Grab your sombreros and let’s go for a ride on the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros!
Know Before You Go Essential Facts
- The ride is located in Epcot, in the Mexico pavilion
- There is no height requirement
- Fastpass + is not available
- The fright factor is 1 out of 5
- Guests must transfer to a wheelchair
- The ride is just under 8 minutes long
- The ride opened as El Rio de Tiempo on October 1, 1982. It was refurbished and opened under its new name on April 6, 2007. On December 4, 2015 three new animatronics were added to the ride’s finale.
The rich full sound of a mariachi band coupled with a relaxing boat ride makes for a grand tour of Mexico! I hope you are ready to sing and samba, because the Three Caballeros have a concert they are eager to play for you. The Gran Fiesta Tour is an indoor journey down the river of time. Along the way, you will help Jose and Panchito track down Donald just in time for their big finale.
The Gran Fiesta Tour may be one of the most relaxing rides in the parks. Some have said this ride is the Mexican cousin to It’s a Small World, and the two boat rides are similar in many respects. At Walt Disney World, both take place indoors, both use the same ride system, both have catchy theme music, and both offer a pleasant experience for the whole family. In fact, there is one scene in the Gran Fiesta Tour that looks like a page straight out of It’s A Small World. “The Festival of the Children” room on the Gran Fiesta Tour has many small animatronic children that look like they have stepped off the set of It’s a Small World. The same bright colors and whimsical storytelling of It’s a Small World can be found in this room. That is only one of the many rooms along this historic journey, and as we will see today, the Gran Fiesta Tour does distinguish itself from the original Disney classic.
Originally, the Gran Fiesta Tour was planned to be a very large boat ride that would take you both inside and outside of the pavilion’s iconic Mayan pyramid. This version was known as Las Tres Culturas de Mexico, or The Three Cultures of Mexico, and it looked fantastic. Check out this great artist rendering. I’m a little sad the outdoor element was never realized. It looked very similar to the charming River Walk we have here in my town of San Antonio.
As Epcot continued to develop, the plans for the ride changed. By the time opening day was in sight, the ride’s name had changed to El Rio Del Tiempo, or the River of Time. There is a lot of backstory here which we will dive into at another time. What’s important to know is that a couple of other rides in the World Showcase had fallen to the wayside. That meant it was more important than ever to have Mexico’s ride up and running to help handle capacity.
In order to meet the new deadline, El Rio Del Tiempo was shortened by 40% and the entire ride track was built inside the pyramid. The cutbacks were successful and the Imagineers managed to have the ride ready for Epcot’s opening day, October 1, 1982. The whole pavilion was dedicated with a big fiesta. The boats began floating down the river, introducing riders to the culture of Mexico through the ages. This continued for 25 years, without any major changes to the ride.
In 2007, El Rio Del Tiempo was closed for refurbishment. It opened 4 months later with a new name, The Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros. If you ever rode El Rio Del Tiempo then you know almost exactly what to expect on the Gran Fiesta Tour. Very little was changed, other than the addition of Donald, Jose, and Panchito. You start floating through the great pyramid just as you always did. This is my favorite part of the ride. Inside the pavilion you can enjoy a romantic ambiance. It is always nighttime and you will be magically transported to the exterior of a Mexican courtyard. The outdoor patio is home to street vendors and a charming Mexican restaurant named the San Angel Inn. In the distance, the night sky covers a Mayan pyramid with purple and blue light. Beyond that the tip of a volcano pokes its head through the jungle and glows orange in the darkness. After walking past the San Angel Inn, you board your boat and soon get a closer glimpse of the ancient pyramid as you float between the restaurant and the jungle. From here, your boat turns to the left and you enter a tunnel filled with ancient Mayan ruins.
In the past, this corridor served to introduce you to the ancient history behind Mexico’s culture. Today, it is merely a static backdrop. At the end of the tunnel you will see the first screen with Jose and Panchito anxiously looking for their missing comrade, Donald. When the Three Caballeros were added to the ride, the theme changed from discovering Mexican culture to locating Donald in time for the band’s next concert. Now, riders will find multiple screens throughout the ride with Donald one step ahead of Panchito and Jose. The environments surrounding each of these screens have not changed since El Rio Del Tiempo. A piñata version of Donald can now be seen in one room, and the finale has been updated with the only Audio-Animatronic figures in the ride, the Three Caballeros. Beyond this, the ride is essentially the same. In other words, if the screens located in the ride were all malfunctioning you would feel like you were still on El Rio Del Tiempo. Well, the theme music did change, so I guess that would give it away.
So, the big question becomes, did the addition of the Three Caballeros make this a more grand tour? You can hear my thoughts in this week’s podcast, so go check it out!
I will say, I still make this ride part of my Epcot routine because of the pavilion. I love being inside and seeing the pyramid on my left and the restaurant on my right. The sensation of floating under a night sky in Mexico while actually indoors is pretty neat. I also love walking by this pavilion at night. The pyramid takes on a whole new character as the steps alternate with light and shadow. A short walk up the steps brings you to the pyramid’s entrance. On the other side, the interior slowly opens up to reveal the outdoor patio adjacent to the ride.
Should you make this part of your next trip to Epcot? If you have time coming or going to Frozen Ever After then yes. Just exploring the rich, detailed pavilion will be worth your time. Listen to the podcast for our tips on how to incorporate this into your touring plan. There are three restaurants at the Mexico pavilion making this a great spot to ride and dine.
Also, stay tuned as this ride could see big changes in the near future! What does the future hold for this ride? That my friends will have to wait for another day! Such a tease, right? I promise to bring you those details if the day of the dead comes to the Gran Fiesta Tour.
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