Disneyland targets summer 2017 for Rivers of America return

July 28, 2016, 1:32 PM · When Disneyland closed its Rivers of America to reroute its northern section to accommodate the construction of Star Wars Land, the park said that the rivers and its attractions would reopen sometime next year.

Now, Disneyland's narrowed that window — to the summer of 2017. Disneyland announced today that the Mark Twain riverboat, the Sailing Ship Columbia, the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes, Tom Sawyer Island, and Fantasmic! will return next summer. The Disneyland Railroad will resume its Grand Circle Tour around the park then, too.

The 14-acre Star Wars Land construction site occupies several acres of previously back-of-house land north of the park's boundary, as well as the old Big Thunder Ranch area and part of what was the Rivers of America. Disney is digging a new channel for the rivers on the north side of Tom Sawyer Island, cutting off some of the previously unoccupied section of the island north of the fort. Along the far side of the river, the Disneyland Railroad will travel along a new section of track, perched upon an elevated trestle, as it steams past the rivers on its tour around the park.

Tom Sawyer Island was my former attraction at the Walt Disney World Resort, and I've long felt it underrated by fans as the first truly immersive, self-contained, multi-attraction themed area within a theme park. (I mentioned it last week in our list of unique Disney attractions and I have included gobs of stories about my time working on the island and driving its rafts in Stories from a Theme Park Insider.) The entire Rivers of America creates what might be the most visually engaging and delightfully kinetic scene in any theme park land, with multiple types of watercraft and the secluded wooden play area on the island. Its presence has been missed at Disneyland this year, and I am looking forward to its return next summer.

Replies (13)

July 28, 2016 at 5:11 PM · I guess it's too much to ask for Star Wars Land to open in 2018...although they've already started vertical construction. Maybe Harry Potter will make them hurry it along.
July 28, 2016 at 7:06 PM · Still don't see SWL opening until the summer of 2020 at the earliest, with a soft opening in early 2020. Also, from what I hear, USH isn't really all that crowded now that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has opened.Several times now, USH has lowered the price of their annual passes and increased its benefits in the hopes of bringing in higher attendance. I also hear that on a lot of days, USH doesn't even open the new ET parking structure. Furthermore, I'm glad to hear that the ROA are finally reopening soon. Also glad to hear that Fantasmic will be getting major upgrades. I just hope that they didn't shorten the ROA by too much. Rumors from earlier this year indicated that the ROA was going to be at least 35% shorter. I'm hoping that number is closer to 20% or less.
July 28, 2016 at 10:51 PM · In order to increase annual passes, Universal needs a reason for people to come on weekdays after work. I think the Disneyland APers like to come after work to have dinner, ride a few rides, and see Paint the Night and/or fireworks.

City Walk may draw the after work crowd, but they need something inside the park, I think they really need a cool night time spectacular like Paint the Night. But maybe there are reasons like complaining neighbors that are hindering them from doing so.

As far as shortening the ROA, I think it's fine, when I rode the Mark Twain before, there were long stretches with not much to see. The ships move very slowly, so I think ride length will still be ok, especially if they can add more interesting sights.

Before it was a moose here, a couple of deer there, a bear scratching his back on a tree, an Indian village. If they can add as many animals as they had on the old Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland, battling elks, bears fishing in the river, etc. then you can have an interesting ride. The waterfalls look interesting, but you need more animatronics.

July 28, 2016 at 10:48 PM · "from what I hear, USH isn't really all that crowded now that the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has opened."

Uh, no. Wait times have been crazy all over USH this month, and Hogsmeade has been packed. Attendance is definitely up, and significantly so.

Totally agree on the need for nighttime entertainment at USH. But the park has to get over a fear of crowding out people coming to CityWalk in the evenings. With that big ET parking structure, though, there should be room for all. And that Hogwarts projection show from the premiere night would be a perfect evening show for the park.

As for Star Wars Land, my money's on last six months of 2018/first six months of 2019 as the most likely opening time in Anaheim, with Orlando 12 months after the Disneyland opening.

July 29, 2016 at 7:28 AM · I was hopeful with all the construction for an early opening to SW Land, but it's pretty clear that most everything vertical so far is RR and RoA related.
July 29, 2016 at 8:07 AM · Robert - I've yet to visit WWOHP at USH yet. The projection show during grand opening was amazing, but is there enough space for viewing to make it worth turning it into a nightly event?
July 29, 2016 at 8:22 AM · I think its a zoning issue as for why there's no nighttime show. The city just won't allow it. The neighbors are pretty close by, just down the hill. The best way to resolve the issue is an enclosed amphitheater with no fireworks. They should turn Water World into an evening venue. Perhaps instead of using it as Diagon Alley, the arena becomes a Hogswart School show with the man who no one should speak his name.
July 29, 2016 at 9:52 AM · FACT: USH thought that upon opening WWOHP they would experience the SAME attendance and merchandising bump as UO. They have not. As such, they have rapidly begun reversing course NOT on park admission pricing, but on AP Black Out days. A significant number of Black Out days have been dropped. It's a clear sign their attendance goals are not being met. Doubt it?

Comcast recent quarterly earnings back-up this fact. When you reverse out the revenue/earnings for UJ [51% ownership allows for consolidation] domestic theme parks were up 5+/-%. That shows a LACK of WWOHP delivering when compared to the numbers after WWOHP opened at UO.

Again, these are FACTS as published by COMCAST.

July 29, 2016 at 2:24 PM · Actually, Comcast reported that attendance and spending were up in Hollywood. It's Orlando that's lagging. And this is for the previous quarter, anyway -not the current month, in which attendance is the busiest I've ever seen it at USH.

USH also hasn't been dropping blackout days on existing APs. It stopped selling SoCal resident APs with a significant number of blackout days in favor of a lower priced seasonal pass.

Potter has been a huge hit for Universal in Hollywood. Period. And no amount of wishful thinking by critics changes that. Has it been as successful as the first Potter land? No, just as Diagon Alley and Japan weren't as successful in pushing attendance as Hogsmeade v1.0. But none of those other parks were working from a baseline as low as IOA was at before Potter opened, either.

(Possible related, possibly not: Why some Disney fans think that theme parks are a zero-sum game where anyone else's success threatens them personally remains beyond me.)

July 29, 2016 at 2:31 PM · Let's be clear...
Even TDA has been discussing the lack of a strong summer at the Disneyland Resort. So this is not a "Disney fans" issue.

New quality rides/attractions in any theme park within a regional zone helps generate excitement for all quality parks.

July 29, 2016 at 2:52 PM · I want Universal to succeed for two reasons, (1) So less APers will crowd Disneyland, and (2) So Disney will finally create attractions and lands to equal or exceed Harry Potter.

Spiderman, Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts are universally (pun intended) regarded as the three best theme park attractions in the world. Add to that Transformers and Kong. And Disney has what? Maybe the new Pirates of the Caribbean ride can match, but it's in Shanghai !?!!

Star Wars Land had better be up to par, or in the words of Owen Lars, "There'll be hell to pay".

July 29, 2016 at 2:50 PM · (Possibly related...) The latest shock that Tower of Terror is made into Guardians of the Galaxy. Disney's latest proposal means the destruction of a cohesive Hollywood Backlot in California Adventure that they worked so hard to correct. They are still getting over the shock of Frozen Ever After replacing the beloved and neglected Maelstrom ride in Epcot. The awful destruction of classics. Look at what they did with Living Seas by adding Nemo. The sacrilege.

Plus... Only Disney can succeed. Universal is no threat except when they do threaten Disney and it must be stopped. Universal can only build theme parks when it beats Disney's lowest attended theme parks. Thus ensuring no one will threaten Disney and Disney can skate by with cheap attractions that they would do if not for competition.

July 29, 2016 at 9:55 PM · From everything I've heard, Star Wars Land at Disneyland is on target for a May 2019 opening to coincide with the release of Star Wars Episode IX. The land may start previews and soft openings well in advance of this date to prevent a million or more guests descending on the resort at once, as this land is predicted to be more popular than the original Wizarding World of Harry Potter. They are spending as much money as needed to make sure the land opens on time, because if they aren't ready it would be an enormous missed opportunity.

For anyone still worried about the reduced river, I saw an image a couple weeks ago (that I'm having a hard time finding...will edit this if I see it) showing an aerial view comparing the original and new routes. The length reduction appears to be only about 15%, not the 30-50% originally speculated. To be honest, I doubt casual visitors will realize it is shorter and I'd be surprised if there are many fans who seriously feel the Rivers of America are no longer satisfactory.

As for USH, if you hear anyone saying that attendance is down, that is incorrect. If you hear anyone saying the park is dead, that is incorrect. If you hear anyone saying that Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a failure, that is incorrect. If you hear anyone saying that they are below what they originally estimated, that's closer to the actual story. USH had pretty extreme predictions for the attendance boost they would get from Harry Potter, but they overestimated how many people would actually be willing to buy a $90+ one day ticket in order to visit. Additionally, this has not been a big summer for long distance tourism due to the number of unfortunate events that have occurred recently and the general uncertainty about the future of this country. As a result, they are revising their pass program once again in order to encourage more locals to purchase passes and visit several times. The passes currently being sold are cheaper and have fewer blackout dates, plus additional benefits are available. Attendance is definitely up at USH, it just isn't up as much as it was expected to be this year.

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