pack Mules. It may have not been the wildest ride in the wilderness, but it was the most unpredictable.

What can I say. I'm a sentimentalist from the Sixties. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
What can I say. I’m a sentimentalist from the Sixties. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Add to this is Fantasmic! It was so charming along the New Orlean’s river front before that show came along. Now it’s just a massive concrete pathway with a freeway overpass cutting in front of Pirates of the Caribbean.  Don’t miss me–Fantasmic! is a great show. But it did big things to ruining what was the charm of the waterfront at New Orlean’s Square. (While I’m in this location, can I also detour to say that taking Mickey Mouse Pancakes out of the River Belle Terrace isn’t helping either. Pancakes and the Rancho Del Zocalo do not go together.)

In all honesty, this never really worked having a pathway cutting over a queue. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
In all honesty, this never really worked having a pathway cutting over a queue. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Then there’s Tom Sawyer Island. I didn’t have a problem so much with the Pirate Lair thing going on. But the stage has ruined the quaintness of the Old Mill along the river front, with shells littered all over from pyro.

I guess the theme here is that Tom and Huck got carried away lighting fireworks one Fourth of July. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
Shells on the roof of Lafitte’s Tavern on Pirate Point. I guess the theme here is that Tom and Huck got carried away lighting fireworks one Fourth of July. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

Teeter-totter rock and Merry-go-round rock has long been changed out to make it safe for the kiddies. Burning settler’s cabin? The flame went out on that long ago to political correctness. And then there’s Fort Wilderness. Sealed up for costuming. Tragic losses made some time ago.

I can forgive this closure if in the remodel costuming gets moved elsewhere and this opens back up. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
I can forgive this closure if in the remodel costuming gets moved elsewhere and this opens back up. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

So those who are nostalgic for the past as construction gets underway are decades late to the party. That ship has sailed–whether it’s the Mark Twain or Columbia. Or at least it’s going to sail much quicker as the river gets shortened. Do I lament it? Definitely. But it’s really one of many things that have been chipped away from Walt’s touch over the decades.

2. The Tomorrowland That Never Arrives. Also chipped away from Walt’s touch is the Tomorrowland of today. That started years ago when the Carousel of Progress got transferred (like much of corporate Burbank is today) to Florida. I don’t have problems with efforts to reinvent. Some efforts–like Space Mountain–was fantastic. Some efforts–Like Rocket Rods–missed the boat. Underfunded perhaps. But at least they kept trying to reinvent that area–which is very much what Walt would have wanted.

You can barely enter Tomorrowland before questions start arising as to where this is all going to eventually become--and how soon it will happen. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
You can barely enter Tomorrowland before questions start arising as to where this is all going to eventually become–and how soon it will happen. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

My concern is that Tomorrowland needs to be revised again badly, and with so much construction going on around the park, it will be another decade before anything significant can be done. In some ways, I would have preferred a Star Wars land going in there, rather than robbing Frontierland to make it happen.

3. In a Parking Lot Far, Far Away. I think with some planning and thinking, Star Wars Land could have been the centerpiece of a third park in Anaheim. There are others who are better at figuring out how this might be configured. But another park offers plenty of space for not only Star Wars, but other themes like Marvel, Frozen, Toy Story Land and even Avatar. There are plenty of themes begging attention. (And while you’re there, create a dedicated amphitheater space for Fantasmic! to be transferred to.)

To the parking lot and beyond! A view of the entrance to the Toy Story Parking Lot. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.
To the parking lot and beyond! A view of the entrance to the Toy Story Parking Lot. Photo by J. Jeff Kober.

What do you think? Am I off? Am I just revisiting my childhood memories from the Sixties, or is there a better way to approach building a Star Wars land at the Disneyland Resort? Armchair Imagineer your own course for Star Wars Land.

2 thoughts on “Change Around The Riverbend

  1. I agree with you. But, even Walt accepted the fact that change would have to happen eventually.
    I agree that it would have been better to just transform Tomorrowland into Star Wars Land (especially since they already have Star Tours there), but I had also thought that they would have been better off thinking about building a whole, new Star Wars Theme Park.
    It is not going to be much longer that Disney is going to have to purchase land “off” their property to build anything else, like a second Park. The newly acquired land just won’t hold enough for a park.
    One thing I differ with you on is the Pirate’s “overpass”, as you call it. Maybe I remember things differently than you do. I recall that on weekends and busy days having to walk around a huge roped-off queue. The “overpass” now allows for easier traffic flow. It is 10 times better.
    I worked at Disneyland for 10 years, and there is a lot more you could have said. I see problems in every “Land”. Good Article!

    • I do remember far enough back that huge roped-off queue at Pirates. You’re right, that really wasn’t a better era. I love Tokyo’s version of that which has you immediately entering the building but veering off to an indoor space on the left of the boarding area.

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