The Rivers of America surround Frontierland's Tom Sawyer Island and opened with the park in 1955. To make room for Star Wars Land, Disneyland will shorten the rivers' route, creating more space north of the waterway, which will provide part of the new home for Star Wars Land. The new land also will claim the space now occupied by Big Thunder Ranch, which is open for its last day today, as well.
In my Orange County Register column this morning, I share some of my experiences as a raft driver on the Walt Disney World version of Tom Sawyer Island, and write about why I think that these attractions are so special for so many visitors. And here on Theme Park Insider, last October I answered the question What's So Important About the Rivers of America?
By running multiple attractions through and around the same publicly-visible space, Disney creates a visually engaging, kinetic environment for an entire side of its park with the Rivers of America. The rafts crossing the river in front of the majestic Columbia, while other guests paddle their canoes alongside, just demand that you stop and take a photo.
Disney's river attractions set a precedent for attractions such as Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, as they created a full-scale immersive environment that engages visitors by creating opportunities for active participation, instead of simply riding rides and watching shows. You can paddle a canoe around the river. You can climb rocks, pump wells, and explore caves on the island. And everywhere you turn to look, detail awaits to stimulate your imagination.
As the Disneyland Railroad also travels along the northern shore of the Rivers of America, today was its final day for the year, too. Here's a quick last look, from our Matthew Gottula, who is at the park today and posting on Twitter:
Chugging through the wild frontier on the Disneyland Railroad pic.twitter.com/x6rwoSV4r5— Matthew Gottula (@DLthings) January 10, 2016
Cast members have said privately that they have been told that the Rivers of America attractions, including Fantasmic!, will return in April 2017. Star Wars Land is expected to open sometime in 2019 or 2020.
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