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Fairies? Pixies? Nah, bring on the pirates! A Disneyland Tom Sawyer Island trip report

By Robert Niles
Published: October 28, 2008 at 5:44 PM
Tuesday Park Visit: Today was the official opening of the new Tinker Bell "Pixie Hollow" meet-'n-greet at Disneyland.

Pixie Hollow queue

But if you think I'm waiting an hour and a half in that queue to bring those photos to you, well, I'm sorry. Let's go somewhere else!

(Seriously, if you have a pre-school girl who wants to meet Tink, you're stuck, and nothing I write is going to outweigh what your daughter wants. And if you don't have a pre-school Tink fan in the family, there is zippo reason for you to even acknowledge the existence of this particular meet-'n-greet. So let's move along.)

After this weekend's vote put me in the mood, I decided to visit the west coast version of my old Disney home: Tom Sawyer Island.

Yes, it's now known officially as "Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island," thanks to a pirate-themed makeover last year. But it will always be TSI to me. I took ride around the Rivers of America on the Mark Twain to snap some pics, then made my way around the riverbank toward the TSI raft dock.

Dianne drove us over to the island. As I boarded, I walked to the back of the raft so that I could watch her drive; I really do miss driving these. But what caught my eye as she cast off was the 40-year pin on her name tag.

I was thrilled when I got my one-year pin. But 40? I'd never seen one before. Before I could say anything though, Dianne, like a good TSI driver, starting chatting me up. (FWIW, I didn't tell her that I was reporting for TPI. As far as she knew, I was simply an anonymous Disneyland guest who went on to say that he'd worked at Disney World's TSI in the past. Which... I am.)

I'd love to do an official interview with her sometime; she said she'd been driving rafts at TSI since 1972, and had to talk her way past several supervisors who were loathe to give a woman a chance on the rafts.

"It takes some muscle do move these things," she said. Agreed. I felt the pain in my hip and arms for nearly a week the first time I drove a TSI raft, until my body adjusted into shape.

The Rivers of America at Disneyland is much narrower than its Florida counterpart. After backing out from between another raft and the dock, all Dianne needed to do was make a 180-degree turn of the raft and we were at the island dock. Still, she put the Annie raft in gently and I barely felt the bump as the raft nestled up against the dock.

My favorite park of the pirate-themed changes was what Disney's done to the old Injun Joe's cave. I love the new detail, especially the audio and visual effects when you reach for the "cursed treasure." The audio-animatronic pirate at cave's end provide a spectacular touch for what, frankly, is a relatively remote part of the park.

As for Tom and Huck? Well, I never saw the presence of those characters on the Anaheim island as much as I did on the Florida one. While I adore Twain's characters, I adore well-kept and engaging theme park attractions, too, and there's much here to reward anyone who makes the trip over from the mainland.

Just be nice to your raft driver on the way. ;-)

* * *

After visiting the island, I stopped by the River Belle Terrace for lunch.

River Belle Terrace at Disneyland

Honestly, I hadn't eaten here in years, probably a menu or two ago. But I'll definitely hit this again. I chose the "New York Roast" salad, warm carved roast beef over well-dressed mixed greens, with cherry tomatoes and radish slices:

River Belle Terrace at Disneyland

There are about a dozen ways to blow this dish, and Disney didn't fall for one of them. The amount of dressing was just so, the temperature of all the components just right (warm meat, cold salad) and even the french roll on the side tasted great.

I've noticed the counter service food at Disneyland improving over my past few visits, and my lunch at River Belle Terrace today continued the trend.

Readers' Opinions

From rick stevens on October 28, 2008 at 7:34 PM
I haven't been to the island in years. Not since my kids were little. I will give it another try soon. Any word on the reported New Orleans Square cannon shots? I seem to remember reading that they were planning a thematic cannon shot. Shoot a cannon on the island and bring down a tower in the Square. Thought it was a great idea.

Try the restaurant for breakfast or brunch. Good selection and great food.

From James Rao on October 28, 2008 at 7:42 PM
Nice report, Robert. Keep 'em coming! I love this kind of stuff. Especially as we enter the off season here in the Midwest.
From Corey Romberg on October 28, 2008 at 8:05 PM
I really like Pirate Lair. It is a cool modern twist on a classic, there are some cool effects and props, and it fits in nicely right across the river from Pirates of the Caribbean
From Eric Davis on October 29, 2008 at 2:11 AM
I had the pleasure of meeting Dianne a few years back, and she was so sweet in taking the time to talk with us on our trip across the river. I hadn't seen her since then, so I'm really glad to hear she still works at the park.


Rick, they decided not to blow up the buildings around New Orleans Square. Instead, they have two separate water blasters in the river that go off when they shoot the cannon. It's quite impressive, actually. Took me by surprise the first time I saw it.

From Rob P on October 29, 2008 at 5:01 AM
Although I have to admit to being a little saddened that Tom and Huck are fading from view I also applaud the fact that Disney has made efforts to keep interest in the Island alive. I just hope that Twain's "children" don't disappear altogether.

One of my favourite passtimes, when the heat of the day begins to wear, is to sit on the jetty and watch Big Thunder rattle along the tracks across the river or watch as the Riverboat gracefully paddles by.

Can there be many better places to take a step back and view Disneyland or MK ?

From rick stevens on October 29, 2008 at 2:53 PM
Thanks Eric, I'll check it out next time I'm there.

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