My tour of the various Disney theme park attractions has taken us on flying elephants; horse-drawn carriages; followed Snow White through the forest and Pinocchio to Pleasure Island. We've been on gentle boat rides around fairy tales and taken a trip aboard Casey Jnr. What we haven't done yet, though, is been on a proper 'thrill ride'. Disney, unlike other theme parks, isn't overflowing with fast, scary rollercoasters. That's a type of ride more popular in places such as the Universal theme parks. Most lands in Disney theme parks, however, do have at least one thrill ride and with my marathon entering the world of Song of the South it's time to visit our first one: Splash Mountain.
I first rode Splash Mountain in 2006 when I visited Disney World with my wife. At the time, I believed it to be a 'classic' ride which had been part of the parks for many years. I was surprised, when researching the ride for this blog, that it has only been part of the parks' landscapes since the late 80s/early 90s. It just feels like it should have been there since day one - particularly at Disneyland. It's probably because Song of the South is such an 'old' film that I presumed the ride had been a feature of the parks for such a long time.
Another odd aspect of Splash Mountain is that it is themed around a film which, to all intents and purposes, Disney likes to 'forget about'. The criticism the film attracts due to alleged racist content has meant it has remained unreleased on DVD. And yet, despite this, Disney deemed it acceptable to theme an entire attraction around it - although admittedly, the ride focusses on the animated Brer Rabbit segments rather than the real world Deep South plantation storyline.
Splash Mountain, as it's name suggests, is a log flume - a ride where guests 'will get wet'. It has a number of drops interspersed between 'dark ride' sections with animatronic animals singing the various classic songs from Song of the South.
First, let's take a tour of the Disney World version.
The entrance to Splash Mountain sees a teetering tower of tables and chairs with the legend 'Splash Mountain' displayed below Brer Rabbit sitting atop the pile. Head down to the queue lines and just to the right of the standby entrance is a statue of Brers Fox and Bear. They stand in front of a large wooden building themed along the lines of Frontierland's general decor. Moving into the queue line area, guest will find a further wooden barn and evidence of animal homes such as a bird house decorated in acorns with a mailbox decorated with the stars and stripes. A sign points the way to the homes of Rabbit, Fox and Bear. The route then ascends a flight of stairs passing signs reminding you that 'You may get wet!'. The queue line then moves from the wooden barn theming through to passages reminiscent of a rabbit's warren, with muddy, uneven walls. This then opens out to the boarding area.
The vehicles for this ride take the log flume concept literally and are themed on actual logs. Unusually, though, for log flumes, these vehicles are two-person wide (whereas most log flumes tend to seat guests in single file). Each vehicle sits 8 guests.
The logs leave the station and flow round a bend approaching a steep incline. Announcements and signs remind guests to remain seated at all times. As the logs climb the slope, Brer Frog sits out front of his little shack on the left, chatting away to guests. The logs then launch down a gentle slope and circle around the briar patch. Other logs, further along their journey, can be seen plummeting into the briar patch. I love the design of the briar patch - the giant, twisted, thorny branches look really effective. The logs then arrive at another covered incline.
At the top of this slop, the logs begin a gentle ride through the outdoors. Along the route are various items of interest: a covered wagon advertising 'Critter Elixir'; a vegetable patch next to a old tree converted into homes; a washing line; what looks like a mine entrance with a boiler and barrels piled up outside; a tree with various bird houses hanging from its branches. The river bends round, with expansive views of Frontierland on the left and passing Brer Bear's door on the right. Ahead, a rope bridge can be slung across the river and a sign announcing 'Slippin Falls'. Here, the logs take a short plunge and eventually enter a cave - a small beehive hangs overhead.
Inside we find Brer Frog and various other animals singing How Do you Do. There are geese fishing (despite the No Fishing signs!). Turn a corner and we find Brer Fox standing on Brer Bear's shoulders and hiding behind a tree, ready to cosh the nearby Brer Rabbit over the head with a club and trap him. Brer Rabbit is outside his Briar Patch home talking to Mr Bluebird. Further along and we meet Brer Porcupine and Brer Racoon playing a merry tune and other bunnies out in front of their home.
Moving on and we meet Brer Fox again, despairing at the strung-up form of Brer Bear who has managed to get tricked into their own trap for Brer Rabbit. Brer Rabbit hops merrily away. Brer Frog is back as we pass more animal homes and their occupants including Brer Roadrunner and head off towards the Laughing Place. The music changes to animals singing us the song, Everybody has a Laughing Place. Just before we pass into a dark tunnel signalled as the way to the Laughing Place, we see Brer Fox supporting Brer Bear's bare behind as he climbs up to retrieve a beehive.
Pass into the tunnel and suddenly guests are plunged down, in complete darkness, another drop. The logs emerge into caves where numerous beehives hang from the ceiling, bees buzzing furiously around them. Brer Bear lays on the floor, a beehive stuck to his nose. Further on and Brer Rabbit is on the floor laughing uncontrollably, whilst Brer Fox holds a beehive above him. Another brief plunge and the logs pass by some geysers with tortoises riding the jets of water. The logs then pass Brer Fox triumphantly clutching Brer Rabbit who is trapped in a beehive. This whole section isn't from Song of the South and replaces the animated section about the tar baby which has some racial connotations Disney probably thought best to avoid on the ride.
A sign points us towards Brer Fox's lair and as we reach an upward slope two vultures, dressed as undertakers, announce our impending doom. The logs travel slowly up the steep incline and at the top guests find Brer Rabbit trussed up, ready to be cooked by Brer Fox whose shadow is visible on the wall of his lair. In one last trick, Brer Rabbit is pleading with Brer Fox not to throw him into the Briar Patch and which point the logs plunge down an enormous slope, crashing into the lower part of the flume, surrounded by the briar patch seen earlier at the beginning of the ride.
After splashdown, the logs continue around a bend, under some stone archways, past a waterfall, down a tiny slope and into another interior scene. Animals have gathered aboard the steamboat, Zip a Dee Lady and are singing Zip a Dee Doo Dah to celebrate Brer Rabbit's survival. Lights flash and the sun sets in the distance. Around the corner, Brer Fox and Brer Bear are desperately trying ro retrieve Brer Rabbit from the briar patch, whilst Brer Gator snaps at Fox's tail. Further on and we find Brer Rabbit lazing outside his home celebrating his victory with Mr Bluebird. Logs continue eventually emerging back at the loading station.
Splash Mountain is an amazing ride. It is incredibly long with an enormous amount of detailing. It tells a full story and has thrills alongside its comedic moments. It is no surprise that this is one of Disney World's most popular rides.
In my next post I'll have a look at some of the similarities and differences between Florida's version, the original Disneyland iteration and the version at Tokyo Disneyland.