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My Favorite Mountain

What in the World?
A weekly peek at Walt Disney World

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Superheadliners.  E-Ticket Attractions.  Whatever you want to call them, these Grade A rides and shows is what draws many of us to the parks year in and year out. While rides like the Tommorowland Transit Authority and shows like the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular are fun and usually always on my list of things to do, I always first equate Walt Disney World with the superheadliners.  The most famous of these superheadliners are the “mountain range” in the Magic Kingdom.  The mountain range is comprised of Space Mountain in Tomrrowland (currently under refurbishment), and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain in Frontierland, and is always on the minds of guests as they tour the park.  Should you get a Fastpass to Splash Mountain and then ride Big Thunder? Or should you race to Tomorrowland for Space Mountain first and make your way to Frontierland later?  No matter how you tour the park, these are three must see and experience stops. 

Out of all three Disney Mountains, Splash Mountain is by far my favorite.  There’s nothing quite like Splash Mountain on a hot and humid Florida summer.  Even though there is only one major drop in the entire ride – the anticipation and exhilaration of dropping five stories at a 47 degree angle is unparalleled.  

In this article we’ll briefly examine the history of Splash Mountain, go over some of the reasons I am such a huge fan, and recount some interesting times I’ve had on the ride itself. 

A Brief History

Splash Mountain was born out of three simultaneous Disney problems.  First, Disneyland’s Bear Country was in bad shape in the 1980’s.  The Country Bear Jamboree did not appeal to guests in Florida like it did in California.  The land was not crowded and very under utilized. Second, the Walt Disney Company was looking to create a water ride to combat the brutal summers in California as well as to attract more guests to its concrete jungle.  Last, America Sings, an attraction in Tomorrowland that showcased American music was not as popular as it had been (we can thank disco music for that).  As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of all invention.  With all of these problems in mind, Imagineer Marc Davis believed that he could create an attraction that would bring Walt Disney’s animated-live action Song of the South (which, because of its depiction of African-Americans was controversial to say the least).  With characters, a bright setting, a potentially frightening fall into the briar patch, and music such as Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, the idea was ripe for making into an attraction.  

With an idea in hand, Walt Disney Imagineering began designing the attraction.  The exterior would be composed of green hills and red clay, with Chick-a-Pin hill the central peak topped by a tree stump.  The fall from Chick-a-Pin Hill to the briar patch would be a terrifying five stories angled a little more than 45 degrees.  The interior would showcase audio-animatronic characters from America Sings as well as newly designed audio-animatronic figures such as Brer Fox, Brer Bear, and the protagonist Brer Rabbit. The story itself would be told through music and followed Brer Rabbit as he searched for his Laughing Place.

Interestingly enough, Michael Eisner had a hand in the attraction’s name.  The recently released Splash was a big hit for the company, and in fact, wanted a mermaid audio-animatronic figure of Daryl Hannah in the attraction as well.  Fortunately Eisner was convinced that the theming would not be appropriate, but the name change stuck.  Splash Mountain was born.  It would be another in the series of mountains built for the Disney theme parks – a name that would express that it was no ordinary flume ride, but was in fact a thrill ride.

Splash Mountain opened in Disneyland on July 17, 1989 and was an instant success.  It didn’t take Disney very long to green light another Splash Mountain in Walt Disney World.  But it would not be an exact replica.  The Florida version would change to match the Old Southwest theming of its nearby neighbor Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  The ride itself saw the addition of Brer Frog, the narrator on Brer Rabbit’s journey.  

Walt Disney World welcomed Splash Mountain to its mountain range three years after its Disneyland counterpart opened, July 17, 1992.  It has been a guest favorite ever since.  

Splash Mountain Memories

Instead of writing a long narrative of why I love Splash Mountain and the kinds of experiences I’ve had on it – I’m going to list them down one by one.

  • The first time I rode Splash Mountain was in California in 1993.  Throughout the entire ride that first time, I was terrified of the fall that was most likely just minutes away.  When I went up that incline the first time, I shut my eyes and had a death grip on the side handle bars.  I remember screaming like a 6-year old girl the entire way down.  
  • On another fateful trip to Disneyland – as we were going up the incline – the ride broke down.  And I don’t know if any of you had this happen to you, but a Cast Member had to walk up those steps about 3/4s of the way up and help every one of us in the flume out.  We then carefully walked down, through backstage areas, and back out into the park.  The cast members were so incredibly sorry they gave us re-admits, which allowed us to go to the head of the line and ride it again when it was fixed.
  • Somewhere in the bottom of the Splash Mountain water tank in Walt Disney World is a Colorado Rockies hat that fits the big melon on my shoulders I call a head.  Yes, being my not-so-smart self – I decided to leave my hat on during the plunge…well…as you can imagine, it wasn’t a good idea.  The hat flew off my head mid-way down the drop and I never saw it again.  Well – the Rockies weren’t having a great season then anyway…
  • Nothing says immaturity like finding a new way to pose on the drop.  I won’t share any of those photos here…but let me tell you…figuring out what to do to make a good picture is almost as fun as riding Splash Mountain itself.  If making a fool of myself via ride photo is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

Well I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s What in the World?  Before I go, I want to announce that next week I’ll be posting a new Studios Central contest where we will be giving away a t-shirt.  Make sure you stop by What in the World? next week for more details.  

Until next time!