Orlando/SoCal Theme Park Showdown: Tom Sawyer's Island vs. Tom's Sawyer' Island

October 13, 2011, 10:42 AM · The Theme Park Insider Orlando/Southern California Showdown continues with two of my favorite attractions, including my former Walt Disney World home. It's Tom Sawyer vs. Tom Sawyer as the two islands face off. Which is your favorite between the two versions? Consider whatever details you'd like - setting, decor, ride, narrative, or whatever petty individual bias you'd like to throw into the mix. The vote will be open for 24 hours.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's Tom Sawyer's Island: Frontierland

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom's Tom Sawyer's Island

Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island: Frontierland

Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island

The differences? The obvious difference is the pirate overlay at Disneyland, which was installed in 2007 to take advantage of the immense success of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. But the pirate overlay's not inconsistent with the original theme as Tom and Huck Finn's river play place - in the original "The Adventure of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain, Tom and Huck did pretend to be pirates when playing. Plus, the pirate overlay provided Disney Imagineers with an excuse to do some needed freshening and upgrades throughout the island. Unfortunately, Disney did not restore Fort Wilderness at the northern side of the island, which remains off-limits to visitors.

I began working as a Tom Sawyer's Island raft driver at Walt Disney World in 1988, and have spent more hours than I care to count walking the trails, caves and play areas on the island. Maintenance standards on the island have fluctuated over the years, with elements such as the windmill, grist mill and fort coming, going, coming back and going away again. But it remains a great place for children with a love for books and an active imagination to run around, burn some energy and pretend.

Feel free to further break down the match-up in the comments.

Other Showdown winners:

Replies (5)

October 13, 2011 at 10:46 AM · Just watched Disneylands on you tube. MK's beats it by a longshot!
October 13, 2011 at 11:32 AM · WDW's version is my favorite. I especially enjoyed the caves on these islands when I was a kid, and if I'm not mistaken, the WDW version has 2 caves, verses 1 at DL..

These days, both islands make me a bit sad. Walt's original idea for Tom Sawyer island was to make it a place where kids could play, climb and explore. I was lucky enough to visit the DL version when I was 8. It was a little boys dream. There were rocks to climb, a cave to explore and all sorts of adventure to be had.

Much of that is still there, but what makes me sad is what the lawyers have done to the place. Any place where a kid might possibly fall and scrap his knee has either been blocked off, removed or made "safe" by adding paths, stairs and warning signs. Gone is the sense of climbing and exploration. It all feels so controlled now.

October 13, 2011 at 11:42 AM · (AHEM!) Mr. Niles, I am noticing that you are conspicuous in your failure to pit another east west Disney attraction in a head to head match-up. >:o(
October 13, 2011 at 4:46 PM · I like DLR! The Pirates overlay at DLR is quite good and meets with the needs of the new generations with it's interactive events in the cave. It also has the capacity to meet with Captain Jack Sparrow and other pirates while visiting the island. It is also really fun to attempt to bring up the treasure with a physical wheel that never quite works the way you want! I also love to look out onto the Rivers of America and see the canoes which WDW does not have. There is definitely more to do at DLR.
October 14, 2011 at 12:19 AM · I spent a lot of hours on Tom Sawyer's Island at Disneyland when I was growing up. I loved the caves, the feeling of being miles away from the hustle and bustle of the park. As I grew older, I still visited it and loved the scenic beauty of it, plus little things like walking across the barrel bridge, or seeing kids climbing up into the small treehouse there.
When I saw Fantasmic! being performed for the first time, I was floored by how they had converted the front part of the island into s stage, and one that still works beautifully as part of the daytime operation of the island. I mean, what a wonderful use of limited space and resources! The nightly repurposing of the island and the watercraft is nothing short of magical.
So, if there was any doubt, Disneyland gets my vote.

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