Well, how do you do?! Welcome to Splash Mountain. This here is the home of Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Brer Bear and many, many more. The down to earth crew of Splash Mountain tell a colorful story as you float though a host of audio-animatronic scenes on your way to the top of Chick-a-Pin Hill. Once at the summit, you’ll have the thrill of plummeting over 50 feet down into the briar patch. Have no fear though, like Brer Rabbit you will be just fine. Well, you’ll be a little more wet, but just fine.
Before you get soaked, Splash Mountain takes you on a story telling venture unlike any other. It is the story at the heart of this ride that makes it so special. Log flume rides have been around since the 1920’s, but only Disney could perfect this classic family thrill by infusing it with their unique brand of storytelling. If you have never heard of Brer Rabbit or Brer Fox before that’s o.k. These characters were first brought to life by an author named Joel Chandler Harris back in 1879. Walt Disney fell in love with Joel’s characters and wanted to bring them to life in the way he knew best, animation. In 1946 the Walt Disney Studios released “Song of the South,” a film combining live actors and animated sequences. The film won the Academy Award for best song for “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” However, the film was not without its critics. The live action portrayal of African-Americans in the post Civil War era made the film a controversial one for the next few decades. After celebrating the 40th anniversary with a re-release in theaters in 1986, Disney decided to shelve the movie. As of today, it is not available for purchase in the U.S. Having been out of circulation for almost 30 years, the film would likely be forgotten if not for the lovable characters of the movie’s animated sequences. In fact, Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear were popular walk-around characters in Disneyland for many years after the movie was released. It was their popularity that sparked the imagination of imagineer Tony Baxter back in 1983.
At that time the Disney Imagineers finally decided to put a log flume ride into the Disney parks. However, they weren’t going to do just another run of the mill log ride. Nope, they were going to tell a story that would make their log ride unique. Now, there were several factors that played into Tony Baxter’s idea to use Brer Rabbit and pals, but I will save those for a future episode when we explore Splash Mountain in Disneyland. For now let’s just say these little animals fit right into the theme of Frontierland. Once the imagineers landed on the idea of bringing a “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” story to log flumes, my oh my, it was a wonderful day. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Seriously though, the Disneyland ride opened in 1989 and made an immediate splash. Speaking of splash, this ride gets its name from a very unexpected place. While you may think the name comes due to the splash you make at 40 mph, in reality it comes from the movie “Splash.” Yes, the 1984 movie about a mermaid starring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah. It seems then-CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner, was such a big fan of the movie he wanted the imagineers to incorporate it into this ride. Well, they didn’t add mermaids to the ride as he had hoped, but they did accept the name and the ride went from being called “Zip-a-Dee River Run” to Splash Mountain. Well, the new name and ride were an instant success in Disneyland and construction on the Walt Disney World ride began in 1990.
Like many rides that are recreated in the Magic Kingdom, Splash Mountain had a lot more room to play with than its Disneyland counterpart. While the ride in California occupies a little over 2 acres of land, the spread in Walt Disney World takes up over 9 acres! How many rides have you been on that cover that much territory? I’m guessing not many. The size of Splash Mountain gives you an idea of just how immersive the environment is. The queue itself is rather long, winding through a wooded area on the outside before heading upstairs and entering the first caves of the mountain. One reason the queue is so long is due to the popularity of the ride. During the hot summer months, you can expect some long waits as everyone looks to cool off. This can be a great time for a Fastpass +. Whether you opt for the standby line or Fastpass +, the queue is fun to walk through and the banjo music really helps to put you in the right spirit.
As you enter the loading dock you will see signs that warn of your last chance to turn back. While the theming of the ride is not that scary, there are a few spots that get very dark, and of course a 50 foot plunge is not everyone’s idea of a good time. There is a much smaller drop about half way through the ride which is in the dark. This can catch some off guard and is one reason we rate the ride a 3 out of 5 on the fright factor. One little tip is to have a small flashlight that you can shine down in the log during these dark spots. My wife did this last time we rode with one of our nephews and it helped releave his fears. If you are brave enough to board, you will do so in pairs. Each log holds a total of eight riders. Any unsure riders can cozy up to their favorite riding partner and that helps make the journey more fun.
The ride starts off very relaxing, cheery, and upbeat. You begin outside where you get a nice preview of the big drop as you begin floating through the briar patch in front of the mountain peak. Next, you move back inside and the critters of Splash Mountain welcome each group with a musical number entitled “How Do You Do.” These first few scenes introduce you to many of the Brer animals, including Brer Rabbit. As you continue moving through the mountain, the story unfolds as Brer Rabbit has fun eluding Brer Fox and Brer Bear. In between the audio-animatronic scenes, your log flume is sent down a few minor drops. Each drop makes a small splash, but your chances of getting wet are very minor at this point. The combination of singing animals, colorful scenes, and mild thrills keep the ride fun and interesting. I usually find myself having such a good time I am lulled into a false sense of security and forget all about the big drop ahead. Brer Rabbit has the same problem of forgetting about the danger ahead and eventually is caught by Brer Fox and Brer Bear. Their only question now is how to finish off Brer Rabbit. As his doom seems imminent, you pass under two vultures to begin the steep dark climb to the top of Chick-a-Pin Hill. With one last bit of cunning, you hear Brer Rabbit employ some reverse psychology as he pleads with Brer Fox not to throw him into the briar patch. Of course that is just what Brer Fox does!
As you reach the pinnacle of the hill, you have just a moment to take in the view from up high. The briar patch is directly below, Cinderella’s Castle and Space Mountain can be seen far in the distance. There are a number of park guests making their way through Frontierland just below. Some will be stopped to watch your glorious plummet into the pool of water below. You have just enough time for a quick inhale and then it is time to scream as you race down the watery chute. This time you can expect a big splash at the bottom and chances are you will be very wet.
If you manage to keep your eyes open you will notice several flashes of light at the beginning of the big drop. This is when your group’s photo is taken. You can check out this candid shot after the ride. Of all the ride photos taken during your Disney vacation, this is usually everyone’s favorite. In fact, over the years the ride and its photo op have inspired many groups to theme their big moment. Some riders dress up for the shot, others strike a pose, and some go so far as to bring props. Just Google Splash Mountain photos and you will see what I mean. One of my favorites is a brave young guy who lathered up his face during the ride and appears to be shaving while hurling down the mountain.
Before you rush off to check out that photo though you still have some fun in store. The plunge may be over, but the story is not. Just like you, Brer Rabbit survives his toss down the hill into the briar patch and is welcomed home by the other animals. There is a great end scene with a host of animals singing the well known “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” as they dance aboard the Steamboat Zip-a-Dee-Lady. Brer Rabbit can be seen outside his home in the briar patch, now content and singing “Home sweet home is the lesson today.” Finally, you come to the loading dock once more as you disembark leaving a nice wet seat for those that will follow.
Well, there you have it! Doesn’t that sound like a great way to cool off on a hot day? Actually, I love this ride so much I will ride it no matter how hot or how cool. Yes, I’ve even been known to put on the poncho on a cool night just to enjoy the ride without freezing afterwards. Of course, you can put on a poncho anytime if you want to see the great story of Brer Rabbit without the soaking side effects. If you are new to the ride and a little unsure, there are some good viewing areas outside the ride where you can see others make the plunge. You can even see just how wet they are after splashdown.
If you decide to add this ride to your touring plan, let me give one more piece of advice. Ride during the nighttime fireworks show. One of my all time favorite ride experiences came on a trip last year when we rode Splash Mountain for the second or third time that trip. Most guests had moved on from Frontierland to stake out a good spot for viewing the fireworks, meaning no line for Splash Mountain! Rachel and I gleefully walked through the long queue without stopping and hopped into our beaver carved log seats. A good portion of the ride takes place outside making any nightime ride a new experience from one in the daylight. Even better though, is a nighttime ride with fireworks as your backdrop. To this day I have a clear picture in my head of seeing the fireworks in the small opening at the top of Chick-a-Pin Hill. As our log slowly crested the hill we had a brief magical moment when we could see the fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle. In the next instant we were hurling down the hill with delight. As we pulled back into the ride’s dock there were more fireworks exploding in the night sky. For me, there is no greater viewing spot for the fireworks than aboard a Disney ride.
With that said, it is time to be moving along! I hope you have just a small sense of how neat this ride really is. The combination of theming, thrills, and immersive storytelling makes Splash Mountain one of my favorite rides in Walt Disney World. If you don’t believe me go check it out for yourself. I think you will leave saying “It’s the truth, it’s actual, everything is satisfactual!”
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Please come back next week as we have some more fun in store for you. Splash Mountain isn’t the only ride where you can have a good time cooling down. Next time we will continue exploring the best way to beat the heat with a cool Disney ride. Until then, make each day a ride worth taking!