Disney World Offers First Look Inside Tiana’s Bayou Adventure

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure speeds towards completion in Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and in Disneyland, entering the home stretch of the transformation. As the reimagining starts to wrap up, one lucky reporter has already gotten a sneak peek inside the attraction.

Mike Scott from NOLA.com was the first reporter to go inside Tiana’s Bayou Adventure; you can read his full walk-through report at NOLA.com. Since this is the very first time Walt Disney World has pulled back the curtain on the inside of the attraction, we thought it’d be worth sharing key takeaways from the hardhat tour, led by Ted Robledo, Executive Creative Director of Walt Disney Imagineering.

The story begins in the Frontierland courtyard that formerly served as a queue area for the Magic Kingdom’s iconic Splash Mountain. The courtyard will also be an overflow line for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, but will also set the stage for the ride to come. This begins with the previously-revealed mural designed by Baton Rouge-area artist Malaika Favorite on the side of the Splash Mountain barn.

The first floor of that barn will house the main offices for Tiana’s Foods, the production operation that the movie and ride’s titular character founded after the events of the 2009 film, according to the ride backstory. Last year, Imagineering shared new backstory for the queue of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. The set-up to the ride will essentially explain the “next chapter” of the story for Tiana, set after The Princess and the Frog. Combining her talents with those of the local community, Tiana has transformed an aging salt mine and built a beloved brand.

Throughout the barn and queue, background music will play that broadcasts an old-timey radio show featuring reimagined New Orleans classics performed by an assortment of local musicians gathered by multiple Grammy winner Terence Blanchard. Expect something similar to Jungle Cruise or Tower of Terror in this regard; we’d anticipate a mixture of music, advertisements, and other fun gags to keep astute guests’ ears open while waiting in line.

As previously announced, the scent of beignets will waft through the air in the queue of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure to further set the scene for the ride to come. There’s also been an intricate metal weather vane crafted by New Orleans master blacksmith Darryl Reeves installed on the ride’s exterior, and other efforts made at authenticity. As is now abundantly clear, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is Imagineering’s love letter to New Orleans.

Once guests pass through the queue area and arrive at the loading area, they’ll find that it largely resembles that of Splash Mountain. The key difference is the addition of cranes hoisting pallets of crates marked Tiana’s Foods, which is one of many indicators that the ride is actually a working food production outfit.

Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will use the same ride vehicles and system as its predecessor, which was a safe assumption given both the turnaround time and that no track work has been done. Accordingly, the ride layout is exactly the same as before–there’s a brief outdoor section, lifts, and the same bunny hill drops to pacing out the first couple acts of the attractions. Again, we pretty much knew all of this even though it wasn’t confirmed by Disney–making those types of changes would’ve resulted in the project taking another year or longer.

Another thing that the walk-through did reveal is that Splash Mountain’s vegetation has been stripped out and replaced with faux flora native to Louisiana. That includes cypress trees, marsh grasses, Spanish moss, and more.

While I will personally miss the iconic tree stump atop Chick-a-Pin Hill and think it was silly to remove that and convert this to a supposed salt dome to make a “mountain” fit in a New Orleans attraction, I love those cypress trees and the flora on the exterior of the dome. The exterior in Magic Kingdom looks really close to finished form, and I think it looks fantastic.

Inside the first Tiana’s Bayou Adventure show scenes, Robledo indicated that this is where the first of the critters would appear, referencing the new Audio Animatronics (AA) band made up of swamp animals. Rounding a bend, a large Louis the Alligator AA that has yet-to-be-installed comes into view.

Rounding another bend, a similar space for a future Tiana AA appears. Several Tiana Audio Animatronics will appear throughout the ride. Along the way, she will repeatedly address guests directly, seeking their help to find a yet-to-be-named missing element for a Mardi Gras celebration she’s planning. (What do you want to bet that the missing ingredient is love, our dreams, family, friendship or another abstract idea–rather than like tumeric or something?)

Much of the interior ride architecture, such as rockwork and other environments, have been retained from Splash Mountain, but there will also be additions. A pair of stone arches spanning the flume were among those spotted on Robledo’s tour.

During the walkthrough, Robledo hinted there might be a few subtle nods to the old Splash Mountain. This is actually somewhat of a surprise. I figured that Disney would want to distance itself as much as possible from that attraction given the whole reason for replacing it in the first place and wouldn’t officially acknowledge anything to do with Splash Mountain.

In actuality, I’d expect the reimagined ride to contain a ton of subtle and not-so-subtle nods to Splash Mountain, simply by virtue of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure recycling so much from its predecessor. (Does it technically count as a nod to America Sings if it’s not done on purpose, but rather is inherited from that attraction?)

Disney also revealed that the Audio Animatronics in Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will be the same high-tech versions used in Hong Kong Disneyland’s recently-opened World of Frozen. It’s good to have confirmation of this, but it’s not really a surprise. The new Elsa Audio Animatronics for Arendelle and Belle and Beast AAs in Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast are amazing. Those perfectly meld old and new technology to create something more true to the animated character models. Those have excellent fluidity and features, and will also age gracefully.

It’s probably fair to say that the projected faces on Frozen Ever After and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train haven’t aged well; those are an example of ambitions outpacing available technology, which was still in an awkward position. Given Imagineering’s output since 2019, our assumption is that the phase of projected face AAs is long over.

Imagineering has made tremendous strides with Audio Animatronics of animated characters in the last several years, and we’d expect the Belle or Elsa style for all new AAs going forward. (That does not mean that Walt Disney World is going to go back and replace the OG Frozen Ever After AAs. We do not expect that anytime soon.)

The tour ended just before Splash Mountain’s Laughin’ Place scene. According to Imagineering, what happens from that point on is a surprise. Pressed by the NOLA report for details, Robledo responded: “I’ll just say it’s got a lot to do with magic. It’s a magical moment that happens down there.”

Okay, commentary time. I’ll start by saying that I’m baffled by Disney’s strategy is for marketing Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. In past articles about the ride, we’ve bemoaned all of the no-news updates from Disney about Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, which have instead highlighted research trips Imagineers have been taking to New Orleans and a bunch of things irrelevant to the ‘meat’ of the ride itself.

It seems there is a laser focus on attention to detail and authenticity of the attraction. But this is not a World Showcase attraction–it’s in Magic Kingdom. Being a love letter to New Orleans is nice, but it’s not something that the average guest “needs” from a ride in Frontierland. It’s a weird way of trying to generate hype and enthusiasm. What family is going to look at these articles and say, “we can’t wait to book a trip to experience Walt Disney World’s newest ride–it looks so authentic!

The focus should be on fun. The rest of it is window-dressing, better reserved for niche audiences. In fairness, NOLA.com is sorta that, so my complaint isn’t entirely apt here. I nevertheless think it’s odd that we know so little about the substance of the attraction, but have heard the origin story of a weather vane.

Even after this walk-through, we still don’t know much. Confirmation of the modernized AAs is a good thing, and other minor notes about the queue, background music, and load area are all good to hear. Those are fascinating tidbits, to be sure. I just feel like Disney is a missing an opportunity to showcase even a few second wow-inducing clip of a Mama Odie, Princess Tiana, Prince Naveen, or Louis the Alligator Audio Animatronics.

To each their own, but I’m beyond ready for Disney to share something of substance to showcase that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will be an excellent attraction with elaborate themed design, details, show scenes, and impressive effects. That’s what’s necessary to instill fans with a sense of excitement about this transformation.

Even if it’s not a photo or video of Audio Animatronics, even new concept art of show scenes would be great. Something offering reassurance that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is going to be high-quality and fun. Authenticity and being a love letter to New Orleans is nice, but it’s icing on the cake for an attraction. Fun is essential and imperative to an attraction.

Otherwise, the big open question is the opening date for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. It’s been a bit since we’ve heard any credible updates, but last we did, they were that the reimagining is fairly far ahead of schedule. This makes complete sense if you spend time in the park watching construction progress. Not only is it moving at a brisk pace, but there are a ton of workers on the site every single day–and often into the night. It’s a very active project, especially as contrasted with the EPCOT overhaul or other recent rides.

Not only that, but Disney has quietly changed the opening of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure from “Late 2024” to just “2024” in a lot of marketing materials. It’s my understanding that this was purposeful, and that this is because the Walt Disney World version could officially open as early as Summer 2024.

Nevertheless, I remain skeptical that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will open by Summer 2024. I don’t doubt what I’ve heard that the project is ahead of schedule (or was, when I heard that). Why I’m skeptical is because we’ve been down this road before. It isn’t unprecedented for projects to be ahead of schedule until unanticipated issues arise during the later stages that totally derail things and delay the opening. That has also happened many, many times in the past. In other posts, I’ve used Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance as a prime example–a ride that ended up being delayed by months.

Honestly, I’m starting to wonder whether the same thing has already happened with Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. If the ride is still on track for a Summer 2024 opening, it sure seems like we’d have at least an updated season by now. I was surprised when the ABC Christmas Day Parade segment aired, and it was entirely recycled footage that didn’t really do anything to market the ride.

Again, I’ve been perplexed by the approach to Tiana’s Bayou Adventure since the beginning, but it seems to me that–if there were confidence in the Summer 2024 opening season for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, Disney would have shared it then. That’s the time when families gather and start planning trips for the upcoming year, and there wasn’t really anything new and tangible to “sell” people on Walt Disney World in 2024. The window for booking summer vacations is starting to close, and if Tiana’s Bayou Adventure doesn’t get an opening date until March, it’s probably not moving the needle much on June bookings.

The other possibility is that, for some reason, Disney is waiting for Mardi Gras (February 13, 2024) to do its big PR push for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. I don’t think that’s a particularly savvy approach, but it’s certainly a synergistic possibility. That seems unlikely to me unless there’s internal hesitation about meeting the summer timeframe, they want to wait until there’s more confidence about an opening season, and it just so happens that clarity comes in early February–in which case, a Mardi Gras announcement checks out. If we get much beyond mid-February and still haven’t heard so much as a season, my bet is that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens on October 1, 2024 or later.

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Thoughts on the Tiana’s Bayou Adventure? Do the details from this walk-through inside the attraction have you more excited about it, or does this not move the needle for you? Excited that dozens of entirely new Audio-Animatronics figures are coming to the attraction? Expectations regarding the TBA opening timeline? Agree or disagree with our assessments about this project? Keep the comments civil, as this is not the place for politically-charged arguing, culture wars, antagonism, personal attacks, or cheap shots.

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